Thursday, November 30, 2006

Luxurious, luscious Lemuria

Nestled in the heart of Horsheshoe Village's Julieta Circle is The Winery and its little French restaurant called Lemuria. It's housed in a cozy structure that reminds one of a Mediterrenean villa, and it looks absolutely lovely at night, with its candlelit steps and the lush greenery framing the building (boys, if you're bringing a date to this place, the first impression alone will win you a lot of pogi points). The interior design is as pretty as the exterior, managing to be both homey and elegant, making you feel like you're dining in the home of an old friend with exquisite taste.

As soon as we stepped in, Lemuria's effusive and efficient staff seated us (reservations are strongly recommended since the place is quite small, and even on a weekday night it was packed). The menu contains primarily French fare (I believe the head chef trained at Le Souffle), and popular items include the foie gras and braised lamb shank. I had the mushroom and gruyere soup, which was so rich and yummy I was sad to see the bottom of my bowl. For my main course I chose the slipper lobster with porcini risotto. The lobster was cooked just right, with the meat tender but not underdone, and the risotto was a creamy concoction bursting with flavor thanks to a sprinkling of caviar and lentils. We had a bottle of red wine with our dinner, a 2004 vintage from Sicily suggested by the sommelier (who also happens to be the owner; our waiter made a phone call to her to make sure we got a good wine to go with our food). The red wine did go rather well with my dad and brother's steaks, and even with the seafood entrees my mom, sister and I had. The only disappointment of the meal was dessert: the strawberry mascarpone cheese cake had a rather odd texture and barely any hint of strawberry (I should have gone with my first instinct and went with the lavender creme brulee). At least the nice cappuccino I had with it made up for the bland dessert.

Another caveat: the prices are very steep, at par with fine dining restaurants of posh hotels. If the food wasn't so good I would have felt robbed. If you're willing to splurge on some well-prepared, no-fuss French cuisine, plus a bottle of quality wine, then give Lemuria a try. The ambiance is wonderful, the service is great (bonus point: a friendly attendant offers valet parking at the gate), and the food will definitely please your taste buds. If only your wallet were to go home as happy. :p

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Blast from the past

Last night was the first official meeting of the organizing committees for JCA Batch '97's 10th Graduation Anniversary renunion. A fair number of people showed up (18, to be exact), and we pretty much dominated UCC Connecticut with all our boisterous chatter. In between hey-how-have-you-been-and-what-are-you-doing-now exchanges among everyone, Angge, ever our fearless (and very organized) leader, steered the evening's discussion and we managed to get some major details settled, with the consensus of all present.

It was heartening to see how enthusiastic some people are about the reunion, and how productive the planning session turned out to be. After much internal hemming and hawing, I volunteered to head the Solicitations committee. I figured, if I'm inevitably going to shell out for a sponsorship, I might as well drag others down with me. :p I also did it as a show of support for Angge, who is doing so much on behalf of the batch (as always), and it felt good to be once again sitting beside her and brainstorming, just as we did during our LEX days in college (EVP and IVP, reunited! =D).

It was also both funny and reassuring to see how little things have changed since high school, or at least how it seems that way when we all got together. The dynamic among people was just as it was in Jubilee: the noisy kids were cracking jokes and poking fun at one another; the quiet kids were still quiet, but would open up when engaged in conversation; the "smart" kids were directing things and maintaining a semblance of order (at one point, one of our rowdier boys pointed out, "Bakit hanggang ngayon yung mga matatalino pa rin ang leader? Kami naman!" to which everyone laughed). Everyone seemed to automatically revert to being a bunch of high school teens around one another. I suppose that's why some people aren't as keen about high school reunions as others-- perhaps they didn't have very good memories of high school to begin with. Or perhaps they feel like they've grown far beyond high school to relive it.

I used to balk at attending the first few batch Christmas parties some groups attempted to organize (those fizzled out after 2 or 3 years). Part of my excuse to myself was that I was enjoying college far too much to go back to my high school crowd. Another reason was I just didn't feel like facing people who didn't matter to me very much, people I never really talked to in high school, or people who made my life miserable in one way or another. But I think the simple reason was that I didn't like being reminded of who I was in high school, or at least the various incarnations of myself during those years that make me squirm in embarrassment to this day. However, I find that now, I still squirm, but I can also laugh at the same time. I think I'm now comfortable enough in my own skin, confident enough in who I am, that I can face anyone from high school and not feel inadequate, or awkward. Besides, you hope you've grown enough over the last 10 years to be able to face your past and come to terms with it, no matter how humiliating or disappointing or painful it was.

