Monday, December 31, 2012

Way to go, Nonito!

Congratulations to Nonito Donaire for being proclaimed boxer/fighter of the year both by Sports Illustrated and ESPN. He won all four of his fights this year which clearly locks him in as the year's best boxer, but it's his attitude that puts him head and shoulders above everyone else. He is the only fighter in the world who has enrolled in VADA for random drug testing. This means that the organization is allowed to test him any time 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, whether he is in training for a fight or not (read more about this here).

photo courtesy of espn.go.com

That Donaire almost took his own life as a ten year old is a testament to how much he has had to overcome in his life to reach the pinnacle of success. Congratulations Nonito!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Coffee spill disaster

A very tiring week ended in a bit of disaster. It was past 9 in the evening and I had just finished all the days chores but I hadn't had dinner yet. So I drive by to a nearby cafe to get some pasta and coffee for take out. Naturally, the coffee came first so I decided to bring it to my car while waiting for the pasta. I mixed in the sugar and cream while still inside the cafe, put the lid back on, and headed to my car. I must've thought the lid was perfectly locked in so in a monumentally stupid move, I held on to the lid as I lifted the cup onto the cup holder. As I did, the cup slipped out just short of the cup holder and practically all coffee spilled into the passenger seat. Argh!!!

To say I was frustrated and stressed out was an understatement. Most of the coffee went straight into the passenger seat and a so the few documents as well as my CD case also got a bit soaked. It could have been worse though; I could've spilled the coffee onto the driver's seat. I spent several minutes trying to clean up my car as best I could with tissue and the waiters actually had to bring my take out to me at the car. I knew I had to get my car cleaned ASAP and I know Banawe is the best place for anything car-related but it was a bit too far. So I looked for other options online and I stumbled upon Big Bert's.

Big Bert's Professional Detailers is located in Ortigas Home Depot and is open on Sundays so I decided to drive there as soon as I woke up. I thought the process would be more lengthy and tedious - and maybe there is an option that is more thorough - but they ended up just shampooing the seat. There's still a coffee smell in the car - at least it's coffee so the smell is a bit tolerable - but at least the seat is in better condition now. And it took only 20-30 minutes (I thought it would take up a whole day).

Waiting for my car to be cleaned made me think about getting a full auto detail. The guy there told me that it would take about 4 days and would cost about P7,500 (big car; it'll cost less for normal sedan-type cars of course). I'm thinking of having this done in late January or February.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Dinner buffet at Paseo Uno

My mom had a voucher for a buffet at Paseo Uno that was expiring by the end of this year. She had only one voucher and since I am always in Makati and I eat more than she does, she decided to give it to me. Once again I put off my plans to lose weight by gorging myself. But hey, it's not everyday that you get to enjoy a grand dinner at Paseo Uno! My favorite was the grilled rib eye. Sooo good...


As if that wasn't enough, I feasted on a few items from the dessert station right after.


It was close to 9:30 pm when I was done with this wonderful buffet dinner. Not surprisingly, even hours later I was still pretty full. As such, any plans I had to run or exercise a bit at home were thrown out the window. I have now become one of those people who always have an excuse not to work out. (Whatever happened to my 21-day-challenge-championship mentality?) I need to start talking to and hanging out with people who regularly go to the gym. That way, their exuberance and desire for fitness may hopefully rub off on me.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ber-month weddings

After Ben and Laila's wedding last November, I attended 3 more weddings to round out the year. First to tie the knot were Alvin and Doray. I was a bit late for the ceremony in Mary the Queen Parish right next to Xavier School. The reception was held at The Marriott in Resorts World. Food was served at the table and it took a while for everyone to be served all courses, but Alvin and Doray had the right idea: during dinner service, we played a game where people would have to identify the movie from which each of ten songs being performed by the band was taken. This meant that people were all paying attention to the band and talking amongst themselves and writing songs down on pieces of paper. This obviously kept everyone entertained. By the time the band was done with all ten songs, we were midway through dinner already.

The next wedding I attended was that of Chachie and JM. The ceremony was at the Archbishop's Palace (I've been there once before to watch a performance of the Philippine Madrigals) and we moved to the Light of Love Events Place for the reception. I also sang two songs. The first song I performed was Kahit maputi na ang buhok ko by Rey Valera. It's a beautiful song which was specifically requested by the couple and it's the first time I ever sang that song in front of an audience. It's also the first time I did a bit of an ad lib talk during the instrumental part to keep people entertained and eliminate dead air, much to the amusement of my friends there hehe. I then sang Cruisin' with JM's sister. We didn't practice at all but Chachie wanted us to sing together so we just went with it and it seemed to turn out okay (I guess we both knew the song pretty well anyway, so it was more a matter of matching each other and harmonizing).

Finally, my "uncle" Jim wed Mira a couple of Fridays ago. I use the term "uncle" loosely here because he's my mom's cousin so he's a generation ahead but I'm several years older than him. :) They got married at the National Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Makati. I've been there once about a decade ago for Amy and Duncan's wedding, but somehow I still remembered how to get there. We ended up being very early for the wedding because my mom was a 'ninang' so we had to make sure we got there before the start of the cerermony. As it turned out, the time indicated on the invitation was 30 minutes early so we had time to get settled. I was also asked to be part of the offertory. The reception was held at the the clubhouse of McKinley Hill. Thankfully, I was very familiar with the area because I managed to avoid the rough and tough Friday traffic during Christmas and we arrived at the clubhouse about an hour before most other people. At the end of the wedding, we took home some of the flowers that we ended up using for Tatay's death anniversary a few days later.

Most of the weddings I've attended before these last three have been suit-and-tie events so I'm quite pleased that in two of these, I got to wear a barong. I miss wearing a barong during weddings actually. It's so much easier and comfortable to wear than a suit. I did notice though that the sleeves of my barong are just a smidge short now. I don't know if it's because they shrunk a bit from washing or because I have gotten wider. Whatever the reason, I need to start losing weight ASAP and maybe I should also get a new barong for the next wedding I attend.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"Little things" live by One Direction

I can't believe I'm actually posting about a boyband here on my blog LOL. I recently saw an episode of David Letterman and One Direction were performing. I was seriously surprised that I quite enjoyed, and was even impressed with, the group's performance of their song "Little Things". Check it out here:

 
video uploaded in youtube by soundcreepsTV

I wasn't expecting to hear a singer-songwriter vibe, nor was I expecting them to connect to the song. It makes me realize that while pop celebrities earn their big bucks through a lot of hype and catchy songs, a lot of them do break into the scene because they have a lot of talent. Of course, it also helps that this beautiful song was written by the amazing Ed Sheeran and Fiona Bevan.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A different and not-so-different Christmas

Happy Holidays everyone!

Christmas Day was naturally spent with my family. It was also a bit of a unique Christmas celebration. My mom, brother, and I visited my grandmother Nanay where we had Christmas lunch. After lunch, mom and I took Nanay to visit one of her best friends who was in the ICU. We then went to the cemetery to visit Tatay and our other relatives there. After which we headed over to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary church near Times Street for the wake of one of our distant relatives. We got there shortly before 6pm so we heard Christmas mass there. We decided to have dinner in Wee Nam Kee in Ayala Triangle so we could also catch the light show. It was 10:30 PM when we finally got home after a very long but eventful day.

