Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in a nutshell

2014 has proved to have a hectic start. For one thing, January barely ended when I had to face three trips and I wasn't home alone for most of February. I realize, however, that I am such a small part in the overall scheme of things. So now, I list events and activities that make 2014 a unique year.
  • Dr Achim Dobermann, IRRI's deputy director general for research, bid farewell (for the second time) as he gears for a life back in Europe. Dr Matthew Morell takes over his post.
  • Ukraine faces political turmoil as Russian military troops enter in response to a crisis.  
  • Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 disappeared into thin air shortly after it took off. Investigations, search and rescue operations, and hypotheses about this fateful flight have been flooding news channels daily. Some say the plane crashed somewhere along its original path while some say there is evidence pointing to a change in course. I am hopeful that the plane is found and the passengers are all accounted for soon.
  • Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago visited IRRI during the International Women's Day celebration on March 11. Trust her to bring in the laughs while talking about politics, the economy, social welfare, and women. I was truly entertained during the event. 
  • People going up Mt Banahaw on a pilgrimage in March decided they wanted to light candles. Hello, brush fire! Without any rain coming for the next few days, the firefighters faced a big and dangerous challenge of quelling the fire on this sacred mountain.
  • A total lunar eclipse happened on April 15th. Unfortunately, the sky was hazy and mountains blocked my view of the first of a series of lunar eclipses. Judging by the beautiful pictures in websites, this one must have been a spectacle to see. Oh well, better luck next time to me!
  • Friends of mine graduated from General Medicine, Nursing, and a fellowship in Cardiology. Two nieces and a nephew have graduated from grade school and college. A very very good way to start 2014 Q2, indeed. :)
  • U.S. President Barack Obama visited the Philippines in April. I wasn't paying too much attention to the news coverage because that's when I was working on many technical papers or was cooking at home.
  • Pope John Paul II became a saint. That was fast... Really fast!
  • My post-doctoral fellowship ended. But not without me realizing that my circle of friends has grown immensely.
  • I took up wakeboarding this year... and I'm teaching myself how to use iMovie and GarageBand for video post-production.  :)
  • The FIFA World Cup happened. Germany emerged as the winner and I was told to stop gloating when my brother's team lost though he was gloating when my teams fell off the rung one by one. Sore loser.
  • I started teaching at the Ateneo de Manila University. 
  • Another Malaysian Airlines flight (MH17) fell off the sky, this time shot down somewhere in Russia or Ukraine. It was a bad day for medicine because among those killed were HIV experts en route to an AIDS conference.
  • Typhoon season kicked off with Rammasun. Now we watch as low-pressure weather disturbances start lining up, as if queued in a shooting range, with the Philippines in their sights.
  • Robin Williams, one of the most well-known comics, died in August. Two of my favourite movies of his, Jack and Dead Poets' Society, ironically, are not laugh-out-loud funny.
  • I took up flying trapeze this year... and loved it!
  • Another total lunar eclipse happened in October and I dropped everything to be able to watch it from the best seat on campus: the middle of the road where there were no trees close by to block the view.
  • Juan Flavier, one of my science and communication heroes, died in October. His slogan, "Let's DOH It!", was one of the snappiest one-liners I've ever heard.
  • The "Olympics of Rice", the International Rice Congress, was held in Bangkok, Thailand. I was an exhibitor and a member of the press!
  • Man has successfully landed a spaceship on a comet! Sounds very Armageddon to me. I Don't Want to Miss a Thing was my earworm for several days after the news broke.
  • The Philippines is bracing for a strong typhoon yet again! Supertyphoon Hagupit (known locally as Ruby) packed winds at 100–185kph and struck the Visayas and Southern Luzon in December. Certainly not like the monster Typhoon Haiyan was but people were ready this time: we now know what storm surges are and are more receptive to evacuation orders. The good news is that Tacloban, seriously hit by Haiyan, was spared.
  • NASA successfully launched Orion, a spaceship that will eventually bring exploration to a new level: deep space. Someone's going to Mars!! and someone's going to make the visual feats that are Chris Nolan's Interstellar and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey come true!!
  • Another plane vanishes from the sky. In late December, an AirAsia plane (flight 8501) lost contact while en route from Indonesia to Singapore. This year proves to be challenging to airlines. Still, statistics show that air travel is still the safest mode of transportation.
What a year. 2014 was a challenge accepted. 2015 will yet be another challenging and exciting year. Keeping my fingers crossed and seat buckled for the new roller coaster ride.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

RIP, Patches. :(

Patches, one of the cats which call my home their home too, died yesterday sometime after I left the house. 

He's been seriously ill for a few weeks already. First, his appetite decreased and he increased his water intake. And then he showed signs of a skin condition and a big reduction in weight. Anna had a vet check him out and I've been giving the cat a medicated bath daily plus medication, as per doctor's orders. Patches began to appear as if he was recovering a few days into the medication... but that was only until I noticed that he started becoming constantly disorientated and losing his balance while walking to his food and to his water bowls. It was all downhill from there.  

