Monday, February 25, 2008

Dammit... Larry J. Cruz is dead...

Dammit... Larry J. Cruz is dead...

For the unsophisticated pedestrian, Lorenzo "Larry" J. Cruz is the universal connoisseur best known as the cultural visionary who conceptualized, owned, operated several theme restuarants around Metro Manila, particularly in the Malate district, which is considered by many as the hub of Manila's literati and bourgois.

There was a time when I visited Cafe Adriatico up to four nights on a single week. Sneaking out late at night (as I was then only a teen-ager) with my notebook in hand (no PDA's back then, and laptops were a huge luxury), wearing shorts, top-siders (en vogue back then), to drive to Cafe Adriatico for a smoke and a cappuccino to scribble whatever verse streamed into my head. The waiters knew me by name, knew my drinks based on the company I had along, and even chatted me up from time to time. Heck, I even watched a few waiters climb from newbie, to manager... (a holler out to Domeng, Chris and Edwin, who is now a staple in also LJC-owned Cafe Havana)

Back then (around 1991), knowing the difference between an espresso, a cappuccino, and a latte meant you had an unofficial right to raise your nose a bit and wave off your commoner colleagues back into their Nescafe-stained cups and corners. The funny thing was, I was only 18. A subtly snot-nosed 18 year-old, who loved the taste of his coffee as much as the chattering sounds and slightly musty smell of Pledge on old wood permeating in the cafe...

But man, Cafe Ad' (as I refer to "Cafe Adriatico Premiere" abrieviatedly) made my neurons go totally wild and absa-tively alive... maybe it was something in the cappuccino... i don't know... But i wrote some of my best poems in there with that cappuccino in front of me steaming away...

I loved the place so much, that I always half-hoped that LJC (as Larry Cruz is usually referred to as) would drop by, and I would thank him for putting a place that has brought so much to my life. From time to time when the wife and I would drop in (more and more seldomly nowadays since I now live in QC), I would still hope a somehow of running into the cultural icon that was Larry J. Cruz.

Sadly, I never have. And now, I never will.

But for what it's worth... Thanks, Larry (can I call you "Larry", sir?)... Many hours and nights of my most important and formative years were spent in your cafe. I raise my cup to you, sir.

Mr. Lorenzo "Larry" J. Cruz passed away in Washington, last February 4, 2008.

Cafe Adriatico photo from, by Vijay Verghese

Weekend Northern Food Trip (Part 1)

The whole idea was to have a nice provincial Saturday evening at the wifey’s hometown of Angeles, Pampanga. With the highlights being a cool nostalgic food trip of merienda (snack) at Corazon, a visit through Nepo, and capped off by yummy lip-smacking sisig at Victor’s along the highway. (The wife detests the wildly popular Lucing’s sisig, which she finds too fatty for her taste. I personally like it BECAUSE of the fat content, and the sizzling plate serving doesn’t hurt either. But alas… the bitch, oh I mean the “queen” has spoken… heh heh…)

And so we were off to the NLEX (North Luzon Expressway), a.k.a. “the most unreasonably expensive tollway on this side of the planet.”

We quickly proceeded to the Corazon district in Angeles for halo-halo. This is not to be confused with Razon’s of Guagua, which has successfully proliferated and overpriced itself back in Manila. I’m guessing the actual name of the business establishment is “JaJa,” with the “Halo-Halo sa Corazon” added as a descriptive suffix. Nonetheless, it has been referred to “Halo-Halo sa Corazon” for as long as I remember…

“we went all the way to Angeles, and all I took was this really bad photo of a rather pedestrian streamer…”

Forgive this idiot for not taking a photo of a visually unremarkable dessert served in a rather common-looking drinking glass. The ingredients aren’t even colorful, just various shades of yellow and brown, and the white of the ice. But while the presentation was unremarkable, the taste, texture and experience are beyond description.

