Monthly Archives: December 2012

Brillante the nonconformist

It’s always hard for me to give a critique of a Brillante Mendoza movie.   Whatever he’s done defies the principles I hold dear as an avid moviegoer.  I love the magic of film, and how it transports me to an alternative reality.  I always surrender to a filmmaker’s machinations, suspend disbelief and lap up plot twists and surprises.   I savor delicious writing, like Annie Hall’s: “A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know?  It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”  I like leaving the theatre with a glow from a feel-good film, or obviously affected by a good thriller, drama or action piece.

I don’t get that from Mendoza. His writing is telegraphic.  He’s less interested in the ending than the laborious exposition in the preceding 90 minutes.  His work is all too real.  Serbis made me sick from the stench of a rundown moviehouse that houses sex workers.  I felt like I was part of a looong journey through the jungles of Mindanao in Captive; I could feel the sting from the bug bites that plagued Isabelle Huppert.  In Thy Womb, he made me get into the skin of Shaleehah/Nora Aunor (in the greatest movie comeback – she’s almost as good as her Elsa).  I felt for her – her unconditional love for husband Bangas-An, her struggles in a poor fishing village in Tawi-Tawi, her patience as a woman waiting for a woman to bear Bangas-An’s child.

There’s a precious scene in the movie where the couple and a Muslim matchmaker visit a town in search of a wife number 2.  The woman happens to be out of town.  Bangas-An wants to head home.  Aunor prevails upon him to wait.  So they sit on the platform on stilts.  The beautiful framed shot lingers for a minute.  So we wait with them.  And experience the couple’s nth attempt at happiness.

In another scene, Aunor buys cassava in a palengke.  On her way to back to the banca, a group of gun-toting soldiers suddenly come out of nowhere presumably in pursuit of a Muslim rebel and accidentally pushes her aside.  She drops the kamote.  She mentions nothing to her husband like it were a regular thing.  Mendoza omits any further political discourse.  You don’t see such restraint in most other Pinoy films.

It’s only when you become aware of Mendoza’s unwillingness to conform to our usual notions of “entertainment” that you get to appreciate his work.  You’re not meant to enjoy his films; you admire them.  Plot, chatter, frenetic editing, big scenes are not his foremost concerns.  Nothing of consequence seems to happen.  It’s like watching paint dry.  The results, however, are intensely rich with the thoughts and emotions of characters that don’t belong to a parallel universe.

So should you see Thy Womb?  Please do.  This could be the last intelligent film that the Metro Manila Film Fest would ever show.

My favorite things in 2012

2012 is about to end and be remembered as one of the best years in our lifetime.  Sure, nature wreaked havoc, as it always does every year.  In the Philippines, we’ve seen devastation from the Habagat and Pablo, and also the nation’s better preparedness and resilience in preventing greater devastation.  The West is in financial doldrums but the Philippines is charging ahead and is poised to be the next economic power of Asia.  War and civil strife broke out in the Middle East, kids were the hapless victims of a deranged man in Newtown, but peace generally reigned in the rest of the world.   We even saw a Mindanao peace pact happen.  China is the year’s biggest bully in our part of the world, but it has made our country more united and patriotic against any time of aggression.  Some elected local officials have shown their true colors – all sound and fury, signifying nothing, mostly idiocy and fiction.  Yet, Netizens are quick to refute, expose and effect change.  We’ve seen bad but it’s brought out the good in most individuals.

On a lighter note, a chubby-face Korean with funny dancing skills ruled the Web and the music scene.  He’s the true Man of the Year – to anyone under 10 and all the other adults who danced to his song in Christmas parties, ad infinitum.  How could anyone then forget 2012?

Here are the things I like that came out in 2012:


Boo the Internet sensation
Boo the Internet sensation

TIME's "Cool Person of the Year" - I agree totally.

The Imp takes over GOT.
The Imp takes over GOT.

