Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Blogger's social butterfly week

What with all the holidays this week and the 'rents out of town, my social calendar has been jam-packed, and looks a little something like this:

Oct. 27, Saturday - AP-Annex surprise baby shower for Loida at Pau's place; Butterfly on a Wheel with Shirley and Elyse; dinner with Shirl

Oct. 28, Sunday - salon afternoon with Hanks (new haircut! =D); dinner with Bri at Chelsea

Oct. 29, Monday - post-elections lunch and shopping with Yang and her barangay chairman husband at Shangri-la Plaza (congratulations Kap! ;p)

Oct. 30, Tuesday - Dex's belated birthday blowout at Little Asia Promenade

Oct. 31, Wednesday - dinner with the LM girls at La Grotta

Nov. 1, Thursday - Bens' birthday dinner at Elbert's Steak Room

Nov. 2, Friday - tentative lunch/coffee date with my cousins Abi and Kev

So to the handful who for 1 reason or another (the most popular of which I imagine is sheer boredom) look forward to my blog posts, don't expect a lot of entries during this week, people. Enjoy your days off from work and/or school.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The simple, sweet life

Our family moved to Greenhills when I was 5 years old, and because our village is one of those which indulge in trick-or-treat festivities, growing up I regarded Halloween as 1 of the highlights of the year, second only to Christmas. To be honest, it wasn't the thrill of dressing up that I looked forward to (as those of you who know me can imagine, I wasn't a very adventurous child, and the most creative costume I ever wore was comprised of a chef's hat, an apron, and a spatula for a prop), and lord knows I was always too chicken to enter the horror booth put up inside our subdivision's gym. The best thing about Halloween was always the candy. Not so much the eating of it (although I did and still do have an insatiable sweet tooth), not even the collecting of it (although I did enjoy walking around our village and getting to enter some of the nice houses), but it was the HAVING of it that really gave me a kick. I derived immense satisfaction looking into a bag full of colorful confectionery and knowing it was all mine, mine, mine. My favorites, which I eagerly picked out of the pile as soon as I got home to take inventory of my loot, were Goya or Ricoa chocolates in silver foil, pastel-colored Mini Fruits (except the grape ones), strawberry Lipps, unbranded hard candies that came in orange and pineapple and had pictures of oranges and pineapples on their respective wrappers, Tootsie Rolls, small packets of Nips, and of course, a childhood icon-- Peter's Butterball.

As I got too old for trick-or-treating, I graduated to distributing candy to kids who came to our door. As far back as I can remember, instead of just giving out loose pieces of candy as most houses do, we've always prepared goodie bags filled with staple sweets: a lollipop, a Jellyace cup, 2 kinds of hard candy, and a piece of Bazooka bubblegum.
Sometimes we'd throw in a Benson's eclair or a lemon Halls or a Mentos. Putting together these goodie bags was almost as fun as trick-or-treating itself: my sibs and I would sit around the kitchen table and form an assembly line, each assigned 2 kinds of candy, passing around the ice/sandwich bags and filling them with sweets. We'd while away an entire afternoon or evening doing just that, no TV or radio blaring in the background or anything. The candy and the company were enough.

In recent years, as we got even older, and busier attending to matters of consequence, the tradition of getting together to assemble the goodie bags has been lost. Now the task usually falls to my sister alone, or aided by our maids. Last night though, I walked into our living room and saw Hanks working on this year's goodie bags in front of the TV, and suddenly hit by a wave of nostalgia (and the smell of bubblegum), I volunteered to help. There's just something about candy that brings out the kid in me, or at least makes me miss the kid I was. And it turned out, it was still a pleasant way to pass the evening (though we had to substitute our brother with Anderson Cooper and Jeff Corwin), and it was a hoot reminiscing with Hanks about Halloweens past and certain kinds of candy that aren't sold anymore. AND the best part was, after packing all 200 bags, we had 3 Flat Tops left over, and they were mine, mine, mine. :)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Why didn't I watch this sooner?

It took me over a decade, but I've finally seen Ang Lee's film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. Yes, children, way before Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the Taiwanese director's first claim to Hollywood fame was a movie based on a Jane Austen book. And while an Asian at the helm of an Austen film with a screenplay penned by an English actress seems an unlikely formula for cinematic success, the brilliance and beauty of the end product-- plus a slew of awards, including Emma Thompson's screenwriting Oscar-- prove otherwise.

