Saturday, 31 October 2015

Philippine Witches: Why I was Scared of the Aswang!

            (The full moon as seen from my                          neighborhood in Seoul)

The full moon that rose from the horizon and hovered over Seoul tonight reminded me of the scary stories I heard when I was kid. When it was late at night and the moon was full, and everyone was huddled together next to the big window with cool night breezes blowing in, it was the best time to tell scary stories. And those stories sounded even scarier with the neighbor's dogs howling.

Although there are many supernatural beings in the Philippine folklore like the kapre, tiyanak, multo, or tikbalang that scare kids, let me just talk, for now, about the aswang. (By the way, when I was a kid, I have seen a kapre in an actual photograph that was taken in the early 1970s, and there was no photoshop then!).

'Aswang' is the local word for a Philippine witch, which unlike their western counterpart, does not need to ride a cleaning tool to fly. In Hollywood movies, witches need a broom to take off and defy gravity.  The Philippine witch does not need a broom; they simply splash on their witches' oil, pick a hidden spot in the forest, spread their big bat-like wings, and their body's upper half separates from the rest! 

An aswang could be a man or a woman. During the day, they're just ordinary people. But at night, they turn into a cursed being, craving to feed on other humans, especially babies and children, and the occasional unborn child, or someone's liver or innards. The scent of a pregnant woman excites and makes an aswang salivate.

Since most aswangs I heard of were women, let's talk about their 'dress code'. In the olden times, the women in the barrios usually wore 'baro at saya' (blouse and skirt), and when the upper half of their body separates to fly, the lower half from the navel to the feet are still covered, keeping to the conservative tradition of the Filipinos. Yes, even witches observe decency. Ha-ha-ha! And leaving behind the other half of the body on the ground probably agrees with the laws of gravity and aerodynamics. It's easier to fly with no excess baggage! I wonder if the aswang of the 21st century now comfortably wear kaftans for easy separation and flight?

And since aswangs (I'm not sure if I can pluralize it that way) are usually women, they have long, black hair, bloodshot eyes, big fangs and their sense of smell can pinpoint a newborn miles away. I remember when my young sister was still a baby, I clearly heard the 'tik-tik-tik-tik' sound near our second-storey window one night; it was loud and it was past midnight. My sister was crying like she was being vexed and my grandma was cursing and even threw water out of the window, expecting to chase away whatever, or whomever, was out there. The aswang usually makes a 'tik-tik' sound whenever it is around. Maybe it tries to pretend it is some kind of a nocturnal bird. But when you hear that sound at night, while walking alone in a rural village, do watch out. Something might be waiting for you a few steps ahead.  

I grew up in the Negros Island in the middle part of the Philippines where the landscape is dotted with haciendas. These are agricultural farms planted with sugar cane. If you happen to visit Negros Occidental, you would land on an airport which has one of the postcard-perfect views.

And throughout my childhood, I heard stories from people living in those haciendas about the aswang, kapre and all those other scary creatures that, not only embellish the colorful Philippine folklore, but also scare kids who are too stubborn to go to bed early!

I heard the aswang do not victimize the people from their own village, so as to avoid suspicion, or being caught by their own neighbor. Victimizing other people within the same village, or hacienda, would definitely arouse some suspicion among the very nosy and gossipy neighbors. In small villages, the order of the day is sunrise, gossip, then breakfast. Or sometimes, sunrise may not even come first! Ha-ha-ha!

From the aswang stories I heard from people living in the haciendas when I was a kid, I remember two names who were believed to be aswang. Those stories made me very curious that, when I was big enough, I had to ask someone to accompany me at around 1PM one summer day to quietly walk past the house of that aswang in the hacienda. The house looked eerie and was isolated from other houses. I was able to satisfy my curiosity, but saw no aswang. Or so I thought? All those stories I heard about them were from their own neighbors, who, I wondered, might have embellished their stories to make them scarier. 

The Philippines is an archipelago made up of thousands of islands, and the stories about these creatures coming from different islands were very consistent as to their description of the aswang, the way they transform into an animal, and the way they victimize. And as they say, if there's consistency, there could some truth in it. Could it be that they're actually real?

There was even a story of a famous aswang. It was so famous that it was serialized as a drama over the radio. Teniente Gimo, or Colonel Gimo, was a famous aswang in Dueñas, Iloilo Province. As he was a head of a barrio; he was addressed as 'teniente', the Spanish word for colonel. According to stories, Teniente Gimo mistakenly killed his own daughter (whom they eventually cooked!)! As to how his story went, you can just google it.

