Wednesday, October 2, 2013

International Day of Non-Violence

Vietnam War Remnants Museum

It's October 2nd, the International Day of Non-Violence, so I think it's appropriate to at least make a bit of noise on this blog after having been on hiatus since I published a photographic essay (using photos taken with a phone camera) of my thoughts on the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP).

It's been nearly 3 months since I returned to the Philippines from my month-long AVP exposure journey all over Indonesia and I still haven't published the musings I wrote during that time.  I have three entries already keyed-in.  All that's left is for me to paste them here and click on that orange button but I don't feel comfortable putting those stories out yet—even if it's been a while since I wrote them.  Sure, I wrote stuff for the local paper and the website of Friends Peace Teams in Asia West Pacific and they're both accessible to anyone in the world with an unrestricted internet connection; however, there is a strange force within that's keeping me from publishing the ones written while I was actually going through what I now term "epiphanies."  It's one thing when you're writing about an experience and recalling from a memory of events that happened several weeks to several months in the past; writing real-time—or at least very close to is—is an entirely different story.  The things you come up with are much more raw and the words written down bear so much more life.  Even after having been transcribed from paper to a digital surface, the words still seem, to me, like they could bleed if touched.

Am I being shy?  Not a chance!  Being shy entails resisting an internal prodding to do something; my case is that there is something in me telling me not to do it.  Forcing myself would be a form of self-inflicted violence, wouldn't it?  I don't believe I'm making excuses borne out of fear.  As far as I'm concerned, this is legitimately conscientious.  Perhaps things will ease up in time and I'll decide to get those stories out.  For now, I'll wait.  There's no rush.  After all, I am a Quaker and waiting is something I do on a regular basis.

I digress.

I'm the type of person who checks Reddit and Facebook on a regular basis, looking for news items I could sink my teeth into and there never seems to be a day when violence doesn't greet me with a heavy slap.  It's on the front page of almost every news site and forum I visit.  From the revolution in Syria to war in Mindanao to the recent hostage crisis in Kenya to the Russian government's violence against its LGBT citizens to gun incidents all over the United States of America—it's exhausting!

The sociology behind human violence is something you'd perceive to be outdated in an age like this.  It's largely a recourse that primitive humans employed to ensure the survival of the species.  Heaven, if it exists, knows there are enough of us to ensure our survival for the next millennia.  With the existence of our kind of technology and the speed by which innovation moves forward, the only thing that could wipe us out is nature's indomitable force and nothing can be done to prevent that.  So, I don't get why we're still fighting.

The principles behind causing destruction and suffering to fellow human beings are all antediluvian.  Yes, perhaps even the interpretation you hold of your holy scriptures should undergo some sort of reform to kick away parts that do not apply to the present time.  If you feel a necessity, as a human being, to hold on to a belief as you journey through life, why not let it be rooted in love and peace?  Isn't it easier that way than to be angry all the time?  I'd say religion itself is obsolete but if I speak like that, it would follow that a lot of things are—including states (i.e. countries).  Such an idea is quite far-fetched.

Now, while John Lennon's dream may not reach its realisation in this lifetime, I genuinely believe it's the direction we ought to take.  He isn't the first one to say such things.  Jesus went along similar lines.  Also, he never actually said people should build a religion centred around him and worship his name ceaselessly until their Earthly demise.  He spoke of love and peace and a divine life lived with an understanding of his existence's example, which basically screamed forgiveness and non-violence and respect to every being.  The Buddha did the same and so did Rumi and many, many others before and after them—inlcuding Mohandas K. Gandhi, whose day of birth we commemorate today.

With all that said, isn't a life of peace so much more convenient than being angry and violent all the time?  With peace, there is a simple give and take process that occurs between individuals and everybody wins.  You work to live and let live and you won't have to maintain a mantra of fear.  Whereas, with a violent lifestyle, you actually have to exert a humongous amount of energy.  Anger takes a lot out of you—more so does the act of inflicting pain and taking people's lives away.  Plus, there's the constant fear of getting killed or hurt and there's paranoia that your allies aren't actually allies; you worry almost all the time about the few people you actually care about; you get no sleep.  It all baffles me, really.  Violence is unnecessary and absolutely stupid, if you think about it deeply enough.

I think I've made my point even though this entry isn't coherent in a lot of places.  I apologise; it exhausts me to think of violence.

May Peace Prevail on Earth.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

AVP in a Nutshell (the way I see it)

I went to Indonesia with the Friends Peace Teams to witness, first-hand, how the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) works and how it contributes to the global effort of cultivating cultures of peace.

But what is AVP?

Well, as far as I'm concerned...

AVP is fun and games and getting in touch with the innocent child in each of us.

AVP is days of forging new and lasting friendships.

