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

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

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. :)