Friday, November 28, 2008

At The Movies: Marathon Video Buffet

Last weekend I enjoyed Nacho Libre A LOT. The Mexican luchador culture is so iconic, it's like Kung Fu Hustle spoofing Chinese gangster and martial arts films. There is something so hilarious about this production, I suppose it's because it's quite close to Pinoy humor, only with better production values. (And I don't think Pinoy film comedy as it is can quite maintain a similar parodic atmosphere that long; at a certain point it will degenerate into some tired and lame gimmick because of budget constraints or in case the humor flies over the heads of the mass audience.) Jack Black is mucho funny and charming, and to date I've enjoyed all his movies. Oh, and he sings very well too.

I go through long periods where I don't watch videos or even tv series. When I do, I usually watch them in a marathon session when I'm in the mood. Because I'd been feeling a bit contrary and in the mood for something oddball and European, I recently ventured again into Pedro Almodovar country. A friend very kindly lent me some original dvds, with excellent English subtitles. [The first Almodovar movie I ever watched was Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, and that was where I saw Antonio Banderas for the very first time. I enjoyed it tremendously, but foreign films were not easy to get hold of at the time (mid-90s).] This time it was Dark Habits, What Have I Done To Deserve This? and All About My Mother. Yes, I watched all three in one night after having an early dinner.

The first is about a bunch of nuns with peculiar tastes, whose order is about to close their convent, resulting in a comedy of errors. As with most Almodovar films you have to watch it to appreciate just how peculiar the nuns are. The mother superior is obsessive and keeps scandalous secrets, most of which are her own. One nun is a reformed murderess who finds God in literal mortification (if you get a copy of this film CHECK OUT HER BED!). Ok, I have to stop there, because the characters ARE the story. The movie is entertaining, dark and and slyly funny, with very deadpan dialogue. The kitschy visuals add a layer of irony (it shows a very bad, yet AUTHENTIC, version of 80s music, hairstyles and fashion it's hilarious), and despite knowing how much of a farce the whole movie is, you feel some empathy for every character. Almodovar does love his politically incorrect,counter-culture characters. While he depicts, for instance, a drug addict's macho attitude towards a beaten-down prostitute, he manages to poke fun at the viewer with comic dialogue, as in "There, but for the grace of God, go you."

The second movie is about an overworked housewife struggling to make ends meet by working as a cleaning lady. There is a motley crew of ensemble characters that affect her life: a cabbie husband who loves singing German opera, an aging mother-in-law not quite all there, a macho policeman who can't get it up, a green lizard... I have to stop there, too. From the title you can guess what trials the poor woman has to go through through no fault of her own, but just when you think it will get worse, situations become more and more ridiculous, making you wonder whether to laugh or cry. You end up really rooting for the heroine! (It's not depressing, I promise. The lizard adds so much to the narrative.)

Now we come to the best of them all. Yes, All About My Mother is the Oscar-winning female bonding movie with Penelope Cruz in it, but she's not the title character. That honor goes to the little-known but very talented Cecilia Roth, whose acting really affected me and made me cry. She plays a selfless nurse set adrift by personal loss, and who finds herself a family, just not the kind you expect. The events leading to Penelope's character's condition are so strange it could only happen in Spain. You have to watch it to see the story unfold. But the breakout character here is played by Antonia San Juan, "La Agrado" (the Agreeable One), an irrepressibly cheeky transgendered prostitute who dreams of finding glory onstage. You have to watch this (I said that before, didn't I?). It's probably not a guy type of movie to watch, but the story is so good let's not compartmentalize what guys would find interesting to watch or not. It's tragic, it's funny, it's so odd and entertaining it will make you think. It's quirky foreign language cinema at its best. Almodovar has made movies with far stranger premises, so if you're going to watch one of his movies for the first time, let it be this. You'll understand why he has developed a cult following.

Next on my Almodovar list for tonight: Women On The Verge of A Nervous Breakdown.

Coming soon to my Must-Watch List: Can't remember the title, but it looks like a sequel to Shaolin Soccer? I saw the trailer before the screening of Twilight.

At The Movies: Twilight

Let's get this out of the way: I've already watched Twilight, and while Rob Pattinson is hot, the movie is just okay. Yes, I watched the first show on the first day. I didn't relish having to watch it on a weekend surrounded by noisy teens. While at the Shangri-la mall cinema lobby waiting for Joy and Tristan to arrive from True Value I felt like I were waiting for my teenage daughter to come out of the toilet with shining eyes. (Except of course I have no teenage daughter, and if I had one I'd tell her to just borrow the book and spend her book money on Neil Gaiman instead, or even a Moleskine.) And there WERE lots of swooning teens. Boys, girls, gays.

You should have heard the collective sighs, gasps and titterings in the audience. Oddly, instead of being irritated, it made me smile a bit. These kids hold so much hope for romance to triumph over the moral dilemma of un-death! You know how kids are: they like appearing simultaneously fragile and yet impervious to harm. (I secretly think it's us adults who are the more fragile, sometimes, because we have to take a lot of things seriously. I can't make fun of teens watching Twilight, I went to see Nights In Rodanthe with the same glazed look in my eyes.)

I suppose you don't need to be in the rainy wilds of Washington or Alaska to dig the vampire scene. According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer there is a Twilight Coven Philippines. Hey, don't you knock cosplay. Apart from enthusiasm, imagination and attitude all you may need are some disposable hazel contacts, a regular wash with Vicki Belo Whitening Soap, a nice berry lipstain from Watsons and a regular trip to the market for your fresh dinuguan fix. Don't forget the ultimate accessory, some gangly dude with ostrich lashes and Bench hair gel so young he can't remember Robert Smith of The Cure, plain egg whites and black nailpolish the first time around. Then you can practice clinging onto his back while he tries to work out at the wall-climbing corner of the gym...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Food Drama (Edible Sculpture)



Thanks to Dark Roasted Blend and Wacky Archives for this witty piece of art! DRB is a favorite daily read; please click on the links to view other similar images.

Still more in the same vein: Strange Food Special and the Tasty Art of Chocolate and Candy.

Writers' Idea Bank

I was playing around with Google Themes yesterday, and among the gadgets you could add to your iGoogle personal page was the Writer's Idea Bank. ModeRoom makes Google-exclusive gadgets, another of which is Daily Literary Quotes, which you'll see in the same link. I added both to my page.

Here's a screenshot of Writer's Idea Bank (click on the image to see a larger version):



Every time you return to your iGoogle page the story idea changes.

Here's one of Daily Literary Quotes:



Today's Goethe quote is spot-on! I haven't really used the Idea Bank much, but the randomness of the ideas are quirky and amuse me. One day they might really come in handy. I sent the links via email to a couple of friends, I hope they haven't ended up in their spam folders.

Worth a look. Oh, and by the way, have you chosen a theme for your Gmail yet?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Disco Saves The Day

As Christmas approaches I check my emails and networks each morning and feel that twinge of mixed worry and defiance.

I occasionally worry, because the world financial situation has made the leap off the newspaper page and finally landed on everyone's backs, like the weight of that vengeful dead girl from the movie "Shutter". One friend plurked this very morning about how bad news (redundancies and the like) keeps rolling in. While he isn't in line for redundancy himself, of course he feels bad for those faceless numbers who are. Another friend just sent in his resignation letter, and will try for work in Singapore or New Zealand. In Facebook a couple of days ago a very nationalistic artist friend of mine asked how she could find a job possibly teaching in Australia. I couldn't help; I'd left that land behind to stay where I feel reasonably happy.

I feel defiant, because life goes on. For a lot of Pinoys if you can still maintain a prepaid mobile phone account,you will still call your friends over to pass the hat for that impromptu backyard party involving some pancit, fried chicken, pork barbecue, Coca-Cola / San Miguel Beer. Comfort food. Each will grouse about how hard times are getting, but everyone feels the camaraderie and know you'll all weather it together.

ABBA: "I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay,/Ain't it sad/And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me,/That's too bad..."

