Saturday, December 30, 2017

Christmas reunions

Christmas, and consequently the entire month of December, is a time for meeting up with as many of your family and friends as possible so you can celebrate the holidays with them. Technically, I already had my first two Christmas reunions in the last week of November/first week of December. After those two, the next one, my company Christmas party, was the first of a massive succession of parties and get-togethers. During this event, for the first time in a long time, I actually won a minor prize during the raffle: a P500 Starbucks Gift Card. Cool. :)

A few days later, I joined my college friends for dinner and wine at Cav with Weng, who was home for a few days. It was in this trip that we learned that Cav would be closing right before Christmas. That's quite sad considering that I had many fun trips to this awesome place. Lala, our resident wine expert, chose the wines for our group but I also made a few trips to the wine "vendo machines" to try their other selections. I also ordered a shrimp dish for my dinner.

A few more days later and I met up with my friends from my second job. We had dinner at Kushikatsu Daruma in Uptown Mall in BGC. It is known for its kushikatsu or Japanese skewers of fried meat and vegetables. There are lots of signs that remind people not to double dip in the sauces which are really good. I also liked the bright interior and the fun vibe of the place. After dinner, we moved to Paper Moon for coffee and mille crepe cakes. (I really do love this place.)

I was double-booked a couple of nights later. First, our department at work celebrated our own Christmas party. As a new hire, I helped organize the event with the other new hires and I was also asked to emcee and to sing. It's been a while since I emceed and sang at an event but it turned out quite well. I also won a bottle of wine during our raffle. Cool! After the party, I headed over to Marriott in Pasay to meet up with my friend Tim and his fiancee Janice. It's been about a year I think since I saw them last and they were only free to meet up that evening because they were heading to Tagaytay for 3 nights before Tim had to leave for the UK so I made sure to meet up with them.

A couple of days later, I joined my high school friends for our Christmas get-together at Aruga in Rockwell. It was the first time that we had a holiday staycation. Mitch brought their Ticket to Ride: Europe game which they hadn't played yet. I also had never played it before (I had only played the original and the Asia versions) but I was familiar enough with it that I was able to teach everyone else the rules. It was really interesting and the most challenging Ticket to Ride I've played. After the game, we shared stories until the wee hours of the morning before calling it a night.

On Christmas day, I had lunch at my uncle's house where my extended family on my father's side had our annual reunion and celebration. We didn't plan anything on my mother's side - we had just had dinner at Tita Ace's several days earlier to commemorate the death anniversary of my grandfather and I guess that served as our Yuletide celebration - so my mom and I visited my grandmother and we had a simple dinner get-together.

The next day, I met up with my boardgaming friends at Ludo in Makati. I missed the bigger game night we had earlier in the month due to illness so I'm happy that I got to play before the month and the year ended. Unfortunately for us, Ludo closed early that night so we were only able to play one long game and one quick game. The long game was Terraforming Mars. It was my first time playing this highly rated game and it was indeed pretty good. I ended up in 2nd place, only one point behind Jovan.

After that, we had time for a very quick game: Rhino Hero (giant edition). There's a smaller, playing card-sized version but the game we played was massive. The gameplay is kind of like a reverse Uno Stacko since you keep on adding to the stack. The tower we built was really tall so we had to stand on our chairs towards the end of the game. We realized that if we play the giant edition, we have to stack it on the ground and not on a table. :)

The following evening, I met up with my college friends for dinner at Cafe Madrid in Estancia Mall. Considering that it was a weeknight, it was cool that a lot of us were still able to make it. I believe this place is owned by Terry's Gourmet so the food was pretty good, as expected. Unfortunately, I had to leave relatively early because I was already running on fumes and I still had work the next day.

Finally, a couple of days later, I joined my friends from our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) org in my previous company for our Christmas get-together. We wanted to meet in BGC so I suggested Mogu. As it turned out, in our entire group, I was the only one who had eaten there before. I was glad that I suggested this place because everyone enjoyed what they ordered. For dessert and coffee, we moved to Larry's Cafe, where I ordered a souffle (I thought it was just okay).

Amazingly, a few tables away from us were my high school batchmates who were having their own mini-reunion. Kog and his wife Ina were there and I hadn't seen them since I had dinner at their place in Singapore in the middle of last year. Once my CSR friends left, I joined Kog and our other batchmates until we called it a night at close to 1am.

