Saturday, June 22, 2013


I had quite a busy week last week with several meetings for a couple of projects I am doing. It became a hectic week after a major media company featured a paper I wrote last year on its 9PM new program anchored by an award-winning, popular media personality. I was quite surprised as the reporter went over key points of my paper but I am glad that he seemed to have read the paper and understood the main points. The following day, our office fielded a few calls from a major daily and two other major TV stations.

The paper was one I wrote after delivering my Professorial Chair Lecture in last year's colloquium at our college at UP Diliman. It is something I regard as a tool to initiate discussions about the state of our transportation system. And so requests for a copy of the paper were entertained by our librarians/information managers whom I provided a digital copy of the paper that they could give to those asking for a copy of the material. Meanwhile, there were also requests for interviews including one interview for TV the day following the news report on the news channel. I am no stranger to such interviews and rather than have the reporter insistently follow-up on when he can interview me, I agreed to give the interview the same day. To be fair, I granted 2 more radio interviews yesterday (Friday) morning and another this (Saturday) morning. 

Yesterday's interview was quite special as it was on prime time AM radio with the former Vice President of the Philippines who is among the top media personalities in the country. I learned the previous day that the person mentioned my paper on his program and so was making a follow-up feature of the topic on his Friday program. That went very well as the right questions were asked and I was able to explain clearly about the loss of productivity we are experiencing in Metro Manila that colleagues first estimated in 2000. I was quite happy to say something about sustainable transport and the promote walking and cycling. More importantly, I knew that the interview would be heard by a lot of people including government officials and decision-makers, and somehow be able to send the message about sustainable transport and the need for transport infrastructure in metropolitan areas.

This morning's gig was quite different as I was a "guest" in a radio program co-hosted by a newly re-elected Senator. I guess it was something that one could consider a virtual guesting since I was on the phone while they were in the studio of a major AM radio station. It was also a long discussion that I engaged in as I was on air for about 40 minutes and was part of a nice exchange with the hosts. It was also another productive interview as again good questions were also asked about transport problems and what was required to address them. I must admit though that I was caught a bit off-guard when they asked about "grading" the 17 cities of Metro Manila and I had to draw on some stock knowledge and experience about the cities. It was a difficult question and an awkward one given that I would always like to think that all these cities probably are giving it their best with the resources that they have in solving their problems. This last interview left me hopeful as I thought the Senator was honestly concerned about the state of traffic and transport in our cities (not just Metro Manila) and would likely include something on transport and traffic on his legislative agenda once the 16th Congress opens in July.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Rest in Peace, Mr. Mamorno

I learned a couple of weeks ago that my third year adviser in high school passed away. He succumbed to cardiac arrest apparently after giving a talk at school. Larry Mamorno was a very memorable figure during my teen age years. I remember him as the "Lito Lapid" look-alike teacher in high school who could get along well with most of us including some of whom I though were the more "difficult" students in our school. We learned later that he was a brother with the Order Friars Minor, Capuchins, later deciding that priesthood was not his calling. Instead, he entered another vocation - teaching. His first stint was at Lourdes School of Mandaluyong where he also stayed and served as a brother with the Parish of St. Francis of Assisi. 

I will always remember him for our "talk" one time my grades dipped and he told me he was concerned about the reasons for the dip. I don't remember exactly what I told him my reasons were. It's something about being lazy or uninspired at the time. I think I was experiencing a rut and there were no incentives for me to perform well in my classes, content with just getting by with my quizzes and other school work. I didn't have any family problems so it's not a problem at home but just a lack of motivation for myself. I don't really remember him suggesting anything except offering to talk it over whenever I felt like it. He probably told me to read more and find it in myself to convince myself to do better in class. This was likely his way of encouraging me as there seemed to be no plausible reason at all why I wasn't doing well in class. 

I do remember that during the end of our third year class recollection, he spoke to my father about my performance in class. Tatay talked to me afterwards to ask me if anything was bothering me and we had a good talk about my "lethargic" school work. I don't know how I did it but I managed to get through that "difficult" moment and I ended up with good grades for the rest of my third year. The momentum was carried into my graduating year in high school where I think I surprised a lot of people by doing quite well in my science and math subjects. During the concluding part of our class retreat, Mr. Mamorno, who was adviser of another 4th year class, approached my father again and they had what I thought was a nice chat (both of them smiling as they apparently were talking about me and other students). Frankly, I believe that Mr. Mamorno has influenced my life through that on-on-one talk and I am thankful to him just for being there during that moment.

Rest in peace Mr. Mamorno. You have done great in this life and will be remembered by people whose lives you've touched as their teacher/adviser.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

DIY cold soba

I saw a friend's posts on FaceBook about eating healthy and one post was about zaru soba. Cold buckwheat noodles are popular fare in Japan during the summer as it is both healthy and refreshing. It is among my favorites and I usually bought a set for lunches at the lab or dinner at home from the Family Mart or Yamazaki convenience stores near the university and my home. Until only recently, we only ate zaru soba at Japanese restaurants here and usually as a set with tempura (ten zaru soba). And so I decided to prepare zaru soba myself and bought the ingredients during one trip at the supermarket near our home. It's really quite easy...just follow the steps below:

Buckwheat noodles and individually packed dried seaweed from the supermarket.

