Thursday, May 11, 2017

When Lola Bats turned 101

Lola Bats turned 101 years old this year. When she was younger (i.e., 98 years old), we still went on road trips to Batangas together but as she neared the 100 mark, she started declining going there because it's too far. When she turned 100, we were able to bring her out to the nearby Mandarin Palace and to the Black Pig... but at 101, I'm not daring to take her out without the rest of the family with me because she's so fragile these days... happy but fragile.

There are good days and there are bad days. So we were lucky that when her birthday came around, she was in such a good mood. See, we almost lost my grandma earlier this year. So reaching 101 was a very happy occasion for the whole family. Even my parents and my brother flew in to visit her a few weeks after!

We knew she was going to recover when she started talking about what she wanted to do when she grew stronger: "Ay talaga, paglakas ko, ako ay pupunta sa States!" My grandma's sense of humour never fails to amaze me.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Beauty and the Beast (the animated Disney classic) is one of those movies that bring back memories of the good old days... in grade school. Yes, the cartoon was shown in 1991. So when I heard that Disney was making a live-action version of this beloved classic, I put the premiere date in my calendar and waited (im)patiently until the day arrived.

However, due to circumstances that I couldn't avoid (aka statistical analyses and physical exercise), I ended up watching the movie the week after it opened in San Pablo City, Laguna. It was a much-awaited showing, indeed, because the cinema was packed with parents (who relived their first time seeing the cartoon) and their children (who were seeing this version for the first time).

And so the "tale as old as time" began. Emma Watson (who I first saw as Hermione in the Harry Potter series), waltzed into the screen as Belle, the female protagonist. And I can say that she definitely is not Paige O'Hara when it comes to her singing. I guess my expectation was upped because Luke Evans sang really well as Gaston. I was absolutely blown away! Vocally, Emma Watson's Belle was no match to Luke Evans' Gaston. However, her persona does fit the character of Belle, so I thought that it was okay. And then there's Emma Thompson, taking over Angela Lansbury's Mrs. Potts; and I can say that Emma Thompson's performance actually made me forget that I was listening to Mrs. Potts 2.0. Lumière was voiced by Ewan McGregor whose French accent sounded like he once again took on the role of Christian in Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge. I'm not sure if I liked it. Ian McKellen, of course, was unrecognisable as Cogsworth; I couldn't find traces of Magneto nor of Gandalf... not even of Leigh Teabing in his performance as the mantel clock; such a chameleon!

The movie itself had no surprises that could throw the fans off. Yes, there were additional songs and the much hyped added dimension to LeFou, but there was nothing that made people think that this was an attempt to bring additional insights into the character. Belle was shown teaching a young girl how to read, quite empowering; but she developed a "washing machine" drawn by a donkey so she could sit down and read her book. That didn't come across too well; if I weren't listening, I'd think she's created the washing machine so she has time to laze around. Tsk. Gaston and LeFou were still two-dimensional; it was difficult to tolerate Gaston's narcissism... how could LeFou stand it? how could the women continue to fawn over the guy?!? Anyway, people writing "spoilers" for the live-action movie would be hard-pressed to do so because the 2017 movie is very loyal to the 1991 cartoon... even to the big reveal of the prince.

Honestly, I was a bit let down. I think I got so used to the prince's grizzly appearance that when he became human, it was meh

But still, it's such a feel-good movie. Already looking forward the the more modern take on Mulan.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Boards UP

The first time I entered an establishment where I had to pay for lunch but can play all board games that I want was in Ludo Café in Makati. I went there after French class with my classmates. Little did I know that this concept was about to pick up a storm in Los Baños in the form of Boards UP.

Krishna, Jojie, Erin, and I tried it out one cold evening in which we needed to relax and eating dinner just didn't fit the ticket. While waiting for our meals, we picked (of all games) UNO Stacko. I thought that it was a good idea because there were no plates; the pieces weren't in any danger, at that point, of plopping into our food.

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As the evening progressed, we also played Cards Against Humanity (never tried it before; totally hilarious!) and Machi Koro, coincidentally a game I was playing with Ate Maddie, JP, and Daddy during my vacation in the Calaveras area. Because we had so much fun, we kind of lost track of time and ended a bit later than we normally do when we eat out.

Nevertheless, Boards UP is a place I am interested of visiting again. Perhaps in a few months.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Swan Lake

A classic piece of ballet.
A big finale for a fiery season of Ballet Philippines, that started with Firebirds and Other Ballets.
Too bad I was only available to watch the performances on the season's opening and on its closing.

