Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year Greetings for 2011

I post here the same I posted on my Facebook account as my status:

Here's a toast to a fruitful year that was 2010, and time for recovery and reflection from the outcomes of 2009. Another toast to the hope the new year brings where new challenges await, and with God's grace we shall overcome and emerge better people.

And may I add, more posts for the new year arriving in less than an hour... =)

Thursday, December 30, 2010


The recent success of the Philippine football team, fondly called Azkals (asong kalye or mongrels), have sparked interest in the sport. It is supposed to be the most popular sport in the world and yet in the Philippines it is far behind basketball despite the latter giving not so encouraging results in major competitions notwithstanding our sending teams comprised of professional players. Perhaps we now have the opportunity to promote football to the level that our neighbors have embraced the sport and focus on the development of players to come up with competitive teams at present and in the future.

I've played football or, as we call it here, soccer since I learned the sport in Physical Education (PE) classes in grade school. At my school, the academic year was divided into quarters and each quarter, our PE focused on a particular sport. From grade school to high school the basic sports that we rotated among each quarter were basketball, volleyball, football and swimming. These were graded according to our knowledge of the rules (theoretical) and our performance (practical). I did quite well in all considering that I was usually playing with other kids who were more my level. The good ones played their own games and were usually the ones who got more attention from the coaches who were also trying to spot potential players for the varsity. Of course, our classes usually had core teams for the intramurals.

In 1999, I was still in Japan and had just recently successfully defended my dissertation behind closed doors in front of a panel of five that included 3 senior professors at my university. At the time, the eliminations were being held for the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the group matches were hosted by Hongkong. The group included the Philippines and heavy favorite Japan, who along with South Korea had the best teams in Asia thanks to their local leagues and the emergence of several excellent players competing in Europe particularly in the English Premier League and Italy's Serie A. As usual, the football fans among my labmates tuned in to the live game and I joined them joking that Japan would surely beat the Philippine team considering the recent performance and Japan's campaign to host the next World Cup in 2002. The outcome was never in doubt and below is a link from YouTube showing how bad we were back then. I must admit I wasn't at all embarrassed knowing in advance how we would be performing. My labmates and I just laughed it off like a comedy show.

In the recent AFF Suzuki Cup, the Azkals finally showed their new found mettle and despite bowing out to favored Indonesia in the semi-finals, clearly surprised her Southeast Asian neighbors with their performance. It was a clear message that we would no longer be the whipping boys in this part of the world. The performance also showed our potential to improve more and perhaps become a decent enough team to compete for a spot in the World Cup Final. Partida pa nga as they say considering that this team received no support at all from the Philippine Football Federation, something that's about to change with FIFA's orders for an audit on the PFF's operations that was heavily subsidized by FIFA to the tune of 250,000 USD per year. Reports mention that since 2010 was a World Cup year, the assistance would actually total 500,000 USD for the development of football in this country. One can only hope that the money will be spent wisely in the near future and that the team, shown below against defending AFF champion Vietnam, would eventually establish itself as an Asian power in the sport.

I will look forward to a 2011 where Philippine football will have a most productive campaign. who knows? We might also just get the stadium needed to allow us to host football matches and cheer our own team as passionately as in other countries.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Used books and CDs

My brother gifted me with a copy of "The Dilbert Future" last Christmas. I was quite elated and again surprised that he got the copy from a used book shop. It was only last October that he got a hard-bound copy of "The Dilbert Principle" from the same book shop. It seems to me that he got some ability in finding such items like these books in a used book shop where it can be quite a challenge to scan many if not most of the books to find those of interest and worth buying. I must say that I also have this knack for scanning, searching and finding items and I have been able to hone the "skill" while I was studying in Japan.

The first time I tried and discovered this "talent" was during my first trip to Japan back in February 1996. I remember staying at the International House of Tokyo Tech and there was this small used books and CD shop near the university. A friend and I passed by this shop and he mentioned to me that it was in similar shops that he acquired music CDs. In fact, all of his CDs at the time were second-hand and were acquired cheap from such shops. But cheap doesn't mean poor condition for I learned that many of the Japanese who bought CDs usually sold the same to used CD shops to recover money (to purchase newer CDs) and to de-clutter their homes. In several chains, they even have a rating system for used CDs where "A" usually referred to a CD in almost mint condition and "C" may mean that the lyrics insert is no longer included in the package. One may also examine the disk to see whether there are scratches or other damages to the case. Anyhow, as my friend labored in scanning the shelves for CDs of is interest, I managed to spot 2 or 3 CDs including a Duran Duran album. These became my first CDs and I bought them despite not owning a CD player. So, they ended up being loaned to my friend at the time.

