Friday, February 28, 2014

Tico Tico by Paco De Lucia

A friend shared news the other day that Spanish Flamenco guitarist Paco De Lucia passed away. I learned about him when I saw this impressive video of him playing Tico Tico on youtube:

video uploaded in youtube by gommodor

Amazing how he stays perfectly calm and at ease even as his guitar-playing becomes unbelievably fast while still mistake-free. Rest in peace, Paco De Lucia

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Weekend in Cocoon Boutique

Months ago, I bought a Deal Grocer voucher for an overnight stay at the Cocoon Boutique Hotel in the Tomas Morato area. I decided to use it recently since the last several weeks had been very busy and I needed some time away from everything familiar to unwind and relax without actually leaving the city.

I first learned about this hotel when my cousins who are now based in Canada came home a couple of years ago. They stayed in Cocoon and they said it was a really good hotel. When I saw the voucher I decided to try it for myself. It's a small, cozy hotel and the main lobby is quite welcoming, with its comfortable seating and high ceiling.

I think I got the Deluxe Room which was actually really spacious.

When making a room reservation, I opted for the "Twin-together" bed that mimicked a California King bed. It was really comfortable!

The bathroom is pretty cool because it has glass walls with blinds on the inside. You can open the blinds so you can still watch TV while you are in the shower or the bathtub.

Too bad I didn't get to use the bathtub. However, the bathroom is quite spacious and has a luxurious feel to it.

The elevator control panel was pretty cool and unique too.

There are things about the hotel that I wasn't such a fan of. My room overlooked Scout Rallos and there was a bar outside so late at night, I could hear the noise from the bar. Also, while sitting at the desk and working on my laptop, I could hear the person from the other room speaking so the walls aren't completely soundproof.

Despite these disadvantages, my overall experience here was pretty great. As mentioned, the room is really comfortable and spacious, Also, the service is excellent - both check-in and check-out were a breeze and when I made a reservation via phone, they asked me if I wanted a parking slot at the basement and they did reserve one for me. The breakfast staff was also very friendly and helpful. My room came with free breakfast and while the buffet spread itself isn't that extensive, you actually get to order an ala carte item to go with it so everything combined means that you have a pretty good meal.

The location is also great. A 24-hour McDonald's is almost right next door and Causeway is just a bit further down the road. Tomas Morato itself is about a ten minutes away only. I got to walk along most of Tomas Morato that evening.

Cocoon Boutique Hotel is actually ranked #1 on Tripadvisor among hotels in Quezon City as of this writing and I am not surprised. I definitely enjoyed my stay here and I wouldn't mind going back. They actually have one and two-bedroom suites here so maybe the next time I visit, I can also bring my family with me.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Cool Whisky Ad

Okay so heartwarming isn't normally a phrase you would associate with a whisky commercial but this advert of Bell's Whisky South Africa is an exception. Check it out:

video uploaded in youtube by Bells Whisky

Sunday, February 23, 2014

High School Mini-Reunion

One of my closest friends from high school, Eugene, moved to the US almost shortly after we graduated and he has been living there ever since. The last time I saw him was in 2004, almost exactly ten years ago because it was end-Feb when I met up with him and his wife Lorraine in New York. He hadn't been to the Philippines even longer than that - his last time here was in 2001! - so when he and his wife came for a couple of weeks, we definitely had to meet up.

It didn't start out the way I hoped it would though. The plan was that we - including our other friend Mitch - would take a tour to Corregidor before having dinner somewhere in Makati after. Unfortunately, a couple of days before, my laptop conked out and I lost about two days worth of work because of it. This meant that a ton of urgent tasks piled up and I had to get them all done before our Corregidor trip. I got stuck in the office until the wee hours of the morning and while I had set three alarms to hopefully wake me up, I unfortunately slept through all of them. It was a call from Mitch that finally woke me up and by then I didn't have any time to make it to the pier. I told them that I would just meet up with them when they got back from the tour.

I finally caught up with them later that afternoon at the Lobby Lounge in Shangri-La Makati. Since we would be having an early dinner at 7pm, we just ordered the Classic Afternoon Tea set. There was a decade of catching up to do so it was pretty cool that while we shared stories over tea or coffee and finger food, we had a live orchestra playing great music.

