Friday, November 30, 2007

Trillanes has cajones

I may not agree with his methods, but I respect the man and his motivation. And his balls of steel.

Discuss here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A memory jogged

I was reading a blog post about yesterday's earthquake, when I suddenly flashbacked to July 16, 1990. I know most of my students don't remember the big quake of 1990 because they were only toddlers back then, but I was already in 4th grade (yeah, yeah, I know I'm ancient), and I was sitting in class when the tremors began. I thought the annoying girl seated behind me was shaking my chair, so I turned around to snap at her, but then I saw the entire freaking room convulsing like crazy. People started screaming in terror, and to this day the look of pure petrification on our teacher's face is stamped on my memory. All hell broke loose as students and faculty started streaming out of classrooms, evacuating the building in a mad, panicked rush. I remember meeting my cousin Joy at the gate, and she was crying in fear. I think I was too shell-shocked to weep.

The 7.8 magnitude quake spared our school, but toppled the Hyatt Hotel in Baguio, and in Baguio alone the death toll surpassed 1,000 people. I still remember watching news footage of rescue workers searching for survivors in the rubble. It was then that I learned what to do in the event of an earthquake, about the "triangle of life", and other emergency and survival techniques, which our parents, paranoid about aftershocks, kept drilling them into our heads. My mind's eye can still see my dad demonstrating how to stand under a doorway, and my mom pointing out the sturdiest tables in the house underneath which we could duck and hide. I can't believe it's already been 17 years since then.

So where were you guys at the time?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cousins are cool

My cousin Abi recently joined our company as general manager of and part-investor in our latest venture (to be revealed once things have all been formalized). She's such a welcome presence in the office, because now I have someone whom I can talk to who's technically not an employee, and I finally have some friendly company at work (not that our staff isn't friendly; I just can't be real friends with them, having to maintain that professional distance between boss and subordinate). With Abi around, lunchtime is not as lonely anymore, and store visits aren't as tedious. Thank goodness for cousins.

One of the things I love about coming from a big family (my parents have 6 siblings each) is that I have a lot of cousins. When we were younger, my cousins on my dad's side were always hanging out at our house, since our grandparents lived with us for several years. We never wanted for playmates, from dressing up Barbie dolls to running around in the garden to games of Bluff or Go Fish to marathon mahjong sessions. On my mom's side, it was Sundays at our grandparents' house in Malinta, watching cartoons, playing hide-and-seek, or pretending to be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However, during my teens, my attachment to my cousins gradually slackened, replaced with barkada bonds that saw me through high school and college.

Now, as I am getting older, my appreciation for my cousins has been renewed and reinforced, and I'm glad for having a grand total of 38 cousins in my life. Some I haven't seen or spoken to in years (where IS Ahia Arnold anyway?), some live in other countries (I have cousins all over the globe), some I go out with occasionally (my girls Joy and Abi), some I correspond with sporadically over YM or text,
some are far older (early 40s) and some far younger (Gillian is only 6!). And though a lot of them may not be part of my present or future, all of them have been part of my past, and for the shared memories, the common roots, the ties that bind, I am grateful.

Here are 10 more reasons cousins are so special:
  1. You know each other's family history, so you don't need to explain certain weird hereditary traits or acquired dysfunctional behavior.
  2. You can be as close as (or even closer than) siblings, but you don't have to live with each other.
  3. When you tell your parents you're going out with cousins, they don't complain that "you're going out AGAIN?" or demand to know what time you'll be coming home.
  4. You can bitch about each other's parents or siblings and not feel as if you're betraying them.
  5. You don't have to dress up or look good for each other.
  6. Money is no object.
  7. It's ok to show them old photographs of you with baby fat, unsightly acne, horrible hair and frightening fashion sense, because they know you have old photos of them looking like crap too.
  8. Your cousins' kids count as your nephews and nieces, but you're not obliged to give all of them gifts for Christmas.
  9. If you do something incredibly stupid (like get gum stuck in your hair) or get in some kind of awful accident (like fracture your arm on Christmas Day), no one will make you feel bad about it... although you will all have a good laugh at your expense about it later, when the crisis is over.
  10. Cousins are the best of both worlds: they're family you can be friends with, or friends who just happen to be family.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Random ramblings

