Year-End Thanksgiving

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A lot of tragedies happened this year, both for the country and the world. There’s no need to expound on this fact; but we felt it… the sadness, the anger, the helplessness, the fear… That is why for my year-end reflection, I’ll do my best to turn things around and focus on what I’m thankful for this 2013. I’ll also keep it short and sweet; so we could quickly move forward and welcome 2014 with a positive attitude.

I’m thankful that my family is healthy, happy and safe from harm. I’m thankful for the home that I live in, the comforts that I am able to enjoy, and the simple luxuries that I could afford. It allows me time to take a break despite life’s stresses; and I’m able to feel secure knowing that the people in my life are doing okay.

I’m thankful for my health. The past year has been a constant and conscious effort for me to maintain the weight that I lost in 2012. I’m happy to say that the weight has been off and I’ve lost a couple more pounds by the end of the year. The next year will be all about finally reaching my goal and keeping that healthy weight for good.

I’m thankful for my personal growth. I’ve traveled some more this year, both to familiar and unfamiliar places. I’m grateful to have had these trips, which gave me wonderful life experiences that I will remember forever. I’m also thankful for the many challenges that work has thrown my way. It has definitely made me stronger and allowed me to grow in an industry that never fails to surprise me every step of the way. I’m looking forward to more curve balls in the near future.

Lastly, I’m thankful for the love that surrounds me every day. I know that it’s corny; but I really feel so blessed to be around people that genuinely care about each other. The laughter and joy that comes with it just keeps me going every day. As a bonus, it pushes me to pay it forward and help out others as much as I can.

I’m very grateful for the year that was. I’m very hopeful for the year to come. Here’s to a wonderful New Year! Let’s do it!

Shopping Diary #10: Apple Crazy

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It’s been over a year since I’ve posted a shopping diary. Still, I’ve bought many different things throughout 2013, both for myself and for others. I just decided not to share all of them here. For the last quarter of the year, however, I rewarded myself with some truly wonderful items… all a product of hard work and year-long savings.

Anyway, I went a little Mac crazy and purchased the latest in Apple gadgets and accessories. Take note, though, that I didn’t buy all these in one day; and I didn’t dump all my savings into these “gifts.” These were budgeted and planned according to what I could afford (which is what everyone should do).

GLOBE
iPhone 5S Space Grey

My Best Ever Super Plan plus Cash Out (24-month lock-in)

It’s been 2 years since I got my iPhone 4S; and it hasn’t been working as great as it used to. After all, it fell into the water over a year ago and certain functions (such as the camera and the silent mode) aren’t at their optimal performance. I decided early on to recontract once my plan expires. Enter iPhone 5S.

Despite its confusing and more complicated billing plan, I stuck with Globe for convenience. With a little cash out and an upgraded plan, I now have the latest Apple smart phone that has so far delivered in terms of performance (great speed and screen quality) and features (amazing camera with slow motion, touch ID, etc.).

KIMSTORE
iPad Air White/Silver

I’ve been eyeing the iPad Mini since March; and I promised myself that I will buy the latest model once it comes out this year. However, my plan suddenly changed when I held an iPad Air in my hand for the first time (courtesy of a director who bought one for himself). I was convinced. With a bigger screen size and its much lighter weight (compared to older iPads), I just had to go for the Air. Its screen size is perfect for reading my magazines (Zinio, Newsstand), editing my documents (Evernote, DocsToGo) and playing games (Sims Freeplay, Bejeweled, Scrabble, Secret Passages). I would have been constrained by the iPad Mini when it comes to these apps.

The iPad Air has become a fitting alternative to lugging my laptop to work everyday. I just love it so much… by far my favorite gadget now.

POWER MAC CENTER
Lab.C USB Case for iPhone 5/5S

Php1,690

I just love multifunctional accessories; and the Lab.C iPhone 5/5S case is exactly that with its innovative design. Aside from protecting my iPhone, it also has an 8gb USB built into the case. This way, I can bring my important files with me anywhere; and since the USB is virtually part of my phone, I’m always reminded if someone has borrowed or is using it… No more leaving my USB anywhere.

