Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bangkok Surprise

You’ve probably heard it… it’s so like Manila (yes and no) and that the traffic is terrible (do not delude yourself for ours is just as bad if not worse).

It has was never one of my favorite places until a friend’s constant prodding (”It’s all different now! You’ve got to see it!” - Cari) forced me to run out of excuses.

What a decade makes, right?

As we deplaned at Suvarnabhurmi (Say it this way: “su-wan-na-poom”) International Airport (named so by King Bhumibol Adulayej), I was instantly amazed. The airport is the first and last place you see of any country and can leave lasting impressions on you. Suvarnabhumi – which means “the Golden Peninsula” referring to the Thailand-Cambodia-Laos-Burma region -- is fully modern and spacious. It has two parallel runways to accommodate 76 simultaneous arrivals and departures per hour! Since we’re all eager to get out of the airport, we won’t be checking it out just yet.

The arrival area seems kind of long and its one hell of a walk. We must have been at the far end of the airport. But by the time we got to Immigration, there’s hardly anyone in line. The immigration counter had one oddity though… on the sample arrival card, the name neatly penciled in read: Potter, Harry.

When I asked the official why JK Rowling’s famous character’s name was used as an example, she smiled and replied in halting English: “Good book. Good movie.”

Who said that airports were lifeless and sterile? This one had some character (although our friend says that Suvarnabhumi is not functional).

It turned out that all the passengers we were with went to another immigration area that had long lines. For us, we breezed right through and were comfortably waiting for our luggage when the rest of the flight started arriving.

We took the airport taxi to our friends’ place that was some 10-15 minutes drive from the airport (we paid 850 baht for the ride...urgh!). The ride was pretty quick since it was late in the evening. From the airport, you could instantly see how Bangkok has changed since like a decade ago. For all the criticism levied at former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, he brought the country to the 21st Century.

Nongbon Prawet is an exclusive subdivision in the outskirts of the city proper. Its got a lot of greens and a clean nice neighborhood that’s home to many Chinese-Thai and Caucasian expats. Almost every street has a guard. Talk about security.

When you hear the world “Thailand” or “Bangkok” a couple of things come to mind: traffic, the temples, the King, Thaksin, food, that Bangkok is sinking at the rate of two to four inches every year.

But you gotta give them credit for their hospitality. You can see how people here are really polite, law-abiding (“The crime rate here is so low because people here are lazy,” explains our Thai host), and really warm. Their wai is such a nice and respectful gesture. You simply have to return it.

Baht aren’t we going shopping?
Going sight-seeing in Bangkok, we took a cab from our friend’s house to the BTS Skytrain station at On Nut. The great thing about this city is they have a very efficient elevated and subway system running. And they’re clean too. We paid 130 baht for the Smart Pass that is good for a couple of rides before you have to reload.

From the east end of On Nut, it’s 10-stop ride to Siam that’s in the north junction. Siam stop deposited us in the heart of trendy Ratchaprasong. It’s like rush hour yet the train isn’t packed like sardines the way our MRT is. Of all the subways and els I’ve taken from the US to Japan to the rest of Asia, the trains here are the only ones with strap-ons (or strap hangers as they say in NYC) close to the door way. Isn’t that cool that they have the safety of its passengers in mind?

We check out the inter-connected malls and hotels along Sukhumvit – the Siam Paragon, Siam Center, and the Siam Discovery Center. Yeah, malls. I know. There’s so much to see but this stretch of malls along Sukhumvit is just some place you have to check out. Siam Square is over here and if you’ve been to Japan you’ll be reminded of Shinjuku Square and London’s Oxford Square. This is like a common ground for a lot of activity and entertainment.

One reason why we had to go here was I really was looking for a good book and music store (sorry, but as much as I like Fully Booked it’s still no Barnes and Noble).

