Monday, August 3, 2009

Like a fish out of water

Everytime I come home from a respite in the U.S., friends interrogate me about my newly acquired tan. "I went fishing," I say, eliciting raised eyebrows from my listeners, who conjure images of white fishing boats and nautical wear. "No," I correct them. "It's not as glamorous as you think."

My trips to Florida, where my brother Jig resides, are like a ritual. As soon as I've settled into his family's quaint bungalow, we proceed to plan our fishing excursions, untangling the nets, monitoring the tides, bringing out the sunblock. But our adventures are modest in scale. At dawn, we park Jig's van by some body of water, mostly parts of Tampa Bay, carry our gear through the sand, and immerse ourselves chest-deep into the warm pool.

What ensues is a progression of activities that resemble a spiritual dance. We tread stealthily through the water, careful not to create too many ripples that warn the fish of our approach; and where we sense a stirring beneath the water surface, we hurl our nets in the hopes of catching bait. After several attempts and now with pinfish in our buckets, we reach for the rods and hook the tiny helpless fish, then gracefully cast our lines to the whirring of the reels. Plop. We then wait in near silence as the first glow of sunlight greets us. At that moment and in that setting, it is so easy to feel total communion with the world.

When nothing nips, we repeat the process, and I am reminded of a mantra uttered in perfect cadence. Occasionally, a laughing gull or a tern would skim the water for food, or a dolphin would emerge briefly at a distance. Otherwise, everything remains still...until something bites, and a small struggle between angler and fish ensues. The pace picks up as we tug and reel in with our rods, our forearms flexing with the weight of the catch.

On this last fishing trip, it was Jig who was the successful angler, luring in a 50-lb black drum and a couple of decently-sized mullets. I nonetheless get to pose with the day's prize to immortalize the experience.

Fishing is not necessarily my sport of choice, but I cannot imagine a trip to Jig's without going through the motions. Without the experience, I would be a fish out of water or a step out of synch. Forget that we did not get to eat the black drum (Jig, who is a chef, filleted it and discovered parasites; but at least he got to smoke the mullets for dinner). What is important is that during those episodes in the glistening waters of Tampa Bay, not only am I one with nature; I am also in perfect consonance with a brother I see just once in three years.

This isn't how Jig and I go fishing in Florida.

The angler struggles with the weight of his catch.

Chef at work. But the black drum is no good.

Instead, the mullets are prepped for smoking.

The final product: a smoked fish dip for crackers and crudite.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Things I might miss while on vacation

All right. So I'm on a 3-week vacation in the U.S. Away from the daily grind in Manila. Now deep into leisure mode, I realize it's hard not to miss some things one lives with nearly every day--no matter how maddening they may be. So after 3 days here in San Francisco, here's a partial list of things I sort of miss:

1. The nasty drive to work. If not for my iPod, I would never survive traffic in Manila.

2. The tortured sound of coffee beans grinding in the machine. The gadget is right next to my desk. At least the aroma is deeply satisfying.

3. Some aimless meetings conducted by people without a clear agenda. Time to daydream.

4. Advertising briefs that read more like a product history. Go figure.

5. At lunchtime, security guards at the mall who constantly grope, pretending to be searching for something.

6. Attendants at the food stalls who insist on calling everyone: Ma'am/Sir (both in a single breath).

7. Back at work, the acrid building restrooms and the maintenance folk who scrimp on Lysol.

8. Late afternoon emails alerting you that the report due next week is due tonight instead.

9. The late night drive home (to avoid the traffic) and the unlit concrete barriers along the highway that one must dodge to escape tragedy.

10. Running at the rain. It's the only time I get, and the monsoons are getting frequent. But heck, I need the exercise.

Yeah, so I might miss some things in Manila though I do not necessarily pine for them. Besides, would I miss up on the chance to catch up with family and friends whom I have not seen in ages? Clearly not.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In My Shoes

It was two weeks ago when dad texted me from Spain, triumphant that he was clasping in his hands a pair of shoes that he just knew belonged to me. "They're purple," read the last sentence of his SMS.

