Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in a nutshell

2015 turned out to be quite a unique year. Here are some of the highlights that made the year interesting for me...

Bill Gates visits IRRI. It was a mostly a surprise to many of us at IRRI headquarters. I learned about his visit when my cousins started bugging me, asking for confirmation. Since I wasn't part of the very small group of people who he conversed with, I didn't know that he was already touring the facilities. In short, he was there but I didn't meet him.

Charlie Hebdo shooting. Staff at this French satirical magazine were gunned down by three people, who eventually were killed while fighting authorities. The killings have produced such a clamor since the people were allegedly killed by Islamic extremists who were offended by the satirical images the magazine publishes. It, indeed, raises the question about press freedom. It also reminds us that the freedom of expression that we have a right to has an equivalent responsibility. It is our responsibility to make sure that nobody threatens that freedom to choose to say what we want to say; and the freedom to choose what not to say, if we deem them inappropriate. What a way to herald 2015, right?!?

The Pope visits the Philippines. This is certainly a highlight for 2015. I won't be going to Manila to attend a Mass he was celebrating, though. Too many people. I'd rather watch the television coverage so I could see him close up. I do know, however, that being in the presence of a Pope is still different from seeing him on the telly.

The Philippines' bravest die in battle. In the continuous flight to defend the country, 44 brave Filipinos died in combat. It naturally happens when people on both sides have guns, yes, but media releases showed that the people who killed these members of the SAF had no respect for the dead at all. What kind of individuals would mutilate bodies of dead enemies? Wait... right... they're nothing short of the Orcs of Mordor.

Space explorers sign up for a one-way trip to Mars. Looks like there are people crazy enough and without anyone to go home to to decide that it's worth the risk to fly out to Mars and never return to Earth. Sounds so much like the movie "Interstellar"... except that there wouldn't be any rescue mission to pick up the people who land in Mars. But wait! NASA says there's water in Mars (how they learned that through the data coming from the probe, I don't know) and so there's a chance that people can survive there! If only the atmosphere had oxygen and there are plants...

A Filipina on death row in Indonesia receives a stay on her execution at the 11th hour. Miracles do happen! I was asking a schoolmate who now practises law what will happen to this Filipina? Is she free to go or is she still imprisoned while waiting further instructions? I'm sure that the media coverage will keep her in the loop though her story might be buried when more sensational news play out in the future.

A male northern white rhino receives better security than most humans because it's the last known one in the world. I bumped into an article about this lucky rhino at some point in the year. I admire the dedication of the game keepers who make sure that this rhino remains safe and untouchable to poachers who are only interested in trophies and in ivory. 

Same-sex marriage is made legal in the United States of America. I am up for basic human rights. And I knew that this was forthcoming. But that doesn't mean I support it. I come from the more traditional view that a family is built by a man and a woman who decided and vowed to live together (and bring forth children, if they are so blessed). Legalising same-sex marriage may have been a giant step forward in terms of equal rights for people with all possible orientations, but it is still not approved by the Church I belong to. Before anyone bashes my line of thinking, though, let me put it this way: people who support such marriages are free to say their piece. I don't see why I can't express my disagreement. 

Iran nuclear weapons deal. Looks like world peace will become a reality with this development. I hope that this is something that develops on the long term and will last longer than the current governments that closed the deal. Interestingly, I just finished reading Tom Clancy's "The Sum of All Fears", in which a peace accord was also finalised, leading (theoretically) to improved solidarity among nations. Fiction (excluding the rest of the thriller novel, of course) imitating real life?

A rocket ship finally reached Pluto. The first images released by NASA showed a silhouette on Pluto that looks like the profile of Snoopy. Sorry, no matter how I look at it, I'm not convinced that it's Pluto's (the dog) silhouette I see. But aside from that, another interesting photograph featured Pluto's satellite... It has a crater that makes it look like a Death Star (and I am NOT exaggerating).

