Sunday, July 16, 2017

Remembering the 1990 Luzon earthquake

July 16, 1990.

It was after school then. My friends, my sister, and I were playing on one of the grassy fields fronting Maquiling School Inc. in the UPLB campus. We were playing tag then, I think, and so we were running around and reaching the line of royal palm trees that the campus is known for.

And then the ground shook...

The driver of the school bus got irked at us because we typically rocked the vehicle until he got dizzy; this time, though, as he turned around to scold us, he saw that the passenger section was empty. And then he realised that an earthquake was happening.

Meanwhile, we didn't even realise that the world was trembling beneath us and the trees were swaying above us until we all stopped running. As kids, we didn't know what was going on so we didn't have much to think about until the driver told us that there was an earthquake.

While the earthquake was happening, my brother was already at home, from kindergarten school. He was having a nap on the living room sofa. The ground shook, the appliances in the house moved, a lantern above his head swayed violently, and the nanny had a panic attack. But my brother slept throughout the whole episode.

My parents, I suppose, were at work. Oddly, I don't remember them talking about this earthquake, which was one of the worst to hit Luzon so far... more than 1,600 people died in this earthquake. I remember how much news was being broadcast about the aftermath of this earthquake, particularly in the Cordillera region. There, the earthquake damage was compounded by the continuous rain and the landslides. Baguio was cut off from the rest of the country when the roads and the airport were damaged.

Recently, I was in Baguio on a day trip with Daddy, Tita Ising, and Tito Sibing. The city was so congested! There were so many cars along the roads surrounding Burnham Park that traffic ground to a halt. There were so many buildings that appeared fragile and old amid more modern-looking facilities. And there was also heavy foot traffic, thanks to the presence of new shopping malls and arcades... I couldn't even see the park anymore!

And my mind kept flashing back to images of rubble and ruin from the 1990 earthquake. This is how far the city has progressed since then. It's been 28 years, if my math serves me right. But looking at the present construction projects by the cliffs and on the sides of the mountains, I kept wondering: will these survive earthquakes that strong? 


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Rochie's 2017 birthday celebration :)

Nope, there were no dinosaurs this year. There's no basketball neither. Instead, Daddy's here to celebrate my birthday with me! It's been 13 years since the last time we celebrated our birthday together. It's been too long since we did this together.

On Sunday, we all trooped to Lola's house to have a joint celebration. There was so much food! Richelle, Mary Ann, Anna, and Riza did a superb job of preparing lunch for all the guests... and the menu included Daddy's fave, vegetable salad, and my fave, pork sinigang. I got two Japanese cheesecakes from Hiraya Bakery while Tito Tony and Tita Ching, and Val and Zia brought Red Ribbon cakes; hence we had four cakes! Aside from the cakes, we also got sapin-sapin from Kuya Mitchie and Che, and pichi-pichi from Tito Boy Morelos.

But that's before my birthday. On my birthday itself, I spent the day in Manila with Anna and Daddy, eating McDonald's... it was almost a letdown. However, it couldn't be helped because I was having my medical that day and I only had 30 minutes to eat in between tests (yeah, the queue was very long).

The GQNC staff were kind enough to surprise me with Mernel's chocolate yema cake on Friday afternoon. And then in the evening, we had dinner at The Pig Pen. As always, it was good company with good food. After dinner, we had milkshakes and cake at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, with discounts courtesy of coupons that came with my daily planner.

Did I over-celebrate this year? Probably not. It was a quieter way of celebrating with friends but I spent a lot of time with family this time around. Indeed, Krishna said it best when she greeted me, "Happy birthweek!" because my annual celebration is never concluded in just a day... at least it hasn't been that way since a few years ago.

Thank you everyone for helping me welcome my new year in a special way.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Film Talks with Nick de Ocampo. Part 3: Documentary

Professor Nick de Ocampo is featured in Ayala Museum's trilogy lecture series on film. I'm not a film buff nor a film-maker but I wanted to spend my Saturday afternoons educating myself culturally. So I ended up taking a seat in his film lecture series.

Because I learned a lot during Nick de Ocampo's lecture about the horror genre, I decided that I'd watch the last of the trilogy of his lecture series. This one is about his cinema of choice: the documentary. He defines it as a genre composed of films that represent reality to record (or reenact) history, to educate, or to share narratives about one's experiences.

This lecture really allowed him to showcase his work. He is, after all, commissioned to make movies on how climate change affects communities living near it. He's also been selected to showcase his work in various film festivals. I'm not familiar with his work because I'm more of a tv documentary watcher... I'm a big fan of the PROBE Team, for instance. And I like National Geographic... a lot. 