Obviously, it was a very busy few weeks of December and just writing about it now kinda wiped me out. :) I do have more friends that I am meeting up with in January. While it is quite exhausting to have so many get-togethers, I have to say that I am really fortunate and very grateful that I have so many great people in my life who want to celebrate the holidays with me.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Liza Soberano tops list of Most Beatiful Faces of 2017

Congratulations to Liza Soberano for being hailed by TC Candler as the Most Beautiful Face of 2017. This is the third time Liza makes this annual list that TC Candler has been publishing since 1990. She was ranked 6th in 2015 - the first time she made the list - and moved up to 2nd last year. Check out the full list in this video from TC Candler (jump to 9:50 to go straight to the top and see Liza):

video uploaded in youtube by TC Candler

It's amazing that Liza topped this global list which, for its first 20 years, was topped by Caucasian women. The last four years have been more international and diverse, with Nana from South Korea and Jourdan Dunn, who in 2008 was the first black model to walk a Prada runway in more than a decade, being hailed as most beautiful. It's great that this year, someone from the Philippines is #1. Congrats Liza! Well deserved. :)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

This post is late but as a Star Wars fan, I can't not write about this. I watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi on it's opening day and I absolutely loved it!

SPOILER ALERT!!! Please stop reading now if you haven't seen the movie and don't want to be spoiled.

What I do find interesting though is that while critics generally tend to agree that The Last Jedi is really good, audiences seem to have massively mixed reactions. On Rotten Tomatoes, as of this writing, 90% of critics rated the movie positively while only 49% of audiences did. Seriously??? I've generally stayed away from the negative critiques because I don't t really want my enjoyment of the film to be tainted but of the few negative remarks I've seen, I realized that most of the people who were disappointed in the film had certain expectations that the movie didn't meet because its story took a different path.

For instance, people felt let down that Kylo Ren didn't turn full good side, because they felt it would have been such a unique twist in the story. Other felt that Luke, as the last Jedi, should have been more willing to put himself out there and that he should have faced Kylo Ren and the First Order instead of mentally conjuring a hologram of himself. I guess this is the challenge that a megafranchise such as Star Wars faces: fans have grown so heavily invested in it that they end up having a sense of ownership and practically expect Star Wars to cater to how they think the story should flow. My cousin shared this meme that cleverly depicts this (unfortunately, no source was listed so I am unable to provide it):

Obviously, I disagree with many of these detractors. In fact, the reasons they dislike the film are almost the exact same reasons I love it. First, while it would have been cool to have Kylo Ren turn to the good side, I found his conflict in Episodes VII and VIII to be one of the most compelling storylines in this latest trilogy and its unpredictable nature makes for even greater potential. Adam Driver who portrays Kylo Ren put in such an incredible performance and you could really see and feel the continued anguish going on in his head. Also, I felt that Luke generating his hologram was a first - we've never seen a Jedi use this power before - was an incredible display of Luke's immense power.

What I also liked about The Last Jedi was how it was not very predictable (to me, at least). A large part of it was because of how the Star Wars franchise set it up through its two most recent films. In The Force Awakens, Han Solo was killed and in Rogue One, the entire lead cast was killed. Because of this, viewers aren't quite sure which character is going to be killed off next. This uncertainty keeps audiences at the edge of their seats. For me, given how the plot was unfolding, I thought that General Leia, Finn, and Rose would all die. I thought that Rey would turn to the dark side. I thought Vice Admiral Holdo was a traitor. And I also got really worried that Kylo Ren would kill Luke. As it turned out, none of these happened.

There were also many awesome moments that made me want to cheer loudly in the movies theater. (In fact, a large portion of the audience did, but I was seated at the side and most of the people sitting around me were not as vocal nor demonstrative of their appreciation so I just cheered in the inside. :)) Obviously, one of the biggest scenes was at Snoke's throne room when Rey and Kylo Ren fought together against Snoke's guards. I also loved it when Leia showed her ability to use of the force to save her own life after being blasted out of her ship. I loved Yoda's reappearance and the fact that he was able to use the force to generate a lightning bolt (apparently, generating force bolts is a power not limited to the Sith). The audience also cheered when it was revealed that Luke was generating a hologram to face The First Order. I also loved that scene at the end when the little kid showed that he could use the force.

One of the saddest things about The Last Jedi is the knowledge that Carrie Fisher has passed away and that this was her last film. In fact, because of this, I thought they would actually kill General Leia off. They almost did. But she was alive at the end of the movie, escaping The First Order with a small band of resistance fighters. On some level, General Leia's survival in this film makes things a bit sadder, because she could have still been a part of Episode IX but we know we won't see her there anymore. Towards the end of the film, when Luke (or his hologram) meets Leia, he utters the line "No one's ever really gone" and I couldn't help but think how prophetic that line was. Of course, that dedication that flashed during the credits - In loving memory of our princess, Carrie Fisher - was quite moving.

