Monday, March 31, 2014

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, part 3

My parents had grand plans about this year's vacation: walking down colonial era memory lane, digging one's toes into the sand, and lounging beside crystal clear waters. 

... And so my family ended up in Bagac, Bataan. More specifically, we spent a weekend at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.


Bataan is a province I've been to only once before but it's a place of curiosity for me because that's where the Philippines' only (mothballed) nuclear plant is found. This was in the back of my mind when morning came and I just realized how close I was to the facility when I saw it while walking on the beach.

The beach in Bagac isn't white. It's grayish; because of the dark color, it could get pretty hot as the day progressed. Unfortunately, my mom's not into swimming, any water sport, or staying by the beach so we just had a good look, Anna and Daddy got an ice cream, and I took photos of the beach. Then we headed off to the pool.

The beach in Bagac, Bataan

I wonder then what made my mom think she'd enjoy Palawan or Boracay when she couldn't stay too long by the water's edge. While at the beach, I couldn't help but think of Biboy and his wife, Barbara, who were left in California... they're housesitting while the parents were here with the big sisters, Anna and me.

I dig my toes into the sand... I wish you were here.

The pool wasn't deep, about five feet at its deepest, but the water was quite cold. I was wary about jumping in at first because I had chills the night we arrived... was dehydrated and tired from the long drive and then I had to stay in a really cold bedroom. The water, however, was just too enticing to pass up. So when the day turned a bit hotter after breakfast, I took the plunge.

Anna testing the water's temperature right after breakfast.

Who wouldn't, with the pool looking like that, right?

Digging my toes into the sand: Check!
Lounging by crystal clear waters: Check!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Exploring Singapore in three days, part 4

I was in Singapore in January to attend an MBA orientation for prospective students at INSEAD. While there, I took the time to explore the city and learn a bit more about its history and culture.

I might have avoided the touristy spots, but I couldn't help but visit two architectural features of Singapore on my last evening in the city: the Supertrees and the Marina Bay Sands resort. Yes, the Merlion was supposed to be close by but I wasn't able to get there because of time constraints.

Marina Bay Sands
Wow! That was my first impression when I saw it from my cab en route to my hotel from the airport. It's supposed to be the world's most expensive building and I was able to step inside it!! The exteriors were more interesting for me so I stepped out to take photos. Then I realized that the wind was so strong where I was standing that it was really hard to get a good photo of the building, in the dark, without a tripod. The view was breath-taking, nonetheless.

Marina Bay Sands, up close and personal... from the viewing deck

The three-building structure reminded me of what the tour guide said about buildings with holes when I first visited Hong Kong in 1994: a dragon was living in the mountains and the building was blocking the path from the mountain to the sea so the architect designed a hole through the hotel for the dragon to pass through. There were no mountains behind the Marina Bay Sands structures so I doubt that dragons were a concern here. But there were trees... GIANT trees.

Supertree Grove
First thing in my mind when I saw them: the movie Avatar (2009). I was half-expecting blue humanoids with tails and dinosaur-like giant birds to swoop in on us smaller people. But as I got closer, I learned that these structures were greenhouses or vertical gardens. Singapore's use of solar energy to green the cityscape was executed in a grand, modern way. I'm not sure what to make of it... My jaw dropped when I saw the structures. 

Supertrees made me feel so small. No giant birds in sight? Good, I'm safe.

Who says culture has to be static? These two ultra-modern features on Singapore's Marina Bay coexisting with the traditional structures in the rest of the city just blows my mind away.


Exploring Singapore in three days, part 3

I was in Singapore in January to attend an MBA orientation for prospective students at INSEAD. While there, I took the time to explore the city and learn a bit more about its history and culture.

I aside from eating, shopping, and visiting museums and art galleries, I also checked out the houses of worship. It's fascinating to see temples of different religions just a few paces away from each other. I didn't enter the Hindu temples but I was allowed to observe what's going in a Chinese temple. No photographs were allowed inside, so I just took photos outside the temples. The temples' facades were more ornate and complex than those of Roman Catholic churches. I've never been to Hindu temples so the experience of seeing some up close was overwhelming, if not intimidating. The Chinese temple was similar to the temple I've visited in Cebu City so it wasn't such a foreign experience. I visited Roman Catholic parishes and was free to talk photos of the exteriors and the interiors. One thing I noticed was that the churches I went to were in various stages of repair... reminds me of the Earthquake Baroque-style churches in Ilocos. However, the churches in Singapore are relatively newer than the centuries-old structures in Ilocos, I think. 

