Julius Babao's art collection

Julius Babao's art collection 
By Walter Ang
June 23, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The façade of newscaster Julius Babao's home is austere. However, its plain walls, clean lines, and lack of embellishments belie a cornucopia of colors and shapes that adorn the interior. There is an almost acute sense of horror vacuii upon entering the home as every available square inch of wall space is filled with paintings of varying sizes in every imaginable technique and medium.

The eye-level painting nearest the door by Welbart shows dramatic red curtains oh-so-slightly parted in the middle, revealing the faces of two harlequins in a deep, furtive kiss. High above everything else, with a sole wall dedicated to it, is one of Babao's favorites, Elmer Borlongan's "Bus stop" depicting several would-be passengers in various poses of sleepiness.

These two pieces are an apt prelude for every visitor: yes, there's a lot going on here, this is just the holding area, and you've only seen the tip of the iceberg. A kinetic bust (a sculpture with moving parts) by Gabby Barredo stares at the door, beckoning new arrivals to stay and digest the eclectic exhibit curated by Babao in his home-cum-gallery.

If there is anyone to "blame" for his obvious passion for visual arts, it is Onib Olmedo. Although Babao wanted to take up fine arts in college, he never thought he would one day be collecting art. But back in the mid-90s, he passed by one of Olmedo's pieces at a mall-based gallery and was smitten.

"It was beautiful. I got goosebumps," he recalls. "I had no idea who the painter was. They told me he was dead already." He was still a starting reporter and blanched at the price, but the love affair had already been sparked. "I told myself that someday, I would buy one of his paintings."

A few years later, he acquired his first Olmedo painting on installment. It wasn't long till he'd amassed a collection that includes the works of Ang Kiukok, Mauro "Malang" Santos, Arturo Luz, Benedicto "Bencab" Cabrera, Jose Goya, Gus Albor, Lydia Cruz, Mark Justiniani, Froilan Calayag, Pedro Garcia, Emmanuel Garibay, Ronald Ventura, Bernardo Pacquing, Jerson Samson, Alfredo Esquillo, and Manuel Ocampo, among others.

If an "accomplice" to this stockpiling has to be named, it is Dr. Joven Cuanang, proprietor of Boston gallery (home of the Saling Pusa arts group of Borlongan, Garibay and Justiniani) and Pinto Art Gallery. "He is my adviser and mentor when it comes to art," says Babao.

His deep affinity to the visual arts has also resulted in friendships with the artists he deals with. Malang, Bencab and Ang Kiukok were his wedding godfathers. "I have more friends in the art world than in the media," he says.

Babao is clearly immersed in the art world and waxes enthusiastic about the current state of the Philippine art scene. "So many people are buying art now. Some artists have waiting lists of over 60 buyers each. Imagine how many years they would have to keep on painting to fill the demand!"

He cautions, however, that those who buy art solely for potential financial gains should reassess their objectives. "Investment should be secondary. What is important is that you like what you buy," he says.

This July, Babao is mixing all these elements of passion, art, friendship and investments into a palette of noble enterprise. He has parlayed his connections into donating paintings for a fund raising auction where all proceeds will go into building an entire village for Gawad Kalinga in Bagong Silang, Caloocan.

Gawad Kalinga is a movement for nation-building that aims to transform poverty stricken areas with the goal of building 700,000 homes in seven years (2003-2010). Babao's wife Christine sponsored one home last year for a GK village for her birthday and encouraged him to do the same.

He has upped the ante and decided to sponsor an entire village. "We'll be building 25-30 houses and we'll be calling it Art 40 Village," says Babao. The number 40 is holds sentimental value. "I'm turning 40 this year and this is actually my birthday project."

"When I broached the idea to my artist friends a few months ago, I had an overwhelming positive response," says Babao. To date, close to a hundred artists have signed up and he's still getting calls from artists who wish to join the undertaking. The auction will be held on July 20 at Pinto Art Gallery, Antipolo where Babao had his wedding reception.

After the houses are built, Babao plans to invite all the involved artists to paint murals on the facades of the house to inject public art into the community. "Art is not just for appreciation," he says. "I have a lot of passion for it and I want to use it to help those who need it."

