Linggo, Abril 13, 2014

Tokyo in Pictures

In November last year, I took a week off from work to join my sister Ria and her husband Dan with kids Derek and Danielle in Tokyo. Dan works for Google and was once assigned in Google Japan before being transferred to the office in the United States.

With the Delima family at the Otemon Gate of the Imperial Palace East Gardens

During the trip I brought with me my trusty Nikon D90 along with some lenses hoping it would be adequate enough to capture the sights around the city.

Tokyo is a metropolitan area similar to Metro Manila, which is composed of several local government units. Tokyo is comprised of about 23 Special Wards which are like small cities.

The Tokyo Metropolis is clean and orderly yet still retaining its unique cultural character. Aside from being ultra-modern and cosmopolitan, Tokyo got lots of historical/cultural sites like shrines, gardens, temples and palaces to roam around.

And just a few steps from these sites you will most likely come face-to-face with the country's fascinating pop culture.

Imperial Palace East Gardens, the Gardens are accessible to the public though the main palace grounds are off-limits.
The famous Shibuya Crossing, where thousands cross the busy intersection. Shibuya is one of the Special Wards of Tokyo it is known as a shopping center mostly popular to younger people.

A Lego representation of the famed Shibuya crossing on display at the Legoland in Odaiba

Near the famous Shibuya intersection is another famous landmark, the statue of Hachiko located just outside Shibuya train station.
People flock to the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku one of the districts in Shibuya

A Shinto Wedding at the Meiji Shrine.

Just outside the Tori gate of the Meiji Shrine is Harajuku Bridge, during Saturday afternoons, Japanese and foreign cosplayers converge on this bridge dressed as their anime/manga characters, Tourists try to mingle with these cosplayers and have their photos taken with them.

Cosplayers you would encounter at Harajuku Bridge

Takeshita Street near Harajuku, popular among young Japanese for its trendy shops. It is said that current fashion fads are tested on this street.
Sushi Feast in Roppongi
My nephews enjoying the traffic-free Ginza Street. Ginza is an upscale area in Tokyo known for its luxury shops. The main streets are pedestrianized in certain times of the week for tourists and shoppers.

An interesting sight along Ginza Street are the Ginza cats, placed atop the street sign. These cats are trained to be some sort of therapeutic pets for hospital patients, this particular training will help them get used to people.
Getting around Tokyo is through a subway transit system, known for precision and efficiency.
Sensoji is a Buddhist Temple in Asakusa district, you will also find souvenir shops in the area.
Honkan Building (Japanese Gallery) of the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park
Samurai armor displayed at the museum

A Panda at Ueno Zoo, The Zoo is famed for its Panda conservation program
The 634-meter Tokyo Skytree towers over the Asakusa skyline
Google Mapping equipment on display at the Google Japan cafeteria.

One of the perks of being a Google employee is unlimited supply of free drinks and food at the office.
A replica of the Statue of Liberty in Odaiba Island. At the background is Odaiba Bridge (Rainbow Bridge) which connects the island to Tokyo. Odaiba island is a popular shopping and leisure destination.

Typical world-class Japanese infrastructure

A few hours from Tokyo is the highland town of Hakone. aboard the ropeway if you are lucky you will get to see Mt. Fuji in its full splendor

Huwebes, Marso 27, 2014

Kitchen spirit

Soul Kitchen and Co. is a home-based kitchen concoction enterprise by Mimi Vergara Tupas (@pinkmother) which is currently earning raves for her line of cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices created from her slow-pressed juicer.

It just started in February 2014 and Mimi estimates that she has pressed and sold nearly a thousand bottles of juices.

She started with six juice variants namely; Flow (beets, apple, cocowater), Glow (Tomato, cucumber, seasalt, lemon,celery, beets), Cleanse (cucumber, celery, spinach, lemon, carrots,  apples) Boost (apples, carrots, oranges, pineapples), Jolt (carrot, apple, lemon, pineapple, ginger, cayenne pepper) and Whisk (apples, cucumber, celery, spinach, lemon and ginger).