In any case, I'm committed to this thing for better or worse. Here's hoping our reunion is more successful than we expect, and that the hard work the committees will be putting in will pay off.

Monday, November 27, 2006


I'm blogging from home on a Monday afternoon because my bosses wouldn't let me report to work today. Over the weekend, I caught a monster cold... or more accurately, a monster cold snuck up from behind and caught me while I was busy flitting around like a social butterfly. Friday night I had dinner with my high school barkada, our annual Thanksgiving dinner which we turned into a surprise baby shower for 8-months pregnant Vina, who is carrying our first barkada baby. Saturday I met someone for lunch, then went to Greenmeadows to fit my gown for Bel's wedding in December. My painfully PINK gown (it's a testament to how much I love Bel that I would put on pink for her). After that, I went to the Podium to meet up with my LM girls Ria and Pia for merienda at Cafe Breton, and we were also joined by Juls, who happened to be in the area with her mom. Then Ria drove me back to Greenhills (one of the more memorable car rides I've taken in a while ;p), so I could have dinner with my sister and dad at My Angels' Kitchen, and coffee at UCC afterwards. When I woke up on Sunday, I was feeling as stuffed up as the odd assortment of stuffed animals lying beside me. I spent the day watching TV and napping, but by evening I was running a low fever which could not escape my mom's palm, which, i have learned over the years, is more accurate than any clinical thermometer.

And so here I am, stuck at home in my PJs, with The Man in the Iron Mask on AXN in the background for company (it just dawned on me now that Peter Saarsgard plays John Malkovich's son, which I find so apt since they speak in the same eerily oily, almost-monotonous voice). I have lost count of how many glasses of warm water I've taken, or how many vitamin C tablets I've popped, or how many pieces of Kleenex I've condemned to a rather gross and... sticky end. I just hope I'll be better by tomorrow because I'm attending a brainstorming meeting with some of my high school batchmates, in preparation for our 10th graduation anniversary reunion next year. I haven't seen some of these people in 9 years, and I don't want to show up all phlegmy and runny-nosed. Not exactly a great way to present myself and show how far I've come along since high school. =j

Now you'll have to excuse me while I go in search of some more Kleenex.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Eragon: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

My brother is very selective about his reading material, so when he enthusiastically recommended Eragon to me, I started reading Christopher Paolini's precocious debut fantasy novel with high expectations.

It fell a little short.

Fine, I'll take into consideration that the author was all of 15 when he started writing Eragon, but I can't help but be uncomfortable with all the stark similarities his creation has with other master works of fantasy and science fiction, specifically J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (I'll draw the parallels by and by). To give the kid the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he was really inspired by LOTR and Star Wars, and built his story using the same scaffolding. However, I believe that if you wanna play with the big boys, you gotta hold your own, so I still find this lack of originality disappointing.

Eragon, Book 1 of the Inheritance trilogy, introduces the reader to the land of Alagaesia, ruled by a tyrant named Galbatorix (the name doesn't roll off the tongue easily; even when I'm pronouncing it in my head it's clunky). The evil ruler was once one of the Dragon Riders, an elite and powerful group of "gifted" individuals who, uh, rode dragons (duh).
In other words, they were strong in the Force, and pretty much acted like the kingdom's Jedi Knights, keeping the peace and standing for truth, justice and the Alagaesian way. When Galbatorix's dragon was killed, he succumbed to the Dark Side of the Force, and went on a murderous rampage, slaying all Dragon Riders save those who pledged allegiance to him (much like how Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader massacred all his fellow Jedi). The Riders' steeds were not as fortunate, and the poor dragons were wiped out by Galbatorix. They were thought extinct for many years, but 3 eggs survived-- 2 remained in Galbatorix's clutches, but 1 was snatched from his grasp (spirited away by the elf-maiden Arya in a chase sequence reminiscent of Arwen's frantic horseback ride with Nazgul on her tail, as she bore Frodo to Rivendell in the movie adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring).

Enter Luke Skywalker, in the form of titular character Eragon, the unwitting farmboy-turned-hero. He falls into possession of the 3rd dragon egg, which "chooses" to hatch for him. The dragon, Saphira, attaches itself to Eragon, who eventually becomes a Dragon Rider, the first since Galbatorix got rid of the lot. It is on this new generation of Riders that the fate of Alagaesia rests, and the 2 major political forces in the kingdom are battling to gain control over them: Galbatorix and his crew of baddies, and the Varden, an underground (figuratively and literally) group of resistance fighters who seek to restore the old glory of the Riders (think the Empire versus the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars). In the meantime, Eragon is trained in the ways of the Dragon Riders by Brom, an eccentric old man living in his village (Obi-Wan Kenobi, is that you?), and sets out on a quest accompanied by Murtagh, a guy with a shady past (i.e., Han Solo).

