Friday, December 31, 2010

Kog and Ina's wedding

One of my friends from high school and college, Kog, married his now-wife Ina in Singapore earlier in the year and they decided to have a church wedding in the Philippines on December 30 so they could celebrate with their family and friends who are here. A few of us from high school - Anna, Topher, Lilia, Rodrigo, and myself - headed to Lipa where the ceremony would take place. Anna was asked to give the first reading while Topher was one of the secondary sponsors so it was important for us to be on time. The invitations said 3:30pm but it actually started at 4pm, which was good for us because we would've been late if it started on time. In fact, we just barely made it!

The wedding ceremony was held in The Church of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. It is located next to the Malarayat Golf and Country Club which is where the reception was held, and at some point during the ceremony, the priest encouraged us to recommend this church to other people planning to get married, a plug which I thought was a bit weird and out of place for a wedding hehe. Another funny tidbit during the sermon was when the priest asked Kog what the heart is for and he answered "to pump blood" hahaha. I am trying to think now, and I guess I am a scientist like Kog and would have most likely given the same answer (yes, I say scientist and not nerd ;)). There was no photo op at the altar with friends (it was all family and relatives), but an opportunity presented itself for the five of us invitees to head over to Kog and Ina and have our picture taken with them while we were still in church.

The reception included a lot of good food and a lot of really good wine. It was too bad that I was driving all the way back to Manila that same evening since there was a lot of wine and I could have had maybe a few bottles if I didn't have to drive. The program included variations to the traditional bouquet and garter toss. I can't really recall how the bouquet toss was executed, but for the garter toss, all the bachelors were split into pairs. Each person was then pitted against their partner in a game of hula hooping - the person who could hula hoop longer would be excused. I lost the first round to Rodrigo but I managed to win the next round, which meant I didn't get the garter.

The program ended at around 9pm and we ended up hanging out with Kog and Ina and Kog's siblings. I was happy my barong lasted the entire night (I wore my only decent barong a couple of weeks ago during Reg's wedding and it hadn't been washed yet by the time Kog's wedding arrived, and my other barong had a ripped sleeve so I kept it together with scotch tape and it somehow did the trick haha). Discussions invariably went to tennis talk, which is of course always interesting because Kog, Ina, and his entire family are extremely pro-Federer and of course I am pro-Nadal haha. We did manage to keep discussions quite civil haha so no fireworks. :) Anna and I had to leave at around 10pm unfortunately so we had to say goodbye but it was amazing that we got to celebrate with Kog on one of the most important days of his life.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Another dessert find: Mango Torte from Dulcelin

During my get-together with Bett, Chari, Jette, and Anna in Omakase and Jack's Loft, discussions invariably turned towards food. Bett said that one of the best desserts she's had is the Mango Torte from Dulcelin. I decided to get one and bring it home to my family for Christmas, and I do have to say, it definitely lived up to the hype!

photo from the official Dulcelin website.

This delectable dessert has mango balls and cream on a crust of (what I think is) cashew brittle. The quality of the ingredients and the contrast in textures makes the Dulcelin mango torte absolutely perfect! Needless to say, it didn't last very long when I brought it home.

Address: 36 Times Street, West Triangle, Q.C.
Tel: 374-2165 or 67
Mobile: 0917-535-2592

There are a few other branches that you can find in their official website. They don't have a restaurant and they don't deliver, so you have to pick up your order. They do have a lot of mango tortes ready as they know this is their best seller so you can just drop by and make your purchase without pre-ordering.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Parties galore

The Yuletide season always brings with it a whole lot of reunions, parties, and get-togethers. The scheduling is always difficult but since I don't want to miss anything, I try to influence the dates by sharing my calendar upfront and getting my friends to agree on a date ASAP (I then start blocking off dates one by one, making sure there are no conflicts). I guess I've been in the corporate world too long and it has influenced even how I plan Christmas parties with my friends LOL but hey, it's effective in that I get to attend virtually every gathering.

The first was karaoke night in Chicago KTV in the Metrowalk area on the 17th. A couple of my batchmates from high school - Ezra, Jay, and Marlon - were in town so Joyce organized a party with them. More than a dozen folks showed up and it was fun catching up with everyone, especially Ezra who was a good friend of mine back in HS (I remember our McDonald's birthday treats with Eugene and Ed).

The next evening, I joined my friends Walter, Tim, and Basil for dinner in Galileo Enoteca. I had been there once, years ago with my friends from work, and frankly I was expecting to return there a lot sooner than I did. I remembered this restaurant when we were thinking of venues and when I suggested that we have dinner there, everyone agreed. We ordered three set menus - with each of us picking a different pasta - and one pizza so that we could have a bit of everything and enjoy a bit more variety. The meal was good and so was the red wine that came with it.

A couple of days after, I headed to Raffa and Joh's house for the reunion of my circle of friends from work. We had a few folks from Singapore in town - Che, Hannah, Alvin, Pau, and Gi - and of course the Manila contingent was there - Me-Ann, Mike, Chris, Shar, and of course, Joh, Raffa, and myself. Once again, it was a festival of food, with the pritchon taking centerstage. Pritchon has now become a staple of our Christmas reunions and interestingly enough we noticed that the quantity served to us is not as large as it used to be (chalk it up to inflation). I was in charge once again of dessert and this time I brought another one of my favorites - the Torta De Los Reyes from Aristocrat. Everyone thought it was really good and Me-Ann said she always looks forward to the desserts I bring. Oh the pressure LOL! Now I need to make sure I bring really good cakes and sweets whenever we have parties in the future. After dinner, we had our white elephant exchange gift where I got a really cool tumbler set from Starbucks.

The next evening was karaoke night (again) in Chicago KTV (again LOL) with almost 30 other members of our band club at work. This was our Christmas celebration and it was a perfect way to cap the year, especially after the time and effort we put in to prepare for our gigs earlier in the month. It was a good mix of old members and new, and the great thing about the evening was that everyone got along really well.

On Thursday, I met up with my friends Bett, Chari, Jette, and Anna (unfortunately, Ric and Lany couldn't join us) for dinner in Omakase in Il Terrazzo in Tomas Morato. This Japanese resto seems to be a favorite among a lot of my friends since it offers a lot of good food and the prices are quite reasonable. After dinner, we walk over to Jack's Loft for coffee and dessert.

And finally, I met up with Anna, Mitch and Ferg, and Gary and Winnie in Mitch's house for dinner. I was assigned to bring dessert yet again - I decided to bring a whole Chocolate Obsession cake from Kitchen's Best - and it was very well received. I stuffed myself yet again on lasagna, chicken, and barbecue. Ferg then served us all some wine and coffee. Christmas really is the time to stuff yourself silly LOL.

I still have two more Christmas party to attend. First, I'm meeting up with my college friends in a couple of days. The other get-together with my HS and college friends Mitch, Anna, Iona, and Joyce has to wait a bit because Joyce just gave birth and won't be able to meet up until after the New Year. Once again, a really hectic but fun-filled Christmas season, with a couple more get-togethers to look forward to (specially seeing Joyce's new baby :)).

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas with the family

Christmas is a time for family. This year was not an exception. We celebrated Christmas by having a wonderful dinner in my Tita Ace's house. We planned to go to Enchanted Kingdom on Monday which is a bit of a long drive from home so I suggested that we just stay in a hotel in Makati. So on Sunday, my family, including my grandparents, checked into the New World Hotel, which pretty good room packages during Christmas and was thus significantly cheaper than a lot of the other top hotels in the area.

