Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Property Boom

About twelve years ago, when the country was experiencing an economic crisis, my team and I were tasked to sell a new Rockwell Land project.  It obviously wasn’t the best of times, and it felt like selling prophylactics to the Opus Dei community.  We had to turn to Victor Hugo’s eloquent prose to convince our targets:  “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come”.  We had to woo nurses and retirees in the States.  It remained a tough sell.  Erap was in power.  The pessimism and the resistance to invest continued with Gloria Arroyo usurping more power.

Now, it’s a different story.  The property boom is transforming the Manila skyline, and every urban center in the Philippines.  “Verdant greens” and “luxury living” pepper print and outdoor advertising.

I just came from the launching of Proscenium, Rockwell’s most premium development since the original West Block cluster in the old power plant.  There were signs that all was really well for the erstwhile sick man of Asia.  There was a fabulous launch to begin with.  A Filipino corporation could now commission a man like Carlos Ott, the Uruguayan architect behind the iconic L’Opéra Bastille in Paris, to design Rockwell Center part 2.  The design of the buildings is not at all austere.  Proscenium will have a performing arts center, which we don’t have much of in this side of town.   A (nonessential) theatre in a condo complex would’ve been unthinkable a decade ago.   Dozens of units have been sold on launch day.  Our advertising was sure, confident and no longer equivocal.

We’re finally living in happy times.  It’s about time.

Must read Thelma.

Kudos to P-Noy’s speechwriter.  Or did he write that speech himself at Thelma San Juan’s book launch earlier today?  He always manages to say the right things (including those strong words against China and Cambodian Premier Hun Sen in last week’s Asean Summit), and make them sound like his own.  None of the bombast or posturing of old.

Here are excerpts from his speech, extolling the Inquirer Lifestyle editor’s journalism:

“The joy derived from reading Thelma’s work is not just a result of her talent, her hard work, and her affinity with style. I firmly believe that it is also result of what Letty Magsanoc called, in her introduction, an ‘activist conscience’—a staunch dedication to the principles of journalism, and a devotion to her readership.”

“We need more writers like her, and more books like the one we are launching today. These are the works that ultimately allow those in public life to break free from their caricatures. At a time when politicians are treated as commodities rather than initiators of change, Thelma brings us back to the substance of the people she covers. Think of it: in her articles she gives you that telling detail, that revealing nuance, that gives you a more multidimensional glimpse into the person.”

In other words, it’s not just gossip.  “I’m afraid of heights (or why I can’t social-climb)” promises to be a good read.  Smartly written celebrity profiles are now hard to come by.

Lulu’s Piña

Fashion isn’t my forte.  I’m not about to give a critique because I cannot match Sir Christian Espiritu’s wisdom and eloquence.  But the most I could say is I liked what I saw in my visit to L Manila at Greenbelt 5.

L Manila sells designer Lulu Tan Gan’s creations.  The Queen of Knit’s reliable cashmere is still on display (the best travel wear ever – knit’s wrinkle-free and easy to roll in your luggage).

At L, she’s mixed knitwear with piña fashion.  It’s not everyday that you’d see this indigenous fabric on display in shops.  Lulu has updated it and made it a versatile fabric, not just for old ladies or wedding godmothers’ wear.  She’s turned into an accessory, a scarf, a vest, a short dress, a full gown.  The embroidery is intricate and whimsical, unlike the boring barong dresses you’d find in the Filipiniana sections of department stores.

I’d always hear friends agonize over what to wear when invited to a Filipiniana event.  They’d complain that there aren’t shops that carry piña for the young and non-ninangs.  They just have to check out L Manila.

When I saw Lulu’s artistry at L, I felt proud to be Pinoy.  A cliché I don’t mind repeating.

Red Garlic

Why does Quezon City seem to have more exciting restaurants than Makati?  Is it because of sheer land mass — there are more spaces to fill with a variety of offerings?  It must also be the bigger residential population, with more families to cater to.  Or am I just tired of the same old places in Makati?

Earlier today, I tried Red Garlic on Katipunan Road, across the Quirino Memorial Hospital (the old Labor Hospital).   I had heard so much about it – mostly good – but I wasn’t too excited about its fusion menu: mostly Tex-Mex with Asian.  I’m not big on fusion.  I think it’s Western appropriation of the Eastern experience, or the other way around.   Adding strange ingredients to a classic recipe usually don’t work.  But today I thought, if some Californian was successful in adding avocado to a sushi roll, I should give fusion a chance.

Red Garlic’s menu was loaded with a mix of favorites thrown in by a group of male foodies that run the place (including Raymart Santiago).   Every course was filled with several choices.  This Pampangan likes excess.

We started with Santiago Chili Poppers  – five long green chilis stuffed with chili con carne, wrapped in jalapeno batter, and served in a shot glass that has sauce at the bottom.  It was ok.  I wish it were more spicy, though.  I prefer Baps Backdoor Grill‘s Chili Cheese Stick version.  Bap’s is San Fernando Pampanga’s best-kept secret.  It deserves a full culinary dissertation.

The other appetizer we had was the Quesadilla with Adobo.  This one was a winner.

Then it got even better with the Hanoi Pomelo Salad – crispy adobo flakes on top of pomelo chunks, shrimps and fresh lettuce sprinkled with sweet chili sauce.

photo from

Main course was the tenderest Smoked Tequila Lime Beef Barbeque Ribs.  And the Batanes Roulade – cream dory stuffed with laing.  Both were filling and good, but should’ve been a bit hotter.

