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Showing posts from November, 2010

Happy 31st anniversary, Mommy and Daddy!

Anna and I are absent once again. Sixth year running now. Hindi kayo uuwi e.

Dahil wala akong bagong picture nila (2009 or 2010), ito na lang (circa 2008):

Night shopping in Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake (after the puppet show) -- Aside from the famous tourist attractions, people also flock the shopping areas in the district. I tagged along as the GQNPC people went shopping for pasalubong and for souvenirs after the IRC wrapped up for the evening.

They mainly concentrated on the bags... and there was a huge selection! For my group, North Face backpacks proved to be popular. After a few hours into the shopping expedition, they ended up with bags of similar designs but of different colours. On the way back to Hong Kong and then to Manila, they were already breaking in their bags. Crumpler wasn't as popular with this group as many of the bags on display were not backpacks. Kipling bags and wallets proved to be elusive; apparently, we were in the wrong place (the shops might be somewhere further off the lake).
I wasn't too keen on buying a backpack because my luggage was already filled to the brim with my suits and the heavy-duty tripod. However, I did get some trin…

Burn, paper, burn.

After the theatre lights had dimmed and the tourists had left, several shopkeepers gathered in front of the puppet theatre and started praying by a makeshift altar right there on the sidewalk. I didn't want to intrude into the solemn activity, so I hung back as they burned incense sticks and paper money. Just as I thought that they were finishing up, I was shocked to see them set a papier-mache horse on fire! That one I caught on camera (with their permission).
One of the participants in the ceremony explained to me (non-verbal communication trumped language once again!) that what I have witnessed was a prayer for happiness and for prosperity in their businesses. It was fascinating to watch the ceremony because it's so different from the culture I grew up in. The incense sticks burning on the altar were certainly familiar; I've seen them amid the fresh fruit and the flower offerings in cemeteries back home with significant Chinese portions...
Hmm. The prayers and the offe…

The water puppet show

So, finally, we arrived at the puppet theatre. Ana and Crystal decided that they'd rather go shopping right outside the venue, and the rest of us had taken our seats. The place was packed! Tourists from different parts of the world were with us as we waited for the show to start. As the houselights dimmed, the voice over began. 
I was excited! Would handheld puppets come out? Were they anything similar to the Muppet Show's human-arm puppets? 


Nope, there were no residents of Sesame Street in sight. Water puppetry involved wooden puppets dancing on a pool of waist-deep water. They looked more like old-fashioned marionettes (sans the strings). The performance was sung and spoken in Vietnamese; in short, I did not understand any of the dialogue. However, the scenes were easy enough to decipher: they were about daily activities in rural Vietnam. Puppets depicted rice-planting, horse-racing, what looked like buffaloes playing. Then there was a wedding and coconut-picking. A dose o…

In search of Hanoi's water puppets

"You've never been to Hanoi if you haven't seen the water puppets," Jojo Lapitan said over lunch on the last day of the International Rice Congress in Vietnam. I guess I have experienced Hanoi then, since I went to the puppet show on my third night in this vibrant city...

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Getting there was nothing short of a challenge...

It was the night after the Grain Quality and Nutrition technical session. People were ready to go out and relax, as we have finished our presentations. A large group in a foreign city, with different agendas, and only one Vietnamese among us... that certainly spelled disaster – we couldn't stay together as one group. We were supposed to eat a buffet dinner, but the place we went to was packed. The group decided to split up: the shoppers and the tourists. Tran, the sole Vietnamese in the group, went with the shoppers; while the tourists (including me) wandered off armed only with road maps provided by …

City of Lakes

San Pablo City in the Philippines is known as the "city of the seven lakes". Hanoi (Vietnam), on the other hand, is nicknamed "city of lakes". According to the Vietnam Tourism website, the city has 18 lakes! In my week's stay in the city, I was fortunate to be in proximity to three of them.

The Royal Gate Hotel (where I stayed with the INQR and the GQNPC people) is found very close to two famous and adjacent lakes: Truc Bach Lake and the West Lake, both in the French Quarter (Ba Dinh District). These lakes are said to be walking distances away from interesting cultural tourist spots such as temples. True enough, there's a pagoda somewhere between the two lakes that could be seen from the hotel. I wasn't able to explore these areas during my stay, though.
As afternoon turned to dusk on my first day in Hanoi, I wanted very badly to photograph these lakes because I was going to miss the sunset. However, after a whole day of travelling (from Manila to Hong…

We don't eat gelatinisation temperature, but we cook rice.

