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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Happy At This Soi

A soi is defined as a "side street branching off a major street" according to Wikipedia. That being the case, our trip to Soi in the new Glorietta ended up being a happy detour.

We weren't entirely sure where to have our dinner, so we decided to play it by ear, or more appropriately, by sight. In the midst of "the usual" dining places (read: fast food chains) so ubiquitous in malls, we opted to go the not-usual route; besides, mention Thai cuisine and we're there.

Diners get complimentary appetizers, (spicy) peanuts and fried wonton wrappers.

Skip the nuts if you are even slightly allergic to anything hot (though this flavor profile is to be expected in a Thai restaurant).

I had the Pandan Ice Tea (PhP 80) while Art had the Lemon Grass Juice (PhP 80), both of which are refillable.

Lightly sweet with the distinctive pandan flavor, just in time for the heat we've been experiencing in February!

I've never had lemon grass in juice form, this was a pleasant, sprightly pick-me-upper drink.

We had the Seafood in Yellow Curry (PhP 288) because we can't possibly pass it up, both of us being fans of curry. Soi's version was likeable and definitely friendly to the Filipino palate without being overly sweet, it reminded us of the now defunct Sukho Thai in Megamall (our go-to Thai place back then), with squid, shrimps and fish fillets joyously bathed in that yellowish glow along with various vegetables.

We also had the Fish Fillet in Black Pepper Sauce (PhP 238). I made the misstep of biting into a pepper seed which numbed my tongue for about 5 minutes, and I had to wait for awhile before I could really "get into" the dish. The black pepper was generously applied, and it had the flavor I wanted without the burn. Barring that spicy mishap at the start, this was also a nice, solid dish, especially if you're planning on going meatless.

Given those strong flavors, we opted to pair it with Jasmine Rice (instead of one of their Fried Rice variations, PhP 38), and this proved to be a bit of a letdown - it didn't seem to be real Jasmine rice but with the dishes we had, we really didn't have much to complain about.

Do drop by this side street for a taste of Thai this side of Makati.


2nd Floor, Glorietta 2,
Ayala Center, Makati
(02) 5530001

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I Don't Get Food Snobbery

While checking out write-ups and blogs about a specific dish I had in mind, I came across something that I will never understand: food snobbery.

If it's good, who cares if it's "pedestrian?"
(Courtesy of

The blog I encountered was actually a nicely designed one (and, if I remember correctly, one of the "pioneers" as far as food blogging in this country is concerned). The author was talking about a dish that s/he had, which, even though was expensive, was completely worth it. The post had a feel good vibe - until I decided to read the Comments section.

"I've been to that restaurant! It's so elegant, so nice...but there's this customer there (while we were enjoying our meal) who was complaining about ____________! Can you imagine? You get to this nice restaurant and then you'll order ____________ lang, and then raise a fuss about it pa? Some people..." (I took the liberty of paraphrasing, but this is what the comment was conveying.)

Good vibe gone.

What is it about this country - or is this a general human trait - that cannot wait to look down on someone else, and assume that one has "arrived?"

Hello. I've had fishballs, kikiam, and other assorted "street food" since...ever since. Just because a steak costs 5000 pesos does not guarantee it will be "the best ever" - I distinctly remember Anthony Bourdain talking about this point, that it is in poorer communities where some of the best tasting food can be found, mainly because of economics, they have had to find ways to make their "simple" fare better tasting.

The food snobbery that was displayed in that comment is not isolated, and based on something so irrelevant as "social class". How many times have I heard someone say "Yuck! You'll never find me eating there" or "How can you even eat something like that?" I've already lost count. The comment I read had an underlying message: yun lang o-orderin mo? (That's all you can afford?)

Some of the best tasting meals/foods we've had were from hawker centers in Singapore, or small food stalls in Thailand, and yes, that okoy down the street or Ilocos empanada on every street corner in that Northern province. I prefer to judge food on the basis of taste, and not by what people will think of me should I decide to enter this restaurant or order only a certain dish. I go by the Andrew Zimmern philosophy: If it's good, eat it.

And yes, my finger is raised for that food snob.

The Wang-Wang, Disguised

On our way to the doctor earlier this week, we were greeted by a ghastly sight.

The wang-wang, visual edition.
(Courtesy of

Blinkers on, in the middle of the day.

No, it wasn't an emergency vehicle. It was a black SUV, with dark tinted windows, no license plate, and it was being escorted by two patrol motorcycles, busy "leading" the way, also in blinker mode, waving away cars and pedestrians for the presumably VIP (Virulently Impotent Putz?) seated in his automotive glory to be able to get through midday traffic with a minimum of fuss.

Ever since P-Noy made a fuss about the wang-wang mentality, I've seen an increase in its visual counterpart, and in effect, still conveying the essential message: I am important and everyone has to give me way. Almost always some "big car" (usually a 4WD), bodyguards are optional, but with some police escorts in tow.

This is maabilidad (cunning) gone awry, and applied dubiously.

One of the things I often hear as a "national characteristic" is that we seem to be adept at making a way. We should amend that to "making a way around a prohibitive law or practice." It would certainly explain many things.

In the supermarket, a woman explains that even though she has 20 cases of soft drinks, she should still be in the Express Lane (10 items or less) on the "logic" that it is just a single type of item.