Before checking in, we went to the Piazza in Upper McKinley Road to have lunch in Little Asia. We headed there because my mom saw in the newspaper that there was a Venetian exhibit of and other Italian cultural items in the Piazza that was on every Sunday so we were hoping to catch it. Unfortunately, the exhibit was no longer on display that Sunday. It was still good, though, since my family got to visit a new place and we had a really good meal.

We got to the hotel late in the afternoon and I promptly took my nephews to the swimming pool. We spent about an hour in the pool before cleaning up in time to hear the 730pm mass in Greenbelt. We then rushed to the Rustan's toy section since I hadn't gotten my nephews Christmas gifts yet and this way, they could choose their gifts. CJ's birthday was coming up so I got him a NERF gun as a combined Christmas and birthday gift. I got Ciera a Kung Zhu hamster and a Beyblade launcher. We had dinner in Heaven and Eggs before walking back to our hotel for a good night's rest.

We got up early the next day in time for breakfast before going to Enchanted Kingdom. What greeted us was a huge mass of people waiting to get in. Which automatically meant that the entire amusement park would be teeming with people trying to get on the rides. The waiting lines for the popular rides were immensely long, probably averaging 1 1/2 to 2 hours, if not more. Ciera managed to get on one of the kiddie rides before we moved to the Ferris wheel where we waited for more than an hour for our turn. After that, we queued up for the Go Karts but apparently kids needed to be accompanied by adults which my nephews were not too thrilled with so we skipped it. In the end, we were all too tired to get on any of the rides after that so we just went shopping for EK stuff.

We left at around 7pm had some comfort food in Razon's in the Technohub to cap the night. A tiring long weekend but it certainly was time well spent with the family.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"A Dustland Fairytale" by The Killers

Pretty cool song from 'Day and Age', the fourth album of The Killers.

video uploaded in youtube by user FuRryyX

Monday, December 20, 2010

The KFC Double Down

My new addiction - the KFC Double Down:

photo from the KFC double down wikipedia entry

Apparently, KFC marketed the Double Down heavily during the Pacquiao-Margarito fight back in November, but since I didn't get to watch it (I don't really like watching boxing 'coz I always feel bad for the loser so I just caught the tail-end of the fight and didn't see a lot of the advertisements). Which explains why the lines in KFC were so long shortly after the fight, although my friends told me that the double down was always unavailable at the time.

I had my first Double Down a week or so after that because I was in line in KFC and noticed that there were a lot of them available. And I loved it! Two chicken fillets sandwiching bacon, cheese, and mayonnaise. Not the healthiest option but, as I tell my friends, it can't be that much worse than a 2-piece chicken meal with rice. (Or well that is what I tell them LOL I am sure the cheese-mayo-bacon combo is unhealthier than rice. :)) Anyways, since that first Double Down, I've probably had maybe a dozen more. Yikes! I guess when I start putting on the pounds, I know what the culprit is.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The wedding singer is back :)

Not exactly sure how long it's been since I last sang in a wedding, but my friend Reg just got married and she asked me to sing during the reception. She didn't know exactly which song she wanted me to sing so she asked me to suggest songs. She also asked me to provide a few duet recommendations since the band they hired to play during the reception had a female lead vocalist and Reg was thinking it might be a good idea for us to sing a duet.

I go through the songs I had performed before plus a few others that I knew I could do and felt were appropriate for a wedding. I toss in a couple of duets, shorten the list, and send it to Reg so she could go through it and make her selection. She told me she wanted me to sing 'Bless the broken road' by the Rascal Flatts. I ask her if she wanted me to sing anything else, and she said that her fiance-then-husband-now thought 'Angels brought me here' was a good song. Interesting song choices as there were the exact songs that Raffa and Joh asked me to sing in their wedding a few years back. Reg said she would ask the band to learn the songs but she asked that I prepare a CD with karaoke versions of these two songs just in case the band couldn't play them.

I made a silly mistake though in that I forgot to print out lyrics of my songs. I was pretty confident about singing "Angels brought me here" but I had only sung "Bless the broken road" once ever in my life and I messed up the lyrics of the second verse then. I got all the words right when I was practicing at home but when I ran through the song during my practice with the band, I forgot the words to the entire second verse. That psyched me out quite a bit and true enough, when I performed the song during the actual program, I blanked out! I start just mumbling random words and humming and it was horrible LOL. I managed to get through the rest of the song without any further incident, and my "Angels brought me here" took off quite well (especially the big high note in the final chorus). Of course my friends there were saying it was all right but that's how friends are hehe. Oh well, just need to be sure I do much better next time.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Big project done!

Wow. It took several months of hard work, including a few months of really long, stressful days and massive issues. But in the end of it, everything turned out great.

The entire project team was called together to be in the same meeting room to discuss the findings. It is rare that you get everyone involved in a project all in the same room, but since everyone had put in so much blood, sweat, and tears into it and this was 'D-day', attendance was at the top of everyone's priority list. The room was packed! Even our big bosses were there.

Each component of the project was discussed during this findings presentation, but everyone in the room was really just waiting for the overall findings. When we were finally told that the project was a success, the whole room erupted in unbridled joy! More than a few people shed some tears. And while it can be argued that it's a bit extreme for anyone to cry about work, if you put in so many hours and go through unparalleled stress to get something done, you can't help but be emotionally invested in it. The icing on the cake is that the completion of our project right before Christmas means I don't have to worry about anything work-related while I'm on my holiday break. That's just absolutely brilliant. :)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Kitchen's Best: New dessert find!

Powerplant has a thing called the "Baker's Dozen" where a lot of of stalls that sell bakery items like cakes, pastries, and other sweets are set-up temporarily in the Concourse during the months leading up to Christmas and also at other times of the year. I'm a big fan of desserts but rarely purchased anything from there. But one day, I was there and wanted to have a simple chocolate dessert so I looked around. It was a bit hard to decide but in one stall, I saw a news article that said that this particular chocolate cake made the Best Desserts list of Manila Bulletin in 2008. A slice was P95 - which I felt was reasonable - so I decided to get one. As soon as I tried it, I understood completely why it made the list. It was absolutely delicious!!

The store is Kitchen's Best Home Patisserie and the cake is Chocolate Obession. I initially planned on eating only half the slice and saving the other half for later in the day (you know, trying to reduce my sugar intake hehe) but I ended up gobbling the whole thing in one sitting. It was that good!

photo from the official Kitchen's Best facebook page

This cake is very moist and rich, and it fully deserves its name 'coz I wanted to eat another slice immediately after polishing off the one I got. I made sure to get another slice the next time I was in the mall. I lucked out too - I purchased a slice about 15 minutes before the mall closed and the salesperson (I guess she was the owner or someone related to the owner) offered me a second slice for an additional P5 only. That was P100 for two slices! I had to ask the salesperson twice to make sure and when she confirmed it, I didn't even think twice. :)

You can order Kitchen's Best for delivery via 2121212 ( Here's a link to their menu. You can of course dine in the restaurant, too.

Address: Unit 5B Bldg B, Karrivin Plaza 2316 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati
Telephone: 843.3847, 381.8518
Mobile: 0917.896.6248

I'm putting this place on my list of must-visit restos. Looks really promising.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn": Mime version

This is a really funny video from years back.

video uploaded in youtube by Legendkiller05

The guy's name is David Armand and he does such a great job with his miming, from the hilarity of his actions to the precision and timing of his execution to his incredible facial expressions. Apparently this performance of 'Torn' got so much buzz that he ended up performing it live with Natalie Imbruglia. Check this out and pay special attention to Natalie from the 2:35 to 3:18. She is so cool! :)

video uploaded in youtube by GHENCEA14

Monday, December 13, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

I guess you could say I'm sort of a fan of the Harry Potter series. Definitely not as big a fan as a lot of other people who have not only watched all the films but have read all the books too. In fact, I have not read any of the books. I think that's the reason I didn't really like this latest film in the series.

