Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Wishes and deaths (in memory of Cyrill Tan)

I'm a Christian but somehow, two nights ago, I found myself celebrating the Lunar New Year at a friend's house. Having never done so before, I marveled at all the traditions the Chinese and some Filipinos observe to usher good luck into the new year: Wear red. Put eight 1-peso coins in your right pocket. Make sure the money in your wallet amounts to an even number. Have fish and pancit with long noodles as some of the dishes on the table, along with a cup of uncooked rice topped with coins and at least an egg (a money charm). I didn't care much about whether the dishes we had served were lucky. We didn't have fish or pancit but we had lots of takeaway dimsum from this fantastic Chinese place at Sta. Lucia Mall. I ate much of it with gusto.

When my friend Belle brought out wishing paper that we were supposed to write our wishes on and then burn later, I had to ask some questions. Does the "even numbers only" rule apply, meaning I can't write just one wish? Can it be in bullets or do I have to write it in essay form? I felt like a student again, conscientious and competitive, and as such I was first of the six of us to finish.

* * *

I rarely go home, much less see my grandparents who live about a ten-minute walk away from our house in Cavite, so I was surprised to see the condition they were in when I visited them with my mom and niece two days after last Christmas. My Nanay (82) struggles with stairs now, so she and my Tatay (83) have resorted to sleeping downstairs. For support when they walk, they both rely on canes, rails my dad mounted on their walls, and a caretaker they've hired. When we went to the mall the next day to have an early birthday celebration for my Nanay, she fell to the floor trying to take a seat at the restaurant despite having me beside her as a guide. It was a heartbreaking sight; I had to fight back tears as I helped her up.

It wasn't just my grandma's deteriorating motor skills that got me tearing up during my visit. Entire conversations now have to be repeated at times for both my grandparents' sake, my Nanay for her forgetfulness and my Tatay for his poor hearing. My Lola Charing, despite retaining her chattiness, is no longer as energetic as she used to be (and she used to be really energetic). Thank goodness, my mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law and niece seem to be okay, though I cringe at the thought of my ten-year old niece happily chatting with a boy on Facebook messenger (in secret, or so she thought; she has a smartphone with really small text, I have bionic eyes).

News of several deaths haven't been in short supply lately. There were those of music legend David Bowie, actor Alan Rickman, and much closer to home, my colleague, the novelist Cyrill Tan. Cy passed away due to cardiac arrest after a week of being in intensive care for pneumonia and heart enlargement. I was far more shocked than I had been at the deaths of David Sicam, Gerard Baja, comedian Tado and the others my friend Cams was with two years ago in that bus crash in Bontoc. Cy was only 26, after all, and we had interacted a lot at work. I interviewed him over the phone when he was applying for a phone banking job in our unit four years ago. A couple of times I assisted him when he had questions while speaking with a client. Several months before he transferred to branch services, he asked me to make a website for him so fans of his book "Charlie Sparks: A Sorcerer's Tale" could have somewhere online to get updates from aside from his Facebook page. He wrote at the back of the Charlie Sparks book I bought from him:
"To one of the most talented persons I know, thank you for sharing some love on this endeavor. Continue to be very inspiring with your own craft."

I've never considered myself talented, just somebody sufficiently capable of accomplishing most tasks laid before him (in other words, a jack-of-all-trades), but I'm inclined to accept a compliment like above from someone who, at the age of 24, self-published a book he had started working on when he was barely a teenager. You, Cy, are one of the most talented persons I know, and through your book and the people you shared your brief life with, your memory will live on.

A video posted by J. Faller (@leeflailmarch) on

Last Sunday wasn't just the eve of the Lunar New Year. It also marked the second anniversary of that tragic Florida bus accident in Bontoc, Mountain Province. After a couple of surgeries and several sessions with a physical therapist, Cams is doing so much better, though it would still take her a while before she could walk again without needing a cane. Cams' friend Michal has been taking trips in and out of the country, probably setting off metal detectors as he goes. Not everyone has been as fortunate, however. Ayen had to quit her job months ago because although her condition has improved greatly, she remains unable to stand on her own. She still misses her late husband David, and so do her sons Agung and Amian.