The Presidential campaigns have begun. The first campaign radio ad I heard is Ping Lacson's. It is all about how the Philippine National Police's stellar performance during his time as its chief. "Bawal ang kotong," it says. But bribery is never really allowed, no matter who's in charge, isn't it? So I don't get the point of this ad. Then there are the testimonies from people who were kidnap victims rescued through Ping Lacson's leadership... and one from someone whose life made a 180-degree turn away from drugs because he was caught during Ping Lacson's campaign against drugs. One question though: Is Ping really running? Or are his supporters trying to convince him to run for President? I only know of Vice President Jejomar Binay's and Secretary Mar Roxas' intentions to run for office, as of August 2015. And then there's Grace Poe and Miriam Santiago getting into the mix. I don't know of their plans and platforms yet since nobody's really started with campaigns. The presidential elections next year will prove to be a colourful one. Equally interesting are the candidates for Vice-President: Bongbong Marcos and Leni Robredo seem to be the most noticeable candidates. We'll see how these go.

In the US, on the other hand, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are two of the biggest names in the campaign trail for the Presidency (at least in international news bits that reach me). If these two go head-to-head, I am betting that Hillary will win. Donald Trump's statements may be powerful but these are blatantly American-biased and are very undiplomatic... characteristics in a US President that the international community may probably not valuing. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has been on a diplomatic career track, what with the Secretary of State position previously. But then, she's also having trouble for certain actions she's taken as Secretary of State. Let's see how these campaigns progress.

A claim that "fake" rice was being sold in the Philippines has been debunked. There was growing social media concern about the presence of what complainants called "fake" rice in the markets. The National Food Authority (NFA) led an inter-agency investigation to probe into this inquiry. IRRI's Grain Quality and Nutrition Centre analysed the samples provided by the NFA and was on-board during the press conference declaring the assessments of different institutions on the samples provided by the NFA's Food and Development Centre (FDC).

Russia starts attacks into Syria. But I don't understand yet why Russia became involved into the fight. I must have missed something while reading the news. Time will tell...

Laglag Bala. The constant news feed about innocent people whose baggage were planted with bullets from who knows jolted the activists in social media into action first. Come on, the constant appearance of bullets in people's bags? That cannot be a hundred or so people not knowing that it's illegal to carry firearms. These incidents at the x-ray machines most probably have something to do with corrupt employees looking to bribe people of their money. However, it is also possible that airport personnel have nothing to do with these bullet-plantings and some other people, with more sinister plans, are doing this to tarnish the hard-earned removal of the Philippines' NAIA from the world's worst airports list. Tsk. Crab mentality.


Paris had to face terror one more time. As the year enters the fourth quarter, violence strikes France yet again! ISIS has claimed responsibility for the bombings, hostage-takings, and killings done that dark evening in Paris on November 13th, a Friday... Initial news reports suggest that some of the identified perpetrators used the current refugee crisis to gain access to France. The scary thing about this is that these criminals chose to conduct their crimes in populated places for maximum impact: a football stadium, a concert hall, restaurants... but they seem to forget one thing (or they even might have factored this in): France was already in heightened security because of the Charlie Hebdo shootings and the upcoming COP21 summit. What came to mind while I was watching the news unfold was The Dark Knight Rises. Sorry for the movie reference, but I think that the perpetrators want to have chaos. Unfortunately, the French didn't give them that.

The next stage of IRRI is unfolding. Dr Bob Zeigler has retired on a high note, as the Director General of IRRI. We bid him farewell and welcomed Dr. Matthew Morell as the new DG on December 11th. And because Matthew is taking on the top spot, IRRI began searching for the next Deputy Director General for Research. On December 17th, Matthew formally announced that Dr Jackie Hughes has taken on the challenge for leading the research team of IRRI. She begins work in IRRI in April.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A taste of Denmark in California. :)

My mom has been bugging all of us about going to Solvang, California for a year now. So when I went to visit them over the holidays, it automatically made it to our to-visit list. And so on the third day of our road trip, we took some time to explore the city.

And I was wowed. It's this quaint little city whose buildings (along the main streets anyway) have been built with strong Danish architectural influences. Many of the building façades feature timber framing (but most likely with panels that are typical in the USA rather than in Denmark) and many of the roofs are artificially thatched. The place felt like a theme park (like Main Street, USA in Disneyland) to me because although the buildings looked really Danish, the stores were very American. During the tour (we road a horse-drawn carriage pulled by the biggest horses I've seen), the guide mentioned that Solvang is not Disneyland. People do reside in the city (away from the main thoroughfares, of course)... I just wonder if the houses are also of the same architectural vibe. Also, I didn't hear music blaring through speakers installed on lampposts (there are no speakers on lampposts) so it really must be a real-life city and not a theme park.