I'm a sucker for Austen stories, and while Pride and Prejudice remains my favorite of her novels, I find Ang Lee's take on S&S superior to the most recent film incarnation of P&P. Lee's is a more gentle and genteel movie, reflecting the reserve and refinement of English society in the 1700s. The cinematography captures the lush colors of the English countryside (rain or shine), and the meticulous art direction and design-- from the pretty empire-waist dresses down to the last delicate tea cup-- help set the mood for Austen's signature brand of romance. And while the P&P movie tends to brood and radiates with suppressed fire and intensity, S&S beams with a contained but unconcealed joy, and though I balk at describing it as a "feel-good" film, there is a wonderful warmth throughout.

Lee's stellar cast deserves much of the credit for making the movie so compellingly watchable, and for bringing to life characters who are not only sympathetic, but emotionally investable. Emma Thompson is a paragon of dignified poise and fortitude in her role as Elinor, the level-headed eldest Dashwood sister, while a young Kate Winslet is luminous as the passionate, idealistic Marianne. Hugh Grant as usual plays the fumbling, good-natured charmer in the person of Edward Ferrars, Elinor's love interest, while Imelda Staunton and the terrifically talented Hugh Laurie are scene-stealers as the Palmers (with Staunton already doing that now-infamous patented Umbridge giggle, and Laurie flexing some pre-House muscles
as the deadpan, acerbic husband). But I choose to heap my full adoration and praise on the underappreciated Alan Rickman, who sent me swooning as Colonel Brandon, the soft-spoken, generous soul who is devoted to Marianne despite her affections for the dashing John Willoughby (every time Brandon is rebuffed by Marianne I screamed "Kung ayaw mo akin na lang!" at the TV :p). Though only a handful would agree with me (hello Hanks, Laureen, Christa!) that Rickman is sexy as heck, in S&S, when he utters in anguish the line "Give me an occupation or I shall go mad!", no woman in her right mind wouldn't fall head over heels for him.

In hindsight, it surprises me that S&S managed to win only 1 out of the 7 Oscars it was nominated for (Winslet was robbed by Mira Sorvino, IMHO), but then again it was up against stiff competition with the likes of Braveheart and Il Postino also in the running. Regardless of how many awards it won or didn't win, Ang Lee's S&S will go down in Hollywood history as a classic, and stand as proof that an Asian man can make sense of and bring his own sensibility to an Austen masterpiece.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fairy tales

As you may have heard by now, the great Albus Dumbledore is gay.

I don't know why, but news of J.K. Rowling outing the Hogwarts headmaster delighted me.
After a lot of his human qualities were brought to fore in the last Harry Potter book, this additional facet to the lovable wizard's eccentric and engaging personality seems to make sense, somehow, and makes the character even more interesting and 3-dimensional. Now I feel like rereading the entire HP series just to detect the subtle clues Rowling dropped along the way regarding Dumbledore's sexual orientation (including details of his relationship with Grindenwald). But that will have to wait, as I still have plenty of books waiting on my bedside table and already looking to populate my reading list for 2008.

Speaking of rereading, I wish I had gone over Neil Gaiman's Stardust before finally watching the movie yesterday (I was in New York when it started showing here in Manila). I remember the plot in general, but some details are hazy (I have no recollection whatsoever of Captain Shakespeare having a, um, closet secret), so I can't judge the film as an adaptation. However, b
ased on how I enjoyed the book and the movie, I can give this very concise comparison: the book was funnier, but the movie had Robert DeNiro. :)

By itself, Stardust the movie is a very fun romp. It's hard not to be entertaining when you've got all the reliable elements of an old-fashioned fairy tale: wicked witches, swashbuckling pirates, scheming royalty, damsels in distress, and a handsome young hero (when I first saw the trailer, I thought Charlie Cox, who played Tristan Thorn, would make a good Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter movies, but after seeing the movie, I now nominate Ben Barnes-- young Dunstan Thorn-- to play the eldest and cutest Weasley son). Stardust was also driven by star power, with outstanding performances by Michelle Pfeiffer as the witch Lamia and living legend DeNiro as Captain Shakespeare. Bit roles filled in by well-known British actors like Peter O'Toole, Rupert Everett, Ricky Gervais, and Ian McKellen (as the narrator) were a bonus. Even overrated Sienna Miller was fairly convincing as shallow village belle Victoria. I do wish they had cast a prettier actress for the part of Yvaine, but Claire Danes' acting skills and British accent were adequate. The special effects, makeup, and costumes were expertly done, although there was one major lapse in editing I noticed but could easily pardon. All in all, I give this movie 4 out of 5 stars, and a handful of stardust for good measure.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Model's got the moves (and, Beauty in the eye of this beholder)

At the Arrow Global Licensing Meeting in New York last week, we were told that 22-year-old model Albert Reed, one of the faces of Arrow, joined ABC's Dancing with the Stars. Unfortunately, he got eliminated after only 2 episodes, despite wowing the panel of judges after this unconventional, borderline racy cha-cha number.

