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17 November 2006

Two things you must know

Clueless!WHEN YOU are stuck in a conversation with a CEO or the wife of the prime minister and you don't know what else to say, tell them two things:

1. The Georgian word for “frog croaks in the water” is “cbakhi tskhalshi khikhinebs”. You must practice this thoroughly because the Georgian language is famous for the “kh” sound, which is a strangled aspirated glottal sound that appears four times in “cbakhi tskhalshi khikhinebs”.

2. Also, the Inuit Eskimo word for “I just have to give up drinking” is “Imminngernaveersaartunngortussaavunga”. It is most impressive if you say this with your lips not touching each other and your left eyebrow arched.

There. I hope you learned something new and useful today.

14 November 2006

FOCAL POINT : Cesar Buendia, “Idol: Pag-asa ng Bayan”

Cesar BuendiaTHE ROOTS of Cesar Buendia's craft lie in his growing years. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he was one of the most popular figures at the UP Integrated School, running for the student body, writing poetry for the school organ, singing for the UP Cherubim and Seraphim, and appearing in stage plays. Those were also the years of literary talents who wrote screenplays and of avant-garde filmmakers who dared the authoritarian rule of government.

After college, amidst the social turbulence of the late 1980s through the 1990s, Cesar became a most-sought-after scriptwriter for a television network. TV, in fact, had acquired a potent form during those years. Middle-class families stopped visiting movie houses to watch home videos, and television stations ventured in mainstream film production.

Such influences are visible in Cesar Buendia’s debut feature “Idol: Pag-asa ng Bayan”. I spoke to him about writing and directing a film that defined a generation faced with powerful questions of art and moral values.

What separates Cesar Buendia from other debuting directors?
Apart from his weight, Cesar Evangelista Buendia is different in that he is a director who is committed to the truth first and art only second. He recognizes that his talent comes from God and therefore must use it only for God and not just to earn a living.

Tell me a little bit more about Idol: Pag-asa ng Bayan.
A Palanca Awardee friend of mine says that Idol is not even just post-modern. It is contemporary art, which means that it is even more advanced than post-modern art. Well, it does subvert many conventions and yet manages to use the standard literary structure in doing so. This creates a shocking, disturbing, thought provoking effect on the viewers.

Idol does not prescribe solutions, but provokes discussions and debates. It compels us to take a long hard look at our values as a people.

Is the film inspired by your own personal experiences?
Not really. Some characters are, but it is really more fiction than anything. But I did research to make sure that the plot is possible in the real world.

What was it like working with veterans Michael de Mesa and Jacklyn Jose?
K lang (It is okay). It was my first time to handle veteran performers. Nung una, china-challenge nila ako (They dared me initially). But I think I proved myself along the way. Kaya later sumusunod na lang sila (They followed my directions later on) .

Filipinos of late have again been getting attention in international film festivals, notably your friend Jett Jeturian. Any plans for entering the international film fest circuit?
Sana (Hopefully). But the iconography of the film is very local. Baka hindi maintindihan ng international (the international audience may not understand it). Will try, though.

What is your dream project as a director?
My next project—if God permits—is a film about gay discrimination and the Filipino gay culture. This one, my friends say, is even more shocking daw. (Laughter)

If you weren't a director, what would you be?
Let me know ha. Not a whore, I would starve. (More laughter) Maybe a choir conductor.

Idol: Pag-asa ng Bayan” will screen on 28 November 2006 at the Henry Lee Irwin Theatre in Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines. View the trailer at Nina Saldaña’s blog Life in Kilobytes.

For tickets, please contact Cesar Buendia at +919189235515 or email me at Proceeds of the screening will fund various endeavors of the UPIS Batch 1982 Alumni Association.

12 November 2006

Birth of Bahá’u’lláh

The Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, 'Akká, Israel. Source:

The Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, 'Akká, Israel.
Image source:

OVER FIVE million Bahá'ís worldwide celebrate today an important anniversary: the birth of Bahá'u'lláh. The Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith was born Mirza Husayn Ali at dawn of 12 November 1817 into one of Persia's most noble families. He descended from the Divine Messenger Zoroaster, thus fulfilling the belief that the great Redeemer of Mankind would be a pure Persian.

“The purpose of religion as revealed from the heaven of God's holy Will is to establish unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world”
Bahá'u'lláh, which means “the glory of God” in Arabic, became a follower of the Báb's and was jailed in underground prison after the Báb's martyrdom in 1844. It was here that Bahá'u'lláh received a vision of the Divine in the form of a maiden who assured Him of His earthly mission as successor to the progressive cycle of Divine Educators.

