April 27, 2007

A Holy Week food trip down south

(Casa San Pablo's grilled tilapia in banana leaves)

Text and photos by Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo
BusinessMirror, April 27, 2007

THERE is nothing like good old Filipino cuisine to tide over the hungry tummy while abstaining from meat during the Lenten holidays.

I was lucky to have partaken of really simple but sumptuous traditional Filipino meals in San Pablo, Laguna, although I did surrender to some Italian fare, meatless nonetheless, on Good Friday. (I did try to stay away from the grilled pork but, yeah, I confess to spearing two pieces from my friend’s plate. Mmmm….)

Casa San Pablo, a quaint and rustic inn where we spent the Holy Week, served up some of the most sincere home-cooked meals that made me an instant fan of Laguna cooking. There is surely more to Laguna than its buko pie.

Healthy and light

Casa San Pablo’s meals are a divine testament of how Filipino cuisine can be almost effortless to create, but deliver a delicious kick in the way each dish melds all flavors of each ingredient. Making full use of its homegrown product, the coconut, and tilapia from the nearby Sampaloc Lake, the inn’s cuisine is healthy and light.

My favorite was the kulawo, basically some mashed grilled eggplant in smoked coconut milk. According to innkeeper Boots Alcantara, the eggplant is grilled in its skin before being peeled then mashed. Instead of just using young coconut milk, hot burning charcoal is rubbed all over the coconut making it toasty. Thereafter, the coconut meat is grated and squeezed in vinegar to milk it. The gata is then mixed with the mashed eggplant along with onions and some chili peppers, thus giving the dish its smoky tasty flavor. I don’t like eggplants but this dish was beyond belief in its simplicity but truly delectable, I didn’t mind a repeat during the week.

Another favorite was the grilled tilapia wrapped in banana leaf, which was juicy and succulent, my mouth still waters just as the thought of it. I could taste the freshness of the fish with each bite. Casa also serves a special dipping sauce of grilled tomatoes mixed with soy sauce and vinegar that complemented the tender flakes of the tilapia.

(Kulawo na talong)

Although its breakfast fare consisted of the average cacophony of sinangag (garlic fried rice), red salted eggs with chopped tomato and onions, pork tocino or sausages, it was still about uncomplicated hearty dishes. Casa also serves hot chocolate with toasted pinipig (flattened glutinous rice) on the side, making each breakfast day truly uplifting.

Most dishes are Alcantara family recipes, which is why every Casa San Pablo meal epitomizes what we all yearn for, lutong bahay.

Casa San Pablo accepts dine-in customers who may wish to partake of its daily buffet at P350 per head. Breakfast is from 7 am to 10 am, lunch 12 noon to 2 pm, and dinner from 7 pm to 9 pm. Breakfast or lunch with a room, which may be used from 9 am to 5 pm, is P750 per head.

Fiesta fare

For some reason, Good Friday usually brings out the egg salad sandwiches in most homes in San Pablo. We had it at Casa, then again at the home of Maris Capino, from whose balcony we watched a procession of saintly images. Egg salad is probably the easiest sandwich filling to make and one of my childhood baon favorites. Just hardboil an egg or two, then mash them and blend in some mayonnaise. Add a little salt and pepper to taste and spread over white bread (somehow it doesn’t taste as good when spread over whole wheat, but then that’s just me). Voila! Yummy egg salad sandwiches!

Maris also served really scrumptious crunchy turon (fried saba bananas in lumpia wrapper) which, in contrast to those served in Manila, were more banana than wrapper, thus making each bite truly a delight. Maris’s simple fiesta fare also included refreshing turnips (that’s singkamas to the lot of you), which I haven’t had the pleasure of eating in years. I had to consciously stop myself after I realized my right hand was robotically reaching then plopping the singakamas pieces into my mouth.

While everyone was still in mourning on Black Saturday, my travel buddy and I were celebrating the fantastic cuisine of Kusina Salud. Owned by couturier Patis Tesoro, the restaurant showcases traditional Filipino dishes whipped up by its chef Paul Poblador, husband to Patis’ daughter Nina. While local ingredients are used, Chef Paul gives them a modern twist, thus elevating traditional Filipino recipes to a level of French bistro-like sophistication.

Who would’ve ever thought that garlic spaghetti would complement a plate of carabao salpicao? The carabao meat was supremely tender and tasty by the way. Or how about the Hot! Crispy! Hito! (yes, the menu provides all the exclamation points for emphasis), where the catfish is fried to crunchy perfection then bathed in chili mango sauce? The cooks also accommodated our request of a vegetable dish to balance off our rather meaty dishes, and offered us an off-menu dish of simple sautéed pechay which turned out to be quite tasty and pleasant. Now that’s what I call service! The brewed coffee, which was infused with the aroma and taste of pandan leaves, was also outstanding.

Kusina Salud also offers lunch buffets every Sunday.

Thin-crust pizzas!

(La Pizzeria staff prepare to serve some sumptuous pizzas for loyal clientele and new fans from Manila.)

Amid our celebration of traditional Filipino cuisine, we discovered, with the help of Boots, La Pizzeria, which serves what is perhaps the best thin-crust pizza this side of the world! Its owner, we were told, studied to be a chef, and uses only the finest Italian ingredients in generous quantities. The pizzas are baked in a real woodfire brick oven, which gives the pizza its smoky and crunchy flavor.