The 2nd season of The Amazing Race Asia has kicked off, and for as long as Marc Nelson and Rovilson Fernandez (1 of 2 teams representing the Philippines) are still in the running, I'll be keeping close tabs on this installment of the reality show. Heck, who am I kidding, even if Rovilson were out of the equation I'd still watch, as long as I can see Marc in action. As much as I wish to preserve my dignified image of scoffing at anything to do with local showbiz, Marc Nelson is the exception to the rule, being the only celeb I've met in person (twice!) who has the ability to reduce my knees and brain to jelly. And that was with his shirt on too.

* * *

I've decided not to get a Starbucks planner this year, not only because the design of the 2008 planner doesn't appeal to me, but also because my mom gave me a very elegant leather Cross organizer for Christmas last year, and it would be criminal not to use it. However,
I am helping my sister collect stickers so she can get a Starbucks planner, but between the 2 of us, we're making slow progress, especially since I try to keep my caffeine intake limited to the weekends. I did grab a Toffee Nut Latte this morning on my way to work though, and I must say it was quite an invigorating way to jumpstart my day.

By the way, am I the only one who misses the Gingerbread Latte from last year?

* * *

Last week, my bedtime book was Sense and Sensibility (read my brief review on my Shelfari page), and I discovered that reading a bit of Austen prior to falling asleep has a positive effect on me. Those nights, I slept quite soundly, and had some pretty nice dreams to boot. I can't remember the specifics (well, ok, I remember SOME details, hehe), but I woke up each morning feeling snug and well-rested. Hmm. Might be time to dig up my copies of Emma and Pride and Prejudice...

* * *

I've procured a copy of People's Sexiest Man Alive issue this year, and as if I wasn't convinced that Matt Damon deserves the title, his wonderfully witty, adorably self-deprecating letter to People just floored me. As my cousin Abi likes to say, "that Luciana must have done something really, really good in her previous life" to have been so damn lucky to become Mrs. Damon.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Mama, don't preach

For one of the most independent and most headstrong women I know, my mother sometimes astounds me with her archaic views in life, particularly when she dispenses advice (read: lectures) regarding my love life (or more accurately, lack thereof). The other day, we were talking about a couple who's getting married in a rush because the girl got pregnant. My mom made a comment about how sweet-natured and naive the girl is, and proclaimed in all her sagacity that that's the type of girl men prefer, and in the same breath admonished me to be more like that type. In a withering tone, I responded, "So you want me to get pregnant too?" To my satisfaction, that shut her up.

I really don't understand what decade my mother is stuck in, that she thinks all women have to behave a certain way to be considered desirable by the opposite sex-- and more specifically, to be considered marriage material. I guess in her head, all men want to be wed some sort of grotesque Maria Clara-Marsha Brady hybrid. I'm sure there are some guys who do go for that kind of thing, but do I want to be with that sort of guy? I think not.