Through 3 years and the establishment of several haunts for used CDs, I was able to collect CDs on various genres including classical music, new wave and pop. Among my favorite shops were the Yamagiwa store in the Kannai district of Yokohama, the same store in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, and the Recofan stores near Yokohama Station and in the Shibuya district of Tokyo. Of course, I did purchase new CDs but I was always selective of these purchases considering the wealth of used CDs in the shops at the time.

Recently, I have renewed my interest in used items but this was and will be limited to books. Several used book shops have sprouted in Metro Manila and so far, my luck has brought me a hard-bound first edition of The Silmarillion, several classics, a hard-bound edition of a civil engineering textbook , and hard to find chess books including one by the old master Reuben Fine. I look forward to more browsing as these used book shops bring in a treasure trove of books though I am also wary of some of these books bearing some damage or writing/scribbles from its previous owner(s). Perhaps I should focus on hunting for books on chess? I did lose a lot of my chess books in the past 15 years to bookworms and floods. It would be nice to reacquire some if not all of them. In fact, some of the old chess books happened to be given to me by a cousin who has already passed away. He will most certainly be the subject of a future posting.

Car maintenance

I spent the entire morning today having our car washed, and its oil and spark plugs changed. It's actually part of an annual routine prior to having the car registered but this year I had the oil and spark plugs changed more often than is necessary for a 3 year old car. The reason for this is quite simple - the car went under water last year due to the floods brought about by Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) as September concluded in 2009. I had to exercise a little extra care for the engine, which miraculously survived the flood where even the computer box emerged undamaged as confirmed by 2 casas (Mazda Makati and Quezon Avenue).

We logged more than 15,600 kilometers over the last 11 months. Normally, this should not be more than 10,000 km but this year we only had one car as we never got another one to replace the still-in-limbo Crown that I hope will be up and running by January next year. It's been quite a challenge to find parts despite the great efforts of the mechanic handling the vehicle. I just hope all the effort and resources won't go to waste.

The staff over at Caltex Marcos Highway (across Robinsons Metro East) were their usual reliable selves when I had the car's engine and body washed, and the oil and spark plugs changed. They obviously knew what they were doing according to their particular expertise and I was very satisfied with the service provided. They were, as always, efficient and neat in their work. And it probably helped that I have been a customer at the shop since the mid 1990's when my father introduced me there as he was having our family's old Corona's engine tuned up.

I use fully synthetic oil for the car's engine. It is a little more expensive than the basic or regular oil available but based on experience it provides for the best performance and protection for the engine. For spark plugs, I already had these changed from the regular ones to the Bosch Super 4's although I also have used Bosch Platinums in the past. Also, based on experience the Super 4's have always provided me the best performance ever since I started using them for the Crown earlier this decade. Unlike the conventional spark plugs that have a single watchamacallit on its head, the Super 4's had 4. I've observed that carbonization is significantly slower and the ignition sounds so nicer when I used the Super 4's.

Of course, maintaining a recent model car is much easier and cheaper than maintaining an old vehicle. The rule is to try to bring a vehicle to as close as possible and practical to a level that will comply with current emission standards. That should cost a little more for older vehicles especially in the case of my old Crown, which happens to be 20 years old (its a 1990 model). The Clairvoyant's 3 year old Mazda 3 is definitely notches better than its predecessors (Familia and Astina) and we have been blessed with its good performance including its safety features. We just had to shell out for its repair after Ondoy and that included investing in a new audio system that already included GPS, and USB and iPod connectivity.

We will finish paying for the 3 in 2012 and until then, we will be taking good care of the car so that it will continue to provide us with the best performance it can. Meanwhile, we are again thinking about what vehicle to acquire given that we are now leaning towards getting a new vehicle by end of 2011 when we would have completed paying for our house - ahead of schedule.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Shopping - Now

Christmas shopping nowadays is both easy and difficult. People will say it is easy for people who have money. I agree with this perspective but I must also add that these days it is also easy for people who are on a budget since there are so many choices nowadays from where people can purchase gifts and others desirable for Christmas.