Albert first got his big break modeling for Abercrombie & Fitch, the popular American clothing brand for the college crowd. When we were in NY, my dad and I (accompanied by Ria) went to the A&F store along 5th Avenue, and the
first sight that greeted us upon entering was an impossibly handsome hunk acting as a living mannequin, wearing nothing but a pair of jeans, and doing nothing but standing there showing off his incredible washboard abs and sculpted pecs. Walking around the store, it was evident that ALL the sales assistants were model material and distractingly-- almost disturbingly-- good-looking. I felt trapped in the Twilight Zone, like I had been sucked into an A&F catalogue come to life. The deliberately dark interior of the store didn't help, nor did the raucous music pounding through unseen speakers ("Is this a store, or a club?" Ria yelled in my ear). I got a headache within 5 minutes of being inside, and the flawless photogenic faces beaming at me over stacks of overpriced surfer-dude polo shirts were looking creepier and creepier.

I suppose this is why I've never really appreciated the appeal of models (super or otherwise). Their kind of beauty has always struck me as TOO perfect, so much so that it becomes artificial. Very rarely does personality (much less intelligence) shine through their vavavoom veneers. And this is why I've always preferred movie or TV celebrities over models. The actors I find attractive are not simply physically enticing, they have a lot of character in their faces (the eyes are the giveaway: "dead" eyes are a dealbreaker for me). Never mind killer cheekbones, Grecian noses, or plump, pouty lips. A face has to say more than "hey, look at me"; it has to speak volumes, conveying charm, intensity, humor, vitality, kindness, wit and other promising stuff that are REAL and make the hottie seem human. Better-looking than most, yes, but still human.

And I guess the American public agrees with me, which might be the reason behind models never faring too well on Dancing with the Stars, including the show's latest casualty Albert Reed. It's back to pimping A&F and Arrow for you, buddy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Manila girl in Manhattan, year 2

[WARNING: long blog post ahead]

My dad and I are back from our whirlwind business trip to New York, where we attended the 2nd Arrow Global Licensing Meeting under our new US principal. Like our first trip to NY together, it was definitely memorable, but for pretty different reasons...

Stressful start

We were scheduled to leave Manila on October 10, but on the morning of the 9th, thanks to a fateful phone call from the Arrow licensee in China, I realized with cold shock that I had booked our flight one day too late. If we wanted to arrive in New York on the morning of the 10th (NY time), we should have been catching the flight to Los Angeles on the evening of the 9th (Manila time). Naturally, my dad was livid with me and my catastrophic oversight, and in sheer panic and terror I hastened to revise our booking at the (very) last minute. Mercifully, there were still seats on the PAL flight to LA, as well as the American Airlines connecting flight from LA to NY, and thankfully, I have a wonderfully patient and indulgent sister who helped her snitty atsi pack in a mad rush. By the time my dad and I reached the airport, we had both calmed down somewhat.

Chance passenger encounter

While cooling our heels (and heads) in the PAL first/business class lounge, I ran into my high school classmate Irwin, his wife Jen and their adorable 1-year-old son Kaizer (on whom I have a shameless cradle-snatcher crush). It turned out they were taking the same flight to LA that night, and they were traveling business class as well. We ended up seated a few rows apart in the upper deck of the plane, and Irwin's apprehensions that his hyperactive toddler might disturb everyone on the 12-hour flight went unfounded. My dad even remarked on how well-behaved Kaizer was. Too bad I forgot to take a photo with the little cutie before we parted ways with the Sees in LAX.

Another roadblock

However, the spell cast by Kaizer's charms seemed to dissipate almost immediately, because upon checking in at the LAX AA counter for our flight to NY, we were informed that there were no more available seats in business class. Apparently, our travel agent had neglected to cancel our previous booking for the 10th, resulting in a double booking which in turn led to our losing our reserved seats for the 9th. After several irate, futile, and expensive long-distance phone calls to our travel agent, we were forced to fly coach despite having paid for business class tickets. My dad was furious all over again, but at least this time he seemed more PO'd at our travel agent rather than me (after all, one could argue that this was all my fault, really).