I don't think I realized how vibrant the hue was until I opened the motionless package atop my desk the other day. The shoes were practically iridescent. Screaming and not shy. Brash and unashamed.

For over 40 years, members of my family have been gifting me with the most animated articles of clothing they can find, assuring me that my personality can get away with such fashion. And so sometime in my life I've owned snake skin boat shoes, an aqua fanny pack, a wooden necktie, a belt of skull prints, polka-dotted socks...the list is endless.

I guess what surprises me is how I, the shiest member of the family, am perceived to have the most flamboyant sense of style. But they're absolutely right. I can strut the stuff they dish out to me without batting an eyelash, as if on a dare with the stakes so high. Trouble is, I don't know if I can still manage to carry the look in this day and age. After all, I'm no David Arquette.

But yesterday, I put on my spanking new shoes. And they felt quite good.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Back in The Running

After a 3-month hiatus due to a foot injury, I've decided to take that leap of faith and get back into running. So the other night, after the rains had died, I laced up my trusted Nikes and began to stretch my muscles (or lack thereof). I programmed my iPod for a 5km run; after all, I don't think I was ready for anything further. Besides, I was wary about that right foot failing on me once again.

And so I took off, careful not to slip on the wet asphalt lest I fall and injure myself more so in the process. It was a breezy late night and all seemed nice and calm throughout the first km--until the rains began to fall yet again. Heavens, I thought. Not only were the slopes of my usual route dangerously slippery, I feared pneumonia was not far behind, hot on my heels. But I dared not stop.

I ended my routine soaked to the bone. Ok, so my foot sensed no pain. But my pace slackened by a good 20secs/km. It was time for a hot shower and some ibuprofen. I've got some catching up to do.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Pain of Victory

Just a month ago, after my trip to Shanghai, I accomplished a feat which some friends my age would envy: I ran my first 10K and timed in at 57'21". The nike plus website puts me at #144 among the fastest males in the Philippines who have run that distance. And among the same set but within the 4o-44 age bracket, I am ranked #14 (in 5K, I am ranked #9 clocking in at 25'11"). I am hoping of course that there are at least over 20 Filipino males aged 40-44 with a Nike iPod, subscribing to that website!

But it seems the euphoria of running my first 10K dampened the performance of my succeeding runs. The next 2, which were 5Ks, were decent, but they lowered my average pace per km by some 5 or so seconds. Worse, on March 29, during an 8K jog, I hurt my right foot badly. By the 2nd km, I noticed a sharp pain between my 3rd and 4th toes; but not wanting to disrupt my routine, I instead endured the entire distance by shifting weight and applying less pressure on the troubled spot in my foot. I seemed fine after the run. The next morning, however, was a different story.

A dose of 120mg of Arcoxia for 3 days relieved the pain significantly, though a stabbing hint would persist the following weeks. Today, thankfully, I hardly feel a thing (except when I deliberately apply sustained pressure to the area). I'm counting on nature to heal me completely in the near future. That's because running has become a dear friend. And like those who go away for an extended length of time, I am missing this friend sorely.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Shanghai Sojourn

Among the treats of my job is the occasional opportunity to travel, whether that be to gather consumers insights around the country or to exchange notes with colleagues around the world. Most recently, my sister Monique and I were invited to a business conference in Shanghai; and though we looked forward to the learnings we would take home from the exhaustive sessions, a good part of us was longing for the little downtime we had to enjoy the city's splendid offerings.

Admittedly, I have had the chance to visit a good number of cities around the world in my youth, as my parents believed the best gift they could give their children apart from education was travel. Oh, but unlike my sister, I have not had the pleasure of visiting this part of China, and heck, who knew if I would have another chance?

We did our share of shopping at the copy markets (a fancy name for tiangge of fakes) in Xiang Yang and Pudong and in the luxury retail outlets of Huai Hai and Nanjing Xi Lu, but perhaps the most interesting was the antique market at Dongtai Lu. While I had considered buying a pair of Chinese cymbals (those things that keep clashing and crashing during Chinese opera), I chose instead to photograph the many curios that lined the street.

