Sunday, November 5, 2017

Loving Vincent (2017)

I have always thought of Vincent van Gogh as the poster child for suffering artists and for mental health advocacy. But beyond him cutting his ear and committing suicide, I really didn't know much of his life. I've also encountered his painting "Starry Night" and the Don McLean 1971 song "Vincent". 

Hence, when I saw that "Loving Vincent", a movie about his life, was already showing in cinemas, I decided to watch it at first opportunity. Luckily, Joyce was also available to join in watching this film.

It's interesting that this film was made to resemble cartoons; except that instead of simple illustrations or computer graphics, the each frame of the animation was an oil painting on canvas. These oil paintings were made by 115 artists and featured van Gogh's famous strong, thick strokes. In itself, the movie is a visual masterpiece.

The plot happened supposedly a year after van Gogh died. It followed Armand Roulin as he attempted to deliver Vincent's last letter to his brother, Theo. It turned out, through Armand's tracing of Theo's whereabouts, that the younger van Gogh had died of complications of syphilis. The letter eventually ended up with Theo's widow, Johanna. In his search for van Gogh's family, Armand was confronted with a few theories on why van Gogh committed suicide: a case of unrequited love; an effort to reduce the worries of his brother who was already sick; and someone else shot the gun that left him wounded in the torso (there's a murder mystery angle to the story).

In the end, whatever drove Vincent to take his own life couldn't be clarified. His last letter to Theo, however, resonated true with the movie:

"Well, the truth is, we can only make our pictures speak." 
-- Vincent van Gogh

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Surat Mangyan

In high school, part of the Filipino curriculum was learning about one of the country's ancient native scripts called Baybayin. I learned back then that this script was eventually abandoned because the Spanish, and eventually the Americans, encouraged the use of the Latin script for written communications.

But that's in the lowlands; the rules were different up in the mountains. In the lush mountains of Mindoro, groups of indigenous people called Mangyans live largely in isolation away from the Christianised Filipinos. This isolation has led to the continuous development of the Mangyans' old script, Surat Mangyan.

As I walked inside the Ayala Museum, I saw this bamboo tube (I'm not sure if it's an instrument) with Mangyan script written all over it. I suppose that this was equivalent to a book or a song. But I haven't figured out what's written yet, despite the translation guide provided.

What I can do, however, is write my name in Mangyan script. It is quite different from the Baybayin syllaboc script that was taught to us in high school.

The exhibit about the Mangyan script brought me back to that day in school when our teacher asked us, "If our ancestors were already using their own scripts, why did they drop these and shifted to the Latin script?" Perhaps, it's a question of practicality. The arrival of traders forced our ancestors to adapt to a script that was understandable to the parties conducting business... perhaps, ancient Filipinos traded with their Indian contemporaries, explaining why Baybayin looks very similar to the script I found in road signs I noticed in Hyderabad. Lowlanders also got exposed the most to the Spaniards, who heavily promoted the use of the Latin script. 

The reason why the Mangyan script has survived throughout the centuries can thus be similarly explained: most likely, the Mangyans were mainly isolated from the rest of the world. This allowed them to continue developing their culture and to continue using their script. Hence, Surat Mangyan lives on. I hope that this ancient script will continue to thrive so that Filipinos can see how rich our indigenous heritage is.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Feeling, the cat

And then there was one. Miming officially became the sole resident cat after Timtams disappeared. Not for long, however. A black and white tomcat appeared in the backyard and decided that it could shoo Miming (who's already in his senior years) away through bullying. 

I was intimidated with this tomcat because I'm not used to have aggressive feral cats loitering in my backyard. At first, I kept shooing it, at the risk of getting scratched or bitten, but eventually, I got convinced to allow the cat to share Miming's food (yes, even when Miming was eating soft foods, this tomcat also ate soft food).

Months later, I started calling it Feeling because it's feelingero (Filipino slang for someone who feels comfortable around others who aren't hospitable). 

The two cats were constantly competing for food until they figured out a system in which all kibbles placed above ground are for Miming while those on the ground are for Feeling. So now, the challenge is on feeding because that's when Feeling is most aggressive. In fact, he has scratched both Daddy and Anna in these feeding sessions. 

I'd like to believe that Feeling is getting tamer by the day because he has started becoming more docile when I'm around. Maybe, it's because he knows he's going to be fed in due course and because I'm not about to kick him. We'll see... I'm still not confident in handling this cat because of his mood swings.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

the sisterhood of queens

The book opens with the concept of chess. In chess, the aim of the game is to checkmate the opponent's King while safeguarding your own King. This makes the King both the most important and the most vulnerable piece in the game. On the other hand, the Queen is also the most powerful piece, being able to  move the way a Rook and a Bishop does. She is the ultimate weapon in protecting the King.

