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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Taking A Peek At Mac Land

My PC (Compaq) died sometime late last year - and promptly revived after a few days.

The screen started "jiggling", then it would move up and down in slow intervals. Then it would go dark intermittently. I took it to the computer repair shop I pass by to work, and the technician told me that the problem was the entire screen, and that it would cost around 20,000 pesos (roughly US$ 450) to replace and that I would be better off getting a new laptop.

Not really relishing the idea of getting a new unit after just barely two years with my current one, I fiddled with it - essentially moved the angle of the screen back and forth - and found that at certain angles, the screen would still work. Lately, however, the screen has been "performing" at fewer angles, and I may have to completely replace it soon.

I have been a devoted PC - Windows user. (Anyone remember MS-DOS?) Even the school subjects I had that used computers and programs were all Windows based. I have never used or owned a Mac in my life. There is that oft-repeated statistic used that 95% of the world runs on Windows. It would seem to follow that my next purchase would remain in the PC camp.

Reason enough for me to try to see what lies on the other side.

Full disclosure, though: I have used - and lost (through carelessness and theft) - 2 iPod players and I am currently using an iPad. So the "Apple culture" is not that alien to me. But as far as a MacBook - their version of a laptop - I have not bought, used or spent time with them at all. I must say, though, I like iTunes - I need it for work on a daily basis. Using both the iPod and iPad has made me appreciate that "going Apple" might prove to be an easier user experience - even PC/Windows users have to begrudgingly agree, that ease of use is one cornerstone of Apple's marketing. (In fact,  from what I have seen online, PC/Windows users derisively call the Apple way of doing things "simple" and for "non-tech people".)

It really begged me to look closer into both systems and how users have reacted to what they chose and how they perceive "the other one".

It's war. In fact, one tech magazine called this question as culturally similar to the question of Coke versus Pepsi.

(Photo courtesy of

(Photo courtesy of

Reading through blogs, news articles and tech sites, the general impression I got from PC users criticizing Mac was that Mac users are supposedly tech simpletons who are being suckered into paying so much more and getting so much less in terms of their computer's technical specifications, hard drive, etc., and would pay for a premium for "appearing cool". Gamers - of the serious variety - would never deign to soil their fingers on a Mac, for the aforementioned reason, as well (they need very specific tech specifications to run games, like how much RAM will it take for a game to run smoothly). And everyone is on Windows practically, so Apple users are being "elitist".

Mac users, on the other hand, call out PC users for being fixated on the price point, that they do not realize it takes 2 or 3 new PCs to match the longevity of a single Mac. (Translation: You would have already bought 2 or 3 PCs due to your unit breaking down for various reasons, and a Mac - if Mac users posts are truthful - can last 4 to 5 years. The underlying message also, of course, is that you spend more in the long run, buying 2 or 3 PCs, in the same amount of time for a single Mac.) As for the 95% stat of Windows, Apple users like to point out that you can use Windows on a Mac (using the Mac OS/Operating System, currently OSX Lion), while the reverse cannot be said (You can't run Mac's OSX on Windows, although I've read a few posts that say it's possible with "partitioning".) And the style factor of Apple has always been copied by PC manufacturers, but they'll always be duplicators.

In other words, you can find enough reasons to go for one side and hate the other. It looks like that commentary about this battle being the same as Coke vs. Pepsi is spot on.

I suppose it would be very easy to be objective about this dilemna (which will be my next purchase). Price wise, Apple has always been considered "expensive", and not just here, but everywhere in the world, apparently. That is not to say that PC manufacturers haven't used price also as a way to identify themselves: at the current 2012 CES (Consumer Electronics Show), Samsung unveiled their 2012 Samsung Series 9, and it will retail for $1499, which is even higher than some MacBook models. But you can get a lot more options (by brand) when choosing a PC, and at varying prices to suit your particular budget. (For more info about the Series 9:

Specifications wise, it also looks like you get more bang for your buck - or peso - with PCs. With more companies making PCs, there certainly is more variance between companies, models, usage. There are PCs devoted and marketed for gaming, others are sold as ultimate workhorses, and some as portables. You can configure the insides of your own with a PC - similar to what guys have been doing under the hoods of their cars. With so many models, you get freedom to choose what specifications, technical and otherwise, fit your work/play/actual life.

But I cannot help but notice that the articles I come across regarding this seem to have made Apple products the benchmark: Titles like "Taking The Wind Out Of The Air" or "MacBook Air Killer" just seem to keep hammering the point - an unintended one by PC manufacturers - that Apple must be doing something right, to induce that much peeking-over-your-shoulder from other companies. (Personal rule of thumb in life: If you're constantly comparing yourself to others, you keep looking sideways, and not forward.)

Since embarking on a more than casual research, I've also found the fact that I can open most of my Windows files on a Mac very appealing. (As an example, someone can send you an Excel file on a Mac, you can open the file and edit it in Numbers, Apple's version of Excel, then send it back to the person as an Excel file.) In effect, a Mac purchase would not "cut me off" from the "Windows world". If I needed to use more extensive applications, there's Windows on Mac and Office for Mac.

Also, the idea of PC viruses prompted me to look at Apple, because, as they claim in their website (, they never get PC viruses. They update their OS regularly - I can attest to that, seeing as how with the iPad and iPod, I constantly get my updates for iOS (the operating system for Apple's mobile products).

And the loyalty of Mac users has always astounded me - if the entire world is 95% Windows, they must be getting a great experience, and not really caring that they just comprise 5% of the pie. (I did read an article that said that number has bumped up to 7%. I just don't have the link, I've read too many articles and I didn't get to bookmark that particular one.)

I've decided that the only way that I would learn about the full Mac experience is to try it out myself - without making any financial commitment yet. As it happens, one of the Premium Resellers in Manila is giving free seminars on how a Mac would work for your particular needs (for photo editing, for general use, etc.) In my case, I was keen on attending the seminar on Apple's productivity software - essentially their versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint, and see how that translates into my work life should I make a switch, and whether or not their claim is true (that I can move back and forth between files from both Windows and OSX). I will attend the (hands-on) seminar and find out for myself.

At the end of the day, your choice should come down to how the computer works for you, and not the other way around. I am not a PC gamer so there are some specifications I can do without. I travel to different places for work so ease of handling is one concern I have. I seem to have friends and colleagues using both PCs and Macs, although the % of Mac users is decidedly higher than just 5%. I don't buy a laptop with the intention of taking it apart - guess that explains why I'm not an engineer. The older I get, I just want things that work and run smoothly.

Here's to seeing if Apple can hold that part of their promise.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dinner With Nicole R.'s Body Double

Having had a very strenuous work week, I was looking forward to staying home for the long weekend when Arthur calls to tell me that we have to meet up with a friend of his - "we have to" - and so I readied myself with much grunting and grumbling.

(Good thing we were meeting his friend at a place that served good food, which served to alleviate some of my misgivings about having a late dinner.)

What I didn't know was that I would be meeting the possible stand in of erstwhile socialite/former BFF of the more (in)famous "heiress" Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie. (Well, Paris has a more legitimate claim to the title heiress, her family being the owners of a known hotel line. Nicole doesn't sing, does she?)