Descriptions and some instructions at the back have been translated and appears on a sticker posted on the packaging.

Cook the buckwheat noodles (about 6 minutes).

Place the soba on a strainer.

Wash the soba with running water.

Gently wash it with your hands [Make sure hands are clean before you do this. ] to make sure excess starch is washed from the noodles. This is a process that's also recommended for your typical instant noodles.

Transfer to a plate or bowl (if you don't have zaru or the small bamboo mat over a shallow bowl). You have a choice to place the soba on top of ice cubes if you use zaru. Otherwise, you'll end up with soupy soba. If you really want to have cold soba just wash it with cold water.

Add seaweed and other toppings (Bonito flakes are highly recommended for the authentic Japanese taste.).

Zaru soba dashi (dipping sauce) from the supermarket.
An English translation is also found on a sticker at the back of the bottle.

Pour yourself ready made dashi (dipping sauce) in a bowl. You can also mix in some wasabi for that extra kick in the dip.

Voila! Cold soba for lunch or dinner!
Japanese restaurants in the Philippines usually serve zaru soba with quail's egg. I find this quite unusual as the egg is not usually part of the meals I've eaten in restaurants while in Japan (Of course, there are no eggs with the set you can buy at convenience stores there.). Perhaps this is just a variation of the dish so I don't really question its authenticity. Nevertheless, I prefer mine without th quail's egg and so my zaru soba is practically vegetarian fare. Itadakimasu!


Monday, June 17, 2013

Gyudon at Yoshinoya

I remember eating at Yoshinoya during my stays in Yokohama, Tokyo and Saitama. A friend told me about his wedding plans at a branch near my home around the Nishiya Station of the Sotetsu Line. There is also a Yoshinoya near the Minami Yono Station of the Saikyo Line that I also rode on while visiting Saitama. I've come to enjoy a bowl of gyudon from time to time as I have also associated it with what we usually categorize as comfort food. 

I was early for a meeting at Ortigas one time last month and as I had not taken my lunch yet, I decided to have a late one at the shopping mall where I parked my car. As it was already after the lunch breaks of most offices, there were few people at the branch in the mall and I enjoyed a regular bowl of gyudon with shiitake shumai on the side.

A regular beef bowl with shiitake siomai on the side. Red iced tea to wash it down.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

There goes the neighborhood!

Being frequent visitors to Tagaytay, we couldn't help but be dismayed with the recent developments there featuring high rise buildings. The first to do this was Robinsons Land, which constructed the first tall building in the Summit Ridge hotel and residential condominium along the national highway, just past the Taal Vista Hotel.

A traveler's view from the highway - Robinson's Summit at left is surrounded by SM's Wind. The sign of Josephine's Restaurant is visible at right in the photo.

This project meant the inevitable entry of competitor SM in the area. What we initially thought was a smart move by SM in acquiring the Taal Vista Hotel paved the way for the retail giant to acquire more land for development, which included the much hyped Wind Residences beside (and surrounding Robinsons' Summit Ridge.

SMDC's Wind Residences in Tagaytay

Closely following SM is a development by Cityland near the rotunda, which eerily looked like just one of the ill-conceived boxes they call condominiums in Metro Manila. We couldn't help but notice that there is generally a lack of landscaping or open spaces to complement the high-rise buildings so there is little or no effort in making the buildings and the lands where they're built blend with the environment.

For a tourist destination like Tagaytay, it seemed to me that it would be in their best interest to have no buildings perhaps beyond medium rise ( 4 or 5 floors max?). The prevailing perception now is that the city did not do its job in regulating such high density developments. Granted, there are many people who wish to have their own houses in Tagaytay and property values there are climbing. Why else would major players be racing to build high-priced residential developments? And it seems that some developers thought that best approach which addresses demand seems to be the high-rise option. Unfortunately, "best" here seems to be equated to "most profitable" rather than "most sustainable." Nevermind that the buildings now obscure the view and the sun for many residents of the surrounding areas (not just those living along the ridge). Nevermind that these developments will require much water and other resources for the maintenance alone. Were these elements even considered in the impact assessments of these developments? Did the Environmental Management Bureau do its part in ensuring that the developments conform to standards and regulations?

Now comes what is touted as the tallest ferris wheel in the country, which brings me to the question of why do people go to Tagaytay? To ride a ferris wheel? I don't think so! The local government seems too eager to approve major projects here and there without looking at a sustainable future for the city. High intensity developments such as the high rise residential buildings currently under construction in the city will eventually put too much pressure on precious resources including water supply and also scar the landscape (I don't want to use the term cityscape.) with structures that basically do not conform with the character of Tagaytay.

Amusement park and convention center facilities beside the Taal Vista Hotel

Of course, this is only my opinion and one of so many other opinions regarding development. Perhaps people living in the area accept such developments as they represent income for the LGUs (Tagaytay, Silang and Amadeo are the ones most directly benefiting from the developments.) and jobs for people residing in the area. These were definitely considerations in the process of approval for these projects and probably weighed more than other factors that required attention. I just hope that a sustainable future was not sacrificed by people who opted to earn a quick buck from these projects.