Candidates who advertise the achievements of their charitable foundation, or appear in morning talk shows, a few months before the start of the campaign period, on the defense that "we're still not candidates as of this moment in time."

A sitting President calling an election official during elections, under the guise of protecting votes.

Or a diocese printing up a poster, prominently displayed, of which senators to support, extolling freedom of expression.

All of which clearly answers the question: How do I beat the system?

How can I do something illegal/unethical but still have the law on my side? How do we take people for a ride while furthering our own interests? How will I make more fools today?

We may have lost the wang-wang, but not the mentality.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Mistaking Cities As Family Property

I chanced upon a politician last week acting defensively about the subject of political dynasties, saying that barring family members of a sitting official from running would be unconstitutional, depriving them of their right to run as a qualified citizen of this country.

On the surface, I agree.

If one has fulfilled the qualifications stipulated by law - which oftentimes just means you've reached a certain age and are a Filipino citizen or have lived a certain amount of time in a specific locality - then you most certainly are legally within your rights to run for any elective office. I used to bemoan why these requirements were so pitifully nominal, but then we've had a President or two that had sterling academic credentials and we know how those turned out.

I do have a question for the politican, though: Why do some city seals seem more like family crests?

Are cities privately owned now?
(Courtesy of

I am speaking from the perspective of someone who has lived in Metro Manila all my life (so I'm not sure if the same phenomenon occurs elsewhere in the country).

Why is it that on government forms, tax declarations, business permits and other "necessary" papers, do we find symbols that clearly remind us which political family is "running" the city? Some of them try to disguise their intent by saying something with mass appeal - for example, if my last name was Tan, I would say Tayo Ang Nauuna! (We Are First!) - as if they were busty cheerleaders in skin tight uniforms in short, short skirts.

But there seems to be a clear, if subliminal, message, by attaching "crests" with their family initial embedded in it, and that message is: when you see ___________ City, that equates to ___________ (insert family name of political family with practically all members in all posts).

The politician's defense has always been "but we were voted into office! No one forced them to write our names on the ballot!"

Again, on the surface, quite true, and I am also an advocate for voter education, that any hope for change has to come from us, with who we choose to place in elective posts.

But that defense is disingenious on at least two counts.

One, by constantly parading that equation Particular City = One Family Name on every legal document, business permit, road widening and waiting shed, you are conditioning the public into accepting you somehow "own" the city, and that the city owes your family some kind of "gratitude" for being so "selfless" and "giving".

Two, because of this never ending family advertisement, it discourages anyone without a similar family name from running and challenging the status quo, because every nook and cranny has been marked already with the family crest - which, of course, extends into a bureaucracy that is also subservient to the same family, mistakenly thinking they owe their job tenure to them - the same way a dog would mark his territory.

If a new legislator - not entrenched for decades and related to so many other political personages - gets elected, may I suggest filing a bill that would make it illegal to put up these 'family crests' on required, gvernment documentation (and most especially their faces on things like business permits) and to also make it similarly illegal to place their names and faces on public projects like the putting up of a public market or the lighting of a dark stretch of highway.

It's time to remind these politicians that they are in power to serve - it's not called public service for nothing - and not to perpetuate some idiotic myth that citizens owe their family a debt of gratitude and that we can repay that by voting their next of kin.

Seeing that delicadeza is murdered over and over in political circles, there doesn't seem to be any other recourse but to write this down in clear, legal language. (Watching these politicians say "there's no enabling law!" repeatedly to justify them going against a clear constitutional provision against political dynasties makes me sick.)

Will a real public servant rise up to this challenge?

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Yummy Yes For Yabu

Months after its' debut on our shores, we finally got to try out that much talked about purveyor of katsu, Yabu.

I have to say, that wait was worth its' weight in gold. Or in panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), in this case.

We opted to visit their Mall of Asia branch, as it is closest to us, as well as being the latest of their (so far) three branches. It was also a calculated move to visit them at a traditionally 'sleepy' hour (late afternoon) since, judging by the reviews and posts about the lines during 'proper' meal times (lunch and dinner), it might be a bit of a wait had we gone then.

We were led to our table and given a wet towel to welcome us.

The server assigned to our table then asked us if we were aware of their 'ritual', the preparation of a sesame based sauce. Being our first time, we wanted to hear her run through it with us. It starts out with a saucer filled with different-hued sesame seeds.

After some poundin' and grindin', it releases a heady fragrance (I've always loved the smell of anything sesame) and becomes powdery.

And that's when you add 'the' sauce provided.

As soon as I opened the menu, my eyes zoomed in on two choices: the Kurobata, known as the black Berkshire pig, comparable to the status of Kobe beef (called the "High King of katsu" in their menu); and the Soft Shell Crab. The latter won out, only because I have never had soft shell crab yet. (Come to think of it, I have not had any porcine dish labeled a Berkshire. Hmm.)

Two words: Crustacean heaven.

The breading was light, and I could not find any trace of oiliness, despite its deep-fried preparation. In fact, all their dishes are served on a strainer, which we both agreed was unnecessary, since no oil seemed to seep out from either of our choices. I was half-expecting some form of resistance to my enamel, even though it was labeled "soft-shelled", and was pleasantly surprised to find none at all.