This concept reminds me of this saying: Behind every powerful man is a great woman. It is a concept that resonated to me while I was reading A Game of Queens. In it, author Sarah Gristwood took readers back to the sixteenth century, when men ruled the courts but peace was achieved by discussions among powerful and influential women. 

I'd exclude Queen Isabella I of Castile to what Gristwood refers to as the "sisterhood of queens" despite being a global influence (together with her husband, King Ferdinand of Aragon) because she was known more as a ruling monarch... one who had to espouse strength and decision-making capacities typically associated with Kings. Also out of the sisterhood are queens regnant Mary Stuart (aka Mary Queen of Scots) and Elizabeth I. While reading the book, I had the impression that these women dared to take upon themselves the thrones of their respective kingdoms and were most probably surrounded by their male advisers in court; thereby, these queens were effectively isolated from the sorority of 16th century queens. The wives of Henry VIII were also not included into this sorority. This was tragic for the likes of Anne Boleyn, who could have used her connections with some of the most powerful women in Europe (like Margaret of Austria and Claude of France) to prevent herself from being executed. 

Instead, I noticed that Gristwood's example of queens involved in the game of protecting king and country were mostly the queen consorts. I think that these queens took preservation of their children, the next in line to the various European thrones, as the very reason why they needed to make sure that their husbands or brothers were protected... or that they became regents, representing the ruling king in his absence (e.g., while he was waging war against other kings). It was, therefore, in their best interest to negotiate peace treaties.

For example, Margaret of Austria (representing Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) met with Louise of Savoy (representing France) in Cambrai to talk peace because the Kings were attacking each other's territories, with King Francis and the Pope becoming hostages of Charles V. And this was set in the backdrop of the expanding Ottoman Empire, threatening to take over weakened Christian territory. The same goes between Catherine de Medici (France) and Jeanne d'Albret (Navarre). Both were married to kings and were on the opposing sides of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. But despite their differences in religious beliefs, they did their best to keep the peace.

I couldn't help but think that the sisterhood of queens was limited to those in mainland Europe. The English and Scottish queens, in my impression, had so little participation in these peace negotiations despite Scotland being allied with France ("the auld alliance") and probably because the Tudor court effectively isolating itself by separating its church from the rest of the Roman Catholic church (just because Henry VIII wanted to marry Anne Boleyn).

The history of each kingdom and each country is complex. But to understand the past, one has to look at how each group of people was related to and affected by the others. Only in that way can we start piecing together what we are today and prevent the mistakes made by our forefathers. Ika nga nila, Ganito kami noon, paano kayo ngayon?


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

finding the Philippine connection in "A Game of Queens"

I've always been fascinated by history but the classes I took typically limited the lessons to the who's who of society back in the day and the events that transpired leading up to the contemporary period (I was, still am, not a fan of memorisation). More rarely, my history professors linked past events with current ones and with patterns (most of this happened in college, thanks to UPLB).

But never did my professors try to link Philippine history with the events that happened in other countries. In this age of globalisation, it is high time that teachers take the worldview and teach this perspective to grade school students... otherwise, history fans like me will have to start appreciating lessons a bit later in life, like after graduating from college... or never at all.

Anyway, this curiosity about links between Philippine and world history was what got me to buy this book, A Game of Queens: The Women Who Made Sixteenth-Century Europe by Sarah Gristwood, during the Dia del Libro this year. My exposure to world history is limited, I have to admit, and connecting what happened here, at the other edge of the medieval Spanish Empire, with what happened to the rest of the civilised world. Moreover, many of the things I learned about Europe came from watching documentaries of their castles, or actually being in them, and watching historical fiction series and movies. This gives me some idea about the history but not so much about the connections; hence, not so much on context and probably a lot more creative expression from the producers and directors. 

Enter the book... on the first few pages, it shows the family trees of the prominent royal families in Europe during the 16th century. My curiosity was piqued when I saw the names of the Spanish Catholic monarchs', Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile there... these were the people I have associated with the Spanish first coming to the Philippines! Their daughter, Katherine, was married to King Henry VIII (the guy in Shakespeare's play and in the TV series, The Tudors). Their grandson, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (also known as Spanish Emperor Charles I), financed Ferdinand Magellan's westward voyage to find the Spice Islands that found the Philippines instead. Charles V's son, Philip II is the namesake of the Philippines, who eventually established Pacific trade routes between the Americas and Asia. Philip II, I learned from the book, was also married to Mary Tudor (Queen Mary I), Henry VIII's daughter, and queen regnant of England and Ireland (making him a king consort while they were married, I think). 

Anyway, it turns out the Philip II, aside from expanding the Spanish territories in the New World, also was in the midst of the religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants. He wanted a Catholic to sit on the English throne; when Elizabeth I (Mary I's successor, a Protestant) had Mary Queen of Scots executed, he soon after launched the Spanish Armada against England. He lost that battle but England wasn't able to take advantage of this victory... except by making Elizabeth I legendary, of course. Probably a small loss for Philip II because his empire was huge. In fact, it earned the monicker el imperio en el que nunca se pone el sol (the empire on which the sun never sets). The empire was so big that the Philippines was a colony of the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Mexico), which also was a colony.

A fascinating read. It's something that people only get to appreciate when they start learning history outside the classroom and actually reading up on it for fun. It's an experience that allows me to open my eyes and see the world from a different perspective; the Philippines might have been treated in the sidelines in the events happening in the European theatre in history books but it's still connected to Europe. If only those dots can be more clearly connected when people learn history.

Yes, I'm looking at you, our modern day historians, to put the Philippine piece back in the world history jigsaw puzzle. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

at the Vask Tapas Room

A few months ago, I brought Biboy to Vask Tapas Bar. He liked the food and enjoyed the place that he made me promise to bring him there again when he visits with Barbara. Of course, I had to oblige! Vask is one of my favourite places to eat in at the Bonifacio Global City. 

They just had to try some of my go-to dishes here, like the foie gras on mango toast and the Wagyu beef carpaccio. I just have to say that a meal that starts with these two dishes cannot go wrong.

But we also ventured out with dishes that I tried for the first time during Biboy's visit, like these cochinillo tacos. Since Biboy and Barbara are based in the Bay Area, which is also a melting pot of food, particularly of cuisines within the Americas, it's quite natural that they've tasted better tacos. BUT, these Vask tacos were also delicious, thanks to the tasty pork that was used.

This is the first time I've tried the oysters at Vask, I think. It's delicious but it wasn't a showstopper, unlike the foie gras and the carpaccio. Probably that's because I prefer raw oysters with a dash of chili sauce and a squeeze of lemon.

Biboy and Barbara decided to have the scallop and black ink risotto. Since I'm allergic to squid, I got this for the first time. I think this is roast beef with mushrooms and fries on the side. Also very delicious. When I go back, I'm going to order this again.

And then there were the desserts. I had the rolling truffle, which is basically brownies and cotton candy with chocolate syrup poured onto it. This was my favourite until I've tasted Barbara's caramel chocolate lava, which I found to be more satisfying for the sweet tooth.

Biboy's deconstructed carrot cake was also good but I'm not much of a carrot cake fan. I love the ice cream though.

And then, Chele sent this from the kitchen (he was in another event so I wasn't able to introduce him again)... a dessert I haven't tried before. It's called torrija and it reminds me of those bread puddings that Ate Bing introduced me to. This was so delicious that I scratched off the caramel chocolate lava as my favourite dessert and switched to this... all in a matter of minutes.

Another awesome dinner at the Vask Tapas Bar. I'm already looking forward to eat there again. Looking forward to see Chele again soon. I really should time my trips to Vask better.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Welcome to the Philippines, Barbara!

The timing was impeccable. Just two weeks after Anna flew out to the US, Biboy and Barbara came to visit. It's Barbara's first time to visit Asia and probably the first time to be hit by a major jet lag.  Lola was absolutely thrilled to meet Barbara. Also, the day they arrived was also the day that Lola received her achievement award from the church in the neighbourhood. 

These two happy reasons called for a celebration!

Despite the jet lag, Biboy and Barbara joined us for dinner at Shakey's. However, because Lola can't be outside the house late in the evening anymore and the travelers have yet to recover from their flights, we all called it an early evening. Seeing the rest of the family will have to be on a separate occasion. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Lola Bats gets an achievement award

Becoming 100 years old definitely has its perks... 

Earlier today, centenarians were invited to attend Mass at the Presentation of the Child Jesus Parish as guests of honour. Two centenarians were able to attend, both in wheelchairs: Lola Bats (101) and a slightly younger centenarian (100). Two others were represented by their families. The parish priest, Fr. William Ramos said that they were the only ones that the parish knows of and if there were other centenarians in the area, they would also receive a plaque of appreciation and a yearbook from the parish.

Lola Bats definitely is enjoying the life of a centenarian. Looking forward to 102 already!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Three years after I watched Kingsman in Seoul, I learned that Eggsy was confronted with a new nemesis. This time, a former member of his training cohort was recruited into a mysterious organisation called "The Golden Circle", led by an enterprising businesswoman (into illegal business, mind). She intended to make the human population a hostage of a global pandemic, with the cure only available from her. No, she wasn't asking for money to enrich herself; she was endangering people all over the world just to convince the US president to legitimise her business! A really mad antagonist, comparable to the communication maven in Eggy's first outing.

Because of his co-trainee's knowledge about Kingsman, The Golden Circle was able to destroy the infrastructure of this top secret organisation. It had no choice but to enact the "Doomsday Protocol", which required them to team up with their counterparts across the pond. If Kingsmen were into bespoke business attire, the US counterparts were into whiskey production... whose staff have alcoholic drinks as code names.

This team up eventually led to happy reunions, to explosive deaths, to a lot of cages and blue rashes, and to a dose of Elton John. In the end, they were able to defeat the leader of The Golden Circle and the infected people were given the antidote.

And Eggsy?

He got the girl in the first movie. This time, he married her. Now that's what I call a happy beginning.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

BTS: Man's food photo shoot

I have always wondered how Manuel could take flat-lay pictures and keep the shadows away from the food he's taking photos of. Just look at his food posts on Instagram!

One evening, I had a chance to see how he does this. Of course, it wasn't the first time... I have the first-hand experience of being stopped from digging into my food as soon as it arrived because he had to take a photo of it. But those were the days when flat-lays weren't the Instagram norm. Was Instagram even a social network back then?

Anyway, the photos below shows how much into food photography he really is. We, including the other lab-mates, were eating dinner at Seoul Kitchen. When his dinner came in, he whisked it off to a corner table for its picture. The light has to hit at the right angle; he positioned himself so that the food was at its most photogenic. I think we were halfway through our meal by the time he finished taking photos of his. 

Look at how it turned out! The bibimbap looked pretty appetising.

Man, I am still patiently waiting to see the food post on Instagram and/or a feature on it in your personal blog... preferably with mentions of the people you were with

Monday, October 2, 2017

Anna and her next adventure

As Anna started packing her stuff in earnest, with help from Richelle and Kuya Junjun, Semisonic's song "Closing Time" started playing in my head... maybe because of this line: "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end". It was an apt song, I think, because Anna's moving to the USA to be with the rest of the family and to establish new roots there.

This is her first long-haul flight and her first trip to California, which is one reason why everyone's excited for her, even Lola Bats. It must be difficult to pack your life into two balikbayan boxes but she was able to do it.

Mommy, Daddy, Biboy, and Barbara (who took the photo below) were at the San Francisco International Airport to pick her up. They actually went to the meeting area at the arrivals section... complete with balloons! 

(And my mom, crying, as usual)

Well, I was also there, in spirit... as you can see in the box, my penmanship's there. Physically, though, I'm holding the fort and getting the house ready for Biboy and Barbara's visit in a few weeks.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Happy birthday, Anna!!

Anna celebrated her nth birthday in Sta Cruz, Laguna with our family a few days before flying to the USA. We went to Pagsanjan for dinner but ate the cake in Tita Mely's house. Our nephews and nieces did a great job in designing the cake with Anna's Facebook photos. Ate Madie made a good call in choosing the restaurant. I forgot the name of the place but the food was reasonably priced and was delicious.

Everyone was excited about her trip because it's her first time to travel to the USA and our relatives there lead good lives. They're all hopeful that she'll enjoy her stay there and that she'll get a good job... great wishes on a birthday that marks the end of one stage in her life and the beginning of the next.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Colors of Rice

The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) held its third quarter seminar series earlier today and I was one of the speakers invited to attend, as per recommendation by Tita Nollie (thank you!). I was asked to talk about cooking specialty rice and kakanins. Since Tita Nollie intended to give an overview of the Heirloom Rice Project, I opted to talk about a paper I co-wrote this year entitled "Developing a framework of gastronomic systems research to unravel drivers of food choice" (, focusing on the rice delicacies. 

Also, upon Tita Nollie's suggestion, I featured the desserts found in IRRI's 2016 calendar. These desserts were made by three chefs we've befriended through the journey into the nuances of flavours of heirloom rice: Sharwin Tee, Jessie Sincioco, and Margarita Fores. The challenge, of course, was that it's difficult to get decent photos of the food from the calendar itself because of the calendar lay-out. So I had to get screen grabs of the food photos from the YouTube video introducing the calendar. 

First up was Sharwin's chocolate heirloom rice pudding, aka champorado, in which he used Kalinga Jekot. For his recipe, he used cocoa powder and Choc-Nut. The Choc-Nut gave a more nutty flavour to his version of the Filipino classic breakfast... but wait, he threw another curve ball when he added garbanzos and banana fritters into the mix. This was definitely not regular champorado. 

Filipino cuisine is known for counterpoints; for Sharwin's champorado, this concept was illustrated by the smoked bacon topping the champorado. Sweet and salty, a good combination. Typically, champorado is paired with tuyo for everyday consumption; but the combination of ingredients suggests that this champorado version is meant to be eaten during special occasions.