The original six juices (SK Co. photos)

And during Abreeza Mall’s Organic Fair (March 22-28) she released the kitchen's new line of cold-pressed juices; Fuel, Pump, Jab, Punch, Cure, Quench.

Mimi says these juices can complement meals or for those on the diet can be meal replacements. However despite the healthy lifestyle aim of her juices and other kitchen creations she is not a hard-core organic nor a vegan lifestyle disciple and yes the Tupas family still eats lechon or pork meat at least once a week.

She says the concoctions were meant to jumpstart a healthier lifestyle. It also satisfies her passion of wanting to serve something healthy for her family which she now wants to share to the public.

Once a die-hard coffee lover, she realized that the energy she gets from coffee could be sourced from the juices. She says her caffeine intake drastically reduced when she started juicing.

Aside from juices she also has the ALMONDMYLK line of  healthy drinks (Almondchoco, Almondsoy and Almondcoco) the almond mix are abundant in protein, vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, phytochemicals, healthy omega fatty acids and living enzymes.

“Whatever I want to serve.” Mimi describes the ideas behind the current line of Soul Kitchen and Co. Along with the juices and ALMONDMYLK she also prepares and sells pestos and meatloaf plus the popular chunky chicken cream, which has become a hit among clients.

The products she says are vetted and approved by her husband Jun and their children Uno, Yllana and Ysabella.

Asked if she intends of putting up a regular store to sell Soul Kitchen’s line of urban eats and healthy drinks.

“Kapoy na magtayo ng tindahan.” (Its so tiring to set up a store) Mimi replies. The couple has their hands full running the three Soul Lifestyle boutiques plus three pet parlor branches and a pet hotel (One Fab Pooch). Plus she says the Soul Kitchen is a sub-brand of Soul Lifestyle a clothing store the couple established in 2007.

Mimi says juicing itself takes a lot of time, in the early days, she used to press on Tuesdays and Thursdays but now with increasing amount of orders she presses for three to four days a week.

The press is dependent upon order, she makes the juice as fresh as possible as it has only a shelf-life of 48 hours. During the organic fair at Abreeza where they had a stall, the staff takes the orders from clients mostly walk-ins and Mimi goes back to the house unto the kitchen to begin pressing.

It could have been a thankless, backbreaking work except that Mimi assumes the role of a kindred kitchen spirit. She says juicing and cooking was her sort of therapy during hectic days.

(SK Co. photos)

Apart from kitchen duties Mimi takes time to promote Soul Kitchen on social media (Facebook and Instagram). Word of mouth is helping to hike the demand.

Mimi says Soul Kitchen Co.  represents her family’s outlook on life and food.

“We dine happily, we eat what we want, but we make sure they’re not only good-tasting but also good for our bodies,  they’re good for the senses and they’re good for our souls as well. “

For orders you can text Soul Kitchen and Co. at 0917.704.8060 or email at soulkitchencompany@gmail.com
Facebook/Soul Kitchen Co. 

Flicks and Reruns: Mana

Every family has its secret.

And this secret figures prominently in the film "Mana" (Inheritance) directed by Gabby Fernandez and produced by De La Salle College of St. Benilde.

Set amidst the sprawling sugar plantations of Negros Occidental, the film centers around an upper-class mestizo family- the Villareals,  the widowed matriarch  Doña Concha (played by opera singer Fides Cuyugan Asencio)  is in the throes of death and the rest of the children comes to the ancestral home to discuss the inheritance.

Their is something with Doña Concha's inheritance, while in most cases the children will fight over inheritance, the Villareal siblings dread it, fearing the consequences of their mother's bequeathment.

What is it with the Mana which has thrown the family in disarray? and why is there  fear and tension in the impending death of their matriarch? the dread overlays the emotion of genuine sorrow and morose. The secret of the inheritance is hidden behind the equally grieving Negrenses who are curiously glued to the blow-by-blow accounts provided by Bombo Radyo reporting the state of health of the well-loved matriarch.

