Wednesday, March 26, 2008


My sister who lives in a new-ish subdivision in Northern California complained that she's aggravated by the chorus of frogs in her backyard. She comes home from work and she's got to hear them ribbit all night long. She says they can be so loud that they keep them awake at 2 am.

I am not a froggy fan. I like their legs fried with garlic, but otherwise my associations with all things frog are unpleasant. I skinned my stomach as a child trying to escape a ledge where I saw these large toadlike things at the end, blocking my way down. I took vengeance on them in bio class, but handled them with at least a couple of gloves. And a very unpleasant memory is seeing the backend of a toad/frog stuck at the end of a sewer pipe. Ugh, they wriggle, they slime, they look at you askance. Yes, they are nature's canaries in the pollution wars, and are in some cases endangered. They are not cute though.

My sister was giving away old handbags she accumulates, and one of them, a Fendi, looked like a frog. Dark brown, squat, leathery patches. Took a dislike to it immediately and sold it as soon as I could. I saw a newer cousin of the bag at the Fendi store in Vegas; it may cost the moon but to me it's still a squaty froggy fendi.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

rip here and there

My stomach flu may be the cause, but I seem to be picking up only on morbid news these days. Recent deaths internationally include Arthur C. Clarke and Anthony Minghella (I'm a proud English Patient fan, sue me); then today a friend told me one of the old society dames, Chito Madrigal Collantes died last night and that our former President Cory Aquino has been diagnosed with colon cancer (she's not dead yet so there's a positive spin on it).

To offset that, M sent me a list of the cheesiest love songs on a site she found. When I couldn't remember the lyrics, I'd send out a ym to her for help and she'd send me a few clues. Nothing like hearing the shriek from Loving You to clear the mental cobwebs.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Straight from the Pope

The Vatican has added 7 new deadly sins! It's not just about lust, gluttony, and avarice, etc anymore. Now you can sin by dealing in genetic experiments, taking and dealing in illegal drugs, and by creating social injustice through amassing personal wealth (isn't that just plain greed in a nice new title?), among other human things the church doesn't agree with. The church also manages to tiptoe around its representatives sins by saying that paedophilia which created so much damage to the church is a sin, but the media blew it out of proportion. Hypocrites. I'd add that to the list too, but then you'd have to memorize 15 sins.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Over brunch yesterday, discussion ranged from recent travels and travel plans, movies, weird emails and youtube videos, and food wastage (we could still see the immense mounds of shellfish that wasn't consumed after the buffet was closed). Having members of an embassy among the group also meant some talk ended up revolving around matters of security, visa applications, visa fees, and secondary screening.

First I was relieved to hear from a friend that the renewal of passports over at the Department of Foreign Affairs is not as onerous as I had heard. I've had my last three passports renewed by simply sending it off through the travel agency. Now, I will have to go to the DFA and have my fingerprints taken. But she assured me that she wasn't there for more than an hour, plus everything else went by quickly.

Secondly, the new US visa fee rates in January of this year (an increase from $100 to $135 for non-immigrant applications) caused a few folks to grumble, but as explained by those in the know, most of the embassies are suffering a deficit due to the US dollar weakening against several currencies - including the peso. Most of the embassies don't get consul salaries from congressional funds, so that extra $35 goes towards paying off salaries and services. If the US was not such a high traffic destination, the fees would probably be higher. Luckily, more people are getting multiple year visas again (I'm only referring to tourists here, not any other category), so that extra $35 is spread out again over 5 to 10 years. I still shudder thinking about reapplying for the visa in 2 years however. The stress and the worry are enough to go through once in a lifetime, not every year or few years.

Then a friend told us of his recent experience with secondary security clearance crossing back into the US from Canada. He drove from Toronto into Detroit and was asked to step aside at the border crossing. After being interrogated about his trip, he was given the clearance to re-enter, but was curious about why he had been stopped. He travels to the US so often and this was the first time he'd ever been reviewed so strictly. And the answer he got? His hair had changed from the picture on his passport, it was no longer slicked back, but a bit shorter and spikier. Hmm. I've heard of silly, but that seems a bit myopic. Of course, one person in the table then rejoined about the overly meticulous requirements at a Northern European country's embassy that specifies how much space one needs to allocate between the frame of the photo and the top of the head and sides of the face. To the millimeter! Ok, they make great cars, but who is going to have an aneurism if the margin is off by .05mm?

