Saturday, September 4, 2021



Dear Raymund,

I have known you for about two thirds of my life and I guess a greater share of yours.

I knew you as a kid, literally.  

You were this over enthusiastic, machine gun mouthed student of mine in the ComArts classes in De la Salle University.  

Even then you were ... not like the rest.  

You were restless.  You were unstoppable.  You were endlessly excited because for you every possibility is an opportunity to learn.  And you never held back in your drive to get ahead and do exactly what you wanted ... the way you wanted it.

I remember that I tagged you along the opening night of a play I translated into Pilipino. 

It was Carlo Goldoni's Mirandolina, directed by Tony Espejo.  You wanted to witness the premiere of a play and so I dragged you along. I remember how wide-eyed you were,  this kid gaping at the costumes of Badong Bernal and how you joined us in the post-premiere dinner, carrying on a conversation with theater artists that not a regular eighteen or nineteen year old could hold. You were glib and sure of yourself in your endless questions.  I was amused.

You were always a notch above the rest of your peers --- something that happens not very often when a teacher  spots someone in the class who will be somebody by sheer promise and presence. You can sense that he will be one of those who will achieve prominence far exceeding the accomplishments of his teachers.  

That was why I was not surprised when you blossomed into this ... celebrity photographer whose name became as famous as the images you created. 

You became a brand.

In the 80s and the 90s, you rose to that stature not only because of the beautiful pictures you took but because you were always a joy to work with, always a joy to behold.  

The room  used to light up whenever you were around.  You had a way of announcing your presence to make it known that this space would be your territory.

 You made hard work look like fun. You made people more than just comfortable but opened them up, played them on the palm of your hand until your eye captured the very image you wanted to immortalize  into all of time and audiences to see.

You were gifted not only with the talent for manipulation of the split second of light in images: you were blessed with the ability to connect with people ... and to truly know and appreciate them, affirm their worth and make them feel like they were part of your life of learning.

There were numerous times I  worked with you for various projects.

I remember the Star Cinema pictorials we did for the promotion materials needed way back when I was still working for that company.  

I precisely remember that time in your studio when we were doing the poster and promo pics for Kasal Kasali Kasalo,   It was more of a get together of friends since you were also comfortable and personally close to the Agoncillos, You were and will always be loved by so many entertainment luminaries.  

And remember  that time you had me take off my shirt during my balingkinitan and borta phase --- telling me that I should have a memory of the moment when I got myself that fit and I had the privilege of a pronounced chest and waistline at the age mid-50s.  I remember that. You said that in later years I can always refer to those photos to see how once upon a time I looked that good.  I remember that, Raymund,

Or when we sat together in the same panel with Mr. C. and Annabelle Rama for that talent search show in the relaunched TV5.  

Oh, those were such crazy days as we spent so much time in the studio as well as that trip to Cebu when we had to meet the kids auditioning and scheduled for screening.  It was a laugh-a-minute. 

Being with you was never work, Raymund.  It was always about the fun. The fun in being together because of work.

We both agreed on that: work ceases to be just work when you have fun doing what you always wanted to do.  And that was the way you lived your life.  You always had a sense of humor. And a love for life and people.

It is only now that I realized that our most treasured moments were the times we saw each other in Boracay for stretches of holidays for Easter and Christmas.

If I did not go with friends, I would spend an entire week alone in what used to be my Happy Place. We would find each other in Station 2 where you and your entire family were billeted for the holidays together.

I will never forget how you would invite me for those late afternoon beer and fish cracker soirees when we talked about almost everything and everybody, trying to out-"bitch" each other while swapping stories about common friends and incidental characters in our jobs and personal lives. Or  remember the dinners by the beach with your beautiful family: your brother JR and mother who was such a kind and gentle lady, embraced by the scent of delicate perfume all the time, so sweet and accomodating, treating me like I were family. Or your nephews and nieces who you showed such care and fondness.

Then later in the evening we would all proceed to the usual digs where gulps of Jose Cuervo or glasses of Mojitos remind us to forget whatever it was we left in the city.  You would be laughing hysterically watching me, nearing senior age then --- fuelled by tequila and having the guts to dance with people half my age,  The laughter, Isaac, the laughter.

Those were the days, Raymund.  And the nights.  How could I recollect those sounds and images without the timber of your voice or that trademark giggle that was more of a holler? How can I forget how you would throw your head back and howl what was your version of guffaw?

Just now I remember our conversations while we were trapped during the pandemic.

It took some time for me to agree to be interviewed in your livestream project as I jokingly branded you as The Pandemic Tito Boy.  We spent more than an hour talking about how we were coping during the first forty days of the lockdown.

Then we had all those video calls and endless conversations in Facebook Messenger discussing everything from the fate of show business as a consequence of this hideous virus ---- to the generational differences between the new photographers and those of your time and age.   Suddenly we were discussing how it was with my generation, then yours ... and then how it is now.

That was when we realized we were talking like old men. 

When you made it known that you were going to be confined in a hospital in San Francisco because you tested positive with the virus, I was stunned.  

All I gathered was that you were in the United States for some r and r with Jayson.  

I did not even know that you and your long time partner had plans of finally tying the knot ... something I had already expected to happen sooner or later.  There were only those photos of you in Las Vegas popping out of my timeline.  I thought you were having your usual dosage of vacation fun.

I did not know how bad it was for you in those final days at a time when the raging pandemic created so many restrictions to isolate patients from their support systems. When I finally talked to Jayson over the phone that was the only time I realized how bad it was for you.  

I do not even want to think of what you went through, Raymund ... because someone as beautiful as you did not deserve that.

Nobody deserves what you went through ... and now in my moment of grief, I ask whoever, whatever, wherever why is it that someone like you should go through that whereas I can give the universe an entire checklist of creatures who should pay up for all the wrongdoings they have done to people, to the country, to life. I guess I will never get an answer to that question.

We realized you were still in the hospital for over a month --- but we thought you were getting stronger. I thought you were getting better.  I thought you were going home with Jayson.

Last night you broke everyone's heart, Raymund.

We wanted you so badly to rise from that hospital bed and march out of that sick enclosure to join us back in the real world where you do not only belong ... but where you are so badly needed.  

Last night we did not want to believe.  

I did not want to believe all the whispered and tearful news spreading in social media until I heard it from Jayson or anyone from  your family to tell us that you have left.  

And even after it was finally confirmed, I still did not want to believe.   

This was not the way we scripted these events.  You were supposed to be happy: you were supposed to be having some of the most memorable days in your life with the vows of your lifelong partner.  

The story could not end this way. But it did.  This is not the narrative we wanted.

I joined the crowd out there, stunned into silence not only because of grief but  in pure shock.

We cannot imagine how we can resume life the way we knew it without you among us.

I know you are up there smiling at us ... now realizing how many you left behind love you fiercely.  I guess it is but time that we let you go and give you that much deserved standing ovation not only for a life well-lived but for showing us the humanity in being.

Raymund, I was proud of you as my student.  But I am prouder of you as a friend and example of how life should be led with enthusiasm, kindness and love.

I join so many others to say goodbye and say that you have only left us physically but will always remain where it matters the most --- in our hearts.

In case I never had the chance to tell you when you were still physically around, in this letter I will say what I should have said before: I love you, my friend.  You are a blessing to all whose lives you have touched.



Saturday, May 22, 2021

THE BOYS FROM SEOUL: Or Why BTS is now The Biggest Band in the World

 It goes something like this.

137 million views in YouTube thirty-two hours after its premiere.  

