Sunday, February 28, 2016

GQNC Road Trip: Pilgrimage to Regina RICA

Since it's already Lent, it's the best time to visit a pilgrimage site. The place the Grain Quality barkada visited this year is called Regina Rosarii Institute for Contemplation in Asia (RICA). It's a centre run by Dominican Sisters and was designed to be a place of peace and quiet for people who want to meditate amidst gardens and streams surrounded by mountains.

A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on

Towering and watching over pilgrims is a 30-foot statue of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. I thought it was a stone carving; however, it turned out to be cavernous inside. There was something that looked like a chapel at the bottom while a more private contemplation room is found in an upper level: literally inside the bowels of the statue. Nuns were leading pilgrims through a prayer when I popped in, while the rest of the GQ barkada were taking photos of the gardens below.

A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on

The gardens appear to be well organised and had cheerful flowers peppered all over. Sunflowers abound along with pink and red ones. I'm sure that in May, this place will be so pretty! The gardens have winding pathways with what looked like glass bird houses. However, a closer look inside showed that they contain candles.

The people in Regina RICA say that the candles have different meanings, based on colour. Basically, they want people to use different colours for different intentions: to pass exams; for safety of family members; for the dead; to get good employment. You name it, and there's a candle with the right colour for you. They do make a beautiful photo but something in me said that this is foolish... but I bought six candles anyway, for Mommy, Daddy, Anna, Biboy, Barbara, and Lola Bats. I really didn't care about the colours though.

A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on

Anyway, this visit to Regina RICA was a really nice way to end the GQNC barkada annual road trip. It's much better than the pilgrimage site in Batangas City (where people claim that there's a miraculous stone that cures people) because Regina RICA just claims that it is a quiet place for prayer. Nothing more. It also is very serious about dress codes. Girls in skimpy clothing (and that means skimpy by the nuns' standards) were provided with long skirts and scarves to cover themselves.

I just wish that those who visit really took in the solemnity of the venue. I could here ladies swear like they've not been educated in good manners. There were others who viewed the place as a tourist spot and shouted in conversation with there friends. Oh well. At least they're in church. That's the important thing. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Zootopia (2016)

What do you call a situation in which a sweet bunny outwits a sly fox?
"It's called a hustle, sweetheart."

And that's basically how the working relationship between con-artist Nick Wilde (the fox) and new police officer/metre maid Judy Hopps (the rabbit) in Zootopia started. Zootopia is a place where prey and predator could live together in harmony. Because Judy's path crossed with that of Nick's, he couldn't do anything but help her... Otherwise, Judy would have him arrested. 

The mysterious disappearances of other mammals from  Zootopia was a big case for the police force. Judy got hereelf interested in the investigation because an otter's husband came to the police, pleading about her missing husband. Nick and Judy then went to different suburbs of Zootopia. And as the saying goes, the plot thickens...

The disappearances, apparently, were associated with the animals becoming aggressive due to mysterious reasons. They have been kept in the most remote of locations. And the mayor of Zootopia knew about it. Of course, he was removed from his post. He was replaced by his assistant, an ewe. Judy, having closed the case with Nick, was made the face of the police department. Her rather simple-minded opinion about predators put a dent in the peaceful atmosphere of Zootopia and in her friendship with Nick. Back at home to lick her wounds, Judy was able to piece together the mystery of the aggressive predators. Getting Nick to help her again, Judy was able to catch the real perpetrators. Zootopia reverted to its peaceful set-up and Nick finally got an honest job, putting his hustling skills to good use.

Just like Inside Out, Zootopia is a cartoon with depth. Zootopia dealt with the issues of prejudice, racism, and corruption in a form that kids can enjoy and understand and in a manner by which adults can be surprised and taught as well.  This was why I thought, after watching the film, that I got hustled... in a good way. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Going to the beach in winter? Yeah, why not?

In February 2015, not even my newly fractured wrist could stop me from visiting the beach (South Korea's East Sea) in winter. I couldn't believe that not a year has passed before I saw myself on the beach in winter (again!). Certainly the wrong time to don my wakeboarding attire so I was content with just looking at the scenery, the wildlife, and the surf. I was coasting along California's Pacific coast with Mommy and Daddy, and had a few pit stops while on the road with Biboy and Barbara (and her siblings) in the Bay Area.

If I thought I was crazy for being on the beach in winter, the surfers at San Francisco's Fort Point beat me: they were actually in the frigid water under the Golden Gate Bridge! Fort Point is an entry into San Francisco Bay through the Golden Gate (John Fremont's Chrysopylae), the body of water connecting the bay to the Pacific Ocean. Anyway, these surfers were at it until the sun set... I didn't wait to see if they continued to ride the waves in the dark.

With our family's Brazilian relatives, I also visited Point Emery Park in Berkeley, which is also located along the San Francisco Bay. Unlike in Fort Point, the water here was flat like a lake... perfect for wakeboarding (!), if there was a boat. But then again, it's winter and I didn't want to go into frigid water. So I contented myself with walking on the "boardwalk" and looking at the view.

And then I headed south with Mommy and Daddy. First, we visited the city of Pismo Beach where we walked to the bluff-top Dinosaur Cave Park (there were no dinosaurs to be seen here) to catch the scenic view of the ocean. We met a couple there who found action cameras on selfie sticks to be a novelty... it was the first time I've been mistaken as an employee of Google Earth because I was recording the picturesque views on video with my Sony action camera. We even ventured towards Brown's Rock to watch the few birds that were sunbathing there. After the walking tour of Dinosaur Cave Park, we then proceeded to the Oceano Sand Dunes Recreational Area. Birds supposedly call this area home but they might be in warmer areas because of the cold winter. Anyway, I found the sand dunes interesting (Mommy decided to stay on the sidelines) because it reminded me of the sand dunes in Paoay, Ilocos Norte, which I first saw in 1998. Back then, I thought I ended up in a desert instead of the beach. In this 2015 adventure, however, I found it curious that people were actually allowed to drive their all-terrain vehicles on the sand and the vehicles' tires made deep cuts into the sand. Also, this was my first ever venture into the Pacific Ocean. Yes, I've seen it a few times but this was my first time to be on the beach! Even in the Philippines, I've never been to the eastern seaboard; hence, never been on the Pacific side of the country.

(Hang on... I may be wrong. I've been to Bondi, Coogee, and Manly beaches in Sydney but I was walking on the pathway and not on the beach itself; and not on the water's edge.)

The surf in Oceano was definitely up. The waves were the biggest I've seen in my life! No, the waves were not as high as the legendary waves of Portugal or Hawaii... But still, they're huge!

It was a good idea to visit the sea in winter. But I was deadset to step into it ONLY when the water is back to its warm, tropical temperature.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Car window-shopping

Cars. These are some of the most expensive things a yuppie will aspire for. These normally competes with real estate properties in a yuppie's prioritised to-buy list. For the longest time, I've been one of a few people in my groups of friends who are already driving (yeah, I belong to a certain social class... in the upper ones, people tend to drive their own cars at a younger age and all their friends do that as well). I am always happy to see my friends start getting their own cars, getting their drivers' licenses, and finally understanding the freedom and the difficulties of managing their own cars... because nobody understood me before. I'm doubly happy because I won't automatically be the driver during barkada road trips anymore.

Anyway, 2016 looks like it's Mafel's year to enter the world of the driving public. Jean and I have been helping her go through the prerequisites of becoming a car owner: what to do in the dealer's office; what features to check out in cars; and what to look for in the fine print when she finally selects the bank for her car loan and the dealer for her car.

Today being a holiday, we went to visit two dealers to check out the cars and to compare discount packages. As a true friend, it was my duty to sit on the backseat and assess the legroom... because I'm almost sure that I'd be assigned to the backseat in barkada outings and I need to know if I won't feel claustrophobic out back. (Actually, it's more of a vested interest of mine and anyone else in our barkada who will be assigned to sit out back)

In the end, Mafel has to mull over her options and weigh the pros and the cons of the different offers laid out to her. I guess we'll just find out what she's getting when she tells us. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

"Flying" Honda Civic

This is how Shiela, an officemate of mine, describes my car. On Valentine's Day, I went on my annual pilgrimage to Clark Airbase, where the Philippine International Hot-Air Balloon Festival took place this year. Since Shiela was coming from her hometown (somewhere north of Manila), she opted to meet up with us somewhere along the NLEX before sunrise. We did meet up at a gas station along the way. But because my car had more passengers who needed to go to the loo before the next segment of the trip, we stayed longer in the gas station than Shiela did (who drove up with Josh, her son, in tow). And so Shiela had about 15 minutes of lead time.

We called her up just to check on how far she was from us. Apparently, she was 12 km ahead; with the slower drive (due to the many vehicles on the two-lane stretch of highway), she was easily 30 mins ahead of us. I suggested that after she's paid the toll fee, to stop on the shoulder of the road so that we could easily see her and we could drive in convoy to Clark.

So I zipped through the toll plaza in Dau, thinking that Shiela was already waiting for us. When we didn't see her car, we thought that she had taken off... and so we drove on. When we called her up again, she said that she was still queued for paying the toll fee. I told her that we just passed through the toll plaza and already approaching the SCTEx. She was so surprised that my car got passed hers without her noticing. Since then, she's labeled my car as a flying car.

No. Only Mr Weasley owns a magical Ford Anglia.

But in truth, my car doesn't fly. I just had a EC Tag for electronic toll payment... which made the queue to the toll gate a breeze.  

Monday, February 15, 2016

Hot-air balloons!!

Once upon a time, I decided that I was capable of driving all the way to Pampanga. The motivation was to see the hot-air balloons lift off at sunrise. But I failed and have never gotten there in time because I value my sleep and safety more than being at the airport at the crack of dawn.

So just imagine my excitement when friends from the lab decided that they wanted to join me on my latest road trip AND catch the balloons fly off at daybreak. We just had a set back before driving off: the driver thought we were leaving on Sunday but we were leaving on Saturday! My chance to catch a few zzz's while we're on the way vanished. I automatically became designated driver.

Along the way, I told Jojie, Krishna, Crisline, and Jojie's friend that we'd miss sunrise by an hour and they had to content themselves with seeing the balloons from the highway. Not a problem, they said. Shiela drove her own car because she was coming from somewhere near the NLEX already and she was bringing Josh too. We met up with each other at a gas station on the NLEX and fully intended to drive as a convoy... never happened. It was already bright outside by the time we entered the SCTEX, thanks to the pre-dawn heavy traffic (where all these vehicles came from, I could not fathom).

Finally, we entered the Clark Freeport. The girls became excited and started screaming because the balloons were flying already! Then there were tandem paragliders and twin-engine, flour-bombing airplanes up in the sky. I was able to watch and keep up with the passengers because the traffic was at a full stop. It took a bit more than hour to get to the parking lot. We were all happy despite the traffic jam because we were able to watch the activities almost directly above us.

Great way to begin our attendance to the Philippine International Hot-Air Balloon Festival, eh?

A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Maiden flight of my parafoil kite :)

Back in the day, Anna, Biboy, and I spent long summer days at the sugarcane farm across the street to fly our dual-line kite. A perfect spot if you're not concerned about brambles, uneven soil, and the intensity of the sunlight. It took three kids to fly tht kite: two held the strings while one checked the wind conditions, tossed the kite in the air, and gave instructions on string management.

Last year, Joycelyn gave me a parafoil dual-line kite as a birthday gift. I was so excited to fly it. But the conditions were no longer ideal... The sugarcane farm was no longer accessible from my house, there were so many things the kite could be snagged onto, and there was only one kid left. The two kids outgrew the kite-flying interest.

And so the first opportunity to fly my new kite was at the 2016 Philippine International Hot-Air Balloon Festival, in Clark, Pampanga. Everyone who knows me is familiar with my fascination for flying... And the closest I could do, aside from riding in an airplane, is to pilot a tethered aircraft. Which is what I do every second weekend of February, when the air is cool and with sky is clear, for hours on end.

Anyway, the early part of the day was spent untangling the lines. That is a test of patience because there are two lines, relatively longer than the strings of the kites I had flown previously. And the wind was turbulent. It changed direction every few minutes. How could I fly a kite in that condition?! This reminded me of asymmetric-flow field-flow fractionation, a separation technique that relied on laminar flow of material. Nerd alert!! Needless to say, my kite crashed quite a few times. But this didn't dampen my mood... Or my friends'. Krishna and Crisline were still enthusiastic with throwing the kite into the air. Josh, Shiela's son, was still excited to see it soar with the other kites. Shiela was taking photos throughout (photo below by Shiela).

With the "never give up, never surrender" attitude, we flew the kite one last time. And it just shot up into the air... FAST! We were all so happy that we finally got the kite to fly! To think I had only let out half the length of the lines. I could just imagine how high it could go with the full length! 

Once it was in the air, people started approaching us with questions about where I got it. They might have been checking out deltas and rectangular single-line kites that were being sold in the venue. I've got those too before but they didn't feel as sturdy as this parafoil. The string of the last delta kite I had (many years ago) snapped at full length when the wind became too strong; I was chasing after my kite at the airport's airplane parking lot! 

I'm already looking forward to fly the dual-line again. In the meantime, it goes into storage. My mom has since given away my kites whenever she finds the ones I kept in hiding (she can smell them, I can tell). My new kite, however, doesn't look like a kite... But I'll keep it inside the car while my mom's home so she can't give it away. Just in case. Hehehe.