Monday, January 23, 2012

Episode 1: Bicycle

To understand my passion for the bicycle, one must know that I am a bit eccentric when it comes to hobbies. My current situation with the bicycle has allowed me to do much research in building one. The idea of riding my bicycle in Hong Kong and Macau is exciting and a little daunting, but first on the nostalgia of riding a bicycle.

My interest has slowly gravitated to an iconic for of the bicycle, the high bicycle, most widely known as "penny-farthings." Though I know nothing except that it was conceived around the 1880s and that the lords and gods of the bicycle continuously refer to it, especially on the topic of gearing. If you're interested on this topic, read Sheldon Brown's article on gain ratios here. If you're interested in anything about the mechanics of the modern bicycle, his website is a wealth of information. 

A penny-farthing. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

I learned to ride a bike in the Philippines when I was five years old. I remember it was a simple BMX. It was love at first sight. As a British prime minister once said:
"Success is never found. Failure is never fatal. Courage is the only thing."
-Sir Winston Churchill
And that is exactly what I did in my childhood bicycling days- ride and fail to ride, a.k.a. fall. I applaud my little self for being so courageous. Once, I was showing off to my nanny in the Philippines- using the extreme limits of my BMX, going side to side until the bicycle eventually slipped from under me and I did a Superman on the pavement. It hurt to put on shirts for a while. Then my most serious accident- it was raining hard (because it does not rain lightly in the Philippines) and I was with friends. All my friends were on rollerblades and boxed me in so I had little room for maneuvering. As the box got smaller, the smart thing to do was communicate to the group that they were getting too close to me. But I foolishly decided to go with the flow and run my front wheel in between the legs of the friend in front of me. I remember coming back to my room finding out my inner thigh and accompanying vein was sliced open by the front chainring. If my memory serves me correctly, I did nothing else except put a couple of child-sized band-aids on it.

What I learned from those years, I still carry with me today. I do value my body and take care of it to the best of my ability. That is the reason why I ride bikes to this day. I refuse to own a car and especially pay for one; I will go as long in life without owning a car. It's worked so far. I love cars, but they are expensive. So I have fueled this mechanical interest into a less expensive hobby. Thus far it serves me well and the ideals I believe in:
  1. Exercise. This is nothing more fulfilling that a good workout right? In three hours one can get a 50 mile morning bike ride in and still have most of the day to get everything else done. 
  2. Invention. Reveling in the euphoric history of the bicycle through one-on-one maintenance time, and group rides gives me great joy. It is the most efficient human powered machine to date.
  3. Tinkering. I enjoy taking things apart and putting them back together hopefully in better condition than when I started. The labor of my work gives me pride in the overall ownership I have for something simple. 
The bicycle I'm building currently is built for utility. It's heavy and built for the long haul. If you're interested in the parts list, or pictures, it will be followed up soon with a post on my adventure building a bicycle all by myself. It has taken many hours of reading and application but it has been worth it.

If you have not ridden a bicycle in a while, I hope I have inspired you to at least go out for a bike ride. Though it is probably an inconvenience in most parts of the world this time of year, read this! I leave you with a philosophical quote:
"To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself." 
- Søren Kierkegaard 

On a side note, the information presented here is provided gratis, nonewithstanding the SOPA and PIPA acts. Thank you grassroots politics. Until next time.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Since I have some significant life changes coming up, I'd like to share two events that are and have been on the horizon:

Central Washington University has been my home for the past 5 years. I'll be finally graduating in June. My college years have definitely been where I have grown the most. I'm excited to see what is next in life to experience, follow, or conquer.

I'll be teaching elementary piano in Macau from February through June to Macanese tots Pre-K to 2nd grade. And that is the primary reason for reviving this blog. As most people haven't heard of Macau, I shall share the important features of this Chinese province. It was a Portugese colony since the 16th century, and relinquished to the Chinese government at the end of 1999. A casino land grab commenced in 2002 and has now become known as the Las Vegas of China. The education system consists of a three-year kindergarten, followed by a six year primary education and a six-year secondary education. We (the 4 students going there) are going to Hong Kong every 30 days to 1) visit Hong Kong, 2) avoid having to apply for a visa, but most importantly 3) evade deportation. Hou Kong Premier School is the sister school I will be teaching at. I'll be cooperatively teaching with a bilingual teacher 5 days a week and on Saturdays will be tutoring English with the older students in high school. Other than these points mentioned above, I have no idea what I am getting myself into. As I am not an education major, and this is officially a student teaching opportunity, I've had to jump through hoops and loops to try and make things work and so far I have succeeded. I suppose after telling the world I am going, buying a ticket for a really good price, ending a romantic relationship because of distance, subletting my room and living on the couch and consolidating my things gives me a good incentive to work around the system.