This is the dynamics that powers the film. the pace of the film is deliberate and slow echoing the rusticity of agrarian Negros the secret unravels slowly as each Villareal try to carefully navigate their lives around the secret. Roly (played by Jaime Fabregas) the eldest of the brood tries to take charge of the family but is having difficulty meshing the different personalities of the siblings, Sandra (Cherie Gil) is a liberal-minded urbanite, Mike (Ricky Davao)  is a scheming politico who has the propensity of exploiting his mother's illness for political gains,  Lino (Mark Gil) is an alcoholic, Bernie (Epy Quizon) plays the youngest son and his mother's favorite and Ces (Tetchie Agbayani) as the trusted half sister of the Villareal siblings.

Despite being technically a horror film since it takes a spin on a familiar creature mythology, Mana doesn't give you the usual shocks and gore associated with the genre. Instead it places the lore as the centerpiece of a family drama set in a fading grandeur of a haciendero family.

The dimensions of the conflict is well-played out by the actors in the film, a virtual tour-de-force performances coming from the finest actors and actresses of Philippine cinema. Standing out from the ensemble is the performances of Mark Gil who provides the much needed texture to his tormented character.     Cherie Gil gives out another remarkable acting performance as the desperate daughter wanting to end the enveloping fear of waiting for the inheritance.

It is a great drama movie but a bad horror film if it is marketed as a horror movie. Direk Gabby tries to bring in ghosts and creatures but it pans out notably as the atmosphere of the film wasn't shaped for horror and is not helped by badly-made CGIs as if the scare tactics was just forced into it for embellishments.

Fortunately the fear and the whirlpool of tension is communicated by the fine acting performances and accentuated by the film's cinematography and  art direction.

Martes, Marso 25, 2014

My keynote speech at the 2014 Ateneo de Davao High School Recognition Program

To Fr. Michael Pineda- high school principal,  the assistant principals,  the faculty, to the parents present here and to our student achievers.

Maayong buntag kaninyong tanan.

I was a high school student from 1991 to 1995. We were among the last batch to use the old high school building, just right after we graduated, the school started the construction of the new buildings at the former backfield. These facts would put in context the story I would be sharing a little later.

The theme of the recognition program is “65 years of magis.” And in this occasion I would like to congratulate our student achievers for being the embodiment of magis.

The way I understand magis, it is of doing more for yourself, for others and for God. Becoming better individuals, either as students or young citizens of this country.

High school apart from being an educational level, to students it is a world of its own, It is an experience, it is a part of life.

It coincides in a time of adolescence, a period of exploration, a time when we discover our capabilities, talents our interests, our passion and our dreams. A time when we find something that will push us to our own magis.

High school is also a time when we are lost in our own stereotypes. Sometimes our limitations is not set by the community but also by our own selves.

Let me share this story way back when I was in high school which I remember up to this day.

Back in our time, we had the Preparatory Military Training or PMT. When I was in senior year I applied to the position of a military police. So I signed up and was included in the training.

The training was for a couple of weeks, actually the main training was during Saturdays. The trainees included were applicants for the military police, the medics  and the non-commissioned officers (NCOs).

I don’t know if it’s a tradition but many of the “sosyal”- the campus prettiest ladies would want to become  medics. Our batch was no exception.

The Saturdays training starts 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. but there was this one week which they called as hell week.  Punishments and difficult tasks were doubled to weed out the ill-deserving trainees.  If you pass hell week there is a likely chance you'll complete the training and become a medic, MP or a non-commissioned officer.

We were grouped into three trainees under the command of a very strict maldita officer. Yung dalawa ko kasama, mga babae they were the prettiest girls not just in our batch but perhaps the whole Ateneo high as well.

Uy sabi ko swerte ako. Hehehe. Kasama ko mga crush ng bayan.

(laugh) Yan ang akala ko.

Unknown to us, the officers had a mission, they wanted to break the spirit of two girls, they were expecting the two to quit in the middle of that hellish Saturday. So the harshest punishments were levied upon us.

First punishment, we were to apply dirty soil to our faces. For me, I was worried that time as I was having a serious outbreak of pimples. I remember at glancing at my two pretty ladies just a mere shadow of their beautiful persona, they were all dolled up with dirt.

