Thursday, July 10, 2014

Boracay first-timer

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After a long, long time of treating with indifference the idea of visiting Boracay, I wanted to finally give the popular summer destination a shot, so when my college friend Mines invited me and another college friend Mark to her colleagues' beach outing there, I said yes.

Almost perfect weather

As is my usual luck, however, and since summer had already ended, there was bad weather involved. There was a typhoon whose name I cannot recall for our Mount Apo climb last August, and there was Typhoon Yolanda for our hike up Mount Pulag with co-workers last November. This time for our Boracay trip, there was Typhoon Florita (Neoguri)...or at least its outer rainbands because it never really made landfall in the Philippines.

Mark and I flew with Air Asia Zest to Kalibo last Friday night, a decision which we regret in hindsight because we could have saved a lot of time flying directly to Caticlan. Island Star Express took care of our bus/boat transfers to our hotel La Carmela de Boracay in Station 3, where we arrived in the evening with the rain already upon us. Mines later on met with us at the hotel after Mark and I have had dinner and asked around for good deals on the usual touristy island activities. The three of us agreed on going with one John of Boracay Tours & Adventures who offered us helmet diving (complete with a CD of our underwater photos and video), parasailing and island hopping in Crystal Cove, Crocodile Island and some place we could go cliff diving, all for P3,083 per head for the three of us, spanning our entire day, with a bounty of fresh seafood provided for lunch. Come Saturday morning, though, it was pouring hard, so despite John's attempts at convincing us through text to still go through with the plan because the activities will be held in another part of the island anyway, we had to cancel.

Having nothing else to do because of the dreary weather, the three of us frolicked in the water, fought the huge waves while playing dugtungan ng kanta, and buried each other's limbs in wet sand at the shore while catching up. After several dugtungan rounds and rule revisions, Mines lost, so she had to treat Mark and me to some McDonald's sundae according to our agreement.

Gloomy weather in Station 3

We decided to reserve some calamansi muffins at Real Coffee & Tea Cafe to take home. The first taste that I had of the muffins was through pasalubong given to me last year—odd, initially, but delicious, almost like lemon, but very distinctly calamansi-flavored. A box has 6 muffins and they cost P320 (individually bought, a muffin is P60). Mark, Mines and I each reserved two boxes for pick-up on Sunday.

Real Coffee & Tea Cafe is in Station 1 of the island and because it was a long way from our hotel in Station 3, the weather was actually better in the area. Made us actually think we should have pushed through with our island tour package with John. I made a mental note to book a hotel in Station 1 for when I go back to Boracay.

Station 1 weather, which was better but still cloudy

Probably the only thing I didn't like about Boracay was the ridiculous number of vendors and travel coordinators waiting to accost you at every corner to sell you tour packages, raincoats, monopods and sunglasses. Mark, I didn't know, was prone to vendor charmspeak, and Mines, always the polite one, often ended up by Mark's side during sales pitches. I, on the other hand, avoided any interaction with vendors because even the slightest eye contact could lead to them covering my eyes with fake Ray-Bans or hanging a waterproof gadget container around my neck. Mark and Mines were accosted by a lady representative of Astoria Hotels who enticed them with a 420-peso 3-for-1 lunch buffet and accommodations at their newly built Astoria Puerto Princesa hotel if they listened to a sales presentation over dinner. The lunch buffet promo was very enticing, but since after seeing the weather improve a bit we had decided to join Mines' colleagues in the afternoon on an island hopping tour they got on their own, we simply had lunch at Hap Chan.

Hap Chan's fried squid with salt and pepper, which was sinfully good especially with their vinegar

The weather turned sour after lunch so we canceled the island hopping tour again and opted to take a stroll. We went past Station 1 and reached Willy's Rock, which had a grotto of the Virgin Mary.

Grotto of Virgin Mary at Willy's Rock

On our way back to our hotel, Mines wanted to buy a cocktail at Beach Hut Boracay. Their crazy-tall drink containers were so cool I considered buying too, especially since you can have them refilled whenever for a hundred pesos less than the original drink price. "Alcohol in the afternoon?" I contemplated aloud in front of the cheerful female staff of Beach Hut. "You're on vacation anyway, sir," she said with a smile. That convinced me enough.

