Monday, October 31, 2016

Korean choir sings Bayan Ko

I am always pleased when a choir from another country learns a Filipino song and they perform it well. Bayan Ko has always been a very powerful and moving song as it triggers strong feelings of patriotism whenever I hear it. So it is wonderful to see and hear this Korean choir perform it. (I unfortunately do not know the name of this Korean choir so if you know their name, please leave a comment.)

video from Pinoy Online Video Channel

Saturday, October 29, 2016

October hodgepodge

This month, I got to try out a lot of restaurants and food items for the first time. Among these is Pablo, the famous Japan cheese tart place that opened a branch in the Philippines a few months ago. People who have tried it in Japan rave about it but I have gotten feedback that the branch in the Philippines, which is located in Robinsons Place Manila, is overrated. I'm a big fan of cheese tarts and cheese cakes so I felt that I wanted to try it myself. Currently, Pablo has a promo that if you buy any two cheese tarts (not including the premium cheese tart), you get P200 off. Since there was a long weekend and everyone would be home for a few days, I decided to get three tarts: the classic (P599), the baked chocolate (P699), and the premium (P799). (I got P200 off of my purchase of the classic and baked chocolate together.) After trying the classic, I guess I can understand why many people find it overrated. I wasn't absolutely blown away by it although the tart filling was very creamy and the tart shell was soft and tasty. However, I really enjoyed the premium cheese tart, which was actually more like a baked cheesecake with a crème brûlée-style top layer. As delicious as that one was, it wasn't my favorite. Top honors go to the Baked Chocolate tart. I mean, this was just so lusciously good.

Apart from these tarts, I decided to try one of the Sabrel Cheese cookies that they had. The server told me that their best seller was the Sabrel Cheese Black (Truffle Salt). I got a bot of nine (P499) not knowing what to expect and when I tried one, I absolutely loved it! The first bite was good but the flavors seemed to build as you kept on eating. Pablo is quite expensive but despite all the complaints of it being overrated, I am a fan. I won't be buying it all the time as it is expensive, and while the classic is probably not something I will be craving for regularly, I am certain I will be buying their other items. Maybe I will also try their Baked Matcha tart next time.

While we are on the topic of desserts, while shopping one day in S&R, I saw pumpkin pies in their pastry and baked goods section. I don't think I've ever had pumpkin pie before and I was quite interested to try it so I bought one. I actually really liked it! It was sweet with a hint of sweet holiday spice. I don't know if it this is a seasonal item and was available only because it is Halloween month but if I see one again, I will get it again.

I also got my first-ever Tuan Tuan experience. I saw before that they have snow buns on the menu and I wondered whether these would be like the pork buns in Tim Ho Wan. The Tuan Tuan menu had a few different varieties, a couple of which were dessert buns. I decided to order the savory buns: the Crispy Barbecued Pork (P128/3 pcs) and the Crispy Minced Duck (P188/3 pcs). I thought the duck buns were okay but the barbecued pork buns were like the Tim Ho Wan version. At least now there are two places where I can get my snow bun fix. :)

I also got to try three different restaurants with my friends. When my friend Che was in town earlier in the month, Joh, Raffa, and I met up with her for dinner at Manam in BGC. Pia also visited Manila later in the month and this time, the same Manila-based group met up with her for dinner at Pink's in BGC, which is a branch of the famous hot dog place in the US. The hotdogs here are good but I do think that at around P280 or more, they are a bit on the expensive side (and it is a bit on the light side too, meaning that just having the hotdog may not be filling enough for dinner). I was tempted to order another one but we decided to have dessert in Brotzeit (yes, they have good coffee and good desserts too). Finally, I met up with my friends from my CSR group in Applebee's. Doms said she would  be leaving the country later in the year so we wanted to meet up while we still could. The food here was pretty good. The funny thing was that when I arrived, everyone was already eating and I wanted to order something else so they told me I should get a protein (I wanted pasta). When I finally ordered my burger, everyone was already full so I had to eat it all by myself LOL. I wish I had just stuck with my pasta choice. :)

I also took my family to dinner at Omakase in Tomas Morato. I wanted to take my family there for my mom's birthday earlier in the year but when we got there, it was full. This time around, we arrived there at around 9pm so there was an available table for us. We ended up over-ordering because I wanted my family to try many different dishes here. Everyone loved the food, as expected.