We asked to perform army dozen exercises (with increase repetitions), march around the field. Then we were ordered to stand at attention under the harsh noontime sun for an hour.

Then we were made to crawl towards the vast expanse of the backfield. After which without rest we were made to duck walk around the backfield. So imagine the dirt, unforgiving heat, unrelenting punishments and screaming officers.

The officer was angrily shouting “oh sosyal, man kaya kayo sa ateneo Tingnan natin!!!” “quit na kayo? Quit na kayo?, kawawa naman beauty ninyo ha!”

I remember I asked the officer. “Ma’m hindi po ako sosyal bakit ako nasali dito?"

The officer just scolded me, “Angal ka? you want to quit.?” I said “no ma’m” she replied “then you don’t question an order Give me 20 pushups now!!”

While we were duckwalking, I could hear one of the ladies whisper to herself “ I will not quit, I will not quit, I will prove to you na hindi ako ang taong inaakala mo.” The other girl was sobbing already but she was still continuing duck-walking.

Then after duck-walking we were made to climb that acacia tree within  a span of 3 minutes or face punishment.

We cannot just climb it because we had combat boots on, so these two girls,  fragile and delicate but with all their strength lifted and carried me upwards to the main branch and when I was atop had to pull them up. And we were able to climb a high point in the tree, Up in the tree with the campus beauties. I just find the scene surreal.

By then the battalion commander stepped in and stopped the tasks and told us to  come down from the tree and rest.

After that “ordeal” the two girls cried, they hugged each other (sayang they didn’t hug me) we had just passed the most difficult week of our training.

Then lady officer approached us and told my companions “I thought you were weak, that we can easily break you, but you proved us wrong.”

The other girl cried not just because she passed hell week or proved the officers wrong, but she also has proven something to herself. She discovered something in her.

She has found her magis.

When we try to become a better persons, we must overcome pre-existing stereotypes and prejudices. And sometimes these stereotypes comes from within us. More often than not we apply our own stereotypes, we apply our own limitations

The power to change is always inside of us. Magis is not just a spiritual philosophy nor an attitude but to me it is a  SPIRIT that pushes us to do more, beyond what people think of us, even beyond what we think of ourselves. 

And as we grow older, when we no longer worry with adolescent stereotypes. When we are fully-grown individuals, magis means having the strength of character to plod on and pursue that goal or dream we set for- ourselves, for our family for God, or our  country.

Magis is a never-ending process.

Daghang kaayong salamat, maayong buntag.

Martes, Marso 18, 2014

Shaking up Davao

I met Leah and Kat during the run-up to their respective events. The two twentysomethings along with their equally dynamic group of friends are currently changing Davao’s once laidback party scene.

Leah Duran, is one of the people behind Mustard Seed Events, she along with partners (Nicole Balinas, Kerwin Lu and James Barcelona) have organized hit party events such as #Sunbaked (August 2013), #Sembreak (October 2013) and Flight (February 2014).

26-year old Kat Dalisay is the proprietor and visionary of Manic Nightnings Productions, which organized the massive carnival-themed EDM (Electronic Dance Music) event Carte Blanche held last November.

After Carte Blanche, Manic followed it up with Soul Sensations, Reverie, Elements. Just recently Kat and the team pulled off Davao’s first neon-glow themed party, Liberalia.

Kat Dalisay of Manic Nightnings (photo JM Santillan)

“I am the type of person who never thinks in a box.” Kat tells this writer. She describes her productions as inspired by international events and festivals from across the world.

The 2013 Carte Blanche for one was a carnival electronic music festival never before seen in the city.

Carte Blanche 2013 (Manic Nightnings Productions photo Wrap Meting) 

“I always gamble to show a different thing, luckily Dabawenyos are biting it.” Kat says. Her events take the form of experiences she wants to be in.

“I know I am not just alone in dreaming things like going to Tomorrowland (A Belgian EDM event) there are also people who long for those things.” Kat adds.

For Leah, Mustard Seed Events (MSE) was just a small business project along with her friend Nicole taking on birthday parties, cocktails, weddings and receptions.