Based on all conversations I've had with people, I noticed a trend. People who read the book felt that the movie stayed true to it quite well, and as such they enjoyed the film. However, those who didn't read the novel such as myself were left with no clear basis to understand the story and felt that it moved along too slowly, at least for the first half. I guess it was my fault as I actually missed watching the Half-Blood Prince, which meant I was didn't know a few key elements of the storyline. Like the fact that Harry, Hermione, and Ron were looking for the locket because it was a horcrux that they had to destroy in order to beat Voldemort. In fact, it took about half the film before I realized that was what they were doing.

I have to say that the plus-side to all those walking-around scenes was the great cinematography. Seeing those amazing scenery shots took away some of my boredom LOL. The story did pick up towards the end though, which built up my interest to see the final installment of this film franchise. (To make sure I can keep up with the story, I guess I should try to see the Half-Blood Prince first. I have a few months though 'til Part 2 of the Deathly Hallows comes out so it should be very doable. :))

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Duncan and David in town

Two of my closest friends, Duncan and Amy, recently moved from the US to Singapore because Amy got an assignment there. While their stint in SG won't be for more than a year or two, it makes it easier for us to meet up. This definitely was the case when Duncan had a business trip to Manila for a few days.

The cool thing was that our other friend, David, who had been to Manila quite a few times since he moved from the UK to Brisbane, was also going to be in Manila for the same event. Naturally, we made sure to all meet up while we were in the same city. The last time I recall all of us being in the same place at the same time was in Seoul back in 2001!!

We ended up hanging out in Handlebar, which wasn't surprising since we were with David, who always has dinner and/or drinks there every time he is in town. We were joined there by Ozaki-san and Seki-san, both of whom I had also not seen in years! Both Duncan and David were flying out early morning the next day and I still had a truckload of work, but that didn't stop us from having more than our fair share of drinks LOL. We did a lot of catching up, and both Duncan and David proudly showed us pictures of their really cute kids on their phones. Speaking of phones, Duncan showed David 'Plants vs. Zombies" on his iPhone and got David playing the game for a few minutes. Later in the night, an all-girl band started playing some old-school rock songs. There were three of them - one on the drums, one on the bass, and one on lead guitar - but the coolest thing was that the vocalist was the one on the drums!

It was a fun night and but before the second set of the band started, David said we better get a move on (I think they both had to be up at like 430am the next day). Hopefully there will be another opportunity for all of us to hang out again while Duncan is still here in Asia.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas performances

Christmas means office parties. Which also means programs with musical performances. So yeah, you guessed it. I got to sing again. A couple of times.

The Christmas party of our department was on December 2, Thursday. I initially signed up to sing 'Magasin'. It's my favorite Eraserheads songs by a mile and I was so psyched to perform it (would've been the first time I got to perform an OPM song in an office event too). However, we were asked to perform Taio Cruz's 'Dynamite' to officially open the evening proceedings. The band assigned that song to me since they felt that it was a song I could pull that off well and since both songs would be performed one after the other (Magasin was the last song of the lead-up to the event proper), it made sense to have someone else sing the Eraserheads song. Too bad! Thankfully, I love Dynamite too so I was at least trading one song I love for another. The fact that it was current and very lively helped set the mood for the party, too.

'Dynamite' by Taio Cruz:

video uploaded in youtube by user stirYzer

I sang one more party song that night - 'Club can't handle me' by Flo Rida - at the end of our final set which came after the program was officially closed, but by that time, most of the folks were outside getting drinks so we were left with a fairly small crowd partying with us inside. Didn't matter, this was practice since we needed a dry run for 'Club can't handle me'. Why? Coz we were performing it the next night live while the dance group performed along with us. We needed to get it down pat to make sure our timing and all our cues were perfect to make sure the dancers wouldn't miss a beat.

The Christmas party for the entire office was held the next night, on December 3, Friday. I was initially supposed to sing a lot of songs, including a Beatles medley a Jay Sean medley. But the lack of preparation time led us to drop several of these medleys. I also begged off a couple of other songs, like singing back-up in 21 Guns and joining the A Cappella performance of Teenage Dream, since my workload was the most intense is has ever been in years.

Nevertheless, I still got to perform two songs apart from our reprise of "Club can't handle me" (which turned out to be a great performance, what with our collaboration with the dancers). The first was the original version of "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey. It was someone else's idea to put this song in our play list but I was asked if I could sing the male part in what was supposed to be the Glee version of the song. However, as the band spent time learning the song, they felt it was better to do it in the original Journey key, which for most males is very hard to sing with all its high Bs and even the C#s. I was doing well with it during practice but my unbelievable work load left me with an average of 4-5 hours of sleep leading up to the event so I had tonsillitis that night. Some extra rest the night before and a lot of Kamillosan (and most likely adrenaline as well) helped me get by. It wasn't the cleanest performance but I think it was generally acceptable.

Don't Stop Believing by Journey:

video uploaded in youtube by blobb54

My last performance that night was the Queen medley with the rest of the vocalists. I sang back-up in 'We are the champions' and 'We will rock you' and had solo parts in 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. But what made my day was performing 'Somebody to Love'. Finally! I told my bandmates that I had been wanting to sing that song for years but never had the opportunity 'til now. My voice was a bit hoarse and it wasn't my best performance, but the important thing was that I got to finally do it. Who knows, maybe there will be another opportunity for me to sing that song with a clear voice in the future. :)

Monday, December 06, 2010

Ciera's First Communion

My nephew Ciera had his First Communion last Saturday. Unlike my other nephew CJ's ceremony which started in the early afternoon, this one started early morning. Unfortunately, it always takes a while to get people ready in the morning, and as such we ended up around 10 minutes late. This meant that Ciera missed the entrance into the church but in the overall scheme of things, it was okay.

The ceremony was held in the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cubao. It wasn't in the main cathedral, actually, but in one of the more intimate chapels. I took on the official photographer role and managed to take a few good shots, including one of Ciera accepting the Host for the first time.

CJ has an excellent memory and still remembered we had a celebratory meal in Red Crab along Tomas Morato after his Communion, and he suggested to Ciera that he select Red Crab again as our celebration venue for his own Communion. Apparently CJ's influencing skills are pretty good as Ciera asked us to have an early lunch there. We actually arrived about 10 minutes before they were supposed to open but they decided to turn on the stoves for us a bit early. My nephews wanted chocolate drinks which were not available in Red Crab, but there was a Starbucks a block away and our waiter allowed us to bring in stuff from Starbucks which I thought was pretty cool.

So now both my nephews are able to receive Communion which should make it easier whenever we go to church on Sundays since I will now bring both of them with me during that part of the mass.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tree planting with Haribon

Earlier in the year, I co-organized a charity fund-raising fun run in the office for the benefit of Haribon and Kythe. We raised more than P130,000 from pledges made for the more than 100 volunteer runners, and this amount was split between Haribon and Kythe. Our donation to Haribon was equivalent to almost 700 trees and we decided to organize an actual tree-planting activity so that we could plant the seedlings we donated.

