Friday, March 30, 2007

Neighborhood tramp

A friend from Chicago has been in town for a few weeks, and we took her to lunch at a nearby middle eastern place. Over kebabs and ice cold glasses of coke, we brainstormed of what else she wanted to see and buy, plus what to do during the forthcoming Easter holidays.

She mentioned wanting to see the Marikina shoe museum and the Noritake outlet. E suggested that she might also stop by the Cardinal Ceramics outlet store nearby. As we didn't have to rush back right away, I took her over to look at what they had available. It's been awhile since I've dropped by at Cardinal and enjoyed browsing through their expanded display section. We considered several dishes, dining sets, and platters. I took a fancy to some bowls decorated with fish and an oceanic flair, which might be a nice gift for diving friends. She wants to get several serving platters and casserole dishes for her boyfriend, not to mention a very Japanese inspired black cup and plate set for dessert or soup.

We walked out to catch a cab and found ourselves near the corner of Kamagong, catty corner to the Uncle Ed Indian food market and restaurant. Unable to find an empty cab, we figured it wouldn't do much harm to check out what's on display there too. They have a good selection of edibles, plus the food costs are reasonable (a serving of curry for P70, 5 samosas for P60, roti channai for P30). Home and office delivery is available for a minimum order of P500.

Another diagonal cross to the other side of the street and you'll find a great little Japanese grocery by Buma restuarant. I am sorry to say that I can't remember the name of the grocery but the offerings are plentiful: frozen section full of fish for your sushi/sashimi or grilled menus; vegetables (lotus root!); dry goods, canned goods; japanese rice; and in the back, interesting bits and pieces for the home. I remember finding japanese short robes and lovely paper for wrapping here last year.

For a couple of hours, one can traverse the world in a mere mile.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Mountain to Mohammed

So long as I don't cross the threshold of a bookstore, I can avoid buying books. But it's an affliction many bookbuyers/readers know about. You see a row of books on a shelf, you are drawn to it. Even at friends' houses, you'll find yourself wondering where their stack of books are, feeling terrible for those that don't have any reading material whatsoever.

Over the last month, I've bought waaaaay too many books. I had that stash on Feb 28 from Fully Booked to celebrate my birthday month, then I ended up at A Different Bookstore two weeks ago and ended up buying 4 books, followed by two accidental (ehem) stops into Booksale and other bookbin places.

Then today, I caved. Over the last three days, National, Powerbooks and Fully Booked had stalls at school. There they were, like mermaids calling to sailor soul. I had managed to avoid even looking at the heaps of books for the first two days of the bookfair. But I didn't have any resistance left today. I found two books, one by Jan Morris and another by Frances Mayle, both on travel. Darn it. All around me teachers were also picking their way through the tables, moaning how they could avoid buying clothes, but not books. Oh well, I guess I wasn't the only one in this boat.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Civet coffee

Last Friday night, I was able to taste the most expensive coffee in the world. I didn't know how rare and unusual it was until I began research online. The brand, Cafe Alamid, is also known as Kopi Luwak, a $75 per pound brew made of specially processed robusta coffee beans. Special because the coffee cherries are eaten by the palm civet, a cat-like monkey that lives in Indonesia and parts of Vietnam; it feeds on the ripest cherries, and through its digestive process, extrudes the beans which have been "fermented" by the civets digestive enzymes.

Imagine what a job the poor fellow or folks who have to go around searching for civet dung in the jungles of Indonesia to source the coffee!! All this work produces no more than a few hundred pounds of coffee beans a year. They are sold primarily to Japan, and a select few places around the world.

When Socky opened up the bag, it was indeed a strong caffeine smell. No funky odors assailed my nose, all I smelled was roasted beans. After a whirl in the grinder and filtered through the coffee machine, we had ourselves an aromatic cup of coffee, layers of flavor, with a caramel undertone. We joked a bit, but most of us who drank our brew that night appreciated its nuance. After finding out more about the coffee, I truly am blessed to know I've had another culinary adventure without fully being aware of it.



"An eyetracking study caught men, but not women, staring at a batter's crotch. In eyetracking, "special cameras called 'eye trackers' can watch a person's eye and capture fixations and eye movements … without requiring any special headgear." Participants viewed a Web page that included an image of George Brett batting, along with biographical information about him. "Although both men and women look at the image ... when directed to find out information about his sport and position, men tend to focus on private anatomy as well as the face. For the women, the face is the only place they viewed." According to a supervisor of the study, "men tend to fixate more on areas of private anatomy on animals as well, as evidenced when users were directed to browse the American Kennel Club site."