“After a series of parties and events we attended out of town, we realized how Davao was feeling left behind from the kind of festivities other cities and provinces were hosting. It was then that we decided with friends that our first major production would be a big party set for Kadayawan Festival; thus #Sunbaked was created.” Leah recalls the start of their foray into party organizing.

#Sunbaked held at Pearl Farm Marina in Lanang was such a success, it became a talk of the town and word of the great party traveled all over social media, a pandora box of fun was opened.

Leah Duran of Mustard Seed Events

“A Mustard Seed Events’ Party is simply like inviting your friends over to your house for some down time and good music. So when we throw an event, we as organizers try and blend with the crowd as much as we could. It's the best time for us to catch up with friends and acquaintances. It's like a birthday party, only everyone is a celebrant.” Leah relates the essence behind every MSE event.

Just like Kat, the 25-year old registered nurse now businesswoman says their MSE parties is a collective influence from different music festivals.

“We try to see what’s out there and experience different kinds of festivals. It’s the best way to learn and get your creative juices out.” Leah says.

“As for the music, we leave that up to the DJ's or artists we invite to play. It's their job to read the crowd and curate the music, and nobody else has a say on that, not even us” Leah adds.

#Sembreak (Mustard Seeds Events photo from MSE Facebook page)

Asked of the similar events and parties now being organized along the city the two ladies agreed that it is a much welcome development and do not consider it as a threat to their ventures.

“It’s good to have a lot of events to enliven the party scene here in Davao, Manic already has solid followers, we are not threatened as long as all the other events will deliver what they promised to the people and party goers are happy. Its okay, what we do here is for Davao.” Kat tells this writer.

Manic Nightnings Productions Kat and Danelle with DJs Surf, Reo Mendoza, Erwin Edralin, Torch and Wacky  

Kat Dalisay (left) with friend Jason Joyce

Mustard Seed Events  team from left James, Kerwin, Leah and Nicole

(from left) Estefanie, James, Nicole and Leah of Mustard Seed Events

For Leah, the presence of these productions is of great help. “They’ve helped us achieve our goal of putting Davao City on the map by attracting local and foreign tourists alike and showing our visitors that, Yes, Dabawenyos know how to have fun!”

“EDM is happy and liberating.” Kat shares the secret as to why their events have unleashed closet partyphiles. Kat loves listening to local EDM DJs Surf, Ace Ramos, Deuce and also prefers the music of international DJs Showtek, Hardwell, Mitch de Klein.

EDM has indeed opened doors for Kat, apart from new friends, she found corporate partners, her Liberalia had about 86 sponsors. Even malls are linking up with Manic Nightnings.

This March 29 Kat will be teaming up again with retail giant SM for an Earth Hour-inspired EDM event, Spectra: The Earth Hour Black Light Party to be held this March 29 at SM Lanang.

She is also setting her sights on Carte Blanche 2014, which she promises to be bigger and grander. ‘We will be using two lots at the Crocodile Park.” Kat reveals.

For Leah and her MSE team, they are planning for more pocket events but they will be focusing on #Sunbaked 2014 which will be bigger than the previous year.

Leah says the restrictive ordinances of the City particularly the 1 a.m. liquor ban has an impact to the party scene but took the adjustment by starting their events in the afternoon.

“But we have to follow the laws that is why when we were still conceptualizing #SunBaked, we thought of starting the party at 3 P.M.” Leah recalls their experience last year

The Flight (Mustard Seed Events)
Liberalia (Manic Nightnings)
The Flight (Mustard Seed Events)

(from left) Nicole, Cathy Binag and Leah

Kat echoes Leah’s line of adjustment. “I like that there are also limits. People need to have some kind of balance.” She adds.

As an advice to budding party event organizers Leah admits they are still a learning bunch.

“We're still learning. But if it's any consolation, you'll need a lot of patience, perseverance and prayers to get through the challenges. And more importantly, good terms and relations with the people you're working with.” Leah says offering a bit of a tip.

For Kat her advice would be to always think out-of-the-box and to come out with a different concept for every event, offering a new experience for partygoers.  

