Friday, 25 January 2013

A Pinoy At The Movies: Les Miserables

I thought I would miss this movie before I left Seoul for my Christmas vacation.

On December 18, the day before the Korean presidential elections, I claimed my free movie ticket at CGV Yongsan to watch Les Miserables the next day. Since the 9AM first screening was too early for me, I asked the CGV ticket girl to save me a seat at the 10:50AM screening.

The next day, I thought I was late. I got into the cinema at 11AM and found a guy sitting on M14, my seat.   Thinking that he must have switched from another seat, I whispered to him that he was sitting on mine. We couldn’t understand each other, so I went out and asked for help from an attendant at the lobby. She examined my ticket and told me my ticket was for today all right, but at….10:50….PM! Waaaah!  Not only did I go into the wrong screening, I almost kicked out a moviegoer  from his own seat!  Ha-ha-ha! Soh-reee!
                   (Roaming around I-Park Mall to kill time)

Back to the attendant. I told her my flight out of Korea was at 9:30PM and I definitely wouldn’t be able to stay any longer even if they let me sing along with Hugh Jackman at the 10:50PM screening. But with the help of her manager, they changed my ticket to the 12PM screening. Wheew! That  was close. I didn’t see that mistake coming!  No wonder the audience was already so quiet and still when I got into that screening. They were already in the middle of the movie! Ha-ha-ha!  (Lesson: make sure nothing is lost in translation when buying a movie ticket in Korea!).
                                  (Bulgogi lunch!)

After disaster was averted,  I went around I-Park Mall to kill time before I grabbed a bulgogi lunch and a drink before the 12PM movie.

                                        * * * * *

Now, on to the movie.
Even on the first five minutes of the film, I immediately noticed that Russel Crowe was a miscast. His singing sounded nasal and funny, ‘ Maximus Decimus Meridius (his character in Gladiator) was written all over his forehead, and it seemed he had trouble squeezing into Javert’s uniform. A few more baguettes with French cheese and wine, and he would have had Napoleon Bonaparte’s waistline. I could easily name a couple of Hollywood actors who could have played (and sung) Javert. And with a French twang to boot!

And even without the songs and the gorgeous performances of Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables,  was a novel with stories that were easy to like and relate to:
  • a convict who violated his parole and ran for an elective office (I know a few from Philippine politics. Ha-ha-ha!);

  • a single mom struggling to raise a child, who then was raised by a single dad (very reality TV);

  • a girl who has crush on a guy who has a crush on another girl (very tele-novela),

  • a crusade which failed because they didn’t have enough supporters-slash-‘Likers’ (very Facebook!). 

And let’s include the notorious couple who runs an inn, which could have been easily featured at Gordon Ramsay’s TV show,  Hotel Hell, and  Fantine’s workplace full of backstabbing colleagues (I actually know a few! Ha-ha-ha!) and a supervisor who could have been found guilty of sexual harassment at any labor court.

I was thinking, Les Miserables, without the singing and songs, is the 19th century version of ‘The Fugitive(Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones) and ‘Catch Me If You Can(Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks).

Though Monsieur Hugo wrote his novel in 1862, these stories are very 21st century still. No wonder the audience around me that day at the cinema were sniffling and wiping their eyes with tissue. They identified themselves with those characters.  And me?  My tummy was full with my bulgogi lunch from the E-Mart food court and I was sipping green tea latte from Angel-In-Us during the movie. I was fine. Ha-ha-ha!

Even before the closing credits rolled up the screen,  I thought Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne deserved Oscar nominations. 

I initially didn’t recognize Huge Jackman on the first scene. He was so emaciated and transformed that I didn’t know Wolverine was down there weight-training with the rest of the convicts using those huge ropes, while singing ‘Look Down’ as the lyrics synchronized with the cadence of a very wet workout. I was especially impressed with the way he carried the movie all throughout; this time without the help of any X-Men or his mutant powers. The only things he needed were his voice and his ability to convince us that, while Jean Valjean was a sentenced convict, one can change for better life:  first, by stealing expensive candelabras. Ha-ha-ha! Of  course, with the intention of returning them later.

