Global Guy Gone Native: Peace Corps Volunteer Joe Speicher

photo by Tina Cifra

Joe Speicher was born a native of Rockville, Maryland, but thanks to his two-year stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer here in the Philippines, has now become an adopted son of Valencia, Negros Oriental. The son of an accountant and a child psychologist, Joe is the eldest of three siblings. His brother is in the US Army, while his sister has recently joined the Peace Corps as well.

After graduating from a small liberal arts college, Joe first donned a suit and tie working as a political fundraiser in Washington DC. He then moved to New York Cityto join the rat race. As an employee of the multinational financial giant Lloyd’s, he found that climbing the corporate ladder in the big city was not all it was cracked up to be. He was dispirited by how the daily grind seemed to be all about money, all about profit margins. Rent was high, and he wasn’t really being paid very well. He sometimes didn’t even have enough money to buy food for himself. One time, he was so hungry he stuffed his bag with the crackers that were left out in the office’s snack area. But he got caught by his boss and was forced to put them back. Joe soon realized how unfulfilled his work environment was making him feel. He wanted something more out of his life. He then started getting involved in volunteer organizations. It was in 2003 when he made the decision that would transform him forever.

logo

logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I applied to the Peace Corps because I wanted to change my life and do something worthwhile,” says Joe. “I didn’t really like what I was doing inNew Yorkand started to look for a change. I was planning to work overseas, and the Peace Corps recruiting office was near my building. I started going to recruiting events and decided that this was for me. After 9/11, I was absolutely certain it was something I wanted to do. I watched those planes hit the twin towers, and I immediately decided that life in a cubicle under the phosphorescent lights slaving away for cash was not for me.”

It was a huge decision and Joe was vacillating up to the last minute. At first, he thought he would be sent to Africa, so his assignment to the Philippines came as a bit of a surprise. His batch of volunteers began their training in Bohol, where Joe first experienced living with a Filipino foster family. From there, Joe then began working in earnest at his assigned site at Negros Oriental.

“The problems in the Philippines are terribly overstated by the Western media,” he asserts. “Once I got here, I felt safer in my barangay than I did in my office building in New York.”

Because of his business background, he was given a position at the Department of Trade and Industry office, where he conducted workshops for farmers to teach them useful livelihood skills, and participated in the writing of a business skills training manual which is now being used in Local Government Units and organizations. He also worked with the local zoo and nature preserve.

Palinpinon Geothermal power plant in Sitio Nas...

Palinpinon Geothermal power plant in Sitio Nasulo, Brgy. Puhagan, Valencia, Negros Oriental, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I lived in a nipa hut, helped out a few local entrepreneurs and taught English at the local elementary school,” Joe recounts. “I lent a hand to USAID and the Peace Corps for a few trainings, wrote for a local newspaper and lead an environmental camp for kids,”

Joe spent most of his time deeply involved with the community in the town of Valencia where he worked at the plant nursery and where his host family lived. Joe was such a cherished member of the community that one of the townspeople even named her baby Josephine after him. It was in Valencia where he was able to develop his amazing mastery of the Visayan language, which he speaks as well as a native.

“Joe’s command of Visayan is what I think really separates him from a lot of other foreigners in the Philippines,” shares Richard Finke, Joe’s friend and Peace Corps batch mate. “He also acquired incredible singing abilities while in the Philippines.” This remains a debatable opinion after experiencing Joe’s videoke stylings, which is apparently a necessary skill to survive the Negros countryside.

Along with many other achievements and adventures, Joe appeared in a Visayan telenovela playing the role of the US Ambassador and participated in a mini-marathon around Dumaguete.

“I got into diving and camping and even won a Peace Corps photography contest. I learned how to climb the coconut trees and wield a bolo. I watched Extra Challenge and Mulawin and listened to F4 and the Eraserheads with my friends,” reveals Joe.

After his stint in the Peace Corps ended in October of 2005, Joe went back to the States where he embarked on a cross-country tour, then worked in a camp supply store for a while to earn some money.

In January of this year, he began studying for a Masters degree in International Studies at Columbia University in New York, where he’ll be graduating in 2007. Even there he tries to hold on to his connections to the Philippines as much as possible. “I organized a trip for my classmates to a local Philippine turo-turo. In the dorm where I live there are two Cebuanas who I tease in Visayan every time I see them,” he relates. “People always ask me to teach them some Filipino, and I tell them the only words they need to know are sige and kwan. It’s true. I’ve seen Filipinos have an entire conversation using only these two words.”

Joe spent his summer vacation this year studying the Chinese language in Beijing from July to August. After his course, he swung by the Philippines to reconnect with his Filipino friends and adopted family, people whose lives he has touched and who have touched his as well.