AVP is sharing stories and learning from them.

AVP is embracing and celebrating the essential oneness in diversity.

AVP is sharing smiles and laughter.

AVP is having new brothers and sisters.

AVP is learning new things about the world you live in and about yourself.

AVP is learning how to stand firm under a raging storm.

AVP is like fresh water smoothly brushing boulders on its way to a serene river.

AVP is Peace through Love and Compassion.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hair Drama

Yesterday, my decision to cut my lush, long black hair received its material counterpart.  I actually made it happen.  From being a mere idea, it became reality after Jamin, a guy who works at the place we're staying at here in Langsa, drove me by motorbike to a shop called Metro Hair where I sat on a chair and a man ran an electric razor and a pair of silver scissors all over the top surface of my skull.

Contrary to what a few people think, I didn't have my precious strands of ebony chopped off just because a lot of people in North Sumatra mistook me for a woman--although I must admit it did provide a bit of reinforcement.  My decision wasn't a crazy arbitrary thing either.  A few people might remember that day in November 2011 when I flipped out and had my head shaved completely bald.  That was arbitrary and I'm not ashamed to admit it.  This time, though, it was done with some sort of mental feasibility study--if such a thing even exists.

I've actually entertained the idea of getting back my clean schoolboy look for quite some time already.  My reasons?  Well, for one, it's much, much neater to look at.  It's easier to manage; it's much cheaper to maintain; it makes me look a lot younger; it feels better; it doesn't cause the area around my neck to store heat; and most importantly, it's easier to travel around a semi-active war zone with.  I don't have to wait long for it to dry up after I wash it and it doesn't attract people's attention.

This is only the second day I've pranced around the world with my new head of short hair and I'm still in the process of getting used to it.  Sometimes, when I visualise myself, I still get an image of a young Asian dude with long hair.  When I realise, though, that I don't anymore or if I get a glimpse of myself through a reflective surface, I instantly get the feeling that I don't know myself.  "Who is that boy I'm looking at?" would be the usual internal question.  Perhaps this has some sort of intellectual application in my life.  Perhaps such a feeling is an indication that I don't actually know myself well enough.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I Need to Shut Up Sometimes and Learn to Look at Myself

We always learn new things as we journey through life--that is, as we get seconds and days and years older--and some lessons are just incredibly, incredibly humbling.

I'm in Aceh Province in Indonesia right now (having left North Sumatra just yesterday) getting my first exposure to the worldwide work of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP)--something Quakers started a while back but has now become largely secular because that's exactly how it's supposed to be--and, even though I'm barely a week into it, the whole experience has been absolutely life-changing.  The place, the work, the principles, especially the people I've come to know are simply extraordinary.

You see, I didn't really know this but I can honestly say I've only known way too little about the things I've been talking about all this time.  This is really hard to say but it's the raw truth.  I've been stagnant in the growth department for very, very long.

I'm not going to go into details right now but I just really felt the need to admit I've been a pompous brat all these years without even realising it.  It's always been a mantra of mine that we're constantly evolving and growing but I've only come to grasp, these past seven days, what growth and evolution actually mean.  I've heard lectures and public talks about it.  The organisations I work with are big on ideas of growth and evolution and it's all good but such concepts are simply not absorbed through verbal information relay.  It has to come through personal experience and that's what happened to me.  It hurt very badly when it happened.  It was like getting slapped repeatedly in the face and stomped on by wooden shoes.  I shed tears lying in my hard make-shift bed but it had to happen otherwise I would have been stuck where I was.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Live by Lessons Learned on Preventive Measures

When you learn an important lesson about preventing a disaster from occurring, live by it.  Stop trying to test it over and over again especially if violating it results to dire physiological and physical consequences.

Here are a few examples that may not apply to everyone but do to some and certainly to me.:

  • Never consume any solids for at least two hours before hitting the running track or else your stomach will hurt after your third non-stop mile.
  • Never drink more than 2 cups of coffee after 5PM or risk a sleepless night.  
  • Never work out if you didn't get at least 6 hours of sleep.
  • Never accumulate more than 5 days of sleeping for less than 6 hours each day or else you will fall ill.
  • Never strain your muscles by exercising within two hours prior to sleeping or else you will not be able to sleep immediately.
  • Never do anything that specifically concerns any form of witchcraft an hour prior to sleeping or else you will not be able to sleep.
  • Never ever, ever, ever, ever resort to violence!  If you do, you will indubitably end up hurting yourself.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Suo Gân

So I was thinking about war and the victims of war and the grief and the agony and the pain... And it suddenly occurred to me to look up that song Christian Bale sang as a young boy in the film "Empire of the Sun," so I did.

