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Showing posts from November, 2016

Celebrating IR8's 50th anniversary

Back in the day, the world was in very real danger of famine. The population was increasing at a rate at which food production couldn't keep up. In the 1960s, agricultural scientists made several breakthroughs that enabled farmers to increase crop production: high-yielding varieties, dwarf wheat and rice varieties, improved farm management, and inputs (like fertilizers), among others. At that time, scientists had no paradigms to follow. They were blazing the trail.
IR8 was the landmark variety of that time. It is a high-yielding variety that spread like wildfire across the rice-producing parts of the world. It became known as "Miracle Rice" because it alleviated the food security problem at the time. It may not be the one-shot solution to end hunger and poverty (a position that critics use) but it was released at the right places at the right time.
Fifty years into the future, IRRI celebrates the golden anniversary of the rice variety that shaped the rice-consuming worl…

The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016)

I thought Snow White's story ended with happily ever after. Indeed it did. We know how her story began. But we never were provided a clue about the other characters in her story. What, for instance, was the story behind the huntsman's anger against the Evil Queen? This was explored in the prequel and sequel of sorts entitled The Huntsman: Winter's War.
Apparently, the Evil Queen had an equally evil sister who became the Ice Queen. She recruited children to be part of her army, turning their hearts to ice so that they won't feel the pain of losing their loved ones. Included in her army were the huntsman and his future wife. They were punished into thinking that the other one died or abandoned them.
Moving forward to after the Evil Queen was defeated, Snow White had fallen ill because of the Magic Mirror. Apparently, it wasn't destroyed in the first movie. Instead, it had been taken into hiding but got lost along the way. The huntsman and his wife had to join forces…

The Intern (2015)

There are days when I just want to sit down and watch a movie that I don't have to think too much about. One of them is The Intern, a movie about a man who was already retired, whose wife had died, and whose child has his own family already... he wanted to do something productive with his time and got himself hired as an intern at an online clothing store (similar to Zalora, I imagine). As I watched the movie, Robert de Niro's character (the retired guy) reminded me so much of the old guy in UP!, the animated film. 
Anne Hathaway's character did not remind me of the plump boy in UP!. Instead, I remembered her boss in The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep, ironically enough. Anne's character wasn't the devil, though; she was a young entrepreneur who was trying to make her business succeed while balancing it with her family life.
The heartwarming part of the movie, for me, was when Anne's boss character allowed Robert's intern character into her world. He was …

Je peux lire en français!

Before I went to Japan, Ms Natsu Kawazoe was getting information of guests' dietary restrictions. I had to give her my list of seafood allergies so that the chef/s at the venue could prepare a customised menu for me. Not a problem; I could always just skip a course if it had something I couldn't eat... if it were a buffet. However, the dinner I was supposed to attend followed the American formal dinner style (food, already plated, are served to each diner) so I had to really indicate my food restrictions. Otherwise, the kitchen staff wasted effort in plating for someone not eating a particular course.
(In contrast, the dinner I had at Bale Dutung had service à la française).
I have to say that the timing for me learning French is impeccable. Just before I flew to Japan, the topic we had in class was full-course meals, with the names of dishes and their ingredients in French. Lo and behold, the menu card handed to me:

printed in French and in Japanese! I knew somewhat what I wa…

Science, technology, and innovation... and arts

Science and technology are very important for nation-building. 
If there is one lesson I'm taking home from Science Agora 2016 and from the JST 20th Anniversary Forum, it is that. But at the end of the day, it is people who will accept the outputs of science and technology; this means that scientists shouldn't forget to consider the acceptability of their innovations to the current projected stakeholders. Are they receptive to new technology or do they tend to hold on to the past as long they could... until they are forced to let go of obsolete technology?
It is this question that niggled in my head as I entered the last two sessions I attended in Science Agora 2016. Both were about science and technology in the context of culture and arts. And these two sessions were so good. I did not regret sitting here listening to them all the while knowing that I was missing out on the sightseeing in Tokyo because it was such a beautiful day to go around the city by foot.
The first sessi…

Visiting the Miraikan

Museums were not a highlight of my first visit to Tokyo because I wanted to see more of the Japanese countryside; it was sakura season after all. This time, thanks to the Japan Science and Technology Agency, I had the opportunity to see the Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. This was the venue of some sessions of JST's Science Agora 2016 and I was excited to see the museum after browsing through the museum's website.


