Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in a nutshell

What a year 2013 turned out to be! Who would have thought that the year that shouldn't have been, if the Mayan calendar interpreters had been correct, was exciting? History was written right in front of my eyes as I watched the news or as I found myself where the history was happening.
  • Pope Benedict XVI resigns. Yes, he has. At first, I thought that the announcements via social media was bogus until I saw the news clips on TV. And because he had given up the leadership of the biggest and what may be the oldest Christian congregation in the world, he has put the Church in a more positive light after news upon news of unbecoming behaviors of priests. Benedict XVI's last day as Pope was covered by a lot of news agencies.
  • With the resignation of the Pope, the Church is in a state of Sede Vacante ("vacant seat"). The papal conclave began on March 12th in which one Filipino cardinal, Luis Antonio Tagle was considered a papabile (among other cardinals from different parts of the globe). Just like Pope Benedict XVI's last day in office, the first day of the conclave received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the favorable media coverage during these turbulent times for the Church renews Roman Catholics' devotion (and that includes me).
  • The Sultan of Sulu renewed his family's claim to Sabah, which is historically the property of the sultanate. Trust the colonizers to muck things up while drawing country borders. This is as good a time as any to see the significance of a people's past to its present.
  • President Noynoy Aquino dropped by IRRI for a "surprise" visit. On an election year, his short side trip to the Institute was remarkable (for me) because his entourage included important people in the agriculture and in the educational sectors. There were no politicians seeking reelection or running for different government posts among his group of visitors.
  • The sky was falling, literally. A meteorite crash landed somewhere in Russia. The advent of widespread internet, mobile phones with cameras, dashboard cameras, and social media allowed the news to travel far and wide a few minutes (or hours?) after the event.
  • New supervisor; new directions. Let's see how this goes.
  • For the first time, the Roman Catholic Church elected a Pope who hails from the Americas, from the southern hemisphere, and from the Jesuit order. The new Pope took on the name Francis (without the ordinal number 1 as a suffix).
  • Margaret Thatcher, known as the "iron lady" during her stint as Prime Minister of Great Britain, died of a stroke.
  • Explosions occurred near the finish line at the Boston Marathon, killing at least three people and injuring more than 100 people. On the same day, a strong earthquake hit Iran; the quake was felt as far as Doha.
  • There were relatives and people who are friends to my family who departed this year.
  • ... And then there were news that took less time to travel round the world than to get verified.
  • News about scams involving legislators' pork barrel funds in the Philippines have erupted, leading to rallies and protests.
  • Strong rains brought by the southwest monsoon flooded large parts of Metro Manila (again). Last year it was "Habagat", with the assumption that it's a one-off event. This year, it's "Habagat 2013". Would it happen again next year?!?
  • A strong earthquake (magnitude 7.2) rocked Cebu and Bohol in central Philippines, destroying a lot of buildings and even the world-famous Chocolate Hills. Ten centuries-old churches have been damaged severely, including the Sto Nino Church in Cebu City.
  • The strongest typhoon to ever hit land in recorded history landed in the Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan (PAGASA: Yolanda) was said to make landfall at 195mph. Yes, miles not kilometers! Thousands of people have died and thousands more are living in unimaginable conditions in survival mode. I am happy that in my own little way, I've contributed to making the lives of those devastated a little bit more comfortable.

Monday, December 30, 2013

cute na bata daw ako. (hahaha!)

Isang araw, makalipas ang Pasko, namasyal kami ng nanay ko sa isang mall. Dahil malamig, may suot akong makapal na jacket at botang panlamig. Sa kapal ng jacket, nagmukha siguro akong nagkakalad na marshmallow. At dahil nagkataon pang pink ang pantalon ko, nagmukha akong naglalakad na cotton candy! Kaya tuloy habang naglalakad kami, tinigil kami ng isang kapwa mamimili...

"Filipino rin kayo?", tanong niya.

"Oo, Filipino kami," sagot ng nanay ko.

"Sabi na nga ba!", sabi ng mamimili sa nanay ko. Pagtingin sa akin, aniya, "Ang cute cute naman ng batang ito!" sabay pisil sa braso kong balot ng makapal na jacket.

Paglayo ng mamimili, napatawa kami ng nanay ko dahil pang-ilang beses na ito na napagkamalan akong bata. Seryoso.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Statistics made easier by STAR

A few years back, I learned how to use R, a statistical software that requires one to write the commands (or scripts). While I enjoyed deciphering this new language and use it in numerous data analyses, other people are not big fans. They like to click on buttons and get the data analyzed without bothering with the script. Thus, statisticians in IRRI developed the Statistical Tool for Agricultural Research (STAR), a program that does exactly that: analysts just have to click on the preferred/required types of analyses and the software will churn out the values.

And did I say that the software is free? Just like R, STAR is accessible for budget-strapped individuals.

I've taken it for a spin during one of the introductory courses... The version I used in the course has a few hits and misses (particularly the color scheme of data points in graphs) but it appears to be pretty adequate for several types of multivariate analyses.

Now, understanding what the numbers that STAR churns out means is a whole different story...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Row, row, row your boat...


Obviously, I wasn't exactly riding a boat in the picture above. This is the first time since my Subic adventure that I took up an oar and went into the water. This is also the first time I've been close to a body water (not counting swimming pools) in a long time... I can't believe that it's been more than a year since I've been to the beach!

Anyway, I was riding this bamboo raft on Labasin Lake in Villa Escudero, San Pablo City, Laguna. While the view from the middle of the lake was very nice, I didn't dare carry any electronic gadget with me on the raft because I might fall into the 30-m deep lake with them (oh no!). I left my gadgets on dry land and donned on a life vest. Then off I and my raft teammate, RK Singh's daughter, went. It took some time and muscle power to figure out how to propel and to direct the raft so that we wouldn't hit the other people in the rafts, the barge with the flags, and the banks of the lake. There were several instances when we hit dead ends and bumped onto other rafts but we finally figured out the easy way out of these situations: just turn around on one's seat. That provided instant direction change!

The view of Labasin Lake reminds me of the view of the Brisbane River from the CityCat University of Queensland quay. The banks are lush with vegetation and the shade under the trees are alive with the chorus of birds (and other animals, I'm sure).

The wildlife in Labasin Lake, however, is a lot tamer than that in the Brisbane River. When I was attending uni, some of the students warned me not to go too close to the water because there were bull sharks. Yes, there are sharks in the Brisbane River!

