Thursday, 30 November 2017

A Pinoy @ The Movies: Murder On The Orient Express

I can’t recall ever reading an Agatha Christie book in grade school. There were a few Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew’s, and a handful of Shakespeare’s and Homer as well. Maybe Agatha’s books were too thick for me. Ha-ha-ha! But of all the detective books I read, my favorites were always Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

And I think that’s where the difference lies.

If you saw the Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law (both amazing actors, by the way!), you’d see them as straightforward, detective work, much like Murder, She Wrote. Although, Murder, She Wrote was less bloody and violent, more like detective stories for old maids.

Here, in the Murder in the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh, both the lead and the director, made the movie look more human by looking into the why’s -- the motives of the murderer or murderers (you have to watch the movie to find out!) as to why he/she/they did what he/she/they did!

I’d just assume you haven’t read the book, or read the synopsis of the movie and novel, so I won’t give out spoilers here.

There were three reasons why I wanted to watch it. First, it’s an all-star cast! I would have watched if only for Judi Dench! But there’s Michelle Pfeiffer! Kenneth Branagh! Penélope Cruz! Johnny Depp! Willem Dafoe!

Second, it’s a period movie about a train that travels through the snowy valleys and mountains of Europe! I just didn’t want to feel like a moviegoer, I also wanted to be a tourist!

Third, my godmother told me she’s been on the Orient Express with her husband. Of course, she was talking about the late 20th century ‘modified route’ of the Orient Express. After she retired, they both decided to travel and they got on Orient Express! She told me it was pricey! And no murder during their trip!

Traveling through time and through exotic places is always fascinating, and this movie gave me a glimpse of what happened on a luxurious train ride from Istanbul to Europe during those days. Passengers, who were initially strangers, actually spoke to each other during the ride, and not just lost themselves in their smartphones and social media accounts posting narcissistic photos of themselves.

People read books, conversed with each other, exchanged ideas, and eventually got to learn about each other. Of course, an occasional murder made the train ride more interesting, too!

Watching the film didn’t feel like it was a mystery waiting to be solved. It was a train ride that I didn’t want to end. The CGI sceneries showing the exotic landscape over which the train passed, the Wailing Wall and the bakery scenes, where I could almost smell the newly baked Turkish bread, and the snowy mountain passes that made me realize it’s just as freezing outside the cinema because it’s winter - all made me forget that there was a murder to be solved! I got lost in the journey like a real tourist!

And if there was a picturesque train ride, there was also drama on how the murder was solved. One victim, one detective, 13 suspects and one dramatic scene in a tunnel to expose the culprit, or culprits!

Agatha Christie would have been proud! This was more than just a murder. It was a luxurious train ride, fabulous wine and desserts, and then murder to cap it off!

Yes, I’d also like you to watch it. But lucky me, my cinema ticket was actually discounted since it was Culture Day yesterday in Korea, when cinema tickets are discounted for films showing from 5PM to 9PM every last Wednesday of the month!

When the film ends, please don’t hurry to leave your seat. Stay for the closing credits and listen to the song. Its melody is sad, and the lyrics even sadder! I immediately recognized the voice; it’s Michelle Pfeiffer’s! She was nominated for an Oscar Best Actress her singing role in the Fabulous Baker Boys, remember? That lady can act and sing!

You have to watch the movie to get the essence of the song. And when I got home, I looked it up in Youtube and read the lyrics, and realized it’s one of the saddest movie songs ever! And I think it will win an Oscar for its composer, Patrick Doyle, and because it will be nominated, I’m so looking forward to watching Michelle Pfeiffer perform that song at the Oscars 2018! 

The song is Never Forget. Haunting, slow, sad. Its lyrics will connect you to the movie as if each of the character sings Never Forget after such tragedy of losing a loved one. Am I giving away too much?

I hope you can tell me how you’d find the movie and the song.

And don’t forget to bring tissues!

Here's the song:


Wednesday, 22 November 2017

My Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Men

Acrophobia is the fear of heights, and I guess if you're applying to work as a window cleaner in Seoul, the first question you're asked is "Do you have acrophobia?"

