Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fabricated Festivals

As a half-resident of Baguio City, I suppose I am somewhat obliged to write a bit about the city’s supposedly trademark flower festival, dubbed the “Panagbenga.”

But don’t come here looking for photos of the parades and all. Images here are all from my measly phone, and they all suck. I just put photos here because… I just want to. If you want nice photos of colorful parades and similarly clich├ęd stuff, go look for some in pbase or something. Not here. In fact, get out now, before I bore you any further.

"...I have of course concluded that practically all festivals are connived tourism ploys of some sort..."
Not to sound all negative and stuff, but ever since its inception fourteen years ago, I’ve always found the “Panagbenga” to be utterly artificial. Growing up in this predominantly Catholic, or simply overtly religious country of ours, I always thought festivals were always some centuries long thing in certain places marking either certain momentous dates, or some odd saint. Of course, the concept of festivals marking certain things such as a change of seasons, harvest times, and what-nots has been around like, forever. And while it would make perfect sense for Baguio City to hold a “festival of flowers” given the city’s climate and resulting floral abundance, it has always struck me as some connived tourism ploy.

After much thinking however, I have of course concluded that practically all festivals are connived tourism ploys of some sort in varying scales. It’s really just a question of how hard and successfully any community prepares and runs its little events.

So what am I griping about? Nothing, really. Except maybe the traffic from the road closures, additional pollution from the volume of tourist vehicles, stench of sweaty humans crowding the streets and overpasses to look at parades that look like any other parade, the poor children marching helplessly under the sunny, cloudless sky pretending to be happy, and the bloated prices of the market vendors who are capitalizing on the tourist influx, who are mostly middle class people who have little better to do with their lives that’s why they’re here watching parades that look like any other parade... But hey, I guess that means the event’s working, right…?

Catch you later…

Friday, February 20, 2009

Candid Cop Camera...

Hey, did you hear about the cops that got caught on TV? “SMILE!!! You’re on ‘Candid Camera!’”

“Oh, what’s that you guys are doing? Oh, you’re shooting a suspect! Coolers! Waitaminit… you’re shooting a ‘suspect?!?!!’ Why the fuck are you assholes shooting a ‘suspect?’ That means, we’re not even sure they’re really crooks… But hang in there... they've got to be crooks, right? Because you smelled them, and smelly beasts can sniff out their own kind.”

Hmm… Nonetheless, I am disturbed. Very disturbed.

Very disturbed in an “I-knew-it-anyways-but-still-bugs-me-whenever-it-happens” kind of way. I’m talking about the recent news about the cops running after and subsequently gunning down three car-napping suspects in Quezon City. The operative word here being “suspects.”

I feel bad for these guys. I feel bad that they had to be caught on camera. That means they have compromised the already sucky credibility level of the local police force even further. That means they have to be sacked so there will be lambs. Sacrificial lambs. Or in this case, goats. Sacrificial goats.

Poor cops. Really. I feel for them. Honestly. It’s probably not their fault that they get paid a measly salary for roaming the streets while instilling fear in evil-doers, or simply just instilling fear. Not their fault that they don’t even want to pay for jeepney or FX fares. Not their fault they won’t even pay for a stick of banana-Q. Not their fault that they’re tasked to eliminate people who were probably accomplices sometimes. It’s only work, dude. Nothing personal.

Not the cops’ fault that their salaries are so low, while the higher ups have siphoned off 30% of their bonuses last Christmas and are now probably finalizing the floor plans on their new homes with some seedy architects. Or probably booking their vacation tickets to another country. Like Russia. Or a European tour… oh, waitaminit… Gloria pays for stuff like that! Sorry…

Those who weren’t caught on camera probably run on back to their police-daddies, raise their hands in salute and say: “Mission accomplished, sir!” And they probably get a pat on the back and an old bottle of Fundador for their efficient efforts. “Efficient” meaning: they didn’t get caught, and the job was utterly clean.

As for the guys who got filmed, Grim-spector Angelo Nicloas (who got sacked, OH POOR YOU!!!), and SPO1 Frederick Torres and PO3 Randy Barrameda who both got reduced to becoming secretaries and are probably mastering several creative ways to make use of powdered coffee right now, YOU GUYS GOT OFF EASY!

But then again, you guys are cops. You WILL get off easy. It was part of the deal, right? Of course, you guys are always innocent until proven guilty, unlike the rest of the citizenry, who are judged and executed by you guys in seconds.

But I’m guessing you guys will watch out for the cameras next time. Please smile if there are. Tsk tsk…

Monday, February 16, 2009

Movie Review: Marley & Me (Dog days...)

Friend, photographer and fellow Manila Jaycee David Bernabe texted me this amusing joke:
“Test for who is man’s true best friend… Put your wife and your dog in the trunk of your car for one hour. When you open the trunk, WHO IS REALLY HAPPY TO SEE YOU?”

