Sunday, August 18, 2013

ES1102 E-PORTFOLIO (Blogging & facebook) USING SOCIAL MEDIA

Interactive Learning for Blackstone's ES1102 groups



Building an e-portfolio is a value-added component of Brad Blackstone’s ES1102 tutorial group sessions. The primary part of the e-portfolio is an individual blog that you will create as a home-base for your ES1102 writing. The core of that writing will be responses to the course writing assignments and subsequent interaction about those with your instructor and classmates.

An additional aspect of the e-portfolio is your interaction via the course Facebook page. We have a general ES1102 course Facebook page (please “like” ES1102 Issues & Interactions). You should visit this site regularly, using it to ask questions and give opinions and as a platform for sharing relevant video and text links with classmates as often as possible. We will refer to the blogs and the Facebook page in class.

Blogging, as you may know, is a form of self-publishing, online. Once a writer has set up a weblog, or blog, he or she can post on a variety of topics and receive feedback from anyone with an Internet connection.  This can be useful when writing is shared within a particular community, whether a special interest group, class or any other blogging group. In ES1102, blogging will serve as a way for you to
  • reflect on course content in writing in a formal and semi-formal manner;
  • develop and share your ideas with an audience that is not limited to your instructor;
  • learn about the ideas of your classmates and your tutor;
  • comment on the ideas of others; and
  • refine your writing skills. 
Your various interactions with the course Facebook page, ES1102 Issues & Interactions (, which you should friend, and within the blog space of Blackstone’s World Without Walls (, where you and your peers will park your individual blogs, have the general objective of
  • allowing you to connect with classmates and your instructor outside of class;
  • encouraging you to ask questions, give opinions and share information;
  • and helping you better understand the role of social media in shaping effective communication within the academic community. 

THE “HOW” of Blogging and Facebook
1.     Setting up a blog
  • To create your own blog website, go to, or any other blog site. At these sites, follow the instructions to create your own site. To make your site recognizable to classmates, your site address could have your given name and family name (or nickname).
  • Once you have created a blog for our course, within that, you can eventually begin to post responses to assignments.  The title of your course-related blog might be something like “EAP” or “ES1102.” 
  • Eventually, send your blog address to me and to the classmates. They will post links to your blog and that of other classmates on their own blog.
2.     Blogging groups/blogging buddies
In your ES1102 class/tutorial group, you will be assigned a blogging group of 4-6 members at the start of the semester. For every written post that you make, you should read and respond to the posts of at least two members of this blogging group. The purpose of this is for you and your blogging group members to share written ideas with each other. In this way, you might also develop greater familiarity with each other and assist each other in creating the most appropriate and effective posts possible. A second purpose is for this smaller class group to have an opportunity to demonstrate the skills needed to become a cohesive social unit.

3.     The four-stage blogging process
  • Stage One: Having setting up your blog, read the blog assignment for the first post (see schedule on the course website), and write a response of 150 to 200 words, preferably as a word document. Later you can copy and paste this doc into the new post section of your blog.
  • Stage Two:  Publish your post on your blog by the assigned date.
  • Stage Three: Access the blogs of at least two other members of your blogging group, and read their posts for the same topic/assignment. After reading each post, leave a comment.  In your commentary, you might answer questions such as these: What do you think about the post?  Is the language clear? How about the content? Is the content impressive or not? Is it related directly to the assignment? Is the content clear, concise, coherent, cohesive? Is the answer complete? Are you in agreement or disagreement with any opinions stated? Is the writer courteous (and are you)? Once you have reacted to the posts of at least two members of your blogging group, you can visit and comment on the blogs of other classmates.
A necessary condition for an assessment of excellent in the Interaction portion of your course grade is that you read and react in writing to at least a total of three classmates’ posts per blog assignment.

Pay close attention to your language use. Remember, a blog is a form of publishing, and when and if you present your ideas in public, it is advisable to present them in a clear, grammatically accurate fashion. You should also use a tone that, while not as formal as that of a formal letter or official written report, should still adhere to standards for courtesy, correctness, conciseness, clarity, coherence/cohesion, concreteness and completeness, the so-called 7Cs of good writing.
  • Stage Four: Return to your post to see what commentary has been left. Follow that up, if you like, with comments back to your readers.