DIGITAL WALKER
Olloclip 4-in-1 iPhone Lens

Php3,250

I love taking photos with my phone; and the Olloclip 4-in-1 iPhone Lens elevates the quality of my shots with minimal effort. Despite its simple design, I get four different lenses in one device: fisheye, wide, 10x macro and 15x macro. It’s so much fun experimenting with the lenses and the effects they create. Definitely a must for any iphoneography enthusiast.

With technology like what we have right now, there’s no doubt in my mind that this isn’t the last time I’ll go gadget crazy. The important thing is that they were well thought out purchases, all of which I have no regrets spending on. I’m absolutely happy to have them… Merry Christmas to me!

the IT list #12: Watch List

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“the IT list” A series of posts that highlight the various stuff, old or new, that I’ve been doing… reading, watching, eating or simply obsessing over recently. It’s my personal countdown.

the IT list #11

#ONE
2013 isn’t over; but I could honestly say that this is arguably one of the finest years for Philippine cinema ever. Cinemalaya kicked it off for me with the premiere of films such as Transit, Sana Dati and Ekstra. It was then followed by a mainstream release that definitely raised the bar for local Pinoy action movies — On The Job. New film festival Cinefilipino also produced some noteworthy films such as Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita, Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin and Ang Kwento ni Mabuti. Even Kung Fu Divas exceeded my expectations and truly delivered on the laughs with its unique story and execution. Hooray for Philippine cinema, indeed!

(L to R): Ekstra, Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita, On The Job, Transit, Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin

If you have the chance to catch any of the above films, please do try to watch them. Special mention goes to On The Job, which just blew me away, and Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita, which I couldn’t help but fall in love with as I was watching.

Here’s hoping more fine local films are produced in years to come!

#TWO
I finished the well-written, well executed, overall awesome show Breaking Bad last weekend, and I still can’t get it off my head. From beginning to end, this television show has delivered an amazing, well-rounded story without ever dipping in quality. As icing to an already delicious cake, the series finale satisfied me as a fan. Just brilliant.

A lot of the credit goes to Vince Gilligan (for creating it) as well as the talented cast led by Bryan Cranston (for breathing life into these complex characters). Thank you for bringing this show into our lives; and I will never forget it… ever.

#THREE
As I waited for the regular TV season to begin, I decided to check out some new shows from Netflix‘s foray into original programming… and they are AMAZING.

Orange is the New Black and House of Cards are two very different series — one is a black comedy set in a women’s correctional facility and the other is a drama set in the halls of power in Washington, DC. Both are unique. Both are extremely engaging shows in their own ways. Both are exciting additions to my must-watch list. Best of all, Netflix, as a content distributor, is changing the landscape of television by releasing full seasons in one go. No more waiting week after week for new episodes!

If these two shows are any indication of the bar set by Netflix with anything they release, then I’m on board with whatever they produce.

#FOUR
Gravity is the second film I watched in IMAX this year; and that’s pretty rare for me. Still, much like Pacific Rim before it, the film is well worth every peso. Alfonso Cuaron’s latest is an absolute visual masterpiece.  I was glued to every moment. I was gripped. I was in suspense. And for something that in essence only has two characters in it, that says a lot of the directing and the acting that went into the whole thing.

Catch this movie if you haven’t. Watch it in IMAX if you can. For me, it is definitely one of the best films this year.

#FIVE
Wicked is finally coming to Manila! I flew on a quick trip to Singapore over a year ago to catch this musical; and I absolutely loved it. Immediately after, my friend and I promised each other to watch it again when it arrives in Philippine shores. Needless to say, we’ve bought our tickets; and I’m so excited to relive the music, the story and the magic. This is definitely a must-watch!

The show opens on January 22, 2014 at the CCP Main Theater. Tickets available at Ticketworld.

Japan 2013: Beautiful Kyoto

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DAY 5 IN JAPAN

At first, going to Kyoto was just an option in my itinerary. But after some convincing from people who’ve been there, I decided to go ahead and book a one-day tour of Kyoto via JapanICan. I went alone (yet again) for this day; but I did not regret it. Kyoto is an absolutely beautiful city. And considering that we just went to six out of the many, many temples and castles there, I wouldn’t mind going back to explore more of the city in the future.