Yesterday on behalf of our alumni batch I had to make a big check for our graduating high school scholar due Friday. Not my money, but I realized how small the scholarships suddenly became after the events this year. We thought we could afford two scholars, but after checking out how real life living expenses jacked up, we decided to prioritize our single scholar's needs. To graduate and not be able to attend one's graduation ceremony because one didn't have money for new clothes and shoes would be such a shame! Our class president suggested a new yearly budget per scholar to the scholarship foundation, one that reflected the times better. (The foundation mandated an across-the-board contribution rate per scholar for all alumni groups to make things more democratic, but it hadn't been increased in a while.)

Then this morning I was suddenly confronted by an emergency that required me to muster up an unplanned cash withdrawal by Friday. Not for me, but for people who depend on that amount to get through five days. Let's say a group couldn't come up with the cash on time, but could not afford to cancel the project. I knew I'd had too much coffee, because I started getting that feeling in the pit of my stomach again. You know the kind, it begins as low-level stress that either turns productive or becomes the downward spiral. I couldn't let the latter happen. Times like these, you need not Juicy Fruit gum, but MUSIC.

Madonna: "Music... makes the people... come together... Yeah!!!"

I was very happy when I came across my friend Jopet's music folder, and found a copy of his cd "ABBA Live". I turned up the speakers. I smiled to myself. Oh yeah, "Mamma Mia" all over again. It's perky, it's fun, I know most of the words, nothing like it to drive the blues away. This is one of the times when it is PERFECT for the occasion. This, and Madonna's "Confessions On A Dance Floor" album (which uses the intro tracks from ABBA's "Gimme Gimme Gimme"!) It's weird, but I could work while singing out loud (home office, dudes), sashaying to the filing cabinet and back. I even managed to type up this blog entry, and another report without accidentally typing the lyrics as I was playing backup singer. Wonders will never cease.

Most of the time I'm an alternative-bluesy-rocky girl when it comes to music, but there are times when DISCO SAVES THE DAY!!! Disco, and Broadway, and the soundtracks of Disney movies!!!

By the way, if like me you need to lift your spirits once in a while, "ABBA Live" is a remastered concert cd containing most of the hits you loved in "Mamma Mia". It is not a soundtrack of that movie, although yes, Meryl Streep sang very well there. Jopet asked me to convert the tracks in "ABBA Live" and their other digitally remastered albums "The Visitors" and "Voulez-Vous" to mp3 so I could transfer it to his Nokia N95. Good thing I forgot about it! It stayed in this machine!

There's something about listening to ABBA that restores your sense of humor. I can't get the image of Julie Walters singing "Take A Chance On Me" in the movie out of my head -- that woman is hilarious! Brings out one's Inner Drag Queen!

ABBA: "Super Trouper beams are gonna blind me/ But I won't feel blue/ Like I always do/ 'Cause somewhere in the crowd there's you..."

Oh look. The workday is almost over. Yay!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Manong Jim

A Tribute to
JEMMIE C. PEREZ
(1926-2008)
By my dad PEC

Manong Jim “kicked the bucket” at the ripe old age of 82. I mourn his passing but rejoice in the happy memories I hold of him.

I’ve known Manong Jim practically all my life. At 68 my memory now sometimes fails me, like when I cannot recall the name of a friend I wanted to introduce to another in a chance meeting. Embarrassing! But it is also reassuring and comforting that I can recall very clearly some memories of childhood, bits and glimpses of my life happily stored in my mind.

My first conscious knowledge of Manong Jim was of being carried on his back as a little boy. My family and our cousins, the Perezes, evacuated during the night from our home in Tuding (Itogon) at the outbreak of World War II. The Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and later took over Camp John Hay in Baguio. Our families found sanctuary in a secluded and abandoned mine adit of Baguio Gold, near a brook nestled in the mountains in a place called Rino. Manong Jim, then a teenager at 15, was the oldest in the brood. With my eldest brother Manong Boy (Emilio Frank), who was then 12, Manong Jim looked after the younger children until we got back to our homes.

I remember eating boiled kamote for most of my meals as a child. Later I was happily surprised to see and taste crackers, chocolates, corned beef, sardines and raisins that were air-dropped in parachutes by the American Forces as the tide of war changed. The Japanese surrendered, and I can picture clearly the long line of defeated and wounded Japanese soldiers, struggling as they marched in retreat away from Itogon.

Manong Jim would later tell me of a friendly Japanese soldier, a good Samaritan who shared some food supplies with him even before the Americans came to liberate us. The war ended in 1946, and I have no recollection of Manong Jim or his activities for several years until after I finished elementary school.

He worked as an expatriate in Guam for several years. At the time my family and the Perezes shared homes in Hogan’s Alley (now the Court of Appeals Summer Homes), and later in New Lukban, near Trancoville. When Manong Jim returned, the Perezes had reestablished residence in Tuding. Meanwhile, my father acquired a small house for our family in Pacdal sometime in 1949.

Tuding had its allure for me and my childhood playmates, Tony (“Oning”) and Joe (“Uti”), what with the rolling hills and steep slopes and valleys which opened up to fantastic views of the Cordillera where several gold mines were operating. Atok, Antamok and Sangilo were in the south, Balatoc and Acupan in the southwest, and Baguio Gold in the northeast. Pine trees were everywhere. There was an explosion of sunflowers, bougainvilleas and other flowering plants and fruit trees. Butterflies, birds and other insects could easily be found flying everywhere. Tuding was a vast playground and a secret garden to get lost in. My friends and I felt like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as we hunted for birds’ nests, spiders and frogs.

I remember the grove of coffee trees in the back yard which bore a lot of fruit in the summer. The kids would all help in the harvest and enjoyed getting a “high” from tasting ripe red coffee beans and spitting the seeds into pails to gather them. The coffee beans were later dried in the sun, and when they were roasted you could smell the rich, intoxicating aroma of coffee ready to be ground and brewed.

From his sojourn in Guam, Manong Jim brought home to Tuding a slide projector and hundreds of color slides, then a state-of-the-art marvel for me and all the kids in the village. We would watch for hours, over and over, beautiful pictures of Hawaii – its scenic spots, the images of lush, green vegetation, pineapple plantations, Hawaiian hula dancers with their colorful leis and flowers. The ones of erupting volcanoes were particularly awesome. Another set of color slides depicted the Royal Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952, the first time I saw pictures of London, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. Manong Jim’s accompanying narration made the glory of England’s pageantry and historical tradition come alive for me as the slideshow played.

My love of books was inspired by my older sisters, but it was Manong Jim and the Perez brood who created a circulating exchange library of children’s books. We began with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys mysteries, and soon graduated to books by Erle Stanley Gardner, Treasure Island, The Count of Monte Cristo and countless other books as we grew older.

One summer during a high school break I stayed in Tuding with Manong Jim and the Perez boys, who had built a garage-cum-apartment unit on one side of the compound. On the upper slope beyond the grove of pine trees, we busied ourselves digging and transporting lime the whole summer. We learned how to produce hollow blocks by the hundreds. I remember the lavender color and pink stains of red ferric oxide on the lime we mined and screened, which gave a distinctive color to the Tuding-made hollow blocks, later used to build the fence around the house in Pacdal. Working during the day was tiresome but lots of fun. At night we would have a bonfire and barbecue some pork for supper. This would be followed by a continuing nightly Scrabble tournament with Manong Jim, Tony, Joe and Oscar (our Perez cousin from Anitao, Nueva Vizcaya). We tallied our Scrabble scores all summer and really enjoyed the camaraderie of boys living together like in a high school dormitory. It was a good preparation for college life in Manila.

Manong Jim acquired his own jeep for private hire. This was his mode of earning a reasonable income which also afforded him ample time for reading books or doing crossword puzzles in between shuttle trips for varied customers. If I recall correctly, Manang Nena was his Number One customer. I guess they got used to seeing each other every day. Manang Nena, being a widow, and Manong Jim, a happily independent bachelor, decided to live together. This would go on for 44 years!

In my high school days, I was drawn to Manong Jim, enjoying rides in his jeep for quick runs to Camp John Hay to borrow books from the Library where Manang Estella was the Librarian. Oh, what a wonderful and serendipitous life!

