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Showing posts from February, 2018

Speaking at the APAIR NatCon 2018

One afternoon, I received an email from the DG's Office requesting me to sub for Matthew at a conference at the Ateneo de Manila University... I had to talk about sustainability in development. Wow, this appears to be my first speaking assignment as part of the Sustainable Impact Platform. I gladly accepted because one of the things I want to do is to encourage students to take up the sciences... and because I used to teach at the ADMU.
On the day itself, I was told that the attendees were mostly in senior and junior high school and in college. My session's audience was supposed to be a mix of students interested in humanitarian and environmental topics. I thought that that was cool. After all, I taught Biotechnology for non-Biology majors.
My topic was entitled "Ensuring sustainability through rice research for development in the Philippines". I opted to feature IRRI's work in collaboration and with funding from the Philippines' Department of Agriculture, s…

social discourse and the Black Panther (2018)

I've seen most of the Marvel movies to date (with the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy); hence, I am quite attached to the characters from the first three trilogies. It's difficult to be introduced to yet another set of candidate movies, except of course, to those closely linked with the core group... like Doctor Strange.

So when the hype was getting picked up for Black Panther, I was interested but I wasn't enthusiastic. When I sat in the theatre, I thought that I'd be in for another roller coaster ride through New York, with aliens fighting superhumans. But no. The setting was Africa, in a fictitious third world country called Wakanda.

As the movie progressed, I realised why it was such a hit to moviegoers. It's a film with actors mostly having African descent. Many looked like they are already of mixed race, but still, they are still very much dark-skinned. The white males in the movie, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman, reminded me of the Lord of the Rings, a…

The Shape of Water (2017)

Liquid water takes on the shape of the vessel containing it. Because liquid water flows in such a way that it is ever changing and fills spaces, it has been considered to be an apt metaphor to describe love... particularly in the face of discrimination. Guillermo del Toro, the director of the movie, chose this metaphor to weave the love story between a mute cleaning lady in a secret research facility and a male merman-like creature. It was set in the 1960s, when the race to space was hot between the Russians and the Americans; when the USA was segregated by colour (and homosexuality was taboo); when women took on menial jobs in research facilities. The woman fell in love with the merman because it did not recognise her handicap. The merman responded to her generosity and kindness. Ranking military men who were Caucasian were portrayed as intolerant to creatures who looked different from them; who didn't care about the plight of others; who valued output delivery over humanity.

Dining with a bonafide foodie

On the long drive south from the Ateneo de Manila University, Neil started sharing stories about dining in some of the world's best restaurants... those that I could only dream of going. We thought that we could eat at Vask, which was closed so we decided to drive further south, to the Black Pig
It was an interesting experience, eating with a bonafide foodie. He was quite particular with where the vegetables were sourced, for instance. He tasted bitter flavours in the cauliflower, which prompted him to ask where the cauliflowers were sourced. He told me that local cauliflowers were bitter; those from Japan were sweet; US cauliflower tasted "industrial". He also was into beef. Apparently, Kobe beef came in grades; he was willing to pay for the most expensive grades and cuts when he was in Japan. He also bought exorbitantly priced fruit while in Japan: he was willing to shell out $200 each for a melon, a box of cherries, and an apple. He shared stories about the differe…

Farewell, Dr Juliano

Dr Bienvenido Juliano used to lead the lab where I work in when it was still called the Cereal Chemistry Lab. I didn't have the honour to be mentored by Dr Juliano, who was a National Scientist and was in the first elite group of scientists who set the direction for the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
Though he was no longer in IRRI (he had left before I started in the Grain Quality and Nutrition Centre), he continued to be an influential scientist in the field of cereal chemistry. He used to ask formidable questions in seminars tackling rice chemistry issues; his challenges normally drawn from 32 years of research in IRRI. Listening to him talk made me realise how little I know in the field... humbling occasions, definitely.

He was the rice grain quality expert in the Philippines. Anybody else claiming that title has yet to match his level of knowledge and experience... or is bordering on quixotic.
And now, Dr Juliano is gone. He passed away this week, leaving behi…

Vask Tapas Room is CLOSED!!