The last movie I saw about the aswang was 'Yanggaw'. I bought its DVD. Here's a video clip featuring 'Yanggaw' as one of the most frightening Filipino horror movies. 

And as I finish writing this aswang blog, I am thinking of watching my 'Yanggaw' DVD to relive the stories!

And in the meantime, Happy Halloween, everyone! 

Watch out for the aswang in your neighborhood! 
(The aswang painted green with her bat-like wings and separated torso is depicted in Carlos Francisco's painting 'The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines' displayed at the National Museum of the Philippines in Manila)

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Why I Won't Fly Turkish Airlines Again!

           (My boarding pass to Istanbul en route to Madrid, 
                  and the flight was TWO hours delayed!)

The Turkish Airlines advertisement says, "You will feel like a star".

Well, Turkish Airlines, you didn't exactly made everyone feel like a star on our flight to Istanbul; like everyone else, you made me feel like shit!

I flew Turkish Airlines during the chuseok holidays, on September 27 to be exact, to have a vacation in Spain. En route to Madrid, I had to make a stopover in Istanbul, Turkey. But before my vacation, I had to endure torture first! I didn't even have to leave South Korea to experience that!

When our 11:20AM boarding time came and went, my fellow passengers and I felt something was wrong. I even approached the Turkish Airlines staff at Gate 113 of the Incheon International Airport to ask what time we were boarding as I needed to make my connecting flight to Madrid; the staff couldn't give any specific answer. And after two hours of delay, we finally flew out of Incheon Airport!

I wonder if there's a science regarding the serving of in-flight meals during a 12-hour flight? Why? Because on the 10th hour, I was starving! 

The crew served the first meal about an hour after take-off. Since the flight was delayed, everyone who didn't grab a bite while waiting for the flight must have been hungry by then. I noticed the passenger next to me voraciously gulped down his meal; he was obviously hungry. I had a feeling that he wasn't able to eat anything while we waited for two hours at Gate 113. I, on the other hand, decided to get something to eat at the airport, or I would have starved, too.

After that first meal, I waited again for eight hours for the next serving. I wondered, for a 12-hour flight, should there be eight hours in between meals?

An hour before landing, I informed the female flight crew that I had a connecting flight to Madrid, and I would definitely be missing it. She told me that the ground staff must already know about it and that they were probably doing something about it. Hmm. I tried to believe her.

But when I got to the Transfer Desk of Turkish Airlines, there were already a lot of passengers lining up to re-book themselves. Although I noticed three (3) staff attending to the queue, I noticed two Turkish Airlines staff (one male, one female) standing and chatting on the left-most side next to a computer monitor. A male passenger, who was flying to Munich, had to ask them whether 'they were working', to make sure he wasn't bothering their chat. Jeez. With the long line of tired, hungry and sleepy passengers in front of them, shouldn't the Turkish Airline staff be focusing on attending to their needs, and not just to chat the night away?

After giving me a new boarding pass for the 7:40AM flight the next morning, the Turkish Airline staff told me to go to another Turkish Airline office next to the Starbucks, which is at the arrival area. This means I had to clear Turkish Immigration! That office would give me my hotel arrangement for that night in Istanbul, Turkey. As a rule, airlines have to book the passengers in a hotel and provide them with meals.

And as I needed to get out of the airport, I needed a visa for Turkey! And no Turkish Airline staff even raised the idea that I might need a visa in order to get out of the airport!  I had to get one from a machine and paid US$25! 

And last week, when I arrived back in Seoul, I called the Turkish Airline office in Korea and asked whether they would refund my visa expense. She told me I had to raise my complaint to their office in Turkey! WTF? Getting out of the Istanbul airport and sleeping in Turkey were never part of my vacation. Why do I have to shoulder that visa expense? 

When I finally was able to go through the Turkish immigration, I had to find that Turkish Airlines office next to Starbucks. But when I approached three sales ladies at the shop right after the Immigration to ask for directions, they just looked away and didn't want to be bothered. They must have been busy gossiping and didn't want to be interrupted. At that moment, I realized this was the general attitude of the service staff at the Istanbul Airport. And as I was moving around asking questions about the visa and directions, the most common response was: "I don't know".

With the rest of the passengers who missed their flights, I arrived at the hotel almost 10PM, and we were all told that they would provide dinner at their restaurant, and that we had to hurry as they would close at 10PM! 

And not only that, I had to get up at 4:30AM to catch the 5AM airport bus they were providing, even though my flight was at 7:40AM!  They said that if we didn't catch the 5AM bus, we had to get a taxi later and pay for it ourselves. 

I should have arrived in Madrid at 11PM that Sunday. Instead, because of the 2-hour delayed flight from Seoul, I arrived in Spain about 1PM on Monday!  I practically lost one day!

And while that all happened, I never heard any apology from Turkish Airlines for ruining my first day in Spain! I was starved, forced to run around helpless at Istanbul Airport, forced to pay US$25 on a visa I didn't actually want, and was stressed, fatigued and got an aching back and tired legs that day! What a shitty experience!

And as if that torture wasn't enough, on my journey back to South Korea on October 8, my flight from Barcelona to Istanbul was also delayed by one hour! I missed AGAIN another connecting flight, this time back to Seoul! 

My fellow passengers to Seoul and I had to jog around Istanbul Airport again running from our arrival gate to Gate 219 in order to catch our connecting flight to Korea. But unluckily, the gate was already closed when we got there and had to walk hundreds of meters again to the transfer desk, and waited again with our tired, sleepy bodies for the midnight flight to Incheon Airport.

Before I booked my Turkish Airline flights to Spain weeks ago, I looked up its reviews online. They were mixed. Some bad, some good, some horrible.

But since I had this first-hand experience myself, I swear I'll never ride Turkish Airlines again! 

I am also thinking I should avoid passing through the Istanbul Ataturk Aiport. It's chaotic, very crowded, and has a very poor lay-out, and the airport staff have a very poor attitude. It seems the term 'customer service' is not in their vocabulary. If you're heading there, I advise you to avoid the Sbarro restaurant inside that airport's food court.

So, if you read Turkish Airlines' advertisement that they would make you feel like a star. 

Don't freakin' believe it.

Friday, 23 October 2015

The Unreliable iRiver USB!

In July 2015, I received a 16 giga-bite USB flash drive from the Seoul City Government as a prize. I thought it was dependable; I was wrong.

And last month, I decided to bring it along during my vacation during the chuseok (thanksgiving) holidays. But a few days before chuseok, I had to visit the iRiver customer service center in Sinchon, Seoul, to have it formatted because when I first tried to open it through my laptop, it wouldn't open. I should have treated it as a sign.

A sign of its untrustworthiness and unreliability!

The trouble started when, in the middle of my vacation in Europe, I transferred some photos and videos from my Samsung smartphone to the iRiver USB to free up memory space in my smartphone. This was the reason why I brought along the USB, to store the photos and videos I took during my vacation. 

For the first two days, I was able to transfer the files, which was less than 3 gigabytes. But on the third day, when I attached the USB to the smartphone, it couldn't read anything on the USB. F#&@%!

Then on, I didn't attempt to open the USB while I was on vacation. I only tried it again on my laptop when I got back to Seoul, but failed.

So, last week, I went back to the iRiver customer service center in Sinchon to have it checked. The female staff, who couldn't speak English, tried to open it with her computer, but told me the USB was empty and even asked me if she should re-format it! I told her I transferred a lot of photos and videos into the USB, and it should not be empty. And she wanted to re-format it?? That would have erased anything on the USB! Geez, these people have no common sense!

She then called a male staff (if I recall it right his name was Daesung Chung), who also tried to open my USB with another computer. He, too, said it was empty. I asked him to explain what could have had happened, but since his English wasn't good either, I just surrendered to the idea that all the photos and videos of my first few days of vacation were lost forever! 

So, what to do now, iRiver? I am asking you why you sell these unreliable and undependable USBs in the first place? 

You successfully ruined the memories of my vacation in Europe!

Nobody should trust iRiver products ever!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Please Take Your Seat!

         (Seats reserved for the elderly,                      pregnant women, the disabled 
                and the injured)

In all Seoul buses and subway trains, there are seats reserved for pregnant women, disabled or injured persons, and senior citizens. 

But in the news last week, a pregnant woman riding the Seoul subway claimed one of those seats, but was accosted by an older Korean man because he said she was too young to be sitting there. Fearing the safety of her unborn child, she moved away.

And yesterday, when I took the subway on my way to Myeongdong, I noticed a pregnant woman enter the train and took a seat at that reserved spot. But after a few seconds, she stood up and moved to join the other passengers at the regular seats.

I then wondered, was she also afraid that the same thing could happen to her? That an angry and older Korean man would kick her out of her seat?