Finally, the last bit on this thread of talk yesterday ended when I learned of the popularity of blogging about US visa applications in China; the typical discussion is which consul to look for when in line, hoping to get the kind hearted, generous one who never rejects applicants. Here in the Pinas, a long-standing urban visa application myth has been the cruel and heartless Korean lady consul who rejects everyone. In China, they have their own share of cruel, heartless consuls of specific traits (the red headed one, the Asian lady, etc). Unfortunately for anyone trying to line up for the sweet lolo who gives everyone a visa, those stories are never true, there isn't a quota, and it's more like a bank line, when they press the button and your number comes up, you don't get to choose which consul to adjudicate.

(we also discussed the many g/i ailments one gets living the diplomatic life; it is definitely the opposite of glamor!)

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Tale of the tuko

Once upon a time, two girls and a boy were sitting on a beach, watching the water wash over the stones, while boats out on the horizon bobbed up and down. They had been walking for a long time and they were tired. They soon grew sleepy and decided to sleep under the coconut trees, they bade each other a good rest and slept.

In the morning, they woke up.

- AAAA! The girl with hair screamed.

- EEEWWWW! the girl with no hair stuck her tongue out in disgust.

- Get it off me!!!! shrieked the boy. For there on his arm was a large, ugly, bumpy, scaley lizard. It made a noise. - Tu, ko, tu, ko. - it stared at all three humans, swivelling its eyes to take in their horror.

- It's a tuko!!! AAAAAAAAA - this was the girl with hair again.

- Oh no, we won't be able to get it off! - the boy shook his arm, hoping it would take the hint and leave him be. But the tuko is known for sticky feet, once it lands on a human, it's stuck!

- Wait! I remember what my mom told me when I was young, said the girl with no hair. Look for a mirror, if the tuko sees its reflection in the mirror, it'll jump off by itself!

The ran around to look for a mirror. The boy found a shard of reflective glass, shouted to the girls to help him. He kept shaking his arm vigorously hoping the tuko would jump off, but the tuko was not going to oblige. It had found a perch and it was sticking to it.

The girl with no hair took the glass and pushed it as close to the tuko's face as close as she could. She twisted it near it's right eye, she turned it to the left. Nothing. The tuko was not afraid of its reflection and it simply stuck its tongue out the girl. -tu, ko!" it said.

- It's not working, bawled the girl with hair. -He's going to be stuck with it forever!!!

- No!!! I can't live with a noisy lizard on my arm! We have to get it off. Wait, what about one of you take a match, light it and try to scare it with fire? The boy asked his companions.

- That sounds really mean! But let's try! The girls ran to look for a match and a flint. They lit the match and poked it as close to the tuko without burning the boy. The tuko twisted to look at the flame, but didn't budge. It flicked it's tongue twice, then looked away from his tormentors. -tu, ko!" it seemed to be a brave lizard.

- Nothing is working! You're going to be stuck with it forever. The girl with no hair faced the boy with a sigh. She felt sorry for him, but was thankful she didn't have to be the one with the tuko.

- No wait, there's still one more thing we could do. The girl with hair looked out at the waves. How about you jump into the water, and keep your arm stuck way down deep into the water? I don't think the lizard can breathe under water right?

The boy cried - I can't swim! What if I drown? I'd rather be stuck with the tuko than die from drowning. Oh, why did we have to sleep under the coconuts?? Why me? Why?

- Let's go to the village. Maybe someone will know what to do. The girl with no hair pulled him on his other arm, as far from the lizard as she could, and dragged him towards the village.

When they got to the village, they asked everyone what to do about the tuko. One man said to cut it off with his machete! One woman thought it was a snail and said to pour salt over it. A child suggested beating the tuko with a paddle. But the boy with the tuko balked at all the choices. He didn't want to get his arm cut off, or be beaten, or salted. He started to cry, and was feeling sick from looking at the scaley lizard flicking its tongue at everything.