Detox in Tagaytay

The Clairvoyant and I were back again in Tagaytay for some relaxation. For some, this is called detoxification or detox, as we wanted to have some time off from our hectic schedules. I took a couple of photos from our room where we had a great view of the volcano island in Taal Lake.  We stayed at a bed & breakfast place that's highly recommended in Trip Advisor and were not disappointed with our very comfortable yet reasonably priced accommodations.

We had a clear view of the volcano island in Taal Lake. In the background is Mataas na Kahoy in Batangas.

The weather changed rapidly that afternoon when we checked in at the bed & breakfast. I took this photo of the Taal with the rain clouds enveloping the area only a few minutes after I took the preceding photo.

More on our bed & breakafst and our most recent detox trip to Tagaytay in another post.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Chocolate review: Morinaga Venezuela Bitter

There are many companies with chocolate products in Japan and I have mentioned Meiji as among the popular brands. I remember they have bars, candies, ice cream and even a chocolate drink that you can buy in most supermarkets or grocery stores. Morinaga is another popular brand in Japan that's a direct competitor of Meiji. They have similar bars of chocolate including what looks like similar packaging and presentations for milk chocolate, white chocolate and dark chocolate bars. While both companies are diversified in terms of the food products, I think Morinaga has a better line of chocolates. One particularly satisfying line is on dark chocolate or "bitter" as they usually call it in Japan. 

The Clairvoyant bought a couple of boxes of Venezuela Bitter while on stopover at Nagoya's Chubu Airport. A box contained 21 squares of dark chocolate that's smooth with a cocoa content of 55%. The squares allow you to control yourself from indulging in this tempting delight. It is easy to forget one's diet or the dangers of indulging in chocolate once you get a taste of such treats.

A box of Morinaga Venezuela Bitter contains 21 squares

The packaging reminded me of the Scharffen Berger chocolates we usually bought when in San Francisco or Berkeley

A square or two for dessert is quite satisfying

The cacao used for Venezuela Bitter comprises 30% of Venezuela cacao


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ice cream and macarons at Bar Dolci

The Clairvoyant and I met up with a couple of friends from way back. Marsha and Raul were good friends of the Clairvoyant from when she was still working at Congress. I met them when the wife and I were dating and we quickly became friends, too. It's been a while since we got together though we occasionally see Marsha and her family at church at UP Diliman. A few months ago, Raul had undergone surgery and we also wanted to have some catch up kwentuhan with him. After a nice lunch at 1521, our small group had ice cream, macarons and coffee at Bar Dolci at the Burgos Circle, Bonifacio Global City. Bar Dolci was highly recommended by friends and on Saturdays right after noon there were few people at Burgos Circle so we practically had the place to ourselves for more kwentuhan after lunch. The gelato (ice cream) is smooth and the macarons are terrific. These go very well with catching up with old friends.




Thursday, June 6, 2013

Quick melt ensaymada

Ensaymadas are a favorite pastry in the Philippines and almost every bakery would have ensaymadas to sell aside from the more popular pandesal. Ensaymadas are practically bread with toppings of butter and sugar. They become "special" when there is cheese included as a topping. I say special because cheese is usually regarded as expensive and the typical neighborhood bakery ensaymada will not have cheese on top but probably a generous spread of margarine and sprinkle of sugar. 

How special an ensaymada is may depend on the cheese used on the pastry. The usual kind is cheddar cheese, which is what many bakeries use for their "special" variety. These include the regular pastries by commercial bakeshops like Goldilocks and Red Ribbon. The more sophisticated or specialized bakeries use other cheeses and the preferred type is queso de bola (edam). Not so recently, quick melt cheese has been used and which added somewhat to the flavor of the pastry. Some bakeries have also experimented, and successfully, with other toppings or fillings for the ensaymada. Such include macapuno, ube, salted egg and yema. Grilled ensaymada is also served in some restaurants and I personally prefer the ensaymadas of Mary Grace.

While walking towards my boarding gate at the airport recently, I spotted a stall selling quick melt ensaymada. These are popular "special" ensaymadas with really good bread and toppings. I like the macapuno while the Clairvoyant prefers salted egg. I decided to take a photo of the boxes of ensaymada as I purchased a couple, one to eat while waiting for our boarding call and another to take as baon that I would eat for later. There are two popular brands of quick melt ensaymadas - Muhlach's and the generic Quik Melt. These are available at most malls in Metro Manila where they have stalls.

Muhlach's quick melt ensaymadas


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Chocolate review: Cote d'Or 70% Cacao

My brother-in-law residing in Montreal sent us a few bars of chocolate for Christmas last year and among the bars were a couple of the brand and variety we usually brought home from Singapore as it was available at Changi's Cocoa Tree stores. While there are other dark chocolate brands and varieties, we found Cote d'Or Noir Orange 70% cacao to be the more reasonably priced. The taste is smooth for the dark chocolate and we like ours with orange (or calamansi in the case of a local brand).

Dark chocolate with orange peelings

More info on the bar
More on chocolates later...