Saturday, December 30, 2006

G.U.S. NITPICKS!! (v. 10)


Christmas get-together with charming J., my long-time confidant/ex-stock broker/fellow foodie/newly-preggy R. and her suave hubby XQ nearly didn't push through, but strangely enough, it did. I guess we felt compelled not to cancel our reservation at Thai At Silk, although R. says they called her twice during the day to re-confirm / make sure we weren't flaking out. . .hmm, for all i know, they were raring to give our table to some puffed-up bigshot.

Anyway, i really liked this resto's interiors. Its white walls literally scream "minimalist", and the only brown wall had this intricate wooden carving mounted on it.

Onwards to the food. We ordered the ff:

Tom Yum Kung (hot & sour prawn soup) at PHP240, which, for me, had just that perfect balance of spicy/sour, with a slightly sweet note at the end. XQ concurred, but J. and R. thought it was a bit too much.

La Tieng (egg net bundles with prawn and pork filling) at PHP260, which was simply delicious! I wonder how they make those egg nets, though.

Phad Thai at PHP360, which i really can't comment on as i don't like this dish in general. Must be the to-gue (bean sprouts??) :D But R. says it was good, so sige na nga. . . .

Kaeng Mutsaman Kai (red chicken curry) at PHP320, which i felt was actually too mild! And c'mon, the portions were too small (2 pieces only)!

Baby back ribs at PHP220, which we all agreed was tender and flavourful. In my opinion, great value for money and the best dish we ate. To think it's not really Thai at all!

Fragrant rice at PHP60@!!! Granted, i think it's eat-all-you-can, but really!

The Pandan juice (PHP105) i ordered was also too bland. Charming J. absolutely loved her hot calamansi juice, though.

Bill came to around PHP600/pax, inclusive of 12% VAT and 10% service charge, which wasn't too bad.

Oh yeah, i loved the restroom . Pale green walls overlaid with glass make for a cool effect. The faucet took some time to figure out though. I thought it had an automatic sensor, so i put my hands underneath. . .and waited and waited. Nothing. Hmm. . .i tried turning the knob, but no go. I tried pressing down. . .still no. Pulled it towards me. . .wala pa rin. Ah, turns out you have to push the knob. . .who the f**k in NASA designed this thing, anyway???

On that cheerful note, Happy New Year!

(Thai At Silk resto is located at Serendra Plaza, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Puzzlingly low prices at THEWI THAI MASSAGE

Thewi Thai Massage is a spa chain with two branches in Cebu, and they opened their first branch in Metro Manila just two months ago. To get the obvious question out of the way, 'Thewi' means "angel" in Thai, according to their receptionist.

Their prices are really cheap: PHP200 for full body massage (60 min.); PHP 150 for foot reflexology / back massage / head massage (60 min), and PHP 75 (30 min).

Upon entering this establishment, the first thing that hits you is the menthol scent. . . great with clearing the nostrils and invigorating the mind, but it does get overpowering after a while.

The foot reflex area is separated by a wooden partition from the reception area. The soft leather chairs are quite comfy, although it can be a little noisy as people chitchat and use their phones in the reception.

Nevertheless, i felt the foot reflex was above average, as my masseuse can really put on the pressure with her fingers. Quite cute is that she even does a wai before and after the massage!

So, i'm thinking, why are Thewi's prices so low? Off-hand, comparable prices for other nearby spas would be PHP350 - 450 for body massage, and PHP 250 - 350 for foot massage. Were Thewi's owner to raise its prices by 50%, they would just be around (or even still under) the same level as their competitors.

Further, i think this would hardly have any effect on the number of people patronizing Thewi, since at these low price levels, the demand curve is probably quite steep (i.e. demand would be mostly price-inelastic, and most customers would not mind the increase) So why don't they go ahead and raise prices and make more money?

Possible reasons i've thought of:

Could it be Thewi skimped on training the masseuses and are implicitly admitting they are not authentically Thai? But my masseuse informed me they were trained for 4 months prior to opening.

Could it be due to Thewi's flat compensation scheme (each masseuse gets a fixed amount per day, regardless of number of customers served; whilst most other spas give no fixed salary, and the masseuses get a fixed amount per customer served) , which gives them a low-cost advantage? Not necessarily. On slow days, this payment scheme would not be optimal for the owner.

Could Thewi be pricing low as an intro offer only, and will increase prices by, say, next year? Possible, but all those foregone revenue is really sayang. Besides, if they think their low prices would make their nearby competitors close down, that's unlikely. And the concept of Thai massage is already well-known, so it's not as if they have to offer low prices just to educate the market.

Since the spot where Thewi is located is considered rather unlucky (due to the establishments who have opened and closed down there over the years), could the owner be hoping (or praying) that low prices would offset the bad karma / feng shui / evil spirits of the place?

So, basically i'm stumped for a really satisfying explanation. Whilst this dismal economist enjoys the pain and pleasure a foot reflex massage gives, it unfortunately does nothing for my little grey cells. :D

(Thewi Thai Massage's first Metro Manila branch is located along D. Tuazon Ave., Quezon City. It is across St. Theresa's College)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

(Carlos Celdran's North Bank walking tour)

"Kindly walk this way."

With this simple phrase, Carlos Celdran invites you to leave behind the dingy, chaotic Manila you know, and step into the vibrant, interesting Manila that he knows.

Our meeting point this Saturday afternoon was along Escolta St. As Carlos explained, before there was Greenbelt and Rockwell and Eastwood, there was Escolta. Yup, believe it or not, this street was actually quite a happening place back in the 20s and 30s.

Carlos showed slides of turn-of-the-century Escolta building architecture, and the rapid changes brought about by our beloved American colonizers. Carlos liberally sprinkles his historical insights with juicy tidbits of gossip. He is quite theatrical, but never over-the-top.

Among his anecdotes was that of Heacock's Department Store, which, in his words, was the "Rustan's before there was Rustan's". From a simple one-story store, it eventually became a five-storey monolith. Turns out the owner, Mr. Heacock (but of course) was using his store as a front for his diamond smuggling activities from Africa, which he sold to the sugar barons of Bacolod.

We went on to Carriedo, Sta. Cruz and underneath the LRT at Rizal Avenue, the portion closed to vehicular traffic. Here, it is quite simply chaotic, where all sorts of merchandise were being sold in all these cramped stalls on all these narrow streets. Clothing, toys, pirated DVDs, you name it and its likely to be found here.

We made it all the way to historic Quiapo Church. Outside, street vendors sell merchandise sure to pique the interest of the most jaded person.

Let me see. . .what do we have here? "El Shaddai" Menthol / Eucalyptus / Sampaguita aromatherapy oils (does the Spa Association of the Phils. know about this?? :D); frankinscense and myrrh (not sure though if this is really the same as what the Three Magi brought to the manger); bottles of vile-looking liquid labelled "Pampa-regla" (read: abortificants), which Carlos describes as "pure poison, actually".

Not weird enough for you? Oh, there are anting-antings (amulets), which yours truly, being a wiseass, cracked "these must be made in China". Hehe ;-D.

What else? Gayumas (dried herb roots) for those wanting a solution for unrequited love; ihi ng butiki (lizard urine) for. . .i don't quite remember already! Carlos of course explained the pagan traditions behind all these, and how strange yet appropriate that these are sold right outside Quiapo Church!

So, make haste and catch one of Carlos' tours soon! Go! Don't run, but WALK this way, please.

(Please check out for a full listing of Carlos Celdran's walking tour schedules and rates)

P.S. I am deeply indebted to fellow blogger Senor Enrique, who graciously allowed me to use the above pic of a typical Quiapo Church vendor's wares. His quite interesting posts on Manila culture, etc. can be found at Thanks!

Saturday, October 21, 2006


During dinner with my long-time (since grade school, imagine that!) friend Sh. last week [see previous post about Zensho Japanese resto], we wondered why the eat-all-you-can price for dinner was PHP100 higher than for lunch.

I have also observed this for Alba's Restaurante Espanol, which charges PHP475 and PHP575, respectively, for their lunch and dinner eat-all-you-can buffets (including paella and cochinillo). Quite frankly, i've always wondered why they set different prices for the same type of meal.