(Photo courtesy of

Arthur's friend was so frail and, I swear, she actually makes how Nicole appears in the picture above heavy. She was very, very nice, and again, that helped ease the evening. As she could fill in - literally - for Nicole R., let's call her Leticia. (Follow the arrows: Nicole's double ->  Nicolette ->  Drop the Nico  ->  Letty  -> Make it prettier.)

Leticia was a successful entrepreneur, having launched many companies abroad (based in Europe), all of which are doing quite well. Happily married to a foreigner and with kids, she struck me as someone who epitomizes the term "made", at least in both her family and work life. She didn't have on "branded" clothing, as what I might have normally expected from someone who's lived abroad for decades, a refreshing change from those twits who just went abroad for a week and come home with completely different accents and turning their noses up on "dirty" ice cream.

As expected, a large part of the evening was spent discussing business possibilities and opportunities, seeing as how she was a businesswoman in Europe, which is in the doldrums economically these days. I got a chance to see a true entrepreneur at work: I marveled at how she seemed to take in every detail discussed at the table, and analyzing it right there and then as to how it would fit into her general business plans and how she could minimize any negative effects that were brought up. She was involved in everything: food containers, retail, property, fashion and beauty, the list went on. This was someone born to be an entrepreneur and a businesswoman, one who reveled at difficult market situations to see how she could beat it and make a living despite it.

I certainly laid to rest those thoughts that she would be as "heir-headed" (horrible pun, I know) as Nicole.

Just as I was beginning to like her for her acumen in matters of business (and as I was digging into a delicious heirloom tomato salad), she suddenly stunned us by saying. "Arthur, do you like my boobs?"

Dead silence as we were digesting what just happened.

Without missing a beat and with the same analytical mind she used everyday for work, she proceeded to name the pros and cons of the next topic she would bring up: "You see, I have been thinking about my breasts for the longest time. They're sagging, they're drooping, they're just sad. And they need to be filled out and up! No one wants to look at sad eyes, do they? And I can't wear anything right! All these wonderful clothes, always stuck in a closet because my breasts don't look right in them. I'm the anti-model, I make clothes look bad. So I went to a plastic surgeon, and after choosing from the catalog as to what size, girth and depth I wished by breasts to be, he worked his art and here I am now!...What, is it too small? Too raised? Does it make me look like a bimbo? I'll have it reduced if that's how it looks. I certainly need to look good for business. I'm confronted with business people from all these different countries and I have to look my best."

More dead air as this was certainly different from what we ordered for the evening. And to top it off, she turns to me as asks:

"How about you, Joey? Look at my breasts...are they okay?"

I said "Mfjhuksshjpwmqj." (Muffled response while stuffing my mouth with as much greens as I could muster. I imagine I would say the same thing if I had something of that size pressed against my face.)

She then turns "introspective". "You know, I really don't like how I look, that's why I've already had my arms and legs sculpted, my tummy tucked a few times. I feel so fat, bloated and ugly...the only time I am able to wear anything sleeveless and backless is after I've been refreshed by the doctor. I've been to him so much, I should really get one of those loyalty cards that give me a free treatment after 10 visits. But that's the only way I can keep up and feel presentable with all these presentations, meetings and lunches and dinners I have to transact business in and socialize. I have to look my best."

Arthur turns to her with an incredulous look: "Leticia, you were never fat to begin with. In fact, I've always noted how payat (thin) you were and always wondered if you were fed properly and have the right nutrition, even from way back. Look at you, buto't balat ka na nga, eh! ("you're all skin and bones!")...I don't understand how you can say you're bloated."

Leticia says with much conviction: "Basta. (No direct English equivalent, something akin to "no more discussion, that's it, take it or leave it" but yet, not quite.) I feel fat and ugly. In fact, next, I'm having my cheekbones raised and my facial features enhanced."

I looked at Leticia from head to feet - as much as one can from a seated position, anyway - and wondered how was it possible that this business-savvy woman, with many companies to her name, a confident, killer attitude in conquering places where few women would think of setting foot in and manage to shine and outsmart the men in their game, could have a self-esteem so shattered and broken, that even though no one could find anything wrong with her physically, managed to be laden with self-doubt and unattractive pity for her physical stature that she had to overhaul herself - there's no other word for it - so as to give herself a sense of "worth".

Needless to say, my initial admiration for her fell the way credit ratings for Greece have fallen: a fast, sharp, downward fall.

When we got home, I asked Arthur to show me pictures of her when he knew her way back when. She was stunning in that photo I saw. She didn't have a square jaw, but soft features. Arthur was right, she would never be considered "fat" by any stretch of the imagination. She would probably be thought of as "malnourished" by some quarters, in fact. She had on a smile that seemed to indicate how carefree she was - and how unconcerned she was with her physical features.

A far cry from what I witnessed a few hours before I saw this picture from a past I'm not sure even she recognizes anymore.

It also drove home what it means to live in these times: we are supposed to be ashamed of every "flaw" we find in our bodies these days. We must be incredibly lazy, inept or just plain "uncaring" if we insist on carrying on our balding hairline, our blotchy skin, that crooked smile because of uneven teeth, those pesky last 10 to 15 pounds, that "cute" height (read: being short), frizzy locks. The message is no longer how we can "improve" ourselves, but how wretched our lives will be with our present, "unedited" state, and that true success and satisfaction can only be achieved if you let cosmetic surgeons, dermatologists, fitness professionals, stylists, hairdressers, dentists and a whole lot more industries come in and "fix" what's "wrong" with us.

We've taken the concept of "Photoshopping" ourselves to incredibly superficial, twisted and dangerous levels. It's come to the point where there is no more "self" left to salvage in our own self-worth.

I didn't realize our individuality was supposed to make us cringe and fear our own skin.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Why Trinkets Unease Me

As a Filipino-Chinese, I am often asked how I celebrate the Chinese New Year. The only response I have given a few years running now is "Uhm...I don't."

With the impending approach of the said holiday this 2012, I was suddenly in a nostalgic state and tried to remember what transpired every time the Chinese New Year would "commence".

The presence of tikoy was a must, drenched in egg yolk and fried to a crisp. Incense sticks to be lighted and prayed over with incantations I still have no clue about. Mahjong for those so inclined - although my mom strictly forbade us kids from engaging in it as it fell under the general heading of "gambling/game of chance", which she saw no differently from casino games. There would be a "grand game" of "Roll The Dice" - with prizes that were not cheap: I remember there were roundtrips to Europe or Hong Kong and a complete appliance set (refrigerator, oven/gas range, etc.) as top prizes. And the red bags (ang pao/hong pao, depending on whether you used Fookien or Mandarin) filled with money - yes!

Given these activities, you would think that I would at least have a positive experience about it. But looking back, the "traditional" part always left a sickening feeling right smack in my gut. And it's only now, with the advantage of a rear mirror view, that I can articulate why.

We would be "required" to place various trinkets, beads and what-not at strategic places in the house (determined by feng-shui principles) . There would be a certain number of fruits to be put on display, ostensibly for prosperity. There would be items or activities that would be forbidden because they brought "bad luck" and would cause money to "slip away".

