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Thursday, December 27, 2007

This Time ... Last Year

Same time, last year …

I was just happy Christmas was over. I couldn't stand playing Mr. Miserable to the hilt. The agony was simply killing me. The more festive people became, the more I was pushed to the brink of self-destruction.

Today …

Christmas went well. Not perfect per my standards, but far better than the past six Christmases. Some expectations remained unmet, but they are no reason to complain.

Same time, last year …

I said: “This year’s Christmas leaves me at a crossroad, where I anxiously wait for better things to unfold. For the first time, I sit on a hopeful tone – for my life to finally have a complete turn-around.”

Today …

The good things have arrived and have started steering me to directions I never even imagined reacheable. For the first time in so many years, there is now reason to hope for a life unperturbed by ghosts of the past.

I’m hopeful that I have finally exorcised my demons. I now look forward to a more fulfilling year.

Wish me luck friends, as I sail to a brighter sun (... with fingers crossed).

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Passport Blues

I renewed my passport today.

Hoping to expedite the process, I seriously studied the application form and readied everything listed therein, specially the picture which now should have a royal blue background. Yun lang daw ang tatanggapin ng computer, as we are converting to a machine readable format.

I expected a more tedious process. But not as bad as it turned out.

Right at Step 1, taob na agad ako. My photo background did not pass the color test – not as royal as it ought to be. So I needed a quick fix. Me photographer daw. Siyempre, sa DFA mismo.

So off I went to the queue. Talking to those near me, I gathered that most of them had defects in their photos: iba ang kulay, me shadow, me white spot o kung anong illumination, me earring at kung anu-ano pa. And there's no telling when the rejection will occur. Pwedeng sa gwardiya pa lang or kung kelan patapos ka na at nasuri na ng iba ang picture. The not-so-subtle message of course is: if you want to be sure, sa DFA ka magpakuha. Neat, di ba? Sana, inilagay na rin yun sa form.

I wanted myself to be wearing a suit in the photo so I checked the operators if they have any I could use. None. Ang meron sila, sinusuklob na putol na damit para magmukhang me collar ang suot. Very cosmopolitan ang dating!

And then the clincher: me pa-cute na sumingit sa pila! One very decent and righteous man. Sikat sa pagsasabi kung ano ang tama. Guess who?

Bro. Mike Velarde and a lady (must be his wife). Ang galing di ba?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Asian Idol: My Random Thoughts

The certified singing contest addict that I am, it is expected that I was not about to let the search for the first Asian Idol simply pass. So I did watch both the performance and the results nights.

Here go my random observations:

Just as the Indian judge predicted, an upset was possible. Singapore’s Hady Mirza, clearly not a vocal powerhouse but a genuine charmer, won the Asian Idol title. What does this prove? That the idol search is not entirely about singing – it is about the person’s ability to connect with the audience not only through his voice but more importantly, his personality.

But the winner was determined via text votes (two choices per message). How did Hady Mirza win despite coming from a small country, meaning with lesser number of possible texters? Let me venture some guesses. First, he does have a set of loyal fans who surely voted for him non-stop. Second, he possesses good looks - enough to capture the votes of the other countries. And third, he was not perceived as a threat. With voters required to vote for two idols, each country surely rallied support for their own bets. But they could not be expected to vote for their perceived competitors. Thus they will have to vote for the safer contestants. I think Hady got most of the second votes.

How did Philippine idol Mau Marcelo fare? Good, I guess. But not phenomenal enough to set the audience on fire.

In any singing contest, the choice of song is critical. And I have always believed that Ako ang Nagwagi is not really a good piece, unless you have Dulce’s vocal range or higher. The song is designed to awe and impress at very first salvo – after that the melody becomes repetitive and boring. Mau sang it on a lower key and was not really able to lift it to soaring heights. That’s why the Malaysian judge commented that she was holding out, as she was capable of doing better.

Her rendition of Reach was better and did impress the judges, but this was later upstaged by Indonesian Mike Mohede’s rendition of I Believe I Can Fly (although to me, Eric Santos’ version was far better).

Last night, the idols were more relaxed and thus sang better. Hady and Jaclyn were great in their “Freedom” duet. India’s Abhijeet Sawant gave the audience more reason to vote for him than just his cute smile. Mike however, started well but later faded to oblivion when Guy Sebastian came in. And sadly, Mau Marcelo was reduced to doing back-up for Rivermaya. She didn’t even seem to have memorized the song.

So, if I were to judge who did best in the contest, who would it be? I think it should have been Jaclyn Victor of Malaysia, closely tailed by Mike and Mau.

One last thing: I tried voting for Mau and Jaclyn three times but all I got were replies to the effect that the “service is temporarily unavailable.” Anyone having the same experience?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Yet Another Penniless Christmas

The merciless Grinch did it again.

Just when I thought I've had him deported to the dreadful icebergs of Antarctica, he came back with a wide grin. Tapping on my window, he waived the parchment bearing the bad news:

"No bounty for you this Christmas! :-)"

F_ _ k_ng Sh _t! @#$%**(()_!! Again?!!!!

Due to an unfair rule from the gods of Olympus, I will be denied all the bonuses afforded to all others in my company. Darn! What a way to cap the year, huh!

Well, it's a good thing I’m used to being poor. Armed with my spartan training, I'm sure I will again survive this poverty-marred Christmas, as I have always done during the past years. With nothing to grease my stomach, I’ll probably just pack my bags and heed to the mountains.

And plan for my grand revenge on Christmas eve.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Taipei Revisited

My homeward trip brought me back to Taipei. Much as I would want to visit this memorable city again, there’s just no chance for extending my vacation. I thus contented myself with making calls – actually, waking up almost everybody willing to pick up their phones as I we arrived early in the morning.
With nothing much to post yet, allow me to feature here some of the shots I took before my flight to the US.

Pic 1 is a view of the city from the mountain district of Yangmingshan.


Next is Taipei 101, the worlds tallest building (the challenger, which is now taller, is still being completed), which also boasts of having the fastest elevators at 1,010 meters per minute. I went up its observatory (27 seconds up to the 85th floor), but unfortunately, it was on a foggy day. No good shots that time.
Below is St. Christopher’s Church – the haven for Filipinos especially on Sundays. But for some reason, the place seemed deserted when I was there. During the years when I was assigned in Taiwan, this place looked like Divisoria every day. Today, the crowd is not even a quarter of what it used to. There really must be lesser Pinoys there these days.


And finally, the area where I used to reside. Gawd! I miss this place. Memories.....! :-)

P.S. There is now a craze in Taipei which caused long queues and hour-long waits during its opening days. People flock to these places and make "tambay" there like it's Starbucks. It is ... this..

He he. Sarado na po nung dumaan kami, kaya walang tao.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Sayang!!

Poor sun-scorched islander me really wanted to experience snow. But it just playfully skipped my schedules.

When I went to Chicago, snow already fell days before. But when I arrived, it was tauntingly sunny. Just as I left, it came. This is how it looks there now. Hay! :-)



And it's snowing in Reno too! Now, nature's really having fun mocking me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Arizona's Big Hole: The Grand Canyon

“What? We drove for hours just to see this big hole?”

This was purportedly said by one of my host’s kids when they went to the Grand Canyon before. Well, at the time, he was still young.

For me, the place was spectacular – God’s work at its best! It really deserves its place in the Seven Natural Wonders of the world. As I marveled at the fantastic gorges, I dawned on me just how small I was - just an infinitesimal speck in the vast sea of God’s wonderful creations.
***

I thought I have been accustomed to heights (remember, my favorite pastime is oggling at people from my 20th Floor workstation), but looking down the mile-deep fissures made me realize that my stomach has more to learn. I had to stay far from the edges (there were areas with no railings) to feel safe.




(P.S. Ako yung tumalon na blonde ang buhok sa second pic). He he.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Chilly, Windy Chicago

The sky was clear when I woke up. It was about 8:00, just okay as we came home quite late from Hooters and another local bar the night before.

I smiled when I saw the sun brightly shining. "Good day to tour the city", I thought.

And it could be a nice time for a decent jog too. So I tried checking the temperature outside. Nice try, he he. I wasn't even able to put my foot out. A chilly wind immediately pushed me back to the warm insides of the house.
"Hooh! That was cooooold!"

So this is Chicago, the windy city. Now I know how it got such tag. The wind does make the air cooler.

But since I’m here on tour, I can’t just stay home and watch tv. So off we went, with my hosts Don and Loi Bascon to downtown Chicago.

We first went to the Museum Campus where the Adler Observatory was. Pretty spectacular! And the view of the city was simply great. Check these:




We drove around the city center and went up John Hancock’s Signature Room. It’s at the 96th Floor. The view of the city and the lake was awesome.


We then visited my good friend, Michael Jordan at the United Center. He indulged us with a nice pose.

Helio Wins Dancing With The Stars!

IndyCar Series Champ Helio Castroneves has just been declared winner of this season’s Dancing with the Stars. He beat Spice girl Mel B, who has been a consistent top vote-getter. Crowd favorite Marie Osmond, widely predicted to end up being the winner, was eliminated (thankfully!) early in the finale.

No controversies here. We rooted for Helio. He danced his heart out and he visibly had great fun!


Now you ask. Why am I watching TV on this very short Chicago leg of my trip?

