Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lola Bats is now a techie!

Not convinced? Then check out the picture below.

Lola always says she only got educated until first grade (and that's during the time that the Philippines was a commonwealth of the USA). Despite being barely able to read and to write, she absorbs new information like a sponge -- whether this is gossip or a new language (she knows how to speak in English, she always points out). When my brother showed her how to use an iPad, she was able to explore the picture application on her own in a few minutes.

No, she's not into computers just yet. In this picture, Lola Bats was learning how to use the computer to chat with my cousins who are currently overseas. Kuya Jun-jun was helping her out.

Cool, huh?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lola Bats' day out

My father's mom, Lola Batangas (Bats, for short), turned 96 last April. Despite the advanced age, she prefers to remain active even if she's being relegated to a wheelchair lately. For instance, she takes tours whenever possible and if she feels up for it, we visit the farm in Batangas.

The opportunity to take the two-hour trip came up when she was deemed healthy enough by one of my aunts, a doctor. Our first stop was lunch at the Lipa Grill, a popular restaurant along the highway to the Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church.

After taking our fill of sinampalukang manok, pinakbet (bagoong on the side), and fruit shakes, it was time to continue with the trip. However, since I was with Lola Bats, I had to take a slower pace than what I'd normally do; after all, this was a leisurely trip with an elder. Lola Bats must not feel rushed and tense.

Several minutes later, we reached her old home; the home I used to spend lots of hours with my grandparents as a toddler and several summer vacations as a school-age child.

It has always amazed me that despite Lola Bats' long stay in Manila, she could get news and information about people in the farm. She's more updated than I am! Her friends dropped by to visit who must be one of the oldest people in the barrio that afternoon. Sadly, though, most of her contemporaries have already moved on. Most of the people Lola Bats looked for had been dead for more than a year.

While Lola Bats enjoyed catching up with her friends, Aling Mary and I went to the public market to buy fresh fruit and vegetables (her special request). It's the first time I'd been to the town's public market ever; though Padre Garcia is known as the cattle capital of the Philippines, I didn't see one cattle auction (probably because my timing was off).

Lola Bats seemed to have enjoyed her trip very much that afternoon; however, the road trip wasn't over yet. We were still going to Alitagtag town, about an hour away. So she had to say good bye to her friends for the time being. Hopefully she'd be healthier next year so we can do this long trip more often.

She's one happy grandma!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"beauty is in the phi of the beholder"


Yes, apparently, beauty has a mathematical equivalent.

In the Mind Museum, I came across this exhibit: examples of the Golden ratio -- phi -- and how it relates to people's perception of beauty. I cringed; art has some mathematics in it as well?!?

However, I shouldn't really have been so shocked when I came across this infinitely long number. After all, it's been introduced in the Dan Brown novel Da Vinci Code (which now has a movie adaptation). The fictional Louvre curator, Jacques Sauniere, used the Fibonacci sequence as the password for his Swiss bank account. This same sequence translates to the "golden spiral", the invisible curve that the eyes follow when looking for the center of a photo's subject.

It does look like there's order in chaos and there's math in beauty. There's no escaping math!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

our supposed past


I turned a corner and was surprised to see strangers looking at me at the Mind Museum. They looked like people caught in the middle of doing some mischief... particularly the guy with an armload of firewood. After recovering from the shock, I realized that these barely clad "people" formed a tableau of what human evolution researchers believe to be our ancestors. It was such a surreal experience being in front of life-size models of hominids because I've only seen these in books or in the internet before. In the museum, they seemed more human, more real. 

However, is this model right? Did people come about via creation or was it through evolution?

I've heard people defend either side of the debate. Evolutionists point out evidence that seemingly show that humans evolved from apes. People who believe in creation maintain that humans were created by God. (Note: by 'God', I do not limit the term to the Christian one; different religions have their own version of the creation story.) Then there are people who try to reconcile these ideas.

So, which of the two do you believe in? Did our ancestors come from apes or were they created in a more straightforward manner by a higher power?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

bag shopping

No trip to a shopping area would be complete without buying something. The goods at the Bonifacio High Street, however, did not fit the price range we'd set for ourselves (that's me, Ate Bing, Ate Mary, and Carina). I, for one, had to buy a bag that will be durable (to last several years), that is classically designed (I didn't want to change bags just because the trends change), and that is of the right size (to avoid carrying too much stuff). The catch: it had to be REASONABLY PRICED.

You see, I'm a picky bag-buyer. It's been several weeks since I've started hunting for my next bag. Despite the numerous bags on display in the different shops that I've visited, none of those bags waved at me beckoning me to buy them. I'd searched all over: from the bag racks of SM and Landmark to the boutiques of Louis Vuitton and Burberry. The bags in SM and Landmark failed to convince me that one of them was the ONE because the designs were not what I was looking for. In Louis Vuitton and Burberry, though, there were a lot of bags that made me take a second look. Yes, a second look only because once I saw the price tag, my poor wallet fell deeper and deeper into my weatherworn handbag, refusing to go out.

Luckily, we trooped to Market! Market!, a shopping mall just a few minutes' walk away from Bonifacio High Street. As luck would have it, a Filipino leather goods shop, Our Tribe, has a branch in Market! Market! That's where I saw them.

Them being two bags; a tan bucket and a black tote. Both of them had the simple yet classy feel that I've always been looking for in bags before I buy them. After a few minutes of mulling things over and letting my friends take a vote, I ended up with the black tote bag.

What I like with Our Tribe is that its bags have clean lines and are very durable. My mom's Our Tribe bags have stood the test of time (even the canvas ones still being used after five years) while my pair of leather sandals also lived a long life. The bags may be quite expensive than what's found in department stores but their durability, in the long run, makes them a reasonable buy.

Now, if only I had bought a matching business card case...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

trying out Sariwon Korean Barbecue

Ate Bing, Ate Mary, Carina, and I were all in unfamiliar territory when we went to Fort Bonifacio's upscale area, the Bonifacio High Street (Taguig City, Metro Manila). None of us had really explored the place before and our "feeling sosyal" tour guide (his words, not mine), Manuel, didn't join us on this adventure. Instead of eating dinner in a restaurant we all had tried before, we took our chances with a restaurant that didn't have a branch back in the province BUT with a specialty that some of us are familiar with. On this trip, we went to Sariwon Korean Barbecue.

Figuring that the place would be filled by dinner time, we got ourselves a reservation while the sun was still up in the sky. The building where the restaurant is located wasn't "alive" at that early hour but as soon as the sun had set, the restaurants popped to life; Sariwon was filled to the brim by our reserved time! Getting a reservation earlier was definitely a good call.

Sariwon's see-through facade was inviting.

Soft opening? If the restaurant hadn't put up a sign saying so, I wouldn't have an idea. I mean, the attendants were very helpful and friendly, the service had great timing, and it felt like the place had lots of repeat clients (a lot of them seemed to know the manager/owner). I couldn't help but compare Sariwon's staff's stellar performance on May 5's dinner service with those from Mandarin Palace when I had lunch there in March.

It felt like the staff took the dinner service in stride.

(Of course, the comparison may be unfair, particularly if Sariwon and Mandarin Palace started operating at about the same time. The meal service at Mandarin Palace might be better now.)

The waiter assigned to our table must have noticed straightaway that we were not used to eating in a Korean restaurant. He encouraged us to start eating the side dishes, noticing that we were all just staring at the food. He assured us that we could get second (or third... really up to as much as we could eat, if we're up for it) helpings of the salads, the mashed potatoes, and the fish.

The side dishes were all refillable.

Our first course for the evening was some form of galbi. It is marinated beef that is grilled at the table and then wrapped in a leaf roll (lettuce or any other leafy vegetable) into a bite-sized piece; this wrap is then dipped into ssamjang (fermented bean paste) before it is eaten. So yummy!

Then came a rice vermicelli dish called japchae. It's an interesting mix of textures, from the slickness of the noodles to the crunchiness of vegetables. I think I saw sesame seeds in it as well; that gave it a unique, rounded, flavor.

As we were just starting to feel filled up, the waiter dropped by again to serve the last of our courses: the bulgogi jeongol. It's a hotpot dish, cooked at the table, containing meat, vegetables, mushrooms, and a special broth. We paired it with cups of what I guessed was japonica rice, judging by the texture of the rice grains.

The bulgogi Jeongol was so yummy!

The hotpot was so yummy! I think the broth was the key ingredient in this dish because it tasted a lot differently from the last hotpot I had tried.

As we were sinking into the soup, everyone got a bit quiet, in contrast to the lively discussions we had earlier. Maybe because we were concentrating on finishing the food, perhaps? It did look like the homestretch because it's the last food in our order. Then the waiter came again, with promise of dessert... ON THE HOUSE!

Seriously?!? Carina and I blurted out at the same time. The waiter came back with tea cups containing some brown liquid with rice grains and pine nuts floating on top. I was quite worried because it didn't look like a dessert; like a beverage, more like it. But it tasted so good! The brown liquid turned out to be brewed malt; the sweetness of the liquid was the perfect pair to the texture of the rice grains and the bite of the pine nuts. The owner explained that it takes about ten hours (yes, TEN hours!) to prepare this dessert, called sikhye. Then it is served cold at the end of the meal, believed to aid in digestion. A light, sweet, rounded ending for such a hearty meal we've experienced at Sariwon Korean Barbecue.

The food there is pricey. However, it's a restaurant I thoroughly enjoyed trying out. Sariwon is right up there with Dalcielo's (Los Banos), Antonio's (Tagaytay), and La Cocina de Tita Moning (Manila) in my books. I'll certainly come back in the future. There's a definitely a next time.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

What to see at the Mind Museum

Via Flickr:
"Don't lose your adult."

I laughed when I first read the warning. However, it was a warning well placed, I realized, when in just a few minutes, I got separated from my three companions: Ate Bing, Ate Mary, and Carina.

It's no wonder that kids could get lost here because there are lots of things to see and to do (yes, people can play with the exhibits... I did!).

Is it worth the trip? Yes, it is. Just make sure that you get there at the beginning of your three-hour time block, or else you won't be able to play with everything. That happened to us because I had a sudden schedule change in the morning.

The entrance fee for adults is STEEP at P600 for a three-hour block. Students from private schools are charged P450. Tickets for teachers and public school students are priced more affordably at P150.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

an hour of touring Jeffrey Sachs in the lab

Ria, from the Visitors Office, called up mid-afternoon on Friday last week with an urgency in her voice. She informed me that Professor Jeffrey Sachs was dropping by the lab the following day (May 5) and I was to give him a brief tour and some rice sensory evaluation activities.

Wait. Jeffrey Sachs... the JEFFREY SACHS?!?

Why, he's only one of the most famous economists in the world! Director of the Earth Institute at the Columbia University; regarded as the hero of several Eastern European and South American economies; and is an adviser to the United Nations Secretaries-General Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon. He rubs elbows with U2's lead singer, Bono, and with Microsoft's founder, Bill Gates. A litany of his achievements can make anyone star-struck... and nervous.


The following day -- tour day -- I was surprised to find out that not only was Professor Sachs dropping by for the tour, but the IRRI Director General, Dr Zeigler and IRRI Deputy Directors General, Drs Dobermann and Tolentino were with him as well. As I explained what we do in the lab and as I guided them through the sensory evaluation process, the IRRI directors talked with Prof. Sachs about the context of our research work in light of economics, sustainable development, and reducing the carbon footprint. When I didn't understand Prof. Sach's questions, they were also there to translate or explain them to me.

It certainly looked like they had fun during their visit at the Grain Quality and Nutrition Center. There were lots of laughter amidst scientific discussions and the mood was light as they tasted the rice. I believe that it's important to make sure that visitors enjoy their tours because that makes their visits more memorable. I felt lucky to be able to listen in to how these high-level scientists discuss issues and be right next to them too! It's certainly a different experience from watching them discuss from a distance.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

sunflower surprise!