Then again, not everything was all that different. Christmas isn't Christmas without a bit of binging and this year was no exception. I have to admit that I have unfortunately surpassed the amount of food I ate in past Yuletide seasons. I've always wanted to order some good food for Christmas but I never got to plan this well enough in the past and by the time I wanted to place an order somewhere, it was too late. Until now. I called Dulcelin early last week and ordered their US Beef Belly Roast Beef (P1700) and Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese (P1800). I had this during Christmas eve dinner, Noche Buena, and Christmas lunch. And there are still some leftovers. :)

US Beef Belly Roast Beef (P1,700)

Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese (P1,800) 

The weekend leading up to the 25th involved a lot of eating too (of course):

  • Friday night: dinner with my colleagues and ex-colleagues where we wined and dined on lechon (wow!), pancit, chicken, fish fillet, and red velvet cake which we enjoyed with Nespresso, courtesy of Raffa and Joh and their Nespresso machine.
  • Saturday lunch: I attended (albeit extremely late) the 2nd birthday of Trigo where I had two full servings of spaghetti, chicken, barbecue, mixed vegetables, and a few other items from the buffet.
  • Saturday dinner: I met up with my college groupmates for our annual Christmas get-together which we had in CPK in Power Plant mall., followed by dessert and coffee in Brida.
  • Sunday lunch: I met up with my college gang ('the clan') for lunch where we had two different pasta dishes, pancit, barbecue, lumpiang ubod, chicken, ham and bread, vegetables, fish, and a caramel cake and ice buko. 
I reckon I must have now piled on at least 5 lbs. Now it's time to redevelop the discipline needed to hit the gym regularly.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Ersao late at night

Christmas season in the Philippines, or more specifically in Manila, is always a busy time. People are always moving from one party to another, doing their Christmas shopping or buying other stuff they need for the holidays. I was not an exception, as this last weekend brought with it a lot of driving through gnarly traffic to meet up with different sets of friends and get some errands done.

Thankfully, the roads were pretty clear on Sunday but I was still pretty active all throughout the day. I somehow missed dinner so on my way home late at night, I decided to stop by Ersao in West Avenue for a good, hot meal. I was starving by this time that I got two dishes - the pork steak with rice (P105) and a small bowl of noodles with dumplings (P75). I tossed in a regular order of passion fruit green tea (P65).


Clearly, I was really hungry since I took this next photo about 11 minutes later:


All that for P245. And I do like the food. So for me, this place is good value for money. There are a few branches (check out this link for the list) although the closing time varies per branch. Thankfully the one in West Avenue stays open until 1am so I was still able to have a hearty meal to end the long weekend.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tatay's First Death Anniversary

Can't believe it's been a year. Today, my family and some friends joined us in the cemetery for my grandfather Tatay's 1st death anniversary. Technically, we observed this a day early, but Nanay didn't want a lot of us to take a day off. Of course, we also considered how horrible Monday traffic in December is, so we decided to gather one day ahead.


There is a chapel in the cemetery so we offered the 4:30 pm mass to Tatay. The chapel is pretty near the area where Tatay is buried where we had a tent, some chairs and a table with a lot of food set up for the day. We walked over there after the mass so we could all have some food and catch up with relatives and friends. Once everyone had their fill, we prayed we said a rosary.

A lot of us were together this afternoon, including an uncle and an aunt both of whom I haven't seen in years. It was a good day despite the rain. Hopefully, Tatay is having fun up there. We love you, Tatay!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Knock out

It's a sad day for the Philippines as Manny Pacquiao suffers his second loss in a row, this time against nemesis, Juan Manuel Marquez. While their previous three fights have gone the full twelve rounds, this last one ended in half the time, when Marquez knocked Pacquiao out in the sixth round.

It hasn't been a very good year for Manny with respect to his boxing career as he also lost his belt to Timothy Bradley about six months ago. I'm not sure what impact this will have on Manny, on whether he decides to keep fighting or if he decides to hang up his gloves and retire. Either way, he has brought immense glory to the country and will still remain as a boxing legend.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

'Tis the season for parties

Late this year, there was a bit of reorganization in my team late and we had several more people join us. As the size of our team practically doubled, I felt it would be good for us to have a Christmas celebration to celebrate the work everyone put in during the year and to have everyone spend a fun evening together and get even more integrated. I didn't want us to have the celebration in the office and I thought that having the event in a big hotel room would be a lot more fun so we ended up getting a room in the Ascott Makati (thank God for Agoda for allowing us to get the room at a cheaper rate.

This was the first party I attended where I was sort of in charge of the music. I put together a couple of playlists on my ipod a few months back that I had intended to use for an out-of-town trip with friends but I missed it because of my sprain. I wasn't sure if there would be an Ipod docking station in the Ascott (there wasn't, at least not in our room) so it was a good move on my part to bring portable speakers. Everyone seemed to enjoy the music, which also made the party just that bit more fun and interesting.

We celebrated with a lot of food, drinks, games, music and conversations that made everyone learn about each other just that bit more. So much so that we stayed up til about 7am (or well, I did, a few other people carried on with the chit-chat up until around 8am). Hopefully we carry with us this momentum of working more closely together into 2013.

I still have several more Christmas parties lined up this month, some with work colleagues and others with family and friends. That's a lot of celebrating to do! I'm definitely looking forward to the next few weeks. :)

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Attending my first Muslim Malay wedding

My really good friend Ben tied the knot last weekend and I flew to Singapore - where he has been based for the last six to seven years - to attend his wedding. It was a weekend of firsts for me, as I attended a Muslim Malay wedding for the first time (Ben's wife, Laila, is Muslim Malay and Ben converted to Islam.) It was also the first wedding I attended where neither the bride nor the groom were Filipino. In fact, as far as I could tell, I was the only Filipino in attendance.

Their wedding spanned two days. The first day consisted of the legal and religious ceremony, which was held at a mosque. It was fairly straightforward, although since part of the ceremony was spoken in Malay, I couldn't really tell you what was being said. It lasted 30 minutes and when we left the mosque, we headed over to the void deck of a nearby apartment block - this is where the reception on day 2 was also going to be held - for some food.

The second day was more celebratory. Apparently, in Malay weddings, part 2 of the wedding is meant to treat the couple like royalty. Ben arranged transportation to the venue for both days and since I didn't know how to get there, I headed to his apartment. As soon as I got there, the guys were all doing some Gangnam Style-inspired choreography. When Ben spots me, he immediately directs me to the back of the group and tells me I have to join in. It was slightly awkward because everyone else had on traditional Malay outfits and I was in a suit. But well, Ben did ask me to join the group and it was his wedding so I couldn't say no. This piece of choreography was performed during Ben's main entrance. It turned out pretty great, I think, as the Gangnam Style dance moves are universally recognized and enjoyed by everyone all over the world. :) The thing that scared me the most about this was that we were supposed to fire party cannons once the dance was done and I was concerned I would do it wrong or that I'd fire my cannon straight into someone's face. Thankfully, we pulled it off without incident. :)

The wedding was held outdoors so everyone was sweating buckets (I ditched my suit jacket as soon as our entrance was done but it was still hot; after all, we were in Singapore). Ben and Laila actually did one outfit change in the middle of the day. The event lasted from around 1pm to very late afternoon, during which time I actually went to the buffet table a couple of times. The food was really good! There was also a karaoke machine set up during the event and a lot of people had already performed in the early afternoon. At some point, Ben asked me if I had already signed up for karaoke and I said I hadn't. He said I had to do it. Once again, I couldn't say no. The song list didn't really include any of my usual repertoire of songs so I ended up singing "Unchained Melody". It was a different version played at a much lower key, but that was a good thing since I didn't have to worry about the very high note towards the end. It was fairly well-received although I was nervous throughout and my hand was even shaking. Not sure why, I guess it was my first time in a long time performing in front of a crowd I wasn't familiar with.

