Sunday, May 10, 2015

Boyhood: life as it happens NOT in an in-between state

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In what seems to me to be the best film nominated in this year's Academy Awards (but which sadly won only one Oscar—that for Best Supporting Actress), life is depicted beautifully in twelve years' worth of video footage, and summed up perfectly, in my opinion, in two scenes. The first scene comes two hours into Boyhood, with Mason talking to his girlfriend Sheena in the car, in Richard Linklater's trademark stream-of-consciousness style of conversation.

Sheena: "That sounds to me like just another extreme Mason view of everything."

Mason: "Not at all! I finally figured it out. It's like when they realized it was gonna be too expensive to actually build cyborgs and robots. I mean, the costs of that were impossible. They decided to just let humans turn themselves into robots. That's what's going on right now."

S: "Oh, right now?"

M: "Yeah! I mean, why not? There are billions of us just laying around, not really doing anything. We don't cost anything. I mean, we're even pretty good at self-maintenance and reproducing constantly. And as it turns out, we're already biologically programmed for our little cyborg upgrades."

S: "How?"

M: "Seriously! I read this thing the other day about how when you hear that ding on your inbox, you get like a dopamine rush in your brain. It's like we're being chemically rewarded for allowing ourselves to be brainwashed. How evil is that? We're fucked."

S: "So you deleting your Facebook page is gonna change all that? Remember when Trevor deleted his Facebook page last year and everyone just hated him? You made more fun of him than anyone."

M: "I still make fun of Trevor though."

S: "It was like he was so pathetically desperate for attention. Or to be different, or something."

M: "That's just 'cause they did that lame story about it in the school paper."

S: "And then he had to make a big announcement about it when he came back a month later."

M: "That's the thing, though. I'm not doing it for attention. I just wanna try and not live my life through a screen. I want some kind of actual interaction. A real person, not just the profile they put up."

S (looking at her phone): "I'm sorry. Were you saying something?"

M: "Yeah, okay, I know you're joking. But, I mean, it's kind of true. You have been, you know, checking your phone this whole time... So, what are you really doing? You don't care what your friends are up to on a Saturday afternoon, but you're also obviously not fully experiencing my profound bitching. So, yeah, it's like everyone's just stuck in like an in-between state. Not really experiencing anything."

S: "It's not an experience, it's just information. Look, for example, I just got the address of the club where we're meeting them later, so we won't be wandering the streets of Austin lost for an hour tonight. Thank you very much, Facebook... And then I just texted my mom back."

M: "That's groundbreaking. She hasn't seen you in, like, 55 minutes?"

S: "My God, most importantly, Meg's family just got a miniature pet pig."

M (looking at Sheena's phone): "Okay, you're right. That is a really cute, tiny pig. Our lives can go on."

S: "I want one."

And then right at the very end of the film, Mason and a new college acquaintance Nicole tie that thought up with the idea that we can't really seize the moment because the moment, being constant, is the one that seizes us, as if to ask, "Will we just be on our phones checking our Facebook news feeds the next time the moment tries to seize us?"

Will we?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Manila Chinatown chow: six food stops in one day

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It started last Tuesday, just a little past midnight, when I couldn't seem to doze off. I opened my laptop and looked for a movie to put me to sleep, something somber and familiar, preferably with subtitles. I settled on Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love, but instead of putting me to sleep, the film, during the scene where Mrs. Chan goes out for take-out noodles, only made me hungry. I snacked on a soft-boiled egg and wheat crackers to satisfy my hunger, but I was left with a really intense craving for Chinese noodles.

The magnificent Maggie Cheung as Mrs. Chan in In the Mood for Love.

There are several places I could easily go to for authentic Chinese food (Causeway and Yang Chow in Libis, for instance), but I've always wanted to return to Binondo since being taken there two years ago by my dear friend Seddy. So that's what I did in the weekend. With a special date. Albeit four days late to satisfy my noodle craving.

It was Saturday, and the heat, thank goodness, was bearable enough for commuting. One UV Express shuttle and two train rides took us from Pasig to Binondo just before lunchtime, and the very first recommended restaurant we came upon, based on a list I had compiled from the Internet, was The Original SaLido Restaurant located along Ongpin St. The place claimed to be "Home of the Famous Asado," so we ordered a small plate of the pork dish for P245.

