Friday, February 22, 2013

back in Star City on New Year's Day

The first time I was in Star City was very memorable. Ate Gigi was babysitting six of us, her cousins. She didn't have enough money to treat us to sodas so all six cousins had to share one 16 oz cup of Coca-Cola! We we told that we could only have one sip each. Up til now, it's one of the things we happily talk about whenever the discussion veers towards theme parks.

More than twenty years later, I had the opportunity to return to Star City with my cousins, Ate Madie and Kuya Larry, and their kids, plus my mom's siblings and sister-in-law (Tita Mely, Tito Boy, and Tita Lucy). Naturally, the story of the earlier trip to the theme park brought in a lot of laughs while we were on the road.

Back during my first Star City misadventure, nobody had thought to take photos (after all, we were all kids then). This time, I wanted to capture the moment with Butotoy and Trisha, my nephew and my niece who are both old enough not to be stuck in strollers. Their youngest sibling, Carlo, is still too young to walk on his own for extended periods so he stayed with his parents and grannies.

There certainly were a lot of great memories for Trisha and Totoy. My personal favorite: their facial expressions when we first entered the giant freezer designated as the "winter wonderland". Their smiles were PRICELESS! I wish that their parents were there instead of me because they've missed the kids' first time in the cold, even if it was just a roomful of ice blocks. I also wish I could've taken a photo of that exact moment and when we all went "snow" tubing.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

President Noynoy Aquino visits IRRI

The day started bright and sunny. Something was definitely up because at the gate, motorists were greeted, not by the friendly wave of the security guard, but by a man clad in a white polo barong (he's part of the Presidential Security Group). Still very friendly, mind you, as he flagged me down for a car inspection conducted by the bomb squad. That's hardly a surprise, though, because it had been announced the day before that the President of the Philippines, Benigno Simeon Aquino III was dropping in for a visit. It didn't look like it, if you weren't sent the memo, because there were no welcome greetings, no tarpaulins, no placards along the way from Calamba City to Los Banos. 

Then, as his arrival time approached, so did the dark clouds! It seemed that his visit will be preceded by some rain.

But the dark clouds passed, dropping just a few raindrops here and there. They certainly didn't dampen the moods of the people excitedly awaiting the President. And when he finally arrived at the NCBL Building, he was welcomed like a movie star by his fans (sans the placards, that is).

He visited IRRI's collection of rice varieties in the Gene Bank and then mingled with the crowd before leaving. I was standing on a ledge in the middle of the roundabout, a few meters away from the President, so I didn't have a chance to shake his hand or to get one of the souvenir yellow silicone wristbands he was handing out. He was barely visible among the people crowding around him. I was, however, able to take a few photos because of the vantage point.

Yes, with his security team watching him like a hawk, the President allowed people to get close to him. This is actually the first time I've seen a head of state (in person, not on tv) who's not onstage, not in formal/business attire, and who was granting autograph requests.

More photos from the President's visit in the slide show below. To see President Aquino in the images, just follow the direction of the cameras, mobile phones, and tablet PCs. All of them should be pointing at him. :) That's a lesson I learned from IRRI photographer Chris Quintana.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

lost in Batangas (yet again)

I should've just followed the sugarcane truck.

That was my thought as I drove along the highway in Batangas province one Saturday afternoon, opting to see where Google Maps' directions will lead me. See, it was a sunny day, the perfect opportunity to go on a road trip. My itinerary included pit stops in the heritage town of Taal, Batangas and in the coastal town of Nasugbu, Batangas; if there was enough time, probably an additional stop in Tagaytay City, Cavite.

And so I drove... and followed Google Maps.

Along the way, I got in line behind a truck laden with sugarcane stalks. It, presumably, was on its way to the sugar mills in Nasugbu. Perfect, I thought; I wouldn't get lost.

Alas, when I approached a fork on the road -- one route going to the left, the other going to the right -- Google Maps directed me to take the right turn. A few more kilometers and I'd be in the historic town of Taal. Sadly, as the app indicated that I had reached my destination, I was along the diversion road to Lemery, Batangas, right in front of a roadside restaurant.

I succeeded in getting lost in Batangas, again.

Blooper 1. Check. Good-bye cultural pit stop.

I had planned to make a pit stop at two churches in the town but since I was outside, I opted to aim for the beach town of Nasugbu; after all, the weather was sunny and windy... perfect beach weather, in my opinion. So on I drove through the town of Lemery (or might I say, the diversion road in Lemery).

A few kilometers passed and then I was forced to make a choice (again) at a roundabout. There was  a road to Tagaytay to the right and a road straight ahead. A traffic jam at the roundabout made me decide to take the right turn... and up the mountain road.

Blooper 2. Check. Good-bye beach.

Many kilometers of road were ahead of me as the car ascended to the Tagaytay ridge. Along the way, I noticed that a lot of coconut trees on the mountain sides had yellowing leaves. Aside from the trees, I started noticing the thick clouds approaching from inland... especially as I neared the hairpin turns to the tune of "Highway to the Danger Zone" (from the Top Gun soundtrack). 

If there was one good thing that came up because my road trip did not go as planned, it was that I was on one of my favorite scenic drives. In fact, I ended up driving on the very same route that I had taken on my first ever Batangas long drive (many years ago, with Daddy, Lola Bats, Anna, and Biboy). It's been years since I last passed by Fantasy World and seeing its castle pop up out of the foliage was, as always, a pleasant surprise. Plus, this scenic route provided a glimpse of Balayan Bay on the left and Taal Lake on the right (just before the clouds blocked it). Where else could I see two bodies of water at the same time, right?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Review: Hansel and Gretel (2013)

Every fairy tale begins with "Once upon time..." The child-friendly versions have made young girls see unrealistic images of princesses and of worlds filled with lots of pastels and friendly forest animals. And so with these in mind, I willingly entered the movie theater to watch Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

This version of Hansel and Gretel is no fairy tale, however. The siblings have grown to become witch-hunters in a world where witches were feared, at a time when superstitions were abundant. A perfect setting for Hansel and Gretel to be heroes complete with their fan club. Suffice it to say that this movie's take on the adult lives of the siblings is far more violent than I had expected. I think it's deserves more than a 'Parental Guidance' rating because of the violence and the gore.

Anachronisms and character flaws peppering the storyline provide the humor in an otherwise dark movie; they can also be distracting. But the bottom line of the plot is about the fight between good and evil, Hansel and Gretel vs. the witches. And thus, the movie ends as every fairy tale does, "... Happily ever after" but in a different way from the sanitized fairy tale versions.