Monday, July 31, 2017

Weekend in Baguio

My friends and I decided to go to Baguio for a weekend. Normally, I wouldn't be all that interested to travel such a long distance for just a weekend but I know that Baguio is now "only" about 4-5 hours away from Manila due to TPLEX. I also hadn't been to Baguio in such a long time that I felt I wanted to make this two-day trip despite the distance.

The last time I was in Baguio was in 2004, when my friends and I went up Mt. Pulag. However, that doesn't really qualifies as a proper visit to Baguio because we just really passed through. We stopped briefly at our meet-up point in Baguio so that we could convoy all the way to Pulag and on the way home, we just had dinner in Baguio before heading back to Manila. Prior to 2004, I went to Baguio in 1996 for an inter-university contest held in St. Louis University so I didn't get to go around Baguio that time either. The last time I actually really got to go around Baguio was in 1995, but I barely remember what places we visited when we were there.

Awesome view of the sunrise at our Airbnb place

This trip didn't really have a fixed itinerary but I told my friends that I wanted to go to Mines View Park (for the photo op LOL) and so that I could buy strawberry jam and ube jam in Good Shepherd which is just right next to the park. There were a lot of people when we went there but thankfully, we all still managed to have photos taken with the view.

Mines View Park

I am also pretty happy that I was able to get three bottles of strawberry jam and four bottles of ube jam from Good Shepherd. My friends who had been to Baguio recently said that there was supposed to be a maximum number of bottles that people were allowed to buy. Thankfully, when we were there, we were told that we could buy as many bottles as we wanted. Also, in almost all my trips to Good Shepherd in Tagaytay, I had almost never been able to get strawberry jam there because it was always out of stock so I was pleased to finally get my hands on a few bottles of strawberry jam here. It also rained quite heavily when we were there. Thankfully, the rain didn't last very long.

The original plan was for us to go to Camp John Hay that afternoon but because it rained, the ground was quite muddy. As such, we decided to go to Bencab Museum instead (we initially agreed to go to the museum on Sunday morning). That worked for me since Bencab Museum was the other place that I absolutely wanted to visit.

I really enjoyed my visit here. The museum featured a lot of different artistic styles and media. I could easily have spent a whole day here just appreciating everything on display. Naturally, a lot of pieces featured in the museum are creations of National Artist Benedicto Cabrera but pieces from many other artists are also on display.

Tribal Masks by Bencab (mixed media)

Chinamoy (season) by Cawaon Cablog (Oil on canvas)

The museum also has a cafe at the lowest level. There is also a garden open to visitors. It was very foggy when we were there but that actually made for some interesting photos.

Garden at the Bencab Museum

Of all the restaurants that my friends and I visited while in Baguio, my favorite by far was the first place we went to: Arca's Yard. The food was pretty good and their coffee has a free refill. There are some incredible views of the mountains and there's an awesome library at the basement of the cafe. I can imagine spending an entire day at this cafe, eating, having coffee, and maybe even reading a book from the library. It's a bit far from the city center but I did feel it was worth a trip.

Library in Arca's Yard

I decided to leave earlier than everyone else on Sunday because I wasn't feeling all that well. I think the difficulty of driving - there was a lot of roadwork being done while we were there - and parking stressed me out a lot. (Travel tip: if you decide to drive to Baguio, you might want to just leave your car at the place you are staying and take taxis while you are there. Parking is extremely difficult.) Add to this the fact that it was cold and rainy and you have the perfect recipe for getting sick. After checking out of our Airbnb place (which I recommend), my friends and I had lunch in Good Taste before I bade them farewell and headed home. As such, I actually really only spent one day in Baguio. Despite this, and despite the fact that I actually got a bit sick, it was still a pretty awesome trip to a place I hadn't been to in years.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Fan performs Everglow with Coldplay

This is amazing. During the Coldplay concert in Munich, Chris Martin of Coldplay spotted someone in the audience with a sign that said "Can I play Everglow with you?" The amazing thing was that Chris invited that guy to go on stage with him. I can't imagine what it must have felt like for that fan to not only perform with Coldplay but to do so in front of a massive crowd.

video uploaded in youtube by News Coldplay

The fan's name is Ferdinand Schwartz, a German jazz/pop pianist, arranger and composer. You can check out some of his work on his Instagram page:

Saturday, July 29, 2017

July hodgepodge

I finally got my first ever Star Wars LEGO sets! I knew I wanted the Millennium Falcon but I also initially wanted an Imperial Shuttle, an X-Wing Fighter, or a Tie Fighter (okay, technically I also wanted the Death Star and a Star Destroyer but those were way beyond my budget). Since I knew I didn't have a lot of space at home to display completed LEGO sets, I decided to stick with the Millennium Falcon only. That is, until I saw a video of the LEGO AT-ST. Since this item isn't as big as the other Star Wars ships, I can surely slot it in somewhere at home. As such, I ended up getting it along with the Millennium Falcon. I haven't had time to build either yet since I am sure that will take time. I can't wait to put them together though. I will post about it once I do.

My new Star Wars LEGO sets

July marks the first time in 2017 that I got to watch two movies in the same month. The first one was Despicable Me 3. I actually enjoyed it more than the 2nd one but the first is still the best one for me. I like the new characters - Balthazar Bratt and Dru - in this third Despicable Me movie and I love how Gru's recently acquired hero/anti-villain mindset is challenged. It's not your most sophisticated animated film but the story moves along quite nicely and it's a lot of fun to watch.

I also got to see Spider-Man: Homecoming. While this is the third incarnation of Spider-Man in the last 15 years (the first version that featured Tobey Maguire came out in 2002), I was still thoroughly entertained. Peter Parker as a character was written quite well in my opinion because the conflicts and challenges he was facing were very high school in nature (e.g. fitting in, making a difference), which make sense given that Peter is supposed to be in his teens. I liked the twists and turns in the film but I have to say that I am not such a big fan of the fact that his suit and his web-shooters were created by Tony Stark. (That is more logical though since a high school kid, even a super genius, would most likely not have the resources nor the equipment to build a Spider-man suit or high-tech web-shooters. Still, I like the idea of Peter Parker having made those himself.)

No month would be complete for me without gaming. In fact, I played games with my friends on two consecutive nights and then again the weekend after. I played some games I had played before, such as Viticulture, Scythe, and Karuba, but I also played several new games. These include: 6 nimmt!, Dice Crawl, Jamaica, and Secret Hitler. Secret Hitler is kind of like Resistance, Avalon, and Ultimate Werewolf in that the liberals have to figure out who the Secret Hitler is while the fascists need to get Hitler elected as Chancellor. I somehow ended up as the Secret Hitler but a key mistake of the liberals early in the game allowed me to get elected Chancellor in the end so the fascists and I won. Aside from Secret Hitler, I also won a few other games: Karuba (twice) and my first ever Jamaica game. I had been losing a lot over the last several months so it was nice to be on the winning end again.

My friends and I also got to play two role-playing games, or RPGs. Both of them were pretty interesting and not too long to play. Odin's Eye is set in space and the players get to build the story based on a premise that is selected at the start of the game. It was a bit hard to play at first since you weren't sure how to make the story progress but once we got the hang of it, it became fast-paced and intense. The other game, Murder Hobos, is a lot lighter despite its name and it focuses on the interactions of the players with each other, depending on which character they play. The key difference of this game from the other RPGs I've played is that you get to play a different character in each round. While the story we built in Murder Hobos wasn't as well-constructed as the one we built for Odin's Eye, it was a lot of fun with many moments of utter hilarity.

A couple of other things. I bought slim jeans for the first time in my life. I was surprised that Old Navy had slim jeans that fit me but their Slim Built-in-Flex Jeans apparently have spandex and this allows the fabric to stretch. I ended up buying 2 pairs of jeans partly because I needed new ones but also because they were on sale. I also went on another trip in the Philippines, this time to Baguio with my friends. I will write about that trip separately.

Monday, July 24, 2017


This post is more than a week late because I got pretty sick last week and wasn't able to write. Nevertheless, I figured it was such an eventful Wimbledon - as usual - that I decided to still write about it.

Roger Federer continues to add to his already legendary status with an 8th Wimbledon title, which also marks his 19th Grand Slam singles title. That is just absolutely staggering in its magnitude. I actually didn't get to see the final because my illness resulted in me being asleep most of Sunday night so I just saw the result the next morning. I feel bad for Marin Cilic though, who lost to Federer in the final, because he couldn't fight as much as he wanted due to an injury. Roger would still most likely have won but it would have been nice to have too have Cilic battle it out in top shape. 2017 now seems like 2007 all over again, with Roger winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon and Rafa Nadal winning the French Open. While Andy Murray is still the world #1, both Rafa and Roger have won more points this year than anyone else. How many more major titles can Roger win? With how things are going this year, I wouldn't be surprised if he wins his 20th Grand Slam singles title in September at the US Open.

On the women's side, Garbine Muguruza won her 2nd Grand Slam title by beating Venus Williams in the final. Interestingly enough, it was almost 2007 all over again on the women's side as well because Venus Williams won Wimbledon a decade ago. She made her scintillating run to the finals and was 1 point away from taking a one-set lead over Garbine, with two breakpoints - set points - at 5-4 in the 1st set. What happened after that was quite unexpected, and a good omen for fans of the Spaniard. Muguruza not only saved those two set points to even things up at 5-all in the first set, she didn't lose another game for the rest of the match. She won the last 3 games of that first set and bageled Venus in the 2nd set - a string of 9 straight games - to claim her first Wimbledon title. Amazing! I was sad at how Garbine was treated by the crowd at the French Open, where she failed to defend her title, so this definitely makes up for that loss. Hopefully she can maintain this level of play or stay close to it. I would love to see her win more Grand Slam singles titles.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Petron Blaze Spikers win PSL All-Filipino Conference

Congratulations to the Petron Blaze Spikers for winning the 2017 Philippine Superliga All Filipino title! They very narrowly defeated F2 Logistics Cargo Movers in what may possibly the tighest volleyball match I've ever witnessed, live or televised: 26-24, 24-26, 24-26, 25-23, 15-11 in almost 3 hours of play. Since Petron also beat F2 in Game 1, they sweep the best-of-three finals and take home the championship.