The situation that led us to eat here was not good, though. The teacher of both my nephews (he taught my older nephew last year then he was my younger nephew's teacher this year) passed away. It was quite sudden and unexpected. We decided to pay our respects by going to the wake that Sunday night and it was heartbreaking hearing the story of his last few days (he caught an unexpected illness that started out quite mildly but then got terribly worse very quickly). Considering I had never met him before in my life, I felt deeply affected by his loss. Maybe because of how good a teacher he was to my nephews and how involved he was in their studies. My mom told me he would even text her with the school requirements of my nephews to make sure they were ready. As sad as it was that he passed away, he really did make his relatively short life matter, as he was beloved by his students, his co-teachers and his family. Rest in peace, Teacher Dan.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tagaytay weekend trip

A few months ago, my friends and I were planning an out-of-town trip and the initial idea was to spend a weekend in Fontana. However, someone in the group wanted to try a place in Tagaytay that he saw on airbnb through this article. We had never gone to Tagaytay as a group before and the fact that place we wanted to try, a chalet overlooking Tagaytay, was very photogenic made it pretty easy for us to decide to go to Tagaytay instead and book this place.

Overlooking Tagaytay Chalet:

Thankfully, when we got there, the place looked just as good in person, if not better. The main room has four beds that comfortably fits 10 people. The living room is very cozy, with lots of comfortable seating and you can step out of the living room into the balcony for a closer view of Taal Lake.

Me at the balcony

A bit of a watch-out though, there's a long stone stairway from the entrance to the chalet so it may not be ideal for people with mobility challenges. You also end up a bit out of breath when you go up the stairs. Once we got settled in, almost everyone found a spot and took a quick nap (I couldn't sleep so I played solitaire). There's no TV here, the wifi connection is not very good, and the mobile signal is weak to none so this chalet is actually a very good place to disconnect and focus on just hanging out and enjoying the company of your friends.

Dining room and living room

One of the many memorable experiences we had actually happened even before we got to Tagaytay. I am not sure if I was just so excited to go out of town or I was just so engaged in conversation with the folks in the car that I somehow missed the Sta. Rosa exit. I didn't even realize that I missed it until I saw the exit to Canlubang and I started wondering, doesn't the Canlubang exit come after the Sta. Rosa exit? No one in the car seemed to notice that we missed our exit either and I just called it out when we got to the end of SLEX hahaha. This is the first time that this happened to me. As such, we took the long and pretty scary and relatively dangerous route from Talisay to Tagaytay.

We arrived in Tagaytay at around 1pm and we headed straight to Breakfast at Antonio's for lunch. I naturally ordered my favorite dish there, the Bacon Roesti. :) (Oh how I missed this dish!) Actually, all the restaurants where we ate are places that I have been to before. One of the people in our group wanted to try Chateau Hestia so we had dinner there. Then for lunch on Sunday, I suggested that we eat in Morielli's. I kinda felt like a food trip tour guide for my friends since I knew exactly where all these restaurants were. :)