We worked with Haribon to set up a date and decided to stage our activity on November 13. The venue was Tanay, Rizal, which has been a priority area for reforestation ever since Ondoy. We managed to get 50 volunteers - any more than that and each person would end up planting very few trees. As luck would have it, the Shangri-la hotel also had a tree-planting activity on that day and had 2,000 seedlings to plant but they didn't have a lot of volunteers themselves. We ended up helping Shangri-la plant their trees, which meant that our volunteers got to have a more worthwhile experience as they were not constrained by planting only a few seedlings in under an hour.

I took on the task of being photographer which proved to be a bit difficult since I didn't want to get mud in my camera. This meant that I managed to plant only a few trees but it was great to see the other volunteers fully immersed in and totally committed.

We are planning a bigger tree planting activity - more trees and more volunteers - next June. It'll take a lot more work to pull it off successfully and smoothly but I am definitely looking forward to it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Helping improve the quality of education in the country

A colleague of mine suggested that we look into partnering with the Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED) back in August 2009. She said she volunteered for one of their strategic planning workshops and said it would be good to have our Corporate Social responsibility program organize a group of employees to volunteer for this activity. Only a handful of volunteers are needed to run a successful workshop and it doesn't require a lot of logistics so after a few meetings to understand the requirements of the event, we decided to do a "test run" in January 2010.

Our initial call for volunteers resulted in almost 50 volunteers signing up in less than 20 minutes so we knew that a lot of people were interested in it. The first run we had was very successful, with a lot of good feedback from both the ACED staff and our own volunteers. As such, it was a given that we would continue with this partnership and help out in these strategic planning workshops whenever we could.

The workshops are not run during the summer months so we resumed the partnership once the 2010-2011 school year started. Weekend-long strategic planning sessions were scheduled on July 31-August 1, September 11-12 and November 20-21. I normally work on gathering volunteers without volunteering myself and just swing by during the event to provide some support, but one of our volunteers had to back out at the last minute during our September 11-12 session so I had to take her place. It was a really interesting experience. Once you are used to the corporate setting, it is almost automatic for you to define specific goals and objectives, assign responsibility, and track progress. This isn't the same in other settings because people don't want to be blamed for things not going according to plan or schedule and which results in a tendency to shy away from accountability. It took a while for the school participants - which included the principal, teaches, barangay representatives, and parents of some students - to get the hang of setting priorities and defining indicators that would allow them to measure the success of their actions but in the end, we managed to come up with a pretty good plan that was actionable and achievable.

The great thing about ACED is that after each workshop, they gather feedback from the participants and the volunteers to figure out how to make things better, and I can see some specific changes to the workshop when I compare the first workshop we volunteered for in January to the one that just finished last Nov 20-21. There are a couple more schedules this school year - one in January and another in February - and we are already in the planning stages for those. Hopefully, our continued efforts to partner with ACED will help improve the quality of education in our public schools.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Game night

My friends and I once had a game night a long time ago - shortly after Suzanne and Nenen came to Manila and gave us all board games as gifts - but we never got around to staging another one. That is, until my friend Mike returned from his six-year stint in the US. Mike had a couple of board games that he wanted us to play. We set aside one Friday night for it.

We had dinner in Kirin in Bonifacio High Street before heading to Mike's place to play Settlers of Catan. The objective of game is to be the first person to earn 10 points by building a colony. Players can earn these points in a variety of ways, like building houses or putting together the longest road or amassing the largest army. There were quite a few of us - Mike, Joh, Raffa, Suzanne, Me-ann, Nats, Julie, and myself of course. It was especially nice to have Nats and Julie there coz it had been years since I hung out with either of them.

The game requires a lot of strategy and planning and it takes a while before someone manages to earn 10 points. We played two rounds - Mike won the first round and Julie won the second. We all enjoyed game night so much that a couple of weeks after the first, we set another one up while Che was in town. There were fewer of us in part 2: me, Che, Joh, Me-ann, and Mike. We ditched Settlers in favor of Ticket to Ride just so we could try a new game.
The objective of Ticket to Ride is earn the most number of points by completing train routes. We got to play only one round as people had to get up early the next day, and Mike, who is an expert on all these board games (he owns them after all), won yet again. Doesn't matter as we all had fun (apart from the fact that I kept singing the Beatles' song 'Ticket to Ride' the entire night, so much so that at some point we decided to play music so that I wouldn't drive everyone crazy LOL). Hopefully we can all get together every now and then to have more game nights.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

F1 season comes to a close

Congratulations to Sebastian Vettel for clinching the 2010 F1 Drivers' Championship. It wasn't easy, but a win in Abu Dhabi (the final race) combined with Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber placing 7th and 8th respectively meant that Vettel became F1 World Champion. This was made even sweeter by the fact that Red Bull Racing won the Constructors' Championship, ahead of McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari.

The podium in Abu Dhabi was also pretty interesting in that Vettel was joined by the last two World Champions: Lewis Hamilton in 2008 and Jenson Button in 2009 (they placed 2nd and 3rd in the race respectively).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Brunei: Final Thoughts

Brunei has enough going on to keep tourists interested. In fact, if you are more into nature-tripping, there are rainforests and parks outside the city that you can visit. However, Brunei is not your destination of choice if you are looking for late-night, alcohol-laden parties since the sale of alcohol is banned in the country (I believe that people flying into Brunei are allowed to bring a few bottles of alcohol, but there is a specific limit).

Bus fare in Brunei is quite cheap: BN$1 or about P30-35 even if you are traveling to the furthest point in the bus route. The same can't be said about taxis, however, but since our hotel was within walking distance of the bus terminal and a lot of the sights in the city center, we never had to take one. What surprised me was the relatively low cost of food. As I mentioned in previous blog posts, my mom and I got to try two hotel buffets (dinner at the Radisson and lunch at the Empire Hotel and Country Club) both of which cost about P1,000 or less (buffet lunches and dinners in the top hotels in Metro Manila are all more expensive than that). A lot of decent restaurants had menu items that were in the BN$4-6, or about P130-200, which is the same amount of money you'd spend on a decent restaurant meal in Manila. A latte in Coffee Bean is about BN$4 (P130) while a coke zero in can purchased in a convenience store is about BN$1.

This holiday was also the first time that I was able to try a couple of restaurants suggested by my travel book. In all my previous travels to other countries, I've always wanted to try recommended dining places from my books but somehow I never got to. In this trip, however, my mom and I got to eat in two places highlighted by my Lonely Planet book - Nyonya Restaurant and Portview Cafe (both in or near the Yayasan Complex). If not for my stomach problems, we might have been able to try a few more. Probably our favorite resto was Nyonya. This is where we had our first meal outside our hotel. We thought the food was good and reasonably priced that we decided to have our final dinner here as well.

One really cool thing about Bandar Seri Begawan, at least for Pinoys, is the fact that Jollibee has become a permanent fixture in the city. I saw four branches - one in Yayasan Complex, one in The Mall, one somewhere on the road from the city center to the Jame'asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, and one in the airport. I guess it isn't surprising since there are a large number of Pinoys working and living in Brunei. You can very easily find Filipinos working in hotels, restaurants, stores and shops, and in the buses. It made it so much easier traveling around the city since there was always someone who could help out when needed.

If you have the time and funds, I recommend a trip to Brunei. It may not be as popular a travel destination as other countries in Southeast Asia, but it definitely has its fair share of sights worth seeing.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Brunei: Travel tips and Suggested Itinerary

Your most economical option to visit Bandar Seri Begawan from Manila is most likely Cebu Pacific, which frequently has promo airfares to Brunei. The caveat is that flights are not daily so you have to plan your trip carefully, and you most likely have to take days off from work.

