feature, writing

Discovering the secret behind Sonya's Garden

The garden that started it all

01 Sonya's BNB.jpg

In the beginning, it was never meant to be a business. Back in the 1980s, all it was was an hectare of land full of possibilities. Armed with a great eye for detail, a well-developed artistic sense and a love for nature and gardening, she built herself a house with a huge garden. “Para lang kaming naglalaro noon [We were just playing then],” recalls Neneth Pendon, Country Bed and Breakfast Supervisor and the only employee today that was around during Sonya's Garden's inception. Sonya would invite close friends over for lunch and serve them delectable dishes using ingredients fresh from her garden. They were so enamored by her cozy home, her beautiful garden and her good cooking that they thought it only seemed right for her to start charging them a fee for the food. One greenhouse later, Sonya's Garden Restaurant was born.

Sonya's Garden Restaurant: a business by friends, for friends

02 Sonya's Garden Resto.jpg

Floored with pebbles and blanketed by nothing but a plastic roof and adorned with simple curtains, Sonya's Garden Restaurant served only one course daily. When asked about her menu, she used to say, “I have no menu. I will tell you what to eat and what's healthy!” Guests would see the garden harvest first-hand and witness Sonya's staff bring it directly into the kitchen and then later on, their plates. Years later, her restaurant still only serves one type of set meal—garden salad fresh from her very own backyard, fresh bread, pasta, and local dessert—and the people who've tasted her cooking have no complaints.

To round up her tried and tested menu, she also recently added braised chicken with potatoes and roast chicken with herbs, available only through special order. For her overnight guests and for special groups of 20 or more, she designed an all-Filipino menu showcasing some of her local favorites to give everyone a taste of her good, home-cooked meals.

A perfect venue for your destination wedding

02 Sonya's Garden Resto Wedding.jpg

Captivated by the beauty, the privacy and overall feel of the place, the son of one of Sonya’s friends expressed his desire to propose to his girlfriend in her garden. Despite being in business for a short time and with limited space to offer, Sonya and her staff made it happen, resulting in a very happy yes. Word spread and pretty soon, restaurant reservations started piling up, especially for that year's Valentines Day. To accommodate all the wedding reservations that started coming in, a second greenhouse was built. In December 2010, Sonya's Garden was the chosen destination of over 36 weddings, and reservations for the new year have already begun pouring in. They have an available wedding package catering up to 300 guests, including her famous and unchanging set meal.

Sonya's Country Bed and Breakfast: A refuge for friends

03 Sonya's BNB 2.jpg

The more Sonya developed and beautified her private world, the more people desperately wanted to stay.  Friends who frequented her home stayed long because of its relaxing ambiance.  It became a silent sanctuary, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. One day, one of her friends playfully suggested she build a new structure for guests to spend the night in, since the number of visitors who had no intention of leaving was rapidly growing. Sonya thought it was a good idea and had a cottage built for her friends to call their second home. Soon, one cottage became two. Today, there are now 17 cottages within Sonya's Country Bed and Breakfast, all named after her favorite herbs. Decorated with a hint of Italian, Balinese and Filipino design, the Country Bed and Breakfast truly captures Sonya's personal taste. One of the most unique features of the rooms is the batalan, an outdoor-style bathroom that has loose pebbles for its flooring.  It is placed indoors, giving the guests a unique feeling of being out in nature while in the privacy of their own rooms.

For bed and breakfast guests, Sonya provides “Art of Doing Nothing” lessons for free. It has almost everything, from basic gardening, compost making, plant propagation, and making natural pesticide to flower arrangement, wreath making, walking, and trekking. Other activities are also available, depending on the schedule and season, like firefly watching (during mating season), cooking lessons using herbs (to be scheduled upon reservation), and yoga lessons, courtesy of Sonya herself.  Given this wide array of things to choose from, you have the option of enjoying the quiet and relaxing atmosphere or turning your stay into an enlightening experience.

The revitalizing comforts of Sonya's Sensuous Spa

To complete their ultimate experience of relaxation at Sonya's, people who would spend the night would bring with them their own massage therapists from the city. Like all the other wonderful ideas of her friends in the past, Sonya took this one and made it happen by adding it to her growing empire. She started training her own massage staff and provided her own spa services to guests.

Sonya's Sensuous Spa offers all kinds of massage, from Swedish, Shiatsu, Tuina (Chinese) and Thai to Sonya's Signature Massage, a combination of all types of massage featuring Sonya's favorite massage strokes. There are various packages named after Sonya's favorite flowers, all including a type of body scrub, full body massage, facial and hair spa. All-Filipino Spa Services are also available, including hilot, the traditional Filipino massage technique. They use a wide variety of oils and essences, all of which are also for sale at the Beyond Scents store next to the spa.

The tale of the Panaderia

04 Panaderia.jpg

Sonya doesn't only take inspiration from her own interests and ideas as well as her friends'—she also makes it a point to help bring out the best in the people she employs. After getting lost a couple of times during their trips, her driver expressed his desire to do something else. “Ano naman ang gagawin mo [What will you do]?” “Magtatanim po [I will plant]!” Sonya was so delighted by this that she agreed.

After further prodding, Sonya found out that her driver had a lot of experience working at a bakery. During a time when the restaurant's kitchen ran out of bread, the ex-driver used the only small oven they had to try and bake some.  The resulting loaves turned out to be so good, the guests asked for more. With only a small oven and almost a hundred people to feed, he would have needed to bake for 24 hours straight! It was then that Sonya decided to get more ovens and put up a Panaderia and left her former chauffeur in charge. He began experimenting in the kitchen. He started making Spanish bread originally meant to be sold to the staff, but the guests loved it so much, they would fight among themselves over it just to be first in line. To this day, the Panaderia's Hispanis Bread is one of their best sellers. Along with it are the super luscious chocolate cake, and Lola Liling's Sans Rival cake.  Lola Liling is Sonya's mother, an accomplished cook herself.

Sonya's Panaderia also offers baked goods for the health-conscious. The oatmeal cookies that are made without egg are perfect for vegetarians, while sugar-free breads are well loved by those afflicted with diabetes.

Sonya shares her passion

Do you like the china used at the restaurant? Fancy the curtains in your room at the bed and breakfast? Does the scent of the massage oil used at the spa relax your nerves? Ask the staff about them, and they will tell you that the wonderful trinkets, artifacts and other beautiful items and products around the compound are treasures Sonya has collected from her many trips out of the country. Most of them are sold at the Country Store.

Aside from sharing her immense love for art and design through the foreign products she sells at the souvenir shop, she also shows her desire to help the community by actively supporting and promoting Filipino entrepreneurs through the local, all-natural products her store carries.

The secret

Sonya's Garden is an enterprise that springs from one great idea after the other. Most of them may have come from her friends, but she always manages to put a little something of herself into each one.  Everything you see in this breathtaking piece of paradise—from the perfectly placed flower boxes in her garden to the expertly managed and beautifully decorated bed and breakfast—is a manifestation of Sonya’s personality.

A well-tended garden full of flowers in bloom. A healthy lifestyle free from illnesses fostered through fresh and nutritious food. A community of service-driven and nature-loving people. Those are the things that make Sonya happy and content, and those are the secrets that make her garden such a joy to visit.