On the first day I was there, I didn't see much of the museum because I was in the panel discussion in a function hall and I attended the opening ceremonies of Science Agora (in a building across the street). Despite not seeing the museum exhibits, I totally had a good time because I was in lively discussions. I felt that the discussions were a preview on what the museum held. The functional hall, however, was interesting; it was set up similarly to how those daily talk show sets are set up: chairs, coffee tables, and microphone…

Young scientists at the JST 20th Anniversary Forum

So this is really why I was in Japan: I was invited to the 2016 Science Agora and the Japan Science and Technology Agency's (JST) 20th anniversary forum; in both programs, I was a member of panels composed of scientists who were tasked on discussing how science can be more relatable to society. My attendance to these two events were made possible by Dr Bruce Tolentino, IRRI's Deputy Director General for Communications and Partnerships. I am deeply grateful to him because he nominated me to attend when JST asked if IRRI could send a young female scientist who could communicate the relevance of her research to society. I am also very thankful to the JST for extending the invitation to me after Bruce's nomination... and to Ms Natsuko Kawazoe (JST's Centre for Science Communication) for all her efforts in making sure that all of us, invited panelists and speakers, were prepared for our topics. She also organised the logistics for us. 
So, the previous posts were really the …

blurring the line between real life and science fiction

Back in the day, Jurassic Park was one of the most fascinating films I've seen because it said that the reel-life scientists were capable of getting DNA from extinct dinosaurs, of inserting them in frog DNA, and, in so doing, resurrect dinosaurs. Yes, it was science fiction; but a few years later, real-life scientists presented Dolly, the sheep. She's the first cloned mammal.Dolly had repercussions in various sectors because the possibilities stemming from developments in DNA technologies suddenly became not so fiction anymore.
This was my sentiment during the JST 20th anniversary forum and the 2016 Science Agora, which were held in Tokyo recently. Scientists and artists collaborate to make technology-based artworks, musicians "collaborating" with computer-generated anime characters... things I thought were far-fetched and made very real to me in the presentations. 
Rochie, you're not in a third world country anymore. Indeed.
But the most compelling presentation …

Hatsune Miku, possibly a non-fiction S1M0NE

During the 2016 Science Agora, I opted to watch sessions on how science, technology, and innovation are used to move arts and creativity forward. One of the speakers was Keiichiro Shinuya, an artist who "collaborated" with Hatsune Miku to create an opera called "The End". 
Who is Hatsune Miku? I haven't heard of her but she's apparently very popular; people trooped to venues where The End was shown... notwithstanding that she is a 16-year old computer-generated humanoid character, her voice is generated through Yamaha's Vocaloid sample-synthesising technology, there were no humans in the opera, and music was played purely via synthesiser. In other words, no human was  involved in the opera onscreen.
During Shibuya's presentation, I was sitting in the audience, shaking my head in amazement. It appears that what Andrew Niccol envisioned when he produced and directed S1M0NE in 2002 is slowly becoming a reality a decade or so onwards. In that movie, Al…

Science Agora 2016

So this is really why I was in Japan: I was invited to the 2016 Science Agora and the Japan Science and Technology Agency's (JST) 20th anniversary forum; in both programs, I was a member of panels composed of scientists who were tasked on discussing how science can be more relatable to society. My attendance to these two events were made possible by Dr Bruce Tolentino, IRRI's Deputy Director General for Communications and Partnerships. I am deeply grateful to him because he nominated me to attend when JST asked if IRRI could send a young female scientist who could communicate the relevance of her research to society. I am also very thankful to the JST for extending the invitation to me after Bruce's nomination... and to Ms Natsuko Kawazoe (of JST's Centre for Science Communication) for all her efforts in making sure that all of us, invited panelists and speakers, were prepared for our topics. She also organised the logistics for us. 
So, the previous posts were really t…

Learning the art of eating "tsukemen"

After visiting the highest man-made point in Tokyo, I felt like I worked up a serious craving for ramen. And where's the best place to have authentic Japanese ramen? Japan! One of the famous ramen restos in Tokyo is Rokurinsha. The queues here are reportedly very long... the food was reportedly that good. Fortunately for me, Rokurinsha has a branch very close to the Tokyo SkyTree. I had to get some help finding it, of course, because the name's written in Japanese. 

When I got there, I wasn't sure if I was supposed to wait to be seated or if I should just go and grab a seat. Good thing was that one of the servers noticed that I was clueless. He asked me to wait while he found a table for me and then directed me to the ordering machine. It's like a vendo machine, actually: put in your money, click on the food you want to eat, and collect the change, if applicable. (I've encountered such machine previously: in Matsuya Shinsaibashi!)