Assuming you take the same flight schedule we did, you will have the following itinerary:
  • Depart Manila on Saturday, 11:45 PM, arrive in Bandar Seri Begawan on Sunday, 1:40 AM
  • Depart Bandar Seri Begawan on Wednesday, 2:25 AM, arrive in Manila on Wednesday, 4:20 AM
The schedule is tricky and you have to be very careful when planning your trip around this itinerary.

Tip #1: book accommodations correctly
Arrival in Brunei is on Sunday at 1:40 AM, which means you still need to sleep that night. This qualifies as a Saturday check-in (albeit a very late one). Departure from Brunei is on Wednesday at 2:25 AM, which means that at around midnight, you should be heading to the airport already. As such, you don't need to book a room for Tuesday night anymore (otherwise, you pay for a room you won't really use). Given this, make sure you check into your hotel on Saturday and check out on Tuesday. That's a total of three nights - Sat, Sun, and Mon - which makes sense because you will spend 3 full days there (Sun, Mon, and Tue). A group of Pinoys checked into the same hotel and they made the mistake of not booking a room for Saturday night, and no standard rooms were available which caused them a significant amount of hassle.

Tip #2: if you are on a budget, stay at the Jubilee Hotel
It's a very basic hotel, probably 2-star, with basic amenities and no room service. However, the Jubilee Hotel is pretty cheap - about BN$70 or P2,400 a night - so if you are not fussy and just need a place to stay, this hotel is for you. The biggest selling point, though, is the free airport transfer: transportation is provided to the guests during pick-up (yes, even at 1:40 AM!) and departure. Given that taxis to and from the airport cost about BN$30, you save $60 or about P2,000. That means you effectively spend "only" P1,700 a night on accommodations. That's a steal in my book. The hotel also has free wifi access.

Tip #3: buy a travel book and bring it with you
It isn't too difficult to get around in Brunei so you are better off spending about P1,000-P1,500 on a good travel book instead of spending big bucks on a tour. I find tours to be quite limiting in terms of flexibility. Figuring out what you want to do when you want to do it allows you to explore the city more, and it gives you a lot more time to take the photos you want. You could also read the internet to prepare for your trip and mark the places you want to visit, but I prefer having a book with me so I can read and re-read the details of the places I want to go. It also helps a lot when your plans change and you have to figure out what else to do and how to get there.

Tip #4: Proposed agenda
My last three blog posts share what we did in each of our three days in Bandar Seri Begawan. But there were things we wanted to see that we were unable to visit. As such, assuming health and weather conditions permit, here is my proposed itinerary:

Day 1 (Sunday)
  • Late morning: Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque. Try to climb the stairs of the minaret to see a great view of the city, or take the elevator (we didn't get to do this).
  • Mid afternoon: Jame'asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque.
  • Early evening: Jerudong Park Playground. This amusement park is closed on Mon and Tue, so Sunday will be your only chance to visit. (We weren't able to go here since we were too tired.) It might be hard to get a taxi from the Park when you are there, so try booking the transportation from your hotel.
  • Note: if you are Catholic and want to hear mass, you can go to the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption. You can catch the 9:30 AM mass if you wake up early enough, but if you miss it, you can still catch the 5:30 PM mass.
Day 2 (Monday)
  • Early morning: Royal Regalia Museum. If you are interested in buying souvenirs, this is actually the best place to do it. A lot of items carried in their souvenir shops like post cards and magnets are cheaper than anywhere else and they have some inexpensive shirts that you can't find anywhere else. Try to go the museum at around 830-9 AM so you can leave by 1030-11 AM.
  • Late morning/Noon: take a trip to Seria to visit the Brunei oil fields. The bus terminal is in Jalan Cator and buses to Seria leave every 40 minutes. The trip itself takes about 2 hours. If you catch the 11 or 11:40 AM bus, you should get to Seria by 2 PM at the latest. Once you are in Seria, you can take photos of oil fields from afar and the Billionth Barrel Monument up close. You can also visit the Oil and Gas Discovery Centre. It is closed on Tuesday hence my recommendation to visit it on Monday. You can spend a couple of hours here before heading back to Bandar Seri Begawan in time for dinner or maybe some more souvenir shopping.
Day 3 (Tuesday)
  • Mid-to-late morning: Kampong Ayer water tour (including a trip to the mangroves for a backyard view of Istana Nurul Iman)
  • After lunch: You have the option of dropping by Istana Nurul Iman for a quick photo op outside the gates. If you don't feel the need for this, you can instead move quickly to
  • Mid-afternoon: Empire Hotel and Country Club. Take photos while the sun is still up in the afternoon. You could even have dinner here before heading back to the city center. Make sure you check out one of the souvenir shops here since they also offer some items like shirts and pewter mugs that cannot be found elsewhere.
  • Evening: you could make a return trip to the main mosques so you can take photos of them in a different light.
The important thing to remember is that some of the sights are not open daily, so make sure you map out your itinerary to take into account days and times of the day when these tourist spots can be visited.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Brunei: Day 3

One day left in our holiday in Bandar Seri Begawan and there were still a couple of key destinations we hadn't been to yet so we made sure we got to visit them in our final day. First on the agenda was a water taxi ride to Kampong Ayer, the Water Village.

My Lonely Planet book said that water taxis can take you to see Kampong Ayer and the mangroves for about BN$30 (about ~P1000). At first we were being charged $40 to $50, so we had to haggle a bit with a few water taxis before we found one that agreed to $30. However, my mom and I wanted to visit the Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery, so we agreed to pay our water taxi driver an additional $10 for him to bring us there and wait for us.

Our water taxi initially took us to the mangroves. There wasn't much to see there - the proboscis monkeys normally come out in the early morning or late afternoon - but we did manage to see the backyard of Istana Nurul Iman, the official residence of the Sultan. This palace was built by a Filipino, Leandro V. Locsin. People are only allowed to enter the grounds to see the palace up close during the annual Islamic celebration of Hari Raya Aidilfitri (the festival at the end of the Muslim fasting month).

We then headed to Kampong Ayer, which is also known as the "Venice of the East". Kampong Ayer has great historic and cultural significance in Brunei. It has been in existence for over 1,300 years and served as a major port of Brunei, exporting a variety of goods. It is the world's largest village on stilts, with more than 30,000 residents. While Kampong Ayer may look like a slum from the outside, it is actually lot more modern and self-sustaining than people may think, with houses having air-conditioning, electricity, plumbing, internet access, and satellite TV. The village itself has restaurants, shops, schools (nine of them, in fact), and even a fire department. Other notable things we saw during our tour of the village were a mosque,

a police station,

a hospital (and water ambulance),

and a Shell gas station (I even saw a boat come up to the station to refuel as we passed by :)).

We capped off our tour with a quick trip to the Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery. Entrance is free and visitors get to learn more about the background, history, traditions, society, and arts and crafts of the water village.

After a late lunch, we walked to the Royal Regalia Museum, another one of the must-see places in Brunei. As is the case with the other museums here, entrance is free.

What makes this museum unique is that it displays the gifts that have been presented to the Sultan of Brunei by government officials from different countries, including a treasure chest made of abalone shells from the Philippines given by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The timing of our visit wasn't particularly good since the crown jewels were being cleaned at the time so they weren't on display, but there were still a lot of other things to see. Probably the best thing on display was the recreation of the sultan's coronation day parade which included the royal chariot that carries the newly-crowned sultan, the different soldiers that pull and push the chariot through the city streets, and even life-sized photos of the actual crowd during the last coronation day posted all over the walls. Photos are not allowed inside expect in the main receiving area so my mom and I took a few photos of the memorabilia there.