I will share highlights about the places we went to. Below them is a gallery, which will show you just how pretty and well-preserved the historical sites are. I love how Japan values its heritage. Seeing such a rich history up close at this day and age is rare. I really loved the escape this short trip gave me. It’s definitely a stop you should make if given the opportunity to go to Osaka, since Kyoto is just a 30-minute train ride away.

NIJO CASTLE

Our first stop was Nijo Castle. This is a castle that served as lodging for the Tokugawa Shogun in the 1600s. Here, we were able to walk by the many chambers that go deeper and deeper depending on your ranking. Each room has intricate wood carvings and paintings on the walls. Most of what I saw are already reproductions because the originals are being preserved. However, we got to see some original wall paintings as well.

What I remember most about Nijo Castle is its “nightingale floors.” The floors of the corridors squeak like birds whenever anyone steps on them. This protects the occupants from sneak attacks or unwanted visitors. It was so cool hearing such a sound as we were walking through the castle.

KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (THE GOLDEN PAVILION)

Our second stop was Kinkakuji Temple. It’s a huge garden complex with The Golden Pavilion as its main attraction. It’s a Zen Buddhist Temple that has been built and rebuilt in the past century. It has an amazing landscape design, with an almost flawless view from all angles. It was pretty surreal seeing it in person, like I was transported into a painting.

KYOTO IMPERIAL PALACE

Our last stop in the morning was Kyoto Imperial Palace. It is the former ruling palace of the Emperor of Japan. It is a massive area with a number of structures that we only had glimpses of from the outside. It has the Emperor’s Habitual Residence, the Imperial Library, the Court Room, among others. Entrance here is pretty strict. We had to fill up forms with our information. We also had to walk in pairs and were escorted by guards while going around the grounds.

HEIAN JINGU SHRINE

After lunch, we proceeded to Heian Shrine. It’s a Shinto (belief that everything has a kami or spiritual essence) shrine with a huge garden within its grounds. Here, we saw hanging ema. Ema are small wooden plaques where wishes or desires are written upon and left in the shrine in the hopes that they may be fulfilled. They also sell protective amulets and talismans at the shrine. It offered us a glimpse into the beliefs of this ancient Japanese practice.

SANJUSANGEN-DO TEMPLE

Next, we went to the Sanjusangen-do Temple. It is a Buddhist temple whose main deity is a huge Thousand Armed Kannon in the middle. On its left and right side, there are 1,000 life-size statues of the Thousand Armed Kannon. On top of that, there are also 28 statues in front of the Kannon that serve as guardian deities. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the temple; but it was pretty mind-blowing to see all those intricately made statues in one room.

KIYOMIZU TEMPLE

Our final stop was the Kiyomizu Temple. It is a Buddhist temple which is atop the hill. What’s most interesting about this structure is that there is not a single nail used constructing it.

On the way up to the temple, there are a number of shops and stalls where tourists could get their fill of Kyoto souvenirs. We were allowed to go around on our own before going back to the bus. And with that, we made our way back to Osaka.

Here’s just some of the sights I could share from this brief Kyoto trip.

After a long day of sightseeing, I had breakfast for dinner at Brothers Cafe. Yum!

spam, eggs and pancakes for dinner at Brothers Cafe

spam, eggs and pancakes at Brothers Cafe

And with that, I packed my bags that evening and left Osaka bright and early on DAY 6. This, after all, had to end some time.

All in all, Osaka was a truly epic, unforgettable trip. I do not regret plopping down some savings to finally travel to Japan. The sights, the culture, the food… everything summed up to a unique and exciting experience.

Previous PostOsaka Castle & Universal Studios

The Cronut Hunt

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In May this year, a pastry named Cronut was launched by Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York. It’s a croissant-doughnut hybrid which is rolled in sugar and filled with cream. Almost overnight, stories about its popularity has reached worldwide notoriety. People line up as early as 5:30am to be able to buy at least one of the 250 pieces made available everyday.

Because of this media attention, it’s not surprising that the Philippines has caught on with the craze and local bakeries are now offering their own incarnations of the Cronut.

Through the help of this guide (from ABS-CBN News), I tagged along with my brother and did a little Cronut Hunt. Our mission? To visit at least 2-3 establishments and try out the infamous croissant-doughnut. We decided that a Makati-Fort combo was the way to go since about 3-4 stores were relatively close to each other and it had the most likelihood of success. Let’s begin!

