Friday, December 30, 2016

Not For a Moment performed by Aldrich Talonding

2016 has truly been a tough year. We've lost so many very influential celebrities such as Prince, David Bowie, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, to name a few. Beyond that, one of the biggest tragedies this year is the continuing Battle of Aleppo, leaving this Syrian city in ruins and many people dead, injured, or living in fear. The intense divisiveness and negativity brought about by politics in the Philippines and in the US along with the Brexit vote in the UK have all caused chaos and unbridled viciousness online, resulting in so many people unfollowing and unfriending each other on social media (and even in real life). 2016 has been a very trying and emotionally exhausting year and many people around the world can't wait for it to end.

To hopefully close out the year on a more positive note, I would like to share this video of Pinoy youtube sensation Aldrich Talonding singing Not For a Moment with HBC Worship. I first discovered Aldrich and his beautiful voice when he sang a very emotional cover of Dance With My Father that eventually landed him a guest appearance on Ellen. I have been a fan of his voice ever since and when I saw this video a while back, I felt inspired and uplifted. I hope you feel inspired and uplifted too when you watch and listen to this.

video uploaded in youtube by Aldrich and James

"And every step every breath you are there
Every tear every cry every prayer
In my hurt at my worst
When my world falls down
Not for a moment will You forsake me
Even in the dark
Even when it's hard
You will never leave me

Thursday, December 29, 2016

RIP, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

It seems 2016 was not done bringing heartache to the world. Carrie Fisher, who portrayed Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy (and General Leia in The Force Awakens), passed away on December 27. As someone who grew up watching Star Wars dozens upon dozens of times on Betamax and VHS and being heavily influenced by it, I have become quite attached to many of the characters in the trilogy as well as to the actors who portrayed them. As such, I am saddened by Carrie's passing.

I have always admired Princess Leia, who was strong, independent, courageous, and tough. The first Star Wars movie I saw was Return of the Jedi, and while many people have complained about Leia in her slave bikini as being misogynistic, I was personally impressed by how she managed to kill the huge and very scary Jabba the Hutt. I loved how she was able to establish positive relations with the same ewoks who tried to roast the male (and robotic) members of the Strike Force on Endor. When I eventually got to see A New Hope, I was amazed at Leia's strength and spirit. Not only was she held hostage by the Empire and had come face-to-face with the ominous Darth Vader, she had to watch her planet be destroyed by the Death Star. Despite this, she still managed to take matters into her own hands during the attempted rescue by Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca. Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker, summed it up very eloquently in this tweet:

As if that wasn't enough, just a little more than 30 hours after Carrie's death, her mother Debbie Reynolds passed away from a stroke. Debbie is probably best known for playing the lead female role, Kathy Selden, in Singin' in the Rain in 1952. Debbie and Carrie were very close, both figuratively and literally since they lived next to each other. According to Debbie's son and Carrie's brother Todd, Debbie told him "I miss her so much, I want to be with Carrie" before suffering a stroke 15 minutes later. I can't imagine how devastating it must be for the family they leave behind. A joint service is now being planned for both Carrie and Debbie.

Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Annual Check-up

I finally managed to complete my annual physical exam. The original plan was for me to have it in early December - I had in fact taken a day off for it - but the day before my scheduled physical, I got really sick so I had to reschedule. Thankfully, the hospital was still able to slot me in before the end of the year. It was my first time to have a full abdomen ultrasound and a treadmill stress test. While on the treadmill, I felt some degree of disappointment that I am no longer anywhere close to my peak physical condition that allowed me to run full marathons back in the day. I did manage to get up to stage 4 of the test before having to stop. The nurse told me not many people get to stage 4 but I of course knew that she was just saying that to make me feel a bit better. :)

I got my results this week and they aren't too bad. In fact, there are some results that have improved since 2015 (my cholesterol is within the normal range this year while it was high last year). However, there are some results that indicate that I really need to start living a healthier lifestyle. My treadmill stress test and ECG results say that my heart is working fine so I asked the doctor if that meant I didn't need to worry about heart attacks for now but he said that you these physical exam results aren't really predictive; they just give you an idea of how healthy you are at the point they were taken.

The interesting thing about that trip to the hospital was that I tried looking for the doctor whom I had visited regularly a few years ago to schedule a follow-up consultation. His name was no longer at the door of what used to be his clinic. I asked the receptionist there - it was the same person - where the doctor had gone and she told me that he passed away last year. It was quite sobering to realize that even a doctor in a very good hospital passed away due to a health issue. Given that I haven't been exercising (I do walk a lot but I know I should do more) and that work and life can sometimes become really stressful, I understand that I have to start making better choices with regards to my health and overall well-being. The most important realization from this physical exam is that I really need to start exercising more regularly and eating better (and no, this isn't a New Year's resolution :)) so that I can have a better and longer life.

Monday, December 26, 2016

George Michael passes away

Wow, this is sad news. Singer-songwriter George Michael passed away on Christmas day. He started out in the music industry as part of the duo Wham! which became popular for songs such as Careless Whisper, Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, and Last Christmas. While I enjoyed Wham's music in the 80s, it wasn't until George went solo that I became a fan. In my opinion, he has one of the best and most expressive voices in the music industry and the ease and intensity with which he sings many of his songs such as Kissing a Fool, Jesus to a Child, and Freedom 90 show just how solid his vocal ability is. He also covers other people's song very well, such as Elton John's Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me and Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me.

In a year when we already lost music legends such as Prince and David Bowie, it is such a shame that 2016 didn't want to end without taking one more incredible artist. I will leave you with this video of Praying For Time which is one of my favorite George Michael's songs. I find it quite interesting that this song which was released in 1990 seems even more relevant now, what with all the negativity, hatred and violence going on all over the world.

"It's hard to love
There's so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of"

video uploaded by Guillermo Soto

Rest in peace, George Michael.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! I had been pretty good not eating too much in the early part of the Yuletide season but that all changed over the Christmas weekend. Since my family would be home for a few days due to the holidays, I thought of doing some last minute shopping at S&R. Clearly, many other people had the same idea. S&R was incredibly crowded when I was there - shopping cart traffic jams in many of the aisles! - but thankfully, payment didn't take as long as I expected (there were only 5 people in front of me). I purchased a few things my family had enjoyed in the past but I also tried a few new things like Chef Tony's Gourmet Popcorn (the Jalapeno Cheddar flavor is really good). I also bought fruitcake LOL. I know many people dislike fruitcake but my family and I love it and it had been a while since I last ate fruitcake so I thought that now was as good a time as any to buy it.

As if that wasn't enough, I also decided to buy the Choc-nut Valrhona Cake at Chelsea in Serendra. I'm not sure if it was just because of high demand for cakes this Christmas season or if the prices really went up, but I asked a waiter a few months ago how much this cake costs and its price when I bought it on the 24th was P200 more than I expected. Despite the higher cost, I still got it.

A few friends of mine gave me chips for Christmas. One of them was the Vegan Cheese Kale Chips of Take Root. The other was Irvins Salted Egg Potato Chips. This was really good. I got it from my friends who came home from Singapore (I don't think Irvins is available in the Philippines yet).

For the first time in a few years, I didn't take days off shortly before the holidays so I didn't have a lot of time to plan what food to get Noche Buena and for Christmas day itself. As such, I decided to just get a whole tray of Beef Lasagna at House of Lasagna and two orders of the Buffalo Chicken Wings at Don Henrico's. It's a good thing a lot of us were at home during the weekend because I made the stupid mistake of not putting the lasagna in the refrigerator before going to sleep so the next morning, it was on its way to getting spoiled. We all ate as much of it as we could and by Sunday evening, only a little was left. :) Which is a good thing because we all went to my grandmother's house for Christmas dinner. Needless to say, I was so stuffed when we headed home.

Since I don't have to work for a week, I have a bit more time to plan what food to buy for the long New Year weekend. I am also really happy that January 2 has been declared a holiday so I will actually get to rest after this very hectic Christmas season.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Rogue One!

Wow, what an incredible addition to the Star Wars saga. Rogue One, which is a film about how the rebellion managed to steal the plans of the first Death Star allowing them to destroy it in Episode IV A New Hope, was quite different from the other movies in the series but still continued the series tradition of amazing storytelling.

I watched this movie in the advanced midnight showing before the official start of the theatrical run on December 15. This is now the fourth time in a row that I watched a Star Wars movie on the advanced midnight showing. Of course I couldn't do this for the original trilogy since I was just a kid then and I watched Episode I with my family during the normal screening times but I watched Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, The Force Awakens, and now Rogue One during the advanced screening. I am clearly a Star Wars fan. :) I also had a funny conversation with the movie ticket vendor while buying my ticket. She said that there are so many people buying tickets and I told her that most of the people my age are big fans. She said that she noticed that and she found it strange that the audience would actually clap even before the movie would start. This was indeed true when I watched it. (I guess this also means that there were more advanced screenings before that midnight showing.) As I left the cinema at a little past 2AM, I was on a such a high. This is definitely one of my favorite movies this year.

SPOILER ALERT: stop reading now if you don't want to read any spoilers.

The first unique thing about Rogue One which many people were already talking about was how it didn't start with the traditional Star Wars opening crawl text that would slowly scroll up and out into space. I also found that among many of the interesting things about Rogue One is its use of CGI to recreate actual people that Star Wars fans are familiar with. This movie happens right before Episode IV which came out in 1977 so the film creators had to use CGI to recreate some important characters on screen. An example of which is Grand Moff Tarkin, who was portrayed by Peter Cushing who passed away in 1994. Also, towards the end of the movie, a CGI version of the younger 1977 Princess Leia appeared on screen (resulting in many cheers from the audience).

Also, in the original trilogy, the Stormtroopers gained some degree of notoriety for their apparent inability to hit important targets with their lasers, so apart from Darth Vader, the Emperor, and the Death Star, we never really felt the overwhelming strength of the Empire. That is, however, not the case in this movie. Here the Empire is strong, terrifying, and deadly. You could see that the rebellion had every right to be afraid. One of the most showstopping scenes comes at the end, when Darth Vader boards one of the rebellion ships to take back the information they gathered. Rogue One made audiences see just how ominous Darth Vader was and why he made people shake in their boots. It was also great to see him use his choking power again.

However, what I personally found to be the most compelling thing about Rogue One is the fact that many rebels - including practically every lead character - died. There had never been a Star Wars film before where more than a few lead characters were killed (usually you would only have one: Qui-Gon Jinn in Episode I, Obiwan Kenobi - sort of - in Episode IV, and Han Solo in Episode VII) but in Rogue One, all the lead characters died one by one. The final act was emotional and its portrayal of Rebel Alliance struggling the Empire was quite realistic. I mean, of course it is to be expected that stealing the plans of the Death Star in an Empire stronghold would be near-impossible and would result in many deaths.

Rogue One is an incredible film, with its fast-paced and intense action, its unique storyline, and its very interesting characters. A few other things I loved: C3PO and R2D2 had a very short scene and C3PO had one line - I guess this means that Anthony Daniels continues to be the only actor who has appeared in all Star Wars films and said at least one line. (Darth Vader is in all of them too but he is portrayed by different actors). I loved seeing the AT-ATs and the AT-STs again. It was also cool that the film continues the legacy of throwing in the popular line somewhere in the script: I have a bad feeling about this. As I have already said, this is definitely one of my favorite movies this year and I may just watch it again when its theatrical run resumes after the Metro Manila Film Festival. I also can't wait to get the DVD.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

PSL Grand Prix

The 2016 PSL Grand Prix, which is the second indoor conference of the fourth season of the Philippine Superliga, concluded on December 10 and after an explosive and exciting season, the Foton Tornadoes defended their 2015 Grand Prix title by sweeping Petron Tri-Activ Spikers in the finals of the 2016 conference. While it was a sweep, it was not a walk in the park for Foton. In fact, they were close to losing in their first best-of-three finals match-up as Petron won the first 2 sets before Foton leveled to take it to a fifth set. Even then, Petron took a big lead in the fifth set (8-3) but they somehow lost steam and Foton gained confidence and momentum to turn the tables on Petron and win that important first game. The second game went four sets but Foton once again proved near-impossible to beat as they took the trophy.

