Monday, May 29, 2017

Learning history at the Aquino Museum

Ninoy Aquino is one of those heroes who made people unite for one cause. In Jose Rizal's day, his death sparked the anger of Filipinos leading to the Spanish-Filipino War. In Ninoy's case, his death brought the downfall of President Ferdinand Marcos, who had declared martial law in the country and ruled for 20 years. People had had enough of Marcos' questionable actions and alleged election rigging that they marched on EDSA, catapulting Ninoy's widow, Cory, to the presidency.

I remember the EDSA revolution, not because I was there, but because I was at home on a school day and the rest of my family were at home too. My brother was walking around the house wearing a large yellow shirt with Ninoy's face printed on it (it was too big because my brother was just a toddler then). That's about it. My cousins were on EDSA, of course.

Three decades later, we went to the Aquino Museum in Tarlac to see that period in Philippine history based on how the family and its supporters see it. While Aquinos are still active politically, I am happy to hear that members of the family usually drop by and do tours for visitors... even the late Cory Aquino herself.

Another history adventure for the fambam... as Mommy's vacation in the Philippines drew to a close. Where our feet lead us next, who knows?

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.