Monday, October 31, 2016

Night at the (Ayala) Museum

All Hallow's Eve... the best time to spook each other, right? Well, the Ayala Museum upped the ante by collaborating with Mystery Manila for a very memorable evening: the museum was open til midnight and visitors were turned into detectives; they were supposed to solve the mystery of the murdered curator. I was last here during the day; I wondered what the experience would be like as a visitor at night.

Fresh from solving the crime of the Century, I was raring to solve another mystery! Good thing newlyweds Noan and Joven, and their friend, BJ, were in for an adventure-filled evening. Otherwise, I'd be playing this game by myself; not as much fun as with a group. 

We started off with a tour of the museum, my first time with a tour guide, starting from the third floor. As we wound through the Lunas, the Amorsolos, and finally the Zobels, we heard a shout... the tour guide has discovered the curator's body! A voice recording made by the curator before he died was heard. We were then handed sheafs of paper containing information about possible suspects, an incident report, and an access card for a room where a clue could possibly be in. And then, we're off!

I had high hopes about our group because there's only one PhD. Well, there's another potential overthinker, because of the MD training, but at least the odds of getting to the solution was a higher. Two engineers in the group boosted the probability of success because they think differently. My assumptions about overthinking were wrong though.

No biggie... I thought that we were making good time picking up clues. Until we got stumped with one. We searched aimlessly through the museum, thinking how to crack the next clue. But when we finally did, we were on a roll again!

An hour and 40 minutes later, we think we have solved the case and brought our solution to the Command Centre. The staff there confirmed that we got the right answer. We were so happy! We got bragging rights! Then we were told: the staff would compare our finish time with those of the other participants. Then we'd know if we won anything beyond a year's worth of bragging. We should expect a message around midnight, we were told. And so we went to dinner in a celebratory mood.

Midnight came and went, but we still didn't get a message. A bummer. But still... we came to solve a mystery and we did! The biggest surprise was Noan's message saying we actually placed second on the leaderboard. Second! Unbelievable!

Another Mystery Manila mystery solved! I want to play again!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Will the real Ms Janeth please stand up?

I was driving to Marquie's birthday party in Los Baños when I noticed this tarpaulin. It was so unique that I had to stop at the side of the road and take a photo.

Who is Ms Janeth? Looks like she's one lucky lady because a guy is asking to marry her again! It's so good to be true that it's almost like seeing a telenovela happy ending.

But then the more pragmatic side of me started asking questions: Why address her as Ms Janeth if she's already the guy's wife? Why the too public re-proposal? Why the cherry blossoms?

Is this for real?!?

Perhaps it's a marketing ploy designed to catch the attention of people on the road. But if it is, where's the rest of the story? 

Monday, October 24, 2016


I attended two weddings in October. The first one was of my bestfriend since grade school, Noan Nepumoceno (née Pagdanganan). The second one was of one of my friends from high school, Ross Cleofe. Noan is a medical doctor by profession. Ross is a registered nurse. While Noan is based in the Philippines, Ross is working in the UK. 

Anyway, while Noan and the entourage were still at the hotel (the groomsmen finished their photo opp and the bridesmaids were just waiting for instructions), my three friends from grade school, Heiko, Brian, and Dai Rong, guests to Noan's wedding, were in a parking lot across the church, taking this photo. I was in the entourage so I wasn't anywhere near the church when this photo happened.

In Ross' wedding, I wasn't in the entourage. I was a guest. So while the bride, the groom, and the entourage were taking group shots post-wedding, I went to the church parking lot with two friends from high school, Hanna and Gladys. While waiting for the rest of the guests' cars to pull out, we ended up taking this photo.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Ross and Roan get married!

Ross Anthony Cleofe is a friend of mine since high school. Since we (including Mafel) usually took the same jeep up til Calamba on our way to our respective homes, we used to walk together from UP Rural High to Los Baños Crossing, where we'd catch a jeep or a bus to Calamba. On particularly bad-traffic evenings, we ended up walking from Monte Vista to Calamba Crossing. Very long walks made easier by Ross' comedic stories.

Many years and a few career shifts later, we meet again on his wedding day! He's already based in the UK and works as a nurse. I was honoured to be invited to his wedding... he was marrying fellow nurse Roan, who he met in the UK. 

At the church, I was very happy to see batchmates from UP Rural High... Most of them are either married and with kids already or are engaged. Looks like they all are doing well in their careers and/or vocations. We all turned out well, I think. It's so nice to find the time to catch up with them.

