Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Silent Night at the Park

'Tis the season to be merry once again, and while the crowds rush to the malls, bazaars, and outdoor markets to find good bargains for their last~minute Christmas shopping, I have chosen to go the opposite direction for the time being, to refuse to give in to the tyranny of the urgent and instead take things in stride and enjoy a few moments of quiet solitude. But where on earth at this time of the year can one find momentary refuge and respite from the madding crowd and crash commercialism of the city?
The Nativity scene at Liwanag Park, Meralco Complex
Fairybook houses at Liwanag Park

Coming home from work one night, I felt a nagging desire to avoid the same daily route of familiar streets and buildings. So I decided to take a walk around Ortigas Center, hoping to find a place where I could just sit quietly on a bench and refresh both my body and mind under the moonlit sky.

Read more in the article A CLEAN, WELL~LIGHTED PLACE AT CHRISTMAS published in Manila Bulletin on December 18, 2012.

Looking for the Perfect Christmas Tree

A proverbial saying goes, “Thou shall know the tree by its fruit.” But when it comes to Christmas trees, you will know them by their themes and trimmings.

The author by the white, web~like Christmas tree at Rustans

As a child I would know that the Christmas season has officially begun, at least in our home, when the parts of the family Christmas tree are taken out of the closet and reassembled in layer upon layer of artificial pine tree branches, as though my siblings and I were putting together old pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. And when the tree has finally taken shape, we would then begin what for me was the most challenging part of the whole process~decorating the tree with everything that sparkles, dazzles, and glitters! From Christmas balls, bells, stars, and angels to candy canes and stockings of myriad colors, textures, and sizes. My father would then deck the whole tree with lights, and we would hold our breath as we waited for the most exciting spectacle to ever grace our humble abode: our own little Christmas tree all lit up to spread holiday cheer in our hearts.

Through the years that's what a Christmas tree has meant to me: a sense of togetherness and harmony of family as well as a source of pure, childlike joy and excitement. To me, any place with a Christmas tree becomes a wonderland.

So, with a few more days to go before the year's most joyful day arrives, I went on a Christmas tree journey around the city in search of new impressions and interpretations of the quintessential Christmas tree of our time. Hence, it was a road map lined not with street signs but with Christmas trimmings, a travel guide dotted not with famous sites to see, but with spectacular lights to capture.
Read more in the article OH CHRISTMAS TREES! published in Manila Bulletin on December 16, 2012.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Restoring and Revisiting "Himala" After 30 Years

It was during the 1982 Metro Manila Film Festival when I first saw the movie “Himala.” I remember traveling from the province to Manila just to catch the year's biggest film event. Of course, the only reason I went out of my way was to see Nora Aunor in her much~talked~ about role as a visionary faith healer in an epic film destined to change the course of the history of Philippine cinema.

Today, 30 years later, “Himala” continues to work wonders in film circles here and abroad . Indeed, it has reached a global stature no other Filipino film has ever achieved. In 2008, it was voted as CNN APSA Viewer's Choice Award for Best Asia~Pacific Film of All Time, besting Akira Kurosawa's “Seven Samurai” and Ang Lee's “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” And just recently, Himala's restored version premiered at the 69th Venice Film Festival in its “Venizia Classici” program along with other restored world cinema classics such as “Chimes at Midnight” by Orson Welles and “Fanny and Alexander” by Ingmar Bergman.

Ricky Lee's "Sa Puso ng Himala" launched
during the premier of the digitally restored "Himala"

Last Dec. 4th, I had the rare privilege of watching this digitally restored version at a special screening during the Cinema One Originals Festival held at the Shangri~la Cineplex. Prior to its screening, I joined the long queue of people waiting to get a copy of Ricky Lee”s latest coffe table book “Sa Puso ng Himala” which was being launched in time for the restored film classic's Philippine premier. Written to commemorate Himala's 30th anniversary, “Sa Puso ng Himala” gives an insider look at the stories behind the production aspects of filming Himala as told by its cast and crew, including Ricky Lee (script writer), Nora Aunor (as Elsa), Spanky Manikan (as Orly), Laura Centeno (as Chayong), Joel Lamangan (as casting director and priest), among others.

Read more in the article "FILIPINO FILM CLASSIC 'HIMALA' REVISITED" published in Manila Bulletin on December 10, 2012.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Food Galore in Chinatown!