We then moved to Rambla in Rockwell for dinner (Mitch's family joined us there as well). Mitch had eaten there before and she said the food is really good. We ordered a few starters, all of which were delicious, but the most memorable thing I had was my main course. I didn't note down its exact name but it was Risotto with Chicken and Prawns:

And oh my God this dish was so exceptionally good! Rambla is quite expensive - most of the main courses were in the P500 to P1000 range and my risotto cost P695 - but if you do want to splurge, this is definitely a good place to do it.

Folks still had work the next day - it was a weekday and I took the day off for our mini reunion - so we called it a night quite early. I drove Eugene and Lorraine back to their hotel in Makati before heading home myself. While it didn't start out great with me missing Corregidor, it was still a fantastic and very memorable day. Hopefully we all get to reunite again soon.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Everything is awesome: The Lego Movie

I finally got to watch The Lego Movie! It's a really good and enjoyable film for the most part. Not only is it entertaining story-wise, it is also very well and uniquely animated. Practically everything in the film was a Lego structure or piece. I was especially impressed with how the sea and the waves looked like they were built out of Lego pieces. I also liked how the characters "moved", resembling stop-motion animation and giving the impression that someone is actually playing with or moving the pieces.

Adding to its appeal is its myriad of popular characters such as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Dumbledore, Gandalf, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and even Shaquille O'Neal. Despite the starstudded "cast", it's normal, almost forgettable guy Emmet who is the lead character. In traditional underdog fashion, Emmet is supposed to be "the special" who saves the Lego world from Lord Business.

Spoiler alert! Stop reading now if you don't want to be spoiled.

As mentioned, I really enjoyed this film for the most part. I can't say I completely enjoyed it because I was let down by the ending. As Emmet sacrifices himself to prevent, or at least delay, the destruction of the Lego World by Lord Business' secret weapon - the Kragle - it is revealed that all the pieces are being played with by a kid. His father is gluing all the Lego pieces into place in an effot to build a model of a city for his work. In essence, Emmet is kind of a representation of the kid and Lord Business that of his dad.

Of course, there are different interpretations of this twist. One is that the whole animated part of the film is really just the imagination of the kid. This is kind of how I interpret the film and this why I find the ending a bit flat. I guess I was really looking forward to how Emmet and the rest of the master builders would defeat Lord Business as themselves so to find out that the whole storyline is just the kid's imagination was very anti-climactic. Of course, there is that part when Emmet actually moves in the "real world" which can lead to another interpretation, that the whole thing wasn't just imagination and that the Lego pieces are "alive" as well. Personally, I would have preferred the movie to have just stuck to one "universe" where only Lego pieces exist.

Despite my disappointment at the ending, The Lego Movie is still really fun and definitely worth watching. It brings out the inner kid in its viewers and it also has a lot of clean humor that adults will appreciate. Special note: when Lord Business says "Release the Kragle" - a clear allusion to the popular "Release the Kraken" line from Clash of the Titans - it seemed like only a few people in the audience picked up on it because only a couple of us laughed at that gag. :)

If you haven't seen the film and are wondering why I have the words "Everything is awesome" in the title of this blog post, it is because "Everything is awesome" is the movie theme song and all the characters in the Lego World. You can check out the song here.

Monday, February 17, 2014


This is a beautiful video showing the gratitude of our country to everyone who helped us get through the Yolanda disaster. Here's a snippet of the video description:

Three months after Typhoon Haiyan, a whole nation wants to show its gratitude to the whole world. This is the Philippines. And this is our way of saying thank you to every one who is helping us rebuild after the storm.

video uploaded in youtube by DOT Philippines

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Great job, Michael Martinez!

A lot of history was made in the Men's Figure Skating Competition in the Sochi Winter Olympics. The record for highest score in the short program was broken, when Yuzuru Hanyu scored a 101.45 on Thursday. This also marks the first time that a short program score exceeded the 100-point mark. Hanyu also pipped favorite Patrick Chan to become the first Japanese man to win Olympic gold in figure skating.