It was awesome for me to experience my first Malay Muslim wedding. Of course, the fact that it was held in Singapore meant that it gave me another excuse to fly to the and hang out with my good friends who are based here. I got to meet up with Anna, Tim B, Sarah, Kokog, Ina, Orly, Lalai, Lawrence, Hannah, Steph, Tim T, Che, and Paul. I also got to sneak in a couple of trips to the cinema to see Argo and Pitch Perfect (I missed both of them when they were shown in the Philippines so I felt I had to see them in SG while I still could.) All in all, a packed and very good trip.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

"Jump In" by Jessica Sanchez and Apl. De.Ap

I heard this on the radio today. Needless to say, I am not at all surprised that Apl.De.Ap and Jessica Sanchez collaborated on a song. :)

 
video uploaded in youtube by JessicaJumpIn

Would be awesome to have them both come to the Philippines and perform together.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Back from hiatus

I haven't blogged in the last three weeks, which is longest I have gone without posting in recent years. That's mainly because this November has been absolutely hectic. Not only did I had lots of deadlines at work but I also took a trip to Singapore in the midst of it all to attend my friend's wedding, which I will write about shortly. While I do have finally have some breathing room right now, the holidays are coming up so things will start getting crazy again. Which reminds me, I need to start working on my Christmas list.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

"Bring him home" (Les Misérables 25th anniversary)

I recently got the DVD of the 25th anniversary of Les Misérables. I have always been a massive fan of its music so it was a no-brainer for me to get a copy of the DVD when it came out. Lea Salonga played Fantine and a lot of amazing artists were in the cast but it was Alfie Boe, who played Jean Valjean, who stood out for me and blew me away. Here he is singing "Bring him home":

video uploaded in youtube by ChrSuper

Colm Wilkinson, who originated the role, did an incredible job so Alfie had very big shoes to fill. But he pulled it off in amazing fashion. His range, power, control, and expressiveness are astounding. I could listen to this over and over again. And, well, I have. :)

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Global Giving

Because of all the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) work I did for my company last year, I received a US$500 gift card in Global Giving. I used it last week, and it's amazing what US$500 can do. I decided to look for projects in the Philippines. Obviously, I couldn't support everything, so I ended up making the following donations:

  • $50 for blood and other lab tests for one woman or child undergoing cancer treatment (Project: Cancer treatment for 20 children and 30 women)
  • $40 to help 10 kids open their first savings account (Project: Teach 15,000 rural kids to save and invest)
  • $40 to provide water for a month's supply of fresh vegetables to ten families (Projects: Provide to 435 Poor Filipinos)
  • $50 to provide books for 10 schools and 6 children's hospitals (Project: Give Books to 3000 Children in the Philippines)
  • $40 to provide meals for 1 street family for 1 week (Project: Initiative for the Street Families of Manila)
  • $60 to provide disaster preparedness materials for three communities (Philippine Disaster Relief and Recovery)
  • $100 to inject capital into a local business (Project: Microloans to 16 Entrepreneurs in the Philippines)
  • $50 to help develop and maintain no-take zones that grow fish populations (Project: Reduce Overfishing in the Coral Triangle)
  • $10 to provide organic seeds such as rice and vegetables for a Filipino farmer (Project: Ensure Food Security for 500 Poor Filipino Villages)
  • $50 to provide medication for one surgery (Project: Free Cleft Surgery for 400 Filipino Children)
  • $10 to provide 40 mangrove saplings to their reforestation site (Project: Talim Bay Coastal Resources Management Project)
I was so pleased that I was able to help out all these great projects. For two of these projects, I was actually the first donor. I hope it triggers more donations for them later on. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I get another GC this year. There are a lot more projects out there that need funding and I would love to be able to help out again.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Zendee Rose on Ellen

Another Filipino is featured on Ellen. Zendee Rose Tenerefe became famous after a stranger took a video of her singing "And I'm telling you" in a mall (check it out here). Since then, Zendee has become a bit of a celebrity. She has performed on Party Pilipinas, now has a recording contract, and to top it all off, she has now guested on Ellen! Check it out here:


 video uploaded in youtube by gilbert haw

It was great to see her genuinely overwhelmed by the amazing response from the crowd. I also loved her entrance. I think she dances Gangnam Style pretty darn well. :)

Sunday, November 04, 2012

My first Shi Lin experience

I recently tried Shi Lin for the first time. I had a Deal Grocer voucher that was worth P600 so that meant I could go a bit crazy LOL. Naturally, I ordered Xiao Long Bao (P138 for 6 pieces):


I also got Shrimp and Pork Siomao (P165 for 6 pieces). Similar to Lugang Cafe, this version of siomai also has a bit of soup inside it.


Finally, I ordered Noodles with Braised Beef Soup (P248). This one was just okay.


I was initially thinking of trying their red bean dumplings for dessert but I was already stuffed by the time I polished  off everything. The menu of Shi Lin is not very extensive - they have a handful of choices each for dumplings, appetizers, main courses, and noodles, but the food  is pretty good and the price is reasonable. I'm certain to visit again soon, especially when I get a craving for Xiao Long Bao. :)

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Djokovic to end the year #1

Roger Federer still stands atop the ATP rankings at the moment. However, because he skipped the Paris Masters this week, he will be dropping a lot of points on Monday. At which point Novak Djokovic takes back the top ranking. Federer won the World Championships last year so even if he wins that event again, he won't gain enough points to overtake Djokovic. This means that Novak will be ranked #1 at the end of 2012. It will be the second year in a row that he ends the year #1.

It's been a really interesting and competitive year in men's tennis. For the first time since 2003, we have different champions in the four Grand Slam tournaments. Nadal is expected to return to tennis in 2013 and he will certainly be hungry to win. With Andy Murray having multiple solid wins over both Novak and Roger this year, it will be interesting to see what happens next year.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Carmen in Manila

Last weekend, I caught my fourth opera this year (and I'm not counting "Phantom of the Opera" hehe). I learned about "Carmen" from my friends Jane and Martin so I asked my mom if she wanted to watch and she said she did.


"Carmen" was presented by Lyric Opera of the Philippines and directed by Laurice Guillen. It was staged at St. Cecilia's Hall in St. Scholastica Manila (the acoustics here were incredible), making it the first opera I saw outside CCP. It's also the first opera I watched where the entire cast was composed of local talent (the three other operas I watched this year featured international artists from Korea, Japan, and Italy). The cast was really good. The standout performance in my opinion came from Randy Gilongo who took on the role of Don Jose. Of everyone in the cast, he best combined good acting and exceptional vocals. Ana Guillen Feleo, the daughter of Laurice, was believable as Carmen and Kay Balajadia Liggayu received strong applause as well for her performance of Micaela. On top of the great talent, the show also had pretty good production value, from the lights to the sets to the costumes.

curtain call

This four-act opera was created by French composer George Bizet based on a novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée. It tells the story of Carmen, a fiery gypsy who catches the fancy of many men, including Don Jose. She and Don Jose become involved but, free spirit that she is, she eventually leaves him for the toreador Escamillo. Consumed by jealousy and not wanting to lose Carmen to any other man, Don Jose kills her in the end. A few of the songs in this opera are quite popular and even non-opera fans will be familiar with them. Among these are the overture, the Toreador song, and of course Habanera: L'amour est un oiseau rebelle. Most people who watched Sesame Street in the 70s and early 80s will know this song because of that scene where an orange sings this song LOL. Here is a brilliant rendition of this song by legendary opera singer Maria Callas:


video uploaded in youtube by Th Paw 

It's amazing that in a year where so many current and very popular international artists like Lady Gaga and Maroon 5 had shows in the country, I somehow find myself watching operas instead. :) Every show I saw, including Carmen, had a pretty good sized audience so I hope it means that more operas get staged in Manila.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

All Saint's Day

While most of the Philippines headed to the cemeteries today, I decided to stay at home and get some rest. I told my family that we should just 'visit' my grandfather "Tatay" tomorrow. That way, we get to avoid the traffic and the massive crowds.

My grandmother "Nanay" and I actually go to the cemetery almost every Sunday where we say a prayer for Tatay and our other relatives who have been laid to rest in the same area. There was a beautiful sunset there a couple of weekends ago:


Hopefully, it will be a good and quiet day in the cemetery tomorrow.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Celebrating with my family

To celebrate my birthday with my family, I used another discount voucher to book a two-bedroom suite at the Holiday Inn in Ortigas. We arrived at the hotel in the early evening, but for some reason, our room was still not ready. To compensate for this delay, the hotel gave us free wifi and a late check-out. Since we couldn't go into our room yet, we decided to go to Galleria. I promised my nephew Ciera I would take him to watch "Hotel Transylvania" so we quickly look at the movie schedules - there was a 9pm showing - so I got us a couple of tickets and we headed to TGI Friday's for dinner. Our room was ready by the time we were done with dinner so while my mom, my grandma 'Nanay', and my other nephew CJ (he wasn't interested in watching the movie) stayed in the room, Ciera and I went back to the mall. Hotel Transylvania was a fun movie, although I have to say it really caters more to kids than to adults.