Here's a video clip of the tour we did around Solvang:


Aside from Danish architecture, I got introduced to Danish-American cuisine during this trip. We had breakfast at Olsen's Danish Village Bakery along Mission Drive. Here, we had pastries, bread, jam, and cheese for breakfast. It's way too heavy for my stomach so early in the day but I just had to try the food... it's so delicious! It did make me feel full the whole day so I can't remember eating lunch.


 Instead, we had Danish ice cream at the Solvang Trolley Ice Cream Parlour... yes, in winter!

And then we just had to visit the spots dedicated to icons of Denmark: the Hans Christian Andersen Museum on the second floor of the Book Loft and a replica of the Little Mermaid statue. I particularly liked the museum because it featured some of my favourite fairy tales and princess stories... particularly "The Princess and the Pea". 


These whetted my curiosity even more so off we went to Copenhagen House to see a bit more Danish culture. I'm glad I went in because I got introduced to Danish modern aesthetics (beyond my go-to watch brand, Skagen) while getting acquainted with bits and pieces of the origins of Denmark.

All in all, it was a good experience. Next time, I want to go to and visit the real Denmark...

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

kun-fused.

Mommy, Daddy, and I were deciding where to eat brunch in Pismo Beach when a restaurant called Kunfusion caught our attention. What a catchy name, we thought... and so we trooped over to see what the restaurant had to offer.

As we barraged the server with questions, we found out that Kunfusion started out as a food truck (yes, Biboy has not yet taken me to a food truck), a product of the genius that is Lori Nunes. Honestly, the menu was a headache-inducing selection of food... in a good way, of course. For first-timers like us, we had to ask for help from our server because it was the strangest menu we had seen: tempeh and tofu could substitute for meats and seafood while Asian and American culinary traditions were mixed into utter confusion.

But when the food came out, the dishes were absolutely wonderful. I had the F tacos, with tempeh in lieu of tilapia. It was so good! My mom had a salad while my dad had the naked shrimp tacos. They were also very happy with their food.

If ever I find myself again in Pismo Beach, I'm going back for a dose of Kunfusion. :)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Back to the future (or is it the past?) twice!

One of the most fascinating things (for me) about flying to different countries is the time difference... and the real possibility of time travel. On several occasions, for instance, I found myself leaving the Philippines, flying for hours on end, and then landing at the destination as if I've only been in the plane for a short time. On my recent trip to visit my family in the USA, however, "time traveling" took on an extreme turn... Yes, it was made possible because of the timings of the United Airlines flights I took.

I left Manila at 11:59pm on December 22nd. Before flying, I already had dinner in Los Baños. Then, I arrived in Guam early on December 23rd. A few hours later, I was again in the plane, going to Honolulu this time... still December 23rd. But because I crossed the International Date Line while flying, I actually moved a day backwards! Hence, I found myself eating my second December 22nd dinner at a bench in the Honolulu International Airport at roughly the same time as I had my first December 22nd dinner. The funny thing about this is that since I didn't finish my first December 22nd dinner, I had it packed and continued eating it a second time in Honolulu! Then, I continued on my trip, flying towards San Francisco. I arrived there on my second 5:00am December 23rd... about the same time I was queued at the immigrations area of Guam's airport during my first December 23rd. Confusing, right?

Naturally, I was positively flummoxed at this point. For the first time in my traveling history, I lived two days twice! I can't begin putting my head around having the same dinner at the same time twice but in different places, and being in line at immigrations twice on the same day at roughly the same time but at different airports... Amazing! It's definitely not deja vu but it's more like time travel. Not sure if I traveled to the past or to the future though.

Promise, Professor McGonagall has never passed on Hermione's Time-Turner to me.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Steak can be reasonably priced?!

Man showed me around UP Town Centre one evening. It's ironic because I've passed this mall so many times when I still teaching at the Ateneo but I never stopped over for lunch there (I was always had to drive straight to Laguna after class).

There were a lot of options for dinner. But we ended up where we had to wait to be seated: Mad Mark's Creamery and Good Eats. For me, the major attraction was the long queue. A long line of people willing to wait for atable is ALWAYS a good sign that the resto is a good one. And as we waited outside, out popped two of my college classmates: Manuel Delfin, Jr and Sharon Madriñan (she's married now but I don't know her married surname)! It was such a random thing, to see my friends from back in the day there! They highly recommended the ice cream. I was sold.