YAMATO BAKERY CAFE
Jupiter Street, Makati City
Price: Php110-120

Our first stop was Yamato Bakery Cafe along Jupiter. We were able to buy the Vanilla Cronut. It is a flaky pastry with cream in the middle. It has a thin coating of sugar outside, topped with thin powdered sugar glaze and drizzled with chocolate.

I liked this one; because it merged the flakiness of the croissant and the fried nature of the doughnut without being too oily. The cream filling is rich but not too sweet. Most importantly, the topping does not overpower the overall taste of the pastry.

On a side note: I do recommend that you try out Yamato’s Choux Cream and Green Tea Choux Cream. It reminded me of the Beard Papa I ate back in Japan. They used fresh cream and it isn’t too sweet. The green tea version has (obviously) green tea flavored cream and red beans, which is a pleasant surprise. It’s a yummy must-try item.

LE COEUR DE FRANCE
San Antonio Plaza, Forbes Park, Makati
Php89

Our second destination was in San Antonio Plaza, Forbes Park. We bought the Parmesan Cheese Croughnut (left) and the Mixed Berries with Cream Cheese Croughnut (right) from Le Coeur de France. It’s relatively smaller compared to the one from Yamato. Also, this one is more like a croissant made to look like a doughnut. It has the flaky layers but doesn’t seem to have been fried (though that’s just my opinion). It is also filled with cream (lesser compared to Yamato) and isn’t too sweet, which is how I like it.

WILDFLOUR CAFE + BAKERY
Net Lima Building, The Fort, Taguig
Php120

From Forbes Park, we headed to BGC looking for Wildflour. It is said to have been the first to offer a version of the Cronut in the Philippines. They call it croissant-doughnut. Unfortunately, there weren’t any more available when we got there. They said reservations should be a day in advance. If we were to wait for the next batch, however, they weren’t sure what time it would be available.

Anyway, I was able to take a picture of the Dulce de Leche Croissant-Donut through the window. I just assumed this is a reserved batch. Oh well, there’s always next time… maybe when the hype dies down.

THE JEEPNEY BAKERY, INTERCONTINENTAL MANILA
Ayala Avenue, Makati City
Price: Php130

We went back to Makati and passed by InterCon Manila for one last Cronut purchase. The Jeepney Bakery had the most number of options for us; so we bought all 5 Cro-nut flavors that were available: Red Velvet, Sugar Cinnamon, White Chocolate, Dark Chocolate with Vanilla Cream, and Cheesecake.

At first, I thought there is no cream at all. But for InterCon’s version, only pockets within the pastry are filled with cream. I could also make out the oil which may mean it was fried at some point. The base of the pastry is the same for all variants. The sides are simply wrapped in whatever flavor it is (i.e. chocolate/almonds or red velvet crumbs, etc.). There’s also a thick powdered sugar topping. I think these are the biggest of the three products I tried. However, I found the Cro-nuts a bit sweet. I think the sugar glaze overpowered the pastry and it was all I could taste. However, that’s how some people might like it.

Despite not being able to try Wildflour’s Croissant-Donut, I think our Cronut Hunt was a success. I got to clue in on what the original Cronut might taste like and what its basic components are.  It’s not something I would actively seek out on a regular basis. Its fried nature is not that appealing for me. (I’d rather come back for that choux cream in Yamato). Still, it’s a new and interesting product that’s definitely worth a try… a welcome addition to the range of breakfast pastries we enjoy.

the IT list #11

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“the IT list” A series of posts that highlight the various stuff, old or new, that I’ve been doing… reading, watching, eating or simply obsessing over recently. It’s my personal countdown.

the IT list #11

#ONE
It’s been a summer of really entertaining blockbuster movies; but the one that stood out for me so far is Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. I’ve watched it twice. Once in IMAX 3D. Once in the good old 2D format. Either way, the movie is just pure awesomeness wrapped in robots versus monsters goodness. Go watch it.

#TWO
It was one LONG month before I got this; but the waiting was worth it! I’ve been wanting to buy a pocket WiFi device of my own. Thankfully, I held out long enough for LTE to arrive in our shores.