“In the Philippines I learned how to relax and ride the wave of life without trying to control it. I was sent here to help Filipinos make better lives for themselves, but I’m the one who feels enriched. I learned more in my three years here than I did in high school, college and graduate school combined. The Philippines will always be an essential part of my life.”

-text and photo by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Men’s Health Philippines, 2006

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Crash Chords: Rant and Rave

first published under music column “Crash Chords” in Manual magazine, 2005

Toti Dalmacion

“We are not hip, we are trendy,” and with that devastating statement music guru Toti Dalmacion effectively dismisses the nascent Filipino music scene that he himself has carefully helped cultivate. In an era of unlimited downloads, overstocked record stores, and competing music channels, it’s ironic how most Filipinos continue to stick to what’s popular, safe and familiar. What started out as a casual chat about different music genres morphed into an impassioned manifesto regarding all that is wrong with the local music scene. Toti did oblige us by offering a few pithy notes on the various genre definitions, but not before expounding that the labels are little more than shelving categories for the stores to use, and for record companies to slap onto compilation CDs that usually offer an inaccurate or watered-down version of the particular genre that they’re supposed to represent. Toti just wishes that things were less about the money, less about the image, and more about the music.

Differentiating the sub-genres of techno music is all about listening to the layers. It all started with the invention of synthesizers and drum machines. Which meant that an aspiring musician no longer needed to be a virtuoso or even play an instrument to make music. The grand history of techno, its sub-genres and all related electronic music that reside under the catch-all term ‘Electronica’, deals mostly with the ping-ponging of ideas across the Atlantic ocean, with one side embellishing the other’s inventions then throwing them back for another round.

Acid House

Cover of "Everybody Needs a 303 1"

Cover of Everybody Needs a 303 1

This dates back to the 1980s, a style that was played at the club “The Warehouse” in Chicago. This is where the characteristic synthetic plip-plop sound often heard in dance music comes from. The sound popped out when DJ Ron Hardy played around with a small synthesizer called the “Roland TB-303 Bass Line” which was originally meant to be used by drummers to emulate a bass guitar.

Example: Fatboy Slim’s “Everybody Needs a 303

Acid Jazz 

It’s actually a fusion of old and new classic jazz riffs and scat vocals with funky hip hop beats and modern techno sounds. Its attributes include hip-hop or house rhythms, live instrumentation, silky smooth arrangements, and an easy, fluid, soulful energy.

Examples: Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai

Ambient

Brian Eno

Brian Eno (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

During raves, those with battered eardrums could rest by going to a chill-out room where ambient music was played. Associated with the experimental and avant-garde, it features lots of dreamy soundscapes, with a very discreet rhythm or none at all.

Example: Brian Eno – the godfather of this style

Eurodance 

This is the most popular dance format in Europe. You’ll be sure to hear happy synth-tones, perky vocals, a catchy refrain, and short parts of crap-rap in between. This sub-genre dominates every chart and dance floor in the European Union.

Examples: 2Unlimited

House

House is what disco used to be, but with new machines having modernized and updated the sound. It is the musical core of today’s dance music. Emerging from clubs in Chicago and New York in the mid 1980s, it can be recognized by the 130 electric beats per minute big bass lines and hard drum loops.

Lounge 

It’s music that’s so bad it crosses over to hip. The appeal is in appreciating the irony of it. It’s associated with coffee, beatniks, swingers, the jet set, the Rat Pack, Bacharach, and elevator muzak.

Lounge pushes a retro aesthetic restyled for the contemporary. Computers may be used to add that 21st Century Modern flava. It’s very jazz-influenced, and sometimes spiced up with ethnic flavors such as bossa nova.

Examples: Groove Armada

Trance

Not Toti’s favorite subgenre for sure, he terms it as music that has no soul or credibility; white, blank, and wimpy. Trance evolved from German Techno, using the rolling bass and sizzling keyboards of techno to give the music a hypnotic flowing effect, yet retaining all the driving, pulsating energy of its true techno roots.
Examples: Paul Oakenfold

Trip-Hop

Produced by taking hip-hop and fusing it with moody psychedelic electronic rock sounds over a down-tempo beat.

Usually melancholic in nature, the mainstays of Trip-Hop are R&B vocals over smooth Hip Hop beats/scratching layered with Rock and Jazz.

Examples: Massive Attack, Sneaker Pimps, Portishead.

To sample the abovementioned ear candy, pop into your nearest respectably-sized record store, browse online shops such as Amazon, or check out download tools Limewire or Soulseek (but don’t tell the RIAA that you heard of them from us).

More info at: www.ethnotechno.com/defs.php

-text by Jude Defensor, photos courtesy of Toti Dalmacion or the Internet, some rights reserved

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