How to get to Sonya’s Garden:

From South Superhighway exit Santa Rosa and turn right towards Tagaytay. Upon reaching main Aguinaldo highway, turn right toward Nasugbu, Batangas. Go past Tagaytay Rotonda and proceed for 10km. After Splendido Golf course and Sunrise Hill make a right turn on the Buck Estate. Drive for 2km and watch out for Sonya's on the left side. Use the first gate and drive towards the end of the driveway and make a right towards parking lot.

For reservations:

Call/text: +63917.5329097 / +63917.5335140 / +63917.5231080

Email: info@sonyasgarden.com

Website: http://www.sonyasgarden.com

Published in Batulao Magazine, March 2011 issue

Photos by Jason Kotenko

list, writing, how to

How To effectively get off your ass and write, write, write

For as long as I can remember, I've always enjoyed writing.  From the many well-kept notes I had in school (my classmates all wanted to photocopy my immaculate study materials come exam week) and the many blogs I started to the numerous features and literary pieces I wrote while I was active in the college paper and the still-existing list of blogs under my name, we can pretty much conclude that yeah, I live and breathe the written word.

I love writing, but sometimes I write about stuff I don't particularly love, and that's okay to a certain degree.  I say that based on experience--these days, I have found myself more frequently reaching that degree and I almost always feel stuck.

So the question is, how do I wriggle myself out of being stuck?  How do I create time to write about stuff that I actually love and give a damn about?

I chanced upon a link on Twitter that led me to a list of tips that will help you make room in your otherwise busy schedule (hey, playing Angry Birds, Facebooking, and watching Glee replays count as activities, too!) for some writing to be done.  I shall simply re-iterate tricks mentioned by editor Victoria Mixon in her site and add my interpretation, not only to get you lazy bums back into your writing groove, but also to slap me in the face in greeting every time I attempt to go off-course.

1. Unhook.
  Basically don't even launch Google Chrome (or whatever browser you prefer) that automatically loads your Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, Youtube, Reddit or other social networking account that causes you to be a mindless drone who unknowingly puts a pin through your balloon of motivation every goddam time.  DON'T. DO. IT. NO. MATTER. HOW. BORED. YOU. ARE.

Your notifications and @replies will all still be there a few hours from now.  Sure, Google Reader might go apeshit and stack up to 100 or so unread items, but that's the beauty of the "Mark As All Read" button (you can hit it, I won't tell), that's why entries can be sorted into topics.  So you can skip the ones you only subscribed to just to fil up your reader and read it when you've got nothing else to do.  While you're on a quest to exercise your writing chops, do yourself a favor and rearrange your daily routine by putting "getting some writing done" on top of the list.

2. Close your mouth.  A kinder way of saying, shut the eff up.  Wait for your empty brain to reboot and start filling up with words, thoughts, ideas, the whole shebang.  Have a pen and notebook (I like Sharpies and unruled paper) handy, or open Notepad and begin writing down whatever comes to your mind.  It doesn't have to make sense right away.  Writing in bullets can sometimes be a great way to organize brain content later on.

3. Plug your ears.  Or if you share your workspace with your incredibly hot boyfriend like I do, stop yourself from looking behind you to check him out--you can have all the hankypanky time you want later.  Earphones help if you are the type who can concentrate with music playing in the background.  Otherwise, you can invest in a couple of ear plugs or just master the art of zen and drown out everything that surrounds you.  It's hard though, especially if there's a damn construction site next door.  If you can successfully drown that out, you're awesomesauce.

4. Watch the clock.  In my case, I use Google Calendar to create my task list and Qlock for alarms.  Make sure to work on a schedule and try your damdest to stick to it.  Don't be cruel to yourself though by scheduling unrealistic time frames.  Squeeze in a couple of breaks so you have time to unwind.  If to you unwinding means Facebook and Twitter though, think twice before you schedule those in between writing tasks...you might be risking loss of momentum.  Take breaks for snacks, a quick walk, maybe even a power nap.  Reserve Internet surfing for after you finish all your work.  Trust me, I've made that mistake quite a few times already, and I always end up having to cram my work a few hours before my deadlines.  I always finish and I always convince myself that I work better under pressure, but a loud voice in my head goes, "HAH!" every time I pull that excuse out of my ass.

5. Take advice.  The list says to get a great book about writing, letting it fall open randomly and start reading.  I have a couple of great books I can try this with.  It sounds like a great tip.  Mine are more about screenwriting and story development though, which is probably a good start.  If you don't have books on writing readily available and you have great self-control, you can try Google searching writing tips AND ONLY writing tips.  If you feel like you're losing it, don't be afraid to copy paste content quickly into Notepad and shut that web browser down.  Nope, minimizing won't work.  If you really want to do it, do it right. 

6. Doodle a name.  Write it, type it.  If you feel like you've immersed yourself too much into reading writing tips, write down random names you'd like to give your characters. If you're not specifically writing a story, then doodle your crush's name.  Doodle a song lyric.  Allow the words to evolve into something completely different and work your way from there.

7. Drink tea.  If you dislike the leafy aftertaste of tea like I do, try adding milk and ice.  Oh wait, list says "something warm and comforting".  Maybe warm milk?  Hot cocoa?  As long as you have a nice, go-to drink to keep you energized that's not a plateful of bacon (unless you're dead hungry, but eat light meals!), an espresso, or booze, you're good to go.

8. Zonk out.  Don't feel bad for taking a nap.  That loud ringing in your ears or those throbbing temples are your brain's way of telling you to time out, ease up a bit and take things slow.  Maybe dream a little while you're at it.  Sometimes stories resume in our sleep.

9. Disappear for a week up a river or a mountain, break a leg, and get snowed in.  If nothing works, swap your setting for something else.  Change your environment if the walls feel like they're closing in on you.  Assign yourself a temporary new work place.

Here's to wishing you (and myself) a heartfelt good luck with your next writing expedition.

writing, college

Graduation tale

Pick me up love / From the bottom / Up to the top love / Everyday…

My computer—my most loyal companion for the past couple of weeks since my last term in college ended—is playing the Dave Matthews Band track Everyday, which has been playing daily, promptly, at exactly 7:00 AM, the time I am programming my insomniac self to wake up so I can get my much-needed regular exercise.  Only today, I set it at 5:30AM, and it’s not because I missed three days worth of early morning jogging (another habit I would like to make regular).  I set it early because at 8:00AM today, I am expected to attend my graduation.

So yes Dave, I am up, only after three hours of sleep; it doesn’t even feel like I’ve had any.  To tell you honestly, I don’t even feel the excitement one ought to feel at the impending end of one’s scholastic experience.  I don’t feel the usual graduate-to-be’s anxiety over the fact that after today, she will be another member of the growing population of the unemployed.  I am not sure what the reason really is, but one thing’s for sure…if there is anything that is supposed to hit me today, right at this moment, the moment I wake up to a day marking yet another accomplishment, it has not made its rightful kaboom yet.