If that is not crazy, then we no longer have a definition of sane.  But then again what is surprising is that we are not surprised.  If there was anyone to beat the record of BTS for YouTube views for a single day, then it is bound to be ... uh, BTS.

So in a single swoop, the Boys from Seoul knocked off their own record for last year's Dynamite with their much anticipated latest release Butter.  Yes, it was wild enough that when they came out with their first all-English song last August that the music world danced to their upgraded disco beat.  There is nothing short of unbelievable when you achieve even greater popularity and reach to a larger worldwide audience when everybody is locked up in their homes, imprisoned by the restrictions of the pandemic.

People are asking, "How could they have soared higher whereas other artists are literally scrounging for every available possibility to reach out to an audience and have their music heard?"  In that crowded world of pop music, it is anything but easy to find your own minute space and warrant attention from a distracted crowd. 

The answer to that is simple as it is complicated.  

These seven young men have been together for a decade and have become an organic unit that functions with as much precision as their choreography.  When Jeon Jung Kook dances and sings without missing a beat or expelling a distracting breath to miss out the rhythm of a song, then you know this is not an accident ... or a freaky coincidence: it is a product of years of hard work, training, dedication and focus.  And, yes --- something that Koreans and some of our Asian brothers are so proud of and which we are sadly lacking : discipline.

These boys are not one-note singers nor one-step dancers.  

If you watch their YouTube videos showing them in various phases of rehearsal, then you realize that their was not an easy journey to get to the top.  These boys literally fall on the floor, short of breath, withstanding pain in between numbers of their concerts. Members attest that Kim Seok Jin is more than his self-proclaimed monicker of Worldwide Handsome: he rehearses until the wee hours of the morning to make sure that he is up to par with the moves of his team members.

As the cliche goes, it is an even harder adventure to stay on top ... and boy, these guys and their management know exactly how to do it, how to go about it ... and better yet, how to raise the ante.  If ever this group of Korean boys assembled barely a decade ago got from way out there to high up beyond anyone's imagination, then it is because they worked hard for it. And deserve it.

BTS never fails to surprise.  

In the arena of popular culture where you think everything possible has already been done and redone, BTS changes the game plan.  

The boys and their management realized that what are accessible to them can be turned into channels to connect with the fans --- that ever loving, ever loyal Army that practically covers perhaps a fourth of the world's music loving population --- and create a virtual relationship into something real.

BTS has turned social media and the entire tapestry of the internet to their advantage.  

Whereas others can be destroyed by the cynicism and, yes, even evil that lurks in between the various apps and platforms, BTS made the worldwide web the vital and effective conduit to their fans.  After months of immersing myself not only in the music of BTS (as I found out that I am not the only senior citizen who holds such immovable loyalty for this fandom) but in the subculture of videos and still images they regularly provide their Army, I have come to realize that admiration has become such a shallow term.  That is not the kind of relationship you have with the group: you end up knowing them personally with the glimpses of themselves that they yield in their social media releases.

You are in awe of Park Jimin's dancing and singing skills --- but you are also made aware of his personal journey to get become the performer that he is today. When you see the video of the young man crying backstage because he made a mistake by missing a note of a song they are singing, you realize that --- hey, this is not just a kid who wants to reap the privileges of celebrity.  This is an artist driven by passion --- and you cannot look down on their brand  popular music as "so-so". This is not about manufactured showmanship that many tend to accuse the entire domain of KPop.  This is about focused dedication to one's chosen art. And the fans know about it because they are made aware of it.

That is it.  Because of social media and the internet, the relationship of BTS and their millions of fans may be virtual but personal.  Because of their consistent presence in the internet, they reach out to anybody willing to find out --- and reveal who they are as individuals as they are as a group.

We know of Min Yu Ki aka Suga and his overwhelming talent as a composer and music producer.  We know that Kim Nam Jun known as popularly as RM --- is the leader of the group not only by name but also serves as their spokesman (being most versatile in the English language) and hyung.

We are completely aware of Jeong Ho Seok or J-Hope's awesome dancing powers and sparkling personality --- or Jungkook's tattoos --- or that Jin is a terrific cook and has an entire show which shows him eating and savoring all the delicious food that gives him pleasure.  Things like that matter to fans --- especially now that they are all in various forms of quarantine confinement --- because they feel they have an intimate relationship with their idols.  This matters a lot because the connection becomes both solid and fluid. It is a fandom dedicated not only to the music of the Boys from Seoul but to who and what they represent in the here and now.

And what do they represent? Positivity. Focus. Inclusivity.

They openly talk to their fans --- mainly the kids --- about loving themselves, about the value of self-acceptance and embracing one's weaknesses as much as strengths.  They take active roles in making statements about controversial issues like racial prejudice, xenophobia and even poverty and hunger.  They are not mere dancing dolls but representations of the youth who use their music and popularity to matter in the world and push their followers to work for positive change.

It is no wonder why in a matter of twenty-four hours that their new single, Butter, accrued more than one hundred million views.  Fans and enthusiasts actually waited for that exact moment when the single was premiered --- followed by a tidal wave of reaction videos from all over the world.

And what should prove most exacting is that Butter is actually a tribute to their fans and an announcement that as a powerhouse, BTS  is here with its army.  The song is about the charm and magic of BTS that is "smooth like butter" with their ability to "melt your heart in two" because of their "superstar glow."  Taehyung even sang it inside the elevator in the MV : "...don't need no Usher ... to remind me you got it bad." As if it were not enough, RM raps, "Got ARMY right behind us when we say so ..." while the rest of the boys bodily spell A-R-M-Y to tell their fans, :"We got you ... you got us."

In a world fatigued by a pandemic,  discolored by politics and seemingly ruled by distorted reason and hate, seven boys from Korea come out singing and dancing and telling us, "We are going to be all right."  We believe them and love them for that.

So do we still wonder why they are what Variety Magazine branded as the Biggest Band in the World now ... even without the blessings of the Grammys?

Indeed at this point, only God know what they will do next --- or just how high they will get higher.  There is difficulty jumping into that entire mindset of comparing them to the Beatles because times were so much simpler in the early 1960s as it has become sixty years later.  BTS exploded into the cultural landscape --- over and beyond Asia --- but the world proving that talent, music and art knows no language, no cultural differences, no discrimination.  They happened at the right time and exactly the right place in human history.

And we are loving them for it. So ... " Get it! Let it roll!"

THE THINGS YOU LEAVE BEHIND: Why "Move to Heaven" is Television at its Best

 If there is one good thing that the more than a year of quarantine has done to me is my sudden immersion into Korean Dramas.

I never understood the fascination of audiences for subtitled television series because I never had the time to comprehend the possibilities.  Some of my friends and even more of my students have already partaken of the feast of Hallyu but I was too preoccupied dealing with my clutter and deadlines.  Then, all of a sudden, there came this virus that forced me to stay at home (as a matter of life or the risk of death) and I had all those spare hours to make a religion out of viewing Netflix.  

Crash Landing on You came at the perfect time: right when quarantine was declared with various permutations and imaginings of the ECQs, Hyun Bin and Son Ye-Jin started stealing the hearts of the Filipinos. OK, so let's give it a try.  And before I knew it, I was hooked.  Then a friend of mine recommended an older series called Pinnochio (2014) starring Lee Jong-Suk and Park Shin-hye --- and what hit me about this show is that it was not about your usual falling in love with the right person at the wrong time sort of shtick.  This was about honesty, integrity and the power of broadcast journalism.  OK, I got more hooked.

