"Talks Like An American,
Works Like A Japanese
But Sings Like A Pinoy"
by: Edith Bautista
September - October 2015
Strange. Yes, because sometimes, there are people who are not supposed to be there. Are they invited? Or are they party crashers? Are they pure? Half-blooded or mixed? Strange, yes, but strange with and for a good reason.
We sometimes see a stranger in an event. A gaijin? An alien? Then, you hear the whispers. Who is that person? Why is he there? What’s he doing in the group? And then, in so many events of Filipino communities in Tokyo, there is this strange white gaijin. Or alien, as we are all referred to by our host people, the Japanese. His name is Tom Clark.
Tom Clark is neither a Pinoy nor a Japanese. He doesn’t have brown skin and slanted narrowed eyes. He may speak a few Tagalog words but he can definitely argue and win in Japanese considering how tall he is and loud as a megaphone. He has visited the Philippines a couple of times and considers Japan his second home having resided for an “uncountable” number of years. Tom Clark’s face and voice have been a familiar character on Japanese TV programs and commercials. He is also an active volunteer for several Filipino community events around Tokyo area. Tom is a quick-witted American possessing the warm heart of a Pinoy and the indefatigable energy of the Japanese.
In this issue, we cornered Tom to know more about him and find out why he has this soft spot for Filipinos in Japan.
Please tell something about yourself. When did you first come to Japan? What’s your work? And activities you are doing?
Wow! So many questions. You sound a little like the folks at Immigration when I come back after visiting the States. Um…when did I first come to Japan, eh? Well, I usually answer that question by telling the person who asked: Well, it was in the early 60s, the war wasn’t going so well, and then the President was killed, and the southerner who was Vice President, Johnson, took over, and I thought, you know, maybe it’s time to make a change.
And the person who asked says: ah, President Kennedy.
And then I say: Kennedy? No way. I’m talking about Lincoln.
As you can tell, you have to be careful about asking me questions. I like to have fun with the answers.
Let’s see, what were your other questions? Ah, ok, well, my work. I wish I had more work these days, but to be serious for a second, almost all of my work is in areas where I use English. I can speak some Japanese (sorry, I don’t read a whole lot), but as an ESL/EFL teacher, it’s my job to be using English all the time. So…I teach, I sing, I record, I’m a voice actor, I edit, I rewrite, I proofread, I act in plays all in English. And I have to warn you, I’m a very strict grammarian, just so you’ll know. heh, heh.
Ah, ok, one more, my activities. Well, what I don’t do so much anymore is golf or run. Since I was diagnosed with having a couple herniated discs. But I do still teach, travel, act, edit, proofread…and sing.
Oh, and don’t you have to tell people that the reason you said “tender loving care” is because that’s my initials? tlc. Thomas Leslie Clark. (hazukashii wa.) (heh, heh)
Sorry to interrupt, but what do you mean ESL/EFL?
Well, ESL means English as a Second Language, EFL mean s English as a Foreign Language. You see, there is a difference between the two. With ESL…
When did you start working with Filipinos?
Never. I’ve never “worked” with the “Filipinos”. I’ve had fun with Filipino people, I’ve acted with Filipino people, I’ve sung (yaay!!) with Filipino people, but I have to say, it was never “work”. It was joy, not work.
As for when, well, that’s a theatre thing. You see, my MA degree is in theatre, but I got out of theatre for a kind of longish time after I got into ESL/EFL, but I did get back into theatre here in Japan by working with TIP (Tokyo International Players) and TTFC (Tokyo Theatre for Children). In TTFC, I had the pleasure of working with a couple of folks who were connected with Filipinos, and that led me to Teatro Kanto (TK). TK is a Filipino theatre group here in Tokyo and I had the pleasure of acting with them a number of years ago. That led to more involvement with TK (I’ve done lights for them, I’ve run acting workshops, etc., etc.) and that led to my connection with Utawit. Utawit has been my “home away from home,” in a sense, for a number of years now.
What made you interested with Filipinos here in Japan?
I think, I just covered that, but it’s all connected. The acting, the friendship, the music… Things just seemed to flow along until now, so that I’ve had the pleasure and honor of meeting, working with, spending time with some really great Filipino people.
Have you been to the Philippines? Where? What can you say about the Philippines?
Wow, multiple questions again. To the first one: Yes. I’ve been to the Philippines a couple of times now. Where? Well, of course, Manila. It seems like all things Philippine go through Manila, like all things Hawaiian go through Honolulu, Hawaii. That’s a lot like the Philippines but without the typhoons. (Please laugh) Sorry, like I said, I do like a bit of levity now and then.