We headed back to our hotel after that, just in time for our 4pm late check-out. We were planning to go to the Brunei History Center but it was closed to the pubic. I think it was under renovation or something since the staff there told us it wouldn't be open until next year. Our flight wasn't until 2am so we had coffee before taking a bus to the Istana Nurul Iman so we could see the palace from outside the gates. Unfortunately for us, it rained again, so we decided to just stay on the bus and take a road trip (after all, one way bus fare is only $1 or about P30). The bus conductor was Pinoy so this trip became our unofficial tour of Bandar Seri Begawan, with our conductor sharing stories of how it is to live and work in Brunei and pointing out some places along the road, including the Istana Nurul Iman. We had one last meal in the Yayasan complex before heading back to our hotel to rest in the lobby.

All in all, a great experience and a very good and satisfying holiday. I definitely recommend a trip to Brunei, especially since Cebu Pacific offers cheap flights to Bandar Seri Begawan now. I'll share some travel tips and recommendations in my next blog post.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Brunei: Day 2

The initial plan was to get up early and take a bus ride to Seria to see the Brunei oil fields. Unfortunately, my stomach didn't seem to agree with something, or everything, I ate the night before. My mom and I had more or less the same savory items in the Radisson buffet (including the baked mussels) but I ate more than twice as much as she did. Plus I had a truckload of dessert. I guess all that food turned my stomach upside down. I certainly felt it when I woke up. So much so that I barely ate any breakfast.

My mom and I scoured the city center for a pharmacy but the only one available was still closed. We ask around and ended up in some store managed by Pinoys that actually sold Imodium. Thank God! However, by the time we got back to the bus terminal, there were no air-conditioned buses available to Seria. And since the trip to the oil fields takes 2 hours (during which time my stomach might act up again), we decided to just go to the Empire Hotel and Country Club, which was a lot closer and had a lot of restrooms ready for use.

My Lonely Planet book on Brunei highly recommended a visit to the Empire Hotel and Country Club, and upon arrival, my mom and I understood why. The place was lavish, with its very high ceiling, multi-tiered lobby, and massive columns. Some of walls were made of glass so you could look out into the beach, the pool area, and the beautifully landscaped grounds. My mom remarked that the columns made the hotel look like a monument in Rome so she wasn't surprised when I told her that they imported the marble from Italy.

We decided to have lunch in the hotel lobby (or well, the 2nd tier of the lobby as the 1st one served mainly coffee and dessert). I had buffet again (this one cost about BND31 I think, or about P1000, still cheap for a hotel buffet!) while my mom, who was still full, decided to just get a sandwich. I still couldn't eat - I skipped all the seafood - so I ended up having a few bowls of soup and a lot of bread along with a few other solid items. Once we were done eating, we decided to take a few photos inside the hotel. This piano was set up right next to the lunch area.

It was drizzling on and off when we were there so the moment it stopped raining, we decided to head out and take some pictures in the pool and beach area.

At around 3 P.M. we head back to the city center but not before taking a few more snapshots inside the Empire Hotel. One of the most interesting pieces we looked for was a camel made of Baccarat crystal and gold. My book said the hotel carried two of these pieces, one in the lobby and the other in in their biggest and most expensive suite, and that each of these camels was worth US$500,000. It wasn't ostensibly huge so I am not sure about the accuracy of this piece of trivia, but I took a photo anyway. :)

The plan was to hit Kampong Ayer (the water village) once we were back in the city center but once again, the rain started pouring heavily. So we make another adjustment in our plans and head to The Mall (right next to the Rizqun Hotel) instead so my mom could look for more souvenirs. We lucked out earlier in the day because one of the shops in the Empire Hotel actually sold a lot of souvenirs that were not available elsewhere and they were nicer and cheaper than similar items we saw in the city center. But of course we needed to get more. :)

We managed to buy a couple of items in The Mall, including jogging pants for both my nephews, before heading back to our hotel. We wanted to catch the last bus back so we didn't have dinner in The Mall anymore (the last bus was at 7pm and we felt it might be tough to get a taxi due to the weather). Since it was raining quite heavily, we decided against eating in the city center. we ended up buying bread and peanut butter in the convenience store at the ground floor of our hotel and eating in our room (our hotel was quite basic and didn't have any room service).

Despite the stomach problems and heavy rains that caused us to change our plans a couple of times, we still managed to make the most of it. We still had one day left in Brunei. More on this in my next blog post.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Brunei: Day 1

Two things about Brunei: (1) it's officially an Islamic state with a strong and rich Muslim culture, (2) due to the abundance of oil, it is a very rich country, with the 4th highest GDP in the world. Given this, it's not surprising that two of the must-see sights in (or around) the capital Bandar Seri Begawan are mosques: The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque and the Jame'asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. These were the first two places we went to see.

The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is right smack in the city center and was within walking distance of our hotel. We got there at around 11:30 A.M., giving us enough time to go inside (prayers start at 12 noon so the doors of the mosque would be closed to visitors at that time). The exterior of the mosque is stunning, with its golden domes (the main dome is made of pure gold!) adding a touch of extravagance to the pristine white walls.

Visitors are not allowed to take photos inside, which is too bad because I would have loved to take a picture of the dazzling Venetian mosaic that can be found in the interior of the main dome. Anyone who enters needs to put on an Islamic robe.

This "boat" that stands right next to the mosque is replica of a 16th century mahligai barge.

We headed to the Yayasan complex, which is just across the road from the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, to have lunch before walking over to the bus terminal in Jalan Cator. There we got on a bus that took us to the second item on our itinerary that day: the Jame'asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque.

This mosque was built to commemorate the 25th anniversary of His Majesty the Sultan's reign. Naturally, this landmark just absolutely takes your breath away. We first caught a glimpse of it on our way from the airport to the hotel and it was spectacular in the evening lights. During the day, it was just as awe-inspiring. The first thing that hits you is the scale of it. I mean, it's just so massive, and the four minarets that surround it seem like giant soldiers keeping watch.

There was no one at the entrance of the mosque so my mom and I got a bit confused about the whole process since no one could tell us which parts of the mosque we could visit and which were off limits. But as luck would have it, a small private tour was going on when we got there, and the tour guide who wanted to make sure we followed protocol invited us to join them (for free haha). Once again, no photos are allowed inside. Such a shame because once we entered the main prayer hall, my jaw just dropped. It was beautiful! The thing that drew my attention the most was the massive golden chandelier in the center of the hall.

We took a bus back to the city center before walking to the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption. We went to the church in the morning and learned that masses on Sunday were held at 7:30 A.M, 9:30 A.M (both of which we missed) and 5:30 P.M. So we made it just in time for the late afternoon mass. The good thing for us was that the ceremony was held in English.

On our way home, we decided to swing by the Sheraton Utama Hotel (or the Radisson) to have dinner since the two restaurants in our hotel were both under renovation. We figured the Radisson would have a good restaurant with a buffet dinner and we were right. The buffet dinner was "only" 26 Brunei Dollars or about P800, which is actually really cheap for a hotel buffet. The fact that it came with refillable coffee made it an even better deal!

I ate way too much food to compensate for the exhaustion and lack of sleep (I was working like crazy leading up to the trip) and I got a very bad lesson in overeating. I'll talk more about this in my next blog post.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Holiday in Brunei

It's always an interesting experience when visiting a country for the first time. So when my mom asked me if I wanted to travel with her to Brunei on holiday (Cebu Pacific had an airfare sale - as they often do - and the flights to Brunei were even cheaper than domestic flights), I jumped at the opportunity. I didn't know what was there to see in Brunei at the time, but it didn't really matter. I always keep a very positive and open outlook when traveling to a new destination and this always allows me to connect to new cities and countries I visit. I was sure the same would be true in Brunei, and it was.