Lukso ng dugo

While we were in LAX trying to sort out our problem with AA, a wheelchair attendant passing by me paused and asked with a smile, "Pilipino po kayo?" Startled, I broke out into a smile of my own (in spite of the mess we were currently in), and responded, "Opo", wondering how he had recognized chinky-eyed me as a kababayan, as if there were some indelible mark on my person visible only to Filipino eyes. There was something comforting about that, kind of like a feeling that no matter where in the world I end up, I'd never be lost.

If we can make it there...

Perhaps out of pity, the AA ticketing agent assigned us seats in the very first row of the main cabin, so we had a bit more leg room than other economy class passengers. I still didn't manage to get a lot of sleep though (and since no food was served, Pa kept bitching about how hungry he was), and after 5 uncomfortable hours, we landed in JFK on the morning of the 10th, disgruntled, jetlagged, and thoroughly worn out. From the airport, we took a cab to Manhattan and got to our hotel, the W New York, a few hours ahead of check-in time. We left our baggage with the concierge, and I whipped out my Mapquest printouts and dragged my dad (who was still whining about being hungry) several blocks to the August Wilson theater to see if the box office still had tickets for Jersey Boys... and they did! Hurrah! We managed to grab the last 2 seats together, and although they were
partial view, in the first row way over to the side, I was ecstatic because the musical's fairly new and still features the original cast. Our luck seemed to be turning again.

American dining (and a celeb sighting)

To my dad's relief, it was time to eat, and I led him to Brooklyn Diner USA, home to one of New York's best burgers, according to New York Magazine. However, since it was only 11AM, they were still serving breakfast, and to tide us over Pa and I split a "The Mixed Marriage of Irving and Gina", a plate of sausages, polenta, and 2 eggs on toast covered with onions, bell peppers and marinara sauce. This turned out to be my favorite dish of our entire stay. The Cheeseburger Deluxe followed, which Pa and I also shared. It came with a huge mound of Irish mashed potatoes, which was actually better than the burger itself. I ordered a chocolate egg cream to wash it all down, and needless to say I was stuffed by the end of the meal. Good thing we were walking more than 10 blocks back to our hotel to check in.

Shortly before paying the bill, Pa noticed that 1 of the 2 guys who had just sat down at the table next to ours was vaguely familiar. When we stood up to leave, the guy raised his head and flashed a smile at my staring father, and whaddaya know, it was Jerry Seinfeld! He seemed engrossed in serious conversation with the guy he was with though, so we couldn't build up the nerve to ask for a photo op. It was still pretty cool though, running into him in such a Seinfeldish setting.

Taking it to the streets

One of the things I love most about New York, and why it ranks 2nd on my list of favorite cities in the world (Hong Kong being the 1st) is that it's a walking city. In Manhattan, not only are all the streets conducive to pedestrian traffic (wide sidewalks, pedestrian traffic lights at every corner), but they're laid out in such an organized way that even an idiot or someone with no sense of direction whatsoever (I plead guilty to the latter) could navigate them with little difficulty. There's also a lot to keep the eyes engaged while going down any street, from the big stores lining 5th Avenue to the theaters along Broadway to the clunky hot dog carts on every other corner.

W is for... wee?

The Arrow Global Meeting was being held at the W New York on Lexington Avenue, and that was also where most of the licensees were billeted. I had high expectations of our hotel (especially given the astronomical rates we would be paying for our room), so it came as a big letdown. The lobby was promising enough-- small, but with sleek interiors and cute touches like free donuts and iced tea set on a table by the elevators (later that night it would be replaced with an old-fashioned typewriter and a writing tablet for guest comments or random thoughts), plus a lounge full of people milling about or chatting in small groups. We took an elevator (also rather small) to the 8th floor, and we discovered that unfortunately, our room was also small, almost claustrophobically so. The minuscule bathroom was barely maneuverable; sitting on the toilet, my knees were about 5 inches from the door. The beds were unusually high, but at least quite comfortable. In fact, I can say that the only good things about staying at the W are the beds and pillows, the fluffy towels, and the Bliss bath products (I loved the Lemon+Sage Conditioning Rinse). Other than those, there was nothing sensational about the W, and for more than $450 a night, I expected nothing less than sensational.

