Monday, January 28, 2013

Review: Florenel Cafe & Restaurant

My cousins Kuya Jun-jun and Ate Lorna mentioned, before Christmas, that there's this new restaurant in Cuenca, Batangas that serves delicious food. In fact, the first event hosted by the restaurant was their son, Julo's, birthday party. Their story about big servings of burgers and pasta at reasonable prices kept the restaurant in my head as a place I should visit next time I'm in Batangas.

And so yesterday, after an errand in Lipa City, I called Kuya Jun-jun and he told me that we'd meet up at Florenel Cafe & Restaurant for lunch. Yes, I drove all the way from Lipa City to Cuenca, worked up my appetite, supposedly for lunch. Good thing it was easy enough to find. After a long stretch of houses along the national highway, an orange building with a parking lot pops up just before the boundary between Cuenca and Alitagtag. That's Florenel's.


When I got there, the parking lot out front was full so I had to park the car in the back. It looks like the restaurant is gaining ground in its customer base... always a good sign that the food's good. In fact, the biggest party during that lunch hour was of the congressman in this district. And so Kuya Jun-jun (who got there a few minutes after me) and I decided to return for afternoon snacks.

And return we did, this time with my nephew, Julo. Ate Lorna opted out this time.

The interiors had a happy and informal vibe and the staff were very friendly too. It's as if I were dropping by a cousin's house (and I do have a lot of cousins in the area) for snacks. Wait, maybe I am! I ought to brush up on my family's tree.

I got myself a serving of spaghetti bolognese. I'm happy to note that the pasta wasn't the usual "dessert" spaghetti I find in roadside restaurants; this popular spaghetti recipe is too sweet for my taste. Instead, Florenel's spaghetti tasted more like my Mom's version with the meaty taste and the thick tomato sauce, plus a hint of chili.

Kuya Jun-jun got the Florenel burger, which (I was promised) should've been bigger. It's about the same size as a regular fast food burger but the burger patty was flatter; not the plump and juicy type seen on images of those mouth-watering commercial burgers. People say don't judge a book by its cover; I guess the same goes with this burger: don't judge it until you've tasted it. This burger tasted more like Tagaytay City's mushroom burger than Jollibee's Regular Yum, in my opinion. And that, for me, is a good reason to come back for more. After all, I do drive all the way to Tagaytay City (from Laguna) when I crave for those mushroom burgers.

Then there were the desserts. Ate Lorna and I tried the chocolate decadent cake and the blueberry cheesecake (which Kuya Jun-jun took home). I found the cakes to be a tad too dry and crumbly than the cheesecakes and chocolates decadent that I'd eaten before. But if there's one good thing about them, it's this: both cakes were not too sweet.

Florenel Cafe and Restaurant is definitely a good place to stop for a meal along the road that takes travelers from Manila (or Laguna, like me) to the Batangas towns of Taal and Lemery... and Batangas City even, if one doesn't take one of the more direct routes.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Team Manila Lifestyle

One Saturday afternoon, Noah (who recently flew in for the Joel-Trixie, Ian-Michele nuptials) was in the search for statement souvenir items to bring back to school. He wasn't looking for the usual souvenir shirt found in tourist spots; he was bent on buying shorts or other items that reflect the Filipino culture... something that could start conversations with fellow Pinoys abroad or with other nationalities.

So he suggested that we go to a Team Manila store in Makati. The branch that we went to in Glorietta didn't have a wide selection of items (and mostly were for girls) so we transferred malls. We went to the Power Plant Mall at Rockwell (also in Makati).

The Team Manila Lifestyle store at the Power Plant Mall had lots and lots of shirt designs, knick knacks, and cameras to choose from!

Team Manila Lifestyle looks like a popular shop stop for expats and balikbayans. The messages of the shirts are reflective of Filipino culture, the juxtaposition of the traditional with the contemporary. Just see the image of Jose Rizal with sunglasses on, that's one of most recognizable designs of Team Manila. On the day we dropped by, I remembered that my brother always wanted shirts with Filipino humor in it. So I got him a shirt; I got my sister a shirt too!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review: Negotiate a Kick Ass Salary (2012)

It doesn't take a thick book to learn how to develop one's negotiation skills. It doesn't need a jargon-filled document either. This is what Nelson Wang demonstrated when his 32-pager, "Negotiate a Kick Ass Salary", was published in late 2012. 

The one thing emphasized is the importance of preparation. Go to the battle well-armed, as people used to say. One cannot just go up to the boss and demand what one wants without supporting information. It's the prep work that takes the most effort because that when we need to answer the tough questions, to make the decisions, and to sweat it out. Nelson Wang does not promise that things will be easy; instead, he says that if we are willing to push ourselves that extra mile, we'll get what we want AND we'll develop some kick-ass negotiation skills along the way.

The nice thing about Nelson Wang's tips is that they are universal in nature. Aside from salaries, the negotiation skills one gets using the steps outlined in the book can help during difficult discussions, when people arrive at an impasse. 