We stayed in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, and made sure we got to see as many of the sights during our trip. There aren't a lot of landmarks and tourist attractions and the city isn't too big, which means that spending a few days here will allow you to see all the key tourist spots without having to rush from one place to another. Some highlights of our trip:

Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque

Kampong Ayer Water Village

Empire Hotel and Country Club

More about my trip to Brunei in the next few blog posts. :)

Monday, November 01, 2010

Nelly's "Just a dream"

I heard this song while driving and it got stuck in my head that I just had to search for it the moment I was online. Didn't realize Nelly could come up with music like this. It's such a beautiful song with great lyrics. Definitely my current favorite!

video uploaded in youtube by user ChannelMusicHD

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Out of the doldrums

With a couple of back-to-back wins, Liverpool have finally moved out of the relegation zone! After their defeat against Everton, I didn't have much hope for the squad anymore. But two wins in a row - aginst Bolton and Blackburn - have given Liverpool enough points to land right smack in the middle of the league table. If they keep up this form, maybe they can move back up to the top of the league where they belong.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Trick or treat

Trick-or-treating is now an annual family tradition and this year was no different. My mom and I took my nephews to a Plants vs Zombies-themed activity although you didn't have to come as either a plant or a zombie to join - CJ had a Scream-type mask to complement his hooded skeleton outfit while Ciera had a scary pumpkin mask that matched his pumpkin costume.

Before the event proper, we were told that several zombie stickers were scattered around the assembly area. We were tasked to find stickers that had numbers written on the back since these corresponded to prizes. I found one and my mom found one (two actually but the other one she found had no number) so that meant each of my nephews got a prize.

The set-up was similar to the Amazing Race in that you had pitstops but, as the emcee kept emphasizing at the start of the event, it wasn't a race. Each pitstop required a very easy and quick-to-perform task so while there were a lot of kids, no one had to wait very long for their turn. After completing each task, the kids would then get their share of goodies.

Our first pistop required the kids to dribble a mini basketball with their non-dominant hand then shoot the ball into a basket. The second pitstop required kids to pop a balloon with a pin while they were blindfolded (they were assisted by a marshal). The third pitstop required the kids to score two goals by kicking a football past a goalee. There was also a photo booth, a giveaway stop, free food at the food booths, and a Plants vs Zombies themed show before the raffle.

I had never played Plants vs. Zombies before but my nephews told me I should. So the next day, I did. And I've completed it, too. I now have a gold trophy to show for it LOL.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

French Baker 50% end-of-day sale

I finally got to try the 50% off French Baker end-of-day sale. Joyce was in Ortigas and we met up for dinner in Pancake House in Megamall. We left at around 9:15pm and I was walking with Joyce to the taxi stand when we passed by the long queue in French Baker. Neither of us were in a big rush to get home, and Joyce said she loves bread so we decided to fall in line and enjoy the 50% discount on French Baker items.

I ended up buying a cinnamon roll, two ham and cheese croissants, a chocolate cake, a brownie, and a chocolate chip cookie. All for P153. Pretty good. I've had the cinnamon roll and ham and cheese croissant before, but it was my first time to try all the chocolate items. The brownie and cookie were okay (definitely worth it at under P25 each!) but the cake which I got for P42 (originally P84) was actually quite good. I'm now thinking when I can go to the end-of-day sale again. :)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Opportunistic comeback

Fernando Alonso started the F1 season well by winning the first race in Bahrain. Then it seemed the Red Bull team just took over, with Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel taking 7 of the next 11 races. Then it seems things went Alonso's way. Webber and Vettel were leading the drivers championship at #1 and #2 respectively, but their inability to finish the last race in Korea have allowed Fernando Alonso to be in a fantastic position to win end the F1 season above everyone else. He has now won 5 races this season, including 3 of the last 4, and has an eleven point lead over Webber (Vettel is a further 25 points behind). Should be interesting to see if Red Bull (or even Lewis Hamilton, who has now gone ahead of Vettel with a 2nd place finish) can force the issue in the last two races and overcome Alonso's superb form.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Reunion in Burgos Circle

My friends Suzanne and Nenen have both been based in the US for the last several years but they make it a point to visit the Philippines every year (or every other year). Since we don't get to see them a lot, we always catch up with them whenever they are in town. So on Friday night, Joh, Raffa, Me-ann, and I had dinner with Nenen and Suzanne in Cafe Juanita in Burgos Circle.

It was a night filled with fun and very positive energy. A lot of catching up, a lot of stories, a lot of laughs, and a lot of food! There were only six of us but we over-ordered - I think we got about 7 or 8 dishes - and so it's not surprising that we all got stuffed silly. I kept telling people it felt a 'fiesta' with people enjoying the night in front of a massive spread of really good Pinoy food. Peegee and Randee swing by for a bit since they had other plans that night and couldn't join us.

We decided to move to another place for dessert and coffee. I suggested Sugarhouse but apparently it closes at 10pm so we decided to have our caffeine fix in UCC Cafe instead. Despite being full, the six of us decided to share a couple of desserts with our coffee or tea. It wasn't long before Mike followed and joined us for the remainder of the night.

That was Nenen's last night in Manila but Suzanne will still be here 'til the middle of November so we agreed to have a "game night" before Suzanne leaves. Mike had been wanting us to play 'Settlers of Catan' which I had played once with Ching and the other folks when I was in Mind Cafe in Singapore (I specifically call out Ching 'coz she won that game and wiped the floor with us all LOL). It's definitely a night I'm looking forward to. :)

Monday, October 18, 2010

"One Song Glory" by Adam Pascal

"One Song Glory" from Rent of my favorite songs from a musical and I don't think anyone tops Adam Pascal singing it. Here's a different version of the songs, accompanied by piano instead of a full band. Equally great in my opinion.

video uploaded in youtube by user thatbrianboy

Merseyside derby disaster

Liverpool's horrific season continues as they are topped by rivals Everton in the first Merseyside derby this year. 0-2. 2nd from the bottom (and only ahead of Westham because of goal difference). Even getting new owners hasn't changed their luck. Maybe they should just sack the manager.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Keeping busy

When I say busy, I mean on virtually all fronts. Professionally, I haven't had a workload like this since about 4 1/2 to 5 years ago. On top of that, my CSR organization peaked in terms of projects - a Habitat for Humanity build on September 4 and another one on October 9, a strategic planning workshop with the Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED) on the July 31-August 1 weekend and another one on September 11-12, an International Coastal Cleanup project on September 25, and three upcoming projectes: a teacher training with GILAS on Oct 27, a tree planting activity on November 13, and another workshop with ACED on Nov 20-21. And since I celebrated my birthday recently, I had a lot of get-togethers with friends, most recently dinner with Mitch, Ferg, Joyce, Iona, JP and Aya in Cafe Juanita in Kapitolyo and then dinner with Joh, Raffa, Me-ann, and Mike in Conti's in GB2 the night after. That's a lot! I got tired just writing all that LOL.

While my schedule has been really hectic, I can't really complain though. I don't think I've ever been as successful juggling so many things at the same time. I am due for a holiday soon though, and I may just take a few days off a couple of times before the end of the year to make sure I don't burn out. After all, I am a bit too old to be averaging 4-5 hours of sleep a night. :)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Hey hey! After 5 1/2 years I finally reach blog post #500! :) Pretty cool milestone. I have managed to post a bit more in the last few months despite my massively busy schedule so let's see whether I can keep that up. If I can, blog post #600 shouldn't be too far away. :)

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Wall Street 2: Money never sleeps

My friend David was in Manila for a week and we met up on Sunday to watch "Wall Street 2". David says that since he got married and had kids, he never gets to watch movies anymore since all his time is devoted to his family so whenever he's in town, we make it a point to watch a movie. A few of his colleagues were also in town and since they didn't have anything to do, they joined us.