After I finished ordering, I was …

on top of Tokyo

Tokyo is a huge city. But I noticed that it doesn't feel as cramped as San Francisco or Sydney. I wondered quite a bit about it and then I realised that maybe it's either of two reasons: (1) because I am now used to seeing skyscrapers (and the first time I saw them in Hong Kong was a disconcerting experience); and/or (2) because the buildings were not so high or were not so close together. My impression was that Tokyo's skyline was as crowded as Brisbane or Los Angeles... or even Makati CBD: not too claustrophobic when seen from a distance, despite the lack of space.
I also wanted to see what Tokyo looked like from high above so I opted to go to Tokyo Sky Tree, said to be the tallest structure in Tokyo AND the tallest tower in the world. It did take me an hour because I got lost somewhere in in the Okachimachi area of the Taito district of Tokyo. When I arrived in the Skytree area, I barely had an hour left before the tower closed down for the night.



I got lucky though be…

lost in translation and the clock is ticking...

After that pit stop at Yodobashi Akiba, it was time again to move. I wanted to see Tokyo from the sky so I had two options: Tokyo Skytree (the tallest tower in the world) or Tokyo Tower (the second tallest structure in Japan). But before I could decide which one to visit, I had to find the train station first.
Finding a train station wasn't so hard; all I had to do was go outside Yodobashi Akiba. The problem was that there were two train stations. The JR line (the commuter rail service) and the Tokyo Metro (the rapid transit service) were both outside. I knew I wasn't supposed to take the JR line because I paid a one-day pass on the Tokyo Metro. But for the Tokyo Metro, I could only see the entrance to a different line, not that one I wanted to take. Oh well, I knew I could just go and catch the train there and then transfer at a station in which the two lines were adjacent to each other. That's basically how Krishna and I figured the Tokyo Metro on our first trip to the …

exploring Akihabara

Ticking off the places I haven't been to in Tokyo that I could easily visit by train (and were still open at night), I settled on going to Akihabara. According to the tourist information websites, this is known as "Electric Town" because you can buy a lot of household appliances here. This specification of districts selling specific items remind me of Calle Raon in Quiapo, Manila. Like Akihabara, Raon is known as the shopping district for electronics. Anyway, I digress...
As I was walking along towards Electric Town from the Tokyo Metro station, I came across these billboards. I was quite surprised because there were a lot of anime characters portrayed on these boards. After looking high up, I resumed looking at street-level and was more surprised to see many women dressed like Sailor Moon and her friends, trying to catch Japanese men's attention. What was going on in here?!?


I learned later, when I looked up on anime culture on the internet, that Akihabara is the c…

matcha pasalubong!

Japan is known for its matcha tea. And it seems that I have quite a number of friends who have developed a liking for this very special type of tea. In fact, I got lassoed into joining Krishna and Ate Mary to visit the Matcha Festival at Newport Mall a few months ago. During this trip to Tokyo, I had a few matcha requests. I said I couldn't promise anything but I'd buy when I come across some matcha.
I was walking along a side road leading back to the train station from Sensō-ji Temple. That's where I chanced upon this store. It carried anything matcha-flavoured, so I decided to stop en route to the train station. Inside, I found so many food products with matcha flavour so I bought as many as I could afford. 

Choosing among the different products was difficult because the tags were all in Japanese. Plus, for the products with English labels, I have no idea what the differences were between sencha, houjicha, and matcha. I figured that my best bet was to get the powder for…

Visita Iglesia to the Sensō-ji Temple

As per tradition, I wanted to visit a place in Tokyo that spoke of its traditions and unique identity. This meant that I was going to visit a site with temples and/or a traditional village. It was a toss up between visiting Asakusa's Sensō-ji Temple or Shibuya's Meiji Shrine. But I've been to Shibuya before so I opted to prioritise Asakusa... I only had a morning to explore Tokyo before going back to Odaiba and I didn't want to repeat a visit.
The Sensō-ji Temple turns out to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, built in 645 AD. It is said to be one of the most colourful temples in the city. I thought, therefore, that it would be a good place to visit and see something traditional–uniquely Japanese–in this ultramodern city.
Reading through tourist guides, I learned that the Sensō-ji Temple could get crowded. But it's a pilgrimage site as well, so I didn't expect it to be too chaotic. I was thinking that people would actually behave because this is sacred gr…

exploring Odaiba

This autumn trip to Tokyo has brought me to places I haven't visited on my first trip to the city. Aside from Ginza, I was able to explore another district on another evening... Odaiba. Now this area allowed me to be near the sea; the Tokyo Bay, to be exact. But even with my closest approach (which was on a quay), I couldn't hear the crash of waves.... Because there were no crashing waves. It was really strange. It was quite a contrast from Anilao, where the waves break onto the rocky beach, making that calming sound always associated with the sea. 
Odaiba appears to be made up of artificial islands; these were formally intended to be fortresses to protect Tokyo from foreign invaders in the 19th century. After half a century, the islands were officially connected and converted into a major tourist area. I limited my exploration to the outdoor attractions of Odaiba for my evening stroll... I felt that I had already spent too much time indoors that day. I began my walking tour …