Monday, December 23, 2013

my reading list in 2013

On my rest days (when I am decidedly out of the lab), I take some time to read. This year (as in other years), the books I've read for leisure are quite eclectic; I didn't stick to one genre.

1. Negotiate a Kick-Ass Salary (2012) by Nelson Wang
2. Lord of the Ring: Return of the King by JRR Tolkien
3. The Coming Famine by Julian Cribb
4. Snoops in the City
5. Lord of the Ring: Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien
6. Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds
7. Presentation Zen Design by Garr Reynolds
8. Lord of the Ring: Two Towers by JRR Tolkien
9. Culinary Foundations by Le Cordon Bleu
10. Silmarilion by JRR Tolkien*
11. Inferno by Dan Brown*

*NOTE: I haven't finished reading these books as of December 23, 2013.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

AFSTRI's 2013 Cultural Night

If Phileas Fogg went around the world in 80 days in Jules Verne's novel, the Association of Fellows, Scholars, Trainees, and Residents at IRRI (AFSTRI) took the audience around the world in three hours through song, dance, and poetry during the annual Cultural Night. I'd normally come in quietly and just watch from the comfort of one if the seats at the Havener Auditorium; however, Ando, AFSTRI's current president, assigned me as one of the masters of ceremonies that night. I was co-hosting with Man. I sighed... I wouldn't be taking photos then.

But despite being backstage most of the time, talking with participants about last-minute changes to their presentations and our impromptu spiels, Man and I did enjoy the co-hosting gig. Since the theme was "A Night Around the World", we thought it might be good to ask the audience to sit back, relax, and fasten their seat belts; this was going to be a zip through the globe.
And what a fast trip it was: Five continents. Fifteen countries. Three hours. While short, that trip allowed the audience to catch a glimpse of the vibrant cultures around the world.

For me (who only watched some presentations), my favorite bits were the dance by Vietnamese scholars (they always have the most choreographically complicated routines), the "Dinner for One" skit by the German contingent, and the traditional and the modern songs performed by a Spanish student. Here's a video (from YouTube) of the tv version of "Dinner for One":

(I'm putting it here so that I can watch it on New Year's Eve, as is tradition in Germany, according to the performers)

What made this year's Cultural Night unique is the intermission: Man and I conducted a human auction -- we "sold" the (legally allowed) services of eight members of AFSTRI to raise funds for a scholarship. In total, the generous audience donated more than P10,000! I'm looking forward to hear what food the AFSTRI members cooked and where they conducted their hikes and tours.

Til the next year's Cultural Night! :D

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): We won! We won!!

Another late post...


Team Tagumpay wins the coveted rice bowl trophy and the bragging rights!

We won on a technicality though: Team Tagumpay placed second BUT the real winning team threw in the towel during their harvest phase, with the members saying that they didn't want to compete anymore. That's really sad because they never knew how close they were to winning when they quit.

The organizers of Rice Survivor proved to be very generous with the prizes. All teams in the 2013 wet season received awards for some attention-catching performance or another. For me, I take the survival of the rice plants and the resulting harvest as victory enough since plants I take care of tend to die (like the basil plants I used to have in my backyard).

Aside from the trophy and the bragging rights, I take the lessons that I learned as prizes in themselves. Being part of this season's challenge taught me part of what farmers experience during a planting season: the hardest lesson for me is the long wait. 

I was always nervous that the plants might die when the rains and the winds came along; I kept hoping that strong typhoons didn't not hit the rice paddies; I visited the plants as often as I could just to make sure that pests were not devouring them (as if I knew what to do when they're out there already). 

I felt what I thought to be the sadness of farmers in seeing rice plants bent to the ground or buried in irrigation water because their stalks have been weakened by too much application of fertilizer and the onslaught of strong winds.

I felt relief in seeing the golden grains being sucked into the harvester on my team's last day in the field... and then worry that the storage area for harvested grains was infested by bugs that make the grains stinky and not fit for human consumption.

I realize, as the season closed, that I am a risk-averse person. Farmers are truly very brave people. The uncertainty of their profession (each farmer is a businessman, or businesswoman, to some extent) is unbelievable.

Overall, this season was a roller coaster ride for me. To Dry Season 2014 Rice Survivors, good luck! You'll need every ounce of it!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): Did we win yet?

Sometime in November...


After several months of hard work, nervous waiting, and harvesting, my team became focused on finding out if what we did in the field translated into projected profit. Here's how we did it:

Profit (per hectare) = Sales - Expenses
     where: sales (Php/kg) was based on data given by economists
                 we assume that 100% of the milled rice was sold
                 we actually dried the harvest to 14% moisture content and calculated the yield from that

Then we made several options on selling the grain and calculated the projected profits from the different models:
1. We would sell the milled rice based on the market price 
2. We would sell only the whole grain at premium price then throw out the broken grain
3. We would sell intact (whole/unbroken) grain and broken grain separately

It turned out that we'd make more profit (theoretically) with Option #3 so we stuck with that.

Let's see if my Team Tagumpay's business savvy would pit well against the other other teams'...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Helping the typhoon victims in our little way

The Philippines made history last November 9, 2013. The strongest typhoon of the current Pacific typhoon season AND what is claimed to be the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall in the history of mankind slammed the eastern coastline of the central part of the Philippines. Super Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) was estimated to have hit the Philippines with winds at 195 mph... yes, the wind speed was in miles, not kilometers! Aside from the strong winds, Haiyan also came with a storm surge whose waves easily wiped out buildings. Not surprisingly, the towns and cities along the typhoon's path were decimated. Initial estimates indicated that as many as 10,000 people died in this typhoon. Tacloban, Leyte is one of the hardest-hit cities, transforming into a virtual wasteland in a span of a few hours in front of spectators glued to their tellies. Who wouldn't be moved by the heartbreaking stories captured by media practitioners?

As soon as the DSWD National Resource Operations Center announced on its Twitter account that volunteers are needed to pack relief goods for the survivors of the typhoon, I asked Cindy and Man if they would be willing to join me at the repacking venue. The typhoon victims are in desperate need of food and water; if there's anything that I can contribute to help speed up the arrival of help, I would gladly do it.

They were game to join me and their schedules were pretty flexible this week. When I called the DSWD, the person on the other end of the line told me that our turn to help out was on Thursday, November 14. Man rounded up two more of his friends, Papu and Jeremy (brothers from Leyte), and off we went to the NROC in Pasay City, near the airport.

When we got there, I was almost expecting grouchy people at the front desk, since they would have had long shifts and might be already irritated with the volunteers. However, I was wrong: this was the most pleasant set of frontliners I've ever seen from the government in an emergency situation. It appeared that they were happy to be of help; which made me think that these people might also be volunteers.