(The brave window cleaners and my neighborhood)

I would have wanted to ask these guys cleaning the windows of our apartment building that question. But I think it's moot, or they would have told me to close my windows so they could clean it.

Hanging a few hundred feet above ground, dangling and swaying on the side of a tall building, these fearless guys clean your dusty, dirty apartment windows. Dirt usually comes from the yellow dust and air pollution.

But before they're scheduled to clean, the building management tells everyone to make sure their windows are closed before they leave their apartments. Some buildings in Seoul though have windows that don't open.

But ours can be opened, which I like. I could easily let fresher air (or polluted air depending on the day!) come in into my place in case it gets stocky. The windows, by the way, could only be opened to a limited degree for safety reasons. 

And on the morning when they started cleaning, I tried to peep out my window to ask them if I could join their outdoor picnic.

       (Your friendly neighborhood spider-men)

Instead, I closed just my window shut, or they would have told me to join the Cirque de Soleil instead. Ha-ha-ha!

Thanks to these guys, my windows are clean, which gives me a clearer view of the city. 

Did I tell you from my window I can see Myeongdong, Seoul Tower, Namsan, Dongdaemun, Gwanak-san, Lotte World Tower, and of course, the airplanes from afar that are about to land at Gimpo Airport?

So the next time you see these guys dangling on the side of a building, try appreciating their bravery. They're your friendly neighborhood spider-men.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Today in Philippine History: November 17, 1898 and General Martin Teófilo Delgado's Revolution

        (The Philippine flag flies over Santa Barbara 
             in the Iloilo Province, Philippines)

Thinking about the Philippine history, I just found it funny that both sides of my ancestry may have participated in it somewhere down the line.

On my mother's side, my maternal grandfather's sister-in-law told us that my grandfather's ancestors came from a small city in Cebu Province, carrying one of the family names that traces its roots to Lapu-Lapu, the brave captain of the natives on the Mactan Island who fought off Ferdinand Magellan, his Spanish soldiers and a thousand of rival natives a month after Magellan landed in the Philippines. 

Ferdinand Magellan, or Fernando de Magallanes, stumbled upon the Islas Filipinas for Spain on March 16, 1521, and unfortunately for him, he got killed on Mactan Island with his head probably ending up as Lapu-Lapu's prized trophy that was eventually displayed on his front porch.

Now, on my father's side, there was this general who fought against the Spanish government in the Iloilo Province. His name was General Martin Teófilo Delgado and according to my aunt, my grandfather used to tag along with him when my grandfather was a kid.

On November 17, 1898, General Martin Teofilo Delgado got his soldiers to put up a flagpole made of a long bamboo in front of the house of Señor Vicente Bermejo. And after the revolutionary leaders' meeting inside the house to set up their own independent government, they all went outside and stood in front of the revolutionary army and a crowd of locals from different towns and villages in Iloilo Province.

                  (General Delgado's statue at 
                  Santa Barbara's public plaza)

And upon the General Delgado's command, the two soldiers raised the Philippine flag to the Philippine hymn being played by his brother Posidio Delgado's band. When the flag reached the top of the bamboo pole, it danced with the tropical breezes and the crowd cheered!

"¡Viva Independencia! Fuerá España! Viva Libertád!", shouted the General to the crowds, celebrating their independence from Spain. This was an important moment in Philippine history.

         (1858-1918; The General lived until 60.)
(A gun on his left hand and a sword on his right)

The raising of the Philippine flag in Santa Barbara, Iloilo Province that day was the first outside of Luzon. That year the Philippines gained independence from Spain.

And 119 years ago this day, November 17, a gallant Ilonggo, and an ancestor, led the historical moment at Santa Barbara in the Iloilo Province.

(The marker that says the Philippine flag should be permanently hoisted all year long, day and night, and illuminated in front of the Santa Barbara in Iloilo)

        (The 120-foot pole and one of the only five 
         giant Philippine flags flying in the country; 
           this is the only one outside of Luzon)

So on one of my many trips to Iloilo, I made sure I visited Santa Barbara and visited the General's statue standing bravely at the public plaza. Just like it was on November 17, 1898, General Delgado's statue faces the Philippine flag with his arms raised in victory with a gun on one and a sword on the other. Finally, I was able to pay my respects to a fearless and honorable ancestor, who probably didn't even care about recognition or pedestals for himself. 