I realized that KDrama is not just about frou-frou and if they indulged in meringue entertainment, they made sure it was good.   They were not going to give you run-of-the-mill done-this-seen-that sort of stories just because it is kind of show that has an assurance of selling.  They have the courage to innovate, the guts to pry into delicate themes that others (that means us) find too high for the masses or not entertaining enough of the suffering madlang people to forget about their problems while being anesthesized by tv.

KDrama works not only because of variety but because it takes risks in dealing with themes and genres that would challenge their audiences not only to be entertained but to think.  Whether it is historical dramas reinterpreted in both comedy (Mister Queen, 2020 / Love in the Moonlight, 2016 or Hwarang, 2016) or mixed with fantasy (Tale of Nine Tailed, 2020 or Mr. Sunshine, 2018) or dramas dedicated to social issues (Life, 2018 or Itaewon Class, 2020), the novice who is just immersing himself in Korean popular culture realizes its respect for intelligence and dedication to imagination and innovation.

In the year that came to pass I have had my share of favorites: yes, I was swept away by Park Bo Gum and Song Hye-Ko in Encounter (2018) but my favorites have been set on Sky Castle (2018) because of its uniqueness in showing the rigid parental control Korean families had over their children's education or the delicate yet beautifully imaginative It's Okay Not to be Okay (2020) with Kim Soo-Hyun and Seo Yea-ji dealing with mental illness with its Tim Burtonesque imagery.  Yes, there is the recent Vincenzo (2021) with Song Joong-Ki with its larger than life production, black humor, uncanny treatment of violence and lessons in the art of the creative torture of villains.  Or maybe you can never get enough of Park Seo Joon and Park Min-Young in What's Wrong with Secretary Kim? (2018) because of its crisp treatment of the tropes of romantic comedy.

But recently, my quota of favorites went to far excess.

After finishing Navillera (2021) starring Song Kang and Park in-Hwan, I thought I had seen the best of what the genre had to offer.  That heartbreaking story about a seventy year old retired postman wanting to be ballerino in order to fulfill a lifelong dream to appear on stage dancing Swan Lake was almost ridiculous as a premise.  Instead, it turned out to be one of the most heartwarming stories to keep you not only sane but appreciative of life and the passage of time in a period of world calumny.

KDramas offer not escape but affirmation in their delicate yet life-affirming themes: Navillera, which talks about acceptance, forgiveness --- and how love literally conquers all including the frailty of the mind.  During the final scene of the closing of the series, I found myself crying my head off not only because of what the series wanted to say and successfully conveyed ... but because it went beyond the narrative. It was an introspection of mortality and the realities of existence.  I do not want to sound all that philosophical: to put it bluntly, it is an in-your-face-realization that time slowly takes away your control of life.

I was still having a hangover with Navillera --- and Vincenzo when I decided to see the pilot episode of something which I thought was promising. I saw the trailer: it was about trauma cleaners --- those who cleaned up and collected the possessions left by those who died alone or who do not have immediate families to look after them.  Not exactly the happiest premise but let's give it a try. After all, it was just going to run for ten episodes.

I was never prepared for this.

It took me time to blog about it because I wanted the feeling to filter so that I may have a better understanding of what I went through.

What started out as a glimpse of the pilot of Move to Heaven  before I hit the sack because of an early appointment the next morning turned out to be start of a compulsion. No, it was a short-term addiction that leaves you in a state of cold turkey after consuming the entire series. (I had confessions from others who saw it all in one sitting --- so that means about ten hours in a single day gulping down each episode. And I do not blame them.)  I was not prepared to see one of the most beautiful television shows that does not only deal with such sensitive and unspoken subjects but treated with such care, sincerity, beauty and intelligence.

Yes,  Move to Heaven is about a twenty year old boy Geu-Ru (played magnificently by Tang Joon-Sang, the baby solider in Captain Ri's squad in CLOY)  who is suffering from Aspergers and left all alone after his father dies.  Now he is left under the care of his uncle, Sang-Gu (again excellently portrayed by Lee Jee-Hon who you will not recognize as the same actor in the title role of Taxi Driver).  Never has two opposite personalities been forced to be together: a mentally challenged kid --- and his thug uncle, fresh out of incarceration and an underground MMA player. Added to this is a nosy busybody next door neighbor,  Yoon Na-Mu (played by Hong Seung-Hee --- who I did not even recognize as the granddaughter in Navillera).

So after watching so many KDramas, what makes Move to Heaven all too special: the reasons are simple yet hard to explain unless one sees the entire piece --- episode per episode.  This is one of the most beautifully written, directed, acted and photographed television shows I have ever seen.

It was beautifully written because the shows are episodic --- as the Move to Heaven Cleaning Team deals with each and every client, stashing away the things that were left behind as Geu-Ru reads the thoughts of the dead before giving these remnants of existence in a yellow box to the next of kin.  The choice of stories is shall I put it? Heartbreaking? Ingenius? It was never pretentious because they were so real so that the events may not have happened in Seoul but right in the background of your personal memories.

The stories never went over the top because of the direction of Kim Sung-Ho from the materials written by Yoon Jin-Ryeon: the subtlety, the nuances, the choice of camera angle, the care in details.  I have told this to my students: every episode is a master class in television direction.

Moreover, the themes tackled by the ten-part series are not only heartbreaking. They are heart-crushing.  I cried at the end of Navillera but I was crying at the end of every episode of Move to Heaven. It was that bad... in a great, cathartic,  soul-purging way.  When you find yourself bawling your eyes off at the end of Episode 4, you realize that you are actually recollecting fragments of your own personal memories and translating them into the experience of the narrative that you just witnessed.

A friend of mine warned me: "Beware of Episode 5." So I was forewarned. Yet when I finally finished that episode about the ER Doctor and the cellist, I found myself in a literal state of hagulgol at 1AM.  Why? Because it was about a delicate subject treated with such sensitivity and reverence that you realize that yes --- despite the dreariness, the ugliness, the vulgarity of the world we live in --- there is a quiet corner out there where love exists and sometimes in thrives upon the death of someone tacitly leaving marks of great emotions.

I do not want to ruin the experience by giving spoilers --- but a show that tackles the pain of abandoned and forgotten parents, the agony of unloved children --- the way we tend to judge others because of our own perception not really knowing what goes on in the mind of those we so easily condemn --- or how in the deepest of hearts there is such purity in the soul of a boy suffering from Aspergers --- or that a thug is a sensitive soul dealing with pain ... Move to Heaven has found its perfect place in a world so confused and seemingly hopeless.

I have had my fair share of KDramas and I love and study them.

If you should want to give yourself the chance to see just one KDrama, try Move to Heaven. In the here and now, this show represents what television should be ... and what it can yet become for us.  It's the best there is on Netflix now.

Monday, May 17, 2021

LONG LIVE THE QUEEN: Or The Annual Offering of the Global Muse to the Altar of Media

 Too many times has it been quoted and re-quoted: the Pinoy is obsessed with the three B's --- boxing, basketball and beauty pageants.

Pinoys are such suckers for these forms of entertainment that there was a time when the Pambansang Kamao had a live-via-satellite match, the entire country literally freezes.  And perhaps this is the only time that the crime rate drops to zero.

We love seeing Pinoys in all forms of contests just to have the over enthusiastic among us find some reason to rally behind a kababayan. We love the good old salpukan and salpakan whether it is through vicious upper cuts or three point shots or an entire vocabulary of catwalk sashaying (Shamcey's tsunami walk, Catriona's lava walk, etc.) as long as a countryman is there representing the archipelago against the world.  We love to find a reason --- any reason to cheer behind a local hero --- because in real life, we badly need them to give us a sense of who we are.

But please take note. 

