Friday, December 31, 2010

I started and ended the year watching the LOTR trilogy

Over the Christmas holidays, I watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy one last time before the year closes. The difference this time is that I'm watching the movies on the big screen while in January, I was watching it in my computer's miniscule screen.

I take something new out of the films each time I watch the whole series. This time, I noticed that Frodo tested the leaders' desire for the Ring. Gandalf didn't take it early on, before the story moved away from the Shire, when Frodo was handing it over to him. Boromir failed the test when he wanted to bring the Ring to Gondor. Galadriel passed when she ultimately decided to head into the West. And when Frodo offered the Ring to Aragorn, he did not take it, vowing that he would go with Frodo if he could (but then he had to save Merry and Pippin from the Orcs so they separated). 

The special effects and the landscapes have never failed to impress me. That's another reason why I watch it over and over. :)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Holiday traffic

I guess that this is the story of my holidays this year: never-ending traffic jams! What else is new? 

Last year, I had the very same complaint. The difference was that last year, I was complaining about heavy traffic in Metro Manila because I did the bulk of the Christmas shopping there (particularly in the Mall of Asia and in Glorietta). This year, I thought I successfully outwitted the traffic jams by avoiding Makati and Pasay altogether. 

I was very wrong. It looks like traffic jams have migrated south, thanks to the opening of new shopping malls and supermarkets along the national highway. To avoid all the chaos on the road, I dropped by during the last shopping hour of the malls. That way, I had less competition for parking space and the queues at the payment counters were shorter. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fe and Sobun in Ocean Park HK

On the last day in HK, the group toured Ocean Park. Still with Sobun and Fe, I opted to see the animals than to ride the scary roller coasters... and had a look at the ocean, of course.

Before meeting the giant pandas

Sobun wants a penguin

Where the goldfish were

Photo op on the hanging bridge

On the other side of the cable car ride

At the Ocean Park view deck queue

Fe and Sobun in Disneyland HK

On our visit to Hong Kong Disneyland last November, I got grouped with Fe and Sobun... and became their official photographer. Since we had only half a day in the park, we wanted to ride and to see many of the attractions as we could. By the time the fireworks have started, we had enjoyed the theatrical shows and the rides (even those kiddie ones in hunny pots).

Here are some of the photos of that field trip:

At Disney HK's gate, just before the group split up (by the fountain)
While in queue at Mickey's PhilarMagic

Finally inside the theatre
By Sleeping Beauty's castle
On the other side of Sleeping Beauty's castle

By the gingerbread village

Almost ready to ride the Jungle River Cruise

Resting up at the Liki Tiki

Surprised by the geyser

Playing with the drums

The coins that spun round and round

I attended a basic photography seminar in IRRI in December, organised by Chris Quintana and Gani Serrano. One of the photo shoot assignments was to take photos of motion using coins. It was a tough assignment since I decided to do it at night while tuned in to the news feature about Hubert Webb's (and the other suspects') Supreme Court acquittal from the Vizconde massacre case. 

Poor coins. They must have been REALLY dizzy after this photo assignment.

Only the overhead light was on.

Added two more lights..

Additional lighting from a LED flashlight...

I decided to forego any more attempts at the assignment until morning when I can get additional lighting from the sun. However, even sunlight wasn't enough. I gave in and used the flash. Finally, I was happy with my blurred coin shot. 

Here it is:

Photo submitted to class.
The next challenge is quite harder: a photo story. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

GQNPC's last lunch for 2010

People in the lab normally eat lunch together on the last work day before the Christmas break... and this is after the Christmas party. This year, we trooped to Kamayan sa Palaisdaan rather than eat in the lab's meeting room. What made the lunch unique was that our boss, Melissa, and her family, was there for the first time (if I remember correctly). Also, this served as our farewell party for Jing Tan, a colleague, who is leaving for China with her family.

Fe and Jing at Kamayan sa Palaisdaan

UPLB as Christmas town

What could I say? Just as I thought that the UPLB decorations last year were the best, the decorations team this year outdid themselves. This year, the Christmas tree by the Admin building is white, the Nativity scene was placed in a two-floor stable (with the sheep on the second floor), and Santa Claus almost ready to fly off the College of DevCom's lawn.

Next year ulit!