Before Cams and I left her apartment to get the takeaway dimsum we were bringing to our friend's house, she received news of one of her favorite UST professor's passing. She had gasped loudly and somehow, half certain, I joked, "May namatay na naman?" ("Did someone die again?") Turned out I was right. That night, I could have included in my wish list a successful hike to the Seven Summits, a new laptop, a fast metabolism and people around me spending less time on their smartphones. But what with death constantly reminding us that we are finite, I figured I only needed a very short, still-somewhat-selfish but practical list: good health for my loved ones (especially my parents and grandparents), career development, financial stability and a closer relationship with my family. Those should be more than enough to keep me happy this new year and after.

The ashes of my wishing paper.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Friday, July 24, 2015

Uber x Merry Moo = #UberIceCream

I've had nothing but good experiences with Uber so far, and as it turns out, it's not just your ride for the day the app can bring to wherever you are, but ice cream too!

From 12 to 6 in the afternoon today (yes, the promo's still ongoing), you can log on to Uber, select "Ice Cream" from the usual ride options (that sliding bar at the bottom), and have Merry Moo's best-selling Sea Salt Caramel ice cream delivered to your doorstep.

The steps are simple but getting a hit requires patience. It took me 50 minutes of seeing that "NO ICE CREAM AVAILABLE" balloon (which I took as the universe's way of saying "STOP STUFFING YOUR FACE WITH FOOD ALREADY!") before I finally connected with PJay, an #UberIceCream guy. PJay met me outside our office building, gave me my Merry Moo ice cream, pulled out a white Uber cap and two buttons from his backpack to hand to me (freebies), and snapped a photo of me ("for personal use," he said after I asked if I was going to see my photo anywhere online, which must mean he's keeping a record of everyone he's delivered to...I hope).

Uber limited-edition freebies.

As of the moment, you can get Merry Moo only at SM Aura Premier, SM City North EDSA, SM Megamall, Salcedo Saturday Market, Legazpi Sunday Market and Mercato Centrale. Their artisan ice cream attracts long lines, and for good reason because each spoonful of ice cream is rich, delicious and not overly sweet. So P199 for a pint via Uber is a steal, considering the original price is P320, and you get to skip the lines. Unfortunately, Sea Salt Caramel is the only flavor available for the #UberIceCream promo and you can order just one pint per app, so if you're like me, you'll convince your Uber-using friends to stay glued to their Uber screens to catch that elusive "Set Pick-up Location" balloon for the ice cream...if they aren't already on the lookout for it themselves.

Don't let this stop you.

The promo is only open to Makati, The Fort, Ortigas, Greenhills and Eastwood. Less than an hour to go for the promo! Don't give up on it now!

"You want me."

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

I Love You. Thank You.

I dislike most local films but delight in the fact that once in a while, after the release of the nth Shake, Rattle and Roll, Wattpad novel adaptation and kabit-themed flick, the masses get treated to a quality film or two that we as Filipinos can be proud of. Most of the time they're independent productions developed and promoted by film festivals like the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival. This year, such indie films are featured in the Filipino New Cinema category of the first-ever World Premieres Film Festival, and one of them is the Charliebebs Gohetia-written and -directed movie titled I Love You. Thank You.

The movie begins beautifully, with Joross Gamboa roaming the streets of Bangkok, taking pictures of the sights as he goes. In the background, Edgar Allan Guzman's slower, softer rendition of Silent Sanctuary's "Sa'Yo" immediately tugs at the viewer's heartstrings and sets the tone of the movie. This is going to be emotional. The title, after all, is I Love You. Thank You, and few things are more heart-wrenching than a love that isn't returned.

But is it really a matter of unrequited love, or is there, to a small degree, an exchange of it, only not in equal proportions? Or maybe it's a matter of timing. You get to ponder on these things a lot as the story progresses. Joross Gamboa's character Paul has feelings for Red (Prince Stefan) but Red is in a long-term relationship with Paul's best friend Ivan (CJ Reyes). Red is pretty serious about Ivan, preparing surprises for his birthday and their upcoming fourth anniversary, but Ivan isn't as invested in the relationship as Red is...or at least not anymore. While still very much in love with Red, Paul sojourns to Siem Reap where he meets Tang (Thai actor Ae Pattawan) who has already become besotted with him even before they've officially met. Eventually, back in Bangkok, Paul gets the opportunity to be with his love interest but not before he has already said yes to taking chances with Tang.