Seriously, his singing was just superb with his voice firm and notes spot-on. And if there was dancing on his scenes,  Jean Valjean would have another career other than being mayor and the Adoptive Father of the Year.

Anne Hathaway, who admitted she didn’t have the voice for a real on-stage musicale, made us believe she was indeed an abused single-mom and factory worker, who could still sing a few bars while on her deathbed and sporting really short hair. This was far from her other roles as a princess and a superhero in a tight leather costume. I bet she will win a best supporting Oscar for this role.  Catherine Zeta-Jones won the best support actress Oscar after doing splits in prison while singing in another musicale, Chicago. Hathaway had her teeth pulled, her hair sold and was abandoned by her boyfriend after she got pregnant.  What do you think?
While the rest of those youngsters at the barricades were equally good, Eddie Redmayne’s peformance, as Marius, could not be ignored. Although I am not sure whether he was a good shooter as there was no body count on how many French soldiers he was able to kill while firing from a pile of tables, sofas and chairs (isn’t French furniture expensive?), his portrayal of an ‘heredero’ (heir), who’s trying to keep a low profile as a revolutionary, stood out.

Redmayne’s own moment came when he sang  ‘Empty Chairs and Empty Tables’ on an abandoned tavern, complete with real tears flowing down his cheeks. That, to me, was a performance difficult to match. But in some bars in Seoul, once in a while, you’d encounter some drunk men singing.  Although the water flowing down won’t be tears from the eyes. Ha-ha-ha!

The other actors like Amanda Seyfried (the adult Cossette, a blonde) and Samantha Banks (the adult Eponine, a brunette) were good as well, but they were just pretty icing at the barricades.  Banks was too pretty to be Eponine (she played this role at West End), which left me wondering, how could Marius ignore her pretty face when he was with her all the time?  Maybe he preferred blondes, or maybe he just wanted to marry a mayor’s daughter in preparation for a bright, political career. But had he known Seyfried’s dad in Red Riding Hood was a werewolf, he would have changed his mind.

And the other couple, the Thenardiers, was off. Sacha Baron Cohen seemed drab and corny, and Helena Bonham Carter, maybe because of her partner, seemed uninspired. While partnering with Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, another musicale, she was in her elements. Unfortunately this time, she’s paired with Baron Cohen, who’s way below Depp’s league. They should have cast another wicked couple.

At the end of two-and-a-half hours, I wasn’t burping anymore from my bulgogi lunch. I was singing at the barricades. Ha-ha-ha! And the audience around me? Well, most of them were busy wiping their tears and blowing their noses for the last time.  

Leaving the CGV cinema and rushing home to catch a flight at Incheon International Airport, I was totally impressed with the whole movie. Even if you cast talented unknowns for those big roles, the songs and the lyrics alone would have caused my neighbors to cry.

And as my Cebu Pacific flight that night did not have any in-flight entertainment, watching Les Miserables that same day was, for me, the best in-flight movie ever.  

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Guryong Village: Sharing The Warmth, One Briquette At A Time

This has been a nasty winter. On some nights, the temperatures even dropped to -16'C. And when this happens, I remember the homeless people at that pedestrian pass between the Yongsan Station and the electronics mall behind it. At night, they would pick a spot and lay out their big cardboards on which they would sleep and cover themselves with. This scene is replicated at other subway stations all year round.

While most of us may be comfortably lying on our soft beds inside our comfortably heated homes this winter, we have some unfortunate brothers and sisters who may not have the same luxuries we enjoy and take for granted every day...and night. I just wonder how they are able to get through the very cold night sleeping on the cold pavement.

