Minamata City is certainly moving forward and learning from the past.
[Image credit: Act-B Recycling/Yunoko, retrieved from act-b.co.jp/eng/environment/rine.html]

Kazehozonkai’s acoustic music and a simple story of friendship across oceans

Where is the photo bomber? :) Seriously, this is my friend, Michikazu Iseri of Kazehozonkai. This was taken in Germany in 2004, where we met during the International Conference for Renewable Energies.

Where is the photo bomber? :) Seriously, this is my friend, Michikazu Iseri of Kazehozonkai. This was taken in Germany in 2004, where we met during the International Conference for Renewable Energies.

I had closed 2015 and begun 2016 by keeping in touch with old friends. I have traveled quite extensively and can say with gratitude that some of the ‘strangers’ I had met in those travels have eventually become long-time friends.

One of them is Michikazu Iseri. I met him in 2004, when I attended the International Conference for Renewable Energies in Germany. (As I typed this, it made me glad that Iseri and I had managed to be friends for more than a decade already, despite the distance. Thanks to modern technology indeed!)

Iseri (as how we fondly called him in Germany), is a visiting professor at Kumamoto University and a senior writer for the Kumamoto Daily News in Japan. He joined the newspaper after his studies in Keio University and the University of California at Berkley. He began his career in the daily newspaper as a reporter, eventually becoming political editor, cultural editor, and editorial writer. He was later seconded to the Kumamoto University and currently serves as a professor in journalism.

He has been covering mercury contamination and poisoning since 2001. This interest has  led him to study Minamata disease (M.d.) extensively. He then authored the book, Countries that learned from Minamata: Mercury control and management (in Japanese language) If I will recall our conversations during our Germany trip, I think this is a topic that somehow started our bond as friends (not mentioning, of course, Iseri’s light bantering and sense of humor). It was a sad topic, of course, but if I will look back at my own personal and professional journey, I would probably consider my trip to Minamata, Japan (many years ago) as a turning point.

It may be recalled that the methylmercury (MeHg) poisoning in Minamata is a result of one of the most serious environmental disasters in the world. It was caused by effluents containing the highly toxic methylmercury, which was released by the plant of Chisso, a chemical company. The discharge effluent contaminated the Minamata Bay and bio-accumulated in fish and seashells, which form a significant part of the diet of the local population (Allchin, n.d.). (This is a very serious environmental disaster that everyone must read about so I encourage you to read more about it. The article of Allchin is a good start.)

While I had really planned to be involved in social development and environment when I entered UP, the trip to Minamata was somehow a major point where my decision to build my career in these areas had somehow taken a more defined shape and clearer directions. In Minamata, I had seen the horrors of mercury poisoning, a likely consequence of a lack of or poor environmental management systems and negligence in pursuit of economic activities. I am sure no one wanted it to happen but, hopefully, the lessons will remind us constantly of the importance of appreciating (and respecting) the inextricable link between the environment and health. A positive outcome from this sad past is that Minamata is now seriously redeveloping the city based on sustainable and ‘eco-township’ principles (Minamata City Government, n.d.).

That was why meeting Iseri and then later becoming friends with him is somehow another meaningful synchronicity in my life. Iseri might have not realized it yet but I have always been a fan of Japan, its people, culture, arts, and history.  While there are sad realities in our shared history as warring nations, Japan and the Philippines share universal truths and values such as love for the arts and, among them, music. This is where this piece evolves from.

More than a decade later, Iseri and I still manage to keep in touch. My husband (JR) was the one who rummaged through our boxes and found this picture of me and Iseri taken 12 years ago outside a cafe in Germany. (I will welcome an email from anyone in Germany who can tell me the name of this nice cafe!) [I cannot remember it anymore but I have this feeling that this picture was actually sent by Iseri via post. I will ask him!]

More than a decade later, Iseri and I still manage to keep in touch. My husband (JR) was the one who rummaged through our boxes and found this picture of me and Iseri taken 12 years ago outside a cafe in Germany. [I cannot remember it anymore but I have this feeling that this picture was actually sent by Iseri via post. I will ask him!]

As I said earlier, I was in a bit of nostalgic mood a month ago so I sent Iseri (and my other friends) a Christmas-new year note with the announcement of my new email address. Bless his usual kind heart, he emailed back with a very nice update – he is part of an acoustic guitar duo called, Kazehozonkai!

Kazehozonkai (loosely translated as “Wind Preservation Society”) is based in Kumamoto, Japan. It plays and does its best to popularize the songs of Shozo Ise, a Japanese singer-songwriter,  to the next generations. Kazehozonkai, while inspired by the music of Shozo Ise, also plays other songs. Iseri is accompanied by Yuji Tsuyama.