Swan Lake. One of the first ballets I have seen at the CCP. I think I first saw it as a pre-schooler; my memory is quite hazy about those days but I clearly remember that I liked the music back then.So it was quite a treat when I learned that Swan Lake was going to be performed by Ballet Philippines as this season's ender.

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And the nice thing was that the CCP was adorned with photos and memorabilia from the several times it had performed Swan Lake. Based on these mementos, I can hazard to guess that I saw this ballet for the first time in 1985. 

The ballet was superbly performed by the dancers. The difference though was that this time, I could actually understand the plot; back in 1985, I was awed by the novelty of the theatre, the music, and the lights. Also, computer effects have been incorporated in this year's performance, though never distracting from it. 

Now looking forward to the next season of Ballet Philippines!!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Eldie and Richelle get married

My cousin, Kuya Eldie, tied the knot (finally!) with Richelle in a simple afternoon ceremony at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Las Piñas. Most of the clan was there to formally welcome Richelle into the family. There were a few snags along the way, thanks to the horrible traffic jam along the Las Piñas-Zapote Road but that didn't stop the family from having fun.

And surprise! Rochie, you're candle sponsor! I didn't know so I wasn't prepared with matches or with a lighter. Thank goodness, Kuya Eldie had a torch in his pocket! Easy peasy... not! I thought my job was done after igniting the wick. But no... I ended up running back and forth between my seat and the candle because the fire kept being blown off by the wind from the electric fan focused to the candle.

The wedding reception was at the nearby clubhouse. I could easily drop by the car and switch into flip-flops after being in heels for hours. When I finally got to the venue, I noticed that the party songs were mostly oldies but goodies. I am willing to bet that the playlist was based on Kuya Eldie's favourite songs. Hehe.

And as the party wound down to a close, we cousins (with their kids) just had to have group photos. No monopod; no problem. We ended up doing the shots à la Ellen Degeneres' group shot at the Oscars. 

Congratulations, Kuya Eldie and welcome to the fambam, Richelle!!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Easter egg hunt at the Museum

I've been to the Ayala Museum's diorama exhibit several times already and I learn something new each time. In my last two visits though, my eyes were led to possible "Easter eggs" in the dioramas. Perhaps the craftsmen from Paete, Laguna injected their sense of humour into the tableaus. 

In the diorama below, for instance, the scene was all about the trade between the Chinese merchants and the Filipino rulers. The Chinese were trading ceramics and other goods from the mainland for turtle shells, buffalo horns, etc. This trade between the Chinese and the Filipinos explain the strong business relationships that exist even today; and how the Philippines became rich in archeological sites (with all those pottery shards). And this was in pre-Hispanic Philippines.

However, what I found funny with this diorama was the man at the back, seemingly carrying things that were either sold to or sold by this man. Why? Because while the rest of the male characters were either wearing billowy robes or bahags, he was wearing denim pants... way before denim pants were first mentioned.

The next scene features the death of General Gregorio del Pilar at Tirad Pass; his martyrdom allowing Emilio Aguinaldo to escape and to reach Palanan, Isabela without Americans at his tail.

I found a few interesting things about this tableau. It puts to question whether del Pilar is a great general as history books suggest. First, the Filipino contingent had the reconnaissance advantage: they were supposedly at a better position because they had the higher location, perfect for shooting at the enemy from strategic locations. But this positioning didn't work because the Filipino contingent was almost totally wiped out by the much larger American force. Second, del Pilar was on a sparsely vegetated part of the pass, which made him an easy target. But not only that... he was on a horse! He's highly visible... a sitting duck, quite literally. No wonder the Filipino team, already outnumbered as it was, lost. They didn't maximize the strategic advantage presented to them! Again, this is just based on the diorama.

Andres Bonifacio is known as the hero who got the Filipinos to get their act together and fight for their independence from the Spanish colonisers. The scene below is the Cry of Pugadlawin, which was made popular by attendees infamously tearing up their cedulas. It must be a scary time to be in but everyone seemed brave and  ready to face the Spaniards. Now, what I found funny in the diorama was the presence of women who were cooking the meal for everyone in attendance. And then there's the guy who was pooping in the outhouse and the elderly man who wasn't participating in any of the exciting activities outside the house. Seldom do these scenes make into the cuts of movies about Philippine history. I'm happy that the diorama makers made sure that this part of Philippine culture gets represented.