So when our volunteer group sent out an invitation for an activity to deliver briquettes to one of the poorest neighborhoods in Seoul, I immediately thought of joining. Although I was told to be easy on my back by my spine doctor, any pain from carrying those briquettes would be nothing compared to the conditions  people of this village have to go through every day.
                                                            (Dogok Station)
And on a very chilly December day, I made my way to Dogok Station in the Gangnam-gu area to meet up with my fellow volunteers. Right next to Dogok Station are Tower Palace I, II and III, residential buildings whose units are one of the priciest in Korea. From there, we took a 10-minute bus ride up to the bus depot which is right next to Guryong Village.
                          (The imposing Tower Palace)

Guryong Village is situated at the foot of Guryong Hill. Hence, the name. I was told, during the redevelopment of Seoul decades ago, the ones who could not afford to buy their own homes ended up living here, which is actually considered an illegal settlement area. That's why the residents do not receive administrative services from the government. 
                      (The bus depot next to the village)

And those living here are mostly old people. Perhaps, in their 60s and 70s. Or may be older? One can just imagine a grandmother or grandfather who sleeps in an unheated room and in the dark. And since these shanty homes are old and damp, molds usually grow on the walls, causing lung problems to any one living in it. And most homes don't even have running water or toilets.
                             (Snow and neglect have covered the village)
                  (This grandma, standing near her home,
                       welcomed us into the village)

And when we got there, we were briefed by a volunteer-in-charge at the village, and were assigned the homes to which we were going to deliver the briquettes. I wasn't surprised we were not the only volunteer group who signed up that day. Several volunteer groups from around Seoul still care to look after this village.

We had to put on plastic gloves over woolen ones as briquettes were oily. And on top of our clothes, we needed to wear aprons to protect ourselves from the soot and dirt while handling the briquettes, which are actually molded coal that can provide heat when burned. It's cheap and a source of heat in homes where electricity is not available.

And as hundreds of briquettes were already deposited by the road side when we got there, we only needed to bring them into the homes, and the most efficient way was to form a relay line along the narrow alleyways, starting at the pile of briquettes up to the recipient's home.

Well, they weren't that heavy. Each weighed about 3-4 kgs. and, although passing them from one volunteer to another was mechanical, it was actually fun by chatting and exchanging jokes with one another. Both time and briquettes flew quickly by.

There were about 36 of us, and we were able to relay about a few hundred briquettes over two-and-a-half hours. We started about 9:45AM and ended around 12:15PM, with a short break after a few 'home deliveries'.
                           (Taking a break with coffee and bananas)
As expected, I felt my back complaining by noon, but I shrugged it off knowing it would go away after giving it a rest. 
                                                        (The heat is on!)
                  (A briquette burning and providing heat)

After we were all done, we all gathered for lunch at a restaurant within the village area, and had some spicy and hot kimchi-jiggae and soju after a chilly morning's volunteer work! 

And as we made our way back to the bus stop, from afar, I could see the Tower Palace residential buildings, which were just a couple of kilometers away. I found it very ironic. One of the poorest neighborhoods in Seoul, where most of the neglected people live, sits in the Gangnam-gu district, probably the most affluent area in the city, and just a bus ride from the priciest homes in Korea. I just shook my head in disbelief. Sad, isn't it?

                       (Tower Palace buildings from afar)

But what's also sad was that these very cold days and nights in Guryong Village won't go away any time soon. Spring is a couple of months away. But by doing our share of volunteerism on that cold winter morning, each of us was able to share the warmth with our less fortunate brothers and briquette at a time. 

Saturday, 19 January 2013

The Korea Grand Sale And My Discounted Groceries!

Just in time of my return to Seoul, the Visit Korea Committee launches the Korea Grand Sale!
How timely! My refrigerator is empty! I need to get some groceries! 