4.     Facebook

Please “friend” ES1102 Issues & Encounters. Interact here by posting links to relevant websites, with video and written information on any course-related topic. Also, whenever you post, please write a one or two sentence explanation of what you are posting.


There is formal assessment of your e-portfolio. I will give you feedback with a focus on your blog posts' content & organization, your language use, the timeliness of your posting and the manner and frequency of your comments on classmates' posts.

While your interactions with Facebook in the course are also viewed by me and others, evaluation is less analytical (in short, more holistic). The focus is on how you make an effort to ask questions, search for relevant video and text sources to share, and then view/read and comment on the links provided by others, are able to value add to the course discussions by their effort. Strictly speaking, this may not add up to points for a mark, but it will certainly advance your learning, and it will warm your tutor's heart!


I. Assignment 1:  Due by Friday night, midnight, January 24, Week 2

Write a  reflective post of 150 to 250 words on the topic “My English Language Learning Journey” or “Living in A Globalized World: The Importance of English for Me,” or an instructor-approved variation of one of these topics.

II. Assignment 2:  Due by Tutorial #1 of Week 4

Write a reflective post of 150 to 250 words on an event that has shaped your life and the person you have become.

III. Assignment 3:  Due midnight, Friday, February 14th, Week 5

Write the second draft of your reader response to one of the reading articles related to globalization. This draft should be 350 to 400 words.

 IV. Assignment 4:  Due by the end of Tutorial #1/Week 8

Write and post the second, revised draft of your essay.

V. Assignment 5:  Due by the end of Tutorial #1/Week 11

Write a critically reflective post of 150 to 200 words on either the topic “What I Learned in The Essay Process.".

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Foreign Element

In a recent set of course feedback, I was surprised to read that a couple ES2007S students, presumably Singaporeans, were dismayed by the presence of so many "foreign" students in the class. That opinion was presented via several directly stated assertions, that I will summarize as follows: 1) "Foreign" students don't take their studies as seriously as "local" students, and thus they might make group work perilous because they could become hindrances to a "local" achieving a good mark on an assigned task; 2) "foreign" students participate more than "local" students, in that way occupying classroom social space and currying favor with the teacher.

Being a "foreigner" myself, I tend to cringe whenever I read allegations based on generalizations, especially those which focus more on oddly perceived group characteristics rather than on the traits of individuals. In fact, when I reflect on the past term, I recall the term as quite special; it was a semester that indeed gave me and others in my three tutorial groups an opportunity to work not only with Singaporeans but also with nationals from India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, mainland China, Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as far off Sweden, Norway (transplanted from Bosnia), Germany, the Czech Republic and France. It never occurred to me that this was a bad thing. I generally view the sharing of ideas with others from different countries and cultures a good thing, especially when one considers that "intercultural communication" is a key topic in this particular course, one for which a blog post is even required.

 However, I will admit that several non-local students who were visiting NUS on a one-semester "exchange" did demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice some of their work for the apparent opportunities available to "do the tourist thing" and travel in the region. That was clearly the minority though, and  even a few of those who traveled a lot were able to make major contributions to the course in the way of classroom participation and overall coursework.

The allegation that stung me the most though was that some of these students could gain my favor, simply because they were "foreigners." For me, such a perception could be based on the fact that a number of the non-locals were quite vocal, forward in their demeanor and confident in interacting not just with their classmates but with me as well. It is true that some local students are shy about speaking up in class, and more so when it comes to talking one on one before and after class with an instructor. Whatever void students like that might leave in the social environment is quickly filled by the outgoing, assertive students. And from my experience in ES2007S, there are outgoing, assertive students studying at NUS from all sorts of countries, including Singapore, who are happy to interact with their sensei!

Last term, were some of these outgoing personalities who happened NOT to be from Singapore eager to engage me before, during and after class? Indeed. I didn't need to approach them and say "hello" when they made a concerted effort to do exactly that with me.

Of course, it is a stereotype that "Westerners" are more outgoing than Asians. Was this universally true of the European students in ES2007S? No. There were some very quiet European students.

Was it universally true of the Indians, who generally are quite vocal? No. There were some rather reserved Indians as well. But some members of these two groups were certainly outgoing (and -- again -- others were as well). Could the fact that a few of the "non-locals" interacted with me easily and frequently have given someone the wrong impression that they were gaining my favor? Well, I suppose....

Here I need to emphatically state it was "the wrong impression" though because, after 30+ years of classroom interactions, I am not swayed simply by talk. There must be substance there as well.