To Ross and to Roan, congratulations and wishing you continued happy adventures around the world! 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

It's okay to say "No".

"You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically – to say 'no' to other things."

Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, was cited by Forbes Magazine for that quote. And it resonated specially loudly yesterday when I had two very interesting conversations over the phone.

See, I tend to try to help people as much as I can. But there are instances when my priorities are so high up on my list that I cannot accommodate short-notice demands on my time. Yesterday was a case in point:

I am currently loaded with a lot of technical writing assignments, a series of experiments that I actually perform (not like others who have staff to do the lab work), and preparations for upcoming presentations and events in early November. Meaning, til the middle of next month, I'm truly living the PhD life: Piled Higher and Deeper. A staff member who assists me in experiments is also very busy, preparing technical reports and his presentation to a conference.

Then the calls came. Without going into specifics, I had to decline invitations to certain meetings, specially since they're short-notice ones—happening next week—and discussions that needed to happen before these meetings never happened. The staff member also cannot accommodate requests for such events. We agreed to help in the background, because outputs there are part of our deliverables (just a part), but not to actually sit in those meetings... which, based on the meetings' schedules, meant that staff are out of office for a week. A week! How can we deliver other outputs to other research pipelines when they are needed when we've alloted a week to meetings for only one project?! Thankfully, my supervisor had my back on this one because he knows that the priorities we are working on will end up in our technical publications.

The second of the two callers ended our conversation by saying that whatever argument used on me won't convince me to join or to let the staff member attend. Then the line went dead. Most evidently, the person was frustrated. Most likely because for the first time, to the two callers, I chose to put us (me and the staff member) first. To be "selfish". To say 'no'.

True, they do have pressing needs and tight deadlines. But I believe that what they're doing is not beneficial in the long run. Through that phone call, I learned that there truly are people running to address what's urgent but not taking the time to sit down and discuss what is important. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Inferno (2016)

Robert Langdon is back on the big screen! And the timing couldn't have been better because I just finished racing around the mall, solving the crime of the Century with friends.

This time he found himself in Florence, in the midst of a race against time. A genius megalomaniac who believed that the only way to solve environmental problems is by killing off the human population. To do that, he placed a pathogenic agent somewhere in the world. It is up to Professor Langdon, with his knowledge of Renaissance art and symbolism, to find where the pathogen was... before it spread out.

But isn't finding pathogens and centres of epidemics the task of the World Health Organisation? And why get a Symbologist to do the searching?

Apparently, the evil genius had left clues in case he got himself killed before the time to release the pathogen of mass destruction arrived. These clues are in the form of writings in artworks, invisible to the uninitiated to the works of Dante Alighieri and Botticelli (hence the movie's title Inferno). The World Health Organisation did get wind of the Dante reference, which was why they took Professor Langdon in. However, a few other people had vested interests: the evil genius' girlfriend (the intended audience of the clues) and a WHO agent who went rogue; this guy wanted to profit from the virus if he could get it before everyone else did. 

And poor Robert had to wake up in a hospital, in Florence, without a memory of why he was there and how he got there. To solve the mystery of the hidden pathogen, he first had to get his memory jogged... by jogging all over Florence.

The movie followed Professor Langdon from Florence (where Dante's death mask was supposed to be), to Venice (where the horses' heads were), and then to Istanbul. That's where the pathogen of mass human destruction was hidden, deep in the cisterns of Hagia Sophia. The pathogen was eventually contained and the world would never know how close it was to the annihilation of the human race.

What I noticed about the movie was the superficial reference to Dante and to the Inferno. However, I haven't finished reading the actual book (Dante's book, not Dan's) because it was too scary; Dante vividly painted a picture of the seven levels of Hell. So any reference to the text made by the movie is lost to me. This is in contrast with the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons because I didn't have to know much about da Vinci and the other artists featured... The focus in the two films was on symbols and codes.

Now looking forward to The Lost Symbol and Origin.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Solving the crime of the Century

I was pretty confident that this time, my team would be able to solve a mystery at Century City Mall's Mystery Manila. Yes, I was back with a vengeance because the last time I was here, my team hadn't retrieved the Pym Particle with time to spare. The team I was in, this time around, was composed of college degree holders, but I was the only one with a PhD. There's a lawyer and the rest had at least taken units towards their Masters... or had finished them. I was the only self-declared overthinker in the team... for a change.

(Don't rely on the PhD's to get you through this type of game. We always overthink; we can't separate real clues from red herrings.)

