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.