Our evening was filled with fun and crazy card and party games, including Monopoly Deal, pusoy dos, Say Anything, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Taboo (but following the Tie One On scoring system), and 1-2-3 pass. Of all those games, Say Anything was the only game I played for the first time and it was interesting although you really need to know the rest of the people in the group. It actually reminded me of Dixit. I also realized that I have gotten better at One Night Ultimate Werewolf because I won in all but one round, whether as a werewolf or as a villager (I have also gotten better at figuring out what I end up being after all the card changes, because both times that my card was changed, I knew what card I got and was still able to win). By the time we called it a night after a very loud and animated 1-2-3 pass, my fingers hurt and I had all but lost my voice from all the shouting hahaha. Thankfully we the chalet is quite secluded so our noise didn't really bother any neighbors.
A trip to Tagaytay wouldn't be complete without pasalubong shopping. I pretty much knew what I wanted to get. We stopped by Rowena's were I got a box of apple tarts, a box of mango tarts, a bot of cashew polvoron, and a box of assorted cheese tarts. I made a very quick stop at Colette's to get buko pie (I still want to try Loumar's; maybe on my next trip). I bought a bottle of coconut vinegar from one of the many sidewalk vendors. And finally, I bought ube jam from Good Shepherd. I was hoping they would also have strawberry jam but unfortunately, it was out of stock yet again. I think the last time I was able to buy strawberry jam from Good Shepherd was back in 2011.

Tagaytay is really one of my favorite places to chill out. The fact that I got to enjoy the weekend with my friends, eat in good restaurants, and stay in a pretty awesome and unique place made it a very memorable trip. If you have the opportunity to try this chalet out, I suggest you do.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

FIVB Women's Club World Championships in the Philippines

For the first time, the Philippines hosted the FIVB Women's Club World Championships (CWC) from October 18 to 23. The tournament includes the current champions of the AVC Club Volleyball Championship in Asia, the African Clubs Championship, the South American Volleyball Club Championship and the CEV Women's Champions League in Europe. Being the host country, the Philippines got to field in a team which featured the magnificent 7 - Rachel Daquis, Jovelyn Gonzaga, Kim Fajardo, Jen Reyes, Jaja Santiago, Frances Molina, and Mika Reyes - as well as 7 imports. Since this was a club championship, the Philippine team competed as PSL-F2 Logistics Manila.

The local team ended up in the bracket that included South American champions Rexona-Sesc Rio, European champions Pomì Casalmaggiore, and wild card Eczacıbaşı VitrA who are actually also the defending champions of this event, having won it in 2015. While the chances of winning against seasoned clubs that had been playing and training together for years were slim to none, it would be a very good experience for our local players to play against the best of the best in the world. And it was! While the PSL-F2 Logistics Manila team had 7 strong imports, the team's Serbian head coach Moro Branislav made sure that every Filipino player got to go on court in almost every game. In fact, the starting six (or seven, including the libero) often included Jaja Santiago and Kim Fajardo. In fact, both Jaja and Kim made their presence felt, with both garnering lots of praise from their competitors.
 One of the coolest things that happened in the tournament is that coach Moro Branislav actually fielded an all-Filipino lineup that played for an entire set. And he did this twice! The first time was in the second set against Eczacıbaşı VitrA. While we lost the set against the second stringers of the defending champions, we essentially played against the Turkish Olympic team and a score of 17 is quite respectable for a team that has only played together for about a month. The second time was in the third and final set against Asian champions Bangkok Glass, and the locals took 20 points in that set. The clamor now is to keep this Magnificent 7 team intact and just add other players to the mix since they are now gelling quite well and their experience at the world stage, competing with global heavyweights, can only help our national team get better.

I am especially happy that my local favorite, Mika Reyes, also had some pretty solid contributions. Despite being pretty short for a middle blocker (at 5'11" she's quite tall in the Philippines but globally, other middle blockers are about the same height as Jaja at 6'5"), she showed a lot of fight and no fear.

A photo posted by Mika Reyes (@reyesmikaaa) on

Not only did she slow down a lot of spikes with her blocking, she also scored with spikes, an ace, and a block. And not just any block. A one-handed block! Wow! Check it out here.

Despite the Women's CWC being held in the Philippines for the first time, the organization of the event was praised by the FIVB president. A lot of the international volleyball stars who played here had great things to say about the crowds and the atmosphere. I think it helps that the local fans know the international players so everyone kept cheering players on and having selfies taken with the athletes.