The one foreign concept I've noticed in Singapore (and it's the first time I've seen this anywhere in my limited travels) is that some of the churches have been converted into art spaces or into restaurants. It, I think, is an indicator that either the congregation of the particular church is getting smaller or the congregation has moved to a different location and the structure has some historical value so it cannot be demolished. In the Philippines and in Australia, I've seen the opposite: cavernous halls being used as venues for church events and then being used for secular functions right after.

Visiting these places just shows I need to get out more. I'm not as well-traveled as other people, and I find myself fascinated by the new sites, sounds, and flavors... typical of a country mouse in the big city

Exploring Singapore in three days, part 2

I was in Singapore in January to attend an MBA orientation for prospective students at INSEAD. While there, I took the time to explore the city and learn a bit more about its history and culture.

There are two things I wouldn't pass up on when I'm in a city for the first time (aside from visiting museums and art galleries): food and shopping! In my Singapore adventure's case, it's too expensive to go shopping so I did the next best alternative, window shopping.

Food trip!
One thing I failed to ask before I flew was about etiquette in eating in such places in Singapore, especially when it comes to grabbing a table. Turns out that it's perfectly fine to share a table here with strangers and to make small talk with them. The first group of people I had my meal with even gave me tips about the good places to visit aside from the touristy places. Since my interest was more cultural exposure, they recommended that I visit the temples that were just further along the road. That was a good idea, I thought. Another group of people I had brunch with told me where the good places to buy food were (their favorites were inside the very food court).

I'd eat brunch at a food court near the Bugis Street, where the food has strong Southeast Asian and Chinese cuisine influences. The food was familiar to me because many of them are also available in the Philippines. My neophobia intact, I stuck with congee, chicken, and roast pork because I didn't want to be confined in the hospital in a foreign country for eating something new that I have allergies to. But the congee, chicken, and roast pork were delicious! No wonder I was told that this food court was a good place to eat in! I would have wanted to try out the taho too but then I wouldn't be able to eat somewhere else.

Then there's Little India. Saying goodbye momentarily to neophobia, I braved the spicy turns of Indian cuisine to try the chicken biryani. It was hot! But it's also the first time I've had authentic basmati rice on chicken biryani... something I haven't tasted in the Philippines yet (but maybe because I'm intimidated by the spiciness). I also had dinner once at a food court in Little India. The servers were friendly and the restaurant was well-lit... a great sight for a weary traveler who had walked all day. I think I went there for dinner close to midnight because I got lost on my way back from a day of exploring the city. The food was delicious too. I've taken a mental note to go back to that food court when I find myself returning to Singapore.

(Window) shopping
I wanted to visit Singapore's Orchard Road to see what the shopping center looked like. I was floored. It was literally a road with building after building of shopping malls! It's like being in Hong Kong all over again because the brands at the facades were mostly high-end. But inside one of the shopping malls, I saw fashion forward clothing by local designers. There were also numerous brands that were familiar to me because they're also found in Manila or I've encountered them in California. I just wasn't in the mood to buy clothes because I was fresh from my outlet mall shopping spree with my mom and dad. Having said that, I saw a pair of sandals that I just couldn't resist buying. So I splurged despite the sandals being really flat and most likely harmful for my injured right foot. Now, it's my go-to footwear for casual walking weekends outside the house. But if I'm veering close to the water, I revert to my trusty step-ins.

But my window shopping adventure wasn't limited to Orchard Road. I also got to have a look at Bugis and Little India. For me, Bugis has a similar feel to the outdoor markets in Divisoria where people can get a great bargain. Because Chinese New Year was just around the corner of my visit, a lot of the wares were themed for the big celebration: I was literally seeing red when I walk past the stores. There was also a big statue in the center with fortunes of people born in different years, as indicated by their animal signs. The vibe couldn't be any more different in Little India. I've never been to India but I guess the atmosphere in Little India must be very similar. The place was filled by bright garlands of flowers, rich tapestries, and the latest electronic equipment. I was just missing the sounds of hawkers I imagine must be filling the air in India... until I reached the corner where the restaurant I was having lunch in was: there were two men on microphones talking about the pros and cons of the latest cellphone or tablet PC they were selling.