It's called Suo Gân and it's a traditional Welsh lullaby first printed around 1800.  It's such a beautiful song from a mother to a child.  I couldn't help but weep a little while listening to it after having read the English translation on Wikipedia.

Of course, it wasn't just the song that moved me; it was also the images of the victims of war that popped in my head.  Sometimes, humanity can get so disappointing.  So very, very disappointing!  It's sad to think that while some of us are doing things to remedy the horrid realities of life, many others are out there causing more devastation and depression.

But, anyway...

Monday, March 11, 2013

LifestyleBohol * Celebrating Women

Last Sunday's LifestyleBohol issue published a slightly shorter and not-very-coherent version of this article.  Sorry, I didn't have enough space.  This one is indubitably better so even if you've read it from the paper, it would do you good to read this.  If you haven't read the paper, just read this one and forget the paper!


“Why do we need to give womanhood special attention when it’s largely a biological assignment and not some praiseworthy achievement?”

A few people have asked me that and it’s really annoying.  Answering is such a chore especially if the ones asking are merely yapping for the sake of something to say and don’t seem like they’re looking to gain any information.  However, I maintain that every question thrown at you is a chance to share knowledge so I usually try my best.  Today, allow me give you all a comprehensive answer.

I shall begin with a very brief history lesson.  Women’s Day hasn’t always been on the 8th of March.  The first of its kind was celebrated on the 28th of February 1909 in the United States of America and it was a purely socialist political event that was purported to have been created to raise awareness on the advocacy to amend the U.S. constitution in favor of a union-wide recognition of women’s suffrage.  Other countries followed suit with different dates dedicated to various causes related to the proliferation of ideals regarding the elevation of women’s status in society.  Why it’s now largely celebrated on March 8 in several countries owes itself to an invitation from the United Nations General Assembly to proclaim the date as UN Day for Women’s Rights and World Peace.

Moving on…  While you can share the information I just gave you to other people and pretend you’re some sort of genius, it wouldn’t qualify as a proper historical overview.  I just snipped a couple of chunks from my information bank so it would do you well to read on it further if you want to pretend to be an authority on the subject the next time you’re in a conversation with the likes of me (with my socialist button turned on).  By the way, did you know that there is such a celebration called International Men’s Day, too?  Well, now you do.

Anyway, considering facts from history, it’s important to note that women have largely been second class in the past and even in the present.  It’s futile to blame Abrahamic notions of patriarchy to be the sole culprit of this problem because in a lot of Asian and African traditions, the degradation of the female as a citizen secondary to the male is also very prevalent.  Some cultures even view women as nothing more than properties and they don’t necessarily involve religion so let us remove our propensity to blame it.  What we should do is go further back to a time before religion and its supposed scriptures of authority were written.

My take on it is the theory that selfish men in the past simply had the upper hand.  While the women were busy taking care of the children and keeping the dens neat, men who had nothing better to do took it upon themselves to apply for co-authorship in the law writing department so they could slip in a few chauvinistic statements about how women are meant to be men’s subordinates.  Then again, there’s the theory of scriptural misinterpretation but, in any case, these destructive ideas have continued to live to the present time and I, having been surrounded by strong, powerful, intelligent and beautiful women all my life, simply cannot accept them.  Imagine having a very intelligent mother such as Liza Quirog whom you look up to and then here comes this book that tries to introduce absurd ideas such as of women being the weaker sex.  Come on!  Doesn’t that just make you kind of explode inside?

Let’s go back to the question I wrote at the beginning of this article.  Here’s my answer:  Womanhood, though largely a biological assignment, is also solely responsible for nine months of development before a human being is ready to be born into this world.  If you don’t agree that the ability to nurture a fetus inside the body is something worthy of honor and a lifelong celebration, you don’t deserve to live.  I really mean that.  When you celebrate your birthday, do you only celebrate your own existence without thinking of the womb that lovingly carried you while you were being physically constructed?  This is the reason why the International Women’s Day is synonymous to Mothers’ Day in Eastern Europe and Russia.  You didn't know that, did you?

Of course, it's not just motherhood that we celebrate a woman for.  Her creative energy can be channeled into other great things as well.  If not a mainstream career, which is usually the case, an example of a noble path that comes naturally to most women is Peace-building.  I was listening to a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talk by Iraqi-American writer and peace advocate, Zainab Salbi, a few days ago and something she said struck me really deeply.  I don't remember the exact words but it gave me the realization that while angry men are largely the perpetrators of war, women are largely responsible for the healing process of communities ravaged by it.  They are also usually the ones keeping hope alive amid the sounds of gunfire and bombs and the threat of losing those you love.  Though, like Zainab, I don't understand why women are not given a more substantial representation on the tables of peace negotiations when they are clearly the ones with the lesser propensity to resort to violence.  Now, do you have the nerve to tell me that women don't deserve to be celebrated?

Here’s another question that occasionally pops up when on the subject of women and gender equality in general:  “Why do a lot of people blabber about women’s rights and women empowerment when women and men already have the same rights?”

First of all, women and men have the same rights.  Period.  The concern is whether such rights are recognized or not.  It’s no secret that some countries still consider women second class to this day.  Did you know that women aren’t allowed to teach or drive in some countries?  Heck, even women’s education remains an issue in certain societies that preserve archaic traditions.  Take Afghanistan, for instance, where women risk death just by their desire to have an education.

Now, let’s say equal rights recognition is present in most of the world’s sovereign states.  Take the Philippines as an example.  Women and men are supposed to be legally equal around here.  But are they really?  Does the law protect our women as much as it’s actually obliged to?  Are all wife-beating husbands jailed?  Are women’s reproductive rights respected, without question, by our citizens?  I could write parallel questions until blisters begin forming on the tips of my fingers and the answer will be the same:  A resounding “NO!”

To answer the question as to why we advocate women empowerment, visualize the situation of females all over the country.  Recall as many articles and items on local news channels about domestic abuse and rape.  People, particularly in marginalized areas, think that just because the men are usually the bread-winners they have earned the right to be dominators and sole bearers of a voice in the family.  Women, on the other hand, are usually viewed as nothing more than baby ovens, housekeepers and sex objects.  No, not objects of desire; just sex!

In a lot of societies, marginalized or otherwise—even ones perceived as highly civilized like the U.S.A., a lot of women still need help for them to realize that the archaic notions of sexism and chauvinism are not okay.  The idea that tolerance to these things is the only recourse needs to be lifted from their consciousness so they can be empowered to stand up for themselves.  This is more than a mere character problem for backward-thinking men; this is largely a social problem.  Some people think it’s normal to degrade women and give them ill treatment because it’s been happening since time immemorial.  It’s not normal.  It’s criminal!

Consider the things I’ve mentioned above and try to examine inwardly if you could dare to ask those questions.  There are perfectly good reasons why we continue to blabber as loud as we can about women’s rights and empowerment.  We owe it to the socialists and advocates in the not-so-distant past that brought mainstream attention to the millennia-long struggle to alleviate women’s oppression and degradation.

Today, advocates of equality such as I take the month of March as a perfect opportunity to be as loud about women’s issues as possible.  And while marching on the streets and shouting is one way some people go about it, evolved thinking has afforded us many other ways.  I, for one, believe that a voice full of Love and Compassion is louder than a voice full of anger.

Employing a parallel principle, the women of Bohol have rallied local female artists to speak through their creativity and, last Wednesday, on the 6th of this month, an art exhibit called Baji: Babay’ng Buhat was launched at the local branch of the National Museum to display their work.  In essence, the exhibit aims to reach out to the public and help raise awareness on the issues women continue to face to this day.  It’s open until the end of March and I hope you could find time to go and allow the artworks to speak to you.

This is the third annual art exhibit opened for the purpose and I really hope this goes on for many more years.  Realistically speaking, I know it’s extremely difficult to change people’s negative outlooks especially if they’ve grown up and aged with them.  This isn’t all going to be fixed in a decade, a score, or even in my lifetime and I accept that.  However, I’m optimistic about our cause and I know that slowly, but surely, we will make a difference.  And as long as there is injustice done to women, things like the Baji art exhibit will never fail to be of use.


Seen on Print:

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Crocodile's Death

The world's largest crocodile in captivity has recently died.  It's been trending on Facebook and Twitter recently and if you haven't read any stories about it, you might as well start with THIS ONE before reading my blog post.

The crocodile just moments after it was caught.  In this photo, it was still alive.

Anyway, here's what I think:

The crocodile died because you took it away from its home.

You put it in an enclosure! Crocodiles aren't meant for enclosures with stagnant water where they're left with no option but to swim in their own filth. Crocodiles are meant for rivers, swamps, lakes and the ocean where they get to frolic and experience varying water temperatures through the year, and hunt live prey—not catch dead chickens and goats with their mouths for human entertainment.

If they die young in the wild, that's simply nature's natural course. However, if they manage to grow big and you catch them and try to give them artificial environments and end up with dead crocodiles floating in your ponds because your efforts to keep them alive didn't work, YOU ARE THE TRUE CULPRITS OF THEIR DEATHS!  You should accept that and never do anything like it again.

When wild animals go on a murderous rampage in your village, there are two humane courses of action. (1) If you can manage, you may catch them and return them to the wild; or (2), if the possibility of catching them is slim and the risk of another casualty is imminent, you put them down quickly and peacefully.  Catching them and turning their lives into sources of amusement is simply NOT a humane option, no matter what angle you look at it from.

