Monday, March 28, 2016

No art is an island...

Black Saturday. Typically, I'd be in Sta Cruz, spending time with family in preparation for Easter Sunday (so basically, that means just having dinner with them and sleeping over my aunt's house). This year, however, Val invited me to join him, Nikos, Coast, and Zia to Art in Island. It's a museum in Cubao, Quezon City that features three-dimensional artworks in which people can have their pictures taken with. I just had to join them; it sounded like fun when the idea was pitched at me! 

So here are some of my favourite photos from our visit to this museum. And yes, no shoes allowed. Hence, I was barefoot the whole time.

Let me out of here!!

I'm the biggest, for once!
The sad angel.
Someone's gatecrashed the Nativity scene...
I'm not sure if he's captured the ball from the characters of the Creation of Man
The trip down the rabbit hole led to the staircase to heaven and the path to a floating mansion.
I can do this in real life... NOT!!
Move it!
How many times does the cat's tail get pulled out here?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sakaling Hindi Makakarating (2016)

As per usual, I found myself going to the cinema without an idea what the movie I was about to watch was all about. This time, I was with Ate Mary, Pogs, Dennis, and Gids at the Robinsons Galleria to see a movie called Sakaling Hindi Makarating, directed by Ice Idanan and top-billed by Alessandra de Rossi (who's about the only actor in the movie I've seen before). This movie was picked by my movie-watching friends, as I understand it, because interest has been brewing about it after it had won awards at the Cine Filipino Film Festival this year.

Okay, so the story is about a woman who was trying to pick up the pieces of her life after her relationship with her fiance broke down. Apparently, Cielo, the protagonist, belongs to the same group of women who try to find what they're looking for in their travels... sounds familiar right? As I was watching the film, I couldn't help but think that this is yet another retelling of "Eat, Pray, Love" and "That Thing Called Tadhana". But instead of going north and staying up in the clouds covering Mount Kiltepan, Cielo went south and explored the colourful landscapes of Zamboanga, Siquijor, and Marinduque, before going to the furthest she could to the north: Batanes. She immersed herself in the culture of each place she visited, making friends along the way.

While she kept on meeting new people, the one person who cared for her (aside from her mother) was put on the sidelines. He's a literature teacher whose students were tackling Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. It's interesting, actually, because Cielo's journey roughly followed the structure of the story: Cielo got hurt, had great expectations for the end of her journey, and disillusionment when found herself at the end. The guy, Paul, who corresponded with her via snail mail and whose feelings were unrequited, wisely opted to continue living his life: he didn't wait until she found herself. He moved on. To me, he seemed to have a bright future ahead, despite it being a mystery. It was refreshing to see someone move on instead of pine for someone who didn't seem interested in settling... because she was on the rebound from a long-term relationship. Paul did say, after all, "Walang masama kung iisipin mo rin ang sarili mo..."

It's now up to Cielo to follow him, if she chose to. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Seoul Kitchen

I like eating Korean food, especially after being introduced to the cuisine's different dishes. Dr Chin, a Korean who used to work at IRRI (post-doc then IRS), introduced me to galbi. These are meat strips that are grilled right on the table. When the  cooked meat strips were served, there were a lot of side dishes that I honestly didn't know how to start eating my dinner! Then there's the epic Sariwon dinner I had with Ate Bing, Ate Mary, and Carina. That's when I got my first encounter with  japchae, a glass noodles dish and how metal chopsticks are not ideal tools to eat these noodles with. Then there's the occasional dinner with officemates at 88 Resort where the restaurant also had those Korean popsicles, aside from the Korean dishes. But the ultimate immersion of all happened in South Korea. That's where I saw the diversity in food and the inroads made by French baguettes and macarons into the dining experience.

So back in the university town of Los Baños, lo and behold! there's a restaurant that even Dr Chin said is serving really good Korean food. If the local says that, I'd have to believe him and troop to the resto straight away. The restaurant, Seoul Kitchen, is in Umali Subdivision and is smack in the middle of college residential life. 