In the next diorama, President Emilio Aguinaldo was holding office in the mountains. I was caught in surprise when I saw that there's a cat under the window! Again, like the old man in the previous diorama, the cat wasn't interested in the goings-on that had the potential to change history. It only cared about eating, methinks. 

The next diorama, if I'm not mistaken, is about the arrival of Americans or something about the naval capacity of the Americans. I just found it weird that a sailor would be talking to something hidden in the ship's navigation instrument.

And finally, the diorama depicting the declaration of independence led by President Emilio Aguinaldo. I found it funny because aside from the ever-present pets, there was a man carried on a hammock. I presume that this was Apolinario Mabini. Anyway, it was special because it reminded me of the crippled man who was lowered down a hole of the roof of the synagogue where Jesus was teaching.

Seeing the finer details of the dioramas means that I have been visiting the area too much... more than twice a month sometimes! I wonder what Easter eggs I'll see next time...

Saturday, February 11, 2017

mixed messages

After class, my classmates and I carpooled to go to Greenbelt, Makati to eat lunch. At the intersection of Buendia and Nicanor Garcia, we were greeted by the confusing message of the traffic lights: both red and green lights were lit up! What was I supposed to do, go or stop? I thought I was the only one who was baffled... until a motorbike stopped in front of my car (I had stopped while wondering what to do). The driver kept looking at me as if asking if it's okay to go or not. I could only shrug.

It's a wonder that people haven't crashed their cars onto each other because of these mixed signals. I remember seeing a scene in The Italian Job in which vehicular accidents happened because the traffic lights of vehicles crossing the intersection were hacked to go green at the same time. At least, I can say that the drivers I shared the road with that day were still defensive drivers. No collisions!

Monday, February 6, 2017

eating organic at The Farm

I am, more often than not, wary when I see a lot of photogenic food photos on Instagram with tags of the restaurants where these food items are served because I feel that the dishes might be mostly overrated. I'm even more wary of restaurant reviews that talk more about the location rather than the food; something about all-ambiance-no-bite kinda thing. 

As I was walking around Solenad 3 in Nuvali, Sta Rosa, I came across a really rustic-looking restaurant called The Farm Organics. What made me stop and eat there wasn't the ambiance though. The restaurant's manager saw me perusing the menu and was very friendly (without being pushy) as he ushered me straight to an empty table. A welcome change, compared to the greeters of the other restaurants: the staff who loiter outside the restaurant with menus on hand, who shout at passersby, trying to attract their attention.

I learned that the beef that The Farm serves comes from an organic farm in Masbate. The cows there are allowed to roam outdoors and are grass-fed, which means that they are not fed the typical animal meals that industry-raised cattle usually are. Since the cattle production is, in my opinion, much slower, I wonder if such business model will remain realistic as the restaurant ups its operations. I understand that there are around six branches, implying that the demand for the company's organic beef is increasing. Anyway, I thought that I might as well try what organic meat tastes like... I most frequently eat organic chicken (which is available in a restaurant in Los Baños).

Once inside, I immediately gravitated towards the tomato soup. I thought it was a good idea because I  had only eaten brunch while on the road to Manila (yeah, an unhealthy habit I'm reducing this 2017). A delicious way to warm up my tummy in preparation for the main course.

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The manager was, naturally, suggesting their steaks because the beef is the restaurant speciality. However, I felt that I wasn't in the mood to eat such a heavy meal after all (despite my hunger), so I opted for the grilled pork belly paired with black vinegar with shallots; I also opted for white rice instead of Jambalaya rice because the latter has prawns.

When the dishes were served, they were so beautifully plated... worthy of Instagram posts. I was sure that a lot of people had posted photos already so I concentrated on eating. And that is why I am posting here Instagram photos posted by other people.

The food, I have to say, is delicious! I was not disappointed. The tomato soup (with croutons) was creamy and sour and was so fresh. There was no metallic taste I typically find in tomato soup that come off cans. The grilled pork was very tender and toasted just right; no burnt taste at all. The rice, with just the right softness and stickiness, paired really well with the grilled pork. I'm glad that the rice wasn't aromatic (or at least I didn't detect the sweet aromas) because I prefer to eat grilled meat with non-aromatic rice. Atypical of Filipinos, I removed the most delicious bits... the fatty pork rind! I normally don't eat the fat because I feel like I'll have a heart attack if I eat that.

Next time, I'll try the steaks. But they seem to come in big servings. So next time, I won't come alone.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Happy birthday, Danielle!