I also pride myself in being both a suitable, balanced judge of character and demeanor and an impartial evaluator of the quality of work assigned in a course. Objectivity -- as much as is humanly possible -- is required in any educational setting to ensure that every student has equal opportunity to achieve his or her best. Being objective is also essential for a teacher who wants to accurately assess a student's skills so as to provide the most effective feedback for growth. These are  principles that I live and breathe.

In fact, in my opinion, I'm a generally friendly, open-minded guy who is willing to listen and talk to any student, and any person for that matter, no matter where he or she comes from. But I can also be a harsh critic, a demanding coach, one who can separate his personal likes and preferences from the job scope, to honestly address the learning tasks at hand and assess student needs, progress and accomplishments.

What do you think? I'm particularly interested in the views of students who have taken ES2007S within the last year, or even better, in the last semester.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Getting In On the Ground Floor: The Elevator Pitch

In our professional communication class, the order of the day was "the elevator pitch." Each student would have an opportunity to pitch their proposal to an "authority figure" (played by a classmate) in one to two minutes. The exercise jogged my memory.

In 1980 I postponed completion of my graduate program and moved to Lisbon, Portugal. I was initially hosted by the locally renowned surgeon, Dr. Antonio Pinto Teixeira and his lovely wife Luisa. They assisted me as I got my wings in the local scene. Through one of their contacts, I met another American who eventually invited me to share a leafy residence amidst the fruit orchards of Ameixoeira, a sleepy village in the hills on the northern edge of Lisbon. 

It was in the Ameixoeira house that I had my first work, tutoring a couple young engineers in conversational English and business communication for the multinational carmaker, General Motors. That was quite the idyllic teaching situation, sitting in the garden at a picnic table under a massive plum tree, discussing topics in readings taken from The International Herald TribuneScientific American and other sources.  

The fellows I tutored would typically arrive in a GM company car on two mornings a week, and sit with me for an hour and a half or so, then return to their jobs at the GM headquarters, twenty minutes away. Through them I learned that there were over a dozen such tutroials taking placing in various places throughout Lisbon, on the same regular basis as my own lessons. Even now I remember that at some point I had actually remarked to the guys that it seemed a bit wasteful on the part of GM, sending its staff members out for English lessons when an in-house program could address the same needs more efficiently. Little did I know then that I'd soon have a chance to make the same pitch to the head of GM.

That opportunity presented itself during a social gathering at the Pinto Teixeira residence. Typical of Portuguese parties, the wine was flowing freely. I'd had a few drinks and was feeling quite confident when someone alerted me to the fact that another guest, the rather gruff-looking, burly man in a tight fitting suit, was the managing director of General Motors. 

While I'm not sure now when the thought occurred to me to approach the GM boss, I do know that I was unenlightened to the nuances of an act that I would later discover was called "the elevator pitch." Still, I knew how to articulate a problem clearly and concisely, and I realized that stressing the main benefit of the problem solution that I could offer for GM could also benefit me.

Some of the details of that long past interaction elude me today, but the gist was this: I walked up to the man and introduced myself as an American recently arrived in Lisbon. The guy seemed disinterested, busy with his wine, until I elaborated: I was tutoring GM employees in a program set up by the American School. The program itself, while effective for giving the young staff members a chance to enhance their English, was inefficient in that it was taking them away from their jobs for too long; it couldn't be cost effective because it was sending those workers out across Lisbon, in separate directions, in individual cars. Setting up an in-house program would accomplish the same goals at a more reasonable price.

The criticism pricked the boss's interest. He wanted to hear more: "Come out to my office next week," he said, " and we can talk about this."

Talk about it we did, and soon thereafter, and for the next few years, I was the sole language and communication skills trainer for GM de Portugal, working both at corporate headquarters and at the factory an hour north of Lisbon. That was a very rewarding way for me to support myself during my Portugal years, and it was the start of my interest in professional communication.

Some of you have also had experiences pitching ideas, whether in class, an elevator, a cocktail party or elsewhere. Feel free to share your experiences here.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Mock Interviews

What sort of jobs have I interviewed for? Here's a partial list:

U.S. National Security Agency country/regional analyst
People Airlines (now defunct) flight attendant
retail store assistant manager

Those are jobs that I applied for, got interviewed for, and was not hired for. (Thank god!) During my university studies, I never even heard of a course such as the one I now teach, a communication skills course in which a segment is dedicated to assisting/familiarizing students with resume and application letter writing, and then with preparing for and performing at a job interview. If I'd had such a course in college, who knows where I would be today....