I had two Senior/Graduation Recitals, one in Gig Harbor, my hometown, and the other in Ellensburg. I had the honors of playing with a Peabody graduate cellist for Brahms' Cello Sonata in E minor in Gig Harbor and my dear friend Cassie and former roommate in Ellensburg. Playing with the cellist in Gig Harbor was the closest I have been to a professional gig, as we only had two rehearsals. The performance went great besides the fact that her niece was a distraction and detracted from the performance. During intermission, after mentally practicing my Beethoven Sonata, I went straight to the piano bench and started playing it; little did I know until the halfway through the exposition of the first movement that I forgot to play the Debussy Prelude that was before it on the printed program. There was thunderous applause and it worked out nicely to play the Debussy as an "encore." My recital in Ellensburg was the best performance of my life. I thoroughly enjoyed playing with Kyle, violin, who I travelled with this summer to Colorado, and Cassie, cello, whom I have the greatest respect for as a friend and musician. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and my mind racing, seeing if I had all the logistics for the event taken care of. I even wrote program notes included below, Erik would be proud:

Program Notes

Manuel de Falla was in Paris when he wrote Siete canciones populares españolas ("Seven Spanish Folksongs"). He finished the suite in mid-1914 is for voice and piano, and was dedicated to Madame Ida Godebska. Paul Kochanski, Polish violinist and colleague of de Falla, transcribed the version here, Suite Populaire Espagnole. Cutting a movement and rearranging them to suit the violin better, each movement has a distinct Spanish character.

Johannes Brahms’s Cello Sonata in E minor, Op. 38 for piano and cello is one of two cello sonatas (the other being F minor, Op.99). It was written between the summer of 1862 and completed in 1865. Homage to J. S. Bach, the principal theme of the first movement is based on Contrapunctus 4 of The Art of Fugue. The second movement is a minuet with trio, in the sub-dominant, A minor, and reminiscent of the French baroque style. The fugue subject of the last movement is based and Contrapunctus 13 of The Art of Fugue.

Claude Debussy's Préludes are two books with twelve pieces each. The titles given to the pieces were placed at the end of each piece to not affect the interpretation of these impressionistic gems. The inspiration of La puerta del Vino, “The Gate of the Vine,” came from an image on a postcard sent by Manuel de Falla to Debussy that depicted the Alhambra Gateway in Granada. Evoking the spirit of Spain, the piece uses the Habanera rhythm and contrasts “extreme violence & sweet passion.”

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 26, Op. 81a was completed in 1810, at the end of his middle heroic period. It is most widely known as Les Adieux “The Farewell.” It is one of two which start out with a slow introduction (the Moonlight Sonata being the other) and the only other having a title given by Beethoven (the Pathetique being the other). It was dedicated to his patron and close friend, Archduke Rudolf of Austria, who fled when Napoleon invaded Vienna. The second movement is titled “The Absence” and flows directly to the third movement “The Return.” Beethoven postponed finishing the last movement until the Archduke returned home safely. It is also interesting to note that Gustav Mahler, the late-romantic Austrian composer and namesake, performed this sonata for his graduation recital from the Vienna Conservatory. The first movement of his ninth symphony quotes the opening “farewell” motif.

Thank You
I would like to thank my parents for their endearing support- my father for his wisdom and my mother who has always been there for me. They have supported me in every aspect of my life and I would not be where I am without them. My brother for being my best friend. To my dear friends I have made here at Central- you are the best! Every one of you. And a big hug to my friends who drove out to see me- thank you. Thank you Dr. Weidenaar for being a teacher of music and life. You have been a role model to many elements of my life. And last (and certainly not least), Dr. Pickett who has been my closest mentor. You taught me how to play well, believed in my talent and nurtured me to my fullest potential. Thank you.

Furthermore, I realize that music is a universal language and unites people. In this case, my family. My parent's recent divorce has severed communication between all parties involved. It was an interesting dynamic to deal with, as they were in charge of the reception and I had to play middleman and coordinate food, rides, recording, etc. In the end, every aspect went well, from preparation, practice, rehearsals, to planning, warm up, the actual performance and even the after party. All my friends and family were involved and it was truly a high that has stayed with me to this day.

Until next time.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Season 1, Prologue

It is time to blog! Or rather, resurrect my old blog. Merely hours ago, if you searched Gus Labayen, you'd find a pathetic blog from 2005 of my musings on Star Wars, snowshoeing, and driver's ed. One would probably think this guy is fairly boring. But no longer is this the case! Since I have never maintained a blog, I looked up the definition:

blog |bläg|
a Web site on which an individual or group of users produces an ongoing narrative : Most of his work colleagues were unaware of his blog until recently.
verb ( blogged, blogging) [ intrans. ]
add new material to or regularly update a blog.
blogger noun
ORIGIN a shortening of weblog .

Source: New Oxford American Dictionary

Weblog. That's odd. Blog. Not odd. Henceforth, this shall be my blog. I also started a tumblr, though it looks like a short-winded microblogging site that is not limited to 140 characters. With that in mind, I should introduce myself.

My name is Gus. I play piano and ride bikes. I am a connoisseur of sushi. I've lived in the Pacific Northwest for most of my life, with the first 5 years of my life in Missouri and a year in the Philippines, and a medley of China and Oregon, California, and Mexico spread throughout the timeline of my life. I am born of Philippine parents and hence Catholic by practice and faith. I have a brother six years my younger who is my best friend. I like to travel. If I could I would travel around the world by bicycle the rest of my life. While it is in line with my lifestyle I want to live, school, family and a career are anchors that hold me in my current life situation. More on this soon. Until next time.