This year the caretakers and brand managers of Miss Universe no longer calls it a beauty pageant.  

It has is now called a competition.  It can now be placed side by side with online gaming, speed Rubics cube contests or creative party games using ping pong balls.

Soon it may turn out to be an Olympic sport like ballroom dancing or figure skating. Whatever.  But it is still --- and basically --- a contest where women from all over the world are gathered, made to wear surreal versions of their national costumes (this year somebody represented her country with a costume complete with a dressing room, another came dressed as a predecessor of Godzilla while another literally had led lights embedded in her gown), vavavoom swimsuits and evening gowns with enough Swarovski crystals to cause epileptic attacks when spotlights are aimed on them.

Hey wait! There is absolutely nothing wrong with beauty contests.  

Sabi nga, for Filipinos it is a celebration of our love for beauty --- and our addiction to party at the slightest provocation.  Should we still wonder why we Pinoys go gaga over beauty contests whereas every eskinita, baranggay and town plaza w0uld mount a pagandahan showdown at the slightest provocation.  Little girls are dressed in frilly outfits in Little Miss Something contests with exaggerated adult walks --- and, uh, sometimes there are not even girls.

We are such fun-loving, party-addicted, gimik-stimulated race that we turn funeral wakes into mahjong and Bingo extravaganza.  We sing at the slightest provocation, turning videoke machines into instruments of social destruction as every other Filipino aspires to hit notes higher than Regine Velasquez or Lani Misalucha even if he or she cannot carry a tune to save our lives.

Eh, maski nga at the height of revolutions, we are singing and dancing, di ba? Taka ka pa why we make such a big deal about the Miss Universe Competition at the height of a pandemic surge on the very day that almost six thousand new cases of viral infection have been reported by the DOH. Keri lang.

A friend commented, "Ang taas-taas ng standard sa beauty queens pero pagdating sa pulitiko ... tae!"

Well, yeah.  

There is no way you can intersect these two different dimensions of reality because the very fact that there is an obsession for boxing, basketball and beauty contests is because of the ugly reality of politics.  Or of real life, in  general.  Dude, these are placebos.  These are anesthesia. These are perhaps coping mechanisms under the pretext that laughter accompanied by excitement and suspense --- are the best medicines to dealing with the drudgery of everyday life.

By hyping up fun and games, frothy as they may seem --- we are able to survive and deal with our personal and national hardships with a new source of resilience,  

Yet there is something more to it than meets the eye.  

We cheer for our representative in that annual Olympics of all beauty pageants because for the decade or so, we have been scoring terrifically.  Starting from Venus Raj, we somehow hit the right notes in selecting the kind of girl to send and who could go head-on and face-to-face with the Latinas and Europeans aligned onstage in a battle of pabonggahan.  

Yes, people are still correct in saying that the whole yearly exercise of parading women is overrated, overhyped and most of all, self-indulgent.  

The selection of Miss Universe does not and cannot have any major impact in solving the problems of the world not could policies affecting environment or poverty or equal rights be affected by a pageant participated by more than seventy nations.  Feminists even considers this entire tradition as backwards, demeaning, diminishing women into flesh fitted into swimsuits and flimsy gowns that emphasize their being sex objects.

Again, the rebuttal to all these allegations is that it is a matter of choice: the woman's choice.  Joining a competition as large and popular as Miss Universe requires not months but years of training.  The preparation of a noteworthy physique is only the final stage for the prepping --- it makes almost superhuman demands on the ladies who must condition their minds to throw themselves onstage and walk the walk, talk the talk.  There is an entire art to the pasarella but there is an even greater challenge in learning how to focus, keep that smile on your face and strike a pose like you were born with your arms akimbo.

And, worse yet, these girls are standing onstage with God knows how many millions of people watching worldwide, exhausted from rehearsals and yet perfectly conditioned to look poised, comfortable and glamorous made to answer mind-boggling questions to add gravitas to the proceedings.

Imagine standjing in that glittery gown with a slit cut up to way up there answering questions meant for Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand:" If you were the leader of your country, how would you have handled the COVID19 pandemic?"

Talaga lang, ha? In thirty seconds, you are expected to smile, look sparkly and answer a question about geopolitics, health and a crisis situation?

Or what about, "Given a choice ... would you choose to lock down your country or open its borders for ecenomic recovery during the pandemic?" 

Uh, you need to be Angela Merkel to come up with a convincing answer ... and not one coated with generalizations and a word or two about the will of God.  But still, you have to give it to the ladies who find the most credible answer conceivable in a high pressure situation.   

This all leads to the point of just how much pressure these ladies are subjected in a week ... just one week ... stuffed with rehearsals, pictorials, video shoots, promotional interviews.  It must take Olympic level training for the Queen Wannabes to endure both physical, mental and, yes, psychological stress to comply with a super tight and almost Spartan training schedule of rehearsals.

Added to all this is how Filipinos tend to not only support but demand superpowers from the lady fielded to the contest to represent the archipelago.  But then let us face it: we can never produce a Pia or a Catriona every effing year as it takes some genetic miracle to concoct a winning combination of beauty, brains, stamina and the killer charms of a cobra.  It is best to remember that it took forty or so more years before the crown landed on a Filipina's head after Margie Moran's triumph in Greece.  But for ten --- now eleven straight years --- the Pinay representatives always made it to the top 20 or 21, some landing on the top five with a share of runners-up.

But despite all that, fueled by the fire and brimstone of the internet, the pressure on the Philippine candidate can be ... uh, traumatizing,  

Yes, it must be all that hype that created near-impossible expectations added to the usual share of inevitable bashers.  There is no denying that Rabiya Mateo tried her best as attested by months of practice enhanced by almost military discipline.  Yet even at the very start, her selection has already been discolored by so many controversies and questions that added pressure to her to prove that she is worth her mettle.

And she did. If the hype built her to what the public perceived --- then it is all that hoopla, the somewhat miscalculated amount of rah-rah-rahs that made it a damn-if-you-do/damn-if-you don't battle for her.  Yet what is important is that until the end, she tried and never gave a reason for anybody to criticize her for her performance.

In a pageant that shall now be known as the Latina Edition where all the finalists were from the same region except for a token representative from India, it was more than good enough to hit the top twenty-one together with Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand. And in this pageant where other outstanding ladies from South Africa, Iceland, Canada and Nepal did not even enter the semi-finals, we should applaud Rabiya for slugging it out there to the very end.

And as for this year's winner? Te veo el proximo ano.

Now back to reality. And the pandemic.

Saturday, April 3, 2021


The Second Wave of the Pandemic has turned my Facebook Timeline into a daily obituary.

This edition of the COVID19 virus, with all its glorious mutation, has harvested more lives than the numbers last year.  Just when we thought we were on our way to normalcy, this happens.  The recurrence of the virus ceases to be interesting because of its lethal quality.  It is far more deadly because of its ability to infect faster and generate more dangerous effects.

It is as if dealing with the pandemic is enough.  More than the endless fear for one's health and life is the mental torture of isolation, social distancing and the recalibration of the way you deal with your everyday existence.  It has now become apparent that one of the biggest scourges of the pandemic is that it has kept us apart.  Social distancing is a term we will never forget for the rest of this earthly existence.  Equally lethal is the safety measure to keep away from each other --- to guarantee greater chances for survival.

Yet there is another virus that is as terrifying and dangerous.  Like COVID19 that was spawned by the irresponsibility of man to push the card to the farthest end of nature's tolerance, this other virus is as toxic and life-threatening more so because it is man-made.  This is other side of the pandemic; it is called Asian Hate.