Is this the human version of male dogs sniffing one anothers' backsides?
Found an additional tidbit to my Not Buying It post:

A couple in New York is attempting one year to live with as minimal effect on the environment as possible. The article on the New York Times explains how they are taking a Waldenesque ideal into an urbanites' lifestyle. In both cases of this couple and Judith Levine's experience, they began this experiment by shopping like crazy, although Ms. Levine didn't splurge on boots.

Ms. Levine was also quite political in her last few months writing the experience of Not Buying It. Given that it was the 2004 US Presidential election year, I felt the months leading towards the election and her entries there felt out of place, although the general direction of having more time for what is truly important (active citizenship) is given its due.

Are we so satiated by life's contraptions and gewgews that we have sunk into our apathy for the current state of political affairs in the country? Would we be better citizens if we didn't have so much junk in our lives? Isn't it somewhat true that we'd have more time to invest in coursing our anger and frustration over the government if we weren't so wrapped up in petty matters? Would the revolutionaries of yore have been so productive if they had been surrounded by all the email/cellphones/distractions we have now? I don't expect a luddite revolution, but it doesn't do us any good to be blindsided by our toys if the rest of the nation is falling by the wayside. There would be time to talk, think, plan, and do.

Internalizing the plum

The great mind of PGWodehouse at work (my not so great mental gargling in parenthesis):

"The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun."
(Send this to Dick Cheney)

"I could see that she was looking for something to break as a relief to her surging emotions ... and courteously drew her attention to a terra-cotta figure of the Infant Samuel at Prayer. She thanked me briefly and hurled it against the opposite wall."
(I had many a moment wishing I had the Infant Samuel to smash againt a wall this weekend. Good thing I came to my senses without the need to smash furniture.)

She fitted into my biggest armchair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing armchairs tight about the hips that season.
(! Yoiks. This speaks to me. Especially after all the intake over the last few weeks.)

Thanks to the Random Wodehouse quote generator of the Drones' Club.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Eat memories

Last Saturday, the food group hopped on a big bus and went on a long lunch at Claude Tayag's Bale Dutung (Wooden House). Many of us had met through blogs, and you'll find links to photo essays on Our Awesome Planet, Rants and Raves, etc. Check my link list to find the sites.

Since the food and the trip itinerary will be written about by others, my only addition to all this virtual discussion is to highlight a few things that we went through togeter. For instance, the tennis racket bed. Mr. Tayag is quite the renaissance man: painter, architect, economist, designer, chef. He built his house from bits and pieces over ten years, including buying a bowling alley in order to use the floor boards for his house. The entire walking space doesn't creak, and has a really polished look to it. I felt like testing a bowling ball on it, but I may want to go back to Bale Dutung in the future.

Going back to the bed, Mrs. Tayag was giving us a tour of the living quarters and we all commented on a beautiful curved hammock like bed in the living room. She shared how it was made of molded rattan which gave it strength, but a lightness that made it easy to move from outdoors to inner quarters. I thought it was from a hardwood, but she explained it would be impossible to bend the wood in the frame. The idea of the bed came from the design of a tennis racket, with hemp netting to give the mattress support. Everyone had a try on the bed, figuring out where their center of gravity was to get the perfect spot on the bed.

Along the upper reaches of the windows, the Tayags have set up a collection of sand from around the country. Brown, black, pink, coarse, fine. They've labeled the glass or plastic containers, and in one small corner, a long glass tube stands with layers of sand each identified by a small sticker.

Sculpture also plays a distinctive part on the property. You could say that the entire house is a big piece of sculpture, but he had several whimsical wooden pieces, colored like a child's wooden blocks or puppets, in shapes that made you think they were human or animalistic or perhaps expressive of anything you wished it to be. Elephant? Tree? Bonsai? Actually, there were two rather large dwarf tree stations along the upper balcony, one of a juniper tree, the other of palms, perhaps coconut palms.

According to Mrs. Tayag, the most photographed spot at Bale Dutung is Claude's collection of antique ladels, mostly wooden igorot or mountain inspired carved pieces. Tied to a rack, they make quite a display in the kitchen, raising the area from merely an outdoor cooking spot, to display case and museum.