Thing is, all ingredients save for the evaporated milk are homemade, which guarantees that their taste will survive various government regime changes, and over-commercialization of the condiment makers of this earth. They make their own sweetened red beans, sweetened bananas, macapuno strips, and their secret recipe pastillas (custard), the thought of which makes my mouth water just remembering it. All these are spooned generously into the aforementioned unremarkable glass, topped with shaved ice, and finished off with evaporated milk.

Your mouth watering yet? :D

Now oddly enough, the spotlighted halo-halo is usually supported by side orders of pancit palabok, nicely tart and tasty dinuguan (blood stew, believe it or not…), together with the obligatory chunks of puto (white sticky rice sponge cake).

And we’re off to other corners of the once-glorious city of Angeles…
(to be continued)

Thursday, February 21, 2008



So I guess the travel brochures of our country will get just a wee bit thicker pretty soon. And right beside the breezy photos of Boracay, Palawan and the Banawe Rice Terraces, there will be photos of… syringes and scalpels?

Yep, that’s right. This gorgeous country of ours that has one of the most ironic shortages of manpower in the medical field is now going to promote “medical tourism.” The government has deemed us ready for it. We’re cheap, we’re talented, and we are not exactly very high up on the malpractice laws. Totally safe for doctors, I’m just not too sure about the patients.

Oh, and about talent, we sure have a lot of it. But by the time the aforementioned talent has been honed well enough to actually be useful, they hop on a plane and go nurse white people for up 10 to 12 dollars PER HOUR. But hey, we still got hard-working nurses here who slave and toil away at minimum wage, while counting the days when they can afford another round of Chickenjoy. We got great hard-working doctors and nurses in a lot of public medical institutions, whom our government officials hail as “modern heroes.” Especially since these self-same officials took the health budget and bought a few more techni-color lampposts to serve as their “legacy.”

Granted, the country could always use the added income of increased tourism, but there’s something to be said about the government’s penchant for capitalizing on the private sector, while not doing any real work.

In a CBS news report, an official from a major hospital here in Metro Manila reported that their number of interns took a total nosedive from 152 interns down to only five for 2007. The number of medical residents in some hospitals is also down by an average of 40% between 2006 and 2007. A poignant point of all this is that many of these talented doctors are leaving to become nurses, mostly in the United States. But the downgrade in career paths also means an upgrade in income. Fat chance they’ll get that here in a million years.

So, “medical tourism” is an ultimate irony, if you ask me. In a country where even the most basic forms of healthcare have become the avenue of the rich, a privilege to an affluent few, “medical tourism” is a big slap on the faces of our sick and ailing poor. Imagine the pathos when a foreigner bathes under the Philippine sun (swimsuits, straw hats and all), while waiting for the schedule of her next boob job, and her margarita is served by a waiter, who probably needs a cash advance just to pay for the doctor’s fees in his infant child’s next check up. Assuming his province even HAS a doctor available.


My ass…

Yes, yes, yes! We are ready for “Medical Tourism.” After laying down heavy taxes on professionals including the medical community, “Medical Tourism!” In an age where professional licenses and regulations are more and more suspect, and the over-hype in cosmetic procedures have lead to unscrupulous individuals practicing with unlicensed scalpels to cater to the poor but aspiring, “Medical Tourism!” While many rural areas have dying citizens for want of a mere antiseptic… all together now: “MEDICAL TOURISM!”

Yeah, we’re ready alright.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Multiple Lives

Meet Professor Rey.

Professor Rey was one of my professors in college a not too long time ago. He outlined to me to the concept of multiple lives, which I already had an inkling of from being obsessed with Batman.

Professor Rey enumerated being a keyboard player for an acid jazz band in some watering hole in Mile-Long (which has since closed down), a lawyer, and of course he was sitting before us as our professor for which subject for the life of me I could not remember. Three roles, he said. Three roles that afforded him release to different aspects of his personality.

I admired this concept of multiple lives and dragged my best friend to that run-down bar and rediscovered my annoyance for the genre of acid-jazz. Of course, through this all I also saw and acknowledged the talent of the musicians involved. I never knew how he was as a lawyer, but I supposed he couldn’t make any sort of claim without actually having that attorney’s license or whatever it is they call they document. And yes, he also reported for class. He relished in this, and probably passed it on to me.