The obvious answer is that there must be some special dish(es) available in the dinner buffet, which isn't offered during lunch time. But this doesn't seem to be the case for Alba's, based on the couple of times i've eaten there.

And i know that in the US, one can see from the menu of some restos that entrees are priced higher during dinner than for lunch. (One Japanese resto in SanFo comes to mind) So why this price difference?

Sh. and i formulated some theorems:

Is the dinner crowd generally more affluent, and can afford (or is willing) to pay a higher price? Thus, the resto is maximizing profits by charging more.

Or does the dinner crowd eat more food, costing the resto more money? Therefore, the resto charges more to maintain its profit margins.

Or does the dinner crowd take more time eating (unlike the lunch crowd, which is more likely to have to go back to the office, etc.), thereby reducing the resto's turnover, and forgoing income from people who wanted to eat, but didn't want to queue? Thus, the resto charges more to compensate for the foregone income from would-be customers.

Or perhaps it is more costly to serve dinner (i.e. electricity costs, security / parking attendant, overtime pay for waiters, etc.) than lunch? Hence, the resto charges more to cover the extra costs.

Or maybe the resto deliberately sets the price for lunch lower, hoping customers would eat during lunch time (i.e. "slow" period), instead of dinner time ("peak" period)? But this assumes customers are flexible and/or indifferent regarding when they can or when they want to go to the resto.

Sh. and i failed to find an explanation which totally satisfied us.

Can anyone out there provide the answer to this dismal economist?

Friday, October 13, 2006

G.U.S. NITPICKS!! (v. 9)


It's pretty funny that this resto has been around for something like 7 or 8 years, by my count, and i live
fifteen minutes away from it, but i haven't been here ever. I guess you could say i see it every time i eat at the Teriyaki Boy right across the street, haha.

Anyways, as my bubbly kumare Sh. was treating for her. . .ahem, 27th birthday [fit of coughing], i suggested this place. And it turned out to be a pretty good choice.

A few steps from the door, we noticed their banner proclaiming their eat-all-you-can promo (PHP385 for lunch and PHP485 for dinner). Since Sh. and i tend to eat tons and tons of food whenever we eat out, we figured it was a good deal. You could say "Eat until bondat!" is our gustatory motto.

Turns out their set-up is that the waiters provide you a checklist of dishes included in the eat-all-you-can, and you tick off the items you want, and they cook it on the spot for you. So, it's NOT a buffet, where the dishes are under the glare of the spotlights all night and dry out as a result.

Sh. took care of most of the ordering, and amongst the dishes we enjoyed were the Oyster Motoyaki, Sukiyaki beef steak (which was quite tasty and chewy), Cuttlefish teppanyaki, assorted sushi, etc.

The Ebi tempura wasn't that great though; their sashimi selection was average; the Oysters teppanyaki didn't work at all (the oysters were drowned in some sort of weird-tasting sauce, we agreed); the lambchops were a bit tough, but flavourful.

For drinks, Sh. ordered their grape shake, which she found quite good. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a grape shake! :D First time ever i've heard or seen it, although Sh. insists Cibo serves one as well.

Zensho's conditions, by the way, are: No left-overs, no sharing (otherwise, you pay double the price).

Of course, the astute reader will notice that pricey items such as unagi, salmon, gindara, etc. are not included in this promo, and have to be ordered separately ala carte. But this is not unexpected, anyway.

Overall, it was very good value for money, esp. given the amount of food Sh.. . oops, i mean, we ate.
A return trip is quite likely.

(Zensho Japanese restaurant is located at the Dallas Commercial Building, T. Morato Avenue corner A. Roces Ave., Quezon City)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

G.U.S. NITPICKS!! (v. 8)


Dinner with my bon vivant friend D. is always a fun-filled experience. So i did not hesitate when he suggested we eat at Mezzaluna, formerly known as Amoroma. D. had quite an interesting story about the new management and new chef, which took over from Amoroma. Not sure if i can repeat it for public consumption though. . . .

Not being very familiar with the area, i had the devil of a time finding this place. Upon entering Mezzaluna, i found its interiors cozy and subdued, rather smaller than i thought it would be. The brick walls, patterned floor tiles, lamps hanging from the ceiling and silver cutlery all evoke "fine dining" and "authentic" Italian (read: expensive). The mood is enhanced by the piped-in music (CD of an Italian female singer named Laura Pausini), uplifting and pleasant to the ear.

The food menu didn't seem very extensive, but interesting nonetheless. We ordered the Bruschetta PHP210 (mushroom, pesto, mozzarella cheese, basil and fresh tomato), which didn't scrimp on the ingredients.

For the main courses, after much dithering, we finally agreed to share:

Pomodoro e Basilico Fresco Pasta PHP220 (fresh tomatoes, olive oil, fresh basil leaves and mozzarella cheese)

Pizza Con Salsiccia e Patate PHP330 (mozzarella cheese, onions, potato and italian sausage)

We were concerned at first about how the potato would blend into a pizza, but need not have been, after all. The pizza was very tasty, but not heavy on the palate.

For dessert, i tried the Vanilla Pannacotta with Mango and Mint Salad (PHP125). Simply quite superb!!! The pannacotta had exactly the right texture, and flavourful already on its own. . . but not cloying, so i could probably eat half a dozen in one sitting!!! :D Bravo, ang sarap talaga!!! [it's fantastically delicious]

The Baked Lemon Pudding with Vanilla Gelato (PHP185) also looked interesting, but alas, we were too full already.

On the debit side, their fresh dalandan juice was a tad too sweet.

All in all, Mezzaluna provides very good food, coupled with relaxing atmosphere and solicitous service. And the bill came to around PHP700 per person, which is not bad at all.

Just wait till i get back and order that bucketfull of pannacotta. . . .

(Mezzaluna is located at Ground Floor, Valuepoint Condominium, 227 Salcedo St. corner Gamboa St., Legaspi Village, Makati City)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

G.U.S. NITPICKS (v. 7)!!


This rather oddly-named coffee place is located at the rather oddly-named Aseana Power Station, basically a strip mall complex which is a stone’s throw away from SM Mall of Asia.

Turns out it is a Taiwanese franchise, although I would think the local owners were given a lot of leeway by their franchisors. Aside from some murals on the walls with Chinese characters, there is really nothing in this coffee place that says “Taiwanese”.

This is not necessarily bad, since as far as I know, Taiwan is not a country renown for its coffee beans and tea leaves (oops, did I just mention one of their competitors? Hehe ;D)

Anyways, on to our meal. Life Coffee serves a wide array of coffees (hot coffee, hot mocha flavored selections, cold coffee drinks, blended frappes [similar to frappuccinos]) and teas (freshly brewed cold teas in passion fruit, grapefruit, mango, peach, etc. flavors, and the like). They even have fruit smoothies!

But it is so much more than a coffee & tea place. Their menu is pretty extensive, covering the ff:

- Paninis (Roast Beef, BBQ Chicken, etc.), ranging PHP120 – PHP130

- Pastas (their Cream Pesto Pasta with Mushrooms (PHP130) was simply quite superb!)

- Rice toppings, such as Pork chop with black pepper sauce (PHP145) and Spicy chicken in garlic pesto sauce (PHP135)

- Salads

- Pizzas, 6 choices all in all (we tried the King Triton Pizza (red and green bell peppers, sardines, black olives, capers, mozzarella cheese; very flavorful and crust was thin and crunchy. Quite good). Prices range from PHP175 – PHP250.

- Cakes

Also worth a special mention is the Life Coffee special nachos (PHP135), which is an ideal snack and the way it is presented is quite lovely indeed.

In my opinion, Life Coffee serves very good food and drinks at reasonable prices; and definitely worth a visit, esp. if you can’t bear having to go to the mall and looking for parking space, just to eat.

Also, it seems to be more of a family resto, and not so much a “hang-out” place. So perhaps the owners should consider repositioning it a bit.

And one minor quibble: Those chocolate-brown cushioned chairs with rounded backs aren’t very comfortable at all. My back hurt after sitting in one for more than an hour.