One lazy summer Manong Jim and I traveled a long distance in his jeep, to Masinloc, Zambales, to visit Auntie Andra whose husband was then the Oil Depot Manager of ESSO. They lived in a beautiful staff cottage by the seashore where the oil storage complex was situated. There was a wharf and a pier where it was my first time to try hook and line fishing by the sea (a far cry from my catching jojo eel with my bare hands in the brook by our house in Pacdal), and later gather clams and seashells at the shore. I remember a lot of coconuts and papaya trees in their back yard. We had plenty of seafood and fresh fruits every day, and enjoyed siestas in a hammock with the sea breeze lulling me to sleep. It was an idyllic week which I can never forget.

I was barely 18 when Papa died after lying in a coma at the Baguio General Hospital. I had to take a break from school at UP Diliman, to come home and console with the family and personally look into funeral arrangements. Choosing a funeral parlor and a coffin was strange and disconcerting, not to mention the grief of losing one’s father. Had it not been for Manong Jim who was at my side to support me in my role as “padre de familia” of the hour, I would have been lost and scared. Instead it became a learning experience in meeting life’s realities.

After college I joined a company where my job afforded me the opportunity to travel to the mines. At times I would drop by Tuding to say hello to Manong Jim and the Perezes on my way to Sangilo/Itogon and Antamok/Benguet, which became my big clients for decades. On my free time while in Baguio I would bring a cake or some raisin bread and have coffee with Manong Jim and Manang Nena in their trellised garden teeming with plants and flowers and canopied by taller trees. I would usually leave Manong Jim with some recent novels I had read, for I knew he was always eager for books.

At our Millennium Clan Reunion, Manong Jim was a fountain of relatives’ names and a reliable source of information. This feat of knowledge and memory enabled us to construct the first edition of a Family Tree from 1860 to 2000 – 140 years of family history representing seven generations. Almost 100 relatives attended our Grand Reunion in Baguio, Tuding and Bato/Naguilian. We also learned then that the Family is now a global mix of Filipino, American (also Navajo), Chinese, Mexican, Australian, Swiss, and German citizens.

Manong Jim found it futile to live forever. Two days before he stole a march on everyone, I had brought some magazines and raisin bread to Tuding hoping to share some coffee and storytelling as usual with Manong Jim in his garden, only to find out he was confined in the Notre Dame Hospital. I promptly visited. He happily greeted me, laughing with his toothless grin, after I challenged him to escape with me for some beer in town! Manang Nena later told me he settled instead for some slices of the raisin bread he loved so well.

I will remember Manong Jim as the gentlest person I have ever known – kind, honest and generous to a fault, happy and assured in his simple ways. Well-read, he enjoyed life to the fullest.

A philosopher aptly said: “Example has more followers than reason.”

Ping
November 2008

Published online with permission from the author, for family and friends.
Photos by Personal Geographic & Incredible Joie

Monday, November 17, 2008

Free File Hosting for the Storage-Challenged

When is storage ever enough? For some, the more space, the better.

My friends over at the Eeeph.com and Netbooks-PH.net forums once tried listing all the forms of data storage they have ever owned that still work as of this writing. Some people begin with the humble 128mb flash drive, even though nowadays the size of multimedia files render the 1G flash drive as the smallest useful size to bring around. For work the heavy users might use a 4G or 8G flashdrive-- while still on the lookout for a reasonably priced fast read/write 16G. The same goes for sd and sdhc memory.

When I first got my netbook, a regulation 4G ssd (solid state disk, developed for portability) was great. When we started using our idle netbooks as torrent-download machines at home, all of a sudden the 160G external hard drive that was de rigeur last June became a data storage swonderland. Until the need eventually came to back up -- or horrors! PURGE -- the tv series and movies already watched to make space for the new. Pinoys don't really like throwing things away after it's taken them days to download. And blank cds and dvds from CDR King aren't really that infallible.

I am still saving up for a 500G WD MyBook. If like me you haven't yet gotten yourself one of these necessary mini-universes, I'm sure you would recognize free file hosting sites YouSendit, Rapidshare, MegaUpload. For photo uploaders, Multiply, Flickr, Photobucket and ImageShack are reliable lifesavers. Because space is offered for free and the sites are supported by advertising of different kinds, file sizes for upload are necessarily limited.

My old favorite, AOL's XDrive, is closing in January 2009, so I have rescued all my old backup data for restorage. While shopping around for a good site, a friend introduced me recently to Mediafire (UNLIMITED storage! direct linking!). I'm using that for general data sharing. Another recommended the free backup service Mozy (which backs up a max of 2G of data -- ok for netbook users), which I am roadtesting now. A third recommendation was ADrive, which offers free file hosting and online storage of 50G (you read that right, folks)! I'm also giving this a try as a backup of a backup.

We can now choose from an amazing array of FREE (the magic word) file hosting sites. Googling for "free file hosting" gives you at least 10 search pages. Some people have very thoughtfully compiled a list of free file hosting sites, updated on a monthly basis here.

Some things to remember if you haven't tried this before:

1. Archive related files before uploading, so that you don't have to stay awake late uploading smaller files one by one. Make sure each archived file (zip or rar) falls within the size limit for free accounts.
2. Encrypt sensitive data d password-protect files before uploading. Try the easy-to-use and open source app TrueCrypt.
3. When you share files by direct linking, try to remember which files in your storage are designated private and public. People should only be able to view the file directly linked and not be able to browse in the rest of your directory.
4. If possible, share files only with friends you trust. Recently there has been a wave of spam attacks in the online world, so be careful who you let in.
5. Be a good netizen and make sure the files you upload do not contain malware.

Yes, yes. The only thing you need after all this free space is more speed. It never stops!

Friday, November 7, 2008

I Support The Reproductive Health Bill

I am quoting this (since it reflects my exact sentiments) with permission from Carlos Celdran, who created the group on Facebook:

I am sick and tired of hearing that more that 50% of all pregnancies in the Philippines are unwanted.

I am appalled by the fact that 1 out of 4 of these unwanted pregnancies result in an illegal abortion with complications that end up in the deaths of mothers and their babies

I am tired of the Catholic Church of the Philippines getting involved in affairs of the Philippine state.

I am a believer that contraception is NOT abortion.

Put the Bishops in their place. Show congress that there is truth to the survey that 90% of Filipinos (Catholic) want access to ARTIFICIAL BIRTH CONTROL METHODS.

PASS THE REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH BILL NOW.

Sign the petition here:
http://www.petitiononline.com/rhan2008/petition.html

For more information, please contact Carlos Celdran at:

Facebook: I SUPPORT THE REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH BILL Group
Email: celdrantours@hotmail.com
1991 M.H. del Pilar St.,
Malate, Manila.
Tel. (0929) 909-2021

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Resurrecting Old Posts

Back in the days when blogging (to me) was new, I wrote and wrote and wrote. At the time, I didn't know the power of having a good URL. And when I realized that having a good blog title and having a good URL were inextricably linked... I didn't know how to change the URL!

I finally figured out how in late 2007, but I was busy with my Accountability Group (Jopet, Jovic and Chinne), and was also busy moving from one relationship to another. The writing was crappy. I totally deleted that blog and started again with this one. It's a better reflection of who I am at this time.

Now I'm transferring the early blog entries to this blog. Without the photos, since Picasa didn't keep them. As I read the older stuff I wrote, I realize how some of my writing has changed since. It's too bad I have to give up the comments, but at least the main articles are here. Some give me ideas for future entries.

It's funny how my craft blog Knittipina has a greater readership -- that's because its audience is very specific. My Personal Geographic Multiply blog does not contain some of the articles that are in here. My Wordpress mirror site is more like this, although not as updated. I just choose to keep it that way.

Personal Geographic is a work in progress.

Paging Philpost

I read this today in the Inquirer. It's a letter of complaint against Philpost by Australia-based Jaynzee Tolaram, buried amidst the Obama-mania. The topic has been top-of-mind with me ever since I did some eBay transactions a while back.