There is the online option for people who are comfortable with the internet. There are many ways to make payments for online purchases including using one's credit card, bank transfers and for the more experienced, PayPal. There are many online stores nowadays that include the formal stores by well known brands or vendors (Apple Store, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) and then there are the "resellers" or middlemen operating something like amateur stores that are advertised via word of mouth, Facebook, Twitter and other means. Of course, it goes without saying that one should always check whether something is legit or not. That way, one may not be swindled out of his/her hard-earned cash.

For those who want to shop the old-fashioned way, there are the many malls including the popular SM's, Robinsons', Ayalas and Gaisanos found in major cities around the country. Each mall would have its own attractions and each group would have their own promos and come-ons to attract customers. In fact, the competition these days is so tough that the large malls are practically beside each other (e.g., Megamal vs Galleria, SM City North EDSA vs Trinoma, etc.). There are still the old shopping centers that include the Araneta Center in Cubao, the Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan, and the Ayala Center in Makati. Here there are many options for shoppers with varying budgets. Greenhills, in particular, remains a very popular option for many people because of the variety of both items and prices offered there.

Then there are the more pedestrian (read: pang-masa) shopping places like Divisoria and Quiapo in Manila, and Baclaran in Pasay. These offer the cheaper merchandise including toys and other items often derided for being "made in China." Again, some caution must be taken since cheap is also often associated with lesser quality including some items that are alleged to be toxic. It would help if one should be meticulous enough to check the quality of items including verifying whether such items have the PS or other legitimate quality markings from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Shopping is indeed difficult if one does not have the funds but I believe it is also difficult because there are so many choices these days for the shopper. Also, it is always difficult if one does not stick to his/her budget like succumbing to temptations of purchasing more expensive items just because these are "branded" or maybe these are purchased from a major mall (note: the same item might be a little more expensive if purchased at Glorietta rather than at Gaisano). And this is just the same as the case as shopping in the "older" days when people had difficulties keeping within a budget. :)

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Shopping - Then

I've always enjoyed shopping for Christmas presents particularly if it happened to be mine. But kidding aside, as a kid back in the 1970's, I found Christmas shopping quite an interesting task as it meant we got to go to the department stores, usually in Cubao like COD and Farmers, and by the end of the day I would have new clothes and shoes reserved to be worn on Christmas Eve for the Mass and for Christmas day itself. Even my school shoes are usually bought at this time of year rather than before school opened in June so I get to wear a new pair when classes resumed in January.

I have fond memories of trips to Cubao where we did most of our shopping where I got to tag along. . I would always have happy thoughts associated with the COD department store, particularly its third floor where the toys section was located. To a toddler's eyes, an entire floor dedicated to toys would seem like a whole world of fun all around him and I guess that was how I felt back then, marveling at the selection even though I knew I couldn't have them all. I knew though that if we went there I was sure to get something for Christmas and I knew it would be at least one of the toys my parents asked me about while we were there. For refreshments, we usually went to Ali Mall where I was introduced to Shakey's Pizza and got to associate the parlor with the noisy band that played there. If we wanted lighter snacks there were the kiosks at most corners in the Araneta Center where we could get waffles or corndogs.

We always went shopping in the afternoon and concluded our sorties in the evening when the highlight of the day will be revealed. COD was famous for their mechanical diorama depicting Christmas themes. Every year, this display was awaited by people from all walks of life, who converged on every available space in front of the department store building. Traffic along the streets also stopped and at the time I remember you won't hear any complaints as even motorists took time out to watch the spectacle. Afterwards, people simply dispersed and drivers went their way, and peacefully. Of course, it was still Martial Law at the time but I'm sure people will look back to then and say that people were more disciplined and respectful at the time. The last time I checked, the same was still on display in its home for the past few year now - at the gate of the Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan.

When I was a teenager and in high school, my parents still took me along for Christmas shopping although I was not that enthusiastic as when I was in grade school. SM was still a department store in Manila and had not yet established itself as a retail giant when I was growing up. They did start building their chain when I was in high school and I remember shopping at the SM Cubao where, as advertised, they got it all and at prices that seemed to all end with 95 centavos (e.g., PhP 29.95, 49.95, 99.95). I pretty much did my own Christmas shopping when I was a junior or senior in high school. My parents decided to give me my Christmas money to get me whatever I wanted knowing I had to keep within a budget plus maybe a few pesos saved from my allowances. I remember deciding not to go with the crowds and instead went to Cubao after Christmas when there were significantly less people and it was not a hassle to commute or go around.