I was bragging to my foodie former colleague at the Ateneo, Neil, that one of my favourite restaurants in the Metro is the Vask Tapas Room. He wanted to try Gallery Vask because it is in Asia's Top 50. But because our plan wasn't hatched properly (and our wallets weren't ready for the degustation menu), we agreed on going to the Tapas Room instead.

When we arrived at the building, the guard told us that Gallery Vask is closed. I thought that this was because of a private event, but the guard said that it's because the restaurant is currently being renovated. And the Tapas Room? Also closed.

Then I received a message from Cara that Gallery Vask is indeed closed for renovation. But I was shocked to learn from her that the Tapas Room is already closed... for good. And then I saw this post on the restaurant's Instagram feed:

A post shared by Gallery VASK (@galleryvask) on Jan 22, 2018 at 10:16pm PST
My wallet gave a figurative sigh of relief... it has few more months t…

tapas for the Lunar New Year, why not?

My 2018 started off with tikoy, so why not make the real Lunar New Year, ushering in the Year of the Dog, have an international flavour by eating tapas?
No, not the Filipino tapa, which is a form of beef jerky. I mean Spanish tapas... the likes of which I love so much that I go to the Vask Tapas Bar and to the Black Pig for my occasional fix. I thought that this time I could make some DIY tapas because I have Phaidon's The Book of Tapas now... I could widen the repertoire of dishes I could prepare (so I don't have to resort to sinigang all the time).
The two tapas I chose to try preparing were mushroom and olive salad and rice with tomato, bell pepper, and pork loin. They prove to be easy to prepare; but because it's my first try at Spanish cuisine, I found the cooking method to be quite distinct from what I learned growing up. For instance, in Filipino cuisine, we typically sauté onions and garlic before we add the rest of the ingredients. But for the dishes I prepared, t…

Reflecting on Science Week 2018

Each year, IRRI schedules a week in which scientists can listen in for a week of presentations regarding the achievements of different groups from the past year and to discuss future activities in front their peers.
This year, however, what we used to call GRISP Science Forum and Common Week, had topics that focused more inwardly and was aptly called IRRI Science Week. For the past year, IRRI has undergone major changes. Management promised that the change process would be "muddy", asking all staff to be involved in the process wholeheartedly. This year, it was like a check-in with staff to see how the change process has been faring... hopefully, the mud has settled quite a bit and people could get some clarity.
First off, there were movements of laboratories from one building to another. I was expecting that my group would be relocated from Hemmi Building, but so far, we haven't budged. Then, there were staff reassignments: some staff were going to be out-posted to cou…

my first circumnavigation around the Earth (by plane)

The last time I tried to something crazy with my annual US pilgrimage route, I chose to experience the Island Hopper route across the Pacific Ocean which was offered by United Airlines. That was two years ago. I was thinking of how to top that adventure for several months now and then I decided that I'd do something bigger: travel around the world (literally). I had to choose destinations (at the continent level) that I haven't been to before and flight deals that won't break the bank. That means that Europe was off my list because I was just in Denmark for UNLEASH. And that left me with the continent I have never been to in my entire life.
The Dora the Explorer in me was excited!
So for this trip, I was doing this route via Cathay Pacific, Ethiopian Airlines, and United Airlines (Expedia made the search for the combinations convenient and the flight options on the affordable end):
Manila–Hong Kong–Addis Ababa–Lomé–Cotonou–Newark–San Francisco–Hong Kong–Manila
My …

evening walk at the Martinez shoreline

While waiting for Mommy to finish up at the office, Daddy, Anna, and I trooped to the Martinez Regional Shoreline. Anna wanted to try the longboard, Daddy wanted to walk, and I wanted to take photos of the wildlife. 
We arrived just as the sun was setting. This meant that flocks of birds were gathering at the duck pond or were finding sleeping spots in nearby trees. Other people were there too; most of them were walking their dogs. One of the dogs even approached me while I was figuring out how to take a photo of early spring blossoms, taking me by surprise. 