The country desperately needs a reliable, professionally-run Philippine postal service. According to Philpost's website, they're trying to build one. Jaynzee just reminds us that we are all entitled to the same answer she's seeking while Philpost is in the middle of that process.

Filipino worker in Australia denies getting reimbursement for lost boxes from Philpost
(also in Letters to the Editor, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 06 November 2008, p. A14):

"If PhilPost can show a receipt to prove the reimbursement, that should settle matters.

I'm referring to the letter of Hector Villanueva, postmaster general and CEO of the Philippine Postal Corporation (Inquirer, 9/22/08). The letter mentioned Jaynzee Tolaram as among those who 'have all received their reimbursement." This is a lie.

I think there is only one Jaynzee Tolaram from Australia and Naga City. It's I. And I haven't received any reimbursement or money for the five big boxes I posted in three different post offices in the Philippines.

I mailed two boxes in Naga -- one in November 2007, and another in December 2007; and one in Makati City Post Office in December 2007. Also in December 2007, I mailed three boxes in the Manila Central Post Office -- one box reached its destination, but the other two got lost. I can't just believe five of seven boxes were lost.

The loss broke my heart. The boxes contained samples of Filipino products that I wanted to market in Australia, I spent a lot of time and money selecting them meticulously -- at a trade show, in faraway places I've never been before; and then I had to pack them carefully, etc. All the hard work, money and my enthusiasm to help Filipino entrepreneurs find a market in Australia just went for naught." Read the rest here.

-----

Ms. Tolaram certainly deserves a considerate and reassuring reply concerning appropriate action.

When you do a Google search of Philpost, the more eyecatching links aren't necessarily the positive ones. GMA News alone groups together the ff. alarming Philpost news -- missing valuables sent from Australia to RP, Philpost exec in sexual harrassment case, firemen looting Philpost blaze. At least we also get reports that through their own investigations, Philpost manages to catch some scalawags in their system. The Manila Standard reported three years ago that a Japanese IT firm will modernize Philpost through a 7-year plan, to make it at par with Japan or Taiwan. One of the ways it is supposed to help reduce fraud is through a track-and-trace system. Funding was approved by NEDA in 2006, and I'm sure all of you would like to know what's happened since then. There's news of a Manny Pacquiao stamp, and a letter-writing contest, but that's window-dressing.

How cool it would be if a qualified third-party organization conducted a survey on customer perceptions of Philpost.

While we can't seem to do much about the impunity of Dela Paz and the Euro-gate generals and while we make Joc-jocs about Bolante's convenient ulcer or lack thereof, this is surely something Philpost can work on without a Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hakuna Matata

Some time ago, after reading Rhonda Byrne's "The Secret", I made a conscious decision not to write about things that reflect some of my knee-jerk negative thoughts. To write them is to propagate the negativity, I felt. But sometimes I also need to express them, so I don't harbor them within me. Emotion magnifies things if you let it. Writing helps purge that excess emotion and negativity, because it helps put order in chaos, and gives direction to energies. It's normal to have these sorts of feelings, but if I don't apply some concepts of Buddhist balance, things could go so easily out of whack.

What happened this morning, you ask. Nothing out of the usual, breakfast was great, actually. Sardines, chive omelette, pork and beans, even boiled ripe saba bananas. I really enjoyed it. It's the newspapers I don't enjoy looking at much. They're full of stories of economic downtrends, side by side with stories of contaminated food, vehicular accidents, desert wars, the kidnapping industry, unsavory showbiz gossip and the unrepentant arrogance and corruption of public officials. What else is new? I read them because it's part of my daily education, but today I don't have the stomach for it. I could say that every day, but I don't know why I feel it particularly today. I DO NOT HAVE THE STOMACH FOR IT TODAY. (How liberating to type it in all caps, in a blog.)

This is the point where I usually think: I'll have the stomach for it later. Tomorrow. Maybe.

This reminds me of my low-batt rant during an exasperating conversation with a much younger person a couple of months ago. I said to that person: Look, I'm tired. I had a long day at work. There are times the most political thing I want to discuss is Angelina Jolie's humanitarian projects. I just can't listen anymore to complaints where nobody is suggesting any solutions. It's not my battle to fight. You can think I'm old and I just don't have the energy anymore to deal with these things. But I DO have energy. I just want to apply that energy to other things that make me happy. And that doesn't mean that things that make me happy are any less stimulating or less intelligent. In the end I just want some balance in my day. I deserve it.

I was happy to get out of there.

I was a bit alarmed when I examined this thought again later. I don't think I'm old, or even particularly wise. I'm cheerful most of the time. Is this hormonal mid-life already? When I lived in Australia I used to tape handwritten affirmations on the bathroom mirror so I could read it while brushing my teeth or washing my hands. I try to visualize a good day every day. It requires a lot of effort to deliberately put yourself in the mindset that if you look at a given situation from a different/more positive point of view, you can turn things around. You can, but it takes a while, and only in your sphere of influence. And I only know that now, having gone through things the hard way.

It's the feeling of helplessness that creates a lot of anxiety. It's the feeling that the world is a pendulum swinging crazily on a rapidly fraying chain, in a universe of randomness. That's when you have to do as much as you can and then trust that things will work out. Invoke a Higher Power if that works for you. Trust that people are inherently good, act towards them that way, pay it forward. Appreciate good news when it's there, because it's precious. (No, it is NOT that time of the month.)

Several years ago I was invited by a friend to one of those zen meditation classes held above the Lopez Museum by a Catholic nun. I learned something important there: how to create a point of quietness for my mind and body. Our daily busy-ness swirls with vibes transmitted by the people we encounter and more often than not we allow ourselves to be affected. The quiet, peaceful stillness was so attractive to me. I might practice it again. I have used it successfully in the past, to reduce feelings of anxiety where I couldn't pinpoint a particular cause. There are days like that. When we meditate we consider a thought, and release it, consider a new one, release that, control our breathing, our physical responses, relax. Or consider a particular prayer and hold to it while letting thoughts come and go. When I think about time this way it makes sense that yes, tomorrow hasn't happened so there is only right now to do things in a way that brings you balance and peace.

The French have a saying: "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose." The more things change, the more things stay the same. There's one idea of balance, with two different ways of looking at the same sentence.

Every new second that comes is my right now. Right now I decide to make myself a good cup of coffee to enjoy. Right now I am considering two beautiful words from Disney's "The Lion King".

Hakuna Matata.

And the day is saved!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Doll of the Cthulhu

Now I am a great H.P. Lovecraft fan. (Like I am a great Dr. Who fan. Science fiction and fantasy, I am your girl!)

Dark Roasted Blend
, one of my favorite "odd photo conglomeration" sites, gives us this entertaining view of how love of knitting and cult monstrosity mix. [You'll love the different photo sets in their other blog posts too, I promise.]

Just the other night I was watching downloaded beloved reruns of the 80's seasons of The [New] Twilight Zone (Harlan Ellison era, 1985-89) and there was one episode about a little boy whose nigh-on-dying grandma turns out to be a creepy Cthulhu thrall! Now this!

Amber's crocheted Cthulhu is absolutely, uh, adorable. I wish I could post the photo here, but do visit the link to see Amber's celebration of creativity. The amigurumi (knitted toy Japanese style) pattern is free. Unfortunately I'm not that much of a crocheter. Joy is, and amigurumi gives her a bit of carpal tunnel.

One of the knitters on the monsters page, Kimberly Chapman, did her Dalek from EntropyHouse's "ExtermiKNIT" Kit! Previously I wrote in Knittipina about the Knitted Dalek photographed in a UK convention by Yarn Harlot Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. I did not know there were more in that army *amusement*

Yes, the Dalek pattern is FREE. I might make it one day. I'll probably have better luck finishing it than meeting David Tennant in person. But hey, I met Neil Gaiman in person, so you never know. And then shall come... a Knitted Sandman?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Netbooks Philippines

I'd like to invite everyone who's curious about netbooks and ultra-mobile pc's to visit Eeeph.com's sister site, Netbooks-PH.net.