For details, call 722-9205. Visit art40.multiply.com to preview paintings up for auction.

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Photo exhibit of Bohol churches' ceiling murals at Ayala Museum

Blessed images on ceiling 
By Walter Ang
June 23, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

A flurry of white shingles suspended in mid-air leads visitors' eyes skyward and onward to Ayala Musuem's photo exhibit on the ceiling murals of Bohol churches. "Kisame: Visions of Heaven on Earth" aims to generate greater awareness of the historical and aesthetic significance of these large-scale murals and ceiling paintings.

Kisame is part of the Filipino Heritage Festival's many activities for this year's Filipino Heritage Month (which is held annually in May). "With the corrosion caused by bat droppings, rain water on roof ruts, and subsequent repair and repainting of corroded ceilings, these treasures are in great danger," warns festival director Bambi Harper. "It is high time for Filipinos to have a good look at these living museums, our mementos of the Catholic faith that blossomed through ages."

Out of twenty or so Spanish-era-built churches under the care of the Diocese of Tagbilaran and Diocese of Talibon, twelve boast of painted ceilings in various stages of preservation including those in the parishes of Alburquerque, Baclayon, Cortes, Dauis, Dimiao, Lila, Loay, Loboc, Loon, Maribojoc, Panglao and Tubigon.

Presumably commissioned by the first Filipino Bishop of Cebu, Monsignor Juan Gorordo in the 1920s, several young painters were responsible for these enduring works of art. Two featured artists in this exhibit are Canuto Avila and Raymundo Francia, considered Cebu's Michelangelo.

Francia is credited with painting an estimated 80 percent of Bohol's churches and, despite the lack of formal training, developed a paint mixture that has retained its original brilliance and color through the passage of almost a century.

"This exhibit highlights the church's use of art for the enlightenment of the faithful. Artists worked lovingly, but arduously, to bequeath us these treasures. We must strive in equal measure to show future generations of Filipinos the richness of our church heritage," museum director Maritoni Ortigas says.

Aside from exposure to the elements, circumstances in the past such as whitewashing of ceilings have already erased a number of these sacred visual art works. To address the need to document the extant oeuvre, the ceiling murals were photographed by Atty. Paquito "Jojo" Ochoa, Jr.

Selected shots of whole paintings and close-ups of details were then printed on panels that comprise the display curated by Fr. Milan Ted Torralba, executive secretary of the Permanent Committee for the Cultural Heritage of the Church-Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines. The different images in the display "symbolize the various themes that highlight aspects of divine realities," he says.

Kisame has actually undergone a first incarnation last year. "Back then, it was titled Kisame: Touching Heaven. With the support of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, we mounted it at St. Peter the Apostle Parish, in Loboc, Bohol," Fr Torralba says.

Afterwards, the exhibit pilgrimaged to different parishes of the Diocese of Tagbilaran. "Some of its parts, now separated from the main body of the exhibit, were installed in a number of parishes," he says. An agreement was eventually established between the festival organizers and Ayala Museum to remount Kisame on a more substantial scale.

Regardless of scale, "a bare ceiling is a reflective of minimalism, or even nihilism. Ceilings with ornaments, ceilings with murals, ceilings with fresco and secco paintings become a medium of different human aspirations," he says. "The artists' images give forms to the longings of the human soul to be able to share, not only in the divinity of the Godhead, but to be immortal, to be eternal, to be like God?in Heaven."

Kisame runs until July 20, 2008. For details, call Ayala Museum at 757-7117 to 21 ext. 28 or Filipino Heritage Office at 892-5865.

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Stirring up contemporary dance: Wifi Body Contemporary Dance Festival 3

Stirring up contemporary dance 
By Walter Ang
June 9, 2008 
Philippine Daily Inquirer 

It is befitting that Wifi Body Festival 3, an independent contemporary dance festival to be held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, will take place during the week of Independence Day. This year's main showcase performance revolves around the theme "dance in revolution, revolution in dance," and is a wink and nudge at (but also a respectful bow and salute to) the state of contemporary dance in the country.

Festival director Myra Beltran talks of how, about a decade ago, "independent dance practice in the Philippines necessarily had to be contemporary in approach and aesthetic," and how it "broke away from the regular conceptions and conventions of `formal' dance, that is, classical ballet."