It is quite amazing that this Game 2 of the finals turned out the way it did because I watched it live at the Filoil Flying V Centre. This was the first time I have ever watched a pro volleyball game live. The awarding ceremony was also held after the match, making my experience even more complete. I think play started at around 6:45pm and finished at almost 9:30pm. The first three sets went beyond the 25-point mark and in fact all those sets featured come-from-behind wins since the team that got to 24 first actually lost the set: F2 was up 24-22 in the first set before Petron won 4 points in a row, Petron was up 24-20 in the second set before F2 won 6 points in a row, and Petron was also up 24-23 in the third set before F2 rallied to win it. The fourth set was very tight yet again and while it didn't go beyond 25 points, it ended up with a scoreline of 25-23. So all four sets were won by the smallest of margins (2 points). It was only the fifth set that was every so slightly less competitive, with Petron winning it with a margin of 4 points. Incredible! My friend and I were saying that this game was definitely worthy of a final, with neither team wanting to give up and both teams very evenly matched. I am so glad that this was my first live game experience. :)

The awarding ceremony wasn't shown on TV but since I was there, I got to see it. I was incredibly happy that finally, Mika Reyes gets an individual award. She was honored as the 2nd best middle blocker. She joined to other DLSU (current or former) players with awards: Majoy Baron as 1st best middle blocker and Ara Galang and 2nd best outside spiker. I am also happy that Aiza Maizo-Pontillas seems to have turned back the clock and found her lethal collegiate form as she was awarded league MVP. Here is the full list of individual awardees:

  • MVP - Aiza Maizo-Pontillas (Petron)
  • 1st best outside spiker - EJ Laure (Foton)
  • 2nd best outside spiker - Ara Galang (F2 Logistics)
  • 1st best middle blocker - Majoy Baron (F2 Logistics)
  • 2nd best middle blocker - Mika Reyes (Petron)
  • Best opposite spiker - Jaja Santiago (Foton)
  • Best setter - Rhea Dimaculangan (Petron)
  • Best libero - Jheck Dionela (Cignal)

I am also happy to see the success that Mika Reyes continues to have: from the DLSU championship last year to the PSL All-Filipino Championship last year to being appointed PSL Ambassador to being part of the Magnificent 7 that played against the world's best in the FIVB World Club Championships to being awarded Miss Volleyball 2016 to making the 14-woman roster of the national team that will compete in the SEA Games and even being named team captain. And now this PSL All Filipino championship and her first ever individual award. That's pretty amazing. In fact, it's quite interesting to note that with this championship, Mika actually wins back-to-back All Filipino crowns at the PSL. Awesome!

I actually came to the game as a fence-sitter since F2 and Petron were my two favorite teams in the PSL and I would have been happy with either team being champion. My friend did tell me though that it would probably be better for me if Petron won that night so that I could witness the awarding ceremony (which is exactly what happened). Needless to say, my first live game experience couldn't have gone much better than that. Congratulations again to Petron and hats off to F2 Logistics!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Congratulations, Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra!

This amazing news made me incredibly happy. The Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra won 2nd place at the the Summa Cum Laude International Music Festival, String Orchestra Competition Category in Vienna, Austria. Congratulations!

I had written before about unexpectedly catching the free Glorietta concert of the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra (MSJO). It was there that I learned that they would be competing in Austria in July and that they had a proper (paid) concert in Ayala Museum on June 29. I was so amazed at the talent of these young artists that I decided to get a ticket to that concert so that I could watch them perform again.

Their Ayala Museum concert, aptly named The Road to Vienna, featured the actual repertoire that the MSJO would play at the Summa Cum Laude Festival (along with several other pieces to fill the two hour show):
  • Divertimento in D major, KV 136, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Romanian Folk Dances by Bela Bartok
  • Ondoy-ondoy by Ryan Cayabyab
  • Serenade for Strings (Finale: Tema Russo) by Pyotr Ilytch Tchaikovsky

Ondoy-ondoy was composed by Ryan Cayabyab and if I understood correctly, he made a special arrangement for the MSJO since one of the requirements in the competition was one piece of a composer from the ensemble's home country. Jeffrey Solares, the conductor, told us that it would be the first time the orchestra would be performing Ondoy-ondoy in front of an audience so it was such a privilege to have been there.

Seeing the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra twice in a month made me very emotionally invested in their participation in the Summa Cum Laude Festival. Of course, even if they didn't win, it would still have been an incredible, possibly once-in-a-lifetime, experience and the fact that they were selected to perform in this festival was a world-class honor in itself. As such, their second place finish is a truly magnificent and special result. I now really want to see the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra in their next concert in Manila. I am sure that show will be magical.