Got questions about which brands to buy? Expansions and peripherals? How to optimize the browser you're using? Jazz up your netbook with up-to-date accessories? This is the forum where members from newbies to the more experienced can get answers and exchange feedback with their peers. Everyone is welcome, from folks who need advice to those who can dish it out.

Just Google the keywords "netbooks" + "Philippines" and it's at the top of the list, notwithstanding certain copycat sites that sprouted weeks after it announced its formation on Eeeph.com. I'm making this distinction upon the recommendation of Netbooks-PH administrators so that you can make sure that articles originating from Netbooks-PH were posted THERE firsthand. "Borrowing" content without attribution is rampant nowadays, but at least we can always refer to logged time stamps.

Imitation, as they say, is the best form of flattery.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ridata 8G USB Flash Drive

CDR-King's got a great new product out, very good value for your money: the Ridata Flick EZ Drive 8G USB Flash Drive for PhP880. I was in Megamall for the Oct. 17 three-day sale opening, and dropped by store first thing. I was actually looking for a cheap-but-reliable 4G flash drive like the one I bought for TDM recently (he had lost his in Cebu), but was glad to find this much better one!

Mine is matte black, as in the picture. I like the thumb-slide protection of the drive case, as other models have removable caps that can get lost. There's a hole in the other end so that you can attach it to your keychain. It also comes in white.

Inside there's a user manual in pdf format, but it's practically useless for English speakers as it's written in Chinese. Anyhow, if you use flash drives a lot, you won't really need it.

The speed is "Lightning Class", which would be the equivalent of a Class 6 for Transcend. I made a file benchmark test using Flash Memory Toolkit, and it gave me the ff. very good results (click on image to enlarge):

I also have a "stormtrooper white" Ridata Mini Brick EZ Drive 4G flash drive bought earlier this year for PhP700. Also "Lightning Class", also very good, and very reliable.

The price difference is to definitely to our advantage! If I were you, I'd get this instead of PQI. Once this is out of stock you'll have to wait to get a new one. Get one soon, world global financial crisis notwithstanding.

(Now waiting for a good price on a 16G...)

Nanay, the Medical Tourist


Nanay just had her gall bladder removed because of a 1.2cm gall stone the size of a kiamoy (red champoy) seed. She was confined at the new Medical City for 5 days last week, because apart from the pain we also had to manage her hypertension levels. I stayed with her all week as she was confined, bringing my knitting and my Asus EEE with me to the hospital so I could both work and knit off the interminable waiting that's par for the course at hospitals. Turns out Nanay took it like a trouper.

The procedure is called laparoscopic cholecystectomy, which has been done successfully in the country for the last 7 years. The surgeon who operated on Nanay is one of the top professionals with this expertise, so we weren't too worried. Our other option was standard surgical removal, however we were informed that big incisions take a while longer to heal. The "lap-chole" involves making 4 holes in the abdominal area, and the surgery is performed with a tiny camera monitoring the actions of tiny robotic surgical implements. Yes, the sort of thing you see on Discovery Channel! (And yes, we have a dvd from the doctor, but nobody's yet in the mood to watch it.) They told us that the entire gall bladder was removed, and that small titanium clamps were left inside to hold the rest of her in place. Nanay joked that after the removal of her appendix, her uterus and the gall bladder, her abdomen ought to get smaller. Several of her friends called us to commiserate and admit they also had their gall bladders removed.

Which leads us to the low-salt, low-fat diet. Before the operation she was served regular hospital food, which -- surprise, surprise! -- actually tasted good and fresh. (I know, I ate half her food. I think they have real chefs for this, because it's FAR from carinderia food although quite simple.) The day before the operation she had the low-salt, low-fat food, which was rejuvenated by the fantastic new product Pan Salt, which has 43% less sodium than regular salt. This ought to be available at your neighborhood supermarket, in a blue box with orange letters. (Please take note that it is a TABLE SEASONING and NOT a cooking salt, because you might be adding a bigger quantity to whatever you're cooking just so it tastes the way you remember.)

Her Medical City room was expensive and new, and had a panoramic view. If we had a choice we'd have chosen a less expensive room, but there was no other room available at all, and both her internal medicine specialist and cardiologist practice here. There was a sofa where I slept, and cable tv, daily newspapers and free wifi. The best thing about it was the bathroom, which was huge and had well-thought-of emergency access options (push-button assistance calls, arm rail and non-slip surface for the shower). It was cleaned twice a day by cheerful and efficient staff, who DO NOT use anything with the trauma-inducing smell of pine cleanser. (The cleanser smelled of flowers and citrus, like at a hotel. Which is definitely the point.)

I can see they're really promoting Medical Tourism. I was astounded by the kind, competent, efficient, well-spoken and very attractive nurses. Even the male nurse assigned to Nanay looked like he could star in a local version of "Grey's Anatomy". I kid you not. Tatay was impressed. He didn't mind the cost of the room if it meant it was a sort of forced spa vacation for Nanay (who multitasks so much she gets guilty if she's idle). Her birthday's coming up at the end of the month, and he wanted her to be in a good frame of mind. He appointed me as her, uh, spa attendant-cum-jail warden. It was actually pleasant for the entire family to visit her daily. Joy and Tristan brought Lilo to see her Lola Nanay every night after dinner. Lilo actually said, "Nanay, come home na." How cute is that! What a way to cheer her grandma up. Then Lilo would gaze down at the cityscape of lights and marvel how high up she was in the air, munching on whatever she liked from the fruit basket.

There was cable tv at the hospital, but one couldn't just sit and watch all day. I had to be productive. Unfortunately, the free wifi signal in the room was pathetic. So I used my Nokia 6120 and the Globe PhP5/15mins connection, and was able to work and send out an ad for a November convention. There's 3G signal in the area, I got the ff. speed last Oct. 9:

I also brought some knitting, which kept me calm and relaxed all throughout the hospital stay. I started casting on stitches for Lilo's hoodie cardigan that Saturday morning, and as the days went on, I went from this:

to this:

and by the time we checked out, I had finished the second sleeve and only had the hood to do. Talk about single-minded knitting! This project actually had a few fans among the nurses , who'd been coming in every 3 or 4 hours to check my mom's -- and the project's -- vital signs, hahaha!

Nanay was also in the mood for a little art, in keeping with her "spa" mood. Click on the image for a clearer view:

She has more sketches of me watching tv and taking a nap on the sofa, as well as the view from her hospital window... I love this particular one. It really looks like me.

So yes, Nanay is home and doing fine. I just make sure she doesn't tire herself unnecessarily. We brought home her souvenir in a little bottle, and joke about having it set in resin and made into a pendant.

Thanks to everyone who sent prayers and get-well messages, and to Ta Ann who sent a fruit basket :)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Which Tarot Card Are You?


You are The Lovers

Motive, power, and action, arising from Inspiration and Impulse.

The Lovers represents intuition and inspiration. Very often a choice needs to be made.

Originally, this card was called just LOVE. And that's actually more apt than "Lovers." Love follows in this sequence of growth and maturity. And, coming after the Emperor, who is about control, it is a radical change in perspective. LOVE is a force that makes you choose and decide for reasons you often can't understand; it makes you surrender control to a higher power. And that is what this card is all about. Finding something or someone who is so much a part of yourself, so perfectly attuned to you and you to them, that you cannot, dare not resist. This card indicates that the you have or will come across a person, career, challenge or thing that you will fall in love with. You will know instinctively that you must have this, even if it means diverging from your chosen path. No matter the difficulties, without it you will never be complete.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

TDM, *wink!* *wink!*

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Smaller Box for the Adult Filipino Mind?

I think I just said I don't normally write about politics in my blog, but this caught my eye. I really think it should catch yours too.

A person named John Silva who describes himself as "a writer, a fundraiser, and an advocate for the arts and heritage preservation" just started a campaign blog, and I'm including the first .jpg file from that blog here to help him in his campaign. If you want to read on, there's more in his blog. Click on the image below to enlarge.