Time flies pretty fast. Before we realised it, Danielle, the son of a childhood friend of mine, has already turned seven! For some reason, Jollibee has remained very popular to kids and their parents. They are so fond of the character that celebrating a child's seventh birthday in this fast-food chain has become a typical event. This wasn't so during my time, however, because back then, Jollibee was seen as pretty expensive and was a place to go to only when we got high grades in school; we were much more inclined to eat and celebrate special occasions at home or in Chinese restaurants (birthdays have to have birthday noodles, for instance); and Jollibee wasn't accessible back in the day... we had to go to Binondo to see Jollibee (McDonald's was much closer, in Alabang Town Centre).  

Jollibee's current birthday packages and locations make it more convenient for parents to set up a party there; they just practically have to make a reservation and Jollibee will handle all the details (food, mascots, games, loot bags...). And Jollibee branches can be found every few kilometers; it's just a matter of picking a venue for the birthday party.

In Danielle's case, his birthday was celebrated in the Jollibee branch very close to my house (a five-minute drive). Jollibee pulled all the stops for the food: Anna and I were practically filled after being given soda, spaghetti, fried chicken, burger, and ice cream. The kids enjoyed the games so much and the dance numbers by the mascot as well. Danielle was the happiest kid of all, of course.

Thank you, Danielle, for inviting Anna and me to your birthday party. May you have a good year ahead of you!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Officially welcoming the year of the rooster!

I'm going to quote a French sentence I saw on Facebook yesterday: 
J'ai decidé commencer mon année 2017 au mois de février. Je considère que janvier était un mois d'essai gratuit. 
It's a funny post, of course, but it's also apt since the Year of the Rooster starts officially on January 28th, not on January 1st for 2017. Chinese New Year falls on a Saturday this year; which meant that I was in Makati because I had school in the morning. In the afternoon, however, I was in Greenbelt, trying to walk off the heavy lunch I had at Sugi (yeah, eating Japanese food on Chinese New Year is cool, no?). The beating of the drums signaled that the lion dance and/or the dragon dance was being performed nearby.


Ever since I was kid, I have always wanted to watch these performances during Chinese New Year. There were several instances when I'd venture away from my parents (who were busy shopping in Divisoria) just to see these characters go from one store to the next. This year, I excitedly edged closer to the action to get up close to the performers. I guess some things just don't change. 

And I wasn't alone. A lot of people in the mall also stopped what they were doing to watch the performances. After all, this only happened once a year. Kids also ran up to the characters with the same glee that they have when they see Jollibee (I am not kidding). Overall, it was such a fun and exciting, albeit short, event in the mall. Until next year...

Gōngxǐ fācái!

Friday, January 20, 2017

John Muir, environmentalist extraordinaire

I first heard of John Muir when my dad started working in a medical facility named after him. Then when my dad and I would fetch my mom from work, we'd pass by an old house with a National Park Service marker. Curious, I thought... who is this famous guy called John Muir, whose name is found in many places frequented by my family.

So on a "culture vulture" afternoon, Daddy and I thought it was a good idea to set off early from the house to visit the historical landmark and get to know a bit about the man and why he's famous in California. Turns out that his house is actually a mansion, with all the creature comforts for someone who loves to stay within the high social circles.

And rightly so, since John married into a rich family. However, the alta de sociedad life is not for him... he preferred being in the great outdoors and then writing about his adventures and the beauty of the western wilderness for newspapers.

He was a major mover that led to the California we see today, a state that has a lot of conserved wilderness and forests that travelers like me, now enjoy. This, despite the urban zones that grow brought about by economic and industrial developments in the state.

I really wish that the Philippines has a strong advocate into wilderness conservation like John Muir. We have a lot of natural resources and beautiful beaches and mountains. But the pressures of increased tourism will eventually damage the once pristine conditions of mountains and beaches. And the constant pressure of building cities can lead to forests being chopped down to give way for the concrete jungle.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

San Francisco by foot

One afternoon, I finally had a chance to go on a walk of San Francisco by myself! Daddy had a reunion with his fellow Don Bosco alumni while Mommy (who wanted to join me on my whirlwind tour of the city) was dissuaded from joining because it was cold and I was going to go to as many places as I could on foot. So Daddy dropped me off the BART station and off I went. Finally a chance to get a lay of the land!

Getting off the Embarcadero Station, I started walking around, typical tourist with camera on my neck, taking in the sites of the tall buildings. I remember being in Sydney for the first time and reacting the same way... but for San Francisco, which is also an old city, somehow, this tour was different. But that's because I've been here several times before but this is the first time I was in the city on my own, touring on my own terms. Exciting!