The public plaza was just right next to the beautiful Santa Barbara parish church, which we made sure we also visited.
             (The beautiful neoclassical facade of 
                      Santa Barbara church)

The biggest Philippine flag outside of Luzon flies proudly on a 120-foot pole over Santa Barbara that celebrates today the 'Cry of Santa Barbara'. It is one of the only five giant Philippine flags flying in the Philippines.

And along with the people of Santa Barbara, and probably along with a few distant relatives still living there, I join you in celebrating this important day in Philippine history.

(The main altar retablo features the patron saints) 

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Cooking 101: What's In A Happy Meal?

                           (Burger made from veggies)

Well, I was sure they didn't invite me because, like the rest of the hungry world, I love to eat. They could just have invited anyone crossing the street. But I had to accept the invitation; their school activity was interesting.

I was invited to judge a cook-off at a local elementary school here in my hometown. The competition was about cooking a meal at the lowest cost.

What's in a happy meal? I asked. Well, if you ask McDonald's, it's french fries, burger and a soda.

                             (Shrimp lumpia)

But at the cook-off, it's nutrition!

Yes, the winning meal should not only be economical but also be nutritious and appealing to kids.

Most dishes included fish and vegetables, ingredients which are cheapest to buy and nutritious, too. Some competitors brought their A-game, decorating their table with attractive ornaments as if to get more points for the effort. 
           (Seashells with veggies and mango bits)
               (Fruits and vegetables on display)

But I was not about to be swayed by the presentation alone. I had nutrition and the taste in mind, a dish that would encourage a kid to actually eat and enjoy the dish.

There were shrimp lumpia, the super nutritious pinakbet, seashells with vegetables and mangoes, eggplant with pumpkin and bitter gourd, and tilapia cooked in coconut milk and garnished with ripe mangoes. I think there were other two dishes whose names my taste glands have forgotten for now. Ha-ha-ha!

         (Eggplant with pumpkin and bitter gourd)

The winner was actually the tilapia cooked in coconut milk and garnished with mangoes. Well, for one, fish is a good source of protein and, two, the mango in the dish perked up the taste, which I was sure any kid would enjoy. 

After we made the rounds, I asked the other judges for their favorite. It was unanimous. The tilapia won, and the moms who made the dish were ecstatic! The principal got to bring home the dish, by the way. Ha-ha-ha!
      (Pinakbet with rice and banana. Ready to eat?)

If you're cooking today, is your dish as nutritious?

Monday, 6 November 2017

A Pinoy @ The Movies: Thor: Ragnarok

It was Cate Blanchett who invited me to watch Thor: Ragnarok than Chris Hemsworth and his hammer.

Her unmistakably deep, husky voice suited her very well as Hela, the goddess of death. Cate has always been a mean enemy, just like she was in Elizabeth: the Golden Age, where she admonished the Spanish ambassador to "go back to his rat hole".

I so pitied Thor and Loki while Hela was kicking their godly asses during their god-to-god combat scenes. Hela was more powerful than any of them. But as to how both guys fared, you have to watch the film.

         (This time it's Bravo! Yellow Cab Pizza)

Watching Thor: Ragnarok was actually the topping on my pizza that day, literally. Thanks to Yellow Cab Pizza, my tummy was full before I went to the cinema.

A couple of weeks before, I tweeted Yellow Cab Pizza to complain about the boring pepperoni pizza I had before I headed to the Masskara Festival grounds in Bacolod City. And as good companies usually do, they listened to their customer!

Yellow Cab offered me free lunch that day to make up for the previous disappointment. And before I left, I complimented Jonalyn and her staff at Yellow Cab Pizza at the SM Mall in Bacolod City because, this time, their pepperoni pizza was full of cheese and their pasta was yummier. So thanks to Yellow Cab Pizza! Burp! 

And just like my lunch, the movie was fun and worth it. Yes, it's a comic-book movie with flying superheroes from other galaxies with Earth-ly, cheesy humour and Star Wars-y spaceships. So, be prepared to enjoy it like a kid. Though you may need popcorn, I, on the other hand, needed an iced java coffee to cap my pizza and pasta.