You are a human being and you are not capable of providing a contrived home for a wild animal the way nature is.  So unless you raised it in captivity since birth or if you performed some sort of selfless service for the animal (like successfully treating its wound) and it just happens to willingly follow you around without an intent to eat you, you have no business keeping it.

Nobody has any right to limit a wild animal's freedom indefinitely!  You see, a crocodile's normal life expectancy, if it manages to grow to an adult size without being eaten by a predator, is 70 to 100 years and you caused it to die at 50.  Now, doesn't this fact trigger a couple of alarms in your conscience?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

LifestyleBohol * You Have the Right to Remain Miserable: A Review of the musical film, Les Misérables

The iconic woodcut image of Cosette, which represents Les Misérables, is given a whole new life through this poster.

This review article is an improved and slightly longer version of the one I wrote for the February 3rd, 2013 issue of LifestyleBohol.  Why longer?  Because I included a few more things that the paper didn't have enough room for.

Enjoy reading!

So I’ve been asked to do a review of the film, Les Misérables, for today’s issue and I must say I’ve resisted the urge to write one right after seeing the film for the first time in the cinema.  I told myself, “After I see it a second time, I’ll speak my mind.”  Well, I’ve now seen it five times and still haven’t come up with one.  I’ve exhausted every possible excuse I could use on myself so I decided against using any of them in response to the editor when she texted me asking me for my review.  It’s high time, I guess.  And who better to read it than the people of Bohol, right?

Before I give you my review, you must note my appreciation isn’t limited to films.  I’m quite an aficionado when it comes to art and its many forms and I’m going to dissect Les Misérables for the musical film that it is and not merely as a regular cinema flick that makes up 95% of the things shown on HBO and Star Movies.  Also, you must not read this piece the same way you read a review by Rotten Tomatoes because I personally don’t see eye-to-eye with that website and I don’t know why people still trust them as a film critiquing institution when they clearly have a difficulty recognizing art even when it’s staring them in the eye.  However, I have to say this is one of the few instances when my opinion actually matches theirs to a surprisingly broad degree.

Come and let me take you for a review ride!

First of all, you have to understand that Tom Hooper’s most recent work isn’t an ordinary film and isn’t an ordinary musical either.  You can’t judge it based on a set of criteria you have for either art form.  This belongs in a completely different league.  If you only love films but not musicals, you can’t appreciate it.  The same could be said if you only love musicals performed on a theatre stage but not films.

For those of you that don’t know, here’s a little backstory of how the film came to be:  Les Misérables is a novel written by the French author Victor Hugo, first published in 1862.  It has seen so many adaptations.  Films, plays and television miniseries have been produced over the last century.  Of these, the most famous and enduring take on the story is the sung-through musical by French composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricists Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, which has been improved several times and translated to at least 13 languages from its original conception in French.  By the way, by “sung-though,” I mean absolutely everything in the original musical was sung and there were no spoken lines.  The novel’s most recent adaptation is obviously the one we’re talking about—not an original take on the text by Hugo but an adaptation of the musical.  It’s basically an adaptation of an adaptation.  If you think I used the word “adaptation” too many times in this paragraph, you may be right but it still doesn’t beat how many of them actually exist.

To start, I wish to laude the actors, the producers and the director involved in the film.  This project was indubitably brave.  They did something that has never been successfully done in the history of film making.  Unlike every other musical film made before it, where the singing was pre-recorded in a studio, they went against the norm and began a revolution where the songs were recorded in the very moments they were being filmed as opposed to lip-synching to playback tracks of their own voices.  That way, the film was very much like an actual stage performance.  Every raw emotion emanating from them, manifested by their singing voices, was captured and ultimately immortalized.

Let me add that this brave feat was also the most practical course of action for the film because, unlike most musicals where most of the dialog is normally spoken and they just break into song on certain significant moments, the original material was sung-through so if they had done it the regular way and made pre-recordings, they would well have pre-recorded everything.  Moreover, you may ask why there were actual spoken lines in the film when I specifically said everything in the original musical was sung.  This was because the screenwriters had to compromise a little bit to add emotion to certain lines used in specific moments.  A good example was the instant right before Fantine was thrown out of the factory, when she called out to the mayor and exclaimed, “Please, monsieur, I have a child.”  That line was absent from the musical but it added a tinge of realism to the film; that’s why they added it and made it a spoken line rather than sung.

Avid fans of the stage musical may remark that the singing was off-key in a lot of instances and that they differed heavily from how things went about on stage.  True.  Very true.  It’s an established fact that the artistic material they were dealing with in the making of the film was made for the stage so without a shadow of a doubt, the theatre is its true home.  With that said, however, film-making is an entirely different avenue where artists are afforded certain liberties that do not exist in a theatre—as much as there are liberties afforded by theatre that could never be matched by film-making.