Then, there's the steak. Mad Mark's cooks it's Signature Steak the way I like it: medium well USDA steak and with a generouse helping of vegetables on the side. The meat was so tender and was so tasty. Whatever secret recipe Mad Mark's has for its steaks... it's a winner. The veggies were prepared to perfection. I felt like I was eating hotel-resto-level food! But sans the hotel-resto atmosphere. Normally, I'd expect my wallet to be wiped out by the cost of the steak. But at Mad Mark's, it was quite affordable. Still too expensive for everyday consumption but it didn't break the bank. The atmosphere at Mad Mark's felt like a regular family diner, where kids were talking animatedly with their parents and friends were having a good time eating either a main meal or their ice creams. None of the high class formal feel in places serving food at the same quality calibre.

Now, if Mad Mark's has a branch closer to home, I just might be able to eat there more often to tryits other offerings. Thanks, Man, for showing me around UPTC and discovering Mad Mark's with me. See you again soon, Shawie and Manny.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Wars VII: Revéille de la Force

Spoiler alert. If you haven't watched the movie, read at your own risk. You have been warned. I'm posting my thoughts on it now since the movie's been around for a few weeks already.


Matty and I waited for a year to see the seventh episode in the Star Wars space opera. So when the advanced screening presented itself and both of us were willing to pay to be some of the first to see the movie, we trooped to the movie house to see The Force Awakens.

After seeing the movie, I can say this: aesthetically, it was consistent with Episodes 4–6 but the special effects were much better. And the storyline was good... I'd say, however, that Kylo Ren's build-up to the part akin to the "Luke, I am your father" scene in The Empire Strikes Back wasn't as dramatic because I was already expecting such a twist to come up earlier on (and there were no spoilers yet at that time). As expected also, women tended to be princesses in this episode... despite Leia taking on the general title and Rey's last name and social status being a mystery for the meantime. However, Rey's princess was more Fiona than damsel-in-distress... in fact, the Force was strong in this one that I'm starting to think that Jedi powers and skills are not limited to males... only, males were supposed to take on the lightsaber (at least before Rey's time). Then there were the droids. R2-D2 and C3PO were there again, making us fans connected to the present storyline. BB-8 was a welcome addition to the robotic cast, particularly since he's such a cute droid. He was carrying out a mission, just like R2-D2 was in A New Hope. He succeeded in delivering a message that led to the victory of Princess/General Leia's troops in this episode. C3PO still had the gift of the gab as he acted as translator across living organisms and droids. So what became of the three men? Apparently, Luke was the last of the Jedis and he vanished into thin air... his teammates were looking for him. Han Solo went back to his "trading business" across galaxies and in his trouble-filled ways. Chewbacca remained faithfully at his side. Both of them were pulled into the effort since the team needed to find Luke.

Filipinos tended to be some of the toughest audiences. But while watching this movie, I've been in the company of some of the most enthusiastic audiences ever! Just as the lights were dimming, Matty asked about the cinema culture of Filipinos and if I'd rather see the movie on the big screen or on the telly. As soon as the crawling introduction scrolled in, people started cheering and clapping... I told him that this was the reason why it is best to watch Star Wars on the big screen. Then, as the story was unraveling, old characters and objects kept popping up... people were just lapping it up! We have been in such a long Star Wars drought that the audiences were so excited to see familiar faces! I'm sure that if Yoda were still alive, people will start saying, "Yoda Man!"

The movie ended on a high note, literally. What an intriguing ending! I'll certainly line up for the next leg of the Star Wars saga.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

the show must go on

Seeing Man onstage as one of the hosts during IRRI's year-end party reminded me of Queen's song "The Show Must Go On". Man was aptly dressed as a classy Peter Pan, in my opinion, because he faced the audience with his jolly face on despite losing his father to cancer a few days before the party. 

Inside my heart is breaking
My make-up may be flaking
But my smile still stays on.

I don't know how he does this. During Lola Estay's necrological services, I had a very difficult time delivering my eulogy for her. I was choking up my words and was trying to keep the tears from falling. But in Man's case, he seemed happy as ever.