I found quickly enough that walking aimlessly, trying to immerse myself in the vibe of the city wasn't as exciting as I thought it would be so I decided to jump onto the cable car to see more of the city faster.

I joined the queue right behind a Chinese family who was in San Francisco on holiday for the first time. The mother told me that it's the family's first time and they wanted me to guide them where they're supposed to disembark. This forced me to make an itinerary on the fly. I suggested that they go to Fisherman's Wharf and to the Ghirardelli Square, which would be a hit for their kids (come on... who wouldn't love the idea of being in a chocolate shop and in seeing seals on the pier, right?). I, on the other hand, would be going to the maritime museum to see some boat history. After all, the waterfront is strait known as Chrysopylae, the Golden Gate.

The cable car passed the houses that have made San Francisco famous: Victorian style mixed with modern architectural details... with bay windows reminding me that I was, indeed, in San Francisco. It wasn't stiff, like what I imagine Victorian architecture would be because San Francisco residents added playful details to their design... like teddy bears painted on garage doors.

So I eventually disembarked the cable car and the family went to the Fisherman's Wharf. I then went to the Maritime Museum to see the boats.

I wanted to see the actual boats so I went to Hyde St Pier to see them in the boat park. But there's a fee to get on the boat so I opted to just take photos from the pier. No need to be on the boat at this point... especially those that wouldn't be moving off to tour the sea.

But the most interesting aspect, for me, was to learn about the importance of the maritime industry for San Francisco. So back in the museum itself, I started looking into the details. Of course, the national parks were mentioned, along with John Muir, who is famous for making people realise that wilderness conservation is important.

And then there were the photos of boats. San Francisco must have looked and smelled so differently then compared to what it is now. I imagine it smelled of fish and seawater and there must be a lot of sailors and merchants plying the roads here before... perhaps it was quite seedy as well, just like the images of ports in movies. But on a bright sunny afternoon like the day I visited, the city had a very wholesome vibe to it: kids playing about, people reading books or exercising... a relaxing walk indeed.

And then there's Alcatraz, the famous prison which I haven't set foot in yet. Perhaps, one day, but not today... I heard that buying a ticket must be done well in advance because it's a high-demand tour.

After my visit to the boats, it was time to go up the hill again. I've planned to visit the Cable Car Museum and I was lucky to find out that the cable car I was on was making a stop here. The driver's shift ended and we had to wait for the next driver. So I jumped off the cable car and made a whirlwind tour of the museum. 

Turned out that I didn't need to hurry because it took the new guy around 15 minutes to get settled into the cable car I was riding.

And then I was back on Powell St. I opted to skip Union Square and the big shops because I've had my share of malls in Waikiki. So I just started walking again, aiming to reach the City Hall, which I've heard, looks really pretty.

But then I saw this building to my left that looked like a museum. I just had to take a picture of the facade... it turned out to be the US Mint building. I found it apt that the lighting during time I was walking there made it look like it was speckled with gold. Appropriate, I thought, for a building that makes coins.

I decided to walk on a parallel road to Powell St. I got worried when I heard sirens blaring and when I saw a police car, a firetruck, and an ambulance whiz past me along the same direction I was walking. And people smoking weed were staring at me like I was a weird one... but of course, I must have stuck up like a sore thumb... my map was out and so I looked like a tourist who made a wrong turn. Or perhaps they were so stoned that they'd stare at anyone the way they looked at me.

I ended up where the homeless people were staying... they were living on the street and there were public facilities (like portable toilets) set up so that they could, at least, not poop or pee on the road. The emergency vehicles that passed? They all stopped at a corner where a homeless person collapsed and needed medical attention. Walking past this scene, for me, led to a jarring realisation: life in the city is not all that glamourous. People could live in extreme poverty out here. But "extreme" here is quite different from the Third World version of extreme poverty.

But anyway...

I took another turn and I ended up in an art gallery! It's the International Art Museum of America.

The only art exhibit that could be photographed look like Winnie the Pooh's house. But inside, there were many interesting pieces... the ones I liked most were parts of this huge collection of paintings done by a guy who I think might be a Dalai Lama; I'm just not sure if I remember the description

As I went out of the museum, I saw that the sun has already started to set. I then proceeded to the nearest BART station and went back to the station where Daddy was waiting for me with his fellow Bosconians.

What a good day for an extended walk. Next time, I'll visit other neighbourhoods of San Francisco.