* * * * *

So the wife and I finally found time to catch a movie. And we chose rom-com “Marley & Me” over tentpole movies “Valkyrie,” “Seven Pounds,” and “Underworld.” We love dogs, we love Jennifer Aniston, and we want to watch a funny. So “Marley & Me” it was.

The trailers will have you think that it’s about a guy/gal and his/her dog. But it isn’t. In fact, for the most parts, Marley the dog just kicks things off then fades into the background until the rather anti-climatic ending, which incidentally turned my wife into a sniffling pile of mushy goop…

The movie follows the lives of Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston as they go through the various stages of growing old and starting a family. Alan Arkin was terribly underused here, along with practically every other character save for the two leads and the dog who supposedly ages throughout the movie, but doesn’t really look it. At least not until the tail-end of the movie, where they obviously used an older mutt to play an aging Marley.

Owen Wilson really looked like he tried stupid and funny. But without Ben Stiller for him to play off against, he just came off as stupid. The attempt to give him a buddy in the form of “Grey’s Anatomy’s” Eric Dane didn’t get the build up it deserved. Kathleen Turner’s turn (no pun intended) as a dog trainer was a little too brief to be funny.

Coming off a best-selling autobiographical narrative by New York Times columnist John Grogan that supposedly spans thirteen years, it isn’t surprising that they couldn’t string together a plot with a point that can fit into two hours. There isn’t much plot to speak of in the movie, and no real crescendo-style conflicts to highlight a two-hour movie. The only thing really going for the movie was the easy chemistry between Aniston and Wilson. The eponymous canine “Marley” is really little more than a visual accessory. And it isn’t until the end do we see the emotional weight of the dog’s relationship with the Grogan family. But it had points of emotion and some funny highlights to at least not make it a total waste of time.

But it’s an inoffensive way to pass a couple of hours. So what the heck…

* * * * *

Catch you later…

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Case of the Vanishing Entrepreneurs

Margaret got her first “haircut” January 14, 2009 at “Gruppo Barbero” along Tomas Morato in Quezon City (which used to be Bruno’s Barbers). Well, it was mostly just trimming a bit of the bangs, which were always on her eyes.

The kind barber didn’t charge us for the 20-second trim, which he did after my own haircut.

It got me thinking of the haircuts I had as a child back in San Miguel, Manila. There was a small squatter community beside the compound, and one of the residents was the barber, Mang Edring, who always walked over to the compound and serviced almost all the male members of the Golangco family.

Bruno’s Barbers vs. Mang Edring

Mang Edring had a little hole in the wall place with a mirror and a single rickety old refurbished barber’s chair that didn’t recline or rise. But hey, it looked like a barber’s chair so that’s what it was.

We trusted Mang Edring, because he was just down the street and he was a good barber. Apparently, he’d been cutting for over half a century at that time. Who cares about airconditioning and the hot towel? We walked over for a haircut. Want a manicure or pedicure? Missus Edring would be called and she’d do her thing while the old man did his.

So the man can cut hair, he’s paid his dues, and wants to make a humble living catering to the block by cutting hair. Probably cost him less than ten grand to put that thing together. The chair was practically a piece of sculpture, but his scissors and razor were already top-notch German shit. No frills, no nothing. That was that, and it wasn’t bad at all.

Half a block away in the same neighborhood, there’s a bakery at the ground floor of an old dilapidated building. It was called “Wow Bakery.” The loaf bread (which is annoyingly referred to in this country as “tasty”) was alright, but the pan-de-sal totally rocked. We weren’t worried about food poisoning or any of that shit. Heck, it was the neighborhood bakery. It’s got to be safe, right? Up until I got married and moved to QC, the bread there was still good, and whenever I pass the area, I would still see people bunched up at the bakery counter presumably buying bread.

No frills, no nothing. Just the little neighborhood bakery with the small painted sign facing a busy street. Probably a trusty old oven and slicing machines that make funny sounds, but still cut alright. A nice decent business for nice decent life. They served the bread needs of the neighborhood. No more, no less. No huge dreams of opening a dozen branches in different parts of the city. That was that, and it wasn’t bad at all.

* * * * *

Fast forward back to today.

I get my haircut (and head massage, manicure, pedicure, back massage, ear-cleaning and other what-nots) done at either Gruppo Barbero along Morato or Bruno’s at Julia Vargas (next door to the Maverick offices).

More often than not, I’d drive up a Pan de Manila for a bag of pan de sal. As a relatively new resident at our QC neighborhood, I didn’t know enough about the bakery around the other corner for me to buy my bread there. But I’d trust Pan de Manila since I found the set up very welcoming, and the visibility of the oven oddly comforting.

Of course, as a resident of the neighborhood, I should’ve been covered by the bakery around the other corner for me to buy my bread there. But no, I am a victim of the bake shop and barber shop with numerous branches, standardized operations, and the attractive backlit panaflex sign.

