Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Call Centers, Cockroaches and Broken Elevators

After a couple of meetings outside the office yesterday, my officemate and I arrived at our office building lobby to find several security personnel buzzing over elevator car no. 7 (or was it 8?).

Lo and behold, the car got stuck right upon “take off” from the ground floor. Apparently, an extra couple of over-indulgent call center ‘agents” crammed themselves into the lift and succeeded in further torturing a piece of industrial equipment to the point of surrender.
It seems that despite all the training to adapt American accents, idioms, and affections, these eager-beaver glorified phone operators cannot understand a simple note that says MAXIMUM CAPACITY: 17. Unless they are as dense as I think they are and they think that stands for 17 TONS. But no, I don’t think they are familiar with more than one unit of weight measurement.

The lifts at our poor, beleaguered office building have been going on the blink ever since these call centers started filling up the upper floors. Sometimes, the high-rise side has only two working lifts. The most common cause is extreme wear due to overweight in the cars (please see above description of perceived reading problem.) But see here, these pseudo-English-wet-market-carnival-barkers do not worry about elevator cables breaking, and them falling down the shafts into their unpremature deaths. The simple fact is that they can survive a nuclear explosion and hold off evolution. They only look human, but they are really bugs.

Giant, inconsiderate, directionless bugs.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Movie Review: 88 Minutes [108 Minutes of Al Pacino (Good or Bad, You Decide)]

It’s Al Pacino. It’s Al Pacino. It’s Al fucking Pacino. That’s about the three good things about it.

So on to this review…

88 Minutes is about a murderer convicted through Al Pacino’s “professional” psychological testimony, who threatens Al Pacino that good ole’ Al has “88 Minutes to live.”

Interesting premise, not too bad a cast, but when the pieces are put into their supposed places, the story has just about as much integrity as a cheap local soap opera that would get cancelled halfway through a season.

With almost more plot holes, and even flimsier logic than even the Philippine government can muster, 88 Minutes tries really hard to pump you up, and nearly succeeds, if only because of Al Pacino’s trademark “I’m a grizzled pro, who’s been through hell and back” routine, which he has played to perfection, which I am still more than willing to pay good money to see. Hey, sue me, I’m a fan.

Somewhere through this flaky “Insomnia” retread, I swear there’s a movie… Either that, or they didn’t really shoot Pacino, and merely digitally inserted old footage of the guy into this stink-fest. Leelee Sobeisky didn’t even bother to gratuitously show some cleavage… But they did pointlessly blow up a Porsche...

It’s too late, and I’m too tired to even bother to string out the crappy plot for anyone who stumbles across this stupid review of this stupid movie. Go surf for the plot somewhere else.

But if you’re a fan of Pacino’s trademark gruff, go see it. Again, ONLY if you’re a fan.

Weekend Northern Food Trip (Part 3)

When I started dating the lady who would become my wife over a dozen years ago, I visited Pampanga religiously. I actually found the city to be charming and bustling with promise. Bearing the promise of better days after having finally recovered from both Pinatubo and the sudden exit of the affluent constituents of Clark Air Base.

Of course, there was the indelible identification of good food with the PampangueƱos, together with the beautiful Capampangan women. Top this off with an ambitious master plan of developing what was Clark Air Base into a fully functional eco-zone complete with office complexes, factories, and duty-free shops, and you’ve got a city with a perfect blueprint for prosperity.

So the PX-goods were gone, to be replaced with quaint cafes, holes in the wall that served great Capampangan food, and little boutiques that offered selected dry goods now mostly bought from Manila. But the city was alive, and dreams were overflowing along with laughter sweetened by halo-halo.

That was then. This is now.

Driving back to Manila, the wife bemoaned the state of the city she once called home. Both saddened and relieved that she now lived in the big city.

We’ll drive back again sometime soon. Hopefully, there will be working air compressors then, and Victor’s will look enticing again…

(as written March 3, 2008)

* * * * * * * * *


With no pending need for compressor hose heads, we happily breeze through Angeles City around a month and a half after the above from two days of work in Baguio City. It was dinner time on a Saturday night, and the barbeque boutiques along MacArthur Highway were alive and literally smoking hot. Invitingly so.

(Only two days previous, April 17, 2008, we found out over the news that Lucia Lagman Cunanan, better known as Aling Lucing, Pampanga's "Sisig Queen" was brutally murdered. Sadly, the lively octagenarian will not live to see her name proliferate even more as her namesake sisig restos sprout around Manila. My very pregnant wife joins her fellow Capampangans in mourning the loss of one their champions in giving the country a popular face to their home province of Pampanga.)

