Monday, March 27, 2006

Photo shoot

Photography has been one of my hobbies since I discovered my 1978 Minolta SLR when I was eight years old. Since then, it’s a rarity to find me in pictures because I was always the one shooting them.

…Until one day in late 2005 when the journalists covering the agriculture beat went to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to tour the facilities. As luck would have it, I was busily working in the lab when a photographer approached and asked me to slow down so he could take action shots. :0) It turned out that he was from the Agence France Presse (AFP). Aw! I kissed my chance of getting copies of the pictures good bye; unless I chance upon them in the newspaper or in a book, or somewhere.

Today, I DID stumble upon one of the pictures! I was browsing the net when I came across my picture in an AFP premium article. Hehehe. :0)


Photo by Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images

I should get used to this…

Saturday, March 25, 2006

the march 18 challenge

March 18, 2006 — The date my cousin, Kuya Bimbo, was getting married… And I was assigned to drive the bridal car. I had dropped in late the night before, and parked my car in my uncle’s (his dad, my mom’s brother) garage (because the guys there would clean it) before going to my aunt’s (my mom’s sister) house to sleep there.

The next day, I was up at 6am, I went to my uncle’s house with my niece. She was scheduled for flower girls’ makeover, while I was to get the car and have it dressed up by the florist back at my aunt’s house. Everything was set and ready to go before 7am. I then had breakfast and proceeded to getting myself ready.

At 8:45am, while my aunts and cousins were getting dolled up, I went ahead to fetch the bride, Ginny, and her parents at a hotel in a different part of the town. To my surprise, I found SUVsthere, with a pair of motorbikes. It looked like a VIP entourage! The motorbike drivers, who turned out to be our escorts, were equally surprised to find out that I was driving the bridal car. After making sure that the groom’s entourage was en route to the wedding venue, Ginny and her parents boarded my car together with the cameraman… full wedding coverage.

I had never been a part of a convoy before, so I was really tense while driving at an average of 80kph tailgating the motorbike escorts, and being tailed in turn by one of the SUVs (the other one went ahead of the convoy). We made it to Kamayaan sa Palaisdaan in half the time I typically spend to drive that distance! That’s thanks to the escorts who made sure that oncoming traffic would stop and that the vehicles in front of the entourage would go to the shoulder of the road.

When we arrived, Kuya Reggie and Kuya Jobel, who I called MIB (men in barong — hehehe!) were waiting for me, and they asked how it was for me to drive that way (I think I disobeyed every rule in defensive driving that day). The ceremony was delayed a bit because the priest was late. But finally, the wedding began, and I stood in the back ready to take over the hosting chores from the lector for the reception.

Finally, the wedding ended and the reception began. I was just given general instructions by Ginny, and the camerapersons (to be politically correct) were not giving specific directions, so I just decided to wing it. Everything went on smoothly until the queue for the buffet table began. It turned out that the food table was in a narrow part of the reception area, and that the guests should be organized to get there (to avoid congesting the area). Anyway, Kuya Reggie and I became usher and usherette while Kuya Jobel was busy with the guestbook signing. As expected, both of us were vastly outnumbered by hungry guests, so we finally gave up with the ushering. Since I was still the emcee, I had to speak a few lines while lunch was being eaten. I barely had five bites of my food before I was called again… this time as errand girl. I had to collect some things (the souvenirs and a board where people sign their greetings) from the car, and follow instructions from the maid of honor.

Good thing I decided against wearing a gown or a sundress. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able move as quickly as I did. I was wearing a skirt and a blouse (very apt for the humid conditions), though I was wearing high-heeled sandals (to keep with the formal setting). Another brilliant decision I had was to bring my slippers in the car. So when the reception had ended and the guests had left, I changed into my slippers; just in time because I was about ot get cramps in my legs… and I won’t be able to drive with that!

Despite the challenges in the background, it looked like all the guests were fed, and the newlyweds were enjoying the festivities. Overall, the Odejar-Alfonso wedding was a blast. My congratulations go to Kuya Bimbo and Ginny. :0)

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

thesis defense at PUP

As said in my previous post, I was in PUP Sta Mesa earlier today. I was with Vito, Tita Dory, Melissa, and Kuya Jun to watch the thesis defense of Raina and Charisse, the undergraduate Chemistry students who worked on their project in IRRI.

I was excited to watch how the two would present the paper, and a bit worried because we haven’t seen the slides. However, I knew that they would do well because the IRRI team assisting them made sure that all bases were covered: that they understood the procedures, the principles behind the procedures, how the machines worked, the significance of their results, and how these related to the conclusion. Raina and Charisse, as early as January, were prepping for their defense by asking intelligent questions, and projecting what the panelists would ask. Plus, their adviser at PUP was also grilling them like a panelist when they were in campus. Basically, the two girls were well-prepared.

When we got to the venue, Raina and Charisse were nervous and went to ask us questions about some of the finer details in their talk. But by the way they were asking, we knew they were ready. Vito and I sat at the back with Kuya Jun (the girls approached us a few times to review some points in their discussion) while Melissa and Tita Dory stayed in the front of the audience ready to take questions from the panelists in case the girls couldn’t answer something from the panel. The support they got was tremendous!