(Life Coffee & Tea will open its second branch at SM Hypermart in Libis, Quezon City, besides Tiendesitas, later this month)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

G.U.S. NITPICKS!! (v. 6)


Just got home from the press preview of Trumpet's latest offering, Joseph the Dreamer. [Thanks again, Michelle, for the tickets] Yeah, i know, they've been staging this play for the longest time. . .i think this must be the 3rd or 4th major run. I'm sure everyone' s already familiar with the story line, so we won't mention it here anymore.

What i do remember from the last time i watched JTD (i think back in 1999 or 2000), Gary V. shared the starring role with Audie Gemora. I had the MISfortune of watching the play with him essaying the role for that night. His over-acting was insufferable, to say the least; he contorted and rolled about the stage like he had a very, very bad bout of diarrhea.

Anyway, onwards to the present. Trumpets is known for its elaborate stage design and colourful costumes, so this present incarnation of JTD is a bit stripped-down, given that it is now held in SM Megamall Cinema 4 instead of the more formal Meralco Theater.

And they have contemporized the play, i guess to make it appeal to the younger crowd. So most of the songs are fast-paced, with hints of hip hop and even "boyband-ish" (especially the number featuring Benjamin).. Quite entertaining, really.

Franco Laurel does a very good job in his portrayal of Joseph, with large doses of enthusiasm and emotion. He sings very well, too. Ahh, but you can't please everyone. The girl beside me whispered to her companion, "Medyo matigas ang katawan niya" (He dances kinda like a robot).

The Pharoah's wife and Pothipar provide comic relief, and it is too bad their roles are way too short. However, the guy portraying Jacob had this really annoying slow Texan drawl. . .it was distracting, being obviously a put-on accent and all.

Of course, Trumpets being Trumpets, this play has a lesson for us all: it is about putting one's faith in God and trusting that His plan for us is the best one, no matter how dire the situation.

I'd say Amen to that!

("Joseph the Dreamer" will be staged during all weekends of September. For ticket inquiries, call Trumpets, Inc. at 635-4478)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

G.U.S. NITPICKS!! (v. 5)


Racks restaurant started sometime during my college days, and for a few years, it was quite a hit. Their ribs were very good and offered great value for money, until they opened too many branches left and right, and fell into hard times. Also, food quality went way south. Eventually, most of their branches were closed down.

Reading thru the papers recently, i was rather amused that the Prieto group (the people who run Shakey's Pizza, Dunkin Donuts, Tia Maria's in this country) acquired the rights to Racks resto and planned to open new branches, etc.....Huh? Adding another moribund brand to their lackluster roster, what for?

Well, after a rather ho-hum concert last night (no offense meant, R.T.), we decided to get a late dinner and stumbled upon the newly re-opened Racks in El Pueblo. The place looked bright and inviting for us hungry souls. . .in fact, i would say the lighting seemed rather too bright.

It turned out to be S.'s first time to eat at any Racks branch, as they never had a branch in her part of the world. Kawawa naman talaga yang promdi na yan (it's pitiful how she has been deprived her entire life :D)

Anyway, their menu hadn't changed much, save for some new items added (wasabi mashed potatoes, anyone?). Prices seemed on the reasonable side, at PHP185 - 250 for a set meal of ribs, coupled with side dishes, etc.

The boneless ribs were as good as advertised, and their famed BBQ sauce (i tried the extra hot one) packed quite a kick. Abovementioned wasabi mashed potatoes were flavourful, too.

On the debit side, the clam chowder S. ordered had a lot of small, round potatoes at the bottom. Hmm. . .and her baked beans were a little too spicy for comfort.

Meanwhile, R.T. was way too busy wiping his plate clean to make much comment. Well, he's as carnivorous as they come, so he was obviously satisfied.

Their staff were eager to please, and fairly knowledgeable of the menu offerings, too.

All in all, a good meal was had by us 3. And the average bill per person was a little below PHP300. Quite reasonable, and multiple return visits are in order!!!! [clap clap clap]

Monday, June 12, 2006

G.U.S. NITPICKS!! (v. 4)


Finally, the much-delayed Saturday lunch with my cute and fresh-as-a-daisy-looking friend, G., was pushing through. I had mentioned Malate, as i haven't been in this area for nearly a year. G. dissented, saying the good restos such as Bravo, etc. have closed, and we would be better off going elsewhere. Being obstinate by nature, i insisted.

So there we were, circling the area looking for a suitable place to dine in, but no such luck. We didn't want to eat at Cafe Havana and other places you could find elsewhere. Unfortunately, Malate is now overrun with Korean restos and clubs/bars/KTVs catering to Korean clientele (and to some extent, Japanese). I know some heritage conservationists in Manila are wringing their hands about this, but what can you do?

So we ended up driving along Jupiter St., looking for that elusive resto. It came down to a choice between Queen's (Indian cuisine) and this fairly new, homey-looking resto, Palatofino. We decided to give the latter a try.

First impressions were quite positive, with its simple interiors, wood-panelled ceiling and white/green tablecloths.

Menu was extensive enough, albeit rather pricey (esp. the meat and fish entrees). Fortunately, the appetizer we ordered, Calamari Freschi (squid with tomato, red peppers and avocado), made up in taste and texture what it lacked in presentation. Likewise, the Linguine Con Cozze (mussels in white wine and chives) was quite tasty and didn't scrimp on the mussels; and G. liked her Penne Pancetta (with tomato, spices and creme fraische) as well.

However, dessert (my fave part of any meal) didn't turn out so good. The creme brulee with berry compote tasted and smelled more of banana than anything else.

And the service was inattentive, at best. The restrooms were kinda filthy, too. And it was a pricey meal (with taxes and service charge, our bill reached PHP1,160.00) considering we didn't order any drinks at all. I would have thought that Jupiter St. is a lower-rent area vs. Makati malls like Greenbelt, but it wasn't reflected in this resto's prices.

Sayang, i thought this resto had potential to be a cozy hang-out place. All in all, a return trip is rather unlikely.

(Palatofino Resto is located at Jupiter St. corner Saturn St., Bel-Air II, Makati City)
G.U.S. NITPICKS!! (v. 3)

SPA 168

I've tried most of the spas in the Timog/Tomas Morato area, but somehow overlooked this one. Probably because the building complex where it is located also houses a McDonald's outlet, and i try to stay away from Ronald McDonald. And this particular McDo has a giant french fries rising from its structure. . .so tacky!!!

Out of curiousity, i did give SPA 168 a try today. It can best be described as a no-frills spa; it just offers a one-hour massage (your choice of Swedish, Shiatsu, or combination) along with steam/shower, etc. Price is at PHP350.00 (common room) and PHP450.00 (VIP room). None of that body wrap or body scrub using exotic fruits or condensed milk nonsense here :D

The men's locker and shower area was rather small, but clean. I must say, though, that the blue-colored shorts and robe they give you to wear after your shower evoke thoughts of being a patient readied for the operating room. Not very pleasant at all. And the guy manning the locker gave me this pair of shorts which were way too big. Granted that i'm at least 20 lb overweight, but hey, my waistline isn't the same as Shaq's, you know?!

Anyway, onwards to the massage. This is what matters most anyway, diba? (which is why i'm in no particular hurry to go back to Nurture Spa, Tagaytay, but that's another story) This is where SPA 168 delivers, i think.
It was actually very good; i wouldn't say one of the best ever i've had, but definitely better than some massages i've gotten in other spas which charged nearly double the price. I even fell asleep at the end, which rarely ever happens.

All in all, quite good value for money. [clap clap]

(SPA 168 is at Dallas Commercial Building, located at Tomas Morato corner A. Roces Ave., Quezon City)

Friday, April 21, 2006


(Continuing with our travel theme this summer, below is a post about my ultra-light flying experience sometime
during the latter part of 2003.)

"You only live once. Make it count, learn to fly."

Fighting words indeed, I thought. It was a sunny Sunday morning, and I was standing inside the Angeles City Flying Club (ACFC) premises with my friends Theo and Heston, browsing through their brochure.