The ratio of crab meat to crab fat almost measured in equal amounts, so the fragrance and texture served as delectable precursors to that savory experience of sinking your teeth into the dish, and I found myself willing my mouth to chew slower to prolong the taste and sensation swimming so melodiously in an oral symphony.

Arthur chose the Hire and Seafood Katsu Set, described as a "piquant mix of pork and seafood" in their menu, and would be colloquially called a "sampler", since it consisted of pork (hire), black tiger prawn, cream dory, scallop, eggplant and pepper. While he did not appreciate the cream dory too much, the pork and prawn were met with better enthusiasm, and because I was able to 'sample' all of his dishes as well (and the pork, soft and fragrant, rated the best item in my book), I was quite impressed that all of the items carried that lightness and non-oiliness that characterized my own choice.

Since we ordered them as sets (each of our sets cost PhP 485), it included miso soup (which we both agreed was one of the best we have had from Japanese restaurants in Metro Manila), unlimited rice as well as unlimited cabbage with your choice of goma (sesame dressing) or shouyu (sesame based vinaigrette), some pickled items and fruit slices to end your meal.

The courteousness of the staff is matched by their attentiveness, something that I am very particular about, given this country's penchant for viewing customer service as "variable" or "non-essential". While I am willing to endure rudeness if a restaurant's dish can negate all other considerations, given this generation's adeptness at broadcasting every minute detail over Facebook and Twitter, it makes good business sense to provide excellent marks in all aspects. Yabu gives a nod to the power of social media, designating some of their walls with commentaries from blogs and personalities.

It's a rare thing when the product matches the hype, and Yabu does so spectacularly and deliciously. Feed your curiosity with a panko-encrusted delight from a place that proudly displays its' katsu credentials.


Yabu, House of Katsu
2nd Floor, South Arcade,
Main Mall Atrium, SM Mall of Asia
Pasay City
(+632) 511-7202

Get Your Fill At The Strand

On a Saturday that we knew would be hectic (we were off to see what travel offers awaited us at the Travel Expo in SMX Convention Center), we decided we needed proper nourishment before heading off to the bargaining and jostling that was sure to meet us at the annual travel fair.

We met up at The Strand Cafe and Restaurant, the in-house restaurant of the serviced residences known as One Pacific Place, located on normally busy Buendia Avenue. We went on a Saturday, which explains a view like this:

The first thing I noticed entering the cafe was that it was filled with foreigners, with the foreign-local ratio I estimate to be 80-20. With that in mind, I thought the food selection in their breakfast buffet spread was interesting, because it seemed to cater more to a local palate.

There were local sausages and corned beef, as well as a local staple, sinangag. (fried rice)

Initially, they served adobo as their chicken dish, but later changed it to chicken curry when they had to replenish it. They also had fish fillet (fried) in their hot dish selection.

Cheese (cheddar, I think, no labels) and some meats were included in the appetizer section, along with the bread station (I saw croissants), which none of us chose to take part of, which means we are true-blue Pinoys who must have rice for breakfast.

A good way to get your vegetables (provided you stayed away from the thick, creamy dressing), we opted to use the melon vinaigrette.

There were two choices for cereal: whole wheat and corn flakes. The whole wheat variety tasted like cardboard, quite bland and not a good representative for pushing healthy eating if we are to go by taste. They had an egg station so we had omelettes and scrambled eggs, and a few cakes and fruits for desserts (the watermelon was quite sweet) and we did see a Caucasian woman having only fruits for breakfast and nothing else.

The spread includes two juices (orange and mango), as well as coffee. For a net price of 288 pesos, this is a strictly no-frills place (well-ventilated, I must say) to get your fill before heading off for the rest of your day. Complimentary wi-fi was provided and the servers were attentive, so "value for money" would be an understatement at this point.

If you are looking to simply load up at an affordable price that has free wi-fi, good service, a bright place and complimentary parking, then you'd be hard-pressed to find a better place than The Strand Cafe and Restaurant to hit all those points.


The Strand Cafe and Restaurant
Ground Floor, One Pacific Place Serviced Residences
161 H.V. Dela Costa, Salcedo Village, Makati City
(02) 3047777

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Romance In The Mundane

Do you have "throwdown"? Are you a "hot lover"? Is passion your middle name? Then you may want to consider moving on and reading something else.

(Courtesy of

Still there, I see. A warning, then: what I'm writing here may be tagged as another anti-Valentine's piece. It seems I do have a circle of friends with the same line of thinking, who can't stand the general cheesiness and the heightened icky-ness factor this "special day" brings out, with the theme being "my bouquet is larger than your bouquet".

Imported chocolates, flower arrangements that would make the undead suicidal, restaurant reservations, themes and menus that can bring out the homicidal in me for overtly pressing on the "cutesy" button, the only ones who are guaranteed to smile during this "day of hearts" are the merchants who take advantage of this Hallmark mainstay, feeding into all of us the idea that (1) you have to impress your significant other even more ridiculously showy than last year and (2) you're incomplete as a person if you haven't found "the one", and are barred from the joys of a day devoted to eros.

So you went for the big guns: you spent, you splurged, you even got lucky. Ehem. What's next?

That's right, it's back to the mundane-ness of everyday life. What a downer, huh? After that one (literal) red-letter day, it's business as usual. Waking up late, rushing through breakfast, getting the third degree from your boss for your "punctuality issues" and trying to convince yourself that this job you have secretly dubbed the precursor to Hell is worth the amount of money they're paying you.

If you're lucky, you will have time to have a drink, catch a movie or somehow do something in the "recreation" family with that person you have relished Valentine's Day with. But are you ready to do that everyday, until the next February 14 rolls around?

I have always viewed romance, love, whichever term you wish to use, as an intertwining of lives. If you claim another human being as "the one", that seems to be a given. And such a relationship will have to come face to face with something longtime couples know firsthand - romance is in the mundane details. A ride home can be mind-numbing after a day's work, does it seem just a little more bearable with "the one" riding with you?

When funds are down, and you have to tighten your belts, are both of you on board and seeing this just as another hurdle to go through?

Do you find yourselves doing your weekly grocery shopping, and finding yourself in another head conversation, thinking that this person pushing the cart is somehow responsible for changing your worldview on what contentment is all about?

And do you find it odd that you have stopped counting the years you have been together, as opposed to when you were just starting, where you had the silly notion of celebrating "monthsaries," and have to genuinely stop and count whenever someone asks how long you have been together, and surprising yourself that you are nearing two or three decades?

I have always found that the only way a relationship - one defined as romantic - can last is if the partners are willing to be emotionally invested. There can be no two ways about it, and here, I would like to differentiate it with those primarily concerned with acts of a more sensual nature, which seems to be a function of physical attractiveness and body fat percentage. I wager that those endowed with physical perfection will have no shortage of dates, but if you want to have one person to date for life, it will have to transcend the physical.

That means involvement in what can be viewed as the most boring aspects of one's life, in the interests of the other that you would find no pleasure in pursuing yourself. You say compromise, I say accomodation. It's inevitable that there are some things about your partner that will piss the hell out of you, and I view those differences as welcome, necessary parts of making one's relationship even better. It forces you to get out of your own head space, and be empathic with someone you once claimed you would do anything for.

So, no, I am not a fan of these showy gestures every time we get to the middle of February. Celebrating your love for each other is nice, but it's what you do in the 364 days after Feb. 14 that will determine if you will be facing each other when Valentine's comes around again next year.

Unless you plan to have a different date each year, in which case you should have bailed out when I told you to in the first paragraph.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Raclette And Fondue Are Next

Since we both look forward to weekends and brunches, Art and I decided to scour around Makati for little known places, as far as the particular meal time was concerned. We weren't looking for champagne or any other frills that some places offer as attractions, we wanted hearty, breakfast fare, period. (That would most definitely include eggs and pancakes.)

Our search brought us to The Old Swiss Inn, a veritable institution to longtime Makati residents, having been in existence since 1946. Since we now call this place home, it was only fitting that we visit places that have already made their mark here. I was actually a bit surprised when this place turned up in my (online) search because the extent of my knowledge of Swiss cuisine is limited to chocolates and cheese, which, of course, that country does exceedingly (both) well.

Their Breakfast Buffet seemed to be geared for an international clientele, and it was confirmed because we noticed a lot of guests from the Somerset Olympia who were presenting stubs for breakfast. I was hoping to see what a traditional Swiss breakfast would consist of, but while I would be denied knowing that in the spread that the Inn offered, it nonetheless provided us with what we always look for: hearty, breakfast fare.

We started off with greens, which we were (pleasantly) surprised to be able to top off with salmon and tuna. Both vinaigrettes were excellent (although there were no labels) and perfect if you were eating salad as a way to watch your weight because they didn't have any fat-full dressings. Mention the word salmon and I am pretty much happy, it being one of my favorite foods and what a great bonus that it comes highly recommended by any nutritionist.

We also had the soup, Cream of Mushroom. The moment I poured it into my bowl, I knew this was nothing like the canned variety, seeing all those black specks, more like little chunks, really, of actual mushrooms in a silky yet thick liquid. This was excellent: I dare you to only have one serving.

Breakfast is not complete in our book if eggs aren't included, so the omelette was a given. It arrived in a huge plate, fitting because their omelette was large, and quite delicious. I forgot to ask if they had scrambled eggs as well, but the omelette was both chunky and savory.

I made sure to order pancakes, since I haven't had them in a long time, and while these were also huge (one cake was as huge as my face), these were a bit of a miss because they were a little bit dry and not too flavorful on its own. Of course, the accompanying syrup and butter makes it complete, but I try to have pancakes on their own.

The main dishes consisted of Beef Steak Filipino, Linguini Al Funghi and Cocktail Hungarian. Definitely a downer in the variety department, which I compensated by getting more salmon and tuna. The beef steak was very good, and while the sausages were okay, the pasta dish was cold, and Art had to ask one of the servers to heat up the serving tray in order to make it warmer.

We opted to skip the entire bread station (I saw croissants and some other pastries) and just went for the fruits to end our meal. Coffee and tea are included in the spread and were much appreciated for a coffee fiend like myself. Considering that this had a price tag of PhP 325 (net), we were pretty much filled up and set.