We were happy that they presented their paper with so much confidence… they even went away from the podium to point parts of the graphs and stuff, which was a surprise to us. I was so proud that they were able to discuss the complex results very very well. In Hogwarts terms, they got a grade of "exceeds expectations" (at least from me). All their efforts paid off and they are now looking at a possible nomination for a competition for the Best Thesis Award in PUP!

There are a few things that have to be sorted out and improved on before they go to the competition, though. But those are minor details and missing points, which will be fixed this week. We are so excited!

I now understand the joy of professors and mentors when their wards move on to achieve things. I was a part of the team that helped these kids work on their thesis, and I knew part of the difficulties they faced. Working on equipment that you’ve never learned before is a long and difficult part of the learning curve, and it’s no joke to study it for less than a year.

Looking at thesis work from a different perspective is also good too. I was in the students’ spot a few years back, and I know that it’s really hard. I learned a lot about my field of study and about my limits when I did my thesis. But through helping them out, I learned even more about my study, because they asked such intelligent questions that I got challenged… I was forced to think outside the box a lot.

Aside from all that I’ve learned about myself and my field of study (this is quite deep), I am very thankful to the girls for the token that they’ve given me… a teddy bear! I felt that my birthday came a few months early!. I never expected that!

Congratulations to Raina and Charisse! They’ve done a great job! :D

yet another road trip… this time to Sta Mesa, Metro Manila

This morning, I joined my supervisor and two officemates in going to the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Sta Mesa, Manila, to watch the thesis defense of two chemistry students who did their thesis in the Grain Quality and Nutrition Research Centre for the past semester.

The trip began at 7:40am at IRRI. With our supervisor behind the wheel, we sped through UPLB and the Jamboree road. We breezed through the normally congested national road (because the rush hour has just ended) up to the Halang, Calamba, where we turned left towards the bypass to Real and the South Luzon Expressway. The trip through the SLEX was also fast, with only a stopover at the Total Station for gas and coffee. On we went along the SLEX and the Skyway without a hitch.

The slow traffic began at the approach to the Quirino Avenue, where we had to turn right towards Nagtahan Bridge. At Nagtahan, we took the bridge going into Sta Mesa (the Padre Jacinto bridge, or whatever it’s called). That’s when the trouble began… we had to go around in circles and ask for directions at every other corner. The trip should have ended if the walkway going straight to PUP was open to vehicles. But since it wasn’t we had to find another way to the campus. We even went into a tunnel under some bridge and drove through a one-way street past a really crowded public market!

Anyway, after a few minutes of going searching, we finally reached the PUP campus.

That was one of the most stressful trips I’ve been on because we got lost… and in Manila too! Plus, we had to go through the narrowest of roads, and dodge away from pedestrians. I don’t think I’d dare drive to Sta Mesa yet. I’m too chicken to do so.

Friday, March 3, 2006

Concerts

Speaking of concerts, there was a selection of performances this week in Los Banos. I chose to watch two: the UPLB Filipiniana Dance Troupe’s on Thursday at the Baker Hall, and Prasia’s tonight at the DL Umali Auditorium.

UPLB Filipiniana DanceTroupe. 
Presenting traditional dances in a different way, the Dance Troupe mixed the age-old moves with theatrics. Therefore, it turned out to look like a musical (but instead of singing, the performers danced). The production attempted to summarise Philippine history in dance. It started with babaylans doing rituals, and the (violent) introduction of Christianity into the culture. Of course, the costumes vividly showed how different life became when the colonizers came to the Philippines. The show also emphasised that despite the spread of Catholicism in the lowlands, the tribes in Northern Luzon kept their culture intact. Same went for the sultanates in Mindanao. The two-hour show was not what I expected to be. I was weirded out by the way it was presented, and it took a few minutes after the show for me to understand what I just saw.

In typical Dance Troupe productions (at least when I was still performing with them as a percussionist during my college years), the dances were divided into suites: Northern Philippines, Mindanaoan and Visayan, and Southern Luzon. I usually played for all the suites except for the Southern Luzon suite because the music for that was from the rondalla (and I couldn’t play a string instrument to save my life!). My favourite piece is the Paunjalay, a wedding dance of one of the tribes in Mindanao. I like it because the dance in itself is very challenging to perform, with all that kneeling and running around in circles. Plus, the piece is one of the most difficult to play (I was able to play each of the instruments used for that piece) because there was no fixed count (the musicians had to take the cue from the dancers’ pose) and there’s no warning when it’s ending. I had to learn to play the kulintang without looking at it! The dabakan also has to be hit quite strongly so that the beat can be heard. The agong is beaten extra loudly when the dancers are about to kneel. Practising the piece became second-nature to me that I unconsciously tapped away on my armchair while thinking of answers during exams! I obviously miss those days. (sigh!)