My soul is painted like the wings of butterflies
Fairytales of yesterday will grow but never die
I can fly, my friends

Maybe, part of the joy is because his father is finally at peace and is no longer battling the cancer. Perhaps, his heart has been filled with positivity and support provided by family and friends. After all, when the news broke out, his friends from Los Baños braved the horrible Manila traffic to visit him and his relatives at the wake. His Manila-based friends visited him as well. But somehow, I think that what Jim Hutton said of Freddie Mercury applied to Man too: "He [Freddie] never grumbled to anyone or sought sympathy of any kind. It was his battle and no one else's..."

I have to find the will to carry on
On with the show

Condolences, Man. Manuel, Sr is now watching you from up above, made whole again. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

IRRI ends the year in style!

This year-end celebration was special because it marked the last day of Dr Bob Zeigler as the director general of IRRI. He had passed on the baton to Dr Matthew Morell earlier in the day and so this was the institute's way of saying farewell to the man who led IRRI for the past ten years.

Walking over to the venue got me thinking about the many changes that my group, the Grain Quality and Nutrition Centre, has gone through throughout the years. We used to be called the Grain Quality and Nutrition Research Centre when I first came on-board (as a researcher). Melissa was the head of the centre then. Vito and I didn't have graduate degrees then. The GQNRC was housed in the NC Brady Lab building back then... and our office space (if it can be called that) was so cramped that we didn't even have any leg room. Soon after, Vito and I went to graduate school, finished off with PhD degrees, and are now qualified to compete with international candidates for job openings. The GQNRC then is now GQNC. The research focus of the team has a stronger genomics flavour to it because the lab is now headed by Nese. And the centre is now spread out on two floors of the Hemmi building: research staff are mainly on the first floor while the GQNSL (the service lab) is in what was formerly the Analytical Services Laboratory. 

Of course, the faces have changed. Definitely. With the multiple changing of the guards came the ebb and flow of students and staff who, after they left, have pursued new heights. I watch, honoured, that the lab I'm working in has contributed to their career growth... and to the improvement of science, in one way or another.



But despite the many changes, the group has remained solid; our team spirit is alive and kicking. Need proof? Try this: we (except the boss) all came in costume as cats... and won second place for best costume (group category)!! This reminds me of when we joined all contests leading up to the IRRI-wide Christmas party many years ago... we lost but we didn't lose hope... and then won the dance contest!!

Enough with the reminiscing and back to the more recent past... aka December 11th.

It's not just us that came dressed... the girls at the Postharvest Unit, who used to be with us when the lab was still called Grain Quality, Nutrition, and Postharvest Centre, also came in costume! However, they came in 1920s Prohibition-era attire (aka as the Great Gatsby era flapper girls). 


The 1920s appeared to be a popular choice among those who attended the party because there were a lot of flappers... and a lot of dapper men. Think male actor in Chicago or in any musical based on the same period. They're in shirts, pants, and suspenders... plus their signature hats worn askew. Perfect example: The guys who played one of Bob's favourite songs, "Moondance" by Van Morrison. With the exception of Ruud (who came in more modern attire), the band (Tony, Matty, and Chris) embodied the jazz lounge act to a T.


The party was truly a fitting farewell party for Bob, who's retired this year. And as everyone tipped their hats off to Bob for a job well done, I couldn't help but thinking I didn't have a hat. I had a headband shaped like cat's ears. Oh well, a hat wouldn't fit my costume anyway... unless I came as Dr. Seuss' Cat with the Hat. 


The biggest surprise for everyone was the appearance of Dr Achim Dobermann, who is a former deputy director general for research at IRRI. Back in the day, he's described as one of the rock stars of IRRI (and not just because he sang Country Road during IRRI Duets) and IRRI's Steve Jobs. Apparently, he flew to the Philippines to see Bob's send off. Not even sure if he's still around and talking with IRRI staff or if he's flown off again.


But before calling it the end of the party, Achim just had to give me a piece of valuable advice, something that I have always looked forward to from this high-level scientist who once took on a fledgling post-doc fellow to watch over way back then (because Melissa had left and Nese hadn't arrived yet). This time, though, my comedic timing was spot on and even Bob found my faux pas funny. Haha!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Popoy and Basha... Again?!