Yuji is currently editor of the Newspaper in Education program of the Kumamoto Daily Newspaper. Born in 1958, he graduated from the Kumamoto University and joined the paper in 1981. He began his career in the newspaper as a reporter, later becoming a copy editor. He  enjoys listening to and playing folk and rock music.

Kazehozonkai is not a ‘big’ name (at least, not yet) but I think that the Japanese community and music lovers will enjoy listening to them (as much as I and my husband did!). I am not a music expert (so please forgive my bias) but listening to their songs made our breakfast that December morning more enjoyable and relaxing. Don’t expect much drama or rock-star-gyrating performance but expect to be serenaded and brought to a place where there are sweet notes of nostalgia, bittersweet memories, and heartfelt joys and awakenings.

Here are links to two of the duo’s performances. I have also asked Iseri to translate the songs into English.

Nijunisainowakare (“22-year-old farewell”)

Lyrics’ translation

That I can say “Good-bye” to you is only today. If I touch your warm hand tomorrow, probably I couldn’t say it. I could no longer wait for you and I have chosen the happiness, which appears in front of me.

You placed 22 candles on the cake on my birthday, and you said “Each candle was your life.”  From the 17th candle, we lit together.

This memory seems to me as if it were only yesterday. Now these 5 years may be called “Too long spring” for me, who is about to marry the man whom you don’t know. If you hear my wish, I hope you to remain you, of now, all the time, from now on. (Translated by M. Iseri)

Kaigandori (“Seaside Street”)

Lyrics’ translation

You have chosen a ship. Is it from your consideration for me?

Why didn’t I notice that a cord that links a person to a departing passenger, to see him off, was cut? The sun setting in the harbor is very beautiful, isn’t it?

 The ship you boarded is getting smaller.

 The sea of the daybreak is sad. It is seen from you by the seaside street.

I should have remained a ‘younger sister’, as you said. I did not want to hear, in your gentle arm, that you will leave this town someday.

The ship you boarded is getting smaller, leaving waves in the sea, just like yesterday. (Translated by M. Iseri)

These two songs really stirred my soul and when Iseri sent me the English translations, I fully understood why I felt some bittersweet kind of emotions when I listened to them the first time. :)

Kazehozonkai also performs pop and soft rock music and here is its rendition of Hotel California (by Eagles).

I hope that through this post, you will know more about Japan and find another reason to reconnect with old friends, near and far.  Someday soon, I will be traveling to Japan again (this time with a husband beside me!), reconnect with Iseri and my other friends there, and hopefully, stay longer.

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References:

Allchin, D. (n.d.) The poisoning of Minamata. Retrieved from https://www1.umn.edu/ships/ethics/minamata.htm

Minamata City Government. (n.d.). Minamata, Environmental City – Model Environmental City Manual. Retrieved from http://www.city.minamata.lg.jp/1000.html

Recommended reading: Lessons from Minamata Disease and Mercury Management in Japan, Ministry of the Environment (Japan). Retrieved from https://www.env.go.jp/chemi/tmms/pr-m/mat01/en_full.pdf

Image credits:

Minamata City image credit (top-most): Act-B Recycling Company (through “Yunoko”), retrieved from http://www.act-b.co.jp/eng/environment/rine.html

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This is not a paid blog. There is no request for donation but I hope you can plant a tree/s on your birthday/s. :)

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin
The proposed (commissioned) project, Klarastaden, a series of apartment structures and elevated sidewalks ("skyways"), planned to be built in downtown Stockholm.(Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects. This image also appeared in TechInsider.)

Of sky ways and serendipitous moments – envisioning sky bike lanes for Metro Manila

The proposed (commissioned) project, Klarastaden, a series of apartment structures and elevated sidewalks ("skyways"), planned to be built in downtown Stockholm.(Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects. This image also appeared in TechInsider.)

The proposed (commissioned) project, Klarastaden, a series of apartment structures and elevated sidewalks (“skyways”), planned to be built in downtown Stockholm.(Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects. This image also appeared in TechInsider.)

Note: This article first appeared in my Linked Pulse page. (Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects. This image also appeared in TechInsider.)

UPDATE: I am requesting feedback from Metro Manila residents. If you are from Metro Manila (or usually travel here), please answer a brief survey form here. You may also want to drop by the interim website for this dream project. Thank you!

 

Metro Manila’s traffic – why this idea came about

Sky bike lanes, anyone?