The Smart LTE Prepaid Pocket WiFi kit is worth Php6,995. It includes a ZTE MF93D unit and LTE Sim. I’ve been using it for almost two months and I have no regrets. I’ve only gone up to 12mbps at the most, but it’s even faster than the WiFi in my house! And that’s saying a lot. With the prepaid kit, I get to control the amount I put into my device — no contracts, no lockout. What’s even better is that the unit allows up to 10 users at a time! I can also avail of unlimited LTE in Php50 (1 day), Php299 (7 days) and Php995 (30 days) denominations. That’s a really great deal especially since there’s no data cap.

Visit smart.com.ph/bro/lte for more details.


#THREE
I’ve been watching this YouTube show for a while; but Kids React (TheFineBros) got some mainstream media attention because of a recent episode that showed us how some kids could be smarter than most adults when it comes to viewing race and equality.

I love watching this show… as well as its other incarnations: Teens React and Elders React. It’s a simple concept; but it’s entertaining and it makes you think. Highly recommended.

vmars
#FOUR
The movie is finished shooting. A sneak peek has been released. It’s really happening! I am one of the proud backers of this Kickstarter project; and I’m SO EXCITED for the finished product. I’ve been getting a number of updates related to the movie and so far, things are looking pretty good… definitely worth the $50 I shelled out to help make it a reality. The Veronica Mars Movie will be out early 2014. I can’t wait!!

#FIVE
I haven’t had a chance to watch a concert or a theatrical show this year (and it’s already July!). What I’ve been doing a lot of lately is going on staycations. Last Holy Week, we stayed at Manila Hotel. For my sister’s bridal shower, I treated her to an overnight stay at Ace Hotel & Suites. Just last week, I tagged along with my brother’s family and stayed in Sofitel Philippines.

Needless to say, I LOVE the staycation experience. Getting to stay in a luxurious hotel… Not having to clean up after yourself… Best of all, two words: breakfast buffet, which is one of my favorite things in the world. It’s my way of getting some rest and relaxation without leaving the city.

Japan 2013: Osaka Castle & Universal Studios

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DAY 4 IN JAPAN

This entry will mostly be made up of photos as I spent the whole day walking, taking in the sights, experiencing some rides and snapping photos!

By this day, I was getting used to the weather and it has picked up a bit from our arrival. I was pretty comfortable with two layers of clothing. In order to make the most of our day, we spent the morning visiting Osaka Castle and in the afternoon proceeded to Universal Studios Japan.

OSAKA CASTLE

Osaka Castle is in Chūō-ku, Osaka, Japan. It was a long walk from the station; but the destination was well worth it. So beautiful.

We decided to start at the roof top and go down to see the different exhibitions. At the top floor is a great view of the Osaka skyline from all angles. Too bad we weren’t there during cherry blossom season. Otherwise, we would have seen colorful blossoms all over.

Inside, there were certain floors that were off-limits to picture-taking. In a nutshell, the place had such a rich history and it impressed me at how well-preserved the relics, costumes and weapons were. I was still able to take pictures of some pretty cool stuff, though.

shogun costumes you could wear for a photo op

shogun costumes you could wear for a photo op

a really cool diorama/projected imagery which narrated the history of Osaka Castle

a really cool diorama/projected imagery which narrated the history of Osaka Castle

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS JAPAN

We stopped by for lunch at a nearby convenience store and rode a taxi to Universal Studios. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun. I wasn’t able to ride all the attractions; but I still enjoyed the scenery and the shows.

The only downside is the HUGE language barrier. Everything is in Japanese. I can’t really blame them. We’re in Japan, after all. Ron Howard (Backdraft attraction) spoke Japanese. Sarah Connor (Terminator 3D) spoke Japanese. Spiderman (The Amazing Spiderman), Doc (Back to the Future The Ride)… They all speak Japanese! A bit of the experience was lessened because I had no idea what they were saying. I felt like such an alien, not understanding anything. With this alone, I prefer Universal Studios Singapore over Osaka.

Other than that little detail, it’s still an awesome theme park with a lot to offer; so it’s worth checking out especially if you have children. Elmo and Hello Kitty alone would make them go insane!

Previous Post – Kaiyukan Aquarium/Shinsekai
Up Next – Kyoto

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