We ordered the Romana, which is totally meatless—only thick tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, anchovies, capers, oregano, and olive oil. The Quatro Formaggio is also truly divine, with four cheeses—mozzarella, parmesan, romano, and feta—melting their wonderful flavors into each other. There is no restaurant to speak of as regulars just course their orders through the cashier in a gas station. The actual pizza parlor consists of one tall table and stool parked in front of the cooks’ working area, so it gets extremely hot inside the rather small place. Customers thus eat their pizzas while seated on monobloc stools and plastic tables around the gas station’s convenience store.

Of course we just had to return to La Pizzeria on Easter Sunday to take home some of those yummy pizzas back to Manila. The convenience store, by the way, also serves strong coffee concoctions, both hot and chilled, which my travel buddy swears to be better than Starbucks! What a great find indeed!

For a food trip down south, be sure to swing by San Pablo, Laguna, and enjoy all the pleasures of Filipino and, yes, Italian cuisines.

Casa San Pablo is located within the Gomez Compound in barangay San Roque; Kusina Salud is in barangay Sta. Cruz, Putol; and La Pizzeria is in the Total gas station along Maharlika Highway.

So it's your first date, now what?

Something Like Life
April 27, 2007

THE first date is all about being looking good and smelling fantastic.

No joke!

A first date is typically a look-see. It’s like going shopping and you’re just checking out the goods in the window. Yes, you are the goods, sister, and Mr. Hottie is the shopper. So you want him to buy you, right?

Men respond to the visually appealing and to things that smell pleasurable. I’m not telling you to wear the plunging neckline to show off the boobies (unless all you want from him is dessert). Be flirty but still maintain some degree of respectability. You know men, they want it both ways—someone who’s nice and sweet but who can be slutty at the same time. (We, on the other hand, just want them to be smart and have a sense of humor.)

So, yes, be a tease just enough to set off his imagination, but at the same time bring him down to earth by still being prim and proper (cross your legs at the ankles, ladies!). And a light fragrance like baby cologne or some citrusy perfume is enough to tickle his nostrils. You don’t want to knock him dead, literally, with those pungent floral perfumes.

And much as I hate to admit it, but wearing killer stilettos really ups the ante in your favor. Men just love them! It makes them think of all the sexy things they can do to you. So suffer a little. Besides, what you want to do is hook him first. After he’s all enamored with you, you may start taking out those oh-so-comfy flip-flops!

Now it’s important that when you go on a first date to not have some Cinderella expectation that Mr. Hottie will be your Prince Charming. It is unfortunate that most women think this way. We can’t help it sometimes. It’s in our DNA. After all, we are the ones mainly responsible for propagating the species, so we’re always on the lookout for the man who will help us do, ehem, God’s work—that is, to go forth and multiply. Just look forward to enjoying a first date, instead of pinning your hopes on finding the perfect sperm donor. That way, if he burps loudly through dinner, you won’t feel so crushed.

Before I go on, I should say that whoever asks a person out, should foot the bill for the date. So if you did the asking, you should do the paying. But—and I underscore that three times—be gracious enough to accept if he insists on paying. It’s a Pinoy macho thing. Be thankful that some men still practice this form of chivalry in this day and age.

Now, the object of the date is to get him more interested in you after he’s appreciated the, uhm, goods. So make him feel comfortable by keeping to light subject matters and sticking to safe topics. Politics and religion are definitely no-no’s on a first date. (I made the mistake once about discussing abortion with a born-again Christian during our first date, so obviously it was also the last. Then again, I really didn’t feel any chemistry happening between us to begin with, so I wasn’t actually sorry to give him my two-cents’ worth.)

Ask about his job. If he likes you, it will give him a chance to impress you as well. A man’s job is like his penis. He feels all puffed up about what he does even if he doesn’t do it well. But he will make you believe that he is the greatest thing that has happened to his company or to his boss. (Never mind if you’re probably making more money that he is. But maybe you shouldn’t tell him that on your first date, hmmm?) Seriously, listen to what he has to say so you can make the appropriate reactions. Try to sound stunned and awed by what he is saying. You got it, baby…fake it.

Like I said, the first date is like a shopping expedition. If Mr. Hottie likes what he sees and smells, he will probably stay for another cup. So please don’t bore him the details of your life, why you hate your mother, or where your boss goes to meet his mistress. This is not the time to spill your guts to a perfect stranger. Go to a therapist if you have issues and emotional hang-ups. Men don’t always like chatty-chatty women. They want women to laugh at their jokes (all in the right places, of course), give them big smiles, and listen…a lot. Of course, if he is the quiet type, then you must fill in the dead air. Don’t be so nosy, like Kris Aquino. Be interested but not overbearing. We are not under the Spanish Inquisition!

But of course, some amount of honesty is involved in this date even if you are kind of ooohing and aaahing about his recent promotion. For example, if he likes basketball, don’t pretend you like it, otherwise you might find yourself at the Araneta Coliseum on your next date, watching the FEU Tamaraws play against the Ateneo Blue Eagles. The first date is about finding things that are common between you and Mr. Hottie, so that you can make a connection. The differences are also there to make it more interesting and spicy for both of you. So don’t lie about loving Indian food, for example, when all it does is make you fart.

You have to be honest to yourself, too. If you’re frigging bored out of your wits with all his yabang, I don’t see any point in staying for the second cup of java. In an hour of just talking with Mr. Hottie, you will know whether you want to rush an order of Tiramisu to share with the refill he’s having, or get in your car and go home.

In an hour or so, you will be able to feel whether there’s some chemistry going between you or not. Chemistry. It’s not overrated as it sounds. You know if you click or not. So don’t prolong the agony and think by giving him one more hour, he will redeem himself somehow after telling you that all gay men should be castrated. Trust your instincts. It’s a gift we women shouldn’t ignore. Listen to that inner voice in your head that’s screaming, “Go home!”