My biggest peeve with the story was its mythology, which to me, reeked of Tolkien: long-haired, aristocratic elves who came from "across the sea"; grumpy dwarves who dwell underground (Paolini's dwarf city is called Tronjheim, a counterpart of Tolkien's Moria) and monopolize the mining industry; monstrous anthromorphic beasts who serve as the chief villain's foot soldiers (Paolini calls his Urgal; Tolkien's were orcs); bastard human-Urgal hybrids called Kull (Tolkien version: the charming Uruk-hai); scary henchmen with scary powers (Paolini has the Ra'zac and the Shade; Tolkien had his formidable, freaky Nazgul). Heck, even the name "Eragon" sounds too much like "Aragorn", Tolkien's human hero, and "Arya" like "Arwen". I have a feeling the coming film adaptation of Eragon is going to play out like a shorter, less grand version of Peter Jackson's LOTR movies.

I could go on, but I should stop lest I inadvertently reveal some plot spoilers (even if the plot is pretty predictable). Overall, I'd give Eragon final marks of B- for entertainment value, C+ for writing style, and D for originality... but I'd give young Christopher Paolini an A for effort. We may see true creative genius from this kid yet, if he learns to blaze his own path rather than follow those who came before him.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

One less reason to watch the 2008 Olympics

Ian Thorpe has just announced his retirement from competitive swimming, at the ridiculous age of 24. I can't believe the Australian wonder boy is hanging up his Speedos for good. I felt he still had at least 1 more Olympic title in him. He was 1 of the main reasons I'm dreaming-- wildly dreaming-- of going to Beijing in 2008 to watch the Olympics (I had a mad crush on him back in college; he was only 18 at the time, but already a cutie). And now he's retired, and he hasn't even given a concrete reason for it. It's not as if he's injured, or sick, or even washed-up (he's only 24!). It leaves me wondering why he suddenly lost his drive, why he gave up on a sport in which he excels, a sport he presumably loves. Breaks my heart, really. Reminds me of how I gave up teaching. I hope the Thorpedo (yes, they really call him that) has his own reasons, and damn good ones.

I really wanted to see him strike gold one more time. =(

Monday, November 20, 2006

This is me, not giving a damn

So Manny Pacquiao beat Erik Morales via TKO in the 3rd round of their 3rd face-off. So Daniel Craig is the new James Bond in Casino Royale, which is receiving critical acclaim worldwide.

So what?

Now Manny will come home to a hero's welcome, with more of the same fanatical fanfare surrounding his home-coming earlier this year. He'll be a few million pesos richer, his already swollen head a few sizes larger. He'll buy another flashy sports car or 2, appear in countless TV and print ads (how come no one's bitching about dismantling his gigantic Nike billboard along Guadalupe, hmm?), earn more millions in endorsement deals, release another godawful recording which will undoubtedly top the charts, star in another movie which will undoubtedly be a box office hit, and finally, run for public office, and win.

Our nation deserve the heroes-- and monsters-- it creates.

As for Daniel Craig, I don't care how many praises are being heaped on his "grittier", "edgier", "more human" Bond. With that wrinkled, ghastly mug, how can he ever be believable as a ladies' man (and supposedly, the youngest incarnation of 007)? When I watch a Bond film, I don't seek to derive meaning from it, I want sensory excitement! I want a Bond I can lust after, not a Bond who will prompt me to contemplate my purpose in life.

I want pretty boy Pierce back. Sob.

One last gripe: Why, why, WHY are some guys as dense as India's population? Apparently, uncomfortable body language, lapsing into stony silence during dinner and curt responses to text messages are not enough clues as to a girl's lack of interest. What, do I need to hit you over the head with a club to spell it out for you?

Some people just don't know how to take a hint.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

By George, he's got it!

Ladies (and gents so inclined), presenting People's Sexiest Man Alive for 2007.

Walang aangal. I adore George. He's now tied with buddy Brad Pitt, having been named Sexiest Man Alive twice, the record so far (but I bet Brad still has a third coming...).