What I learned this time is about how difficult it is to develop the documentary; it is so technical! I thought that it was just a matter of switching on the camera and letting life passing by get recorded. Apparently, (and the director and the producer of a documentary called Sunday Beauty Queen attested to as well) it is one of the most difficult genres to work in because of many uncontrollable factors. Nevertheless, people looking into this genre must do their homework even before going into the shoot: research on the topic of the documentary, write the script, and visualise scenes via a storyboard.

It sounds so much like creating a Presentation Zen slide deck, if I may say so. 

After everything under the director's control are prepared, God takes control, as Nick says... all the director can do is not get rattled when the story takes an unexpected turn. This was his experience while working on a documentary about Leandro Alejandro, a leading activist during the Martial Law years. He was murdered; thus, Nick lost the subject of his documentary in a snap. This was also what he experienced while working on a documentary called Private Wars, a story chronicling his search for his father. While filming, he went to the place where his father was last seen a day after his father was there. However, he couldn't return for one reason or another. Hence, it's as if God has conjured obstacles to ensure that the the father and the son wouldn't meet at that occasion.

How could a director continue making a film if his subject is out of reach? That is the challenge of the documentary. The director must be quick on his/her toes to make an alternative approach.

What I saw in this lecture is a filmmaker who has shown his vulnerability to move the boundaries of his craft. It was so obvious that he has put his heart and soul into this genre that it is so difficult not to be curious about his films... because he has somehow put a part of him in them (but not in a horcrux kind of way). The sentiment and the personal attachment were apparent here; the energy he exuded in the documentary lecture was not there when he talked about comedy and horror. 

This last lecture was a wow moment for me.

And now, I resolve to find his historical films and watch them... plus the comedy films he featured. I opt not to see the horror films.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

On graduations and history

The road blocks on Freedom Park and the appearance of the tent and the chairs marked the beginning of the end of another academic year in UPLB (and in the other UP campuses): the senior class of the university was going to march and to receive their diplomas in front of friends and family. A joyous occasion, definitely; but what made this year's commencement exercises remarkable for me is the presence of an Aeta, the first Aeta to finish college in UP (UP Manila), being part of this year's graduating class. 

His name is Norman King. Norman received his BSc Behavioural Sciences degree. As he walked up the stage, I am sure that he knew that he was making history. By no means is he the first Aeta who graduates from college; there are many Aetas finishing their degrees in Pampanga. But Norman made UP history be being the first of the Aetas to graduate from the top-ranked university in the Philippines. His story is inspiring because he has not allowed his culture to limit his potential. I was also happy to read that he did not experience discrimination for being different; in fact, he felt that UP embraced students from cultural minorities.

I look forward to see how his accomplishment will encourage other Aetas to compete for posts in UP and get the best education that they can get there. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

10 things I learned while driving on Marcos Highway to Baguio City

I went on a day trip to the City of Pines, which was around a 700-km drive from my house. I drove going up there and then from the city to Victoria, Tarlac. After that, my dad took over the driving duties. It was day trip with Tita Ising and Tito Sibing with us.

Anyway, this trip was my first time to go to Baguio City with me behind the wheel. As everyone who drives up knows, there are three main routes to Baguio from the lowlands: Kennon Road, which ascends from Rosario, La Union. It was out of my options because it's too dangerous to use that road in the rainy season. The second route is via Naguilian Road, which makes my trip a lot longer because the beginning of the ascent is in Bauang, La Union (further north). The last route, and the one I took, was the Marcos Highway, now known as the Aspiras-Palispis Highway. This 47-km road starts from Agoo, La Union and is touted as the safest route among the three. 