Christmas tree, 2010

Nativity scene, 2010

Santa Claus is leaving town

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chillin' at Chili's

I felt cold, ironically, in Chili's when Ate Maddie and I dropped by. The temperature fell a few degrees lower by the time dessert finally came in the form of Ate Maddie's highly recommended High and Mighty Pie. Basically, it's chocolate cookie crust topped with a huge slab of vanilla ice cream and lined with chocolate and caramel syrup.

The unbelievably huge slice of the high and mighty pie.

I was shocked when it finally arrived. It was HUGE! Four people could split a cake! 

It's good, very good. The smoothness of the ice cream contrasted against the crumbly crust. There were bits (chocolate chips and some other stuff) within the ice cream that further contributed to the flavour and the texture of the cake. 

The pie, overall, wasn't too sweet; perhaps that taste perception was due to what we had for dinner: tortillas with salsa and mushroom fajitas. Or was that because ice cream's low temperature numbs the tongue, hence the reduced capacity to detect sweetness?

I thought of Minas Tirith when the cake arrived, just out of the blue. I think that's because of the whiteness and the shape of the ice cream were similar to this high and mighty Middle Earth city. 

Ate Maddie has a more in-depth description of the food we ate on her food blog:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Calamba-Sto Tomas SLEX link now open!!

December 16
Yahoo! My day started out better than expected. The sign board just before the Batangas exit showed the good news. My Christmas wish #1 was granted!! I'll use this route out tomorrow. =)

December 17
I clocked segments of today's drive to see how long it would take to get to work via the SLEX extension.

  • (0:00) Leaving the house. Timer starts now!
  • (0:13) I drove through the SLEX at ~80 kph on average. Didn't note how long the trip was from my exit to the Sto Tomas exit; I think it's probably around 8 km. The bulk of the trip was going to the closest exit to my house.
  • (0:38) Got stuck in traffic in Sto Tomas en route to the MakBan road. This route took too much time; it doesn't looking too promising.
  • (1:13) Stop the clock! I've parked... at last!!

In contrast, my typical route to work takes about 45 min to traverse and it includes the mountainous stretch of the PCARRD-Jamboree Road. I therefore conclude that the SLEX extension won't be part of my daily route to work. However, the SLEX link certainly shortens the trip to Lipa City.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dinner concert for a scholarly cause

Anna and I had were in luck. The reason we went to Diliman was to watch the UP Singing Ambassadors' performance at the Bahay ng Alumni. The event was sponsored by the University of the Philippines Experimental Democratization Scholars (UP XDS) Association. Ate Liza bought the tickets (thank you!) and we were joined by Ate Eleanor, Jon, and Matt.

The UP XDS is a group of scholars admitted into UP Diliman from 1977 to 1981. At the time, according to Ate Mayang (one of the recipients of the scholarship), the university was plotting ways to ensure that the different regions of the Philippines were represented in the studentry (hence the policies governing UPCAT today). She also mentioned that given the right training and support (aside from passing the qualifications for college freshmen), the university believes that students from the provinces or rural areas would be able to compete with those from the cities, particularly Manila. 

Three decades later, the former scholars formed an alumni association that shares the same beliefs. To them, it's time to pay back. Currently, the association has seven scholars from different parts of the Philippines and plans to add more scholars in the coming academic years. Hence, the UP XDS held a dinner event called "Salo-salo sa Pasko para kay Isko", with the UP Singing Ambassadors as the main performers. Proceeds would go to these scholarships.

It's a good undertaking, especially with the high tuition fees (even in UP). I'm happy to have met members of the association who are eager to give better futures to the scholars, as the university had done to them. 

Anna and Ate Eleanor with XDS alumni and Dr. E. Roman, the current U.P. President

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Chocolate Kiss, U.P. Diliman

So that was what all the fuss was all about! Noan only had praises for the food. Now I understand.

After that drive up to UP Diliman, Anna and I were just famished. So before we had a taste of the famous cakes, we thought of eating something resembling lunch first. I had lugaw and tokwa't baboy while she had dinuguan with puto (and extra rice). Ate Eleanor arrived shortly after with Jon and Matt (and we were still waiting for the food). 

For dessert, Ate Eleanor got samplers of three cake flavours while the rest of us had the full-sized slices of other cakes. They were all GOOD! Dessert was definitely the highlight of my visit to Chocolate Kiss. If it weren't too far away, I'd be visiting often.

The sampler set with various flavours.