Near the tables, there were 7 or 8 oddly shaped stools, that upon closer inspection are the seats used by coconut harvesters to remove the meat from coconut shells. I am at a loss to remember the term for them in Tagalog, but they might make you think of a saddle, except they are wooden in shape, plus they have stool like legs. at one end is a metal prong, where the coconuts are scraped. Each of these stools had distinctive shapes though. One looked like a pig, the other had a doglike quality to it, another for those interested in squatting over a lizard. There were seats perfect for small bums, wide bums, round, flat.

Finally, his last collection was his suka or vinegar aging. He sells aged suka with sili, but what was interesting to gaze at was the large glass jars filled with vinegar at different stages of aging. He also kept the cultures, the sediments, and the starters. Some looked like pale amber, the others like a dark, Guinessy brew. The jars are themselves antique pieces, he told us they had been used to hold chemicals in the 1800s and 1900s, brought in by ships by the thousands. Now, he stores his suka in them, and is always in the market for a new jar.

After a very long lunch (we stayed for over 4 hours), the troup left for a quick sojourn around Angeles. We stopped for tibok-tibok and candies, then headed into Fields Avenue for drinks. Seeing how close we were to Bohemia, I chose to walk over there (not realizing it would be at least 15 minutes before we got there, dodging the ladies enticing customers inside their brightly lit dens). 2 friends joined me for a walk, and we eventually found ourselves at Bohemia, which was looking quite empty for a Saturday night. All I wanted was bread, luckily they had loaves to spare and I brought back two hefty bricks home. Another set of friends then decided to follow suit, and walked without much guidance towards MacArthur Highway. When we finally picked them up they had quite a lot to say about their first peek into the red light district of Angeles. One guy was bugged by the sidewalk vendors to buy Viagra, and when he would demur was challenged "why? don't you want power?" Good thing he and his wife kept their sense of humor.

St. Patrick's Day

In elementary and middle school, there were a number of "holidays" that caused friction among the genders. Early in the school year, we'd have a dance where the girls could pick their partners; the boys would typically be huddled against the opposite wall, looking as indifferent as possible, but body language told us otherwise. Valentine's Day meant sending and receiving cards and flowers, the tizzy of finding out who one's secret admirer was, or showing extreme displeasure when it was the wrong kind of secret admirer.

Then there was St. Patrick's Day. A seemingly innocent day, turned into mild medieval torture by children. St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, said to have driven out the snakes from the British Isles and having brought Christianity to Ireland. His feast day is March 17, his presumed death anniversary. In most Irish communities around the world, the day has become synonymous with wearing green, eating Irish food, and drinking. Lots of drinking. For the kids in my old school, however, it became popular to wear something green on the day itself. Those that were found not to be wearing something green were punished. And like any early year hazing ritual, the choice of punishment was painful and physical, pinching. The kids in coventry would be forced to walk a hallway of pinchers ready to inflict damage to the cheeks, arms, or legs. No blood was drawn, but some girls were suspected of growing out their nails just for that day.

As an adult, my only real connection to Paddy's day was receiving a poem from my Irish American friend, who reminded me to eat some corned beef and think green thoughts.

A Prayer for my Daughter

William Butler Yeats

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory's wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind,
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger's eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Helen being chosen found life flat and dull
And later had much trouble from a fool,
While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray,
Being fatherless could have her way
Yet chose a bandy-leggd smith for man.
It's certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat
Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone.

In courtesy I'd have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty's very self, has charm made wise,
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
And have no business but dispensing round
Their magnanimities of sound,
Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
O may she live like some green laurel
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
The sort of beauty that I have approved,
Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
Yet knows that to be choked with hate
May well be of all evil chances chief.
If there's no hatred in a mind
Assault and battery of the wind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty's horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven's will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all's accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony's a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

June 1919

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bracketology p2

I can't decide between "Just do it" (Nike) or "A diamond is forever" (DeBeers) . Both are great ads.

As for the momentous moments in life, Most of the ones I've chosen are within the last decade: Diana's death, Berlin Wall, 9/11. I suppose in terms of most memorable (what were you doing when?), I can remember the emotions that went through me during 9/11 more than the others. Although Diana's death comes close.

Best film death/ending, my bracket choice

Based on the choices listed under the Enlightened Bracketologist, I chose Darth Vader striking down Obi Wan as the best film death (it beat out the death of Bambi's mom).

My other favorite film deaths included Carrie sending down the knives, and Wallace Shawn's poisoning in The Princess Bride.