Where was I during the last couple tutorials two week ago? In class facilitating mock interviews. In each tutorial group there were four teams. Each team of three or four students read and evaluated the application materials that another team's individual members had prepared, peer reviewed and revised in advance. The evaluating team, much like a hiring committee or HR group, first read the materials then would rank those individuals from the other team based on the quality of the materials in relation to a specific job, internship or graduate program application. After that, they began the interview process.

The interview process entailed setting up the classroom (and an adjacent room, and even some common space outside the class) in office-like quadrants, with one team per designated area behind a table. In their respective stations, each team created their first set of interview questions, set for the peer they'd ranked #1. During a point in the question preparation process, each team then lost one of its members, that being the person who was ranked as having the best set of materials. She or he, along with the top ranked person from each of the other teams, was directed into the corridor, there to wait until being called upon by the peer team for an interview of approximately 15-20 minutes.

Back in the classroom, each team crafted its questions, and each individual adopted a particular stance, whether as a friendly and smiling HR person, impatient and brusque interrogator or something in between.  No matter what the demeanor of each interviewer was set to be, all sessions had a principle interviewer and a note-taker, the person whose main task was to reflect on the verbal and nonverbal behavior of the applicant. When the first round of interviews finished, the process was repeated in a second round, then in a third, and then in a fourth. In this way, every student had an opportunity to be an interviewer multiple times, and to be interviewed once.

After all the rounds were completed, a debriefing session was held where students were encouraged to share something about their experience.

This is another opportunity for such a debriefing. How do students view the process and these interviews?

That's exactly what this blog post is all about.

Students, please add your thoughts. Innocent bystanders, please see the commentary below.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Democracy as Blood Sport

What did Bill Clinton say? "Democracy doesn't have to be a blood sport." 

But when a high school student openly calls for the president's assassination, and when she gains "likes" for her message, I wonder what has happened in the USA?

When I was in 3rd grade, we lived in Wilmington, Ohio, just 15 minutes from the town of Clarksville, where this 16-year-old racist lives in southwestern Oho. When I was a kid there I remember seeing a huge Confederate flag painted on the roof of a barn, and in the yard of the farmhouse, 3 crosses, which would be periodically burned. My parents told me the farmer was a member of the KKK. 

Now welcome to Ohio in 2012. I know for a fact that some people in my hometown - two hours from Wilmington - refer to Obama as "our nigger president," discounting his mixed race roots, ignoring that he was democratically elected to the highest office in the land, and proudly declaring their racism for anyone within earshot. 

That's what kids hear, they see the disrespect, the hatred amongst their parents' social circles, they catch glimmers of it on TV. Who might be surprised?

Just yesterday I spoke to my brother who lives on a farm in Licking County, Ohio. He made the same observation: People judge Obama not by his policies, not by what he has done or hopes to do for his fellow citizens, not by the accomplishments of his administration, but by some preconceived notion of him established by malicious rumor, based on his skin color, created with the worst poetic license. What did singer Hank Williams Jr. say recently at the Iowa State Fair, "We've got a Muslim president who hates farming, hates the military, hates the U.S. and we hate him!"

Racists like Williams can spout any lying rant, and that becomes fodder for the next uninformed redneck cross-burner. 

There are times when I REALLY appreciate walking into my university classes here in Singapore where Singaporean Chinese, Indian and Malay kids interact respectfully, studying alongside Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Swedish, Norwegian, German, Czech and French students, all co-mingling, learning together, sharing ideas and opinions, developing a better understanding of each other and their respective cultures --- and I think how "proud" I am to be the American representative amongst the group.

And then I read crap like Alyssa Douglas's tweet, and I feel almost sick and ashamed (and as if nothing has changed in Ohio since the 1960s). Blood sport, indeed. 

All The World's A Stage

Shakespeare joins ES2007S.

This week in the second tutorial session all three groups came alive as we dramatized various interpersonal scenarios. The main purpose was two fold: to give students a chance to interact within possible conflict situations, and to once again put them in a position where they had to leave their normal comfort zone and be spontaneous, albeit with a slightly altered identity. 