We capped our lunch with Chocolate Decadent Cake and Apple Pie, both a la mode.  Must-trys, after all QC is also known for great desserts.

I’ll be back for more.  The pasta and pizza on the next table looked good.  There are also more things going for Red Garlic: it’s successfully fused efficient service, beautiful presentation and an overall relaxing vibe.

Red Garlic: 218 Katipunan AveBlue Ridge, Quezon City; (02) 682-1860

The Nara Walk

I submitted this photo essay to my Lifestyle Section editor presumably for publication on November 11th.  Unfortunately, it didn’t see print.  My editor thought it was too pretty and looked like a paid spread.  I arranged the visual narrative and wrote the brief annotation for variety’s sake.  Chatty travelogues could sometimes be boring.  It wouldn’t have come out the same if somebody else did the layout.  Oh well, next time.  At least it wasn’t rejected for painful reasons.

Nara, Japan’s ancient capital, has long been in the shadow of Kyoto.  Yet, it deserves the attention of tourists who are visiting Kyoto or Osaka.  It predated all other cities in Japan.  It’s a more intimate peep into the old Japan.  From Kyoto or Osaka, Nara is a quick 40-minute train ride.  It can be explored on a day and better seen on foot.

Junk the tour bus, downshift a gear or two, and start walking.  I started my hike from the JR Nara Station which was farther from the main Nara park than the Kinetsu Station.  The hike was all of two kilometers to the park.   It was long but quite exhilarating on a cool October morning.  I got to taste it all – slowly, healthily, deeply. 

On Sanjo road:  the scattering of quaint cafes and restaurants with funny names; traditional townhouses with lovely courtyards; merchants and antique shop owners; schoolboys on their way to baseball practice; and even impeccably dressed beggars.   At Nara Park, the ever-present deer – hundreds of them gently hustling for cookies, some just too stuffed with the 150-yen treats to bother.  (I learned later wild grass would have sufficed.)  And the high points of the walking tour: centuries-old UNESCO Heritage Sites like the Todaiji and Kofukuji Temples.

Eric Paras’ beautiful things

If I had millions to renovate our ancestral home in Pampanga, I’d like Eric Paras to do the architectural and interior improvements.

Eric is Kapampangan.  He’d be more attuned to the needs and quirks of the fussy Cabalen.  His sense of history and love for local craft would come in handy.

I’d also have him to do my own home, which would be more modern and certainly less spacious.  He’s not afraid to break the common decorating rules and try something new.  He’s maximalist without going over-the-top.  He loves color.  The visual and physical are vital to his aesthetic.  And he likes to have fun, mixing the classic with bohemian, the elegant with the unfinished.

I like dropping by unannounced in his showrooms in 2680 F.B. Harrison Pasay.  He seems to tire his staff by regularly rearranging his home and showrooms.  There’s always something new with his accents and accessories.  And most of them are for sale.  It was my default place when I was fixing my condo.  I wouldn’t have gotten his beautiful pieces elsewhere.  I’d also drive to Pasay to buy gifts for friends who appreciate lovely stuff like lamps, china, vases and stuff to put on the coffee table.  His place is a great shopping destination for Christmas.

2680 F.B. Harrison

This is the compound in Pasay where I’ve spent a lot of drunken nights for the last 6 years.  Behind a red nondescript gate in this chaotic part of the city are about two dozen houses built after the war.  It’s a leafy oasis which is now rare all over Metro Manila.    It’s also a popular destination for people who love artful things.  Interior designer Eric Paras’ showrooms are found there.  Avellana Art Gallery occupies three houses for its exhibitions.  Top fashion designer Jojie Lloren converted one house into an atelier.

I dropped by earlier today because I liked exploring it during the day.  I also thought it was a perfect setting for happy hour.

Come visit 2680.  You’d be glad to know that all is not lost in a city that loves tearing down old structures.

A recollection of Osaka

“The person who has not traveled widely thinks his mother is the best cook.”                           — Kenyan proverb

It hits you the moment before the plane hits the tarmac, as you catch a glimpse of the dumpy Pasay landscape. The holiday is over. Reality becomes more painful as you go through the inadequately air-conditioned immigration section.   

When you get settled at home, you pore over your journal and pictures to reproduce the excitements and movements of the trip. You want to recapture the feelings you’ve had while wandering through the streets of a place thousands of miles away. But the honking of jeepneys on the street down below, and the high-pitched Claire de Lune cries of the Makati garbage truck, pulls you back from dreamland. You can’t quite recapture the experience, and the place is fading away quickly.

The “tang” of the place gives you clarity, however. The thrills of dining are immortal. The best travel memories are culinary experiences. When I think of Shanghai, I’m transported to Di Shui Dong at the French Concession where we had Hunan Pork Ribs. As the waiter was approaching our table, we exclaimed, “Ay amoy anghit!” (Smells like underarm odor). But the ribs were the best ever, with the meat falling right off the bone, and the avalanche of red chilis spicy enough to blow your head off.

Food and travel go together like the Philippines and awful airports. In most foreign places I’ve visited, the food is the highlight. Osaka in Japan is one.

Read more about my impressions of Osaka in today’s Philippine Star: Article.aspx?articleId=866448&publicationSubCategoryId=86