Here are a few more of the unsolicited, antiquated gems my dear mother is so fond of sharing with me (read: shoving down my throat):
  • Men don't like women who appear smarter than they are. - Right, so I have to act insipid and ditzy to improve my chances of attracting guys. I should channel Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton, and all the dumb blondes I can think of to pull this one off.
  • Men are intimidated by successful women. - Okaaayyy, so I should conceal that I graduated from a prestigious university, was hired by a major insurance company to be trained for a managerial position, studied abroad in one of China's top universities, taught high school English at an exclusive private school, and now help run my family's flourishing retail business. Let me go shred my resume now...
  • On a date, the woman should always let the man do most of the talking. - I have a suspicion this also implies that the woman should not ask too many questions or initiate conversation, so I guess that means I should just concentrate on chewing my food. Daintily. That, and I should practice nodding a lot and laughing politely.
  • It's a turn-off when a woman speaks in an animated or expressive manner. - Interpreted as: she should be meek and mild and demure, and as entertaining as dry toast. The challenge here is how to keep the guy awake throughout the entire date. Through intense eye contact, perhaps?
  • Women should never come off as opinionated or argumentative. - Shouldn't be too hard to maintain a passive demeanor, since I won't be doing much talking anyway.
  • A "proper lady" does not stay out late with a gentleman. - When it comes to dates, my mother's idea of "late" is 10PM. Which helps reinforce the image of the engaging, fun-loving personality I would have already established by not talking much, and in the rare instances I do, in a completely un-animated, un-opinionated manner. The guy will probably be raring to bring me home anyway, after my having been such an enchanting dinner companion.
Admittedly, I haven't had much luck being a smart, successful, talkative, animated, opinionated girl who stays out past 10PM. But not ALL my dates have been horrible, and I HAVE met guys who, miraculously, don't seem to be cowed by intelligence or success, and don't mind listening to me talk and share my opinions. Let's say I do heed my mom's advice and pretend to be this silly, softspoken, submissive, hollow-headed, prim and proper prude, and let's say I do attract more men, and I do end up marrying one of them. Then what? I keep up the act and live in self-loathing forever, or show my true colors and shock my poor husband with the kind of woman he really married? What's the point in putting up a false front during the dating phase of a relationship? Besides, I don't want to spend the rest of my life with a guy who can't handle that my IQ or income is higher than his, or who won't let me speak my mind and be me. I'd rather stay single forever (but no, Angelo, no cats :p).

Ironically, the kind of woman I am is very much similar to the kind of woman my mother is. Yet here she is, telling me to suppress all of the characteristics I'm proud to have inherited from her. I know she means well and just wants what's best for me (and I know she's anxious to see me married off so I can start producing grandkids for her). But for all my love and respect for her, I firmly believe this is a case where mother doesn't know best. Sorry, Ma.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pulling for Pullman

[Blogger's note: The content of this blog post has been recycled/reworded/reorganized from compiled comments I posted in another blog regarding the same topic.]

It has come to my attention that emails have been circulating exhorting parents to boycott the movie The Golden Compass (including
this interview forwarded by my friend Shirley). The film is an adaptation of the 1st book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, and Pullman is an atheist. Ostensibly, the proposed boycott of both the movie and the books is motivated by the desire to protect children from their anti-Christian content.

Now, I've read His Dark Materials, and I absolutely loved it. In fact, it ranks among my favorite reads of all time. Judging the books as literature (and not propaganda nor doctrine), I found the books insightful, profound, and entertaining besides. Regardless of his beliefs and whether or not I agree with them, Pullman is a gifted writer and a brilliant thinker. I think it's unfair to condemn his work simply because he's an atheist. After all, we read Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim texts, and appreciate them for their literary value, in spite of any religious overtones. We teach Greek, Nordic, and Egyptian mythology in our high schools, and Communist and Socialist essays are included in our universities' reading lists. Atheism is simply another kind of belief different from Christianity, and just because it's different doesn't mean it's the "evil" it is perceived to be. I suggest critics of Pullman lighten up. It's not his books which are offensive, it's they who are defensive (remember the furor over The Da Vinci Code? or the anti-Harry Potter crusade? it's FICTION, people! get over yourselves!).

I reiterate that as a work of fiction, a piece of literature, Pullman's trilogy is outstanding, in my opinion. That it may contain some anti-Christian references is simply a reflection of his personal beliefs, to which he is entitled. He doesn't tell the reader to accept them as gospel. Asking people to boycott his books and the movie because of content that may be interpreted as atheist is unjustly denying the books and the movie a chance to be judged on artistic merit alone. It's like how the Jewish community boycotted Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ. Because they felt it insulted their faith, they missed out on a beautifully shot, well-executed movie.

I do respect every kind of faith, and Christians have every right to choose to not watch the movie or read the books. But my concern here is that by promoting a boycott, they are openly censuring something based on someone else's opinion without having seen the movie or read the books so that they can judge them for themselves. That frighteningly sounds like blind faith to me. Moreover,they might be letting their devout beliefs prevent them from enriching their minds and yes, even their spirits, because they close themselves off from encountering ideas contrary to their own, or experiences that have beauty and value by themselves APART from religious implications.

