Monday, June 30, 2008

Konnichiwa Chronicles: Window Shopping

Walking along Ginza is always a creatively refreshing experience. It houses some of the most prestigious brands from Japan, Europe and the U.S. and each of these brands are in visually spectacular buildings. From turn-of-the-century style architecture (Takasaki) to sleek and modern structure (Apple store), Ginza's got it all.

Despite the glum and rainy day yesterday, our walk along the street was brightened up by these two stores.

Lanvin's quirky, comic yet still tres chic window dressing.

Swarovski's irregular metal strip facade that looked like platinum icicles falling to the ground.

I wish we can come up with innovative and visually stunning shop fronts in Manila. Hopefully, Greenblet 5 can pioneer that, too.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Konnichiwa Chronicles: Tokyo Dangerous

These are dangerous times here in Tokyo. Since we got here last Thursday, we've been to Shinjuku, Akihabara, Odaiba, Ueno and Ginza, and these places had one thing in common. They had these signs emblazoned on their shop windows, facades and ceilings.

Yes, the summer sale season in Tokyo has started. And everyone from Gap to Uniqlo to J. Crew is on sale. And if I recall correctly, Bebe said that it would intensify starting the 1st of July!

Maybe we should just stay in the hotel until this entire thing blows over.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Konnichiwa Chronicles: The Graduate

After two years of hard work and hard time in IUJail. After two years of long nights at the library studying, at the computer center writing papers and at the 6th floor lounge playing mahjong. After two years of being away from home but being closer to us. After two years of making us proud.

Omedetou Gozaimashita, Mark!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Konnichiwa Chronicles: Chef-fing up

To celebrate Mark's Dean's List accomplishment, I did something that I haven't done in quite some time. Cook.

We decided to cook breakfast for the Pinoy senpais, which is great because breakfast is my specialty of sorts. So while Mark was getting his haircut at Family Cut Yours (yes, there is such a shop in Japan), I went to Harashin to buy ingredients. This is when I started missing the supermarkets in Manila and Hong Kong. I couldn't understand any of the aisle signs since they were in Japanese characters. Plus, asking anyone was out of the question. It took me about 4 rounds in the supermarket to confirm that they didn't have Spam. Gosh! What kind of supermarket doesn't have Spam?

The menu consisted of French Toast, Chocolate Chip Pancakes, Bacon, Ham and Sausages. Caramelized Spam would've been in the list, but again, we couldn't find Spam anywhere. Not in Harashin. Not in Gran Depot. And the one at Yamazaki was gone, too.

While Mark and I were cooking, I remarked that we might be cooking too much. In addition to the above menu, we added in garlic fried rice to the fray. "What a combination. French Toast and Garlic Rice." Mark said. At this point, I was wondering if we cooked too much. To call this a "big breakfast" might be an understatement.

Surprise, surprise. The group finished everything! (Well, there was one french toast and about a cup of fried rice left.) Seeing how everyone enjoyed the meal, I'm glad that we decided to cook for everyone instead of just buying a gallon of ice cream or a bucket of KFC.

And seeing how everyone enjoyed the meal made me miss the days when I'd cook or bake every weekend as a means of de-stressing, as well as doing one of the things I'm passionate about.

I should really do this more often.

P.S. That same afternoon, Mark and I cooked an omelet and more french toast for Nino, Josie and Mabelle.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Konnichiwa Chronicles: Top Mark

When Mark told me that he got the scholarship in Japan two years ago, I greeted the news with equal amount of excitement and sadness. Excitement because I knew he would be doing the country proud and proving how great Filipinos are, but sad because he’d be leaving the country for a long-ish period of time. It was the same mix of emotions that D’ Frendz felt when Mona got her scholarship in Michigan.

Despite the excitement and sadness, one thing was clear in my mind. Mark would accomplish great things. Given his unbelievable talent in Math, his passion for learning, and his smarts – he had the complete formula for reaching the top of the class. He was definitely destined for “ichi-ban-ness.”