(Photo courtesy of

(Photo courtesy of

And the piece de resistance would be a consultation with a feng-shui master himself, who, using your "animal" according to the Chinese horoscope, would then use that "knowledge" together with "what" year it was, and voila!, he can supposedly predict how bad it will be for your business, or maybe a debilitating illness would strike someone in the family, or, as my aunts and uncles would always hope for, things would be on the up-and-up with the businesses they ran.

Recalling those times, it seemed to me that there would always be some kind of remedy whenever the master would "see" an unfortunate event on the horizon.

I remember that in a friend's house where there was such a Chinese New Year celebration, the master advised the mom of my friend to make a donation to the temple where they both went, and that he would be going weekly to their house to perform some "ritual" to cleanse her of the potential ill that he saw befalling her in his "vision".

One of my aunts would always have a golden fish/pig/dragon/whatever animal was needed as some kind of centerpiece in their living room, then miniature versions would abound around the house, in the car, where their office was, etc.

As I am now "removed" from that world (by choice), the unease that I felt, I realize, was something that can be summed up thus: someone was being conned.

The reason I say this is because, in all these situations, a cash transaction was transpiring, for services with methods and supposedly causal results that, charitably speaking, are dubious to a level of the highest order.

Even back in those days, I know these "masters" were being paid in hundreds of thousands of pesos. (Blame my sharp ears back then.) Added to that, you needed to cross their palms with even more money, to buy some statue, or fountain, or smiling cat, to "ensure" good fortune to flow your way.

This is nothing more than enriching oneself at the expense of others. And why I have always been "funny" about it is because the enrichment comes at a hefty price.

I'm not talking about the cash transaction itself, which is already too much to begin with. I'm talking about the way people are preyed upon - preyed on their hopes, dreams and fears.

Everyone wants to get ahead in this world. Everyone wants to be rich, if only for the sake of their family or children, that they never go hungry. No one wants to get a lingering disease. No one certainly wants to be dirt-poor and sick. Parents want to "be sure" that their daughter is marrying into a well-to-do clan and will not be physically abused.

It is these buttons that these "masters" are pressing, stoking smiles or terror as they "see" fit.

It is no different from a religion that tells you to cough up a "donation" to ensure that your father will be saved from a fiery after-life piece of real estate. Or "leaders" that tell you "for the glory of" (insert deity here), they need to build a building that's almost worth one billion pesos. and little schools in the hundreds of millions.

Greta Christina made this very point at a recent talk she gave: the danger with these "promises" and "predictions" is that none of them could be verified. It's all a matter of trust and faith, which almost always requires you to shut off your mental faculties and "just believe".

Believe that a red trinket in a very intricate pattern will make you a millionaire this year, who cares about working long and hard hours, waking up at 5AM to ensure your business runs smoothly, whipping employees into shape.

Believe that a significant monetary gift will ensure a smooth ride to a "pleasant after-life".

Believe that putting loads into a donation box will return to you tenfold, and not because it is the decent, humanitarian thing to do.

I know many people have a predilection to romanticize these rituals as "cultural heritage", saying things like "well, they're beautiful, and we're used to them, and it doesn't feel like (insert event here) if we don't do X."


Culture. Something I see - our particular culture, that is - as a very large part of what keeps our country from progressing forward. People afraid to "rock the boat" because "it's the way things have always been done", a recipe for mental atrophy and stagnation, and even regression.

Before you write me off as some Gloomy Gus, let me just say that I take the good and just discard the bad: I certainly enjoy having tikoy this time of year. Even though my heart doesn't seem to think it's good for me.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Golden Lessons From "Golden Girls"

Who would've thought that a series featuring 4 female senior citizens would end up sweeping the Emmys and would be a perennial TV fan favorite?

(Photo courtesy of

Today's youth-obsessed, looks-centered TV culture (just take a look at the proliferation of "reality shows" that feature stylists, hairdressers, plastic surgeons, even people with no jobs except to "look good") stands in complete contrast to the Golden Girls, an enormous hit of a TV show in the 80's to the early 90's.

It invited sarcasm into its' set every episode, was no stranger to talking about sexual matters even though there was barely any skin shown, poked fun at everything from religion to wrinkle creams, and managed to eke out a strong personality type for its' four leads while maintaining hilariously written story lines (did you know that Marc Cherry, creator of Desperate Housewives, used to write for GG?) that always managed to speak to viewers because of its' accessibility and relevance.

The tall Dorothy Zbornak (played by Bea Arthur) had the most zing when it came to sarcastic comebacks. A divorced substitute school teacher who was not the luckiest in romantic matters, she continued to see her ex-husband - in order to insult him for the "maggot" that he was, to use Dorothy's words. She was considered to be the forward-thinker of the group.

Sweet Rose Nylund (played by the only living member of the Golden Girls, Betty White) regularly bored the other 3 housemates with her "St. Olaf stories" (St. Olaf being a town in Minnesota where Rose grew up). Whether it was her stint as a log-rolling beauty pageant contestant, or her tale of the herrings that juggled little Ginsu knives, she was constantly being ridiculed for having the most unbelievable stories and mocked for her naivete. Ironically, she seemed to have the most intriguing personal conflicts: finding out her lover was under the Witness Protection program escaping the Mob, her tumultuous relationship with Holly, her younger sister, or discovering that her father was a "celibate monk".

"Experienced" Blanche Devereaux (played by Rue McClanahan) has been around the block - twice, on the same night. Labeled a "human mattress" by Sofia, her bedroom seemed to resemble a convenience store more, with men coming in and out of it 24/7. In fact, most of her storylines centered around a particular man, a couple of men she was seeing together, or how depressed she was that she didn't have a date (and she didn't hide her venom when the other women had dates at those particular times). She was seen as the "shallow" one, who stayed loyal to her husband George until his death.

Feisty Sofia Petrilo (the anything-but-diminutive Estelle Getty) was Dorothy's mother - which explains where Dorothy got her training in wit. Sofia had the enviable task of saying what everyone was thinking (but was afraid of even blurting out) - and delivering it with a big bang. Calling Blanche a floozy, saying "I deserve better company than this in my last years!" to Rose, or castigating her own daughter for turning down a date ("How many chances are you going to get?"), she was the proverbial mother of the other 3, and known for her "Picture This" stories.

As I am currently finishing a marathon of my boxed-set discs of the GG (and consequently railing at how idiotic TV shows have become circa 2012), it dawned on me why I like the Golden Girls so much: it had substance and depth, despite it being a "sit-com" (situational comedy). 

We're all getting older, and we'll soon die.

This was the obvious, inescapable theme, being a show about four seniors, and including one who was a mother of another senior, to give you an idea of the age range of these characters.

What was particularly endearing was how they dealt with this given the issues they faced: Rose lost her pension checks from the company where her late husband Charlie worked, and had to start over with a new job at her age; Dorothy still had to work as a teacher because her ex-husband remarried and squandered the money they saved when they were together; Sofia constantly worked at hospitals and centers to give cheer to other people.

Blanche had the most aversion to this topic, and manifested outright denial that she was aging. ("I can't must be from living with old people.") Coupled with narcissism and a sex drive that was in overdrive, it's fascinating to see her wrestle with the issues of mortality and sustaining one's looks. Even back then, being youthful was a big issue, but the difference was that this show poked fun at Blanche's attempts to hold back time, while today's lineup openly embrace this "need' while sending the message that having no attempts to "stay young" will make you miserable.