Beach Hut Bar's crazy-tall drink containers

A liter of draft beer for me (only because I wanted the beer bottle which unfortunately doesn't come with cocktails) and a liter of margarita for Mines

We dropped by Mari-It Artworks, a nipa stall that sells native-inspired decor and accessories. Mark saw a beautiful necklace with a small, irregularly shaped, translucent white crystal which she planned to give to her girlfriend. It was P1,500, which immediately made Mark lose interest in it. I can only imagine how much more the animal skull staffs cost.

If you're into native-inspired decor or accessories with gemstones or animal skulls, visit Mari-It Artworks

Skull staffs, gemstone pendants, animal spine bracelets, etc.

I'm normally against staying too long inside the hotel room during vacation because it's a waste of time. But the weather being bipolar, rainy and windy one moment and sunny another (sometimes even rainy, windy and sunny all at the same time), we had no choice but to spend more time inside our executive suites. Thank goodness for cable and the bathtub with running hot water.

Bipolar weather at Stations 2 and 3

Spirited Away on Disney

For dinner on Saturday night, Mines and I tried the Astoria dinner thing offered to them in the morning. As it turned out, it was not at Astoria Hotel but in Casa del Pilar's buffet resto. We were sat down by this really pushy guy and asked to sign a registration form. I was already really grumpy because of the weather and all the earlier salespeople encounters so when I got to the part where the form essentially asked, "Would you agree to attend a 90-minute presentation where we yap about one of our hotel projects while we show you boring Powerpoint slides in exchange for gift certificates to Astoria Puerto Princesa?" Mines and I had to politely decline. Mark was not feeling so well anyway so we just bought pizza and pasta at Yellow Cab for take-out and ate in our hotel room. We didn't get to party at a bar or go pub crawling, although we got to binge on Beach Hut refills and some of my own vodka mix in the hotel. Aside from the hot shower and bathtub, the only other great thing about La Carmela de Boracay was the elevated seating area they had by the beach, so we took advantage of that, hung out by ourselves and slept late.

The next morning, we had buffet breakfast at the hotel again at around 9:30, and seeing that the weather was fairer, we decided to actually allow an island tour coordinator to accost us on our way to pick up our calamansi muffins so we could go helmet diving before check-out. Mines had an earlier flight back to Manila, though, so we didn't have time for parasailing anymore.

We didn't get to try any local delicacies in Boracay—or any food that couldn't also just be bought in the city, for that matter—although right outside Kalibo airport Mark and I got to enjoy a pre-departure feast of fresh mango shakes, binakol na manok (native chicken cooked in bamboo) and grilled boneless bangus. I wasn't able to take note of the restaurant's name, but all the food served to us were delicious.

Fresh mango shakes

Binakol na manok, which was like a better-tasting tinola

A red fish and Flounder from The Little Mermaid staring happily at a grilled boneless bangus (milkfish)

All in all, Boracay was able to redeem my perception of beaches. Sure, I might appreciate subpar beaches even less now, but at least Bora's one more thing I YOLO-ed and could now cross off my bucket list this year.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rak of Aegis rerun

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You can't call yourself a Filipino if you don't know at least one Aegis song. Few would admit it, probably because the local band's brand of rock music is considered pang-masa, but ask anyone, even the affluent (save perhaps those from the younger generation), if they know at least the chorus of "Halik" or the melody of "Basang-basa sa Ulan" and you're likely to get a yes. I grew up listening to some OPM but mostly by bands such as Eraserheads and Parokya ni Edgar. Commuting to and from my high school alma mater more than a decade ago, however, I would always hear Aegis' music on the "baby bus" or tricycle. Even when I wasn't taking public transport, some sari-sari store's radio on my way somewhere would be blaring "Luha," or some family, finding the afternoon weather unbearably hot, would be leaving their door and windows open as they watched a singer-wannabe belt out "Sinta" on a noontime TV show's talent competition. Aegis' music is inescapable.

Proving exactly how big of an impact Aegis' music has made in Filipino culture, Rak of Aegis was created and had its first run of 42 sold-out shows earlier this year. The hit comedy musical due to popular demand started its second run on June 20, with shows until August 31, still at the PETA Theater Center, New Manila. And it is fantastic.

I've seen the set before on my friend Koji's blog, but it still wowed me when I finally saw it in person. The setting of the musical is an impoverished barangay called Villa Venizia, appropriately named because the houses are raised above shin-deep polluted water and the only way to get from place to place is either on foot traversing makeshift planks or by boat. What might initially appear as bird houses in the background are actually the distant homes of other villagers. When it rains, it isn't just special effects but actual water pouring from above and from the eaves of the main character Aileen's family's house and Jewel's sari-sari store. Kudos to Mio Infante for the production design.