As I drove up and then down (on the same day; we were in Baguio City for about five hours) the Marcos Highway, I think I've learned a few things...
  1. Avoid distractions at all costs. Marcos Highway is peppered with hairpin turns and steep inclines. If this isn't challenging enough, I had to drive up while buses and cargo trucks crawled their way up the highway. It's easy to be distracted by the view; to be frustrated because of the slow vehicles in front; and to be worried because my car didn't have enough power to climb at a slow pace. There's absolutely no way I could take my hands off the steering wheel and my eyes off the road! One wrong move, and it would have been a long drop into the valley.
  2. (Mental) preparation is key. Driving up any of the roads leading to Baguio requires confidence in driving. In my case, I've been driving up and down Jamboree Road, a shortcut to UPLB that is famous for its steep and narrow roads and the hairpin turns. I've also driven from Lemery to Tagaytay; the road going up is also quite narrow and it gets seriously foggy in the afternoon. And then there's the coastal road between Lobo and Batangas City. All these adventures have mentally prepared me for this epic one. They gave me the confidence that Marcos Highway is tough but I could go to Baguio via this route.
  3. Always look at the long view. On straight city roads, one would think that there's no need to look as far away as the horizon because the car adjacent to mine or the car approaching me is all that I could see. However, learning to see as far down the bendy road as possible along Marcos Highway has helped me make decisions on whether I'd pass the slow and big vehicle in front of me or I'd stay put and drive behind it til the next opportunity to pass.
  4. Cutting at corners is dangerous. Yes, this is almost common sense... especially when following large vehicles because the view of the opposite side of the road is seriously diminished. As my dad used to say when I was learning how to drive, "When in doubt, abort mission." This instruction became very useful for me.
  5. Steep climbs with hairpin turns require cars with strong engines. I drove up with a four passengers and their bags. The added weight from the passengers made my car struggle in some spots, particularly when I was behind trucks that stalled on ascents that ended with hairpins. The vehicles that passed on the opposite lanes were mostly SUVs. Bigger engine, faster car.
  6. Listening to one's gut is better than listening to the GPS voice. On our way down from Baguio, the disembodied voice of the GPS kept telling me to take U-turns that would lead me to Kennon Road, the path I was specifically avoiding. Good thing my dad was there beside me and we figured out how to get out of the city without much help from the stubborn GPS.
  7. Assess the situation and decide fast. Driving on a curvy and steep road is not the time to have analysis paralysis! If a truck stalled in front of me, I need to make sure that I have adequate power in the engine to crawl up after a sudden stop. But one thing I'm proud of during this trip is that I was no longer squealing in fright when the truck-suddenly-stalls event happens. 
  8. Ascending is not the time to pinch on the pennies. I learned that using the ECONOMY mode in a car lessens fuel consumption by maintaining a low idling speed. But that doesn't help on ascents and descents. A heavy foot on the accelerator is needed... but not so much on the brake pedal because stepping on it for an extended time might lead to a malfunctioning braking system.
  9. Driving this road is not a race. Ah, yes. Some people drive up Marcos Highway to see if they can beat the average time it takes to climb it. Some people are willing to risk overtaking on blind curves to get a natural high. I didn't have any of those motivations... maybe because it's my first drive there and I haven't mastered the highway yet or maybe because I was just too intimidated by the prospect of making a wrong move. So, if I wasn't sure about the safety of overtaking at a turn, I often chose to hang back.
  10. Don't get caught there at night. The road offers great views of La Union, all the way to the West Philippine Sea... during the day. But at night, I bet that this highway is most likely blanketed in pitch black because I couldn't see street lamps. Maybe there are some but they're sparsely placed. Given the zigzags on this road, I don't think I'd like to be driving there at night. Thus, a trip to Baguio, with me driving, means a curfew that is much earlier than Cinderella's: I have to start my descent at around 5pm so that I'd be back in Rosario an hour later... yes, I took a shortcut.
With the TPLEX, SCTEX, and NLEX providing a shorter driving time to the City of Pines, I think I'll find myself going up there again at some point. Driving on Marcos Highway for the first time was a challenge but I think that I'll get used to it in time. 

I just don't want to think about the traffic jams and the lack of parking spaces in the heart of the city. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Toruk: The First Flight

Many years ago, I was one of the many people who watched James Cameron's Avatar twice on the big screen: once on the regular cinema and another time on IMAX. So when I learned that Cirque du Soleil was bringing Toruk: the First Flight to Manila, I was so excited! This happens only months after I've watched Luzia under the Grand Chapiteau.

Basically, Toruk is like a prequel to the events leading up to Avatar. But instead of Star Wars-esque style of narrating, the show features puppetry, acrobatics, great music, and audience participation via their mobile phones. 

As always, I watched in awe as the story happened seamlessly in front of me. The lighting and the production design were so intricate... my absolute favourite were the sparkly things floating around that are supposed to be wood sprites. I also likes how the staging made me focus on one side of the stage while they were prepping the new props on the other side; so by the time I looks back, there's a new scene there.

What an experience! It was such a visual feast!

But what amazed me the most was the sight after the fancy lights were turned off and the arena lights were turned on. The stage was just a plain old stage! I was so fascinated by the theatre lights that enabled so much beauty to come out of this stage!

Actually, I was thrilled that I could take a peek at how this show was made. Imagine how many technical staff this show must have!

So, if I'm counting it right, I've seen five Cirque du Soleil productions now. Slowly but surely, I'll be able to watch all of them.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Film Talks with Nick de Ocampo. Part 2: Horror

Professor Nick de Ocampo is featured in Ayala Museum's trilogy lecture series on film. I'm not a film buff nor a film-maker but I wanted to spend my Saturday afternoons educating myself culturally. So I ended up taking a seat in his film lecture series.


I had so much fun listening in Nick's film lecture on comedy that I decided to watch his talk on horror. I have to admit that I am not, absolutely not, a fan of horror movies. I couldn't sleep after watching this type of movies. So imagine the torture I had to go through when my elder cousins kept showing Child's Play and Friday the Thirteenth on the telly. I also can't stand Saw, Psycho, The Shining... I could barely watch Interview of the Vampire, for goodness sakes!

Anyway, as the saying goes: face your fears. I thought that if a horror film is dissected into its basic components, I wouldn't be as frightened anymore.

And indeed, that was how Nick tackled his lecture series... very academic and scholarly. He started again with the different sub-genres of horror flicks, citing examples. As he talked about the films in the Philippine context, I started noticing that the Filipinos have a penchant for movies about the dark characters in local folklore. The tyanak, the manananggal, the tik-tik, the aswang, and the white lady were common figures in horror films locally produced. Back in the 1950s, as Filipinos were still reeling from the effects of Spanish, American, and Japanese occupations and with recently acquired independence, many of the horror films featured foreign creatures like vampires and studies into the dark alleys of the Roman Catholic faith. There also was a string of gory movies about murders  (Vizconde and the Lipa massacres, for instance). And then there's "Shake, Rattle, and Roll", a series of films from the 1980s that is still making major money for Regal Films.

I couldn't help but think that Filipinos haven't made horror movies about natural disasters. 

If horror films bank on our fear of the unknown, it explains why Filipinos line up to watch films featuring our folklore characters and foreign films that feature their own monsters... because we don't know anything about them. It may also explain the lack of disaster movies. Why would I spend money to watch a movie about the horrors of a particularly powerful typhoon when I personally experience typhoons more than 10 times a year? Natural disaster is a common thing in the Philippines. Living in a country listed as second or third most vulnerable to natural calamities, we learn to eat peanuts (or other emergency relief food) as we watch our world get washed in flotsam and jetsam, like in the movies (except it's happening to us). We know disaster intimately. We don't need a horror movie to tell us about it.

Make a movie about the kids who are about to graduate from grade school, high school, and college who drown in Taal Lake... Now that's a potentially chilling horror movie in the making.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Old Manila in photos and paintings

Manila is a city established on June 24, 1571 by Miguel Lopéz de Legazpi. This year, therefore, marks its 446th founding anniversary. But note that in this post, I refer to the greater metro area as Manila in general, not just the old walled city built by the Spaniards.

For me, finding old photos of Manila is always fun because it gives me a glimpse of what this modern city looked like back in the day. These days, Manila is a busy metropolis of buildings, millions of vehicles (hello, EDSA traffic!) and of people (parts of Manila have higher population densities than Tokyo, Dhaka, Kolkata, Mumbai, Paris, and Shanghai). In fact, it's so crowded that there's an urgent need to find a way to move these people to and from work and school in the most efficient way. 

It's quite difficult to imagine Manila from the time it was an idyllic city. The photos I've seen exhibited at the Ayala Museum demonstrate what it was like back then. Although I expected that there were horse-drawn carriages, I was very surprised to note that there were rickshaws here too! And there were geishas! I thought these women were only in Japan!

I'm also fascinated with the different fashion statements that the people illustrated or photographed (aside from the coolie and the geisha) were wearing European attire. I assume that these images only feature the rich people in the city, who identify themselves as Filipinos. The rest of the population, the middle and the lower classes, rarely are featured in these historical documents... and probably didn't see themselves as Filipinos yet at that time. I'm referring, of course, to a scene in "Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?", a period drama about a country looking for its national identity. 

It's refreshing to see how our ancestors lived back in the day. I wonder how the next generations of Filipinos will see the Manila that I grew up in, especially since most photos nowadays are digital and are posted on social media.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Meryenda at Antonio's

Unfortunately, the restaurants that Ate Bing suggested in Silang, Cavite were closed when we went on our road trip. Could they have declared a holiday too because it's Rizal's birthday?

No biggie: we could always drive up to Tagaytay City for dessert. This was fast becoming a real road trip, cool! The good thing is that the roads in Tagaytay were mostly clear... people were not in Tagaytay that afternoon!

So, we went to a restaurant I haven't tried yet: Breakfast at Antonio's. Ironically, we were there to eat dessert. This explains why Ate Mary and Ate Bing both ordered for puddings while Man and Krishna got crepes. I, as predictable as I am, ordered a chocolate truffle cheesecake.

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Man has always been into taking "flat lay" photos to post in his Instagram account. I haven't figured out yet how he can make shadows cast by his iPhone disappear. What I know is that we have to wait for a few minutes before we eat because he's documenting our food... 

In this case, however, he didn't take a photo of my cake; he only took a photo of his Nutella crepe, which looks absolutely delicious!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Lunch at Asiong's

The museum-hoppers were at it again! This year, however, we opted to celebrate Jose Rizal's birthday (our excuse to go on a road trip in search of good food and some history lessons) in Silang, Cavite. At Asiong's of Cavite, to be precise. I first the owner, Sonny Lua, at a food-writing workshop organised by Amy Besa at Enderun Colleges. Then I saw his dishes featured at the Madrid Fusion Manila 2016 (I didn't hang around, however, because I was just going around with my parents). 

But his dishes made an impact when I first tasted Cavite cuisine so I kept his restaurant in mind for the next trip of the museum-hoppers. I asked Ate Mary, Man, Ate Bing, and Krishna to try the famous pancit pusit (which I couldn't eat so they had to enjoy it while I watched). I enjoyed the pancit with banana hearts. We partook of the beef caldereta as well. The food was delicious! We just didn't have the space for dessert anymore.

With bellies full, it was time to explore what Silang, Cavite had to offer to tourists on a road trip like us... 

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Fashion show of priestly garb

On a beautiful but balmy Saturday afternoon, I wanted to escape the heat so I took refuge at the Ayala Museum. It helped that it was featuring, on that afternoon, the creations of designer-turned-monk Dom Martin Hizon Gomez, OSB.

Gomez used Filipino fabrics and ethnic patterns as designs for the priests' robes. There are several colours, I learned, connected with the time of the year or with the religious festivities. Red vestments are worn during the Feasts of the Holy Spirit and the Martyrs. Blue is the theme for feasts honouring the Virgin Mary. Purple is worn during Advent and Lent. Black is for Masses for the Dead. Priests wear pink vestments too, on Gaudete Sunday and Laetare Sunday. Gold is worn to honour the solemnities of the Lord. And green is used during ordinary time.

I always thought that priests just wore coloured vestments based on when they felt like wearing the different colours!

At the end of the day, I still felt that this exhibit looks like a department store display for priests' robes. It's basically a fashion show!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Film Talks with Nick de Ocampo. Part 1: Comedy

Professor Nick de Ocampo is featured in Ayala Museum's trilogy lecture series on film. I'm not a film buff nor a film-maker but I wanted to spend my Saturday afternoons educating myself culturally. So I ended up taking a seat in his film lecture series.


Comedy is a genre aimed at making us laugh, to suspend our reality to help us to temporarily forget our problems in real life. As I listened to Nick talk about comedy, I learned that comedy is not just one big funny bone; there are sub-genres, some laugh-out-loud and some require more mental work for us to see the humour in them.

He started off his lecture with the slapstick comedy. Charlie Chaplin was his example, demonstrating that music and gestures are enough to change our mindset of a very depressing situation (they were so desperate that they were down to eating the leather of Charlie Chaplin's shoes) to see it as a funny scene. Thought-provoking. I suddenly remembered Fiddler on the Roof because that movie was also about a very depressing moment... with none of the comedy.

Then Nick talked a bit about Dolphy's Banayad Whiskey commercial. We were laughing at how Dolphy's character slowly but surely became drunk while repeatedly shooting takes of the commercial. I think that this commercial could be classified as a parody... a comedy sub-genre that Nick's audience found funny. I guess that's because it's composed of people who prefer this type of comedy to slapstick.

He then posed a complex question: Why were we laughing? What did we find funny in the sequence? What does it say about us?

For instance, the most popular comedies these days include Vice Ganda's "The Unkabogable Praybeyt Benjamin" and Raymond Lee's "Zombadings: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington". I haven't seen either of these movies, so I can't say anything about them. These receive the longest queues during film festivals (of course, taking exemption from the popular series featuring Vic Sotto's Enteng Kabisote), which seem to indicate that the Filipino find queer people funny. The LGBTQ then bank on this taste of humour to build their own comedic brand. Back in the day, audiences also found people with disabilities funny: midgets, giants, people with speaking disabilities, and the list goes on. It, therefore, seems that we find people different from us as funny. 

As a scholar, it wasn't surprising that Nick found comic value in a serious 1970s movie entitled "Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?" which was directed by Eddie Romero. In the film, he found comedy after a deep study on the cinematic value of the script, the production design, and the acting style of the actor playing the protagonist, Christopher de Leon. It's such scholarly humour that not everyone will find it. In fact, the movie has been classified as a musical drama with historical undertones.

This made me wonder: If the Philippines found an audience for intellectual humour and masterpieces such as "Ganito Kami Noon..." in the 1970s, why the degeneration of comedy back to themes on deformities, abnormalities, and the queer starting in the 1980s?

The answer must lie on what the masses, the major money-making machine of the movie industry, perceive to be funny. After all, movie companies make movies to make money; they weren't set out to educate people primarily. And so, understanding what movies will tick require understanding the Filipino psyche. A tough call but something a film scholar can take on as a challenge. 

After this afternoon at the museum, I wonder if my view of comedy has changed. Will I still laugh at the same jokes? Will my British-laced taste in humour still favour Fawlty Towers and Monty Python?  Or will I start laughing out loud at movies like V for Vendetta (which I already find humorous, just not laugh-out-loud)?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Sunday on the driving range

The clouds in Laguna couldn't rain on our parade, that's for sure. We left the wet and wild province for an afternoon of golf (actually, we were just in the driving range... we didn't go to the fairway yet) in Alabang, where it was all sunny and bright. 

Daddy was well-prepared. He packed my golf hat together with my golf clubs (take note: they're left-handed women's clubs) and my glove. Daddy also brought his own clubs so that Val could practice golf swings too.

And then, we took lessons from a professional golf player. He corrected our swings, which was good for me because Daddy and Tito Tony couldn't teach me (a southpaw) how to properly do it because the instructions are totally in the opposite direction. In Val's case, the pro player was able to teach him the half-swing. While I was able to let the balls go a respectable distance (50 to 100 metres... nothing to laugh at because I used to not hit the ball!), Val just let the balls fly! Not bad for newbies, I'd say, after two hours of golf swings for me. In the meantime, Daddy enjoyed watching us and taking photos. 

And now we brace for the muscle pain from all that swinging. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Compelling stories, anyone?

For the past few months, the buzz word at the work place is culture change. An abstract concept that is difficult to grasp if where we're at is not dissected, analysed, and critiqued; and where we want to go is not defined. After all, the concept of the need for any change in itself implies that something is inherently imperfect in the system and that there is room for improvement. 

The group I found myself being in want to improve the way the institute tells its success stories and pitches its ideas so that it is continually able to address the needs of some of the poorest people in the world, people who produce and who eat rice.

This photo, for instance, is a good example of how the institute tells stories. It's the type that caters most likely to intellectuals, academicians... after all, look at how poor people have been reduced to dots on the world map. Yes, it is a highly informative and useful infographic but it's all highly cerebral. It doesn't move people to action. Perhaps it wasn't designed to do so... but that's a missed opportunity to hit two birds (report and move people) with one stone (the picture).

What the institute needs are compelling stories... and storytellers. 

This ragtag group I found myself in turn out to be lively and very communicative, perhaps the beginnings of a group of storytellers or of people provoking others to tell stories. 

Do we know what stories to tell? Not yet, because the institute will have a say in that. 

Do we know how to tell those stories? Not yet definitively... but we know what we don't want to see in yet another story. 

Do we know what success looks like? Not yet, but we have educated guesses.

It's all abstract right now but we'll get some clarity at some point. In the meantime, we muddle through the unknowns to define what, to us, are ways we could suggest improvements in our ways of telling stories. Our ideas may probably be shallow, given that most of us are scientists and not communications experts. But the comm experts can extract more meat from our ideas... I hope.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Biboy's whirlwind of a trip to the Philippines

My 101-year old grandma, Lola Bats, faced several challenging weeks as the summer began, so my family flew in from the USA to visit her. Mommy and Daddy arrived two weeks after her birthday. Biboy arrived a week later. This marks the first time, albeit a very short time indeed, that my family is complete. Only Barbara, Biboy's wife, was absent... she's holding the fort in the USA while everyone's here.