There's nothing like sarcasm to deal with things quickly.

The area of specialty of Dorothy, sarcasm was regularly practiced by all four lead cast members. When one person had a knack for carrying on about something in particular the others didn't care for, she would be usually be met with a comeback that would stop them dead in their tracks.

Blanche (talking about retirement): "I can't wait to retire...I wonder if I can collect pension at...49-50." (referring to her "supposed" age).

Dorothy (in deadpan mode): "4950...what is that, Blanche? The address of the Social Security building?"

One of my favorite lines was from Sofia, as the three other girls were discussing about growing old together.

Dorothy (talking to Sofia): "Oh, Ma...are you worried that no one's going to take care of you in your twilight years?"

Sofia: "Are you kidding me? These are your twilight years, I'm supposed to be dead!"

And when Rose had her HIV scare, and asked Blanche how she dealt with waiting for the HIV test:

Blanche: "Well...I just kept to myself and acted like a real bitch to everyone else."

Rose: "No wonder we never knew that you took the test!"

We will keep searching for a companion.

One interesting thing this show communicated was that seniors are not to be written off as "past their prime" in romance and sex. All four leads were constantly looking for someone to love and be loved: what differed was what this meant to each lady, as they all were single (three by death of their husbands, one by divorce).

The obvious punchline here was Blanche, who seemed to have a set "expiration date"; once she dated a man for six weeks, it was time to "move on" to another man, lest she be emotionally involved any deeper. The rationale: she could not bear losing another man the way she did when she lost her husband.

The surprise portrayal was Sofia, who managed to have a more exciting dating life than her own daughter, who was constantly in a slump date-wise. And this opened the eyes of many viewers, that even as we age, to the point where kids and younger people will say "we don't want to hear about it!", our hearts - and bodies - will yearn to connect with someone else, as a matter of human need.

Humor lightens any "heavy" discussion.

Across its 7 seasons, the show featured a multitude of social and explosive issues, all of which were tackled with empathy (I was scratching my head constantly while marathon viewing and asking myself "They didn't get censored for that?") and large quantities of humor and laughter, which might initially seem breezy, but in hindsight, it was an excellent approach, if only to avoid the trap of sounding preachy.

Among the topics they discussed were: "the coming out of Blanche's brother, safe sex, same-sex marriage, empty-nest syndrome, ageism, elderly motorists, sexism and sexual harassment, assisted suicide, Alzheimer's disease, teen pregnancy, caring for the elderly, impotence, death, adultery, solicitation, FBI involvement, UFOs, illegal immigration and deportation, nuclear disarmament, political corruption, advance-fee fraud, chronic fatigue syndrome, organ donation, caring for the blind, domestic violence, problem gambling, substance dependence, artificial insemination, animal rights, unemployment, poverty and the homeless, child neglect and abandonment, gun violence, burglary, solitude, interracial marriage, adult education, plastic surgery and dementia." (From wikipedia)

The episode that hit me most was when Sofia's friend asked her to be there while she attempted to kill herself.  One, because I know someone personally who committed suicide, and two, I don't know how I would have responded to such an unusual, uhm, request. (You'd have to watch the episode itself to see how Sofia managed to "resolve" this dilemna.)

Real friends are hard to find but worth the search and wait.

Universally accepted as the most endearing trait of the four leads, it was their friendship with each other that carried them through the most absurd and horrifying situations (I'm thinking of Blanche's violent lover who was starting to get physically abusive with Dorothy). And one that carries its weight in real life, which resonates especially more in this age of Facebook and an irrational thinking that having a million "Facebook friends" means you are "popular" (all the while losing the very essence of what true friendship means and entails).

Even the theme song, easily one of the most recognizable and singable opening songs from a sitcom, says this out clearly:

Thank you for being a friend,
Traveled down the road and back again,
Your heart is true,
You're a pal and a confidant;
And if you threw a party,
Invited everyone you knew,
You would see,
The biggest gift would be from me,
And the card attached would say,
"Thank you for being a friend."

Revisit this show if you have a chance, and if you haven't seen this at all, go and get a copy. You'll wonder - and despair - why they don't make TV shows like this anymore.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Parody. More Fun In The Philippines.

Something we can rightfully claim, we certainly know how to have fun and make fun of ourselves. I've heard criticisms that we focus too much on the fun that we don't mind the suffering, and I view it as a chicken-and-egg situation: Do we make fun of ourselves because all we've known is hardship, or are we in dire straits because we're just too enamored with fun?

(I still maintain that humor and using it to our advantage is an excellent coping mechanism.)

With the just released DOT slogan to attract more visitors, it was inevitable that we would also have fun - and poke fun - with it. I scoured cyberspace to see a few of the more memorable parodies of the "It's More Fun In The Philippines" campaign. (I'm certain more will be coming up in the future.)

One thing that was highlighted viewing these interpretations that I love about the Philippines: Free speech.

(Photo courtesy of George Tapan/

I've always loved the visual feast of the rice terraces, aside from the fact that they are functional, they're a treat to look at. And it always blows my mind that this is all hand made.

(Photo courtesy of George Tapan/

When I heard that there was a parody about commuting being "more fun" here, I thought it was a gag or prank initially.

(Photo courtesy of George Tapan/

Whimsical, and certainly seems to embody the word fun.

(Photo courtesy of

Two words came to mind seeing this, "game sila!"

(Photo courtesy of

I'm still not sure what the "face" is made of, but it's certainly interesting.

(Photo courtesy of

Looked like an ode to Finding Nemo, and a nod to our rich marine life. Let's make sure future generations can see this in person and not only thorough books.

(Photo courtesy of

I'm not sure where this building is (or what the name is, even) but it certainly beats a face filled with Botox.

(Photo courtesy of

Star Wars fans, the force is with...balloon.

The next two photos are from Tim Ramos/

I think I was more impressed with the anagram that Tim Ramos made for his website using his name. Coolness.

(Photo courtesy of

I wished the font used was a little smaller, but the participants certainly look like they're having fun. And colorful, too.

(Photo courtesy of

Really laughed at this one, and so far, my favorite parody because of two things: lechon tastes great and I don't get planking/I think it's idiotic.

Here's to more parodies.

And here's hoping the new DOT campaign really takes off.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Ruckus That Is the New DOT Slogan

(Logo courtesy of the DOT FB page:

By now, you must have heard the endless commentaries about the new slogan launched by our country's Department of Tourism to boost tourist arrivals. Accusations of plagiarism, lack of originality, crab mentality, and more have been thrown around.

I'm here to add another one (commentary, that is, not an accusation).

Let me couch it, though, by saying that despite my various misgivings and disappointments about how things are run and how they happen in this country, I am one with every Filipino who wants our country to succeed in every way, on the world stage. It is precisely because I care what happens with our country that I have been very unforgiving and unflinching when trying to make people see the truth, as opposed to hearing rosy words that will soothe our fragile egos.