This is the problem with religious differences, that they make us all hypersensitive, and they prevent us from broadening our horizons because our viewpoints remain so narrow. We don't have to agree with everything we read, but everything we read does teach us something about life, humanity, our world, and our selves. Even if the only thing we learn is that we do not agree with the author. I believe in reading a variety of books, not just the ones deemed safe and not contrary to the views one already has. That's primarily why I frown upon the proposed boycott. Not only does it foster intolerance and smack of book burning practices of old, it robs children of the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills and arrive at self-enlightenment.

Literature is one of the distinguishing hallmarks of civilization, and one of the most vital elements that propagate society. When we seek to quell it, we seek to suppress our humanity. In the case of Pullman, I react as both a disenchanted Catholic and a lover of literature when I say that I oppose the boycott of His Dark Materials. Never mind that the author's a vocal atheist. Never mind that his anti-Christian sentiments creep into his work. Never mind that he "kills God" in the 3rd book of his trilogy. To Christians, this is all outrageous, and unacceptable, because it contradicts and desecrates "truths" of their faith. But perhaps to some, Pullman's work doesn't contain any "truth" at all, and is simply a fanciful piece of fiction (and I suspect the treatment of the movie adaptation will be as such).

To me, this boycott communicates fear more than anything else. Fear that our children will be "contaminated" by Pullman's unpopular ideas. Fear that believers will begin questioning, or abandoning their faith. Fear that Christianity cannot withstand the attack of a Hollywood movie starring Nicole Kidman. But if Christianity can't hold up against FICTION, then what more when the battle is taken to factual grounds? A boycott of a book or movie is a hysterical overreaction to a perceived threat they're afraid to take head on.

That being said though, I do not contest that parents have the right, and indeed a duty, to screen the types of media their children have access to, up to a certain age.
I personally believe that early on, kids should be guided by their parents when it comes to the stuff they read (can't have an 8-year-old reading smut like Harold Robbins, after all). But there comes a point when children HAVE to learn to think for themselves, and that's not going to happen if parents keep banning certain types of books from their shelves.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Juls' day just wasn't Pia's day

November 17, 2007. The day of Juls and Sir Mike's wedding, and the day Murphy's Law decided to mess with Pia.

10:00AM: Pia arrives at the beauty salon late for our 9:30 appointment.

10:00-12:00NN: While getting her hair and makeup done, Pia makes countless phone calls and sends countless text messages arranging for a last-minute flight booking for an office staff member who's joining their company trip to Boracay the following morning. The staff member is not answering her phone and not replying to texts.

12:00NN-12:10PM: Rushing from the salon to my house to get dressed, we pass by 2 BPI ATMs so that Pia can withdraw money. The 1st won't take her card. The 2nd didn't dispense any cash.

12:30-12:40PM: We're all dressed and ready to get in Pia's car to wait for Yang and Angelo to arrive. Pia can't find her cell phone. After frantically searching inside the car, she rushes back inside our house to look for it. Returning empty-handed, she finds it on the floor of the car.

12:40-12:50PM: Pia and I are sitting in her car waiting. The Quimsons get held up for 10 whole minutes at our village gate thanks to a dump truck and our overly thorough security guards.

1:00-2:00PM: We get stuck in monstrous traffic along EDSA. Pia, who's supposed to be the reader for the 1st reading, misses her part in the wedding.

2:30PM: The super strong sea winds whipping from outside the church ruins Pia's hairdo.

3:00PM: Thanks to her unresponsive staff member, Pia's cell phone battery is about to die. So are all of us, from hunger. No one has had lunch yet.

3:10PM: We discover Pia's car is running low on gas. We head to Blue Wave to grab a super late lunch at Kimono Ken, and for Pia to charge her cell phone.

4:00PM: Pia gets a headache. Biogesic doesn't help.

5:30PM: We arrive at Sofitel Philippine Plaza for the reception. Pia is delighted to spot a BPI ATM inside. Upon drawing closer, she sees the "Offline" sign taped to the screen.

6:00PM: While we are posing for pix beside Sofitel's pool, a kid jumps in and splashes water on Pia's dress.