Tang (Ae Pattawan) and Paul (Joross Gamboa) biking around Siem Reap.

Joross Gamboa has done gay roles before but it just might be in I Love You. Thank You. where he shines best. He doesn't need to do drag or take off his shirt to reveal a gym-going closeted gay guy's physique, because he isn't playing any gay stereotype. He's playing a gay man in love. The inflections, gay lingo and gesticulations are merely supporting details to his character. He switches with ease from being effeminate to slightly more masculine depending on the situation, sans the redundant waxing-poetic that the other leads seem to need to make sure we sympathize with them. I couldn't fully sympathize with Red being heartbroken over Ivan even after he (spoiler alert!) tries to take his own life by slashing his wrist. And despite Tang's habit of jotting down his sentiments on a journal, I still couldn't wrap my head around how he is supposedly a writer, much less a porn writer by profession. But when Paul stares longingly at Red without saying anything, I feel the weight of Paul's pain and believe he is truly, madly, deeply in love with him. Joross is that convincing.

143TY, as the film's title is stylized on social media sites, is a gay film that doesn't bank on steamy scenes to lure in members of the gay community. It's a story about love and heartbreak that anyone, gay and straight alike, can relate to, with the added bonus of four attractive male actors playing the lead characters in beautiful locations such as the streets of Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh and the temples of Siem Reap. You wouldn't believe it's a low-budget movie because it's an achievement in guerrilla filmmaking, and it's in independent films such as this where we may find that perhaps there's hope for Philippine cinema yet.

Though the other entries under the World Premieres Film Festival's Filipino New Cinema category will still be screened in SM Cinemas until July 27, I Love You. Thank You. will have one last screening on July 17 (Friday), 8 PM at UP Cine Adarna. Catch it then because you might not get another chance.


UPDATE (from the movie's Facebook page): 143TY will have a UPLB screening this September. More details to follow.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Another reason to put off driving lessons

I know very little about driving and traffic regulations, because I neither own a car nor know how to drive. But I know when someone's being an asshole on the road simply because they can.

It was around 11 last Friday night and my friends and I had just come from Mad Mark's in Kapitolyo. We were passing through Lanuza Ave. on our way to Manggahan and were only a few meters away from E. Rodriguez Ave. when we came across a gray Mercedes Benz headed straight in our direction. Lanuza Ave.'s two lanes had become three that night, with two exiting to E. Rodriguez, and we had been in the middle lane for quite a ways already so naturally there was a long trail of cars behind us. The Benz had only entered Lanuza with not even one car following him, because anyone approaching him from behind could see the opening to their right (our left) and just take it. Whether it was to protest the existence of a third lane or defend his supposed route going opposite us, the Benz stayed in its place facing us, leaving no space for us to maneuver out of our spot.

You can see how the Benz could easily just back up and take the opening to its right.

The Mercedes Benz's windows were not tinted so we could see the driver clearly despite the drizzle. He had short hair, a fair complexion and bespectacled Chinese eyes. When he got out of the car to take a photo of my friend Jam's car on his iPhone, we noticed how tall and portly he was. He was wearing a white golf shirt that had "Sonex" printed on it. He had time to waste, and he showed it by feigning drowsiness and pretending to nap for several seconds. The few cabs and private cars that passed us by and eyed him were met with a confident "the-nerve-of-these-kids-they-made-a-mistake-and-should-be-taught-a-lesson" raise of his eyebrows and cock of his head. The only mistake I knew we had made was being at the wrong place at the wrong time. And maybe not having a Taser handy.

We were all hesitant to get out of the car to confront the Benz driver or even check his license plate which was hidden from our view. Trapped as we were and there being no traffic enforcers nearby, even at the security outpost a few meters to our left, we only had one thing we could do: call the police. Jam did so and despite not being able to provide the Benz's license plate number, the police agreed to send a patrol vehicle to our location. One green light later, Jam got a call back from them, urging us to take a quick peek at the Benz's license plate, but we knew better than to make a move which may be interpreted by a possibly deranged person as an act of aggression.