When the SARS virus crossed over from bat to humans, nobody is to blame but man himself.  Point to his sense of exoticism and certainly not a call for human survival.  It may sound innocent but it is not: it is sheer recklessness and carelessness added to ignorance and defiance.  But leave it at that.  The pandemic started from a wet market that sold exotic animals such as pangolins and turtles that have turned into culinary delicacies for a niche market. What spurned this worldwide catastrophe is recklessness.

But not racial prejudice. Yes, it may look reckless but it is deliberate.  Discrimination is deliberate. It is not natural. It is learned.  It is conditioned by the environment and triggered by socio-political and economic factors that are brought into culture. It is not within one's DNA to look down or hate others who are not the same in terms of color of skin, eyes or hair: this is something pre-conditioned by society or the immediate environment where a person or community exists.

The rise in Asian American and Pacific Islander Hatred in the United States is nothing new.  It has always been there.  As far back as one can recall, Asians have been tolerated in the U.S. because of their sense of utility and assumed personality of resourcefulness, resilience and ... most important, servitude.  There are so many pre-conceived notions about the character of Asians --- so much so --- that anyone who comes from that side of the world , whether you are from Mainland China or any of the countries or islands bordering the Pacific --- the assumption is that you are Chinese.

Moreover, there is this generalized view that all Asians are alike.

We all have chinky eyes.  We are all good in Math.  We are all hard workers.  In the American labor force, we will accept anything that can make us earn a living especially those jobs that Americans themselves do not even want to consider because they find such occupations demeaning.  They are the salesmen, the vendors, the convenience store owners, the small restaurant operator.

Asians are indeed hard workers.  The professionals earn big time because they are the doctors, the nurses, the medical technicians the engineers, the finance and marketing wizards. They are the slit-eyed geniuses who wear thick glasses as they pound on their computers doing miraculous programming.  

In other words, they are part of the machinery of American economy and they are successful because they do nothing but work, work, work --- and in the process depriving the white bread citizen of job opportunities.  

First the Asians were blamed for the economic imbalance of the better side of capitalism favoring the naturalized citizens or the immigrants.  Asians were blamed for depriving what others deem as the truly American of the jobs they should be savoring in the Land of the Brave and Free.  Such was never blamed to the Black Community: the discrimination against this sector is completely different and yet the same as with Asians.  Both are deemed not to belong to America, unworthy of sharing the same land and skies only meant for the fair of skin regardless of level of intelligence or caliber of dignity.

The pandemic changed the equations all together.

Whereas before there were all these mutant Barbie-like Karens or hee-haw Kens shouting curses at Asians and telling all of us to "Go back home to China", now the aggression has been amplified.

Simply put, that sector of the population, not necessarily whites alone and not limited to the United States, needed to blame someone for the Coronavirus --- and guess who is the most convenient scapegoat but the seemingly docile, invisible Asian who goes about his business quietly ... and perhaps spreading the virus to what they perceive as an uncomfortable Paradise.

Now amplified beyond verbal assault or a barrage of insulting words all summarized as "You don't belong here", the hatred has become physical.  The hatred has become violent because the Asian in a foreign land is now the pandemic personified.  

Out of a need to vent out anger and frustration, the quiet, hardworking, placid, invisible Asian has become the punching bag of the mentally disturbed, socially rattled and economically devastated.  Suddenly, in the eyes of those who have always felt that the Asians belong and should stay on their side of the planet, the insults have turned into punches and flying kicks.

Many have theorized that this was further affirmed by the not only tactless but malicious racist language of the former resident of that house in Pennsylvania Avenue. Calling the pandemic Kung Flu or the China virus fuelled the anger of those who invested their belief --- or even blind faith in him.  The power of words from those who occupy the uppermost echelons of authority trickle down into simplistic actions and reactions from their minions.

What nations and especially in the U.S. is experiencing now is a more blatant manifestation of what has already been in the undertow for years.  Racism has always been there --- except now, for that chosen some, it has become  not only permissible but acceptable and admirable.  First, it was in the inconsequential treatment of Black people but now it is the brutalization of Asians --- whether they are US born, naturalized citizens or immigrants.  

In a country that, for four years, condemned anyone who does not fit the mold of white bread or believed that America (or any nation) is blemished by the presence of blacks or threatened by the overruling of immigrants, proactive expressions of hatred became a norm and a rallying point as endorsed by the then President.

Efforts have been made to curb the rise of violence against Asians in America.  But it would take more than just legal action when the problem has a history as  long and as deep rooted such as this.  In the same manner that any noble intention to wipe out the violent attacks on Asians through a series of legislations may prove short of achieving its cause, the uncontrollable surge of violence costing lives mostly of women and the elderly will continue.  

The parade of reports in mainstream news and the net showing close circuit camera videos of elderly men and women being pushed, thrown to the ground or kicked in  the stomach then stomped on the head certain shock --- then numb the viewer of the extent of violence that inhumanity can concoct.  The fact that this can be done to helpless old people just because they are Asian shows something more than just --- mental disorder.  It is symptommatic of the cracks in a civilization.

Beneath all these is a personal fear: having relatives and close friends who have chosen to live across the Pacific triggers worries as much as the coronavirus.

These are people who have dreams for a better life believing in the promise of the Land of the Brave and Free ... and any other corner of the planet that can offer a brighter future for themselves and their children.  For most of their lives they have settled and grown roots in the Americas with a single awareness: the acceptance of the fact that racism shall be part of their way of life.  There are various coping mechanisms one can learn along the way.

( In the short years that I lived in the U.S. as a graduate student, I knew racism of various degrees.  Whether it is the shouts you hear from passing cars with windows drawn down  shouting, "Go home, you f--g Chink?" or "Go back to China!" or being deliberately ignored by salesladies in a department store then throwing you a look like you do not have the right to buy whatever it is they are selling, you just learn to grit your teeth and say: Yes, this land is your land. But I really do not give a flying f--k.

But there are other ways you encounter racism: what hurts even more are those moments of passive racism when the condescension and belittling come as a package.  That is when someone suddenly smiles at you and says, "For an Asian, you speak good English. Where did you learn that?" or "What part of China do you come from?" or worse, "Philippines? Is that part of China?" --- which you would like to quip back by saying something crisp and bitchy but opt not to do because you do not argue with morons. )

After watching all those YouTube accounts of Asian Hate, one wonders whether the real pandemic is not just the virus ... but what darker side of human nature emerged as a result of the worldwide tragedy.

Instead of compassion and seeking for healing, the dark side amongst some us emerged with a fury directed at specific people who are equally suffering and devastated by the virus.   

What does it take for a man to go to an old man quietly waiting for his train to go to work and slash his face with a box cutter?  Worse, what does it say about people when they simply look and do not help as this old man screams for assistance of any sort as his face is bathed with his own blood?

What does it say when a grandmother stands on a corner waiting to cross the street is approached by a man twice her size and punches her on the face for no reason aside from the fact that she did not look like him or the people around her? (NB: the granny beat the living daylights out of the motherf---r. He too had to be hospitalized ... for worse physical damage. Moral lesson: never underestimate a granny.)

What does it say about people when a sixty-five year old woman walking to church at mid day right at a busy part of New York City gets kicked in the stomach and stomped on the head by a man thrice her size and on parole for killing his own mother?  Worse, what does it say about man as a species when three people witness the event from inside the lobby of an adjacent building ... and nobody helped the woman but instead one of them closes the door?

What does it plainly say about these people?

And what do WE ASIANS do about it?

NB:  I found this interesting piece on YouTube which says so much so painfully about Asian racism.