A decade and a half hence, I find myself living multiple lives, along with a handful of other half-lives that live on only in my head. I make a living running a small advertising agency, which branches out internally into other multiple roles. I also perform a small function of serving the creative requirements of the family retail business in Baguio City. I am also a relatively active member of the Manila Jaycees. I am a frsutrated saxophone player who tortures my wife on not-so-quiet weekends. To top all that off, I am also a husband, and will soon be a father.

The Manila Jaycees are a curious thing. It asks one to accept and/or create obligations. These obligations are gladly met for various reasons. Some wish to make friends, some want to try and learn something new, some want to impress, some really feel the need to make a difference, some have them stuffed down their throats, and some just have way too much free time. Such is the fate of a Jaycee, whether of Manila or any other chapter for that matter. We accept the prospect of living these double lives and take on the baggage that comes with them.

Sometimes, when things happen at the same time, I find myself bemoaning how I seem to be pulled in different directions threatening to dismember me rather violently. But check this, for the most parts, our various so-called lives care little about how we separate them as long as we fulfill our commitments to each and every one of them well. If and when we make commitments, we are obligated to fulfill them. If not because we are Jaycess, but simply because we are reasonable and honorable human beings.

I have done my best to turn down certain projects and memberships in various committees. Not because I don’t like my potential teammates, but simply because I am afraid of not fulfilling my commitments and obligations to the degree I believe they deserve. I do not want to not fulfill them, but I have other so-called lives that demand for my time.

At some point, it must be said that turning down certain things should be forgiven, accepted and respected. But whenever these commitments are made and these obligations defined, they must be met and fulfilled to the best of one’s abilities in the spirit of not only a Jaycee, but also of honorable being gentlemen.

(oh, and a big wave to Professor Rey Olaguer in the one in a gazillion off-chance that he finds this.)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Flowers, Weddings, and the predicted Funeral...

I learned something new today...

I learned that if you want fresh cut roses to last longer, you have to cut off an inch from the bottom everyday (diagonally), so it will absorb water again.

Apparently, the ends of the stems seal up or "heal" or something in the span of a day. And thus, the bud can no longer suck in water...

Funky, huh? :D

I wasn't really planning to get the wifey flowers for Valentine's since we were in some agreement that the money would be better used to buy a new blouse for her. "New blouse in lieu of flowers," apparently... heh heh...

Then I got a text message from a friend who was helping sell some fresh Ecuadorian roses at a price I honestly felt was a bloody steal... (There's a nice couple who've made a rather healthy side business of flowers and floral arrangements. They apparently don't do retail, but were bringing in these Ecuadorian rarities for the occasion... Call them for weddings and similarly planned stuff. Call: 0917-8117071 and look for either Mike or Charo) So i reserved a dozen (the minimum order), and waited patiently for my wife to react on February 13, which was the delivery day... So react she did, and when I got home I saw rosebuds the size of fucking large eggs... damn beautiful...

A lousy photo of lovely beautiful flowers taken by a beautiful and happy woman on a very corny day...

When asked by my friend if the wife liked the flowers, I said: "She liked them so much, that if she wasn't pregnant right now, I'd have been sure to get her pregnant that night!"

I met the lovely flower-dealing couple today for coffee, and they told me about their rather blooming flower business (yes, stupid pun was intended). They mentioned about catering to a lot of weddings and other stuff except for funerals, since they couldn't be planned.

and all of a sudden, i felt just downright eerie... then I said, "If someone calls in for full floral arrangements for a wake, call the cops."

I mean, if you knew, or had an idea that you were going to die in a couple of weeks, would you order flowers? And wouldn't it be rather scary if one got a call, and the guy on the other line said: "I'd like a few bouquets for my funeral next week..."

(cue the Twilight Zone soundtrack...) Doo-doo... doo-doo... doo-doo... doo-doo...