"This growing movement of independent dance, this `revolution' is what this festival celebrates," she says. "This movement has grown through different solo artists and dance groups scattered all over the country. The name of the festival signifies our unity, how we are all connected `wirelessly.'"

Presented by the World Dance Alliance-Philippine Choreographers' Network, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts with support from the Ayala Corporation, the name of the festival also aims to engage the public, especially younger audiences weaned in a digital age. "In this increasingly virtual world, the human body is becoming negated," she says. "Wifi Body will allow everyone to `access' contemporary dance."

As if to truly immerse audiences in the realm of rebellion, two major performances will be situated away from the "traditional" proscenium stage. The "Blackbox Intiative" will feature pieces created for the CCP's intimate studio theater while "Dance-on-site" serves as a venue for choreographers to create pieces specifically for unique spaces in and around the cultural center.

Beltran points out that "Dance changes according to the space or environment you're in. These alternative spaces allow performers to concentrate on the essence of what their piece aims to convey, it allows the audience to share in this experience, and ultimately, it forces everyone to concentrate on the essence of humanity. Both dancers and audiences are enabled to share more of themselves."

UP Dance Company, Chameleon Dance Theatre, Kahayag Community Dance and Theater Company (of South Cotabato) and Dance=Pull (of Bacolod) are the groups who will present in Blackbox while Dance-on-site will showcase pieces to be performed at the main theater's loading dock, main theater lobby and the gift shop at the little theater lobby.

"These places are really `not practical,' out-of-the way and dimly lit. But these are where little stories and transformative experiences can occur," says Beltran.

No boundaries
Meanwhile, the festival's themes are distilled into its main showcase aptly titled, "IndepenDance." It will feature the piece "Indios Bravos" choreographed by Dwight Rodrigazo and performed by Airdance.

"Indios Bravos is a commentary on turn-of-the-century Filipino expatriates who fought for Philippine independence and their connection to present day Filipinos working abroad. Both are united in their struggle, hardships and the glory they bring to the country," explains Beltran. Also featured in IndepenDance will be the work of Ava Villanueva, first prize winner of last year's New Choreographers Competiton.

Further pushing the notion of connectivity between dancers sans borders, the festival will also play host to international dance artists. "They're here to celebrate our independence with us," says Beltran. "For IndepenDance, we'll have Japanese dancer Shigemi Kitamura and Madrid dance group Provisional Danza led by artistic director Carmen Werner and Alejandro Morata."

In addition, Rosita Boisseau, French journalist and dance critic for Le Monde and Telerama, will conduct a seminar on Dance Journalism, touching on topics such as history and evolution of roles and genres in contemporary dance as well as music as an integral part of dance.

Supporting the festival are foreign cultural entities such as the Japan Foundation Manila, Instituto Cervantes Manila, Embajada de España en Filipinas, Ministerio de Cultura-Gobierno de España, and Alliance Française de Manille. "Dance is a universal language," says Beltran. "It really has no barriers."

Even with the foreign participation, the festival is fully aware of its role as the breeding ground of up-and-coming regional choreographers and dancers through its New Choreographers Competition. "The competition has fourteen finalists with contestants from Bacolod, Koronadal City, South Cotabato and General Santos City," says Beltran. "The winner will be recommended to compete at the Yokohama Competition with the support and endorsement of the Japan Foundation Manila."

The competition is exclusively for the solo and duet form. "The solo or duet form most conveys a choreographer's artistic vision, in compact form. The solo can be a channel for engagement, and the duet can inspire us to see how intimately we connect with each other," says Beltran.

"We also want to give opportunities to young talents from various independent groups and school-based groups, so there will be an Emerging Talent Showcase for them," says Beltran. Contemporary Dance Workshops will also be conducted where "anyone of any age, size or shape can join."

To provide a voice for contemporary dance artists, students and teachers, a forum titled "Plenary: Towards a Philippine Contemporary Dance Network" will be held where "Everyone is invited to exchange ideas and map out the next steps in truly creating a national contemporary dance network for a new generation of artists."