The food, I agree, is really good. I must admit that I am a creature of habit and will return to a resto for a specific dish. In the case of Seoul Kitchen, I always came back for jjampong (without the squid) and ramyun. I also take mandu a lot. But there are times when I would try the kimbap with beef (instead of tuna) or the bulgogi. The serving sizes are quite big; hence, I rarely have room for dessert. But when I do, I normally take the Oreo bingsu. One thing I miss, though, are the flurry of side dishes that I've become accustomed to when eating Korean food outside Los Baños. In other Korean restos, the meal starts off with boiled orange sweet potatoes, pickled eggplants, kimchi, sautéed mushrooms... They compose a meal already! These beat the amuse bouche (which just whets the appetite before the appetiser) in European-themed restos somewhat because the Korean meal starts with an assault (of the positive type) to the palate. Seoul Kitchen doesn't have the side dishes, except for the kimchi. 

What it lack in side dishes, Seoul Kitchen makes up for with the atmosphere. When I first had dinner there, I was greeted with Korean pop songs. MTVs of Korean boy and girl bands flashed on the flat screen. And there were a lot of little knick knacks from Korea that virtually transport one who hasn't been to Korea, to Korea. The servers are very friendly too. After several months of eating there at least once a week, I've become a familiar face. Proof? When I ate there and got curious with the pork dish with shredded cabbage that Kenneth, a staff in Comms, was eating, I asked the waiter to remind me to get the same dish the next time I popped in. True enough, he just confirmed if I was trying that dish out when I returned a week later.

Hence, I find myself looking forward to my weekly dose of Korean cuisine dinner. Seoul Kitchen is a must try. Again and again and again. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Vask's tapas tasting menu

It has got to be one of my two favourite restaurants in the metro these days. It's one of those establishments I am willing to drive two hours north to just for the food. That's Gallery Vask. It's been named 39th best restaurant in Asia and on Monday evening, I introduced Ate Lucy and Man to the delicious food there. 

However, before I brought my friends along, I wanted Annapet to try it too. So one Sunday evening a few weeks back, after French class, I drove to the Bonifacio Global City and vetoed her choice of restaurant... because Anna wanted to eat at a place she saw in a top 10 list and she couldn't even remember its name! Since it's my sister with me, I pulled some of the stops: I opted to let her try the tapas tasting menu. After all, it featured some of my favourite items on the Vask menu: foie gras mousse on mango, Wagyu beef carpaccio, and mussels

I wanted her to try it out because we're going to bring the parents, the brother, and the sister-in-law to Vask when they're in the Philippines on vacation. Just like what I did when we went to the Black Pig, the other in my top two restos in the metro, last year. Anyway, it looked like Anna enjoyed her tasting menu immensely. I am willing to bet that this is her first degustation dinner ever... but I may be wrong. 

One thing I liked most about Vask's tasting menu is that it is so flexible for people with dietary restrictions. I, for one, am highly allergic to crustaceans and squid. I couldn't, therefore, partake of the scallops (because of the squid ink) and the risotto (because of the shrimp). The chef (not Chef Chele, who was cooking in an event that night) kindly substituted these two dishes with something else for me: I ended up with porcini mushroom risotto and something else in lieu of the scallops dish (I can't remember what it's called). 

I can't wait to have my parent try out Vask when they arrive!!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Anilag 2016

Every year, the provincial government of Laguna holds a festival that showcases the products and the tourist destinations in the different towns of the province. Back in the day, it was called Anilag (Ani ng Laguna) and then La Laguna. This year, the name was reverted to Anilag, and rightly so, I guess, because cottage industries were highlighted this year. 

This year, I visited the festival with my relatives. Tita Babie and Tito Donnie were there too since they just arrived from Cavite (and California).

A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on

I felt like I was on a rapid tour of the province, with each town represented by a booth. Missing (or at least I didn't notice the exhibits) were the booths of Pagsanjan, San Pedro, and Cabuyao. Some of the booths were really pretty, with my favourite being the Lumban exhibit because it featured, beautifully, the colourful embroidery that has made the town famous the world over. The other exhibit I particularly liked was the Paete showcase. It was filled with sculptures of religious icons, featuring the superior woodcraft skills of artists residing there.