I say near-impossible to beat because Foton did suffer one loss this season, to F2 Logistics during the second round of the eliminations. F2 Logistics did pretty well and their local players and their imports showed great class but I do feel that in the end, they were outgunned by the more internationally experienced and generally more consistent imports of Foton and Petron. They still however managed to secure the bronze medal, but not without a tough fight from RC Cola who also took the match to a 5th set. It was a very tight fifth set and while F2 Logistics had the upper had for most of the set and only won on their fourth match point, RC Cola actually had a match point of their own.

While the imports made an unmistakable and tremendous impact in the league, it was very interesting that a lot of the individual awards were given to local players. The award for 1st and 2nd best open spiker were given to Stephanie Niemer and Ariel Usher respectively. But every other award went to local players. Aby Marano was best middle blocker, Maika Ortiz was 2nd best middle blocker, Jovelyn Gonzaga was best opposite spiker, Kim Fajardo was best setter, Dawn Macandili was best libero, and Jaja Santiago was MVP. Amazing that Aby, Kim, Dawn and Jovelyn all took home the same awards that they won in the previous All-Filipino league. While Jaja Santiago continues to get so much bettter that it must be scary for her opponents to face her - she is now starting to score points even as an outside hitter and as an opposite hitter - I actually thought that the MVP award would go to Stephanie Niemer, who had more aces than anyone else, a lot of excellent receptions and digs, and a good number of blocks. Still, Jaja is now truly becoming one of the best and most unstoppable players in the country.

Beyond her though, it is amazing to see that the level of Philippine volleyball has risen up quite markedly over the last couple of years. It has been very beneficial to our players to have gotten to regularly play with, and against, very seasoned international players and even get trained and mentored by experienced international coaches. While on average we still lack the height to do well at the global level and we still don't have the same speed and efficiency as other Asian teams, we are on the right path and it will be interesting to see how we will compete internationally in the future.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Movie-watching 2016 part 5


It's pretty interesting that for the first time in as far as I can remember, Disney came out with two non-Pixar animated films in the same year. Moana is their 2nd offering in 2016 after the hugely successful Zootopia. While Moana continues the Disney tradition of having a princess as the main protagonist, it changes things up by not giving her a love interest. The animation is fantastic, with jaw-dropping landscapes and seascapes, and the main theme song How Far I'll Go, when matched with the incredible visuals, is quite inspiring. I do think the story is a bit simple and it still plays with the same themes of doing things people don't think you can do (or even forbid you to do), following your heart, and finding your own way. Still, it's a great movie that kids and adults will enjoy.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

This movie is a prequel to the Harry Potter series and I found it to be thoroughly enjoyable. Unlike the Harry Potter films which are set in another realm, this film is set in the human world (New York, to be specific). I thought the characters were very well-written and I especially liked Jacob Kowalski, who you could not help but root for (I guess the same goes true for Queenie). The movie has a lot of subplots but the main one, which brings the film to its scintillating climax, involves the search for the Obscurus, that was wreaking havoc in New York City. The effects are great and the acting is solid, but what makes this movie really good for me is that it does what good movies are supposed to do: it takes you to another world, makes you feel like you are part of it, and fills you with wonder and amazement.

Doctor Strange

To quote a friend of mine (who I think was also quoting someone else), Doctor Strange is like Inception on steroids. The effects of this film are so good, I wouldn't be surprised if it wins an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. If you don't get dizzy watching movies in IMAX 3D, I would recommend you see this movie in that format. Benedict Cumberbatch does a great job as Doctor Strange, as does Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. Be sure to stay in the theater to see the post-credits scene because it sets the stage for the rise of a future Doctor Strange enemy.