The only way to develop one's negotiation skills is to practice them, particularly in front of a tough audience. There's no way to go around it. Armed with this book, let's see if I could present ideas more convincingly this year.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Review: Life of Pi (2012)

pi (π), an irrational number equal to 3.14159. It is the ratio between a circle's circumference and its diameter. Pi is also the nickname of a boy who got lost at sea, sharing a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.

Ang Lee and his team had done a great job of putting such an imaginative story onto the silver screen. To me, the biggest magic of all was the amazing use of CGI. The team's genius was in full display when it unleashed a realistic, convincingly ferocious tiger onto the lifeboat. I thought, at first, that the trainer did a good job at preventing the big cat from eating the actor portraying Pi Patel. Then a friend told me: the cat was pure computer-generated imagery. But that's not all. The sea creatures that made Pi and Richard Parker (yes, that's the tiger's name) realize that they are not at the top of the marine food chain were also all CGI.

What amazed me even more was the portrayal of Pi by Suraj Sharma. The animals were only realistic because the sole human in the scene with them acted like the creatures were really there... particularly Richard Parker. The audience felt Sharma's loneliness, his struggle to grow up and to survive, and his loss as he (and the audience) went back to reality.

Ah, reality...

Once the gloss of the water, the bioluminescence of jellyfish and of algae, and the magical land animals on the lifeboat were removed, the brutality of human survival at sea was plain to see (or for Pi's audience -- including the author, the insurance people, and the real-life theater audience -- to hear). It was truly a story that was difficult to listen to; none of the magic, none of the wonder conjured by the idea of keeping a tiger from eating you while you're both floating aimlessly in the middle of the Pacific.

Frankly, I'd rather not hear the real story.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Review: Les Miserables (2012)

"Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

                                            -- Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer
                                               (the musical Les Miserables, based on Victor Hugo's novel)

I had been to the cinema over the weekend to watch the 2012 film adaptation of the hit musical Les Miserables (directed by Tom Hooper, starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway). The story, set during the time leading up to and during the June Rebellion of 1832,  is about ex-convict Jean Valjean dodging the authorities (specifically the dedicated Inspector Javert) while taking care of his adopted daughter Cosette, whose mother (Fantine) died many years ago.

The lead cast's acting was great. Hugh Jackman was a convincing Jean Valjean while Anne Hathaway's Fantine could move even the most unsympathetic audience because of the unfairness of her plight... with the exception of black-and-white rule-of-law Javert, of course. Russell Crowe, cast as the antagonist Javert, was scary; his singing made me think that Javert really had no emotions and that he did not believe in forgiveness and mercy. The other members of the cast also did a great job in this movie. I won't write in detail anymore since I agree with what Noan had to say about Cosette, Eponine, Marius, and Gavroche. The songs, coming mostly from the stage version, were performed impeccably. However, I've got to admit that I didn't get the goosebumps while watching the movie cast sing One Day More and Do You Hear the People Sing; the movie version fell short compared with the Les Miserables Dream Cast and the 25th anniversary concert singers. That's an unfair comparison, though.

While watching the movie, I thought I finally understood the attraction of the novel to Filipino liberals during the late 19th century. Europe-based Filipino luminaries at that time (Rizal, Luna, del Pilar, Ponce, etc) must have seen themselves in the Friends of the ABC. If Les Miserables (the novel) were available in the Philippines then, it might also have influenced the Filipino revolutionaries (Aguinaldo, Bonifacio, Mabini, etc) fighting for freedom from Spanish rule. Not only to the Filipino revolutionaries though; I believe that this timeless story of the search for a people's freedom from oppression is universal and might have inspired other nations to their own paths to independence as well. It gave names and faces to nameless people who fought for their nations' freedoms: the unknown soldiers who made, according to a CNN reporter at the Obama inauguration coverage, "today and tomorrow possible".

Sunday, January 13, 2013


I was watching Up! on cable tv several weeks ago and got reminded of the squirrels I had encountered in Davis during my brief stay there last year. During my trip, I had only two meetings in the Uni so I used the rest of my time to explore the campus... and see the wildlife. 

There are no squirrels in close proximity to people where I live in the Philippines so I chased after these critters in a "wildlife photo shoot" (yes, armed only with a 35-55mm lens). I must've looked like a fresh-from-the-airport new foreign student. Hahaha! 

The nice thing about these animals is that they're not shy around people; it was easy photographing them. I just needed to take care that I didn't get too close.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Review: Sosy Problems (2012)

I decided I wanted to see this movie because I didn't want to see those with more serious plots during the holiday season. Sosy Problems is the second 2012 MMFF entry I watched. The first being Sisterakas.

I have barely taken my seat when I started cringing... 

The movie begins by defining the different social classes. People were grouped into: (1) poor, those who can't buy their own food and aren't working; (2) working class, people who receive minimum wages and travel via public transportation; (3) lower middle class, those who have jobs, can eat three times a day but have to skip snacks, and can only afford second-hand cars at best; (4) middle class, people whose houses are in subdivisions and villages but NOT the gated ones with security guards, who buy the cheapest brand new cars, and can afford five meals a day; (5) upper middle class, they live in gated communities, have SUVs, and can afford as much food as they want. 