Eye candy

Whereas I was sorely disappointed that hot men were nowhere to be seen during our vacation in Europe, there appeared to be a lot of hotties inhabiting New York. Or perhaps we had simply gone to the wrong European countries, because 2 of the cutest guys who attended the Arrow Global Meeting this year were both Portuguese:
the export manager of the Arrow eyewear licensee in France (born in France but of Portuguese descent), and the Portugal licensee president's son, whom I had met (and who had already caught my eye) at the previous conference in 2005. This time he had come without his father, hence I got more chances to chat him up, especially since we were seated alphabetically according to country at the conference, and "Philippines" immediately preceded "Portugal". Also, after cocktails and dinner that evening, we walked back to our hotel together in the same group. He fell into step beside me, we talked with each other the whole way, and I got the distinct feeling it would have been a far more interesting conference if I too had shown up without my father.

Asian alliance

Whenever the Asian licensees get into any sort of discussion, I've observed that it's always easy to find points of agreement, particularly when it comes to "the American way" of doing things. Over breakfast on the 2nd day of the conference, we were conversing with the licensees from China and India, and both were echoing my dad's opinion that Arrow's latest marketing campaign doesn't suit our region nor address our needs. They also broached the topic of how American hospitality (accommodating but not attentive, professional but not personal) varies from Asian hospitality ("It starts at the airport and ends at the airport!"), and how that difference reflects the disparity in our cultural mindsets, which affect the manner in which we do business. If the licensee from Thailand had been there that morning, I'm sure he would have chimed in as well. The day before, their vice president had given a presentation that highlighted their country's unique culture and how they've tailored their marketing efforts for the Thai customer base. Moreover, he ended on what for me would be the most memorable line of the whole conference and the most meaningful concept I picked up: "The key to our success is we treat this brand like our own brand, not a licensed one." Amen, brother!

This accent is brought to you by the letter S

An effusive Gap store clerk engaged me in small talk as I was paying for my purchases ((Product) Red tees for my sibs), and in the middle of our exchange, he suddenly asked, "Does everyone in the Philippines speak English? Your English is terrific! But you probably studied in the US right? Because you don't have an accent." It wouldn't be the only time someone asked me if I had studied in the US. On the night we had cocktails with the Arrow people, one of our licensor's sweater designers, a delightful cross between Anthony Federov from American Idol and Carson Kressley from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, gushed, "Did you study in the US? You speak English so well! I know it's not PC to say that, but you do!" And Portugal boy also presumed I had studied in the US, and when I told him I had studied in Manila all my life, he asked how my English had gotten so good. I gave him the answer I always laughingly offer: "I grew up watching a lot of American TV." I was rewarded with a broad grin accompanied by an amused twinkle in his gorgeous gray eyes. Thanks, Sesame Street.

Singles and the City

It was fortuitous timing that 1 of my SATC girls, Ria, had just moved with her brother from Delaware to New Jersey (en route to their ultimate destination, Chicago) the same week I was in NY. Maff took a bus over to Manhattan and we had lunch with my dad at an Italian place called Carmine's (the stuffed mushrooms were good, and I liked the pasta alla vodka). We then spent the afternoon walking down 5th Avenue and going into shops Pa wanted to check out (both for business and personal purposes), which gave Maff and me time to catch up on each other's lives as we puttered along after my dad. Admittedly I hogged most of the conversation updating Ria on the sordid state of my barely-breathing love life, but I suspect like most of my friends she gets a kick out of my blind date horror stories anyway. I wish we could have spent more time together, but an entire afternoon in New York is not something all friends get to share, and I'm glad I got to share it with Maff.

Teacher troubles

Sadly, my "twin" Tangsoc, who now also resides in NJ with hubby Harold, wasn't able to come see me because she wasn't feeling well (and I insisted she not attempt to make the long drive or commute what with the rainy weather and her peaky condition). I did get to talk to her over the phone a couple of times, and hearing her voice (though raspier than usual) was wonderful. I really hope
we can actually get together the next time I find myself in NY (since it might be a long while before she returns to Manila).

During one of our phone conversations, I asked Tangsoc about how her new job is going, and she began bemoaning the horrors of teaching in an American public school (a prerequisite for obtaining her teaching license). The kids are the main problem, since they're drastically different from the kind of students here in the Philippines; in short, Tangsoc's current students make all ICAns look like blessed angels. She told me about 1 kid who set his notebook on fire in the corridor, forcing the whole school to evacuate the premises, and another boy who assaulted and severely injured a teacher with a chair. Tangsoc's accounts were even more disturbing in light of the school shooting that had recently taken place in Ohio and had been hogging the headlines of all local news channels. I told Tangsoc to be extra careful and just hang in there until she finally gets her license, after which she can apply to a private school where the kids may not be as crazy (never mind if, as my dad pointed out, a lot of American teens are ticking time bombs anyway, whether or not they can afford to attend private schools).

Oh what a night!

For the past 2 years, I had thought the musical Wicked would definitely be part of the itinerary for my next trip to New York. Then I found out Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner were starring in a new Broadway adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac... but I decided to forgo that too because it's performed in verse, and I was afraid it would put Pa to sleep, star power notwithstanding. So I went with my third choice, Jersey Boys, the biographical musical of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, thinking Pa would certainly be able to appreciate the songs since they were from "his time". And I was right (after the show we were both relentlessly humming the tunes on our walk back to our hotel, infected with major cases of LSS).

Even though our front-row, way-off-to-the-side seats were pretty bad (they weren't kidding about partial view-- we had to crane our necks not just to see above the stage, but to see past a spiral staircase on the stage), we still managed to enjoy the show tremendously. It helped that the songs are popular to begin with ("Big Girls Don't Cry", "Walk Like a Man", "Oh What a Night", among others), but the way they were incorporated into the story was brilliant. The script was smart, fast and funny, entertaining in a Hollywood movie way, and a refreshing departure from "heavier" or fancier Broadway acts. I could see why John Lloyd Young, the actor who plays Frankie Valli (and incidentally 1 of the celebrity endorsers for Arrow's Save Ellis Island campaign) and Christian Hoff, the guy who plays Four Seasons member Tommy DeVito, both won Tonys for their performances. Young does an amazing Frankie Valli falsetto, and his solo "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" is 1 of the highlights of the show. Getting to watch him in this role, along with the rest of the original cast, was definitely worth our crappy seats.

The sets and backdrops were nothing spectacular, but 1 scene in particular wowed me: an ingenious backstage view of the Four Seasons in concert, with the 4 lead actors' backs to us in the real audience, performing with microphone stands in front of them, facing a black backdrop dotted with flashing lights that stood for the camera flashes from their imagined audience. For me, that scene alone validated the Tony Jersey Boys won for Best Musical, and validated my choice of Broadway show to watch this time around. Wicked will just have to wait another year or 2.


Our return flights were not plagued with the same kind of problems we encountered traveling from LA to NY, and I enjoyed flying business class on American Airlines (the food was good-- they actually served hot fudge sundaes for dessert!). In LA, Ahia Herson, one of Pa's former table tennis players (my dad used to coach the national team), picked us up from the airport and took us to dinner at PF Chang's with his family, and brought us back to LAX in time to catch our flight back to Manila. I was infinitely relieved to put our travel troubles behind us.

The PAL flight from LA arrives in Manila around 5AM, and this being already October, it was still dark out when our plane started its descent. I love arriving on flights this early in the morning, especially when the lights of the city are all on. I always feel a warmth seep over me, knowing that somewhere amid the field of bright dots is our house, holding the most important people in my life. Surveying the lay of the land and the unusual calm that blankets it at dawn, I think of the hustle and bustle of New York, its cosmopolitan glamour, its fast-paced lifestyle, its urbane power, and everything that draws me to it... yet none of it can ever really tear me away from the kind of chaotic charm that is familiarly Filipino. I will always be allured by the city that never sleeps, but in my heart, Manila will forever be top of the heap.

Monday, October 08, 2007

At last, In-yo

Since last year, my friend and fellow foodie Yang had been raving to us LM girls about this Katipunan restaurant called In-yo, insisting we had to eat there together sometime. Last Friday we finally got a chance to do so, although there were only 2 LM girls in attendance (Yang and yours truly), since 2 others had to bail at the last minute because of those 2 dreaded letters: OT. :p After a lovely, leisurely afternoon walking around the Ateneo campus (still as gorgeous as ever), Yang and I were joined by her hubby Angelo and her former roomie Shalu for dinner.

A converted residence located at 66 Esteban Abada St. (parallel to Katipunan Ave.), In-yo made a great first impression on me as I laid eyes on the warmly lit, inviting facade.
It reminded me of my first look at Lemuria, and as I crossed the short wooden bridge spanning a koi pond underneath the threshold of the entrance, I had a good feeling I was in for a wonderful evening. The interior was cozy, furnished with homey tables and chairs that were mismatched yet went well together. A variety of Oriental knickknacks adorned side tables and shelves. One of several attentive waiters pulled up 2 low wooden stools for me and Shalu to place our bags on. Our table had a vantage view of the kitchen, where owner-chef Nino Laus could be seen through the glass window plating meals eagerly awaited by the full house (customers were still arriving around 9PM and waiting for tables).

The food certainly lived up to Yang's glowing reviews. She highly recommended the hanging tender steak, served with red wine sauce, mushroom risotto and buttered veggies, so I went with that. The steak was indeed tender, flavorful but not too salty, and went well with the risotto, which was a creamy delight. We all ordered the special iced tea, served with a cube of frozen mango juice that gradually melted and infused the tea with fruity flavor. For dessert I again went with Yang's recommendation, choosing the mango pavlova, a yummy frothy egg-white concoction topped with sweet mangoes and vanilla ice cream. I sampled some of Angelo's vanilla bean panna cotta, which was also a palate pleaser, and the tofu cheesecake (it tastes better than it sounds, trust me), which came compliments of the house. We were also surprised when a girl from another table who was celebrating her birthday sent over a big slice of plain cheesecake, sharing the tangy treat with everyone in the restaurant.

My share of the bill came to about P600++ for my steak entree, an iced tea, and the mango pavlova. Comparing that to Lemuria's astronomical prices, I give In-yo a higher rating for value for money. The intimate ambience, the efficient service, and the scrumptious food all make an LM girls return visit to In-yo practically inevitable.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Hysteria over Wisteria

Last night I heard that Cesar Montano is demanding that Teri Hatcher apologize to the Filipino people for the so-called "racial slur" she uttered on ABC's TV series Desperate Housewives. Now, I don't watch the show, and I'm no fan of Teri Hatcher (I have no respect for anyone who has dated Ryan Seacrest), but 1) the woman was just reciting lines written for her character, and 2) does Cesar Montano really expect a Hollywood celeb like Teri Hatcher to apologize to an actor from a Third World country who thinks he can bat in the big leagues just because he starred in some forgettable movie with Benjamin Bratt?

Cesar pomposity aside, I read in the papers today that the Philippine government has also asked for an apology from the producers of Desperate Housewives, with Department of Health secretary Francisco Duque saying:

"They should apologize for a seemingly blanket statement that we all find very offensive. And I'd like to register that protest in behalf of all our Filipino doctors, not just in America but all over the world. There's really no basis... Filipino doctors are among the best in the world.

"We're one of the best and in fact we're probably the second largest doctor-professionals in the US and many Americans have acknowledged in countless ways that our doctors are really very professional, competent and with excellent bedside manners and good rapport with patients and patients' relatives."
Ignoring his atrocious grammar, I commend Secretary Duque's expression of outrage on behalf of all Filipino doctors. The snide statement about our medical schools was a joke made in poor taste, and offended parties should be gratified to know that ABC has already issued an apology "
for any offense caused by the brief reference", adding, "There was no intent to disparage the integrity of any aspect of the medical community in the Philippines."

I hope this placates all the people the Desperate Housewives episode angered, and squelches the ludicrous proposal to ban the show in our country. Let's not overreact. It was only one passing joke on a TV show featuring frivolous middle-aged women stuck in suburbia (it might very well have been intended to reflect the ditziness of Teri Hatcher's character). I've heard much worse from other shows and movies. The now-defunct sitcom Will and Grace made allusions to gay Filipino escorts more than once, while the indie war flick Jarhead made mention of Filipina mail-order brides. If a CNN correspondent or Discovery Channel host had made a derogatory remark about our people, I could understand how we'd be infuriated. But come on, it's just Desperate Housewives. Who in the world takes that show seriously? Its popularity is waning, and it didn't even win a single Emmy this year.

Personally, I think we made too big a deal out of the whole thing, and we only succeeded in giving Desperate Housewives undeserved publicity (albeit negative publicity, but in Hollywood, that distinction doesn't matter). Besides, milking the issue only goes to show how overly defensive and selectively sensitive we are as a people. Why make it appear as if we're making a mountain out of a molehill? We know we have good med schools, we know we have good doctors. That ignorant and politically incorrect American writers choose to use our country as material for their lame jokes in their lame TV shows is a reflection of their ineptitude, not ours.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A salute to the season when love ran high

Season 70 has ended for the Ateneo Blue Eagles on a bittersweet note. After beating arch(er)rivals LaSalle twice and stunning defending champions UST with a killer buzzerbeater in the elimination round, then losing what was supposed to be a "sure win" game against tenacious NU and the twice-to-beat advantage to DLSU, the Eagles found renewed strength and spirit to overcome the Tigers in a knockout match, and the Archers in the first game of the stepladder semifinals. However, our boys would eventually succumb to the team from Taft in the second game, despite coming tantalizingly close (a measly 2-point margin) in the dying seconds.