Of course it would be a sin not to sample the local cuisine, and so we made time for one local Chinese meal outside our hotel. Armed with just our fingers to point at photos of dishes that piqued our visual interest, we prepared our tongues for the unknown. First off, a crispy chicken dish that was more chili than fowl. Then some minced meat with tofu, baby shrimp and peanuts. And how could one go wrong with fried noodles? This one had asparagus, more shrimp, bamboo shoot, mushrooms, and ham. And for dessert? Sticky rice sweetened with light syrup and molasses, and filled with various seeds and nuts. Each dish seemed good for three. Nothing was left (save for some pepper pods). The bill? the equivalent of Php 500. Beat that!

Notable too about Shanghai would be the unique architectural shapes that grace its cityscape. Our hotel (Grand Hyatt) and the one across it (Park Hyatt--once the world's tallest hotel) are pillars of contrast in the business district of Lujiazui, with one like a many-faceted crystalline tower, and the other sleek and smooth. Pudong's Science and Technology Museum, on the other hand, is cosmopolitan glass complex that feels like a city in itself, and the nearby Oriental Pearl Tower (the third tallest TV and radio tower in the world) is a virtual rocket ship. I wish I had more time to survey this city with so much eye candy scraping the sky.

I believe that one is never too old for globe trotting (does it not seem that wherever tourists are, elderly folks are there, perpetually on travel mode?), so I hope I get many years still to tour the world. Although I have started young, there is just so much world to see but just one life to live. I've got to start planning my next itinerary.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Concert at the Tent

Forget that I had to be at the airport by 5:30 am the next day; I wasn't missing Dianne Reeves's concert at the Rockwell Tent last March 2nd.

When I hit forty, I noticed that I had more frequently begun checking out upcoming concerts and purchasing tickets even if no one else I knew could join me. Who cares if I went alone? Live concerts present an electrifying experience that no CD can ever duplicate, and I wasn't going to deny myself the sensation. Luckily this time, fellow music enthusiasts Eric and Marge Barro, who live minutes away from Rockwell, were game for an intimate evening with jazz diva Dianne Reeves.
After a brief dinner of dimsum and rice toppings at Mongkok in Powerplant, we took our seats at the tent, mere meters away from the stage, in time for the opening act--The Mike Stern Quartet. The set was a most curious blend of syncopated jazz rhythms and haunting melodies from this 4-time Grammy nominee. 

"She's going to sing her ass off," the guitarist soon warned, and then it was time for Reeves to mesmerize the crowd. 
There is a masochistic pleasure in attending the performances of such accomplished artists (at least for a part-time musician like me); it is in being enveloped by someone else's art, surrendering to their music, and realizing you will never be as talented as they! Unless of course, even at forty plus years, you still see yourself as a work in progress and heed the advice of Reeves's grandma: if you want to see better days, you've gotta be patient.

Dianne Reeves was a most gracious entertainer and dedicated performer, praising the Filipino audience for being such natural musicians, and thanking us all with every heartfelt note. There is a reason why she is most respected in the global music industry. And while I may never approach the status of artists like her or any of those in her band, I'm glad I can witness such virtuosity in my lifetime.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fatal foods, deadly delicacies.

I burn roughly 60 calories during every kilometer that I run. So let's say I've been following the general rule of 3 meals a day at 600 calories per meal, plus 2 snacks a day at 200 calories per snack, then I would have to jog nearly 37 kilometers to burn everything I ate that day. Of course this assumes that nothing else I did, burned any calories. But I suppose you get the drift: shedding off unwanted mass can be daunting.

What more if you were as I am, who can't resist a food trip?

The website encourages viewers to "submit your deliciously gross food" by uploading pictures of treats that do a good job of ending your hunger pangs but an even better one at ending your life all together. The photo above is of a Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe--uh huh, ground beef, onions, and sweetened tomato sauce, not in a hamburger bun but in those famous glazed doughnuts. Hmm...I wonder how many kilometers I'd have to run to burn one of those. 

Meanwhile, here are more photos (and mind you, these are the tamer ones) from that website. Hungry, anyone?







Thursday, February 5, 2009

Running for my life

As a Christmas and birthday gift to myself, I purchased a new pair of running shoes, the new iPod nano, and a Nike + iPod sports kit, all to hopefully kick into high gear my attempt to run a marathon.

Ok, I'm not aiming that far. But I am aiming to lower my blood pressure along the way.  In truth, I started running more consistently again last year, but not at the level that I feel I should to keep away the meds. Then high school buddy John Alcordo told me he had lost 30 lbs running 3 to 4 times a week, and that he was setting a personal goal of 10K in 1 hour by the end of 2008. And so I picked up the pace.

What I love about my Nike + iPod is the data I receive after each run. All this time, I had thought that my usual route was a 5K distance. Not. Apparently more like 6.5K. And so I pushed further, going 7K, 2-3 times a week.  Last week, I started doing 8K. My time, close to 42 mins. My average pace, 5'15" per kilometer. Hmmm, maybe I should challenge John to a 10K run soon.

I guess you could say I am running for my life. I know I am not getting any younger, and that I have to repent for all the crispy pata, binagoongan, sisig, bagnet that my youth consumed. But more than that, I am running for my life because there are so many wrongs to make right, so many colleagues to learn from, so much family to love. I want to live longer to behold the successes of my nieces and nephews, to commiserate with my friends on their misfortunes, to absorb the kindness of strangers. One more pupil I could mentor, one more secret I could share, one more miracle I could witness, would certainly be worth one more kilometer on the road.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My birthday martini

Tell me, must I be shaken or stirred by this birthday message that awaited me at the lobby of our office yesterday, January 26 (2 days late as my birthday fell on a Saturday)?

Man of Style

This dashing PR and Advertising man
is the resident heartthrob of
Euro RSCG Manila,
known for his quiet presence,
boyish good looks and chic style.
He is a product of exceptional brilliance
in accordance to the strict standards of
28 years of Agatep tradition.
Distinction has been recognized under the name
Norman since 1966.

Born and raised in Quezon City, Philippines
1 of 5 BROS & SIS  BS MGMT 87 AB COMM 88 (ADMU)

All right, so a martini is traditionally made with gin, and the classic drink is often stirred so as not to bruise the alcohol (whatever that means) though James Bond used to insist that his poison of choice be: shaken, not stirred. 

And me on this birthday message? Times have changed and today's bars often replace gin with the other clear spirit, vodka. Then there's Bond in the 2006 Casino Royale flick who, when asked about his martini, retorts: Does it look like I give a damn? While my supposed "quiet presence" might seem as aloof as Daniel Craig's Bond, I will at least admit to being slightly moved by my birthday poster.

So there. Thanks to fellow creatives and occasional drinking buddies Jojo and Lambert for the unique gift.

Meanwhile, should you wish to fix yourself a Dirty Martini, put together 6 parts of vodka (or gin), 1 part dry vermouth, and add a splash of the brine from a bottle of olives.  It's the olive juice that give this martini its twist. Shake or stir as you prefer.

I'm mixing one tonight.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Once more with feeling

During a post-Christmas dinner with close friends last December 28, Rica pointed out that I looked more tired than ever. Funny, I thought, since I was done quite early with all the panic-shopping (I tend to overdo the spending bit) precisely because I wanted a less stressed holiday; however, I admitted I was still reeling from the company Christmas bash that I organize every year (I tend to overdo that too). She suggested my haggardness was a result of everything that had elapsed in December, including all the activity during my high school reunion (come to think of it, I overdid my involvement there, didn't I?). 

There and then I began to sense the weight of the entire month descend upon my shoulders, and it didn't feel good. Plus the thought of the coming new year and my 43rd birthday rushing by seemed only to add to the burden--until all went numb.

But some days have passed since then. It's January 26th, and as I type from my laptop, a solar eclipse during the lunar new year is taking shape in front of me, outside my window. Not that it means anything to me except that the Earth has moved, and I with it, and perhaps during that brief period I've found some time to recover and to start feeling again.

I guess all I mean is that I'm back to writing. And boy, is there much to say.