That's how Dara Daygon began her talk on gelatinisation temperature, that range of temperatures in which rice is cooked, as a response to Harold Corke's previous presentation ("We do not eat gelatinisation temperature.").
(Dara, on gelatinisation temperature classes.)
Dara concentrated on the genetics behind gelatinisation temperature, showing the distributions of samples with high and low gelatinisation temperature. However, breeders aim for intermediate, a class not explicitly seen in the distributions. The gene associated with high- and low- gelatinisation temperatures is identified, but what pulls the values up or down into the intermediate range is still unknown.
Why is gelatinisation temperature important if it can't be eaten? This property is directly proportional to how long it takes to cook rice. And that is related to fuel consumption, water use, etc. that falls into the realm of the social sciences.

Rice as gems.

Clear rice grains or opaque ones? Consumers tend to gravitate towards varieties that are highly translucent, which command higher selling prices than those that are somewhat cloudy. In this sense, rice grains are comparable to gemstones. Rubies, emeralds, and sapphires of low clarity are not as expensive as those that sparkle, for instance. The opacity of the gemstones is caused by imperfections in the otherwise crystalline internal structure of these stones. 
In rice, imperfections of starch granules (the grains become porous) inside the grain likewise decrease the translucent quality of the grain. This is also known as CHALK. Xiangqian Zhao reported that grain chalkiness is affected by day and night environmental temperatures. As temperatures increase, so does the degree of chalkiness. Chalk is a detrimental property because it makes grains easier to break. Thus, given a high-yield paddy grain with lots of chalk, it is inevitable to have large losses post-harvest. In the light of rap…

Volatility is not only for markets... it's for grains too.

Throughout the International Rice Congress 2010, I heard people talk about the volatility (aka. instability) of the rice market. The rice price crisis in 2008 illustrated how badly economies and governments dependent on rice imports were affected by existing policies and by unhealthy speculations. 
However, aside from volatility of the market, rice price (particularly of those prized in the export sector) is also affected by the volatile compounds surrounding the rice grain. 
Robert Hall and Fe Calingacion presented comparisons of chemical profiles between basmati- and jasmine-type varieties. These profiles were obtained using high-technological platforms made available in the European Union via the Metabolites for Plants, Health, and Outreach (META-PHOR) project. Based on the reports, the compound believed to be the most critical to fragrance is not the most important after all, based on the levels of chemicals in the profiles. Also, the aroma associated with basmati rice and with j…

"Darling, it's not normal."

Catchy right? This was the title of Roslen Anacleto's presentation during the International Network for Quality Rice (INQR) workshop in Hanoi. Basically, his presentation complemented those of Melissa Fitzgerald and Ruby Jimenez, who both talked at length about the updates of the amylose project.
The members of the INQR were given a glimpse of the complexities of the maths used to analyse the data they submitted for Round 3 which, if I remember correctly, was a proficiency test. Roslen used the Anderson-Darling test for normality to see if the distributions of the values followed a bell-shaped curve. The title evidently showed that the distributions did not. Results of a suite of statistical tests were also presented.
I have to admit that in the end, I was lost, utterly lost, in the statistics.

Amylose ended up black and blue in Hanoi.

DISCLAIMER: What follows is a somewhat technical article. Prepare tissue, cotton balls, and ice in case of nosebleeds. You have been warned. Hehehe.
Have you ever tried adding iodine to potatoes or to bread in science class? The bread and the potato normally turns dark blue because the starch in these food items react with iodine. To be more specific (take a deep breath), the long and linear molecules of starch, known as amylose, turn blue. For the longest time, quality evaluation programs have been relying on the proportions of amylose in a sample to predict whether the cooked grains become hard or soft after cooling. In seminars I've attended, a breeder always mentions amylose content when asked about consumer preference. 
Enter the International Network for Quality Rice (INQR). The group is composed of rice scientists involved in quality evaluation programs in different national agricultural research and extension systems (such as PhilRice, BRRI, RRRI, etc.). Its first project is…

GQNPC Road Trip Leg 4: Hello, Hanoi!