We attempted to solve the Crime of the Century. It's basically a hunt all over the mall.

When we started the game, the first thing I noticed was that my teammates just ran off without reading the materials given to us in their entirety. They just started hunting for clues! When we did start getting them, that's when they started to piece things together. I, on the other hand, was stuck on our first clue. What did it mean? Was I overthinking again?!?

An hour into our game, we were still stuck in Clue #1. Some were already thinking that we won't feel a sense of accomplishment because we won't solve the crime of the Century... and that's when we started looking more deeply at the rest of the documents given to us. By this time, we were all huddled at the foot of an escalator, poring through clues and struggling through technical difficulties.

But once we solved Clue #2, we were on a roll!

Back in the game, with 20 minutes to go, we were racing up the mall again, processing what the clues meant. And finally, the last pieces fell into place: we were facing the last of the puzzle, with 12 minutes on the clock. We were supposed to disarm a "bomb" using a number combination that can only be obtained from reading beyond what the clues meant. And we only had one chance to punch in the code... I felt we fell through a rabbit hole, straight into a MacGyver episode! 

"Bomb" defused with three minutes to go! Not as nerve-wracking as being George Clooney or Nicole Kidman in The Peacemaker. But still, we felt an adrenaline rush because we solved the crime of the Century in less than 90 minutes!!

We didn't make it to the leaderboard because we took 87 minutes to solve it. But we got bragging rights and a photo to prove that we did it!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Learning one's history through food

Ambeth Ocampo, one of the professors I wish I had as a history teacher back in college, was back at the Ayala Museum for yet another session of History Comes Alive, as #HugotHistorian! This time, he took us on a different path, not quite as Rizal-centric or hero-centric as his previous lectures; he traveled with us through history lane via food.

Sure, food is clearly linked with culture and national identity. For instance: the USA is known for its burgers; China is famous for its noodles and dumplings; India is linked with curry and chicken biryani; and Japan is associated with ramen and sushi. The Philippines? Food historians say that there is a toss up between adobo and sinigang for the title "National Dish"; curiously, both terms refer to cooking methods rather than actual dishes. And it is difficult to pinpoint the most appropriate version of adobo and sinigang to vie for the coveted title because there are just too many variants!

Although I'm fascinated by this aspect of Philippine gastronomy, it never occurred to me how interesting history can be by studying what the much-revered heroes ate back in the day. Professor Ocampo pointed out, for instance, that typical history and literature teachers overly focus on nationalism when teaching the Noli Me Tangere and the El Filibusterismo. Sure, Rizal wrote them both but he also managed to leave a snapshot into social realism in cuisine: he described, in detail, how to prepare certain dishes (yes, the novels double as cookbooks) and the right occasions to eat certain dishes for certain social classes, veering the readers unknowingly into the world of gastronomy. Then, moving beyond the novels and into real life, Professor Ocampo showed us photos from the Malolos Congress (I've visited the Barasoain Church, where it took place, on my first ever road trip to Bulacan). He didn't show the typical people photos often exhibited in history books. Instead, he showed up photos of the menu cards.

Attendez! Les noms sont très familier! J'ai lu certaines mots dans mon livre de français! Champagne, huitres, crevette roses, saucission de Lyon, saumon Hollandais, dinde truffée à la Manilloise, fromages, glaces... I felt like I was back in my French class with teacher Jean Darimont (A1.6–1.7). Anyway, the menu card seems to indicate that the movers and shakers of Philippine government back in the day wanted to emulate the French, the gold standard for nationalism... not the Spanish (for obvious reasons). After all: Egalité! Liberté! Fraternité! I wonder what these people would feel if they knew that France was also a major coloniser of the third world...

Back to the lecture...

Since a Filipino meal is centred on rice, I found it endearing that Professor Ocampo touched upon, though rather briefly, on rice and history. IRRI got mentioned too! His research on Filipino food history led him to a number of terms pertaining to rice!

He found several rice varieties in literature that are already extinct in real life; but there are ancient rice varieties in his list that are conserved in IRRI's gene bank. Wouldn't it be cool to taste the rice that our ancestors have been eating? Unfortunately, he wasn't able to pick up where he had left off on that research direction. 

As he wrapped up his talk on understanding Filipino history through food, I had a few thoughts to munch over. But ultimately, the major lesson is this: Food makes history come alive.

Friday, October 14, 2016

something like this should happen more often: grade school reunion!!