American art at the de Young Museum

The de Young Museum is one of the biggest fine arts museum I have ever seen. I felt that compared to the Ayala Museum, the de Young Museum is practically sprawling. One collection that blew me away contained the paintings from the Impressionism and the Realism schools.

My absolute favourite among the paintings is the one featuring rainbows above a tropical valley. I learned that this painting, entitled "Rainy Season in the Tropics", is by Frederic Edwin Church. It's such a showstopper because it fully captured the iridescence of the rainbow and the vibrance of the tropical landscape while raining.

The tropical feel is further enhanced by a zoom-in into the forest. The painting below is of a flower and a hummingbird sitting nearby. I didn't take note of the artist, unfortunately. What I like about the painting is the vividness of the colours in the flower and in the hummingbird, compared with the rest of the painting. 

This sunset painting was created by someone in w…

African art at the de Young Museum

After the brief art "tour" of ancient Mexico and the African American south, it was time to visit the galleries containing the collections from the African continent. What struck me in the art pieces here is the sense of calm amid the dynamism in them... I didn't feel the anger and the confusion that emanated from African American pieces. Perhaps it's because I was looking at modern art by African Americans and at what could be considered as antiques in the African collection.

The tiny pieces seemed to depict everyday activities in West Africa (these came from Ghana, if my memory serves me well). I have to admit, however, that these are not as pretty as the pieces that we received for Christmas, also from West Africa. There is a common aspect, though: the human-like figures were elongated. I'm not sure what that means yet. I think I need to dig a bit deeper into the symbolism used by the artisans.

A relief figure on a plate has a lot of intricate details on its …

#RevelationsArt @deyoungmuseum

After visiting the Mexican collection, we continued exploring the art collection in the de Young Museum. Up next was one called Revelations: Art from the African American South. This exhibit featured the works of African American artists from southern USA. While walking through the exhibit, I noticed that the artists weren't just documenting what they or their ancestors have gone through in the Americas. They were also reaching back to their African roots... trying to express the suffering their ancestors experienced, forcibly being moved across the Atlantic Ocean. There were a lot of reds and blacks, which (to me) symbolised pain and anger. I also felt that there was a sense of being lost, floating, taking on whatever hits them head on... overall, I thought I was looking at expressions of a strong people adapting and thriving in a world they were thrust into.

I found it fascinating that the African American artists featured in Revelations had very distinct style and messages com…

hanami in San Francisco

Though hanami typically refers to the sakura (cherry) and to the ume (plum) trees in Japan, I learned that it really is about the appreciating the fleeting beauty of flowers. These colourful blossoms typically signal the arrival of spring; otherwise, the plants look gloomy... like the rose bushes in Oakland, which we had visited many winters ago.
This year, I was with Anna and Vernon, exploring the Golden Gate Park when we started noticing patches of pinks, yellows, and oranges livening the otherwise green landscape near the Conservatory of Flowers. Quite frankly, I was excited to see these because it would be my first time to catch early spring in California. Also, who wouldn't be happy to see these while the skies threatened to dump rain on us, right?

learning about ancient Mexican art at the de Young Museum

What I know about Mexico's history is quite limited. I know that the Spaniards went there and established the Viceroyalty of New Spain, with Acapulco being its main port facing the Pacific Ocean. This was one end of the Spanish Empire's Galleon Trade... the other end was in Manila.
When I noticed this sign outside the de Young Museum, I asked Anna and Vernon if this was an acceptable place to while the afternoon away if, indeed, the rain poured as forecasted. Turns out that the museum features a vast collection of fine art. The first of the exhibits we went off to see was the collection of pre-Hispanic artwork from Teotihuacan.

Based on the sketches of numerous pyramids that had complex structures, it appeared to me that the civilisation living in Teotihuacan must have had a very complex social system. Since we didn't take the guided tour, we just walked around to look at the artefacts. Anna and Vernon had a field day taking photos too.

Archeologists found beads that appe…