For more drool-icious pix of People's sexy-- though tragically unattainable-- men (including a certain McDreamy doctor), come hither.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Turning the tables

After my first year of teaching, I sat down with then-assistant principal Mrs. Liamzon for my year-end evaluation. As she shuffled some papers on her desk, I distinctly remember her opening words: "I wish all teacher evaluations looked like this." She then proceeded to read me the summary of feedback forms filled up by my students, as I sat there squirming in discomfort-- not because I didn't like what I was hearing, but because I was struggling to maintain my composure in front of Mrs. L. I was on the verge of tears hearing the sweet things my students had written about me. It was a wonderful validation of the effort and heart I had put into my first year of teaching, and it is definitely one of the best highs I have ever been on in my entire life.

I recall this experience of mine because recently I was directed to a website called Reggie Blue, featuring profiles of/comments about Ateneo teachers and classes. Some ingenious Ateneans put it up to help current undergrads who do not know which subjects/electives to pick, or which teacher to go with. Students and alumni who have previously taken them can contribute their evaluations and recommendations. Although the site is still in its early development stages, it's amusing browsing through the handful of comments already posted, and learning that many Ateneans feel the same way about the same classes and teachers. I've even posted a comment myself, about Sir Tirol, and I'm tempted to donate my 2 cents' worth on my other former teachers, especially the ones I did not like very much. :p

While talking about Reggie Blue, Sir Tirol mentioned that it's too bad teachers don't have the same kind of outlet to comment on their former students. When I thought about it, I realized that actually, teachers probably have more interesting things to say about their students than the other way around. The only hitch is, teacher ethics would prevent us from bashing students publicly (as much as we are dying to sometimes).

Looking back on my 2 years of teaching, and the over 200 students I had, I can think of thousands of things to say. Of course, there are those I could only write a sentence or 2 about, and in fact, I must confess there are some whose faces and names have begun to fade from my inferior-to-an-elephant's memory. But there are quite a handful of my former charges about whom I could write pages and pages of praise... or the opposite.

So, since most of my readers used to be my students anyway, let's try this out: for those brave enough, leave a comment to this blog post, and I'll reply with a comment (or 2 or 3) about you. Absolutely no holds barred.

Let's see how you like a taste of your own medicine. :)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Warning: shameless display of geeky fandom ahead

The week our parents were away, my sibs and I finally finished the last few DVDs from our Star Trek: The Next Generation box set. It took us well over a year, given the long hiatus we took while Hanks was in Beijing, and other scheduling conflicts (yes, we insist on watching it together— no man gets left behind), but at last our Trekker pilgrimage of 7 seasons is completed. And naturally, I feel a tribute is in order now (I’m guessing no one’s going to read the rest of this entry except my sibs :p).

Aside from being a medium for sibling bonding, TNG is near and dear to my heart because of one man: Captain Jean-Luc Picard, played with an endearing mix of gravitas and wry humor by the immensely talented Patrick Stewart (some of you may know him better as Professor X). Picard is my favorite Star Trek captain and character for the same reason Preston Burke is my favorite doctor from Grey’s Anatomy: he’s smart, articulate, funny at the right moments and in the right ways, and most importantly, he always makes ethical choices and decisions. Because Picard is the captain and central figure of TNG, his character sets the general tone and direction of the entire show. His crew follows his commands and acts according to his example: upright, discerning, honorable, passionate, caring, and humane.

That is not to say that TNG’s characters are all perfect. Indeed, their individual quirks and flaws make them even more relatable, regardless of species. They each represent the best and worst aspects of humans (even if they are Klingon or Betazoid). Even the android Data aspires towards attaining the more admirable qualities of humanity, learning from Picard’s wisdom, second officer Will Riker’s sense of duty and sense of fun, Counselor Deanna Troi’s sensitivity, Lieutenant Worf’s courage, Dr. Beverly Crusher’s grace, and chief engineer Geordi LaForge’s patience. The dynamic among TNG’s cast/crew is one of the best I’ve seen among many TV ensembles. The viewer gets a strong sense of family when watching the show, perhaps because of the great storylines that allow the characters to form strong relationships, or because the actors themselves get along well with each other (as they attest to in the behind-the-scenes interviews included as bonus material in the DVDs). Throughout the 7 seasons we’ve watched, the growth of each character is evident, as well as the developments in the different relationships among the senior officers.