I trudge towards the bathroom, splash cold water on my face, take a quick cold shower (they are the best in this heat), get in my white-polka-dotted-with-black dress and 4-inch pumps (they can kill people, and my feet too!), make my face up (which sounds really weird, now that I have typed it), grab a few chocolate chip granola bars and took two sachets of 3-in-1 coffee, empty it into my Starbucks tumbler, put in an inch of hot water to dissolve the powder first before pouring in cold water and ice, to complete my wake-me-upper drink.  Kia texts and tells me that there is virtually no traffic and that she will meet me at the graduation venue.

In the car, I try to play an mp3 CD I burned earlier of a couple of songs from my Up And At ‘Em Playlist, but the car radio fails miserably, and we are forced to listen to early morning radio.  Stephen Bishop’s It Might Be You plays and I cringe while I try to remember why I hated that song in the first place.  I think it has something to do with it being the theme song of a guy best friend in high school and his then-girlfriend.  I also remember that I sort of had a crush on him, and my gal pals Danii, Iris and Jomai (who are still three of my best-est friends to this day) could not understand why.  I also remember that we used to do spit shakes (yeah, in high school…how juvenile and disgusting) and he once dared me to wear his retainer, and I did.

As our car was making a U into the driveway of the venue, my dad asks me if I want a corsage for my chest, and I say I didn’t mind.  As if on cue, a strange man comes up to me as I was getting off the vehicle, with two corsages: one for me, one for mom.  I find it weird that my mom had to have a corsage, too.  As he pins the flower onto the toga I am hurriedly wearing, he mumbles, “Ma’am, 200 pesos for the two flowers.”  Oh, right.  Nothing in Manila is ever free.  I see Kia approaching us with her dad in tow, and like a mommy she reminds me that according to the grad invite, we are not allowed to wear flowers on our togas.  And the photographers outside are NOT official photo takers, so don’t get fooled (at this moment I feel immense gladness that I have her whenever I can’t bring myself to be a hard-ass.)  Mom scans the crowd for the strange man to return the flower we were fooled into buying.

My mom and dad document our walk to the entrance with their digicams and camera phones.  Kia and I make the best of it and pull Tyra faces while I help her get made up and while we fix each other’s togas.  We separate from our parental units and hurriedly go inside to find our classmates in Multimedia Arts already lined up for the grand entrance. We have about five minutes to kill before it starts, during which JM shows me his grape-flavored cigar (Kia says EEEWW) and I show them my iShuffle ingeniously hidden underneath my garb, in case the 3-hour name-calling got too boring.

The graduation march plays, and we are asked to start walking to our seats.  The person in front of me tells me to be careful going down the stairs, or we might do a domino effect and topple over like black tiles (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGnNlQ-KNv4).  I try to look for my folks in the sea of supporters.  I remember that I failed to tell them to choose seats on the right side so they were near my batch.  I hope they figure it out.

The professors do their entrance.  I find it sort of amazing that our teachers are required to wear the togas from the respective colleges they’ve graduated from.  Some are in black with red trim, blue trim, gold trim, some with weird-shaped hats, some with just sashes over formal wear.  The winner is an old math professor that had a pure gold toga and a cap that resembles a chef’s hat with gold tassel trimmings around the perimeter, making him look like a lampshade.

After everyone gets into place, the baccalaureate mass begins.  I think to myself, even if I am a non-practicing Catholic, I still have the mass responses pretty much memorized and it peeves me that they chose really weird mass songs for the choir to sing, ones the crowd can barely sing along with (I try to remember one of my more favorite mass songs, but I pull a huge blank).  Then I remember that I almost never attend mass anyway, only during occasions like this.  I start to think about religion, and I remember this OKCupid question I answered previously: Would you be willing to change your religion for your significant other?  Yes, No, Maybe/I Don’t Know?  Then I remember the movie Fools Rush In starring Salma Hayek and Matthew Perry wherein Salma’s character says that if they were to have kids, she would like to raise them Catholic (since she was Catholic).  Then that got me thinking really, really hard….what is Matthew Perry up to now?  Is it true that the whole gang agreed to film a Friends movie in 2011?  How much will they get paid if they used to be paid 1 million per episode before?

Another break, then the graduation proper begins.  Our college, School of Design and Arts, is the first to get called. There is only one graduate under the Music Production course, and he is not in his seat.  He probably didn’t bother attending.  The whole walk to the edge of the stage, I was chanting…don’t trip, don’t trip, damn I am hungry, don’t trip…  They call my complete name, which is 26 letters long, including my surname.  I walk towards Brother Vic, the school’s president, and I see a familiar smile on his face. “Jam!”  He knows me by my nickname and he seems mighty glad to hand me my fake diploma.  I grin my usual Jam grin, the ear-to-ear variety, and communicate this message with my eyes: Yes, Brother, I am graduating today.  With grace and with joy.  I walk a couple more steps towards the x mark in the middle of the stage, face the crowd, and do a little bow.  I get off the stage and walk back to my seat.  30 minutes into the program and my Kodak moment is over.  My poor parents have to sit through a few more hours of random names being called before we can leave for our celebratory lunch.  My seatmate Gab nudges me with his elbow and laughs when finally, our favorite person on the grad list gets called (Jacky A. Chen).  Finally the last girl on the list gets called.  She has the best deal if she decided to sign up for the video coverage; she got the most applause.

In the middle of the Magna Cum Laude’s speech while she recounts how she got to where she is and thanks her parents for sacrificing a lot to send her to this school, it hit me: IT IS FINISHED.  We sang the Benildean hymn, and I realize that after three years in this institution, I still have not memorized it.  The more general Lasallian alma matter hymn, I do know by heart.  This reminds me of the reggae version someone made: http://bit.ly/aKIH7Z

Everybody now wants to have a picture with anybody they know.  Kia and I start looking for our two favorite professors who decided to attend our graduation so we can say thanks, but we get sidetracked for photo ops multiple times along the way.  I am probably going to get tagged in X number of Facebook images, X being a gazillion.

After a few more minutes of camwhoring, I slowly walk, inch by inch, to our car.  My high heels are killing my toes off one by one. In the car, mom nags me that now that I am officially done with school, I ought to do my pending projects for them, like her website, the layout of the new book she is writing, my aunt’s brochures, and all these things she thinks I ought to do on a “family discount”.

We go into a Japanese restaurant and order plates of spicy tuna salad, ebi tempura, maguro and salmon sashimi. Spicy tuna makes me happy somehow.  I am glad my dad chose this restaurant for lunch.  Few more photos are taken; among my parents’ four children, I am the only one who actually went through graduation.  My older siblings just waited for their diploma in the mail and did not march.

My sister-in-law Gel and I go to the bookstore to get a few art supplies she needs while my sister and niece go to the pet store to get chew toys for their dog Twitch.  We agree to rendezvous at the frozen yogurt shop.  People in my immediate circle seem to love the stuff; personally, I’m more of a chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream kinda gal. Gel and I walk over to Fully Booked.  While she looks over sketchpads and acrylic paints, I walk over to the sci-fi section to see if they had the book Cryptonomicon, a recommendation made by a new friend.  On our way back to the fro-yo shop, we ponder on this question: can people actually be born gay or do certain events in our lives trigger the inherent switch in all of us?  I think about the way that sometimes I find girl-on-girl kissing in movies hot (provided that one is Megan Fox and the other is Amanda Seyfried), but I cannot, for the life of me, imagine myself getting physically intimate with a woman.  Gel says, “If you can’t see yourself muff-dive, then you’re straight FOR SURE.”  I can pretty much claim that, thank you.