In Group 7, the Academy Award ballots came out early as we watched Yong Sheng and Yea Wen get right to the heart of the interpersonal matter with commanding performances that clearly connected with their real world experience. Yea Wen saved the day as she consoled her "friend" in what was supposed to be an issue of disappointment with his own academic performance. For drama's sake, Yong Sheng's application of eye drops was just a starter though.

On came Shi Ying and Min Thu in what appeared to be a serious tear jerker. Shi Ying was bawling her eyes out in woe, having been dumped supposedly by her "bf" Sai, when Min Thu tried to help her pick up the pieces, gently consoling her. We all learned that in a case where love becomes unrequited, it's best to just stand by and listen.

A number of masterful performances ensued, many related to the frequent social issue of one team member not playing his or her part in project work. In Group 4's tutorial session, that sort of conflict was precisely the basis for fine outings by Heather and Wei Song. 

If you look at the photo above, you can see Heather waxing indignant, presenting a non-verbal barrier in response to the accusation by Wei Song that she hasn't been pulling her load.  

In a similar fashion, Patrik prodded Dinh with a low-volume yet insistent position that work deadlines had to be met. If I recall correctly, Patrik was quite skillful in challenging Dinh to explain why he had not been able to complete the assigned task. What's interesting in the photo below is that with his left  hand holding his right arm, Patrik seems to be guarding himself (or holding himself back) from Dinh. What do you think?


In Tutorial Group 1, the first round of the dramatic portrayals of these interpersonal conflicts situations for me on Thursday, among many fine acts, the performance that stands out in my mind at this point (two days later) was that of Kim Bongjin, our spikey-haired blonde from Korea, as he tried to resist the request by Dhanya to help her with a statistics program. He had adopted the position of not wanting to assist her, but having a hard time to "say no," he simply grimaced and squirmed and delayed any verbal response. She pushed and pushed, but he neither agreed nor disagreed, in what we all would recognize as stereotypical East Asian behavior. The nonverbals, again, were priceless.

What did I learn from this exercise? That role play is indeed a compelling motivator for students to get on task, and that we have serious acting talent amongst us. 

I'm curious what any of you might have to add about the experience. Which performances resonated with you? What did you take away from the session?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Road We're On --- Looking for Your Input

I've mentioned to students in my three tutorial groups this term that when I was a student during nearly 7 years of university, I never witnessed a PowerPoint presentation. That's right---I never saw a PowerPoint presentation. It hadn't been invented yet. (Yes, I am a dinosaur!)

Neither did I ever use a computer (although I saw one, an old "mainframe" that filled a room and spit out cards filled with data holes), nor did I ever have an instructor who used one in class.

(Yes, the 1970s and 80s were not long after the T-Rex roamed the Earth!)

Now, not only can we use slideware and notebook-size, laptop computers and other high tech gadgets, we can communicate even when not in class via facebook and our blogs. These platforms allow us to interact in ways that most people couldn't have imagined when I was a student.

So here's something I'd like to add to the gadgetry: An open discussion about what has been taking place in our classes up until this point in the term.

Yes, you understood me correctly. I am interested in knowing what you think about the direction of our course of study, class assignments, the website, schedule, whatever you'd like to comment on at this point in the term (still way early to make an overall assessment, but I'm sure each of you has an opinion about what we have done so far, so why not start?).

Please feel free to comment openly and without any hesitation here, in the comment section: Flattery won't influence my image of anyone, and my ego won't be threatened by any criticism!

I am truly curious what your impression is of the way we've done things to date. Does it seem like we're flying through the material at Formula 1 speed, or might you feel like we've just been driving around in circles?

Here's my challenge to you all: Who'll be the first to commit to this very 21st century bit of educational interaction and give me a response? (In short, who shall warm my heart!)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Kaleidoscope World