Of course, the history that mattered most to the Philippines was the fact that Michael Christian Martinez was competing. Michael is the first Filipino - and in fact the first South East Asian - who participated in men's figure skating at the Winter Olympics. The fact that Michael comes from a country that doesn't have snow makes his achievement even more significant. It's reminiscent of Cool Runnings, the 1993 film about the Jamaican bobsled team.

Michael learned how to skate in SM Southmall. As his talent grew and his skill developed exponentially, he and his family took figure skating seriously and he started training in the US. His solid results in international competition allowed him to qualify for the 2014 Olympics. That in itself was already a huge achievement but he took it a step further. He scored a personal best of 64.81 in the short program, putting him in 19th place among 30 skaters. This was very important because the top 24 would proceed to the medal round.

Michael eventually scored a 119.44 which, added to his short program, gave him a total of 184.25 points. He ended up in a very respectable 19th place. You could argue that this means that at this point in time, he is the 19th best male figure skater in the world. When you think of if this way, it is truly impressive! At only 17 years of age - he was the youngest contender in men's figure skating - one would think he has a shot at making a return trip to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018.

Way to go, Michael!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wicked in Manila!

I finally got to watch Wicked in CCP and wow, what a truly beautiful and powerful musical it is! It definitely lived up to the hype and met and even exceeded my expectations!

Wicked is the 11th longest running musical on Broadway and is also the third highest-grossing musical, currently behind The Lion King and The Phantom of the Opera (not counting inflation, of course). It tells an alternate story about the witches of Oz. Here, the Wicked Witch of the West named Elphaba is the protagonist and she in fact becomes best friends with Glinda The Good. Rather than talk in detail about the story which you can read about in the Wicked wikipedia page, I will instead talk about why this musical moved me very deeply.

"Defying Gravity" became more popular than it already was because it was featured in Glee. I think most people are fans of this song because of its obvious theme of going beyond your limits to achieve great things. Personally, I love this song much more for other reasons:

  • It shows how Elphaba suddenly realizes that the things she wanted before - pleasing the wizard and making a positive name for herself in Oz - are now taking a backseat to wanting to fight for what she strongly believes in, even if it means getting vilified and scorned. When Glinda says "You can have all you ever wanted" to which Elphaba replies "But I don't want it. No. I CAN'T want it anymore," I feel the strength of Elphaba's principles and I get chills.
  • It showcases the friendship of Elphaba and Glinda. You feel how much they value each other when Elphaba, who has now determined that she wants to overcome the oppression she has witnessed, tries to convince Glinda to join her, saying "Unlimited, together we're unlimited, together we'll be the greatest team there's ever been." Glinda then joins Elphaba to sing "Just you and I defying gravity" as they both look at the potential of making a difference together.
  • It also marks the moment when they realize that they are now about to take different paths in life that will lead them in opposite directions. Their initially sarcastic lines of "I hope you're happy" turn into well-wishes later in the song: "I hope you're happy, now that you're choosing this" and "I hope you're happy in the end, I hope you're happy, my friend".
In just one song, there are so many defining moments that, as it builds towards its impressive climax, I had goosebumps all over. Here's a clip of the New Zealand cast performing Defying Gravity. I'm sharing this clip because the performers here are same ones we saw in Manila: Ali Calder as Elphaba and Suzie Mathers as Glinda.

video uploaded in youtube by Dr Ben Kirk

Of course, this isn't t the only song that moved me. Another piece that I have loved ever since I got my CD of the Original Broadway Recording of Wicked is "No Good Deed". Similar to Defying Gravity, this number also showcases a massive range of emotion. Here, Elphaba starts to have doubts about her own intentions - "Was I really seeking good or just seeking attention?" This, coupled with her despair (believing she has lost Fiyero even as she tried to save him) and self-pity (believing that every good thing she has tried to do has only resulted in misery for those she has tried to help) leads her to fall even further into isolation. The song marks another important and defining moment in Elphaba's life as she now spitefully and almost begrudgingly accepts her role as the Wicked Witch of the West. This piece is tremendously well-written and Ali Calder performed it so well that she got thunderous applause. You can hear her sing it here.