I grew up in a pretty liberal UP Diliman household and my parents never censored what my sister and I watched or read. If we didn't like what we saw or read, we simply didn't watch them again. It was a bigger deal arguing about having to sleep early after dinner because there was school the next day. If we didn't understand what we saw or read because we were too young, we returned to them later to figure out if they made better sense once we had a bit more maturity. Or if we appreciated them at all. I guess we were lucky, because when we asked questions, our parents tried to answer as well as they could and not patronize us just because we knew less of the world.

People I know/knew who were either oppressed or repressed in different ways while growing up tended to go to extremes in behavior, rebelling. Ran away, got pregnant, got others pregnant, did drugs, became petty and mean, or became too uptight, took things too seriously, or did a host of other sorts of things that kept everyone awake at night with worry. We all suffer from hangups, but when the government starts telling us how it's not all right to look at things prevalent and pervasive in our culture and media, it's like we're being PARENTED all over again. It's ok if we were children, but majority of us in the voting population no longer are.

I knew some Singapore kids going berserk while studying in Australia. Very intelligent, but had lots of gum in their cabinet drawers, and no condoms. Out every week at the clubs in their best, most expensive finery, whining about not having Filipino maids (yes, and in my face, at that. They think I'm universal Chinese) and on the look out for a white person to date. As though those were the things that mattered. No offense, Singapore might be an economic tiger, but it has talented youth who chafe under the bit.

We have more of a choice. To stay, watch and learn, or to walk away because what we see doesn't suit us or our needs. Our behaviors are our choice. As adults we have responsibility over them, and should be accountable to our loved ones if they are affected. But this bill, if not rewritten, will just keep Filipinos ignorant and immature. We may not be aware that we are slowly being shorn of our right TO KNOW.

If you tell me that [enter starlet's name here]'s billboard bikini pictures will contribute to a population explosion, why... you're right. That's because in this country it's easier to pay for a movie ticket than it is to get FULL EDUCATION ON SAFE SEX AND CONTRACEPTION. Or even get access to family planning options. Don't even get me started on sexuality and women's reproductive rights.

[And gee, who do you think perpetuates this attitude? No, I'm not bashing the Catholic Church. Perhaps people themselves perpetuate it unconsciously. I'm just saying that people believe one thing and yet close their eyes to problems on earth in THIS life caused by faith that the life after will be better. This life is just as important. Not all people who define themselves as religious practice their belief with a moral purpose. They do things by default -- virtuously mouth what the parish priests say -- but don't really listen -- so that other people will think well of them. This doing things by default is what causes a lot of anguish. The road not taken is always the harder road.]

You have a choice, so if you agree or not with this Anti-Obscenity Bill, I would rather that you AGREE to at least read more about it. Or take a step and contribute your opinion instead of letting the politicians who are supposed to be serving your best interests do it by default. "Our best interests" is something they would have to define first.

Priceless: Tina and Amy do Sarah and Hillary

Love love LOVE THIS!!! Saturday Night Live does it again!

The immensely funny and talented Tina Fey and Amy Poehler outdo themselves as Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton on SNL. The writing is SPOT-ON.

I normally do not blog about politics but this is just way too funny. I would have uploaded the video on Multiply via YouTube but apparently there is a copyright dispute resulting in the removal of the video. However, my guilty pleasure PerezHilton lets us enjoy the circus that is US politics.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Manila International Book Fair

Went first thing upon opening yesterday. Runs from Sept. 12-14 only. It's at the Convention Center building of SM Mall of Asia.

First things first:

1. Bring enough cash because there is NO ATM inside this building. You have to walk outside to the supermarket area and withdraw there, so make sure you bring an umbrella.

2. Visit the loo before entering the fair. Otherwise, there are conveniently located toilets outside the trade halls and also inside, in the middle back.

3. Also, if you want to conserve your money for books instead of food, eat beforehand. Or you can buy from Albergus Catering, which does offer really good value for money food, with tables and waiters! You line up and pay, self-service. The waiters clear your table so the turnover is quite efficient.

We chose from the "Guest Menu" where, for P130 (exclusive of drinks), I recommend either the Roast Beef+Pancit+Rice meal or the Fish in Basil Cream Sauce+Pancit+Rice meal. Drinks are around PhP 40/can softdrinks or C2 iced tea.

Now, to the books:

1. If you went to the National Bookstore booksale last month, it continues here, with 20% off on all regular priced items, and bigger discounts for selected items. Cash and credit transactions. You can use your Laking National card here too. Promo items for every PhP 1000 purchase. I got a Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" promo messenger bag! Quite useful for putting all your purchases in.

2. Same discount structure at Powerbooks. Some books you are looking for in National but can't find in that booth might be available here. You can also avail of an outright purchase Powerbooks Powercard for PhP 100 and claim the discount card after 3 weeks at the Powerbooks branch nearest you. Cash and credit accepted, as well as BPI Express Payment.

3. Goodwill has lots of lovely children's books! Lovely discounted prices as well! Cash and credit too!

4. Anvil Publications has imported and local publications on display, also with wonderful discounts. Local publications are available in bookpaper or newsprint. Cash and credit accepted.

Please watch out for my friend Jag Garcia's book (written with colleagues Melanie Casul and Michael Kho Lim) "Media Kit" volumes 1 and 2. Great basic textbook for people who want to learn how to make effective audiovisual presentations or have ambitions to become scriptwriters or filmmakers. Well-written, simple and concise. In this age of digital information, this is one affordable information resource to always have by your side.

Another recommendation: This is the time to take advantage of adding to your Ambeth Ocampo popular history collection! Start with "Rizal Without His Overcoat" and go through each of the national heroes in Ambeth's list. If you buy his books you get a bottle of Claude Tayag's "Claude 9" brand sauce free (random flavor)!

Yet another: The late Doreen G. Fernandez's book of food essays, "Tikim".

5. Best Value For Money Filipiniana booth: Bookmark.

I got a "Field Guide to the Common Mangroves, Sea Grasses and Algae of the Philippines" by Hilconida Calumpong and the Smithsonian's Ernani Menez for my uncle Joey who is the barangay captain of a tiny Negros coastal town featuring a DENR-recognized mangrove sanctuary. It has glossy full-color photography, which sold for an unbelievable discount price of PhP 250 (regular price: PhP 400). Super sulit geeky Pinoy science book for an international audience.

Also available: "Marine Reserves in the Philippines: Historical Development, Effects and Influence on Marine Conservation Policy" by former DENR Sec. Angel Alcala for an even more unbelievable sale price of PhP 100!!!

Splendid selection of Filipiniana available. Fantastic pictures and paper quality. The coffeetable book "Philippine Ancestral Houses" edited by Gilda Cordero-Fernando is available in paperback for PhP 1000!!! (That's actually reasonable, folks, because the hardcover edition is worth at least PhP 3-4000 and is a collector's item.) I thought it was out of print.

6. Check out other university press favorites, University of the Philippines Press and Ateneo de Manila University Press.

7. Other booths are specialty books and feature some seriously scary prices so just think that they are actually targeted at school libraries and not the ordinary consumer.

8. Not books, but next to the stage there is a booth for Pilot pens and pencils. I recommend for all those with an office supplies fetish like myself the Pilot ENO 0.7mm mechanical pencil which has erasable colored pencil refills!!! I got one, plus red, green and blue refills (3 colors, one pack). Other refill colors are light blue, lavender, pink, apple green... so yes... indulge...

Honestly, one day is not enough. If someone offers you a free pass valid until Sunday (tomorrow), get them! Only your wallet limits you.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Why Is This Girl Laughing?

People have their pictures taken with celebrities. One night, tipsy at a friend's mom's bienvenida party near Don Antonio, I met Boggart. I couldn't resist having my picture taken with him.

Yes, the name matched this huge dog but only in appearance. The demon-incarnate-looking Boggart stuck next to me like a KITTEN all night, of all things. When my friends and I first met Boggart, we were wary. "Boggart likes to run. So don't run," Harold's mom said. Beside me Ana and Jopet sort of laughed nervously.