For schedules and details, visit www.geocities.com/wifibody. Tickets available at CCP Box Office (832-3704) and all Ticketworld outlets (891-9999).

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2008 gets ready for the 4th Virgin Labfest

Take 4 for Virgin Labfest 
By Walter Ang
June 9, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

"The Virgin Labfest is a venue for playwrights, directors and actors to bring to life `untried, untested, unpublished and unstaged' one-act plays," explains festival founder Rody Vera. Now on its fourth year, this annual showcase of emerging playwrights has grown organically and now includes a workshop component for high school students who wish to learn more about the craft of playwriting and even a contest for owners of blogs (web logs or online journals).

Kicking off on June 25 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the labfest is presented by the Writers Bloc, an independent organization of established and aspiring playwrights headed by Vera, and the CCP's resident theater group Tanghalang Pilipino.

Following the convention of past labfests, "this year, there will be five sets of one-act trilogies where each set deals with a central topic or unifying theme ranging from comedies to political commentaries and gender issues to ghost stories," says Vera.

In the set "Katotohanan, Katarungan, Kapatiran," first time labfest entrant National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose's "Dong-ao" serves as a sequel of sorts to the author's series of novels Pretenders, Tree and Mass. "Dong-ao is a traditional Ilokano funeral ceremony where relatives and friends pay tribute to the deceased. In this short play, Pepe Samson, the lead character in Jose's novel Mass is already dead. Different characters from the three novels visit the wake and speak their mind," Vera explains.

Given that Jose's three novels had already been adapted to for the stage, he will be sharing his thoughts in a forum titled "From Page to Stage; The Novelist in Front of the Footlights."

Noted director and playwright Floy Quintos will also be a first time entrant to the labfest with his "Ang Kalungkutan ng mga Reyna" included in the set "Pagkagahaman. Panlilinlang. Pananampalataya." His play is about "a lady president who wants to be queen and her conversations with hairdresser," says Vera.

Name blind
This year's inclusion of experienced and veteran writers has provided an air of prestige for the other up-and-coming playwrights. "They are honored and excited to be included in the same festival with Jose and Quintos," says Vera. Names, however, are never part of Vera's selection process when he shortlists which plays will be included in the labfest.

This color-blind (or name-blind, in this instance) method has resulted in the inclusion of two foreign playwrights in this year's festival. Japanese Hasehiroichi's "Amoy ng Langit," a ghost story, and Malaysian Koh Jun Eiow's "Ang Dalawa Niyang Libing."

Koh's play is about a Chinese businessman living in Malaysia who converts to Islam in order to fit in but does not actually practice it. "The play tackles the travails of a family caught in between two faiths and a government unable to address the problem that has turned into a national issue," says Vera. "It's a composite of real people because this actually happens in Malaysia. In fact, because it's such a delicate issue, I don't know if it will ever be produced there."

Also for kids
The festival also has one set of plays especially for children. "These were plays commissioned by the Philippine Board on Books for Young People based on published children's stories," explains Vera. The set "Mga premyadong kuwentong pambata," will feature Niel de Mesa's adaptation of "Terengati" by Victoria Añonuevo, Argel Tuazon's adaptation of "Bru-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, Bru-hi-hi-hi-hi-hi" by Ma. Corazon Remigio, and Job Pagsibigan's adaptation of "Uuwi na Ang Nanay Kong si Darna" by Edgar Samar.

To provide audiences the best chance of catching the shows (given the wide variety and number of productions), each of the five sets is scheduled to be staged four times.

Attendees to the first weekend performances will have a chance to win prizes. "All active bloggers need to do is write a blog (web log or online journal) review about a specific set and post it in their blogs within 48 hours after watching," says Dennis Marasigan, Tanghalang Pilipino's Artistic Director. Winners will be chosen for each set of Labfest plays and receive prizes consisting of gift certificates and other merchandise.

In addition to the main performances, full length plays will be featured in a series of staged readings. The readings will include excerpts from "Savage Stage," an anthology of nine plays spearheaded by Ma-Yi Theater Company?the well lauded Filipino theater company based in New York City led by executive director Jorge Ortoll and artistic director Ralph Peña.

In line with its objective to train young writers and to discover new talents and works, this year's festival has a new component called the Labfest Lab.

"We'll have ten slots for high school students who are interested in theater and playwriting to be mentored throughout the festival by a member of the Writer's Bloc. They will be given complimentary tickets to all the Labfest performances and will have workshops sessions on playwriting with director and playwright Niel de Mesa," Vera says. "At the end of the festival, the students are expected to write short, five or ten minute plays." The Labfest Lab will culminate in a staged reading of their works.

For details on the Virgin Labfest, call 832-1125 loc. 1600 or 832-3661. For details on how to apply for a slot in Labfest Lab, please call Nikki Torres at 832-1125 loc. 1607 or 832-2314 or email drama_ccp@yahoo.com.

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Lopez Museum offers art conservation services

Art conservation arrives in Manila via the Lopez Musuem, and art collectors should check out what it has to offer.
Return to top form 
By Walter Ang
June-August 2008 issue
Metro Home and Entertaining

Furry mice are suspended in mid-crawl across three wooden contraptions with pulleys. No need to worry, the mice are actually just stuffed toys. This humorous installation piece speaks volumes about the vulnerability of art, or anything made by man, for that matter, against the elements. And it is an apt introduction to the Lopez Memorial Musuem's exhibit tackling the very serious matter of art conservation.

"The Sum of Its Parts" features pieces from the museum's collection which have undergone or are slated to undergo conservation. To underscore how fragile art can be, the exhibit shows how Juan Luna's "A group of men pushing the wall" (pencil on papel de marquilla) has been reduced to what looks like pencil striations on a yellowed piece of paper. Fortunately, it has gone through the musuem's conservation laboratory and has been declared "stable."

Husband-and-wife curating team of Claro and Eileen Ramirez aims to share the role of and the processes involved in conservation. "Preserving and promoting cultural heritage is mostly behind the scenes, few museum audiences understand the work involved," Claro says.

Through the works of Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo, Pacita Abad, Nena Saguil and Juvenal Sanso among others, the exhibit creates awareness of the thought and care in the maintenance that must go hand-in-hand with owning and appreciating works of art.

Claudio Bravo's "Portrait of Doña Pacita Moreno," created with pencil and charcoal on paper, is a shining example of the fruits of the museum's conservation labor. One could never have imagined it in its previous state: filled with stains like skin ravaged with disease.

The woman responsible for breathing life back into this work is Maita Reyes, a chemist who specializes in the "security, safety and survival" of art works. Having trained at the Facultedad De Bellas Artes of the Unibersidad Complutense de Madrid and International Center of Conservation, she is the museum's consultant for art conservation.

"The goal of conservation is really to stabilize works of art," Maita says. "Our work involves preventing and arresting deterioration caused by natural and man-made disasters."

While the museum has its array of climate-control systems, parabolic lighting (to prevent direct light shining on the art work), mylar wrapped frames and refracted ultraviolet glass covering, homeowners need not break the bank to protect their treasures as Maita has several tips that are not difficult to comply with.

She cautions that the number one enemy of paintings and prints is light. "Sunlight and strong lighting will fade paintings and once it's faded, it's irreversible," she says. One method of preventive care is to apply a protective coating. "An ultra-violet stable varnish will do."

Molds also pose a serious problem but is easily prevented by ensuring that air circulates in the area where the painting or print is hung. "Stagnant air will allow mold spores to settle and grow," she says. "Allow for some space behind the painting."

Another problem area is usually the frame and backing. Not only does the lignant in wood produce acid, "wood is food for molds!" says Maita emphatically. She appreciates that completely acid free backings or frames can be a bit expensive, so she has no problems with using materials with "reduced or minimal acid." "But these materials can be treated to minimize the effects of acidity."

She even offers a do-it-yourself quick-fix. "Mixing calcium carbonate tablets (which can be bought at any drugstore over-the-counter) with water can create a solution that can be sprayed onto the materials to control or neutralize the acid."

It's best to involve the experts from the moment of acquiring the art work. "Not many people know this, but to attend to the needs of private owners and collectors, the museum provides conservation and restoration services," she says. Of course, an ounce of "preventive conservation" is always better than a pound of laborious, expensive, time-consuming cure.

For details, call the Lopez Memorial Museum at 631-2417 or email pezseum@skyinet.net. 

Gibi Shoes' Lydia Castro has a sense of detail and diligence

A sense of detail and diligence 
By Walter Ang
June-August 2008 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine

Given the stiff competition from China, Gibi Shoes, an all-Filipino shoe enterprise,
has not only survived but also thrived. Walter Ang talks to proprietor Lydia Castro
on how she and her husband did it with
A sense of detail and diligence

The one striking thing you realize after talking to Lydia Castro is the supremely practical way she views life. "Accept your situation in life and do the best you can, otherwise you'll never be happy," she says. This mantra has helped her work together with her husband William in building their shoe company, Gibi Shoes, from a backyard operation to one store in Marikina and, finally, to its present network of outlets all over the country.

"My husband and I started out with just five workers," recalls Lydia. "We would make shoes for the stores along Avenida. Eventually, we decided to come up with our own brand." They borrowed capital from her in-laws and worked to get the business off the ground. "It was not easy. We worked from Sunday to Sunday and the money that we would borrow from my in-laws was always paid back with interest."

Hard work is no stranger to Lydia. Growing up, this eldest daughter of four children was tasked to help out in their father's hardware store during weekends and summer vacations. "I did not receive any salary. I only got free merienda," she laughs.

In a time when women were expected to stay at home and keep house, Lydia was lucky to be immersed in the daily workings of a running a business. "My own mother was a homemaker because that was how society was back then, but I got a chance to learn things," she says. "I developed my sense of being detail-oriented and being diligent."

Starting off with a men's line of shoes, the Castros grew their business to include women's shoes and children's shoes, for which they are now popularly known for. Hotsellers these days include office shoes and nursing shoes. "When operations and profits became stable was when we were able to stop working on Sundays. Then when the children were born, I told my husband that we could stop working on Saturdays to give our family more time," says Lydia.

She points out, however, that just because they no longer clock-in on weekends does not mean they actually get to relax. "We still take turns going to China during weekends to source for raw materials," she shares.

There are no regrets, however. "You have to love what you are doing. I actually took up chemistry for my undergraduate degree. It's just that these days, instead of balancing chemical equations, I now balance the books," smiles Lydia. "Life is what it is, I just had to learn the trade. My business philosophy is very basic: I want to make good, quality leather shoes."

Using that vision as a guide, Lydia had to navigate tough terrain to bring the business to where it is now. "In 1997 we almost gave up the business because the competition was very stiff with cheap imports from China," says Lydia. She realized however that starting from scratch would not be easy.

Aside from that, there was one other galvanizing reason for her to carry on. With her being in charge of the company's finances and human resources, she saw an obligation that could not be ignored. "I could not just let go of my employees. I could not leave them without a means of living. When you have a business, you cannot just think of yourself, you have to help others."

The company stuck it out for a few years and finally got back on its feet. Now it remains one of the very few shoe manufacturers that still do local production. "Aside from occasional imports of trendy shoes, all our shoes are made here with local employees," beams Lydia.

The loyalty of her employees was certainly one of the reasons why they were able to ride through the rough patch. "I'm lucky to have people who are faithful and are skilled. I always try to be sincere and compassionate with my staff. It's not just about the salary you give them. I'm very strict and work is work, but I also give them guidance and they know that I'm here for them if they need to talk to me. It goes both ways," says Lydia.

Lydia has actually given out scholarships to five children of her staff. After completing their course in shoe design at the Philippine Footwear Academy, Lydia absorbed two of them. She was questioned by some of her friends why she didn't try to recoup the money that she had spent on these students by taking in all five of them. She had a very simple answer, "When you help others, you shouldn't expect something in return."

This mother of five kids credits her own father for instilling the values that she hopes to pass on to her own progeny. "I admire my father very much. We were a modest family. He provided for our basic needs. He was very down to earth and had no pretensions in life," she shares.

Her generosity extends to volunteering for civic work such as medical missions. "It's fun!" she says. "I have a philosophy in life, everyday I should have accomplished something at work or have done something good. As you add years to your life, you should also add knowledge to your life. If everyone just lazed about, nothing will happen in the world!"