But once you get out of Manila, say to Clark (no connection with any relative of mine, sad to say), you can find open air, great golf courses and excellent restaurants. And Tagaytay, don’t get me started. Looking out the window on the drive from Manila to Tagaytay makes you think of Michigan (well, except for Detroit) greenery, agriculture, blue skies. The little volcano at Taal is super, the church where my friend got married was just lovely, and…
…and before I get too carried away, in Manila, and when you get closer to Tagaytay, the crowded traffic makes you think, not of Hawaii, but of Los Angeles. Or New York City.
But still, it’s a green country. I’m not a fan of deserts.
Oh, right. What can I say about the Philippines? To get a little serious for a second, it’s not the country, it’s the people. It’s the only Christian country in Asia, and maybe more amazing than that, is the fact the almost 10% of the Philippine GNP is accounted for by the OFW flow of funds back to the Philippines. There are Filipinos working all around the world, and so many of them are sending their earnings back to the Philippines that it amounts to nearly 10% of GNP. That is fantastic!
Oh…uh…I may not have mentioned that my BA is in Economics. It’s my MA that’s in theatre. So occasionally, rarely, the “economic me” sneaks ahead of the ”performing me.”
What’s your first impression of them? Filipino leaders and friends as well?
First impression? Filipino leaders? OK, first things first. First impression of Filipinos: nice people, always have pleasant faces, they can all sing. No, no, really, I mean they all (well, almost all) are really musical. (The ones who may not be great singers turn out to be terrific dancers.)
Filipino leaders? Funny you should ask. I’m American. But…I have never seen, met, talked, with, whatever, anyone in the upper levels of the US Embassy in Tokyo. The Philippines? I have sung for GMA, I have met Ambassador Siazon, I’m on a “Hi, how are you?” basis with Ambassador Lopez, I have met and shook hands with President Aquino. The Filipino leaders make us ordinary people feel special. How I wish leaders around the world would do the same thing.
Is there any Filipino food that you can eat?
OK, that’s an easy one. Almost any Filipino food: adobo, tokwat baboy, garlic rice. My favorite? Probably sinigang from Ipo-Ipo! in Kinshicho. (Yes, that’s a plug. But it’s true. Ipo-Ipo! sinigang is better than any I’ve had anywhere, in Japan or the Philippines.) One observation though: I was surprised that Filipino food Is not so spicy. My impression is that food from hot countries (Mexico, Thailand) is spicy, but not so much so in the Philippines.
What is the Filipino group that you are active helping with? Why ?
Ah, an even easier one. Thank you. That would be Utawit. For background, Utawit is a word that comes from the Japanese word for “song”, “uta,” combined with the Tagalog word for song “awit.” The combination becomes “Utawit.” Utawit is now celebrating its 10th anniversary and is the oldest, all Japan, singing contest for Filipinos (and now Japanese folks) in Japan. Some years ago, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Japan/Philippine relations, the competition was opened to Japanese as well. So that, now, Filipinos, Japanese, and any combination thereof, may enter the competition.
Thank you, but I asked “why”?
Right. That would have to be connected to my own background as a singer. I have sung solo (the first time, at age 7, singing “I Wonder As I Wander”), duo (with my brother, the doctor, in high school and college), quartet (again, in high school), choir, men’s glee club (tenor soloist at Michigan State University), musical comedy (more than I can count), from Freddy Eynsford-Hill in “My Fair Lady,” to the Padre in “Man of La Mancha.” I do vocal music, I live vocal music, I love vocal music.
When I began to realize how fantastic the Filipino singers were, I was determined to try to do all that I could do to make their dreams come true, to make their talents be known, by helping in any way I could in Utawit. I have done voiceovers for Utawit, I have done lights for Utawit, I have been a judge for Utawit, but even more important, selfishly, to me, I have been blessed with the many chances to hear the great voices of the Filipino singers here in Japan.
Do you have any plan of staying in the Philippines someday?
Hmmm. What a great idea! We’ll have to see, eh?
Any message that you would like to share with the Filipinos?
I probably don’t have to say it, they won’t stop anyway, but, please, please, never stop singing, never stop the music. It doesn’t have to be singing, rondalla is fine; it doesn’t have to be the voice, the banduria is fine. There is no better, no purer, way to bring joy to the human heart than through music.
That’s the Tom Clark, inside and out. He is a man full of wits. There were actually no dull moments talking to him. Very Pinoy! I think I have learned so much from him. His positive energies are so infectious and I hope it spreads all throughout the Filipino community in Japan.