Nanay's students back in the day had organized a reunion in Resorts World, and they invited Nanay to join them for lunch on Sunday. My mom was also attending a birthday party for the grandkid of one of her friends at 3pm that same day. The initial plan was that we would bring Nanay to Resorts World and then go back to the hotel since we were given a 4pm check-out but I felt it would be a better use of our time for us to just check out at noon. We leave the hotel at 12pm and I drop Nanay off at Resorts World. While waiting for Nanay, we go to Old Swiss Inn for a late lunch. Since CJ wasn't with us when we tried the Fondue Bourguignonne (prime beef tenderloin cubes dipped in hot oil, with a carousel of sauces and served french fries) during Ciera's birthday, we order it again using my second fondue voucher.

 
Fondue Bourguignonne

We dip these tenderloin cubes into the hot oil to cook them.

On top of that, I also order the Walliser Fondue (made with Swiss wine, Gruyere, Emmental, and Raclette cheeses, and fresh tomatoes and served with vegetables and crunchy bread). It's an acquired taste but I quite enjoyed it; it was especially good with the vegetables.

 Walliser Fondue

After our lunch (we ordered a couple of other items), we head back to Resorts World to pick Nanay up before dropping my mom off at her party. We knew she would be there for a couple of hours so I decide to go to Greenbelt and wait there. I thought this would be a good time for me to try J. Co Donuts. The line here is always tremendously long but we didn't really have anything to do. It took me almost an hour to be served but thankfully, we got a table where my family could sit and my nephews had their PSPs with them to keep them entertained the entire time. It didn't make sense to fall in line for an hour just for a couple of donuts so I got two dozen assorted donuts.

The long and winding queue at J. Co Donuts

Once I got the donuts, we head to Time Zone because I promised my nephews I'd take them there. We left Nanay at the Figaro right beside it - I ordered an iced tea for her and she got one of the donuts - and we headed straight to the arcade. We were all tremendously lucky in the ball drop game but when we discovered the pinball machine, we spent most of our time there. We wrapped up when my mom arrived and we then headed home.

As soon as we got home, everyone started trying the J. Co Donuts and well they were an instant hit. These donuts definitely lived up to the hype. They are light and not too sweet and it's so easy to eat a couple in just one go. Nanay mentioned that the donut with hazelnut cream she ate was really good so we gave her the other hazelnut donut as well as a couple other ones for her to try. By the end of the night, we had consumed a little more than a dozen donuts already!

The first box of 12 was wiped out by the end of the day!

It was a full birthday weekend with my family, so much so that even my nephew said by the end of Sunday that we did a lot that day. Hope that's a good sign for the coming year. :)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Photobooking"

Several months back, I bought several photobook vouchers from Ensogo. They were all expiring in end-October so I figured I had more than enough time to create all my photobooks in time. Wrong! Crammer that I am, I only started in September. I should still have had more than enough time to get them done but my October was incredibly hectic. With 4 days left before the vouchers would expire, I still had 6 unused vouchers. Crap! (Yes, I bought a whole lot of vouchers. :))

I managed to complete and order three photobooks but with less than 48 hours left, I still had three to go. Of those three, I had finished the lay out of two of them but both were still missing captions. The last one, I hadn't even started yet. Thankfully, my friend Joh, who bought vouchers at the same time I did and whose vouchers were also expiring, texted me saying that she managed to get her expiry dates extended by two weeks. So I called Photobook Philippines about 13 hours before my vouchers expire and ask for an extension, which they very generously give me. Whew! If not for that, I would have had to submit my two photobooks with ugly captions and I may have been unable to use the last one.

Thankfully, we have two consecutive long weekends. I decided to rest a bit this last one but I should be done with all three remaining books by the time the Nov 1-4 weekend hits. I'm really pleased with the ones that have already been shipped to me so I definitely can't wait to see the remaining books. :)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Celebrity Chef Special in Bellissimo

I finally met up with Jette, Chari, and Anna (her Manila trip was timed perfectly) for my joint birthday celebration with Chari. We normally celebrate with Bett but she is currently out of the country until mid-November (Chari leaves the country for a few months in a few weeks so since she and Bett wouldn't be in Manila at the same time, we decided to meet up once now while Chari is still here then we'd meet up again once Bett is back). Ric was also supposed to join us but he unfortunately got stuck at work until the very late at night.

I picked Bellissimo as our dinner venue because Jette requested that we get together in the QC area. I had eaten in this Italian restaurant a couple of times before and I enjoyed the food and ambience. However, I didn't realize until I got there that location had changed! I last ate there about two years and it was still on Scout Castor street at the time. When I arrived at their previous location, I couldn't see it anymore. I had to ask a security guard where Bellissimo was and thankfully he knew that the resto moved to Scout Rallos extension. I quickly call and text everyone else to inform them of the location change and give them directions.

When we were all finally gathered together, it was a lot of good and fun conversation. The last time I saw Jette was a year ago during my birthday celebration while Chari I last saw in December. We ordered two pastas and two pizzas, including one that was called 'Sunshine Pizza', which is most likely named after Sunshine Cruz (Bellissimo is owned by Cesar Montano). I decided to order one more pasta - Aglio Olio - and it was Sunshine Cruz herself who served it to us. As she placed our order on the table, she told us all that she cooked it herself. Cool! I can't believe I have now eaten a dish cooked by a celebrity. And it tasted really good too!

The main drawback of this place now is that their menu is quite limited. They don't have antipasti (although they have sausages and a few appetizers) and the only dessert they carry is panna cotta. However, they do have an extensive pizza and pasta selection, some of which are quite interesting and unique, and the food is really good. If you are comfortable just eating pasta and pizza, Bellissimo is definitely worth a visit.

Sunshine talked to us a bit as we were all getting ready to leave and we told her that we really enjoyed our night there. Chari even said that she would return with her husband. Anna and Jette asked if we could have our picture taken with her and she very nicely obliged us. It was a unique experience being served by a celebrity who even cooked our food. :)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Catch-up night

I hadn't seen Jane and Martin in ages so I got in touch with both of them recently to schedule a catch-up night. We were supposed to meet in Resorts World but Jane told us there was a major event going on there so we changed venues and opted instead for Nuvo in Greenbelt 2. Martin arrived first and got us a table on the second floor. I had been to Nuvo several times before but I somehow never realized it had a second floor. It was a bit of a weird set-up though, with a live band playing on the ground floor and a DJ playing party music on the second floor. Since there wasn't a lot of soundproofing, however, we could hear the live music on top of the party music. Nevertheless, we didn't really pay much attention to the music as we talked about a lot of stuff. After all, there was a whole lot to catch up on.

I ended up getting a pizza and a bottle of wine. Later in the night, we ended up talking about Patron and how there apparently is a coffee variation of this drink. Martin got us each a shot but he suggested that instead of drinking it like a regular shot, we could just sip it. Which we did. It was actually quite good!

We were the last three people to leave Nuvo - I'm surprised they didn't kick us out haha. We decided that we shouldn't wait too long 'til our next get-together.

Monday, October 08, 2012

David Archuleta sings OPM!

When David Archuleta came out with his "Forevermore" CD that featured covers of a lot of amazing OPM (Original Pilipino Music) songs, I knew I had to get it. Instead of purchasing it myself, though, I added it to my birthday wishlist, so my friends ended up getting it for me. The verdict? I absolutely love this album! While his rendition of "Nandito ako" is particularly noteworthy as he has to learn how to sing in Filipino (and despite his slight twang, he does a very good job of it), I think my current favorite is his rendition of the Neocolours classic, "Hold on". Check it out:

uploaded in youtube by ArchieBR

I say that this is my current favorite because it could very easily change to something else. He does justice to every song in this album, and his voice is perfectly suited to these Pinoy ballads. If you don't have it yet, I suggest you get a copy. I think it's great that David Archuleta released this album, because it also allows the entire world to hear some truly beautiful music from our country.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Vettel makes it two in a row

Fresh off his win in Singapore, Sebastian Vettel continues his success in Asia as he wins the Japan Grand Prix. With Fernando Alonso losing control just as the race started after making contact with Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel's twenty-five points in this race now moves him extremely close to the overall drivers' championship this year. Alonso still leads with 194 points, but Vettel's 190 points puts him in good stead as the season winds down.