So where was I...? So I finally convinced my wife to agree to stop by Victor's BBQ (that's what it says on the signboard, dude...) for the sisig, crispy barbecued pork ears, and other fat-laden forms of tasty suicide we've become familiar with over the past decade.

Yes, it was unhealthy, and according to the ads will do a number on my liver, but it was damn good.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Welcome to Hell...

It’s official. Hell just got itself an additional 7,100 islands… and I don’t give a shit whether that’s high or low tide…

In an age of the most selfish, most inefficient, most inconsiderate presidency in the history of the Philippines EVER, the powers that be have opened discussions on a possible minimum wage hike.

As a small business owner and operator, the proposed “slight” bump from the current P362/day minimum wage to the “slightly” higher P442/day will be like having the company swallow a mothball a day. Tastes bitter, probably won’t kill you right now, but it slowly devours you from the inside until you’re frothing in the mouth like a rabid dog.

What’s funny is that with all the exemptions in place to supposedly protect smaller companies, e.g. minimum wage laws don’t cover: companies with less than ten employees, companies that are not declaring profits or something… and with the supposed increase in entrepreneurship among the Filipino citizenry, the wage hike will not be felt by the greater majority. Mostly pointless. Like every other law lately, the continuing wage hikes will only do more harm in the hopes of appeasing President GMA’s ever growingly unhappy public on the surface.

One fucking mothball every fucking day.

People say that it would be best to wait until the right time and the right circumstance to change the presidency. That would be 2010. Okay, let’s kick off our shoes and put our collective feet up, and see what’s left of the country by then. Never mind the mind-numbing sums of money the government siphons out through corrupted practices, let’s see how sick our country and our countrymen will be perceived in the eyes of the world in another 2.5 years’ time.

Considering what a well-educated economist our incumbent is, it may be safe to assume that her foreign-trained economic management skills are being put to use for her own ends.

Now THAT’s talent…

So, is it just me, or is it getting even damn hotter in here…?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Duran Duran Delivers! (Concert Review)

Once again, the Manila Bulletin gifts me with tickets to see Duran Duran at the more than modestly-filled Araneta Coliseum. Last week, I had to painfully give away the Philippine STAR’s complimentary tickets to the much-awaited (by me anyways) TOTO concert because I had to hurriedly leave town and join my family in Baguio City in the Tiong San Harrison fire (more on that in another entry). Thankfully this week, there were no tragedies, nor disasters to keep me from another 80’s fix.

I take it back. Duran Duran is more than an 80’s fix. They may have had their heyday in the 80’s, but with 90’s hits like the mostly-Warren Cuccurullo-penned “Ordinary World,” and “Come Undone,” and continuous album production throughout the 2000’s, it wouldn’t be right to dismiss these guys as a full-blown retro act.

But seeing Simon le Bon plant himself front and center at the stage, with the fog rising behind him with flashes of sharp colored lights framing his silhouette, in those shiny tight pants (said by Hugh Grant to “force all the blood to his heart”), skinny-chic necktie, and gelled up hair, somehow echoed nothing less than 80’s glam. Damn good pop star intro, but yeah… it’s a band that seems to unabashedly acknowledge that their best days are behind them… but damn, those best days were really good.

Seeing le Bon in his get-up prompted my wife to point out the spot-on similarity with Hugh Grant in his has-been role in the 2007 rom-com, “Music & Lyrics.” John Taylor now sports close-cropped hair, Nick Rhodes has turned himself into an Andy Warhol clone, and while acknowledged, nobody really cares about how Roger Taylor looks. But yeah, four out of five original members ain’t so bad… (maybe they should’ve brought back Cuccurullo to replace Andy Taylor?)

...with lead vocal chores exclusively on le Bon’s by now middle-aged shoulders, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a stretcher out back just in case...
Given their song catalogue, it was a cinch for Duran Duran to fill the 1:45-hours with a good mix. A sampling of their more recent material, with a more than generous serving of their familiar hits made for an entertaining evening that had me cheering until my voice was hoarse, and slightly hopping in rhythm where I stood, considering I’ve professed for most of my thinking life that I do not dance. Ever. They made me hop. Rhythmically. Yes, it was good.

Breaking the ice with “the Valley” the kick off track from their new “Red Carpet Massacre,” le Bon coyly introduced the first of many glam-era hits by asking the audience in slight British sneer, “…are you ‘hungry’?” The crowd went positively wild like I did, when they slammed into “Hungry Like a Wolf.” Yeah, the party was definitely starting now…

Followed by “Planet Earth,” “Red Carpet Massacre,” which Simon introduced, otherwise I wouldn’t have known what the hell it was. Two more unfamiliar songs, then “Falling Down,” a song they introduced with adequate name-dropping in the form of Justin Timberlake to try and crank up their hip factor. Yeah, right…

They bring in the heavy artillery with “Come Undone,” where we finally figure out the real purpose of the female back-up singer in the sidelines. And they positively bring the house down with the campy, but infectious “the Reflex,” then break into their number one hit “View to a Kill,” which ends this run of classics.