Let’s imagine parallel scenarios.  The actor playing Jean Valjean on stage couldn’t possibly be allowed to shed as many tears as Hugh Jackman did while singing his soliloquy, “What Have I Done.”  Too many tears will cause fluids to accumulate in the throat and that is a sure way to momentarily diminish vocal quality—which is a huge NO-NO in musical theatre.  Also, while a stage performance would be very aurally pleasing, an everyday person—who doesn’t appreciate theatre as much as real theatre patrons—would never be able to derive any emotion from it simply by listening to clear and crisp lyrics.  That was achieved in the film but they had to compromise on enunciation and voice quality because it was something that required actual tears dripping out of the actor’s face, which was to be filmed at a very close angle.  You can’t say Hugh was bad just because of that.  Are you kidding me?  He was great!

You must remember that musical films are generally made so the material in the musicals may be available to everyone—to the masses, the people who don’t actually have P3,000 to spend to see it in a live theatre, the people who don’t understand theatre in the first place.  Think about it.

Let’s go back to Hugh Jackman.  The only less-than-positive sentiment I have about his portrayal was when he sang the aria, “Bring Him Home,” his prayer for the sleeping Marius.  I’m so used to it being performed beginning with gentle notes, with strength fluctuating from gentle to strong to gentle to strong to gentle as the song goes on.  Colm Wilkinson set the standard for this.  Go check out his performance on YouTube if you want to know what I mean.  Hugh, on the other hand, began with solid notes and retained the same quality throughout the entire song.  That made it really awkward for me but it was forgiveable.

This is the perfect moment, I believe, to mention how much I loved the man who played the Bishop of Digne—who fed Jean Valjean, allowed him to stay in his home for the night and even gave him silver the day after so he may have a chance to renew his life in the way of God.  For the information of those who don’t know, that man is no other than Colm Wilkinson, the standard-setter I mentioned in the previous paragraph.  He was the original Jean Valjean in the first English language production of Les Misérables in London’s West End way back in 1985.  And while we’re on this subject, I was really happy to see him in place of Eponine at the end of the film to greet Jean Valjean’s soul.

Alright, now it’s time to revel in the fact that Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine was an absolute marvel.  I have never encountered anybody who disagrees with me in this.  She perfectly pulled off her transition from being a humble factory worker to being a sacrificing, loving mother to being a prostitute to being a dying hospital patient.  I only have positive words for her interpretation of the character.  It was impeccable!  I blame her for my first continuous flow of tears while in the cinema.  I mean, come on!  Who can hold back from shedding a few good drops when Anne sang Fantine’s most famous aria, “I Dreamed a Dream”?  To say it was heart-wrenching would be an understatement.

I really appreciate how the movie included a scene where she sold her teeth.  It was a key point in the book which really made me sob and howl loudly while reading it but it was completely absent from the stage musical.  Then again, it wouldn’t have been practical on stage.  See, this is another one of those film-production-afforded liberties I was talking about earlier.

After Fantine’s death, we are introduced to M. and Mme. Thenardier, the vile and corrupt innkeepers under whose care Cosette was entrusted.  They are, without a doubt, favorites in the musical.  They add a tinge of humor to what would otherwise be a very dark and depressing show.  While I like how the schemes of the couple were illustrated in the film, I wasn’t particularly as amused as I expected to be.  I guess that’s another musical-to-film reality we’re all going to have to deal with.  It wasn’t the perfect “Master of the House” performance I was readying myself to see for over a year but it was actually good in its own right.  I certainly wasn’t laughing my ass off but I bore witness to an interpretation of the characters that was a bit closer to their grim and dark personas than how the musical portrays them.  Honestly, I don’t have any other people in mind to play the couple but Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter.  They’re veterans when it comes to dark humor in films.  It’s just a pity that Sacha didn’t get to sing his big solo number in the sewers.  Then again, it would have dragged the suspense out of Valjean rescuing the dying Marius if they’d persisted in inserting that song.

So right after Jean Valjean escapes with young Cosette—after that beautiful new song that the composers had written just for the musical, a song which I really, really loved, by the way—we are introduced to a different world.  From the filthy streets of that small town where our main character was the mayor, we are flung to Paris in 1832.  I was really happy to see the crumbling plaster model of the Elephant of the Bastille that Gavroche supposedly called home.  That boy, Daniel Huttlestone, who played the character, was really good, by the way.

