July 13, 2016
Early this morning, I made my way up to Koulen Mountain, considered the birthplace of the Khmer Empire, a sacred mountain to the Khmer people where the earth is a deep burgundy after a night of rain and where boulders and ancient temple ruins appear haphazardly.
It is also where the trail is decorated by colorful butterflies and the smiles of many children. Because of them, the gorgeous Phnom Kulen Waterfall, and the lively stream coursing through its path, the mountain seemed so alive that it felt right to be there this morning. It felt right to be amidst the animate before standing in awe of this kingdom’s inanimate wonders. (The Traveling Minstrel Journals — July 4, 2016)
The 12th Century gave birth to Genghis Khan, the Second Crusade, and the Teutonic Knights; somewhere along its tapestry, Abelard and Heloise fell madly in love. Here in Southeast Asia, construction of Angkor Wat began.
We are in the 21st Century, and yet, it stands, outlasting centuries of tumultuous history, even religious fickleness (it was erected as a Hindu temple and later transformed into a Buddhist temple); and perhaps because it has been forgiving, its devotees have multiplied — they are the wanderers, the curious, the adventurers, the explorers, the tourists, the travelers, who, all the same, wait for the sun to rise and illuminate its majestic intricacies and render pilgrims speechless. (The Traveling Minstrel Journals — July 6, 2016)
Seeing the temples in Siem Reap is almost like reading a bestseller. Most people already know how it goes; and just like most bestsellers, I am always one of the last people to read it. On the other hand, it is not entirely like reading a bestseller because you have the ability to alter the plot. You don’t have to be herded into the temples only to breeze through them after having your photos taken.
By all means, sit under the shade of a distant tree overlooking the architectural marvels as much as you want to. Do a lotus pose in a corner of your favorite temple and read, write, breathe, and take in the order and symmetry through osmosis. Yes, read! I realize that it is important to choose a book as a traveling companion wisely, because the ideas you read about become more beautiful when they are superimposed upon what you are seeing and experiencing.
Reading Alain de Botton’s “The Architecture of Happiness” during this trip heightens my experience. I don’t think it’s a bestseller but it is making me more sensitive to what these edifices convey. And when buildings talk, it is never with a single voice, buildings are choirs, reveals de Botton. He also expresses, “As we write, so we build: to keep a record of what matters to us.”
Being here. Being alive. Being free. This matters to me. (The Traveling Minstrel Journals — July 7, 2016)
May 9, 2016
“Olympic-size swimming pool… Chandeliers from Czech Republic… Mirrors from Austria… Jars from China… Furniture from Russia… Arm chairs made of pure silver… Woven leather wall from Italy… Original Malang paintings… Grand pianos from Spain…”
The palatial Sto. Niño Shrine in Tacloban was built by the Marcoses in the 1970s. A shrine of the Sto. Niño is the main feature on the ground floor, hence its appellation, but the grandiose structure was constructed as a presidential “rest house”. It is one of 29. Ladies and gentlemen, it is only one of 29.
As our guide chanted its jaw-dropping features and intricacies in a monotone, my emotions were in utter chaos. For every detail she recited, another voice in my head answered: “Chandeliers from Czech Republic…” (Rudy Romano, priest and human rights activist. Disappeared July 11, 1985.) “Mirrors from Austria…” (Jacobo Amatong, lawyer and human rights activist. Killed September 24, 1984.) “Jars from China…” (70,000 imprisoned.) “Furniture from Russia” (34,000 tortured.) “Arm chairs made of pure silver…” (3,240 killed.) “Grand pianos from Spain…” (Countless women raped.)
The shrine should serve as a heart-rending reminder of what was stolen from us. Unfortunately, for many, it doesn’t.
This summer, I teach music from 8-11:00 a.m. and 1-5:00 p.m., but in the course of the day, I get sneezed at, I get to fine-tune grammar, conduct breathing exercises, and improve kids’ “intonation” when they speak or demand something from their nannies – and remind them that nannies also deserve a “please” and a “thank you”. During this time of the day, I sometimes become an actress when I try to keep a serious face even though my soul is already rolling with laughter, I am able to practice polemics, become a shrink, a referee, inter alia… and yet, at the end of each day, I learn more than I teach.
Music teachers know that words play a significant role during lessons; a little foible in terminology and the child gets the wrong idea about tone production, hand relaxation, etc. while one appropriate word could curtail hours of ineffective repetition.
Nevertheless, I have never been more aware of this truth than when I was teaching a student on the autism spectrum recently. I usually find it problematic to address the child’s errors because corrections are regarded as an interruption and an annoyance. “You made a mistake here,” “you missed a note,” and “you forgot to do this and that” are normally met with grunts or banging on the piano keys – which I don’t take personally because I know he is not upset with me but with his mistakes.
This week, I decided to try something new. I decided to say, “Oh no! “WE missed a note,” “WE forgot to do this and that,” “WE made a mistake! Let’s try to fix it!”
It did wonders! By simply replacing “you” with “we,” he became more receptive. After all, the mistakes were not entirely his. I was the one who failed to come up with a solution sooner.
What if we applied the same approach to our society? Instead of being all accusatory, can’t we just say, WE made a mistake! Let’s try to fix it!?