A quick quip about the idea thrown around that the DOT copied the 1951 ad of Switzerland: With today's technology, we could easily find out if a slogan, or anything else for that matter, has been used before. (In the "plagiarism again" aftermath, it becomes painfully obvious.) In fact, the term "google" has already entered the vernacular; it is not unusual for someone to say "I'll have to google that first" these days. Couldn't someone from the entire DOT be assigned to fact-checking? As always, once it's said or in this case rolled out, you can't take it back anymore.

Here's what I find out from two other countries in terms of tourist arrivals.

Singapore, that city-state that has attained First World status, with a population that is only comparable to Metro Manila, had  nearly 12 million visitors from January to November of 2011. (Source:

Vietnam, a country ravaged by a hideous war, and still a Communist country, had 5.4 million visitors in the same time period. (Source:

Using the same time frame last year, Philippine tourist arrivals amounted to 3.5 million. (Source:

It really begs the question: Why do the statistics show us lagging behind our other Asian neighbors? I am disheartened with the facts, especially since we are acknowledged to have abundant natural wonders, in spades. Lonely Planet, a respected travel site/guide, had this to say of the Philippines:

"The Philippines truly qualifies as one of the last great frontiers in Southeast Asian travels."

"Of course, any traveler who has been here (Philippines) will tell you that it's the people and their culture that makes the Philippines unique...And despite the poverty that afflicts much of the nation,  the Filipinos themselves are among the most ebullient and easygoing people anywhere."

"Often overlooked by travelers because of its location on the 'wrong' side of the South China Sea, the Philippines rewards those who go the extra distance to reach it."

(Read more here:

I don't know about you, but I can't help but smile reading these statements. And which made me wonder more, given such a positive spin, why our (tourist) numbers don't seem to live up to the promise. A clue could be found in this:

"Travel alert: Due to the uncertain political situation in Mindanao, including the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Sulu archipelago, travel to these areas is not advised."

This warning comes right after the big heading that says Introducing Philippines.

Uncertainty, safety concerns, lack of peace and order - these are definitely factors that tourists consider when deciding where to travel. (We won't even go to specific countries alerting their citizens not to visit certain places.)

How will we attract tourists, when they aren't certain of making it out of here in one piece - but possibly in pieces? We have achieved notoriety - to differentiate it from fame - for hostage situations, and the eventual deaths - of tourists who come here. (All you need do is type "Gracia Burnham" in Google.) Contrast the situation in Singapore, where laws are stringent, even foreigners who are found guilty of being involved in drugs in any way are sentenced to death, and safety issues are practically, well, a non-issue.

They may be accused of being "boring" compared to us (although their government is certainly making strides to make Singapore appear as a "party place"), but methinkest coming back home intact is a bigger concern than being able to live it up in our powdery white beaches of, say, Palawan, then taken hostage and possibly being beheaded.

If you think this factor (safety) is not a concern, try answering this question. "You are given a free trip. Would you rather go to the United Kingdom, or Iraq?"

Another factor we like to tout as "tourist-friendly credentials" is our supposed unparalleled ability to converse in the English language. Anyone on the street, even our louts and beggars, will be able to carry a passable conversation with a foreigner in English. But countries like Vietnam, who  don't see it as a priority to learn English (I learned this firsthand when we went to Ho Chi Minh City in the not too distant past), are quite adamant about retaining their culture, are still beating us in the tourist arrivals department.

It would serve the DOT well if they could identify factors of more successful countries in tourist arrivals - even if only from the Southeast Asian perspective and purview - and how they can translate this knowledge into working for us. We should take it as a challenge: What can we learn from other nations and people? We supposedly have the "natural" advantage (our natural resources and wonders), and obviously , the numbers don't lie: repeatedly touting that "we have so many beautiful things in nature" line is getting old, and we need to see why other places who rank so low on the "natural" scale are pulling in the big numbers.

What I am advocating is for the DOT to be factual in assessing what could work for us and our tourism industries. Honestly, I don't think they "plagiarized" the new slogan; it certainly lines up with us being described as "ebullient and easygoing" that we would have more fun.

But the slogan is merely the sizzle.

We need to back it up with real meat. Real substance.

And that requires all of us to see what's wrong.

Too often we are overly concerned with what appears on the surface - I have written about this already in my past post about Philippine culture, and how we find it OK to keep up pretenses as long as we appear "good" to anyone trying to look in.

Sooner or later, we won't be able to mask the stink.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

One Christmas At Oakwood: Finale

(Last of three parts.)

It was around 15 minutes from my phone call before the manager on duty came up to our room.

He introduced himself and apologized profusely for everything that has happened. (He was already briefed about the initial "events" and the expression on my face must have tipped him off on how to respond.) I told him, "You know, I might have let it slide if this was a three star, maybe on a four star establishment...but, Oakwood is supposed to be a five star place, yes?"

"That's right."

"Then everything that has happened so far seems to be a manual on how not to run a five star serviced apartment. That's where I'm coming from. One infraction is memorable for the wrong reasons, but one after the other...I'm already expecting the entire stay to be a disaster."

"Please allow us to make it up to you. As we speak, I am currently having a room on the 23rd floor tidied up so that if you choose, you can move up to the higher floor, which is what you requested with our reservations agent."

"That's the other thing. If your people cannot make it happen, they should not say things like "I'm on top of it" and "I'll see to it personally". It just sets up for a forgettable experience, and I'm sure I don't have to tell you, in the hospitality industry, it's all about how one feels from start to finish."

"I completely agree, Mr. Ramirez. Please allow me to personally ensure that everything will be smooth sailing from here on out. I will head down to make sure that the room on the 23rd is ready, then I will call again to ask if you would like to transfer."

"Please understand that I don't want something more than what I requested. As _______ explained to me, since this is a Deal Grocer coupon stay, the highest floor allowed would only be the 18th floor. It would have been nice if he could have managed it from his end to begin with."

Art then hollers from the bedroom: "Just take the offer."

The manager left, and promptly called back in about 10 minutes, and asked if we would like to transfer. I said yes, and a porter appeared soon at our door to fetch our bags. (Which we didn't need anyway, as we had only one bag each.) The manager was also there to personally bring us to our new accommodations on the 23rd floor.

Here's the thing: The room looked exactly identical, in terms of furniture, placement, space usage. In fact, we noticed because the room on the 23rd floor was broken in a different way to accommodate a better view, the room seemed a little smaller. Art and I looked at each other, and we said almost simultaneously, "I think we'll just go back to the original room." (So, Deal Grocer buyers were not really missing that much - or at all - by being assigned the lower floors.)

The feature I think I liked best was this:

A TV in front of a bathtub. Best idea for total relaxation - and a recipe for pruned skin.

The dark hues of the furniture conveyed a strange mix of warmth and formality at the same time. I personally adored the way the room was designed: Neatly laid out into 4 blocks - the kitchen area when you entered, the living room and work area after that, then inside the bedroom, which lead into the bathroom with the bathtub, your own steam bath as well, and a closet. (We never did get to use the in-room steam bath, as the control instructions weren't too clear, and we might end up setting something ablaze.)

Art really lightened up with the kitchen, as there was a dishwasher and a touchscreen stove. (And he really does like cooking - like being an understatement.) We also discovered that even the most powerful dishwashers won't clean up every square inch of your plates and utensils, sadly. (Nothing beats manual, hard labor.)