Photo of the stage right before the show started

"Dancing Through Life" was never a memorable song for me until I watched the musical and saw how critical it is to the story. After all, it is here where Glinda and Elphaba become friends. But more than that, it is the give-and-take of Fiyero and Glinda just as Elphaba starts dancing by herself that resonated with me. As Fiyero marvels at Elphaba's attitude saying "I'll say this much for her, she doesn't give a tweet what anyone else thinks", Glinda replies "Of course she does, she just pretends not to." Beyond the musical, it reminded me just how 'outcasts' in society have the unfortunate and very difficult task of having to develop a thick skin and trying to let pain and hurt roll off their backs to help them just get through life. This is where Glinda, who at that point was still shallow and very self-absorbed, discovers her considerate and caring side, which then marks the start of her own growth into a truly good person.

Apart from good and bad and fighting for what's right, another underlying theme of Wicked is friendship. And nowhere in the musical is this highlighted more than in "For Good". While "Defying Gravity" made Elphaba and Glinda realize they were taking separate paths, it is in "For Good" that they bid farewell to each other, knowing that they will most likely never see each other again ("It well may be that we will never meet again in this lifetime. So, let me say before we part: so much of me is made of what I learned from you.") It's a very powerful, heartbreaking moment. Everyone can relate to the lines "Who can say if I've been changed for the better? But because I knew you...I have been changed for good." Then there's the bridge. When Elphaba sings "And just to clear the air I ask forgiveness for the things I've done you blamed me for" and Glinda replies "But then, I guess, we know there's blame to share" before they sing together that "none of it seems to matter anymore," you can see and feel the strength, beauty, and honesty of their friendship.

Curtain call

Of course, by the end of the musical, everyone was on their feet to give the entire cast and crew a well-deserved standing ovation. I saw many folks wipe tears from their eyes. I haven't seen that many musicals in my life but I must say that Wicked is now one of my favorites. While I do think Phantom of the Opera (one of my other favorites) is the better overall musical, I left that show being utterly impressed and amazed. The difference with Wicked is that while I was also impressed, I left this show being very moved and affected by it. I think this is because I connect deeply with many of its underlying themes: friendship, fighting passionately for what you believe is right even sometimes at your own expense, valuing inner beauty, and not fearing and hating what is different. Unlike other musicals where I feel like an audience member looking in, the character development in Wicked allowed me to feel like I was part of the journey.

Wicked is showing in CCP until March 9 and you can get your tickets at Ticketworld. If you haven't seen it yet, I strongly recommend that you go and see it. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Aches and pains

Earlier today, I played volleyball for the first time in months. Now my body is battered and bruised LOL. Which shouldn't be surprising given that I played for two hours, during which time I had to do a lot of running and jumping.

While I am in a lot of pain right now, I am glad that I finally got to exercise again. I haven't hit the gym in about 3-4 weeks so when my friends set up a volleyball afternoon, I knew I had to join. Hopefully we get to organize more games in the coming weeks.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Friday night dinner

My friend Sharon is an ex-colleague from back in my first job and she's been living in the US for more than a decade already. She is currently in town to attend a reunion and we managed to have dinner with her while she is still here. Our friend Jette organized our get-together and we initially planned to meet up somewhere in Makati before things changed late in the afternoon and we ended up having dinner in Greenhills instead. Not really the ideal situation for me since the traffic was bad and it did take more than an hour to join the rest of them.

The initial plan was to have dinner in Banana Leaf in Greenbelt. I guess because people didn't want to think of other options, when we moved to Greenhills, we still stuck with the same restaurant since there also is a Banana Leaf at the Promenade. By the time I got there, everyone had already finished eating so I just polished off the rest of the food. :) Unfortunately, Sharon had to be somewhere else later in the evening so we only got to stay there for another 30-45 minutes before we said our goodbyes. Despite a relatively short time together, it was still a great night.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

"Let it go" in 25 languages

Here's an amazing version of "Let it go" from the movie Frozen performed in twenty-five languages.

video uploaded in youtube by WaltDisneyStudiosDE

Interesting that the singers of these different versions sort of sound like each other. I guess the Disney and the casting folks had a specific sound and vocal profile in mind. After listening to this, I now want to hear the full Japanese movie version. The pop version by May J is available but the one from the film isn't available yet because "Frozen" hasn't been released in Japanese cinemas yet. It's supposed to come out in March so I will definitely be looking for the Japanese movie version then.