After registration, we were asked to listen to instructions about what we were supposed to do before being deployed into one of the warehouses. Again, I thought that I'd see a grouchy person do this. However, the volunteers were met by the most pleasant guy who, I suspect, has been talking about the same thing for several hours now. He was very polite to the volunteers. On the other hand, the volunteers themselves were well-mannered so I thought that maybe these go two-way. Or maybe, the speaker and the frontliners were generally good-mannered because they were social workers.

Since we came as a group, I thought that we'd work as a group. But I thought wrong. First up: guys were needed to load trucks with sacks of relief goods. Papu, Man, and Jeremy volunteered for this task and were escorted (along with several others who decided to be stevedores for a few hours) by Army personnel to their assigned stations.

Meanwhile, Cindy and I stayed seated with the other girls and with guys who didn't want to carry heavy sacks. We were to be deployed to the repacking area and we needed to know what were the contents of each DSWD family relief pack. I was thinking that maybe we'd be waiting for a long time since I didn't see many people wanting to leave any of the warehouses. 

But no. After the instructions were given, we were deployed immediately to one of the warehouses. I was expecting group leaders giving assignments to us before we went into the warehouse. Instead, the activities were more self-organized. We were to do whatever needed to be done. At first Cindy and I joined in with the group that prepared the instant coffee sachets for repacking. This group was composed of MMDA employees. 

At some point, the coffee sachets were all prepped and there was nothing left to do, so I decided to work on something else. I noticed that discarded boxes were scattered everywhere and that they needed to be organized somehow so that they won't obstruct the transport of the ready-to-load sacks and the repacking activity itself. Cindy, on the other hand, noticed the debris covering the floor. So instead of joining the crowd at the repacking tables, we decided to start cleaning up for the packers: Cindy began flattening boxes; I started collecting the boxes from under the packing tables. Then we (and a few other volunteers who opted to join us) gathered the flattened boxes for proper stacking away from the sacks of relief goods.

I never noticed it while we were inside the warehouse, but we ended up with a cleaner floor space for the packing people. I just noticed it when I reviewed the photos this morning! Anyway, we might not have packed anything but I hope that we made the production line flow more efficient after the clean-up operation that we did.

At some stage, Man, Papu, and Jeremy (who no longer had anything to load in a truck) joined us in the warehouse. Good timing too since there were boxes to stack on one side of the building. I was thinking that maybe it was a good idea to rearrange the flattened boxes away from the goods for packing but the task seemed to require a forklift (see all those flattened boxes beside the bags of relief goods?)

Two hours into our volunteering, the warehouse manager announced that a new batch of volunteers were on board; anyone from far-flung areas and those who had been repacking for several hours were free to go home. The way the guy said it reminded me of Aragorn telling Merry that he wouldn't be joining the army to the Black Gate: "Peregrin shall go... do not grudge him his chance of peril..." (admittedly, the connection is a bit far-fetched). 

At the same time, I realized that there's another form of generosity: I shouldn't prevent people from being able to help in their own little way just because I want to help more. Playing the hero can be seen as a form of selfishness if there are other people willing to cover for you.

Anyway, the others were also tired and were ready to eat dinner so we went out as the new volunteers started getting at home with the repacking routine. As I looked around the venue for the last time, I was amazed to see the willingness of people to help and their generosity with their time. I still am amazed. Just months ago, Manila was under water thanks to the rains delivered by the southwest monsoon (habagat). People needed to be saved then. And now, people in Manila were lending a hand to help the people of the Visayas region.

I just hope that the relief goods would reach the victims of the typhoon in time. While we were volunteering, there appeared to be a shortage of the big trucks because smaller ones were being loaded up with relief goods. There even was a bus which, I think, would carry a sizable number of packages by road and by boat (if the goods won't go to the cargo planes instead). Transporting these goods is indeed a challenge.

Now that I've been repacking, I want to go for Round 2. The typhoon victims are not the only ones who need help. A few weeks before the typhoon, a very strong earthquake rocked a different area of the Visayas region. This area, covering sections of Bohol and Cebu provinces, hadn't even recovered yet from the quake when the typhoon struck. In hindsight, I don't mind if the goods we helped organize go to the earthquake victims or to the typhoon victims, as long as they reach the people who need these goods the most.

Don't worry, Visayas. Help is on its way. You are not alone. A lot of people are volunteering to help in your time of need. Just hold on a bit longer.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

All Saints' Day 2013

While All Saints' Day is traditionally when people visit the dead, it is also the time to reunite with the living. 

October 28, 2013
With the road going to Manila Memorial Park being notoriously heavy on this time of the year, I opted to visit the grave of my paternal grandfather, Lolo Bats, a few days ahead (right after I voted at the Barangay Elections). With me was my grandma, Lola Bats, who's age and health condition prohibit her from walking long distances. And with her was the househelp, who had to assist her with the short walk to Lolo Bats' grave. If it were just me, I'd have also visited an uncle (buried on a hilltop), his dad (I couldn't seem to find his grave each time I try),  and the Aquinos (buried near my grandpa's site).

After the pleasant afternoon outing, we then went to vist her daughter, Tita Ising. This was the first time that Lola Bats saw her youngest great granddaughter, Elise, because she is overseas with her parents (Tita Ising's youngest daughter). The wonders of technology: Lola Bats saw Elise via FaceTime. Truly, the world is getting smaller.

November 1, 2013
On the day itself, I visited the grave of my maternal grandma, Lola Estay, at the Sta Cruz Public Cemetery. Now that was nothing short of a party. My aunts, cousins, nephews, and nieces spent the day and the early part of the evening at the grave. There were food (rice meals ands snacks) and beverages; lights were switched on in the evening; and the kids brought their smart gadgets with them.

Traffic was bad in the evening but at least I had the option to walk because Lola Estay's house was just a long walk away.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wet and wild Wednesday surprise road trip

I opted to wait the rain out before I went on the road today. However, the rain wouldn't quit so I decided to go and hope that my trip would be uneventful. After all, it was no longer raining fighting cats and dogs at that time.

The initial portion of the trip seemed promising because the traffic condition wasn't so bad. The road was pretty much clean too...

Until I reached Real, Calamba...

Take note, visibility was so low that drivers had to turn on the headlights at 8:30am. Yes, 8:30am! The drive was pretty slow too, thanks to the wet asphalt.

I should have taken the scenic route but it's way too long, so I continued driving on the National Highway. The flooded section of the  Los Baños-bound road in front of Monte Vista (in Pansol, Calamba) did not convince me to turn back.

The commuter buses led the counterflowing because the water was just way too deep on the right side of the road. We, with the smaller vehicles, followed suit. 

I finally changed my mind when I saw the long queue of vehicles on the approach to Camp Eldridge in Los Baños. A long line like that meant only one thing: the road in front of me was flooded, either just enough to slow vehicles to a crawl or it wasn't passable at all. While waiting right in front of Splash Mountain Resort, I opted not to confirm visually that there's a flood. So, I turned back; it's better to go through flooded Pansol again while the water wasn't too high than to get stranded in between two flooded road sections... On an empty stomach. 

First stop, a quick break at McDonald'. And then I continued on the long road trip round Mount Makiling via SLEX, through Maharlika Highway in Batangas province, and up the incline and around the hairpins of the Mak-Ban Road. While I find this route the more scenic one, I normally don't take it because of the distance and because I'm intimidated by the Mak-Ban Road on rainy days, such as this.

Now how about that for road trip on a wet and wild Wednesday?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Black cat

Some say that black cats bring bad omens. Some say that black cats are signs of good fortune. Either way, the black cat, especially a large one, is a startling animal to see (for me).

In 2012, while on my way to the University of California-Davis, I came across this black cat. It's obviously not a stray, with the confident way it walked and approached people in its territory.

I didn't think it was a cat that would let strangers touch it, though, because of the body language.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): Harvesting rice is easier than I originally thought.

Months ago, I was down in the mud, transplanting rice for a few minutes and watching field workers do it for a whole afternoon. I realized then what I've always known mentally but never experienced before: being a field worker is a back-breaking profession. Whoever penned the song "Magtanim ay 'di biro" was not kidding. 

So when harvesting time finally came along, I was fully expecting to be amid field workers and learning how to use the scythe. However, Team Tagumpay decided to try mechanized harvesting. This means that a machine goes into the field, cuts the stalks, threshes the panicles, and stores the grains in a bin. Ideal conditions allowed us to do so: (1) our plants did not fall over, or lodge, due to the wind and the rains of the wet season; (2) the soil was dry enough for the machine to drive through.

I had cleared my calendar for the morning for this. But it took less than two hours to finish the harvest! If you ask me, I find this as an anti-climactic end to my run as a Rice Survivor.

One thing I know for sure is this: Team Tagumpay had definitely survived. We just have to find out if our team can stand up to its name. :)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Review: Glee Season 5: The Quarterback (2013)

I was one of those people who watched out for the Glee tribute episode for Cory Monteith. He used to portray Finn Hudson, a co-leader in McKinley High's New Directions show choir and the quarterback in the school's football team in the tv series. Unfortunately, Monteith/Hudson died too soon. The tribute episode picked up a few weeks after Hudson's death and showed how the members of New Directions and the teachers were coping after his death.

It was a very emotional episode. As the cast opened the episode with "Seasons of Love" the way it's done in Rent, I just knew it would be a cry-fest. True enough, I was crying all throughout the episode. The weird thing was I wasn't crying for Finn or for Cory; I was crying because my maternal grandmother, Lola Estay, had died last year. The sadness felt by the cast during the episode brought back the pain of saying good bye to my grandma. 

It was certainly a difficult hour for me. 

But in the end of the episode, there was catharsis as life moves on, for the characters, for the people who portray them, and for the audience who've been watching Glee since its inception. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): It's heart-breaking to see fallen rice plants...

... and they weren't even in Team Tagumpay's plot!

Now that I've gone through what it's like to be a farmer, albeit doing so in a learning environment—visiting the fields almost everyday, stressing out when a discolored leaf appears somewhere in the plot, freaking out when animals attack the plants—I can fully appreciate a farmer's pain when a season's crop is damaged, leading to less harvest, less income, and less food.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): And now we wait...

Once the seedlings were on the ground, all we had to do was wait. Well, not exactly. We also needed to monitor the water in the field so that if there's too little water, we irrigated; if there's too much, we drained the water. Plus, we kept an eye out for weeds, snails, and rats. And then there was the fertilizer to be added at certain periods of the plants' development stage... we didn't add the fertilizer ourselves; someone from the farm did this for us.

Being the novice farmers that we were (except for RK), Neale, Jen, and I worried about discolorations in the leaves because these surely were signs of diseases. But Adam, an expert in plant diseases, told us to do nothing. So we did.

It's fascinating to watch the plants grow from tiny seedlings to mature plants. I dropped by the field every afternoon early in the season because it wasn't raining yet. But when the heavy downpours came, I visited only in afternoons when it wasn't raining.

When the leaves started to turn pale and the panicles became heavy with grain, we knew: the season was about to end.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): Transplanting cramming

The rain fell over the weekend, which caused some of the land preparation activities to be delayed. So when transplanting day, June 24, arrived, we were CRAMMING. The nice thing though, was that staff from the farm were on-call: if we needed help, they were there to assist; if we didn't need help, they would still stop by and make sure that we were alright.

Since there were so many things to do with the clock ticking and the labor cost meter running, the members of Team Tagumpay divided its chores. RK was at the field watching over the final land leveling while Neale and I were checking if the seedlings were ready for pulling. Maya knew where the fertilizer, which was not applied the day before because of the rain, was kept. Once we've decided that the transplanting would push through, Neale took charge of the pulling activity while I watched over the application of basal fertilizer in our newly leveled field. (I wanted to do it but the farm staff said I'd slow them down.)

One has to have a strong throwing to fertilize this field.

Once the field was fertilized, I joined Neale and learned how to correctly pull seedlings (without damaging the roots). That was scary! I didn't want my team's crop to die because I destroyed the roots! The people who were doing it routinely assured us that the plants were sturdier than they seemed. So we continued until it was time for lunch.

After lunch, Team Tagumpay had its turn in manually transplanting the crops, alongside the field workers. This was our very own "Magtanim ay 'di biro" moment caught on camera! Since we were the slowpokes, we were shooed from the field after an hour of attempting to plant rice. The field workers were so quick!

Proof that we were in the field, planting, that day.

Members of the team took rotating shifts to continuously watch over the field workers and make sure that they were planting seedlings in the right positions. Neale, RK, and Maya stayed while I went to a meeting. Then RK left to attend his meeting, with Maya returning to her own field. Once my meeting ended, I drove back to the field in time to get Neale and to fetch snacks; a technician then stopped by and watched over. When Neale and I got back, the technician was on his way out.

While waiting for the field workers to finish, Neale and I grabbed the chance to try transplanting one more time. It's okay because we were muddy already anyway. Turned out that we just needed to learn the technique! At one point, we were transplanting at the same pace as the tired field workers! I emphasize on tired because they were slower at that point than when they began earlier in the afternoon.

As the afternoon drew to a close, RK returned to see how our transplanting went. One thing's for certain, we were dirty and muddy but unbowed. In fact, we were happy when the transplanting ended!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): Let's hunt snails.

As the plants grew in the nursery (and I waited impatiently), it was time to think about land preparations in time for transplanting. One of the tasks that Team Tagumpay had to agree upon was what to do with the snails. Maya, the team's environmentalist, was totally against the application of molluscicides to our team's plot (her words, not mine). So on the morning of June 21, we came to the field armed with plastic bags to hunt snails even though hunting was not allowed... at least according to the sign.

Hunting isn't allowed. Do snails count?

At first, we didn't want to go into the flooded field. Gaye Cuerdo (of The Avengers team) captured photos of Team Tagumpay staying on the sidelines, literally, collecting only the snails close to the bunds. In the end though, the snails just kept going beyond our reach. We just had to jump in... BUT there were no more cameras to take our photos because everyone in the team was collecting snails.

We didn't want to dive in at first. (Photo by Gaye; layout by Neale.)
After a few hours, our snail collections filled a plastic bag. But there were still more snails to capture. The team then agreed that it would be too risky to plant our rice seedlings in such a snail-infested field; so we ended up deciding to have the field treated with molluscicide.

So what happened to the captives? We gave them to staff at the farm. We never saw the molluscs ever again.

Friday, October 18, 2013

maybe i need to become a polyglot.

In my calendar, I'd call the third week of September as language week. There were three days during that week where I was talking with people who spoke little English while I speak little of everything else. Thank goodness for translators!!

Day 1: I was talking with a group of Chinese scientists. I don't know how to say anything in Chinese except for thank you (Xie xie) and hello (Ni hao). Their host acted as the translator and he asked me jokingly if I could talk with the visitors in Chinese. Actually, this is the second time someone has asked me if I could speak a Chinese language; the first time, it was Mandarin.

Day 2: A group of Japanese media practitioners talked with me through a Filipino translator. The only Japanese expression I could say on top of my head is thank you (Arigatou). They did not request a discussion in Japanese so I didn't have to worry so much. They did, however, request that I talk in Filipino. That was the challenge for me: it's difficult for me to talk science using my native language. Again, this was the second instance that I was asked to talk science in Filipino. The first time? I was asked to consider the option of using the local vernacular.

Day 3: I was about to speak to African trainees when I noticed that they were not paying attention to the facilitator. While the facilitator was introducing me and when I started speaking (in English), I realized that I was in front of an audience from Francophone Africa... and I needed to find a way to catch their attention on the fly. So I greeted them with the limited French I know: Bonjour! Comment ça va? I knew that had some impact because the trainees began talking animatedly with me. Problem was, when the energy ebbed during the hour-long talk, I couldn't seem to get reengaged. Time for Plan B: the food and Bon appétit! That, I think, was the last of my French sentences. Luckily, I didn't need any more because they became active in the discussions again until my talk ended.

Despite our language barriers, I didn't feel the need to resort to non-verbal communications that curious September week. Nothing still beats the way I mimed with a non-English speaker in a different country when my cousins, my sister, and I got lost and were looking for our hotel. They found it so hilarious that it still draws the laughs from them many years after!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Marketplace exhibits take 2: Women in Rice Farming

On August 8, IRRI played host to women involved in rice farming. Because there was just so much to see and to learn during the one-day event, the organizers decided to feature the different research highlights just like during the Ambassadors' Day months back: marketplace-style. Aside from the different exhibits, there was a panel discussion on the role of women in rice farms. Farmers stepped up to share their stories too.

For this event, the Grain Quality and Nutrition Center was represented by me, Cindy, and Tita Dory. It was a good thing that a rehearsal run was conducted before the event; otherwise, we wouldn't be prepared for the number of guests dropping by. Once again, our elevator pitches were put to a test. 

A great experience, overall. :)

As usual, photos taken during the event were captured after the whirlwind visit of the guests.

Hello, participants!

Panelists during the discussion
Jojo Lapitan facilitating the discussion with the farmers and the guests

Thelma Paris (left), gender specialist

Bruce Tolentino talking with media with the grain quality posters in the background

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


I have always been afraid of being up on stage. I'd get sick, lose my appetite, and just do something repeatedly (like walking up and down the stairs) hours before my turn onstage. Thus, it comes as a big surprise for me eleven years after my very first technical presentation, that I am actually spending a lot time in front of audiences who come from different walks of life, talking about rice as food.

me (wearing a pink bandana) walking media practitioners through an activity. Photo from  IRRI's Twitter account (@RiceResearch).

At some point this year, I was asked to make my presentation as interactive as possible (probably because the audience for that presentation were indoors for a whole-day stretch and needed to be entertained). I had taken up the challenge and adopted one of The Glee Project's core skills as a keyword: theatricality. Since that point, I've been asked to present the science that I do to general audiences that way. In the presentation to media practitioners (see photo above), I didn't even use slides anymore, as per discussion with the organizers.

I am still have stage fright, don't get me wrong. My hands still get cold and clammy (as Val and Matty can attest) and I still walk in circles to manage my nerves. But I've finally embraced the fact that theatricality/ having a conversation with a crowd is one of the things that I need to improve on if I want to help make science become something the general public can appreciate; something that is not limited to the realm of geeks and nerds.

Before my toughest scientific talk yet.

I was tapped to speak about rice grain quality at Eastwood Mall's International Rice Festival, as part of IRRI's symposium on July 28. Two days prior to the event, I had a glimpse of just how challenging such a task was as Dr Bruce Tolentino (whose speeches and media interviews are always great studies on how to speak in public) showed me where the speakers would be located: on an elevated stage in the atrium of the mall, in the middle of foot traffic. I felt that I was about to face my toughest audience yet. This marked my first time to speak to (window) shoppers and whoever would stop and listen about the science of rice quality.

While the reality of speaking up on stage was sinking in for me, Dr Tolentino asked the most important question of them all: Do I think I can sustain an audience's attention on a scientific topic for 20 minutes in that situation? How was I supposed to do that IN A SHOPPING MALL?!?

Needless to say, I had to rethink the way I conveyed my message. Here's how I did this on the fly, sort of. Stored knowledge from reading Garr Reynolds' Presentation Zen and Carmine Gallo's Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs really helped developing my story and the accompanying slide deck but I sorely missed the practice rounds and time trials I do well ahead of a presentation.

Keep it snappy. I had to cut a lot of fat from my slide deck. Originally meant for 20 minutes of presentation, the slide deck was reduced to a seven-minute talk through deleting slides and a few hours' worth of practicing. I had to master my presentation because the laptop I was to use was placed where I couldn't see the screen and my back was behind the projection. Visual aids as a crutch, gone. I felt like I was prepping for a TED talk or a MacWorld session in under two days!!

Engage the captured audience. While there were passers-by (the shoppers) who I really couldn't expect to stay, there were other people for the duration of the symposium: the exhibitors. I interviewed them hours before my talk to see how I could include their stories in my presentation (and get their attention).

Find what's in it for them. I believe that this is the best way to make sure that people stayed on and listened, in any presentation that I do. In this case, I attempted to keep the shoppers on-board by appealing to their experiences as rice consumers. To prepare for this, I talked with Val Pede, an econometrics expert, and Matty Demont, a market and value-chain expert, less than an hour before my talk to make sure that I understand and can correctly discuss the economic context of rice grain quality with minimal technical jargon.

Stumble onto carrots and then improvise. Keeping people's attention was one thing; capturing it first is a wholly different ballgame. And frankly, that was a challenge for me. Luckily, the organizers of the symposium were looking for a way of distributing a few loot bags provided by some of the exhibitors. During the last minutes before I stepped on-stage, I agreed to give them away during my talk... Problem solved!

Then, presentation time arrived. It's show time.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

History appreciation 101 at the Ayala Museum

Another weekday holiday brought me and my museum-hopping friends Mary, Bing, and Man to the next museum/art gallery in our checklist: the Ayala Museum (http://www.ayalamuseum.org). I've been there twice before (both as a student) and there were instances when Noah and I were staring at the entrance but didn't have the time to go in.

Today, I had the luxury of spending an afternoon viewing dioramas that showcase snippets of Philippine history. Photography is not allowed, just like in the Cultural Center of the Philippines, so I am not posting any here.


The 60 dioramas at the Ayala Museum divided Philippine history into various stages but not necessarily in the way it was taught to me in school. Philippine history was defined, in my history classes, based on who had occupied the Philippines at any given time: the Spaniards, the Americans, and the Japanese. Instead, the dioramas and a multimedia exhibit showed history based on how Filipinos viewed it: before colonizers, the loss of independence, the beginnings of national identity, the loss of freedom during the Marcos regime (which some people may argue against) and then the beginnings of the Cory Aquino administration. All former presidents of the Philippines had standees showing their heights, with the obvious omission of Ferdinand Marcos. I think that whoever decided on this wasn't happy during the 70s. 

Some of the scenes had more stories in them than what's on the label. Good thing I got a booklet containing descriptions of each diorama. The booklet made the experience richer... It doubles as a souvenir too!  

I've seen dioramas before but the ones at the Ayala Museum were some of the most intricate. And it's no wonder because the artists who had made them were some of the best: the reknowned woodcarvers of Paete, Laguna. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Treasures appreciation Tuesday at the Ayala Museum

Another weekday holiday brought me and my museum-hopping friends Mary, Bing, and Man to the next museum/art gallery in our checklist: the Ayala Museum (http://www.ayalamuseum.org). I've been there twice before (both as a student) and there were instances when Noah and I were staring at the entrance but didn't have the time to go in.

Today, I had the luxury of spending an afternoon viewing the various exhibits that showed how strong Philippine international trade relations were with the rest of the world, a common theme I have observed previously in exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum and the National Museum. The Ayala collection further showed how rich the foundations of Filipino culture are. Photography is not allowed, just like in the Cultural Center of the Philippines, so I am not posting any here.


Gold of Ancestors. Gold has always been one of the most expensive metals worldwide. But it's not only valued by contemporary people. Even in pre-historical periods, Filipinos had been known to deck themselves, their deities, and their dead relatives in golden ornaments. Diadems, studs, ear ornaments, belts, and sashes had been obtained from excavation sites in different parts of the country. Seeing that some of these jewelry pieces are about 1kg in weight, I wonder how the wearers managed to move about. My best bet is that they (particularly the royals) didn't have the best posture, with all that gold weighing on their shoulders. Was the amount of gold on these people symbolizing the gravity of their responsibility, aside from being a reflection of their wealth?

A Millennium of Contact. "All that glisters is not gold", Portia says in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. True; some of the Philippines' richest treasures are not in gold but are in porcelain. The variety of porcelain pieces I've seen came from pre-Hispanic periods, which indicated that the Philippines was part of an international trading community. I wonder, though, how'd the archaeologists know what century the pots came from?

The Villanueva collection contained some of the most well-preserved pieces I've seen. There were wares that originated from the Chinese mainland: celadon pieces; black, brown, and white pottery; and the ubiquitous blue-and-white pieces I've seen ad nauseam in museums in different countries. Going through the collection at the Ayala Museum offered an answer to the popularity of the blue-and-whites. These were sold to the European markets, which I think is why these are seen in museums worldwide. Celadon pots and the other types exported to Southeast Asian markets were rarer in museums I've gone to in western countries. The different kiln complexes in China were assigned to produce pieces for different markets. This designation of factories reminded me of the One Town, One Product concept in Laguna.

Aside from the Chinese products, the Villanueva collection also included pots and ornaments from Vietnam and Thailand... Plus other countries in Southeast Asia. The designs, though quite similar to the Chinese pieces at first glance, were quite unique. Thai pieces had elephants on them, for instance. 

Embroidered Multiples. Abaca. Sinamay. Pina. Cotton. These are some of the more popular fabrics used by Filipinos for their clothes during the Spanish colonial era. I observed a huge contrast between pre-colonial wear and the fashion during the Spanish colonial era. For instance, paintings of datus and their wives indicated a strong Indian or Middle Eastern influence in terms of clothing. The colonial trends, on the other had, reflected strong European influences like the empire cut dresses worn by the women in the elite classes. None of the images were wearing what we contemporary Filipinos call terno or Maria Clara... Or even barong Tagalog. But the elements are there, particularly the tapis worn over the saya.

From all the different Filipiniana attire I've seen today, I find it difficult to decide on what I'd like to wear when required to wear Filipiniana.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Good-bye, Jazz.

January 2006. That's when I first saw the car that would bring me from point A to point B for the next seven years: a Honda Jazz 1.3 CVT. Fast forward 186,000++ kilometers later, I bid the car good-bye. While I've been planning on selling it for sometime, the reality of parting from the car still came as a shock... and that was earlier today. Yes, the Jazz was sold on my Mom's birthday. Since the car transferred hands and I am home alone, I wasn't in such a celebratory mood. Anna and I will eat on the weekend to celebrate Mommy's birthday.

It still feels surreal that the Jazz is no longer mine. So to cope, I'm listing down 10 memories with the Jazz, just on the top of my head.

Here goes...
  1. The rear seat became a mini-zoo. The stuff toys became a perfect distraction for my nephews and nieces. A friend was attempting to get the platypus doll for himself; I ended up teary-eyed. They're my toys!
  2. Long trip to Pampanga, take 1. Anna and I drove north to see the 16th hot-air balloon festival. Well, I drove; she slept most of the way. On our way home, I was able to remain alert thanks to the half-liter Coca-Cola I was drinking in sips from Pampanga to Laguna.
  3. Long trip to Pampanga, take 2. Yes, it's to the hot-air balloon festival (17th), but my friends from high school joined me. We had a good time flying kites and catching up on each others' lives, particularly since we're not seeing each other as often as before. Mafel and Karen joined me on the long drive home. Along the way, we made a stop at Starbucks in one of the gas stations along the expressway. That was where I ordered my first made-to-order beverage: venti chocolate chip frappuccino blended creme, soy, with whipped cream and peppermint syrup.
  4. Long trip to Pampanga, take 3. Third time's the charm they say. But this time, the 18th hot-air balloon festival wasn't the sole reason. Pampanga is the culinary capital of the Philippines, so it was just fitting to include a pit stop at a restaurant in Angeles City. Yum!
  5. Christmas shopping with Noah. Noah is a great guy to go shopping with because he doesn't hurry me along, is willing to hold on to my bag as I try on shoes or clothes, and watches out for food that trigger my allergies. But on one occasion, the roles were reversed: he went all-out on the Christmas shopping. The luggage area of the Jazz was filled with his gifts, including a set of ingredients for spaghetti for his mom and a stroller for his newborn niece. He drove the car back to Laguna so I could sleep along the way.
  6. Driving myself to the emergency room. I was home alone when I fever hit me. My temperature was unstable and I kept vomiting until I passed out. When I came to, I thought I was stable enough to drive to the nearest hospital. That was the longest 10-minute drive I've ever made.
  7. Flat tire and Nelzo. Back when Glorietta 5 was still a parking lot, I had a flat tire there and drivers in the parking lot lounge were assisting me replace it. Nelzo, who had been shopping on his own, was upset because he thought that I had asked others for help with my groceries while he was on-hand to help. I explained that I didn't call him over because he might not know how to change tires.
  8. Lost in Quezon (province). I had been at a former classmate's wedding. On my way home, I thought of taking a shortcut through the Sierra Madre Mountains. I was lost for an hour, driving on a bridge near a waterfall, before a guy with a rifle and a bunch of bananas gave me directions. The waterfall area reminds me now of the Cars scene where Lightning McQueen and Sally were passing by a waterfall.
  9. Turning 360 degrees along the northbound section of the Alabang viaduct. Now this is a scary experience. The SLEX was under repair that time, with maximum speed limit at 80kph on the approach to the viaduct. I was driving at 80kph on the innermost lane. The car driving alongside me cut me off unexpectedly; once on my lane, in front of my car, the driver slowed down to 60kph. For some reason, the conditions were right for the car to drift to a full circle. While my car was spinning, I saw the blur of the cement partitions on the road. I knew then that I wouldn't die just yet because there was no flashback. Eventually out of the spin (and seeing the vehicles behind my car at full stop far from my car), I noticed that the slow overtaker stopped as well. I just overtook the overtaker then continued on my way... but my hands were shaking when I finally parked the car.
  10. Whiplash, anyone? My car was a victim of two collision accidents. In the first one, it got hit from behind, damaging the rear windshield and the 5th door. In the second one, it was broadsided by a flying tricycle. In both accidents, my head hit the seat hard, triggering whiplash symptoms. I was sore for a few days but the car took a heavier beating than I did. Thank goodness to the people in the Honda repair shop and in a car shop recommended by the insurance company: they were able to get my car back in tip-top shape both times!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tayo na sa Antipolo

I like to travel, don't get me wrong. But I normally prepare for my trips by studying the route on a map or I have a knowledgeable navigator among my passengers (if I'm the designated driver). Lately, however, I've been going to places I've never been to before thanks to classmates in culinary arts class.

Last time I was with them on a road trip, I ended up parking in Montalban, Rizal as part of a three-car convoy a few hours after class. This time, I was up for yet another drive but to somewhere closer (I think): Antipolo, Rizal.

No, we weren't there to visit the famous church frequented by pilgrim travelers nor the Hinulugang Taktak. We had lunch at a Padi's Point roadside restaurant. Ordinary enough, I thought, until I saw the view. Beyond the trees of the mountain we were on, I caught a glimpse of the waters of Laguna de Bay and the peak of Talim Island on the left, and the skyline of Metro Manila on the right. I should have brought my dSLR camera with me. But since I didn't, I settled for the iPad's camera app.


The place reminded me of the series of bulalo restaurants along the highway in Tagaytay where people can eat a meal while gazing upon the Taal Lake and the Taal Volcano.

Thank you Liza, Erwin, and Mike for that enjoyable trip to Antipolo. I'm looking forward to our next adventure!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Review: Bakit Hindi Ka Crush ng Crush Mo? (2013)

Once again, I found myself falling in line at the ticket booth to watch a movie I didn't know anything about. This time, though, I was with a different group of friends.

As the lights were dimming and as the opening scene started, I blurted: "I thought we were watching Bakit Hindi Ka Crush ng Crush Mo?. Why is Kim Chiu in it?!"

"Don't you like watching Kim Chiu movies?", my friends asked. 

"I'm not a fan but I have seen some of her films. Why, is she part of the cast of this film?", I answered, still confused... I thought the first scene was a trailer of a different movie.

As the movie continued, I realized she was the lead actor in the movie. She top-billed the movie and rightly so because she really drove the plot forward. Her comedic timing felt natural, never forced, and as if there were no cameras around. While she clearly led the rest of the cast, none of them were overshadowed by her acting chops. Even the scenes with the kids, the film's version of the Greek chorus, and the village band seemed ordinary enough. 