Perhaps we dropped by late at night but I felt that the celebration was less festive... maybe even a bit routine already, causing people to not be that interested anymore. Back in the day, major tv networks covered the events, the parades, and the fireworks. This year, I don't think that the coverage was as detailed. Or maybe, I just wasn't as involved in the festivities as I was years ago. Back then, I trooped to the venue with camera gear in tow to take pictures of the exhibits and of the interesting things going on around. 

Anyway, I'm quite happy that I was able to see the exhibits in Anilag. I hope that this type of festival continues and that the exhibits gets better and better with time. :)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Always Be My Maybe (2016)

On Friday, I watched a movie entitled "Always Be My Maybe", directed by Dan Villegas and top-billed by Gerald Anderson and Arci Muñoz. The movie, produced by Star Cinema, was about two people who became friends after their respective romantic relationships failed. The story, as any Filipino rom-com would have it, showed the ups and downs of the relationship between the protagonists... with both ending up happy... or at least that's when the director hollers, "Cut! That's a wrap!" to the cast and the crew.

Anyway, I am not writing about the movie as much as I am writing about how current the language used by the characters was. Kudos to the scriptwriters, Patrick Valencia and Jancy Nicolas! They made the characters talk the way a certain group of Filipinos talk, making the characters realistic and relatable. Kudos to the cast and the director too, because they made the script come to life. One of the more salient points was when Gerald's character, Jake, was having drinks at a café with a woman he just met at a bar. She was speaking in an affected and exaggerated version of Valley-speak. It's the sociolect (yeah, as opposed to region-centric dialect) associated with girls from Southern California and the seeming projection of laziness, airheadedness, and materialism. Think Clueless (the movie) and the reality tv shows of Paris Hilton, of Nicole Richie, and of the Kardashians (sorry, but characters in their shows do speak with that way). These shows, however, depicted characters talking naturally using Valley-speak.

... But not the lady in the coffee shop. She spoke with a high rising terminal that made her statements sound like questions. Plus, she kept on saying "I can't even." as if those three words were a complete sentence. Okay, very Valley Girl, right? Until we take her accent into account. She spoke with a strong Manila accent, I'd say. And it sounded strange to my ears. This isn't a case of discrimination, mind. But it's about people who aspire to seem like they're in social classes higher those they're really in; it's about aspirations to belong to a culture that one is definitely foreign to him/her.

That scene, I think, contributed a lot to the comic value of the film. It's so awkward that it's funny... It's still the topic of discussion among my friends who've seen the film.

I. Can't. Even.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Armchair forensic scientist meets escape rooms

I was watching Brain Games on the National Geographic Channel the other day. In this episode, a group of three people were locked inside a glass-walled room, from which they had to figure out how to get out. To help them decipher the life-size puzzle, they had to answer a series of riddles. And they had one hour to get out. According to Brain Games, these participants had to use all parts of their brains to figure out how to escape the room. Hence, one had to have the mind of a detective and/or a forensic scientist to find and to piece clues together. This meant that this type of activity is a piece of cake for people with advanced degrees, right?


Roman, a former staff at IRRI (he's now studying in Singapore), organised an activity for a group of people, including PhD graduates, MSc students, and BSc graduates. It was a perfect way to see how people with different educational attainments processed problems.

We were stuck in a dimly lit room, blindfolded at first, and were supposed to figure out how to get out of it. The PhD's kept finding useless clues and were continuously chasing after red herrings... The MSc's and BSc's kept seeing the clues that moved the team forward. Ha! Finally feeling successful because we were getting out of the room, we bitterly found out that we're trapped in yet another room. The thing is, clues from the first room were also useful in the second one. 

In the second room, the PhD's once again wandered aimlessly, seeing meaning in red herrings. To their credit, they also did see valid clues... And these helped the team move to solving the mystery of the locked door. The MSc's and BSc's, meanwhile, found the bulk of the clues that would bring the group closer to freedom. With plenty of time to spare, everyone felt confident that we were on our way out with the discovery of the right key.

Opening the door, we found ourselves in a third room! That's when everyone realised that we actually didn't have enough time! A crucial clue was set aside as the clock ticked on. 

When the timer went off, we discovered that there was yet another room! Gosh! We used too much time to solve problems in the first two rooms! The PhD's were obviously overthinking everything while the MSc's and BSc's brought common sense and the power of elimination with them. But then, most of the group was new to escaping rooms... we didn't know what to do!