The Original SaLido Restaurant's so-called asado.

The asado came surprisingly fast, though probably just because the pork, flavorless and lacking in tenderness, hadn't been mixed with the asado sauce yet. I felt like we had ordered lemon chicken only to be served a plate of breaded chicken fillet and a separate lemon sauce. We had to do our own dipping and mixing to get the flavor that we wanted. (Or maybe we were simply wrong in assuming we'd get the traditional Filipino-Chinese red, sweet char siu pork.)

Shanghai Fried Siopao, almost nondescript, so keep an eye out for it along Ongpin St. if you'd like some of their fried siopao.

We immediately left SaLido and walked along Ongpin till we reached Shanghai Fried Siopao. We each got a fried siopao (P18 per piece), which I've tried before but whose taste still surprised me, being used to the Bicol-style toasted siopao sold a few blocks away from my place in Pasig. Their similarity is that they both don't need any sauce to enhance their taste. But only the bottom of the fried siopao is toasted, and—a word of caution for those with food sensitivity—the buns are prepared and packed in plastic bags using bare hands.

Shanghai Fried Siopao doesn't just sell fried siopao but other Chinese delicacies too.

By the time we were finished with our siopao, we already had a hankering for a complete meal. So we headed to Wai Ying Fastfood, which was this hole-in-the-wall joint Seddy took me to before and whose white chicken with ginger-garlic relish still haunts my daydreams.

There are two Wai Yings in Binondo: the restaurant which has two floors, and the take-out joint.

Wai Ying had a lot that we could have ordered, but we were not yet done restaurant-hopping so we only got half an order of the white chicken (P190), no rice, and hakao (P80). I've had better hakao but I've never liked ginger in any dish other than in Wai Ying's luya relish, which I slathered on each cut of chicken I inhaled. To wash it down, I had cold milk tea while my date had cold lemon tea (both P55 a glass).

Wai Ying's white chicken and its luya relish, and hakao.

The chicken and hakao had already made us a bit full so we skipped having mami at Masuki Mami Restaurant, which was also just along Benavidez St. Instead, we went to Cafe Mezzanine, famous for their kiampong and Soup No. 5 and for donating all the revenue from their firehouse-themed restaurant to the Binondo Paco Fire Search and Rescue Brigade. We weren't adventurous enough to order Soup No. 5 so we got their xiao long bao, affordable at P180 for ten dumplings, and their wintermelon juice, priced at P65 a glass. We couldn't finish the xiao long bao, though that might have been because the dumplings' flour skin tasted a little too street siomai-like. The wintermelon juice, on the other hand, was delightfully refreshing and I enjoyed munching on the sweet wintermelon bits.

Cafe Mezzanine's xiao long bao.

It was drizzling when we left Cafe Mezzanine to line up at Eng Bee Tin for hopia. I had gotten addicted to Eng Bee Tin's hopia piƱa (pineapple) ever since my dad started occasionally bringing it home as pasalubong when I was a kid, so I bought six packs of those (P38 each) and four packs of their more popular custard hopia (P50 each). The place was filled with women hoarding various types of Eng Bee Tin pastries and making sure their purchases weren't going to expire earlier than May, so even though we could have eaten our hopia there at one of their tables, we opted to just leave for Lord Stow's for a proper dessert.

The crowd at Eng Bee Tin, all hungry for hopia.

Lord Stow's Bakery was also packed with women hoarding pastries that Saturday. My date and I ordered a small box of four egg tarts (P165, but bought individually an egg tart is P42) and ate them at the far end of the counter while listening to an old Chinese guy intermittently talk business on the phone. Considering how tiny the bakeshop was, it was loud. Eventually the place emptied out though, allowing us to finish our egg tarts in peace.

The cronut of Asia and the 1990s: egg tart from Lord Stow's Bakery.

