Tuesday, November 27, 2007

An Enchanted Movie

Ever since we saw the trailer for this movie we couldn't wait to watch it. Nothing like a Disney film to bring a smile and hearty laugh in times like this. The songs seemed familiar -- why not? It had genius Alan Menken of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast penning half of them (Stephen Schwartz was his writing partner here since Menken's former co-writer Howard Ashman passed away sometime ago).

Man, James Marsden was awesome. Hopefully, he'll get bigger roles after support ones in the X-Men trilogy, Superman Returns, and Zoolander.

I'm still not convinced that Patrick Dempsey is a good actor. Folks think of him as Dr. Shepherd in Grey's Anatomy but I recall the jerk Everett in the film With Honors (starring the beautiful Moira Kelly, Brendan Fraser, and Joe Pesci).

Amy Adams and Marsden turn in surprise performances here. And dude, any film shot in NYC has got to be close to my heart.

Check this film out, folks. It's not exactly a whole new world here (see Space Jam, Roger Rabbit, and other similar films), but it's a fun and refreshing film. An enchanted time in the theater.

Monday, November 26, 2007

King's Kebab Persian Grill

Mai and I love Greek and Turkish food. Hossein’s (along Makati Avenue & the Serendra), Behrouz (Wilson), and Arya (Promenade) are favorites.

We tried out this new restaurant along Katipunan Extension (just after Tomas Castro in Project 4 near Bite Club) called King’s Kebab Persian Grill.

We tried it out one Saturday (after having passed by for the past several weeks) and here’s what we thought of it.

It’s not air-conditioned and that’s a negative more so when the smoke from their grill goes inside and you wonder if you’ve been kebabbed yourself.

It’s small. Like eight tables that will seat 18 people.

The prices aren’t so bad. Here’s what we ordered:

Beef Tenderloin Kebab 99 per stick (Pork Tenderloin Kebab cost 69 per stick)
Kobideh Kebab 169
Sirloin Shawarma Rice 79 (too expensive for so little)
Grilled tomatoes 10
Coke Light 35 (highway robbery)

The Kobideh Kebab tasted like a burger patty and was somewhat disappointing. It’s not that it tastes bad. It’s okay. Not great. Not tripping the light fantastic.

It’s not bad if you live in the area and don’t feel like going to Wilson or Greenhills. Don't expect a great ambiance but I enjoyed it because of the free wi-fi.

Verdict: Behrouz has a lousy ambiance too but it’s still better in terms of food quality and portions. In terms of preparation, Arya and Hossein’s are still the best (which is expected given the prices). Stick to these three.

King’s Kebab Persian Grill
221-E Katipunan
912 2697

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Auditions for Rivermaya's New Member

This was the second interview I had with Rivermaya. The first was about two years ago at Dish where I had a long chat with former frontman Rico Blanco. I was actually prepping a story on the band's Atenean members -- Blanco and guitarist Mike Elgar -- when Blanco left. So the story changed to "where are we now?" The story should be out soon now that a new member has been announced. Congratulations to Jayson Fernandez.

Thanks to the band (Mark Escueta and Mike Elgar had a lot of excellent insights that should turn up great for the story) and to their manager Liza Nakpil for this.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

My Book of the Month

Kevin Sites is a man on a mission. Venturing alone into the dark heart of war, armed with just a video camera, a digital camera, a laptop, and a satellite modem, the award-winning journalist covered virtually every major global hot spot as the first Internet correspondent for Yahoo! News. Beginning his journey with the anarchic chaos of Somalia in September 2005 and ending with the Israeli-Hezbollah war in the summer of 2006, Sites talks with rebels and government troops, child soldiers and child brides, and features the people on every side, including those caught in the cross fire. His honest reporting helps destroy the myths of war by putting a human face on war's inhumanity. Personally, Sites will come to discover that the greatest danger he faces may not be from bombs and bullets, but from the unsettling power of the truth.

About the Author
Kevin Sites has spent the past seven years covering global war and disasters for several national networks, including NBC, ABC, and CNN, and has helped pioneer solo journalism, traveling to and reporting from some of the world's most dangerous places. He is a recipient of the 2006 Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism. When not on assignment, he makes his home in southern California.

I saw Mr. Sites work some time ago and came away very impressed. Guess we have the same passions. So when I saw the book at Bestellers in Robinson's Galleria I snapped it up right away for Php 669.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cast Iron Guarantee

Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges.

Cool cast of a cool movie.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Stone Temple Pilots

Check out the guardians of the Wat Phra Keo, the Grand Temple in Bangkok, Thailand.

Admission to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Central Court of the Grand Palace is 250 Baht (roundabout Php 350). Note that the admission fee also includes an admission ticket to Vimanmek Mansion that can be used within seven days of your Grand Palace visit.

There is a strict dress code for visiting the Grand Palace. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is Thailand's most sacred site. Visitors must be properly dressed before being allowed entry to the temple.

Men must wear long pants and shirts with sleeves -- no tank tops. If you're wearing sandals or flip-flops you must wear socks (in other words, no bare feet.) Women must be similarly modestly dressed. No see-through clothes, bare shoulders, etc. If you show up at the front gate improperly dressed, there is a booth near the entry that can provide clothes to cover you up properly.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lunch and the Dancing Waiters & Waitresses

MK Trendi is a popular Shabu Shabu restaurant that has the ambiance of a retro fast food joint. The food's okay but what makes this a fashionable eatery is its dancing waiters and waitresses who perform a certain routine every hour. It's actually enjoyable. The music is like something out of those Dance Revolution machines at arcades.

Expats, tourists, and one Thai. For posterity at MK Trendi outside Siam Paragon.

Some of the ingredients for our meal.

Iced tea in a cool looking MK Trendi glass.

At the end of your meal, they provide you with a breakdown of all the calories, fat, carbs etc that you consumed.
Here's what we consumed for a 1,673 baht meal:
993.8 energy
61.2 protein
70.3 carbs
50.9 fat
6.1 fiber
1.7 sodium
289.9 calcium
10.0 iron

Was that cool or was that cool?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Grand Palace in Thailand

The Grand Palace (Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang in Thai) is a complex of buildings in Bangkok that once served as the official residence of the king of Thailand. King Bhumibol moved the official royal residence to Chitralada Palace. So if the old palace is beautiful and every bit as grand then how much more the new residences? This is of me in front of the Chakri Mahaprasad Hall.

The palace complex sits on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River. The other approaches to the palace are protected by a defensive wall of 1,900 metres in length, which encloses an area of 218,400 square metres. Further out from the wall is a canal, which was also created for defensive purposes, making the area surrounding the palace an island, known as Rattana Kosin.

It was raining pretty hard when we went there and it took about 45 minutes for the downpour to weaken into a drizzle. But even with the somber skies and the rain, the Palace looked so beautiful. The architecture and the minute detail put into the design and the construction are simply mind-boggling. Like the Egyptian pyramids, it must have taken a long long time to construct this complex.

Wat Arun is one of the temples on the way to the Grand Palace. If we had more time we would have gone to every one of them.

Check out the pouring rain in this shot. The statue seems amused by his predicament.

Mai and the mythological giant known as Yak.

Check out the miniature (if you can describe it as such) model of Cambodia's Angkor Wat. The real one is way huge and more majestic.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Audacity of Hope

by Rick Olivares

The road to Damascus
The jungle trail is perilous. Even that is a treacherous understatement. To get to the refugee camps, the off-road vehicle has to be hauled up a steep incline from a winch. Then you have to slog through the quagmire of the monsoon season in the alternating heat and rain.

The camps are also beset by flashfloods, landslides, and erosion. And to exacerbate the danger, they’re a mere two klicks away from the Burmese border. Eminently within sniper range from a Chinese-made Russian Dragunov sniper rifle that fires a steel-jacketed 7.62 mm bullet that upon impact instantly turns a human body into jelly.

It’s definitely not the Hilton or the air-conditioned confines of the corporate offices of United Laboratories, but for Ben Mendoza (HS ’64 Coll ’68), the refugee camps that dot stretch across the Thailand-Burma are the best places on God’s green earth for him.

Men of his age would have found their calling and their place in the world decades ago. But it brings back a strange fulfillment, a feeling he first felt during his ACIL years back in school.

We all have our road to Damascus. In the most mysterious of ways, the Lord God communicates to us and reaches out to his wayward sons and daughters.

Ben Mendoza (HS ’64, Coll ’68) confesses his being less than devout once upon a time. He was always content to let his family stay inside for Mass while he stood outside waiting for the hour to pass by.

A long marketing career with United Laboratories and Wyeth found him working overseas mostly in Thailand and in the United States. But he was always drawn back to Thailand. “There was something more than the picture perfect beaches and the cuisine,” he says trying to put a finger to his point. “There’s an innate beauty to the country – the warmth, openness, and diversity of the people.”

While at Mass in Bangkok one Sunday – standing outside as usual – a guest priest talked about Mission Sunday where the Catholic Church was involved in helping refugees from war-torn Burma. Before he knew it, he made his way inside and listened intently to the human crisis situation that was happening a mere five hours drive from his comfortable Bangkok digs. He went home profoundly affected; the seed having been sown.

Watching television a few weeks later, he saw the same priest talking about the strife in Burma and the refugees in Thailand. Around the same time, there was an ad out in the papers looking for a Field Manager who could work in the camps and help raise the funding needed for the refugee work. And Mendoza knew he could no longer ignore the call. His children were all done with school and he had no other obligations to work and pay for. He quit his job and figured that he could put his management skills into the best use with the organization. Little did he know that his life was to undergo a radical change.

The spirit of the bayonet
There’s a frail and elderly woman looking every bit her age. Twenty years of living in the squalor of various refugee camps after fleeing the war and strife in Burma have withered her body. But surprisingly it has not affected her mind or her spirit. Not even her memories.

She pulls a refugee camp volunteer close. “Thank you for the food and shelter,” she slowly intones in her native Karen perhaps to emphasize the urgency of her message. “But give us guns so we may end this conflict once and for all.”

This is one of two haunting memories that are grafted to Mendoza’s soul. It’s a chilling statement of a blunt nature of the conflict in Burma (or Myanmar as it is now called) -- it is a long long way from being resolved.

There are two things that change the world’s geography: nature and war. While we are far removed from the disappeared land bridges and the eruptions of volcanoes like Vesuvius and Krakatoa that have defined borders and destroyed civilizations, war on the other hand is a persistent and dangerous man-made threat that has constantly rearranged boundaries even in this day and age.

The days of colonialism may be a distant memory but for many, the ramifications are still felt today. It was common then for the European powers to employ “divide and conquer” tactics by pitting minorities against one another. It allowed them to govern with a small and well-armed occupying force that tasked locals to do their bidding. And long after the last flag was hauled down from Southeast Asia, racial intolerance and age-old enmities have become a flashpoint for violence and slaughter of biblical proportions.

You would think that people would have learned from the Khmer Rouge’s Killing Fields in Cambodia. Yet in neighboring Burma the senseless and wanton killing goes on and has been unchecked for decades now.

Give me your tired and wretched refuse
Since the Vietnam Conflict ended, Thailand has graciously opened her borders for refugees from her war-wracked neighbors while providing military protection. Thailand’s Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees (COERR) where Mendoza serves as its Programme Director, has been working in concert with various organizations like Caritas, the United Nations Human Rights Commission, UNICEF, and the local government in providing help for the Burmese refugees.

To date, there are 150,000 refugees scattered in nine different camps along the Thai-Burma border. There are 609 program and camp staff, social workers, doctors, and teachers who work in the camps where there is no electricity and running water.

During daytime, the refugees are taught skills that they will be able to use once they return to their home country. Children are sent to school while the adults either plant indigenous crops that also serve as an additional source of food while others sew or manufacture soap and candles of which are also a light source. However, come nighttime, any illumination is put out for security reasons.

These refugees are forbidden to hold jobs in Thailand more so to leave the camp’s premises. They’re housed according to ethnic group (65% are Karen while 18% are Karenni) and have learned to co-exist through a tenuous truce. Boredom is a huge problem while hope… hope is a lofty and nebulous ideal. And these refugees are entirely dependent on external humanitarian aid.

“I’ve been here for a while but I can’t say I’m jaded,” adds Mendoza. “I look at the selflessness of the volunteers many of whom are (Bangkok) college graduates and they’re here. They’ll make more in private corporations yet somehow for them this is a more rewarding and enriching experience.”

Lifeline of Hope
It is a complex political and social issue up here in the hinterlands of the border between Thailand and Burma. The recent killings of Buddhist monks and other dissenters has sent a fresh wave of refugees and panic not just in this corner of Southeast Asia and the rest of the world but in the camps.

The second haunting image that burns in Mendoza’s soul is the image of a mother holding her child close at night. It isn’t simple one mother. There are thousands and thousands more like here. But it’s always the same scenario.

What does a mother tell her child before they fall asleep? To study well for a brighter future? How does she make them understand that when they face an uncertain tomorrow? How can she say that everything will be all right when they’re not only living on borrowed land but on borrowed time?

There are no answers for now, but for people like Ben Mendoza and the thousands who willingly give their time, effort, care, and money… that’s why they’re spread across nine camps in the jungle. They’re working to find a long-lasting solution and to give hope. Even in a place where it’s in such short supply.

The author together with some good friends met with Ben Mendoza last Sunday, October 14 at a Starbucks in Siam Paragon in Bangkok, Thailand. Despite being busy coordinating rescue efforts after a mudslide in one of the camps, Mr. Mendoza found a couple of hours to talk about the Burmese refugee situation. It is the author’s wish to spend his birthday this November in the refugee camp (he’s working on it) where he hopes to do his part in saving the world.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

No wonder they walk funny...

While the girls where shopping, I went around and snapped up some odd shots. Here are a couple of them. In case you have to relieve yourself you know what signs to look out for. Don't get lost now.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

In the Land of Some of the Finest Cuisine

While at the house of our Thai guests, we had our hearty fill of some authentic and regional Thai and Chinese-Thai cooking. Great stuff from Pi Nit, Hahn. We mean it.

Outside we tried everything from street food to simply food court fare to restaurants. Heck, there's even McDonald's. As I've said before I try out all the different stuff on the McDonald's menu when we travel.

There's the Cream & Fudge Factory at Siam Paragon (they also have this at the Suvarnabhumi Airport). It's not unique where you concoct your own combinations, but the ice cream is great.

Chocolate Truffle Sensation 95 baht

Peach Melba 95 baht

Take a look at the Thai writing for Caramel Frap Grande Double Blend and the Coca-Cola.

This is some of the street food we sampled at Chatuchak.

The smilingest clown comes to the Land of Smiles. Wai, Ronald. Wai.

McDonald's Chicken Delight is something similar to the Go-go Caesar's at KFC. It's okay for 59 baht.