Sunshiny flowers :D
happy flowers

A few hectares away, in a different part of the farm, I caught my first glimpse of yellow flowers against the greenery. As if by magic, the flowers seemed to have sprouted out of nowhere; but in reality, I've noticed the broadleaf plants before though I never gave them a second thought.

Lenie had mentioned that this field was going to be cleaned up soon; hence it was the best time to drop by and have a closer look. Kuya Ferdie kindly drove all of us to the sunflower patch and we took the opportunity to shoot photos.

Nothing but the sight of rows upon rows of sunflowers could wipe away my fatigue after a morning of work under the sun's heat. Well, unless it's a field of tulips, my favorite flowers. :)

Seeing the field with the happy sunflowers reminded me of the Disney Alice in Wonderland classic (1951), one of the cartoons I used to watch every single day back when I was younger. In the movie, Alice found herself in the midst of such giant plants with snobs as flowers. Somewhere within the flower forest, a hookah-smoking caterpillar (and I can't help but recall Alan Rickman's voice from the more recent film) sat on a toadstool, giving enigmatic lessons or absolute nonsense.

In real life, of course, there's no giant blue caterpillar. The flowers couldn't sing either. However, I still felt as if I were in Underland that sunny morning. Somehow, being in a sunflower patch in the midst of rice and corn fields was surreal.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The sunflower patch

Sunshiny flowers :DLenie in the sunflower patchSunflower patch near Mount MakilingLenie and Kuya Ferdie by the sunflower patch

The sunflower patch, a set on Flickr.

They just bloomed seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Lenie and Kuya Ferdie just had to take the photo opportunity before the sunflower patch was removed later in the day.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

model student! :D

First day of sensory evaluation class

I arrived in the Institute of Food Science and Technology, UPLB, bright and early... raring to start the day. VERY prepared to learn new things from the short course.

Then, while everybody else started preparing their notebooks and their pens, I realized that I didn't have any respectable pens and notebooks in my bag. All I had was a Mickey Mouse memo pad and a pen with a panda on top. It didn't matter, I thought; nobody's going to look at my pen and paper.

However, during the first few minutes of the class, the teacher mentioned that we were going to conduct statistical analyses on the data we'd be gathering during the sensory evaluations. Calculations?!? Who said anything about calculations?! I've got my mobile phone with me and I'm sure I can do the basic computations in my head. But statistics? I need a scientific calculator with the STAT function or a computer to hasten the calculations.

Luckily, the statistical analyses were conducted on the second day of the course. I had enough time to retrieve my scientific calculator.


Friday, May 4, 2012

a course on sensing food

For two days, Lenie and I attended a short course on sensory evaluation. It's a course offered by the Institute of Food Science and Technology at the University of the Philippines Los Banos. Dr Linda Mabesa and Dr Wilson Tan were the resource persons during the course with Wilson taking over much of the lecture and the discussion. We were also supervised by Rona, an instructor in the institute, and Mang Emong, the guy who worked a lot behind the scenes to prepare the samples we would be munching on.

I'm back in school... for two days only
I liked how the course had been structured. We had a few hours of introduction; Wilson attempted to squeeze in what Food Tech majors study in five months into two hours of lecture. It was a very typical first meeting; however, what made it more interesting was getting to know our classmates during this short course. We, it turned out, were a motley crew of people from various food industries: cereals, organic vegetables, snack foods, bottled beverages, meat products, and seaweed by-products. 

After the lecture, we started learning sensory evaluation the hands-on way. First, we were taught what a sensory evaluation area should look like. In the Institute of Food Science and Technology, five booths are set up with a sliding window each where samples are conveyed from the prep room to the evaluator. The booths are well lit with light bulbs and are colored in neutral tones. Atop the sliding windows, there are light switches; these switches are connected to light bulbs on the "kitchen" side of the lab. These light bulbs are turned on when the evaluator is ready for the samples and when he/she has finished with the sensory test. 

the do-not-disturb-while-eating/drinking zone
While the evaluators take their seats, the samples are placed in the right containers (which have been previously randomized and laid out on a table matrix). These containers are then arranged in small trays in which they are presented to the evaluator. A cup of water is also provided to act as a rinse in between samples.

During our course, we compared several samples of flavor compounds, several types of beverages, and several brands of fruit product.

flavor compounds in water

We were also taught different approaches to tackle the sensory evaluation challenge. There are a lot of different kinds of sensory tests. It is up to the test organizer to choose which of these myriad of tests to use and match them to the appropriate statistical analysis approach.

preparing the samples for evaluation

Is it important to have a low threshold for flavors or a high sensitivity to differing textural attributes to pass the regular food science course on sensory evaluation?

Surprisingly, Wilson said that being a good sensory evaluator is not the biggest factor for passing the course; instead, how one interprets the data is even more important than getting the correct answers each time during the evaluations all semester long.

orange juice for taste testing

After tasting all the goodies in the lab, it was time to crunch the numbers. Yes, we learned (or relearned) how to conduct analyses of variance (ANOVA) using normal calculators (or scientific calculators, at best); no statistical software, not even a computer, in the room where we did the computations. 

Two days of honing my senses AND my statistics skills. I've got to agree that what was given to us in the short course was just the tip of the sensory science iceberg. I fully intend to apply what we've learned in class on my samples back in my lab.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review: The Joneses (2009)

"I don't want to keep up with the Joneses", an aunt of mine declared one time, when she was talking about luxury goods and high standards of living in people she had encountered. From then on, I wondered who the Joneses are and why people want to keep up with them.

A few months later, I caught the movie "The Joneses" during one of my couch-potato-weekends. Its cast is led by David Duchovny and Demi Moore, as Mr and Mrs Jones. Their family appears to be well-off and they always had the coolest toys, clothes, and beauty products. They ate and drank nothing but the best food and beverages. They eventually got their neighbors into buying the stuff that they're using because these things are marks of affluence, of coolness.

Even though it's a fictional story (about a unit of stealth marketers), I finally understood why there are people who go the opposite direction from the Joneses. Real-life Joneses wannabes are examples of lives lived in excessive consumerism and brand-consciousness; some of these lives are driven to the bottom of the debt pit. 

Imagine seeing a neighbor being showered with jewelry by her husband; a lot of them being given for no apparent reason (or just because it's Tuesday). Or the kids being given the latest gaming consoles just because their parents could afford them (but don't have time to spend with them). It's like watching a picture-perfect family and it's hard not to compare what they're wearing and what they're owning to one's own stuff. That's when aspiring to get what the neighboring family has begins. Then starts living beyond one's means just to keep up with the Joneses. Unpaid bills then begin going into the mail.

Keeping up with the Joneses is certainly NOT a bad idea if one's funds can support such a lifestyle. Good appearances can certainly make good impressions. It is important, however, to remember that moderation in such a lifestyle is key.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

an afternoon with Lola Bats

Lola Bats is my dad's mom. She's the last grandparent alive and this year, she's entered her 96th year in April. She celebrated it with a pizza and pasta dinner and coffee (chocolate milkshake for me) in the nearby mall surrounded by her daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Unfortunately, she's not as strong as she used to be so she couldn't travel long distances as often as she liked anymore. Since she couldn't go to the farm just yet, I brought young coconuts for her, freshly harvested from the farm. I thought that it was the perfect pasalubong because of the hot weather (she could drink as much buko juice as she wanted... straight from the source too).

Anna and I dropped by to bring over the young coconuts and to catch up with her today, a holiday. As usual, this afternoon flew too fast. I enjoyed spending time with her because of all the stories about her younger days, the places she's been to (today, I just learned that she's been to Marcos, Ilocos because of the family tractor!), and lessons she's taken from her own grandma. Plus the food. I always look forward to eating pupur and bulanglang in her house.

It looked like Lola Bats enjoyed our visit as well. Until next time (which is in a few weeks)... hopefully, she'll be up for the road trip we keep on planning.