Next time I'm in Singapore, I'll explore these places a bit more. Next time.

Exploring Singapore in three days, part 1

I was in Singapore in January to attend an MBA orientation for prospective students at INSEAD. While there, I took the time to explore the city and learn a bit more about its history and culture.

I did stay away from many of the tourist must-sees listed in travel books but I think I ticked off a few sites in my list of cultural landmarks. I ended up seeing art galleries and the national museum for most of the short time I had spent in Singapore... This means only one thing: I have a reason to go back and explore it again!

Art galleries
It's fascinating to see how people express themselves in the visual arts. Singapore is relatively young and is still in search of its identity as a country cherishing its position as a mixing pot of different cultures and ethnicities. I didn't see many European Renaissance art pieces in the galleries I've been to but I did see a strong pull towards Asian artistic styles... something I don't normally see in Philippine museums (except for the pottery collections). And in many exhibits from the modern/ contemporary artists, I see (again) a propensity of sad/ dark colored pieces that make me think that artists generally see the world with a lot of pessimism. 

Months later, I was discussing sad music with Matty and he said, if I interpret what he was saying correctly, that there's more depth and beauty in notes that sound sad. Perhaps this is also how visual artists think. Or maybe in their attempt to inject social relevance in their artwork, these artists depict a darker picture of the world we live in. I really am not sure. The thing I was happy about after my visit to these art galleries and museums was that there is still hope that I'd get to appreciate modern art the same way I am a fan of Impressionists and Cubists (Monet and Manansala are my favorite artists, by the way).

Singapore National Museum
Since I was following the culture track, I might as well drop by the Singapore National Museum, right? It turned out to be the right decision because the exhibits were all good. I was particularly fascinated with the audio tour of Singapore's history from when it was discovered by the Europeans until it gained its independence all the way to the modern era.

Watching how Singapore's history played out, I couldn't help but compare it to the Philippines' path to the modern times... Singapore being the only other Southeast Asian nation that I was really able to visit the cultural landmarks of. I did visit historical sites in Hanoi but 30 minutes of walking a day to see the place is not the same as really taking the time to stop and absorb the culture (and I don't think I have even scratched the surface of the Singaporean culture... I only had a peek).

And the icing on the cake during my visit to the museum was the exhibit about food. Yes, there's an exhibit about Singaporean food!! If that wasn't enough, there was a section in the museum where you could smell the different fruits and food items that are eaten regularly in Singapore. Heaven for someone who's into sensory evaluation, right?

Singapore, here I come!

Barely having finished unpacking my bags after my trip to Hong Kong in January, I had to board a plane again, this time to visit INSEAD Singapore, one of the best business schools in Southeast Asia. Yes, I plan on pursuing an MBA or MSc Economics so I've been visiting business schools and interacting with people  currently enrolled or already finished with their programs.

My Singapore trip turned out to be an adventure in itself because it took me 14 hours to get there and being alone in a different country is an experience I haven't had since I went to Brisbane last (for my graduation). Nevertheless, it's fun.

14 hours to Singapore
Yes, it took me 14 hours to get to Singapore. I got bumped off my Manila-Singapore five-hour flight because the original plane was malfunctioning and the alternate plane was a smaller one. The ground crew found me a seat in a Cebu-Singapore flight, which meant that I had to catch the next flight to Cebu to make it in time! This must be how it feels like to be in the Amazing Race sans a teammate, a challenge, and a detour, I thought as I ran around the airport to get to the right gate. But when I got there, lo and behold! the flight was delayed by an hour. So I was able to have lunch and mingle with the rest of the passengers going to Cebu. Once in the plane, passengers waited another hour before the plane took off because the queue in Manila's airspace was crowded. By the time we landed at the Mactan International Airport, it was dark. 