For a Metro Manila resident like me, this seems like a bright idea. The worsening traffic situation in Metro Manila has always been cited as among the most urgent problems that the country’s administrators should be dealing with. In fact, a study done by traffic and navigation app, Waze, revealed that Metro Manila has the “worst traffic on earth”, on a city level perspective (Waze, 2015). Through the Waze study, it was estimated that travel time here–from home to the work place–is about 45.5 minutes. The article did not indicate actual points of origin and destination but let us assume that the average is a good representation of the respondents’ daily commute. However, there may be some discrepancy if the respondents are mostly commuters who use public transportation. (I assume that Waze is mostly used by private car drivers and passengers at this stage.)

Clearly, the government and private sector need to put their acts together in order to come up with clear solutions. The traffic situation in Metro Manila can only be solved through a combination of policy, infrastructural, and behavior-based interventions. (For this article, let me focus on an infrastructural intervention as I also plan to discuss the other two in one of my future posts.)

One of the steps that we can consider is the building of bike lanes–not on the existing road networks but high up there, on elevated platforms. Obviously, Metro Manila’s roads can no longer accommodate new and separate bike lanes. However, is this idea of elevated bike lanes feasible? It has been lingering in my mind for the past couple of months.

The Klarasden’s sky way – can a bike-focused version be done?

They say that the universe “hears” us if we just verbalize our thoughts. I think what happened recently demonstrates that this saying is indeed true. You see, I came across a TechInsider article about the project, Klarastaden, through Linkedin just the other day. (I must thank my new online friend, Pia K Töre-Wallin, again for sharing the link!)

A bike-focused version of the Klarastaden’s sky way is something that crossed my mind a couple of months ago, as my husband and I were walking and discussing how the lives of Metro Manila urbanites are impacted negatively by the horrendous traffic situation. I told him about my dream to build floating or “sky bike lanes” as I called them. Back then, I was half-thinking it is a crazy idea. However, the other half of my brain is saying that the idea is very feasible.

Biking and the provision of bike lanes had always been proposed by environmental advocates but let us admit that Metro Manila can no longer afford to build separate roads for bike lanes (or even divide the existing roads to allow a portion for bike lanes).

Nowadays, there are brave souls who bike to work (how I admire their courage!), right alongside trucks, buses, jeepneys, and cars, so one can imagine the risks and dangers that these bikers are facing everyday (not to mention the health impacts of pollution). Marikina City was able to allot separate bike lanes, unfortunately, it is a small part of Metro Manila only. Nevertheless, we need to commend the city’s efforts and vision.

I have always envisioned a greener and more sustainable Metro Manila where bikers have their “own” roads and pathways and where they will feel safe and happy as they go to their offices and come home to their families.

I have always envisioned a greener and more sustainable Metro Manila where bikers have their “own” roads and pathways and where they will feel safe and happy as they go to their offices and come home to their families .Unfortunately, the city has no more extra space. And that is why I told my husband, “We should build sky bike lanes!”, in my most resolute voice.

“Fast forward” to Tuesday when I saw the article about Klarastaden - it dawned on me that, perhaps, my idea is not a crazy one! Yesterday, when I opened my Linkedin, I saw that two of my friends (one of them is Pia)  also found the idea cool! I eventually surmised that  I can probably work on this topic as my master’s thesis. (I am completing my course work, Master of Environment and Natural Resources Management, this year, at the University of the Philippines – Open University.) [UPDATE as of 16-Feb-16: I am glad to discover yesterday that two cities–Copenhagen and London–are actually thinking of building this type of bike lanes as well! In fact, as of this writing, Copenhagen has already completed  Cykelslangen (or “The Bicycle Snake”) and a bicycle and pedestrian bridge, which they call Bryggebroen. The London version called, SkyCycle, is still under consideration. These positive news certainly motivate me to continue building this idea on and, hopefully, we can also build similar bike lanes for Metro Manila!]

While the idea is beginning to take some shape, a feasibility study is still crucial. It is also important to know if the group of Mr. Berensson (and other stakeholders) will be willing to work with me on this gigantic project. [UPDATE as of 14-Jan-2016: I received a brief but positive and encouraging reply from Mr. Berensson. Nothing is final and no paper has been signed between us but he expressed his initial interest. If all goes well and there is no obstacle such as conflict in schedules, I am hopeful that his team will be on board.]