And I don’t recall ever having seen a hole in the wall barber shop in the neighborhood with no airconditioning. And even if there was, I doubt I’d trust some guy I don’t know to hold a razor against my temple unless his name was Bruno (or even Gruppo).

* * * * *

The Good Bibingka that Didn’t Make it

As a child, I noticed that as long as you had a store front along a busy street, you had some service skills, or some basic merchandise, you already had some of the main ingredients to a viable business. Of course that still holds true for some sleepier provinces. But for the most part, particularly Metro Manila, it’s already all about branding.

The entire concept of branding has made conglomerates out of what used to be viable hole-in-the-wall businesses. Also effectively threatening the survival of such small-time entrepreneurships, sometimes causing various industries to experience the continuous vanishing of entrepreneurs in the metropolis altogether.

Back when I held office at Horseshoe Village as a partner of what was then Montage Studios, I saw a coco-cloth streamer newly poised above a small store front along Hemady Street. It read “Gerico’s Special Bibingka Now Open to Serve You.”

Now I like bibingka (hell, I like FOOD, period.), and Ferino’s was a 7-minute drive from the office, so I gave it a shot.

I assumed that “Gerico” was the small guy who manned his little place, and made the bibinkgas himself. He had one piece on display on a small glass showcase, and another in small Styrofoam chest. I bought them both and brought them to the office. The stuff was good. I went back a couple more times in the succeeding few weeks. After not having bought there for a time, I just noticed one day that his streamer (which was already dirty at that time) was no longer there, and his little shop was empty.

And that was that for “Gerico’s Special Bibingka.” But Ferino’s was still baking away and dishing them out seven minutes away.

If I was them, I’d hire Gerico to bake in a Ferino’s branch. I wouldn’t be surprised if they already did. He made good bibingka.

* * * * *

Marketing vs. Simple Entrepreneurship: Double-Edged

As an advertising guy and marketing trouble-shooter, I have mixed feelings about these developments. On one hand, marketing and advertising of various forms have become the norm for even the smallest businesses to compete in the metropolis, whoopee. On the other hand, I feel for many business owners who have acknowledged that they need to do some marketing to compete, but advertising and marketing expenses might render their small-scale businesses no longer viable. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

Compared to Bruno’s Barbers, Mang Edring’s German scissors and almost six decades of experience weren’t going to cut it (pardon the pun). And I can only imagine how many corner bakeries with scratched glass showcases and ever-lessening displays of baked merchandise had to see their sales decline upon the entry of Pan de Manila in their neighborhoods.

I don’t blame anyone in these various scenarios, not Bruno’s, not Pan de Manila, not Mang Edring, not even the corner bakery with an ever-lessening display of baked merchandise. And while this may sound like shooting myself on the foot, I must admit that this trend is not an easy one to battle. I don’t have any easy answers here, but I will paraphrase what my former boss (and forever mentor) Kenny Quintal told me at the wake of my former officemate Architect Judy Lobas: “There’s enough work to get around. If your work is good, they [the clients/customers] will come, and if you stick to your principles and service them well, they’ll stay with you.”

He’s been right for the most parts, but the sharks are getting bigger, and the oceans are getting bloodier. But barbers have to keep cutting hair and bakers have to keep baking, and sometimes someone will stop by for good bibingka. They just have to stay open until enough people do.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"Da World Bank Lies!!!!"

Got you with that title, huh?

But that’s probably the first thing Mr. Arroyo blurted out upon finding out that the World Bank has officially implicated him in kickback anomalies on public works projects. (Yawn… what’s new…?) But okay, so it seems that the big (and I mean really BIG) boys have finally decided to speak up. Yup, no less than the World Bank has implicated First (Un)Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.

So an organization that Little Gloria can’t control, influence, cajole, or promise new government positions to, has finally released statements pointing to one of the most despicable individuals living in these over 7,000 islands, along with a few other cronies.

But I suppose the real question here is: What on earth can they do to Mr. FG? (“F” for “Fucking” and “G” for “Glutton,” or “Fiendish Gorilla,” or simply “Fat Guy”)

Considering how Philippine government officials have made covering up for one another an art form, I’m not expecting anything. Some might say that this whole affair is shameful for the country. But hey, considering the Philippine government’s track record? Who fucking cares?

Plus, it seems that anyone with the surname Arroyo and works in the government does not know the meaning of the word “shame.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if upon finding out about the World Bank report, Mr. Fat Guy just took another sip of margarita and proceeded to his next hole in a game of golf. “Poor Gloria,” you might say? Riiiiiiiight… Gloria’s so fucking good at hiding her dirt under her so many rugs that she’s probably Persian.

But I’ll stop right here. Because this blog entry is just going in circles. Just like any investigation on any government official in this poor beleaguered country.

Catch you later…