My plane ride to Singapore. Yes. it's mine. It even has my initials. See?

I had to run (again) on the tarmac because I had to catch the flight to Singapore (which was leaving in about an hour). It's the second time for me to be on the tarmac beside giant planes but I couldn't stop this time and take a photo because of the time limit (*sigh*). To cut the long story short, I arrived in Singapore seven hours after my original arrival time. I had to take a cab from the airport to the hotel because of the late hour. It's a good thing I took a cab because otherwise, I wouldn't have witnessed the festival called "Thaipusam", in the Little India district.

I don't know what the festival is all about but the parade late on my first night (or wee hours of the morning of my first day) was an interesting thing to see.

Several roads closed so the cab driver had to take several detours to get to the hotel I was staying at. There wasn't much to see at that hour so I decided to just wait until the morning to go around and explore the area around the hotel.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Seasons of love (for that fire tree)

(Almost) ten years ago, I got what I thought was the best seat in the GQNC bullpen. Today, I still think that it's a prime piece of real estate and it would be interesting to see how things will play out in the lab after the pioneers move on with their careers and their lives. This sentiment came about as I was listening to the cast of Rent's recording of "Seasons of Love" over the lunch break, a song I particularly like.

Speaking of seasons, I'm amazed with the view. The fire tree that I could see through my window is ever changing its appearance, marking the changes in seasons. It's bare during the summer and then grows leaves over the rainy season... Eventually leading to a burst of vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges.

A reminder that nothing is permanent, perhaps. Or maybe that everything comes full circle. And somehow, I could associate these with circumstances I and my colleagues face these days....

The group as it had been for the past decade, my family away from home, is bracing for changes.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, part 2

My parents had grand plans about this year's vacation: walking down colonial era memory lane, digging one's toes into the sand, and lounging beside crystal clear waters. 

... And so my family ended up in Bagac, Bataan. More specifically, we spent a weekend at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.


Travel Time.
Maalala Mo Kaya.
Aawitan Kita.

Yes, I felt like I teleported and landed on the set of these shows just because the music that welcomed me and my family that night were popular back in the old days. And when I say old, I mean really old. According to my dad, we were listening to songs that my 98-year old grandma used to listen to as a teenager!

The music was far from boring, contrary to my expectations. There was an open-air performance at the plaza where dancers performed a lively suite of folk dances. In between dances, a singing duo called Kundiman si Lolo, si Lola serenaded the audience with kundiman and Filipino novelty songs. Lolo (Roel Roma) and Lola (Hazel Corpus) even led the audience to sing the folk song Paru-parong Bukid. The finale of the cultural show was the tinikling but with a twist: the dancers, aside from dodging the colliding bamboo sticks, had to jump up and down wooden benches! Now that is a major workout!

(the tinikling with a higher level of difficulty)

Still keen on the period music theme, I noticed that a second group, a string trio, performed the following day. The group's repertoire was wider than the kundiman duo: they accommodated Daddy and Anna's requests for Spanish and Italian songs. I have absolutely no idea what they were singing but they were lively, perfect for the sunny afternoon.

So, aside from architecture appreciation, the weekend in Bagac, Bataan also turned to be a music appreciation course.

Walk down the colonial era memory lane: Two checks!

Monday, March 17, 2014

When the cat is away, the mice take over the iPad.

I was asked to adjust Kuya Jun's SLR camera settings. So I handed my iPad to the girls and tweaked with the knobs on the SLR. A few minutes with them, the iPad started collecting group pictures. The girls had a field day. Guess who instigated the impromptu photo shoot...

I wanted to get into the fun too!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Review: Starting Over Again (2014)

Wednesday night was movie night for Fe, Tita Dory, Kuya Ferdie, and me. We trooped to SM San Pablo to watch Star Cinema's movie entitled "Starting Over Again". There were mixed opinions about how this movie ended, which piqued my curiosity, motivating me to watch it in the theater rather than wait for it to air on cable TV. Going in, I didn't have any expectations except that it's supposed to be very good; after all, people waited in long lines when it first started showing in theaters. 