Yes, people, the Korean Grand Sale does not only include shops selling clothes and shoes, it also includes....E-Mart! Even the information officer at #1330 didn't know about this. I called #1330 to inquire how much worth of groceries do I need to purchase in order to get a discount from E-Mart. She initially didn't know. I told her E-Mart was on the list. In 2011, I was able to get discounts for my groceries. This year, I intend to get some again! 
And after I got the Korea Grand Sale coupon at the customer service counter at E-Mart, I just needed to buy KRW80,000 worth of groceries or household items so I can get a KRW5,000 discount. That's about a 6% discount!
And now that I got my groceries secured, I might as well move on to some discounted clothing, too. 

While the shops in Myeong-dong have all their winter clothes and jackets on sale, I was zero-ing in on those spring and summer shirts. I already have a lot of winter clothes and jackets that could last until the next Ice Age. I was more interested in those shirts and pants that I could wear in the tropics while on vacation.

And luckily, H&M still have some of those shirts left! They sold those for KRW15,000 last December. Now, they're down to KRW5,000! Discounted summer shirts in time for global warming. Ha-ha-ha!
 And not to be outdone, ZARA also has discounted items in the men's section, too. Some summer shirts and pants, but no likeable shoes, though. 

Of the discounted items I was able to get from the Korea Grand Sale, I am most happy with my groceries. Why? They already fed me and kept my home clean. An instant happy shopper! Ha-ha-ha! And I still have to wait for summer to wear those shirts!

So, if you haven't availed of the Korea Grand Sale discounts yet, make sure you visit their website:

And check the list of participating shops and outlets. You might be interested in those winter clothes. 

If you're heading to Myeong-dong, check out the shops starting from the Uniqlo store next to Exit 6 of the Myeong-dong Station, then work your way down from there.

Now, do I get more discounts from the Korea Grand Sale for blogging about this? Ha-ha-ha!

It all ends on February 28, by the way.
PS. I saw this kiosk selling some hard biscuit (at KRW3,000 each) coated with different flavors. I asked to buy the chocolate variety, and the guy put it in a small bag and hammered it into pieces. Well, the biscuit was very hard. No wonder he hammered. And I didn't taste any chocolate. Not worth it. I should have gone for the 'keran-pang', that hot bread with a whole boiled egg inside. Next time.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Si Juan Ay Na-Ponce-Enrile!

Late last year, I asked my friend, Fay, to buy for me Senator Juan Ponce Enrile's autobiography. I was interested to read about Philippine history, especially during the Martial Law, from his point of view. Or what he wants everyone to believe. 

The book arrived in Seoul handcarried by another friend, Cielo, who brought from Manila Mary Grace ensaimadas and cheese rolls, and some hopias, El Ideal cookies and other goodies also brought by my other two friends, Jenny and Itchay.

As of today, I haven't finished reading the book. Why? Maybe I was just too busy with other things. Or maybe I just find other books and magazines more interesting to read. But I promise someday, I will try to finish it as I don't want my friends' go to waste. Otherwise, the book will just gather dust in my kitchen. (Yes, I turned my kitchen into a mini-library, where my old books and magazines now don't smell like paper)

But lately, I am just disgusted at the scandalous news I read at about Senator Juan Ponce Enrile giving away millions of taxpayers money to his fellow senators? 


Kanami sa imo ba? Daw imo guid ambi ang kuwarta nga ipanghatag mo lang. Wala ka guid naminsar anay? (How good of you! You thought the money was yours to give away. You didn't even think.)

When I was home last month, almost everyday on TV, I saw the situation of the hapless victims of the typhoon Pablo in Mindanao and typhoon Quinta in Panay Island. Kaluluoy man sa ila. Although I did my own share to help, they really need more.

Senator, did it even cross your mind that maybe, just maybe,  your fellow kababayans need the money more than your fellow senators? Did it? Hindi mo man lang inisip yung mga kababayan natin na mga walang makain, walang mainom, walang matitirhan at walang hanapbuhay dahil sa bagyo?