Friday, February 26, 2021

I'M IN THE ARMY NOW: Or Why BTS is One Way I Coped with Almost a Year of Quarantine

 In a week's time, my school will celebrate its first year of closing the doors of its campus to students and faculty as a result of the pandemic.  Between the time the first of the CQ's was announced by the government until this very day, work has been so badly diminished in my other work having gone on lock in shootings twice and realizing just how hard it is to accept, adjust and advance.

Between February of last year until today, so much has changed around me ... and in me.  

Aside from discovering the joys of Lazada and Shopee and Facebook Market and Grab Food and Mr. Speedy and Lala Moves, I have learned the tranquil pleasures of gardening. I can now distinguish over thirty kinds of hybrid hibiscus ("Gumamela yan!") , mayanas and caladiums. I walk around the garden anticipating the growth of my monstera and realized that I have turned more into the Batman nemesis Poison Ivy than your regular textbook quarantined Plantito.

Yes, we have all found ways of coping with the Year of Self-Imposed Hibernation.  

It has become a matter of life or death.  Or face masks and face shields.  Some of us have gained weight (because of the sheer volume and variety of food being sold online by your neighbors) or lost pounds (because of those who turned into backyard gym bunnies) or completely lost their minds (when you start talking about the vaccine as the Mark of the Devil heralding the coming of the Anti-Christ). O siya.

But if there is anything that helped me survive this year of domestic confinement, then it must be Hallyu.

I will confess that I did not give much time or attention to this whole Korean Thing until I had all the time in the world and no place to go.  

The threat of virus to someone over sixty years of age is (supposedly, allegedly) double the risk than somebody in his thirties.  And I am not going take a gamble on that assumption.  Whereas before you counted the hours by the number of deadlines and appointments you had to deal with each day, the past year has been the adventure of more of the same, day in and day out.

Blame it on Netflix and Crash Landing On You that came at the right time and the right place --- when the Unconvinced (like me) was finally enticed to watch a KDrama about a rich girl literally caught by a whirlwind and brought to another world divided by national borders. All of a sudden, what you only heard about was beginning to make sense.  Yes, reading subtitles was a matter of getting used to and gaping at the Korean complexion makes you realize that it is not their whiteness that matters: it is the fact that they look like they are genetically poreless.  

And just as I was recovering from the euphoria of BONG JOON HO clasping his Oscar trophy for Best Director --- and his movie bagging Best Film, I thought this whole Hallyu thing was maxxing out on me.  

Yes, I am a late bloomer when it comes to being so with it and in it because I was never a KPop Fan (Yes, Boomer! ) nor did I understand how the young can literally swoon and sing along songs in a language that they did not understand ... much less ever learn to speak.  That is until I heard that song "Dynamite."

OK, OK ... it was released on the 21st of August the year before and I am really way behind of the groove since my ears went on full radar mode six months later.  Now why?  

So many of my musically accomplished friends ( Grand Dame Lea Salonga included ) were already exclaiming about the outstanding musicality and showmanship of this KPop group.  Years after the Backstreet Boys, NSync , One Direction and Boyz II Men ... and yes, include the Jonas Brothers and even Hanson ...  you think you had seen and heard everything.  

And there was KPop always at the back burner of mainstream music lovers ... until the perfect storm took place.

When we are forced to sit still and literally absorb everything happening around us, the years of hard work in the programming of an Asian popular culture final bore worldwide fruition. Hallyu embraced us at a time we needed both escape and anesthesia,

I have spoken about the impact of KDrama and how Netflix and Viu have fuelled not only its popularity but its inevitability in the New Normal's streaming alternative.  

When a major television network was forced to shut down, the interest veered towards the promise of varied and most important --- newer kinds of content --- in streaming platforms.  Similarly, whereas before only the kids down to the X-ers  were already glued to YouTube, now even the Boomers were spending more and more time streaming content or opting for internet-based entertainment.  Why?  Because my generation who were not exactly computer savvy nor internet wired learned that there was so much more variety available there than the more-of-the-same usual diet you get from commercial tv.

Since we are all forced to stay at home and find some kind of amusement and entertainment, the search for options because more urgent.  Now you are not watching TV or streaming just after work when you get home. You are now working at home to work and there is all that spare hours where you have to occupy your mind to flush out the frustration, misery and paranoia.  

Suddenly information across the generations was no longer limited to mainstream media --- but to internet based platforms where an eighty year old grandmother now has a Twitter account and even government officials attempt at being charming by doing TikToks. Whatever.  The survival via confinement further ignited the discovery or rediscovery of Hallyu reaching unbelievable heights of popularity and massive consumption.

This is why the crowning of BTS  as  Time Magazine's Entertainer of the Year catapulted the whole Hallyu phenomenon. Nobody ... but absolutely nobody ... ever imagined that a Korean Boy Band can possibly achieve this level of worldwide success.

And for those who have been faithful followers of the careers of these seven young men, their success was not a fluke. It was and will forever be a deserving affirmation of so many years of hard work, underlined by determination, discipline ... and undeniable talent.

                                                                * * *

When music enthusiasts compared the importance of BTS  to (Oh, my God!) ... the Beatles because of their mindblowing achievement in the Billboard international chart, you realize that something more than extraordinary is happening here.  

But, hey, it is not like these seven young men are overnight sensations.  

Far from it.  Theirs was an uphill climb from obscurity to megawatt popularity.  Better yet, these are not just another bunch of pretty boys lip syncing songs and making a career out of being popular: an examination of the musical range and death defying variation of genres of the songs they compose, produce and record prove that they should be taken seriously. And that they are making history.

I am not just talking about the billions of dollars they are funneling into the South Korean economy.  Their contribution to their country's gross income is enough for the government to recognize their significance and delay their obligatory military service. 

I am talking about the fact that you have Asians blowing off the roof and displacing the Bieber and the Sheeran from the charts and staying there, only to return again and again.

I am talking about how they continuously stun --- I repeat, stun --- even their most diehard fans by the surprising choices they make of the songs they compose and sing --- or the manner that they execute their production numbers.

What is more important is their cultural significance in terms of musical contribution and the very narrative of their existence --- as individuals, as a group and as a representation of the global fusion of popular culture.  

At this point in their career, that hard climb from 2012 to the present is not a Cinderella story.  It is a tale of evolution --- it is a story of diversity and individuality.  It is proof of the triumph of talent over mere novelty or celebrity. It is about getting there through the uphill journey because the flash in the pan sensations have career spans of nanoseconds.  

What is equally interesting is dissecting what is it about them to gain even greater momentum at a time when people were locked in their personal spaces, unable to congregate for concerts and even ringing the death knells for live entertainment.  

The answer is again --- simple as it is complicated: it is the perfect storm.  BTS has gotten this far because they are of the here and now.

Why is that? Let me offer my take on their phenomenal rise.

(1) Whereas other performers had to claw their way to maintain visibility and the interest of their audiences (and therefore their fans), BTS has always been social media-based.  A great amount of their popularity is pegged on their YouTube uploads and multi-platform accounts each and everyone orchestrated by their management.

Even before the pandemic, Big Hit Entertainment --- the management company that handles the group --- has made it a point to create maximum visibility for the fans. In other words, what was being sold was not just the music itself but the premium of the seven members who constituted the band,  Through shows like Run BTS or even YouTube videos uploaded by fans and fan club sites, the seven members of BTS are known not as a single unit but as individuals.

Social media has become the language of communication and connection even before the pandemic but more so when we are forced to stay away from each other.  