What's your favorite film death?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Walk through the Fort

Sunday shopping: went to look for replacement dustcloths at the NBC Tent but the vendor had sold out. I ended up with two books (dang! cut rate prices are so bad for my willpower), portugese sardines in tomato sauce. Hopped over to the developing Fort Strip, where I wandered through the expanded Hobbes store to look at their selection of pet products (so cute, but so useless. All I need is a water dispenser, not a food dispenser with an automatic lid cover); enjoyed seeing all the kids tumbling around the grass; overheard a family commenting on the seemingly happy lives that European families have here in the country (translated from the tagalog commentary "see? look at those Europeans, playing on the grass, they have such an easy life here. They like it better than in their own countries." Strange that the commenters had categorized the family they were gossiping about as European, not American.); thought about getting kebabs at Hosseins, but ended up trying out Batirol (see below), before popping into the new Conti's for meatpies (no chicken again! darn it), and wandering the aisles of Market!Market! for fruit and flowers and banana chips (I found the kind I like, all crispy, honey drenched, and thin).

A quick review of Batirol, the new hot chocolate place in Serendra (if a coffee shop is a cafe, and a tea house does tea, then do we call a chocolate spot chocolaterie? Cocoa-joint?). The hot choc was lovely, very native, and grainy. I had mine with a hint of cinnamon. The cup is a white modern piece with unusual handles which could make it harder for people to get their hands around it. But it was a good sized cup of cocoa for P120. I'd like to try the one with kahlua next. It was merienda time, so I ordered the pandesal with hamon. The ham tasted like Majestic ham, a mild chinese-like ham full of chunks and fat. However, the pandesal was bricklike. As in, if I was a denture wearing older female, I'd have lost my teeth trying to bite into them. I complained to the waitress and she just looked at me like a cow. The sign that says "we are on soft-opening, please bear with us" is not a good excuse, people and owners of restaurants. So, bring your own bread to Batirol if you don't want to be toothless. Until they replace those stale pandesals anyway. Or just stick to the chocolate. And could their store designer replace the hardwood driftchairs with something more cosy? I get their idea of going native but the seats are not comfy. The set up outside the store makes it look like a bad furniture store selling wood for the kiln.

I also saw the new chocolate confection store Cacao, open for business. But they don't make their own chocolates, everything's imported from the US, so said the counterlady who kept making prepositional errors every 4th word or so. After a few sentences I couldn't take it anymore and left. But not without noting that they have chocolate covered pretzels! And pecan turtles!!!

Friday, March 09, 2007


I was cleaning my junk over the weekend and was naturally more inclined to sift through my dvd collection for something to watch instead of sweeping up dust. While I have a lot of new movies to go through from a recent raid at Makati Cinema Square, I chose to go with a favorite, Glory, starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington (his first Oscar winning role), Morgan Freeman, and Cary Elwes (with whom I had a major crush when he was young and cute, first with Princess Bride and up to Glory).

Before this movie came out in 1989/1990, I professed a dislike for any movies to do with war, especially the American Civil War. It was an era I didn't enjoy reading about, and thought it boring with battlegrounds with names like Gettysburg and Fort Sumter. I knew of friends who were into re-enactments, buying up artillery and dressing in full gear to go marching around on the weekends. It wasn't my cup of tea, and the historical period seemed dark, grimy and politically upsetting.

My best friend dragged me to watch Glory because she said the reviews were good and she knew I had a thing for Cary Elwes. So I agreed to watch it, but wasn't in the mood to appreciate it. I came out two hours later a changed woman. I loved the film, loved Denzel in the role (I still cry watching the scene where he is whipped, the score is perfectly timed with his tears), and had a newfound interest in reading about the war.

I bought the books by Shelby Foote, watched the Ken Burns Civil War miniseries, even considered buying a set of toy soldiers depicting the 54th regiment on the Smithsonian magazine catalogue. While I wasn't going to try to dress up in antebellum dresses and hoist my way to some re-enactment, I understood the passion better.

Back to the dvd, I watched Glory one more time, and remembered my 2004 trip to Boston where I found myself on a pilgrimage to Col. R. Shaw's stomping grounds. There is a cenotaph to the 54th regiment (the first official all-African American Union regiment funded by the state of Massachussetts) and to the colonel on the Boston commons. Between attending a conference in the city, I wanted to pay my respects. We were with a small group who was led by a Boston bred and raised tour leader working for one of the universities, and when we were asked if there was anything or anyplace he could show us, I had asked to be brought to the sculpture. Amazingly, for an expert in Boston city history and geography, he knew nothing about the story of Col. Shaw and the memorial!!! We finally found it on one of the corners of the park, and I shared what I knew of the story of the regiment. Everyone found it amusing that someone from Asia would know something so particular to the park and US history that so many Americans, including our host, knew nothing about. But I got to pay my respects at last and it was a heart warming moment. (Information about the memorial is found on the Celebrate Boston website.)