She should have said, "Boggart likes to run outside if he finds the front gate is open."

She should have added, "Boggart the 3-year-old Doberman thinks he's a Labrador puppy." Dober-marshmallow is more like it. Boggart was overjoyed to meet new friends! Good thing he wasn't the sort who jumped on you and murdered your clothes with muddy paws. He actually went to obedience school. And graduated.

Boggart wasn't actually Harold's mom's dog. Let's say the house came with the dog when they bought it. Alas, I must say Boggart is useless as a guard dog. He loves being petted and having his ears scratched and back stroked. I like that he doesn't sneak food from your plate when you're not looking, because his head already comes up to the height of the table. He does beg and put his paws on your knees. And look at you with meaningfully while the following thought runs through his head: *barbecue! o dearest master's friend! be kind and generous to your little Boggart!*

Harold was amazed that Boggart and I got along so well. I've always loved dogs, although it depended on their personality. Boggart is quite... affectionate. Ana and Jopet were quite happy to sit on the far side of the gazebo.

Monday, September 1, 2008

National Bookstore Mid-Year Book Sale

Last weekend Tristan, Joy and I decided to have lunch in Galleria and visit Bestsellers, National Bookstore's "books only, no school supplies" outlet. Joy was hunting for those Japanese magazines with the cute crochet and crafting designs. On an earlier foray to the National side of the mall, she saw the magazines went for PhP 85 each. At Bestsellers, they were also PhP 85 each, only some had further discounts if you looked really closely. Then the very helpful staff there suggested that we look for stuff we wanted because when the Mid-Year Book Sale started, trade books would be from 20-40% off! She also said we could RESERVE books and get them the first morning of the sale (ie., Aug. 28, Thursday). Now isn't that just great.

We returned to Bestsellers as promised Thursday morning, when Galleria was still clear of shoppers. The discounts were amazing! Joy got the Japanese magazines at PhP 65 each, and I got a couple of hardcover trade books for 40% off! So we decided to visit National's main branch in Gateway (near the Bread Talk entrance) yesterday. The entire top floor was 50% off!!! Some trade books I got were priced at PhP 300 and lower!!! Some books marked "POB" were marked PhP 100 and even then were scanned in at PhP 50!!! Okay, that's a lot of exclamation points, and I meant every bit of them.

I think it'll run till Sept. 15 weekend. You know what that means :) More muscles from weightlifting, and a lighter wallet...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Como Max Brenner Para Chocolate

Previous: Every Exhibit Has A Story

After the Ayala Museum, we all proceeded to Max Brenner in Greenbelt 3 for pastry and some special hot chocolate. How special? Roland and Ma'am Odette had the Venezuela Dark, I had the Trinidad White, while Ricky and Ma'am Letty had this utterly luxurious and exotic Ecuador chocolate with orchid oil. Almond selected a restorative peppermint tea.

They have this white porcelain earless cup with a pointed lip from which you are encouraged to sip. All the chocolate drinks had these tiny globules of yummy fat floating on top like you'd see in chocolate eh. Ricky let me taste some of the Ecuador, which struck me as only faintly sweet upon first touching the tongue. The sweetness developed in the middle of your mouth, and later I detected the faint perfume of orchid oil (vanilla, identifies the Max Brenner website) which had a long finish in the back of the tongue. Not to everyone's taste, but definitely to mine! (Note to self: order it next time.) My Trinidad White was yummy, but a bit too rich for me. It brought back all childhood Christmases past,with its dairy velvety-ness and buttery richness laving all over my tongue. I guess the best way to enjoy it would be to take a long sip, let it fill the mouth and senses, before swallowing slowly. And in between, sips of lifesaving water.

We also shared a fancy brownie. I have no idea what it was called since we promptly pounced on it, and in true Pinoy fashion, ping-ponged the last bite around the plate.


The first time I went to Max Brenner it was with the Justice League (the everyday heroines in my barkada) for the newly engaged Tim's birthday two years ago. We'd had dinner somewhere else and decided to have dessert. Almond very cleverly arranged a surprise entry by Tim's then-fiancee Eric, home early for Christmas via Hong Kong red-eye. We had a chocolate fondue, which I enjoyed but was not much impressed by. I think I was too busy laughing at Tim's expression of incredulous joy when she saw Eric.

My estimation of the place has risen since then, after this visit. In my opinion this quality of hot chocolate shouldn't be downed like it were Swiss Miss and you were in pajamas. First of all, it's pricey (one could have a full meal for the price of one cup of gourmet hot choco), but I think what we'd ordered was well worth it. I'd been avoiding Max Brenner when it first opened precisely because I feared it would be the sort of place pretentious people like to casually brag about having been to (read: I can afford high-end chocolate! Also read: Been there, done that, now let's haul my fashionable deconstructed jeans-clad ass off to the next hot new happening place!).

Now that the fashion panic has abated and the place has established itself, it's actually attracting people in search of chocolate adventure. I think if I'm flush with a little cash and in need of some chocolate therapy, or just planning to celebrate with TDM, it's a great place to go to. Once in a while.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Every Exhibit Has A Story

We were all quite excited to see the Gold of Ancestors exhibit at the Ayala Museum, but there were other interesting exhibits on the other floors I hadn't even gotten around to blogging about yet.

Southeast Asian Ceramics

On the fourth floor, along with the gold, was a fantastic collection of Southeast Asian trade ceramics from the Roberto T. Villanueva collection. Popular historian Ambeth Ocampo writes about it here. They were arranged according to style/country of origin. All celadons together, all iron glazed together, all Thai together, all Vietnamese together, all blue and white together. Every glass shelf tells the visitor about the pieces displayed, identifying the style, the estimated age, and the location where the item was found. In the middle of the collection there is a fascinating section telling the story of the Grau sisters whose lives were dedicated to this collection. Consuelo Grau was married to Roberto T. Villanueva, while her sister Remedios curated the collection. Both sisters were students of renowned anthropologist H. Otley Beyer in UP. Because they were known collectors, people would actually bring them their finds on a near daily basis! When I looked all around, it was likely that there were more pieces that weren't on display.

The first time I visited, we were in such a hurry to get into the 30-minute interval when the bank-vault doors opened into the gold exhibit that I totally missed the inner room. This room had a sofa with a big video screen, and the video told the story of the development of ceramics in China, to the development of the trade route from southern China to the Philippines, to India, all the way to the Middle East. There is a map of Asia on one side of the screen which shows little lights all along the trade route, timed to match the video dialogue! (Ok, I love that sort of thing.) And every time a notable piece is used as an example, the actual piece is spotlighted. Timed as well. My favorite piece is a delicate white flower-shaped footed bowl ("Yung gulaman container!" we joked), one of the oldest in the collection. My next favorite was a painted elephant with a rider, a piece from Vietnam. My third favorite piece was of a little brown carabao. Almond and Roland both loved the blue and white ceramics.

Embroidered Multiples

Ricky later led us to his personal favorite exhibit, embroidered national costumes from the period of Damian Domingo. These consisted of baro't saya, kerchiefs/fichus and men's costumes, all beautifully embroidered. Fabrics were in abaca, pina, jusi, silk and cotton. I believe Ricky was involved in making sure the items were displayed to best effect, yet adequately protected in a temperature controlled environment. The items were beautiful, the embroidery exceedingly fine. These items are the best and only examples of their kind, and the irony is that we are only enjoying them because of a five-year loan to the Ayala Museum by the Leiden National Museum of Ethnology (Netherlands), which acquired them from a French diplomat in the late 1800s. Some items on loan include heirloom garments from the Pardo de Tavera collection now owned by collector Rina Ortiz.

Looking at the items, I realized that Filipinos were very small and dainty then. The blouses were so sheer that some included modesty panels. If you look at the Damian Domingo paintings you'd realize women probably wore fichus in those days to cover up their chests. The fichus eventually developed into panuelos. I wanted to buy the book for my mom at the Museum Shop (3rd floor), but it was PhP 1,500 and I didn't have the cash on me.

