Tuesday, January 31, 2012

lessons I learned in miscommunication

Lessons from the leadership course I took are applicable to everyday situations. Some lessons are abstract concepts that need time before they could be implemented; other lessons are ripe for the picking. One such lesson is the importance of communication skills.

Last week is what I'd call my "Miscommunications Week".

=^.^=

A family reunion was organized over lunch where everyone had to bring food. Two aunts volunteered to bring shrimp; to have variety with the food, I had to ask both of them to change the shrimp with something else and see who would agree. Since one aunt doesn't answer the phone, I communicated with one of her sons via SMS. Two days of asking if they could bring another food item yielded nothing. On the third day, I sent a more forceful message; at last, a response came: my aunt doesn't cook anything else but shrimp. So I told my cousin that it's okay; I then talked with the other aunt, who subsequently agreed to bring something else.

On the reunion day itself, not a shrimp arrived. My cousin did not bring anything to replace it. His excuse: since I had said that someone else was bringing shrimp, his mom didn't prepare anything anymore (however, I did say bring "something else"). He had effectively put the blame on me. Instead of reacting immediately, I probed a bit deeper... turned out that he wasn't really paying attention to my messages. It was a clear case of miscommunication.

=^.^=

One time, I was talking with a third aunt. She was sharing how she tells her staff about discipline and improving their lives. According to her, her staff thought that she was not sympathetic to their plight; she did not understand how difficult it is to rise above poverty. To prove that she understands where they're coming from, she made herself an example of someone who was able to improve her situation. In exasperation, she said that she couldn't understand why her staff still couldn't internalize what she was teaching them.

After listening to her story, I suggested that maybe what she was saying was right but HOW she was saying it to her staff wasn't. This may be why they're not receptive to what she was saying and why they keep taking a defensive stance. She claimed that she's sorry but she doesn't know how else to approach them; I hope she finds a better way, otherwise she won't be able to bring her message across. This, to me, is another case of miscommunication.

=^.^=

With these two anecdotes, I learned that miscommunication can concern the most mundane things (like the shrimp) or those that are potentially life-changing (like my aunt's teaching her staff to get themselves out of poverty). Also, the ultimate measure of success as a communicator is not in the message or in how that message was delivered; communication is successful only when one's message is accepted and understood properly by the intended audience. Hence, we need to be flexible about how we communicate. Just using a different approach might do the trick.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

My favorite things... six years later.

I had made a list of my favorite activities. Six years later, as I was listening to the cast of the Sound of Music sing about their favorite things, I started thinking: what do I love to do now? I'm adding to the old list because I had fun reading what I've written a long time ago. I haven't changed a lot, I realized... My favorite things six years ago are still true today except that I just don't have the co-hosting stint for Rotary at Your Service anymore.

Taking the road less traveled (and getting lost while at it).
I've got this road map that I take with me when traveling in the Philippines. When I have enough time and fuel, I normally go through the secondary roads rather than the main highway. Naturally, I've been lost quite a few times... sometimes with my now 95-year old grandma in tow. The adventures I've been on! Seeing Mount Malarayat behind sunflower-lined roads; the emerald rice fields between Tiaong, Quezon and Padre Garcia, Batangas; the sunrise over faraway mountains in Central Luzon; the sunset while under the lengthening shadow under the trees somewhere between Balagtas and Batangas City, Batangas; the city lights of Makati City; the view of coconut trees along the Mak-Ban road; the unknown spring I passed while lost deep in the mountains of Cavinti, Laguna.

This penchant for taking the unbeaten path puts my brother's and my father's driving skills to the test when I'm navigating family road trips. Once, in an attempt to avoid the holiday traffic jam, we left the freeway and drove through the back roads, literally. We saw acres and acres of farmland and lots of heads of cattle with only the occasional barn piercing the foggy skies.

Thankfully, I've always been kept safe when I get lost, and my family too when I get them lost.

Photographing landscapes (and going to great lengths to get them).
Who wouldn't, with a view like this?


To take this photo of a beach in La Union, I hiked a rocky ledge and took the shot while sitting on an unfinished staircase on top of that ledge. That is, after my physical therapist saying that I'm not supposed to exert effort on my injured right foot.

(Window) Shopping.
Friends say that I could smell a sale because I get good deals when I buy clothes and shoes. I've learned my bargain-hunting shopping skills from one the best: my Mom. It takes patience and the urge not to buy items when they're still full price. On weekends, on my way to the grocery, I normally wander around my favorite stores just to check out what I'd like to buy when the seasonal sale comes along or to search the clearance racks... or I go to the factory outlets close by.

Dinner with my peer group.
This is a recent development. In the leadership course I took, we were grouped for a period of active learning. My group met almost every other week to discuss how we applied what we learned in class and challenges we face when what we wanted done didn't work out. Since most of my friends from school have left Los Banos, being with them is the first time in a long while that I felt I have friends aside from my lab-mates. After the course, we decided to continue meeting; I'm looking forward to have dinner with them again.

Drinking steaming hot chocolate milk on a cold day.
Yum yum! I love hot chocolate. But I never knew how much I appreciate having one until I, who's always been in the tropics, arrived in a strange new city, in the middle of winter, without a friend to talk with. Sad and cold, I still opted to drink cold chocolate with whipped cream in a cafe one weekend (something I used to do with cousins every Sunday). While I settled into a couch, a server dropped by to let me try a cup of the cafe's hot choco milk with a marshmallow... it was heavenly! From then on, every time I felt sad, I'd drop by that cafe specifically for the hot chocolate milk and the marshmallow. Many years later, I still get the hot chocolate on cold days... I buy the packets of powdered chocolate with the mini-marshmallows in them. Yum yum!

As I've written down many years ago, I'm writing my favorite things to remind me of what I am thankful for. Thinking about my favorite things and knowing that someday I'll enjoy reading this, makes me look forward to the year when I write about them again.

When a rough day comes, I recall Maria's song: "I simply remember my favorite things and then I don't feel so sad."

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Sound of Music at Resorts World Manila

The show was awesome!

I've seen The Sound of Music several times already, both onstage and in film (most of the time in film), but the presentation at Resorts World Manila was different.

The production attempted to bring the audience right where the scenes happened through computer-generated imagery: over the hills, under the trees, by the fountain... These animated backdrops were projected via the big screen behind the set. On some occasions, the animation blended right into the scene. As the nuns ponder how to hold a moonbeam in their hands, water continuously flowed at the fountain in the abbey's garden. While Captain von Trapp, Elsa, and Max were talking in the gardens, the view of the mountains and the gardens were kept alive by the fountain and the flight of birds.

However, there were some scenes where the animated backdrop did not work as well as they should, in my opinion. In particular, these are the scenes where the pixels of the images are most pronounced because the backdrops are moving; such as the panning shots of the Alps as Maria sings about the hills being alive thanks to the sound of music or the shots of the town and the cobblestone road leading to the von Trapp property. The movement of the backdrops was quite disconcerting because they reminded me of video games. But that's just me.

Despite the distractions from the backdrop, I enjoyed watching the performances of all the actors in the play. Audie Gemora and Joanna Ampil led the cast during the January 22 matinee as Captain von Trapp and Maria. The little girl who played Gretl was so cute! Normally, I'd find the minor characters forgettable but comedian Leo Martinez stole the spotlight from the others in his scenes as Max Detweiler. It's the first time I've seen him in theater.

Then there's the musicians. The orchestra was off-stage but the production people opted to show it via screens on stage left and stage right. The audience then knew that they're watching a musical with live accompaniment. Plus, focusing on the orchestra was a good way of diverting the audience's attention from the stage during scene changes.

As promised by Carl, the guy who assisted my aunt and me when we bought tickets, there are no bad seats in the house. Indeed, the view from the balcony is good (unlike in other theaters where the performers are tiny when seen from the balcony) and I bet the seats right up front are even better.

I'm so glad I caught The Sound of Music at Resorts World Manila before it ends its run on February 12, 2012.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Celine Dion, Taking Chances World Tour (the Concert, 2010)

After watching Celine Dion's "Through the Eyes of the World" documentary on cable tv recently, I wanted to get a copy of her Taking Chances CD. However, instead of just the CD, I opted to get the concert recording (this CD came with a DVD of the Boston concert, I think) because some of my favorite songs are included in her set list.

I've noticed that the last few CDs I bought were mostly connected to the artists' concert tours (Sting, Maroon 5, and now Celine Dion).

Celine Dion performed "Because You Loved Me" and "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" in a medley, "The Prayer" in a duet with Andrea Bocelli, and "My Heart Will Go On" as the last song in the CD (I don't know if it's the last song in the accompanying DVD). I've associated these songs to memories.

"There were moments of gold and there were flashes of light. There were things that I'd never do again but then they'd always seemed right."
"You're the one who held me up, never let me fall. You're the one who saw me through it all."

"Because You Loved Me" and "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" both remind me of dark cloudy skies and cold weather while riding bikes with my cousins in Burnham Park, Baguio City. These two songs were the hits during our road trip and were heard over and over again via the Park's overhead loudspeakers. It was also about this same time when I used to play soccer. Hence, every time I hear these songs, I also recall hazy views, the smell of freshly mown grass, and the squelch of soccer shoes on muddy ground. And the vision of a soccer ball zooming straight to my face. Since then, I have enjoyed soccer from the bleachers.

"Love can touch us one time and last for a lifetime and never let go 'til we're gone."

Then there's "My Heart Will Go On". It is iconic, being one of the songs in the 1997 movie "Titanic". I remember my older cousins gush about the plot repeatedly; they watched the movie in the cinema several times. While listening to this song, I also recall being seated on giant slabs of flat rocks somewhere in Mount Makiling after a morning of hiking while classmates mimic a famous line from the movie, "Is anyone alive out there?"

"I pray we'll find your light and hold it in our hearts when stars go out each night."

When I hear "The Prayer" I remember something more recent, and not happy at all: being one of the musicians in a fund-raising concert dedicated to colleagues who were in advanced stages of cancer. Opening the concert with this song was timely because hours before the concert was the funeral of one of the cancer patients. It was not just a song; it was a prayer for comfort for family and friends in mourning.

I agree with what David Pomeranz wrote in "The Old Songs": "Maybe the old songs will bring up the old times. Maybe the old lines will sound new." As I listened to Taking Chances, Celine Dion did succeed in making me go down through memory lane. The older songs in the line up did not sound old at all. They fit right in with the newer songs in her concert line-up. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

replacing my rose-colored glasses?

A few weeks of blurred vision and difficulty driving at night finally convinced me to have my eyes checked out. My pair of eyeglasses is two years old, so I thought it's a good time to have it replaced. At the shop, the optometrist took me through the paces of the eye exam and confirmed that the grade of my glasses have gone up: both for astigmatism and nearsightedness. Then came my favorite part: choosing the frame! I always get the ultra-thin, multicoated lenses to fit into smaller frames. The new pair is not available in the shop since the lenses have to be ordered. So now I wait. 

While in the shop, I remember the idiom "wearing rose-colored glasses" which means having an optimistic outlook in life. From what I gather from what a friend has told me years back, I'm the girl who has that attitude, who seem to have always lived in a tower, just like Rapunzel probably. He said it like such an attitude was a bad thing, but is it, really? Is choosing to look at the bright side of life or always looking for something positive out of a seemingly hopeless situation supposed to be bad?

Searching for the answer, I bumped into a news feature in PhyOrg.com about a 2009 psychology study from the University of Toronto. The article caught my attention because it was entitled "People who wear rose-colored glasses see more, says study". According to this paper, our moods change the way we perceive the world because of changes in the way the brain, the visual cortex specifically, registers the information.  Based on their observations, the authors posit that people with good moods tend to see more of the world. They tend to see the foreground and the background. While this seems like a good situation, seeing everything also leads to distraction. On the other hand, the authors say that people with bad moods tend to see less of the background and more of the foreground. They are more focused on the task at hand.

Hmm... people who see the world through rose-colored glasses may tend to see patterns, to see integration, to see systems (more on what I'm learning about systems thinking in a future post). Perhaps, they even see organization in chaos. But does this mean that when the glasses are off, people see less of the world? That they see less of their surroundings? That they see more of the minute details?

One thing's for certain. When I was finishing a book chapter edit for a mid-morning deadline, I was in such a bad mood that it surprised the people around me (who are used to my good mood). I'm not sure though if the bad mood resulted from me having to concentrate in the midst of chaos or if the bad mood actually helped me to concentrate. When I'm in a good mood, I take a lot of good colorful photos. And while I do need to concentrate while shooting and editing videos or constructing slide presentations, they turn out prettier when I am in a good mood. I couldn't work on them when I'm grumpy.

So anyway, here are the details of the article (the link leads to the paper's abstract):

Schmitz, T.W., E. de Rosa, and A.K. Anderson. 2009. Opposing influences of affective state valence on visual cortical encoding. Journal of Neuroscience 29(22): 7199-7207.  

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Of course the title had to be more psychology-speak. What was I expecting? I think my nose is going to bleed after all that technical jargon in the title.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

how to finish vehicle registrations at the LTO in under two hours

For the past few years, I've always stayed at the Land Transportation Office (LTO) for several hours either for vehicle registration or for driver's license renewal. At the worst, I spent more than five hours waiting for my registration papers to be processed (this was before the rule against "fixers" inside the LTO was enforced) AND the time I had to get a replacement for my license card... which, at the end of the day, misspelled my name.

Today, I am glad to note, that I finished the whole process of vehicle registration in 1 hr 40 mins, my best time yet. If you're tired of spending more than half a day in registering your vehicle, these few tips might help:

NOTE: These are all based on my experiences only. If you have other ideas, please feel free to post a comment at the end of the post.

  • A few days before registration, renew or sign up for the vehicle's compulsory third-party liability insurance (TPL).
That should give your insurance agent enough time to process and mail the current policy to you. There should be two copies: one for you and one for the LTO (the one with the certification printout right in front). If you don't have a TPL policy by registration day, just sign up for one with agents within the LTO compound. I don't know if processing is fast there but time spent getting the insurance policy will definitely add to the processing time.
  • On registration day itself, head over to the LTO Calamba Satellite Office.
There are other offices of course. I've gone to three of them for vehicle registration. The Calamba office has got to be the most efficient among the different branches I've been to. Aside from relatively short waiting times, I like the way the staff there treat their clients. Maybe I'm just lucky with timing; each time I'm there, the front-line people are friendly and the officers don't get irritated. But then again, I must be very lucky to see these every time.
  • Start with the registration process after lunch or mid-afternoon (even better).
Doing so allows you to successfully avoiding everyone who wants to finish before lunch but whose papers are still in the queue in the afternoon. The FREE parking lot is less crowded too! Of course, you run the risk of not meeting the cut-off time; it's your call. Better check with the LTO about the cut-off time.
  • Alternatively, be in the LTO vicinity very early in the morning.
As soon as the systems are turned on, join the queue. Or line up as the LTO employees log in for the day. Just expect a whole lot of people there. For this one, you risk waiting longer because a lot of people are having their papers processed too. Plus, it's more difficult to find a parking space within the LTO compound. There are parking spaces outside, but they charge a fee.
  • Go to an emissions testing facility accredited by the LTO branch you're registering in.
I've had the mistake last year of getting the test done in a facility outside the LTO compound in an effort to complete all documents and tests before going into the compound. The officer checking the registration form then told me to have the car reevaluated by another testing company. I don't know if the first facility I went to is not accredited or if the officer just trusted the results from the second one. To shorten the process this year, I went to the second one directly. The first one was closed so early in the afternoon when I drove by.
  • Bring the vehicle's documents: originals of the Certificate of Registration and the Official Receipt of last year's registration.
Be prepared with photocopies of them too so you don't have to line up at the photocopying machine. Don't forget to bring the LTO copy of the TPL policy. The guys at the emission testing center organized the documents and instructed me to submit them directly to the LTO registration desk.
Once the documents are submitted, there's nothing more to do than to wait to be called for payment and collection of registration stickers. This may be the longest wait in the whole process, especially if there's a lot of people registering at the same time. Since this part of the process is no longer in your hands, just find ways to pass the time...

Come prepared to wait with a book, a portable music player, a tablet/ laptop computer, or a few munchies. Watch the afternoon soap in the waiting area. Or strike up a conversation with fellow applicants (if you're brave and really sociable). Or just enjoy people-watching. If you don't want to stay in the waiting area, there's should be a canteen close by; you can still hear your name being called via the PA system from there.

Of course, the pace for registration is fast if there's no problem with the vehicle's registration documents or with the LTO online system. Expect a longer wait if issues from either of these two crop up. To see more information about the LTO and the registration process, please visit the LTO Updates Website.

Good luck!

Friday, January 20, 2012

dinner at Josephine's

Right after the Calaruega visit, we went to Josephine's for dinner. Unfortunately, Taal Lake was too dark for our friend, Mandiaye, to see the world-famous volcano. But no matter... we were at one of the best restaurants in the area (sans the main attraction: the view). 

With all the diet restrictions we had, we ended up with a unique dinner combination: bulalo, sinigang na bangus, and grilled bangus with java rice, garlic rice, and plain rice. Eating at Josephine's never fails to amaze me: each meal there is a different experience! 

But thanks to Ate Grace, there's one constant in my visits to Josephine's. I always order guinumis, the drink that she had introduced to me when she was in the Philippines last year.

The description from the Josephine's menu for guinumis is:

"Tapioca and pinipig (rice crispies) drizzled with coconut milk and caramel syrup topped with shaved ice."

People say that it's a perfect refreshment during the summer, but for me, it's also a good drink/ dessert on the chilly evening that we were there. 

This dinner in Josephine's was a time of a lot of good food shared with good friends. I've always enjoyed eating at this restaurant. I sure hope that my friends enjoyed our dinner there too.

Now, if only I didn't forget to buy those tahong chips by the entrance...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

impromptu visit to Caleruega

I've always said that if I go out in the afternoon on a whim, I end up in Tagaytay City or in tourist destinations close to it. This was one of those instances. With a few friends in tow, I went to visit Caleruega in Nasugbu, Batangas.





The flowers in bloom may be less colorful but the place still has that relaxing atmosphere that never fails to make me feel at peace... and according to the place's slogan, "closer to God".

My friends, who came prepared with SLRs, took the opportunity to take lots of photos of landscapes and of flowers. I wasn't as prepared as they were so I just took in most of the view WITHOUT taking pictures. After all, I went here on a whim, not for a photo shoot.



Obviously, however, I couldn't take the photography bug off me. I just had to take photos, especially of the great views of farmland and mountains that could be seen at the peak of the Caleruega camp site. And so, in lieu of an SLR, I just contented myself with the camera in my mobile phone.


The impromptu photography trip ended when the sun set over the mountains visible from Caleruega. As the twilight started to deepen, we made our way back to Tagaytay City.

Another serene golden afternoon in one of my favorite quiet spots in this part of the world.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

unraveling the mystique of Isdaan

As the leadership course I was in wound down to a close last week, the participants, the resource people, and the organizers went to Isdaan Restaurant in Calauan, Laguna to celebrate.


Since its construction stages, I have been curious about this restaurant because the giant sculptures kept on changing. At the earliest stages, I thought I was seeing a statue of a gorilla. A few weeks later, I'd realized that I must have made a mistake because I was looking at a Buddha statue. Then later on, that statue seemed to have magically transformed into a Hindu mermaid princess!






The restaurant is certainly a crowd drawer. From what I'm hearing, people need to make reservations to make sure that they have a table on the day that they're visiting. It's nothing to wonder at though: there are so many things to see in Isdaan aside from eating. It isn't just a convenient stop over from the monotony of the road. It is also a destination in itself.

To prove this point, there is a stress-relieving activity in the restaurant -- if one's willing to pay. For Php 20, one can throw plates at a wall to release all that pent up anger. If feeling a bit more exasperated, there's also a tv screen that can be tossed, for a higher fee, of course.


Honestly though, the sound of smashing plates is not very comforting for me. I always cringe; it's a good thing that my group was seated away from this attraction. The sounds of the crashing plates were replaced by the occasional Filipiniana-clad trios who offered a few songs and by the drumbeats of the Ati-Atihan dance troop.

Also, we were seated closer to the souvenir shops. With the many items to choose from, it's quite obvious that this restaurant is designed as a major tourist attraction. Up for sale: beaded slippers, printed shirts, live plants, woven shoes... the list goes on.


With all these attractions, it's easy to forget about the food. In my case, I wasn't really blown away with the taste. Perhaps I was underwhelmed because we got steamed vegetables, grilled meat, fried fish -- food that could cater to almost any dietary restriction -- that were not really as tasty as I imagined food in such a restaurant would be. However, I did like the vegetarian noodles and the leche flan a lot.

All in all, my first visit to Isdaan was a pleasant experience... well, more than pleasant, I guess. It was a string of whoa! moments for me because of the sights and the sounds. If I hadn't been to the Tarlac branch, I would've said that I couldn't imagine something like this being in the Philippines.

I'll eat there again someday. I shall return.

Monday, January 16, 2012

what happened in Vegas... got blogged

Las Vegas was home away from home, away from home for a weekend. Aside from watching KA and the Lion King, going round the factory outlets, and eating at hotel buffets and at Asian restaurants, my family also walked the long stretch of the Las Vegas Blvd.

When I first visited the USA a few years back, the pilot of my Denver-Oakland evening flight announced that if we were lucky, we would be able to catch a good view of the lights of Las Vegas, particularly of the light beam from Luxor's pyramid. At the time, I wasn't able to see the lights but I got curious because the lights must be very bright to be recognizable in the dark. 

The pilot of that flight had been right. On this latest trip, I was amazed at how bright the Strip is at night! All buildings seem to be on fire because of all the light bulbs -- it was like (and much brighter than) driving by Concha Cruz Street in BF Homes Paranaque during Christmas time many many years ago!

View of the Las Vegas Strip from the overpass near the MGM Grand.

Aside from enjoying the lights of Las Vegas, we also visited the famous dancing fountains of the Bellagio. I've seen it on television and in the movies on several occasions, but being there -- right by the sidewalk -- was a whole different experience altogether. Then, of course, there's the outdoor pirate show at Treasure Island; unfortunately, I wasn't able to get there early enough to catch the last show.

The beauty of being on the Strip, rather than inside the hotels, was that we were able to stop by the food outlets: The Coca-Cola and the M&M stores.

Coca-Cola is such a popular brand. But I didn't know how popular and how diverse its products lines are until I've tried the Around the World sampler set: 16 cups of Coca-Cola products from different countries. All I can say about it is that I don't understand why the different colas taste the way they were. Some I didn't like, because of the bitterness; some were okay but had weird tastes that threw me off. Since I am a food taste tester, I shouldn't sulk at the flavors that didn't agree with my palette; it was a good experience for me.

The Coca-Cola around the world taste test challenge.

My last stop in Las Vegas before heading off the airport was the M&M store. Once in, I thought that this must be what being inside the Goya Fun Factory is like! I admit, I'm an 80's kid.

In the store there's a wall full of different flavors of M&Ms. I've never seen that much real chocolate in my whole life! I then started wondering where my M&M dispenser was back home... I wanted to refill it with chocolate as soon as I got back.

Wall to wall M&Ms!

If there's one thing I've learned about Las Vegas, it is this: this city may be called the Sin City and may be largely rated parental guidance or R-18, but there are some attractions that are kid-friendly and cater to people who are into more wholesome activities.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Filipino food right on the Las Vegas Strip

A catch up post, yet again...
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The advantage of having Ate Grace and Kuya Nat arrive ahead in Las Vegas is that they were able to search for good places to eat. :) And so on my last day in Las Vegas, they recommended to Mommy and Daddy a restaurant in the Hawaiian Marketplace called Kapit Bahay Filipino Fast Food. I was so surprised to see a Filipino restaurant smack in the center of the Las Vegas Strip! 

The restaurant setting was very different from the formal and the buffet restaurants we've eaten in. It's typical of the restaurants I go to in the Philippines (the office cafeteria, for example): just point at the food you fancy from a few selections in a glass case. The server puts them in bowls, gives you a plate with cupfuls of rice, allows you to collect your bottled beverage from the nearby fridge, and then collects your payment at the end of the queue. The only difference between Kapit Bahay and the restaurants I normally eat at is the size of the serving. Kapit Bahay's servings are larger than of the local restaurants.

At the time of the day we were there, I wasn't surprised that only a few people were eating. After all, with the city really beginning to be alive at dusk, I expect a lot of people to still be asleep so early in the day. With only a few people there, I had breakfast with a good view of the MGM Grand's Cirque du Soleil billboard for KA.

I'm happy that Filipinos have brought our food to different corners of the world. Though our cuisine may not be as popular as other Asian cuisines, having these little restaurants in foreign cities will certainly help the culture gain attention through food. Plus, these restaurants certainly help Filipinos abroad have a sense of home, away from home.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

big healthy breakfast at Morucci's

And a third catch up article... This one's about food, for a change.
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Tired of greasy burger patties and fries? Biboy, Mommy, and Daddy were. So instead of introducing me to typical diner food on my first hour in the USA, they drove me to Walnut Creek to eat at Morucci's, an Italian deli. 

There were so many choices of sandwiches that it was very confusing. I ended up with the avocado, sprouts, and cheese sandwich... and I absolutely loved it! I was just intimidated by the breadth. It's huge! I think it's equivalent to about a burger and a half in the Philippines. Despite the huge size, the sandwich was light and not overly filling. The avocado added creaminess to the crunchiness of the sprouts. Both cheese and sprouts contributed to the flavor of the sandwich. The restaurant was true to its slogan: "The food is good". 

I started my vacation with a healthy meal. This set the tone of the rest of my eating experiences during my recent vacation. My family brought me to restaurants that had a lot of healthy options and had various cultural themes during my trip. We ate at a diner only once, and we ate fastfood only a few times: Jollibee breakfast and In-n-Out lunch during my brief stay, and then McDonald's take out for my trip back to Manila.

Morucci's -- Si Mangia Bene!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

a day at the Grand Canyon West

Still playing catch up on my travel posts...
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Where the Diamond Bar Road ends is where the Grand Canyon West begins. Private vehicles are not allowed beyond the parking lot, so to reach the viewpoints and the SkyWalk, tourists have to take the hop-on-hop-off shuttle from the Visitors' Center. Tourists there are given a few options depending on their budget; in our case, we opted for the Legacy Gold Package. The $87.81 per person (tax inclusive) rate includes visits to the viewpoints and entry to the SkyWalk. The meal was included in the bill too.

Eagle Point
At first glance, I didn't get why this place was called the "Eagle Point". I saw robins and ravens, but no eagles (yet). I got Biboy's telephoto lens ready just in case I see interesting wildlife while at this site. Indeed, the wildlife is very different from what I'd see in the tropics: I was on all fours chasing after squirrels and what looked like mayas on the grounds. But the biggest animal of all was staring at us the whole time across the river and we never noticed...

Eagle Point
The eagle's wings outstretched.

... until the photographer at the SkyWalk pointed it out.

There are other highlights in Eagle Point too: an ampitheater where the Hualapai demonstrate traditional dances and a teepee (but I'm not sure if it's for tourists or it acts as the backstage for the performers).

Grand Canyon West SkyWalk
Perhaps because I've experienced Cebu's SkyWalk Extreme, I felt that the Grand Canyon West version wasn't so scary. I mean, we didn't have to wear a jumpsuit and we were not attached to a safety cable in  the Grand Canyon West. All we did for glass safety was to put on booties! I wonder what happens when the wind blows fast here.

Lockers are provided for storage of personal items. Bags, cameras, and even coins and keys are not allowed up at the SkyWalk. To ensure that there are no stowaways in people's pockets, visitors pass through a metal detector before being set free to walk on the glass.

family pic
Group shot before we went to the SkyWalk.

Along the ramp to the SkyWalk are trivia about how the structure was built, the forces it can withstand, and how far people are from the bottom. For people who love adventure, these tidbits heighten the excitement. For people who fear what lay ahead (and were there on a dare), the information just might fuel their fear. At the end of the ramp: open sky! We were so high up! Just to put things into perspective, from one's viewpoint at the SkyWalk, helicopters halfway to the water on the other side of the canyon look like dragonflies! The SkyWalk is a fascinating place to be on, specially because one can look down through the floor and see the water or just shadows (depending on the time of day). Nevertheless, people with a fear of high places may still feel queasy at seeing the Colorado River about 4,000 feet below their feet AND with only a few inches of glass preventing them from falling.

Guano Point

The second viewpoint at Grand Canyon West is called Guano Point. According to the historical marker, this is where people used to mine guano (bat dung) for industrial uses. Relics from the mine's heyday are still standing at the edge of one of the cliffs.

Climbing "Highpoint Hike" is worth the effort because the summit offers an uninterrupted 360-degree view of the Grand Canyon West. The Colorado River is much more visible here than at Eagle Point because the canyon is much wider here. The ruggedness of the terrain is also much clearer here because of the vantage point. It's fascinating, for me, to see that the mountains comprising the Grand Canyon are flat topped. The river appears to have carved its way through the mountains, leaving all those striations on the sides of the mountains.

View of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River from
 "Highpoint Hike" in Guano Point.

Aside from the hike, Guano Point also has a canteen. The food there was really good. Since the eating area is outdoors, the temperature can go really low, really fast. So it's best to bring thermal gloves, bonnets, and jackets, particularly in winter even when there's no snow. 

Biboy and I had a field day staying on the edge while our parents had hypertensive attacks. Hehehe.

me at Guano Point
That's really me sitting on the edge of the canyon. No stunt doubles.
No optical illusion. Just a clean drop. Photo taken by Biboy. 

There's another viewpoint called Hualapai Ranch. We opted not to go there since the sun was on its way down by the time we got back to the Visitors' Center. We still had about 30 miles of unpaved road to drive on, plus about a hundred more miles before we got back to Las Vegas. 

Even as the sun was setting, the view was still stunning! The landscape became one big silhouette while the sky took on and indigo orange hues. Their silhouettes made the Joshua trees even more noticeable in the darkening horizon.

Joshua trees in shadow
Joshua trees in silhouette.

Anyway, aside from the tours at Grand Canyon West, the more adventurous visitors can also stay at the Hualapai Lodge for a day of whitewater rafting. I would've loved to go for it but I got there during the off-season. The rafting adventure is available from March to October only; I missed it by just a month! 

Friday, January 6, 2012

the road to the Grand Canyon looked familiar...

After reviewing my posts, I realized that I barely wrote anything about the Las Vegas and Grand Canyon legs of my recent vacation. I'm writing them now in case I get flooded by more stuff to write about.

First up: my Grand Canyon road trip.
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I've wanted to go to the Grand Canyon since I received a Crayola coloring book with drawings of cliffs that take on different hues; it's the very same coloring book which taught me how to draw a dinosaur, a bat, and and alligator. :) As luck would have it, I did go to the Grand Canyon with the family; I thank Ate Grace and Mommy for organizing this road trip of ours.

Our starting point was Las Vegas NV. We rented a minivan there the day after we watched KA. Armed with Ate Grace's list of directions, Biboy's iPad (with Google maps) and his wifi hotspot of an Android smartphone, we turned our backs to the city and took the road to the outback the Mojave Desert.

I'd only seen the red desert of Australia and golden desert of Central Asia from miles above, through airplane windows, which was why I was excited to be on the ground in a desert this time around. We stayed on the Interstate (I-215 East) and then US Route 93 for about an hour. Then, we took a left on Pierce Ferry Road. That road is one of the most scenic that I've ever been too! On both sides of the highway stood a whole "forest" of Joshua trees while in front of us was what I call the "tail end" of the Grand Canyon.

Wow! The imposing mountains in front of us were amazing! That was exactly how we all reacted (Ate Grace was with us too) when we first laid eyes on the rice terraces of Hungduan, Ifugao (prettier that Banaue, in my opinion) in April 2000.

The desert road leads to the Grand Canyon, Arizona.

After the first few miles, the shock and the awe started to wear off. We were getting tired of the barren mountains, and the dusty road, and the flat highway... AND the loss of AT&T network reception. Even my internationally roaming phone couldn't catch a signal! Not knowing how much further the next leg of the trip was, Biboy started worrying about the fuel level on our rented Nissan Quest.

Thirty-ish miles along Pierce Ferry Road, we finally found the next turn: Diamond Bar Road. The adventure finally began... we were off the grid and off road! The view unveiled as we drove along the unpaved road became even better than we expected!

The closer we came to the Grand Canyon West, the more rugged the road and the cliffs became. The mountains were still barren but the details of the rock formations became a lot clearer than when were farther off.

Mojave desert terrain
Wilder terrain along Diamond Bar Road, Arizona.

Vehicles traversing the rough patches of road stirred up lots of dust, very similar to the road leading to San Miguel, Padre Garcia, Batangas when I was a kid. Driving along Diamond Bar Road certainly brought back good memories from childhood.

Aside from childhood memories of roads and surprising landscapes in the Philippines, I couldn't shake off the feeling that I'd already seen the road to the Grand Canyon before. Even after I've come back home, there's this nagging feeling that the road and the view should be something I know.

It finally came to me while I was watching Cars on cable tv. The route we took to the Grand Canyon had similar terrain to the "mother road" that leads to Radiator Springs and to the interstate that bypasses Radiator Springs all together. I'm amazed at how an animated movie could familiarize people to something totally foreign to them (like the desert to me, who lives in the tropics).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

science behind choosing plates... and spoons

My attempt at photographing my
New Year's Eve meal.
I've always loved looking at dinnerware in department stores, dreaming that someday, I'll be buying myself a set of white Bormioli Roccos or Corelles or Luminarcs. I don't know... somehow, the food always look more delicious on plain tempered glass dishes with clean backgrounds. Just take a look at the plating styles of all the yummy food at the photoble section on food photography

See? They all look so tasty! 

Notice the background? No? Exactly.

Then there's the cutlery. I like flatware that have minimalist designs, that are durable and are not heavy... and yes, I prefer them to be made of metal. Unlike the dinnerware, I have yet to identify a favorite brand for flatware. However, I particularly like the set used at La Cocina de Tita Moning. I doubt that I could get the same flatware though; the utensils are part of an antique collection! 

I used to think that the my preferences for my tableware all depended on my taste as the table-setter. But it appears that there is a science behind my choices. I came across two articles by Piqueras-Fiszman et al. about how the choice of dinnerware and cutlery affect how the food is perceived by the consumer. 

As the saying goes: "First impressions last." In food presentation, I guess this involves setting the right background for the food so all the good visual features pop. According to Piqueras-Fiszman et al. (1), strawberry mousse desserts served on white plates were more flavorful than the same desserts served on black plates. I am therefore definitely sticking with white plates. Taste is not only affected by the sense of smell; it's affected by the sense of sight too!

The dining experience does not end with ogling at the food, though. People have to actually eat it using some utensils. In my case, I use the spoon and the fork. This is why a second article by Piqueras-Fiszman et al. caught my attention (2). The article says that the metal coating of the spoon affects the taste of creams of different tastes. The authors found out that zinc and copper spoons enhanced the dominant flavors of creams while adding some metallic flavors, all without deteriorating the acceptability of the food. They also found out that the spoons I'm using, the stainless steel ones, did nothing to the creams' tastes. And so I wonder: is it better to stay with stainless steel spoons because they keep the foods' tastes true, or should I switch to copper spoons which enhance dominant flavors and add a few hints of metal?

I cannot believe that table-setting can become even more complicated than I thought!

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References:

(1) Piqueras-Fiszman, B., J. Alcaide, E. Roura, and C. Spence. 2012. Is it the plate or is it the food? Assessing the influence of the color (black or white) and shape of the plate on the perception of the food placed on it. Food Quality and Preference 24(1): 205-208.

(2) Piqueras-Fiszman, B., Z. Laughlin, M. Miodownik, and C. Spence. 2012. Tasting spoons: Assessing how the material of a spoon affects the taste of the food. Food Quality and Preference 24(1): 24-29.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

would you eat in the dark?

"Tonight, you will enjoy a delicious gourmet meal without your primary sense of sight."
I was reminded of the movie "When in Rome" (2010) when I came across the article "Dining in the dark: How uncertainty influences food acceptance in the absence of light" because of the pitch black restaurant scene.

It appears that eating in complete darkness is popular in some cities in Europe and North America. In these restaurants, consumers are challenged to test their sense of taste or are invited to let their other senses take over the sense of sight during the meal. But does eating the food in the dark affect its acceptability to consumers?

The authors of the article, using two food products, found out that it DEPENDS... If the food can easily be recognized even in the dark, then it will be accepted by consumers. Foods that are difficult to identify in the dark do not enjoy the same easy acceptance from consumers. Maybe the survival instinct kicks in when people attempt to eat in the dark. If they know that the food is safe to eat, they have a go at it; if they couldn't decide because of the lack of visual clues, they become more reluctant to eat the unfamiliar. Feeding the temporarily blind can possibly be quite a challenge to the adventurous gourmet chef.

I'm intrigued. Just imagine how different the eating experience would be without lights... I'm sure that the acoustic, the tactile, and the flavor characteristics would be heightened. Eating in a pitch black environment will definitely be an interesting experience.

I'll try it as long as there's no seafood in the menu.

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The article can be found in Food Quality and Preference 24: 209-212.

The authors are:
Brian Wansink & Mitsuru Shimizu (Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University), Armand V. Cardello & Alan O. Wright (US Army Natick Soldier R,D&E Center).

Monday, January 2, 2012

reliving Cirque du Soleil's Totem experience through music

My mom and the Totem banner outside the Grand Chapiteau
during the post-performance photo op.
After the Totem performance, I just had to get a copy of the souvenir program for my scrapbook. Luckily, the cashier at the souvenir shop said that I could get the CD with the souvenir program with the promo; so I did. A few weeks back at home, I finally got around to looking into the pockets of my suitcase. When I saw the CD with all the mementos I collected during my vacation, I thought I should listen to it when I drive. And so I did...

The soundtrack features fourteen songs from Totem. I honestly have no idea what the lyrics mean because they're not in English but the rhythm was enough to bring back my memories of watching the show. The composers were so successful in blending different genres together that it was difficult to dissect the songs into different styles (for someone like me who's not an expert on world music). There's a healthy dose of North American, Central American, and South Asian influences in the songs featured in the CD, as far as I could tell. Here are some of the songs I loved:

The suspense-filled atmosphere opens with the first track: "Ome Kayo". It set the tone of the show and it also sets the pace of my drive, easy but not boring. Somehow, the song struck me as similar to The Lion King's "Circle of Life". The song also reminded me of Peter Pan, the Lost, Boys, and Tiger Lily. It certainly kept me in an alert state of mind while driving. What a way to start a CD!

Then there's "Indie-Hip". After the first few notes, I knew I've traveled from the Americas to the Indian subcontinent; to Bollywood, in fact. A bit disconcerting in the beginning because it sounded familiar (exposure to Jai Ho, perhaps?); after a few rounds of the CD, I still don't get how Indie-Hip blends into the whole Totem storyline, but I enjoy listening to it, nonetheless.

One of my favorite songs is the emotional "Que Viyera". It feel like it's meant for the tango... maybe because the title, the lyrics, and the sounds have a Spanish feel in them. I certainly think that this is a sad song, but it is a welcome change in tempo from all the energetic songs.

"Onta" is one of the most powerful, or forceful, songs in the soundtrack, in my opinion. The strong bass and the chants, plus the notes from the electric guitar gave it a lot of impact.

The CD ends with "Ome Yo Kanoube". Again, a song that I don't understand but it has a "happy ending" feeling to it, just like the encore of the Totem cast before their final bows during the show I saw in San Francisco. I still feel the urge to clap to the beat as the song plays in the car!

Cirque du Soleil's hour-long Totem soundtrack is enough to keep me alert during long drives and it's not a tiring set to listen to. I know because I've tried it yesterday. I traveled north in the afternoon and then south in the evening because I had to visit my two grandmothers on New Year's Day. A total of more than 110 km in one day, certainly one of my longer-than-usual day trips. And I kept Totem in the background the whole time.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Review: the Kim n' Chi dinner

Soups. Some of the best comfort foods in the world.

And one of the most delicious soups I've tasted is found in Kim N' Chi (Glorietta 4, Makati). The food displays were attractive, but what caught my attention was the funny cartoon character by the sign board and on the soup bowls (which can be seen in the picture below).

There were lots of choices in the Asian-themed menu. For my first meal there, I ordered the dumpling soup after being reassured that it does not contain seafood. Instead of being given my soup right away though, I was handed a restaurant pager. It's meant I could roam around for a seat and some beverage while waiting for my soup.

It wasn't a long wait though. In a few minutes, I was enjoying my dumpling soup while watching the view of the Christmas-themed Glorietta 4 Park below.

Kim n' Chi's dumpling soup

The dumpling soup was delicious! The vegetables were crunchy and the beef strips were tender. The dumplings were also nice, although I thought that the wrapping was a bit too thick (maybe that's because I'm used eating fried dumplings). However, it was the soup itself that made the dish wonderful. It was rich and tasty without being overpowering. It was light and refreshing yet warm and comforting. Perfect for a relatively cool evening while nursing a dehydration-induced headache.

Next time, I'm going to try the bibimbap.