Monday, 12 November, 2012
In his hands, wood yields until it fulfills its destiny.
A Benji Reyes chair isn’t just a chair. It’s a work of art. An heirloom piece. A triumph of imagination’s persistence.
Benji Reyes calls himself a carpenter. “Because that’s what I am. I make chairs and tables and beds and doors,” he told us when we visited him in his house in Antipolo a few months back. Yes, he welcomed us into the home he built with his own hands.
I received one of Benji’s most recognizable pieces, the Rajah, from a friend. Fit for royalty, it is a high-backed chair made of a mix of Ipil, Dao and Kamagong, I believe. But despite being made of hard wood, the chair follows my movement whenever I lean back. That’s because, according to Benji, the chair was inspired by the principle of the bow. The chair’s back flexes so it moves with you. A curious thing for wood to do.
But that’s the genius of Benji Reyes. He looks at a piece of wood and instinctively knows what it can become.
Poised to showcase his works in a much-awaited exhibit, Benji showed us pieces he was working on. One furniture piece we saw stunned me. Two pieces of wood coming together like soulmates, embracing each other, no nail, no glue, just the skillful putting together of wood to become a table. How it was done defied comprehension. And yet, it was utterly beautiful.
He said he works according to the natural contour of the wood. I believe him. Because I’ve seen massive doors turned into brilliant sculptural pieces. One whole piece of wood sculpted to create a door, the handlebars and all the design elements never a separate piece.
But Benji says an artist always knows when to stop. “Design is common sense. ‘Pag sobra, nagiging baduy, dapat sakto lang,” he shared. The element of surprise in his work is tempered by simplicity.
Benji Reyes took up Architecture in UST then went to the University of the Philippines to take up Fine Arts. He intimated stories of how, as a student, he used to beg for materials from the university custodian to create his pieces. He started working with Palo China because it was the cheapest wood. Then he started picking up, literally picking up, tree parts that others used to throw away. “Alam mo ‘yung tinatapon na nilang part ng puno, ‘yun ang ginagamit ko noon.” He reminisced about a time people threw away Narra Burl or Amboyna Burl which is now highly-prized. He said, “Noong nagkaroon ng demand, alam na nila ang value.”
Benji builds with his own hands. It’s daunting work for lesser men. “Bago ako magsimula, nililiha ko muna ang kahoy. Tapos bago ikabit, nililiha ulit. Kapag buo na, nililiha ko ulit.” That’s why each Benji piece is smooth. He actually dared me to run my hands against the wood in his house- the chairs, the stairs, the edges of every table. My hand glided so softly on every surface.
The photo that best captures his hard work is one that shows him holding down a piece of wood with his own feet. A photo he captioned, “The Best Clamps In The World.” Indeed!
We visited his home because I wanted to get another chair to pair with the Rajah. My husband’s late parents had a pair of Narra botaka chairs and I still have this image of them sweetly spending afternoons together sitting in those chairs. So I wanted a pair of Benji chairs for my husband and me for when we grow older. Benji asked me to sit down and try out the different chairs to find the one that’s a perfect fit. I guess, it’s the same for finding works of art. You have to choose which one speaks to you. Or, perhaps, it is in chairs as it is in love. You just know.
Then I found it. The Pedro. The moment I sat on it, the chair touched my lumbar area as if trying to say everything will be okay. It was uncanny because I had lumbar spinal surgery just a few months back and that part of me was aching for comfort or reassurance or, yes, a little loving. And, maybe, the chair was an ode to my humble childhood. Simple Pedro.
When I asked Benji when I could have the chair if I chose to order one, he said I could have it in January next year. He needed time to make it. It’s a testament to the passion he devotes to his craft and art. Every single piece is built, polished and finished to perfection before it gets stamped with his name.
And here’s the amazing thing about a Benji piece. Each one is made of recycled wood. He waits until a tree is fallen. Or until an old house gets torn apart. Or until somebody decides a piece of wood is useless. That’s when he rescues it and reincarnates it into a piece of functional art.