Unlike other groups who came before who were MTV-based ( think of the rise and sustainability of Madonna ) and did not have the immediacy or even the currency of interacting with their fans, social media has played a prominent role in shaping the stature of the Bang Tan Boys ... and that is without doubt or question.

Even at the height of the pandemic when people are kept apart, social media kept the boys close to their admirers with consistency of updates and images.  They never went away. As a matter of fact, with so much time in their hands they became closer and developed an even larger fan base during this restrictive period.

(2) The members of BTS have created an ironic relationship with their Army.

It is virtual and yet intimate.  There is truth in the accessibility of RM, Jimin, Jin, V and Jungkook or Suga and J Hope because of the proliferation of videos that show them not as performers but as regular people who go about their daily routines and revealing their behind-the-scene existence.

In other words, there is a reality show mindset you gather when you see all these clips of the boys being themselves or goofing around or being playful in their pajamas.  They are shown eating, sleeping, doing podcasts, rehearsing --- interacting with one another like family and drawing us into their personal universe.

More important, they are distinguished from one another because of their personalities which eventually become their selling points.  

Nobody can resist the tattooed most junior member of the group because he is the kid the group raised ---- the Jungkook who  spent his high school life growing up with his hyungs who took care of him.  

And everybody is just floored by Taehyung's narrative: the son of farmers, raised by his grandmother who died while he was performing in the Philippines and who happens to be an actor ( in the historical series Hwarang with Park Soo Joon ) and who has the sassiest moves in his Gucci clothes. OK, enough.

Of course there is Jimin --- the spitfire member of the troupe who was an outstanding  modern  dance student before turning into this performing monster with unparallelled precision in both choreography and vocals.  

Or what about Suga and JHope ... both rappers who have evolved from the early days into precision performers. 

Or Seokjin, the hyung of the boys, being the eldest and well, aside from that silver voice has branded himself as Worldwide Handsome (attested by a European group by saying he has the most perfectly formed male face ever supplied by Mother Nature. What-the-...!!!) 

Then there is RM, who made a choice whether to continue as an underground rapper or to become a pop star. Apparently, he did well in his decision-making.

And here's another point for the record: as most of the Army members know, RM learned English from watching the American TV series Friends and has an IQ of 148.  OK. I am floored.  But this still leads me to another important point.

(3) The strongest charm of this group is the narrative of their selves.

Coming from diverse backgrounds, they have been handpicked and have been living together for almost a decade,  (I will go back to the significance of that in a bit.) Yet they have evolved from this edgy hip hop group of their early career into this world class band that has defied cultural barriers and could fill up ninety thousand stadiums all over the world.  Whereas others would like to look at this as magic or a miracle, it is not.  It is a long-drawn process --- mostly planned but still spontaneous --- that yielded this perfect storm.

Because each of the group members have distinct personalities and well-rooted stories, theirs is an appeal of utmost relatability, accessibility --- and, yes, what they have always promoted in terms of their persona: empathy. 

Unlike other boy bands who have evaporated into oblivion because of predictable harmonization, lollipops and roses themes and lame stage presence that eventually graduated into predictability, the brains behind and within BTS surpassed all that.

Of course there will be love songs that would sell and warrant audience applause --- but the band has been given  by Big Hits Entertainment Chief Executive Officer Bang Si Hyuk the freedom to find their voice and make their own music.  They were encouraged not to be templated but to experiment, innovate and discover what is true to themselves.

Yes, they are pre-fab group clustered together not in an organic manner (like the Beatles but more like the Western Boy Bands resulting from auditions and training) but professionally contrived --- yet their uniqueness is that they made their music their own and were given the liberty to find their voice.

It is this liberty that has made them not only survive but soar.  

They spoke to a generation --- their generation --- not to just make sales but to provide a channel from which their millions of fans can find their voices too.  The songs of BTS expressed the angst and anger of the moment --- of mental health issues, of meaninglessness , of existential existence --- of the dilemmas faced by the youth.  

Their songs were very lucid with their message: Love Yourself, Speak Yourself.  Amidst the turmoils faced by the young in a world that has gone completely confused and amoral, BTS tells them "It's going to be OK as long as you accept yourself to be no other person but your self."

More than ever,  while the world felt the helplessness and despair brought by the pandemic, they come out with their first all-English song, Dynamite which literally leap frogged all other entries in the Billboard 100 because of the happiness and positivity with lyrics like "....Shining through the city with a little funk and soul ... Light it up like dynamite."

No, BTS is not just another group selling cute. They are smart. Their music carries intelligence because it knows its audience in terms and wants and needs. They know exactly what buttons to press not only with their overwhelming stage and video presence or charms.  They know how to address the world, making each moment the here and now.

(4) Ten years together have seen the boys grow with one another.  Ten years of training, of singing, of dancing and creating: is it still a surprise that they sing and move like THAT?!

The precision in their choreography is nothing short of stunning.  Because they have been living together for almost a decade, they already have become ONE. They move the same moves, they breathe the same breath. When they dance, the synchronization is not a product of rehearsals but transcending exactitude and more of solidarity.

They may not have been any natural selection here but one that has been designed to suit needs for constituting an effective troupe but the ten years of togetherness has made this more than just organic: it has become metabolic.   The way they move their moves, the way they voice their voices --- this is not a product of rehearsals.  It is more of the result of being.

(5) But being is not enough.  It is all about professionalism, discipline, dedication to what they have chosen to do ... or made to do.

If you have seen the KDrama entitled Sky Castle then you will know exactly how Korean youngsters are used to very, very hard work.  School and training are of supreme importance to them in their priorities.  Kids are focused to achieve their goals because parents are expected to expect much from their offsprings.  BTS is a classic example of how all that hard work finally created a mindset of world class professionals.

The boys of BTS are like Olympic athletes.  They have been moulded into performers who will offer nothing less than approximations of perfection in every performance.

When you see the backstage videos of their concerts showing how these boys literally collapse with exhaustion ... or how they practically stifle screams of pain because their bodies are giving in to the pressure and fatigue or even the time that Jungkook damaged his heels while performing and still insisted in going on with the show despite the obvious pain that he was going through... that is when you realize that age old adage which people from the outside never seem to comprehend. That it is never that easy.  That the long hard climb to the top is the fun part: it is when you get there that the difficulties really begin.

In a business like entertainment, there will always be someone newer, younger and fresher who will steal away the interest and favors of the audiences.  To remain relevant and important require painstaking effort at reinventing and having your fans rediscover a side of you  that they had not expected nor seen before.  But with the musicality of BTS, that has never been a problem because they, like their audiences,  grow with the changes brought by the times.  When they are onstage, there is that total commitment to discipline and professionalism that yielded this unparallelled recognition.

(6) Relevance can achieve may definitions and shapes.  But with the Bang Tan Boys it is not merely about maintaining the status of celebrity or being branded as the Number 1 Entertainers of the World. Not South Korea, not Asia --- but of the world.  They embraced this honor with a sense of commitment to social responsibility as they did with their art and craft.

No, it is not just about the million dollar donation that they gave to the Black Lives Matter and how they rallied their fans to also give to such socially-oriented causes.  It is about their commitment that goes beyond words or lip service but in the songs they create and share with their audience.  Their relationship with their fans is their relationship to a much larger world that goes beyond pop music: it is about creating their art that is important for the world to hear, see and feel.

When asked why they released their biggest song Dynamite at the height of the pandemic, their reason was simple: they wanted to give a sense of happiness and hope to the world --- not only to their fans --- but to a planet that has spun out of orbit and now seeking any form of consolation and refuge. A song with such a catchy tune sung by an all-Korean boy band in English ... celebrating the energy of life and its brilliance.  Like a ray of hope.  Like someone patting your back saying, "It is going to be all right."