Yet two more new, unfamiliar songs later, we get a shout-out party with “Notorious.”

This is the part where one notices that Simon le Bon is starting to look tired. He has taken off his glam jacket, is probably trying to remember why on Planet Earth he chose not to roll on more under-arm anti-perspirant, and most likely hoping he could change into looser pants.

But this is also the part where I conclude that Simon le Bon has an alter ego… it’s called the Energizer Bunny.

I swear the man works hard for his money and his band. Granted, while melodic, 80’s New Romantic-era music mostly doesn’t require multiple-octave singing ranges, Simon le Bon holds the distinction of mostly still sounding like his records. Screw lighting and other special effects, doesn’t matter how tired and worn out Simon looked, all his pop star flourishes throughout every song showed you that this man was having a good time, and he wanted YOU to have a good time. Granted, while John Taylor helped in working up the crowd, with lead vocal chores exclusively on le Bon’s by now middle-aged shoulders, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a stretcher out back just in case, given his gusto-filled performance. I also suspect that on his frequent runs to the rear of the stage he was taking whiffs from an oxygen tank.

He was moving, dancing and leaping around the stage in a spirited emulation of his 20-something year-old self. Though one cannot deny that this was a portlier, more wrinkled Simon le Bon and company, they obviously intended to deliver a good show.

The closest thing to a slow-down that le Bon got was to pointlessly strap on a guitar to find a place to put his restless arms and hands, and strum along to “Save a Prayer” (one of my favorite Duran Duran songs), then crank the energy onstage back up with “Girls on Film.” Slow down a tad again with a rather pensive rendition of “Ordinary World,” followed by another unfamiliar song, then (Reach Up for the) Sunrise, and finally topped off with “Wild Boys.”

Naturally, there’s an encore. Now here’s a perfect example of a great band with such rich back catalogue of genuine radio hits, where the encore could have been anything from “Union of the Snake,” “New Moon on Monday,” the political (but dated) “Is There Something I Should Know?,” “My Own Way,” or “Rio.” They wisely chose the last, and rounded up the evening in a colorfully flowing ocean that was a mix of happy 80’s nostalgia, excellent showmanship, and simply good, good, music.

When the crowd thundered for the obligatory encore, John Taylor commented that we “sure know how to make noise,” and mentioning that with [this kind of crowd] they should “come back more often.” I say, YEAH!

I left Araneta Coliseum hoarse and looking forward to going home for a few tablespoons of Pei Pa Koa. Now let’s wait for the Kemps, Tony Hadley, John Keeble and Steve Norman to officially reunite and drop by… not that watered down trio of Mr. Hadley, Mr. Keeble and Mr. Norman who came by a few years ago. Nothing like a full band.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

China Crisis rarity...

Over 20 twenty years ago, back in the mid-'80's, the Philippines wasn't as all-open market as it is now, and imported vinyl was still the music medium of the true afficionado.

It was during these times when a cousin of mine eagerly awaited his father to come home from Hong Kong on brief trips (business or holiday, i was too young to notice and don't really give a damn...). His father always seemed to manage to find the time to check out record bars and bring him home the latest music still unreleased here, mostly of the new wave sort. These he generously shared with me, and we made tapes for our walkmans and other players.

It was always a badge of absolute cool, when one knew songs not yet on the airwaves. And my cousin was one of the guys on top of the heap. At least until his friends manage to "borrow" these records and never bother to give them back...

One such record that fell on our eager laps was the single for China Crisis' "Black Man Ray," about some imaginary weapon that wipes out non-africans or something... some said it's about Ray Charles... some said it was pure gibberish... but most agreed that "Black Man Ray" wasn't a bad melodic follow up for their over-played "Wishful Thinking," which has by now become a staple in musical time capsules of 80's new wave music.

And then we flipped the record to try out the B-side, and found this gem called "It's Never Too Late (for You and Me)." The melody got me hooked, the atmospheric "Asian-ness" of the arrangement was fresh for me back then... until one day, having forgotten to copy the record on tape, I found out that the single record had already been "borrowed." Further searches for the "Black Man Ray" single online and abroad yielded further reinforcement that what my cousin had was a limited edition copy with the limited edition B-side.

Two decades, the advent of the now-ubiquitous internet, and endless peer to peer searches later, I found it.

Here it is...