“Walang namatay na puno sa paggawa ko ng bahay.” When he said it, I knew exactly what sets him apart as an artist. It’s his respect for the very thing that allows him to do what he loves best.
Thank you, Benji Reyes, for the inspiration.
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Wednesday, 7 March, 2012
Somebody once said that we shouldn’t go out there and find ourselves. We should go out there and create ourselves.
So, maybe, I’m not trying to find myself. I’m trying to create my ideal self if it exists at all. And it’s proving to be such a wonderful, meaningful journey.
Part of it is discovering what matters and what matters more.
So, this is just to let you know that I’m still alive. And I hope to share my journey with you when I’m ready.
But, for now, here’s sending you happy thoughts. May life surprise you each and every single day.
Love. Laughter. A life well lived.
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Friday, 17 February, 2012
When I was in grade school, my teacher would take us hiking. He’d litter the trails with twigs and branches and leaves that meant something – stop, turn right, look up- so that we’d find our way. He trained us really well that we’d see a twig and know what it meant. And we always found our way.
I wish it were that easy in real life.
But it’s not.
I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been trying to find my way.
And I realized that this blog is more than bits and pieces of writing but my own journey.
I trust that I will find my way, eventually.
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Sunday, 29 January, 2012
Many years ago, we were in the middle of a Tai Suey blessing conducted by geomancer Master Joseph Chau when my then six-year-old asked, “Are we Chinese?”
No, we’re not. But just as we received blessings from monks by going through the rituals in a Buddhist Temple, we opened our arms to receive all the Dragon Year blessings by celebrating Chinese New Year in the grandest of ways with the Chinese community.
Our culture is a vibrant mix of the different cultures and there is no better gift I can give my sons than an enthusiasm to embrace each one and find beauty in our diversity. In fact, it’s my dream for them to explore all the nuances of each culture so that they’ll find out that different beliefs are different doors that lead to the same God.
But, truth to be told, I just want all the luck this new year will bring.
So, we packed our bags and booked ourselves in Mandarin Oriental for what they said was “the biggest Chinese New Year celebration outside of Binondo.”
The kids loved the Club Room and even more loved the Club Floor Lounge’s free food that went with the free cocktails.
Makati Avenue was closed off for the grand celebration. Though Mandarin Oriental reserved the front of the stage for hotel guests, it welcomed the Makati residents to join in the celebration.
The ritual was presided by no less than Feng Shui Master Joseph Chau and he went around sprinkling everyone with blessed water.
Tessa Prieto Valdez and Tim Yap hosted the event. The countdown hit a snag when, just as we were about to count 3-2-1, Tim Yap decided that we should count in Chinese. The momentum was lost and we decided to simply follow Master Chau and the Dragon Dancers instead of finishing the countdown.
The woman who personally introduced me to Master Chau and Princess, Mother Riza G., was seated in front of us. I guess, luck brings friends together.
The tiger’s and lion’s eyes were dotted by no other than Vice President Jejomar Binay with Mandarin Oriental Manila GM Mark Bradforda and Master Joseph Chau.
The fireworks worked up the crowd!
It was my first time to watch a dragon dance up close. Awesomeness!!!
Kung Hei Fat Choi! Let this be the year we live the life of our dreams!
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Wednesday, 4 January, 2012
The New Year sparkles with happy surprises! I can feel it! And the first order of the year is to allow the universe to make them happen. And, I’m all set for all of them! I have three toiletry bags packed for the most exciting destinations. Which ones? I will go where 2012 will take us.
But for now, let me remember the best vacation my family ever had. We did our own laundry, cooked our meals, went out of the house in a chilly night because we ran out of milk but we had the time of our lives!
We brought home bags and bags of freebies from the Tribeca Family Day!
We skipped museum payments by going there at 5PM.
We explored every nook and alley of Manhattan ’till our feet gave up and our body fats melted.
2012, Happy NY!!!