We get to the fro-yo shop.  Gel gets plain with mango, almonds and choco chips as toppings.  I, on the other hand, get choco chips, cocoa pebbles and choco syrup.  Yes, I completely ice creamed it up with all that chocolate, just the way I like it.  After a few more photos, mom inquires quietly, “Jam, how do I recover deleted photos?”  I ask her to hand it over and discover that my camera’s memory card is COMPLETELY WIPED OUT.

I spend most of the afternoon trying not to get too upset about that.  I even go with Gel to the front of the restaurant where we ate lunch to try and re-take some photos.  I keep her company and let my folks go ahead home.  We spend a hot day in traffic taking half-assed pictures in her Volkswagen Beetle to replace my deleted ones.  I still have a bit of hope that something can be done to recover them, though.

A few more hours are spent at the mall.  We walk around and look at stores.  I remember a guy once telling me that I would look really pretty and sexy with a flower in my hair, so I buy a headband that had one.  Jiki, Gel’s friend, comes to meet us and we hang out at one of our favorite restaurants, Cibo.  We order nothing, Jiki orders an iced tea.  More photos.

At this point in the story, I feel the fatigue set upon my abused body.  I have not been sleeping particularly well, you see.  8-10 kilometers away, my bed in my bedroom is giving me signals for me to come home and take refuge.  After a few more rounds in the mall, looking for a parlor that had vacancy for a mani-pedi or a spa for a massage, I call my mom to come pick up her favoritegraduate.  I need to go home.

She picks me up fifteen minutes later.  I get home, go straight to my bed, and fall into it face first.  Sigh, what an incredibly relaxing feeling, having 5 fluffy pillows cushion and cradle my tired body.  I look over to my inspiration wall and spot the post-it I put up around three months ago: Feb. 27, 2010.

It is finished.

writing, contest piece, college

Poll automation: Is the Philippines ready?

Since the birth of the Internet, more and more people have found it easier to use the computer in accessing a vast amount of information available. After years of development, it has become the easiest and most effective form of communication available to almost anyone. To keep up with the fast pace dictated by computer technology, more nations like the United States of America have turned to the convenience of the online world and applied its advantages to something that affects their entire country—voting for their government leaders through poll automation.

The Philippines is not one to allow itself to be left behind—our capability to keep up with technology is apparent in the multitudes of gadgets we own that we update almost as fast as electronics companies make them. However, considering our government’s notorious reputation marred by graft and corruption, is this proficiency sufficient to prove that we are mature enough to handle something as serious as poll automation in the upcoming 2010 elections?

To take as an example, in most schools like La Salle, we have the luxury of machines that accept polls with slates blackened to symbolize choice (remember your multiple-tests and the evaluation questionnaires you are required to answer every term?). In the US, they use a similar method in tabulating votes during elections, and based on results, this process yields a more accurate response. Computers now have touch-screen monitors with the ability to record fingerprints—an incredibly efficient way of detecting flying voters and tamper-proofing the ballot counts.

The fact that we have comparable systems only proves that we have the necessary skills to use our available resources and make our voting process more effective and efficient at the same time. However, our path to progress is stunted time and time again by the corruption of the people in office. Despite our government having the budget for automated polls and computer education, somewhere down the hierarchy all the money disappears, and we have no choice but to depend on the not-so-accurate and not-always-honest poll watchers and counters to help decide which of the candidates are put into office.

A computer-automated 2010 elections may seem like a very promising option for our country. It may help lessen (if not completely eliminate) the number of repeat voters and may increase the accuracy of the vote count. But if the people responsible for putting this technology into action are still stuck in their old habits, Filipino voters and poll watchers alike seem to have no other choice but to be stuck just like them.

(Winner, 1st Place, Campus Journalism Awards 2009 under the Editorial Writing - English category)

writing, contest piece, college

The online nation: The Internet’s role in today’s media

Where the Internet is about availability of information, blogging is about making information creation available to anyone.

- George Siemens

Consider the current situation: Since the invention of the computer, more and more people have gained literacy and awareness. The Internet, after years of development, has become the easiest and most effective form of communication available to almost anyone, bridging distances of global proportions. As of June 30, 2008, 1.463 billion people use the Internet. Its reach has become so awe-inspiring that even those who don’t usually voice out their sentiments are now blogging about them 24/7.

The Evolution of Man In-the-Know
Back during the days of war, colonization and in our case, martial law, only members of the press cared about the sacred freedom of the press; others were either blissfully unaware or simply uninterested in the merits this simple principle afforded us. Now, more of the older, more traditional modes of communication and information dissemination are gradually being overtaken by the fast pace of modern technology. These new methods have with it advantages that improve their freedom of expression—from satellite televisions and voice over Internet protocols to web-based publishing. These simple tools have armed us not only with easier means to communicate, but also the sincere desire of being up-to-date with the latest trends, not to mention gaining awareness in issues directly affecting our personal lives.

Birth of the Online Nation: Blogging as a Way of Life
Writing is one of the longest-standing modes of relaying thoughts and opinions known to man. From the time we first learned to write in our diaries to the first moment we were tasked to type a book report in school using the typewriter, the same progress has been made through the Internet.

A Web log (blog) is a site usually maintained by a person that discusses a wide range of topics, anything from daily rants to description of events and political opinions.

After years of availability, blogging has become another household name and has, quite literally, become a way of life for many people. Businesses have accepted the importance of being available on the World Wide Web; websites like eBay and Amazon allow people to shop in the comforts of their own homes and allow people to advertise the many services and products they have to offer. Newspapers have broken the boundaries of print media by having websites of their own that update their content in real-time, acting as information gateways to billions of Internet users hungry for information.

Blogging has ideally transformed itself into the crossroads where all forms of media combine—TV footage immortalized by the videos on Youtube; your favorite radio tunes, on rewind, brought to you by lastfm; national and world news reported to you as it happens by CNN.com and Inquirer.net; even your favorite magazines, catalogued and shared through issuu.com. All these can be conveniently archived and shared by bloggers worldwide in their very own place in cyberspace.

Media and Responsible Blogging
In old-school information dissemination, thoughts on paper go through a long list of channels. Blogs and the Internet allow writers of all sorts to bypass all that and send messages directly to the public. With that in mind, there is a bigger tendency to also bypass copyright and the necessary role of mass media in feeding mankind with reliable news. With online content largely generated by the users themselves, an education in online information validation, proper citation, and proper online etiquette is needed to keep in balance the potentially negative effects this important technology has. The fact that almost everyone is online, more people ought to care about not just the perks of freedom of expression, but also the underlying responsibility that goes with it.

Blogging as a Defining Factor to What’s Important
Blogging widens the range of topics people are most concerned about. As bloggers, we define what issues ought to be buried (like maybe, how Bush is probably the worst American president ever, or the overly discussed Jen-Angelina feud), and what ought to be given proper attention (like the rise of Obamanism, or the declining prices of gasoline and other commodities).