But wait! There's one more!

(6) The super duper upper class. And based on how the main characters were introduced, they travel locally by helicopter or are driven around in luxury cars. Their parents can afford to provide their yayas Toyota sedans. Oh, these characters wear the most uncomfortable shoes too.

The introduction lent to a promising start. I fully expected to see a story about how the working class (represented by the two journalists assigned to create a documentary -- played by Tim Yap and Mikey Bustos) would treat the super duper rich's sosy problems. The boss, played by Ruffa Gutierrez, picked out four ultra-rich nobodies. These supposed "it" girls were portrayed by Heart Evangelista, Solenn Heussaff, Rhian Ramos, and Bianca King. These characters were so rich they didn't seem to need to work for the money they use to feed their expensive tastes. Which begs the question: Why are they "it" girls? Their only claim to fame, as far as I could tell, was their affiliations to their famous (or extremely successful) parents. To paraphrase the words of Cherie Gil's iconic Lavinia (in Bituing Walang Ningning), these characters were nothing but four second-rate, trying hard, third-world-country Valley Girl copycats... who were really super duper rich.

The absurdity of the situation these girls were put in certainly reeled in the laughs. They waged war against an agent of change -- a character portrayed convincingly by Mylene Dizon -- who rose from the masses into the super duper upper class via marriage. They also were also fish out of water on several occasions. These elements would have made for a good parody, I think... and a good documentary within the movie, for sure.

Unfortunately, however, as soon as Ruffa Gutierrez's character introduced the challenge to the two journalists, the story within a story frame collapsed. For one, the reporters were decidedly not with the "it" girls when they were covered in mud; they were not with the girls when the girls' more realistic issues reared their ugly heads; they were effectively pulled out by the boss just as the story was taking shape. For another, whoever concocted the movie's plot decided that each girl should have a background story, something to ground them in a way. Perhaps, these subplots were added to illustrate that these "it" girls could relate to us, poorer creatures. But since these side-stories felt like afterthoughts rather than integral parts of the parody, they didn't fly as well as the conflict with Dizon's antagonist.

And so I learned one thing when I watched Sosy Problems: the design principle advanced by aircraft engineer Kelly Johnson also rings true to movies. K-I-S-S.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

playing with moonlight

New Year's Eve had a waning gibbous moon. I was trying, with no tripod (because I thought I didn't have enough time to get back in the house for the tripod), to get a good photo of the moon using a telephoto lens. Unfortunately, I couldn't get an image I really liked because of the blur associated with long exposures. So I thought it might be a good idea to try abstract art with light streaks.  A fireworks display got into frame too. Here's what I got in the end. Next time, I'll use a tripod.

Friday, January 4, 2013

IYSC 2012 in photos

The first ever rice science conference specifically for young scientists was held in November this year. I didn't take photos during the first day because I was moderating a session in the morning and was presenting a paper in the afternoon. I started taking photos during the second day, when the panel discussion on the "excellence in rice science" and the paper competition was scheduled. 

During the competition's awarding ceremony, India's Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and and Cooperation, Hon. Shri Ashish Bahuguna, graced the event before continuing on with his meetings and laboratory visits. One of the first scholars welcomed by IRRI, Reynaldo Lantin, was also on-hand during the celebration of 50 years of IRRI scholarship.

Photos from the IRRI Young Scientists' Conference below:

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Ian and Michele get married! :)

December 30, 2012

Ian and Michele, two of my friends from grade school, got married in Bay, Laguna. I'm sharing some of the photos I've taken during the event in the slideshow below. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 AFSTRI Cultural Night

As part of the celebrations for the 50th year of scholarship in IRRI, the Association of Fellows, Scholars, Trainees, and Residents in IRRI (AFSTRI) held its annual Cultural Night during the same week as the IRRI Young Scientists' Conference.

The Cultural Night was, indeed, a welcome break from all the science talk. Nurul, one of the hosts for the event, mentioned that this year's Cultural Night was all about the peak of the "art-genes" expression.  For the next two hours, young scientists showed that they're not just scientists, they're artists as well. 

Proof? Here's proof. :)

The Gangnam bug has infected the audience by the time the Cultural Night came to a close thanks to the Korean students who gave the most rousing performances of the night.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hello, 2013! :)

As the clock approached 12mn on January 1, 2013, I went outside the house to take photos of the New Year's Eve revelry going on in my neighborhood. Lo and behold! There's significantly fewer fireworks (most of them were lit 30 minutes to midnight) than last year (people were lighting up firecrackers at 10pm!). Plus, there's noticeably less smoke earlier today; last year, the neighborhood looked like a movie set for a war zone with all the smoke. The big daddy of firecrackers, Judas' belt, was not among my neighbors' repertoires this year. Most of them used fountains and rockets.

Anyway, here are some photos taken as my neighbors welcomed 2013. As for me, I jumped a few times just in case I will get a bit taller this year and I prepared some food for my media noche. Yes, just me; the younger sister was on duty at the time.