The movie managed to make me cringe, laugh, get angry, tear up, and find catharsis... all in 120 minutes. Piolo Pascual and Toni Gonzaga effectively led us through the emotional roller-coaster of Marco and Ginny's fractured relationship in a very realistic way; the way the movie ended was just what I expected after going through the two-hour wringer with these two characters.

The movie's scriptwriter (Carmi Raymundo) and the director (Olivia M. Lamasan) are GENIUSES. It's been a long while since I've watched a movie whose script was really memorable that lines continue to hit a nerve. My three movie-mates and I had quite a post-screening discussion while I was driving. The movie was that compelling.

Here are my insights on my top five most memorable quotes:

"I always love how food preserves a memory."
Trust me to remember a line about food! But I agree with this statement. For me, my favorite food items are not only my favorites because they taste great; I also love them because they evoke a feel of home, of family, of belonging.

"Kailangan na kitang i-delete sa buhay ko."
I remember a former colleague of mine, Warly. He used to delete people's contact details from his phone when he got irked by them. At that time, I thought that this approach was a bit immature. But guess what: I've resorted to this several times in the past, especially when it's time to move on and to grow.

"I deserve an explanation. I need an acceptable reason."
The most powerful punch line in the movie, in my opinion. It can be uttered in various contexts. While this is a line mentioned by the two protagonists looking for closure, Fe and I started saying it when we were talking about our research results... and in such contexts, could bring a lot of laughs among the people who have seen the movie.

"Yang hope na yan, lason yan. Parang drugs na nakaka-adik.... Try mo kaya lumaklak ng realidad?"
Ouch. I am one who tries to be optimistic in not-so-good situations so this comment was kinda painful... really hurtful at the core. How do I continue if I don't have hope? Hoping is not the same as living in a pipe dream though; I know that one. 

"Ours began in a most unexciting way: as friends. Now, our love may be quiet and boring but it is sure."
Iza Calzado's character, Patty, delivered this line with such poise and dignity that I was rooting for her to get the happy ending that she and Marco worked hard for. Deny it all you want, dreamers. But this is a great way to start a beautiful friendship. Quiet and boring, you say? That, I'd imagine, is what being at home is like, in two words... if I were to describe with one-word adjectives I'd go for peaceful, happy, content. Or I'd say that it's like drinking steaming hot chocolate milk with marshmallows on a cold and gloomy winter afternoon.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Review: Seize your glory!

I insisted that Anna join me in watching 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) on Saturday. I saw 300 during the week on cable so I was really keen on seeing the sequel.

The director used the same color scheme as the previous movie... He also used the similar effects, like the slow-mo shots that pepper the screen. But somehow, there was something missing...

Right. King Leonidas and his three hundred were dead... and being trampled on by the self-proclaimed god-king (who Leonidas had personally reminded of his mortality), Xerxes. 

Leonidas regarded the leaders of the other city states as weak so he opted that he and his Spartan soldiers to die gloriously in battle. The Athenian leader (the protagonist in the sequel), on the other hand, while perceived to be less commanding than Leonidas, I think, was the wiser one: he knew that the sacrifice of the 300 at the Battle of Thermopylae had the potential to unit the Greek Army. All he had to do was to stop the invasion of the Persian navy while Greece was getting its act together.

A difficult task under a democracy, with lots of bickering going on, if I may add...

The movie showed a glaring difference in the warring armies: Greeks were freemen who went to war with their consent; the people rowing the boats on the Persian side were servants who moved at the crack of a whip. And the longest whip of the, all, ironically, was being lashed by the cold and ruthless commander Artemesia. She's above even of the god-king himself!

So many characters, so little time. By the middle of this complex movie, I got confused already. When the movie ended, I was scratching my head, lost in the events of the naval battle.

I should probably watch it one more time (but I'll wait for it to air on cable) to understand the plot better.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Miriam Defensor-Santiago in the house!!

So, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago visited IRRI for the International Women's Day 2014 celebration to talk about women as agents of change. As always, she was feisty and witty all throughout her talk. She brought the house down with her spunky introduction (though some of her spiels were at the expense of some of her colleagues in the Senate).

And if the politician's visit wasn't enough, the audience were also treated to a performance by the head of communications, Tony Lambino. Imagine, we were bumping elbows with celebrities! But wait, there's more...