Prasia.
For tonight, I did not know what to expect because I haven’t heard about this group before. All I knew was that it is a choral group composed of missionaries. The concert was organised by Destiny Ministries, Inc. The music was great! The performers sang like the CompanY or the Akafellas. Their voices blended almost effortlessly, and they managed to prevent the show’s beat from slowing down by being hilarious on stage (not typical of choirs that are dead serious, usually). The repertoire consisted of mainstream songs, and some of the group’s original compositions… a very uplifting concert because many of the praise songs were lively.

Anyway, I had a very enjoyable time tonight. Plus, despite arriving alone, I met many friends from college turning up to watch it because many of them are members of the different churches and ministries that supported the concert.

What I really wish for is a repeat performance of the UP Singing Ambassadors which I saw last November during the reopening of the DL Umali Auditorium. That concert was free, and was sponsored by the UPLB Commission for Culture and the Arts. I hope that the choir returns to UPLB after its stint abroad. And I’m willing to pay for a ticket this time.

My Batangas Road Trip

There’s nothing like a good old road trip to clear one’s mind. My chance for a long and relaxing journey happened twice this week. I said chance because instead of a leisurely drive, I found myself lost more than once. Despite being lost, I enjoyed it. Nothing like a good trip to raise one’s spirits.

I went to Padre Garcia this week. Before I left the house, I decided to try going through the national highway just so that I could pass Sto Tomas, Tanauan, Malvar, and Lipa City… I had driven across the STAR Tollway several times, but I have never tried driving on the national road alone until this week.

At first, the trip went smoothly. But only until I reached an intersection in Sto Tomas. I figured that to go left would lead me to the town proper, just like going to the Los Banos town proper from Calamba. Therefore, I decided to traverse the road to the right. It turned out that this road was the one leading to the public market and the town centre! I was quite anxious because traffic near public markets are unbelievably heavy. But since I was there at a slow hour, the traffic was light. Finally, the road merged with the national highway again. Through Tanauan and Malvar I went without much event.

But once I entered Lipa, I was again faced with a decision of where to turn. I knew that I should go into the city to reach Padre Garcia. If I were to take the other road, it would lead me to Batangas City instead. Thinking that I finally figured out which road to take, I decided not to turn left at the intersection (since in Sto Tomas, turning left meant bypassing the city centre). So I chose the road straight ahead. Alas! I was wrong again! In the case of Lipa, I HAD to turn left to enter the city, and remaining on the national highway (which was what I did) would bring me to Batanagas City!

I realised this mistake - at last - when I saw the Robinson’s Place towering on the right side of the road. Then I knew I missed the turn again. Since it was almost noon, I decided to stay at the mall for lunch (I wasn’t sure if Padre Garcia had a good restaurant… and Lola’s kitchen has long been unused and empty). After lunch, I asked the guard where to go to enter the city. I even bought a map!

On the road again, I found myself acting as both navigator and driver. That was hard! It felt similar to driving while texting or talking on the phone… I was very distracted. Good thing I went to Padre Garcia with Kuya Junjun behind the wheel before. He showed me where to turn to avoid driving the wrong way on one-way streets (which make driving in Lipa confusing). I finally emerged from the city proper and found myself looking at the familiar dome of the Carmelite church. Then I knew - was sure - that I was on the right path. I was in Padre Garcia in 30 minutes… total travel time: around two hours (a painfully long time for some of my relatives… but hey, it takes me two hours to reach Sta Cruz, Laguna from my house - through the national road [no PCARRD, no expressway, and no Real], so this duration should be normal).

After finishing up in Padre Garcia - I visited some relatives and Lolo and Lola’s farm, and reported at the Municipal Hall - I decided to go home. And I faced another two hours’ drive home.

Just to make the trip more interesting, I visited the Padre Garcia church (which I think is under repair at the moment, but the architecture reminded me of the grand churches in Ilocos… complete with the huge concrete side beams usually found in Earthquake Baroque architecture). I also stopped by the Carmelite church (which I learned was a parish dedicated to St Joseph).

I meant to visit Apolinario Mabini’s house in Tanauan. But since I left Padre Garcia a few minutes before five pm, and the drive was slowed down by a sudden downpour in Lipa and by the jeepneys waiting for passengers at the schools, I decided against this when I entered Tanauan. After all, the house might be closed after five… and I was attempting to reach Los Banos before seven to watch a concert.

The stopovers made me notice how slower and quieter life is in that part of the country where houses are surrounded by sugarcane fields and where cows can still be seen roaming, and where kids are still amazed at seeing small cars (they’re used to see the big trucks and tractors typically used in farms). Where McDo and Jollibee haven’t penetrated yet, and where the municipal hall employees are all friendly and polite. I was amazed, because I live in an area where life moves a bit faster (although still at a relaxed pace as compared to life in Manila).

I once read that errors usually lead to adventures. True enough, because I made wrong turns along my way, I was able to see different parts of the towns that I shouldn’t have seen if I were on the right path all the time. Sometimes, getting lost is a good thing. Personally, I enjoy following a new road just to see where it’s headed… as long as it’s not too late in the day and I have a map with me.