Does hearing a particular song ever twirl you around by the heels, throwing you and your world view off kilter, revealing another dimension to existence? Of course. In that way, many songs act as a form of transport, refracting not only the sounds in our ears and the light before our eyes, but our very thinking in an unexpected and unique fashion, moving us beyond our usual perspective.
I have had kaleidoscopic (or kaleidophonic?) experiences with a number of the songs in this playlist, but let me recount just one, the so-called “Sukiyaki Song,” as an example:
I was riding alone with my father in the family car, circa 1963, at about age 7 or 8, on our way to the Perry County Golf Course, when I first heard “Sukiyaki” (or “Ue o Muite” by Kyu Sakamoto). Even now, 50 years later, I recall how impressed I was by the arrangement, by the singer’s sweet voice and amazing whistling, and by his words, in a language I had never heard:
Ue o muite arukou
Namida ga kobore naiyouni
Omoidasu harunohi
Hitoribotchi no yoru….
While I couldn’t understand the lyrics, hearing such a song, one that was both “foreign” and yet familiar at the same time, startled me — turning my world upside down, a fact that might be reflected in me eventually residing in Japan for 17 years, and in the way that the Sukiyaki melody has stayed with me (and with millions of other listeners) all these years.
Other songs in this set provide the listener with the same sort of exhilaration. Reach into the depths of Jeff Buckley’s passion as he presents the Cohen classic “Hallelujah” or imbibe the elegaic beauty of Paul Desmond’s alto sax in the “Theme from ‘Black Orpheus’,” and contemplate the impact that these songs have had on listeners since their release. Ride on the melodic waves created between Niladri Kumar’s sitar strokes and Talvin Singh’s beats in “River” or on the chanting pulse of The Congos mystical “Congoman,” and try not to be moved! Then sing along with Francis Magalona in “Kaleidoscope World,” and see if you don’t feel part of the Big Picture.
Whether by inciting an “aha” moment, initiating a series of inescapable body gyrations, or simply giving a person pause from the daily routine, many a song has such potential. That’s the bewildering power of music.
Check out this varied set, and see if you agree. And as always, enjoy!

This post first appeared as Daddy Peet Expresso #25 on Hear the music at this mixcloud site.

Soul Rebel Soundtrack

It’s mid 2012, and there’s roots reggae playing tonight, as happens every Saturday night, in the Hotel Santa Fe Bar & Grill. But this isn’t a dislocated place in New Mexico, nor is it throwback Jamaica — I’m beachside on the island of Guam, seven hours west of Honolulu / three hours east of Manila. High tide or low tide.
Nearly 40 years have passed since Bob Marley & the Wailers first popularized reggae worldwide, 30 years have passed since Bob moved on to that big sunsplash in the sky, and you can still hear Jamaican-based ska, rock steady, reggae and dub emanating from sound systems and stages in every corner of the globe.
A few years back, while living in rural Akita-ken, in northwest Japan, I used to hang out in Bliss, a street-corner drinking spot in the  picturesque coastal city of Honjo. What I recall most about Bliss are three things: the long blonde dreadlocks of the Japanese surfer-dude bar master, the complete Marley oeuvre on display in CD form, and — if I remember correctly through the haze of time — an Olympic-size rasta flag (with a cannabis leaf) unfurled in the shop’s front window. To top it off, the music was invariably a soul rebel soundtrack.
We’ve all heard reggae, even those among us who still don’t quite get it. Wherever you stand though, you have to be amazed by the quantity and quality of music that has originated in Jamaica. When I visited in the late 70s, the 11,000 sq kilometer island was home to a mere 2,000,000 people (in contrast to tiny Singapore’s 2.2 million at the same time). But what a dynamic musical culture!
While I might have been oblivious to the power of reggae in 1979 (sure, I’d seen Peter Tosh in concert, but that was only because he played as an opener for the Stones), what stands out in retrospect is that no matter where I was in the west of the island — strolling through the street market in Negril, catching sunset at Rick’s Cafe on the West End Cliffs, or lounging somewhere along the infamous 7 Mile Beach — reggae was pulsing from ghetto blasters and PAs alike, and everyone within earshot was grinding their hips.
What I didn’t know at that time was that Jamaica was home to hundreds of competing recording labels and studios. One label, Island, was the world’s leading indie music brand back in the 70s, and is now a mainstay under Universal. Sound studios such as Studio One, Treasure Isle, and The Ark, the home base of early Wailers’ producer Lee Perry, made an impact through both the music and the mythology that grew alongside it. (Remember, The Ark was allegedly burnt to the ground in a splif-inspired fire, ignited by Perry himself.)
There were also thousands of professional musicians in Jamaica during that era, a good number achieving international renown, all the while leaving us with a huge catalogue of classic recordings. Many of those included astute social commentary, with others being playful or self-mocking. Performances were typically soulful and heart-felt.
This episode’s set includes an array of songs, mainly from the 70s, with lesser-known artists like Tinga Stewart and The Uniques represented beside well-established singers such as Desmond Dekker and Max Romeo. It also presents more recently released numbers with a clear Jamaican connection, starting with a pair by Abyssinia Infinite (showcasing percussionist Karsh Kale, the ubiquitous Bill Laswell, and the fine singer Gigi), a bouncing social critique by Tiken Jah Fakoly from Cote d’Ivoire, and a party song by Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars.
This is the first in a number of episodes dedicated to all and anything ska-ish and reggaesque. Bliss indeed.

