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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Scary Things

This isn't horrendous.
(Courtesy of

As I walk past throngs of children in their "Halloween's Best", doing the trick-or-treat shtick in one of Manila's biggest malls, it got me to thinking about what it is I find scary. It has nothing to do with walking corpses, headless apparitions or bloody entrails.

Coming face to face with hordes of bills. Nothing can be more frightening than opening envelopes filled with one message: YOU OWE US. Phone bills, electricity, water, rent, association dues - whoever said "the best things in life are free" must immediately be hauled in for questioning. One of the downfalls of adulthood is the sterling fact that you have to pay your way for everything. Kids, enjoy your time with your parents. Seriously.

Facing the specter of death. When I hear of so many of my contemporaries dropping like flies - from heart disease, accidents, a rare congenital condition or even suicide - it becomes harder and harder each day to avoid having to face our collective endpoint. I'm not thinking if I'm going to be resurrected with just three of my limbs intact - although that did give me a comical pause - but my thoughts go to my partner, who has shared a wonderful, crazy life with me. I'm thinking of my family of origin, all of whom are still alive today. And the many wonderful friends I have had the pleasure of sharing lives with. (Here I go again, trying not to think about it.) In the end, having the latest gadget or sporting the latest car model really means diddly-squat.

Haunted By Unfinished Business. The thought of leaving this mortal coil with so many loose ends makes me want an additional 5 years in my life. At least. This matter is different for everyone, but over the course of attending several funerals, I hear the same theme and things, over and over: debts left for other family members to now worry over, a feud that was started between two friends by the simplest of matters that left 35 years of hatred towards each other in its wake, a well-kept secret that reveals itself only when something - or someone - shows up at the wake, people depending on you who will now lose that security. Loose ends will only cease being scary when we tie them up. Tightly. Bloody tightly.

Being lorded over by hypocritical zealots. The pendulum worldwide seems to be swinging - towards the absurd notion that we are nothing without a bunch of men in various costumes telling us what to do in our lives. The obsession with puritanism, conservatism and disdain for acceptance is making me despair for humanity. Over such a short period of time, we have heard of rape being defined as "God's will", a teenager shot in the head for championing the right to education, and clerics calling people who vote for a candidate they detest as being "bound for a fiery place". I would give them more attention - maybe - if they stopped collecting money from their followers or renounce their organizations' tax-exempt status. But I fear more for those who are bullied and terrorized into thinking that their lives are meaningless if they don't follow one of these so-called "arbiters of morality".

The unchanging face of Philippine politics. And that's a literally unchanging face. It's now a family business. Everyone sharing the same surname can now look forward to being called "honorable" - I think I just got a rash saying that. How inimitably frustrating. When I hear the CEO of these political families saying (1) "voters like me and what I've done, it's to continue the legacy!" (2) "don't look at us, it's legal!" or (3) "we have the country's best interests at heart", it makes me want to get a brick. Yun lang naman. What I'll do with it is unprintable. And what's even scarier is when voters say "we don't have a choice". 

So, go ahead, put on those ghoulish costumes, one-eyed masks and cackle maniacally. It will never compare with what we have to face on a daily basis.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Styling An (Illicit) Affair

*If you haven't seen A Secret Affair, you may want to turn away now.

Looking good, above all.
(Courtesy of

For a supposedly conservative and religious country, we certainly have an odd attitude towards extra marital affairs, indiscretions and other such similar activities: not only are they tolerated, they seem to have been accepted as woven into our culture, no one even batting an eyelash anymore if someone says they have half-siblings.

Not that I want the batting, but you have to admit, given our penchant for claiming ourselves as pious, it is a peculiar attitude to have.

A Secret Affair is the latest film offering that seems to be parlaying this fact onto the big screen: everyone does it, it can't be helped, just look good while you're doing it. About a third into the film, I was furtively looking for any CBCP representatives in the audience ready to shame us for shelling out money to watch it.

Notes on the film:

(1) Was this film sponsored by a realty company? The places where most of the scenes take place seem to held in model units of condos or houses that seem to be for display, nothing out of place, picture perfect, with one even taking place facing out a picturesque "nature" backdrop. I'm beginning to think that with all their preoccupation with making their houses ready for a brochure close-up, they had no energy left to salvage all their personal relationships.

(2) It's perfectly understandable why Rafaela (Anne Curtis) decided to dump Anton (Derek Ramsay) the night before their wedding - all together now, "classic cold feet". Of course, it's also not clear why anyone would say yes to a wedding proposal just after two months of meeting and dating each other. You'd think that because of what Rafi's parents went through (played by Jacklyn Jose and Joel Torre), she'd be more circumspect about any potential partner.

(3) The most authentic scene for me was the first time Sam (Andi Eigenmann) and Anton knew each other in the biblical sense. They couldn't wait to do it, and they found a construction site to consumate their desire for each other. The authenticity stopped when they were "done", parted ways and rode in their respective brand new cars. I'm not sure if the rich would ever have trysts in a place where they could puncture their alabaster skin with some carelessly lying rust-encrusted nails.

(4) Derek Ramsay is fully utilized for his talents - a.k.a. the current definition of male physical perfection. There doesn't seem to be a single fat cell in his body, and the camera was rather relentless in going over every inch - above the waist - of this sought-after commodity. He's also mastered the I'm-hurt-and-I-sound-like-a-wounded-bird voice, which he used about 90% of the time in this film, crying with Anne/Rafi, pleading with Rafi's parents, or having a monologue while his "bud" listened. No, having that voice doesn't qualify as good acting. The whole time, the words "one trick pony" kept flashing whenever he was onscreen. Good thing his body is the envy of every guy in the country - now that has absolutely no fault whatsoever.

(5) I don't really understand why the movie is an "affair" movie: Sam and Anton were doing it before Rafi entered the picture, and then they started up again only when Rafi dumped Anton and left without explaining why. If anything, Anton has the right to get all huffy; I can see the thought bubble now: "Ikaw na nga nangiwan! Ano, titigil buhay ko dahil wala ka na at di lang man nagsabi kailan babalik?!?"

(6) I don't think any feminist would like the way Sam is portrayed here: like a vulture sizing up the situation and seizing a time to swoop in. You have the obligatory slapping scene between the female leads, but Anton gets it a little bit too easy by doing that dang bird voice routine. Is "it takes two to tango" still unheard of by movie writers? Or is this an attempt to turn stereotypes around? Notice how in the stairwell scene, it is Anton who pretends to resist oral, uh, treatment by Sam (while unsuspecting Rafi walks past by a few times).


(7) I like Jacklyn Jose. I always have.

(8) I might use Rafi's line about coffee in the near future.

(9) I didn't know you could enter high-rise construction sites with a party dress and high heels, with only a hard hat for "protection".

(10) The truth: When trust is broken, things will never be the same. What happens next is always a choice.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Happily Blu In Cebu

It is such a refreshing feeling to have your expectations exceeded in a plethora of ways, seeing as many things, as of late, tend to swing toward the other end of the spectrum - horribly disappointed - and I'm glad the former was what happened when we checked in the Radisson Blu.

Ironically, it's the "small stuff" that leaves an impression.

I knew next to nothing about the hotel before Art and I arrived here, except the knowledge that it is part of a hotel chain worldwide. (I count that as a good thing because I have no preconceived notions or expectations.) When you enter the lobby, the sheer size can overwhelm even those who think they've "seen it all".

A welcome change from cluttered reception areas.

Even in reviews by foreigners in travel sites, part of their "have-to-mention" parts have to do with the enormity of space in the lobby, even by their standards/what they're used to. We spent the evening listening to live music at the lobby, feeling so much at ease with the spacious surroundings that after awhile, it seemed natural to just run back up to our room and take a much needed respite.

We were booked into a Superior Room but we were (luckily) upgraded into a Premier Room (and I was made aware that this was different from their Premier Suite). They have the label down pat, because it really was an experience that can be described as "premiere". I would gauge the room to be around 80 square meters, what with the different areas that were encompassed by one room.

We entered through a mirrored hallway that led into the living room.

You can be lazy here and stop apologizing for it.

The hues of the furniture and the general theme were agreeable to both of us, because we aren't fans of wild, crazy color schemes, and when you get to a hotel, the mindset is generally one of rest and relaxation. The general feel of this area will get you into shut-eye mode.

*Sigh* If you must work, here's the office area.

Right across the "living room" was the workspace, where there was a ready ethernet connection, and at this point, I need to applaud the fact that they had free in-room wifi. (Which was quite strong.) So whether you love your wires or value mobility, you can stay connected at Radisson Blu. Note to other hotels: Stop charging for wi-fi service. It will get you more customers if you make it complimentary, guaranteed.

Spoiled for choice in this area.

The "office area" leads into the door of the "master bedroom": there is a small hallway where the closet and cabinets are, luggage space, in-room safe before it opens up into the sleeping area and the bathroom.

Do you prefer a stable showerhead, one you can detach, or soak in a tub? All three choices are available for you. The same color theme - simple but rich hues - continue throughout the bathroom. The toilet is situated a little further (as if to keep the possible olfactory delights, uh, contained) in the farthest corner. One minus is the lack of a bidet, but which is no problem for us, because Art cannot travel anywhere without his beloved tabo.

I should make special mention of one fact that was much appreciated: there are two toilets in the Premier Room. I don't know if this is standard as well for the other choices, but it was such a boon to have this convenience.

The pillows - particularly the large one - were so soft, I felt my head was drowning the first time I laid on it. They thoughtfully placed electrical outlets by the side of the bed - both sides - with the light controls as well. (With the plethora of mobile gadgets these days, it was such a pleasure to not have to ask "why did they place the outlet behind the refrigerator?!?" just to charge any appliances.) One side had an iPod dock, as well as a digital clock. The flatscreen TV ensured maximum laziness, just in case the comfortable bed still doesn't do the trick.

After we checked out our room, we decided to do a tour of the other amenities. They had an asymmetrical swimming pool (with little bridges over the "smaller areas"), with a lifeguard on duty as well as an attendant to hand out towels to guests. We also saw a rather large fitness center that would make "professional" gyms bow their heads in shame. Art wanted to check out the spa services, and we were pleasantly surprised to learn that they had an in-house spa, although we were thrown by the prices (some of which were double the rates of the most expensive spas in Manila). Needless to say, to achieve peace of mind, we decided to forego any spa service.

Strolling the grounds at night is a cinch with the lighted paths.

This way, please.

One of the biggest conveniences the hotel offers is that it is next door to SM Cebu. I know my environmentally-minded friends will not approve of this as a plus, but for travelers, it is a practical godsend to have such a big "convenience store" right beside the hotel: in fact, there is a shaded walkway from the hotel to the mall for easy access of guests.

A hint of (delectable) things to come.

And for your dining needs, the in-house restaurant, Feria, does a marvelous job of keeping you satisfied. We had such a great experience (we took dinner and breakfast there) that I decided that it deserved a post all on its own.

The amenities, facilities, dining experience and service all came together to provide an unmistakably satisfying stay. It rates as the best hotel experience in the country for me as of this point in time, which surprised even me. (I've made no secret in one of my previous posts which hotel used to occupy that position. But at half its' price, this is such an unbeatable way to recharge, away from the craziness of Manila.)

We were anything but blue in our stay at the Radisson Blu in Cebu. On the contrary, it managed to give us back much needed smiles borne out of a superb hotel experience.

We will be back.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Emerald That Stopped Time

On the day that we were supposed to drop by the National Museum, I suggested to Art that we have a quick bite at a restaurant that, because of its following, had almost become a sterling representative of the City of Manila itself, Emerald Garden Restaurant.

Many of the parties that occurred in my childhood years were in this establishment, long known in the Chinese community, and while I have read reviews that have varying accounts of the quality of food it serves compared to the newer Chinese restaurants now, it was a tug and nod to nostalgia that I prevailed Art to take our pre-museum jaunt meal there.

As it was still before lunch time, I was reminded that dimsum was still being served, which made my heart skip a bit: their giant siopao (meat-filled bun), called Emerald Special (PhP 99.00) was the item to have.

Which, of course, was no longer available by the time we got there. (Talking to the waiter, I found out that at 6AM, they begin serving this, cooked in a specific quantity daily, and by 10AM, you would be lucky to even see a whiff of it anywhere. People actually pass by just to have it wrapped to go - while we were seated, at least three parties came in within a span of 5 minutes asking for it as well.)

Art rolled his eyes, and said that since we couldn't have "the" siopao, we should probably go elsewhere. But it was hot that day, and we decided to take our chances with the other items in the menu.

Shrimp Rice Roll, PhP 90.00.

Fish Congee, PhP 90.00. (Art had the Mixed Congee,
which was in a larger bowl, PhP 150.00.)

Spare Ribs and Shark's Fin Siomai, PhP 55.00 each.

Notice the table "cloth" - I think the material is vinyl. The place seems to have retained the exact same snapshot I have of it in my mind - faded wallpaper, the requisite green theme courtesy of the name, waiters who seem to be half deaf and also seemed to be working here for decades.

To Art, it was an odd place, although he had to concede that the food was good. But for me, I can still see my cousins and I around a giant table trying to get the crab "hands" (pinchers) when the plate came from the kitchen. 

Emerald Restaurant always symbolized a gathering of family and friends to me. I guess Art and I have to start a new tradition then.

After all, the Emerald Special has still eluded us. That means we will be back.


*When we were paying our bill, a long time politician of the city entered, and sat two tables away from us. Lo and behold, from the noisy kitchen, an Emerald Special materialized. The waiter saw my quizzical look - he told us it had run out - and said that this politician came here frequently and had called ahead of time to reserve one.

Is that what it takes to get one? Yoohoo, Comelec, I want to run for office.

The Joy Of Feria

Our stay at Radisson Blu in Cebu was nicely punctuated with a visit to Feria, the hotel's in-house restaurant. The restaurant was large (even by Manila standards), or maybe I should say, sprawling. It had an airy, spacious feel, which was a nice change of pace from the usual places where chairs can't help but bump into each other. (Those darned chairs.)

The Manager on Duty (MOD), Ms. Phen David, met up with us for dinner. (Full disclosure: she comped the meal. But at PhP 800.00, I would have gladly paid for it myself.) She was - rightfully - proud of the spread at Feria.

What could this be?

Pictures really are better than words. (Well, sometimes. This is one such time.) And without further ado...

My staples: tuna and salmon sashimi.

I made sure to get the labels.

Where everyone was flocking to.

This brought out the mouse in me. Wait.

Which do I use?

Baked Tangigue. Enough said. More eating.

And they had actual Chinese chefs to prepare these.

Char Siew Pork - always a yes.

I have to have my arugula!

Requisite Cebu drink. This cheered me no end.

Hey, I have veggies! See?

A sampling of Chinese fare. (Yes, I'm biased.)

My first Coq Au Vin. It has nothing on adobo.

I was more excited to try the salsas over the steak (both were good).

They make their own ice cream. Don't miss this.

Coffee creme brulee - a mistake before sleeping, but perfect otherwise.

The "fill this glass up!" dessert. Mango overload. YES.

The MOD insisted I try this (Bread Pudding). I'm glad to have done so.

Interesting design to view while munching away.

This is a great food stop if ever you are in Cebu. Beep, let's meet here the next time I go over to your neck of the woods.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Afternoon At The Museum

Having seen the announcement at Facebook (social media saves the day), Art and I made sure to block off a date when we would go to the National Museum. We have never set foot in it - if I have as a student, that memory has certainly been banished from memory - and it dawned on both of us that while we actively try to see the museums of other countries when we travel, we have never done it here.

A waived entrance fee means you have no reason not to go.

Our first concern was parking, since Manila is a city notoriously known for having cramped streets and, for motorists, a scarcity of places to park. We were (surprisingly) allowed to park right in front of the Museum, for free.

The facade of the Museum reminded me of Palma Hall in UP Diliman, or any other building (most, anyway) in UP that was facing the Sunken Garden, which had a grand, old feel: wide columns, high ceiling, stairs that seem to lead you to even more grandeur. Thankfully, most parts of the Museum had a cooling system, as it was sweltering that day. When you enter, leave your bags at the counter at the right, and also sign up to log in as a guest for the day. You can only bring in your wallet, cellular phone and camera; everything else must be left at the baggage counter.

The security personnel (who also acts as an information booth of sorts) tells us that the Museum consists of three buildings: the National Art Museum, the Museum of the Filipino People, and the Planetarium (which I remember clearly as being part of our field trip in elementary school, so I guess I did go to the National Museum when I was younger).

With the visual arts, I have to confess that words do not do them justice. I will let the art works speak by themselves. Our camera battery gave way in the midst of our walking tour so the pictures here are in no way representative of the totality of the collection we have.

Owing to the lack of camera battery power, we could only take pictures until this exhibit. Our feet hurt only when we stopped to think about the time - it's easy to get lost in this world (in a good way), especially when you read the descriptions of why a painting came into existence, or the story behind the cannon found in the middle of the room.

You can (obviously) take pictures, with the proviso that no flash photography is allowed - which explains why most of these shots seem like they were taken in the dark, literally. One quibble we had was that there seemed to be no "guide" - e.g. a suggestion where to start your museum tour. I suppose some people find that best - they can go to any exhibit at any time they please - but for first timers, it would be helpful to give some kind of structure or flow as to how to begin this journey.

We thoroughly enjoyed this chance to revisit periods past, and some parts explained our very present. I don't need to quote Santayana here, in order for anyone to see the value in studying our past. One hopes that, as a city that seems to disregard old edifices and landmarks, we can rally our officials to preserve our heritage and works of art.

The museum is not charging anything this month - let's repeat that, it's free admission the whole month of October 2012. Go, soak in our culture, and let it revive in you a wonder for our own heritage.


Bonus question: Can you guess which of the pictures above is a representation of Tandang Sora?