A friend of mine works for the Senator. So, when I asked if he were with the entourage, he confirmed it. He also included a photo from his vantage point (he has the better angle, I admit). :)

When I thought that things had quieted down after the seminar, lo and behold, Senator Miriam sent out a tweet!

SHE MENTIONED ME IN HER TWEET!! Rochie was officially starstruck.

Disclaimer: The photo was actually taken by my friend, Peter. I also have a photo of this instant but taken from a different angle... a very different angle. From far, far away, in fact.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, part 1

My parents had grand plans about this year's vacation: walking down colonial era memory lane, digging one's toes into the sand, and lounging beside crystal clear waters. 

My plan was way simpler: I wanted to swim and get a tan caused by spending time in the water. It's been too long since I was in a beach last. The tan I had before my parents' visit was all courtesy of my time basking in the sunshine as a Rice Survivor last year. Yes, that is NOT a joke.

So after a bit of planning, we ended up taking the 250ish-km drive to Bagac, Bataan. This is officially the first road trip of the Civic and I had my mom, dad, and sister with me for a change! The Jazz's first road trip? I was alone when I went to a friend's wedding in Lucena. But that's a story for another post.

Anyway, back to Bagac...

It was evening by the time we reached Las Casas Filipinas De Acuzar, a resort reknowned for featuring and restoring Spanish era houses and traditional Filipino homes. I dreaded the real possibility that my mom would decide she didn't like to stay in the place; she was laughing when I sighed in relief because she decided that we're staying there overnight. I mean who wouldn't be frustrated after driving for five hours with only two short stops, right?! To go on a return trip on the same night would be torture!

After checking in, we dropped our bags in one of the coolest houses in the Philippines I've ever slept in. Cool, as in malamig. Cool, as in amazing. Cool, as in I-want-to-live-in-a-house-like-this! It's a house from the 19th century, I think, and was transported from Jaen, Nueva Ecija. 

If the house was cool, I was wowed by the rest of the resort that was illuminated that evening. I must have entered a time machine because I felt like I've been teleported to the time of the Noli Me Tangere. This is how I imagine Intramuros to must have looked like back in its heyday... Well, except that the guardia civil here were smiley, friendly folk rather than the cruel soldiers portrayed in the book. Oh, and I couldn't figure out where the center of town was because the church was missing.

Without further ado, photos of my family's night out in the pueblo

(a duet serenading the audience with a medley of kundiman)

(this is one of the houses from Jaen, but not the one my family stayed in)

(the pièce de résistance: a mansion from Binondo, Manila)

(inside the Jaen house we checked into, with Mommy, Daddy, and Anna)

(Anna and Daddy walking along the plaza ahead of Mommy and me)

Walking down colonial era memory lane. Check!

Even my music sheets are paperless!

DISCLAIMER: I am merely a beginner in playing the piano.

I got interested in playing the piano as a kid when I first watched a recital. However, interest alone, obviously, is not enough for me to become a piano player outside my house. My interest shifted to other things (including a kite-flying phase, which I relapse into every February). Nevertheless, I kept at reading sheet music... on paper.

Then came environmental consciousness, the paperless trend, and the internet.

With the easy accessibility of electronic copies of every imaginable piece of documentation, I've started downloading music sheets of pieces that I'd like to learn to play. I got the easy arrangements, admittedly. I don't want to be discouraged by complicated pieces yet.

Someone's got to start somewhere right? 


... So what is Mozart doing there?!?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

first stop: museums and art galleries

Dr Neil Bearden, associate professor at INSEAD Singapore, posits that distinctions matter. As soon as we start seeing distinctions, the world becomes a more colorful place to live in. We start seeing the details and appreciating diversity. I guess what he's saying is true. For me, cities are the same at first glance: tall buildings, traffic jams, garden patches. But once I scratch the surface of a city's culture, I learn of its colorful past, its search for identity, and (sometimes) its outlook towards the future.

What better place to learn all these things---short of immersion---than a museum and an art gallery, right? So on my first visit to cities, I normally end up visiting these. I skip the theme parks, the landmarks, and such.

