Archive of ‘travel’ category

corner tree cafe

For those who have adopted a vegetarian diet, or are looking to try something new, Corner Tree Cafe offers vegetarian fine dining with a taste of Morocco and the Mediterranean.

The interiors are comfortably dim, with tealights at every table. Perfect for quiet tete-a-tetes.

A young author writes her novel by candlelight.

The Spanakopita is creamy inside and crunchy outside.

corner street cafe camote fries

Camote fries – not your usual.

corner street cafe vegetarian meat loaf

 Vegetarian meat loaf entree.

It’s interesting enough to try out. Corner Tree Cafe is at Miladay Building, 150 Jupiter Street, Makati.

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pop goes the world: paradise in mindanao

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  14 June 2012, Thursday

Paradise in Mindanao

Maayong buntag ka ninyong tanan. (Good day to all of you.)

I’m practicing my Visayan because I have fallen in love with Mindanao, after visiting Cagayan de Oro City, Iligan City, and Davao City last week.

In Cagayan de Oro City last Friday, I witnessed the turnover of an integrated health facility by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office Employees Union (PCSO-SEU) to the residents of a typhoon Sendong settlement area built by Habitat for Humanity in Barangay Canitoan.

It was my second visit to the city; the first time was in January, a few weeks after Sendong devastated the area. We spent less than a day in both Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, not enough time to get to know the place.

This time around, I got to stay a couple of days.

The PCSO-SEU project is an advocacy of the PCSO employees, who have internalized the agency’s mission of charity. By contributing a portion of their bonuses to the SEU fund, they were able to put up a 54 square meter clinic on a 100 square meter lot donated by the city government under Mayor Vicente Emano, through a linkage of the SEU with Mater et Puer (Mother and Child) Foundation, a non-government organization whose members are women professionals, most of them from Davao City.

The PCSO-SEU Integrated Health Facility at Bgy. Canitoan, Cagayan de Oro. At the left are personnel from PCSO-Manila and Misamis Oriental who attended the inauguration.

The clinic includes a reception area, treatment room, birthing room, recovery room, and standby water tank, all donated by the SEU. The rest of the land will be planted with vegetables and herbs.

Mayor Emano attended the ceremony, along with personnel from the PCSO: physician Jose Bernardo Gochoco, special projects department manager, and SEU officers Chris Bautista, president; Andreo Nualda, first vice-president; Andrew Barcelona, second VP; Soledad Rasing, third VP; Jerusa Corpuz, secretary; Estela Divina, treasurer; Alex Asuit, auditor; Teddy Tomas, budget and accounting department representative; Archie Sopenasky, PR department representative; and lawyer Ravena Joy Rama, VisMin cluster representative.

PCSO will be donating medical supplies and equipment for the clinic, while the Cagayan de Oro government will provide the people to run it – doctors, nurses, dentists, and maintenance workers.

PCSO-SEU water tank in Bgy. Canitoan, Cagayan de Oro. A similar tank will be installed at a PCSO-SEU clinic in Iligan City.

The PCSO-SEU plans to put up a similar health facility in a settlement in nearby Iligan City, which we also visited. Details on its construction are being worked out with the project partners.

Among the other places we got to see were the Agus 4 and Agus 6/7 hydroelectric facilities in Iligan City, the City of Waterfalls. Unbeknownst to many are the vast catchment basin of Agus 4, covered with water plants on the surface, while underground tunnels honeycomb the earth beneath. Three giant turbines of shiny steel there are among those driving power to the region.

Underground tunnel at Agus 4 hydroelectric plant, Iligan City.

The cascading waters of Maria Cristina Falls power Agus 6/7. The foliage around the falls are lush and exotic; its waters rush down to a nature park which welcomes visitors who take pictures under the spray of the falls.

Maria Cristina Falls, Iligan City. It had rained the night before our visit, hence the muddy waters. Usually the waters are clear, say the locals. 

There’s a nature park in Davao, too. Nestled in the pine-covered hills of Toril is Eden Nature Park, which has a zipline facility, buffet dining hall, and activities for visitors such as hiking.

Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, and Davao have highly urbanized centers with malls and shops. The ambiance is Quezon City or Las Piñas, but with more trees. Everything is so clean. The roads are well-paved. Many of the cars tooling about on the roads are late models. The area looks prosperous and developed, but still closer to nature than Manila.

So close, in fact, that the beaches on Samal Island are a mere half-hour away from Davao city proper, including a banca ride across a stretch of sea. At Chema’s by the Sea, a private garden resort on the island, a pocket white sand beach and saltwater infinity pool invite relaxation, as the wide-spreading branches of talisay trees provide shade.

Saltwater infinity pool at Chema’s By the Sea resort, Samal Island. 

SMART’s 3G signal is fairly strong; I can imagine myself filing my MST columns from there, toes in the sand and drink in hand, cackling evilly while my editors hunch over their keyboards in their cramped windowless offices in Makati.