Beddings and linens provided were very comfortable, although the assortment of pillows (I think there were 6) is not something I fancy, but that's really more a matter of personal taste. And the bed was of the  Goldilocks variety - just right on the hardness-softness scale.

Someone from Guest Services also called, apologizing for the train wrecks we experienced along the way and also sent up a platter of fruits and champagne as peace offerings. (As I mentioned to the duty manager, on the strength of their amenities and actual accommodations, I would be the first to recommend it to anyone. On a physical basis, you'd be hard pressed to find something to complain about. And the room we had was almost twice the size of other 5 star hotel rooms.)

We went to the Oakroom in the morning for breakfast, which was included in the price we paid. An odd choice for a breakfast menu was the sausage, beef and liver skewer, which would probably be best paired with beer. (And not to mention, I don't take liver.)

I missed out on the risotto - another unusual breakfast item - as they only served it for one round in the buffet, and once it was finished, they replaced it with noodles or some other rice dish. I was happily munching away on the salmon (personal favorite) and a potato dish halfway between a croquette and mashed potato. (That was good.) Juices were overflowing, and the caffeine addicts will love the selection: You could have latte, Amerciano, espresso and a whole lot of other options, instead of just "Cream and Sugar or Black?" which I've come to expect from hotel chains.

Art wanted to go to the pool and I wanted to really maximize my relaxation time (read: stay motionless) so I stayed by one of the poolbeds, while he swam.

(Photo courtesy of

One of the best looking pool areas I've ever seen in Manila. It was a peach to just laze around by the poolside. The pool itself is not very deep nor big, but you can do laps so it serves its purpose.

We requested for a late check out time (Art wanted to make full use of the other facilities like the sauna) and this time we were granted the request, until 1PM. (Normal check out time was at 12NN.) I had dozed off because of where I was (the pool had the words CALM AND SERENE written all over it) and before I knew it, it was already 12:40PM. When I got up to the room, it was back to service reality: I was locked out of the room. I had to go to the lobby in my bathrobe to have the card key "fixed". Either someone didn't figure telling the front desk about our late check out time, or they never bothered adjusting the time my key would be valid.

I think Oakwood still needs to work on their communication with people who take the calls of their guests and the people who are expected to deliver their guests' requests. They are not really a "hotel" per se (as mentioned, they identify themselves as a serviced apartment) but when you slap on the label of "five star", expectations are at their highest. (I'm not counting the 7 star luxury hotel in the Middle East...speaking of which, is there a "6 star" hotel, then?) On the basis of the place's physical attributes alone, I would gladly spread the word myself that they have that area covered in spades.

But service counts more, especially in a service intensive trade like the hospitality industry.

It spells the difference between  a magical moment to be relived at the soonest time possible, or a bad cocktail party story.

Oakwood Premier Joy-Nostalg Center Manila
17 ADB Avenue, Oritgas Center,
Pasig, Metro Manila

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Oakwood Christmas

There's certainly a first for everything.

Take for example, our Christmas stay at Oakwood Manila. This is the first time we were told that a hotel - or serviced apartment, which is what Oakwood identifies itself as, a five star one - had no parking spaces available - and we were registered to check in. (We had to scour the surrounding area for a secure parking lot. The open space beside the hotel got a lot of business on December 24 and 25.)

We only found out they had no parking space there and then because we were queuing for valet parking (which we are used to from  other hotels), and the first hammer falls: The hotel staff assigned at the driveway stopped us just as we were about to ascend to the hotel driveway (a short one), asked us to move back for no apparent reason, then we had to wait about a minute because another car came from around the bend and he let the other car, inexplicably, cut in line.

And to those of you who know me, you know how anal I can get about people following their place in lines. (Maybe I shall regale everyone with the MRT incident in a future post.)

It turned out, I didn't have to do any talking. Art went down and reprimanded the attendant for letting the other car go first. (And the attendant could not explain sufficiently why we had to give up our place in line.)

We haven't entered the lobby yet and we already had two strikes. (Queue Cut In and No Parking.)

Since I did not get a call or email back from the reservations agent about my requested early check-in time (when I was told he was "on top of it"), I assumed that we would go through the normal process, and their standard check in time at Oakwood was 3PM. (Rather late, I must say.)

There were about three people in front of my line (and there were 4 lines to the reception desk), so I could hear the receiving staff assigning room numbers to the other guests. I could make out one billeted at the 19th floor, another at the 23rd floor, and a family at the 20th. I thought to myself that with my request for a higher floor, I would be at least around the vicinity of the rooms I heard made out to the other guests in line before me.

"Welcome, Mr. Ramirez." A perky staff greets me when it was my turn, and I handed to her my Deal Grocer coupon. "You will be billeted at the 15th floor."

This was what I was emailing back and forth with the reservations agent for, two months before? A room on the 15th floor, when all around me, everyone was getting the 19th, 20th and 23rd floor? I asked to see the reservations agent who told me that he would see to my requests.

The agent comes out from the back office. "Hi, Mr. Ramirez."

"Hi, _________. I'm very disappointed. One, you did not get back to me on my request for an earlier check in time, which you said you would do on the day itself - today - and I emailed you about this three times at least."

"Sir, I really couldn't give you a specific time until today."

:And here I am checking in at 3PM because you did not advise me whatsoever, even just to say that you could not grant an earlier check-in time. Two, I also asked for a room on a higher floor...We had various email exchanges about this, and you said you had posted a note at the "front" so that the staff on duty could give me my request, and that you would "see to it personally". I find myself at the 15th floor, while everyone else is on the 19th, 20th, 23rd floor."

"Sir, for the promotion price, the highest floor we can accommodate you is the 18th floor."

"Which you did not give. The reason I emailed you and contacted you as soon as I purchased the coupon was so that I would be in line for my requests to be entertained. Did all these other people also email you?"

"No, sir."

"That's my point. There was no point in me emailing you back and forth with specific requests because you would have just assigned me a room that was available at the time of my queue, and I had to queue at 3PM because I did not get any word from you about the earlier check in time, which you said you would advise me on."

"OK, sir." He talks to the front desk staff. "We can move you to the 18th floor, but you'll need to wait another 30 minutes to an hour as we get the room ready first."

At which point I was so drained with the "welcome" I was experiencing so far, so I said "Never mind. We'll take the room at the lower floor. Never mind that none of the requests I made were given at the slightest."

"OK, sir. We tried our best."

"That's your best? Then I guess that says it clearly, then."

"OK, sir."

"Stop saying OK, because I am not having an OK experience from the time our car pulled up your driveway."

Art then reminded me to not let the incident mar the entire experience, and since we saw pictures beforehand of how the place looked, we were at least assured that we could have a restful respite ahead in tasteful surroundings.

Oakwood wasn't done. This was what greeted us when we got up to our assigned room.

(My apologies for the quality of the shot, as I had to quickly use my phone camera to capture this.)

Yes, the door of our room was open, and for a moment we thought we had the wrong number on our card. We checked it again, and it was correct. So I stepped in closer to get a better shot of what greeted us in our room.

There was a ladder propped up against the sink, and a paper bag with papers, light fixtures, and I failed to get a shot of it, but beside the brown bag, there were light fixtures lying around on the floor also.