Based on results, with the ever-present change the current media landscape is undergoing, blogging will forever be part of the important milestone linking old media to the current trend of technology as well as the developing attitude we have towards it.

Reference: World Internet Usage Statistics News and Population Stats updated June 30, 2008 http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog http://www.maxgladwell.com/2008/12/media-landscape-newspapers Websites named in the article were searched under Google.com.

(Winner, 2nd Place, Campus Journalism Awards 2009 under the Features Writing - English category)

writing, contest piece, college

The Nasser incident: Is the Internet to blame?

Along with the Internet came the birth of blogging, a tool that allows any computer-literate individual to broadcast his or her point-of-view in any topic available. Blogs are now widely used for any reason—from something as trivial as one’s daily rants to something as important as hard-hitting world news brought to you as it happens in real-time.

However, this phenomenon comes with it a very important fine print: the information you get online can be ranged anywhere from completely accurate to misleading, biased and blown out of proportion. Because of this, its readers are left with the important task of intelligently forming their opinions based on what they think are valid sources.

Take for example the Nasser Vs. Dela Paz incident. According to various news reports, Secretary of Agrarian Reform Nasser Pangandaman, Sr. and his son, Mayor of Lanao del Sur Nasser Pangandaman, Jr., allegedly beat up 56 year-old dela Paz along with his 14 year-old son. Due to emotional distress, the Dela Paz party did not file a complaint at once. However, Bambee, dela Paz’s daughter, blogged about the incident and garnered many sympathetic readers. With the incident now the center of popular discussion over the World Wide Web, dela Paz pushed through with their complaint.

Though the court responsible for this case saw the Pangandamans as innocent until proven guilty, the damage done to their reputation online pushes reasonable doubt aside. It seems that whether or not the Pangandamans are guilty, the freedom of expression brought by the Internet has already shed a bad light on the politicians, strengthening the cause of the other party by a small margin. The counter-suit they filed complaining of physical injuries and insisting that they weren’t the ones who started the fight are now seen as a feeble attempt at trying to save face instead of it being given credit.

Though blogs are protected by the same law protecting the freedom of the press, it is up to us people on the outside to keep the sanctity of the justice system by being responsible bloggers. Some situations can be retold online without meriting disastrous consequences, some situations require a little bit of decency and due process because of its adverse affect on the people involved. Some are factual news with the right amount of sources cited to make it legally binding, some are solely based on first-person point-of-view, hearsay and opinion.

In the end, it is still up to the reader (and blogger) to know the difference.

(Winner, 1st Place, Campus Journalism Awards 2009 under the Editorial Writing - English category)

writing, contest piece, college

Family beyond blood

“The family is one of nature's masterpieces."

—George Santayana, Spanish-American philosopher, poet and humanist, 1863-1952

In today’s world marred by hypocrisy, war and injustice, we are faced with opportunities to meet certain people or situations that can become obstacles to our pursuit for a happier, more content life. In troubled times like this, we can only rely on our kin for loyal support and unconditional love.

Back in grade school, we were taught that a family is a small group of people bound by the same blood running through their veins. Our teachers showed us pictures of a mommy and a daddy with children who had the same facial features. Along with this lesson, we were introduced to the many races of the world as well as our differences that set us apart from them.

Filipinos: Diversity Personified
Let’s take our country’s history in consideration. In the Philippines , ever since the Chinese started trading with us back in the pre-colonial era, from the Spanish colonization to the American regime until now, we have been exposed to a number of cultures which make up our currently very colorful way of life. We have grown accustomed to various cultural influences, beliefs, principles, and customs. Our past directly affected our physical appearance, our spiritual and mental makeup, our emotional sensibilities and the like. Because of our background, as a nation, we are not inclined to discrimination.

Racial Prejudice: An Old School Tradition
In other countries, although through time more people are becoming more comfortable with the idea, the blending of the races is still looked upon with a skeptical eye. We look at our television screens in awe at Angelina Jolie’s growing brood of assorted ancestry and wonder, “does it really work, caring for a child not your own?” When we see an African-American man with a Caucasian woman, people still look, comment and sometimes silently disapprove. No amount of cultural evolution or modernized morals can change the fact that when two people of different backgrounds are united, regardless of romance, intelligence or level of liberalism, it still doesn’t quite add up for some who haven’t outgrown their traditionalist ways.

To Filipinos, a person’s worth goes beyond the color of one’s skin or the number of peso bills in one’s pocket. As long as you live in the Philippines and enjoy being here, you can be called a Filipino. Kahit sino, pwede maging Pinoy! Take a look around and you will see the many different faces of various types of people who have considered our country their new home.

Welcome to the Philippines , where everybody is welcome to be part of a family. In a place where the concept of family is top priority and love is free-for-all, whether or not you’re a Dela Cruz or a Lee or a Johnson or a Panemanglor does not really matter. A family that lives in harmony and love despite their obvious differences is still a family in the end.

Diversity in Family: A Step Closer to a United World
Due to unbearable living conditions some may have experienced alongside the ever-present poverty line, many of our fellow Filipinos have opted to leave the motherland to seek a better life on the other side of the white picket fence. However, they still bring with them their Filipino sentimentality: you can take the Filipino out of the Philippines , but you can’t take the Philippines out of the Filipino. Wherever they decide to go, whether for work or to raise a family, they still hold in their hearts the same high regard they have for their loved ones.

Today, armed with the quick solution of immigration and inter-racial marriage to escape the hard life, Filipino immigrants abroad are actually taking us a step further to close the racial gap between nations. Parents of an inter-racial family are inclined to value the importance of uniqueness and diversity as well as the beauty in people of all races, shapes and sizes. The child born from an inter-racial marriage exudes a stronger sense of self with a heightened appreciation for different cultures.

In a world marked by ethnic boundaries, multi-racial families provide convincing evidence that races can co-exist, not only in the same town or country but in the same home. It strengthens the age-old belief that we are all brothers and sisters, stemming from the same family tree. It takes the future of a united world from the dark corners of our dreams and actually brings it into the light of a possible reality.

(Winner, 3rd Place, Campus Journalism Awards 2008 under the Features Writing - English category)

college, opinion, writing

Of lists and principles

Random obvious fact: loneliness can be a bitch to deal with. Whether you already have a significant other to call your own or not, it doesn’t exclude you from the hordes of hopefuls waiting for that one bigoomph that will catapult one’s life from the pits of depression into sheer relationship bliss. We all have lists and we all want a perfect happy ending.

A certain hopeless romantic recently let me in on his secret when it comes to “finding the one”. He fondly calls it the “pie principle”: for a person to make it to the next level, she (in his case) has to satisfy the physical, intellectual, and emotional requirements set by the one in search of The One. Back in high school over a decade ago, my best friend and I made The List. It had specific qualities and attributes we wanted in a boyfriend. It had everything—from “wide reader” and “good conversationalist in English” to “athletic” and “incredible sense of humor”. She ended up with a gambling drummer ex boyfriend with the emotional mood swings of a PMS-ing teenager. I, on the other hand, had to go through a bi-curious fella and an over-achieving relationship doofus before I got lucky with an okay mate nine years my senior. What’s up with that? Is setting relationship goals considered idealistic? Can’t we enjoy the entire pie?