I now know where I’m going to build my retirement cottage.

A cup of brewed mountain arabica coffee at Chema’s By the Sea.

Mag-amping kamo. (Take care.)  *** 

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S. Check out my Instagram feed: @jennydecember

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pop goes the world: it’s more waiting in the philippines

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  17 May 2012, Thursday

It’s More Waiting in the Philippines

No, it is not more fun in the Philippines, dammit.

I spent the last three weeks abroad visiting family and friends in the United States, chronicling in this space my impressions of three different areas – the East Bay Area and Los Angeles in California, and Waukee and Des Moines in Iowa.

But with all the charms and attractions of other spaces, of all the places there’s nothing like home. I counted down the days till my flight back, eager to feel the warm tropical sun on my skin and my children’s arms around me.

Checking in at the San Francisco international airport, I found that our Philippine Airlines flight to Manila was delayed by two hours. The staff apologized. “The runway in Manila is closed for repairs until five-thirty in the morning.”

Checking in at SFO for the Philippine Airlines flight to Manila, 12 May 2012.

Everyone groaned in dismay, but given $15 vouchers for dinner at the airport restaurants, shrugged in resignation and waited.

The moment our plane landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminal 2, I raced the other passengers off the jetway and sped off to the immigration counters…

…and ran smack into a wall of dense, moist heat.

That’s supposed to happen outside the airport, not in. What happened to the airconditioning? That tired old excuse of “But it’s a very hot summer, hindi kaya ng aircon” is unacceptable. We have some of the best engineers in the world. Surely they can design a cooling system for the airport that can handle the load?

Bear in mind as well that passengers from chillier climes are arriving, and the sudden change in temperature can lead to sniffles or flu. Illness will put a damper on anyone’s vacation, and that’s not fun.

I peeled off my light hoodie and got in line for Immigration. A very long line. An I’m-I-having-fun-yet queue mirrored multiple times right and left in a cramped space, which added to the feeling of being hot and crowded.

A worse ordeal followed – the claiming of the luggage. First, there were no clear signs indicating which carousel passengers are supposed to go to. You have to check all the monitors to find the one that displays your flight.

In our case, the monitor showed four indicated flights. One carousel to handle the baggage from four airplanes? The area cannot accommodate the number of people waiting for their bags, crammed four deep around the carousel, which snakes in S-curves against the wall to maximize space.

A section of the baggage carousel area at NAIA terminal 2, 14 May 2012.

At the San Francisco and Los Angeles airports, I’ve never had to wait longer than 15 minutes for my checked-in luggage to appear on a roomy long carousel dedicated to only one flight. Here, long minutes crawled by. No luggage. Others who arrived on later flights got theirs first. “Unfair!” people muttered. After an hour of fruitless waiting, I was hot, annoyed, and close to tears.

A Customs official told me brusquely, “You are at the correct carousel. Just wait.” A friendlier baggage handler assured me my bags were not mislaid. “They radioed us that two more container vans of luggage have just been offloaded,” he explained. It took an hour to offload our bags? “And this carousel is not handling four flights. Only two.”

He moved aside the plastic strips that cover the hole from which the bags emerge. “See here,” he said, as I bent down and peeked. I saw a small gray room. “There isn’t enough space in there for all the luggage. That’s the reason for the wait.”

After 15 more minutes, my luggage popped out. I left NAIA sweaty and upset. My daughters who were waiting outside were worried, wondering what kept me.

I can’t help comparing the difference between our airports and the ones I’ve seen abroad. It’s no wonder that last year NAIA terminal 1 was judged the worst airport in the world, according to a website survey.

In reaction to that, last January President Aquino promised a P1 billion revamp. Some money should go to improving the runways, immigration queues, airconditioning, and luggage handling of the other terminals too.

The airport is the first impression that travelers get of our country. Fix it, to whom it may concern. Make it truly more fun in the Philippines. Make the reality match the slick expensive advertising-agency slogan.

Dammit.   *** 

Photos taken with an iPhone 4s.

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pop goes the world: la-la land

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  10 May 2012, Thursday

La-La Land

Los Angeles, California – From the fresh, wide-open spaces of Iowa, it’s a jarring shift to the cacophony and color of LA. It is late spring and the days are warm, the nights chill. Buildings and homes of wood, adobe, and concrete line the roads and blanket the hills. Cars zoom on cracked roads. Garish neon lights spell “open”, “cerveza”, “deli”.

The 134 in Los Angeles. 

It’s a bustling, vibrant city, like Manila but sped up a hundred times faster. Scenes flash by like in a film.

At a ritzy bakery, two well-groomed men complain about the two queues that have formed in front of the pastry cases. “What’s with the lines? Is this a tourist destination now? I’m going to the Glendale branch.” “But it’s way hotter here in Burbank!” “Did you see that woman, she cut the line! Stupid hag.”