While SM was on the rise, COD sadly was already in decline. Farmers eventually burned in a fire that led to its reconstruction and most stall and stores not returning. Ali Mall, which we also preferred for watching movies, was not able to keep up with times and was only finally overhauled and upgraded not five years ago. By the time I was at university, the first SM City in North EDSA was already completed and the doors opened to a new era of shopping.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Party time!

I've been raring to write about parties, particularly the kind we celebrate during this season of joy. December being the month when we remember the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is a month filled with activities. It does not help that amidst the Christmas and New Year preparations, we tend to mix it up with year-end reports, cramming for deadlines and other activities that contribute to each day becoming toxic.

The Clairvoyant has been nursing a cold the past 2 weeks and my immune system seems to have been able to resist the virus only until yesterday when the tell-tale symptoms of a cold started to manifest. Even as I write, I am actually clearing my throat and feeling the soreness despite drinking hot beverage to remedy the problem. It is actually a delaying tactic for I feel it is inevitable that I will be going down with a serious case of the colds. Vitamins can only help when it is not yet there but when it is, nutrients will help lessen the impacts of sickness.

Yet, we still go on like the Energizer bunny - participating in parties and other activities that we juggle with our workload. Christmas, after all, is a time to celebrate no matter if there are deadlines to beat or reports to be written and submitted. It is an excuse to give oneself a break and even lower one's guard in as far as schedules are concerned. For aren't we afraid of being called scrooges? Killjoys? I certainly am not one and I am very happy to see friends and colleagues with their families coming together to celebrate as one big happy family.

Party on!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


A lot of people have asked me how it felt when one is interviewed by media. It is not an easy thing and certainly not a comfortable experience considering that I must be wary of the statements that I make considering my position at the University and my being head of a research and training center. I must be well informed about the topic and usually require whoever was requesting an interview to provide the topic and perhaps guide questions in advance. This is to allow for some preparations especially to get sufficient data on things I may be asked.

Data should be current and reliable such that it will be factual, informative. After all, interviews are also opportunities to promote the advocacies of the Center as well as the Center itself. And the best way to do so is to project the Center as an institution of honor and excellence, in the tradition of the University it represents. I must also be mindful that we are actually part of the government and that we have many linkages with government agencies including those that have often been under attack for the mess we have to deal with in Philippine transport and traffic. Yet being part of the University and the academe in general, one must also maintain objectivity while being fair, not resorting to uncalled for criticisms or government bashing that has been the signature of some so-called experts in transport and traffic. Thus, it is also a tough balancing act as one is being called upon to comment and provide opinion on a variety of topics, mainly those that are the talk of the town like a recent road crash or a controversial traffic scheme being proposed.

Interviews, however, despite the required preparations are definitely enjoyable and, after one is shown on TV or printed in the newspaper, something one would be proud. This is especially true if the interview went well and one is not quoted out of context. Colleagues at the Center including previous heads have always nixed interviews because of their experience on TV, radio and print where careless (and maybe even reckless) reporters have quoted them out of context. I have had my share of similar experiences despite my preparation and I guess it is something one should expect if one grants one too many an interview. Based on this experience I have enlisted the help of my staff to screen those who are requesting for interviews including setting up a system where they have to write to the office (an email would be enough).

I have turned down many requests and my staff have done so, too. Mostly, these are ones that obviously are in conflict with my schedule (lectures, meetings and other appointments) or those that violate time I have reserved for myself and my family (i.e., no interviews after 6:00PM and definitely none on weekends). I have made very rare exceptions to these rules and then only when the topic is a hot issue and one that requires expert opinion from a scholarly perspective.

In future posts, I will try to write about specific experiences and some of my favorite interviews and interview topics.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 1

I was supposed to write a short piece to greet Tatay on his birthday. Somehow, I managed not to write the piece and so this post is a make-up of sorts.

Tatay turned 73 yesterday and we celebrated this last Sunday together with my Mama, siblings, nephew and niece. The Clairvoyant and I brought cake for the occasion and my sister helped my mother cook pasta and other weekend favorites that we all partook of during dinner. There was no wine or beer as my brother in law and I were driving and Tatay wasn't really into drinking even if it were on the occasion of his birthday.

I am very glad that my father is in very good health at 73 years old. He was a chain smoker and perhaps still is. At least, I try to assure myself, he doesn't go for the 2 packs per day of about 20 years ago and just enjoys an occasional cigarette these days. An effective deterrent seems to be his grandchildren, my niece and nephew, who dislike the smell of cigarette smoke (good thing!).

Here's a toast to continuing good health and more years to enjoy with family and friends! Happy birthday Tatay!