First, a bit of background. Theo, apparently finding his medical studies not taxing enough and pursuing his lifelong dream to be an aviator, had taken the Sports Pilot certification course offered by the ACFC, and had actually been a licensed pilot for the past few years.

The club claims to be the only full-service ultra-light aviation facility in the country. Tucked away in Sitio Talimundok, Sta. Maria, Magalang, Pampanga, our drive from Metro Manila this morning was a breeze, taking a mere 90 minutes.

This would be the first flight for Heston and I. As we waited for our plane to become available, we spent quite a bit of time roaming around the hangar, looking over the various plane models parked there as well as watching other aircraft take off or land. Truth be told, getting up the air seemed a daunting prospect, as I was a certified world-class acrophobe. My mind was working overtime concocting all sorts of nightmare scenarios. Like, what if a 747 runs us over? Or the gas tank springs a leak?

My initial apprehensions turned into a veritable tsunami of trepidation as I caught sight of our aircraft of choice. It was called the Quicksilver MXL II, and quite contrary to my expectation of a small aircraft wherein the pilot climbs into the cockpit in front and his passenger sits at the back seat, this was an OPEN cockpit two-seater. Essentially, the pilot and passenger sit side-by-side, equipped only with an instrument panel, joystick and pedals for steering and braking. Literally and figuratively, there is almost nothing between you and the great blue sky. Yikes!

Heston had volunteered to be Theo's first passenger. Theo and the ACFC personnel assiduously went through the routine pre-flight check-up to ensure everything was in top condition. Heston was securely buckled up onto his seat, and given goggles and helmet to wear. The pilot and passenger can communicate with each other up in the air, as their helmets have built-in radio transmission. (No barf bags though) In the very remote event that the engine fails and they need to bail out, pulling a lever releases a rocket-propelled parachute, enabling the plane to make a soft landing.

Theo further assured me that the mechanics make a complete disassembly and inspection of each aircraft every 25 hours of flying time. They are cleared for take-off, and disappear into the horizon. After what seems like ages, they re-appear and gradually loom larger and larger until touchdown.

I half-ran over to them. Heston looked a bit dazed, although none the worse for wear. "Not scary," he assured me, while giving a thumbs-up sign. "The flat fields make it hard to judge how high up you are, anyway." But then, Heston has never been one to be easily scared. I mean, he can watch Dracula or Nightmare on Elm St. movies with nary a flinch, while eating fried chicken.

Showtime. It was now my turn.

"Can't we just hover 50 feet above the ground?" I half-pleaded plaintively, as we went through pre-flight routine once more. Unfortunately, my brilliant suggestion was met with resounding indifference.

The control tower cleared us for take-off. Despite all the reassuring safety measures, I was sweating bullets as we gathered speed along the 450-meter grass runway. We were off! The ground below grows increasingly farther away as we steadily climb until reaching an altitude of about 500 feet. Rather disconcertingly, when you are up in the air, you feel as though you are hardly moving.

Top Gun this isn't. Not even Iron Eagle, for that matter.

But this is actually a positive thing. There is time to savor the hot sun and feel the rush of cold wind blowing at our faces and marvel at the verdant expanse of rice fields with an odd carabao or two grazing contentedly in the mud. We head towards the direction of Mt. Arayat, where thankfully some forest cover still remains.

Strong winds buffet the plane, but it remains surprisingly stable. The air is now quite chilly, and I wish I had anticipated the cold and worn a jacket. While my nerves are mostly calm now, I still maintain a vise-like grip on one of the support beams. Theo puts on his best bedside manner (the guy is, after all, a neurosurgeon) and provides droll commentary on the various points of interest we were flying over. Banking sharply away from Mt. Arayat, we fly over more rice fields and farms, and eventually follow the path of the Pampanga River.

At this point, it dawned on me that ultra-light flying is actually very safe. With maximum altitudes of 800 feet and top speeds at 55-60 kph, my wild fears earlier were all but unfounded.

Besides, once you are up in the air with such a great birds' eye-view of Philippine countryside, you just can't help but wonder at nature's grandeur all around you, and time seems to move unhurriedly. For an ephemeral period, I felt totally free of any cares.

Theo offered to let me try manning the controls for a second, but sadly, I reverted back to my usual acrophobic self and failed to rise to the occasion. Soon, it was time to go back to the airfield.

We steadily reduced altitude and started preparing for landing. I couldn't figure out where the airfield was, and wondered aloud to Theo how pilots of these ultra-light planes could tell direction. "I mean, North is what is in front of me, right?" He shot me a you're-bloody-useless-with-a-compass-look and concentrated on the task at hand. He expertly maneuvered the plane towards the runway at high speed and made a semi-steep dive towards it. Whew!

Back to the safe familiar confines of terra firma, I felt a mixture of relief and accomplishment. True, this plane ride ranked among the scariest and longest 30 minutes of my life, but it was definitely among the most exhilarating 30 minutes as well! I would like to think I faced my fears head-on and came out a winner.

As we were driving along North Expressway back to Manila, I vowed to myself that I should come back someday for another round of open cockpit flying. . .and perhaps take the controls next time? Hah!

For more information, contact:

Angeles City Flying Club

Note: Thanks to Theo Tan for the picture of the ultra-light plane (above).

Monday, April 10, 2006

(Conclusion, Dos Palmas)

At the ungodly hour of 5 am, we were jolted awake by the Dos Palmas' wake-up call. Either they were concerned we would miss our flight back to Manila, or they were all too eager to get rid of demanding guests like us. After a quick breakfast and some fond farewells to our fishy friends, we were hustled off to the banca.

I realized that for you guys who have been following this Dos Palmas series intently (meron ba?? ;-D), the Part 1 post might have given you the impression that we were a pack of malcontents who would rather have gone to Boracay. Well, truth is, we all enjoyed this trip quite immensely. Let me count the ways:

- the staff was unfailingly polite and accomodating with regards to our oddball requests (bread, bread and more bread for our fishy friends!!). Although i'm sure R.C. is still sore that they couldn't serve the chicken barbeque all the time.

- the breakfast/lunch/dinner buffets were consistently very good. I still salivate over the mango rice and leche flan up to this day

- their gumamela (hibiscus) welcome drink was a particular hit with us. We even ordered it during meals (at PHP70/glass, take note). Fortunately for us, a group of Aussies came over on Friday and some of them didn't drink their allocated glass of welcome drink. We were all too happy to swoop in and be re-welcomed to the resort!

- given the international incident which had happened at this resort a few years ago, Dos Palmas is quite diligent in ensuring their guests' safety. A group of 3 or so security men keep watch all night (which, incidentally, was another reason we couldn't catch any fish), and one of them told me they have this radar which would alert them of any strange vessels going towards the resort.

During our island-hopping tour, R.T. whispered to me that the sack our security guy was carrying contained a gun. At some point, my curiousity got the better of me, and i asked the guy if this was indeed so. He gave a half-embarrassed laugh, and assented. He even took out the M16 rifle and unclipped the ammo magazine and let me hold it.

So i guess here's where the story ends.


R.T. shared with us the superb photos he had taken, and is presently thinking of purchasing a waterproof casing for his digicam.

R.C. continues to bask in the glory of his prescient purchase of the rubber ducky. He can be seen prowling Rockwell and Greenbelt during weekends, looking for new buys in preparation for our upcoming trips to Bohol, Cebu, Baguio, Boracay and Hong Kong.

G.U.S. looks forward to testing more sunblock during the next beach outing.)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

(Part 5, Dos Palmas)

So you and your barkada are all on the beach, wearing your Billabong board shorts and ready to jump into the water. Then you realize, where do i put my cellphone ("you mean you didn't leave it in the room, you dimwit?"), wallet ("you moron, why didn't you leave it in the room?"), digicam ("ahh, ohh...[indecipherable mumble]), sunblock and other stuff?

Wrapping a towel around your possessions and placing it on top of your sandals might be a neat solution, but there is a much better one. Hail the rubber ducky!!

This waterproof bag proved to be a godsend during our trip, and it was all due to R.C.'s amazing insight and penchant for pump-priming the economy with retail therapy. In simple words, super hilig talaga niya bumili ng anu-ano (he will shop till the day after tomorrow).