I requested to see their regular menu and was gleefully surprised to see so many words I could not understand - yes! Actual Swiss cuisine! So, a return trip is definitely in order, for two things: to partake of a cheese appetizer called Raclette (and when I mentioned in Facebook that we were just at Old Swiss Inn, friends immediately replied with "I LOVE their fondue!" so there's that also); and based on that, to see if I wanted to start filling up a Gruzi Card - I mean, wouldn't you want prices like these?

These lovely prices happen on their anniversary.
(Courtesy of Geof Que/Old Swiss Inn's blog)


The Old Swiss Inn Restaurant
G/F Olympia Towers
Makati Ave. corner Sto. Tomas Streets,

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What Fitness Taught Me About Life

In the course of more than 15 years in the fitness profession, one question I get asked not just a few times is what I like most about my work. I suppose it's inevitable for those "outside" the field to ask me that because 15 years is a long time in any industry. I could easily rattle off the physiological benefits - I get to have my daily exercise, my heart is probably better off than a majority of people in my same age range (something that always gets confirmed when I go for my annual checkup), the endorphins that are released through exercise are, in every sense, a feel-good chemical, and so on.

But one thing I would like to talk about here is what I've learned from fitness and how these can translate to the other areas of my life - in short, from fitness 'principles' into life 'lessons'.

The first step is always the hardest.

So often the case with any endeavor that is new, attempting to embark on the road to fitness can be fraught with many questions, uncertainties, excuses and doubts. What if I can't get past the first day? Will people laugh at me for daring to show my uncoordinated body in public? I really wish I paid more attention in gym class when I was in school. Anyone trying to forge a path in order to improve one's fitness level may have these concerns and more - the best advice I can give is go for it.

And the same is true with anything you are planning to do for the first time. Starting up a new business, for example, can be especially tough, and the naysayers - external and internal - won't stop their babble. It has to be a decision on your part. As long as you exercised reasonable caution - in fitness, you told your doctor about your intentions; in business, you have enough liquidity to cover you for at least a year - then take the plunge. Otherwise you will spend your life wondering "what if?' and a life looked back with regret is not anything I would wish on anyone.

Surround yourself with people and things that further your goals.

One convenient excuse I hear from people who falter on their exercise goals is that it wasn't "their" fault - I would often hear how their barkada (gang) went to a beer house, which would "naturally" mean ordering pulutan (bar food) and hard liquor. This may not be a pleasant thing to hear, but you may have to limit your circle of friends if you are serious about achieving your fitness goals.

It is inevitable that we be swayed by influences, especially if you are sociable and given our culture, we are often loathe to possibly offend someone by not going to their aya (invitation). But announcing to everyone in your life that you intend to pursue your fitness goals may have two benefits: (1) they will - hopefully - be more understanding if you refuse to go to certain events for fear of being sidetracked and (2) a pubic announcement makes it more "official", so that even if you are, say, eating out alone, you become conscious of your food choices because acquaintances may see you and it would be hard to justify having a triple cheeseburger with extra large serving of fries.

Similarly, if it's your dream to be a singer, don't be around people who would love nothing more than kill your dream before you've even tried. Make contacts in the recording industry, get professional training, surround yourself with people that will enforce your decision and goals. While your determination (and talent) will ultimately propel you, you cannot discount the effects of your surroundings, which often can be an integral part in building you into the person you are now.

Have measurable goals.

I remember a former boss of mine who used to chuckle at people who would want things but refuse to set deadlines for it - she'd always quip, "ang tawag diyan nangangarap lang" (that's merely daydreaming) and she's right.

The usual goal I hear from people who enter a fitness program is pumayat (to lose weight). That is good for a general goal, but it needs to be broken down into measurable, objective terms: Is there a set weight you are eyeing? How many times a week can you work out? How does this translate to how many pounds you want to lose on a weekly and monthly basis? Can you set aside a specific time everyday for this?

Having goals that can be quantified helps in getting a 'battle plan' in place: the how, in order to achieve the what, and in when. In my observation, humans are procrastinators in general, and they will put things off, as much as they can, until facing it head on becomes the only choice. Forcing clients - gently, of course - to take stock of their goals and how to achieve it also gives the sense of responsibility, and they become accountable for their actions.

How many of us are putting off that visit to the dentist for the teeth cleaning? What about the annual check up, why haven't we done it by now? Are we waiting for a tooth to fall off, or for us to suddenly faint for no known reason before we get to doing things? Like exercise, many things in life are uncomfortable but necessary, and if we set a date, a number, anything that resembles a specific time to achieve it, then we can focus and give proper attention to the other things in life.

There will be setbacks, so just get back on the horse.

In the course of a fitness regimen, you will encounter some kind of plateau: your body's way of "saving" itself, not wanting to lose more calories because it is content with your current state. Or deadlines at work prevent you from proceeding with your fitness regimen. A relative from the USA arrives, and will be needing you to accompany them throughout their month long stay.

There are perfectly valid reasons why you stop from exercising, or falter from your fitness goals, and realizing this is essential because life is never a smooth ride: expect the bumps, curveballs and rude surprises. I would usually hear clients feel so much guilt after going to a party with "sinful" food (like that porcine delicacy, lechon) that they begin to spiral and think that they have "lost" their way.