A few years ago, I asked one of my colleagues in the office who was pregnant at that time on whether some people ever gave up a seat for her in the subway. She said 'no', and just shook her head.

But even in the buses, those seats aren't exactly given up for those entitled to them. Some young passengers would either pretend to be sleeping or pretend to be busy with their smartphones, or would simply ignore an elderly standing next to them. Sometimes, even a mom with a baby getting into the bus would hardly be noticed by those sitting on those seats. According to locals I asked, the signage on those seats is just...a suggestion. WTF?

This means passenger education is needed to teach the riding public about the etiquette to be observed on the bus and in the trains in Seoul.

And how about the etiquette on the planes? Let's not even go there. That's an entirely different story. Ha-ha-ha!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The FEU Dance Company @ The Philippine Embassy in Seoul!

It's very rare to see a Philippine dance troupe perform in Seoul. The last time I saw a performance was during one of the Philippine Independence Day celebrations. But recently, a group of locals and a few lucky Filipinos based in Korea were able to enjoy performances of Philippine dances right in the heart of Seoul.
        (The Karatong dance of Palawan Province)

Yes, geographically speaking, the Yongsan District is situated right in the middle of the city, and that's where the Philippine Embassy is located. And one cool autumn afternoon last week, we were fortunate that a famous, prize-winning dance troupe from the Philippines found time to show everyone why they won the 3rd prize at the 2015 Cheonan International Folk Dance Competition held at Cheonan City in the South Chungcheon Province from October 7 to 11 this year.
         (the Ragraksakan dance of the Kalingas 
                of Northern Luzon region)
(In the dance, the Kalinga maidens balance their labba baskets on their heads. Only with poise and perfect balance can you dance with these. Don't try this at home with your mom's celadon pots.)

The FEU (Far Eastern University) Dance Company, led by its director, Mr. Martin Lopez, and its artistic director, Mr. Edward Malagkit, entertained the crowd of Koreans and Filipinos at the parking space of the Philippine Embassy. As the folk dances required a bigger venue, the multi-purpose hall of the Embassy just wasn't be able to accommodate the formations and instruments, not to mention the pageantry and the energy!
     (The Maranaw Suite of southern Philippines)

Here's a clip of the Maranaw Suite:

So, congratulations and thanks to the FEU Dance Company for stopping by our neighborhood with your lively dances, colorful costumes and music! 

And thanks to Ambassador Raul Hernandez and Vice Consul Ella Mitra for organizing such a rare performance right in the middle of Seoul!

Sa uulitin, po!
(And they dance hip hop, too!)
             (FEU Dance Company members posing 
                         with their fans in Seoul)

Monday, 19 October 2015

A Pinoy @ the Movies: The Martian

       (Matt Damon is MARTE in Español)

When I was in Barcelona two weeks ago, I spotted this Marte poster at a bus stop. If only it was small enough, I could have borrowed it from where it was posted. That day, I asked around whether there was cinema nearby where I could watch it. Sadly, the cinemas were too far from where I was staying.

But instead of watching The Martian at that side of the planet, I was able to watch it closer to home, at the Lotte World Mall, whose cinema claims to have the Guinness World Record for the largest fixed 35mm projection screen. I wonder if having a bigger screen would also make the red planet bigger? Hehe. 
(Lotte Cinema's Guinness Book certificate)

Anyways, on the first few minutes of the movie, I immediately realized that the lead actors, Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain were both in Interstellar. In Interstellar, Chastain was able to reach Saturn, while Damon reached a very far planet outside the Solar System.  And here, in The Martian, they're both content with a planet just next to Earth. Ha-ha-ha! 

While I found the movie funny at times due to Damon's character and hate for disco music, its message was actually deadly serious. It's about a human being (Damon) trapped in a planet where nothing grows in sub-zero temperatures and waterless atmosphere, and how he was able to make do with what he had. And the scenes showing the view of space and stars from his lonely planet was spectacular.

Here on Earth, we waste a lot of food and resources, take our environment for granted, and still don't feel any guilt for all these. The scene where Damon, after learning he was trapped on Mars alone, was taking an inventory of his limited food supply and counting the number of sols (a day in Mars) it would last was perhaps a very good reminder for all of us that all the things we are enjoying now on this planet will not last forever. 

As to the lighter side of the movie, it was Damon's optimism and sense of humor that helped him survive being alone with all those disco music left by Chastain, being alone as a martian. You have to watch the movie on how Damon responded when Gloria Estefan started singing to him to "turn the beat around...let me hear percussion!"