Yes, the city has its fair share of visionaries and dreamers, but only a very few would gamble their vision at a sprawling empty field and put up one hell of a party

Martes, Marso 11, 2014

When stars descend upon Mati

photo Albert Egot

This used to be a sleepy place, indie filmmaker and real estate marketing man Albert Egot describes his hometown Mati City.

But this small city facing the Pacific is slowly being reinvigorated by the influx of steady development. Businesses fueled by increasing commerce and its growing  tourism industry.

And one of the city’s new generation of entrepreneurs is taking steps to make the city more lively and exciting- this by getting showbiz celebrities to visit Mati.

“We want our suki (loyal customers) to experience their idols in flesh not just on TV. We want to make them happy. It’s indeed very fulfilling to see them smile, laugh, get kilig every time their favourite artists serenades them on stage.” Says Lyn Pang marketing head of the family-owned ER Superstore.

With the Pang family
Jessy Mendiola

Founded in 1984 by Lyn’s parents Edmundo and Rosemarie as a small mini-mart, ER Superstore is now one of the biggest retail centers in Mati City.

In 2009 Lyn decided that instead of Matinians looking at actual stars in the sky to while their time away, she would have to get showbiz stars to descend upon their city.

Star-in-a-million singing stars Rachelle Ann Go, Erik Santos and Christian Bautista serenaded Matinians then during the opening of the City’s first mall in 2011, the Pang-owned ER Supermall Lyn got Sam Concepcion, Gloc-9, Calla Lily, Aiza Seguerra among a bevy of celebrities.

And during the mall’s first anniversary she got matinee idol Paulo Avelino, Melissa Ricks and Jaycee Parker.

By the following years popular stars such as Kathryn Bernardo, Kristine Reyes, Enrique Gil, Jake Cuenca, Maui Taylor, Regine Angeles, Christian Slater for their mall shows.

Enrique Gil with Davao's stand-up comedians

“We chose them according to the Matinians’ taste of artists. We make sure that we balance them such to their market in terms of their Fans.” Lyn Pang explains as to how she chooses the stars.

Current favorite are ABS-CBN stars as the TV network’s shows are the current staple of the residents’ television sets. She also gets sexy stars such as Maui, JC Parker and Aubrey Miles for the male audience and young heartthrobs like Enrique Gil and Khalil Ramos for female teenagers.

I was recently in Mati (March 8) together with Albert and a troupe of Davao City’s stand-up comedians led by Vice Ganda impersonator Danielle Diva, comedian-singer ER and Beyonce spoofer Brayance.

The three stand-up comedians who also starred in Egot’s campy comedy film “Ang Wig ni Happiness” were hosting a show celebrating ER Superstore’s 30th year anniversary.

For that particular event Lyn got Jessy Mendiola, a rising television actress who recently starred in the teleserye remake of Thalia’s Maria Mercedes, In the company of Jessy were teen heartthrob Khalil Ramos and sexy star Aubrey Miles.

Jessy with Mayor Carlo Rabat

For Lyn, getting the celebrities is also a way of promoting the town. She usually takes them to the fabled Dahican Beach currently the city’s main tourism attraction. Usually the stars are billeted at Kanakbai, one of the premiere accommodations in Dahican.

Dahican Beach

If the visitors will have the time Lyn says she would bring them Dahican and the other islands such as Pujada and Waniban.

Mati’s Pacific scenic coastline boasts of long stretches of white sand beaches, it has also become a popular spot for surfing and skimboarding and has largely contributed to the growth of tourism in the region.

As for memorable visitors Lyn says she can’t forget Kathryn Bernardo. “Despite her popularity she maintains her feet on the ground, very humble, friendly and accommodating as well as to her mom, Tita Min she also put us on national trending in Twitter for the first time because of her fans.”

Kathryn Bernardo (photo by Albert Egot Jr.)

Lyn says she is planning to get Daniel Padilla due to very popular demand from Matinians.

“We have received an overflowing of requests from our customers and as much as we wanted to bring him here his schedule is always booked.” Lyn explains why Daniel has to set foot in Mati. She says hopefully this year they could see the national teen idol setting foot in the city.