The village chief was asked for his help. He thought carefully, trying to avoid looking at the tuko on the boy's arm. He thought for many minutes, thinking how to help the poor boy. He finally stood up. He walked out to the beach; everyone in the village, and the two girls and the boy with the tuko followed him. He pointed to a small island, shaped like a hat and spoke - That is your only hope. You must go to that island with the tuko. - He said to the boy.

The boy was given a boat, and he climbed into the boat. He took the oars and started rowing out to the island. He rowed for hours, rowing over small waves, rowing over bouncy waves, he rowed and rowed towards the hat island. He grew tired, but the tuko didn't care. It stayed on his arm, it flicked its tongue. It looked at the waves, it stayed on his arm. "Tu, ko, tu, ko."

Finally, the boy grew closer and closer to the island. It had a sandy beach, and a steep slope on both sides with a flat top, like a boxy hat. No trees grew on the island, nobody lived on the island. It looked very quiet, very empty. They boy grew scared, but he had to try getting the tuko off his arm.

He landed the boat on the beach, and stepped on the rocky sand. The sun was very hot, and there were no clouds in the sky. The boy felt tired, and sweaty, and hot, and scared. He walked on the sand for a few minutes, looking around and up at the big hat rock. Suddenly, he heard a soft sound behind him. He whipped around and nearly fainted when he saw what was crawling towards him. A swarm of tukos, tens, hundreds of them, No, thousands!!!! They crawled over the sand, the pebbles, the stones, the rocks, towards the boy, towards the tuko on his arm. He ran to the boat, but he wasn't fast enough. They caught up with him and crawled up his leg and his shorts and his shirt. They crawled up to his face, flickering their tongues. They crawled up to the tuko on his arm. And then, just as the boy was about to collapse with fear, they all jumped down. Including the tuko on his arm!

He was free! His arm no longer had a tuko stuck to it! He watched as the tukos, the thousands of them all crawled away, around the hat rock. He didn't want to find out where they were going or what they were doing. He was free! No more tuko, his arm was free!

He jumped back into the boat, and rowed home.

The end.

So you think you can dance... or at least dress

On Saturday early evenings, I find myself channel surfing over to Ch 53 to catch So You Think You Can Dance. This show reminds me Dance Fever!!! I remember watching the latter show as a child with my brother (who styled himself as his generations John Travolta in Grease - he's so going to kill me for saying that heehee), and sometimes my mom. We'd watch the dances, cringe when it was gawdawful, but enjoyed all the twisty dancing and the imagination of the stylings. SYTYCD is my older self's Dance Fever, with way better dancing for the most part. I've been watching for a few weeks now, and while I could easily find out online who won the competition (2nd season I believe), it's far more fun spending an hour or so watching the show, mentally critiquing the dances that fail to speak to me, while the dances that are full of vivo and life are a joy to watch.

Since catching up with who is who, I look forward to seeing a few of the dancers, and try to avoid watching a few of the others. From the first set, Daniella and Natalie are cute, bubbly, smoking, and sympatico; Benjie and Ivan don't turn me off with their weird hairdos or bad dressing and they're getting better each week like any kind of progressive development should prove. On the latter side, please get rid of Dimitri who is a ham actor and barely manages to keep his shirt on. Travis's hair continues to be freakier each time I see the show. He is looking more like the funny looking troll dolls with scary neon hair. The others (10 dancers are still in the show) all sort of blend into one.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


There's a child bawling outside my office. He is in a terrible state, and at his age of no more than two, one can only imagine what terrors are causing him to cry like that. I find it interesting that he's crying for his nanny, I suppose the role of the mother has been superseded in many families so he reaches for the person who cares for him the most.

I feel for the child. He cries for those of us who are losing something or someone. And while I can't really bawl like him, I can empathize. I hope his pain goes away soon, a lot faster than the stuff adults like me have to deal with.