He had two wishes for this visit: eat good food and spend time with Lola Bats.

Naturally, all four of us went to the airport to pick up my brother. Since he arrived around midday, it was the perfect opportunity for us to have lunch together before Anna had to go to work. 

We had lunch in Buddy's (Eastwood), a restaurant that served Filipino fare... the servings were huge! It's as if we were attending a fiesta! Anna has found a real gem of Filipino cuisine surrounded by restaurants serving foreign cuisine. 

Since his purpose was really to visit Lola Bats, we went straight to her house so that Biboy could immediately surprise her. Lola was elated to see her youngest grandchild at her house, albeit unannounced. Kuya Eldie and Richelle dropped in for a visit too. They took care of bringing in the ice cream as a mini-welcome back party for Biboy.

Previously, I promised Biboy that I'd bring him to the best restaurants in the Philippines. This year, I took him with Mommy and Daddy to the Vask Tapas Bar, the restaurant of Chef Chele Gonzalez, a friend of mine. His other restaurant, Gallery Vask, has been lauded as Asia's 35th best restaurants (out of Asia's top 50)... the only restaurant in the Philippines that got into the Top 50.

He was totally blown away by the food. I kept joking that now that he's eaten at the top fine-dining restaurant in Manila, there's no going up anymore. We're going to resume our exploration of Filipino restaurants serving delicious food during the rest of his visit.

Our first stop was Claude Tayag's Downtown Café in Angeles, Pampanga. Yes, I drove all the way to Pampanga for food! I was originally planning on bringing them to Bale Dutung but Biboy and I were outnumbered by senior citizens... the decathlon of food might not be a good idea. So, we ordered a similar set of dishes à la carte so that they won't be overwhelmed. Tita Ising and Tito Sibing certainly enjoyed the day trip. 

And then we went a bit closer to home, to Iskargu in Calauan, Laguna. No, Iskargu doesn't refer at all to the famous French escargot; the name play was all about ISda, KARne, at GUlay. I particularly liked the kulao here and Biboy got (forcibly) introduced to it.

Filipino food is best cooked at home. Hence, our next stop was a visit to our cousins in Sta Cruz, Laguna. My Lola Estay's house is where my favourite sinigang and fried chicken can be found. Tita Mely really inherited the recipes and the secrets of my grandma's best dishes.

But since Biboy's here on a food trip, we all trooped to a new restaurant in Sta Cruz called Aurora. Tita Lucy says the house where the resto is now was formerly owned by her relatives; hence, she used to frequent this place. More recently, Aurora's become a stop in food bloggers' pilgrimage in Laguna... and so I thought Biboy might want to experience dining here. My favourite here? It's an appetiser called minanok

I also brought Biboy to one of the restaurants I frequently eat at while in Los Baños: Dalcielo's. Since this was a Friday, it was good way to wind down the week with a family dinner with Val. My go-to dish at Dalcielo's used to be the panna cotta but it has since become the capellini pomodoro. Both Biboy and Val are avid basketball fans and were rooting for the Golden State Warriors this year. 

After dinner, we went to Siento Café, Man's first venture into the food business. It features locally produced coffee, borne of his interest in "third-wave coffee". He introduced my parents to the intricacies and subtle flavours of V60-brewed coffee. Anna and Val tried café lattes and I had a fruit shake (I can't drink coffee beyond the tasting portions... too bitter for me). For me, though, since I couldn't stand the bitterness of the café's specialty, I automatically order a slice of one of Hiraya's cakes (featured in Siento). My favourite so far is the chocolate cake with black pepper, but Hiraya's been exploring local ingredients like sampinit (a Philippine raspberry) to expand the brand's repertoire. Delicious too, I have to say. 

As Biboy's short visit came to a close, it was back to Lola Bats' house. The family gathered to celebrate Lola's birthday for a second time. It also served as Biboy's farewell party because he flying out straight after this family party.

It was a good chance for our nephews and nieces to touch base with my brother even if this was but an afternoon. A lot of laughs and Lola even felt well enough to join us at the garage for snacks. It's fascinating to watch the kids talk to us about college, work, and their lack of knowledge about Filipino games. Maybe next time we gather for a reunion, we play patintero outside the house to introduce them to the games we used to play. Question is, are the titos and titas still limber enough to play?

And that was my brother's quick but jam-packed visit to the family in the Philippines. I'm sure he's exhausted but happy for the brief break from routine. I am now looking forward to his visit here in October, this time, with Barbara.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


As children, Anna, Biboy, and I had taho as breakfast typically on the weekend. I remember Anna and Biboy rushing out of bed early in the morning when they start hearing the vendor's plaintive call, "Tahooooo!" as he walked, carrying two pails: one containing the soy curd and the other containing melted sugar and the sago. I'd be the strategic one, of course, staying back and letting the two run after the taho... they'd be carrying my breakfast bowl too.

Now that we're a lot bigger, older, and wiser... my brother and my sister still jump out of bed to chase after the taho vendor with breakfast bowls on hand for their weekend breakfast... and mine.

I find it funny that there are things that never change in my family, despite the distance and the time that has flown fast.

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.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Tea time with Mommy and Daddy

Finally had the chance to introduce Mommy and Daddy to the almost endless choices of tea types at TWG, a Singaporean tea shop that has several branches in the Philippines. 

The first time I tried tea here, I was so shocked that I had to actually look through a thick book describing different types of tea. And here I was thinking that all I wanted was black tea. I absolutely wasn't (still am not) a tea connoisseur. Might come in handy someday though.

Anyway, my tea time with the parents was the first time I also ordered scones. Scones! Why, this was so English of us! These scones came with whipped cream and jelly. Very yummy! Too bad we couldn't try any more of the pastries typical of an English afternoon tea (the meal). We were actually saving some space for dinner.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Le jour des livres 2017

Coming from French class at AFM, my brain's still working in French but I stumbled upon an event sponsored by Instituto Cervantes, the centre for Spanish culture and language education. It's Dia del Libro, absolutely a haven for bookworms and who Pogs refer to as "culture vultures". 

As people weaved in and out of book stalls and rows upon rows of painting reprints at the Ayala Triangle, they were serenaded by the Manila Symphony Orchestra. It played classics by Spanish artists... I am not a classical music expert but I definitely enjoyed the live musical performance. 

As the event faded to a close, I was ended up buying a few books. It's the day of books, after all... might as well indulge myself on a few hardbound books rather than PDFs.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Aurora Filipino Cuisine

Since La Cocina de Tita Moning bid farewell last year, I've been looking for restaurants that presented Filipino food with a historical angle: heirloom recipes, old house, local ingredients. Yes, there's Café Ysabel but it's closing its doors soon too. 

As I was scanning Facebook posts from food bloggers, I noticed that many of them are actually featuring restaurants in my province. There's Calle Arco in Pagsanjan, also one of my go-to's in Laguna, but I am not counting it because it doesn't have the heritage feel I am looking for. There used to be Raha Sulaiman, also in Pagsanjan. It has the old house feel that attracted me to try the food out years ago but I felt that the restaurant was struggling with its identity back then. I'm not sure if it's still there and if it has finally found its niche in the restaurant industry in a town teeming with yummy food. There's Sulyap, a restaurant in San Pablo that checks all my heritage restaurant boxes. But somehow, it doesn't have a homey feel for me.

And then as I was walking in procession on Good Friday, I saw, amid the smoke of the isawan grills at the town plaza, I noticed this old house finally having its lights all lit up on the ground floor. I wondered what's in it... so sometime after the procession, I checked it out. Ah, it's now home to a restaurant called Aurora Filipino Cuisine. I took note of it, a possible restaurant suggestion for weekday dinners in Sta Cruz.

The opportunity to eat there cropped up soon after. I was in Sta Cruz one afternoon and asked Tita Mely and the rest of the gang if they're up to have dinner at Aurora's later that day. They all said yes so we walked over at dinner time. The interiors reminded me a lot of Tita Moning's mansion... not the creature comforts and the artwork (Aurora's didn't have those). There's a feel of warmth and hospitality that's typical of an old, lived-in house. Just looking at the art deco interiors, I decided that I'd eat here again if the food was delicious.

It definitely helps that while my aunts were ordering food, I could explore the rest of the mansion with my nephew and my niece. 

And when the food arrived, it was so good! The chefs did such an awesome job of bringing good memories of my Lola Estay's cooking to the table. It's not surprising because the restaurant is featuring recipes that feature authentic Laguna cuisine... food that I've always taken for granted because I live in Laguna. I mean, I drive all the way to Pampanga and to Ilocandia to try regional fare.

The highlight of my visit to Aurora, surprisingly, was the minanok. It's banana heart slices cooked with coconut milk and eaten with a piece of banana fritters. There was no chicken in it at all!

I'm going to bring more family and friends here when I get the chance. This may be our next go-to spot... and it's so close to home too!