And when he started to tinker with all those equipment and gadgets to prepare his trip back to Earth, Donna Summer sang "Hot Stuff" in the sand dunes of Mars.

The Martian is a funny movie with a very serious message, and thanks to my friend Inpyo, I got to travel to Mars through the world's widest screen at the Super Plex G of the Lotte Cinema inside the soon-to-be the tallest building in South Korea, the Lotte World Tower.

The Martian is worth the interplanetary travel, and I recommend you watch it. And if you're fond of disco songs, you may leave the cinema dancing, especially at the closing credits when Gloria Gaynor appropriately sings "I will survive!"

So, did the martian survive? Go watch and you'll find out.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Playing Tennis in Seoul!

My first ever visit to Seoul On my first ever weekend during my two-week visit to Seoul years ago, I was showed around Seoul by Bella and her husband Junggu. When we drove through the Hannam-dong neighborhood in the Yongsan District, I immediately spotted tennis courts  from the car. And even though I couldn't see the actual courts, those high light posts and tall screen wires were a give-away! That time, I knew they were tennis courts! But what I didn't know was that I would be living in that neighborhood, and those tennis courts would just be minutes away from my apartment! Who would have thought that the first tennis courts I spotted in Seoul would be my favorite clay courts in the city?!

And when I finally settled in that summer, I wasted no time and visited the tennis courts one weekend. And over the years, and perhaps a thousand forehands later, I have been playing on the best clay courts in Seoul! Well, since the courts are very good, rental for one-hour is quite pricey. 

According to my tennis friend, Dong-Eun, decades ago, the Korean government promoted the sport of tennis by creating tennis courts all over the country, usually around the neighborhoods. This was the time when the sitting president then was a tennis player himself. Maybe that's why I always see in the Hannamdong clay courts a lot of old ajussis and ajummas still playing in their 70s, and perhaps even in their 80s. Maybe when they were young, that was when the government promoted the sports, enabling them to learn tennis at a young age. And they're still playing well until now! I remember when I used to play at the clay courts of Sogang University, I played doubles against Father Thomas, a Korean Jesuit priest. I was told he was already in his 90s!

                          (Go Seoda of Japan)
So, if you want to polish that forehand and improve that backhand, you can always find a tennis court around a cluster of suburban apartments near you. There are also tennis courts inside the schools and universities. 

In Seoul, the hard courts at Olympic Park (Olympic Park Station, Line 5, Exit 3) and Jangchung Tennis Courts (Dongkuk University Station, Line 3, Exit 6) are probably the best. 

While the neighborhood clay courts may do, the clay courts of Hannam-dong Tennis Courts (those on the 2nd and 3rd levels) are the best clay courts in Seoul. They're located in Hannam-dong in the Yongsan District (Beotigogae Station, Line 6, Exit 3).

                      (Duck-Hee Lee of Korea)
                      (Philip Bester of Canada)

The tennis courts of Olympic Park hosts the annual WTA event where you can see female professional tennis players slug it out against each other. This was the venue for tennis during the 1988 Seoul Olympics where Steffi Graf won the gold medal and completed her Golden Slam that year.

            (The Korean tennis prodigy Hyeon Chung 
                           being interviewed)

See you at the tennis courts!

PS. The photos below were from the ATP challenger event held at the Olympic Park in May, which was won by Go Seoda from Japan. The runner-up was the Korean teenage prodigy Hyeon Chung.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

My New Favorite Korean Snack: 씨앗호떡 Ssi-at Hotteok

                 (The hotteok kiosk)

I stumbled upon this snack by accident. I was just passing through the Dongdaemun area one weekend. As I was about to cross the pedestrian lane near Exit 5 of the Dongdaemun Station (Line 4), the kiosk next to the road caught my attention.

              (The lady vendor filling up 
                 the hotteok with seeds)

Actually, it was not the kiosk that caught my attention. It was hotteok! A different kind of hotteok!

Ssi-at 씨앗 hotteok, or hotteok filled with pumpkin seeds, is unique. The one I usually buy from Namdaemun Market is filled with caramelized cinnamon and nuts. This one is filled with different kinds of seeds and sprinkled with brown sugar which means every bite is....crunchy! And filling!

       (The various seeds that go into the hotteok)

Well, upon my first bite, I decided that this ssi-at hotteok would be my new favorite snack. That's why every time I am in the Dongdaemun area, I always get a few to bring home and enjoy crunchy bite at a time. :-)