Yesterday morning, I observed that Patches was struggling to walk for his daily morning greeting. He was so quiet, sun-bathing. He came to the food bowl but didn't touch his food. I realised that the end was near, alarmingly near. That made me worried and sad but I thought I'd still see him in the evening when I arrived home.

But no. When I got home, there was no cat running over from the garage. No meowing from the laundry area. The welcome party that I had come to look forward to every night wasn't there. I was met only with silence. 

Patches had passed away on the garden where I had seen him in the morning, sun-bathing.

Good bye, guardian of the labada and of the car windshield. I know your healthy in cat heaven now.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Space, the next frontier

One, I still can't stop thinking about the awesome visuals and the genius juxtaposition of the musical score in Interstellar

Two, I believe that space exploration is ready to go into leaps and bounds again. After all, probes were shot and successfully landed on a comet... yes, ala Armageddon; but without the end-of-the-world premise. And NASA has launched the Orion spaceship a few days ago. It looks like someone's going to Mars!!

Three, astronauts and cosmonauts who currently fly on space missions have caught the attention (albeit maybe not as much as during the Apollo programs) of many people, particularly because of the stunning images of Earth they transmit back to us from miles up in the atmosphere.

Thus, when I stumbled upon two videos about space exploration, I thought it's a good idea to share them. The first video is about what astronauts captured while in the International Space Station. It shows stunning images of the clouds, lightning, city lights, and auroras as the ISS glided by. This is real life! The second video, on the other hand, is a mash-up of cinematic takes on what space exploration looks like. Yes, images may be fiction now, but these could be the reality in the future. For all we know, humans might start living in eternally spinning space stations someday, as tourists or as colonisers... just like in the story of the spaceship whose holes have been plugged with bubble gum

So, without further ado, here's All Alone in the Night (by David Peterson) and Cinema Space Tribute (by Max Shishkin)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (2014)

Back in 2006, two French post-docs introduced me to Australian culture by projecting "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" on their terrace house's wall. It was an opportunity for me to see the Australian outback (which I knew I wouldn't see as a student) and alternative lifestyles (blown up to extravagant proportions). It was fitting that I'd see it that time, while residing in the very cosmopolitan suburb of Newtown, Sydney: lots of members of the LGBT community, students from the University of Sydney (where I first enrolled for graduate school), and artistic individuals with brightly coloured hair. Definitely a lot of things to bewilder a sheltered provincial girl from the Philippines who went to live in a city far away from home and family for the first time in her life. Culture shock!

So, when I heard that an adaptation of the movie, entitled Priscilla, Queen of the Desert The Musical, was being staged in Manila, I decided to watch it, for nostalgic reasons. Together with me at the Newport Performing Arts Theatre for the second gala show, were Kor, Annette, and Ate Nancy. It was girls' night out and instead of only one probinsyana, there were four! 

The cast was superb; the men in drag (and in Roman togas) were beautifully led by Jon Santos, Michael Williams, and Red Concepcion. The soundtrack, as always, was lively and engaging... brought back memories of me walking along King Street, late at night, to go back to the post-docs' home (they provided a room for me during my studentship in USyd) to the tune of "It's Raining Men" blaring nightly from the Newtown Hotel (yes, nightly! as if it's the only song in the world!). The door was kept open every performance night thus the flamboyantly dressed female impersonators on-stage (yes, I picked a term from Priscilla) were quite easily visible from King Street. It took two Sydney trips and an explanation from my professor for me to get that the Newtown Hotel catered, at that time, to the gay crowd. Now, the venue has been revamped to entertain a wider audience, as I understand it.

The theatre's LED backdrop for the musical featured scenes from the Australian outback, plus glimpses of Sydney's landmarks: the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, both of which I've visited as a student during my walking tours of the city. I've never been to Uluru/Ayers Rock, a UNESCO Heritage Site; or to Broken Hill, a mining city; or to the opal capital of the world, Cooper Pedy. But the movie allowed me to see these places for the first time and the musical allowed me to, sort of, relive that experience...

Including the most uncomfortable of them all: watching the portrayal of the Filipina as a one-dimensional character: an exotic dancer that became a mail-order bride, with very poor English communication skills. Maybe the movie just needed an Asian stereotype and got a Filipina by chance; maybe the producers encountered this Filipina type in Australia and generalised all Filipinas as such. I still don't know. Nevertheless, this character upped the shock value even further for me back when I saw the movie and drew the laughs of the live audience of the Manila staging.

What a fun, fun night! The rainbow-coloured sprinklies and icing on the very pink cake: Kor and I were picked by a cast member to dance and I got my playbill signed by the leads as well. Oh, and I got close to the orchestra pit too (where there were Korg Kronos music workstations... my current keyboard pales in comparison to those).

A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on

A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on

A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on

Friday, December 5, 2014

Rush (2013)

Music is one factor that draws me to keep watching a movie on cable tv; particularly a movie that I've never watched before. In this case, it was the sense of urgency evoked by the score of Rush (directed by Ron Howard) that got me hooked. No; the music was not like the typical soundtrack associated with race car movies. Definitely very distinct from the themes of Gran Turismo (the video game) or of The Fast and The Furious movie series. And it was surely different from the music I've listened to when I wandered accidentally into a car show in UPLB. However, the feel and the visuals of the movie showed what it's like to be amid the frenzy of a race track.