We all want a perfect happy ending, and that includes the perfect person to share it with—the complete package. So what does a person usually do until that scenario presents itself? Go on countless dates. Flirt like there’s no tomorrow. Collect and select. Whatever it is, people do it armed with the hope that someday, all that’s going to end with a Kodak moment and a surefire answer to the ultimate dating question: is this it?

Good sense and high hopes tell us that love, companionship and joy are for everyone. However, we each are wired differently—we see from many points-of-view and choose to take different paths. Some see the logical mathematical equation: you plus me equals we, provided that you plus your goals is equal to me plus mine. Some are driven by either that incessant butterfly fluttering in their stomachs or that nagging voice inside their heads. Whatever the motivation, the destination is still the same—a happy life shared with someone.

We are complicated beings. Most of us have strong tendencies to want what we don’t or can’t have. We send out mixed signals and we choose to read between the lines. One of the reasons why so many people have a hard time looking for love, happiness and everything else in between is because of high expectations—they ruin relationships, especially the ones that haven’t even begun yet. Instead of inviting people in, they build walls. They delay the pursuit of happiness and prolong the excruciating pain of loneliness.

No one is completely alone, though. I’d like to think of life as one humongous jigsaw puzzle, and the world populated with literally billions of people waiting to be the put in the right place. If you meet someone who doesn’t quite cut it according to your standards, don’t fret and immediately close the door on that opportunity. Pie principles and lists of qualification don’t determine a person’s worth to be part of your life. Give it a shot and be the one who brings out the hidden qualities in that person that will ultimately make the pie whole, the complete package.

Lists honestly don’t matter in the end—eventually, we find someone who’s the only exception.

(Published in The Benildean, the official college paper of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde)

college, opinion, writing

Indecent proposal

Most of us grew up being taught good manners and right conduct—it was a subject in grade school, even. There are also signs everywhere, telling us what we should do and what rules we should abide by. Despite that fact, there’s still garbage on the streets, irresponsible pedestrians who ignore traffic lights, men peeing on walls, and vandalism on bus seats and bathroom doors. How come, even though we know it’s something improper and frowned upon, we still do trivial acts of indecency?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean “flashing me your penis” kind of indecent, but rather the simple rude things people think they can get away with every single day without anyone giving a damn. Take for what happened to me earlier this month. While I was choosing a bus decent enough to ride to school without having to worry about the scorching heat, stuck in place due to the two heavy paper bags I was lugging around, a man from a passing open-air bus spat on the street shamelessly. Unfortunately, his revolting glob of mess landed on my pant leg. Who does that? What, too lazy to whip out your handkerchief? Can’t your spit wait until you get off at the next bus stop so you can aim it at a trash bin instead of an innocent bystander’s leg? The only thing that stopped me from screaming out profanities was the fact that masses of people were elbowing each other to get to the other side of the highway populated with various “no jaywalking” signs.

Which made me remember another instance—the way passengers on the LRT and MRT act. There are people who want to get on the train so bad, they elbow their way through troves of people who need to get out of the train. These people who seem to care only for their own personal space and are not mindful of anyone else’s. People who ignore queues as if they didn’t have a purpose. How hard is it to understand: when someone is lined up at the LRT stop, you get behind that person and respect the fact that he got there first. Don’t sneak up beside him in the hopes that you beat him to the door opening for a better seating opportunity.

Why do these things still happen? Maybe it’s a force of habit or the fact that we see a lot of people get away with it so often that we think it’s all right. Whatever it is, it doesn’t really matter. Rudeness will never have a legitimate excuse, at least in my books.

We’ve got to stop being crass and start becoming more aware of our surroundings. Just look around you—doesn’t the sight of chaos and filth make you want to be a better citizen, a better member of the human race? If that doesn’t do it, give the Golden Rule a shot. If you don’t want someone’s spit to be on you, then I guess you’d have to hold yours in for the time being.

(Published in The Benildean, the official college paper of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde)

college, writing, opinion

Luck schmuck

In life, people do bogus things to get fate on their side. Athletes wear their overused lucky bacon-gartered underwear for the win. Gambling hopefuls blow on their dice—sometimes kiss them like they would a lover—toward the jackpot. Some people consult their horoscopes religiously. Others, the calendar. This year is very lucky. Especially on July, 7, 2007. Opportunity will open its doors and all your wishes will come true.

That, my friends, is the day when my mother’s water bag broke over a mahjong game she was winning and gave birth to me while she was sedated. My birthday this year is 07-07-07. My name is Frances Kristin Jamille (777). I turned 23. Two plus three isn’t seven, but you get the picture. If luck were based on numbers, then I could be considered pretty damn lucky.

I didn’t get emergency superhuman powers. I didn’t suddenly wake up in the middle of the night with the body of Wonder Woman. Johnny Depp didn’t magically apparate in his Jack Sparrow costume to wish me Happy Birthday. Basically, I’m still me. Unlike probably thousands of people that day, I didn’t bet on the number seven in the Lotto. I didn’t hit the slot machines at the casino. I didn’t get married and have babies.

So what’s the big deal? Sure, my fellow Cancerians had something to brag about that day; it would be a cool license plate to have. Never again in this century would we have a triple number “lucky” date (okay, maybe in the year 2077, but that’s a long way off).What happens the day after? We become ordinary again?

Sure, luck can be delicious if you get to have the better bite, but in the pot of stew we call life, it’s not the main ingredient—it’s the salt and pepper added to taste. We still have to get up in the morning with the obligation to give ourselves the boost to work hard to be able to achieve what we want to make out of our consumer-driven lives. We still have to face the consequences of our actions with heads up high. Celebrate if something goes your way. Suck it up and take responsibility for the unsuccessful decisions. Basketballs won’t magically shoot themselves ringless because you have your undies from high school on; practice does make perfect. Rolls of the dice are not pre-ordained—you win some, you lose some (Note: Winning gambles on a regular basis is not a sign from God that you abandon your studies and pursue a career in professional poker. Do it for fun!). Just because Libre tells you that you will come across your future girlfriend at the Vito Cruz station, it doesn’t mean you stop making a good first impression.

Doors to opportunities do open, but not all the time, and not to people with nothing under their belts but blind hope. The cliché is true: there are many fish in the sea, and luck is not the thing to make you different from every other fish. Work hard, play hard, pray hard. Sure, make a wish when you blow out your birthday candle, amuse yourselves with your horoscopes, light a candle and burn a paper with your list of wants on it while chanting—it could be fun. Just don’t sit on your ass wishing on the first star you see with crossed fingers, waiting for something magical to happen. Get out there and show them what you are made of—a unique and industrious individual with substance and a great attitude. Take an actual step forward nearer toward your goals.

Being born on July 7 didn’t make me a better person. I still lose my homework. I still get seatmates on the bus simmering in their body odor. I still get viruses on my computer. I still say stupid stuff that gets me into trouble sometimes. That doesn’t stop me from being me, though. The me who stays up all night just to re-type my paper. The me who steadfastly stands on the aisle of the bus carrying a humongous bag. The me who refuses to kiss her external hard drive goodbye without exhausting all possible solutions. The me who knows the value of saying sorry. And the more I think about it, being me isn’t so bad after all.