Seth Macfarlane - best SNL guesting ever
Seth Macfarlane – best SNL guesting ever
Homeland "Q&A" Episode - the year's most intense
Homeland “Q&A” Episode – the year’s most intense
The only actors that matter in our fave teleserye
The only actors that matter in our fave teleserye
Ruffalo's time has come.
Ruffalo’s time has come.

The musical becomes a hit after Madonna's incessant cries for support in all caps.
The musical becomes a hit after Madonna’s incessant cries for support in all caps.
ad campaign of the year
ad campaign of the year
The action movie of the year.  The villain of the year.  The sex scene of the year.
The action movie of the year. The villain of the year. The sex scene of the year.
Random girl in a mall karaoke makes it to Ellen.
Random girl in a mall karaoke makes it to Ellen.
Finally, a grand slam for a Brit.
Finally, a grand slam for a Brit.

Danny Boyle, the Industrial Revolution sets, the music of the 80s, Annie Lennox's attitude, Posh Spice's non-singing, UK cool topping Chinese extravaganza
Danny Boyle, the Industrial Revolution sets, the music of the 80s, Annie Lennox’s attitude, Posh Spice’s non-singing, UK cool topping Chinese extravaganza


24 hours in Dumaguete

Dumaguete was a perfect respite from the camp in Sumilon (like I said previously – the island is just too precious to waste on a gecko-ridden camp site).  It’s got a small town feel – the people are gentle; the streets are clean; and it’s easily navigable.  24 hours is all you need to explore the city; a day more if you’d like to hop to nearby islands.

After checking in at Florentina, my friend James and I went straight via tricycle (8 pesos per passenger) to the city’s iconic boardwalk along Rizal Avenue.   This was special since we don’t get to see a lot of urban areas with such a scenic ocean view.

A monument to the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres, who were among the city’s first Catholic missionaries and educators, stands on the gateway.

Our first meal – late lunch – was in the restaurant at La Residencia Almar.

The place was a bit pricey for Dumaguete standards, but the 900-peso-plus tab was worth it because of –

Chicharon Bisaya.  I’m a chicharon gourmand but I’ve never tasted anything like it.  It’s all fried laman, none of the pork skin.  It’s crunchy and not oily at all.  Pure pork bliss.

Dumaguete Express.  It’s Bicol Express combined with the Pinakbet of Ilocos.  I thought it should’ve been hotter but it was most savory.  I should try this at home.

Sizzling Tangigue Steak.  The tenderest Tangigue ever.

We walked for about 50 meters for coffee and dessert at another Dumaguete landmark – Sans Rival Cakes & Pastries on San Jose Street.

Walk past the bistro across the St. Paul Sisters monument, and have yummy silvanas for 13 pesos apiece.

Stuffed from the lunch, we hopped on the trike again and headed for Silliman University, the oldest American university in Asia.  Silliman is Dumaguete.  It defines the city, and occupies much of its prime real property.  The death of Silliman would be the end of Dumaguete.

The campus is lined with trees much like UP Diliman.  Many famous writers have gone to Silliman for fellowships and higher studies.   How can you not wax poetic in a placid setting such as this?


We had the obligatory museum tour ten minutes before closing time.  I just remember seeing lots of Muslim artifact.

For dinner, we checked out Hayahay.  This is a must-visit for the freshest seafood, cheap San Miguel beer, and live music (name it, the guitarist-singer can sing it – from Jim Croce to Justin Bieber).

This I have to declare:  no other ethnic group does ihaw as well as the Ilonggos.  Everything is perfectly grilled.  We had squid, maya maya, and kinilaw.  The famous Ilonggo “lambing” or cariño extends to food preparation.

The following morning, I woke up early at 6.30am to sample bud-bud, the local suman.  In the Dumaguete Public Market (the tiangge), a whole strip called “Painitan” is devoted to breakfast fare.

The bud-bud didn’t need any sugar topping.  It had the right sweetness and was best taken with tsokolate.  Meal cost: 18 pesos.


Other comfort food like spam, hotdog and pandesal in the escaparate looked just as sumptuous.

My second breakfast (yes, the suman was just my first breakfast course) was at the Florentina Café.  The tapa wasn’t bad at all.