Felipe Massa takes second place while Kamui Kobayashi makes his home country proud as he places third, finishing 0.56 seconds ahead of Jenson Button. After a disappointing year, Button seems to finding his form once again as he placed second in Singapore and fourth here. Hopefully he can continue to drive well in the remaining five races of the year and improve his overall standing.

Friday, October 05, 2012

A good way to end the week

A lot of people from our corporate social responsibility initiative at work had already left the company. From a situation where we talk to each other and see each other regularly to barely seeing and hearing from each other was a big change. So while talking to one of the folks recently, we decided it was high time we all got together for a reunion.

Somehow, I ended up organizing it hahaha. I suggested three places and the gang ended up choosing Kitchen's Best in BGC; I figured this would be an easy place to get to during Friday traffic, the parking would be easy, and the food was good. It was also an easy place to have conversation, which was actually an important factor as we all haven't been together as a group in ages.

As expected, it was a fun night. Thankfully, almost all of us were able to make it: Doms, Denise, Zaza, Mon, Deryk, Leianne, Enrique, Kat, Kristel, and myself. The thing about having great friends is that even if you haven't seen each other in a long time, you just easily pick up where you left off. Lots of changes in people's lives but a lot of things still remain the same, too.

It was a few hours of updates and stories and laughs over good food and dessert. Kitchen's Best closes at around 10 or 1030pm but somehow we stayed there 'til way past their closing time. We all decided we would meet up again in December. Of course, I made sure someone else was assigned to organize that. :)

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

UP: UAAP Cheerdance Stunt Competition champions

Since I posted the winning cheerdance routine, I thought it was only fair to post the winning stunts competition routine as well.


video uploaded in youtube by iamthemanansala 

UP Fight! :)

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Conti's Strawberry Shortcake

Conti's is known for its good desserts. While most people rave about the Mango Bravo, I do think my favorite is their Mango Tart. However, second honors for me go to their Strawberry Shortcake. It's light and fluffy, making it very easy to eat even after a heavy meal.


This cake is P395 and is about 6" in diameter and 4" tall. Its size makes it perfect for small groups of people and its price makes it quite affordable. I ended up getting a whole cake for myself LOL. A friend of mine told me that I am the only one he knows who buys a full cake just for himself (of course I eat it over the course of a few days). But when you think about it, cake slices tend to cost close to P100 so getting a full cake (which translates to about 8 slices) means you save a lot more. It also means I end up eating a lot of sugar over the course of a week. But hey, I don't do it very often. :)

Monday, October 01, 2012

Pet peeve

Am I the only one who gets annoyed whenever I am asked if I want a float and twister fries with my McDonald's Value Meal? I know that they want increase their sales and asking if customers want to upgrade increases the chances that someone will actually upsize, but it really irritates me when I get into the following conversation:

Me: I'd like to order meal #2
McDonald's: would you like twister fries and a float with that?
Me: No
... pause ...
McDonald's: so what is your order sir?

I figured that if I say 'no' to an upgrade, they would realize that I just want the regular one. But then again I realized that each value meal doesn't default to the regular size anymore; the menu says there is a medium and a small version of each meal. I guess I will now change my ordering pattern and say "I'd like to order a Small Value Meal #2". (Of course, even then I am sure I will still be asked if I want an upsize. Oh well...)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Filipino Cris “Kesz” Valdez wins International Children's Peace Prize

This is amazing news! 13-year old Filipino, Cris "Kesz" Valdez was awarded this year's International Children's Peace Prize in The Hague last September 19. This award is given annually to a child whose "remarkable acts have made a difference in countering problems which affect children around the world." (Read more about the International Children's Peace Prize here.)


Kesz is proof that even just one person can make a massive difference. What's truly incredible about this story is that Kesz himself experienced extreme poverty, scavenging dumpsites since and even being physically abused. Somehow, despite these challenges that often cripple most people in similar circumstances, he achieved at age 7 something that is beyond what most people accomplish in their lives: he founded a charity called "Championing Community Children" that raises funds to provide basic necessities to street kids. That he has sustained this foundation over the years, helping out more than 10,000 other kids, makes his efforts even more impressive and awe-inspiring. Clearly, he is truly deserving of this award.

Making this win even move significant is that Kesz Valdez receives $130,000. Different articles I've read online seem to indicate that most of this money will be going into either his charity and others like it. That's a whole lot of money that can be used to help out a lot of people. If Kesz was able to help thousands of street kids before, imagine what kind of impact he can have through his charity now. I don't know what his personal situation is currently, but I do hope he has a comfortable life now and that he is given the opportunity to live his dreams.

Congrats, Kesz Valdez! You are a true inspiration to people all over the world and I wish that you continue to reach out to people in need of help.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My 800th post!

Can't believe I have now posted on my blog 800 times. It's been about 7 1/2 years now since I started this and somehow, I'm still at it. I did a bit of math and apparently, I am now averaging one blog post every 3 1/2 days. That's not bad. How I have the time to do this, I don't know. :)

Best part of this blog is that I've been able to share some travel information with other people. A few friends have found my blog posts about Iceland, Batanes, Korea, and Brunei useful. Hopefully more of my friends (and maybe even the rare, random stranger) can continue to benefit somehow from the stuff I post. :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Most liked video on Youtube

Congratulations to "Gangnam Style" for being declared the most liked video on Youtube by the Guinness World Records!


uploaded in youtube by officialpsy

The wildly popular K-Pop song by PSY has now been liked

Monday, September 24, 2012

Missing the Starbucks Wild Mushroom and Emmental Cheese Croissant

So I go to a Starbucks drive-through one day and I order the Wild Mushroom and Emmental Cheese Croissant. Unfortunately, I was told that this item was just a promotional item and is no longer available. Noooo!!!


I love cheese, mushrooms, and croissant, so this is right up my alley. I'm hoping sales of this item were really good while it was on promo so that Starbucks decided to bring it back as a permanent fixture in their pastry menu.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Three-peat! UP cheerdance champions again!

Congratulations to the UP Pep Squad for winning yet again the UAAP Cheerdance Competition! This win is massive on so many levels:

  1. It is UP's 3rd championship in a row (three-peat! :))
  2. They now tie UST with the most wins (8). However, while both UP and UST also have the same number of 2nd place finishes (4), UP has placed 3rd five times (UST placed 3rd twice). This means that UP now has the best record in this event.
  3. This also means that in the 18 years that this event was held, UP have been in the podium in all but one year. The only time they missed being in the top 3? The first time the competition was held. :) (source: wikipedia)
I watched the UAAP Cheerdance Competition live only once before, back in 2003 when UP placed 2nd to UST. When my friend Mitch told me that she wanted to give me and our other friend Joyce tickets to watch it live in the SM MOA Arena, I thought it would be good to spend an afternoon experiencing this event live. Thankfully, UP won. :) Here's a video of their winning performance:

 
video uploaded in youtube by user ANCalerts

While I think UP's performance last year was better, the other squads seem to still be a step behind. Even with that bad fall in the end, the overall performance of the UP Pep Squad - for me - was still a clear winner. Their degree of difficulty, inventiveness, and the speed and efficiency with which they moved and got into formation was just head and shoulders above everyone else.

Hopefully UP can build on this year's success and notch another championship win and move to the solo lead. 4 in a row would be awesome. :)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Kicking off this year's celebrations

I have been patrolling the online deal sites for restaurants discounts over the last several weeks to get ready for my birthday this year. I started outlining my different sets of friends with whom I intend to celebrate and whenever I'd see a good restaurant deal, I'd figure out which set of friends I would bring there and then I'd buy an appropriate number of vouchers.