Downtown, a Latina crosses the street in front, an iguana slung over a plump shoulder. She smiles to herself.

In a deli in Westwood, a blonde in her sixties argues with a man whose cap is on backwards. “I need financial help!” she says, swigging white wine. It looks like it is not her first glass. He remonstrates with her, sotto voce. She becomes more agitated. “Then sure, let’s stay here! I’m ordering more wine.” He tells her they must leave. Staggering, she gets to her feet. She is wearing a baby-doll nightgown, with a black lace peignoir as a robe, and knee-high boots. She adjusts her scanty clothing by tugging downward on her neckline to expose her sagging, wrinkly breasts.

She tells her story in a deli. 

And so on.

LA is, after all, home to Hollywood and the big-name studios that dominate commercial filmmaking. But in real life there are no actors, and there is no director to yell “Cut!”

There are no retakes. You have only one chance to get it right.

The city is hyper fast, jigging on dope and speed and it’s getting to me. On the way home after a day of sightseeing, there’s heavy traffic on the freeway and cars stutter to a standstill. I suffer a bout of hypertension.

Back where I’m staying, my host says it could instead have been a mild panic attack from the stress of travel and prescribes aromatherapy.

He draws me a hot bath and hands me a precious bottle of vintage Tasmanian lavender oil, instructing me to pour two capfuls of the oil in the water. “Lavender relieves stress and anxiety,” he says. “Immerse yourself.”

A bottle of vintage Tasmanian lavender oil. (Visit 

The scent of the oil, borne on the curling steam, suffuses my senses as I ease into the hot water. I sink into the fragrant pool. I hear my heartbeat, amplified by the water, at first rapid, slowing to a regular thump-THUMP. I am more aware of my body, and myself. I calm down.

Minutes pass. I hear my friends outside the bathroom door. “Do you think she’s alright?” “She’s having fun,” my host says.

When the water is lukewarm I emerge from the bath, relaxed and ready for sleep. More of the oil is rubbed into my spine. A soothing slumber claims me.

When I wake, my host’s longhair cat, Meeps, twines himself around my ankles and leads me to the kitchen screen door. We stare through it at the garden beyond. The trees and foliage are lush, almost tropical in their exuberance. I do not know their names but I enjoy them anyway.

Meeps at the kitchen door. 

Yes, this is also LA – a place where people advocate exotic healing remedies, let plants grow wild and riotous in their gardens, and shelter wanderers in their homes and anoint them with flower oil and bless them with peace.

The jacaranda trees sport majestic purple plumage in the Los Angeles springtime. 

Then one morning I read news of the Andi Eigenmann-Albie Casino bar brawl and the Raymart Santiago-Claudine Barretto-Mon Tulfo airport fight. A video of the latter shows the celebrities and their entourage engaged in a screaming, kicking, and punching melee. They are actors, but this time they’re not acting. In both instances, you can almost smell the testosterone and the rage. LA does not have a monopoly on drama.

My host would have said only one thing. “Throw them all into a lavender bath.” ***

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S in May 2012, without effects or edited with Instagram and/or Snapseed.

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pop goes the world: a little patch of paradise

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  3 May 2012, Thursday

A Little Patch of Paradise

Waukee, Iowa – It’s a town of less than 14,000 people, about twenty minutes from Des Moines on the freeway, and is as close to Heaven as a bit of earth can be.

It’s my first time to visit the Midwest. I am here to spend a few days with physician Amerlon Enriquez, his wife Eva, and their two children. Amer occasionally contributes to MST’s Diaspora column, and has been based in the US for nearly twenty years. He and his family have been Iowa residents for almost ten.

It is springtime, and God has laid wall-to-wall carpet in emerald green. Grass and trees growing in endless profusion, rolling from hill to hill. Lilacs fill the air with a heady scent. Fresh-mown grass is another common fragrance. Soon, Eva tells me, roses and hydrangeas will poke their colorful heads above the ground.

An Iowa landscape.

Iowa has a large farming community, and is one of the country’s top producers of corn and pork. Stuffed toys shaped like pigs and corn ears fill souvenir shops, along with John Deere tractor merchandise, homemade fudge and jam, and other tokens of an agricultural nature.

Massive silos reach into the sky, giant steel fingers filled with corn to be turned into food products, animal feeds and biofuel. The prosperity of the state shows in the miles and miles of perfectly paved roads, clean streets and sidewalks, and well-maintained public buildings.

Silos dot the Iowa landscape.

These infrastructural achievements are even more impressive when you learn that the entire state, which has an area of 145,743 square kilometers, almost as large as the combined area of Luzon and Visayas at 165,765, is maintained by and for only a little over three million people.

In contrast, Metro Manila is crammed with over eleven million people in an area less than 639 square kilometers.