Kuya Ferdie's birthday celebration

After work, Kuya Ferdie gathered a few of us in the lab who were available to celebrate his birthday with him. The initial plan was to eat at a budget restaurant. However, we couldn't come up with a good restaurant for birthday purposes with that kind of price range. So Dara made the suggestion to eat at Mio Cucina (just outside UPLB, along Lopez Ave.) instead. There were six of us altogether and it was quite a challenge to seat us in the tiny restaurant. After everyone has squeezed in, Dara took charge of selecting the food... 

Dara, Crystal, Kuya Ferdie, Cindy, and Kuya Jun waiting for the food.
We ordered pako salad with white cheese and lemon vinaigrette. It was heavenly! The cheese was so creamy and readily melted in the mouth while the pako offered a contrast in texture with its rough leaves and stems. The vinaigrette, on the other hand, contributed a tang to the dish which was watered down by the hint of sweetness of the singkamas (Mexican turnip).

Pako salad

Then there's the steamed sole fish. Another winner! The sole was cooked just right; it wasn't tough and it wasn't too mushy that it'd fall off the serving spoon. The sauce enhanced the flavours already found in the fish, while the sprinkling of onion leaves gave a crunch to the otherwise soft dish.

Steamed sole fish

Chicken in pickles. Now that was the odd dish out... what a weird combination. However, it is a mix of flavours that worked out for me. The chicken meat was cooked to tender perfection; almost melting in one's mouth, if that were possible.

Chicken with pickles

Finally, a slab of beef with green olives. Dara was on a roll with the food choices. I definitely liked this one... the big selling point was: OLIVES! I'm one of the few people in the office who love eating olives.

Beef with olives

What a way to end a hectic week! 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Giant insect?!?

Walking back to my cubicle from the lab one sunny December afternoon, I saw this and I had to run to get my camera. The December sun sets a lot earlier, and I knew I would be losing my light fast! A few clicks, and I drew a sigh of relief; I caught it on camera...

It looks like the shadow of a giant insect!! Once again, I remembered Aragog (thanks to HP7's first installment). However, it is not what it seems...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Drive to U.P. Diliman (for the first time)

Overpass, underpass lang yan. 

That was what Daddy said to Biboy and me many years ago when he gave us instructions on going to UP Diliman via EDSA. Suffice it to say that we predictably took the wrong overpass and ended up lost for hours somewhere near Wack-Wack Village. We eventually found our way back to EDSA via Aurora Blvd., thankfully. After that misadventure many years ago, I normally go to Diliman via public transportation; never have I driven to the campus... I am intimidated by the traffic situation on EDSA (I could barely tolerate the Saturday evening southbound traffic from Ayala Ave.). 

2010. Anna and I went to UP Diliman on Saturday afternoon, with me behind the wheel (I had no choice). This time, we hit all the right roads. I didn't get lost along EDSA! Yey! Traffic wasn't so bad there that time, probably because I passed by while most people were staying in the malls. I had a good time driving, except for those pesky taxi drivers who insisted on cutting my lane even when theirs were empty. The Quezon Memorial Circle was a different story altogether though. Reckless and aggressive drivers (traffic violators!), particularly of public utility vehicles, all over the place and not a traffic enforcer or police enforcer in sight!! I wonder what it's like on a weekday... it must be much worse. 

We did get to UP Diliman in one piece. The only question was: How do we get out?

Joke time with Miggy

Miggy can speak in short sentences now. During lunch on Sunday, I got to listen to his joke for the first time. It went something like this:

Miggy: Anong sinabi ni Santa Claus?
Us: Ano?
Miggy: Ho, ho, ho.

Waah! Sakit sa ulo!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hong Kong sidetrip -- Night 3

Hong Kong (Nov 14, 2010) -- After seven days overseas, it was time to fly back to Manila. As we ate dinner while waiting for our evening flight, I reviewed the weekend's tour (that excludes Disneyland and Victoria Harbour) around Hong Kong.

City Tour Shopping
A part of the city tour we signed up for was the shopping stops. In this trip, there were two: JW Jewellery and Global Export Outlet, Ltd. Many pieces in the jewelry shop were beyond my price range, and it's not surprising that many tourists end up buying the cheapest of the lot (bracelets that are said to ward off arthritis and other joint pains). I got myself one, not to improve blood circulation, but because I found a pretty coiled two-colour bracelet among the mix. After buying this particular piece, I saw what I really wanted... a white-gold tennis bracelet. Here's the catch: it cost HKD 238,000. That's roughly P1.3M!! That's one Honda CR-V right there! Di bale na lang! The shocker of a tennis bracelet faded when we arrived at Global Export to buy pasalubong. Scooby Doo cookies caught my eye so I bought a packet, along with some potato chips. I didn't get other things because my luggage was already heavy, thanks to the tripod.

Victoria Peak
I think I missed this stop during the city tour... or did we actually stop? I was expecting a trip to the look-out point where we could see the view of the Kowloon side. Instead, I saw (expensive) residential areas of the Mid-Levels. Now those were real houses, not the high-rise buildings people stay in within city limits. 

The view from the Mid-levels

I understand the expensive part: there were a lot of trees and the area is cleaner than the rest of the city. The view of the central business district from the Mid-Levels reminded me of the overlooking view of Manila from Antipolo, only closer).  

Avenue of the Stars
Hong Kong's take on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Being exposed more to American movies, I wasn't star struck with the names of Asian film industry celebrities whose names and hand prints peppered the walk... until I saw JACKIE CHAN, JOHN WOO, BRUCE LEE, CHOW YUN-FAT, MICHELLE YEOH, and JET LI. 

I've been a fan of Jackie Chan since I saw In the Eagle's Shadow (1978); John Woo since Broken Arrow (1996), and Jet Li since Once Upon a Time in China (1991). I got acquainted with Chow Yun-Fat in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and with Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). And who in the world would not have heard of Bruce Lee?!?

Statue in honour of Bruce Lee at Avenue of the Stars

The harbour during the day wasn't as impressive as during the evening (it's all in the lighting). However, the avenue gives clear views of the different architectural styles on Hong Kong Island. Since we dropped by in November, the wind was becoming nippy, and yet it was still pleasant enough to walk while the sun was up.

Hong Kong traditional culture, up close and personal!!

Our tour guide said that Hong Kong got its name from the incense-smelling harbour of Aberdeen. As we approached the ferry station, we were met by sampans, flat-bottom wooden boats propelled by a motor, that would tour us around the floating village of Aberdeen's southern typhoon shelter. We rode one driven by a woman who barely talked with us. She just drove us round and round the village, showing the different aspects of life on the water. However, she did point at important things in the village.

Despite living in the floating village, these people are far from derelict. The sampan tours are a way to earn additional income during the times when the fishermen aren't out in the ocean. Their boathouses are equipped with the latest electronic devices, washing machines... I bet residents have internet connection and laptops on board as well. While these houses have trappings of modern life, the people still remain fishermen: the marks of the trade could still be seen on these boats. Fish are hung to dry and for tourists to gawk at. I wonder if the birds flying close by get to catch such easy prey. 

The floating village of Aberdeen against a backdrop of skyscrapers

Ocean Park
I was excited to visit this theme park the second time around. The last (actually, the first) time I was here, I was a high school freshman. At that time, the highlight of my trip to Ocean Park was the Raging River, a long and winding water ride through simulated rain forests culminating with a breath-taking (and drenching) slide. Of course, no trip to Ocean Park would be complete without a visit to the Atoll Reef; at the time, however, I wasn't too impressed not because it wasn't an awesome experience but because I just finished reading "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (Jules Verne, 1869) and I expected a submarine ride to see the reefs. The Middle Kingdom all made up for that though, because that part of the park brought visitors back to the old days of China... back when it was the Middle Kingdom.

Fast-forward to 2010 (16 years later)... I was raring to go back and see the Middle Kingdom one more time. I was excited to see the fish and I wanted to ride the Raging River again. The cable car ride was fun, I was amazed at how far up we were from the sea, and I thought I saw the yachts parked in Aberdeen's typhoon shelter. I was a bit sad that the polyglot parrot wasn't by the escalators anymore, but I was happy to see the Talking Tree and the Owl. There was a sea lion show by the Pacific Pier and there were goldfish in a pavilion. I realised that I had a much better appreciation of the Atoll Reef and the Chinese Sturgeon Aquarium than when I first visited. I didn't have a chance to ride the Raging River nor the Crazy Galleon, but I did ride the Ferris Wheel and the rotating deck (both gave fantastic views of the park and the sea). The highlight of this visit: GIANT PANDAS!!! It's my first time to see these gorgeous creatures up close. They were huge! Of course, there were red pandas roaming in a neighbouring enclosure. Hello, Master Shifu and Po! Now if I could find Master Oogway among all the animals in the zoo – ahem! – in Ocean Park!