A little later, we are introduced to the student revolutionaries who will eventually die in the June Rebellion—the most important characters being Enjolras, their leader, and Marius, the man who will eventually be Cosette’s husband.  Another notable character we see around this time is Eponine, the previously pampered daughter of the Thenardier couple who has now been reduced to a street waif thanks to poverty.  She is played by Samantha Barks, the same actress who played her in the 25th Anniversary concert special of the musical.  Interestingly, I was more drawn to her less-belty and more emotionally raw performance of the song, “On My Own” in the film.  I didn’t like her in that Anniversary special, to be honest, but in the film she was stunning.  Her eyes took me to places I know I had been before, as much as I’d like to deny it.  Who hasn’t been in her position at one point in life?  My only disappointment in the film regarding its take on Eponine wasn’t in Samantha’s performance but in the fact that they omitted a few lines from her songs—her aria, which I already mentioned, and “A Little Fall of Rain,” a duet she shares with Marius a short moment before her character dies.

Did I say Marius?  Oh, yeah, I most definitely did!  They were right to choose Eddie Redmayne for the part because while the vocal prowess of Aaron Tveit, who played Enjolras the revolutionary student leader, was stern and strong, Eddie’s was slightly more dreamy and relaxed, which made him sound convincingly in love.  Grown-up Cosette, on the other hand, played by Amanda Seyfried, whom some of us know from the musical film “Mamma Mia,” may not have been the best soprano in a line of many but she certainly convinced me of the sentiments she sang about.  Her voice had a warm and innocent tone that made me sympathetic to her character.  Whenever I see the stage musical, I’m always inclined to care only about Eponine and her unrequited love for Marius.  In the film, however, Eponine and Cosette shared my attention.

Anyway, let’s go back to Marius.  Near the end of the film, there is an aria that belongs to him.  It’s called “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” which happens to be one of my favorite songs of the musical.  Eddie’s interpretation was absolutely brilliant!  It literally got me pulling my collar down in a helpless fit of noisy sobbing inside the cinema.  Most of the arias in the film were worth tears but this one just made me lose it completely!  I didn’t care that I was in there with other people.  His performance added a ton of weight to my already sunken heart that I ended up remembering the dear people in my own life that had passed away.  Such a moment, that was!

And now we come to the cherry on the sundae:  Russell Crowe.  So many people found his performance disappointing primarily because of his lack of vocal prowess compared to the rest of the cast.  I can’t blame them for saying such things.  One could even say that a random man playing a beggar among the rest of the film’s amazing and awesome ensemble could have done a better job at singing Javert’s parts than Russell.  As far as the film and the musical are concerned, Javert is the main antagonist and is regarded as a primary lead along with Jean Valjean.  And while it doesn’t take a musical genius to realize that he’s not cut out for show tunes, theatre patrons like me will rant about how deep the injustice was that he committed against his arias, “Stars” and the soliloquy “Javert’s Suicide.”

No matter how much I try to comfort myself with the idea that the producers must have had a justifiable reason for picking Russell to play the part, I still can’t seem to get over the fact that he just wasn’t right for it.  I didn’t feel a strong resentment towards Javert like I was supposed to.  I’m sorry, Russell Crowe is an amazing actor but he could have done so much better.  His conviction that the law, as coined by man with the guidance of God, is the basis of social order and must be obeyed regardless of the needs of humanity was supposed to be portrayed in his first aria, “Stars,” but all I thought about while watching and listening to him singing it was “What if he falls off that ledge?”  It just wasn’t right.

I know I mentioned something about the ensemble already but I believe it wasn’t enough.  They were really awesome and they deserve a long standing ovation.  They were the golden threads that allowed the musical to be sewn together.  If you’ve seen the musical, you might notice that the song “Do You Hear the People Sing” is originally placed differently from its turn in the film.  In the latter, it is sung when the revolutionaries start to rally people up—just moments before they build the barricades.  The presence of a full ensemble was really inspiring.  It gave the song more meaning to me than its original placement in the stage musical.  Come to think of it, all major musical numbers involving the voices of the people of the ensemble were simply breathtaking.  “One Day More,” my absolute favorite song from the musical, is another testament to that.

Over all, I give the film 4 out of 5 stars.  There are a lot of points for criticism but so much more that are deserving of high praises and long, deafening moments of applause.  I was certainly blown away, if that’s what you were looking to read.  More than that, hard-hearted friends of mine were even reduced to a teary pulp by the film’s sheer power.  Okay, I need to stop typing now.


Seen on Print:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

How Bigots Are Made

So I was at Sweet Home Cafe yesterday afternoon catching up with Wife of Pi, Adrienne and Pi himself, Jan Ray.  LOL!

Before Adrienne arrived, something happened that pushed my tolerance nearly to its limit.  I bore witness to how destructive social delinquents and bigots are made.