Seriously though, this was a wise purchase on his part. The rubber ducky actually floats (just like a real duck, or am i belaboring the obvious?), so unless you put three kilos of cement along with your stuff (especially R.T.'s brand-new, not-yet-fully-paid-for-because-its-on-installment-due-to-credit-card-promo 5.0 megapixel Cypershot digicam) inside it, there's no fear of your possessions getting submerged underwater.

Believe me, we threw it into the pool, put it into the water while island-hopping, etc. and it kept right on floating and our stuff remained dry. Really waterproof, as advertised.

We plan to nominate it for next year's Consumer Choice awards. Hmm...what's a good category? Ahh, Best Product named after an Animal, perhaps?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

(Part 4, Dos Palmas)

While we were still planning the trip, i was resistant to the idea that we stay at the bay cottages. What was so hot about staying at a cottage standing on stilts out in the open water? What if the high tide rose and rose and drowned us in our sleep? Or a wayward shark decided to ram the stilts and have us for a midnight snack? And so on.

As i was outvoted by my friends, we eventually did stay at bay cottage no. 8. And it turned out to be one of those small serendipitous things that spell the crucial difference between a so-so vacation and a truly enjoyable one.

Why? Because the clear waters beneath the bay cottages were teeming with fish, lots and lots of fish. And they weren't the Nemo-type fish better suited for aquariums. . .these were real fish that you could actually eat, and
there were schools and schools of them frolicking in the water with nary a care in the Neptune world. (well, at least it seemed that way)

Pretty soon, R.C. got into the habit of asking the Dos Palmas staff for leftover bread, which we broke into little bits and started throwing into the water to feed the fish. Some of these guys literally leap to the surface and gulp down the bread, while others are more poised, and simply take a quick nibble at the floating bread.

At times, two or more fish collide with each other while in pursuit of our bread, which proved quite entertaining. To liven things up even further, we throw many bits of bread into the water simultaneously, and watch as around a dozen or so fish converge on the morsels. Wow! And just for kicks, once or twice we threw in a whole slice of bread, and the fish all furiously swam towards it, each one biting off his or her respective chunk. Talk of an underwater stampede!

There is just something oddly therapeutic about feeding the fish, its like time slows down. Eventually, we were feeding the fish in the morning, then whenever we were in our cottage during the afternoons, and then late in the evening after dinnertime. I think nabondat sila [they stuffed themselves to the gills], since during late nights they sometimes refused to bite into the bread anymore.

To illustrate how extreme this new hobby grew, i was soon taking bread rolls from the buffet spread just for our fishy friends. Then we noticed that some types of fish were slower than others, and thus always getting left behind in the race for the bread. So we tried aiming the bread bits very close to them, with positive results. Ahh. . .it's a great feeling knowing you've done your good deed for the year, haha :-D

Then yours truly hatched an evil plot. Why don't we catch the fish and have them cooked? We could spread some sunblock on the bread before throwing these into water, and as the fish gobbled them up, they would get dizzy from the chemical smell and weird taste; thus, easy to catch! Unfortunately, this brilliant plan didn't get off the ground, due to the inconvenient fact that Dos Palmas strictly prohibited anyone from catching the fish. Darn!

One sunny morning, we noticed that some schools of fish were gathered together in circles (see photo above). What could they be doing? We tried throwing bread in their midst, to see if they would pursue it.

Nope, they weren't biting. Absolutely nothing could disturb them.

So, what could they be doing? Were these fish all part of one big family, and it was their weekly Sunday morning get-together? What were they talking about? The latest weather report? The new neighbors two nautical miles away?

Not about those three bums throwing all sorts of stale bread at them, i hope.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

(Part 3, Dos Palmas)

Pop quiz: The Philippines is an archipelago comprising how many islands in total?

If you're a smart aleck like me, you'd ask first, "High tide or low tide??"

So, here we were on this glorious day, ready to check out a few of the 7,107 islands, of which around 15 or 16 were set in Honda Bay. First stop was Islang Puting Buhangin (Island with White Sand), which is normally inhabited only by a caretaker. The Dos Palmas staff had arranged a picnic lunch for us here, which turned out very well. The food was delicious (the unicorn fish, in particular, was quite succulent!), and the scorching sun was tempered by the strong breeze. And best of all, this island has a long winding sandbar, so you could walk out to the open sea all the way to its end, at which the water is approximately waist-deep.

Then we took the motorized banca to Snake Island, which had a very long shoreline (3.6 km, if memory serves me right. By way of comparison, Boracay is around 1.7 km). The sand was on the brownish side, but the water was very clear.

Next was Pandan Island, which has this charm which i'm unfortunately not quite able to describe. A resort is being built on this island, so i guess Dos Palmas will have stiff competition in a few years' time. We sat inside a nipa hut and just took in the breeze. Then feeling thirsty, we ordered one buko each from the locals. Talk about freshness! They climbed the tree, fetched our coconuts, and split them open with a bolo right before our eyes.
All for just PHP20 each (Dos Palmas charges PHP70 per).

Last stop was Starfish Island, so named because of the numerous starfish lying around. Unfortunately, that was its only selling point, as this place looks like a dump; and to add insult, it even has a billboard charging PHP30 entrance fee! To whoever owns this island, get real, man.

(Note: We had assumed all along that the national government owns all these islands. Not true, after all. According to our boatmen, some are privately-owned)

Photos: (top) Pandan Island
(bottom) Islang Puting Buhangin

Friday, March 24, 2006

(Part 2, Dos Palmas)

I like a good brown suntan like everyone else. After all, what else literally screams, "Hah! i went to the beach and had a glorious time bumming around, while the rest of you worker ants had to endure another week of pencil-pushing and mindless doodling at your cubicles" than your newly oven-baked complexion? Nothing too burnt, i hope.

But i also know that too much sun makes your skin all shriveled up when you're 70. Besides, only chicken should be fried to a crisp, not your own skin, right?

Thus, i was armed with a boatload of sunblock for our Dos Palmas trip and wasted no time in converting R.T. and R.C. to the merits of slattering pasty, greasy, vile-smelling goo all over their bodies. R.C. was typically recalcitrant, and had to be cajoled to go along, though. Tsk, tsk.

Anyway, i've decided to do a review of the various sunblock lotions we used. Here goes:

1. Hawaiian Tropic Ozone (SPF 70) - reading the label, it claims to have mango/guava/papaya/passionflower fruit extracts. Funny, it smells rather like burnt leaves!

2. Hawaiian Tropic All-Day Sunblock (SPF 30) - smells a little better than its cousin above. Really adheres to the skin, living up to its water-proof billing. Stained R.T.'s shorts though.

3. Nuskin Sunright (SPF 35) - okay, not greasy on the skin. But smells a little "slimy" though.

4. Nivea Sunblock (SPF 50) - no smell, slightly greasy.

5. Godiva Green Tea Sunblock (SPF 25) - kinda chalky and wears off easily. Stained R.C.'s beloved Billabong t-shirt, a cardinal sin.

6. Coppertone Sport (SPF 30) - weird smell for me, but R.T. and R.C. liked it. Easy to apply, as it is sprayed on.

So which one was the best? Drum roll, please.

We voted UNANIMOUSLY the Nivea SPF 50 sunblock lotion as the best among all we tested!
[Important disclaimer: Given the miniscule sample size of 3, our survey results unfortunately have a margin of error of +/- 15%]

Thursday, March 23, 2006

(Part 1)

(Author's note: This is a series of rambling posts re my recent trip to Dos Palmas Resort, Areceffi Island, Honda Bay, Palawan. The reader is forewarned that this series will tend to jump around without rhyme nor reason, depending on my mood and degree of laziness)

As our banca gradually neared Dos Palmas Resort, i felt this palpable sense of excitement. The white bay cottages, their stilts set on shallow waters meters from the beach, looked really inviting. As we disembarked, the staff beat their bongo drums and handed us our welcome drink (more on this concoction later).

Then . . . silence. This resort seemed way too quiet. Where were the other guests? Why weren't they frolicking about and making lots of noise? Come to think of it, were there any other guests at all?

My friends, R.C. and R.T., and i started having misgivings. "We should have gone to Bora," one of us muttered, loud enough for the staff to hear. "What S. said was true, Dos Palmas is for honeymooners," said another. Well, obviously we were three guys with huge appetites and huge bellies to show for it, and not in any way were we honeymooning.

Checking into our bay cottage wasn't any better. The accomodations were, well, nice but nothing great. And R.C. raised a howl as there was no TV. Of course, being the contrarian, i pointed out that that was precisely the point. You didn't go all the way here just to watch TV, did you?

Well, apparently yes.

At least this will be one long vacation!!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

G.U.S. NITPICKS!! (v. 2)


It is funny that there are so many restos in the metropolis, yet i'm hard-pressed to name that one resto which i would go back to again and again, simply because a) i like the food; b) it's the old stand-by, the place you eat in if you can't think (or are too lazy) to consider somewhere else. Perhaps closest is Teriyaki Boy, but they seem to have deteriorated a little bit recently.

So when my bubbly friend S. from the City of Pines was in town recently, i let her choose the venue for our dinner. Turns out she has this wish list of restos to check out, and to tick one off her list, we decided to venture forth to Bollywood in Greenbelt 3.

I enjoyed my strawberry lassi very much, but she made a wry grimace when she tasted her mango lassi. Haha :D
The free papadum was rather disappointing, and our roti was kinda lacking in flavor. I insisted on ordering the lamb kofta (lamb in meatball form), and ended up eating it all. The first piece is fantastic, but the law of diminishing returns kicks in quite quickly and i couldn't bear to look at the last kofta towards the end.

We also got the murgh makhani (chicken), and rogan josh (mutton swimming in spices), both best-sellers as claimed by the staff. S. made this funny joke about rogan josh and Josh Groban. . .oo nga naman :-d
And we got into this confusing semi-debate about mutton and beef and which animal it was that no motorist in India could run over and who is the god of the Hindus and who Gandhi was and. . .you get the drift.

Anyways, back to the food. The chicken was overwhelmed by its sauce, which tasted mainly of tomatoes. And josh groban? Passable but not earthshaking. All in all, extremely disappointing and we will definitely NOT be returning any time this millennium.

I'd advise anyone who reads this post/semi-review to eat instead at Queens Garden Resto along Jupiter St.. Food is much nicer, at more reasonable prices to boot. Now if i can convince S. to put this resto on her wish
list. . . .

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Yup, it's that time of the year again when the Phil. Travel Tour Expo rolls around and i make the annual pilgrimage to SM Megamall. Just the thought of walking through this giant hollow block of a mall already makes me tired, but there's nothing to do except suck it up and venture forth. . .

I take a lot of ribbing from my sisters and close friends, who point out (quite accurately) that i go there and collect all these colorful and glossy brochures and tour packages, but i hardly go anywhere! Sad, but true. Nevertheless, this year might be different. Who knows?

So there i was, paying P50 entrance fee (THIS IS HIGHWAY ROBBERY!!!) and walking inside the Megatrade Hall. This year's theme was "Travel Lifestyle: Experience the Difference", but judging from the usual assortments of booths, promo girls egging you to join their raffle, etc., things were pretty much the same as in years past.

I try to steer clear of all these travel agencies offering Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, etc. packages, as well as the various Boracay resorts. After all, the point is to find something new, something different from the places one has visited before, right? From the looks of it, Angkor Wat (Cambodia) / Hanoi (Vietnam) / Luang Prabang (Laos) are gaining in popularity; even Turkey and Greece and South Africa seem to be more promoted now.

For those so inclined, one travel agency was offering this special alternative tour called "Gay Bali", which included a stay in a "100% clothing optional resort". Hmmm. . .ano ba yan?? [What the f**k is that??]

On the local scene, Buri Resort in Puerto Galera seems interesting, as well as Puerto del Sol in Bolinao, Pangasinan. A very intriguing possibility is this Banca Safari booth, which operates a 70-foot traditional banca boat at Subic. It offers various trips such as their Visayan Safari (visiting Cebu, Bohol and Dumaguete) and West Palawan Safari. I initially thought you'd have to sleep right on the banca, but thankfully their trips include beach resort accomodation per night.

Closer to the metropolis is the Avilon Zoo in Montalban, Rizal. I have friends who have gone here, and their feedback is uniformly positive. And it is pretty reasonable too, at only P208/person ( i don't understand why they don't round it off to P220 or even P250, and make more money in the process. Haha:D). When i went to their booth, i was asked, "Sir, do you have a calling card?"

"No." And that was that.

But as i was moving to the next booth, i overheard their staff ask the same question to this old lady. It turned out that if you give them your calling card, they give you two FREE tickets to the zoo! Duly chastened, i backtracked and sheepishly told the girl, "Ahh, i do have a calling card after all." Thus, yours truly was able to score 2 tickets! [applause, please]

There were some booths selling native food as well, and even one selling all sorts of knives (from butcher knives to balisongs). I happily bought some Napoleones (pastry with custard filling), mainly because the lady selling them said they came from Bacolod (my close friends know Bacolod is one of the places i've been dying to visit. Hehe) But they were quite good (and fattening), so it's money well-spent anyway.

As i turned a corner, i nearly dropped my ten-kilo load of brochures. I couldn't quite believe my eyes. Two men dressed in drag were handing out flyers! Curious, i got one and thus was introduced to Club Mwah, which is basically some sort of cabaret/musical revue place where men in drag perform choreographed dance numbers.

They billed their establishment as the "Philippines' latest tourist destination"; well, i wonder what the Dept. of Tourism and Dick Gordon has to say about that! :D Then again, if busloads of unsuspecting Korean tourists can be shepherded to watch the Amazing Philippines Show at the Film Center (yes, the very same Film Center which is supposedly condemned due to structural weakness; and which is supposedly haunted, due to the workers who were entombed in concrete during its construction, courtesy of our very own Imelda Marcos), then i guess anything is possible.

(For more info, check and

Saturday, February 11, 2006


Some random rants and observations to end this wonderful day (since it was my birthday :-D):


When you line up at the bank to deposit a cheque, etc., sometimes the teller calls out "Override, please" and a more senior person rushes over, punches a few keys on the keyboard and your transaction goes through. I've always been curious about this practice, and after some nosing around, found out that the tellers are authorized only up to a certain amount (say, PHP20,000). Beyond this figure an "override" is needed.

One day, as the new teller (who was friendly-looking and rather chubby) was punching in my cheque deposit, she called out "override, please" and someone materialized beside her in a few seconds, punched a few keys and my cheque was duly deposited.

I jokingly told the teller, "Surely after doing so many overrides over the course of a day, you know the password your colleague has been typing by now?"

She just smiled her friendly smile and remained silent.

Undaunted, i pressed on, "In fact, to save time, you could probably just punch in her password yourself. That way, there'd be no more need to call her, diba?"

She laughed and said, "Ah, sir, we are not allowed to do that!" (being new, she was probably still too green and polite to tell me, "Do you want me to go to jail, you idiot?!")

Oh well.


One of my pastimes is going to the record store to check out the new local and foreign music releases. Not necessarily buying records, since at P450 a pop for a foreign CD, they are expensive. Good thing local artists' CDs are generally at P250 - 280 each; otherwise, i don't think anyone would buy them.

And i must say those listening booths with headphones at Tower Records and Music One outlets are a great invention. . .you can listen to your fave songs without buying! Haha. And i just hope these are cleaned or at least sprayed with alcohol every day. I've yet to hear of anyone who has gotten an ear infection from dirty headphones, but you never know.

Tower/Music One also plays a featured artist or band through their piped-in sound system constantly. Unfortunately, their Quezon Ave. branch seems way too enthusiastic and plays the CDs at FULL BLAST all the time. Requests to tone down the music are hardly heeded.

So, while i'm trying to listen to the enhanting Sitti (an upcoming bossa singer, who is a delight to watch live) or the Pin-up Girls (the best Pinoy indie band you've never heard of), the sound system is pumping out the likes of that wretched band Coldplay, or dreadful Nickelback; or much much worse, Chillout Sessions by Anton Ramos at full volume. Grrrrhhh!!!