Panda statues in Ocean Park
What a trip! Although I've enjoyed it, I think I'm ready to go round this city WITHOUT joining a tour group. Next time, I'm skipping Disneyland and Ocean Park, the Ladies' Market, and Victoria Harbour altogether. I will go to (1) the HK Space Museum in Kowloon, (2) the Giant Buddha statue on Lantau Island, (3) Hong Kong's nature trails.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hong Kong sidetrip -- Night 2

Hong Kong (Nov 13, 2010) -- Disneyland at night was MAGICAL! Indeed a place where dreams do come true!

Main Street, USA was dark and was clogged with people all looking towards Sleeping Beauty's castle by the time I stepped out of a souvenir shop. The fireworks had began! Each streak of light, each explosion, was perfectly timed to the music that made Disney cartoons the classics that they are. A fitting way to end a day in the park that was spent racing for boat rides, theatrical shows, and thrill rides (yes, including one involving honey pots). Every attraction reminded me of what I loved to watch as a child: Winnie the Pooh, the Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, Sleeping Beauty, and Mickey Mouse of course. I also had a go at zapping monsters with Buzz Lightyear, as well as listening to the orchestra under Donald Duck's baton.

The biggest set of fireworks obliterated the castle from view.

As the last of the fireworks overwhelmed my camera and as we walked back to the coach returning us to Tsuen Wan, I'd expected that the rest of the evening would go at a slower pace (after an exhausting afternoon in Disneyland); I was wrong. There's still the Ladies' Market in Mongkok that needed to be visited... a culture shock, perhaps, for someone unprepared to haggle big time. I braced for the chaotic scene of the market; not unlike Divisoria, only a lot more aggressive. The objective was to buy items at the lowest price; my mom prepared me for this... I enjoyed getting bargains; the shop owners seemed to enjoy challenging my bargaining skills. In the end, I got a shawl.

Another draining evening. But it was well worth it!

Hong Kong sidetrip -- Night 1

Hong Kong (Nov 12, 2010) -- We visited this bustling city over the weekend post-Hanoi. And what better way to start this part of the adventure than a trip to the famous Victoria Harbour? 

We were staying at the Dorsett Far East Hotel in Tsuen Wan (in the New Territories, north of Kowloon). As soon as we checked in, I did a quick recon trip around the area to know where the train station, the convenience stores, the parks, and the malls were in the vicinity. Later that evening, it was time to test what I'd learned from my walking tour because we were going to eat dinner near the Harbour, to celebrate Tita Dory's birthday.

A few bloopers here and there... but we finally arrived!

Hong Kong Island cityscape after the Symphony of Lights
The lights on Hong Kong island, as seen from the Kowloon side of the city, is nothing short of breath-taking. What caught my attention is the towering 2 International Finance Centre in Central... it was featured in The Dark Knight (2008), one of my favourite movies. The other buildings, I noticed later, were decked with colourful light, welcoming the Christmas season. One thing that surprised me was the presence of a familiar neon sign... there was no mistaking the San Miguel Beer font atop one of the buildings! Whoa! Now that's a global Pinoy brand!

Seeing the lights was just not enough; we had to go there. We rode the ferry to the Wanchai district; that's where the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre is found, along with the Golden Bauhinia monument. It was somewhere close to this spot where the United Kingdom return Hong Kong to mainland China back in July 1997. 

On our way back to the hotel, we were simply spent. The day began so early, what with a morning flight from Hanoi, a long queue at the immigrations section, the evening adventure along the harbour, and the long walk to the train station. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Google Map directions... just for kicks

This set of instructions from Carlo Sandoval is seriously funny. Have a go at it. =)

1. Go to Google Maps (
2. Go to "Get Directions"
3. Type "Taiwan" as the start location
4. Type "China" as the end location
5. Read STEP 23 of the directions
6. If you laughed, then repost this. =))

Your thoughts?

'Tis the season to be jolly

In anticipation of the big day, people in the lab have started the "Monito Monita" gift-giving activity. Basically, we drew lots to know who will be receiving our weekly gift. To add to the suspense, everyone had to give an alias. Weekly gifts should be at least P20 and must conform to the theme.

I have no idea who I picked; however, the alias makes for a lot of creative gifts. =) Example: on Monday, we need to give something long. The person I'm assigned to might be receiving something based on his/her code name.

The Christmas winds are yet to come but the UPLB campus is starting to feel the season as the giant Christmas tree and the Nativity scene appeared again. The photo on the left is of the tree (and the giant gifts) from last year... the prettiest so far. Would this year's tree top that?

Christmas tree, 2009

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):