This post is taken from Daddy Peet Expresso Episode #35, on Hear the music at this mixcloud site.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Music of the Spheres

It was supposedly Pythagoras who realized that the pitch of a musical sound was in proportion to the length of string that produces it. He also apparently understood that basic numerical ratios can be found in the intervals of harmonious sound  frequencies. With these ideas in mind, he went a step further and proposed that the sun, moon and various planets each produce their own tones, which are in relation to their orbits and the distances between each other. Mother Earth and the quality of life of its inhabitants would naturally be affected by the music of these spheres.
Well, I can dig that. Again, I’m reveling in sunset at one of the beach-front tables at the Santa Fe Bar & Grill, on Tumuning Bay, Guam. I’ve mentioned this place in the previous episode. The bay is at high tide this evening, and pretty much empty except for a trio of local fellows casting a net for what catch I don’t know (I haven’t seen a fish longer than an inch during my forays into the water). Beside them, there’s a young loving couple cam-whoring, and further down the beach a slightly hunched Korean or Japanese lady apparently trying to train her Chihuahua to swim. I’m dry yet enjoying the restaurant’s sesame-tinged Tuna Poki, and a cold Stella Artois, but things are far from perfect — the background noise sucks.
What is it about so many of these paradisical drinking establishments and their bad taste in musical entertainment that riles me? (I must ask now for you to forgive my irritation, and my pretension.) Just above the bar is a 36-inch TV delivering raunchy music videos (which segue into Major League Baseball by 8pm). At the same time and in distinct counterpoint, the bar’s stereo system belts out tunes as improbable as ACDC’s “Highway to Hell” and “American Woman” by the Guess Who. Clearly, somebody in management needs a lesson on more appropriate ambient music. (I’m preaching to the converted if you are a regular listener at Radio Moka.)
How rare it is for a “rock free” playlist to appear in paradise. I think back, recalling when and where a beachside establishment bucked the trend and played music that seemed to fit the scene: Mykonos, Greece, 1979 — the master of a small tavern that served killer ouzo introduced me to the wizardry of two true guitar heroes, Paco de Lucia and Baden Powell.
Praia do Meco, the nude beach on Costa de Caparica just south of Lisbon, Portugal, 1981 or so — an airy cabana serving beers also had a cassette player, where for the first time I heard the lyrical voice of Brazilian Milton Nascimento.
Perhentian Island, on the northeast coast of Malaysia, early 1990s — a sandy tie-dye place called Coco Hut, wedged between three gargantuan boulders and canopied with dried coconut fronds, served Alpha Blondy’s reggae and jazz by the likes of Stan Getz amidst a buffet of catch-of-the-day curry and grilled barracuda. That all made perfect sense.
This week’s set is yet another foray into background ambient consultancy. I’ve purposefully kept the focus on Latin, Brasilian and African-based rhythms, each song with a clear tropical vibe. If only I were in charge here at the bar & grill, what magical musical majesty I might suggest.
But now the sun is blazing a bit too brightly (yep, blinding me) as it begins its dip into the Philippine Sea; the Earth seems still for a second, and good, as she grinds inexorably along her axis.
Happily, I imagine other realities, parallel universes, where no music is ever overplayed, where Anglo-American rock, rap and pop are kept at bay, and where every beachside bar and grill gets its sound just right —- in accordance with the music of the spheres.

This post first appeared on Daddy Peet Expresso #36, on

Monday, July 23, 2012

Missing Suitcases and Other Odd Phenomena: A Question of Management

So nice to be back home in safe, clean Singapore after a couple weeks in the Philippines. The two countries are both in Southeast Asia, and both are members of ASEAN, both are island nations -- though the Philippines has 7000+ islands and Singapore merely a handful -- but they couldn't be more different. I'm going to use my travel experience to illustrate.