I made a serendipitous discovery today. We all know that shampoo, ketchup, mayonnaise, even shoe polish are sold by the sachet nowadays, but did you know that even branded perfumes can be bought by the milliliter (ml)?

Yup, that's right. Whether you prefer CK One, Drakkar Noir, Colors by Benetton, Clinique Happy, or (God forbid) Jovan Musk, all you need to do is go to the new tiangge building between Podium and SM Megamall, look for the stall with the sign "Perfume Extender" (or was it "Perfume Lengthener"??). They have some sort of laboratory test tube-type of thing where they presumably pour out your selected scent from its bottle and measure accordingly the amount you are buying.

Quite weird, yet funny, isn't it? I thought it takes things a little too far, but then again, it makes perfect sense. Buying a whole 50 ml or 100 ml bottle of perfume is a rather significant investment, given that: a) you might tire of it at some point; b) your loved one hates the scent; c) it burns a hole through your meager savings; or d) all of the above. Of course, buying by the ml is a more expensive proposition, but i doubt any young Romeo out to impress his Valentine's date in order to get to second base with her would think that far ahead.

So, i guess love is not only blind, but also prone to dizzy spells from too-strong perfume.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


I know it may sound strange, but i've never really warmed up to the Chinese New Year (the more technically correct term is "Lunar New Year") celebrations here in Manila, especially in the Chinatown area. Let me count the ways:

- traffic slows down to an absolute crawl, and parking is just terrible
- dragon dancers going to your establishment for luck...well, i think they hardly wash that dragon costume, since
it smells from ten years of accumulated sweat and B.O.
- everyone on the streets wearing red, again for luck or prosperity (or is it both?)
- the noisy fireworks and variety shows/programs. . .yes, even the Ms. Chinatown pageant

For crying out loud, it's not even a public holiday!

About the only thing i like is the chance to eat tikoy (glutinous rice cake). Quite amusingly, this delectable snack
is now available in ube, pandan, strawberry, mango and even melon flavors. . .a far cry from years past, wherein the choices were only brown sugar and plain (white sugar) flavors. And i just saw a poster a few days ago, proclaiming one leading brand's new "lite" low-fat tikoy.

Hmm, perhaps i should tell my good friend D. (his family owns Dream Land Bakery, which is perhaps not as well-known as some of its competitors, but their tikoy is one of the best in town) that next year, they should come out with cookies & cream tikoy. Or perhaps tikoy with fresh coconut slivers? Tikoy with sago bits? The possibilities are endless! :D

Anyways, the Year of the Fire Dog is now upon us, and the newspapers and TV shows are abound with self-styled Feng Shui experts and geomancers proclaiming the lucky and not-so-lucky signs for the year. Lots of people i know really believe these "experts", but i personally am quite the skeptic. In fact, i would go so far as to say some of these "experts" are charlatans.

I consider myself to be totally unsuperstitious, and make it a point NOT to wear red on New Year's Day, just to make a point.

I fall under the Year of the Ox, and with nothing else better to do today while waiting for the Australian Open men's singles final to come on TV, i scanned the newspaper to see what's in store for me.

First, people born under the Ox sign are generally:

- dependable, calm and methodical (well, not me)
- tireless worker (totally untrue!)
- can be entrusted with positions of authority and responsibility (ahem!)
- can sometimes exhibit bad temper (right on!! i can visualize the long line of people who will attest to this)

Now, for the forecasts for Ox people (or Oxen, if you will). "2006 will be a busy and memorable year for the Ox. Luck will be half-good and half-bad," so intoned the Phil. Star. Specifically:

- although big problems will surface, they will not be as formidable as they appear (ahh, okay)
- income will be steady, but there will be tendencies for large purchases and expenses (seems like they peeked at my credit card bill while i was sleeping)
- socially active year with lots of entertaining (perhaps this is the sign i'm waiting for to ask charming J. to take me to Embassy?!)
- favorable for travel (hooray!)
- "for the unattached Oxen, there are good prospects for settling down with a partner" (this should warm the hearts of my parents, as well as those people who nag me about my civil status)

Now, on a chirpier note, the newspaper says that since Oxen are regarded as "hardworking" people, an ideal gift to give them would be a SPA GIFT CERTIFICATE.

Hey, i'm starting to like this stuff. Bring on the GCs, everyone!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

G.U.S. NITPICKS!! (v.1)

There is a saying that most customers, when faced with bad service, do not complain; instead, they simply take their business elsewhere. I tend to agree with this credo. I generally do not like making a fuss right on the spot; but the fun is in taking your business elsewhere AND whining about the shoddy service afterwards to your friends! :D

Here are two establishments to be avoided like the plague then:

1. Una Mas, Greenbelt 2
(events happened Jan. 2005)

Armed with a P500 GC, i invited my charming friend J. along to this classy Spanish resto at the quiet side of GB2. The interiors looked authentic enough, so with high hopes of a great meal ahead, we ordered.

The Paella Marinara had a white chunk of what suspiciously looked like chicken. Upon our query, the staff confirmed it was indeed fish. Really now, we beg to disagree. It looked, felt and tasted like chicken. Hmm, we seemed to have stumbled on a heretofore unknown fish-chicken specie (hereby dubbed as the "fishken").

The chicken dish we ordered (not having anticipated the discovery of fish-ken) was worse. It had the texture of rubber. To say it was terrible is a . . well, terrible understatement.

I thought, never mind, we didn't pay much anyway, with the GC and all. So J. and i go off to find some dessert. Unfortunately, the intrepid manager takes this opportunity to chitchat and ask us how our meal was. I made the usual polite noises about it being "fine", etc.

However, J. takes this as her cue to tell him in full detail about fish-ken and our rubbery chicken dish. Hah! Poor guy didn't know what hit him. He offered us free dessert, but hey, i think we had enough of Una Mas for one night. Afterwards, i half-congratulated and half-chided J. for her "Guinness Book of World Record-caliber" complaint, and we had a good laugh about it.

So, i guess from now on, this resto should be called "Una Mustn't" (lame lame joke). :-D

2. Crown Peak Gardens, Subic
(events happend Oct. 2003)

When our barkada was looking for a cheap place to stay in Subic, i volunteered to make the reservations here.
I had stayed here previously in the 90s and had only good memories of it.

Unfortunately, the years had not been kind to Crown Peak. Checking-in was an ordeal, since we arrived around the same time as 3 busloads of conventioneers. When we finally entered our room, it looked like it hadn't been cleaned for 2 years! There was a fine layer of dust on the bedsheets, on the floor, on the walls, everywhere!
Not to mention the rat and cockroach droppings, and the musty smell. Pooey!

Furious, we went back to reception and demanded a better room. Well, this one they gave us was marginally better. . .it looked like it hadn't been cleaned for 6 months.

Back again to reception. Finally, they gave us another room. This one looked like it hadn't been cleaned for 2 weeks, but by this time we were too resigned to complain. At least there were no visible signs of any insects or furry animals having been around recently.

The bed mattresses were lumpy though, guaranteed to give one a backache the morning after. But the real clincher is how this hotel feels and looks so creepy during evenings. The hallways are long and rather dark and you half-expect to see a white lady floating towards you anytime soon.

I was only too glad to get out of this shithole when we checked out. The only saving grace of Crown Peak is the gracious, accomodating staff, whom i kinda felt sorry for, actually. Imagine having to deal with customer complaints day in and day out, just because management sees it fit not to hire any cleaning personnel??!

Sunday, January 22, 2006


(This was something i wrote for our Creative Writing class a few years ago. The teacher assigned us to write about the topic "Memorable Experience of Acquiantanceship Graduating into Something Deeper" [quite a mouthful, eh?], and i really didn't want to write about something deep and mushy so this was what i came up with. I guess it's also my rather haphazard effort to explain how i got into tennis and why i continue to play, despite wrecking my racquets [4 or 5, at last count] periodically.)

It was the summer of 1998.