In the Philippines, I've visited quite a few museums. Metro Manila has quite a few; my friends and I have yet to check off all museums in our list! Then there are the museums found in the provinces. One of the most memorable to me is the Bontoc Museum. The visit introduced me to the photographs of Eduardo Masferre, renowned for capturing, on film, tribal life in the Cordilleras. One of the most recent I've visited is the Villa Escudero Museum: a building, formerly used as a church, was converted into a display area of the family's vast collection of religious art and antiques. As a child, I visited the humble home---nipa hut, really---of Apolinario Mabini, a Philippine national hero.

On my first ever visit to the USA, I insisted on seeing the Kennedy Space Center. It's not like the traditional museums I've seen but it featured America's push towards the next frontier: outer space. I am a fan of the Apollo "space cowboy" age, which saw man landing on the moon, so I totally forgot that I was going to be hit pretty hard by jet lag. I've also since visited a zoo, several novelty tourist spots, and a few museums.

In Hong Kong, 16 years after my first trip there, I finally was able to visit a museum! Well, sort of. An exhibit on the view deck of 2IFC dwelt only on Hong Kong's currency. The city does not have a central bank; instead, its money is minted by three banks. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority regulates the minting affairs of the three banks, if my understanding is correct. While prepping for the Asia Society HK event, I asked the staff if the place was a museum. They said that it wasn't exactly a museum; it was more of an art gallery. 

Then there's Singapore. Instead of going to the usual tourist destinations, I stayed on the culture track and followed the arrows to the Singapore Art Museum. When I was there, the Singapore Biennale 2013 was going on, with the theme "If the World Changed". I can't say that I've understood the modern art pieces but it's fascinating to watch the multimedia artwork... particularly the ones that respond to the viewer. :) The National Museum of Singapore is a go-to place if one wants to learn about the country's search for identity. There were art pieces as well, but the high point of my visit was the walk through history, directed only by the audio tour guide. I felt like I was in a Walk this Way tour without Carlos Celdran.

In Sydney and Brisbane, years ago, I made it a point to visit the museums and art galleries because these normally did not have entrance fees... or there were minimum fees (perfect for the ever financially challenged student). It was quite disconcerting for me then to see musical instruments I used to play in college as museum pieces! At some point, I caught up with the World Press Photos exhibit. I once thought I wanted to be a photojournalist professionally but after seeing the gore and seeing the lengths photographers would go to get that one shot, I changed my mind. It was also during my visits to different museums and galleries when I discovered that I am a fan of 18th and 19th century art rather than what were called modern art. But my favorite part of the visits was seeing a lot of Australian aboriginal art. These unique pieces showed bits and pieces of their culture; these couldn't be found anywhere else.

Next time I find myself in a new city, I'm paying a visit to museums and art galleries... as per usual.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet."

On Valentine's Day, I became recipient of flowers: a real rose from the boys in the lab and a pastillas shaped and colored like a rose. The edible flower didn't have a card on it so I thought it was left on my desk by mistake. But since nobody claimed it by the end of the day, I claimed it for my own before the ants had a chance to attack it.


The roses brought back memories of junior year in high school. Ms Apalin was introducing the class to the timeless plays of Shakespeare, starting with the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet. One of the passages stuck to my mind: 

"What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet"

Food scientists and marketing researchers would disagree, however. A product's success is attributable to its naming and branding strategy. In one of the industry-oriented immersions I've been through, I noticed that product developers were very concerned with the images brand names conjure in the minds of consumers. It's not just the name though: people also attach meaning to the sound of the name.

Favalli et al. (2013) refer to this as sound symbolism. The authors mentioned that the name of a food item not only refers to the sensory attributes of the food but to the consumers' overall experience. I agree. For example, I associate the word "sinigang" not only with the sour soup, the meat, and the vegetables; I also associate the word "sinigang" with fun Sunday lunches with my parents and siblings and with dinners with my aunts. Most likely, I favor sinigang over other viands not solely because of the savory flavors; I also love it because I usually eat it with people who I feel at home with.

Of the rose pastillas? Turned out it really was for me. Yum! 

Thanks, Matty!