I saw a couple of deals in restaurants I had never been to, but before buying them, I made sure to check out their online menus first and see if they had decent items that my friends would be interested to order. The first set of deals I got was for Relish at Ponte. I was initially marking those vouchers for some of my friends who are Makati-based since this resto is located in Salcedo Village. However, when I suggested a restaurant in Ortigas to my friend Mitch for our annual joint birthday celebration, she instead suggested that we just have lunch in Relish instead. My immediate reaction: "I have coupons for that place!" So we picked a date and got the Manila-based gang all together - Joyce and Iona plus JP and the kids, and also of course Ferg, Aidan, and Rory. It was my first time but Mitch had been there a few times before already. She highly recommended the Roasted Chicken with Garlic, Lemon and Oregano and even with that hype, this dish didn't disappoint. All the food we tried here was really good, from the appetizers to the pasta dishes. I heard Relish is packed during weekdays but as we were here on a Saturday, it was pretty calm. You can check out their menu here. I will definitely be visiting this place again.

The next set of deals I got was for Harvest Gastro Pub. I had never heard of this place before either but it is located in BGC, which is where my office friends - Joh and Raffa, Me-ann, Pia, Chris and Shar, Peegee and Randee, and Mike - usually hang out. (Mike brought our common friend Tricia with him when he arrived because Tricia lives in the area, and she was only planning to say 'hi'. However, as I have not seen her in a long time, I asked her to join us as well.) Harvest is located at the ground floor of Hamptons Tower II, and I was a bit rattled when I got there and realized this place was really like a restobar, with loud music, dim lights, and lots of people drinking. While some of us enjoy hanging out in bars and drinking, not everyone does and it's definitely not family friendly, at least not on a Friday night. The noise made it tough to have good conversation but we somehow managed. The food was pretty good for the price but I especially enjoyed the fact that alcohol was relatively inexpensive. We got a bottle of red wine for only P450 - normally you would have to pay anywhere from P700 to P900 for a bottle of inexpensive red wine in restaurants - so we ended up getting a couple. :) You can check out the Harvest Gastro Pub menu here.

We moved to Segafredo after dinner (it was just a block away) to have coffee and better conversation. Peegee and Randee were able to join us here (they weren't able to join us for dinner because they had to bring their baby with them and Harvest on that Friday night was definitely not a place for babies). Mike, who was in town to attend a friend's wedding, decided to cover coffee and dessert in Segafredo. We called it a night at around 11pm, although since Me-ann's ride was still not there, we walked over to Honeybee Patisserie/Bubble Tea near Burgos Circle so I could have more coffee and some dessert (I didn't really have a proper dessert in Segafredo because I was still full.)

So as I start my celebrations with friends and family, it's good that I have now tried three new places - Relish, Harvest, and Honeybee. Hopefully I can sustain this and try a few more places in the upcoming weeks. :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Everybody" by Ingrid Michaelson

I attended the wedding of Audrey and Primo a couple of weekends ago in Tagaytay. It was held in Tagaytay Midlands (the same venue as Kathy and John's wedding a year ago). It was a grand celebration with a lot of food (I absolutely loved the pot roast beef and the Thai beef salad) and drinks. It was during the reception that I discovered a new song. The band stayed away from the traditional wedding musical fare and played less known or even unfamiliar songs, including this one that I really liked. It's called "Everybody" by Ingrid Michaelson:


uploaded in youtube by user Yorrii

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A weekend in Clark while braving the Pampanga rains

I took my family to Clark last weekend. My grandmother 'Nanay' lost her brother in July last year but as her brother (we called him Uncle Vie) was buried in Pampanga, she was unfortunately unable to go during the 1-year death anniversary. As such, I decided I would plan a family trip to Pampanga to visit Uncle Vie and spend some time in Clark as well.

The Philippines was hit over the weekend by Typhoon Karen, but since it wasn't raining hard in Manila, we figured it might not be raining heavily in Pampanga either. It was mid-afternoon when we got to NLEX and it was at this point that we realized the rains here were significantly heavier. Our initial plan of going to the cemetery in the late afternoon first before checking into the hotel had to be tossed out because the weather was very bad. Add to that the fact that traffic in Pampanga was so intense due to the rains and a bit of flooding - it took us about an hour to get through about a 2-kilometer section in Dau! - and it was easy to decide to just rest in the evening and wake up early the next day and visit the cemetery then.

I booked a junior family suite in Hotel Widus (previously Hotel Vida). I saw pics of this hotel a year or so ago and have been interested to try it since, so when I saw a deal on Deal Grocer that was valid during the time that we had planned to go to Clark, I booked it immediately. It's a really good hotel - I think it was built only in 2008 so it's pretty new - and the service is excellent. The junior family suite was very spacious and comfortable. I don't know if this hotel is owned by a Korean but they actually have both Korean and Filipino receptionists. Make sure you know this when you call the front desk because it might be a Korean who answers, then you need to speak in English. :)

We got up early the next day, at around 7am, and it was good that we did because the breakfast room started filling up pretty quickly once we started eating. (Lots of people were checked in despite the storm.) I really enjoyed their breakfast spread. It's always a plus for me when the buffet includes corned beef, but on top of that, they also had some Korean items like bulgogi and kimchi. We all had a really full meal to start the day before getting ready to drive to the cemetery.

Uncle Vie was buried in Holy Mary cemetery with his wife, Auntie Edna, who passed away several years ago. It was raining slightly when we got there at around 9:30am but thankfully, it was no longer pouring like it was the day before. With a few umbrellas providing temporary shelter, we said the rosary and a prayer for the faithful departed for both of them and for the other relatives of Auntie Edna who were also buried in the same area.

Thankfully, the hotel gave us a late check-out time of 2pm which allowed me to take my nephew Ciera to the pool before leaving. One new experience for him was the pool bar - Azul Sunken Bar, as it is called. I ordered a vanilla shake for him and he enjoyed drinking it while sitting half-submerged in the water.

We checked out at a little past 1pm to give us some time to hit the duty free shops in Clark. I ended up getting a truckload of chocolates for myself: Cadbury, Twix, Reese's, and Hershey's assorted chocolates. Obviously I got stuff that aren't available in Manila or are cheaper there than in supermarkets here. I reckon in about a week's time, I will have packed a few extra pounds from all the calories in my refrigerator right now LOL.

It was actually quite a good trip for us despite the bad weather. Clearly, it would be a much better trip without all the rain so I'm now looking at bringing my family to Clark again at some point in the near future.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Andy Murray wins the US Open!

Andy Murray's summer began with heartbreak but ended with grand success. He finally shook off the best-player-to-never-have-won-a-Grand-Slam-title monicker to upend Novak Djokovic in the US Open final, thus winning his first-ever Grand Slam title.

Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images (from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/)

The final, which was played on a Monday instead of Sunday for the fifth year in a row, was filled with tension and drama. Andy Murray took an early lead in the first two sets but Novak, fighter that he is, refused to budge and made things a lot tighter. Andy scraped through both times (7-6, 7-5) before Novak found his form. Doubts started to creep into Andy's game as well - he had been in this situation, a major final, 4 times before but he had never won - and when Novak won the next two sets, it seemed like Andy was destined for even more heartbreak. If this continued to go Djokovic's way, this one would be even worse than past losses as Murray was up 2 sets to love.

Somehow, though, Andy steeled himself and got the early advantage in the 5th and final set. When he finally won the last point of the match - his second championship point - it seemed that he wasn't even sure that he won. He looked like he stunned and in disbelief. In interviews later on, he kept saying that it hadn't sunk in yet, and he seemed to feel more relieved than happy. It has been a couple of days since this win so hopefully he is now fully enjoying the fruits of his labor.

What was interesting throughout the final was how many people in the crowds were cheering for Andy. I guess a lot of people like me wanted Andy to win at least one Grand Slam title, given that he was too good to end his career without one. (I mentioned before that the timing of his career isn't that great, given that his peak coincides with the peaks of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic.) Seeing Andy's tears at Wimbledon a couple of months back showed the world how much he values success at the majors and I think it was at that point that more and more people started rooting for him. Whether or not Andy wins another Slam doesn't, and shouldn't, really matter. His year, which includes a Wimbledon final, an Olympic Gold, and a US Open trophy, will surely go down as the most important year in Andy's career.

Congratulations, Andy! :)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Weekend family treat

When I saw a deal for a two-bedroom suite in Holiday Inn Manila Galleria a few months back, I thought it would be good way to celebrate my nephew Ciera's birthday. The deal was pretty good - the room was really big (it was a two-bedroom suite, after all) and the reservation came with buffet breakfast for four adults and kids 12 years old and below eat for free. The fact that it was located right next to Robinson's Galleria made it very convenient for me and my family to head out and eat and shop.


We checked in at around 4:30pm but unfortunately for my nephews, it was raining so they couldn't really use the swimming pool. Instead, I just took them and Nanay (my grandmother) to the mall. I got Ciera his birthday gift - a lego set based on the Xbox game Halo. Nanay doesn't have a lot of chances to go to the mall, especially not ones that are far from her house - so we used this opportunity to look for new shoes for her. We finally found a pair she liked in Celine and I got her those as well. We decided to quickly pass by the supermarket to get some groceries before dropping everything off at our hotel room and getting ready for dinner.

While there are a lot of restaurants in Galleria, I thought it would be great to bring my family to TGI Friday's. While my mom and I have eaten here before, it was the first time for my nephews and Nanay. Nanay was still full from their late lunch but she had a bit of my dish and my mom's dish while my nephews enjoyed their Baby Back Ribs and Grilled Porkchops. We saw the Fried Ice Cream in the menu and my nephews seemed really interested to try it. By the end of dinner, we were all pretty full. :)

My brother joined us for our early morning breakfast the next day and we all got to enjoy a pretty hefty meal to start off our day. Everyone else went back to the room but I took Ciera to the swimming pool. It was still drizzling slightly but there were a lot of other people there despite the weather so we spent about an hour in the pool before heading back to the room.


We checked out at 1pm and I took my family to Old Swiss Inn - I had another deal voucher for P1000 worth of fondue in Old Swiss Inn. People weren't in the mood for chocolate fondue that afternoon so we used my voucher to order the Fondue Bourguignonne. It was my first time having this fondue in Old Swiss Inn and it turned out to be a fun experience for everyone as the prime beef tenderloin cubes served to us were still raw, and we had to cook it ourselves by dipping it in hot oil.

We caught the 3pm mass in Greenbelt before heading home. Along the way, we decided to visit Tatay in the cemetery. We were a bit lucky as well as right after we finished our prayers for him and got into the car, it started drizzling again. I then brought Nanay to her house before heading back home with my family. It was a really great weekend filled with new experiences for me and my family - even staying in Holiday Inn was a first for all of us. I reckon I should plan something similar for my birthday.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

OTH says goodbye

After nine long seasons, One Tree Hill finally comes to a close. I used to watch this regularly in its first few seasons, but when Hilarie Burton, and her character Peyton Sawyer, left the show, I sort of lost interest. I'd still get to watch episodes every now and then, which means I still sort of know what's going on and who all the new characters are, but I wasn't following it very closely anymore.

I did get to watch the final episode, which was a great way for the show to say goodbye to its fans who have stuck by them through all these years. It made a lot of references to events going back as far as the first season, making it even more nostalgic. It was too bad Peyton didn't make a special appearance in any of the last season episodes (Lucas, Keith, Deb, and Bevin all came back for at least one show) but overall, it was a nice way to go.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Phantom of the Opera at the CCP

Okay, so I've seen "The Phantom of the Opera" before on Broadway in New York. That was an incredible experience and apart from amazing music and performers with unbelievable talent, I distinctly remember the opulent sets and costumes. All of that combined to provide audiences with a fantastic visual and aural spectacle. While I had a grand time watching, I remember thinking that my family would certainly love seeing this legendary musical as well. As such, when we found out that Phantom would be staged in Manila, we got tickets as early as we could.

 photo courtesy of www.philippineconcerts.com

Somehow, seeing it the second time around was even more electrifying. Part of it was the fact that I was watching it in my home country. Part of it was also experiencing it with my family, all of whom were just as awed as I was. And how could you not be? I believe that, at least of the musicals I am familiar with, this one has the most vocally challenging set of songs. "Phantom of the Opera" requires a really strong soprano voice from the female lead (such as can be heard here) while "Music of the Night" demands that the male lead have a massive range that goes both pretty low and pretty high. Check out this version by Michael Crawford, who originated the title role:

video uploaded in youtube by user xanastasia 

Of course, you can appreciate the music and the vocal talent of the cast just by listening to the CD or going on youtube. However, watching the musical live is an altogether different experience as it is truly one extravagant production. From the chandelier that surprises you with its scale and brilliance to the awe-inspiring "Masquerade" sequence on the massive staircase (you could hear and feel the audience gasp in amazement during this scene), "The Phantom of the Opera" is a visual feast that continually takes your breath away. On top of the that, the speed with which the sets are changed is truly impressive. It's like a magic show; they switch the lights off and when they come on again, you see something different on stage. I still can't believe how many stunning backdrops and lavish curtains they have! (Where do they keep everything?)

As I have seen this show on Broadway, I know what it is supposed to look like. So I was extremely pleased that they successfully pulled off all the amazing effects here and they didn't shortchange the Philippine audiences with respect to the grandness and quality of the stage production. They brilliantly executed what is arguably the most visually stunning scenes in the musical - the boat-and-rising-candles sequence as the Phantom takes Christine to his lair - and I am glad that my family and rest of the audience were treated to this wonderful spectacle.

the audience was allowed to take photos during curtain call

I've been to quite a few amazing shows here where the occasional stinginess of Pinoy audiences with respect to applause and appreciation of performers was clearly evident. That was so not the case in "The Phantom of the Opera". Everyone in the audience was on their feet during the curtain call and the applause and cheers for the performers was rapturous. Emilie Lynn, who played Christine Daaé, deservedly received a massive ovation, but the most thunderous of cheers were reserved for the Phantom, played by Jonathan Roxmouth.

the cast who performed the night we watched

"The Phantom of the Opera" season in Manila has been extended, adding 16 more shows that will run through to September 30. Clearly, this means that ticket sales have been strong. It is my strong hope that the success of this musical here, along with "CATS" and "Mamma Mia" (and even Miss Saigon almost a decade ago) will result in more shows being brought to the Philippines. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that one day, we get to see "Les Misérables", "Wicked", and "The Lion King". In the meantime, I will continue to relive my wonderful experience watching "Phantom" and start listening again to my CD. :)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Benchingko/Films Presents: Kontrabida 101

This is hilarious! Bella Flores is truly a Philippine cinematic legend. There will never be another kontrabida like her. :)


video uploaded in youtube by BenchTV

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Splurging

The recent long weekends (along with my movie-watching) allowed me to spend a bit more time in malls. I noticed a lot of shops were on sale so I decided to check out stuff that I had been interested in buying for a while now. Earlier in the year, I saw these yellow and blue Nike Free 5.0 cross-trainers that I was really wanted to get. To be quite honest, it wasn't really a need; my current cross-trainers were still in great condition. But when I passed by The Athlete's Foot, I noticed that they still had one pair that was my size and it had a 20% discount. Too good to pass up. :) I ended up getting those shoes.

I matched that with an orange Adidas Climacool shirt that I got at 30% off. I had been seeing this shirt for a while as well now but I always felt it was a bit too expensive. Shaving 30% off of the price meant that it was now in a more acceptable price range. As such, it ended up in my shopping bag. Now I have bright yellow and blue trainers and a bright orange shirt. I should wear those two together. That'd be a sight for sore eyes. :)

On top of that, I got about 10 new DVDs - all of them, movies I haven't seen, such as "The Social Network", "Shutter Island", "Crazy Stupid Love", and "Hangover II". I tossed in 5 CDs (most of which I got at P99 each!) which now means I have a lot of new music to add to my iTunes and I have enough movies to keep me entertained at home for a while. The only downside is that my credit card bill is going to take a hit next month. But hey, you have to spend some money on yourself every now and then, right? :)

The Bourne Legacy

I am really pleased that I have been able to go to the movie theater quite a few times this year. The latest flick I watched was "The Bourne Legacy". As this was filmed partially in the Philippines, I wanted to make sure I saw it. :)

I have to say that I can't view the movie objectively and say whether it was good or not. As a Filipino, I couldn't help but be entertained by the fact that the scenes were shot here. That car chase through Manila traffic with vehicles being smashed and jeepneys being whipped around was awesome to watch! I loved that they kept the traffic in the scenes and didn't clear the road, it made it more authentic. :) (Not that something like that would ever happen here hehehe.)

I've heard some Pinoys complained about the fact that "The Bourne Legacy" painted the Philippines in a bad light as a lot of scenes were shot in slum areas. But hey, movies don't always do their filming in the nicest locations. Quite a few scenes from the Incredible Hulk were shot in the slum areas of Brazil. And how can anyone forget Slumdog Millionaire? Even crime shows in the US feature lots of scenes in very dodgy locations.

I don't normally stick around to see the credits roll (except when there's a final bonus scene slotted in during or towards the end) but I made an exception for this film because I wanted to see the names of John Arcilla and Lou Veloso. I noticed that Joel Torre was also credited for being the samaritan who helps the woman with the oranges but I didn't even see him. I need to get the DVD when it comes out. :) I also wonder if the scenes with Filipino dialogues were sub-titled in other countries because they weren't subtitled here.

Anyways, it was a really cool experience watching "The Bourne Legacy". I think a lot of people who got stuck in bad traffic during filming in Manila won't agree with me but I think it would be cool if more Hollywood blockbusters get shot in different locations in the Philippines.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Treadmill time

I've been plagued by health issues recently: I had a bad ankle sprain a few months back and more recently, I was stuck at home with conjunctivitis. I haven't had any exercise so since we have another long weekend in the Philippines and I had some spare time today, I decided to burn some calories on the treadmill. I'm very unfit right now so I just completed a 3-km run.. Hopefully, I can muster the will and the discipline to spend even half an hour in the gym a bit more regularly now. I'm not getting any younger and I need all the exercise I can get to stay fit. :)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Deja Vu: last-minute Superhero-Animated Film Combo

A month ago, I made my way to the cinema to catch "The Amazing Spider-Man", and the day after I watched "Ice Age: Continental Drift". I managed to watch both movies before their theatrical releases in Manila were over. This time around, I managed to do a repeat of this superhero blockbuster and animated film combo two days in a row, and once again, I caught both towards the end of their cinema runs.

I was planning to watch both "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Brave" much earlier, but I got hit with a bout of conjunctivitis that kept me at home for two weeks. It was just during the last long weekend that I got well and was no longer contagious. Luckily, both of them were still showing, albeit in limited theaters. Since either or both these movies would probably be gone later this week as a bevy of new films like Total Recall are released, I decided to catch both while I still could.

photo courtesy of wikipedia

The first of these two movies I got to see was "The Dark Knight Rises". It's gotten a lot of great reviews, both from critics and audiences. I do think it's a well-made film, although I wasn't as blown away by this as much as most other people. Christopher Nolan does a fantastic job of tying together his Batman series reboot while giving each film the ability to stand on its own. This final part of the trilogy features top-notch performances by cast, although I have to call out Tom Hardy for his chilling portrayal of the frighteningly powerful Bane. Just hearing his voice made you quiver in your boots! I found the climax a bit cliche and the villainous twist predictable - I don't know how I figured it out early on but somehow when one of the supposed allies turned backstabber (almost literally) in the end, my reaction was "I knew it!" LOL - but the apparent introduction of a new hero in the form of Robin leaves me in eager anticipation of what's to come after this.

photo courtesy of wikipedia

For me, the film revelation this year is "Brave". Clearly, I am Pixar's target audience as I am a huge fan of most of their recent films, such as Up, The Incredibles, and Wall-E. I wasn't sure what "Brave" would be about, but the fact that it is a Pixar film made me want to see it. From the trailer, it is clear that the lead is a strong-willed heroine. Another one of those I-don't-want-to-be-told-who-to-marry type of movies, you think? Wrong! The strange sequence of events is so unique and surprising that it catches you off-guard and changes the direction of the film in a way that you wouldn't have expected. Making this an even better movie is the incredible animation - check our the hair of the lead heroine, Merida (read more about the animation of her hair here). I won't go into detail of the storyline since this is one of those films where spoilers may ruin the impact of the twist, but it is absolutely worth watching. I can't wait for the DVD to come out!

My nephew told me that he would rank these four films in this order of preference (although he did say he enjoyed them all): The Amazing Spider-Man, Brave, The Dark Knight Rises, and Ice Age: Continental Drift. Strangely enough, that's how I would rank these four movies as well. :) We're surely in the minority as most people will have The Dark Knight Rises as their #1. But hey, to each his own. :)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cleaning my kitchen

The other day, I was having a late night meal so I went to my cupboard to get a plate. As soon as I opened the cupboard door, I saw a roach. Damn! It was a small one, but it was still in my cupboard. I pulled out my Baygon and sprayed into my cupboard. To be on the safe side - I mean, when you have one roach, you might have a few more crawling around - I decided to spray my whole kitchen.

So clearly, I now had to clean up all of my kitchen surfaces, not only to get rid of any remaining insecticide, but also to disinfect any potential places where roaches may have crawled on. Aside from that, I also had to rewash all my dinnerware and silverware. Thankfully, we had a long weekend. It gave me enough time to clean everything up.

I now need to make sure I do a better job of keeping my place trash-free and my sink clean. I probably should have my place undergo pest-control every so often, too.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saltimbanco comes to Manila!

I'm really happy that Saltimbanco came to the Philippines. I was hoping after the massive success of Varekai last year that more Cirque du Soleil shows would make their way to our part of the world. When I saw the ads on TV a couple of months ago, I decided to buy tickets immediately.


Apparently, Saltimbanco is the oldest major touring show of Cirque du Soleil. It has been running since 1992 so it's actually their 20th anniversary (although some changes have been made to the original version since then). Pretty cool that we get to see them on their milestone year. :) I wanted more of my family to see a Cirque du Soleil show live so this time around, I got tickets for my mom, my brother, and my two nephews as well. Needless to say, everyone was amazed, impressed, and fully entertained.

Saltimbanco has a wide array of acts, including a heart-stopping solo trapeze (this used to be a duo trapeze in the original format), fantastic juggling, jawdropping balancing on canes that involves some unbelievable flexibility, and a spectacular sequence with a Russian swing. It also features a very unique "boleadoras" act that you can check out here (although what you will see in the link is the original version that has since been modified). The sequences with Jesko the clown are immensely funny and entertaining to both kids and adults, and they provide much-needed comic relief after watching stunts that leave you holding your breath for prolonged periods of time. :) The Chinese poles act early in the show is visually stunning and showcases daredevil mentality and astonishing muscle power. Check out the guy going up and down the pole using just his arms from 0:42 to 0:59. He makes it look so effortless!


video uploaded in youtube by Gerardo1999

I still can't fathom how these performers do it. Not only do their stunts require superhuman strength, stamina, and skill, but they also require an incredibly high degree of fearlessness and trust in what you and your co-performers can do. One of the most memorable acts in the show for me is the "hand-to-hand". I don't know what kind of training these guys do but they are impossibly strong! Most sensational portion is 5:27 to 6:48 (but the whole clip deserves to be watched! Even the comic relief after. :))


video uploaded in youtube by mcirque

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that another Cirque du Soleil show will come to Manila next year.