Which meant someone from maintenance was probably fixing up some problem and decided to leave his things there. Or he wasn't done fixing. Or housekeeping wasn't informed that people were checking in on December 24. (Very plausible. Not.)

We quickly went inside and started to "inspect" what other things were out of place. I didn't get a chance to take a photo of the drawer that was also open in the bathroom - normally everything should be in its place, cabinets closed, bed neatly folded, not a chair or table in a wayward pattern.

I immediately also called the front desk to inform them what greeted us upon entering the room. By this point, I'm sure they must have labeled me "a complainer" and the girl who answered was apologetic, and said that the manager on duty would be right up to see to things personally.

Should I be charitable in this season of giving, given our "welcome"?

(To be continued in the next post.)

One Christmas At Oakwood: Prelude

Having heard of positively glowing reviews from travel sites, word of mouth recommendations, and internet articles, I was rather thrilled when Deal Grocer (so far, my favorite online shopping site for great deals) posted a fantastic offer for a stay at Oakwood Manila, at the Joy-Nostalg Center (I didn't get a chance to inquire about the unusual building name) in Ortigas, Pasig, at a price that was around 40% off the usual rack rate.

(Photo courtesy of

I quickly read the "fine print" to see which dates would be blocked off as "not redeemable" and they only disallowed the use of the coupon on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. I quickly called the hotel to verify if Art and I could book a room on Christmas Eve, to which the operator responded in the affirmative, and I proceeded to purchase the deal online.

I then emailed the hotel to secure a written reservation. (I like it when things are documented, and if there's one thing I've learned from traveling for some time now, you have to have everything printed, otherwise, the establishment can claim anything - and refuse everything as well.) I also requested the highest floor possible for the deal, and if we could have a room that wasn't facing a back alley or wall. (It happened twice in a 4 star hotel.)

The respondent, a reservations agent, was very helpful, and said that all my requests will be most likely granted, seeing as how I corresponded with the hotel so early (almost 2 months from the date we intended to stay). I also requested an early check in time to avoid the rush that was expected at a time like Christmas. I was assured that I would "on top priority".

A few days before we were to check in, I emailed the same agent again to ask what time we could be accomodated. He informed me that he could not give me a time until the date itself but that he was "on top of it" and would "see to the matter personally".

The beginning of the end. Or at least a descent into a cacophony of mishaps.

(To be continued in the next post.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Are Maids Considered Cattle?

Walking to work yesterday, I espied a matrona who seems to have made Victorina from Noli Me Tangere her model and aspiration: Despite having Filipina features, I wager she must have ingested at least 10 bottles of Glutathione pills (the alabaster tone of her skin was discolored and seemed...artificial), the hair piled up and colored in copper brown, and was dressed in what I can sumrise to be very expensive clothing.

Tagging along with her in hand was her daughter (she called the older woman "Mom" so this isn't conjecture on my part) who was in a rather skipping, jovial mood, dressed in her school uniform.

And behind them was their maid.

(Photo courtesy of

Dressed in an all white uniform - collared, ironed well, short sleeved, buttoned in front, with matching white pants, and white shoes, the maid was carrying around six shopping bags, plus the child's school bag, and Victorina's handbag. (The maid wasn't more than 5'2" and would give Kate Moss a run for Emaciated Look of the Year.)

I just find the uniform so pretentious.

I can't find a way to justify around or over my assessment: It seems to me that the uniform is a form of cattle branding, a way to say to everyone in public, "This is our maid, and yes, the uniform means she's ours."

The maid doesn't go into an office with hundreds of other employees, so the line that "it's for identification purposes" is a big bag of hooey.

I've seen these uniformed maids in restaurants, malls, etc.; in one particular instance, the entire family was seated on a round table, with a lazy Susan serving meals, and the maid was standing beside the infant in the group, feeding him, while she herself didn't get any food. (They arrived later than our party and left earlier so I knew for certain that she wasn't fed.)

And even for those families who do "allow" their uniformed maids to eat and sit with them, the uniform is a sticking point - remember that song from Sesame Street, the one that goes "One of these things is not like the others..."? The uniformed maid stands out conspicuously with the label "our helper".

Would it be so hideous and unthinkable if maids were allowed to dress themselves freely?

Why the uniforms?

Can anyone tell me any reason that will change my mind about this phenomenon being a modern form of "ownership"? (Not to mention something reeking of the nouveau riche label all over it.)

I'm almost expecting the next uniformed maid I see to have a bell around her neck and mooing to her "owners".

This is one time I really hope to be proven wrong.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I Don't Hate The MMFF

I can't hate something I don't feel strongly passionate about.

Let's be honest here: If you think I'm anti-Pinoy, then a look at this year's 2011 MMFF (Metro Manila Film Mestival) entries will give you a good indication why.

(Photo courtesy of

An action hero in a special effects extravaganza, a role handed to the lead actor as some kind of legacy, a voyeuristic heirloom, passing the torch (some would argue the belch) from father to son. Which would be par for the course, since in real life, the father and son both held the same position in government. (And they say the movies aren't realistic.)

Another melodrama starring an actress from my childhood, Maricel Soriano. (I haven't seen/heard about her in quite awhile, so it's refreshing to see her in this lineup, as the current movies and TV shows exhibited locally keep on showcasing the same "actors" and "actresses" over and over and over and over...until we switch to commercials and we see the exact same "models" over and over and over and over.)

Two successful (and by success I mean in monetary terms solely) franchises in filmfest history, the Enteng Kabisote "fairy tales" of Vic Sotto (is he also in the running for the game show host with the longest life span?) and the Ina Mo series from Ai Ai de las Alas have joined forces this time around. They (or their producers) must have heard the "common wisdom" line in showbiz circles: when a celebrity pairs up with another celebrity, their fame multiplies.

A horror movie franchise that has been with me since my high school years, Shake, Rattle and Roll. I was surprised to hear that we're only up to number 13. I guess they needed to use Once Upon A Time In China as their benchmark, which as I remembered lasted till 10 or 11. That's a lot of "once upon a time" to go around. And I'm always puzzled why they release this at Christmas time - are they just going "against the holidays"? It's either that, or they're gunning for the receipts.

The Presidential sister in "her" genre. When I saw the trailer on TV, as she was opening the closet and water came rushing to engulf her, I thought midway: (a) her scream sounded like she saw all her TV shows taken away; (b) there isn't a single acting bone or DNA on her, so she must know The Emperor's New Clothes by heart; and (c) I thought she promised to go away when her brother was elected?

The only two films I am holding out hope for - in place of pride in local cinema, I'm left grasping for any reason to believe that anything of substance will come out of it still - are the entries that aren't "fantasy" flicks: Manila Kingpin and My Househusband. One is a look at a notorious warlord, the other is a reversal of gender roles.

I've only seen one of them, and hopefully I will complete seeing the other one this week.

Two things I wish to let the producers of these films know - and as a consumer, my voice is just as valid as anyone else's, so stop hounding me for film credits or asking if I've ever directed a movie.

One, placing all these movies side by side, and force feeding them to the public under the guise of "saving local cinema" (for these 2 weeks, foreign films are banned from being shown in theaters) only highlights the mediocrity that local cinema coughs up as "films". In a festival that is supposed to celebrate "the best" in Filipino filmmaking, we are constrained to choose movies that make us hurl the least.