I will let the naysayers criticize this film as much as they want but for me, it is up there among the best. As is always the case with all Star Wars films, I really want to see it again. And I am sure I will be getting the DVD when it comes out. (Or maybe I should just start subscribing to Netflix).

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Star Wars shirts from Folded & Hung

Naturally, I had to get new Star Wars shirts in preparation for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. :)

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Full week

The week started when I had dinner and drinks with Maileen, who was in town to celebrate her grandmother's birthday. Our evening started out over dinner at Museum Cafe in Greenbelt 5 before we moved to the lobby of New World Renaissance hotel (which I had written about in my previous post).

The next evening, I had a reunion with some of my ex-colleagues, who were having a very advanced Christmas celebration. Apparently, they couldn't find any other common date in December so they decided to have it in end-November instead. Mia very generously hosted the party at her beautiful home and she prepared a beautiful feast that included roast beef and baked salmon that could rival that of Conti's. After dinner, we started the exchange gift by making use of some kind of white elephant exchange gift app. (I was actually told that I had to bring an exchange gift only on that day LOL so I decided to swing by Fleur De Lys along Tomas Morato to get some florentines and brownies.) I ended up getting Saporito Gourmet Salted Egg Potato Chips and Sofia's Jar lengua de gato. Unfortunately, I had an early start the next day so I couldn't stay too late but it was really great seeing everyone again, especially since I hadn't seen most of them in months.

On Friday, I met up with my friends from my first job. The last time we saw each other was earlier in the year when Raych was in Manila but what made the evening more special was that almost every Manila-based person was able to join us, including Bett and Lany, both of whom I hadn't seen in a while. As it turned out, Anna was also in town so she could join us too. Since Chari lives far south and Jette lives far north, we opted for Ortigas. Jette requested some place that is easily commutable so I suggested we have dinner somewhere in Shangri-La mall. Bett wanted to try Zao and everyone agreed so we finally had out venue sorted out. :) Our dinner started quite early - Chari and I were there before 630pm - so a couple of hours later, the mall was still open and we had time for dessert. At first, we were thinking of just having dessert in Zao because people wanted to try their mille crepe but unfortunately, it wasn't available that night. Since people suddenly had a craving for mille crepe, we went to Paper Moon instead. We stayed there until the mall closed. This was probably the biggest gathering we've had in a while and the longest time that we spent with each other.

Chocolate Mille Crepe and Coffee at Paper Moon

The long, full week ended the next day when I went to Tagaytay for two special occasions. The first was Me-Ann's birthday. It was a full day event, starting with brunch at Bag of Beans in Twin Lakes before we would go to Sandari Batulao to hang out and spend the rest of the afternoon. Unfortunately, I ended up being massively late for brunch, not only because I woke up a bit late but also because of a horrific driving mistake. Since I was already running late, I checked waze to see how long it would take for me to get to Twin Lakes - waze estimated two hours - so I messaged everyone that I would get there by noon. Unfortunately, by entering Twin Lakes in waze, I was directed to the Twin Lakes community at the bottom of the crater instead of at the top which is where Bag of Beans is. Normally, that wouldn't be a problem except that the route from the bottom to the top can only be traversed on foot or by tricycle and it is impassable to cars and larger vehicles. The kicker was that the only way to get from where I was to Bag of Beans was by going all the way back, a one and a half hour trip. That was just about as long as my drive from Manila to Tagaytay!!! By the time I got to Bag of Beans, half the group had gone home. Me-ann had ordered for me before I got there so my food was ready when I arrived. I was absolutely famished and I ate everything pretty quickly. It was close to 2pm when we headed to Sandari Batulao where the rest of us spent a lazy afternoon enjoying each other's company and having great conversation. Alvin and Doray brought their kids and later that afternoon, Alvin and his kids all went swimming.