There are two bookstores in Paragon – Asia Books and Kinokuniya. If you’re looking for a quick browse then Asia Books in the 2nd floor is it for you. But if you’re looking to spend some time looking around and reading then Kinokuniya in the 3rd floor should be your destination. It’s way bigger and has much more selections. But… it’s cheaper at Asia Books by around 10 baht per book or magazine. So if you’re budget conscious you know where to go when in Bangkok.

Paragon is also home to the two-storey Ocean World (10,000 sq. m of 30,000 marine creatures from 400 different species). But its kinda expensive 700 baht per pax.

Centre World another mall that is like a 10-minute walk from Paragon has an even bigger book store B2S. And they’ve got CDs and DVDs as well. Unfortunately, they were all out of the books I was looking for: Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch (please not the US version about the Boston Red Sox… booo!) and graffiti artist Banksy’s Wall and Piece coffee table book. So I settled for a pair of magazines at Asia Books: Four Four Two (with Kaka on the cover) and World Soccer (with Francesco Totti on the splash).

It was here where I picked up Deftones’ latest album Saturday Night Wrist. Other than that there are few selections here that you won’t find anywhere else. If you’re looking for CDs, the best place to purchase in Asia is Hong Kong and Japan. Thailand… well, there are lots of other stuff to buy.

MBK Center (It’s full name is Mahboonkrong) is like Market! Market! to the max. It’s eight floors high and 330 meters long and has 2,500 shopping and eating stalls/booths. It’s a short walk to the west of Paragon (but if you’re coming from On Nut, you can get off at Ratchathewi then it’s like a three-minute walk) where you can take the pedestrian overpass then go right through the Tokyu Department Store but not before you get a shot against the façade of one of Asia’s largest malls like we did.

I bought Tamarind sweets for my mum, some cool looking shirts for my family, and a Liverpool FC knock-off of Fernando Torres’ jersey.

Look… this isn’t a department store so you can haggle. I helped a Spanish couple get a good bargain (yes, I still speak passable Spanish) that didn’t endear me to the seller. Hahaha. But I got away with 30 baht for the Tamarind sweets and 90 baht for the shirts (they were retailing for 100 baht). Football knock-offs vary from 350-700 baht depending on what it is, the name behind the jersey, and its make – they have different classes of it s make from superior to cheap production). The LFC kit was docked at 650 baht but I would have none of it. I got it for 475 baht.

Dude, if you’re a football fan, they’ve got an Arsenal Store at Centre World. You can go crazy inside. I would have bought a Francesc Fabregas kit were there one. Centre World has an okay adidas and Nike store. They sell only the popular clubs here like Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan, and Bayern Munich. But right before the start of the football season, they also display club kits like AS Roma, Newcastle, Valencia, and Schalke 04.

I’ve got around 30 or so original kits but the ones I’m still looking for are: Del Pierro Juventus, Franck Ribery’s France kit, Van Nistelrooy’s Real Madrid, Thierry Henry’s Barcelona, and Toni Luca’s Bayern Munich.

My fave kits: Zidane’s France 2006, Zidane’s Real Madrid, my Liverpool home and away kits, and my Argentina national kit.

Chatuchak Weekend Market (35 acres of about 15,000 stalls of goods) is another bonanza for your baht. I was only able to stay here for like 15 minutes before I left ahead of everyone else. I had been nursing
a fever for about a week now and it hit me at the worst possible time.

Monday, October 29, 2007

How Famous Is JK Rowling's fictional character?

We planed into Suvarnabhumi International Airport last October 11 and when we arrived at Immigration, the officers were so kind to guide us in the proper filling out of the forms. We took a shot of that written guide that was posted right in front of our booth.

Harry Potter rules, lads and lassies.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Z-Loft at One Rockwell: A View to A Thrill

by rick olivares

It all begins with the Master Plan. That is if leisurely and luxurious living amidst the maddening daily grind is your cup of tea. Or is it the wine you sip by the balcony of your loft that makes you privy to an unparalleled view of the city of man as the sun peeks out of the dawn clouds or as she bids the day goodbye leaving a glorious sunset in her wake.

The Z-Loft in One Rockwell is the first of its kind in the country of even in Asia. In fact, it’s located in Rockwell Center, the country’s premier residential community that is a model of urban planning. “You get that feeling that you’re not in Manila the moment you enter,” gushes Valerie Soliven, Rockwell Land’s Vice President for Sales and Marketing. “It’s just different like where living meets art.”

And rightly so for there are none of those eyesores of sagging electric posts or potholed streets that are asymptotic of a metropolis gone haywire. All the lines are buried underground and electric power is assured 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year round even during the most inclement of weather. And all the different residential towers are connected to the Power Plant mall by an underground tunnel where one gets to travel to and fro via golf cart. The roads dotted with an oasis of lush greens and vehicular traffic is efficiently managed. You can walk down for breakfast or coffee in Block 09 -- a dining area inspired by the gastronomic variety and hedonism of Bali. It’s all within an uncomplicated and uncongested community that integrates residential, office, educational, dining, and entertainment areas designed for those with a taste for the finest things in life.

At One Rockwell, the buildings don’t rise; they zig and zag into the world’s first Z-shaped residential tower as designed by Arquitectonica and Pimentel, Rodriguez, Simbulan & Partners. And the space between buildings is almost double of other residential towers in the greater metro area.

One Rockwell is made up of the East and West Towers each standing 45 and 55 stories high respectively. A landscaped and tree-lined rotunda, designed by LACC International, Inc., welcomes you as you make your entrance. And around the main lobby, one can find a café, deli, salon, and a variety of shops that provide basic needs. Truly a most convenient setting for the denizens of this idyllic haven in the midst of the country’s premier commercial center. However if you wish to avoid the frenzy of the lobby there’s a roundabout to immediately whisk you to the elevators.

Each tower gives you a menu of finished unit types from a studio, a flat, and a variety of lofts. The studios measure 27 square meters while the two-bedroom flats are 80 square meters long. The 1-bedroom loft varies from 52-71 square meters while the 2-bedroom versions range from 106-115 square meters. The 2-bedroom bi-level is pegged at 132 square meters and the 1 and 2 bedroom Z-Lofts are 70 square meters and 117125 square meters long respectively.

Regardless of your choice, you’ll have a unit with spectacular dual views of eastern and western Greater Manila that help bring you down a notch or two after the daily grind. The lofts place an outrageous premium on space with its 19-feet high ceilings and split-levels. Each unit uses laminated and solid wood flooring for the living, dining, and bedroom areas.

There are a variety of modular and built in closet systems in the bedrooms and the kitchen along with provisions for cable TV connection and split-type air conditioning. And the throne room – the baths - has running hot and cold water while its flooring uses ceramic floor tile work.

To complete this experience in this fine art of urban living are the amenities that feature a fitness center, private function and public game rooms, a cozy mini-theater, a personal videoke room, a Sky Deck with an outdoor adult and kids swimming pool, and a Sky Bar with breathtaking 180-degree views.

The Z-Loft at One Rockwell is truly a unique and iconic architectural marvel. It’s a testament to Rockwell’s vision of the upliftment of the standard of urban Filipino living.

Now that’s a Master Plan.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Wow. This has to rock or else...

The first poster for the upcoming Iron Man movie starring Robert Downey Jr. I hope it's good or there'll be hell to pay (after that sucky Ghost Rider movie).

Monday, October 8, 2007

Productivity at Work

There's a reason why many companies have firewalls for their office internet use. This is simply hilarious. But who knows, these Japanese guys may be on to something.

October 5, 2007

TOKYO - Japan's Agriculture Ministry reprimanded six bureaucrats after an internal probe found they spent work hours contributing to Wikipedia on topics unrelated to farm issues — including 260 entries about cartoon robots.

The six civil servants together made 408 entries on the popular Web site encyclopedia from ministry computers since 2003, an official said Friday.

One of the six focused solely on Gundam — the popular, long-running animated series about giant robots — to which he contributed 260 times. The series has spun off intricate toy robots popular among schoolchildren as well as adults known as "otaku" nerds.

"The Agriculture Ministry is not in charge of Gundam," said ministry official Tsutomu Shimomura.

The other five bureaucrats scolded for shirking their duties focused their contributions on movies, typographical mistakes on billboard signs and local politics, Shimomura said.

The ministry's internal probe followed recent media allegations that a growing number of Japanese public servants were contributing to the Web encyclopedia, which anyone can edit, often to reflect their views.

The ministry verbally reprimanded each of the six officials, and slapped a ministry-wide order to prohibit access to Wikipedia at work, while disabling access to the site from the ministry, Shimomura said.

The ministry, however, did not object to their limited contributions on the World Trade Organization and free trade agreements.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Lone Survivor -- My Book of the Month

When I was younger, I thought about joining the military. I had several classmates who signed up. One was Pacoy Ortega, one of my bestfriends in school, who went to Fort Del Pilar in Baguio but stayed only a year (I think he's like some Mayor or Congressman now in La Union). I had another classmate (who shall go nameless since I'm not sure if he's still serving) who joined the US Army where I heard he was in the Special Forces. We also had a teacher in high school who left Ateneo to spend one tour with the US Marines. Wow.

I almost did right between 1st and 2nd year college. At that time, I was really gung-ho about joining the US Marines. My uncle, retired General Thelmo Y. Cunanan, now head of the local SSS, went to West Point and that made a huge impression on me as well. But I can't remember what made me change my mind at the last moment but I guess things happen for a reason.

I still enjoy the military genre whether in book form or in movies and some of them are in my list of all-time favorites like Saving Private Ryan and Blackhawk Down.

I personally know one person who served in Iraq for like two years before he rotated back to the US. His brother was in Guantanamo for like a year as well. I've been wanting to write about their experiences but it takes awhile for them to get back to me. Maybe when I move back Stateside.

In the meantime, here's a book that makes for great reading. I included the synopsis in case you might be interested.

If you're looking for a true story that showcases both a soldier's heroism and people's humanity, Marcus Luttrell's Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, written with Patrick Robinson, may be the book for you. In June of 2005, Luttrell led a four-man team of US Navy SEALs into the mountains of Afghanistan on a mission to kill a Taliban leader thought to be allied with Osama bin Laden. On foot, the team encountered two adult men and a teenage boy. A debate broke out as to whether the SEALs should summarily execute the trio to keep them from alerting the Taliban. Luttrell himself was called upon to make the decision. He was torn between considerations of morality and his survival instinct, and he points out that "any government that thinks war is somehow fair and subject to rules like a baseball game probably should not get into one. Because nothing's fair in war, and occasionally the wrong people do get killed."

Luttrell opted to spare the Afghanis' lives. About an hour later, the Taliban launched an attack that claimed nearly a hundred of their own men but also the lives of all the SEALs except Luttrell, who was left wounded.

Not long after that, the Taliban shot down an American rescue helicopter, killing all 16 men on board. Luttrell is sure that the three Afghanis he let go turned around and betrayed the SEALs.

But if nothing is fair in war, neither is anything foreordained. Luttrell was found by other Afghanis, one of whom claimed to be his village's doctor. Once again, Luttrell had to rely on his instincts. "There was something about him," Luttrell writes. "By now I'd seen a whole lot of Taliban warriors, and he looked nothing like any of them. There was no arrogance, no hatred in his eyes." Luttrell trusted the man and his colleagues, who took him back to their village, where the law of hospitality -- "strictly nonnegotiable" -- took hold. "They were committed to defend me against the Taliban," Luttrell writes, "until there was no one left alive."

The law held, and Luttrell survived, returned home and received the Navy Cross for combat heroism from President Bush.