Anyway, the story is about two rival race car drivers vying for the championship in the 1976 Formula One Grand Prix, Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Their attitudes towards racing contrasted the other; Lauda was calculating the risk of each of the races he participated in while Hunt raced as if that day was the last. Their rivalry began when they were still racing Formula Threes and reached a peak when Lauda, the current champion, got seriously injured in an F1 race car fire at the German Grand Prix. That accident sidelined him for six weeks as doctors treated him for burns on his face and in his lungs. Hunt, who was running behind Lauda, used the latter's downtime to gain points he needed to finish on top of the Grand Prix. At the end, Lauda retired at the Japanese Grand Prix and Hunt won that year's championship, making them equals. Their lives took different paths after that: Lauda became an aviation entrepreneur and an F1 champion once again; Hunt went into sports broadcasting and died soon after.

I may be weird, but I couldn't help but compare Rush to Cars and to Top Gun. In all three movies, there was bitter rivalry between the leads. The difference to Cars is that there was no love lost between Lightning McQueen and Chick Hicks. In Top Gun, on the other hand, Ice and Maverick earned each other's mutual respect at the very end (when they had to fight off Migs somewhere over the ocean). In Rush, Lauda revealed that Hunt was one of the few people he respected. In fact, the movie even suggested that Lauda and Hunt inspired each other to be on top of their games, or in Lauda's case, to get back into the race car after that death-defying accident.

So back to the music...

Listening in, I felt at home with the theme; as if I've heard the style before. It was, mind you, never overpowering or in your face. The score fit in so naturally in different scenes. Lo and behold! as the credits rolled, I learned that Hans Zimmer composed the orchestral music. No wonder I liked the orchestral piece. Come to think of it, some of my favourite movies have his name on it! The Lion King, Broken Arrow, Inception, The Rock, The Prince of Egypt, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Frost/Nixon, the Nolan Batman trilogy... You name it and he's probably the composer behind the superb musical score. ^_^

Well, I had thought I knew Hans Zimmer's musical style... Until I listened to his work in Interstellar. That man has a lot of diversity in terms of musical direction. What a genius!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

When the going gets rough, whip out the camera!

"Just when the conditions get difficult, that's when adventure photographers get their cameras out."

– Cory Richards, Masters of Photography course (National Geographic)

My adventures tend to be tame, if we compare them to National Geographic standards. However, I particularly like what Cory Richards said in his photography course because there are times when the conditions are suboptimal for photography so I miss good photo ops. And by suboptimal, I only mean that the conditions are too dark, too bright, too windy, too dusty, too slippery, too salty, or dangerously close to the water... any condition that could damage my gear (what gear??? the only add-on to my camera is my trusty tripod). 

There are times too when my stubborn self decides to go take pictures anyway despite the risks to my camera. And the resulting pictures, though not at par with professional shots, are pretty amazing to me. If you find them to be bleh, it's okay. I'm just happy with how they turned out.

For example... 

I wanted to see the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. So one night in 2014, I went despite the cold and strong winds that tempted me to just look and to not photograph the building anymore. 

Waterfalls, one of my favourite subjects. In 2010, I revisited one of the first waterfalls I've jumped into:
Daranak falls in Tanay, Rizal and was having a dilemma: jump or take photos? 

I've taken up wakeboarding and watersports photography in 2014. Saltwater poses a risk to my gadgets. Here, Matty is one heck of a difficult subject to photograph, with all the jumps and carving he kept doing in Tingloy, Batangas.

At some point in 2009, I dabbled into wildlife photography. It was challenging to get the animals to
look at me and it was scary to have them, particularly the big and fast ones, chase after me!
This beach in Laiya, Batangas took a few hours to reach by car plus a few minutes of walking in 2009.
The trip led to some of the bigger waves I've captured so far. What a view!
Biboy and I knew that to get a great shot of the Grand Canyon we had to be literally on the edge. This photo was
taken in 2011, back when we both still didn't have the common sense to stay in the middle of the foot path.

To get to the vantage point of this 2011 picture of a beach in Bauang, La Union, I had to free climb a rock and find a good, stable stance... with an injured foot, mind you. Going up was fine. Going down, a different story altogether.

Typhoon Basyang (international name: Conson) made driving, walking, and cleaning up
a big challenge in Calamba City. Laguna in 2010.

Typhoon Glenda (international name: Rammasun) left my grandma's house in
Padre Garcia, Batangas and my heart in tatters in 2014.

During one of my all-day, anti-homesickness urban adventures in Sydney (2006), I ended up on the Harbour Bridge, overlooking the Opera House with the moon rising behind it. I momentarily forgot that I had walked all day.

As a result of all these adventures, my DSLR has aged pretty fast (the instant camera for the Sydney picture has retired). Compared to my brother's still shiny, flawless, and brand-new-looking camera (they're the same model), mine's corroded, scratched, salty, and battered. AND, my camera is still working.