Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"Up to the Mountain" by Patty Griffin

One of my favorite songs. I discovered it by watching American Idol - it was performed by Kelly Clarkson during Idol Gives Back in season 6 then by Crystal Bowersox in the finale of Season 10. It was the Bowersox cover that made me search for the original version, and while those two Idol versions were good, Patty Griffin's original just cannot be touched.

video uploaded in youtube by realimghty

"Up to the Mountain" is also called the MLK song because it draws upon themes from Martin Luther King, Jr's famous "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech that he gave a day before his assassination. Patty's clear yet haunting vocals showcase an amazing depth of emotion and deliver the song's powerful lyrics that create such vivid imagery:

The peaceful valley
Few come to know
I may never get there
Ever in this lifetime
But sooner or later
It's there I will go

A truly amazing song by a brilliant artist.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Movie time

A week ago, I promised my nephew that I would take him to watch both "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "Ice Age: Continental Drift". So when I saw that "The Dark Knight Rises" came out last week, I figured I had to ensure we got to watch those two movies before they get dropped from the cinemas altogether.

I first watched "The Amazing Spider-Man" with both my nephews and my mom. I'm a fan of superhero movies in general but I am also a fan of the first two installments of the Tobey Maguire-headlined series (I didn't like Spider-Man 3...) so I wasn't sure how this reboot would stack up against those. Somehow, I actually enjoyed it just that bit more. Most people like seeing their superheroes be super and just bash away against the bad guys but I'm a bit different in that I actually enjoy it more when I can see the human side to these characters. That is exactly what you get when you watch "The Amazing Spider-Man". While 'Spidey' eventually comes into his own as a superhero, it was great seeing his angst, pain, and fear, and how some life-changing events make him realize that maybe it is his job to protect the city from threats. This wouldn't have been possible if not for the brilliant performance of Andrew Garfield, who delivered a very believable transformation of Peter Parker from shy, self-absorbed teenager suffering from daddy issues to a confident, young man whose guilt and sense of responsibility propel him to try and make things right. His onscreen (and apparently off-screen) partner Emma Stone is equally good, and the chemistry they have makes the relationship of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy almost just as compelling to watch as Spider-Man's battles with the Lizard. I do think both Andrew and Emma deliver better performances than Tobey and Kirsten Dunst, and I hope that they are both asked to reprise their roles in the sequel which is slated for 2014.

The next day, I watched "Ice Age: Continental Drift" with only my nephew Ciera. It was a fun movie, with a couple of storylines running in parallel and a lot of new and interesting characters, such as Manny and Ellie's daughter Peaches, Sid's Granny and her 'imaginary pet' Precious, a whole bunch of pirates led by Gutt, and those little furry creatures that reminded me a lot of the ewoks from Return of the Jedi. I wasn't all that interested in the storyline about Peaches trying to fit in and impress the 'cool boy' and his 'cool friends' before realizing that her family and her true friends were more important, but I figured this is a movie for kids so it actually makes for a good lesson for the young people watching. I also really enjoyed the animated short film about Maggie from the Simpsons that was shown right before Ice Age started.

I'm pretty happy that I'm doing better this year in terms of movie-watching. I've seen nine films now, including Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, Avengers, Battleship, Wrath of the Titans, Hunger Games, Chronicle, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. While Avengers may be this year's biggest hit, I think my favorites so far are MI4 and The Amazing Spider-Man.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Nadal out of the Olympics

Four days to go until the 2012 London Summer Olympics and I'm really looking forward to it. The most popular global sports like basketball and football, while included in the event, somehow take a backseat to other sports such as swimming and track and field.

The only downside for me is that Rafael Nadal is not going to be playing. He is currently battling knee tendinitis and he claims that he is not in any condition to play competitively. Darn!

I am now hoping that Andy Murray wins. Federer is the odds on favorite to win, but with Andy Murray losing four Grand Slam finals (3 to Federer, 1 to Djokovic), he is arguably the best player in history never to win a Slam. We all saw how much it pained him to lose the Wimbledon final, so I hope he can finally break through in a major event. It won't be a Slam, but an Olympic Gold in his own country (by country, I mean the United Kingdom and not England as Andy Murray is from Scotland :)) would be a spectacular win and a great moment both for him and for the UK.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


It's been about half a decade since I last saw my cousins Joy and Charmaine who are now based in Canada. Charmaine just got married and their wedding was held here in the Philippines so it was a good opportunity for me to catch up with both of them. I wasn't able to join them for the wedding ceremony itself as it was held out of town but they organized dinner last Sunday for the family, to make sure we all got to see them. Unfortunately, it was on a Sunday night and one of my nephews was in a bad mood that night so my family and I couldn't stay long.

Thankfully, they organized dinner with their cousins on both sides of their family on Friday night. It was raining very hard that evening but I was determined to make it even if I was very late. As it turned out, I got there before a lot of other people because everyone got stuck in storm-induced traffic as well. Anyways, as there weren't a lot of people with us that night, it was a good chance for me to catch up with both my cousins and their significant others - Charmaine's husband and Joy's boyfriend who also came to the Philippines with them from Canada. I also got to see my other cousin Jessica whom I haven't seen in an even longer time! After about three hours, we decided to call it a night, especially since they were all flying out the next day. It wasn't a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, but it was time well spent together. I do hope I get to see them all again soon, whether here on in Canada.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Barber of Seville

Apparently, it's the first time in Philippine history that three operas were staged in the country in the same year. Amazingly, I was there to watch each one! :) I watched "The Barber of Seville" last Saturday, and it was incredible!

"The Barber of Seville" is an opera buffa, or a comic opera, by Gioachino Rossini. It tells the story of Count Almaviva who is trying to woo the beautiful Rosina. He disguises himself as Lindoro, hoping to make Rosina love him for himself and not for his money. However, Rosina has very little freedom as the ward of Dr. Bartolo. Bartolo aims to marry Rosina himself so he can lay claim to her dowry. Count Almaviva then runs into Figaro, the Barber of Seville who also used to be the Count's servant. Figaro advises the Count to disguise himself as a drunk soldier to gain entry into the Bartolo household. Bartolo and Don Basilio, Rosina's music teacher, are very suspicious of Lindoro, and as they have a confrontation with Rosina, Lindoro, Figaro, and Bartolo's housekeeper Berta, their noise attracts the attention of the Officer of the Watch and his men. The officer arrests Lindoro, but as Lindoro shares his real identity to the officer, he is freed.

To regain entry into the Bartolo household, Almaviva disguises himself as a substitute music teacher and tells Bartolo that Basilio is ill. The lie is threatened to be exposed when Basilio appears but Almaviva bribes Basilio to feign illness. Bartolo's suspicions deepen and he throws everyone except Rosina out of his house. He tells her that Lindoro is just a humble servant of Count Almaviva and he calls for a notary to draw up the marriage contract between him and Rosina. During a thunderstorm, Figaro and Almaviva enter Rosina's room through a ladder in the balcony, and it is here that Rosina learns that Lindoro and the Count are one and the same. They are so caught up in their love for each other that they pay no attention to Figaro's initial attempts to get them to leave and by the time they do try, the ladder on the balcony has been removed. They are still in the room when Basilio and the notary arrive. Almaviva is able to coerce Basilio to act as a witness to his marriage to Rosina, and as Basilio and Figaro act as witnesses, Almaviva and Rosina both sign the marriage contract prepared by the notary. Bartolo enters the room too late, but his disappointment is short-lived as he is told that he can keep Rosina's dowry.

Everyone who performed in the opera were vocally amazing, and I especially loved the fast-running notes - and believe me, there were many - as these required (to quote my friend Marie who also watched it) "so much vocal agility and stamina." It was even more impressive that these were often done in unison or in harmony. While everyone was great, I was especially impressed by Mario Cassi, who played Figaro. His voice had such strong projection and really carried throughout the theater but he made it seem so effortless. His swagger and panache made his performance even more memorable. An equally memorable performance was that of Marco Filippo Romano, who played Bartolo. He was such an entertaining scene stealer and I especially loved it when he would mock Rosina by sarcastically repeating her words in falsetto. That said, it was a true ensemble performance and everyone really held their own.Major props of course have to go to the director, Antonio Petris, for achieving this.

Probably the most interesting experience I had in the show is the discovery that the popular aria "Largo al factotum" is from this opera. What is that aria, you say? Well, it's in the one where the singer keeps singing 'Figaro'. In popular culture, this has been featured in the Whale who sang at the Met, Woody Woodpecker, Tom and Jerry, and in the opening credits of Mrs. Doubtfire. If you want a more professional performance than those, here is Mario Cassi performing "Largo al factotum":

video uploaded in youtube by MrFigarofi

The fact that "The Barber of Seville" is a comedy makes it a different experience from the other two I have watched. They must also have had a ton of sponsors because programs were given for free before the show and several magazines like Lifestyle Asia, Mega, and Travel, were also distributed to people in the audience. (Although "La Traviata" probably had just as much, if not more, sponsorships because their ticket prices were about half the cost of this one and also of "Madame Butterfly".) Then again, it's not surprising. Rustan's was a co-presenter and they are celebrating their 60th anniversary. Several Italians were in the show - including the conductor, Ruggero Barbieri - and this is also because this year, we are celebrating 65 years of Philippine-Italian Diplomatic Relations as well as the 50th anniversary of the Philippine Italian Association. Pretty cool!

I wonder what the next opera will be. Phantom of the Opera, which will also be staged in CCP in a little more than a month's time, doesn't officially count as an opera, although I am equally excited for that.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Broken suitcase

After 14 years of heavy use, the very first suitcase I bought - a handcarry-size Samsonite - finally succumbed to the wear and tear of travel. I used it over the weekend and after lugging it around in the morning, I noticed that the combination lock mechanism was no longer attached to the bag. Eep!

I have to give props to that suitcase though. It outlasted a lot of my other bags. I probably broke two large suitcases and 1 medium-sized one (I may have broken more medium-sized ones but I normally use either the big or the small one when I travel so the medium-sized one is not as heavily used). While Samsonite is a relatively expensive brand, based on my experience, it is clearly sturdier. As such, I will probably replace my broken suitcase with another Samsonite. Given my recent big ticket purchases though, I need to be more conscientious about my spending now. As such, I probably won't buy a new one until my next trip.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

International Shopping Spree

So I've turned into one of those people who travel abroad just to shop. Scary. Or well, not necessarily...

I wrote about my need for a massive gadget update several months ago. I have been at odds with my personal laptop for the better part of a year now. My recent trips to Batanes and Cebu/Bohol (which I have yet to blog about) have emphasized my need for a new camera but it was also in these trips that I discovered that my mom's camera now has the same 'smudge' problem that my camera has. Clearly, I needed to get my new equipment ASAP.

I did some research online and I finally decided what laptop and cameras to get. However, I know that electronics are cheaper in Singapore than they are here. So I asked a couple of my friends over there if they could find out how much these items cost in SG. As it turns out, if I bought all items over there, I would save P17,000. That is massive! I quickly look at airfare costs and I was able to find a flight that would set me off by about P8000. Even if you add the airport tax of P1,620 and the passenger service fee o f P550 and I'd still have a lot of savings. Clearly, this was a good enough reason to fly to Singapore.

It took me all of three hours in Funan to get my new gear. While the only freebie that came with my laptop was a carrying case, the cameras came with a lot of add-ons. I also got to claim a pretty substantial GST refund at the airport. Cool!

Add to this my new phone and my gadget update is now complete. :)


Of course, my exceedingly short trip to SG, while primarily meant for shopping, wouldn't have been as great if I didn't get to meet up with any of my friends. Amazingly enough, in just 48 hours, I managed to meet up with six sets of friends: Kog, Ina, and Anna for a very late dinner and drinks on Thursday night, Majel for Friday lunch, Che, Tonette, Om, Anna, Tim, and Alvin for Friday dinner, Ben and his mates for Friday night drinks, Denise and Kleng (and her family) for Saturday brunch, and Sarah, Dawid and their daughter Ania (and Anna again) for Saturday early afternoon coffee. "That has to be one of the most jampacked personal trips I have taken. But it's amazing how so many of my friends were able to make time to meet up despite the very short notice. I am one very lucky guy. :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I won a phone! :)

I was getting ready for work when I got a phone call. I didn't recognize the number so for a couple of seconds, I was tempted not to pick up. But I figured it could be important so I answered anyway. Thankfully, I did. The person on the other end of the line told me I was I had just won a raffle. I didn't really understand what I won, and all I could hear was 'Beats Audio'. I figured I won some really cool earphones so I told the person I would be able to get my prize the next day.

So imagine my stunned surprise when they hand me this:

I said out loud, "It's a phone!" and told the person who gave me my raffle prize that "I thought I just won earphones!" She said that I won a phone that came with earphones LOL. I am now the owner of an HTC Sensation XE with Beats Audio. I read a review online and my new phone seem to be pretty good. I obviously have to spend some time trying to figure out how to use it. :)

So now I have a smart phone. I'm not - or well, I wasn't - really a fan of touch screen phones because I like the idea of being able to text with one hand while not looking, but as I wrote almost a year ago, I have been meaning to replace my mobile phone. I guess this is the world's way of telling me I need to keep up with the times and advances in technology. :)

Monday, July 09, 2012

Wimbledon wraps up

Another year, another Wimbledon. Congratulations to Roger Federer, who won his 7th Wimbledon title. He reclaims the #1 ranking, tying him this week with Pete Sampras for the most number of weeks at #1, but as he will certainly not drop his top ranking next week, he will surely eclipse Sampras' record.

I was rooting for Andy Murray, though. I have felt for the last few years now that if Andy Murray played in another era, he could be holding a couple of Grand Slam titles already. Unfortunately, he plays in the era of Federer, Rafa Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, who have a combined 33 titles among them (that number is just staggering!). Most tennis aficionados think of Andy as the best player to have (so far) not won a Grand Slam (this was his 4th final). He has been a consistent and solid world #4 but the top 3 are just too dominant. If Murray won, it would have been a fairy tale ending to his 2012 Wimbledon experience and would have been a great way for him to finally break though to win his first major. Alas, he ran into a player who used this event to further cement his case as the Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T.).

Murray's runner-up speech has to be one of the most emotional I've seen on a tennis court. While the loss surely made broke his heart, it didn't help that he was playing on 'home turf' and probably feels like he let down an entire nation. Check out his speech here:

video uploaded in youtube by user HollywoodRocket1

I do hope that Andy Murray does eventually win one Grand Slam event. Would be even more awesome if it he gets to win Wimbledon.


Of course, I didn't get to watch the final since Skycable dropped Star Sports. Oh well. I still haven't decided whether to get a digibox or switch to Cignal...

Thursday, July 05, 2012

How to paint the Mona Lisa with MS Paint

This video is amazing! The artist is absolutely brilliant!

video uploaded in youtube by EclecticAsylumArt

And here I thought MS Paint was just good for very basic stuff. :)

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

SBC's Omelette and French Toast

It all started with me watching on youtube an episode of The Delicious Miss Dahl where she cooks an Omelette Arnold Bennett. This led me to watching a clip of Jacques Pepin cooking two styles of omelette. Before I knew it, I was craving this wonderful egg dish.

Anyways, I was driving home one evening when I felt hungry and wanted to get something heavy enough to fill me but light enough that I won't stuff myself before I go to bed. My craving kicked in again and I remembered that Seattle's Best served omelette dishes. So I made my way to the nearest Seattle's Best and ordered their Ham and Cheese Omelette with French Toast. And may I say, it was a surprisingly pleasant discovery! So much so that the next day, I ordered it again. :)

Thankfully this is now in my radar because it makes a perfect midnight snack for me. I'm pretty sure I'll be having this dish on a more regular basis. Maybe I will even try some of their other omelette dishes. :)