Yes, they just had to not let my two least favourite characters rest. But who can blame them? People were lapping up anything Popoy and Basha... all they had to do was milk this unhappy love story for all its got and make a second movie out of it.

Popoy and Basha's story, the first one, was supposedly about how a long-term relationship ends. And it ended all right, complete with all the crying, the screaming, and the well-meaning friends supporting the two. Frankly, at this point, I felt bad for the two because they've been airing their dirty laundry to their public (and to the audience!). I was happy to see it end with the two protagonists moving on with their lives without resentment about the other. But wait... There's more! The movie just had to have a postscript suggesting that they're willing to give each other one more chance.

*Groan*

Seriously!

And since Krishna and Jojie had it next on our movie list, we trooped to the cinema to watch what happened after their happily-ever-after bubble popped. 

The second movie began well enough. Popoy and Basha got married and had big dreams about their future family and their careers. However, real life caught up with them on both fronts. And at the root of the issue (I think) was their wishful thinking that they could have it all quickly. So fast that they'd driven themselves ragged at the cost of what would have been their firstborn. Things went downhill from there... even their reputations were damaged. Popoy did this almost single-handedly by taking a bite bigger than he could chew at work. Basha was also partly to blame because she didn't keep track of their company (even if it had her name on it) as she played housewife. Nothing wrong with being a housewife, mind; but since she had a stake in their business venture, she should have been visiting the office once in a while to be updated. Basically, they didn't work as a team, which was how they succeeded before. But after (once again) publicly dealing with their relationship issues, they worked together to solve their career issues (with Basha at the lead this time). The movie ended with them still together but no longer unscathed. Did they stay together because they're married (albeit unhappily) or did they stay together because the storm they passed through strengthened their bond? Frankly, I'm not sure... 

I was too stressed out with all the drama that how the movie ended wasn't remarkable to me anymore.
Krishna and Jojie were also stressed out. I don't think I'd like to see this movie again... even on cable.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Happy 36th wedding anniversary, Mommy and Daddy!!

I was looking for the photo but since I couldn't find it (maybe it's with you out there), I shared a photo from the photo album itself. :)


A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Parlez-vous français?

I finally committed to learning how to communicate in French... not Spanish, as I had promised myself eight years ago. I'm currently studying in Alliance Française de Manille (I'm in my second session now) to decipher what people say is a language I would have difficulty to learn. There are a few reasons why I opted to learn French over other languages but the turning point for me was my trip to Switzerland. I thought that since I'd be in Europe, English would be the language used throughout. Oh how wrong I was! My Lonely Planet phrasebook was a great help for asking questions but I couldn't understand their answers... so I struggled, even to buy food! And I did go to Thonon-les-Bains, France on that same trip, with a few Nestle Fellows, without thinking that I'd have difficulty in communication. Plus, I've been put in situations in which the ability to converse in French is important

So now, I'm in school. The shock came on my first day of my first eight-class session. Our teacher started talking in French. Seriously! I felt like I was back in nursery school, but this time learning to count and learning the alphabet in French. I couldn't read the Victor Hugo (Les Miserables) or even the classic children story Le Petit Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupery, both of which I can understand in English. Yes, I'm back to nursery rhymes (pomme de reinette et pomme d'api) and reading Les Trois Petit Cochon (The Three Little Pigs) and Boucles d'Or (Goldilocks). It takes me an hour to go through one story!

Another shock came when I first entered the first class of my second eight-class session. We had the same teacher. When she started speaking in French, I could actually understand what she was saying! I certainly couldn't answer in fluent French but I could decipher what she's asking already!! That was so COOL!! Back in the first session, my classmates and I (except those who were taking the classes to supplement their French class in university) could only answer in words or phrases, with the rest of the messages conveyed by body language; but now, we could construct sentences! There's still body language, of course, but we've gone way beyond where we started off a few months ago. I'm amazed!

And here's the biggest shock for me: When Matty, Val, and Sylvestre conversed in French, I could already understood bits and pieces of the conversation. I'd respond in English still (because my French vocab is still very limited and I speak French too slowly) but I've surprised them quite a few times already... in one day. I surprised myself as well! And when I reverted to reading French text aloud (just like what I did as a kid for English), Matty kept saying that my pronunciation was already acceptable... the /air/ sound of the letter R is still bugging me, but it's okay... for now. 

Looking forward to session 3. :D Let's do this!!