This year, IRRI celebrates its 50th, UPLB its 101st, Manila its 439th anniversaries. All these pale in comparison to that of Thang Long (now Hanoi) as it celebrates its 1000th anniversary. Hanoi is ancient!
(We missed the celebration by a few weeks!)
We arrived at the Noi Bai International Airport as the sun cast a reddish glow over the Song Hong River (the Red River). Along the way to the Royal Gate Hotel (where the delegates from the International Network for Quality Rice and the Grain Quality Lab were staying), we couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the traffic flow. There seemed to be order amid all that chaos because there were no road mishaps despite all the tailgating, the swerving, and the counter-flows we've observed.
(Here, the motorcycle is king.)
The distance from the airport to the hotel was about 30 km according to the cab driver, and took about an hour via the freeway (Quoc Lo). We were supposed to attend the welcome reception for the International Rice Congres…

GQNPC Road Trip Leg 4: Who likes pho?

I do! 
I had phoga for breakfast on Days 2, 3, and 4 of our Hanoi adventure at theRoyal Gate Hotel. It's a rice noodle soup with chicken, basil, mungbean sprouts, lime, and peppers. What a healthy and filling yet light way to start the day! With local cuisine available to me at the hotel's restaurant, I didn't even notice the continental breakfast served for the less vegetable-friendly consumers. At Hoan Kiem district, I was determined to try out the pho ga found in the street stalls. Five adventurous souls, Tita Dory, Tita Ruby, Fe, Dara, and Priscila (from IMBRAPA, Brazil) all ordered pho too, but we had different variants. Just the same, we all enjoyed the food and the hospitality extended to us by the shop owner (who spoke very little English).
However, Vietnam is known not only for its noodle soup. Our first group dinner was at the Nha HangABC in the Ba Dinh District. I wasn't able to catch the Vietnamese names of the food I ate, but they all have lots and lots o…

Prep time

I'd say that "The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs" is a gem. I bought a copy at the National Bookstore after choosing between a presentations book and a photography book. When I learned that I was speaking in a conference, I got the book out of my bookshelf and leafed through it, hoping to find some secret shortcut to good presentations. Alas for me, the author reminds presenters to prepare and rehearse long before public speaking engagements.
So I started working on my slides early on, following the book's advice. I've planned, story-boarded, and assembled my slides a few weeks before the conference. The long prep time allowed me to think through the change in focus and to overhaul the talk after my supervisor and co-workers suggested improvements in its title and in its content. I'm currently on the tenth version of my presentation, and though I'm hoping that this is the FINAL version, I just might (after my experiences in previous conferences) tweak …

Tran vs. the MSc thesis

One of the industry's criteria for classifying (and putting a price on) rice is based on sensory properties. Scientists have devised a way of predicting cooked rice texture based on chemical analyses. However, there are times when one of these tests, which is based on rice starch's colour reaction to iodine, is not reliable because there are rice varieties with similar results but have different textures.

Enter Tran, a MSc student from UPLB, who conducted her research at the Grain Quality, Nutrition, and Postharvest Center at IRRI. For the past two years, she's been determining why rice grains of the same quality class differ in cooked texture by exploring the genetics behind these variations.


After several semesters of hard work and perseverance, this ADB scholar has passed one of her major hurdles: she defended her MSc thesis and garnered a grade of 1.00.
Congratulations, Tran!

The shoe hunt continues

Back on my feet on another Saturday in Makati. This was my last chance to get a pair of black leather pumps. I won't leave the mall without buying shoes!! Hmmp! 
Walking round the mall, I spotted a beautiful pair inside a shoe shop. Might as well try that, I thought. So I got in, without looking up at the name of the store, and tried on the shoes. Wow, a pair of high heels as comfortable as sneakers! The soles were non-slip and the insoles were really soft. More importantly, my toes were not being squished... I thought I could walk for hours in that pair. 
Reality set in when I started asking about the price. I was shocked at how expensive that pair was. Suffice it to say that it costs about five times more than what I was willing to spend on leather shoes. 
No wonder. I had unwittingly tried on a Cole Haan! 
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I ended up with a locally made pair that looked similar to (but didn't feel as luxurious as) the Cole Haan shoes... and at a tenth of the price.

Perfect example of how NOT to drive.

Drivers, do this on the race track, not on public roads...

The driver in this video and one of his passengers are DEAD after the tires of the car they were in (not the Jazz in this video) blew at high speed, according to comments on the original upload. The video here (from youtube) has been reuploaded since.

The driver was 21 years old.