Monday, March 03, 2014

The world's growing curiosity about Filipino food

My college friend and ex-workmate Ces Nepomuceno was at Gulfood, promoting Mama Sita's products to Gulf suppliers, restauranteurs and the rest of the world!


I met Raha Moharrak, the youngest Arab and the first Saudi to ever climb Mt. Everest. A tall and confident woman in heels, she towered over me, but I didn't for a second feel intimidated. She was warm, bubbly and had a great smile! 

Where: Intercontinental Festival City, Dubai
What: A WHO-hosted forum on how to up physical activity levels among people in the Eastern Mediterranean region, where nearly half of the population is deemed insufficiently active
When: February 24, 2014

Parts of the interview were used for my work, but I thought I'd publish the whole interview here, because she's such an inspiration for young people in the region who have yet to walk a block or pick up a dumbbell!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My first book review (ish)

I'm currently reading Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, a book that for the last three decades or so have been recommended by feminists, adventurous women, all-female book clubs, and girls who thought it would change their fellow girls' perception of themselves, their sexuality, their relationships and their goals. That it's a must-read is the word on the street.

So after years of failing to get a copy and instead reaching for Gone Girl, Sellevision and other more recent titles from book stores' shelves, I finally got around to it. I kicked off the year thinking this novel would wake up something in me that had been sleeping the whole time I wasn't reading it.

I'm on page 189, and so far, it's been an enjoyable read. I spend over an hour in the bath reading a few chapters at a time, excited to know what she's finally decided on, and how things will end up for the men she's attached to.

But I must say, at this day and age, nothing in the book has succeeded to surprise me. The fact that she wrote it in the 70's, when women went to great lengths with a single goal in mind: empowerment, sexual or otherwise is deeply impressive. The problem with reading it in 2014 is, the shock value, which in some ways is highly instrumental in getting the message across, is simply not there anymore. I've seen too many movies, heard too many stories, and witnessed real-life situations that would put Isadora Wing's should-I-stay-or-should-I-go plot to shame.

But then again, I've got over a hundred pages left to flip, and the story can still take a turn and take me places I've never been before. So we'll see!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A few minutes with indie actor and 'Metro Manila' star Jake Macapagal

I had the chance to interview Metro Manila lead actor Jake Macapagal when The Scene Club in Dubai hosted the screening of the critically acclaimed film.

Written and directed by British filmmaker Sean Ellis, the movie was made in 2010 to depict migrant workers' experiences when they move from their remote hometowns to the bustling and overcrowded city of Manila.

There are rumors that the BAFTA-nominated indie film will be shown in Dubai at the end of the month. If it does, it'll be cut a little, but a few chopped off scenes won't take away the essence of the film. So go see it!

I was with Fifi Francisco and Maitha 'Movie Mai' Al Awadi at the screening. I did the interview for work, but there was so much more sound I couldn't include, so I thought I'd post it here.

So sorry for the picture beside the clip. I'll sort it out once I'm familiar with Soundcloud.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

A Filipino Christmas away from the Philippines

I was dreading having to spend Christmas away from home, but it turned out, it wasn't half as bad as I had expected it to be.

We had great guests who brought dishes that made our dining table the center of very festive Pinoy fare, plus exchange gifts.

Great stuff! Happy holidays!

Max's chicken, ube cake, pancit, pandesal, fruist salad, hamon, and a trio of rice-based desserts: bibingka, puto bumbong and sapin sapin

My best friend Fifi loved my gift for her!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Away from Home

Unfortunately, this year our schedule didn't allow me to fly home and spend Christmas with my family. But like millions of Filipinos overseas, I have a family here in Dubai, and they're coming over this evening for a very special Christmas eve dinner.

We're shunning the crackers, stuffed turkey with cranberry sauce and other Western festive trimmings we've been seeing on TV and hearing about on the radio. We're going all-Filipino, and I love it.

Each one of us has been assigned to bring a special Filipino dish. So here's what we're expecting this evening:

Queso de bola
Rellenong bangus
Pinoy-style fruit salad
A variety of kakanin

The one and only foreigner at our party will be in charge of grapes and other beverages.

On top of that, we're going to have our very own impromptu Secret Santa. Our gifts must be dropped off beside the tiny Christmas tree that I decorated and assembled. 

Not to mention Pinoy Christmas songs, courtesy of Fifi.

It's going to be a different but equally meaningful Christmas, filled with love.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Shanghai and Hangzhou

Shanghai and Hangzhou are contrasting cities, but equally beautiful and open to tourists. On the way back to Manila, we took a side strip to China to experience what the country had to offer. I was expecting good siopao and wonton noodles, but got so much more. Read on.

After more than eight hours on an Emirates plane eating Chinese airplane food, we finally landed in Shanghai. Pudong International Airport is big, modern and very promising. We hopped in a cab, headed to the Hilton, and checked in painlessly. Bonus: We arrived a day before the Shanghai Open, and a bunch of famous tennis players were staying in the same hotel! I saw Jo Wilfried Tsonga and two others (can't remember their names, but if you're a tennis fan, you would recognize them).

We wasted no time. We stepped out, crossed the road, and immediately saw a small after-work joint, where we had our first drink. Not bad. We continued to explore the area, pub-hopping and merrily snacking on street food. I was very happy with my first treat: a bowl of fresh egg noodles, with a bunch of fresh bokchoy, mushrooms, chilies and chives thrown in. And of course, Northern China's version of the siopao - a rice bun sandwich, with the middle bit slapped with a generous heap of oily, sauce-drenched peppery pulled pork. Also, they're very, very cheap.