Puede mo ba mabawi yung pera na yun at ipamigay mo sa mga Pilipinong talagang nangangailangan nito? Puede ba?

Naalala ko sa libro mo, I remember that part, where you said you were able to escape from the Japanese soldiers. Napa-iling ako. Wow, I told myself. Talo mo pa si Evelyn Salt! Hindi nga siya nakatakas from her North Korean captors, pero ikaw, ni walang training, nakatakas! Ang galing!  (Kung hindi mo kilala si Evelyn Salt, watch Angelina Jolie's movie).

Now, I don't know if I will have the interest to continue reading your book, which some say is actually fictional, not autobiographical. You don't seem to feel for the Filipino people. Senador ka pa naman. Ewan ko nga ba bakit ka pa tumakbo, eh, ang tanda-tanda mo na. Dapat nanahimik ka na lang sa mansion mo somewhere and let the younger generation run the country.

Umiiling pa rin ako tuwing maalala ko itong ginawa mo, although I know hindi lang ikaw ang gumagawa nito. Kami ngang mga OFW ay nagtatrabaho nang malayo sa pamilya para mai-angat ang kabuhayan. Pinag-dadaanan namin ang hirap at lungkot para kumita. Tapos, ikaw, pinamimigay mo lang? 

Hay, naku. Kelan ba talaga kayo diyan magbabago?

Wala na akong tiwala sa 'yo, Senator. Ang kawawa ay ang mga karaniwang Juan na na-ponce-enrile mo.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Aside From Christmas, Why Do I Come Home?

                     (Christmas at the Incheon Airport)

I was finally able to fly out of the Incheon International Airport while the temperature was about -6'C. Everyone seated at the pre-departure of Gate 127 that night was eager to board the plane and be flown out to the warmer and more festive atmosphere of Manila. 
                        (Chestnuts always remind me 
                                     of Christmas!)


Every December, I fly out of Seoul to spend my Christmas holidays here at home in the Philippineswhere the celebration is just on a different level

Here, the Christmas carols sound more joyful, the parties are more fun, the gift-giving more exciting, and the holiday dishes taste more yummy! And all these are more memorable when enjoyed with family and friends. 
And as I was seated by the window on that late-night flight, I was sure I wasn't the only one in the plane thinking about the get-togethers and family reunions during the holidays. 

I was already thinking of the Filipino food I need to savor. Once again, I'd be able to taste the flavors, smell the aroma and most of all, relive the memories of enjoying these delicacies and dishes from home.  

                                (Chicken inasal!)
                           (Brownies from the mall!)

And days before Christmas, as most families, we usually head off to supermarkets and fruit stalls to make sure we have our traditional fare on our noche buena table. Aside from chestnuts, the taste of apples, grapes and oranges are in the memories of my palate since I was a kid. (And fortunately, these were all available at cheap prices at my neighborhood fruit market in Seoul!)

And on the day before Christmas, we celebrate my parents' wedding anniversary, gathering around the noche buena table to enjoy, not only what's on it, but also the company and love of everyone around it. (Noche buena refers to the night before Christmas. It is Christmas eve, which means 'a good evening' in English.)
           (Lechon is a roasted pig, which is a staple during 
              big family occasions in the Philippines.)
                   (Our local parish church is adorned) 

But why do I come home? 

Christmas and its celebration, with all the food, fireworks and fun, are secondary to why I do.  The shopping, the dining and traveling around the places and neighborhoods that I miss are also secondary. Although the homecoming ceremony of packing my suitcase and rushing to the airport may be exciting, the long journey I always take from Seoul to this place feels like a routine that I have already perfected all these years.

And as I write this piece on this house where I grew up, around the people who have influenced me, I feel happy, safe and at peace.

My journey always feels complete when I reach the top of the stairs that lead to the door that has welcomed and bidden me all this time, and into my family.

This is why I come home. 

I belong to this place. I am home.