Of all the places in Manila, Binondo holds a sentimental spot in my heart for two reasons. Not only was it my gateway to the city life as a country boy pursuing higher education in the capital city, but it also opened the door to my first experience of Chinese culture.

A "kalesa" on Ongpin Street, Binondo, Manila
Having lived in my uncle's house on Camba Street in Binondo in the early 80's, I could still remember the typical daily life in this Chinese community as I saw it through its bustling street scenes: sidewalk vendors selling fresh produce, store after store of general merchandise, jewelry shops, warehouses, calesas making a pleasant sound of the horses' footfalls, churches and temples, Chinese schools, and old men and women speaking in a foreign language. Yes, I have explored and experienced Binondo's exotic smells, sights, and sounds, everything except its tastes. Regrettably, for one reason or another, I never had the chance to venture into a gastronomic journey of Manila's Chinatown.

Recently, after almost thirty years, I decided to make a homecoming journey back to this city of rich cultural heritage, but this time through the kitchen doors of hole-in-the-wall eateries and greasy spoons in one of Manila's most exciting and affordable dining destinations.

(Read more in the article IT'S CHOW TO GO, BINONDO! which appeared in Manila Bulletin on December 2, 2012. )

Monday, November 26, 2012

Writing in Style: My First Article in a Travel Mag

As I continue to spread my wings as a writer, the Lord has opened door after door of new opportunities for me to channel my creative energy through the different media available to us today.

I owe this life-changing, lifestyle-altering career break to a travel writing contest sponsored by Manila Bulletin, in which my travel piece "My Own Private Batanes" won. And the rest is history that's still in the making.

This month, I am breaking a new ground as a contributor for Travel Plus magazine. More aptly, I'm turning a new page, literally, as I segue from the newsprint of a national broadsheet to the glossy pages of a national lifestyle magazine.  But of course, no medium is inferior or superior to another. For a writer is still a writer by any medium of his choice, whether through the social media, newspapers, magazines, or books. And the more media through which the writer finds creative expression, the bigger the prospect of reaching a wider audience. In other words, the more the merrier!

My first travel magazine article, however, is not a travel story, but a review of the recently-concluded CINE EUROPA 15.

So, dear readers, I hope you can grab a copy of the November-January 2013 issue of TRAVEL PLUS at your favorite newstands. Happy reading!
Nov.-Jan.2013 issue of TRAVEL PLUS

Cordillera: One For The Road

Before working as a volunteer in Maldives, I took the chance to explore the Cordilleras as a backpacker, without any specific itinerary other than to visit Banaue, Batad, and Sagada for the first time.

More than just being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this mountainous region in Northern Luzon promises a journey where the wonders of nature blend perfectly with the living culture of its indigenous people.

The complete story of that milestone journey, IN THE CRADLE OF CORDILLERAS appeared in Manila Bulletin on Nov.25, 2012.

An Igorot woman with child
(Photo by Tanini Cruz)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Manila: A Destination on the Rise

The year 2012 has been a banner year not only for Philippine tourism, but also for the Philippine economy.

Just recently,  Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper during his state visit in the Philippines called our country "a rising tiger economy" in Asia. Then, just this week, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde announced, "the Philippines is probably the only country of which we have increased the growth forecast as opposed to other places in the world where we actually decreased our forecast." That is certainly a big pat on the back of every Juan.

And as if those recent international accolades were not enough, another good news for our country, but this time on the tourism front, gave Pinoys more reasons to cheer. An international travel website, Trip Advisor, has named Manila among 2012's  TOP 10 ASIAN DESTINATIONS ON THE RISE. Describing Manila as "historic and modern, rich and poor," it cites the walled city of Intramuros as one of the city's historic highlights, and its exciting nightlife filled with sleepless nights.

Manila in the Mood
(Photo Source: Metro Sense)

Here's the complete list of Trip Advisor's Top 12 Asian Destinations on the Rise in 2012:

1. Jakarta, Indonesia
2. Kathmandu, Nepal
3. Calcutta, India
5. Bangalore, India
6. Luang Prabang, Laos
7. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
8. Chiang Mai, Thailand
9. Kobe, Japan
10, Osaka, Japan

With all these great developments happening in our economy and tourism, I say things are really looking up, and it seems time has finally dawned on the Philippines to shine.