In the end, Turkish team Eczacıbaşı VitrA made history by being the first team to win back-to-back FIVB Women's Club World Championship titles. While PSL-F2 Logistics Manila ended up in last place, I'm sure that the entire team, including the Magnificent 7, the imports, and the coaching staff who were all given the rare opportunity to compete against the world's best, still felt like winners. As did the event organizers. And the entire country.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Board gaming 2x

Earlier in the month, my friend Denise invited a few folks to her house to play board games. This was planned a couple of months ago right after we played at Ludo and we decided that it was a bit too loud (I lost my voice trying to shout the rules of each game to my friends).

When I arrived, there were still only four of us and I was the only one with games so we played Ticket to Ride, which I still find to be one of the easiest games to play and to teach. Once we finished that game, a couple more people arrived so we ended up playing Codenames. Most of us were playing this party game for the first time. While Codenames is a good game for us to play because it's a team game which means it works well with big groups, the difficulty is that you have to be sort of on the same wavelength as your teammates so they can figure out what you are trying to get them to guess based the one-word clue you have to give them. Clearly I think differently from everyone else as my team did not win any of the three rounds we played. This is clearly not my game LOL.

We followed that up with Sushi Go Party! which is like 7 Wonders but a bit simpler, at least from a scoring standpoint. Up to 8 players can also play it. I actually really enjoyed this game since it is quick to play and the artwork on the cards adds to the enjoyment. I am now planning to get this game, maybe from gaming library.

Sushi Go Party!

To end the night, we played Pandemic. This game is unique because it's cooperative - all players play against the board - and I actually thought we were going to win the game but as we were getting ready to achieve our winning conditions, we ran out of cards. Darn, we lost by one measly round! People were tired by then so we called it a night.

I organized our next game night which was held at Linden Suites and I invited two sets of my board gaming friends. As expected, it took a while for people to arrive so when there were four of us, I once again pulled out my Ticket to Ride game. My friends seem to have figured out how to do well at this game as the scores this time were higher and the game was a lot tighter than when we played it a couple of weeks ago (I won by a large margin the first time; the second time around, I still won but this time only by a hair with a 2-point lead). Once more people arrived, I pulled out my 7 Wonders so that many people could play.

We then played The Voyages of Marco Polo, a new game that Mike bought. This was very complex but since there were a lot of us, we decided to break up into teams. I felt that this game was almost balanced except for one player that had such a strong advantage. That player won, but I am happy that my team ended up in 2nd place and we put up a very good and strategic fight. The Voyages of Marco Polo reminds me of Concordia but I personally prefer Concordia even if it is ranked lower in Boardgamegeek.

The Voyages of Marco Polo

I ended the night playing another new game, Lords of Waterdeep. This worker placement game has pretty simple rules, you earn points by completing quests, and its simplicity and the relatively short playing time make it a good introductory game. I really enjoyed Lords of Waterdeep - maybe winning the game has something to do with it - but I decided to buy this game for myself so I can play it with my other sets of friends.

Lords of Waterdeep

My winning percentages has gone down a bit as expected but I still get to win a few times and I'm happy that I started October with a game win and I ended the month with another game win. I can't wait to play more games in November. :)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Movie-watching 2016 part 4

It's been a few months since I got to watch a film in a movie theater, mainly because I haven't had the time and also because the movies that were showing whenever I would have time weren't all that interesting to me. I decided to take a couple of days off of work recently, just to catch up on rest. This gave me a perfect opportunity to go to the cinema twice.