So if you need flowers and floral arrangments for weddings, debuts, birthdays, anniversaries, and even funerals (just make sure you pay upfront and use a false name or they call the cops), call 7Lily Floral Atelier at the numbers above (you WERE reading, right? ask me again, and i bitch-slap you... but here's the number anyway... 0917-8117071 ).

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Movie Review: The Bucket List

Last Friday, we decided to kick off the weekend by catching Rob Reiner's The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.

The story revolves around two people from either side of the social spectrum (rich, corporate mogul Nicholson, opposite working class mechanic Freeman), who find their lives on the clock due to cancer. They strike up an unlikely friendship, and agree to together venture forth and complete a list of things to do before they "kick the bucket." Hence, the so-called Bucket List, which the movie got its name from.

Reiner gets the film off to a great start by using an ace up his casting sleeve: using Freeman's distinctive and mellifluous baritone voice to narrate the first few lines of the movie.

After a rather forced set-up wherein filthy rich but friendless Nicholson shares a room with middle-class trivia-genius family man Freeman, and both become rather unwilling friends. They are informed of their pending doom due their respective cancer situations and they both go off in the great unknown the live the wild life before death finally catches up with them.

Okay, some parts of the movie were admittedly cringe-worthy, such as the mock taunts they exchanged on the race track. But Nicholson and Freeman have such charm between them, that the viewer is just glad to see them both looking like they're having fun, which they look like they are. Of course, Freeman has always played subtle, wise, old characters who never seem to lose their cool, while Nicholson has always played over the top larger, than life characters who steal every scene they're in. So essentially, these guys just got on board to celebrate their own typecasts, which were thrown into a new fictional situation.

The chemistry between the leads is palpable, and the contrasting characters play off one another nicely. Even Freeman's cool baritone sounds off great opposite Nicholson's devious sneering drawls.

An underrated player in all this is Sean Hayes, as Nicholson's witty and tolerant assistant, who sufficiently spices up his scenes without interfering with the leads.

The script isn't perfect, the plot has the mass integrity of Swiss cheese, but two names practically guarantee a watchable (albeit in this case, forgettable) and entertaining movie: Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.

Definitely not a great movie, but it isn't so bad. And considering the body of work between these two guys, they're excused from making an effortless piece of fluff from time to time.

Recommended for fans.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Sacrificing Lambs... (From Manila Times' Manila Jaycees Minutes, Published Jan. 29, 2008)

Sacrificing Lambs
By Golangco, Jasper Lao, JCI-Manila

If you’ve never heard of Dana Batnag before, then I’m pretty sure you already have by now. But for the unenlightened, Dana Batnag, is a reporter of Tokyo-based news company Jiji Press. She’s the journalist currently gracing front pages all over the country for being accused of supposedly helping military fugitives escape in the recent unplanned demolition of the Peninsula Manila’s lobby last November 29, 2007.

What’s interesting is that the only thing the police have going for them is a video of Batnag in dialogue with Marine Capt. Nicanor Faeldon. I mean, what else do reporters do, right? They don’t have a transcript of their conversation, no written evidence, absolutely nothing substantial. But accused she stands.

Batnag is but the most recent victim of a culture of media vaudeville that requires sacrificial lambs for the appeasement of one’s ego, and the supposed saving of an institution’s face.

Good thing for her, at least she’s still alive. Unlike many of her news and media brethren.

Never in our country’s history has the Filipino free press been more at odds with authority than they are now. The Filipino was never really good at shutting up, so it seems that a few people have taken it upon themselves to shut us up if we don’t want to. Apparently, it’s either journalists shut up, or they die. As per a report by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a grand total 171 individuals working the fields of journalism and media were killed last year, 2007. Only six less than the 177 who bit the dust last 2006. Now either a news career automatically causes strokes, heart attacks, and stray bullets to randomly fly through a car window, or something’s really fishy.

We’re supposed to be a democracy, where freedom of expression and the press are at the forefront and serve as the most important manifestations of this so-called democracy. In a society where economic freedom is reserved for a fortunate few (who mostly hold government offices), intellectual freedom is what keeps the fires of this country’s soul burning.