Anyone who’s been to DGT would tell you to sample the Chicken Inasal at Jo’s Inato.   We did go there a few hours before our flight.

I’ve tasted better Inasals in Manila but the experience was most peculiar because of this chicken.  It was living, tied to one corner, crowing as we ate one of his brothers.  Talk about torture most fowl.

I also had to try the yummy Buko Halo Halo.

The final stop was at the Cathedral.  I just had to.  I could hear my mom whispering to my ear (“Did you go to Church?”).  Good thing there weren’t “No to RH Bill” posters in sight.

And that’s how we spent our 24 hours in Dumaguete, where there’s nothing better to do than eat.

The most colorful hotel in the Philippines

Some interior designer had too much fun with this place.  Florentina Homes in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental was the hotel I stayed in for one night last week.  It’s Tijuana, Memphis, Jollibee, Enchanted Kingdom and Maskara Festival rolled into one.  It appears like tack-o-rama but it actually works.  For 2,000 pesos a night, why complain?  The entire hotel was clean.  The aircon worked beautifully especially for us who just came from a windless camp site.   The resto downstairs had the best tapsilog in town.   The staff was most helpful (they let my boxes of silvana take up precious freezer space).  If I ever go back to DGT, I’d book myself a room again in Florentina.


the cafe downstairs
the cafe downstairs
Who needs GPS?
Who needs GPS?
a most whimsical gelato corner
a most whimsical gelato corner
There's a burger place right behind that.
There’s a burger place right behind that.
Boysen made a killing here.
Boysen made a killing here.
Every square foot was decorated.
details galore
Why settle for understated curtains?
the bathroom
the bathroom
My room opened to a garden!  Can you beat that?  All for Php 2,000!
My room on the 3rd floor opened to a garden! Can you beat that? All for Php 2,000!


The Butandings of Oslob

I thought seeing whale sharks in huge aquariums like Sentosa’s and Sydney’s was enough. I wasn’t too keen about taking the boat from Sumilon to Oslob for the whale shark (butanding) watching.  But I took it anyway since it was a way to escape the dreadful camp site.

I also thought we’d have to travel to the middle of the sea to spot the sharks.  And that we’d spend hours before we could see one.  To my surprise, a shiver of about seven was just a few meters away from the Oslob shore.

A makeshift orientation center was set up by the beach.  It wasn’t a long queue and it was pretty organized.  An old lady briefed us on how to behave during the shark-watching.  Don’t touch the whale shark.  You can jump in the water for 500 pesos.  300 if you stay on the banca.  No flash photography.  No to sunblock or any lotion on your skin.  The whole marine protection consciousness was quite impressive.  They’ve learned their lesson after last year’s backlash against an Oslob tourist riding on a shark.

Screen shot 2012-12-13 at 9.22.52 PM

Oslob town looked like it was once a sleepy town that suddenly became the most visited place in southern Cebu because of the presence of butandings.  Barrio Cupang in Ishamel Bernal’s Himala came to mind.  Cupang became a mini-Lourdes, a tourist and commercial center, after a supposed sighting of the Virgin Mary.  So we named the first butanding we spotted “Elsa” after Nora Aunor’s character.

Screen shot 2012-12-13 at 9.27.56 PM

More Elsas were milling around the small boats.  It turned out they’d been spoiled by the fishermen who’d feed them tiny shrimps.  Being so close to them in their natural habitat was thrilling.  You’d never want to visit another fancy aquarium after that.

1014I’m no conservationist or marine expert but I’m just curious.  Aren’t the fishermen disrupting the sharks’ natural feeding pattern?  Won’t the sharks get used to getting close to boats that they’d be easy prey to poachers?  Some accidentally get hit by the boats’ rigging.  They could get hurt, right?  Does part of the proceeds go to the actual marine conservation?

But the Oslob folk seemed genuinely as cordial as the butandings.  I should not get worried about the butandings suffering the same fate as the visionary Elsa’s.


So, Oslob is a great alternative to Donsol in Bicol.  It’s proof that the Philippines is one exciting archipelago.