Two years has now passed, and my belief has been validated. Yesterday, I accompanied Mark to receive his Dean’s Certificate for being one of the top students in his graduating batch. After all the grades were ranked, he finished 3rd in the entire IR program. That’s no easy feat considering how difficult the program was. And is.

Congratulations, Mark! I never had a doubt that you’d hit the mark.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Konnichiwa Chronicles: Close to Nature

If you love nature, you'll love Urasa. In fact, I remember saying once that if you're living in Urasa, it's not enough that you love nature, you have to be obsessed by it. Surrounded by mountains, ricefields and small houses reminiscent of sleepy towns, it's a perfect place to relax and unwind. For the past 2 years, I've stayed in this place -- IUJ in particular -- 6 times, and as Raul so accurately told me, living here is like living in a retreat house.

The downside to living in such an environment is the presence of a lot of "natural" inhabitants. The place abounds with insects and frogs that can climb walls. (Spiderfrog, is that you.) There were also occasional bear sightings on campus, though I haven't experienced it personally. (I'm still trying to decide whether I'd like to.)

The upside is that Urasa is the perfect place to enjoy a range of outdoor activities, including barbecues. With a vast carpet of green grass below, and the forest mountains behind, it's the perfect setting for an afternoon picnic. And that's exactly what we did this past weekend.

The kohais feted the senpais with a barbecue party, and fortunately, I was in town to join the celebration. The girls prepared a virtual buffet of goodies to grill: beef, pork, chicken, fish, veggies, the works. On the other hand, the guys manned the grills, fanning and turning until everything was cooked to perfection. Not surprisingly, everyone ate faster than we could cook. But it was the perfect sign that everyone enjoyed the food.

After eating, everyone ran off to have an impromptu photo session. The postcard perfect vista of IUJ brought out the photographer - and model - in everyone. By virtue of having nifty SLRs, we had 2 professional photographers that evening - Josie and Byron. The entire shindig was reminiscent of location shoots that I attended in UP Sunken Garden and other nature parks. And if this was a photo shoot, this would be the group shot that would always cap a day of shooting.

The first time I visited IUJ was a few days after the arrival Mark and his batchmates. This week, I arrived to watch Mark and his batchmates graduate from their respective Master's programs. In between, I was with them for ASEAN night, the snow festival, as well as other campus and off-campus events. Mark told me that I even have photos in their yearbook. It makes me feel like I went to school with their batch. (Maybe I can apply for an "adopted student" status.)

I'm glad that I came in time for this barbecue party for class 2008. It made me realize that in my 2-year stint-of-sorts in IUJ, I got close to nature, as well as got close to a lot of wonderful people.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Konnichiwa Chronicles: The First Pass

Because my wanderlust has recently been on overdrive, it took only around a year and a half to get all the pages of my passport filled up. During my past 3 trips - Macau, Singapore and Manila - I had to contend with immigration officers asking me when I'll replace my passport and where they could put their chop in. My standard reply would be: "There's probably a small space somewhere in between pages 30 and 32.

So, my first agenda when I got back to Manila this June was to get a new passport. And thanks to Louis, the process was so much simpler and less taxing. And before the 2nd week of June, I got my new, maroon and machine readable passport.

Since I got my new passport, wanderlust soon kicked in again. And the country that had the honor of putting the first stamp on my new, maroon and machine readable passport was ---

Japan! (The blurry yellow thingie is their immigration stamp.) Yup, I'm in Japan for a couple of weeks to attend Mark's graduation, go to Tokyo Disney Sea, live the "Lost in Translation" life, and buy Wonka Chocolates. (Of course.) Right now, I'm in Mark's "IUJail cell" which has a 360 degree view of mountains and ricefields.

The past few days, we've been going to parties and barbecues, we've been busy in the kitchen and with karaoke, we've gone to Koide and Nagaoka, and we've tried playing mahjong with a deck of cards, and with the real thing. Despite the flurry of activities, the trip has so far been relaxed and laid back. Then again, this is Urasa. It's probably the relaxed and laid back capital of Japan.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Little Hotel of Horrors - A postscript

As I lay on my tiny bed waiting for the sandman to come, a familiar sound broke the silence in my tiny room.