I propose the setting up of a team through which we can develop a feasibility study and gather support from partners and stakeholders. A sub-team will take care of the research requirements. For example, we will need traffic data, conduct market analysis  and scenario building, look at the demographics and health outcome, calculate GHG emission reduction, compare policy studies, and do other related tasks. Meanwhile, another sub-team can take care of the design part. A consortium may be established later on (e.g., during the construction phase).

This proposed project considers the thinking that, in an ideal world, commuters who use both motorized and non-motorized vehicles should co-exist and share the roads. In fact, in this kind of world, separate or even partially segregated bike lanes are not significantly necessary. In such a world, bikers have more confidence, knowing that they are respected on the road, in the same way that the bikers also know that they need to respect the rights of other drivers. However, it takes time to build this ideal world. Behavioral change evolves over a long time and sometimes, without the necessary impetus and public cooperation, it may not even be realized. In the meantime, the quality of life of Metro Manila dwellers is continuously deteriorating. Either we continue to work for and wait for the ideal world to happen–without any guarantee for success–or do something about our situation now.

The feasibility study will generate more data and insights, which will help us answer the question on viability in a more scientific and comprehensive manner.

Design features and considerations

Many features and considerations must be laid down on the drawing table as we envision such an infrastructure. Here are some of them:

1. To the extent possible, the sky bike lanes must be near or accessible to and from the existing MRT/LRT lines. (It will be better if they can be integrated.)

2. The primary sky bike lanes should pass through or built alongside EDSA and C5 (the city’s core road networks) but should have connecting lanes to other major roads nearest and within the key business districts like  Eastwood Business District, Ortigas Center, and Makati City.

3. This may be a far-fetched or nearly-impossible idea but industrial-sized air purifiers may be installed along the sky bike lanes. Eventually, with more people taking the bikes and leaving their cars at home, pollution level will hopefully go down – but of course, this assumes that the number of bikers will grow progressively as the population also grows. If this idea is really impossible or expansive to do, we can build natural/organic anti-air pollution systems. (See no. 4 below.)

4. To make the design greener and healthier, we can put up small sky gardens or simple plant boxes along or hanging from the inner and outer walls.

5. We can also put solar panels along the outer walls (or roofs). This will depend on many factors, of course, but we can also look at its feasibility.

Structural soundness

We also need to look at issues related to structural soundness. Two aspects should be at the top of the list.

1. The system should apply a forward-looking design. The bike lanes will most likely become very popular that an increasing number of people would want to use it over the years. How can we ensure a stable design? Of course, we cannot build very wide bike lanes but our design should be wide enough that they can accommodate more bikers in the long term.

2. The design should also consider locational and environmental challenges (e.g., natural disasters or “acts of God” like earthquake, strong typhoons, etc.).

Financing considerations

Moreover, the idea, if indeed viable, requires massive inputs and resources. The following are potential entry points for resource mobilization and financing.

1. Foremost in mind (as well as suggested by a friend and former project colleague, Abby Catucod) is a public-private partnership (PPP) structure that may be established for this undertaking. Development agencies may likewise be tapped.

2. There should be private sector “buy-in” to distribute and share some of the costs. For example, malls and shopping centers can fund the lanes near them but they may be allowed to build small side cafes or drink kiosks–these will be useful for thirsty/hungry bikers; to encourage more bikers, banks may be requested or required to offer loans for the purchase of bicycles (particularly for those who need them).

3. We must ensure sustainable upkeep and maintenance. For example, should the use be totally free for the public? Or should there be minimal users’ fees similar to the practice of toll fees? Will a payment scheme make the people use it less? Are people willing to pay? A market study may be able to help us answer these questions.

Policy scenarios and climate change

Finally, we also need to look at the implication and contribution to the over-arching goals on climate change mitigation and adaptation and sustainable development. For one, it must be stressed that the construction of sky bike lanes should happen alongside other transportation-related policies and interventions such as improvement of mass transport systems, use of cleaner fuels, and better transportation demand management.

I have been part of a study called, Integrated Environmental Strategies, in 2004 and through the project, our team looked at different transport-related policy scenarios and their combination. The analysis– which involved modeling (to estimate emissions reduction), health effects estimation, and economic valuation–predicted a significant improvement in air quality if all or most of the different policies are implemented. While the study team did not see any significant reduction in the level of particulate matter (PM) through the use of bike lanes alone, “applying the combination of measures…is forecast to cause a dramatic improvement in PM levels” (McNamara, et al., 2005).

Our 2004 study did not focus significantly on the impact to traffic reduction so the future team must look at this area. Some of the IES approach may actually be useful. (For those interested to read our Final Report, you may get a copy from this link. The material is also listed in the References below.)