After the movie, I could still hear Cate Blanchett asking, "Dear brother, what were you the god of again?"

Though she was a bad girl, I never forgot why she was the reason I watched the movie. Sorry, I'm not a fan of Thor and Loki; I'm not from Asgard. Ha-ha-ha!

So, if you're also watching Thor: Ragnarok, don't forget your popcorn. Or pizza. Or pasta

Friday, 3 November 2017

Kaon Ta!: Enjoying Silay City's Gastronomic Heritage

               (My mom and her friend Jenny)

Silay City on the Negros Island in the Philippines is famous for its history and heritage homes, the most famous of which is Balay Negrense owned by the Gaston Family. 

But aside from its rich history and famous children, Silay is also famous for its local delicacies the recipes of which have been handed down from generations of Silaynon families. I can always attest to that as my favorite snack stop in Silay is El Ideal - located on the ground floor of a grey, heritage house by the national highway near the City's public plaza.  

My oldest memories of Silay delicacies were courtesy of Tia Bodok, an old lady vendor who traveled to Victorias from Silay while balancing her wide flat basket full of panara, dulce gatas, salab, and other snacks made in Silay.

Well, thanks to El Ideal, I can always satisfy my craving with a trip to Silay whenever I am on the island.

And last year, we were able to enjoy, not just El Ideal's menu, but the rest of Silaynon's recipes!  Held at Balay Negrense grounds, the Kaon Ta! food festival celebrated the gastronomic history and delights of Silay, and we were glad we made the trip! 

'Kaon ta', short for 'makaon kita', means let's eat.

    (Monsignor Gigi Gaston's adobong milyonaryo)
      (The freshest lumpia made on the spot!)
           (Panara is also a childhood favorite)

We made it to Balay Negrense that day, just in time for merienda. And at the first stall, Monsignor Gaston's adobong milyonaryo greeted everyone, inviting them to try his own style adobo. We weren't able to say 'hi' to Monsignor Gigi as we just missed him; he left when we arrived. Fortunately, he was able to make it to my birthday lunch at home a month after that.

             (My mom and Jenny enjoying their 
            sightseeing before sitting down to eat)

You can just imagine my drooling as I jumped from one stall to another with all those displays of yummy delicacies from 'heritage' recipes. See? Silay City has not only successfully preserved its old homes and converted them into showcases of its heritage, but the Silaynon families also preserved their family recipes and shared them with tourists and visitors from everywhere! 

Bravo, Silay!

Of course, we spent a few hours enjoying the food that afternoon, and we left just before it grew really dark. We were so full we didn't feel like having dinner that night when we got home. Burp!

              (A live band serenading the guests)

So, if you missed Kaon Ta! last year, you have another chance to enjoy Silay City's famous recipes on June 9 and 10, 2018, at Balay Negrense grounds from 10AM until 10PM!

I'm already thinking of the panara and the fresh lumpia, but you're probably thinking of other heritage dishes waiting for our tummies!

Ganî, kit-anay guid kita tanan sa Silay!

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

October: The Month Of The Holy Rosary

I remember during my grade school days at Don Bosco Technical Institute in Victorias in the Philippines, the whole school would gather around the statue of the Virgin Mary next to the dormitory building and pray the Holy Rosary all together.

This was done on Fridays in the month of October, the month of the Holy Rosary. 

And this month, since I was home, I was able to participate with my mom in the parish's living rosary that was done in front of our parish church.

Of course, I had with me the rosary the kind Sister Beneditta gave to me at the Dubai International Airport. This, to me, is a very special rosary, since I was a stranger to Sister Beneditta, and yet she gave me her rosary. As I recounted in my blog about her kindness, I never saw Sister Beneditta again during our Emirates Airlines flight from Dubai to Rome. Neither did I ever see her even when our plane landed.

All my childhood years studying at Salesian schools, devotion to Mary was encouraged. That's why my classmates and I grew up knowing Mary, the Help of Christians as our Mother, who's always looking over us. 

So, were you also able to join your parish's Holy Rosary this month?