Iowa has one of the country’s lowest unemployment rates; while a few companies are laying-off people, others are constructing new office buildings (such as hospitals and insurance firms).

People are friendly. You pass them on the street, they make eye contact, smile, and say hello. When Amer and his family first moved into their house, the next-door neighbor came over with pie.

Iowans take pride in their surroundings, keeping their homes and gardens immaculate. Paint is never peeling, lawns are always mowed, windows do not remain broken.

The front porch of a well-tended Iowa home.

They care for their environment – great expanses of woods are preserved so that deer can come up to Eva’s yard and nibble at her plants and raccoons can run across her lawn, and long stretches of freeway and roads are kept unilluminated to reduce light pollution. At night, you can go out on Amer and Eva’s deck, look up, and see stars sprinkled across an expanse of velvet black.

I have not seen stars in the Manila night sky in over a decade.

The people are so trusting, none of the stores have armed security guards out front like ours do. A store will be manned by only one to two people. Sometimes the storekeeper will go out back to fetch something, leaving you unattended for minutes. Come the corn harvest, farmers leave their sweet and crunchy produce out beside the road, with a sign setting out prices and an open cash box for payment – all also unwatched, unguarded. It could be cords of firewood or baskets of fruit, same thing.

They have a rich sense of history. Grand Avenue in Des Moines is lined with houses dating back a century or more. They are not torn down but sold to people who will preserve them. Old buildings are re-purposed; a Masonic temple lavishly decorated with marble, wood panels, and decorative tile was converted into a performing arts center. Other buildings from the 1800s are now offices. Also from that period are the red-painted covered wooden bridges featured in the film “Bridges of Madison County”, all lovingly maintained. Where now our own architectural gems, such as the Art Deco-style Jai Alai building?

Dr Enriquez on Roseman Bridge.

What is it about their culture that has resulted in their creating such a pleasant community? Honor, honesty, and hard work are among the significant values that guide them, as well as discipline, thrift, and respect for nature. Perhaps the state’s small population also makes it easier for their people to conform to the societal norms that continue to serve them well.

The Capitol building, Des Moines, Iowa. (Edited with Instagram) 

Living close to nature, espousing traditional values, defending the environment and preserving history – this is a good way to live.

Amer and Eva have asked me to come back soon for a longer visit. I will try my best to do so, because I have left a wee bit of my heart here in Iowa, in their little patch of paradise. ***

All photos taken May 2012 with an iPhone 4S.

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pop goes the world: leaving on a jet plane

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  26 April 2012, Thursday

Leaving on a Jet Plane

San Francisco, California – It was the old woman’s first time on a big plane, she said.

It was a Boeing 747-400 with an upper deck where business class passengers could lie down to sleep, unlike us cattle in economy, herded three in a row where in business class they sat two. Before taking this Manila to San Francisco flight, she’d only flown to Davao and back.

On board a Philippine Airlines flight from Manila to San Francisco.

Over the twelve-hour flight, the old woman told me her life story. She was migrating to join her daughter in Sacramento. She had five other children; all of them were college graduates, two were in South Africa, one in the USA, the other worked on a cruise ship, two were in the Philippines taking care of her husband, who had had a mild stroke.

“He had a mistress,” she said darkly, as if that were explanation enough for his illness.

She told me about their properties, two lots in Valenzuela that she bought “back when land was a lot cheaper than it is now,” and several more in Nueva Ecija. One of her sons had their old home torn down and a new one built at a cost of seven million pesos.

Perhaps she was nervous and wanted to allay her anxiety by chatting. Certainly she was an extrovert; it never occurred to her that I wanted to be left alone with my book. I listened to her, making noncommittal noises at the appropriate moments.

When the flight attendants went around with the debarkation and customs forms, she turned to me and said, “You told me you’re a writer. Please help me with the forms. My daughter said the chances are my seatmate would be Filipino, and to ask them to help me if I needed anything.”

As she shrugged her heavy black knit coat on, and adjusted her gray knit cap on her hair, I filled out the blanks on the forms for her, referring to her passport for some of the information. She was born in 1938, and her given name was “Maria”, simply that.

“Sign here,” I said.

“Thank you, anak,” she replied. “How lucky I was to be sitting next to a writer when I needed one.”

“You’re welcome, Nanay,” I said.

The plane taxied to a stop. I bade her good luck and farewell, and sped to the door. It wasn’t open yet. People were milling around, waiting. I crept too close to the door and the flight attendant, who was on the in-plane phone, gently nudged me back under the telephone cord.

From the deck above, other passengers were descending and joining the crowd around the door; their arrival caused waves to ripple and eddy within the mass. A strident voice cut through our anticipation. “Would you let us through, please?” It was a middle-aged blonde. She sounded annoyed. We Filipinos stared at her. There was no need to say anything; all one had to do was push one’s way through the milling group. The waves of people parted as she passed, then closed again upon itself.