A memorable summer for me, as it was quite an eventful one. I had just come back from a church retreat. I also went to Banaue to see the terraces (and accidentally did some spelunking in Sagada). I was about to enter graduate business school.

And it was my first time to pick up a tennis racquet.

Our coach,
the Butch Bacani, was this stern-looking, in-your-face, no-nonsense kind of guy on the court, but off the court, he had a carload of green jokes and hearty guffaws. When it came to teaching us clueless souls on the basic points of tennis, he was a virtual slavedriver. In fact, he could easily be a Marine sergeant had he put on fatigues instead of tennis whites.

He barked at me, "Look at the ball!"

I looked at the ball as he released it gently, softly, from his grip; looked at it as it floated lackadaisically through the air, rotating like it didn't feel the urgency to land any time soon; and looked at it as it bounced and made a slight imprint on the soft shell court.

Throughout this time, i was mentally rehearsing Butch's (oops, make that
Coach Butch's) litany of instructions through my mind. "Hmm. . .quarter turn. . .knees bent. . .early backswing. . .plant your left foot. . ." Then i swung my racquet as hard as i could.


Nothing but air. Clean as a whistle. I had missed completely. The ball might as well have travelled to Saturn.

He barked, "What are you doing? One more time, look at the ball!"

Again, i did as told. I swung. Swoosh!

Alas! Nothing but pure, arid, sweaty air.

Coach Butch had gone bonkers at this point. "Gaddemit!! Are you blind? Look at the #@$*&#+ ball!!!"

I repressed the urge to shout at him, "What do you think i'm doing, you idiot?" Instead, i gave a barely audible mumble, "That's what i'm doing."

Things did NOT get much better after. In no time at all, he was calling me "Jack", i.e. the title character of the movie starring Robin Williams as an adult with a fifth-grade IQ.

Yet, i did not get discouraged. I pressed on, and before long, tennis had taken a firm grip on my attention. I was on the courts as often as i could, and i raved about the sport to my friends.

Many years have passed, and thankfully i have improved since that unpromising start. But i am in no way saying that i am already adept at the sport.
Au contraire. The tennis trainer i work with cringes at my backhand stroke, just like the way one would cringe if one drank a bowl of coconut water only to realize it was Datu Puti vinegar instead.

I remember one particularly frustrating session. The burning heat of the sun was bearing down on us, and my sunblock (which smelled like synthetic butter, for some strange reason) was melting off. Hands on my knees, gasping for air, grinding my teeth, i felt like a greasy marinated porkchop. I told Valeng, the trainer, "This game looks so easy, but it is damnably difficult to play!" I found myself empathizing with Sisyphus. Poor dude, pushing that boulder up the mountain for nothing! Poor me, swinging away like mad and nothing much to show for it!

Friends have asked me what i loved most about tennis; and frankly, i am at a loss what to reply.

It certainly is not the social aspect (i hate playing doubles). None of my closest friends play the sport. And it is horribly expensive.

Then, it came to me.


When i'm out there playing, it's just me, my opponent and the ball. No coach to tell me what to do, no teammates to demand passes (like in basketball). I'm in full control of my destiny. I have no one else to blame for my miscues and my defeats. To win, i have to out-think, outsmart and out-manuever my opponent all by myself.

This reminds me of the saying, "If it is to be, it is up to me." So be it then.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


I dug this one out of the archives. This happened not so long ago, when i was in college at UP Diliman...hey, that was just one millennium ago! LOL. This was originally published in the newsletter of our org, Ecosoc. I made some edits to freshen it up a little, i.e. "remastered" version)

It was a very windy Saturday morning when Mike-mike and i decided to act less cannibalistic and become...ahem, more culturally enlightened. So, we took a leisurely stroll along Roxas Blvd. and entered the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. Actually, our Humanities class was being required by our teacher to attend an exhibit of paintings of the late National Artist Vicente Manansala, which was why we went there in the first place.

Inside the museum, we searched in vain for our classmates and teacher. Turns out they were in a small theater-like room, watching a betamax feature. Mike-mike and i sat down and began to watch one of the most absurd works of art (if you could even call it that) ever invented.

The TV screen showed an empty auditorium, much like our Econ Audi, with a white balloon rising above the back of each seat, giving the impression of an audience comprised of airheads (very weak pun intended). Then suddenly, four swarthy men garbed in American Indian attire, with war paint streaked on their faces, appeared on the scene, each one riding a wooden horse (like the ones you see on a carousel) and shouting indecipherable curses.

Following them was a MAN wearing a wedding gown, with a bouquet of flowers and thorns resting on his head. Henceforth dubbed as 'El Loco', this travestite pulls out an icepick and starts stabbing the balloons one by one ala Sharon Stone. We had to undergo the excruciatingly lengthy ordeal of watching him (her?) pop every balloon in sight. Not that there was a dull moment watching him.

At times he staggered about, moaning as though his case of diarrhea was no longer controllable; and then he would suddenly come alive, zapping balloons in rapid succession, all the while keeping up what seemed to be a hideous Indian war chant.

"What on earth is he doing?" Mike-mike whispers.

"Actually, that auditorium is inside a mental hospital, and they're having their annual mini-Olympics. See, this is the balloon-popping event..." My voice trails off as Mike-mike finds my witty reply unwitty, and flashes me one of her trademark pouts.

Mercifully, after more chanting and gnashing of teeth, El Loco finishes off the balloons. But he is only getting warmed up. In the next scene, he is atop a stage where he moans and groans without ceasing. Then he drinks water from a wooden bowl, gargles like a rhino,
and spits the water back to the bowl, only to drink from it again, this time gulping down the contents.

After which he takes a scissor and starts cutting his shoulder-length hair. This mishmash method of barberity results in uneven bangs and shiny bald patches. And then he dips his face into a bowl of flour! Not at all satisfied with this bit of make-up, he stands up, lifts a whole jar of flour over his head, and pours it on himself! This outrageous sight elicited maniacal laughter from yours truly, in contrast to Mike-mike, who had already dozed off by now.

But El Loco was not quite finished yet. He grabs two bushels of wheat (ala
walis tingting) and waves them vigorously, as though he was fending off an imaginary swarm of bees. At that moment, i wouldn't have been surprised if he started pounding his chest like King Kong, or if he started pouring maple syrup on his toes before licking them, or . . .whatever, the list is endless.

Fortunately, at this point, our teacher motioned for us to leave the room. Outside, our whole class erupted into gales of teary-eyed laughter over the whole thing.

We all left soon afterwards, totally forgetting about Manansala and his paintings.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

(and even Buddha is scratching his bald head)

It was a Sunday with perfect tennis weather, but instead i was stuck at this Buddhist temple with my mother-side relatives for one full day of chanting and praying. (It was near the 49th day after my grandmother's passing, that's why) Well, at least it was the monks doing the chanting and praying, while we followed them like a bunch of schoolkids as they alternately stood and kneeled and so on.

There were 8 of them, 2 bald guys resplendent in their bright yellow robes and 6 middle-aged women looking rather drab in their plain chocolate brown robes, all lost in their monotonous chanting and wailing (i would love to add "and gnashing of teeth", but that's exaggerating already :D)

That's when i noticed that the 6 female monks (monkettes? monquettes?) all had jet-black heads of hair...nary a strand of white or grey hair amongst them. In fact, i had more white hair than all of them combined! Pretty weird considering that by my estimate, the youngest would be in her mid-40s and the eldest definitely past 60.

Could it be that life as a Buddhist monk is so stress-free and full of tranquility and goodness and light, hence the paucity of white hair? This pet theory was sadly undermined by my cousin. As it turns out, the monkettes don't stay in the temple at all and are probably not full-time in the faith.

"Obviously, they all dye their hair black", she opined, with a look of mixed amusement and scorn in my direction.

Really? Somehow the thought that they all go together to the same hairdresser (Mother Ricky?) for a dye job seems....just weird. Or perhaps they do-it-yourself in their respective homes.

But surely they are above such vanity? Surely, they have other more important life-altering activities for the temple or Buddha?

I'm stumped.

By the way, the faux beef and faux chicharon served during our vegetarian lunch were good. Quite tasty, in fact. Yum.