The Juan Luna BPI Collection

My mom attended Ambeth Ocampo's lecture telling the story of this collection when it first opened. Most items in the collection are small works, mostly studies in preparation for bigger paintings. The first time we went to see it I was wondering why the frames were so thick. It was only on my second visit that Ricky explained that some items were reversible. The photo facsimile displayed next to the work showed its other side. On my own I wouldn't have guessed that, since I didn't have a brochure of the collection on hand.

Juan Luna is best remembered for two things: his award-winning painting "The Spoliarium" (famously) and for the murder of his wife Paz Pardo de Tavera and his mother-in-law in Paris (infamously). Ricky filled me in with the juicy details: when Juan Luna's son Andres Jr. died, he left the paintings to his American wife, Grace, who later tried to sell this collection to the Philippine government so she could return to the US. However, the cash-strapped government didn't bite, and for some decades no more was heard of these paintings. Eventually Grace Luna died in an American old-age home. When the paintings resurfaced for sale, buyers were confused about the provenance of the collection because Grace Luna had left them to her caregiver in her will. They ended up in the collection of Far East Bank and Trust Company, an acquisition hounded by controversy as the FEBTC was the agency that originally determined the collection's value in the first place. This collection was later acquired by the Bank of the Philippine Islands with its buyout of the FEBTC.

The major Lunas on display were from the collections of Don Jaime and Beatriz Zobel de Ayala, and from Don Jaime's aunt Dona Mercedes Zobel de McMicking. You would recognize some of them from books, particularly "La Marquesa de Monte Olivar". The accompanying plaques note that Juan Luna signed his paintings in old Filipino script BU+LA (for "bulan" or moon, ie., "Luna"). I didn't notice that the first time I went, but Ricky pointed it out. He also noted that the Zobel-owned paintings had been gifted to the Ayala Museum since he last worked there.

Fernando Zobel, Artist

My generation knows Fernando Zobel de Ayala as the brother of Jaime Augusto, and the husband of Catherine "KitKat" Silverio. The original Fernando Zobel was their uncle the artist. His work, modern and abstract, in different media, occupies the space next to the Amorsolos. His sketchbooks were also on display, as well as letters. There was also an interactive website visitors could access. I didn't know much of him since his works are not part of general study, but as I google I find that he is alternately considered a Spanish artist and a Filipino one. Here are some works in an online auction. His charming dachshund and horse doodles (from travel sketchbooks) are on notebooks and mugs for sale in the Museum Shop.

The Dioramas

It is rare for a child to grow up in Metro Manila and not experience the Ayala Museum dioramas. They illustrate Filipino history in detailed 3d miniature. Ricky however, made our trip as adults more entertaining with the ff. trivia:

1) Each figure, made by hand in Paete, costs at least P2,000!
2) There are realistic details, such as: urinating men, a rat under Rizal's tocador, tiny torn-up buntal hats, a gay Katipunero, a lesbian one, a dwarf, a giant, faces of the artists/museum staff in cameo appearances, folded merchandise in an Escolta store window, others.
3) Imelda complained that there was no Marcos figure in the Death March diorama! A figure was hurriedly made! Later on (post-Edsa Revolution), because it could not be concretely proved that Marcos was actually there, it was decided that the figure be removed! Now no one knows where it went!

The latest addition to that display was a Corridor of Infamy into the Marcos Years, with an interactive presentation narrated by Cheche Lazaro. Oddly enough, the door at the end led to... the stairs leading down to the toilet. No, I joke, it leads down to the ground floor, where there is an artist's space occupied during our visit by painter Nestor Vinluan, who is now less obsessed by the diaphanous now as he is with color on color. With its high ceiling, that space (next to the counter) shows big canvases to great effect.

By this time, we got hungry again...

Next: Como Max Brenner Para Chocolate

Recherchez Les Temps Hanoi

Last Sunday Ricky and Almond organized a museum date-cum-reunion for all of us whom Ricky first met in Hanoi in 2006. Ricky had read my review of the Ayala Museum Gold of Ancestors exhibit, and suggested it would be a good reason to meet up.

Two years ago, Almond, Ma'am Odette and Ma'am Letty were all invited to present papers at an academic conference at the Vietnam National University in Hanoi. I tagged along, sort of masquerading as a fellow UP faculty member ("You are also from the University of the Philippines?" "Yes, but I'm not presenting a paper." "You must attend the dinner and the water puppet show!" "Uh, ok, thank you!"). While they were busy practicing their presentations and networking with other participants, I quickly rebooked us from the first sorry-assed hotel we checked into, to the very comfortable but forbiddingly named Army Hotel. It was nearer the conference venue, and at USD35/night for a twin share, it was irresistible. I also planned some of our itinerary, as it was my job to negotiate with/harass taxi drivers and tour operators.

Ricky happened to be billeted at the Army Hotel as well. Almond and I first noticed him during the buffet breakfast, at which we already noted his hair and his fashion sense. It was Ma'am Odette and Ma'am Letty who confirmed the happy fact of his Pinoy-ness. Ricky turned out to be the visiting consultant at the museum near the university. Later on, at the steps of the VNU, we met Roland and the other Singapore-based Pinoy grad students who were attending the same conference. Roland also presented a paper.

We had lunch at Greenbelt 5, at Fely J's (another LJC restaurant) on the second floor. It was a good thing we arrived early, as the place was soon fully packed. The menu is Filipino and Asian dishes served family style, with very reasonable prices. Check out the pork adobo with whole cloves of roasted garlic (yum!):

(I must apologize for the lack of focus in that pic. It smells and tastes more appetizing than the photo suggests.)

The other big winner of the day was the fried tilapia in sweet plum sauce shown here ready to swim off the plate and into our stomachs:

To accompany those we also had bangus belly sinigang (sampalok), ensalada ni nanay (red eggs, assorted vegetables and bagoong), ginataang gulay (squash, string beans, other vegetables and shrimps in coconut milk), and for dessert, "Claude's Dream" (a generous scrape of soft, fresh buko meat on top of creamy macapuno ice cream surrounded by pandan flavored jelly):

All in all, a very satisfying meal (despite the slow - but friendly! - service).

We then proceeded to the Ayala Museum, where Ricky was able to get us discounted entrance rates (thank you!).

Next: Every Exhibit Has A Story

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Life In A Pair Of Baby Socks

This sock and its twin make the first successful pair of baby socks I've made since my informal apprenticeship to Ines J. of the Dreams Tuesday/Saturday Knitting Group. It's made of locally available gradient colorway crochet cotton thread, using 2.75mm circular knitting needles in the Magic Loop Method. The pattern is from Tita Ting, a former member of the knitting group who is now based in the US.

How ADORABLE is that! These are for Etienne.

I'm also making socks for his brother Ethan, my cousin Ellen's baby Jianna, my godson Inigo, my niece Lilo, my goddaughter Meg, and my friend Red's baby boy whose name I can't remember at the moment.

I started one sock from the beginning of the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony (8pm-11pm) and continued the next morning for another hour. The second sock I started Sunday afternoon and finished before dinner. Roughly four hours per sock: instant gratification!

At this point I must comment on something that struck me as really funny. Last Saturday I attended a high school alumni meeting at a mall cafe. When I showed the guys that first sock, their reaction was, "You MADE this? How?" The girls, upon seeing the sock, teased me, "Ano na namang ka-manang-an yan! (What, more old maid stuff?)" Upon which, they marched off and went shopping for clothes in Mango. Jopet and I looked each other in the eye and laughed.

Men, it seems, are interested in the HOW. As in "How on earth are you able to do it by hand without going nuts?" and "How can you make money from this?". Women with children, it seems, are focused on maintaining the image of looking younger longer without making it appear they are doing a lot of work. Ergo as much as possible they would rather not do the work of making the sock if they can buy it with a brand. Makes life so much simpler, neh?

Why do I do this? Because I can. How do I do this? By making a lot of mistakes first. What's in it for me? Creation. Women with children have one up on me there, but I have the the inclination and make the time for this. Will I make money from this? Who knows. Nevertheless, Etienne and all the children in line for socks have my love along with it.