Kubo and the Two Strings

This stop motion animated film comes from Laika, the same studio that gave us Boxtrolls and ParaNorman. I enjoyed both of those movies, even if they were on the darker side (or maybe precisely because they aren't your normal animated film) so I thought Kubo and the Two Strings might be a good movie too. Upon checking Rotten Tomatoes, I saw that it had a 97% critics rating and an 87% audience score, making me want to see it even more. I took both of my nephews to watch this film and I felt that it lived up to the hype. The animation was done tremendously well, the characters were well-written and captivating, and the fight scenes and action sequences were riveting and exciting. More than that, its themes of love, loss and loyalty and the imperfections and the beauty of humanity make it a poignant and powerful film. It talks about the importance of remembering the past, making it a very appropriate movie heading into All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. I definitely recommend this movie. If not for the storytelling, then at least for the stunning visuals. It's interesting how my two favorite films from this year are both animated - this and Zootopia.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

I didn't really know about Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children until I saw a trailer. In fact, it wasn't even the trailer that piqued my interest, it was the title. I mean, what exactly was so peculiar about these children? That alone made me want to watch. So I did. I found it to be decently entertaining although I thought that the start was a bit too slow, maybe because I wanted to be see the children sooner. When they were finally introduced, and their peculiarities started to be revealed slowly, the pacing just got much better and the movie became a lot more interesting and entertaining. This film is apparently based on the book of the same name, but as I checked its plot, I see that the movie has veered quite far away from the novel. If you are a fan of the book, be ready to see something a bit (or even a lot) from what you've read.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sunday splurge

It all started with me booking a room in Linden Suites over the weekend for game night. I had two different sets of friends who really enjoyed playing board games so I thought it would be a good idea to bring everyone together (it was). Since I was already in the Ortigas area that weekend, I decided to go to Shangri-La Mall on Sunday after I check out of the hotel to do some things at the mall that were a bit long overdue. First, I got my grandmother the Clinique All About Eyes Concealer. She asked me a few months ago if I could get her one since the one she had was almost fully consumed. I figured Rustan's Department Store would have it and they did. When I handed it to my grandmother later that day, she was very pleased.

My mom also texted me on Saturday afternoon to see if I could find a magazine that seemed to be out of stock in most places. I headed over to National Bookstore and luckily, there was still one copy of that magazine left. Cool!

I also decided to get new batteries for my watches. Yes, watches. Apparently, a few of my watches had run out of batteries over the last several months. I visited the watch repair shop at the basement of Rustan's where I had batteries replaced before. Given that I was replacing many batteries (some of my watches required three!), I ended up paying quite a sum of money for it. Ah well, at least I get to use all of my watches again, and I do miss using them.

Since I was already at the mall, I also decided to pass by Havaianas in the department store since I saw that the dark blue flip flops that I had before were available again. I broke the pair I had a long time ago and I hadn't seen that particular style until recently. At first, I was hesitant to get them because I didn't really need new flip flops. Then, I realized that ones that I use whenever I go to the beach or on an out-of-town trip were a bit too small (maybe it was because I bought the wrong size or the pair I had shrunk slightly) so in the end, I got myself a new pair of Havaianas.

Later that night, I took my nephews to Robinson's Galleria to watch Kubo and the Two Strings (I will also write more about this movie later). I figured they would want to watch it because one of them is a big fan of Japan culture and the other likes going to the movie theater. Kubo and the Two Strings was only showing in four Robinson's mall cinemas and Galleria had the most convenient screening time for us. We arrived at the mall about 1 1/2 hours before our movie would start so we decided to go around. After a quick trip to Mercury Drugstore so they could both buy some personal hygiene products, I took them to Daiso because I wanted to see if they had those coffee drippers used for pour over coffee for individual cups. They did, and I got one. (Check out this video to see how it works.) Since we were there, my nephews checked out a few things as as well and they decided to get some snacks. One of them got nori while the other one got nori chips. As if that wasn't enough Japanese culture for one night, we also had dinner at Rai Rai Ken. By the time we were done eating, it was almost time for our movie. Kubo and the Two Strings was very good, I highly recommend it.

Apart from Sunday being a bit of a splurge, it was also quite long and it involved a whole lot of driving. I was lucky though because the typhoon (that didn't really impact Metro Manila that much) must have kept most people at home so the roads were relatively clear and there was barely any traffic.