Nonsense. Everyday is always a chance to do things better, or right. So you were "bad" today - it doesn't mean you have to be the same way tomorrow, or the week after. It may have been a way of coping with stress, or it could also be a "cheat day" - what you should aim for are more good days versus bad ones. No one is going to be perfect, of that much I am 100% certain. Having that knowledge should be your comfort whenever you fall - everyone fails at some point, it's what we do after that which matters more.

Enjoy the journey on the way to your destination.

Fitness should be viewed as a part of your life, and not just something to do because you have to fit into a gown in time for your best friend's wedding. With this frame of mind, it becomes imperative that you make the journey as pleasant as possible - it is the only way to sustain your trajectory into wellness.

Recognize the benefits your fitness decisions give you - lowered heart rate, better sleep, increased oxygen consumption, and inches and pounds lost (or gained, depending on your fitness goal). Find creative ways to sneak in more exercise into your life - park at the farthest slot, challenge yourself to take the stairs instead of the escalator. Don't deprive yourself of foods, things and activities just because of your goal - eventually you will have to come back to the real world, and that means facing all these temptations head on.

Choose activities that resonate with who you are, and you are guaranteed to stick with your fitness regimen for a long time. At the same time, this could be your chance to try out things you were afraid to even consider - your fitness path could very well be the metaphor to your own life: you begin, you learn, you fail and you try again. Life is essentially a series of "Let's try that again/differently" scenarios, and it is up to you to make each and every journey count.

Your journey. Your rules.
(Courtesy of

Do it because you are most definitely worth it.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

What's In A 50-Peso Bill?

A Catholic saint, to answer the question.

Isn't this offensive to other religions?
(Photo by Lito Diaz for

What is it about this country that constantly refuses to understand one particular phrase in our Constitution that reads "the separation of church and state shall be inviolable"?

I understand Catholics in the Philippines are rejoicing about the canonization of Pedro Calungsod. But what does that have to do with me, a non-Catholic, seeing his face over legal tender everyday of my life? The placement of his image on money that will be used by everyone - of every religious stripe and those who claim none - imparts a single message: the Catholic faith is revered and favored in this country, by a government that is supposed to be secular.

There is no other way to read this.

Can we blame the CBCP (Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines) for doing what Carlos Celdran wants them to desist from, interfering with the affairs of a secular government? How can they, when this government itself does not live up to what our Constitution mandates, and repeatedly invites the Catholic hierarchy into secular discussions? I remember distinctly one Palace official saying that before the (then) RH (Reproductive Health) Bill will be consolidated into a final version, they would like to hear the inputs of the CBCP.

What (secular) madness is this?

The role of keeping religious intrusion and influence out of politics is something that falls squarely on the party affected - the government. It is up to the government to put its' foot down, to communicate, in no uncertain terms, and to leave no doubt, that no religion should interfere in the affairs of the state, and that no religion is to be placed on a higher pedestal.

This proposal to include Calungsod's image (and a cross) on our 50-peso bills could not have been possible without someone from the government supporting and consenting to it. I understand it will be realized in April of this year (it is still a proposal as of this writing, although I have included a picture of an ambassador holding up the prototype). 

So much for "offending religious feelings" - that law doesn't seem to matter in this country if the aggrieved party is a non-Catholic.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

That Peculiar Filipino Sense Of Time

This morning, I had a sparkling demonstration of how we view time in this country.

I'm not sure we should be wearing these buttons with pride.
(Courtesy of

Since the local parlor/barber shop (part of a successful local chain) opens at 10AM, I decided to go over at around 11AM, just to make sure that I would be served by the time I entered the store. Recent pictures of mine with my current hair length seemed to say I was from some wild jungle (not a fan of long hair on myself, at all) so I decided it was time for my appointment with the barber.

When I got there, I was surprised to see the metal door still covering the clear glass windows that showcases the shop in its entirety to passers-by. In fact, I thought the shop was closed because even if the glass door was slightly ajar, it looked rather dim, and gave off an atmosphere of being abandoned.

I entered the store and found no one manning the reception area. There were around 4 employees in the store, with one of them just removing her curlers from her hair. One was walking towards the back room, and still another one was cutting her toe nails. The only one who looked up from what he was doing to talk to me (reading a magazine) was a guy who gave me the once-over, and (correctly) assumed that I would be looking for a barber and not a hair stylist.

"Open na ba kayo?" I asked. (Are you open?)

"Yes, sir. Pero mamaya pa po papasok yung barber." (But the barber will be coming in much later.)

"Mga anong oras?" (Can you give me an estimate of the time?)

The guy starts bugging the other unmindful employees about the answer, and they all seemed to be rather irritated that they were being harassed by their co-employee for an answer to my question, not even looking at him, with one even shrugging him off with "ano ba!" (what the heck). Unsuccessful with getting a response, he looks at me and says, "Sir, balik nalang kayo ng mga 1PM." (Just come back at 1PM.)

"Huh? Diba 10AM ang bukas ninyo?" (But don't you open at 10AM?)

"Oo, pero yung barber 1PM pa ang pasok." (But the barber comes in at 1PM.)  He pauses. "Yata." (Maybe.)