One thing about PhD's: they're sore losers. We can't let go of a problem until we've solved it. Hence, we just had to subject ourselves to another escape room and see if our crystallised intelligence from the initial exposure would help. I think it did. However, the common sense used by the BSc's and MSc's put them at an advantage: they know how to interpret answers that stare at them at the face; PhD's could find ten hypotheses and possibilities which need to be crossed off, following Sherlock Holmes' philosophy, "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

In the next escape room challenge, the PhD's were able to contribute more to the solution of yet another multi-room puzzle. However, that bulk of the figuring out towards the solution was done by the non-PhD's. We did get out of the room in under one hour (finally!) but not fast enough to be on the leaderboard. So we only gained bragging rights. Nevertheless, we were still happy... getting out of the room was a big feat in itself.

I guess practice makes perfect. This is a perfect mind game that equalises the playing field of different educational attainments. Because of this, the escape room is a good way to strengthen teams and develop camaraderie among individuals. I'd like to play again one day.

Friday, March 4, 2016

On forgotten passwords and passcodes

One of the reasons I have for blogging is to keep a diary for myself, online, so I'd be able to laugh at myself and reflect on my adventures years after... Without having to worry about entering passcodes and passwords before I could read my posts. Paper-based diaries are getting bulky, after all.

(I do have a password for composing and posting... But the content is publicly accessible. In case my memory fails me in the future, knock on wood. After all, I don't want to end up like Lexi Smart in "Remember Me?" By Sophie Kinsella.)

Because that's the thing. In an effort to lock things in and to prevent others from tweaking (unauthorised) and stealing online personas (i.e., keep information private but online), people are using passwords and number combinations. And they're difficult to remember if there are so many of them... Different ones per account, per device, per item. And we're not supposed to write them anywhere for the sake of security.

So today, I woke up too early because my phone kept pinging with messages from the other side of the world (because family members will be flying in soon). But I couldn't access my phone; I FORGOT THE PASSCODE! AGAIN! *sigh* A "senior moment" (as people jokingly put it) in the offing, perhaps... or my brain is processing too much information that I rely on fingerprint recognition too much (and it's somehow not working on my phone this morning).

A way out was put in front of me years ago. As usual, a movie reference. After watching the Men in Black installment in which Tommy Lee Jones' character put clues in specific locations in case his memory was reset, I also started doing that. So with my phone's passcode, all I have to do, theoretically, is to look at the clue I placed previously and the code should come to me, easily. 


Here we go...

Thursday, March 3, 2016

In the Pig Pen

Looking for a good place for dinner (after canvassing for her future car), Mafel and I ended up in The Pig Pen. It felt cozy, homey, and familiar... with very warm staff who made me instantly feel at ease. As I read the menu's back cover, I learned that The Pig Pen is owned by my friends who also put up The Black Pig! No wonder! However, The Pig Pen is definitely not a copy cat of The Black Pig. The menu in The Pig Pen is more casual and rustic than in The Black Pig, being in line with the casual feel of Nuvali. Somehow, The Black Pig's menu is more sophisticated, more urban... very Alabang, in my opinion.

A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on

The pulled pork cannelloni I had for dinner was so delicious! It was just the right-sized portion too. The edamame and the cherry tomatoes provided the right contrast to avoid the umay factor coming from the creamy sauce of the cannelloni. Meanwhile, I paired the pasta with Bundaberg's ginger beer. It's basically rootbeer, but with ginger. The sharp, sweet flavour and the fizzy texture of the ice-cold soda was really refreshing.

Berna, one of the owners, was manning the place. Hence, we weren't able to chat. It's still disconcerting to see her in a different resto... I knew her face was familiar but I couldn't associate her with anything. She turned out to have the same reaction when she saw me.

Next time I'm back in Nuvali, I now have a resto where the people know me, and I know them. Like a neighbourhood resto I can frequent.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Pigging out at Niu by Vikings

I am not so much a fan of buffet restaurants because I felt I can't eat as much as the next buffet athlete. However, Kay, Anna's classmate in nursing school, wanted to try Niu by Vikings. It is a buffet restaurant at SM Aura (Bonifacio Global City). Niu is reminiscent of the buffet restos I've eaten at in Las Vegas: the lighting, the fixtures, and the tables and chairs all felt luxurious and expensive. Frankly, this has got to be the prettiest restaurant I've been to in Metro Manila where people sit down to pig out.