Lord Stow's egg tarts may not be Chinese at all (Lord Stow's Bakery first opened in Macau, but "Lord" Andrew Stow is English and his inspiration for his egg tarts, pasteis de nata, is Portuguese), but its flaky, creamy and slightly sweet goodness was the perfect way to end our food tour in the world's oldest Chinatown.

Aside from Masuki, we also weren't able to go to several other food stops in my list, such as Quick Snack, New Po-Heng Lumpia House, Dong Bei Dumplings, LGA Estero (famous for their fried frog legs, which my date was thankful I wasn't keen to try), Ying Ying Tea House and Sincerity Cafe. Restaurants like President Tea House we deliberately didn't visit because they have branches outside Binondo anyway. My In the Mood for Love-induced craving wasn't satisfied, but we were surrounded by so much Chinese food in Binondo I forgot that noodles were what I had intended to eat there in the first place. All in all, costing just P600 for each of us (not including transportation and the pasalubong from Eng Bee Tin), it was a fun and satisfying but inexpensive Manila Chinatown food tour. I'll be sure to visit more restos next time. Maybe on another date.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Livestock and La Vie Parisienne

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There are days when after all the good food you've skimped on in favor of low-calorie, nutritious meals, you think you deserve to indulge. Yesterday for me was such a day.

My friends Cams and Aika met another friend and former colleague Ava last night at Livestock, a restaurant that boasts being ranked first in's 2014 Top 10 Crispy Pata in Manila list. Ava often holds business meetings there but it was the first time for the rest of us, so we had her recommend some dishes.

For our appetizer, Ava suggested Livestock's Chicharon 3 Kinds (crispy bulaklak, bituka or intestines, and chicken skin), which was bite after sinful bite of pork crackling goodness.

To warm our stomachs, we had Seafood Laksa Soup, which was adequately creamy and spicy.

We also ordered their Salted Egg Prawns. I found it a bit redundant in itself because it was two kinds of salty in one dish, but it was good nonetheless.

We had two pork dishes: the crispy pata, naturally, and another restaurant bestseller, the Livestock Crackling Pork Belly. You can have the latter in either a 300-, 500- or 1,000-gram slab, but we ordered just 300 grams.

The crispy pata was so tender you can cut through it with a popsicle stick and fork, which was what our waiter did when he served it to us. It wasn't a challenge to eat at all, and with its spicy soy sauce and vinegar dip it tasted even better (though I'm still partial to Serye's boneless crispy pata). Between the crackling pork belly and the crispy pata (and the three kinds of chicharon we just had), however, we already had enough fat molecules threatening to clog our arteries and making us light-headed, so we didn't even try finishing the crispy pata but had the leftovers wrapped in a to-go bag.

Though Livestock is a great place to have drinks at, we went instead to La Vie Parisienne, a French bakery, deli and wine library at the ground floor of Hotel Rembrandt, only a couple of blocks away from Livestock.

La Vie Parisienne offers a great selection of breads, pastries and wines, all for affordable prices, and you can eat and drink them inside at one of their four tables, surrounded by all their cellared wines. I ordered an apple turnover and a coffee, while my friends ordered three small slices of cake, a croissant, coffees of their own and some takeaway breads.

Everything was delicious, especially the cakes, and the fruity sweetness of the Shanpelino sangria our waiter Gelo recommended later on was so addicting we had a hard time deciding to stop at just two bottles of it. (Ava and I brought home the empty bottles to use as home decor, along with a few other bottles the staff haven't thrown away yet.) It was a satisfying night of getting drunk in oil, caffeine, alcohol and good laughs.

Shanpelino wines are cheap (P290/bottle), though they don't look like it.

Livestock is a great place to commit the sin of eating fatty foods at, maybe even with a beer or four. It's at 34 Sgt. Esguerra Ave., South Triangle, Quezon City, and they're open from 11 AM to 2 AM. You can walk in and though there's sometimes a line to get a table, you don't have to wait very long. With La Vie Parisienne, on the other hand, you may have to call ahead to reserve one of their four tables if you plan to hang out. La Vie Parisienne is at the ground floor of the Hotel Rembrandt, along Tomas Morato Ave., Quezon City, and they're open from 7 AM to 2 AM. Visit them early to enjoy more freshly-baked breads and pastries.
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