And two: Quality does not recognize race. If a film is good or, pray tell, even great, it's good or great because the film is good or great, and not because the actors/directors/producers were Filipino, or Armenian, or Latin Americans. A film that has merits will stand up to "Hollywood blockbusters" - now there's another industry spawning off mindless flicks. (Just with better looking actors. And even that point is debatable.)

You have just wasted an opportunity, a golden one, to use film and art as a medium to challenge, inspire and make people think, even if it makes them uncomfortable. And with the thick hides of many Filipinos, we all know it's going to take a lot to make these types uncomfortable.


Monday, January 2, 2012

A Place In The (Fitness) Sun

A surge of optimism. Renewed strength to sustain what has been achieved. Giddiness at trying to explore new things, places, activities and whatever else may come our way.

Yes, the new year is upon us.

Every year, we come upon the list: enumerating things - both achievable and the sometimes-farfetched - that we see as "goals for the year". I suppose you can include me in the other column - I firmly believe you don't have to wait for the start of a new year, your birthday, or whatever marker you deem necessary, in order for you to start doing things you have been putting off. (And which keep resurfacing on every list you have ever made.) As a popular shoe company says it succinctly in their slogan, Just Do It.

But then, it cannot be denied that mentally, there seems to be an image of barriers tumbling down whenever the new year approaches, and if that is what it takes to get on with the things you've wanted to achieve so far, then more power to you.

Having been a professional in the fitness industry for more than a decade, I already know what will await me when I enter my place of work on January 2012: throngs of new clients, saying to themselves that "this is the year I will achieve my fitness goals". (New) Membership numbers always spike at the start of the year, but we also know that by the middle of the first half of 2012, the number that is retained out of the initial onslaught will taper off. (I like to think of them as "fitness excitement dropouts".)

Here are a few things I have learned, both from fitness certification bodies like ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) and ACE (American Council on Exercise), and from being "on the ground" - talking to clients personally and in groups, and personal experiences with them. While this list is not exhaustive, I think it will help people adhere to a fitness regimen - it's good to take advantage of the "start of the year" adrenalin and find ways to prolong that excitement.

(Photo courtesy of

Talk to your doctor. Whether you decide to enroll in one of the larger fitness chains, or want to "wing it" on your own at the neighborhood park or even your own garage, it is imperative and essential that you talk to your doctor about your intent to start a new fitness regimen (or restart one, if you have been away from physical activities for quite some time). S/he will be in a better, more qualified position to know about your current health status, health history, family background, and many more other variables, and can make an objective assessment of what you can, should and should not do.

Many "new" clients tend to over-exert themselves - to the point of exhaustion. Which is really a recipe for disaster - a.k.a. an excuse to discontinue a fitness program. ("I get so tired, I can't get anything else done.") Avoid this trap by mapping and planning out your initial regimen clearly and taking into account your personal health.

Decide what to do on the basis of who you are. It's so much easier these days for people to "get into" some type of fitness program - there's a plethora to choose from. (Back in the old days, you only had 2 or 3 types of group exercise classes in gyms.)

You may find yourself uncoordinated, or have trouble keeping up with a musical beat. (Colloquially - and dersively, unfortunately - labeled as "having no rhythm".) That's OK. You don't need to "be on the beat" in a spinning class. Nor does jogging require you be "in step" with whatever's playing on your earphones. Even in a gym setting, you can climb the treadmill, set up your own circuit station, attend a yoga class, or focus on split training - all activities that don't require music.

You should also think about how you are motivated with regards to social interactions. Are you the type of person who gets your best work done when you have no one else to consider but your own thoughts and ideas? Or are you a social creature, one that thrives when part of a group with similar interests? Perhaps you need a coach to "see you though" - and find yourself slipping on your goals without someone breathing behind your neck. Answering these questions and assessing them could lead you into either an individual sport, a group class or a personal training scenario. Whatever scenario you choose, it has to be suited with who you are and how you live and interact. (The goal of most fitness professionals and programs is to make exercise a part of your life, not just a "lifestyle" or a fad.)

Make time for fitness. This is one of the stumbling blocks we face as professionals - when clients use the "time" card. I have a meeting. I have to pick up the kids. I need to be at this dinner. The dog ate my rubber shoes. There's no end to rationalizing the time factor - we can all come up with a thousand excuses. It has to be a conscious decision to make time for it. Just like all things in life that are worth achieving, time is an essential component. We all have to work out our goals with time.

And here's some good news for those who think that if they don't work out continuously, they would rather not work out: ACSM has recently changed its position on the duration of exercise. (Previously it was recommended by ACSM that you needed to do at least 30 minutes of continuous exercise to gain health benefits.) They now revised it, and you can achieve this number in a discontinuous manner: (You can do 15 minutes of activity in the morning, and another 15 minutes in the afternoon or evening.) This certainly cuts into those who insist of saying "there's just not enough time". Surely everyone can spare 15 minutes?

Don't do something just because it's "in". Another infamous trap for stopping an exercise program.

We all know of running marathons happening all over the country. You can't get past a weekend in Metro Manila without seeing some type of marathon. Kiddie marathons, full marathons, night marathons, we've done all of those. It doesn't mean you should join one or train for one also. As I've mentioned previously, you need to take into account who you are.

(Running is a phenomenon of sorts because by nature, it is a solitary act - you can run on your own anytime - but has somehow, as a sport, evolved into a social club, where you see officemates trying a short one, or a barkada attempting to finish a full marathon.)

 Do what interests and suits you. You may have physical limitations to consider. Or an activity just "doesn't feel right". Fitness is great in that no one size fits all - if jumping rope is what excites you, then by all means, do it! Move, and move in a way that makes you want to keep moving. I've been in the industry long enough to know that there are trends, and people who got into fitness purely on the basis of trends. It used to be step aerobics (thanks to Gin Miller and Reebok); then Billy Blanks and his branded Tae-Bo punched its way through; Johnny G  developed the Spinning program with Schwinn; nowadays, thanks to the guy affectionately called "Beto", the Zumba craze is sweeping Manila. (Although technically, Zumba started around the year 2000, it is only now catching on here.)

Whatever trend "hooks" you, do it because you want to, not because everyone else is doing it.

Be good to yourself. Don't starve yourself. Don't exercise to the point that you can't get up the next morning. Don't do too much too soon. If you find yourself in an unhealthy state, it didn't happen overnight - it happened little by little, until it became days, months and years; it may take that much time to reverse it (sometimes even more, for others it will be a lifelong journey), but what's important is to do something.

One thing I've learned from yoga is to appreciate your body from the standpoint of the journey and not the destination. There are poses that I find difficult, almost near impossible to do, but what matters is I'm trying. And the same goes for everyone, whatever program they choose to get into. Recognize that your body may have limitations, and work with or around them, not against them.

(Side note: I recently attended a class where the teacher said "you may experience pain, that is alright, that is normal, it will pass." I was immediately looking for the exit. Exercise may be discomforting, especially if you haven't done it for so long, but it should never be painful. Always remember that.)

Have a great year ahead, and may you continue achieving your goals, and find your place in the sun. Fitness and otherwise.