And like fine wine, the series got better with time. As the characters matured, it allowed for more complex themes to be tackled in each episode, from war to genocide to religion to cultural relativism to questions of a deeply existentialist nature (another reason I love Picard so much: he’s an existentialist with Kantian leanings, as opposed to the more Aristotelian Captain Kirk of the Original Series, as Dr. Judith Barad and Ed Robertson pointed out in their pop philo book “The Ethics of Star Trek”). It’s easy to dismiss Star Trek as a lame sci-fi TV show for geeks, but those who bother to take it more seriously know that it deals with a lot of moral and ethical issues in their episodes, stories that rival the most dramatic medical cases from House or political conflicts in The West
Wing. It comes as no surprise to me that TNG was nominated for a writing Emmy for their 7th and last season. It’s actually more surprising to me (short of outright outrage) that it was their 1 and only Emmy nom for the entire run of the series.

The other Star Trek shows that came after TNG (Deep Space 9, Voyager, Enterprise) are all entertaining in their own ways and stay true to the creativity and ideals of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. But they just don't come close to TNG, which has that extra-special something that makes it more interesting, more addictive, and generally more loveable. Maybe it’s the easy camaraderie among the senior officers, highlighted by their weekly poker games. Maybe it’s the memorable villains (the Borg make their first appearance in TNG, and of course, who can top the indomitable, incorrigible Q?), or maybe it’s the tension-fraught plots involving Cardassians and Romulans. Maybe it’s how Picard says “make it so” with Shakespearean solemnity. Whatever it is, to me, TNG is and always will be the brightest star in Roddenberry’s galaxy.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The expected, and the unexpected

Today I received 2 emails from Mr. Ricky Pilar, the teacher of the students whose OpMan paper contained plagiarized material that I detected (go 3 posts back for details). One was a forwarded letter of apology from the student who had copy-pasted the chunks of text. He sounded sincerely contrite, and absolved his groupmates of any wrongdoing, admitting he was solely responsible for the parts that were lifted verbatim from online sources. The second email was from Mr. Pilar himself, explaining what steps the JGSOM faculty had taken in investigating the case, and their final decision to have the group rewrite and resubmit the paper, with a grade deduction for the errant group member. I already figured a disciplinary case wouldn't be filed (but, call me evil, it was gratifying to read the student's pleas that he not be expelled), and I found this final sanction satisfactorily fair.

In his email, Mr. Pilar also thanked me for having been so thorough and vigilant. He went on to say that during a meeting with the Chair and other teachers of the QMIT Department, Sir Mike Tan was commended for having invited me as a panelist for the OpMan defense (Sir owes me those pogi points :p), and it was proposed that I be invited again for future defenses (Zephyrz and Fyrinx beware, haha).

Then came something that took me completely by surprise. The department Chair, Mr. Tanchoco, actually issued an invitation for me to join the JGSOM faculty, to teach either OpMan or Stat. Reading that part of Mr. Pilar's email, I was flabbergasted. Sure, I've entertained notions of teaching in the SOM, but I never foresaw that I'd be invited. And I never thought it would be my lifelong anti-plagiarism crusade that would get me that invitation, from the QMIT Department Chair himself. The egomaniac in me felt flattered, and the Atenean in me felt honored. But of course I had to turn down the invitation. As I wrote in my reply to Mr. Pilar: "... as much as it would be my privilege to serve my beloved alma mater as a teacher, I'm afraid OpMan and Stat are both outside my field of teaching expertise. These are 2 technical subjects which I managed to pass only because I had a very patient teacher... and very competent groupmates besides." I closed by telling Mr. Pilar that in the meantime, I will be more than happy to render my panelist services to them every semester.

I confess that the out-of-the-blue teaching job offer was mighty tempting, my weak computation skills be damned. I had sudden visions of me strolling through the Ateneo campus, OpMan books cradled in my arms, heading for my class in the JGSOM building, with students calling out "Hi Ma'am!" along the way (never mind if they also shoot me dirty looks and mouth "bitch" as soon as my back is turned). Yes, I can see myself teaching in Ateneo. But realistically, I can't. Not only would my poor students screw up all their forecasting and capacity planning thanks to my inept mentorship, I couldn't squeeze it in my current work schedule anyway. Teaching part-time is not an option for me, at least not if I want to be a good teacher. I believe it's a 24-hour job that requires, demands, deserves my full attention and energy. If I ever go back-- correction, WHEN I do go back, it will be without constraints, without conditions, without circumstances that would keep me from being the best possible teacher I can be. Regardless of the subject. Even if it does turn out to be OpMan.

Hmm. I hope Mr. Tanchoco's invitation stands for a while.