I looked up and the airconditioner was leaking, and it was dripping near my pillow.

Good thing I was too sleepy to even mind it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Little Hotel of Horrors

This story goes up there with Grace's "Hotel-from-Hell-in-Bangkok" experience.

Since my trip to HKG was last minute, my hotels du jour were fully booked. Since Asiarooms has always served me well, I thought of looking for instant accommodations through them. And I did.

It was a hotel - albeit 3 star - along Nathan Road. Location wise, it was good. The rooms in the photos looked fine, and some of the reviews looked promising. So, it was click, book, print and go.

There must be some asterisk I didn't see because the hotel, photos and reviews were all inaccurate! I'd say lies, but that would be too harsh. Well, ok. They were lies! Then again, I work in advertising, and I should know that advertising has a way of even the most appalling things sound appealing. In this case, though, the appealing thing turned out to be appalling.

The first room they gave me was at their topmost floor. When I got inside, the room was big. BUT! Since it was raining hard in HKG, there was a leak from the ceiling. A leak so big, there was an indoor pool in my room! Unfortunately, I had no choice because it was the only room they had for the night. With the promise of a new, leak-less room in the morning, I fell asleep to the sound of water dripping on the floor.

This morning, they kept their promise to move me to a new room. It was cleaner and had no leaks. BUT! The room was so small. As in SOOOO SMALL! Imagine, the bed was propped up by the room's 3 walls. It was like the bed was suspended in the air. And since it was suspended, the area below was where I was supposed to keep my things. Gosh! The bodega in my old flat is much bigger than this!

Thank goodness I'm flying out early tomorrow morning. There's only so much of this horror I can take.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Patriot Family

My Lolo Iking was a patriot. A general who served with Manila's Finest until his retirement. A general who kept his vow to serve and protect the people. A man who loved his country with much fervor and never thought of leaving it - even if he could've easily hied off to Spain and rejoin his roots there. A grandfather who talked to me about love for country so passionately, it's something I've been carrying with me wherever I go.

My Dad is a patriot. Despite living the picture pretty picket fence life in Georgia, he still looks forward to and loves coming home to his little house in front of a beach in Bicol. In one of our many conversations, he told me how he wasn't keen on giving up his being a Filipino despite his long-ish stay in the U.S. Each time he comes home, he tells us that he'd rather be home than anywhere else.

With two generations (probably more, if I got to meet my Vio Abuelo Ramon and our ancestors before him) of patriots, it doesn't come as a surprise that my sentiments about the country are the same. Despite all the county's faults, and even if we don't have the conveniences that other first-world countries offer, this is home. And it's hard to imagine living life away from home. Especially with elders such as Dad and Lolo Iking.

Last night, I found another patriot in the Morales bloodline.

My now-Castillian Tita Eve (pronounced Ehh-vehh) has been living in Barcelona for more than 50 years. After leaving Manila when she was in her teens, she planted her roots there, fell in love and got married there, raised her family there, and who can forget the "did-a-lot-of-things-and-bought-lots-of-apartments-there." That said, I'd assume that she's now a full-blooded Spaniard who'd complain about how the Philippines is such a dump compared to Barcelona, or Amsterdam, or Paris, or Andorra, or Lisboa, or any of the plethora of cities she's visited. After all, I've met a number of people who - after having lived in another country for a year or two - would talk about this country as if it were the most hopeless place in the world.

While having an after-dinner conversation, I was pleasantly surprised by her point-of-view regarding the Philippines. It began with our trip to Tagaytay where she had a spa treatment and lunch at Sonya's Garden. She was telling us how they'd go to Tagaytay with Lolo Iking as kids, and how it's still as beautiful now as it was 50 years ago. She went on by saying that the Philippines is such a beautiful country and that we have everything here - beautiful places, great food, excellent shopping (yup, it runs in the family) and so many perks that you don't get in Spain.

But she also said that despite having everything, the country also has its downsides. Like how Manila is so crowded and can be quite dirty (she compared it to Damascus, I think) and that the cab drivers tend to prey on unsuspecting foreigners. When her Spanish amiga visited Manila, her comment was: "I'm sorry Eve, but I don't think I want to visit that place again." Her reply to that was: "I understand."

She understands the faults of the country, but the good thing is, she hasn't given up on it. Part of our conversation was about what more the country can do in order to make it more tourist friendly. Barcelona, she revealed, is heavily reliant on tourism and is the 2nd most visited city in Europe after Paris. Still, she thinks that the Philippines has more to offer than Barcelona. And she's hoping that we can get our act together because a lot of people should visit our country and see how beautiful it is and how much it has to offer.

And like Dad and my other relatives living in other continents, she said that if she had the means, she'd fly to Manila (via Business Class) every month and go to the spa, go to Nail Spa (her new favorite place), eat Filipino food, and be with the family she temporarily left more than 50 years ago. I think that's a very good reflection on how she's still very much a Filipina at heart.

Oh, she also added that she'll come back every month for the shopping. She goes berserk over the pearls in Greenhills everytime she visits. After her visit to Rustan's a few days ago, she had bags and bags of abanikos, shoes and other Filipinana goodies. Proof that aside from patriotism, shopping also runs in the family.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

No plain, No gain.

Over dinner last Friday, Arnie and I were discussing about her attendance at the Philippine Fashion Week and what our local industry lacks. One topic led to another, until we started talking about homegrown brands.

While she was telling me how Bayo has managed to keep up its signature look yet still update their selection. Then I told her that Plains & Prints is turning out to be a very fashion forward yet affordable brand. Arnie concurred and that started a sub-conversation on the topic.

Today, as if by a strange twist of sartorial fate, I passed by Plains & Prints and was greeted by a big SALE sign. In an effort to unload last season's stocks, they've slashed 50% off on everything in store. Including a silk, halter dress with an interesting play of prints, a pair of nautical gauchos, and a structured dress with gross grain details. There's also a navy mesh top which reminds me of a Kate Moss for Topshop creation a season back.

With these - and more - at half the price, how can anyone resist?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Go, mongo!

The Gardenia Fruit and Nut bread from Singapore is in for tough competition!

While going through the bread rack at Shopwise, I saw this Mongo loaf from Gardenia. Curious to find out how it will stack to the uber yummy Cherry Hill Mongo Bread that I buy at 7-11, I decided to get a loaf. (Which was a steal at P26.00!)

One bite and I felt like I've monggone to heaven! The bread was very soft and light, but the mongo was very dense and flavorful. I had to stop myself lest the whole loaf be finished in one sitting.

Ah yes. Happiness is a Gardenia Loaf!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

It's a free ride...

... thank goodness I haven't already paid.

On my way home, I decided to take the MRT. Just as I was about to insert my stored value ticket into the slot, the guard stops me and says:

"Sir, libre po ang sakay sa MRT ngayon bilang paggunita sa ating ika-110 taon ng kalayaan. Happy independence day po."

At that point, I didn't know what impressed and surprised me more. The fact that they're giving away free rides, or the guard's well rehearsed and well delivered spiel.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tales from my sister's closet

This morning, my brother-in-law Raymond and I took on the daunting task of fixing Ate Bullet's clothes. One might ask, "since when did fixing clothes become a daunting task?" To that, my answer would be: "Since we last checked her closet." Harhar.

In "Sex and the City," there was one scene where Carrie and Big had this conversation:

BIG: Do you want me to get you a diamond?
CARRIE: No. Just get me a really big closet.

My Ate could easily have replaced Carrie in this scene because she needs a really big closet. The rack on her old one gave way a couple of times because of the amount of dresses she has. To fix the problem, we tried putting up another rack a month ago. That, too, gave way after a few weeks. Keeping up with more than a hundred pieces of clothing ain't no easy job.

So, Raymond set up these reinforced steel bars and created some sort of a walk in closet in their attic. And within an hour, it was filled with clothes.

Actually, this is probably just a third, yes - 1/3, of her stash of clothes. Carrie Bradshaw, is that you?

Well, it's actually a selection that Carrie would be proud of. The racks had Diane, Vera, Roland, Badgely Mischka, Alberta, Narciso, among others. It also had a lot of old (or as the fashion pundits call it, "vintage") Luna, Due and other Rustan's house brands.

Among the lot, emphasis on "lot", there were a few pieces that stood out. I've got a soft spot for details and construction, and these babies had it:

First is a Black Market/White House chiffon dress with a velvet belt and a black brooch.

Next is an Herve Leger bandage dress.

Then there's a "vintage" Due designed by Rhett Eala.

Lastly, a Roland Mouret coat.

Before we parted ways, Raymond was wondering if these two bars were enough or if we needed to put another one. At first, I thought we had enough space for everything. But after working the entire morning arranging her stuff, it looks like I was mistaken.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Song of my dreams

Two nights ago, I dreamt of a song. It was a very familiar song and it was something I listened to voraciously a few years back. Because of that "voracious listening," it probably got embedded in my subconscious and it randomly replayed in my dreams.

Unfortunately, I couldn't remember the title nor the artist - all I could remember was the catch phrase that kept on playing and replaying in my head:

"Baby, no one else, can ever want you like I do,
I feel the same way, I hear the Don say,
Girl I want you, Girl I need you."

The day after, I went looking through my CD collection in search of the song. From my recollection, the song sounded like something Jennifer Lopez would sing, so it was off to the J.Lo collection. But after browsing through 4 CDs, it dawned on me that it wasn't her.

Just as I was about to give up, a photo of the Mexican Mafia in Tampico flicked an important memory switch. It was a song by Thalia! And yes, it was Thalia's attempt to move into J. Lo territory.

It was a successful attempt, considering the fact that I thought it was J. Lo who sang this song.

This video made me miss Thalia all of a sudden. Even before the "Marimar" craze in Manila, I've always liked her songs. Then, when we went to Mexico, she launched a new album with this catchy new song, and it made me love her more.

Strange, but true. I'm a fan of Thalia's music. English or Spanish. And it took a dream to remind me of that.

Maybe this is my subconcious' way of telling me to go back and visit Mexico again soon.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Curtain Call

My moratorium on shopping for clothes has begun, and so far, I've been sticking to it. This is increasingly difficult since People are People, as well as Plains and Prints, have a lot of really nice items this season.

Now, I've turned my shopping sights on another thing made of cloth, but isn't clothing. Curtains!

The past few weeks, Robinson's Department Store has been a favorite stop-over. Their home section is awesome! Especially their home linen section. They've got loads and loads of nice curtains - a lot of it in silk shantung and taffeta. Some of them are embroidered, some others beaded, and still others with an interesting interplay of prints and colors. There's definitely a creative mind at work behind the curtains.

So far, I bought a brown curtain with felt details, which matches perfectly with the green shantung ones. Then there's the brown one with stripes which goes together with a deep burgundy shantung one. Then there's the brick red and green curtains made of taffeta. And the brown and green shantung ones that are now up in Dad's room.

The best part is, they're all so cheap. Ridiculously cheap! Each panel is less than P500! Heck, for that amount, I won't even be able to get the cheapest curtain at Ikea. I think the silk ones there are around HK$500. For that amount, I can buy 5 silk ones here. And I'm definitely buying 5 more.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Customer is King

Whenever I'm at a fast food joint, people often offer me extra napkins, extra condiments or - in places like Bangkok - a free root beer float. Today, I got offered something that just knocked me off my seat. A free hand massage.

Since moving franchisees, Burger King has been aggressive in offering something new to its customers. First, they upgraded the look of their stores - a welcome change from the drab and depressing outlets they had a few years back. Second, they added new items in their menu, like those yummy dessert pies. Third, they started playing afternoon movies - which I'm enjoying since now that I'm on my first phase of bumhood. Fourth, they introduced the "free charging stations" for mobile phones and other electronic devices. With these 4 changes alone, I've been a BK regular in Manila. (The BK fish sandwich is divine!)

Now, they have free wifi and free hand massages, too. At first, I thought it was a prank and looked around to check if Ashton Kutcher was anywhere around the vicinity. (Punk'd much?) It didn't help that the lady who offered it to me was really wearing a masseuse's uniform, and that added to the "freak out factor."

Of course, I refused. Not because I found it weird, but more because I couldn't eat with one hand. The ladies on the next table were all too happy to take the offer, though. By the time I finished my meal, around 3 people got their hand massages. No, it's not a case of the lady giving short massages, it's more of a case of me eating really slow. As the masseuse disappered into the "service crew only" area of the store, the girls were all raving about the massage and swearing that they'd be back again tomorrow.

I've heard of fast food joints offering "added service," but this is ridiculous. Then again, this is Burger King. You're supposed to have it your way here.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Check it out now

Another "oldie" is making a big comeback these days. It's an article of clothing I used to wear a lot -- and I do mean A LOT -- in college. And now, everyone -- and I mean EVERYONE -- is wearing it.

Yes Virginia, the checkered shorts are back.

Go to H&M in Hong Kong, Bench and Penshoppe in Manila, or American Eagle and Abercrombie and Fitch in the US, and you're sure to find a pair for sale. I got one from Aeropostale and 2 from H&M recently, and as much as I love, love, love them, I'm kinda looking like every other Joe in the city. Whenever I'm at the mall, it looks like 5 out of 10 guys are wearing checkered shorts. (The other half, not surprisingly, are wearing skinny jeans. Gosh! Skinny jeans is sooooo 2007!)

I remember back in 1992, Abelle and I were into Madras shorts and had the same green and red pair. One day, we decided to go to SM city wearing the same pair of shorts, a white t-shirt, and a pair of white Tretorn. We felt so cool that time. But now that I'm looking back at it, it brings chills up my spine. Fashion crime! Then again, I'll use the "we were young and innocent" card for this one.

Eventhough it's a trend, overexposed and something everyone's wearing, I'm not giving up on my checkered shorts. It's just too comfortable to give up.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Clothes Call

Mother Lyli was spot on about this film.

Aside from watching it for the clever script, the amusing story and the high feel-good factor, you should watch "Sex and the City" for the clothes. As we stepped out of the theater, the conversation automatically veered towards the girls' wardrobe. (Well, we first talked about the man who unabashedly farted in the theater. Apparently, the sound reached a few rows.)

Our theory was, the budget of the movie was broken down into:

Stars - 40%
Wardrobe - 50%
Other stuff - 10%

Yup, you need a whole lotta moolah to dress characters up like this:

(Incidentally, my sister has a white top with a flower detail which is in the same family as SJP's opening scene dress.)

From the first scene to the last, each piece of wardrobe was perfect for the character and intended mood. Mother remarked that it was just browsing through a fashion magazine or watching a runway show. (Yahyah collection, anyone?) It was also like a 150 minute portfolio of Patricia Field. And if this film was her portfolio, I'd hire her big time.

I think it was a natural progression for the conversation to go to the clothes from the film to clothes in real life. We started looking back at DY&R back in Vito Cruz and the fashion of our former colleagues. Most notably, Mark F. who had a penchant for wearing tight jeans. Really, really tight jeans. Really, really tight jeans that can cut off blood circulation. Then, I remembered "Urban Militia" and at that point, we were SO wishing that Sheilah Marie were here watching the movie with us. The 3 of us and this film equals the perfect formula for a perfect after-movie conversation.

Among the hundreds of outfits that paraded on screen this afternoon, Mother and I had the same favorite. The wedding ensembles.

The detail that went into each piece was amazing. This is not counting Vivienne Westwood's wedding concoction. The dresses of Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha are so rich in detail and color -- someone in Manila should dress up their bridesmaids in these babies. Mother was particularly smitten with Charlotte's black mermaid dress.

And along with that black wedding dress came one of the most powerful and memorable scenes for me. The confrontation scene that ended with Carrie hugging Charlotte who was wearing that black mermaid dress. Gosh, that scene and that dress is reason enough to watch this film over and over again.