I hope that this exploratory material will excite many potential stakeholders and, together, we can ponder on this further, and hopefully, make it possible. This is rather brief so I hope to keep on updating it in the course of the next few weeks or possibly write new updates.

I would appreciate it if you can respond to a quick/informal survey, which I had developed for this idea. Please go to this link. You may also want to drop by the interim website for this dream project. Thank you!

References:

McNamara, D., Subida, R., Velas, M.A., Andres, F., Vergel, K., Anglo E.,…Ibay, A.C. (2005). Integrated Environmental Strategies – Philippines Project Report Metropolitan Manila (Focus on the Transport Sector), Manila Observatory. Available at http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/pnadj320.pdf

Waze. (2015). Global Driver Satisfaction Index. Available at http://wazeblogs-en.blogspot.ie/2015_09_01_archive.html

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This is not a paid blog. There is no request for donation but please plant a tree on your birthday/s.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin
January is about new beginnings. [Sketch and calligraphy by M. Velas-Suarin]

January asks you to write it down

A blessed and fun-filled new year to you all, dear friends and readers! It is January and a good time to celebrate and give thanks, take stock of the lessons of the previous year, and make new plans (to others – resolution!) for the next 12 months. It is not typical of me to write down a new year’s resolution because I do believe that planning (and even the changing of plans) should and can happen anytime of the year. I also try my best to live in the moment—to the extent possible—and instead of a list of annual resolution, JR (the hubby) and I do make and share a vision board. Our ‘major’ aspirations are there and we would always look at it to keep us motivated, inspired, and grateful.

January is about new beginnings. [Sketch and calligraphy by M. Velas-Suarin]

January is about new beginnings. [Sketch and calligraphy by M. Velas-Suarin]

It is also more typical of me to make daily/weekly plans (more like a “Things to do” list) and sometimes, I don’t even write them down. With or without a physical list, I commit my plans to memory, then tick off the list as I went along. Somehow, this practice of making a list (with or without a paper) gives me a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, particularly after finishing off some tasks for the day or the week. This still works for me (that is, “writing in my mind” half of the time) but, this year, I will try my best to write my plans more on paper. I don’t want to end up becoming so obsessed with it that I will be less flexible—I still believe there is wisdom in balancing  strength and resoluteness with flexibility—but this time around, I would devote more time in writing things down.  I think writing helps us in analyzing things better and gives us clear directions. Of course, we also need to learn from the wisdom of others–including mentors, role models, and thought leaders–so it won’t hurt to read more and allow ourselves greater opportunities to be more circumspect.

Actually, professionally, I am a combination of a big-picture and detail-oriented type of person (I always carry a pen and a notebook in all my meetings just so I won’t forget anything crucial) and I think this is something that really helped a lot of professionals and entrepreneurs to grow and achieve more.  I tell myself now–if that professional side always remember to write things down, why can’t I apply such discipline and diligence in my personal life, right? Therefore, let this post motivate you and me, and together, let’s say and claim, “We will put our goals on paper more, commit to work on them more passionately, and achieve great things not just for ourselves but for this world!”

I am also wishing you all a blessed year through this post! Above is a simple art work (my gift to you!) that says, January is about new beginnings. (They say we must not apologize for our artistic works but, really, I have become “rusty” in my sketching skills and watercolor painting is still a weak spot—so this sketch will most likely be replaced when I am in a more artistic mood!) Creative or not, I hope this little sketch will inspire you to embark on your new beginnings!

Yes, let us allow January to make us feel new and re-energized! And what a better way to start 2016 than by writing your thoughts down – be they resolution, plans, aspirations, life’s goals, and to-do-lists. Somehow, by writing things down, we are offered a physical reminder so those notes (and reminders to ourselves) will most likely keep us focused and motivated. There had been many articles about this already so I won’t bore you with what others already said about the importance of writing our goals down. (However, if you need to read one, this article is very brief. And while we are at it, I would also recommend this article about why many new year’s resolutions fail. This might be too simplistic but it makes sense.)

As for this blog (and my creative practice—if you will call these little pieces as artistic enough–wink! Wink!), I will do my best to share a post and a painting/sketch that will go with the month’s theme, at least on the first two weeks of each month. In between, I will really do my best to post more.

If you also want to guest-blog here, I will be more than happy to share meiLBOX as your writing and blogging platform. Enjoy 2016, everyone! Let us claim and be thankful for God’s never-ending gifts and graces. And yes, let’s make January the start of great new beginnings!

Mei_Watermark-4

 

 

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This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin