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.