I give up and consign myself to looking a bit unkempt until the weekend, when I go back to my previous barber. (A bit more expensive, but the service is always excellent. And he is on time.)

Why is it that we seem to have an extremely lax relationship with the concept of time?

It is no coincidence that it has been derisively labeled as "Filipino Time" - an admission that we like to "take things easy" (supposedly a charm of our country), and that deadlines and appointments are meant to be delayed, be late for, and even broken.

This week alone, I have had two other instances of this practice of treating time so casually.

I was off to meet a client at 6:30AM and she assured me of where to park that early in the morning, which she knew was open at 6AM. I got to the parking area around 6:10AM, and saw that there was still a bar across the entrance that prevented any cars from entering, with no one in the ticket booth. I circled the lot once more, in case there was another entrance, but unfortunately, it was the only one available so by the time I got back there, it was 6:15AM - and still closed.

I had to park at the next available space, over a kilometer away. As I was walking to our meeting place, I had to pass by the original parking lot, and saw that the attendant was just then opening the bar from the entrance. Time check: 6:28AM.

That same day, I also had to run an errand in the mall (which opens at 10AM), and when I got to the store at 10:15AM, it was still closed. I waited for around 10 minutes and then I saw a store employee in a brisk walk, trying to tie her wet hair, and without so much as a to-do, unlocked the store and run in. I followed suit and while she was turning on the lights, I asked her what time they were supposed to open, and she turned to me in a half-grimace/half-scowl, and said "10 AM. 10:15 palang naman ah." (It's only 10:15.)

Not only was her watch late by the mall's count, but she also expected anyone else to be understanding of her tardiness, because, after all, she was "only" late for 15 minutes.

For pointing this out, and making people - especially the perpetrators of tardiness - aware that they are affecting the time of other people as well with their actions, I have been labeled mayabang (haughty), mataray (insulting) and generally seen to be some kind of "anti-Pinoy" for expecting people to be on time.

If that's what I have to put up with, so be it, but I cannot tolerate it, even at the risk of being labeled unpatriotic for having very un-Filipino expectations. I especially am allergic to anyone who tries to coax me by using another cultural gem we like to extol - pagbigyan mo na (just give way/be understanding) - because, guess what? That's how others get to cut in line, disobey the rules and generally make the concept of order seem like a big joke. Even the act of what we colloquially call "under the table" (bribing) is a form of  bigayan - give me this and I'll give you that.

I have often wondered when it is we will ever take time - especially the time of others - seriously. Our only consolation prize for imbibing Filipino Time on a national scale can be seen in an online joke I saw: If the destruction of the world is imminent and happening today, the Philippines will be the last country standing, thanks to Filipino Time.

Funny, huh? Yeah, not really.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A New Year, A New Direction

First steps into a new venture are always fraught with anxiety, which is to be expected when one goes into the unknown. But I went into it head-on, and so far, this year is turning out to be a great one with the new direction I am now headed.

Sharing with you all my article that appears in the January-February 2013 issue of Asian Dragon magazine.

"Finding Your 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.

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.

Savoring Crimson Silk

I have been to SM Mall of Asia three times in the last two weeks, and in each of those times, I have not failed to drop by Sebastian's Cold Comfort. (To say that I like his products has got to be in the running for understatement of the day.)

Art and I opted to try a "retro" flavor, one that had made its' debut months ago, but we have never gotten around to trying: Enter the Red Velvet Chilly Burger.

Borrowing from the online ad for the said delight, it is rich cream cheese ice cream that is lovingly enveloped by Red Velvet chocolate chip cookies, which is then accented with Red Velvet cake chunks generously placed all over the filling.

Crimson Silk heaven. (Yes, I had to say it differently, sue me.)

Cream cheese and ice cream are substances that nutritionists everywhere will tell you to stay away from, and if you can't, to consume them extremely sparingly. So to have them combined in a single form, then pressed by such rich borders, at this point, you should be checking if your nutritionist just got a heart attack.

Art, who is not a fan of ice cream, could only nod in agreement at how delicious this treat was - the final test, when a non-fan happily consumes it.

Smooth, creamy and delicious. Now if only the rest of life can go this way, we'd all be blissful. This definitely makes it to my must-haves at Sebastian's.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

One Sunday At Xin Wang

Knowing how "mall-y" we get on Sundays as a metropolis, Art was adamant about getting to SM Mall of Asia well before the lunch hour, and sure enough, we were parked even before 11AM. We were supposed to exchange one of the apparatus of our water filter (so this was officially a "working" visit) but owing to our fear of crowds, we thought it best to have an early lunch.

Since it was the choice we decided to forego the last time we were here, we decided on Xin Wang Hong Kong Cafe while it was still space-friendly. (We were their first customers for the day.)

Knowing this to be a place that features Hong Kong, Singaporean, Shanghai and other fusion cuisines, I worried about having option paralysis when it came to choosing our dishes. So, I decided to use the most scientific method to make the most assured choices: gut feel.

We started with Deep Fried Mango and Prawn Roll (PhP 100) as our appetizer. Three pieces of a fried delight, and having had Hot Prawn Salad from countless Chinese lauriats, I was at least assured of this being a more-than-okay dish.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the sesame coating, something that I personally like flavor-wise. It arrived with a thin sheet of paper, presumably to strain the oil, and true enough, the only quibble we both had with this dish was the oily feel it had, because it was perfect, otherwise. The crunchy exterior easily gives way to a delectable combination of both sweet and savory, ably represented by the mango and shrimp in equal turns.

Now, if they could find a way to accomplish this dish without the heaviness from the oil but still maintain its' flavor, this would be a recommended staple if you dine here.

Art decided on a healthy option, the Sampan Congee (PhP 155), which was described as having "fish, peanuts, pumpkin bits, cuttlefish and other seafood" and it was served in a clay pot.

Maybe it was just me, but with a description like that, I was expecting it to be a little more chunky. (Blame the picture on the menu for the expectation.) The rice base itself was a small step up from ordinary, but Art had no complaints about the dish other than wishing it had more "laman". I read a few blogs before I wrote this and there seems to be a common thread of their congee being described as not being too "malaman" so hopefully, they can consider adding more of the ingredients that are advertised.

I decided on the 'YMT' Special Sauce Chicken Rice (PhP 225), as I am a fan of this particular fowl and since they advertised the sauce as "special" I was hoping that it would be a dish to satisfy.

Thankfully, this one does.

There is a token "vegetable side" that frames the otherwise carnivore dish - let's get rid of that first - and skip the more-than-usual spicy sauce that comes with it if you are not a fan of anything hot. The fried egg seems to be an ode to the "fusion" label but once we take those apart, the stars of this dish, undoubtedly, are the chicken itself and the rice.

The chicken had a crispy skin that would delight fans of  'the crispy' and while a small sacrifice of moisture on the meat was observed by Art (which I didn't mind), the sauce - soy-based, savory and did I detect a hint of peanut in there? - complemented the meat quite well. (I am not a fan of chicken drowning in sauce and prefer to let the fowl, er, cluck for itself.)

The best way to eat this is to have parts of the meat, skin and sauce in one spoonful, paired with the fragrant chicken rice, one that would give Hainanese chicken places a run for their money. I had to stop myself from ordering another serving of their chicken rice by reminding myself of the (food) carnage that we participated in a week earlier, and I think I savored this order even more because I left the table while I wasn't too filled up.

Prepare yourself for indecision when you get the menu because there are so many items on it that we firmly decided on ordering one dish each and one to share in order to keep things simple and focused. I enjoyed our visit here (especially my order) and I'm looking forward to sampling the other delights that will continue to tease, and I inherently adhere to Oscar Wilde when he says that the only way to overcome temptation is to yield to it.

Until the next temptation, Xin Wang.


Xin Wang Hong Kong Cafe
Ground Floor, North Wing, SM Mall of Asia

Friday, February 1, 2013

That Nutty Sebastian

Nuts about nuts.

Happy is the day when I am able to sample a new offering from Sebastian's Ice Cream on its' debut.

After my last (delectable) visit to  Sebastian's Cold Comfort in SM Mall of Asia, I found myself facing a rhetorical question today: since Art and I were going to MOA, should we stop by for another melodious treat from the artisan ice cream maker?


I knew from my trusty alerts from Sebastian's Facebook page that two new products would be debuting today: Peanut Butter Truffle Burger and Dragonfruit Sorbet. Say the words peanut butter and I'm there: that gooey-sticky goodness that sometimes doesn't go down one's throat immediately, the rich aroma that pleasantly assaults your olfactory nerves...I don't know anyone that hates peanut butter, unless of course you are allergic to the source.

After a more-than-substantial lunch, we walked around the behemoth mall to shop and decided that our ending - fittingly a sweet one - would be a trip to Sebastian's.

Colloquially labeled an ice cream sandwich, the Peanut Butter Truffle Burger disguises the flavor it packs with an almost eerily dark shade of brown, sprinkled with what appears to me heaven sent peanut particles. The first bites will leave no doubt that the ice cream that Sebastian used was dark chocolate, not the cloyingly sweet variety, but definitely on the bitter side of the spectrum, and covered with the expected consistency of cookies. (Speaking of which, does Sebastian have cookie dough flavored ice cream? Must investigate.)

The not-really-a-surprise center hits my tattered enamel because of its hard consistency: peanut butter land!

Nirvana by peanut.

The pleasurable sensation of a familiar,comforting taste begins to outshine its slightly bitter exterior: yes, an entire (large) peanut butter cup has happily been lodged as this creation's nucleus, and congregates to the altar of peanut goodness, we now say Amen!

If you hate peanut butter, no description will entice. 

If you love peanut butter, no explanation is necessary.

We skipped on the sorbet that also debuted because Art was not too keen on the fruit itself, and balked at eating an ice cream version of it. Since this was a day for him to recharge, I told him to choose another flavor that appealed to him.

Color your happiness.

He chose Sapin-sapin (a multi-colored, local rice delicacy) on the basis of the bright, sunny colors that the original dish this is based on is known for. One bite into this treat makes you feel you have (irrationally) raised your patriotism quota a few notches higher for the day, as the very flavors of "the real thing" are translated ever so perfectly and wonderfully in this frozen form. I mentioned wanting to try this very flavor in my last post about Sebastian, and today, I can tick that off my to-do list. 

My Must-Be-Delicious list.