6:30PM: Pia's digicam's battery decides to go empty. She has to run to the parking lot to retrieve her spare battery from her car.

8:30PM: The reception hasn't gotten under way, and Pia has to catch a 5AM flight to Bora the next morning. And she lives in Valenzuela.

10:50PM: We stop for gas at a Petron station across from Blue Wave. Pia's supposed to use her company credit card to pay. Petron's credit card payment facilities are out of service. We get P100 worth of gas just to get us to the next station.

11:00PM: We get ensnared in traffic (yes, at 11:00PM) in the stretch of road from the Mall of Asia leading to EDSA.

11:05PM: Pia finds out her staff member has decided not to join them to Bora after all. Pia places an irate call to a colleague to rant.

11:10-11:20PM: We stop at a Shell along EDSA to get more gas. Pia gives the attendant very specific instructions to issue the OR to her company. The attendant issues the wrong OR... twice.

11:30PM: Upon descending the Ortigas flyover leading to San Juan, we encounter more traffic from LSGH all the way to Connecticut (yes, at 11:30PM).

11:45PM: We stop at a BPI ATM on Connecticut so Pia can finally make a withdrawal. This time the ATM dispenses the cash... all in P100 bills.

12:10MN: On her way home, Pia calls me to report that her parents have just scolded her for not being home yet. They refuse to believe that the reception started late. Apparently, Pia's streak of bad luck didn't break at the stroke of midnight. Poor Pia girl.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Move over, Georgie boy

I knew Jason Bourne had it in the bag.

Finally, after years of relentless ribbing, dogged campaigning, and even some helpful coaching by buddies and former Sexiest Men Alive George and Brad, the talented Mr. Damon has earned People magazine's plum for the year's most droolicious male. This distinction is a sweet addition to Matt's earlier accomplishment this year, topping Forbes magazine's list of Hollywood's most bankable stars. I have adored Matt since he bared his soul (and killer abs) in Good Will Hunting, and though I admit he doesn't have the aesthetic appeal of Messrs. Clooney and Pitt, his less-than-perfect features combine for a very attractive total package. Those arresting blue eyes, that crooked boyish grin-- they hint at a depth of character and an aw-shucks charm that I find irresistible... not to mention he went to Harvard! Intellect plus intensity plus impishness equals my idea of sexy. As my student Jo says, Matt Damon is the thinking woman's man, and this woman thinks People definitely made the right choice this year.

Now Matt just needs to win it another year to tie George and Brad and shut them up for good...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

2 guys, a girl and a Boston law firm

Hanks and I are currently hooked on Boston Legal, producer David E. Kelley's most recent contribution to prime time TV. The legal dramedy series is a cross between 2 of Kelley's previous law-themed shows, Ally McBeal and The Practice. Or as I like to put it, it's Ally McBeal without the annoying hang-ups, and The Practice with a sense of humor.

Like all David E. Kelley shows, Boston Legal is driven by its larger-than-life characters, portrayed by an ensemble of talented actors. Though the cast has gained and lost members over 4 seasons, it's the 3 mainstays who bring "it" to the table. James Spader (love, love, LOVE him!) is as brilliant as ever as Alan Shore, the sharp, sarcastic lawyer with unconventional-- bordering on unethical-- tactics, a penchant for long but compelling closing arguments, an insatiable libido, and a heart of gold which he tries valiantly to conceal with his sleazy ways. Spader first appeared as Alan on the final season of The Practice, lending the series on its last legs enough strength to make a graceful exit, and paving the way for Boston Legal to take over. Candice Bergen brings shades of her acerbic Murphy Brown persona to her role as Shirley Schmidt, the only name partner in the firm of Crane, Poole and Schmidt who still has control of her mental faculties. It's delightful to see a mature actress like Bergen play a woman in power, acting not only as the voice of reason in the show, but as the unwilling, unyielding object of lust of many of the male characters, both old and young(er). And William Shatner... hoo boy. I never thought I'd live to see the day when I'd respect Shatner as an actor, but then Captain James T. Kirk turned into THE Denny Crane, and I was converted. Kooky, erratic, irresponsible, egotistical, lecherous, chauvinistic, and a gun-wielding, trigger-happy Republican to boot, Denny should by all rights be exasperating, irritating, and downright infuriating, but then why is he so damn lovable? Even the persistent declaring of his own name fails to get on my nerves!

And then there's Denny's friendship with Alan, which is in my opinion one of the best representations of true friendship on television today (when 2 grown men dress up in identical flamingo costumes on Halloween, it's got to be the real thing). Each episode closes with the 2 of them on Denny's office balcony, smoking cigars and drinking scotch, in a moment of male bonding, and also a chance for introspection and reflection. The candor between the 2 friends, their apparent affection for each other, and the underlying tenderness beneath the masculine bravado and intellectual discussion... they all lend an air of honesty to those last few minutes of each show, a genuineness rarely seen on TV anymore, even on so-called "reality" programs.

I also enjoy the funny, unexpected "meta-references" the characters would sometimes drop, such as when
Alan says to Denny, "Ah, there you are. I've hardly seen you this episode." Another example: in the 2nd episode of Season 3, upon being introduced to a new partner and a new associate, Denny pronounced, "Impossible. If there were new guys they would have shown up in the season premiere." In yet another instance, Alan muses, "These past few years I've felt this inexplicable compulsion to be somewhat redeeming as if I were some series regular on a television show." And once when Alan and Denny meet on the balcony in the middle of the episode, Denny wryly remarks, "Show over already?" There are also many sly Star Trek references throughout the series ("What am I supposed to do? Beam myself to Boston every morning?"), and indeed, a few guest stars share Star Trek creds with William Shatner and Rene Auberjonois (Odo from Deep Space Nine), who plays staid, sensible-- and in my opinion, underappreciated-- managing partner Paul Lewiston.

Right now Hanks is in the middle of downloading the last few remaining episodes of Season 3 of Boston Legal, and I'm trying to control my impatience and trying not to miss Alan and Denny too much. Unlike its Kelley predecessors Ally McBeal, which became gimmicky and tiresome after the first 2 seasons, and The Practice, which lost its intensity and edge when Bobby Donnell (Dylan McDermott) lost his mojo, Boston Legal seems to keep getting better with each episode. Sure, it's frequently chaotic, occasionally offensive, sometimes silly, and
often insane. But it sure as hell is fun to watch.

And best of all, there's no creepy dancing baby.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Starry for the season

Last night, my family and I were on our way to dinner in the Tomas Morato area, and as we drove past the parol stalls along Granada, my brother suddenly said, "Let's buy a parol." That wasn't the first time one of us has made that suggestion; for the past few years, whenever we passed those same stalls festooned with their dazzling, colorful wares, someone in the car would pipe up that we should get a lantern. For whatever reason, we've never owned one in the 28 years since my parents got married. We've had Christmas trees and wreaths and garlands and lights and even a capiz Santa-sleigh-and-reindeer set, but strangely, no parol.

This year, we finally made good on the suggestion: on our way back home, we stopped at the Granada bridge and picked out the Lims' very first parol. We chose a capiz 8-point star with smaller 5-point stars surrounding it, a simple but pretty thing (we Lims don't like gaudy stuff... although my dad was joking about buying one of the garish Santa-in-a-helicopter figures to stick on our front lawn :p). The bigger star in the middle was outlined in green, but we asked the vendors to change it to blue to match the roof of our house, as well as the 2 angels-with-trumpets figures we also purchased (my dad wanted to get something more "festive", but we were truly afraid he'd end up buying the helicopter Santa, so we quickly closed the deal).

Call me a sap, but standing there on the Granada bridge with my family, shopping for our first parol together, I felt a twinge of something that I hadn't felt in a few years: the Christmas spirit. I'm not just referring to childish,
giddy anticipation for the holidays, nor the heady buzz you get while shopping for presents or attending Christmas parties. I'm talking about the bubble of warmth and peace and unadulterated joy that starts in your chest, expands to nestle in your tummy, and eventually stretches until it touches the tips of your toes. It's that snug, secure, wrapped-in-a-soft-blanket feeling, the contentment and comfort that come from knowing you are loved, and are protected by that love. And it's the acute awareness that you have so much love in your life that it's impossible not to share it, to give it away, to offer it freely. And it's impossible not to smile.

And so we brought our first parol home, and once it's hung and lit, it will be the first to adorn the Lim residence after 20 Christmases in Greenhills. It's nice to know that even after so many years, our family is still sharing some firsts, and despite growing older, wearier, and generally crankier, we're still capable of getting into the spirit of the season.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Road angst

This afternoon, it took us an hour and a half to get from SM North EDSA to our office in San Juan. Traffic along EDSA was at a standstill, and alternative routes were also clogged. If I hadn't been napping in the car (and if 3 of our staff weren't with me), I would have started banging my head against the window in frustration. If I had been DRIVING the car, I think I would have certainly damaged something on the dashboard, like smashed the car radio or snapped the turn signal stick.

For someone who is used to having things move along at a fast clip, and who
really, really hates being late for anything, getting stuck in traffic is particularly excruciating. This is one of the reasons I love that I live and work in Greenhills. Traffic is virtually a non-issue in our neck of the woods. Think about it, it's always Makati or Manila traffic everyone bitches about. You never hear people complain about the traffic in Greenhills (except in December, when it's peak tiangge season, and everyone still comes in spite of the traffic).

My sister recently started working at Megaworld, whose offices are located along Buendia. I'm happy that she's landed a job at such a prestigious firm, but thinking about the traveling time to and from Makati makes me wince on her behalf. I don't care that some friends tease me, "ang liit ng mundo mo", referring to how I'm always confined to the Greenhills area (even on the weekends, I'm usually at the Promenade). I'd rather stick to my small world than venture out to battle the gridlock of the metro. This Greenhills girl is no road warrior.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bookworm's progress report #5

To quote Hiro Nakamura: Yatta!

Yes, I did it! I finished my New York Times reading list before the end of 2007! I found and bought each book (one even came all the way from Singapore care of Mini-me), read everything (even the painfully dull bits), and even wrote reviews (some long and comprehensive, some short and dismissive). This bookworm has been pretty productive the past year.

The last title on my list was Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, which I put on the list primarily because a former student was asking me questions about it. Unfortunately, I'm in no position to offer any answers even after having read the novel, because I found it extremely strange and utterly confusing, what with an old man who can talk to cats, fish and leeches falling from the sky, and a 15-year-old runaway who walks into the woods and enters what appears to be purgatory. Symbols and metaphors abound in the story, but I couldn't make heads or tails of any of them.
Someone told me I should have started with Murakami's short stories before delving into Kafka, and he was probably right. This novel is supposed to be one of the best works by a critically acclaimed author, but as embarrassing as it is for a former English teacher to admit, I just didn't get it. Worse, I didn't feel motivated to try to understand it. Definitely one of the most bizarre books I've ever read.

After finishing my NY Times reading list, I moved on to 1 of the books I bought in New York, E.L. Konigsburg's The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. Konigsburg is not only my favorite young adult lit writer, she's my favorite author, period, so naturally I am predisposed to her books. While Outcasts isn't as outstanding as her previous Newbery-winning works (including The View from Saturday, for which this blog is named), it still has everything I love about Konigsburg's stories: precocious protagonists (in this case, strong-willed 12-year-old Margaret), quirky supporting characters (Margaret's eccentric, "Old World" uncles, among others), poignant conflicts (the town wants to tear down the beautiful but "useless" towers the uncles built on their yard), and the timeless, bittersweet theme of children growing up in an all too grown-up world. Moreover, the wit and warmth that infuse Konigsburg's writing are present throughout, even as she describes the cruelty of teenage girls, the wickedness of lawyers and the greed of corporations. And as always my admiration and respect go to Konigsburg for refusing to patronize her young readers, nor insult their intelligence, and instead giving them mature, meaningful literature that's not "just for kids". Should I have a child of my own someday, this is the kind of book I'd want her to read, and the kind I'd hope she enjoys as much as I do.