Hopefully, you will enjoy that second cup of coffee with him. Or that dessert. And more dates will follow. If the sparks fly, enjoy the moment. Don’t get ahead of yourself by thinking whether or not you should give him a goodnight kiss, or if you will allow yourself to be kissed or not. These romantic situations will present themselves naturally and you should do what comes naturally as well.

With that, I wish you luck. Have a swell first date, girls!

Wanna share your unforgettable first date story? How about funny or horrific blind date tales? E-mail me at stella-arnaldo@hotmail.com All names will be kept confidential.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the BusinessMirror. Photo courtesy BusinessMirror.)

April 22, 2007

A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves

Published: April 22, 2007

On June 25, 1980 (a date he would remember), a good-natured Filipino pool-maintenance man gathered his wife and five children for an upsetting ride to the Manila airport. At 36, Emmet Comodas had lived a hard life without growing hardened, which was a mixed blessing given the indignities of his poverty. Orphaned at 8, raised on the Manila streets where he hawked cigarettes, he had hustled a job at a government sports complex and held it for nearly two decades. On the spectrum of Filipino poverty, that alone marked him as a man of modest fortune. But a monthly salary of $50 did not keep his family fed.

(The Comodases with their granddaughter Precious Lara. Stephanie Sinclair for The New York Times)

Home was a one-room, scrap-wood shanty in a warren of alleys and stinking canals, hidden by the whitewashed walls of an Imelda Marcos beautification campaign. He had borrowed money at usurious rates to start a tiny store, which a thief had plundered. His greatest fears centered on his 11-year-old daughter, Rowena, who had a congenital heart defect that turned her lips blue and fingernails black and who needed care he could not afford. After years of worrying over her frail physique, Emmet dropped to his moldering floor and asked God for a decision: take her or let him have her.

God answered in a mysterious way. Not long after, Emmet’s boss offered him a pool-cleaning job in Saudi Arabia. Emmet would make 10 times as much as he made in Manila. He would also live 4,500 miles from his family in an Islamic autocracy where stories of abused laborers were rife. He accepted on the spot. His wife, Tita, was afraid of the slum where she soon would be raising children alone, and she knew that overseas workers often had affairs. She also knew their kids ate better because of the money the workers sent home. She spent her last few pesos for admission to an airport lounge where she could wave at the vanishing jet, then went home to cry and wait.

Two years later, on Aug. 2, 1982 (another date he would remember), Emmet walked off the returning flight with chocolate for the kids, earrings for Tita and a bag of duty-free cigarettes, his loneliness abroad having made him a chain smoker. His 2-year-old son, Boyet, considered him a stranger and cried at his touch, though as Emmet later said, “I was too happy to be sad.” He gave himself a party, replaced the shanty’s rotted walls and put on a new roof. Then after three months at home, he left for Saudi Arabia again. And again. And again and again: by the time Emmet ended the cycle and came home for good, he had been gone for nearly two decades. Boyet was grown.

(More at NYT Sunday Magazine.)

I cannot imagine the terrible homesickness and great sacrifices made by our kababayans overseas just to have a decent room over their families' heads, clothes, education, and at least three square meals a day. They endure the separation with quiet dignity all in the name of a better future for their families. Mabuhay kayo!

April 20, 2007

Something Like Life, April 20, 2006

HE’S the hottest guy you’ve seen in this bar in the longest time. Your girlfriends think he’s perfect for you and are egging you to ask him out. But you’re a bit embarrassed. After all, you were brought up by strict Belgian nuns who forced you to adhere to, uhmm, Victorian codes of morality, which firstly requires you to be prim, proper and chaste in all manner or behavior.

But c’mon, we’re six years into the new millennium and being too modest for your own good may just make you lose one great opportunity to meet an interesting guy. Besides, what’s the big deal in asking a guy out? For sure, he will feel flattered. The worst thing that can happen is for him to say no to you, right? Sure, you’ll smart a bit from the rejection, but at least you know you’re not wasting your time on some idiot. But for all you know, he will say, yes. So dang those Belgian nuns! They don’t know what they’re missing!

If you’ve finally made up your mind about asking Mr. Hottie out, how do you exactly ask him to go on a date with you?

Of course, the easiest way is to find a common friend to introduce you two to each other. This town is so small, the six degrees of relativity principle will work more than the usual in your favor. So take the next few days to find out who knows him. (Necessarily, you must find out his name first! Get your friendly waitstaff at the bar to get his name for you.) After you’ve done your bit of investigation, you can ask your network to set you up on a date. These friends will be able to determine if he, first of all, is interested in dating—or is but is also gay. (Then again if you think about it, your best dates were all with gay men, no?)

The most relaxing and least tense way to meet is to set up a group date. Have your common friends work out a meet-and-greet for you and your best girlfriend with him and his friend. This sets the tone for casual friendly conversation while having lunch (if you want to be appear cool and detached about the date), or dinner (if you want to send the message that you are that interested in him). There is safety in numbers and in the event that Mr. Hottie bores the hell out of you, at least you have your best friend by your side to amuse you. Or when things actually get sticky (like he could be a disgusting slob and burps his way through an entire meal, ick!), you have someone to console you after you make your French leave. (Okay, be polite. No French leaves. Just pay the bill and get the hell outta there!)

You can also opt to ask for Mr. Hottie’s phone number and call him yourself for a solo date. Scary? Well, I’ve always believed in being direct in one’s approach to getting a date, whether you’re a man or woman. Only women actually appreciate the subtleties of foreplay, verbal or otherwise. Men would rather get direct to the point, if you know what I mean. So I think he will appreciate you getting in touch with him yourself to set up a meeting.

If you’re not ready for an actual phone call, then text first. Introduce yourself and give a brief background about the circumstances you’re in and why you’re getting in touch with him. Sample: “Hi, Hottie [use his real name of course]. My name is Suzy and I’m the friend of [give the name of your common friends.] I saw you in the bar the other night and would like to meet you. Maybe we can have coffee sometime?” If he responds favorably, hurrah for you.

If he doesn’t text back within a reasonable time within the day, then scratch him off your list and move on. By reasonable, I mean maybe before 10 pm? For all you know, he was loaded with work and meetings the entire day that he couldn’t respond immediately. So don’t obsess and text him three or four times, making sure if he got your message, just because he doesn’t respond in an hour. And for all you know, he’s thinking of the right response to your invite. Give him time. Men are not the smartest creatures, you know?

If he says yes to coffee, then give him a real call to set the date and time of the meet, pronto. Besides, it is a bit tedious to be texting back and forth when and where you can meet or have coffee. You’re no longer teenagers so it’s not really cute to be setting up an “eyeball” this way. Mahiya naman kayo sa balat nyo! Allow him some measure of control by letting him decide what branch of Seattle’s Best or Starbucks he wants to meet. If he wants you to decide where, then be sure you have a place already thought of, bearing in mind that it should be accessible to him. If he’s working in Makati, girl, don’t ask him to meet you all the way in Tomas Morato, even if you are working in the area. Wait until the fifth date until you make an unreasonable demand such as that.

(Why the fifth date? After the first four intial dates where both of you assess whether you still want to see more of each other, you should’ve already been able to reel him in and struck him dumb with your wonderful personality. He, in turn, should’ve been able to gauge by then whether you’re a worthwhile investment, enough for him to travel to Quezon City to have dinner with you.)

Anyway, thank God for Seattle’s Best and Starbucks! These cafés have provided us with cool safe havens to meet. Talking over coffee gives you and Mr. Hottie the chance for a casual and relaxed look-see. After all, you don’t want to be overeager to get it on with this guy, right? (Now if all you want is his body, then dang the coffee and go straight to dessert!) Seriously, he will want to give you the once-over as well. One thing you should remember, if he likes and hears what he sees, he will call you for a real date. Stop making stupid excuses why he hasn’t called. If he’s not interested, it’s his loss, not yours. So move on.

Now, what to wear to the date? Keep it casual, even if you are having dinner with him. For someone you’re going out with for the first time, you don’t have to buy the entire spring collection at Zara. Exagg! But you know what I mean. A nice pair of jeans and a chic top will do for now. Or if you’re coming from work, your business suit will be apropos as well, with maybe a flirty top underneath? Just make sure you have a fresh clean face and the lip gloss on.

So he’s walking into the café coming straight at your table. Now what? Let’s save that for the next column.

(My column Something Like Life is published every Friday in the Life section of the Business Mirror. Photo from BusinessMirror)

April 19, 2007

Good news, bad news

THE good news is...

Sanjaya Malakar, the breathless, untalented, soul-less contestant on American Idol has finally been voted off the show! Now that little girl in the audience has something to really cry about!
(Idol! grabeh)

But God bless America! Only democracy (okay, and frenzied texting) could have made this possible. And yes, the Indians have already denied they've been voting for him. They see the show a day late in their country, so, throw out those unfair conspiracy theories. Well, at least he made CNN!

THE bad news is...

Peace Corps Volunteer Julia Campbell's body has finally been discovered, and police suspect she had been raped before being murdered. What a depressing end for a former journalist who shucked her comfortable life in New York for two years of misery in far-away decrepit rural provinces of the Philippines. She just wanted to make a difference in the lives of the Filipinos. Her entries are heartfelt, sincere observations on the lives of those people around her. Yes there may be a few undeserved generalizations about the Philippines and Filipinos, but on the whole, her entries were truthful longings and wishes for a better life for her new friends in the country. Read her blog at Julia in the Philippines.

(Me gamot ba sa verbal diarrhea?)

As for Justice Secretary Raul 'foot-in-mouth disease' Gonzalez, we should hope nothing like this ever happens to anyone in your family. Nobody ever asks to be raped, or to be killed. But then you're just a pitiful senile old coot who should've been put to pasture along with a lot of ageing senatoriables on your madame President's slate.

Speaking of senatoriables, the following email comes from The Black and White Movement. Voters unite! Don't waste your ballots on these parties:

Below is a list of "partylist groups" that are fronts of the Arroyo
regime and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). This list was
prepared by KONTRA DAYA (a broad-based election watchdog formed to
expose the very possible repeat of wholesale election fraud in the May
2007 Philippine elections). Please circulate widely to expose these
groups. REJECT these groups in the coming elections!!!
1. AT (Aangat Tayo) connected to PITC Usec. Teddie Elson Rivera
2. Abono connected to House Speaker Jose De Venecia
3. Agbiag! Timpuyog Ilocano, Inc. connected to Office of External
Affairs Asec. Marcelo Farinas II
4. Aging Pinoy (Aging Pilipino Organization, Inc.) connected to
Norberto Gonzales
5. Ahon (Ahon Pinoy) Dante "Klink" Ang II (1st nominee)
6. Ahonbayan connected to Norberto Gonzales
7. APOI (Akbay Pinoy OFW-National, Inc.) DILG Usec. Melchor Rosales
(1st nominee), DILG NCR Dir. Rodolfo Feraren (2nd nominee)
8. AKSA (Aksyon Sambayanan) connected to Norberto Gonzales
9. ANAD (Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy) supported by the AFP
10. ANAK (Angat Ating Kabuhayan Pilipinas, Inc.) Supt. Eduardo
Octaviano, NCRPO-PNP (1st nominee)
11. ANC (Alliance of Neo-Conservatives) Usec. for Presidential
Appointments Liel Cordoba
12. Ang Kasangga member, Sigaw ng Bayan
13. ARC (Alliance of Rural Concerns) Archie Santiago (son of Sen.
Miriam Santiago)
14. ATS (Alliance Transport Sector) Ariel Lim, Presidential Assistant
for Public Transport Affairs
15. ABA-AKO Percy Chavez, chairperson, Presidential Commission for the
Urban Poor
16. Babae Ka (Babae para sa Kaunlaran) member, Sigaw ng Bayan; Sally
Dagami (1st nominee), Ruth Vasquez (2nd nominee)
17. BANAT (Barangay Association for National Advancement of
Transparency) Raul Lambino (1st nominee)
18. Bantay Ret. Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan (1st nominee)
19. Bigkis (Bigkis Pinoy Movement) connected to PAGCOR Chair Ephraim
20. BP (Biyaheng Pinoy) Dr. Arsenio Abalos, Jesus Cruz (vice-mayor of
21. Kalahi (Advocates for Overseas Filipinos) Poe Gratela, former
Office of External Affairs coordinator for OFW concerns (1st nominee)
22. VFP (Veterans Freedom Party) supported by the AFP

April 18, 2007

Pwede ba, kasuhan na 'yan!

Borgy adversary getting support of 'other victims'
GMA News TV 04/18/2007 | 01:03 PM

The family of Carlo Brown, a scion of the prominent Pardo de Tavera clan who was reportedly mauled by a party led by commercial model and TV host Borgy Manotoc earlier this month, is getting the support of "other victims" to boost the case being prepared against the son of Ilocos Norte Representative Imee Marcos.

Radio station dzBB reported Wednesday that Carlos' mother, Mara Pardo de Tavera Brown, said they are now coordinating with the other reported victims of Manotoc.

One of those who promised to help strengthen the case against the model and television host is Dr Rey Fong who said his son was mauled by Manotoc in Boracay two years ago.

(More at Basagulero Borgy.)

LOOK the issue over this basagulero Borgy has gone long enough! Can the victims of this has-been model file their cases already? The problem with the families of his victims, they keep on playing out their issues in media. No one has actually hauled this idiot Marcos scion to court to teach him and his friends a lesson. Kaya nagiging abusado e. And as usual, here comes Mommy Imee to the rescue! Naku, Imee, hindi mo pinakain kasi ng Promil 'yan e!

It's about time that companies stop getting Borgy as their celebrity endorser unless they want their products identified with the arrogance and wa-class behavior of this hijo de alta sociedad. Imagine he even wanted to run for Manila mayor? Horrors! Disappointed that his modeling career is now going nowhere (e hindi naman talagang gwapo kung di lang me pangalan e!), now he is trying to live it up vicariously through his Lola Meldy! Binola pa ang matanda para maglabas ng jewelry line! Hesus!

The Bureau of Immigration should also take a look at the papers of that troublemaker, the model Ornussa. What's up with this girl anyway? She keeps figuring in these violent and near-blows incidents involving her boyfriend Borgy. Instigator! Feeling sexy tapos pag pinansin ng mga lalaki, feeling binastos? Dahling, you should feel flattered men are lusting after you! If you don't like it, then stop dressing up like a sex object or magkulong ka nalang kaya sa bahay? Does this woman have the proper alien working papers to begin with? Maybe it's about time she's sent packing to wherever rat hole she came from. E dito ka lang naman sumikat noh?! Excuse me hon, aren't your folks guests here in this country as well? Sic 'em, BID!

Check out the hilarious comments about the bar brawl at PEP.

April 16, 2007

Pinay makes it big on YouTube

I've watched a few of Christine's vblogs, and she is hilarious! There have been a handful of Fil-am comedians out there who have been charging good money for spoofing their experiences growing up as Flips. Most notable of course is Rex Navarette who has been coming to the Philippines regularly performing sketches about his mother as well and growing up in a country where people spoke 'wers-wers.'

But Christine has pushed the envelope by taking her comedy to the Internet...thus her newfound fame (or notoriety?). Asian Sentinel features her in its latest issue. Read on...

For decades, actors of Asian descent have been trying make it big by breaking into mainstream Hollywood, usually with limited success. Thirty-one year old Christine Gambito, an American born to Filipino immigrants in Virginia, took a different route and achieved what others have been trying to do for years in only a matter of months – become famous.

With a little help from technology, Christine is now one of the most popular faces on the Internet. Proof of this is that an entry from her video blog, or vlog, HappySlip.com, garnered enough votes to be named second Best Comedy at the 2006 YouTube video awards. Her video “Peelings”, which is a spoof on a fractured conversation between three family members – all of them played by Christine ‑ has had more than 200,000 viewers on YouTube and admirers have even begun posting videos about Christine herself on YouTube, praising her as a new star for the Internet age.

Happy Slip, which is a one-woman production team, is a play on the term “half slip”, which her mom, in her Filipino-English accent, always reminded her to wear as a young girl. “Christine, put on your happy slip!” she parodies in one of her videos.
(More on Asia Sentinel, April 13, 2007.)

Don Ho is dead

"Tiny bubbles
in the wine
Makes me feel happy,
makes me feel fine..."

THE first time I heard "Tiny Bubbles", I was five or six years old, studying in Little Angels Nursery School along Calamba St. in Quezon City. (Yeah and what a little devil I turned out to be!) It was after class, and I had on my little yellow grass skirt and a cute top, much like the top of two-piece bikinis, and shimmying my little body to this happy music I didn't understand at the time. "Tiny Bubbles", along with "Pearly Shells", (though not a Don Ho composition) became national anthems for many little six-year-old girls of my time, forced by their moms to attend Hawaiian or Tahitian classes which was the "after-class" or summer activities fad then.

I can't say a loved my Hawaiian classes, and I can't say I disliked them even. I was pretty much happy just shaking my booty to the music but I wasn't crazy about it especially when the sides of my tummy hurt when we had to do the faster Tahitian moves. Like my ballet classes, my Hawaiian classes didn't last. I guess my mom finally gave up on me after seeing I wasn't jumping up and down when I had to go to these classes. Hmmm...if only they offered taekwond then...

"Tiny Bubbles" made Don Ho a hit around the world. He introduced Hawaiian music to the world, even if it failed to accurately represent authentic Hawaiian music. (I've listened to it, and it is so much more meaningful than Don Ho's music.) He still became the island-state's most beloved music ambassador. What a life!

To this day, I still remember those graceful shakes I made to "Tiny Bubbles" and give a silent aloha to Don Ho, whose music was part of my mostly happy childhood.

April 14, 2007

Pay your taxes...earn your right to complain!

IT'S that time of the year folks! Tax time!

I stayed up late until 3 am today just trying to figure out my income tax return. For years, it was simple to fill out my ITR as I only worked for one publication at a time. Now that I have multiple sources of income as a journalist, I was told that the form I should fill up this time around is for businesses and self-employed individuals.

So I went around the metropolis on Thursday getting my withholding tax certificates from the publications I worked for so I'd know how much taxes have already been turned over to the government in my name. It was exhausting just to go from Quezon City to Makati then back again. Then I went to SM North yesterday to get the ITR form which I'm supposed to fill out.

When I got home and finally sat down to do my taxes, I was confused as hell. First of all, I didn't know what spaces I should fill out or leave in blank. Should I fill up the gross compensation income or the business compensation boxes? What should I put in my sales receipts? Could I deduct my transportation and telecommunication expenses from my gross income? This is why rich people employ accountants and tax consultants!

(Dang those confusing tax forms! The government should simplify them.)

Well it pays to have friends. Fortunately, I have a friend who is a tax lawyer who allowed himself to be harrassed by myself late into the night while I texted question after question to him. He told me that I should now consider myself a "business" as I received fees in exchange for professional services. I had no one employer. I didn't have to fill out the blanks for those with gross compensation income because I wasn't "employed" by any one company. And as a "business", I could claim either a 10-percent standard deduction for expenses or submit an itemized list of expenses. Not having the latter, and not wanting to hassle myself trying to come up with more forms and receipts, I chose the standard 10-percent deduction of expenses.

This morning, I texted Ms. Aida Simborio, assistant commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, to confirm what my tax lawyer friend said. My hats off to Ms. Aida as she too had been patiently answering my text messages since yesterday about what ITR form I should get or how I should compute for certain items asked in the form. (My tax lawyer friend told me if I could accomplish my ITR by myself, I could now be considered one of them, a professional tax consultant hehe! Hmmm...now that he mentions it, I could probably charge for doing other people's taxes! An a-ha moment!)

After finally computing and filling out my form, I headed to the Land Bank office nearest my residence to file my ITR and pay my tax. I had to tear up my previously filled up check as LBP/BIR has a specific "Pay to the order of" detail that must be included. It wasn't as simple as "Pay to the order of" BIR. It was more like "Pay to the order of Land Bank of the Phils. such and such branch in payment of BIR such and such in favor of my name and TIN no.!" Whew! But thankfully, there were no long queues at the bank, which was the only one open in my area among those accredited banks who were supposed to receive tax payments today. So I was done quite quickly.

I went home proud that I had been able to wrestle my ITR form and compute my tax payment properly. I have done my civic duty and paid my taxes correctly. Now I can bitch all I want about the government and our inept corrupt officials!


April 13, 2007

A Holy Week blessing

Something Like Life
April 13, 2007

SCENES FROM A ‘RETREAT’. Memorable images from a Holy Week respite, including Boots and An Alcantara in front of the charming, Casa San Pablo. (Photos by Stella Arnaldo)

THERE’S nothing like honest-to-goodness Lenten traditions to remind us of Jesus Christ’s sacrifices to save mankind from sin. Unfortunately, here in Manila, there are very few places that still stage cenaculos, hold pabasas, or even have processions depicting the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.

Good thing we took up an invitation to stay at Casa San Pablo, a quaint inn in the heart of San Pablo City, Laguna, operated by gregarious businessman on a perennial laugh attack (and I had the daily gas pains to prove it!) Boots Alcantara and his warm and winsome wife, journalist and author An Mercado. Their good nature and hospitality are part of the charm of staying at Casa. Along with Boots’ equally entertaining mother, Mommy Vinia (who delighted us with an impromptu mini-piano concert on Easter Sunday), the couple interacts with their guests, treating them like long-time friends.

(Aling Puring and her papier mache molds in Paete, Laguna.)

We instantly bonded with this family which has been so blessed by God, not only materially but spiritually. An said she was leaving us in the capable hands of her husband for the weekend as she was going on a solo retreat in Tagaytay after having been directly touched by God’s hand. She recently had a cancer scare, discovering a lump in her breast, and the only decision she had to make was whether to have a lumpectomy or mastectomy. Then one day, she heard a voice in her head urging her to pray for a miracle. “All the while I was praying for strength so I could face this, then suddenly I was being told to pray for complete healing.” So she did, and asked everyone to do so.

According to Mommy Vinia, when she first received the text from An asking to pray for healing, she felt embarrassed that she should ask anything as great as that from the Lord. “But then why are we putting limitations on what God can do?” asked Boots. He and his mom and I were talking late into the night about An, who had already left for her retreat by then, and marveling about God’s power and love for us, His children. And so An was healed, completely free of the lump, much to the amazement of her doctors. She went on the retreat to give thanks to the Lord. “Kung si Lazarus nga patay na nabuhay pa Niya, etong buhay, hindi ba Niya matutulungan?” Boots asked again.

(Row of Ugu Bigyan creations at his pottery studio in Tiaong, Quezon.)

The next day, as I opened my battered old copy of Our Daily Bread, this passage leapt off the page: “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things which you do not know.” It was a passage from the Book of Jeremiah, which I felt was a reiteration of the conversation I had with the Alcantaras only the night before. The reading also added, “When we pray according to God’s will, He may choose to do that which the world with its limited perspective deems to be hedged in by the impossible. But many of us have proven that God is able ‘to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think’ (Eph 3:20).”

It was the loudest wake-up call I heard from Him in the longest time. I thought of all the other crises in my life and those of my family’s where I was too ashamed to pray for His healing and instead merely asked Him to do His bidding. For the next few days, every time I opened that little book, the readings and passages spoke to me, directly addressing some issue I had with other people or events.

Good Friday procession

There are two Good Friday processions in San Pablo. One is the traditional, albeit shorter, parade of images depicting the passion and death of Christ, which is handled by the Catholic Church. The other is the bigger and more “touristy” procession of some 50 santos, which Ado Escudero has been holding in the last few years. Naturally, there has been some tension between organizers of both processions, according to Mommy Vinia, with the Catholic Church hierarchy in Laguna insisting that Escudero’s procession was improper as it includes images that should only be paraded on Holy Wednesday, not on Good Friday.

(Workers put finishing touches on the image of the Christ Jesus during the Good Friday procession in San Pablo, Laguna.)

While we did marvel at the beautiful images and the carozas that were paraded during the procession, it was not as solemn as we had hoped for. There were a couple of times the crowds rushed in to steal the flowers off the carozas in the belief perhaps that these were blessed. It was truly sad that such an occasion meant to commemorate the sacrifices of our Lord would be diminished by the unruliness of those who profess to be believers.

While the event was more of a show than anything else, I must admit that the annual procession has been able to bring in the tourists that Laguna needs, and the images paraded are truly remarkable feats of Filipino craftsmanship and design. The elaborate detail in the santos’ clothing, like those of the Blessed Virgin, for example, are also testimony to the adoration of its owners and the dedication to their faith. For those reasons alone, I was willing to overlook the blatant commercialism that may have moved the organizers of the event.

We watched the entire procession from the balcony of the ancestral home of my friend, newspaper columnist and AM radio host Alvin Capino and his siblings. His sister Maris accommodated our ragtag group and fed us with simple fiesta fare. It never fails to amaze me how fiestas bring out the hospitality and friendliness of Filipinos, especially those living in the provinces, so it is indeed a delight to take part in one.

Follow the sun

(A caroza bearing the Blessed Virgin Mary makes its way around the plaza of San Pablo City, Laguna.)

There were a few other places we visited on Black Saturday that constantly reminded me of how great are the works of the Lord.

At the home studio of celebrated ceramics pottery artist Augusto “Ugu” Bigyan in Tiaong, Quezon, I was awed at how he could make art useful for everyday life.

On the way to Paete, Laguna, I joined the pleasant and engaging family of Mike and Lizanne Alcazaren, friends of the Alcantaras, who were also shopping for quality woodcraft. The nonstop banter, peppered with Boots’s humorous anecdotes all throughout the drive, certainly made new friends among us. Talk about bonding!

While there, I had the pleasure of befriending fiftysomething woodcarver Mang Abel, who was working on a four-foot image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as well as two smaller images of the Virgin Mary and the crucified Christ.

Another stop was the home of Aling Puring, whose family makes papier-mâchés. In Paete, the men are wood sculptors, while the women make papier-machés. She had shelves and shelves of wooden papier-mâché molds in the most elaborate designs, some of them probably antique.

Considering the masterful creations of Bigyan, and the artistry of Paete woodcarvers and papier-mâché makers, how can one not attribute such talents to some higher power above? For sure, there is some divine inspiration involved in crafting those works of art.

(A wooden sculpture of leapfrogging children, Paete, Laguna.)

Must all good things come to an end? We had to return to Manila after Easter Sunday Mass, but we came away renewed and refreshed by our own Lenten “retreat.” Most of all, we were grateful for making new friends like the Alcantaras, Alcazarens and Maris, and for being inspired by how His hands work through man.

Sometimes when we get caught up in our busy lives that, no matter how many times we read the Bible or open our daily readings, we don’t hear Him. The din of the city and our noisy activities interfere with His thoughts for us. So I was extremely fortunate to have been able to go to the provinces for the Holy Week — where the skies were clear, the air was clean and cool, and the people around were just the happiest and most enjoyable I have met in the longest time — allowing me hear His messages loud and clear.

Casa San Pablo is located in the Gomez compound, barangay San Roque, San Pablo City, Laguna. For inquiries or reservations, call Boots Alcantara at (0917) 812-6687 or check out the web site at www.casasanpablo.com

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. More photos of my Holy Week vacation at Stella's Flickr fotos.)

April 09, 2007

Victor Mature on my mind

Something Like Life
April 5, 2007

HOLY Week has never been a big thing for my family.

For us, it usually just meant the annual Visita Iglesia, where we were rounded up by my super-religious father and hauled off to seven different churches in the evening of Maundy Thursday. But we were never forced to go to confession, although we did see our parents disappearing behind the mysterious purple curtain hanging over the confessional boxes. Nor did we ever go and make the Way of the Cross, while everyone else in the churches we visited did. Our parents just told us to pray seven Our Fathers, seven Hail Mary’s and seven Glory Be’s. I made it like a game and rushed my prayers to try to beat my siblings or our parents out the church door, all the while trying to look very solemn.

We were never big on fasting and abstinence either. If we wanted to, we could abstain from eating pork like the old folks, but we never felt we were going to hell if we pigged out. But on Good Friday, we always looked forward to the delectable Bacalao ala Vizcaina my grandmother (and now my mother) cooked for us. We ate it at lunch with steaming white rice, then once more at dinner. Then on Easter Sunday, we would have the beef and chicken pochero.

Growing up in an era when cable TV and iTunes were still to be invented, Holy Week also meant being bored out of our wits. It meant no TV, no radio, not even newspapers. This was an era when going on frivolous vacations to the white sand beach of Boracay to party ‘til the wee hours of the morning was still unheard of. I remember gingerly sneaking off to switch on our humongous black-and-white Radiowealth just to see if the Good Lord above had taken pity on a restless little girl like me and somehow miraculously aired my favorite TV programs.

But, of course, I would be crestfallen as there was only the characteristic “snow” showing on all three channels then. I would stare at the screen for what seemed like an eternity trying to will Sesame Street to pop up on the tube. No such luck. It was a good thing, though, that Poltergeist had yet to be thought up by Steven Spielberg; otherwise something else might have made its presence felt on that TV screen.

Sure, it wasn’t all snow and static—and, yeah, I may not actually have been bored until Good Friday itself. During the first few days of the Semana Santa until Holy Wednesday, then again on Black Saturday, I would be tormented by Fr. Patrick Peyton and his beloved Family Theater “Rosary Crusade” series. To the young kids who have never heard of him, Fr. Patrick was the priest who tried to promote the praying of the rosary through dramatizations of the different chapters in Jesus’ life. Of course, the series had no effect whatsoever on me, not even if I did study in an all-girls Catholic school. I still don’t know how to pray the rosary on my own.

After the short dramas usually featuring some well-known celebrities of those times — was that Raymond Burr playing Simon of Cyrene? — Fr. Patrick, in his cracking whiny voice, would make a little speech about the lessons we were supposed to have learned from watching the episode, then he would pray the rosary which we were all obligated to say with him. Then each episode would end with the line—say it with me, people...“A family that prays together, stays together.” Oh, brother!

(Victor Mature...ooof! From IMDB.com)

But if I wasn’t suffering in silence from Fr. Patrick’s melodramas, I was secretly swooning at the swarthy good-looking Victor Mature as the Greek slave Demetrius in The Robe, then in its sequel Demetrius and the Gladiators. Who cares that Richard Burton was in both films, and that he won an Oscar for his role as the centurion Marcellus?!?! Yeah, so Jean Simmons, Anne Bancroft and Ernest Borgnine starred in those films, too! For me, both films were all about Victor Mature...such strength of character...and the way he carried himself (this guy never looked one bit the slave that he was supposed to be)...and oh, how he tried to resist the charms of the hussy Messalina played by Susan Hayward, wife to the emperor-next-in-line!

Of course, watching those films now, I realize that Victor Mature was no great shakes as an actor. In fact, his face hardly changed expressions from one scene to the next. He looked constipated most of the time. Yeah, much like Kris Aquino in all her movies. (Now here are some fun facts: The Robe was the very first movie ever filmed on Cinema Scope, and Demetrius and the Gladiators was actually released on TV seven years before The Robe due to some business kinks in Hollywood. And you thought George Lucas was the genius who created prequels! Hah!)

To make me guilty for secretly pining for Victor Mature, there was of course The Miracle at Garabandal. The film was creepy and frightened the daylights out of me because of the seeming supernatural events that they documented.

In The Miracle at Garabandal
, the four young girls to whom the Blessed Virgin appeared apparently never scraped their knees even though they knelt in a swoon on jagged rocks. Their heads would tilt back and their faces enraptured in what many described as “angelic.” I distinctly remember the hairs on my forearms and nape standing as the host miraculously appeared on the tongue of the child Conchita, as she received communion from some invisible being. So scared I was of these otherwordly happenings that I prayed never ever to be chosen by the Good Lady for an “honor” such as the children received.

My suffering would eventually end, much like Jesus Christ, on Easter Sunday, when all three TV stations returned to their regular programming. Thank God that these days, cable TV has given us more viewing choices for the Holy Week. And with the our DVD players handy, we can choose to ignore the idiot box’s offerings altogether. Hmmm...now where did I put my Jesus Christ Superstar DVD?

(My column, Something Like Life, appears every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)