And pig out we definitely did. There were a lot of options. Clueless with where I should start, I opted to get food from the rear end of the resto, slowly moving forward towards the desserts station. Hence, I began my eating adventure with meats and pasta. Then I moved slowly but surely through the pan-Asian cuisine and the western cuisine. I decided to avoid the Japanese section because the sushi rolls with tuna and with salmon appeared to have been switched (salmon was on the plate with tuna on the label and vice versa). Since I didn't want to risk having an allergy attack in the middle of a great meal, I thought that leaving these out was the best move. Instead of the sushi rolls, I opted for baked oysters and mussels (which are just about the only seafood I could eat). The highlight of the meal, aesthetically, has got to be the desserts. I had ice cream and then different types of cakes. Yum!

As we wound down our meals, Kaye whipped out a checklist of food she had to try in Niu. She was quite upset that the ice cream flavour she wanted to taste wasn't available and a certain dish didn't come up to par. For me, though, I found the food to be okay. It was great to have a lot of options but my senses were getting confused by the eclectic nature of my dinner. I think my brain's been so used to having unified meal themes and this meal just didn't.

If there's something I would change in the resto so I could enjoy the full experience: ensure that there's no cross contamination of ingredients that have allergy potential. I would love to enjoy the Japanese fare but I couldn't.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

GQNC Road Trip: Windmills

It's been a long time since the GQNC barkada went on a road trip. The last one I was in was when we went to Daranak Falls in Tanay, Rizal. Back then, there were only two cars; the rest traveled by motorbike. This time, however, we were in a convoy of four cars! Kuya Jun, Ate Lucy, Ana, and I were all driving! Well, actually, Kuya Ferdie was driving Ana's car throughout the trip. Because I had a webinar the night before, I promised to bring up the rear as the sweeper, catching up with them when I was ready.

A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on

For this trip, we were going back to Rizal province. But instead of just going to Daranak Falls, we were also going to Pililla, where a wind farm is located. We've been staring at the wind turbines from windows in the lab on clear days and I was just stoked to see them up close, finally! The last time I've approached any windmill was when Ate Bing and I went to Bangui, Ilocos Norte. And I was overwhelmed then because the windmills were right on the beach, where the surf was intimidating... I thought there was a rip tide there. And the other tourists also didn't step in the water despite being in the beach.

So, while driving towards Pililla, I was in the car with Krishna, Cindy, and Jojie. When the windmills first came into view, the girls just lost it and started screaming and pointing at the windmills. I felt excited to but since I was driving, I had to keep my eyes on the road... no looking at the windmills... yet. Eventually, I had my first glance at them. That excitement grew as we came closer because more and more windmills came to view. On our final turn into the farm, there were just too many of them; we didn't know which one to look at first!

Out of the car, we started walking on the uphill gravel road. That's when we realised why the farm was placed there: there was a lot of wind. The strong, laminar type too. The wind appeared to stay in one direction but we're not supposed to fly kites there. Maybe it's because the lines might get tangled in the turbines. Oh, well. It's okay. I was there for the sights and the windmills anyway.

And what a sight! We were on what appeared to be the top of a mountain with a view of Laguna de Bay and surrounded by 27 windmills. 

I felt happy seeing these windmills because aside from the curiosity that I had been nursing, I am also proud that the Philippines is dead set on reducing its dependency on fossil fuel for energy generation. We are moving towards clean energy. A lot of organisations have made this project possible. Many of them are private companies, I think. But there are a lot of government organisations too. We are really developing into a country invested in alternative energy sources. 

Despite all the advantages of wind farming, I wonder if there are cons to this technology too. I mean, use of turbines changes the wind patterns right? Would the movement of pollen, pollinators, and birds be affected by changes in wind patterns brought about by the turning of the windmills? What happens to the rate of energy generated when a strong typhoon barrels through the area? I have absolutely no knowledge about this, admittedly, and I'm sure that the experts have taken these concerns into consideration.