The police told us to stay put and while waiting we devised theories as to what the Benz driver's deal could be. The most logical was that he simply wanted to prove a point, not caring if he inconvenienced a lot of motorists in the process. We also thought he might have gotten drunk or high after squandering his inheritance at the casino, or he could have gotten fired from his job or dumped by his girlfriend and he was merely projecting his anger at us. The whole situation could have been a new criminal MO, the Benz driver in cahoots with the driver of the car behind us, though we quickly dismissed that theory after noticing the white van behind us back up and overtake us on our left. The next car in line didn't follow its lead, unfortunately, so we were still trapped.

FER818, with an MD emblem. You give Benz-driving doctors a bad name.

Several more theories and green lights later, we finally had enough space at the rear to back up and move past the Benz, allowing us a look at its license plate. The Benz didn't advance to prevent us from going anywhere, as we had feared, but it found its next victim in the car immediately behind us. At this point, Jam placed a follow-up call to the police who encouraged us to file a report against the Benz driver now that we had his license plate number. She passed the phone to Niña who was basically told that that call meant zilch, and that to make a formal complaint we still had to go to the Pasig police precinct. We gave up on that plan of action and decided to investigate the identity of the Benz driver on our own (sleuthing still in progress).

A story had just gone viral also last Friday about how an Atenean doctor, whose name on Facebook is Jay Bee, had gotten a P200 discount from Jollibee by intentionally delaying the arrival of the delivery guy to his place. I remembered the MD emblem above the Benz's license plate and decided to check if both doctors are one and the same person. Sadly, they are not. I found something else on the Jay Bee guy's Facebook timeline, though, that made me cringe even more.

The Atenean doctor seems to be reveling in the 15 seconds of fame Filipino netizens are giving him by circulating his Facebook post and its comments online. As of this writing, he has updated his Facebook timeline thrice, expressing his hopes to be featured by Ellen Degeneres on her show, thanking his "fans" and "bashers" and inviting them to meet with him in person, even quoting a message from a supposed friend who says they understand Jay Bee because they have known him for his "kamalditahan" (bitchiness) all along. To top it off, all three posts have a photo of him giving the reader the dirty finger. Part of me is hoping that this is all just a social experiment, but if this guy is real, he deserves to be in the hole he doesn't seem to want to stop digging.



UPDATE: Got the feeling that the Jay Bee guy couldn't possibly be a medical professional, from Ateneo or otherwise, by his Facebook photos and posts. And apparently, he's a professional swindler, not a doctor.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Go mad for sausages at Mad Mustard

If we were, say, in New York City, there would be a hotdog stand or a food truck serving grilled sausages at almost every street corner. But this is Manila. I live in Pasig, specifically, and aside from 7-Eleven and perhaps the ubiquitous Angel's Burger (which, despite their kiosks' questionable sanitary conditions, serves a mean Hungarian sausage sandwich for just a little over P70), there are very few places one can easily get good sausages at for a reasonable price. Lucky for Marikeños and those living/working nearby, there's Mad Mustard, a recently-opened hotdogs and fries joint located near what is quickly becoming the next foodie haven, Lilac Street.

What I ordered when I went to Mad Mustard with my friends: all-meat sausage (add-on: bacon), fries and moringa (malunggay) juice

Mad Mustard serves many different kinds of tasty sausages at very affordable prices, from their most basic offering, the All-Meat Sausage (P98) to their most expensive, such as Bratwurst, Kolbaz (or Kolbasz), Kielbasa and Italian Fennel (all P160). They also have other unique sausages like Beer Sausage and Chorizo de Cataluna (both P150). You get your order in a hotdog bun, with a smattering of ketchup, mayo and, naturally, mustard on top, plus a spoonful of pickle relish (they pile 'em all on by default, so tell your waiter if you don't want any). You can customize your sandwich with add-ons such as Swiss cheese, jalapeño, caramelized onions, sauerkraut and bacon (P20 to P30 per add-on). No need to worry about overdoing it because they give you plastic gloves to eat with, in case you make a mess. You can even make your order a combo for an additional P50 and they throw in some crispy fries and a cold drink—your choice of either iced tea or moringa citrus, which is surprisingly good considering it is malunggay (but don't take my word for it; you may ask your waiter for a taste of it in a tiny tea cup first).