The next day, we walked further and went to a few places. We stopped at a very busy temple, which was cool. Hundreds of Shanghainese were lighting incenses and throwing coins into a waterless well, and bowing to the gigantic Buddha statues.

Then we went to the People's Park, where we saw some people on bicycles, groups holding tai chi sessions, and bridal pre-nuptial pictorials. We also saw one of the most bizarre and amusing phenomena in modern China: A whole stretch of the park were filled with ads. These ads were posted by the parents of eligible bachelors who were having a hard time looking for wives. Creative, pro-active, innovative, and judging by the scale of it, trendy.

We continued our walk and reached Shanghai's Oriental Pearl Tower. We actually queued to enter it, but abandoned our plan when we realized we were competed with what seemed like three million locals. We wouldn't have time for anything else if we decided to go ahead with it. So we walked some more, took a cab and got out in front of a festive market that occupied about a whole block, and had a Chinatown feel to it. We realized that we ventured beyond the tourist trail, and landed in a local family hangout. We loved it.

We walked into a canteen and realized that the whole menu was in Chinese. After about 15 minutes of choosing and sorting out the ordering process, we finally got what we asked for - four different kinds of dumplings. Unfortunately, none of them tasted good. We must've ordered four dodgy varieties. Not happy with them. 

We left Shanghai boarding a high-speed train to Hangzhou in Eastern China, very impressed by the efficiency, punctuality and cleanliness of the trains.

After less than an hour, we arrived at the Banyan Tree Hangzhou, a luxury resort situated by the city's wetlands. It boasted of huge villas with high ceilings, a small lake with pretty pagodas, all in the style of the area's ancient culture. 

They have a tea house, which in Hangzhou is considered an esteemed place where guests are welcomed and important conversations take place. Guests can also choose from several restaurants, and can choose from classic Hangzhounese dishes such as Dong-po pork, to the good ol' burger. Plus, The general manager, Pascal Eppink, gracious as ever, sent a bottle of red wine and a basket full of fresh, exotic fruits.

We spent hours in the spa, which houses a big infinity pool, complete with luxurious trappings such buttons and knobs that can can set a complete massage experience in motion. A much smaller heated pool is perched on an elevated platform beside it, and it's where we read our books and practically fell asleep.

The next day, we were introduced to the marketing communications manager of the resort, Alice, who agreed to take us on a tour around Hangzhou. We went to Lingying Temple, one of the oldest temples in China. Businessmen from other parts of the country travel to Hangzhou just to visit it and pray for success, wealth and health. There's also a series caves with amazing carvings of Buddhas, indicating different dynasties that lived in that area. 

We also saw the Westlake, a man-made body of water with an aim of attracting more tourists. 20 odd parks are scattered all over it, connected by bridges. The idea is people can go park-hopping and have picnics and explore the flora and fauna in the area. Our next stop was China's National Tea Museum, located in the heart of Hangzhou's tea fields. We sample a bit of LongJin tea, a specialty of the city, and explored different kinds of tea and how they're made, served and enjoyed. A few grams of tea can cost hundreds of dollars! And a tea set can cost much more. Our last stop was the National Silk Museum, which displays different kinds of silk clothes and accessories, all arranged chronologically, reflecting each dynasty's style. These days, very few people wear silk. But its value doesn't diminish. Hand-crafted silk wear is still seen as elegant, and its price tag can prove it.

As much as we looked forward to arriving in Manila, we were sad to leave China. The place is refreshing and fun, and my visit there dispelled my pre-conceived notion that the country still had a communist feel about it. Maybe it's true for other Chinese cities, which I would love to visit in the future. But for now, I'm still on a high from one of my latest Asian trips, truly one for the books.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Zen the Spa: A sanctuary in the heart of Deira

Deira is the last place you'd want to be if you were looking to relax and get away from it all. But as I discovered, there's a place in that part of town where you can drown out the noise and get your yin and yang in order.

Zen the Spa is located on the fifth floor of Al Ghurair Rayhaan by Rotana, the hotel chain's newest property in the UAE. It's posh, spacious and conveniently attached to the newly renovated Al Ghurair Centre.

As I sat myself on one of the couches of the spa's well-lit lobby, a very helpful receptionist greeted me and ask me to fill out a form about my medical history and massage preferences.

She then led me to a room equipped with a jacuzzi, a steam bath and a sauna room, where I can spend as much time as I want before my appointment.

After utilizing them all, I was fetched by my therapist and taken to a reasonably sized massage room that had all the trappings of a perfect relaxation nest: dim lights, a faint fragrance to soothe my senses, and an inviting, incredibly comfortable massage bed.

This is obviously not me in the picture, but my experience was similar.
First off, a short ritual to kick off the treatment: my feet were gently washed, preparing me for a full hour of bliss. And then, my 60 minutes. Mine, all mine. Mobile phone off, restrictive clothing off.  The treatment I chose is called the Active Muscle Massage. I told my therapist that I had extremely painful knots in parts of my back, as well as a slight, numb feeling on the soles of my feet, that resembled mild cramps.  I was impressed at how well she listened to me, and how she hit those areas spot on. Within minutes, I was in a deep sleep. The combination of the essential oil she used, the quiet humming of instrumental spa music, and my therapist's expertise was all I needed to get to that REM cycle that I found so hard to reach.

Before I knew it, I was gently being reminded that the treatment was over, but that I could continue chilling out in another room. The room was big and had a sens
e of calm about it. Staying there helped me transition from zen mode to 'real world' mode. It was necessary at it was luxurious.

All in all, my experience at Zen the Spa certainly beats some spas in Dubai. I left the hotel with some peace of mind, a smile on my face, and extremely relaxed muscles.