Filipino culture stays the same no matter where the Filipinos are. We assume that young people will defer to their elders, and that in an unfamiliar situation, a Filipino will help a kababayan.

Our concept of personal space is carried within us, so that we don’t mind if we are gently jostled as part of a crowd, unlike Westerners who require about a couple of feet of personal space around them (refer to cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall’s studies on proxemics).

We think of ourselves as family, so that we can share stories about our personal lives and not feel it an intrusion upon our privacy, and address each other – even perfect strangers – by kinship terms – “mother” and “child”.

When you are Filipino you are part of something bigger than yourself, wherever in the world you may be.   ***

Photo taken 20 April 2012 with an iPhone 4S, edited with Instagram effects.

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pop goes the world: suffer the little ponies

POP GOES THE WORLD   By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  2 April 2012, Monday

Suffer the Little Ponies

The other weekend was for family. I spent it in Baguio City with my two daughters, their father, and his 7-year-old daughter, whose first time it was to visit the Summer Capital.

Having a newbie with us, we did the usual touristy things that one must at least once in a lifetime – boating on Burnham Park, picture-taking with the sunglasses-wearing St. Bernards at Mines View Park, and horseback-riding in Wright Park and Camp John Hay.

The horses in Baguio are small and sturdy native-bred ponies, not the Thoroughbreds used in racing, polo, dressage, and similar equestrian pursuits. (Not that horses are indigenous to the Philippines; they were imported from Java centuries ago.)

At Wright Park the ponies – many of them with manes dyed pink or purple, to attract children – go around a riding ring at a walk.

At Wright Park, which little kids enjoy. 24 March 2012

CJH also has an arena for 30-minute rides. The hour-long trail ride is for the adventurous. The children persuaded my ex and me to join them on the trail ride, which takes a well-worn path that winds up and down a mountain, with breathtaking views of pine trees and sky.

My former husband is a horseracing jockey who began his career in the late ‘80s, and is an expert horseman and racehorse trainer. We are used to seeing him on horses much larger and taller. His pony twitched and shook its head violently as we rode, and we stopped several times to adjust his saddle girth. I expected my ex to comment, but he was silent until we reached the halfway point, a wide flat clearing, and rested our mounts.

“This trail is dangerous,” he said.

The trail is packed earth hewn from the sides of the steep hill, around 16 to 20 inches wide, at some points narrower.  Below it is a road filled with zooming cars. My ex pointed out the lack of fences along the trail, the fact that the ponies’ hooves came within a couple of inches of the trail’s edge, that a slip of a hoof would cause pony and rider to tumble tens of feet down the hill straight into the road and its traffic.

The start of the trail ride at Camp John Hay. 25 March 2012

“What’s wrong with your pony?” I asked him. It still kept twitching.

“He’s half-crazy with pain,” he said. “They are not using a standard bit. It’s the wrong shape and an ill fit, so his mouth has become very sensitive.”

The pony “boy” – actually an elderly man – tried to calm my ex’s pony by adjusting rectangular pieces of stiff orange plastic beside its eyes.

“What are those?” I asked “Fred”, my pony boy.

“Blinkers,” he said, a bit embarrassed. “Home-made. We should have real blinkers, the kind like a mask that slips over the horse’s head. But we can’t afford them.”

Stopping to rest in a little clearing. 25 March 2012

Fred and the others who eke out a living from the rent-a-pony business lament their lack of finances that prevent them from acquiring standard tack (riding equipment). They forge their own bits from scrap metal. Horseshoes come from Pampanga and Batangas, made from heavy iron, a far cry from the light and comfortable aluminum racing plates used on the two racetracks in Cavite.

Funding problems aside, there is also the matter of having no suppliers in Baguio for tack, since the market is very small, unlike in Manila and Cavite where there are several suppliers of tack and veterinary supplies to the racing, polo, and equestrian sport worlds.

Apart from trail safety and equipment, there is also the matter of horse care. My ex spotted quite a few health problems among the ponies we saw.





(Left) Snaffle and D-ring, just a few of the many kinds of horse bits available. Image here. (right) A horse chews on his bit. Image here.

A substantial amount of Baguio’s income comes from tourism, and horseriding is an iconic pasttime for tourists, and has been for decades. In many cases, it is the only source of income for the pony boys and those in support activities.

Safety measures along the trail should be put into place, and regular health care for the ponies provided, not only to ensure the sustainability of this tradition, but also the pony boys’ livelihood and ponies’ well-being.

If help is needed, the horseracing industry can send vet missions to Baguio to perform hoof trimming, dental filing, vaccination, and other basic equine health procedures.

Next time we take to the trail, I hope it will be under better circumstances for all, so that rather than worry about tumbling down the hillside or whether the ponies are fine, riders will be free to enjoy the experience and lovely view. *** 

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S.

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pop goes the world: an introvert’s holiday

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  22 March 2012, Thursday

An Introvert’s Holiday

It’s summer, when temperatures rise and nerves get frayed to snapping.

School is out and children are bored at home. Parents want to wean them off their electronic teats – Internet, television, video games – and send them out to play and learn in the real world. Stress-wrecked grownups who can’t calm down despite the regular inuman with friends or coffee-shop me-times want to reclaim their inner peace.

But how to accomplish all this without having to part crowds like Moses and deal with the yammer of the multitudes?

Rolando Tolentino, columnist and dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, tweeted yesterday: “Pag umaapaw ang aligaga na kahit ang usual treat-to-self ay di na umuubra, panahon nang pisikal na pagtakas. Fly high at bumalik na lang.“

A change of environment is called for.

Last December I took my two daughters with me for a tranquil yet creatively stimulating week in Baguio City. For many of us it was the default vacation location of our childhood. It’s still a magical place, channeling a Buddhist vibe of serenity despite the burgeoning pollution, construction, and population explosion.

Veer away from the usual haunts and immerse in places you haven’t yet been. Baguio is a city that is a living artwork. At Chocolate sa Batirol open-air café at Camp John Hay, even the stumps of trees that serve as seats are gaily painted with words and figures.

Paintings, sculptures, and antique wood carvings fill National Artist Ben Cabrera’s BenCab museum; its basement shelters Café Isabel and overlooks foliage-blanketed hills as fog rolls across your field of vision. Sip a cup of hot Benguet Arabica while you meditate on nature and art coming together in one enchanted dell.

View from the BenCab Museum balcony.

At Cafe Isabel, BenCab Museum.

Along Session Road, visit Namaste at Porto Vaga for bespoke crystal bracelets and Buddhist artwork from Nepal. Sit and read at Mountain Cloud bookshop, then walk a few steps to Hill Station restaurant next door for apple pie and more coffee. Go to VOCAS/Oh My Gulay at La Azotea for vegetarian meals inside an art gallery.

Namaste is visual bliss.

A “bookshelf chair” at Mt. Cloud bookshop.

Aerial view of Hill Station, from the Casa Vallejo inn staircase.

Vegetarian dishes at Oh My Gulay within VOCAS art gallery.

At Hotel Elizabeth along Gibraltar Road, enter a state of Zen at Bliss Café, and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate at Café by the Ruins on Chuntug Road.

Interesting interior of Bliss Cafe. The light is warm and enveloping.

Cafe by the Ruins is adorned with artwork.

The easiest way to get to Baguio is by bus. Victory Liner has a fleet of airconditioned buses bound for points north; the deluxe ones have an on-board toilet and acres of legroom. An online ticketing system makes getting seats stress-free.

The Victory Liner terminal at Baguio City.

The people of Victory Liner are kind and helpful – the kids and I wound up at the wrong terminal, and the people there called ahead to the right one to let us know we were on the way to catch our bus. When we arrived photo-finish, puffing and panting, only smiles greeted us as willing hands reached out to stow our luggage in the cargo hold and guide us into our seats. A bus attendant handed out bottled water, snacks, and magazines. It was like taking an airplane flight.

For accommodations, book reservations online for the Microtel Inn right beside Victory’s Baguio City terminal. The food is great, the breakfast chef cooks your eggs the way you like it, and there is free-flowing coffee in the lobby.

The Microtel Inn is right beside the Victory Liner terminal.

Take your journey, the one that will help you rediscover your balance, gain peace, and recharge your soul.

* * * * *

Last December 17, typhoon Sendong obliterated entire communities in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City, leaving over 3,000 persons dead and missing and 342,000 more displaced and homeless, living in tent cities or barangay sports courts.

In the aftermath, 56 people, some of them young children, tried to take their own lives. There is an increase in incidences of teenage pregnancy, incest, and rape, especially in the tent cities.

Psycho-social intervention helps by coaching survivors in stress-relief techniques based on yoga and proper breathing. To help continue sustaining the Art of Living trauma relief workshops being conducted in the area, Hongkong-based opera singer Wayne Yeh and international theater performer Lissa Romero-de Guia will be singing on March 26 at the “Opera vs. Broadway” fundraising concert for the benefit of the survivors of typhoon Sendong.

Image from Lissa de Guia.

Wayne will sing opera and Lissa Broadway hits, in a duel of style and sound at the Isla Ballroom, EDSA Shangri-La Hotel Manila. Ticket details at or call Madeline Pajarillo at (0917)820-2081. *** 

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pop goes the world: a slogan by any other name

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  12 January 2012, Thursday

A Slogan By Any Other Name

People are having fun with “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”!

But not necessarily the good clean kind, okay. Have you seen the user-generated photo on the Internet of a blonde-bewigged Madame Auring (who must be in her mid-60s at least), stuffed in a leopard-print swimsuit overflowing with her ample breasts, with the text, “Growing old – more fun in the Philippines?”

Fortune teller to the stars and now B-list celeb Madam Auring. Image here.

It’s only one of the many fan-made photos created in the week following the Department of Tourism’s launch of its new campaign, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”.

Print and online columnists and commenters immediately weighed in with their thoughts. Most of the arguments go like this: let’s be positive rather than negative, let’s be united and show support, the slogans are easy to remember and pronounce, and flexible enough to be used in a variety of ways (for); and it’s boring, vague, unnecessary, and plagiarized (against).

I was monitoring the Internet the day of the launch and saw the onslaught of comments; the initial pattern of public attitudes toward the slogans; and the actual shift to a “majority” stand, all within half a day online. The public perception was later reflected in the evening news and the next day in the newspapers.

Twitter, because of its immediacy, was the first to “cover” the event, and comments both for and against emerged here first. Most people were underwhelmed by the phrases, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” (international campaign) and “#1For Fun” (domestic).

A lot of what first went around was sarcastic. But then, that’s what happens when the slogans are phrased in such a way as to lend themselves to all kinds of interpretation.

Image here.

As for the accusation that the current DOT slogan was lifted from a 1951 Swiss campaign for suntanning – “It’s more fun in Switzerland!” – I think we can safely say that it was a coincidence. But then, that’s the problem when the phrase is so common and banal! It was a certainty that it had already been used somewhere, sometime, in that context.

DOT Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr. has defended the campaign created for them by award-winning advertising agency BBDO by saying that they weren’t looking to be creative, but to tell the truth about the country and simply describe it because it really is “more fun” here.   But given the wealth of creative genius that this country boasts, couldn’t we have come up with something more original and interesting, or at least something less lame?

I liked the old DOT campaign better – “Wow Philippines”. (By the way, it was also created by BBDO, as was the older “More than the usual” campaign). It conveyed interest and excitement in one short word -”wow” – without making unsupportable or subjective claims such as “more”, that open the claim to unmerciless mockery, which the phrase has been subjected to.

Image here.

Perhaps if it were worded “It’s fun in the Philippines”, it would have been less likely to be made fun of.

However, compared to the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” fiasco of November 2010, this new one is an improvement. The fact that #itsmorefuninthephilippines is trending worldwide shows we are working with this and, yes, having more fun with it.

But is it going to do its job, meaning, is the slogan going to attract more tourists? The DOT should have a survey form for foreigners that they can fill out on the inbound planes – “What influenced you to visit the Philippines?” No fair claiming any increase in tourist arrivals to the slogan without accurate monitoring with a survey instrument constructed with the proper methodology!

What struck me most about the entire phenomenon was that anyone can always come up with pros and cons for any topic. It’s social construction, meaning that many aspects of our daily experience are accepted as a result of agreement among members of society. In this manner social reality is created.

I saw this occur in real time – a people constructing their social reality through computer-media communication via social media. For a communication scholar such as myself, it was intellectually orgasmic. Phd dissertation topic, anyone?

At first, perception toward the new DOT slogan was skewed toward the negative – people were making fun of the slogan. Then, influential Tweeters, bloggers, and celebs chimed in urging support for the campaign.

Later, some of the “pros” went further and berated the “cons” for being too negative and, worse, unpatriotic! Suddenly the tide turned – negative comments are now interpreted as “bashing”, masyadong nega, hindi maka-Pilipino. Even the mockery is more gentle than it was at the start; it’s somehow toned down. It’s as if a sort of bullying took place.

Image here.

Why do some ideas spread so fast and embed so strongly, like a virus? Why are some ideas accepted and others not? Writer and researcher Malcolm Gladwell might have an explanation for this in his book “The Tipping Point” (2000).

There are three types of influential persons who have rare and particular social gifts, he says, upon whose involvement “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent”: the “connectors” are people who “link us up with the world”, who have social networks of over a hundred people; the “mavens” are “information specialists, people we rely on to connect us with new information;” and “salesmen”, the persuaders who have charisma plus powerful negotiation skills, and who tend to have “an indefinable trait that goes beyong what they say, which makes others want to agree with them.”

Once these people jump on one side of an idea or the other, they bring about the “tipping point”, the “moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” Then, others who are less influential or undecided tip that way. Then an idea becomes the dominant ideology.

For now, people are having fun with “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”. Let’s hope it brings in the visitors and their much-needed moolah.

But we have to remember that it’s not all about slogans, which are just a bunch of words strung together. The slogans need to be backed up by a genuine product – a safe and tourist-friendly Philippines, where people can truly have more fun. ***

Malcolm Gladwell portrait here.

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pop goes the world: pinoy this way

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today29 September 2011, Thursday

Pinoy This Way

San Francisco, California – Every two or three years I hop on a plane for a vacation in the US with friends and family. I divide my precious few weeks’ of leave between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, revisiting old haunts and discovering new.

At Pebble Beach, one of my favorite places to visit. 26 Sept. 2011.

On the plane I sat between two prayerful Filipina ladies, both US citizens. The one on my right at the window seat was chatty. She had just escorted her ailing mother, also a citizen, to Cavite to be cared for there by other family members. “I’ll miss her,” she said, “but it’s not easy to care for seniors in the US.”

The older lady on my left (aisle seat) was meticulously made-up and dressed, a teacher at a college in Bukidnon, handling public administration and law. She was on her way to rejoin her daughter and grandchildren.

We didn’t know each other’s names, but that didn’t matter. “Ingat,” we said in farewell.

When I emerged from the airport doors pulling my luggage stuffed with ensaymada, hopia, and Queensland butter in cans, my family enfolded me in their arms and took me to IHOP for a meal. “We’re sure you’re hungry,” they said. They urged me to eat a bacon omelette, pancakes slathered with whipped butter and syrup, hash browns. (It was eleven o’clock in the evening.)

The next day we went to Target, where the woman behind the mobile phone counter explained in Tagalog-accented English to a tall white man that they do not sell jailbroken iPhones. When he had left, she shrugged at me. “Ganun talaga dito,” she said, knowing I was Pinay even if I had not opened my mouth.

The cashier who rang up our purchases was an elderly Filipina with carefully-waved salt-and-pepper hair and a stylish black-and-white scarf around her neck. She smiled knowingly as my sister and I spoke to each other in Tagalog.

At a Filipino supermarket the day after, I saw shelves crammed with Cream Silk and Sunsilk, Chippy and Chiz Curls, and Ligo sardines; refrigerated cases stuffed with Star margarine, Magnolia Ube with Beans ice cream (made in a California facility), and Pampanga tocino; racks full of San Mig Light, Pale Pilsen, and Red Horse Beer.

The aisles were decorated with fake coconut trees and banig on the walls as backdrops, whereas Target and Wal*Mart had pumpkins and Halloween masks. There was a Goldilocks’ outside and a bakery that sold hot pandesal. “Ibili natin si Papa ng mamon,” I overheard a young girl say. In those few hundred square meters was recreated a little slice of the Philippines, filled with even more bits of the Philippines that the homesick can buy to alleviate the longing for the flavors of Inang Bayan.

My sister at Island Pacific supermarket, Union City, CA.

At home, my sister uses a thick paper towel to wipe the bathroom and kitchen counters clean; she rinses it and hangs it to dry. She reuses these paper towels until they fall apart. “Sayang e. Puede pa naman.” Our leftovers from the huge American portions at restaurants are boxed and taken home; she makes sure we eat them the next day.

When Pedring hits, Filipinos call each other up. “Have you heard about the flooding in the Philippines? Kamusta pamilya mo doon?” We trade news and commiseration.

All this reminds me of Fil-Canadian Mikey Bustos’s “Pinoy This Way” (a parody of a Lady Gaga hit), that became an Internet sensation in April: “Back home, a land far away/ Where we work hard every day/ It makes us grateful, baby, we’re Pinoy this way….Nothing ever goes to waste/ Appreciate, don’t throw away/ Baby, we’re Pinoy this way!”


Cultural values embedded through socialization at home, school, and other settings in context are difficult to shake off. They permeate our core, unconsciously, communicated through language and food and tradition and rituals.

No matter how we may intellectualize “What makes a Filipino?” and debate from whence comes identity, the reality is that if we are born in the Philippines we are steeped in it from birth, through communication, behaviors, and expectations. If we are not, it can be learned, and is generally taught by immediate family members who developed their personalities within the context of Filipino culture. It is all carried inside us and comes out when we interact with others.

What’s it all about, wherever the Filipino may be? Work. Frugality. Sacrifice. Hospitality. Food. Family. Because we’re Pinoy that way.

* * * * *

Book Bonanza:  From University of the Philippines professor emerita and University of Santo Tomas Publishing House directress Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo:

“In February of this year, the UST Publishing House launched seven more new titles… all by Thomasian writers…: The House of True Desire, essays by Cirilo Bautista; Selected Poems by Rita Gadi; At Sa Tahanan ng Alabok , poetry by Louie Sanchez; Insectisimo, poetry by Lourd de Veyra;  Superpanalo Sound,s a novel by Lourd de Veyra; Clairvoyance, poetry by Carlomar Daoana; and Body Haul, poetry by Allan Pastrana.” Also launched was Everyday Things by US-based poet Fidelito Cortes.

These books and others forthcoming are part of the “400 Years, 400 Books” Project and will be presented to the public at the closing of the University’s Quadricentennial Celebrations in January 2012. The books are already available at the UST Publishing House Bookstore on campus and in National Bookstore branches. ***

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