Saturday, October 31, 2009

It's Good to be Back in LA after Feasting in Manila

For those of you who are thinking that I have been buried under the debris of two tropical storms in the Philippines, the answer is that I am now back in Los Angeles. I have been unable to post my blogs as quickly as before due to the unreliable Internet service in Manila, which had a habit of drifting off to Neverland while I was in the middle of writing an e-mail. Well, it does not end there. On my arrival on Tuesday evening, I found out what I have been dreading all along, that my DSL modem at home had given up the ghost, leaving me at the mercy of free WiFi at Borders and Starbucks.

I am writing this at a Borders Bookstore in Glendale, and for while, before I signed up for a free Borders account, the bookstore's WiFi provider, refused to take me to my blog site. So having found that out, I immediately, quite painfully, gave out my personal information, in exchange for free Internet connection. Aaargh!

I have been inured to the depressing news that Manila television networks were dishing out day in and out, not to mention the slightly annoying style of local newscasters delivering those depressing news stories. They sounded like auctioneers selling cows at a cattle sale. Every morning and night, the news programs showed graphic pictures of the devastation, plus wailing women and men who had lost their homes and members of their families. Whole barangays under water and assorted images of the deplorable conditions in the affected areas.

After I had done my duty documenting the floods in Pasig City (posted in an earlier blog), it's time for some quality time with friends and former colleagues from San Miguel Corporation. My first reunion was with a small group of former SMC officemates that was organized by my cumadre and avid blog reader, Ebol Adorable. She and Ingrid Firme fetched me from my temporary home at Two Serendra, an Ayala-developed condominium complex in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig, then took me to Sentra, a modern Filipino cuisine restaurant in Greenbelt 3, Ayala Center. Bert Pasquin, a former SMC officer, and Yett Aguado, who was one of my writers when I was media relations officer at the public relations office, were already there when we arrived. Mabee Unas, who is a busy bee, now very much involved with Gawad Kalinga, also came, and so did Ron de los Reyes, now a successful broadcast motoring writer and marketing man, and Art Cuevas, also of my staff, who is now into farming, and was helping Ron promote the Quezon City International Marathon. Art Cariaga, a very good friend from way back in college and former SMC officer, could not make it, but took me around town a few days later. Eat
your heart out, Dolly Pangan-Specht.

These former co-workers, all of them retired from SMC, are doing very well in allied careers. Ron is shuttling between Manila and major Asian cities working deals with automobile companies, drive-testing their cars, and running and promoting marathons in Manila. Yett Aguado had written a book about Filipino culture; Bert Pasquin had retired with a multi-million peso purse; Ingrid Firme, who is now a Filipino-Canadian, shuttles between her home in Vancouver, Canada and Manila, where she operates a burgeoning import business. Ebol Adorable, who recently wrapped up a Masters in Education at the University of the Philippines, looks very prosperous, indeed. Her husband, Boy Adorable, my compadre, is an electrical engineer and now a government contractor. He now tools around town in a sleek, brand-new 7-Series BMW sedan with a 3-liter twin turbo diesel engine. He tells me that a businessman needs a tremendous car like a Bimmer in order to get respect, and I believe him.

Art Cariaga, the witty, smart, former SMC AVP, also retired, had written two books recently: one on the 100th anniversary of the University of the Philippines, Los Banos, and the more recent, "Infanta," a coffee table book on Infanta, Quezon, that was illustrated by photos taken by my friend and contemporary, artist-photographer, Emil Davocol. I am really impressed at the achievements of my friends.

To celebrate our reunion, we feasted on "kare-kare", without the oxtail and tripe, native hito (catfish) in a teriyaki sauce, and grilled liempo (pork loin), and chicken, Bingoongang Karne, and steamed rice. But what I retained most about this reunion were our remembrances of good and bad times together while we were employed at the then largest public relations office in the country. I would be invited to more lunches and dinners in the course of my vacation at home, and I will be blogging about some of them soon. For now, I worked through this one with difficulty, knowing that some of my SMC friends have been dying to look at our pictures.

Publish Post

Friday, October 9, 2009

This is Antipolo Today

Remember Antipolo, the pilgrimage town located on the hills above the Rizal towns of Cainta and Taytay? Much of the town looks pretty much the same as I remember it from when my family used to take excursions there when I was young. The streets, paved now, are busy with foot and vehicular traffic. The Church of the Virgin of Good Voyage is the epicenter of human activity, even on a Thursday afternoon when we paid our respects.

I can't remember how the altars looked when I was young, but seeing them for the first time after so many, many years, I can't help but be in awe at the delicate ornateness of the church's altars. This church has three: the main one, and two sub-altars on the right and on the left sides of the church near the vestibule. The two sub-altars draw many devotees, and the the right one features a larger-than-life size image of the Black Nazarene, similar to the venerated image in the Quaipo Church.

On approaching the church courtyard in a van, we are greeted by a young man beseeching us to patronize the souvenir store that belongs to his family, even before we get out of the car. First, we have to secure a parking space in the church courtyard. My wife's cousin, Tess Villacorta, whips out her senior citizen card and shows it to the security guard, and we are let it. Talk about the advantages of reaching sixty.

Competition is intense among the vendors, and some of them employ itinerant hawkers just like the young man that greets us. One of the long-standing culinary attractions of Antipolo is the suman malagkit wrapped in palm leaves, and we buy a bunch of those. Our hosts, Lou and Tom Victoria, owns Bougainvillea Hotel and Resort located about one kilometer away from the church. It is small and quaint hotel and resort with a first-class restaurant featuring superb Pacific Rim cuisine; a mid-size pool and a jacuzzi, a large function room and two videoke rooms.

Bougainvillea is located in a sloping piece of land along the town's main street, bounded by a small stream, still rushing with run-off flood waters. The grounds are planted with huge, decorative and fruit-bearing trees. Tom, an engineer, designed the landscaping himself, creating a mini-oasis replete with several family suites and rooms with the latest in modern amenities. We are talking restrooms with flushing toilets, air conditioners, and piped-in music.

The resort's tranquil atmosphere is helped in no small measure by the lushness of the vegetation and the ground cover. It is green everywhere, and the trees and the grass cover are in their most verdant at this time of the year.

Antipolo -- although it was hit squarely by typhoon Ondoy -- does not suffer from flooding due to its high location. But it suffered a number of landslides, and I saw evidence of these as we wind up the two-lane highway to the town. Driving through the heavily-devastated towns of Pasig, Cainta and Taytay while traversing Ortigas Avenue Extension, I see pictures of Ondoy's onslaught: unsightly mounds of garbage on the street-sides, muddy evidence of water marks on the sides of commercial and residential buildings in Pasig and Cainta; documents air-drying in front of business establishments, and disabled vehicles, some of which are undergoing repairs right on the side of the road.

I am amazed at the breadth and depth of the Metro Manila megalopolis; the new skylines dominated by commercial and residential towers; the new, wider highways and parkways, the many shopping malls, and the many other real estate developments. New cities, like the Bonifacio Global City, where my family and I stayed at the Ayala Corporation-developed Serendra condominiums. The biggest surprises are the mega-sizes of these developments: the blockbuster Mall of Asia, the trend-setting Market! Market! and the other great malls in Makati, like The Glorietta, Landmark, SM, and the posh and modern, high-end Greenbelt Malls. I will be writing about them in future blogs.