Sandari Batulao

I left at around 4:30 to get ready for my second event in Tagaytay: the wedding reception of Jef and Diane. I booked a room at Lee Boutique since I knew I would be tired from the long drive and the long day (plus, I wanted an easy way to get ready for the wedding). The reception was held at Angelfields. It turned out to be a bit of a reunion as well since Jef and Diane were ex-colleagues and I was seated at a table with many of our other ex-colleagues such as Karen, Kat, RJ, Julie, and Jojo and a few other ex-colleagues whom I hadn't seen in years, like Walter, Melvin, and Mshel. It was a beautiful and well-prepared and well-executed program - Diane's outfit change for her dance number with Jef was one of the many highlights - and it was shortly before 10 that the program ended. Most people left immediately but RJ, Julie, and I stuck around until pack up because Jef asked us to. :) That gave us an opportunity to catch up with each other and also with Jef and Diane once things had calmed down.

I checked out once I got cleaned up after waking up and I immediately headed over to Breakfast at Antonio's to have their Home-made Bacon Roesti, which is one of my favorite dishes and which I have and enjoy in most of my trips to Tagaytay. I wanted to try something else from Breakfast at Antonio's so I ordered their Croque Monsieur to go so I could eat it for lunch. I have to say, this sandwich is tremendously good too!

Breakfast at Antonio's Home-made Bacon Roesti

On the way home, I had to pass by a few places to get pasalubong for my family. I made three stops. The first was in Rowena's to get pineapple tarts. The second was in Good Shepherd to get ube jam. The third stop was in The Original Buko Pie Bakeshop to try their buko pie. I've been told that it is better than Colette's which is what I usually get. Now that I've tried it, I think I personally still prefer Colette's which is a bit sweeter but people who find Colette's too sweet should try The Original Buko Pie instead.

The Original Buko Pie can be found at the Caltex Station along Sta. Rosa-Tagaytay road.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Hotel lobby nights

I don't really recall the last time I hung out at a hotel lobby with my friends. So it's quite interesting that towards the end of last month, I ended up spending a relaxing evening at two different hotel lobbies in just a little more than a week.

First, I had coffee and dessert at the lobby of the Manila Peninsula with Myna and Mitch. We had a game night in Makati and we wanted to hang out somewhere first before heading home. We initially thought of going to Coffee Bean or Starbucks but the ones we drove by were all closed. Myna suggested that we just go to the Manila Pen lobby and Mitch and I agreed. When we got there, I decided I wanted to have ice cream since they have some pretty cool ice cream creations at the Pen. I didn't want something too decadent so I ordered Berry Berry Much, which has raspberry sorbet, strawberry cheesecake ice cream, and forest berry compote and is topped with fresh berries. It was good but I did find it a bit too tedious to have to deal with the many seeds of the fresh raspberries. :)

It turned out to be an amazing evening because it's not very often that I get to chat about more personal stuff with my gaming friends since we normally just play games and talk about geeky stuff. :) It was a wonderful experience and I am glad that we decided to chill somewhere before heading home.

A little more than a week later, I ended up spending another calm and quiet evening with my college friends at the lobby of the New World Renaissance Hotel. Maileen was in town - it's been a few years since we saw her last - but she was only available to meet up on Monday night. As such, only Letlet, Lala, Anna, and I were able to join her. She was meeting up with a friend along Pasay Road much later in the evening so after dinner at Museum Cafe, we decided to hang out somewhere close to where she needed to go. I suggested the lobby of New World Renaissance Hotel since I knew it would be open until quite late and everyone agreed (Havana would be open too but that is place is too noisy for us).

We ended up ordering a bottle of wine that we all shared. (Anna also got sans rival.) We asked Lala to make our wine selection since she was the expert in our group. She ended up choosing Esser Pinot Noir. It was pretty expensive (which was to be expected given that we were at a hotel) but at least our wine was good. :) Despite it being a Monday evening, there was a whole lot to catch up on so we ended up staying with Mai until close to midnight.

Spending an evening at a hotel lobby isn't the budget-friendly option but it's nice to treat yourself to something a bit more luxurious every now and then. Hotel lobbies have such a relaxing and elegant atmosphere that it does make for a perfect venue for chatting and catching up with great friends.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Amazing, Impressive Ukrainian Hopak

A friend of mine shared this video to me a while back and I was absolutely blown away when I watched it. Hopak (or Gopak) is the national dance of Ukraine To quote wikipedia: "Much of the seemingly improvised parts involve solo dancers, usually male, performing visually and technically amazing acrobatic feats. These include jumps and spins and are usually the highlight of the performance." You definitely get to see these highlights in the video. The leg and knee strength, the jumping ability, the athleticism and the artistry, and the ease with which they do everything was just astounding.

video uploaded in youtube by Денис Печененко

The title of this video in English is "Incredible Ukrainians in the Virsky Ensemble. Hopak." Gotta say, they definitely are incredible.