That is the moment you realize that you cannot help but love them. And their music. And their story. But more so who they are.

A few days ago, BTS appeared in MTV Unplugged.  Yes, they sang Dynamite in a different mode much like the way they performed the song in Good Morning America and the NPR Tiny Desk Concert.  Yet when they did the cover of Coldplay's Fix You --- that song that has always hit me right in the heart for years --- and rendered with the vocals of the Bang Tan Boys --- I was stupefied. In disbelief. And in tears. I was in a moment.

Anyone who still doubts that RM, Suga, Jin, Jungkook, Jimin, JHope and V do not have talent and are just products of hype, marketing and the euphoria of a trend --- think again, listen again.  Individually and as a group, they are armed with such musical gifts that it is not surprising that they are making history.

Discipline. Dedication. Professionalism.  Gratitude. Empathy. Love for their audience. Growth.  I am stupefied.

A senior citizen. A Boomer in tears experiencing such a high in music that I have never felt for the longest time. That was when I decided to write this blog. That when I realized that regardless of Boomer, Gen X, Y or Z ... the heart of true music knows no age, no nationality and no language. 

I am now a full-fledged member of the Army.

Thursday, December 31, 2020


 It's official.  

In three hours, 2020 will be all over and we have pinned all our hopes that 2021 will treat us more kindly.  As I have written before, I am not of the belief that the moment the clock strikes twelve that all our challenges and agonies embodied by 2020 will be wiped clean like a Magic Slate. 

Nope.  As Elsa said in that Ricky Lee classic filmed by the great Ishmael Bernal, " Walang himala!"   Tomorrow we will wake up to realize that 2021 is but a sequel to 2o2o but (again hopefully) with a better narrative that is less interesting but more compassionate.

As part of my personal superstition I made it a point that all pending jobs and bills have been fulfilled and paid before the year is over.  I have made it a personal mission to make sure that all my work for 2020 is duly accomplished and that the utility bills have been paid --- insuring that there is enough stock of rice, salt and sugar in the pantry.  Such are the beliefs I inherited from my mother.  You do not want anything of 2020 to stick to you as you cross the border of the following year.

Then there is this thing about New Year's Resolutions.  I mean --- do people still make these "To Do"-lists in the name of self-improvement as a year comes to a close and the prospects of another twelve months mark a new beginning?  I do think the Gen Z-ers are even into that considering their Weltenschauung is all about "Whatever!"  But then again it is interesting to list down all the areas that require improvement as far as personal assessments are concerned.  Y0u do not need a New Year revelry to pinpoint where you can improve your life.  

Maybe it is because the internalization is far better when you are philosophizing after consuming half a bottle of red wine or maybe seven straight shots of Jose Cuervo.  

So as a final word to mark the end of The Year of Living Carefully, let me list my so-called resolutions for the Year of the Ox.  The Year of Mickey Mouse wasn't too good or entertaining --- so let's see if we can dance around the Year of the Bull.

(1) I shall be more concerned about my health than my waistline. 

When you reach that certain age, you will come to accept that no one is going to love you because of your body.

No one in his or her right mind would want to ravage your body with his or her love.

No amount of hours working out, Keto diet and visits to your favorite heaven-sent cosmetic medico can ever reverse what the Law of Nature dictated involving aging, metabolism and the passage of time.

So if I spend a good hour to an hour and a half doing my cardio, it is not because I am aspiring to regain my 32 inch waistline when I was not even half my present age.  I shall be content with the use of moisturizers and sweating it out to get rid of the toxins but I am not going to delude myself into thinking that I can impersonate any of the Bench Body models.

Love me as a cream puff ... or leave me.  If you cannot handle my love handles, then you do not deserve my love. Naks!

(2) I am not giving an flying f--k about opinions of people who I know do not also give a flying f--k about me.

I think if you have lived for more than six decades you gain the license to choose to think the way you want to think as long as you do not go around deliberately hurting anybody --- most especially yourself.

When I was twenty, I learned that half of success is getting along with others.

When I was thirty, I found out that success involves choosing the right people to be with.

When I was forty, I realized that success is not fulfillment and you need to charter your course with the right advice from people around you.

But when I turned fifty I came to the point of accepting that the world cannot be defined by your needs alone ... and that there is no one else like you so deal with it.

And now that I am sixty plus, I have decided that since I cannot please everybody ... then I should stop trying to do so and only define my happiness by giving joy to those who really give a s--t about me. 

Regardless of how good a human you are or how evil you have become, someone will always find a reason to give you the finger.  So if somebody tells you to f--k off, give the creature a head to toe look and ask, " And who you? "

(3) Affirmation in life is not like Facebook: it is not based on your number of friends and likes you receive in a day. So I will give more appreciation to the people in my life rather than the acquisitions to define my environment.

The best people in my life (aside from my nephews and nieces) are those I have known more than half my present human existence.

There may be some additions here and there but I realized that each time I host my Christmas dinners, even the so-called new friends have been around for nothing short than a decade.

I would like to keep it that way.  As Stephen Sondheim said in one of his songs in Merrily We Roll Along, old friends are the true treasures because they are there not for keeps but hopefully forever.   There are some people who are like those who pass through the revolving doors of your life but others stay.  And those who stay are your true treasures --- and not the temporal material things which you sometimes mistake as the ultimate gauge of how lucky you are.

Some possessions appreciate through time but they can never give you the love and comfort that true friends can yield ... especially at times when you need them the most.

I do not think you can find any sort of credible consolation hugging your Benz when you feel all alone in the world. And if you do, get the f--k out of my sight.

(4) I will choose to say "no" when I want to say "no" and not feel guilty about it.

Tama na, sobra na, abuso na.

I am sometimes surprised how I can still be bamboozled by emotional blackmail.  Or this Filipino sense of obligation, utang na loob and all that sort of cultural diversionary tactics.  It makes refusal seem so heartless, morbid or even ... uncivilized.

But it is not.

Again,  I find myself trying to please everybody at the expense of myself because I want to save face or look good and,  in the process, practicing civilized hypocrisy. There are moments when you feel you have to give in to requests because you would feel like a rectum personified if you said no.  As I said, more often than not, you fall into the same old trap over and over again because you do not want to come across as arrogant, snobbish ... or at worst, entitled.  More often than not, you succumb to your own personal paranoia AGAIN about what other people might say ... think ... feel or even conclude.

OK.  Enough of that.  If I feel it doesn't fit into what I want, then I will say NO and will not require myself to apologize ... or even be demanded an explanation. It is a privilege that comes with age and not stature.

There is just no more time for that sort of bullshit.

And finally...

(5) You have to make time for what you want as much as what you need.

Enough of the pressure of deadlines, requirements and expectations.

There is such a thing as creative selfishness and it has got nothing to do with this seeming obligation to hug the world and sing Kumbaya.  It is all about centering on your own wants while being aware of your needs. It is about self-love which is as important as all claims of altruism or wanting to save the world.

I must go back to that practice of reading a book every ten days.

I must go back to sketching ... which I gave up so many years ago for a variety of reasons.

I must really cut down on television binging because it has become an addiction that subtracts time for me to do other things.

Although I respect deadlines, I will not allow myself to be terrorized by unmanageable scheduling.

Most important, I will cease from endless trying to prove that I am still relevant because in the larger scheme of things, who really give a f--k?

In short, regardless of challenges and obstacles, I will try my damn best to make 2021 more than fulfilling.

I shall choose to be happy.