Favalli, S., T. Skov, C. Spence, D.V. Byrne. 2013. "Do you say it like you eat it? The sound symbolism of food names and its role in multisensory product experience." Food Research International 54: 760-771.

Monday, March 3, 2014

off the tourist path... in Hong Kong

Chill and I were in Hong Kong for a total of three days for the Asia Society HK food program. It would've been too bad if we weren't able to explore this cosmopolitan city... especially since we were not in any tour group. This meant we didn't have to spend time in a jewelry shop (at last!) and that we'd decipher how to ride the subway and the cable car. Basically, we retraced some of the steps I've taken when I was last in Hong Kong with the Grain Quality group and then added a few more stops.

Victoria Harbour and Avenue of the Stars
These two venues got very crowded even with the low temperature. 

Despite the cold, Chill and I decided to suck it up and watch the Symphony of Lights. It's a 15-minute entertaining show of light beams shooting from some of the skyscrapers lining the Victoria Harbour in time with a music. The best thing about it is that it's free since we opted to watch from the Kowloon side of the harbor. However, this did not lend the best view. If we wanted to see everything, we should've ridden one of the ferries along the harbor for a fee; then we'd see the lights as they bounced off the buildings on both sides of the harbor. It was still a fun show, though. 

The Avenue of the Stars is a tourist spot that I don't get yet. But maybe I don't get thrilled because I don't know a lot of the celebrities whose names dot the walkway. I mean, I only recognize Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, and Bruce Lee! I'm sure the other artists are also popular in this region; I'm just not the proper audience, given that I was a visitor from a different country. Though I didn't know many of the celebrities, I felt that this venue really must be an area for the stars. There were street musicians, lots of cameras, and lots of people excited to see an artist's handprint.

Temple Street Night Market
I remember going to the Ladies' Market the last time I was around. So for this adventure, I brought Chill to the Temple Street Night Market. I'm not sure if it's because of the timing but I felt that there was a smaller crowd than I'd expected. I was able to test my haggling skills and discovered that these were still no match to my Mom's. Hehehe. She is one of the best bargain shoppers I've seen in action.

Central District
I've never explored this side of Hong Kong during my previous visits. Rarely do tourists get veered by guides into the city center; the tours I've been in mostly focused on the "tourist traps": theme parks, jewelry outlet stores, and bargain shopping areas. If busloads of tourists did visit the business district  when I went around, they'd have been less conspicuous... I was the only one who's obviously new in the area, complete with the SLR camera!

International Finance Centre
The highlight of my off-the-beaten-track tour. I insisted on seeing the building Batman jumped onto in The Dark Knight... I didn't want to just see the facade (visible from the Kowloon side); I intended to see what's inside the two buildings. I mean, I've seen the buildings' exteriors before. It's about time I go in and check out the interiors.

The opportunity to explore 1IFC and 2IFC came hours before Chill and my flight back to Manila. Inside, we saw an upscale shopping complex and one of the birds' eye views of this side of Hong Kong. The view was nothing short of awesome. I am not used to seeing skyscrapers in such a close range and in such density so being at a level higher than many of them was quite a bit of a shock... like a country mouse's first time in the big city.

Overall, my first Hong Kong exploration adventure outside of the tourist pack was a fulfilling experience. I want to do it all over again!!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

my big year... sort of

No, this post is not about drastic changes in my life that made 2014 a bigger year than the previous ones. No, this post is not about me gaining weight. Rather, it's about me and my intermittent bird chases on my trips. So yeah, this post is inspired both by the IRRI birds exhibit and the movie Big Year (2011)

I don't carry with me the extremely long lenses that birders often use. I don't sit still for a long time waiting for a bird to take a pose. And I don't bother with the birds' behaviors or with their names. 

Want to help me out with the bird names? Feel free to add the common, or even the scientific, names in the comments! I'm adding bird photos as I go along. Here we go...

(Singapore 2014)

(Singapore 2014)

(Calistoga 2014)

(Calistoga 2014)

(Calistoga 2014)

(Calistoga 2014)

(Concord 2014)

(Calistoga 2014)

(Palo Alto 2014)

(Davis 2012)

(Davis 2012)
(Singapore 2014)
                                                                 (Los Banos, 2014)