Beyond lechon: Sumilon

Before booking my trip to Sumilon Island, I had never given serious thought about spending a holiday in any of Cebu’s beaches.  Cebu for me was all about cheap grilled food, friendly cab drivers won’t gyp tourists, beautiful locals with Spanish blood, and lechon heaven.  The beaches couldn’t possibly be as good as Bohol’s, Palawan’s and Aklan’s.

But like I said in an earlier post, the Deal Grocer deal was too good to pass up.  I’m happy I took it.  Bad toilets notwithstanding, it made me discover the beauty of Cebu’s beach resorts.

Sumilon is on the southeastern coast of Cebu.  There’s only one resort in the entire island – Bluewater – which also runs the Maribago resort in Mactan, Cebu.  The best way to get there is to fly to Dumaguete Airport – a quick 50-minute flight from Manila on Airphil Express or Cebu Pacific.


The Bluewater van will then take you from the airport to the Santander port.   An escort from the resort will accompany you on a 30-minute  Fastcraft ferry ride (‘fast’, an overclaim here) across the Tanon Strait to Oslob, Cebu.  From Oslob, a Bluewater boat will bring you to the resort in ten minutes.  The escort will never leave your side until you get to the resort.

The resort itself is no Club Med.  But the natural beauty of the island and the wonderful service make up for the resort’s modest, no-frills structures.  It’s ideal for a family getaways.  It’s a great venue for diving, snorkeling (Sumilon’s the country’s first marine sanctuary), kayaking, fishing and hiking.  The food isn’t bad either; though a bit pricey for Cebu standards.

Would I visit Sumilon again?  Yeah, probably, if only for the shifting sandbars, the marine reserve, the quiet.  Of course, I’d stay in the more comfortable cottages next time.

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Glamorous camping: an oxymoron

Some of my best memories as a kid was sleeping in a tent I pitched myself on a football field in Recoletos Seminary in Baguio City.  My Don Bosco classmates and I did that for four consecutive Decembers in the late 70s as part of our Boy Scout training.  It’d rain almost every night, making the field and canvas tent damp.  We slept on mats.  Baguio was much colder then before Al Gore’s prophecy.  There was no plumbing.  We dug a hole (a kybo, consisting of two planks on top of a ditch) for nature calls.  We’d pee right outside the tent.  But we didn’t care.  We were young, adventurous.

Thirty-plus years later, I tried it again.  Wouldn’t it be great to sleep under the stars, fish in the lake, roast marshmallows and hotdogs by the campfire?, I thought.  A friend sold me a Deal Grocer voucher for a two-night “glamping” (glamorous camping) trip in Sumilon Island, Southern Cebu.  It cost only 10k for two people, inclusive of breakfast and one dinner, and access to Bluewater Sumilon’s facilities.  The resort was beautiful.

The camping experience was not.

I’m in 40s now.  I should’ve known that once you’d tasted life’s indulgences, there’d be no turning back.  I’m officially forsaking what Lord Baden Powell had taught me.

I can’t live without good plumbing and hot water.  There’s nothing glamorous about sharing a bathroom with ugly fixtures with other campers who don’t flush.

I invest heavily in skincare.  There’s nothing glamorous about looking like a medieval smallpox victim, with all the bug bites.

I love nature.  But I don’t have to be too close to it — especially to a lounge of geckos.

I always look forward to any vacation.  It’s a respite, a suspension of activity.  Camping is too much work.  And more stressful if you can’t sleep at all on a very hard and unstable cot.  The symphony of geckos aren’t much help either.  Tu-ko!  Tu-ko!

For all the two nights I spent at the camp, I kept asking myself when the fun would start.  It finally happened at check-out time.

When it’s never too late to change careers

One of my greatest fears is waking up one day and realizing that I’m not happy with my job.  It hasn’t happened and it shouldn’t because there’s no other skill I know other than communications.  So I admire those who’ve shifted careers quite late in their lives, and I’m glad that they’re doing well and haven’t looked back.

My dear friend Frenjick Quesada is one. After graduating with honors at U.P.’s College of Business Administration and Accountancy, and placing second in the CPA board, he easily landed a job with corporate giant Procter & Gamble.  He worked there for several years, and was destined to go all the way to the top as a finance officer.  Then one day, he declared he no longer wanted to deal with spreadsheets all day.  He quit P&G and studied to become an interior designer at the Philippine School of Interior Design.

At that time I thought it was foolish of him to do so.  I thought Frenjick was all left brain.  Besides, he styled his room in an apartment we shared in the most hideous orange.  An artistic bent I believed he didn’t have.

Twelve years hence, he and his partner Chako Hirayama have built their company DesignHQ as one of the most successful design firms in the country.  Check out and be wowed by their extensive credentials covering both residential and commercial projects.

I went to hear him speak last week in Greenbelt before an audience composed mostly of young designers who were eager to learn from Frenjick.  He had fans in the design circles!  Just proved he’s become a success story.

The talk was on Interior Design and Art, or how to choose and hang art in one’s living space.  I must admit I went there thinking I didn’t need tips on artwork since I (arrogantly) thought of myself as possessing great aesthetics.   I went away with loads of information I hadn’t known before.

Here’s a sampling:

Make a room bigger by creating a window through art with landscape 

Use the right hook.  Two of them work better.

Frame multiple art together.

Know and manage color temperature.  White to warm, and all that Color Rendering Index.

Study the angling of light.

Knowing the rules help you break them well.

Frenjick has used his left brain by carefully calculating and analyzing how to bring his creative side to the fore.   Well done, my friend.

Must-see: Rama Hari

During the intermission for the musical Rama Hari, I stepped out to view the CCP fountain, which to my surprise was lit and shooting up buckets of water.  I wanted to throw some coins to make three wishes.  I didn’t have any so I just told myself the following:

I wished for proper air-conditioning at the CCP lobby, and new carpets in our premier performing arts center.

I wished for more funding for the CCP’s company of dancers.  They have the talent and skill, but they need to be trained harder to be more precise and athletic.

I also wished that audiences would flock to the CCP to watch Rama Hari.  It’s intelligent theatre, and proudly Philippine-made.

The restaging of the 1980 musical (topbilled by Basil Valdes, Kuh Ledesma and Leo Valdez) and retelling of the Indian folklore Ramayana is not to be missed.   There’s Bienvenido Lumbera’s delicious Tagalog.  This Lipa-born National Artist was my hero as a college student – he made me love Philippine Literature and momentarily made me regret that I wasn’t born a Tagalog.  Here’s a sample from his libretto:

Ang alaala mo’y bulang kinikimkim
 / Inaaring hiyas na kukuwintasin

Iniisa-isa ang mahal na butyl / At binubuhay ka sa piping dalangin

Sa pag-aakalang ako’y maaliw / Ang pangungulila’y lalong pinatalim

Ryan Cayabyab’s music.  Magbalik Ka Na, Mahal must be the most beautiful Filipino ballad next to Bayan Ko.

Rolando Tinio’s English translation which was projected above the stage.  He seemed to have been competitive with Lumbera – his prose, while not a direct translation, captured the soul and playfulness of the Tagalog original.

The choreography of Alice Reyes.  The scale of her work, which borrowed heavily from South Asian dance, was astounding, enough to put all the work of So You Can Think You Can Dance contemporary dance choreographers to shame.

Principal danseur’s Jean Marc Cordero.  What he lacked in height he made up for in his clean lines and tirelessness.

I’m now a fan of Christian Bautista and Karylle.  Never took them seriously before.  Chistian and Karylle didn’t over-sing and consciously tried to outperform Basil and Kuh, respectively.   The other singers didn’t do as well, however.  I heard a fair amount of squawking and arias going bad.

See it anyway because it’s worth going through the very hot lobby and Johnson wax-smelling CCP floors.  And make a fourth wish:  that octogenarian Lumbera live on and write more beautiful librettos.

Rama Hari‘s on till December 9th.

pic from