The set (photo taken before the show)

Aicelle Santos was great as wide-eyed international singer-wannabe Aileen, who has a dream of getting a music video of her to go viral on YouTube and eventually get noticed by Ellen DeGeneres. Isay Alvarez-Seña was, of course, brilliant as Mary Jane, Villa Venizia's barangay captain and mother to Kenny, played by Myke Solomon. Isay's real-life husband Robert Seña portrayed the role of Kiel, Aileen's proud dad. Arnell Pineda's acting for his role as Fernan sort of reminded me of his portrayal of Gomez in The Addams Family, only in Tagalog. Cacai Bautista as Mercy, Aileen's mother, was utterly hilarious (I had to have a photo taken with her after the play), and so was Jimmy Marquez as Joel/Jewel, Aileen's best friend. But the real scene-stealer was Pepe Herrera who played Tolits, ferryman and third member of the Aileen-Kenny-Tolits love triangle.

Most of the cast of Rak of Aegis, letting photos be taken of themselves and with fans

I got teary-eyed during the show, not because of the dramatic scenes but because the musical somehow manages to encapsulate what's going on in our country right now. Contrary to what most articles have said about Rak of Aegis, it is not just about the Filipino people's resilience in the midst of calamities and our perpetual need to sing eardrum-splitting karaoke that can be heard barangay-wide. Rak of Aegis is everything Filipino, which includes our bad side. There's poverty. Corrupt, wealthy people who mistreat the weak and the less fortunate. The "I'll buy an expensive living room rug for show and so I could feel good about myself, but won't let guests at my house step on it" attitude. Our inclination toward get-rich-quick schemes, which in today's Facebook and YouTube age have been replaced by get-viral-and-hopefully-rich-thereafter-quick schemes. Our tendency to turn handicaps (e.g the flooding in the story) into emotional crutches (e.g. something we can milk for all it's got so we can earn money). And our penchant for looking toward the government for solutions, sometimes rightly so but more often than not incorrectly when we can be the solutions ourselves.

But yes, there's also a lot of good in the musical's being everything Filipino. Our creativity and resourcefulness. Our love for social media and music. Close family ties. Pride. Unity in times of desperate need, particularly when our community or country is being taken advantage of by someone from the outside. Our great sense of humor. The title itself—a pun on the hit Broadway musical Rock of Ages—shows our sharp wit and knack for copying or imitating stuff, which is not necessarily a bad thing because having been conquered many times, it is quite understandable for our country to be once in a while confused with its own identity...just as long as in the end we get back to being sure of who we are. Aside from the title pun, however, everything else about Rak of Aegis is original. I hope we could create more plays of this sort in the future.

Rak of Aegis was written by award-winning playwright Liza Magtoto and directed by PETA Theater Center's artistic director Maribel Legarda, with musical arrangement and direction by Myke Salomon. Also lending to the beauty of the entire production are Jonjon Villareal (lighting design), Carlo Pagunaling (costume design), Maco Custodio (shoe design), Joan Pamintuan (accessory design) and Gio Gahol (choreography). I enjoyed everything from start to finish, from the comedic pre-show and intermission reminders and the snappy scene transitions, to the witty one-liners and the singing (pretty sure I'll be LSS-ing on Aegis songs for a while). I was lucky to have seen Rak of Aegis during its second run (oddly enough, just like I was lucky enough to have seen Rock of Ages during its second run last year). Don't miss it. You may buy tickets over the counter or online at TicketWorld...while they're still not sold out.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Mind Museum

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The clearest memory I have of science class in grade school isn't of quizzes I aced or lab experiments I did perfectly well. It is of my fifth-grade teacher demonstrating the almost-dance she has to perform to generate body heat when bathing with cold water early in the morning. Needless to say, science was never a favorite subject of mine growing up, but had some place like The Mind Museum been already open back then, learning science might have been a lot more fun.

The Mind Museum is a project of the non-profit Bonifacio Art Foundation, Inc. funded completely by private donations from corporations and individuals and opened in March 2012 after five years of planning. Built with a design that's both aesthetic and sustainable right in the middle of a sea of high-rise structures in Bonifacio Global City, it houses exhibits designed and fabricated by mostly Filipino designers and scientists. I've heard a lot of good stuff about it but never got to visit it until last Saturday's date (yay for out-of-the-box date ideas!)