I've caused pain, and I feel the pain directed towards me. It's complicated. At best, I can only accept responsibility for my actions, apologize, and move on. I won't regret that I experienced life. I just wish the pain were as easy to fix as a child's.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Frittering away on a dream

One of my favorite day dreams is to imagine my own bookstore, one that I would own after winning the lottery (segue note - did anyone else see the laconic winners who won the lottery in Atlanta, Georgia? $270 million in prize money, and the winners look like they lost their truck. I don't think I could be so downtrodden if I had just won that amount of money). It would be in a gentrified part of some city, where I wouldn't be in competition with other bookstores, but near enough to nice bakeries and bistros and art galleries. It would have that early 20th century look, brownstone exterior perhaps, with high ceilings, a second floor and lots of shelves on all walls. There would be a small office in the back, near the hallway leading to an external coffee/tea room, semi-alfresco with lots of plants. A couple of sofas, some reading lounges, and stools to sit on or to reach for a book. I'd work there with a couple of support staff, nice friendly folks who love books too. It would be near a college campus or university because we'd want to be a part of that community.

However, book dealing is not all that idealistic. It's hard work, there are lots of permits, insurance concerns, and theft. Independent bookstores rarely make any money, ergo I better win the lottery to open the store and to keep it going. A recent article about book thieves sure chips away at the dream; I may have to test the running skills of my co-workers, make sure they can sprint faster than any thief.

Since synergy always happens, I am in the middle of reading The Book Thief, a recommendation by a couple of teachers here at school. Set in Nazi Germany, it's a far more mature book than I would expect to be written for teens/young adult readers. This touches on similar topics as Schindler's List and Stones from the River (Ursula Hegi's series). Perhaps having an anthromorphized Death narrate allows for some distance to the reality of the sequence of events.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Day and night Isan

One thing that I learned about eating Thai in Thailand is that there is a strong regional belief in the amount of heat that goes into cooking the food. And other than the mountainous North, the other regions vie for the hottest, the spiciest, the tastiest. It's not all one level of spice, and many great Thai cookbooks discuss the importance of a balanced meal with sour, sweet, salt, heat, umami, and probably bitter thrown in.

A personal favorite of mine is the homeyness and sweat inducing food of Isan, a northeastern Thai province. When I visited Khon Kaen in 2004, I was warned that they do spice and heat beyond what was found in Bangkok. That was proved to be true, but it wasn't all about tongue-numbing heat. There were northern sausages, fermented for its sour yeasty flavor; the best roasted chicken for dipping into their version of the Thai salsa; a som tam (papaya salad) with river crab; frog's legs that were so crispy and tasty, you tentatively nibble one and end up finishing the entire plate.

Since it's been a little over 3 years since my last Thailand adventure, I knew that I wanted to eat as local as possible and my friends were kind enough to oblige. My first lunch was at one of the many Isan style al fresco eateries, one that long time friend E habituates for its location near his office. We treated another visitor from Australia to a sampling of the basic cuisine - the savory grilled chicken, a pork larb, slices of roast pork, a tom yum with fresh and sweet shrimp, two kinds of som tam, northeastern sausages - fermented to contrast with the sweet and the hot, and sticky rice to roll up in balls and dip into the sauces. Our fingers grew sticky, our palates held up to the heat, and our stomachs were happily full.

With two Thai friends and M, one of Switzerland's sons who chose the tropics over the Alps, we went out for another night of Isan dining. Beyond the staples, we also had crispy and nibbly frog's legs, a red curry snakehead fish, a chicken larb that reminded me of a ceviche for it's tenderness, and two seafood and vegetable dishes to offset all the heat. Ying ordered a pork intestine dish with herbs and chillis that I liked for its chewiness. Bring along a bottle of inexpensive cabernet sauvignon to cleanse the palate and you will likely feel as full as we were walking back to the apartment. I think the two bags of sweet roasted chestnuts were above and beyond what we could eat at the end, but we couldn't resist the lady seller's charming sales pitch.

Our only sad moment during dinner came when we saw the approach of a mahout and a young elephant. It's illegal for them to be walking the streets, but everytime I've been to Bangkok, I've seen at least one pair. This time was even more sad since the elephant was so young. His handler sold bananas to the customers in restaurants so they could see the elephant eat. Child labor on a different level.

Dining in these Isan eateries is not posh, and sometimes the only way to find them is to depend on friends who live in town and know where to go. I am sure I can find the lunch diner due to its location right down the alley from the Four Seasons while the dinner setting is a few blocks from E's apartment in Sathorn. If I had time enough to take in more soi based dining options, I'd be as well versed in Bangkok eateries as any long term resident could be, but I return to the not-so-spicy Manila food environment later tonight. Best get my needed intake of heat before my flight!

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies