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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Things I Now Know 'Bout the Japanese

I've lived in Tokyo for about 8 months now and I have, by far, learned quite a few things about the Japanese that distinguish them from other peoples. Here goes:

One: Unless you cause them physical harm or unduly disturb their peace, they will allow you to do whatever pleases you.

(Drunks just sleep wherever they want without anyone disturbing their trip to dreamland.)

Two: They like making things small, but still usable.

(Tired of the thousands of huge trains that they use for daily commute, these kids and their parents enjoy rides on small trains in a park.)

Three: They have strict quality standards for anything bound for human consumption.

(Read: Not fit for drinking. Seen at a rest area going to Mt. Fuji)

Four: They just don't run out of ideas to make life more convenient.

(This is Roomba: A cordless robotic vacuum cleaner. Complete with sensors, it cleans an entire area without any human intervention).

And Five: They conscientiously practice garbage segregation.

(Flyers advertising illicit services must be thrown in this box. They are deemed too dirty to be disposed alongside regular garbage.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tokyo Tower at Night

I see the Tokyo Tower everyday from my office window. And I do get a glimpse of its imposing presence every time I walk around Roppongi. But until recently, I have yet to get near it.

Unexpectedly, I did so yesterday.

I had an after-office appointment at the Tokyo Prince Hotel. Since I was not familiar with the address, I decided to check on it earlier. I was ahead by about thirty minutes, only to be told that the one I was meeting would be late. I didn't want to stay alone in the hotel lounge, so I decided to walk around. I saw a patch of trees and I decided to drag my feet through it.

And then came the surprise - the Tokyo Tower, with its lights teasing the skyline, was just right in front of me! So this was the park I was told about, where the best view of the tower can be had.

Good thing I brought along my handy little Canon, so the waiting time became shooting time for me. I just walked around the park, which was uncharacteristically deserted at 6:30 in the evening.

(the tower reflected in the glass panes of a building)

I did'nt know too that there was a temple near the tower. One thing that caught my attention were these little concrete dolls, lined on the walls of the temple. What they were about, I wish I knew.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Few Notes on The Euro Generals Issue

Manila media is now abuzz with reports and discussions on the controversy surrounding the Moscow arrest of Gen. Eliseo dela Paz who had in his possession cash exceeding the allowed limit. The big question being: was there indeed an irregularity in the entire incident?

From the point of view of someone who regularly travels on government account, allow me to share the following premises:

Overseas travels by government officials are covered by an Executive Order which defines the allowable expenses based on a standard index. The index takes into account the cost of living in the place of destination, specifically for accommodations (hotel rates) and subsistence (food and on-site travel). The amount indicated in the matrix multiplied by the number of days stay in the area then becomes the basis for the individual cash advances which the officials hand-carry. Actual transportation costs like airfare are paid for in the Philippines, subject to regular bidding rules.

So where does a contingency fund come in? As a general rule, if an expense is already expected or projected, such can be released to the official subject to liquidation. But if they are miniscule miscellaneous expenses, normally, the official initially pays for them with his own funds and then requests for reimbursement later.

Is it therefore normal for the so-called contingency fund to be bigger than the actual cash advances made? Of course not. There is actually no need for such fund in the first place, since all the projected expenses have already been advanced! And do take note that the amount when discovered, was the amount remaining AFTER the conference - meaning much has been spent already. For what? That is the bigger question.

Earlier, Sec. Puno vouched that the controversial funds were indeed intended for contingencies during the trip. He admitted to being aware of its release. Now, he says, it was only the cash advances that he approved. Gen. dela Paz confesses that he took the money, bigger than the one approved by his Boss, only on account of his own signature. That my friends is how easily one can dip his hands into government coffers.

One last thing: when private persons, like the wives, join an official travel, is it truly without cost to government? The answer is no. First, they stay in the hotel rooms paid by the government for their husbands. Second, when government officials visit a foreign post, embassy officials and staff spend government time and funds to host them (dinners, night-outs, tours). And when the husbands are on official business (let's give them the benefit of the doubt), the embassy staff take care of the poor wives, guide them in tours and pamper them. If that is not cost to the government, I can't imagine what is.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Officer, please...

These kids' balloons flew off then got entangled with tree branches.

They ran to a policeman for help. The elderly officer did everything he could to retrieve the wayward toys. And when he did, a big round of applause was given him, not just by the kids but the crowd that has gathered around the scene.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Odaiba Revisited

This neophyte, unteacheable-but-still-trying-hard-to-learn "photographer" decided to join a small group of masters for some night shots of Odaiba. I knew I'll felt pressured by the urge to belong, but I honestly haven't seen much of the place, so I thought I could always claim that my primary purpose was just to gallivant around anyway.

True enough, I didn't know how to capture the essence of night photography. Everytime I see my companions' elegant produce, I can't help but drool in desperate envy. Theirs told stories, mine were mere scratches in a canvass. Add to the insult the fact that my camera threw tantrums - its auto focus feature seemed to have malfunctioned (or was it just me sour graping?). I wanted to auction off my camera right there and then. :-)

And since this is my site and I am convinced I still am entitled to litter it with the crap that evidence my futile attempts to join the major league, I am posting below some of the scenes I captured while waiting for dusk to fall. My apologies if they bore you and will lull you to sleep.

Okay, let me join you .....z z z z z z z z z z z....

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Salute To the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court just came out with two landmark decisions and I am writing not to discuss their merits but to express elation over the Justices' gallant stand to uphold the law.

Most recent is the declaration of the MOA on Ancestral Domain as unconstitutional – a fact long established in the bar of opinion but would nonetheless require SC confirmation; if only to define the limits of the powers that Malacañang and its cohorts regularly exercise with reckless abandon.

They’ve done it before with the ZTE deal: once caught with their dirty hands in the cookie jar, they backed-out of the arrangements and declared that there was no more need for the Court to intervene as the agreements were not signed anyway, making the issue moot and academic. No harm, foul.

But thank goodness the Court tilted the other way this time, declaring the issue as justiciable, on account of “ (1) the grave violation of the Constitution involved; (b) the exceptional character of the situation and paramount public interest; (c) the need to formulate controlling principles to guide the bench, the bar and the public; and (d) the fact that the case is capable of repetition yet evading review.”

The Court thus made these pronouncements on the excesses made by the government panel:

“In sum, the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process committed grave abuse of discretion when he failed to carry out the pertinent consultation process, as mandated by EO No. 3, RA 7160, and RA 8371. The furtive process by which the MOA-AD was designed and crafted runs contrary to and in excess of the legal authority, and amounts to a whimsical, capricious, oppressive, arbitrary and despotic exercise thereof. It illustrates a gross evasion of positive duty and a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined,” the Court said.”

Bravo! It’s just too sad that the government’s blatant disregard for basic constitutional tenets has resulted in the loss of lives, property and peace. I just hope this gung-ho government gets and imbibes the lesson.

(If you have the patience to read long but very insightful and educating discourse, please do check the Supreme Court website specially Justice Carpio's concurring opinion which details how the Constitution will be mangled by the implementation of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity which the MOA promises to pursue).

Another vital decision was the declaration of Boracay island (except for some titled portions) as owned by the State, based on the fact that there is yet no positive act from the government to declare such lands as alienable and disposable (which would have allowed the claimants thereof to obtain private ownership). In other words, possession or occupation of the lands regardless of length or by whatever nature, will not vest them any rights to the land.

The claimants (yup, including those “owning” flashy beach resorts and golf courses) would have to contend with how the government wants to classify and dispose the lands for the benefit of the common good (and to that I’m keeping my fingers crossed).

The SC’s words were poignant: “The Court also notes that for a number of years, thousands of people have called the island their home. While the Court commiserates with private claimants’ plight, we are bound to apply the law strictly and judiciously. This is the law and it should prevail. Ito ang batas at ito ang dapat umiral.”

To that I say, Amen.

(Note: photos were lifted from the net)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tokyo DisneySea: Random Shots

"Tokyo DisneySea is a 176 acre (714,000 m²) theme park at the Tokyo Disney Resort located in Urayasu, Chiba, Japan, just outside of Tokyo. It opened on September 4, 2001. It is owned by The Oriental Land Company, which licenses the theme from The Walt Disney Company. Tokyo DisneySea and its companion park Tokyo Disneyland are the only Disney parks not owned by The Walt Disney Company.

Tokyo DisneySea has become one of the most popular Disney Parks in the world, attracting an estimated 12.4 million visitors in 2007. Tokyo DisneySea was the second theme park to open at the Tokyo Disney Resort and the ninth park of the eleven worldwide Disney theme parks to open. Tokyo DisneySea is also the most expensive theme park ever built, estimated to have cost over U.S. $4 billion." Wikipedia

A group of lawyers went to Tokyo for a seminar last week. One of whom was my law school classmate - who requested that I tour them around Tokyo.

But they did not have much free time. So we had to choose a place where they could just roam around and get a bagful of memories.

The choice of course was Disney Sea. Many of them have already been to other Disneyland locations, so I prevailed upon them not to a make a repeat here. Disneyland franchises all over the world look the same.

Posted here are some of the shots i took inside the resort.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What On Earth Was That?!

As I was looking for a place to have lunch today, I passed by a car on one side of Roppongi’s major thoroughfare. I thought it got stalled. Or some traffic violation was committed.

There was this man in black suit standing by the driver’s side. I can’t understand what he's saying, but he was obviously upset – actually, raving mad. He was heavily pounding the car’s window with his hands.

The driver, who was then inside, was a woman. She was visibly frightened, apparently not knowing what to do. As she just sat there, the man kept asking her to open the window by her side.

After a while, she did.

The man loudly berated the woman about something (that’s how I figured the scene was about). Passers-by were beginning to notice and many slowed down to gawk.

Suddenly, the man grabbed one of the lady’s breasts and mashed it. Yes, mashed it! I saw him crumple it like dough and did two pumping motions.

Then he walked away. Very, very casually.

The driver was startled. She didn’t move a bit. I thought she would go out and run to the police station about 15 meters away, but she didn’t. After a while, she just drove off.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Side Trip: Kegon Falls & Lake Chusenji

"Picturesque" .

I really cannot draw any other word from my minute cache of adjectives that would best fit this place. It was just so amazing, so unreal, so serenely beautiful.

The view is of Lake Chusenji and Kegon Falls, seen from a mountain on the other side of the range. One could get there via a ropeway (cable car), seeing on the process a popular mountain with terraced floodmarks (I'm sorry I forgot its name; and i've got no time to search the net).

From there, one can get closer to the lake, the falls and the village nesting in its bossom.

No, we took the bus - but these guys did it the more exciting way. :-)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Nikko Shrine: Japan's Spiritual Window

Japan’s attraction to the other peoples of the world comes from the fact that it features a healthy mix of the old and the modern, weaved within a natural confluence of the Western and Eastern influences. Here’s how it normally goes: as one enters Japan’s doors, the air of the first world automatically embraces him. But as he settles down, he’ll be enticed by an air so different – a soft whisper from the country’s spiritual past, a slight tap from its religious core.

Thus, a visit to Japan is not complete unless one pays homage to the temples and shrines that can be found in almost every corner. And if one wants the badge of a true-blue tourist, then the NikkoToshugu Shrine should never be missed, as it is a shrine far more grand and lavish than the other temples around (where the stress is on simplicity and austerity).

In 1999, the Shrine was listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. With the inscription, the world body acknowledged the temple-builders’ architectural and artistic genius (eastern baroque, some would say) and recognized the sensitivity that inspired the harmonious integration of the man-made structures with the natural requirements of the forest that hosts it. Aside from being the mausoleum for the shogun who commissioned it’s erection, it is after-all Shinto temple where premium is placed on man’s close relationship with nature.