Many have accused the press of being too unkind and focusing only on the negative. But this is not entirely true. The press has the thankless job of focusing on what’s prevalent. And if more bad than good things keep happening, then telling the press to talk mostly about good things would be like telling the press to simply close their eyes and ears. And even Helen Keller didn’t like shutting up.

I personally do not know for a fact whether or not the accusations against Batnag are true. Who knows? Evidence may surface showing her to be guilty. But the fact remains that the authorities have chosen to unprofessionally bring out unproven assumptions to the public in the hopes of showing work mileage that essentially goes in circles.

Offering up Dana Batnag as a sacrificial lamb this early without enough evidence will not do anything but remind this country’s citizens that the Philippines can only remain the land of the free, but only if we keep quiet and keep a ten foot pole between us and the people the government doesn’t like.

Not too free at all.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Delayed Book Review: All-Star Superman, Volume 1

I need to do this.

I need to put this review together for a number of reasons:
First, I want to tell the world that I am sophisticated enough to finally grab a hardcover copy of the critically acclaimed ALL-STAR SUPERMAN by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Jaime Grant. And that I finally listened to this recommendation by one of my favorite veterinarians, Dr. Sixto Carlos of the Makati Dog & Cat Hospital (the other favorite vets also work there, by the way.)
Next, I have to join the party in sharing my joy in having taken this literary ride with Morrison and company.

I think I’ve mentioned in my only other review so far in this blog, that I am not a Superman fan. In fact, I enjoyed Seagle’s “It’s a Bird” so much partly because Supes wasn’t the main protagonist of the story.

I am a Batman fan. (Just had to get that off my chest.)

So I open the book with expectations set “quite” high (pun intended), and while I’ve never been a fan of Frank Quitely’s art, his sense of story-telling, detail and nuance is among the best out there. And Morrison’s story was brought to life fully formed, and garnished almost perfectly.

What makes this series great?

Well, for one thing, they didn’t really toy around with Superman’s central character concept. In fact, they even added bits of detail that made the larger-than-life-ness of Superman a good thing, and not an annoying literary limitation.

Here are some great bits:
1. Superman playing “fetch” with Krypto. Where else but in space, right? and using a tree, no less.
2. Superman’s super-heavy white dwarf key to the Fortress of Solitude. Batman would probably hide the key to the bat-cave under the bat-rug. But when you’re Superman, you don’t have to hide the goddamn key, you just to use one of the heaviest substances in the universe so no one else can carry, much less use it to open the Super-gates of the Fortress. Sure beats the giant key that probably attracts way too much attention…
3. The pet sun-eater… with Supes feeding it baby suns… heh heh… cute touch.
4. Lois Lane initially disbelieving that Supes and Clark are one and the same, together with the human paranoia she experiences while hanging out at the Fortress of Solitude.

(above, Lois Lane in paranoia)

(above, Supes with his pet sun-eater)

With ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, Morrison successfully puts Supes back in the genre of great old-school science fiction almost worthy of Harlan Ellison.

It’s almost funny how writers have always managed to put Batman smack in the center of his core genres of crime and horror, which have helped make Bats what he is today. But with Superman seemingly losing creative relevance in the "modern" comic mythos for the past two or three decades, it only took Morrison and company a handful of issues to remind the entire comic book fandom that Superman is a science fiction book. Complete with a one-issue Jimmy Olsen-centered issue that recalls the good ole’ age of odd-ball one-off concepts in the vein of “What If?”

Oh, and if I may seem to have implied that ALL-STAR SUPERMAN is the ultimate geek-fest filled with geek-talk, then I must dutifully mention that Morrison kept the heart of the book together in the warm way he handled the appearances of Jonathan and Martha Kent. With meaning, purpose, and not just because the “superman-being-farm boy” thing had to be pounded into the readers’ brains.

If I seem like I’m gushing, I will flatly admit with pompous pride that I am. And if you want to know why, go grab yourself a copy.