Right now I'm rereading Konigsburg's Silent to the Bone, which turns out to be a companion novel to Outcasts. I haven't decided what to read next, but my bedside table is loaded with many options, including a couple of NY Times "Best of" books, some Man Booker Prize winners, and even a Pulitzer awardee. Whatever tides me over the holidays, I have a feeling 2008 will be another good year for this bookworm.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Elbert's Steak Room: don't judge a restaurant by its entrance

Recently it seems I have been depending on my dear friend Yang's suggestions for everything, from what gifts to buy to which style to have my hair cut to where to have dinner. Based on another recommendation of hers, for my brother's birthday last November 1, I reserved a table at Elbert's Steak Room along H.V. Dela Costa in Makati. Though the restaurant is housed in an old commercial building with a nondescript facade, we had little trouble finding it. We did, however, have a bit of trouble finding the entrance to the restaurant, which is located on the 3rd floor and accessed via a narrow flight of concrete stairs off the building's main door. As we made our way up, my mom's best friend Auntie Nene, whom we had invited to dinner in loco parentis, kept voicing her doubts as to the existence of a fancy restaurant in such a dreary setting.

Her doubts were allayed once we stepped through the red sliding door that is the portal to Elbert's, the interior of which is a stark contrast to its dismal exterior. Though the place is small, the decor and furnishings are unmistakably classy in their simple, sleek elegance, as are the place settings at each of the tables (3 tables for 4 and 1 long table for 8 in a private room-- like I said, the place is small). The atmosphere is intimate, the vibe cosmopolitan chic-- ideal for long lunches for high-powered execs with corporate accounts to burn, or romantic dinners for yuppie couples with an urge to splurge.

The menu is printed on a sheet of cream-colored paper, and consists of steak, steak, steak, and... steak. It isn't called Elbert's Steak Room for nothing. Although the kitchen could whip up a seafood or surf and turf entree upon request, meat is the main fare on the menu, with 4 options for the carnivorous diner to choose from: Filet Mignon, Chateaubriand, New York Strip, and the ubiquitous Rib Eye. Each steak comes with a fair-sized house salad with a lovely Asian ginger dressing, plus a choice of soup. That night it was either tomato or pumpkin, and we all went with the tomato, which was tangy and tasty, though the soup portions are not as generous as the salad. Auntie Nene also took particular delight in the delicious fan-shaped dinner rolls from the bread basket, and had to resist eating the last piece, lest she become too full for her main course (although she was just splitting a steak with Hanks).

We all had the rib eye, and mine was cooked to medium well perfection. It looked intimidatingly large on my plate, but I worked on it slowly, almost luxuriously, and each bite was truly a treat. We all agreed that by themselves the steaks were flavorful enough, but we couldn't ignore the medley of savory sauces placed in the center of our table. My favorite was the peppercorn, followed by the chimichurri, which was surprising since I'm usually not wild about cilantro. Side dishes are optional (and a tad pricey at P150 an order), and I tried the gratin dauphinoise, which was better than the porcini mushroom risotto my sibs had. Auntie Nene said the angel hair pomodoro was satisfactory but nothing special, and I'll have to take her word for it since I neglected to try it. Side dishes aside (pun not intended), the steaks were the true stars of the show, and the Clos du Val Merlot (a 2003 Napa Valley red wine) our waiter recommended went exceptionally well with the rib eye.

Dessert came compliments of the house, a sampler comprised of creme caramel, apple bread pudding a la mode, and "the best" chocolate mousse. Since it was Bens' birthday, we asked the waiters to stick a candle in the chocolate mousse, and they obliged us by singing Happy Birthday to him. Afterwards, proprietor Elbert Cuenca came over to our table and personally thanked us for celebrating at his restaurant. I had a cappuccino with dessert, and I have a feeling it would have met even my mom's coffee connoisseur standards. Chocoholic that I am, the mousse was my favorite of the desserts, but all 3 were yummy and had us licking our spoons clean.

The bill came to about P2,600 per head, but for a superb 4-course meal and a bottle of good wine, I didn't find it unreasonable. It's certainly not as expensive as Makati Shangri-la's Red, our usual destination for premium steaks, and while one could argue Red's ambiance is worth a pretty penny, one definitely gets more meat for his money at Elbert's.