The choice of movie came by default since Wall Street 2 was practically the only movie that seemed interesting enough to watch. None of us had seen the first one that came out back in the 80s and is a cult classic (the line "Greed is good" becoming one of the all-time movie quotes classics) so we had no basis for comparison, but this second installment was really good.

The film is set against the American economic crisis that happened a few years ago and it tries to depict how things turned out the way they did (although who's to say what is fact and what is fiction - this is a movie after all). The most interesting thing I learned is "moral hazard" or the situation wherein the
person who has your money is not responsible for it.

It's a really good movie and the cast did a great job. I personally felt that Josh Brolin and Carey Mulligan stole the scenes they were in. It was also nice to see Charlie Sheen - who was with Michael Douglas in the first film - make a cameo appearance. Don't be surprised if after watching Wall Street 2, you feel like going out and investing in the stock market. The ending was conveniently positive but with my crazy workload that brings with it a lot of stress, a feel-good movie is definitely good. :)

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Republiq night

Another birthday celebration, but this time not mine. Tim had a two-part celebration last weekend: we had drinks in Izumi in Burgos Circle before heading to Resorts World to party in Republiq. It was my first time in Resorts World (cool place) and also my first time in Republiq (cool club). We ended up partying until around 3am. After a really long week last week, it was great to unwind and let loose! :)

This song was played three times - once by each of the 3 DJs featured that night. Great song that definitely gets you in the mood. :)

video uploaded in youtube by user MrNewRNBmusic

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Liverpool in the doldrums

It was supposed to be a very promising season. Gerrard and Torres both stayed in the team. They signed Joe Cole. And Rafa Benitez left after a miserable last season.

Seems though that they were better off with Benitez. Now Liverpool are practically at the bottom of the barrel. Several matches into the season and they have one win to show for themselves. One win! This from a team that was battling for the premier league title a couple of years back. Even Dirk Kuyt has had to apologize to the fans for their horror show. I'm not sure what it will take to turn things around, but they better do it fast.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Birthday lunch in Adarna

I celebrated my birthday with my family in Adarna Food and Culture restaurant along Kalayaan. I've eaten in Adarna a couple of times before so I knew that my family would enjoy it here. Just like La Cocina De Tita Moning and Romulo's, Adarna is a house-turned-restaurant that offers very good Filipino food so it was a perfect place to celebrate with my family.

The ambience plays a big part in the overall experience in Adarna. The interior is filled with Filipino memorabilia such as framed celebrity photos and news clippings that are decades old. The service was excellent and it didn't take long for the food to arrive. I was really pleased with our selection of dishes. My favorite dish was the Piassok, a dish from Sulu that consisted of beef chunks cooked slowly in smoked coconut cream and spices. It was beautifully flavored and the beef was very tender. Our waitress told us it was their bestseller, and I can completely understand why.

The great thing about the dishes here are the interesting combinations. We ordered the Tagalog Pochero with Roasted Eggplant Dip, and it is recommended that you eat the pochero beef with the dip. The combination of the sweet beef and the tart eggplant was perfect. The same is true for the Grilled Pork Chop with Salsa Monja. The Batanes yellow rice had a hint of ginger which wasn't overpowering. And the Camaron Rebosado had a unique olive oil-based sweet-and-sour sauce which I haven't seen elsewhere.

It just sucks that I forgot to take photos of the food! Need to make sure I sort out another trip here sometime soon and blog about it, but this time with pictures. :) The only downside to Adarna is that they don't accept credit cards, so you need to make sure you have cash ready when you visit. (I did appreciate the fact that they informed me about this when I called to make a reservation. At least there were no surprises.)

After lunch, my nephews wanted to watch 'The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole". My brothers and my aunt couldn't join us so I drove to Shangri-La Mall to watch the movie with my nephews, my mom, and my grandparents. This movie really caters to kids - I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to adults unless you were taking children to see it. However, it did provide several good lessons to my nephews. It had themes like not giving up and trying your best even after you fail. It also showed that even if you are small, you can still succeed against immense odds (and bigger opposition) if you use your brain, train hard, and have a lot of heart.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Missing out on Singapore F1

Can't believe it's been a year since I watched my first Formula One race in Singapore. I decided I would watch it on TV this year - had to save up on money and the timing of the race didn't sync up well with my deadlines. It was an interesting race with Fernando Alonso winning again and moving him up to second in the drivers championship, past Lewis Hamilton who got involved in a tussle with Mark Webber that left his car out of commission. Webber still stays at #1 in the drivers championship with his 3rd place finish, and with Vettel placing second, he leapfrogs Jenson Button into overall 4th.

There are four races left this season but anything can still happen. Only 25 points separate the top 5, and when you consider that anyone who wins a race gets at least 7 points more than everyone else, it's still anyone's championship. And while it will be tough for Ferrari to win the constructors championship, their outside chance make it an interesting three-way at the top, along with Red Bull and McLaren-Mercedes. Should be a fun rest-of-the-season!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

International Coastal Cleanup Day

Every year, the world celebrates International Coastal Cleanup Day, a global event led by Ocean Conservancy similar in concept to other global events like Earth Day and Earth Hour. International Coastal Cleanup Day normally falls on the third Saturday of September, but this year it was on September 25 (the 4th Saturday of the month).

Our Corporate Social Responsibility group at work felt that this would be a good event to support, given that the Philippines is an archipelago with more than 36,000 kilometers of coastline. So we organized a trip to Balai Anilao in Batangas and got about 50 volunteers from work to help in the cleanup efforts. If budget wasn't a constraint, we would have had a lot more participants actually - we sent out a call for volunteers at 2:45pm on a Friday afternoon and within 20 minutes, more than 80 people signed up.

On cleanup day, we arrived at 9am after a 135-km drive from Manila to Anilao that felt even longer due to the traffic. We were then split in two groups - the shoreline cleanup team (most of us were in this group) and the dive cleanup team. After the briefing, everyone went to work. Garbage bags were distributed and people started picking up as much trash as they could.

It was really interesting to see what kind of items were collected. Apart from the expected plastic bags, food wrappers, and drink bottles, we picked up an old knapsack, a syringe (God knows what that was used for...), a toothbrush, and a Magic touch liquid eraser. We also saw a whole lot of "pair-less" footwear. I don't know if it's because people lost one and tossed the other on the beach or if people got drunk and unintentionally while on the beach and lost half their footwear in the process.

The coast fronting Balai Anilao isn't very long but with a team of about 40 people sweeping through the shore, we filled seven large garbage bags in less than an hour. I didn't even realize there was that much clutter on the beach! Then came the garbage analysis - we went through the trash collected to count the different items we had. The information gathered would then be submitted to Ocean Conservancy for processing.

Once we were done, it was time to relax and enjoy the resort. The buffet lunch was really good - I had two massive servings LOL.

To officially close the event, we distributed certificates of participation and volunteer shirts to everyone there. We were lucky that we didn't get rained out considering that it had been raining a lot recently, at least in Manila. It was a successful event that the participants truly enjoyed - even if it meant getting dirty. The Philippines apparently has been the second biggest participant (next to the US) in this event every year since it first joined so it's nice to know that we were involved this year. It's definitely something to look forward to in 2011.