It’s freezing cold outside. Below zero but no snow. It’s a struggle being out there. In this kind of weather, my damn arthritis could kill me! :-)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Holy Cows!

I've never seen so many cows in my entire life! The ranch ran for miles and cattle simply littered the field!
This was as we got out of Lemoore going to San Francisco. I only got hold of my camera as the car was about to pass by the entire length of cowlandia, thus the haphazard pic.
But the stench followed us for long. Boy! They stink like hell!
Anyway, I'm back in San Francisco as this is where I'd fly to Chicago tommorow.
My overnight hosts brought me to Twin Peaks where San Francisco can be viewed from above.
Awesome!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Resting in Lemoore

I am now in Lemoore, California visiting a cousin and her family. It's a little more laid-back here, just enough for me to get rest from the hectic sked I had in Reno.


This is what official website says about the place I'm in now:

"Lemoore is a rapidly growing community, with a current population of 22,000+ and is located in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, equidistant between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is home to the Lemoore Naval Air Station, a modern Master Jet Base. Major employers in Lemoore include SK Foods and Leprino Foods processing plants. Lemoore is also home to a new community college campus-West Hills College at Lemoore. Lemoore offers six parks, numerous youth activities including a teen center and skatepark, an 18-hole golf courses, and many other recreational opportunities. Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks, as well as the scenic Central Coast are all within a two-hour drive."
What inescapably attracts attention here are the large plantations they got. One simply senses that farming here is one big business and the owners are everything but poor.

My late Father, whose passion is agriculture, would have loved seeing this place. What I see here now, I've seen in the books he used to read and would discuss with us in class - vast tracts of irrigated flat land, mechanized farming, hundreds of livestock. This is what he says farming ought to be. I agree.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Enthralled by San Francisco






Tasting The Best of Pinoy Hospitality

Foreigners normally get amazed with the hospitality of Filipinos. Exposed in environments where each one fends for himself and survives by himself, they wonder why Filipinos could be so generous and accommodating in their efforts to make other people’s lives easier.

They would be told hospitality is engrained in Filipino culture. True. That’s why it is not lost on many of those of who have left the country and have been exposed to contrary influences. Many still embrace the trait and are truly proud of it.

Now, I am experiencing the best of that in this travel I’m having. Truth to tell, to a certain degree, I do feel embarassed being the center of such gracious attention. But that can’t be helped. I know they really want the best for me.

My kababayans and relatives have so far been exerting all possible efforts to make my stay worthwhile.

They would fetch me from the airport, open their homes for days to accommodate me, be absent from work to keep me company, drive long hours to famous destinations, pay for some of my travels and tickets and just about everything else they could think of to make me see and experience how life in America goes.

I feel so blessed having known these people. I hope one day I’ll have the opportunity to pay them or any other guest forward, with the same zeal and warmth as I have received.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sleepless in Vegas

We're at the Fairfield Marriot in Las Vegas right now. I planned to blog about it later, thinking I could first grab some sleep before I go to Reno tommorow.

But as REM was about to set in, I was jolted from sleep by the unceasing shrieks of the fire alarm.

Actually, I thought it was because of the batteries I was charging. It just came to me that it could have exploded or something, thus the alarm. I was therefore more shattered than the others.

Good thing it wasn't. The Japanese guy at the counter can only say it was false alarm.

Now, the guests have grudgingly gone back to their rooms. I wanted to too. Problem is, I can't seem to regain headway back to dreamland.

That's why I'm now facing the computer. Oh well. I'll just have to finish this post and then try counting sheeps. Or casino chips. Anything.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Universal Experience of Film

A young Korean seated behind me in the plane to LAX was asked why he was going to the US. He automatically answered, albeit in halting English, that he’ll be there only to visit Universal Studios. He’ll leave as soon as he completes the two-day tour.

Unlike him, I wasn’t as excited in getting there. I have kept my expectations low in this visit, knowing fully-well that this was rushed and most of the people I’m visiting will be working. But my hosts exerted all efforts to make my stay worthwhile, so they did get job passes and brought me to the mother of all film studios.

Then I knew why Universal Studios should always be included in any tourist’s itinerary in the US. It just doesn’t make one part of the movies he once loved, it also instructs him on how the world of movies operate.

Personally, the experience pushed me back in time, when I too dreamed of being in the film industry. The part of the tour where people are shown dubbing and film effects techniques reminded me of the time when the famous Ishmael Bernal brought us to a studio and dubbed his films.

I got too engrossed in the experience that I failed to take as many photos as I could. Here are some just the same. I guess you know to what movies these sets belong.







For other pics, please visit Coldman's post. We may have been there on the same day but we both forgot to bring our name tags. :-)