Entering the building, I expected to be directed to a museum guide but there was only a robot called Aedi ("idea" spelled backwards) spouting what could be seen inside the museum along with some important reminders. Basically, he was saying, "This is a self-guided tour. Don't be lazy. Read." One recurring sign posted on pillars and walls everywhere actually said, "Reading is what makes humans unique. Please help us prove this every day. Read the signs in the museum." They obviously know their clientele.

The robot Aedi, the first thing that will greet you upon entering the museum

I wasn't really feeling like reading a lot because I hadn't had my caffeine fix for the day yet, so the layout of the exhibits confused me at first. They had a butanding (whale shark) right beside a large-scale model of the brain and near floating beach balls demonstrating Bernoulli's principle. A glowing model of the moon came before the section devoted to prehistoric times. I felt like a kid lost in the middle of a department store.

Butanding or whale shark

Large-scale models of the heart and the brain. The sign on the heart is false—the pulse you hear is actually a pre-recorded one.

I only began to enjoy myself after finally getting my bearings, and the first thing that really piqued my interest was the shadow box where phosphorescence makes your shadow freeze in place for a few seconds after a bright light goes off. Then there were the Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton and tornado simulator, and of course, the Space Travel section which, in hindsight, was attractive to me only because of the ceiling lights that emulated stars in the night sky (which I had fun shooting bokeh). Oh, and there was this spinning tunnel which will mess with your head and make it think you're the one spinning when really it's just the walls.

Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton

Tornado simulator

Bokeh shot

An astronaut's suit

The friggin' spinning tunnel

Tunnel of blinking rainbow lights, which was technically on the second floor already

The second floor had more interesting stuff for me, chief of which was the x-ray machine they use in airports for bag inspections. I've always been curious what exactly they see when they let bags pass through on the conveyor belt, and apparently my bag that day contained mostly wires and buttons.

There were also an astrolabe, a harp with invisible strings, a kaleidoscope, zoetropes, pictograms and the cross-section of a toilet.

An astrolabe

A harp with laser light strings

A kaleidoscope

Zoetropes, animation devices from pre-cinema times

The cross-section of a toilet

One exhibit on the second floor was The Apocalypse Project featuring The Planetary Poetry Board that allows you to write a poem based on the first thought that comes to mind when you see the spot your dice falls on. This would be a fun icebreaker for team-building events.

Aside from The Planetary Poetry Board, The Apocalypse Project also showcases Imagined Futures by artist-scientist-designer Catherine Sarah Young, part of which is Climate Change Couture, a collection of innovative traditional clothing such as a barong tagalog that has a hoodie for when it rains on your way to a formal event, a saya dress with an inflatable terno and skirt in case of flooding, a gown made entirely of the plastic used for garbage bags, a scavenger suit that can have you covered in fishnets in case of an attack by a swarm of mosquitoes while camping, and a terrasuit which is basically portable air-conditioning to help survive the heat. The garments' printed descriptions are quite funny.

"The Unpredictabilicoat: The Expandable Barong Tagalog for Strange Weather"

"The Inflatable Terno: The Floatation Device for High Society Dinners"

"The Garbage Gown: The Plastic Evening Dress for Beauty Queens"

"The Scavenger Suit: The Survival Gear for Roughing It 24/7"

"The Terrasuit: The Cooling Suit for the Commuting Urbanite"

Catherine Sarah Young also designed this thermochromic Hug Vest, which supposedly changes color when touched. I gave my date a hug while wearing it but nothing happened. The many museum visitors before us must have already used up all its energy.

"The Hug Vest." We tried it. It didn't work.

The Mind Museum is located at J. Y. Campos Park, 3rd Ave., Taguig. They're open from 9 AM to 6 PM Tuesdays to Fridays and Sundays, and 9 AM to 9 PM Saturdays. They're closed Mondays. All-day passes cost P450 for adults and children, and P150 for public school students (up to college), senior citizens and PWDs. Though they don't advertise it, they also give a discount to teachers. Just bring a valid ID for proof. For more details, you may call (02) 909-MIND (6463) or visit

The souvenir shop which visitors will need to go through before exiting the museum