On the other hand, Xian Lim portrayed the character I've seen in several Filipino movies: a guy with something to prove to his father and elder male relatives. I instantly saw his similarities with John Lloyd Cruz's Miggy Montenegro in A Very Special Love and You Changed My Life. Including the penchant for singing to woo the girl, of course. 

When the movie closed, I just had to ask: Did the movie actually answer the titular question? I think the answer was lost to me as the plot progressed. 

If you know the answer to Ramon Bautista's* pressing question, feel free to comment. Bakit 'di ka crush ng crush mo

* Ramon Bautista is the author of the book this movie is adapted from.

Review: Four Sisters and a Wedding (2013)

I drove back to Calamba right after class one Saturday afternoon because I was meeting my friends from high school. I caught up with them in the cinema after buying a ticket for the movie Four Sisters and a Wedding. Since I was in a hurry (the movie was about to start when I bought my ticket) I didn't stop and look at the posters so I didn't know what the movie was about... Except that it was (supposedly) funny.

Funny, it really was! The scriptwriting and directing team captured the Filipino family reunion as the four sisters (based overseas) came home for their brother's wedding. As the family shrieked and jumped in delight, I felt I was watching the reception my overseas-based relatives get when they visit the Philippines. The movie was very close to home, I thought.

Aside from the joyous occasions, it couldn't be helped to insert a lot of conflict between siblings in the movie. The formula must be effective since I've seen this kind of conflict in several movies already. I think it worked here too because the audience did get teary eyed... Or maybe that's because Connie Reyes played the mother role with dignity, poise, and restraint. 

I just found the bride's family to be cartoonish and artificial (they were just too funny and two-dimensional to be real, for me). However, the roles of the bride's parents were well-portrayed. In fact, I was speechless and was laughing heartily during Carmi Martin's grand entrance.

In the end, I felt I'd gone through a roller-coaster of emotions, gaining catharsis as the credits rolled.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Ano daw?!

I was driving along the southbound lane of the Southern Luzon Expressway (SLEX) this afternoon from Makati. Since the traffic was moving quite fast, I zipped through the tollway. I didn't have time to process what the billboards found on the at-grade posts of the SLEX were saying. Hence, I had a double take when I saw two ads that I found weird (again)...

"Patigil-tigil ba ang iyong pag-ihi? Don't text and drive."

"Mataas ba ang iyong cholesterol? Don't text and drive."

Say what?!

These ad designers should really rethink how they put their messages onto their posters! I didn't catch what the subsequent posters were saying so it's really easy to miss the opportunity to bring their messages across!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tricycle cargo

Tricycles are some of the most common means of public transportation in the Philippines. They can be found traversing barangay roads and national highways. The only places I haven't seen them in (because they're not allowed there) are the expressways.

The stuff that these tricycles transport can be as different as night and day! Here are two examples:

This tricycle was transporting a gas cylinder at night along the national highway in Calamba. What a way of transporting, right? it's not the most ideal because the cylinder could get dislodged on a particularly bad bump... And probably explode. For some people though, this is the most convenient and the cheapest way of transporting such things. Traffic was not moving at the time because a container van trailer was being maneuvered into some weird configuration on the outer lane.

And here's another one. I presume that these colorful toys are going to be sold in one of the markets in Calamba. It's just nice to see something jolly while stuck in traffic on a beautiful morning. Who wouldn't smile after seeing Spongebob floating in the air instead of being under the sea, right? The traffic jam was caused by everyone going to the town proper taking the expressway as an alternate route while a bridge is being repaired.

I have yet to take a photo of a trike with a pig and a dog as passengers. But I've seen some.

Monday, July 1, 2013


I'm lucky that I have friends who share my enthusiasm on learning more about Philippine culture and who love to visit museums. And we do it every June 19, so far, complete with a stop over at Jose Rizal's monument at the Luneta.

This year, aside from dropping by the museum at the CCP, we looked at the various art exhibits there and dropped by the nearby Metropolitan Museum in Manila. Just by looking at so many artwork from a wide range of genres, I could say (not being an expert at all) that the Philippine visual arts scene is thriving.

When I first saw copies of Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo's paintings "La Barca de Aqueronte" and "Las Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho", I understood why he won reknown as an artist: I was blown away by his depiction of adversity and discomfort and by his play with light and shadows. These paintings, including Juan Luna's "Spolarium", are some of the best I've seen. They're priceless!

Aside from these Neoclassic pieces, there were more ancient art: such as the religious wood carvings featured in the Met Museum's basement. They could easily predate the Hidalgos by 200 years! While viewing the handicraft collection, I was amazed at the Filipino artisan from centuries back because of the intricacies of the carvings and the fine details of the rosaries. Then there were the even older art work: prehistoric jewelry. I knew, after visiting the Ayala Museum and the CCP, that the pre-Hispanic period inhabitants of the Philippines were vain: they loved to decorate themselves with tattoos, ornaments, and jewelry. The Met Museum's collection included a lot of gold, glass beads, and semi-precious stones. If ornate earrings and headpieces these days are typically design for women, men had equally complex earrings and head covers before the Spanish colonizers arrived (as shown in the Met Museum and the CCP Museum).

Then there's modern art. Filipinos have embraced the various media available to them: film, music, mixed media, paint... Even space! Yes, there was one exhibit that appeared to be a study of the emptiness space! My impression of modern artwork, which I first had back as a post-grad student visiting museums in Sydney and Brisbane, is that the artists are generally sad. A lot of them painted a world that is darker than what it really is (for me, the perpetual optimist). That same impression persists after seeing some of the modern artwork at the Met and at the CCP art galleries. I noticed a lot of paintings with activist messages, a lot of sad faces, paper money made into airplanes, desolation on open roads... And here I am, thinking that Filipinos are a generally jolly bunch of people and that must be captured in art somehow, somewhere. I therefore conclude that after a day of looking at modern art, I still have to acquire the taste for it.

On a different note, I particularly enjoyed viewing the art pieces of  Lexygius Calip at the CCP's Pasilyo Vicente Manansala. The artist had a very interesting view about people's memories and the juxtaposition of emptiness and presence. I nicknamed one of the artworks "lost in space" because of all the holes in it. And from this artist's work came the most profound of messages that I've seen on this year's museum excursion:

"The void is not empty. It is space filled with the vitality of the universe and at the same time with the feeling of loneliness." (MVT Herrera, exhibit brochure)

In other words, the void is the presence of what's not there.