I'm quite an understanding and accepting person when it comes to differences in views and such things.  One might even call me tolerant to some extent but I'm certainly not in the habit of watching something negative happen and not doing anything about it.  As an advocate for sensible social change, it'd be hypocrisy on my part if I let bad things pass without expressing a corrective opinion about it.  And that's what I'm about to do in this entry:

Here's the story:

There was this couple.  They looked normal.  The lady wore a nice purple dress and had shiny bracelets dangling from her right wrist.  The man, on the other hand—whom I'm going to refer to as a "man" and not a "gentleman" because I saw absolutely nothing gentle about him—wore a light-coloured shirt (a shade of red I believe), had an expensive pair of sunglasses parked on his head like a headband, and had tattoos all over his body.  She was sipping on a tall glass of cold strawberry milk tea (and I knew what it was because I ordered the same thing) while he was munching on some meat-filled sandwiches.

A few moments later, their son arrived.  And I knew he was their son because he referred to the couple as "ma" and "pa."  The lady greeted him with a gentle question about how his day was.  Something along the line of "how was school today."  The man, on the other hand, went about asking some unpleasant questions and saying things in a strong, macho tone—as if his masculinity was being questioned by someone in the room.  I don't know if they noticed I was giving him a what-do-you-think-you're-doing kind of look.

He went on to ask more questions and I tried my best to ignore them until the rudest one caught my attention again.  In the same unethical and semi-aggressive tone, he asked, "Naa pa ba'y mga bayot nga maestro anang inyo'ng eskwelahan?"  [Translation:  "Are there still gay teachers in your school?"], to which the boy responded, "Naa sa elementary pero sa high school, wala na."  [Translation:  "In primary school, yes, but not in high school."]  The father then asked, "Wa na diay to'ng buang nga si _______?"  [Translation:  "So that mentally ill, Mr._______, isn't there anymore?"]

That got me clenching my fists a little bit as a response to heavy irritation.  I was reading something on my tablet but I had to stop.  I had to put the device down because I didn't want to risk destroying it, had I clenched my fists too hard.  Gone was the what-do-you-think-you're-doing look, replaced by a look of disdain.  I was ready to explain myself if asked why.  I was even hoping he'd notice so I would get to explain.

The boy responded, "Wa na."  [Translation:  "Not anymore."]  The father then concluded the topic by saying "Buang jud ni'ng mga bayot."  [Translation:  "Gays are mentally ill."]

Hearing that last statement, my breath and heartbeat both started to speed up.  My irritation level soared and turned into anger.  In my head, I was composing a loud-voiced sermon for anti-homophobia but at the same time repeatedly telling myself to stop being angry.  I said in my mind, employing a stern and imposing tone of voice, "Ludwig, calm down.  Anger is not a response a Quaker and a Theosophist would resort to.  Deep breaths, deep breaths."  I reached inside my bag in the hope of finding something that would serve as some sort of distraction.  I managed to get hold of my my tablet.  The risk of breaking it didn't matter to me any longer.  I just needed to steer my consciousness away from anger so I carried on reading, hoping it would remove my negative feeling about the whole situation.

It actually worked a little.  I managed to calm myself down but I still intended to speak my mind to this man.  But just when I was about to open my mouth to say, "Excuse me, sir," the Wife of Pi arrived and saved me from the risk of a black eye take-home.  I took a couple of deep breaths and greeted my friend loudly.  The whole family of three stared at me and I gave the father the same disdainful look I was hoping he'd seen earlier.  I think he got the message.  The next few sentences that came out of his mouth were noticeably less rude-sounding than the earlier ones.  They eventually left.

Parents like that man are huge contributors to the pie chart of reasons why children grow up to be bigots and social delinquents.  They cultivate the idea that it's okay to think ill of other people who are different from them.  They are essentially planting seeds of hate in their children's hearts.  It doesn't take a genius to know that bad seeds will grow bad trees and bear bad fruits.  I am, however, not going to lay too much blame on the man because he was very likely raised the same way.  After all, what good will blaming do?

I think now of the school the Theosophical Society is currently building in Bohol.  I think now of the opportunities for cultivating change—change for the better—that Golden Link College would afford us.  I think of the many children who will come to enrol there that might have parents who behave and have outlooks like the man I encountered at the coffee shop—possibly worse.  Possibly much, much worse.  This is a real battle we're in for.  The same battle that Vic Hao Chin and Rekha Nahar have been in for over ten years.  And, you see, the difference between the battle we're preparing for and the physical battles that have been fought since time immemorial—over territorial claims, religious differences and oil—is that ours will likely not end in our lifetime.  This will keep going on and on and on and on because we live in a country whose societies are largely moulded by institutions and individuals that say it's okay to hate and it's okay to make fun of those who are different from you.

I believe, however, that things will get better.  Things always get better, somehow.