This singular event has similarities to the descent of the Holy Ghost as a dove unto the Christ, the apparition of Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad at Mount Hira, and the the enlightenment of the Buddha under the bo tree at Bodh Gaya. For Bahá'ís, it marks the advent of the Bahá'í revelation with the message it brings of the oneness of religion and the oneness of mankind.


Bahá'u'lláh's earthly remains have been laid to rest in a garden room off the restored mansion called Bahjí. It is the holiest place on earth.

View a special audio-visual presentation prepared by the Bahá'ís of New York.

07 November 2006

Veiled shots

Broken connection?

Smile! You're on candid camera!
Image source: Bonnie Ellis

EUROPE'S ONGOING debate over Muslim veils reminds me of the time last year when I tried taking photographs of Abu Dhabi's sprawling Marina Mall. It was my first week in the United Arab Emirates, and I wasted no time taking shots of the impressive lobby and black-marble staircase. Suddenly, some tall, burly men descended upon me with the menacing attitude of Attila the Hun.

“You are not allowed to take photographs of Arab women,” snarled one of them, his dark Middle Eastern eyes ready to devour my camera. My first thought after this rude interruption was, “Which part of this lobby looks like an Arab woman?” I held my tongue back (because the burly men were scary and I was getting scared) and looked around.

Voila! I saw the object of our contention. There, at the foot of the staircase, stood three women. With black veils shrouding them from head to foot, it was easy to miss them in the black-marbled architecture of the mall.

When in Rome (Dubai, in this case), do as the Romans (Dubai'ites) do: don't shoot the women.

04 November 2006

Pre-departure checklist

TAHMINA AND AMIR DAUMAR, former colleagues in Israel, are leaving the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa to settle in Kazahkstan, Tahmina's land of birth. To help ease the move, I offered them some tips based on my own experience when I left the country in December 2004. I thought I should post the tips here for others who are also reaching the same milestone of leaving the holiest place on earth.

Dear Tahmina and Amir,

As you prepare to move out of the World Centre and into a brand new life together, let me share with you some small things you can do to make the final leg sweeter.

1. Relish the time! Smile and laugh a lot with each other as you pack, unpack, repack, clean, sweep, write, and do all those myriad tasks mandated for departing friends.

2. Go to the Consumer List and offer three of your most beloved material belongings FREE to the third, ninth, and last persons who will respond. Consumer lists never exist outside Haifa. Use it one last time to enrich the lives of others with three things that have gratified you.

3. Have fun throwing out garbage as you clean out your flat! If you take the staircase to get to the garbage bin, make a detour to the nearest store and treat yourself to a bag of Israeli potato chips. No one in the world does potato chips the way Israelis do.

4. Write a mail to the five persons you have always wanted to have dinner with but never got to. Tell them you want to lunch with them at the erstwhile Twelve-Shekel Kebab Restaurant in Hadar on Wednesday. If no one shows up, lunch together anyway, and enjoy that one restaurant in Haifa that has magnetized and enhanced the fellowship of the youth of the World Centre through all these years.

5. Go to the Cleaning/Maintenance Department and the Accommodations Department and personally thank each one of the crew that you find in the office. Show your appreciation for those fellow workers who make daily life in Haifa a much more pleasant experience.

6. On your second-to-the-last Saturday, volunteer to become a morning terrace tour guide and breathe in the air that our predecessors did. Then one evening in your final week, walk together down the terraces as the lights come up. End up at Ben Gurion; walk further down until you reach the final rotunda. Stop, turn around, and marvel at the glorious lights that celebrate the dawn of a new day.

7. Spend one lunch hour at the Monument Gardens. Reflect on the great, tranquil majesty and symbolism of these gardens. Say a prayer for the departed, and visit the Department of Holy Places to bid them goodbye.

8. Ride those final sherut rides to Bahjí seated together in silence. Absorb the moment: you are on the path taken by countless pilgrims whose lives have changed after visiting Haifa. You are now about to join those blest ranks.

9. And as you visit the Shrines for the last time, dedicate your prayers to the House of Justice and the beloved institutions of our Faith for divine assurances of guidance and protection, as they work hard in ensuring the progress of the Cause in every corner of the world, including that corner in Kazakhstan that you will now be part of.

Embrace the brand new life ahead of you with all its uncertainties and expectations. As you traverse another path of service in His Cause, let your full trust rest in Him. He will work with you in ways you never even imagined. You have my fondest wishes for the best.

:: Paul A.

Driving in Mumbai

Drive them crazy!
Link reference:, sent by Behi Sobhani

SO YOU thought the roads of Manila, Tel Aviv, and Rome have been your best driving challenges? Wait till you come to Mumbai. Drivers in this city neither race with each other at the slightest provocation (like Israelis do) nor halt in the middle of the road to debate on the latest traffic regulation (like Filipinos do). But a typical Mumbai driver honks madly and comments on how idiotic the other driver is . . . before joining 1.8 million other vehicles the competition for honking the loudest and squeezing cars into that extra space on the road. And that's when the best driving challenges of your life begin.

While most Mumbaikars travel within the city by train, around 655 vehicles navigate every kilometer of road length, compounded with 9,000 vehicles being bought every month. Enhance the snarl with the fact that only 2,500 cops form the Mumbai traffic force.

But there's light at the end of the tunnel (or road, in this case). The good news is that the state government is reviewing the initiative by the city police commission to install an ambitious automated area traffic management system to ease the congestion. It remains to be seen how soon this system gets delivered. In my experience in Mumbai, deliveries get delayed in the city . . . because of the traffic.

03 November 2006

Derailing competition

Broken connection?

Better and bitter (click on image for larger view)
Image source: Ajay Sukumaran

IN TODAY'S fiercely competitive world of advertising, brands understand the value of ads that stand out, are remembered, and have fun with competition. You can tell from the screenshot above that SpiceJet Indian Airlines relishes this. Just derail competitors—Indian Railways, in this case—and fly away with the business!

02 November 2006

FOCAL POINT : William Saroyan, “In the Time of Your Life”

William Saroyan

AMERICAN AUTHOR WILLIAM SAROYAN (1908-1981) wrote the following as prologue for his Pulitzer Prize-winning play “The Time of Your Life”. The words testify to the possibilities of the human spirit to reflect attributes of the divine.

In the time of your life, live—so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed.In the time
of your life, live—
so that in that wondrous time you shall
not add

to the misery and sorrow of the world
Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart.

Be the inferior of no man, or of any men be superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man's guilt is not yours, nor is any man's innocence a thing apart. Despise evil and ungodliness, but not men of ungodliness or evil. These, understand. Have no shame in being kindly and gentle but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret.

In the time of your life, live—so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.
Source: William Saroyan, “The Time of Your Life” (1939)

01 November 2006

FOCAL POINT : Barbra Streisand, “The Tour”

Barbra Streisand in WashingtonCRITICS HAVE been raving massively about Barbra Streisand's current North American concert tour since it kicked off on 4 October in Philadelphia. The tour showcases the reclusive 64-year-old entertainer on comeback with songs she recorded early in her 46-year-old career. From what I have read in newsgroups and fan sites, the vocal performances are grand, majestic, and wildly applauded.

The tour also hit the headlines for a different reason. The concert features a five-minute comedy skit halfway through, where Ms Streisand (a longtime Democrat), trades jokes with George W. Bush impersonator Steve Bridges (a Republican and friend of the real George W. Bush's!). The skit has elicited protests from three hecklers in Philadelphia, New York City, and Fort Lauderdale. Ms Streisand's onstage replies are now classic: she shouted down an expletive to quieten the jeerer in New York City and offered to repeat whatever words offended the heckler in Fort Lauderdale.

Yesterday, yet another news hit the headlines: someone threw a paper cup onstage at one of the two Fort Lauderdale shows. Thankfully, it missed Ms Streisand. The scene-stealer, who turned out to be a drunk Australian with no political motive, attended the concert in lieu of a guest of Ms Streisand's! I wonder if the real guest and the Australian are on speaking terms the morning after.

As a Streisand fan since 1980, I regret missing the shows: the tour may actually be her last one ever, in light of her age. Teeny Matias, a friend from college, wrote me last week about watching the Toronto show. ( “It was fabulous!” he raved. “When they said it was sold-out, they were not kidding—no empty seat despite the ticket prices!”) He reminded me of the cassette of Streisand songs that I gifted him with in college. Oh, that cassette! It was part of my youthful years filled with consuming passion for Barbra. For that particular 90-minute cassette, I spent weekends selecting songs that I thought Teeny would enjoy most, one weekend recording them in chronological order from 1963 to 1984, and another weekend deleting and re-recording those I thought were not exciting enough. THEN I went on one more day perfecting a freehand pencil portrait for the cassette's cover.

And all this while being a sophomore student at the university. Now you know what I meant by “consuming passion”!

Ms Streisand has pledged millions of dollars from the concert proceeds to NGOs dealing with the environment, women's health, and education. The 20-city tour ends in Los Angeles on 20 November.