There's an oft-quoted statement saying that if a friendship lasts more than seven years, it will last a lifetime. I don't know who originally said that, hence I cannot quote him or her. However, what I feel blessed about is that I have many life-long friends; and the first half of October 2016 is proof.

I studied Christian School International in Los Baños, Laguna from nursery to grade school. Back then, I had the opportunity to befriend students of different nationalities. Thanks to social media, we were able to keep in touch... and so when three friends based overseas (by some sort of coincidence) decided to fly in to Manila on the same weekend, we just had to meet them. Brian flew in from Malaysia; Heiko, from Germany; and Dai Rong, from the USA. Yes, all around the first weekend of October. Well, Heiko and Dai Rong planned to visit together. Brian's homecoming trip came as a surprise to me. Admittedly, we who are based in the Philippines don't meet up often because other things get in the way. But when things like this happen, we are only too happy to meet up. 

Here's another thing about life-long friends: We may not see each other every single day but when we do meet up (such as when we had dinner in Los Baños), it's as if we just picked up from where we left off! 

I liked the way Pretzel captioned her photo of our dinner on Instagram. She said: "I hope my son will have the same experience when he reaches our age." Yeah, I agree. For my future kids, I wish that they find a similar group of people that they can call their friends for life. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Day at the (Ayala) Museum

The Ayala Museum is one of the most accessible spots of culture for me because it's right smack in the middle of Makati's central business district. So naturally, when I meet a friend in Makati and he blurts, "Talk nerdy to me," how can I resist the pull of the museum, right?

Heiko and I went to Ayala Museum one Sunday afternoon, before he left for Hanoi, Vietnam. It's certainly a different experience from when I'm touring museums with the museum hoppers. It was refreshing. Finally, I was with someone who reacted with the same flabbergasted expression I always have when I "educate" myself on contemporary art. We both went, "That's art?!" when we saw scribbles on canvas, before moving on to the next art piece. This reaction is typical of me when I go to museums of modern art alone and don't get what the pieces are saying. I just found it surprising that someone else reacted the same way... and there's no need to act all art-critique-y, for a change.

(With my museum-hopping friends, in contrast, I normally try to interpret the artwork [silly interpretations at times] and put a lot of thought into it... although I still react as strongly when I feel the artist's execution wasn't thought through... to the chagrin of my companions because I tend to think out loud.)


One of the first exhibits that caught my eye (take note: in the contemporary art section) because it was pretty was this piece. To me, it looked like people inside a submarine at first glance. But on closer inspection, it actually looked like a theatre stage with the backdrop removed. That way, we see what's going on behind the scenes. Being one of the backstage theatre rats back in the day, I find this view fascinating. The backstage is where the "magic" of theatre begins, after all.

Moving on, we visited the Ayala gold artifact collection. Normally, I skip watching the video clip of Ayala Museum's pre-Hispanic gold exhibit. The first opportunity for me to watch the clip in its entirety was during this trip because Heiko's into the details. And rightly so... it demonstrates the links between the Philippines and its neighbours in Southeast Asia. Very fascinating. The gold culture of pre-Hispanic Philippines is unbelievable: the pieces recovered by archeologists show intricate details that could only mean that the jewelry makers back then were highly skilled. I also think that they have so much time on their hands... not a lot of things to distract them from their work.

One of my must-visit exhibits is the ceramic  collection. As a kid, I used to play with small bowls and plates with similar markings... so seeing similar things behind glass cases, is amazing to me. Of course, the museum collection is much larger than my toys back in the day. And there are many others with different designs. My favourite piece is still the blue jar (probably celadon, I'm not sure now)... I haven't seen something similar in museums overseas, I think.

Walking through the ceramics exhibit, Heiko pointed at something I've never thought about before: how are the embossed designs on various vases put on? I always thought that they're moulded in. Apparently, this assumption is something I need to revisit. And then there are the mini cows (the spotted figurines) and the friendly turtle. What are they used for? Who knows? Most likely, they're exclusively ornamental, even centuries ago.

As we walked through the rest of the exhibit, we found Tinker Tales... finally, an exhibit that wasn't serious, I thought. This was the exhibit I enjoyed the most because it's the least formal, the atmosphere was more children's book section than art gallery... it was time to loosen up! After all, here we had a chance to see children's original stories transformed into visual art pieces.

My favourite piece here is the tragic story of Miguel, the fish. Basically, he was on a picnic with a cat and a rat. The cat was distracted and didn't notice that he was drinking off Miguel's aquarium instead of his drink cup. Eventually, he gulped Miguel in! Oh no! 