(Published in The Benildean, the official college paper of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde)

college, writing, list

Ultimate cliché “Up And At ‘Em” anthems: Top 10 songs to jumpstart your mornings

For days when your pillows seem extra soft and your bed is a little bit harder to leave, alarm clocks just don’t cut it anymore. What you need is a morning theme song to give you a boost of energy that will surely get your ass off your mattress and up on your feet. Here are some of my suggestions that are more on the “oldies but goodies” mode, in case you’ve forgotten about these musical gems. In my opinion, if you don’t already have them, get a hold of these timeless tunes to diversify and liven up your music collection.

1. You Give Love a Bad Name – Bon Jovi Who doesn’t know Bon Jovi? Even though this band made its claim to fame back when most of us were still in our nappies, we grew up listening to most of their songs. Heck, he even guest judged in the recently concluded American Idol, proof that his rockstardom has not even slightly diminished. A great song to fake air-guitar to in front of your bathroom mirror.

2. Eye of the Tiger – Survivor Come on. Do you really think I’d forget to put this on the list? This is Rocky’s anthem, cliché in all its glory but memorable and effective nonetheless. You don’t even need the lyrics to know what this song is–the opening bars are enough to wake up the fighter within.

3. Black or White – Michael Jackson Though this song starts mildly with a bit of dialogue (it’s Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin, in case you didn’t already know), it deserves a place in great music history, including its singer the King of Pop himself (forget about his pedophiliac tendencies–he still rocks despite that). In my opinion, no MP3 player would ever be complete without at least one track by MJ.

4. Eat the Rich – Aerosmith Some of you may not know this song (believe me, they have other great songs that aren’t Crazy or Cryin’ or I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing), but it’s on Aerosmith’s Big Ones album, making it more than worth the mention. A good song to make an alarm ringtone out of–listen to it and you’ll know what I mean.

5. New Age Girl – Dead Eye Dick All together now: “Mary Mooooooon, she’s a vegetarian (Mary Moon, Mary Moon, Mary Moon)…” Never mind who exactly Mary Moon is—at this point in time when songs from the nineties are already referred to as “oldies”, it’s considered a forgotten classic. I bet you forgot this song even existed, unless you’re like me who has this on her ITunes favorites. If so, it’s definitely a must-download. It never fails to cheer one up, and its upbeat tempo will surely wake up your tired senses.

6. Two Princes – Spin Doctors This is another classic essential to any song collection. Easy to memorize and fun to sing along to, this Spin Doctors anthem is what made the group part of the rock charts in the early nineties. I’m telling you, do yourself a favor and get re-acquainted with this song. You won’t be sorry.

7. Semi Charmed Life – Third Eye Blind Everyone likes Semi Charmed Life…if you don’t, I think there’s something seriously wrong with you. One of Third Eye Blind’s better, more upbeat songs, Semi Charmed Life would probably be the first track on my life’s OST. Seriously. A good song to play while getting ready to go to school in the morning.

8. Wake Me Up Before You Go Go – Wham Before George Michael and his run-ins with the law, Before Careless Whisper, there was Wham. Clad in colorful outfits and armed with a sunny disposition, this tandem is memorable for this song first and foremost. The music video is in itself a representation of the era when tight fitting pants were acceptable on men and dancing flamboyantly wasn’t frowned upon.

9. Play That Funky Music – Wild Cherry Classic with a capital C. Can’t really have a dance floor disco playlist without this gem from the seventies, can you? Like what its title claims, this is considered an iconic funk song, though it was the band’s only hit. Anyway, play that funky music, white boy!

10. Tubthumping – Chumbawamba “I get knocked down! But I get up again; you’re never gonna keep me down…” The English band with the weird name which has been around since the eighties made a hit out of this track in both the UK and the US. Dance Dance Revolution enthusiasts will recognize this easily as one of the favorites to dance to in the 2nd mix. A good song to have on a compilation CD.

More Up And At ‘Em
Yeah yeah, so sue me for going over ten songs. This is in case you want more on your list. Or maybe I just can’t make up my mind on the best ten. Either way, it doesn’t hurt to have more songs to listen to, right? Enjoy!

1. Song 2 – Blur
2. Are You Gonna Go My Way – Lenny Kravitz 
3. Welcome to the Jungle – Guns N Roses
4. Maneater – Nelly Furtado 
5. Small Things – Blink 182

(Published in The Benildean, the official college paper of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde)

writing, feature, college

When Earth meets Sky

Category: Interview

It was Plato who said, “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. ” One does not readily understand the real meaning of this quote. At least, not until one has spoken to Joey Ayala and Cynthia Alexander. These people completely define what Plato had to say eons ago. They took the same road to triumph ans share the same blood. They’ll give you a different feel of what life really means—through their music, that is.

Traipsing the World with Your Tsinelas on
What do you get when you mix talent, philosophy, humor, indigenous instruments and two glasses of iced cappuccino? The answer: an interview with the awesome Joey Ayala. It’s not that much, if you think a good conversation over lunch is not a lot to work with.

“The thing is, I don't write in a genre.”

Contrary to what other people may think, his stuff is not alternative rock. It’s neither folk nor OPM. Some think it ought to be world music. Record stores even have his CDs and tapes on shelves that say “neo-ethnic” on them, but music enthusiasts really don’t know why they’re there to begin with. “If it were up to me, I'd just say Joey Ayala and put it on a shelf.”

“I was a musician already without realizing it. I was doing it because it was fun.”

Joey Ayala consciously would like to think of himself as a literary artist. A makata. Way back in high school, he would write scribbles on paper, throw them away, and his mother would secretly send them off to various magazines. Before he knew it, he had a byline in one of them, namely, Leader Magazine. He won third place in the Carlos Palanca Awards back in 1983, for a short story he’d written with hismanunulat tendencies. He dreamed of one day being famous for his works of fiction and poetry, but when he started honing his musical talents, everything changed. He started performing in front of people and realized the immediate gratification that came with it. Either they like you, or they don’t. For him, writing is a solitary thing. You agonize. “Even if you are accepted, you don't even know if people actually read. If they do, you don't know if they actually like it.”

He’s had his share of ups and downs of being in the music industry. Writer’s block, stage fright, ego trips—he’s been there, and he’s certainly done that. He even mentioned that to get past huge ego involvements, one really has to manage one’s self. No need to control it—you just have to go through it and then suffer the consequences later on. However, there are two very different kinds of fulfillment that a certain Joey Ayala can get from it all. One is through composing and writing, getting the feel of being an author. Another is the fast-paced world of performing, where he at once gets the satisfaction he deserves.

Joey on Filipino Music
“It's in continuous flux. You can't make a static description of it.” For him, the Filipino culture is so open. So open-ended. As citizens of this country, we absorb anything. We assimilate everything. We adapt to everything. “Wala ng boundaries kung ano ang kultura sa ibang bansa sa kultura naten, so ikot lang tayo ng ikot, balik tayo ng balik.” 

“I wanted to be a guitarist.”