Perhaps deep down I had realistically known LaSalle had what it took to edge us out, or perhaps I had been cushioning my wild hopes with some good ol' Ailee pessimism. Whatever the reason, our defeat yesterday, regarded as crushing by some, didn't hit me as hard. I was disappointed, of course, but instead of feeling depressed or bitter, as the blue side of Araneta Coliseum started singing to the slow strains of Song for Mary, I felt a surge of affection and appreciation for everyone around me: Sir Tirol and his family
seated at the end of our row; my cousin Jasper and his wife Tina beside me; my friends on my other side; the chatty, old Ateneo alumni seated in front of us (especially "Bilbo" :p); the irrepressible Blue Babble Battalion; the sea of Ateneo supporters, including the fabulous Dollhouse contingent; the Fabilioh.com photographers; and of course, the source of it all, our team and coaching staff down on the hardcourt, heads held high, battle-weary but not broken. I wanted to reach out and pat everyone on the back (or in Jai's case, the head) for putting up a good fight, for giving it their best shot.

What is it about this year's team that evokes such positive feelings in me? A few weeks back, in a text exchange with Yang, I tried to put my finger on why this year's Eagle squad is so easy to love. They're certainly not the best players we've had in terms of skill and talent, but they've exceeded so many expectations and showed so much pluck and character, you can't help but love them all, from small but scrappy Jai Reyes (whom we fondly call Baby Jai), to goofy, gangly Ford Arao, to spunky sparkplug Yuri Escueta, to breakout boy Nonoy Baclao, to gentle giant Zion Laterre,
to everyone's darling Chris Tiu. They defied seemingly insurmountable odds and threw game statistics into disarray by stepping up (sorry Jo :p) when it counted and delivering when no one thought they could. To quote Yang's favorite Ken Barracoso, "Magis talaga." Sure, the team messed up too-- NU chewed them up and served them the most painful loss of the season, and DLSU got the best of them "when it mattered". But darn it, for us, each of our wins this season mattered, because our boys played their hearts out, and we cheered our hearts out. Puso, baby. Puso.

That we faltered in the end hurts, but there's a sense of peaceful acceptance and uplifting pride in knowing we went down fighting, and true to Atenean form we gave it one big fight.

Before I write off Ateneo's season, a few acknowledgments:

A big thank you to Jasper, one of the most diehard Ateneans I know, and Uncle Timmy, who didn't take it against me that Ateneo eliminated UST, for supplying me with tickets when I thought there was no chance in hell I'd get any. You guys rock!

Thanks to my bosses, who let me skip work to watch the games live, even if they're no big fans of Ateneo (although they say they like Ateneo "0.1% more" than LaSalle, hehe).

My gratitude and love go out to my Upper Box buddies: Yang, Angelo, Mike, Pia, Fara, Angge and Shalu, for providing rides to and from Araneta, for arriving extra early to save seats, for the camwhoring company, for the fearless (if foolhardy) predictions, for the undying optimism, for the superstitious customs, for the Blizzards, for the LaSalle jokes, for the player crushes, and for everything in between and beyond. You are the best reasons, win or lose, ang sarap maging Atenista.

And finally, I thank the Blue Eagles for giving me and my friends more than our usual number of opportunities to get together and bask in our shared love for Ateneo. I can't recall having enjoyed a single season more than this year's: the relentless yelling of "get that ball!" and "go, 'teneo!", the release-of-pent-up-tension screaming, the jumping-up-and-down, the arm/shoulder-clutching, the fist-pumping, the high-fives, the group hugs, the smell of beer (haha), the post-game raving, the celebratory binging (at Cafe Ten Titas, followed by dessert at DQ) ,and the morning-after high that would last for days. We had a blast, and it was both our pleasure and privilege to have cheered for our boys in blue. I can't wait for next season.

"Our course is run
And the setting sun
Ends Ateneo's day
Eyes are dry at the last goodbye
This is the Ateneo way"