Next, I talked briefly about Gaita's recipe for black rice sticky pudding with amaretti and chestnut cream. For this dish, she used Balatinaw (from the Mountain Province). Amaretti cookies were crushed and added to the Balatinaw pudding mix; the amaretti's almond taste was complementary to the sweetness of the pudding and to slightly bitter taste of the Balatinaw. The chestnuts, on the other hand, lent a nutty and sweet potato taste to the dish.

Bittersweet... a classic counterpoint in flavours as well. The decadence of the ingredients, once again, indicated the target audience of the recipe. It's not for our everyday consumption; rather, we eat something like this for special occasions.

Lastly, I talked about Jessie's Ominio mochi balls. Inside these balls was a paste that contains sweet potato. So my impression is that Jessie and Gaita were exploring similar aspects of food flavours. However, the sesame seeds and the coconut gratings provided contrasts in textures for the mochi balls, rather than in flavours (although the roasted flavour in them probably provided flavour contrasts too). This dish probably packs a lot of crunch to it.

Again, another dish designed for special occasions.

Which brings me back to the paper that I co-wrote. See, in that paper, we featured a study about Filipino consumption patterns viewed from a gastronomic systems research framework. In this way, we see that the socioeconomic and cultural contexts of consumers (in this study, middle- to high-income Filipinos eating premium quality rice) dictate the eating occasions, which are then associated with dishes, which are then linked with ingredients. Our goal was to find intervention entry points to increase the market share of heirloom rice, which (at the moment) are sold at very high prices (three times that of regular rice). Expert elicitation showed that there are five categories of eating occasions and rice cakes and rice delicacies such as those prepared by the chefs are typically eaten during special occasions (e.g., fiesta, wedding receptions), during Christmas and New Year (separated from the other special occasions), and during snack time. For each of these three categories of occasions, heirloom rice was seen, by the experts, to be fit for substitution for the typical rice used half of the time; which means that the potential market share of heirloom rice for kakanins is less than 6%. 

Not such a big market. This indicates that we shouldn't limit our use of specialty rice (in this case, heirloom rice) for kakanins. We should find more wiggle room for its adoption. How about expanding the promotion of heirloom rice to lunch and dinner occasions? Heirloom rice has a potential market share of 36% if these get expanded use during lunch and dinner.

A thought that needs to be put out there. A paradigm that needs to be disrupted. Hopefully, my presentation earlier has opened more ideas at PhilRice. and we'll be able to develop more collaborative work with them into this field.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

pardon my (limited) French

It's been around two years since I've started taking weekend classes in French. And so far, I've only been able to practice speaking it in school or mostly (outside school) with Matty and Val (when they don't use one of those code languages). When I was at UNLEASH, I could understand bits and pieces of conversations running in French but my listening skills with the European accent were still poor; I wasn't expecting myself to understand the African accent of my fellow participants.

And so when I was at the Philippines-France Forum on Agriculture, Matty made sure that I had practice time with French speakers (I think he gets a kick out of hearing me speak it with a Spanish accent and pointing it out). Tanguy Lafarge (from CIRAD) and another guy (I didn't catch his name) were speaking like my teachers in AFM... I understood many of their sentences when they talked more slowly than their usual pace. The second guy told me that I have to work on my intonation but my accent was already good.

Ha! I know that my French still sounds Spanish, but I shall take the compliment!

He also said that the best way to learn French is to be in France for some time... definitely more than the afternoon that I spent in Thonon-les-Bains just before I decided to learn the language. 

Hmm... but before I do go visit again, I should have better speaking and listening skills. So for now, I shall continue learning it in school. In a few weeks, my class starts Level A2.5. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

teppanyaki dinner with two anthropologists

I like eating Japanese food. Most of my exposure to the cuisine, though, has been limited to sushi, ramen, and salmon sashimi. So when Arindam invited me to go to dinner at a Japanese restaurant with him and another anthropologist (who is also a bonafide foodie), I was excited.

We went to Isshin, which is located along Pasay Road. We had good timing because I was able to park immediately while restaurants in this area typically didn't have enough parking lots for patrons who drove over. 

The second anthropologist I met is Gayia Beyer of Havas Media Ortega, a colleague of Arindam's. Aside from introducing Arindam and me to Isshin, she also ordered food to be prepared on a teppanyaki, a steel griddle on which food could be cooked, heated, and served. Another first for me.

The nice thing about eating at a teppanyaki table was that we got a close look at how our food was being made. Our friendly chef even customised my food so that I didn't get food allergies

Over good food, we traded stories about what Arindam and I do for the BMGF-DFC project and what she does to understand target consumer culture and behaviour with the aim of developing ways to sell clients' products. Sitting at the dining table with anthropologists just make for one very interesting discussion!

I'm looking forward to our next dinner conversation. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

it's Christmas time in the city

Soon after my cold summer Danish adventure, I returned to the humid rainy season in the Philippines. But that weather limitation doesn't stop us Filipinos from pretending that we've got pine trees covered in snow inside our very own homes. 

And the Philippines is known to have the longest Christmas... we typically skip over Halloween, All Saints' and All Souls' Days; we also skip over the various other commemoration days. As soon as September begins, Jose Mari Chan's Christmas in Our Hearts and Christmas carols get played ad infinitum in shopping malls. These songs are stimuli for spending (and thereby endangering my wallet), not far from Pavlov's conditioning.

As I was walking in the mall the weekend when I got back from Denmark, therefore, I found the view I had in front of me incredulous: Christmas trees were already on sale AND IT'S NOT EVEN SEPTEMBER YET! 

And earlier today, I had lunch with Arindam and Matty in a mall in Los Baños. An arch flanked by Nutcrackers and covered with Christmas decor welcomed us at the food court entrance. Christmas has evidently arrived here.

With kids looking forward to the Christmas holidays, I'm sure that they'd be delighted to see this decoration... and the Christmas trees too. To them, and to people who see the Yuletide season as a really good time of the year, Green Day's Wake Me Up When September Ends is not applicable. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

A chair is still a chair

Still at the Living Architecture exhibit at the Ayala Museum, I was surprised to see (in an architecture exhibit) chairs that are prominently displayed. Two were by the windows, where the lighting was really good, and one had warm spotlights trained on it. I wondered, given that these chairs were treated as art pieces, were they more special than other chairs? They were given prime positions in the exhibit space, after all.

The first chair I encountered was what is known as the Calvet armchair, designed by Antoni Gaudì, Spain's most famous architect (he designed the Sagrada Família church in Barcelona). I liked how this chair looks because of the colour, the finish, and the heart-shaped back. But I wondered if it's comfortable to sit on. A chair is still a chair, after all, and if I were buying this, I had to try it to see if I could sit on it for hours.

It's a good thing that the Ayala Museum allowed people to try the chair. I sat on it, of course. And I found it to be not that comfortable. Perhaps it's because I'm used to sitting on a chair with foam on it... plus, the back is not ergonomically designed so it wasn't a good experience.

But as an art piece, I like the Calvet armchair. Definitely.

I don't remember who designed this white chair but it definitely looks pretty. And it looks comfortable to sit on. Unfortunately, it's only on display so I wasn't able to try it. What it reminds me of are the chairs being sold in Dimensione, my mom's favourite store for one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture. 

The last chair looks like it came straight from a church choir loft. Museum-goers were again allowed to try this chair. I can't remember who designed it. Whoever sits on this chair must have had a bad hour in church... I mean it absolutely doesn't have give for slouching or wiggling! It's a chair meant for people to stay awake while keeping still. 

I remember the note about this chair saying something about the design aesthetics. But for me, I don't get it. It just looks like an ordinary chair; unlike the other two which had very modern lines, this one looks like it came straight from the medieval era. I was almost afraid of sitting on it!

At the end of the day, while Luther Vandross' popular line, "A chair is still a chair...", is being sung by my ever reliable earworm on repeat, I keep in mind that these chairs probably were intended to be displayed rather than to be used as seats (for hours). More form than function. These are art pieces after all. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Living Architecture at the Ayala Museum

What in the world is living architecture?!? 

These were the questions in my mind as I first entered the exhibition curated by Pieter van der Ree.

Apparently, my impression was wrong. This exhibit was all about how architecture relate with the natural, the social, and the cultural landscape of a country; how a country gains an international brand or identity based on the skyline and the spaces it offers to its residents and its tourists; how people adapt and incorporate nature into these spaces.

Interesting, I thought, because I just came back from Denmark where UNLEASH facilitators at Brenderup Folk High School walked us through one of their sustainable housing projects. This was architectural design at its rawest (amateur) form. In contrast, the designs that were featured in Living Architecture were all made by world-renowned architects... but they have similar objectives.

Many of the architectural works featured in the exhibit shows how modern architectural philosophies are trying to take over what has been manufactured by older philosophies. For instance, music halls are no longer just buildings with beautiful acoustics. The Harbin and the Sydney Opera Houses feature stunning architectural details both inside and outside. Churches incorporate wood and stone into the design and let natural light shine in. View decks exchange rooftops for open spaces so that they can better blend into the stunning surroundings.

To me, the featured architects are trying to find artistic expression and to break away from the cookie cutter style of designing buildings. Are they following the grand masters (albeit unknown to me) who have left us the classics, both in European and in Asian traditions? I'm not sure. Only time will tell. 

But one thing's for sure: their creations are stunning and interesting to see. And I've only seen many of them in photos. I think I've only seen the Sydney Opera House and the Singapore Super Trees in person.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

a BLUE dinner

My friends have a knack for discovering new restaurants in the vicinity and sometimes invite me to eat there with them. For this occasion, Krishna and Ate Mary asked me to join them for dinner at Blue, a Korean restaurant that I can't believe I didn't even notice when I traverse the route to and from IRRI

I was quite curious as I parked in front of Blue Hotel and Resort because the name of the place is still Korean House. I was also wondering if the food here is comparable with Seoul Kitchen.

The entrance to the restaurant was impressive. After parking our cars, we were faced with a set of stairs which led to a space surrounded by glass... the warm lighting definitely helped get me excited about the food.

Once inside, however, I was struck by the mismatch of the decor with the cuisine being served. The furniture suggested that we were in a restaurant that serves tea and crumpets. It was enough to get me confused... we were ordering Korean dishes after all.

Photo by Krishna
When the food came, we were happily surprised that we could get vegetable refills as many times as we wanted and that we didn't need to because the first serving had a big portion of veggies already. The pork we ordered was also delicious. 

Although the food was good, I was still disconcerted by the surroundings. This made me realise why restaurants really take ambiance and choice of flatware and silverware into consideration: mismatch can lead to lost appetites and non-returning clients. To me, therefore, Blue still needs to come into its own. That is, the restaurant management needs to figure out what experience it wants to convey to its customers; it can't be just good food after all. 

I'd probably return. But I'll wait until the restaurant matures, I think. Until then, I'll find my weekly Korean cuisine fix elsewhere.

Monday, September 4, 2017

lunching on Green Pastures

My trip to Denmark has accustomed me to eating salads. So fresh from UNLEASH, Anna and I went to Green Pastures (by Chef Robby Goco) in Eastwood at lunch to eat more greens.

We started off with veggie tapas (I just learned that there's such a thing!) and then proceeded with what the restaurant calls "Terra Natura", a salad composed of beets, quinoa, squash, and kale. Because the vegetables were quite filling, I had difficulty eating our main course, a pork roast called "Porchetta". This one, Anna brought back with her at the condo she's renting so that she has something to munch on during her last week at Eastwood (she's wrapping up her life in Manila to move to Bay Area).

And I guess this is why we had to have a nice lunch where the afternoon sun perfectly hits our food for a good photo. It's probably the last weekend we'll have out here in a long time, after four years of occasionally picking her up in Eastwood or meeting her in Greenbelt on Saturdays so she could hitch a ride going home... and the rarer drop off at her condo on Sundays.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Nikos' birthday party at Souv

I've seen Chef Robby Goco's Instagram posts about his new Greek restaurant Souv! by Cyma. The food pics all looked yummy and I wanted to try them. So one evening, I was so happy that Nikos chose this restaurant as our next dinner destination. What made this dinner special was that we were celebrating his birthday (which is a few days?weeks? back... I don't know; I don't think Val knows either). 

I'm not sure about the names of the food we ordered because they all sounded Greek to me. All of them were delicious! I remember that we've had lamb cooked in oil with orzo, a type of pasta that has been cut to resemble huge rice grains. Then there were kebabs and a stuffed bell pepper. And I just had to order my fave beverage at the moment, of course: sparkling water. It's a drink that I'll forever associate with Zürich because that's where I first had it. 

A feast to celebrate a special day, definitely. Val and I just forgot a tiny detail: Nikos received neither a birthday cake nor birthday noodles. Next time; there will always be a next time.

Saturday, August 26, 2017


Anna, once again, wanted to eat masarap. After a bit of searching on Google, we went to a restaurant called Foo'd (by Davide Oldani) at the Bonifacio Global City. Apparently, we hit a gold mine in this restaurant because it features fusion cuisine. It mixes European cuisine with the freshest ingredients available in the Philippines to create what Chef Oldani calls cucina pop, for everyone).

I like this concept because it means that access to high-quality food is not limited to the elite. The rest of the populace can afford to eat such good food in such lofty spaces without breaking their wallets and without keeping up with the Joneses.

Anna and I decided to go for the five-course tasting menu each. However, because of my food allergies, I had the signature tasting menu (no allergens!!) while Anna had the regular tasting menu (peppered with squid and anchovies).

I wholly enjoyed eating each of the five courses included in my tasting menu. And thanks to the chef who personally went to our table to explain the food that we were eating... though I don't remember everything she said. I only remembered the highlights.

For instance, I opened my meal with cipolla caramellata, which contains caramelised onions served with mild cheese (grana padano).  Then, I dug into two courses (I forgot their names) that had two different caviar-looking materials; the first dish had tapioca balls made to look like caviar (hence, these are actually sago) and the second dish had real caviar (from trout). These two might look alike but highly distinguishable texture- and taste-wise. It was very fascinating... the wonders of food science.

The restaurant's cozy ambiance and the friendliness of the staff made for a warm dining experience. While Anna and I were eating our desserts, we concluded that we'll bring our parents, Biboy, and Barbara here when they come for a visit. 

We shall return!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Human Nature

ARoS is the largest art museum in Denmark and I wasn't able to tour the place! But that's because I was busy with UNLEASH networking with participants in the same region... but at least this activity happened inside an art gallery. I'll take that as a consolation.

The participants were assigned galleries for meet-ups based on their continent. Uhm... Asia is the largest continent in the planet. There's no way we could properly network post-UNLEASH if the region wasn't subdivided. 

Stop complaining, I thought to myself; the poster did indicate that Asia has been subdivided into three groups: Asia, Middle East, and East Pacific Asia (only that East Pacific Asia now also includes Oceania).

Interesting choice of venue for Asians (I was included in Asia, not in East Pacific Asia). We were assigned to the gallery containing the exhibit called "Human Nature", which, according to the introduction, is all about focusing on what is true throughout time rather than what changes over the passage. 

I have three favourites among the paintings selected for the exhibit. Unfortunately, I didn't take note of the artists. And for some reason, all of them, at least in my interpretation, expressed women waiting. Do these paintings show that women tend to wait at the sidelines while men make the world go round? Or are they about patiently biding their time until their opportunities for growth arise?

It brought me pause, which is a good thing, because that's how I bumped into a fellow Pinay who participated in UNLEASH. She works at the water company Maynilad and was assigned to the water theme in UNLEASH. We first met during the opening program, of course, but seeing her again was good... finally, I could speak in Filipino again after 10 days of only speaking in English (not that I minded too much, it's much easier than missing rice).

Because the time in ARoS was short, I didn't get to see the other exhibits. This is still in my bucket list for when I find myself again in Denmark. Definitely.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

and that's a wrap, #UNLEASHLAB2017

All good things must come to an end, including UNLEASH. The organisers made sure that we had a lot of good stories and experiences to bring home, and so the closing ceremony was nothing short of a bang.

First off, we were herded to the grounds of ARoS where we were invited in to listen to discussions on the SDGs and how different countries are trying address these goals at the UNLEASH festival. The participants were there together with representatives of youth groups in Denmark. This discussion was informative for people who haven't been immersed in SDGs and problem framing for the past 10 days. For me, however, it was the same thing I've been hearing since we've started in Copenhagen. I thought that I was alone in this but the other participants also decided to step out of the discussion and roam around and see the exhibits on the other side of the lawn.

I guess we were also antsy because we have been stuck indoors for several days already. It was high time that we had a look around the shelters that were set up. I was with Brenderup friends Raul (Spain), Solomon (Zimbabwe), and Valeria (Ecuador). As usual, I just had to be the shortest of the lot... my sneakers did not help at all! 

After visiting the United Nations' shelter (with Raul giving the personal tour), we saw that the Crown Princess of Denmark, Mary, was also roaming the grounds with Flemming Besenbacher, Chairman of the Carlsberg Foundation and UNLEASH organiser.

I am amazed that she isn't the type of royal who is hounded rabidly by the media (unlike the UK royal family)... otherwise, I wouldn't be able to stand this close to her. I'm sure that the other royals also work really hard for their subject. The princess of Thailand also is a down-to-earth woman; that's what we learned when she visited IRRI's Grain Quality lab. She is a royal but she's also not merely a celebrity. These two examples of royals (whom I have seen up close) really demystify what real princesses are... yes, and in Denmark, of all places! They are definitely not the damsels in distress who are always shown in Disney fairy tales.

Anyway, after Princess Mary had toured the shelters, it was time to proceed to the Musikhuset for the closing program of UNLEASH. As always, the event was hosted by Gaurav. 

For a lot of the audience members, the highlight of the program was the appearance of Ashton Kutcher. I have always thought that he's just a comedian in movies. However, he holds a more impressive CV than that: he is an investor in cutting-edge companies and he really knows his science and technology (although he never shed his comedian persona onstage). 

For me, the highlight of the show was the speech of Salman Khan, of Khan Academy (a non-profit educational organisation which develops online learning platforms). His speech was both hilarious and though-provoking; it was inspiring and motivating. So while these guys and a few other speakers got people excited, I thought to myself, what have I been doing in my life? These people have been helping others for so long and yet I'm only a lab rat. It's the imposter syndrome running again, I thought. 

Nevertheless, imposter or not, I was with a thousand SDG talents trying to find solutions to address the sustainable development goals of the United Nations. I may not have as much impact now as the social workers and the doctors who work directly with stakeholders but I contribute in my small way to make rice tastier and healthier, one rice tasting session at a time.