Since the beginning, he always wanted to be someone like Carlos Santana. He considered him his role model. He even remembers the day he went to buy his first Santana album. On the way to the record store, he was stopped by a school mate and was invited to come over to his house. There, he listened to the vocal style of James Taylor for the first time. Totally smitten and enamored with the lyrical quality, the melancholy, the internal quality and the sensitive guitar work, he became a James Taylor baritone.

After that experience, he started writing in earnest, and ironically, in English. Both his parents were English writers. He only started writing in Filipino when he received a few letters telling him about the Juan Dela Cruz band. He got curious, listened to them, and it tickled his fancy. He bought a dictionary and started writing in Filipino.

The turning point in his life was when he decided to become a musician full-time. Back when he produced his first album Panganay ng Umaga in 1986, he still considered playing music as a thing he did on the side. However, when he went to the Vancouver Folk Music Festival and found himself in the midst of all sorts of musikeros, he saw the life he wanted for himself.

Joey on Cynthia Alexander
“Ang galing niya.” He is totally amazed with the wide expanse of talent his sister has when it came to music. For him, his sister’s first few gigs had very high musicality, and for her to be able to play such complicated pieces was something to be proud of. “She used to say she was living in my shadow. Now I say I am basking in her light.”

Joey on how to use musical talents to help with today's problem on terrorism: “Musical talent is an economic thing. Tayo ang number one exporter ng entertainer sa buong mundo. But it’s not originality. It’s covering, imitating. Our musical talent is in performing, not in originating. How to help? It's natural in our cultural history. We're probably the only colony that identified with its colonizer rather than rebel against it. Gusto natin maging amo.”

“Basically, a song is where the inside and the outside meet.” Experience is the best teacher and the most effective subject for songwriting. Making a song out of real events that took place is an expression of how one feels about life.

“Saglit lamang ang ating buhay
Tilamsik sa dakilang apoy
Ang bukas na nais mong makita
Ngayumpama'y simulan mo na”
-Awit ng Mortal

What is life all about? “It's finite and you create infinity within the finite parameters.” That’s Joey Ayala. A lover of life. A being of this earth who takes pride in walking the streets, appreciating all things, even if it means only wearing a pair of tsinelas. And that was just after two glasses of iced cappuccino. Who knows what he could do after.

Scouting the Sky for Miracle Rain Showers
Interviewing Cynthia Alexander gives you the same thrill as sky diving. You are excited at the thought of it. You are nervous at the moment right before it. Once you are at it, you feel an energy so great. You begin to see things from a different point of view, and take delight in the wonders life has to offer. When it’s over, you simply remember.

“When I started writing, all those genres...they meant nothing to me anymore.”
Jazz, rock, classical. These are mere examples of what Cynthia Alexander can play. As long as she could write music, she definitely could play it. If she had a choice, she would put all her albums on a shelf under “independent release”. Also, her music, like she says, is for remembering. “Some people are afraid of my music because they don’t want to remember anything.”

“When I woke up, I felt I was a changed human being.”

Back in third year high school, she took a nap after a very difficult review of trigonometry, a subject she enjoyed but nonetheless had trouble with, like most people. A few moments later she looked at her hands and they seemed like they weren't hers. “I did not want to be a rock star. I did not know what that was. I grew up by the seaside and I grew up with my friends. I did not know what it was like to be a rock star and I grew up without a television set.” However, after that day, everything became automatic for her. She started playing, and she kept on playing and playing various instruments like the drum set, piano, and guitar.

Her first idol was Joni Mitchell. In fact, the first song she ever played was by Joni Mitchell.

There was a particular event in her past that she remembers quite vividly. That was when she was at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak. “I was on stage. When I was singing, I became aware that time has expanded itself. I was in the middle of the song. I felt like I was in between the notes that I was singing and playing. I was between echoes from one note to the next note. When I’m on stage, I have no idea of time. I’m in a meditative state.” That’s Cynthia for you.

Cynthia on Reincarnation and Tala
“Reincarnation-- how can anyone not believe in that? How can you not see beyond that? My daughter Tala, who’s six, knows that. She even talks to me about the time when she was my mother. ‘I don’t know why I have to be born again but all I know is now that I am born, now that I am alive, I have to die.’ That's how she speaks.”

“Music is a healing thing.”

“In the beginning, you know you’re in the womb of your mother, you hear the heart beating. For me, I guess I would always want to come back to that—that comfort. It's something I always go back to. Sound, not just music, but sound. So when I’m writing, I come back to what was before me. It makes me reach out to what will be even after me.”

She prefers smaller crowds when it comes to gigs. In the beginning, she didn’t even have a band. She did and recorded everything by herself—the guitar, the bass, the keyboard. These days, she usually hires people to play some instruments to back her up, but she still writes everything, down to the last cello chord.

“The only fear I have is the fear of myself when I’m onstage.” Whenever she feels weak and vulnerable, that’s when she does the gig all by herself. She gets up on the stage, all alone. That’s when she realizes she’s naked and bare. That is how she “character builds”, her exact words. She does that to feel less insecure of herself and to avoid putting the blame on other people in case something happens.

She deeply admires Indian music. Not only music, but also the entire Indian culture and religion. There was one time when she played with a bunch of Indian musicians at a temple in Davao. She didn’t realize that playing in the temple meant she was equal to the priests already. These musicians she played with—she considers them her teachers.

Cynthia on Filipino Music
Pahirapan dito eh.” Actually, she thinks everywhere in the world is “pahirapan”. She calls this “the age of forgetfulness”. “This is Kaliyuga; people are a bit great on contradiction. It is evident that people have already forgotten.”

Cynthia on Joey Ayala
Magaling siya. 

“Teacher yun, eh. Malaking ilaw yan si Joey Ayala. Even from the beginning, alam mo na kaagad nasuperstar siya. Joey Ayala has the presence. the charm. Hawak niya ang lahat ng tao sa *bleep* nila. Whether Hapon, Indian... kahit saan. We went to Malaysia, New Zealand, Canada, America. *laughs* Women are all charmed by him. It's his message, and he has a way with words. He knows how to use his words.” She is obviously enthralled with her brother’s musical talent.

Cynthia’s Answer to the World’s Terrorism Dilemma
For her, being a Filipino musician has a contribution. “Music can be used as a medium for unification, for bringing light.” Spoken like a true guru. One of her wishes is for a more peaceful new year. There’s just too much chaos in this world.

“I get inspiration from the knowledge that you're nothing.”

According to her, we are all just going back to where we came from. From remembrance. “If you read through my lyrics, you'll see that from the first album, the second album, I’m explicitly using words from my memory.”

“Why, why do you worry
We are not born nor do we die
What is happening happens for the best
What will happen happens for the best
We have come empty-handed
We will go empty-handed
What have you lost
That you were weeping
What have you found
That you have lost
What is happening happens for the best
What will happen happens for the best
We have come empty-handed
We will go empty-handed
What you have
You have got from here
What was given
You were given here
What you took
You took from here
What you gave
You gave unto here
We have come empty-handed
We will go empty-handed

“What have I come here for? When I leave, what do I take? Nothing. It's speaking not only for me but for everybody.” Subtle, but explicit words. That’s how Cynthia Alexander relays her message to anyone who is willing to look up to the sky, listen—and remember.

(Published in The LaSallian, the official college paper of De La Salle University-Manila)