Later that afternoon, I was to go with the group to do a presentation at Mt. Ida College, a private tertiary institution in Newton, a few miles outside of Boston. The admissions officer there is a good friend, and she and I were chatting in the reception area; she had heard that I had an interesting morning with the group, and I told her about the search for the Shaw memorial. She smiled, and held her arms out and said "This was his house." I was, to put it mildly, floored. She explained that the college moved to the Shaw estate in 1939, and showed me the former main house where the family lived. She said that there have been "sightings" of a ghost believed to be Col. Shaw's widow. I spent the rest of the evening ecstatic at being on the grounds of someone whose life I had merely glimpsed through books and a movie.

As I watched the closing credits of the film, I pulled out the book about Col Shaw and the 54th from my stacks and spent the night reading by candlelight.

One leaf a day

One of my oldest, bestest of friends lives out in Sacramento (she mourns each year her inability to escape living in the state capital, but I suspect that she's just gotten too used to living there). I see her once a year when I go for work/vacation trips, and we usually spend a couple of days hanging out in the Bay Area, or going for drives around the coast. When we were both studying in Los Angeles in the early 90's, we'd take long road trips together; I remember one trip distinctly - she was employed at a truck manufacturer based out in the industrial part of the city, and we were heading north to Seattle to visit friends. We kept counting all the large haul trucks made by the company she worked for and counted over 500 of them before we got to our destination. Along the way, we visited many a theme town (garlic capital of the world, artichoke capital, prune capital, etc) for quirky Americana.

Each year, she sends me stuff she knows will tickle my fancy, new books, dvds, food from a new source that she wants to take me to when I come for a visit. But always in the treasure trove is my annual Far Side desk calendar, the one where I have to tear a leaf off each day. I've had the FS calendars since college, and have probably memorized them by now. After Gary Larson stopped drawing and writing his daily cartoons in the 90's, all of his published works are available in the collected books, calendars, and other printed items. I've had a few of the books, but enjoy the calendar more.

Today's cartoon is one I haven't seen before, a parachutist finds himself in a sticky situation as he pulls his emergency cord. "Murray didn't feel the first pangs of real panic until he pulled the emergency cord."

I always enjoyed the ones with the anthropological twist to them (the chickens/turkeys mounting an insurrection against the farmer in retribution for all those Thanksgiving dinners) or the morbid ones (plane flying through a cloud bank sees a mountain goat straight ahead). It appeals to my darker sensibilities, and geeky mindset. The FS was always a favorite for academics to post on their walls. I have always dreamt of wallpapering a bathroom with FS cartoons.

Monday, March 05, 2007

"Not buying it"

I'm mid-way reading through the book by that title, a new release by Judith Levine. The chapters are divided by month and I fell asleep in July. The premise is that Ms. Levine and her partner, Paul, have decided not to buy any unessential commodities (entertainment items, clothes, shoes, going out for dinner, new books, movies, etc) for one year. It's a personal guide through a life on the simplicity track, and full of insights into the American consumer mindset.

Living in a developing country like the Philippines could be seen as downscaling vs living in the US, but there are some ideas in the book that are easily translated to those of us living in any city around the world. We live in such a disposable environment nowadays. And I'm just as guilty about enjoying the "convenience" of accessibility and disposability. The section on Boredom was particularly insightful; I do allow those moments of boredom overwhelm me and shopping has been one form of avoiding a gentle meditation on what is really going on.

5.5 months of simplicity left to read.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Belated Birthday Bags of Books; kumquats

Fullybooked Discount membership allows me a 40% discount on books if I buy them during my birthday month. I finally had time to go over there and just made it, last minute bookshopping on the last day of the month. Quite a haul and I won't be able to complain about the lack of reading material for awhile. Started reading two books already and should have a good list to review by the end of the month.

I also treated myself to a kilo of kumquats that are now piled in a tall column inside the glass vase on my table. They make a nice display, easy for me to reach in and grab a healthy orange nugget for a snack instead of eating candies or cookies.

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies