Getting to know Ala Paredes: the full interview from way back in 2006

The way back machine uncovers a gem with an interview with someone who I would like to call a good friend from back in my mid-20’s.

I originally did this interview back in 2006 for our magazine, Mobile Philippines under Hinge Inquirer Publications. The interview was conducted by me with text edits from our managing editor back then, Eva Gubat. I had sent her a copy of the interview right before she migrated to Australia.

“I’m what you call a M.A.W., a model-actress-whatever.” We got to talk to Ala Paredes one sunny morning at the Hotel Philippine Plaza. It was a day straight out of a hip-trance book: soft breeze blowing, trees situated against a blue cloudless sky, water as far as your eyes can see and a trio talking about Brazillian music, the emergency that is environmental destruction, and jeepney signs.

I first saw Ala on campus while rushing towards the library. Writers sometimes get to associate certain words with certain people, and the word “enigmatic” seems to be owned by Ala Paredes. She talks with passion about the Pinoy, our quirks, and about moving to a new country. She’s a perpetually giddy student who wants to learn new things with a defiant air, as if there’s a countdown and she’s racing towards a goal, grabbing all things and making it an art form, a bit of melody, a stroke of her hand.

Now, she’s trying to learn capoeira, a historically-laden Brazilian art-form combining martial arts with acrobatics, music and dance. When asked how she’s doing in her classes, she reveals, “I can’t say I’m any good. I’m still at that stage where I look like an idiot and feel like an idiot. I guess some people find it easier but ako, I’m really uncoordinated. It’s my challenge to myself. Parang overcoming this fear, movement in public.”

She did get to overcome her fear of deep waters when she got her diving license on February 26. It was something she wanted to do because of her love for nature. And she was able to do justice to her Sony T1 when she maximized the use of its waterproof case during the dive. Because of her trouble equalizing the pressure, however, she’s now under medication due to a slight ear infection. But no matter, it was an adventure she’d surely bring with her to Sydney.

“I used to think it was such a loser thing to do. Like, ‘Yuck. Why would you want to post your thoughts online?’

Ala Paredes on blogging

Because Ala and her family are set to move to Sydney, Australia, where the vibe is warm. “My dad thinks it’s the most livable place on earth. It’s stable, there’s so much benefits, the government subsidizes you. It’s a system that works basically. And it’s not as congested as the US. People seem to be more tolerant there.”

They’ve been preparing for the idea of the move for years, and it was only recently that a date has been agreed upon. She shared with us how her days have been occupied by packing her stuff. That, plus her samba sessions on Tuesdays and her capoeira practice. But mostly, she stressed, “I’ve been just packing, packing, packing. I only have two weeks left. I really try to make every day count. Talagang what I plan to do everyday, when I make a choice, I try to be happy about the decision.”

So these days, she wakes up and tries to be peaceful for an hour, willing herself not to jump up and check her email right away, plays with her niece and chooses all the worthwhile things she’d do for the day. We asked her what she’ll missed in our country. She replies, “I think I’ll miss how eccentric the country is, and I guess it’s what people love and hate about this country. Like one of my favorite pastimes is reading signs. Riding in the car, and someone’s driving and you see all these funny signs in the jeepneys and the sari-sari stores. And I always keep my camera ready so for when “Ooh, look at that sign. Stop. Picture!” That and a lot of other things. The warmth, the country, the music scene definitely. My friends…”

Ala shares that she might rename her blog to “Island Girl in Narnia,” or something of that sort. She religiously updates her blog every four or five days, and thinks that the frequency will be higher once she’s in Sydney. “I’ll probably be updating it more since I’ll be so lonely and depressed.” That’s why her theme for her blog is the jeepney with the tag, Manila-Sydney. Very apt for her sojourn in Australia with her family, a sort of crazy-slash-sensible family adventure. “Isang huling sakay,” she muses.

It’s her musing, raves and rants that keep the readers of her blog coming back for more trips on her jeepney blog. Sometimes, she’s top 2, sometimes 4. “I used to think it was such a loser thing to do. Like, ‘Yuck. Why would you want to post your thoughts online?’ And then I stumbled upon this one blog by two American girls and their blog was just funny and entertaining. Maybe I’ll try this kind of blog, I thought.”

She’s been blogging for almost three years, having started on July 15, 2003. She started out at Blogspot, then moved on to her Pansitan site. She’s happy to share that, apart from learning basic HTML, she started learning the craft of writing well. Although she updates often, she’s not the type of blogger who lugs around her PowerBook and blogs away, whenever, wherever.

Apart from her PowerBook, she has her iPod and a set of speakers, a Sony T1 with aqua case, a DV camcorder, an 80GB external hard drive and an Oxygen8 MIDI keyboard, a gift given by her geek boyfriend, Niño of the local band, Greyhoundz. “Imagine what other geek boyfriend would give you that for your birthday,” she says.

Her love of gadgets was apparently acquired from her dad. “Everytime something breaks down, like the WiFi, it’s always me or my dad who has to fix it. And my dad’s the one who always buys me gadgets. Everytime he goes on tour in the States, pagbalik niya meron siyang bagong reward for himself. He has a PowerBook also. Actually, I grew up using Mac. Of course, there was MS-DOS that everybody was used to. After that, Mac na kami. And then the first time I used Windows, it was in high school, Computer class. I was like ‘Why did this have two buttons? Ano ‘to?'”

“I think once you buy your own computer, it follows that you start buying stuff for it. Actually the iPod was a gift. I don’t know if I would have an iPod by now if no one had given me one. I wasn’t the type to carry my music around. Now, I can’t live without it. My T1 camera was a birthday gift also. The DV cam I bought myself because I was in Communications at the Ateneo, for projects. The Oxygen8 was a gift also. The Intuos was also something I bought myself since it seemed like something I’d use a lot.”

Her family has been very instrumental to her growth. “When we have dinner together, usually we stay an hour and a half longer. We’re just talking, making kwento. You know, my parents, they like to tell jokes, funny stories. Minsan, okay lang na magmura kami sa table pero paminsan-minsan lang. And we always have guests over, like neighbors dropping by. Parang adopted members and they like to stay over. I think it’s one of the more special aspects of my family.”

When she was a kid, her dad was very active against illegal logging. It was that, plus her experience with Green Peace, that made her an advocate for the environment. There was also that one time when she blogged about her plans of doing good for the country in her own way. “I’ve always had this dream that one day I’d hopefully teach people something. A skill, maybe. Something that they can make a living out of. It’s just a small dream.”

Her dad also stirred in her a simple love for our country. “Growing up, he’d say Brazilian music is the music of the culture. And then I asked him, how come in every song, they sing about the country? They always sing about Brazil? And then you realize their love for their own culture pervades even their music. Even if they’re not singing in English, even if they’re singing in Portuguese, they’re singing to each other. They’re singing to each other about how much they love their country. And that’s how secure they are in their own identity.”

Their moving to another place is not about to alter their principles. It’s an active hiatus, that once you’re there, the fervor to live for your country and to live on its very soil becomes more insistent, that they can make that choice with conviction. “I think you’d appreciate living in the Philippines if you knew it’s your choice. Like I could have lived somewhere else, but I chose to live here.”

When we ended the shoot, we felt we’d missed Ala Paredes. But we knew she’d be back, regardless of whatever political or economic circumstance we experience, regardless of how many times the jeepney in her blog takes her to other places. It’s Ala we’re talking about, she who once said, “Basta blogger, sweet lover,” and who takes the world in a fierce mode, racing against time, always to find herself drinking life with fervor.