Not all stories in Tinker Tales used a light approach for a tragic (or a sad) story, though. One of the exhibits in the middle of the space was supposed to be a typewriter. The paper fed into the typewriter read, "I told myself that as long as I had my heart, nothing was impossible..." Too bad I couldn't see the rest of the typewriter's story. Still, it was a heart-tugger for me. I just had to go back and see Tinker Tales again after I watched Ambeth Ocampo's lecture on food history.

Of course, we had to see the diorama collection as well. It's one of the must-sees in the museum too. We had a quick rehash of the Philippines' past, with the story ending at the 1986 EDSA Revolution. Each time I drop by this exhibit, I (re)learn something new. In this case, I was thinking about how unaware of the global goings-on the Filipino founding fathers were. They thought that they had driven off the Spanish colonisers. Unbeknownst to them, Spain had already sold the Philippines to the USA. The Americans were merely in the Philippines to claim what they thought was rightfully theirs. Oh... and that the British occupied Manila for some time as well.

Another pleasant visit to the Ayala Museum. Next time I'd find myself there, I'd be in detective mode...

Monday, October 10, 2016

My bestfriend's wedding

Noan finally tied the knot! 

She invited me to be one of her bridesmaids and she told me that I could bring a plus one. It's the first time I was told I could bring one. And I had no idea who I should bring with me. A few days later, Heiko said that he and Dai Rong were coming to the Philippines on a short vacation... and so I asked him if he could be my plus one. He said yes. And when Noan learned about the arrival of two overseas-based friends from grade school, she was thrilled. A week before Noan's marriage, Brian announced that he was visiting the Philippines too... and he got invited into the wedding as well.

The night before the wedding, we (except for Brian) were billeted at the SEARCA Guesthouse. That was convenient because we (except Noan) were scheduled to meet up with other batchmates for dinner too. With an early call time for me, it was much more convenient to be at the Guesthouse than go home late and then drive out very early on wedding day itself.

Before the wedding, the entourage members were asked to stay at the Guesthouse as other guests proceeded to church. We were supposed to stay for a pre-wedding photo opp. However, because of the timing, the bridesmaids didn't get photographed before the wedding anymore; so basically, we had to wait until Noan had finished her snail-paced descent down the stairs before we could drive off to church. 

At the church, I was able to catch up with the guys before the entourage were called to the side of the church. They all looked good... particularly in suits! I am not used to see them in suits, so this was a definite treat. Too bad the weather wasn't cooperating yet. It's just way too hot for a suit this time of the year.

And because I was bridesmaid, I had to leave my bag with them. No phone on me; no chance to take a photo of Noan walking down the aisle. I just had a bouquet of flowers in my hands. So I had to rely on them for pictures! Haha!

I met Noan's friends from medical school during the ceremony. I met her cousin too. They're a cool set of bridesmaids. Seems to be a fun set of ladies. While there was a lull in the ceremony, the naughtier of the lady MDs were looking around searching for cute guys. Oh boy, my definition of "attractive" appears to be far from theirs because all the guys they were pointing at for my opinion were not people I'd typically notice. 

After the ceremonies, the guys went to the reception venue at Splash Mountain while I stayed behind for the bridesmaids' photo shoot with the bride... and Noan was already wearing her sparkly sneakers. Good thing too because the guys were able to save me a seat at their table. And they were able to get some buko pie along the way to the venue.

Finally, the bridesmaids arrived at the reception! It was time to party! The party vibe was boosted by good music, good food, and entourage members eager to play the games. However, my jaw dropped when the bejeweled host of the party started talking like some sort of a gangsta rapper. Totally discordant from the formal party theme. I think he was told to stall the program because Noan and Joven were not in the venue yet. So he went on a monologue about what love means... quickly damping the party mood to a church sermon. Good thing the newlyweds finally arrived; I was already tuned out, munching on marshmallows sneaked in by one of the bridesmaids. 

Dai Rong was craving for lechon since Friday afternoon. At the reception, he got a plateful, enough for them to share. I opted out of the lechon though. Too fatty! But look at their faces! Looks like it's been years since their last lechon! And that may be true, actually, because it's been a long while since they've been home.

After dinner, the four of us went outside to eat the still-hot buko pie. Unbeknownst to us, we were being paged repeatedly for the bouquet and the garter tosses. We were having our own little after-party before Heiko and Dai Rong had to drive back to Manila. 

Congratulations and best wishes, Noan and Joven! As the party slowed down to a halt Brian asked the most apt question: "Who's next?"