On a recent international trip, I arrived by plane in Cebu, the second largest city in the Philippines, to find that my suitcase had not arrived with me on the Tiger Airways day flight. The bag was left back at Changi; it was then forwarded to the Cebu - Mactan Airport on a subsequent Cebu Pacific night flight. That flight left Singapore at midnight and arrived in Cebu's airport at 4am. There my suitcase apparently sat unattended for six hours. I suspect that was when it was ransacked. When I opened the bag in the presence of a Tiger Airways staff member who brought it to my hotel at noon the same day (24 hours after I'd arrived), I discovered not only that everything in the bag was jumbled, but that the new Nokia Lumia 610 phone I was bringing to Cebu as a gift (still in its original packaging) was gone.

Later, when I reported this theft to the head of police back at the Cebu Mactan airport, I was told by the kind gentleman that he indeed suspected it had been stolen there at the airport. He also confided that he had items taken from his own suitcase on a recent flight from Singapore to Cebu. In fact he went on to tell me that a crime syndicate was operating at the airport among the Cebu Pacific luggage handlers. According to this same police chief, his office was recieving complaints nearly every day of thefts from luggage!

Naturally, I asked the chief why his office couldn't make an effort to stop the crime wave at the airport. His answer startled me: oversight of the luggage handling was the responsibility of Cebu Pacific, not his office. 

That is precisely what I see as the major difference between Singapore and the Philippines, this lack of a sense of responsbility. Of course, it would be naive for me to say that everyone in Singapore feels responsible. However, I think people in Singapore are encouraged to take action, to get involved, and to be responsible. Rigorous demands in the education system require such responsibility, certainly. I also see it in the place that the rule of law plays in Singapore society.

Let me explain this idea in terms of another example, something very basic: the way people interact with the physical environment, which is another area of stark contrast between Singapopre and the Philippines.

In Cebu, I have been startled by the grime, dust and dirt on sidewalks, roads, buildings and public spaces, how litter is openly strewn on streets, fruit peels tossed into gutters, and plastics dropped helter skelter. I've seen people spit and piss throughout public areas (including a taxi driver who stopped near my downtown hotel and was peeing along the street), kids blatantly drop icecream wrappers and other rubbish on the ground, and smokers flick their cigarette butts randomly onto the street.

It seems that few Cebuanos hesitate to trash their living environment. The result is one of the trashiest, smelliest places I have ever visited, bar none, in the world. When I asked my Filipina fiance about this, she reported that many people in Cebu have the attitude that things are messy, so what would be the difference if a bit more garbage is added.

Clearly, there is little sense of "I am responsible for my environment." (Very little attention apparently given to any sort of "green movement" in Cebu, and dare I say, in the Philippines in general.)

I contrast this to the endless campaigns I witnessed in my youth 40 years ago in America, both in school and through the mass media, by which the value for creating and maintaining a clean environment was instilled. The results today in America are obvious: beaches are pristine, wilderness areas are garbage free, roadsides are generally litter-less, and city streets and sidewalks exist without rubbish. (Sadly, America has a long way to go toward ensuring its citizens that their environment is also safe!)

As for cleanliness, Singapore is very similar to the U.S. in this regard (although I have witnessed a worsening in Singapore since the late 1980s). As I rode the bus this morning from my residence in Bukit Timah to my office in Kent Ridge, the fact that the roads and sidewalks were clean jumped out at me. (And nowhere in Singapore have I ever smelled pee in a public area!)  Someone somewhere has done something right when an environment filled with so many people -- and Singapore is one of the most densely populated islands in the world -- is so clean.

It's also clear to me when something is wrong. Yesterday, taking the taxi from central Cebu City to the airport on Mactan Island, I was struck yet again by the filth on the city streets, sidewalks and in public spaces. Who's in charge, I wondered.

For me, that is the real issue: Who is in charge? Where's the management? Where is the sense of responsibility of the chief executives, directors, section chiefs, police chiefs, mayors, council members and other government representatives?

What do the citizens of a place like Cebu think when they visit a place as clean and safe as Singapore, or Tokyo, London, Chicago, New York, or Paris?

It is the responsibility of ordinary citizens to have the concern, and then they must pressure those around them, including their leaders, to set goals and work hard to lead their constituency in a direction that pays more than lip service to the notion that the Earth is our home. Safety and cleanliness are basic human responsibilities, and rights, not luxuries.