The place is beautifully painted bright yellow and orange, with sausage cartoons which might make you take pity on your food (not me, I was pretty hungry). If you're with friends and are staying for a while, you can order beer. Mad Mustard carries imported brands like Corona and Stella Artois, and they go really well with sausages. Just don't stay too long or be too loud when you get drunk, because the place seats only about 20 persons, inside and out, and the place can get a bit warm especially when packed.

Mad Mustard Hotdogs & Fries Joint is a stone's throw away from the infamous Lilac Street, at 60 Sapphire Street, SSS Village, Concepcion II, Marikina. Despite having been featured on local TV at least once, the place has no long lines outside and almost no reviews on the Internet (though there is a somewhat disturbing-slash-hilarious search result that links to the Urban Dictionary "mad mustard" entry). Go visit while demand hasn't yet made their prices shoot up.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Jurassic World Megamall IMAX experience

Anyone who was early for the 8:10 PM screening of Jurassic World at SM Megamall's IMAX Cinema last Saturday would remember this Ant-Man trailer moment very clearly:

The trailer had stopped at this exact frame, and at first I thought it was either a glitch or the film projectionist's way of allowing everyone to appreciate the ruggedness of Paul Rudd's face. But then I realized the pause was so the cinema's management team could sort out the seating issue which was then ongoing for those who had booked their tickets online.

Apparently, only three rows in the middle of the theater were dedicated for online reservations, so regardless of your chosen seat number you can only sit in rows G to I. My date's company and I were part of that group, but we got to the cinema early so we still had acceptable center seats. Others weren't as lucky nor were they as forgiving of the seating blunder.

The first commotion we heard, even before the trailers were paused, came from behind us. A newly-arrived woman, a foreigner by the sound of her accent, was arguing with someone already seated. "So what was the point of my booking last June 19 if I couldn't get my reserved seat?" she said with indignation—mistaken with the date, I assume, unless she had come from the future. "We were told these seats are on a 'first come, first served' basis," said the walk-in moviegoer she was addressing. "And we got here first." The foreign woman repeated her argument thrice more, but met with the same response she finally gave up and headed toward a side seat. Several minutes after the trailers were paused, some guys tried to make sarcastic applause catch on inside the theater, successful only the first time out of two attempts. A long silence later, a woman at the back row asked aloud what was going on and if the issue could be resolved quickly because "kawawa naman 'yung mga nakatayo" ("I feel bad for those standing up").

I didn't care much for it then—the break in the trailers allowed me some time to check on my SimCity BuildIt metropolis on my phone—but I was curious so I investigated by trying to book Jurassic World tickets via SM Cinema's website today.

The blue cells are the ones I selected.

The root of the problem seems to be this page that allows one to select any seat in the IMAX Theater when booking a ticket. If row allotment for online reservations was indeed just from G to I, then I shouldn't be allowed to select, say, row M seats, like I did (highlighted blue in the screenshot above). There wasn't even a pop-up message about it when I proceeded to the next page, and nowhere else on the SM Cinema website, not even the FAQs section, does it say only certain rows are allotted for online reservations. I didn't try to go further because that would entail actually paying for the tickets, but if SM Cinema is still allowing their site visitors to reserve any seat in the IMAX Theater only to be told come movie time that their reservations are moot, then I can only imagine how stressful it has been for their managers-on-duty (which might explain why there apparently has been rapid career movement for their theater staff, as my date's friends have noticed since they last came to the Megamall IMAX).

About ten minutes since the Ant-Man trailer was paused back at the cinema, Paul Rudd returned in motion and we all had to wear our 3D glasses again, so the seating issue must have eventually been sorted out, at least for that screening time. As for the film, Jurassic World is visually stunning in 3D and thrilling enough to make us forget about everything that recently happened. I just felt like it was lacking in new dinosaur species to introduce to its audience. Over a decade since Jurassic Park III and all they could add to the roster are the winged Dimorphodon, aquatic Mosasaurus and genetically-modified Indominus rex. As magnificent as those creatures were, however, they paled in comparison to Claire Dearing, the dinosaur theme park's operations manager played by Bryce Dallas Howard. Even in heels she had been wearing for more than a day she can outrun a full-grown Tyrannosaurus rex. That's certainly more impressive than a hybrid dinosaur who can camouflage and evade thermal imaging.