Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Town in Heaven

text and photos by rick

"In the early 1900's, King Rama IV of Thailand envisioned a wonderful utopia -- a "town in heaven" he called Dusit Thani. For over 60 years, it has been the inspiration for all we do."
Thanpuying Chanut Piyaoui, Founder, Dusit International.

Here in Manila, it took two years to fully renovate the Dusit Thani Hotel as it is called now. Two years of work that culminated in December of 2007. And the results, are a calm oasis of Asian hospitality and luxurious splendor. "It's the ultimate in guest comfort," beamed General Manager Grassmann about his hotel's renaissance.

The Lobby Lounge places you squarely behind the spiral staircase where you can grab a light snack in quiet anonymity. That is until one of the hotel's lovely chanteuses serenades you with timeless ditties of love and peace.

The Devarana Spa (pronounced te-wa-run so don't ask me why it is spelled as such), located on the second floor, is like a retreat to some peaceful sanctuary where the mind and the body are pampered before they go for healing.

Dusit Thani has six restaurants that offer varying cuisines for its multi-ethnic clientele. There's Tosca for that great European cuisine from sunny Italy. And there's the Benjarong Royal Thai, a Japanese restaurant, Fiesta San Miguel that has an on-site beer brewing plant and is a swinging place for young lovers and music fans, Basix for the more common American-type food, and of course, the aforementioned Lobby Lounge.

Fruits in a barrel. Fresh for your fantasy and ecstasy.

The Japanese garden was hitherto unavailable for hotel guests to stroll around and unwind. To guarantee his hotel's commitment to guest comfort, Grassmann, who is from Germany, reiterated, "We only have one goal in mind. And that's finding your peace on this slice of heaven on earth."

Thanks to Mr. Grassmann for the tour.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I had just paid my phone bill and was waiting for a ride when I heard a sickening crunch followed by screams of anguish and horror. With all the cars braking I figured that someone might have been run over. There was no screech of metal rending on metal that told me otherwise.

And there she was in a pool of blood.

There's a police outpost at the corner with some two to four cops on station everyday until about 8pm. Some immediately made after the vehicle which had turned right towards Cubao. And some were there beside the body -- for she was killed and crushed immediately.

I sat down for awhile feeling sick to my stomach. Just like that she was gone.

A deep (but bitin) experience

Manila Ocean Park, April 7, 2008

We've been to a couple of marine parks -- the Hong Kong and Minneapolis variety. There's even the old Sea World in San Diego. Like many others who have been to these must-see's, there's that trepidation that the Manila Ocean Park might not offer the same oohs and ahhs. And we heard the initial feedback from friends and acquaintances. Nevertheless, it was a must-see on our calendar.

We heard that initially, cabbies weren't allowed to drop of their rides in front of the entrance and instead were deposited outside the gates which is like a short two or three minute walk away. In this hot weather, you gotta be kidding us. At least some people come to their senses unlike the idiots at Marikina City Hall who have done a great job of destroying the private subdivisions.

Like a bank, you have to get a number and wait to be called to the counter where you buy your entrance tickets. By the time we arrive which is like 11am on a holiday, there are 100 people ahead of us. Not bad but its a 30-minute wait. It's Php 400 per adult and Php 350 per child. They've got a height thingamajig that's supposed to determine if a kid is a kid or an adult. So for folks with young bucks who stand like 5'8" even if they're only in grade school prepare to pay up in full.

If the Manila Ocean Park were completely done, then the price of admission might not be so bad -- under $10. But an hour's time inside an unfinished Oceanarium might seem somewhat highway robbery.

Make no mistake, we enjoyed like only kids can.

Animal and sea life is always enjoyable. It's like watching the Discovery Channel except you're a little up close to all the attractions.

Being a holiday, the place is crammed with folks who come with their families replete with strollers and armed to the teeth with digi and vid cams.

Some of the exhibits are bunched too close to one another that as Mai said, "people are herded" to and fro making it sometime a little difficult to enjoy watching the fish in their aquariums or even reading the fish literature. The first few are outside an air-conditioned area and the huge volume makes the heat a little more stifling.

The fun thing about this place is you'll see some fish that might have not seen elsewhere. I guess I can say that because I go to HK almost every other year and once in awhile I always go to Ocean Park where the thrill of my trip is volunteering to be a part of the dolphin show. Now that is the coolest! Hopefully, we can do that again sometime this year again.

The Manila Ocean Park experience begins at Agos (Flow) which narrates the natural flow of water from land to sea and where there are exhibits on piranhas and crabs and a Touch Pool, a literal hands-on experience with star fish, sea cucumber, and small sharks (these ones you can't touch).

The Bahura (Reef) section that features coral reef creatures is the more crowded one since the aquariums are bunched close by each other. You can use your cameras but you have to switch off the flash because these are not used to the light.

Next up is the Laot (Fishing Ground) part which is dimly lit since these are the deep sea fish that are on display here. It's more spacious and cooler here. "Shipwrecks" provide a thematic design for fish habitats and camera ops. The overhead video display is cool except that its a little hard to appreciate unless you underneath the circle. This is something similar to what they have in the Museum of Natural History.

The Buhay ng Karagatan (The Living Ocean) is easily the most facsinating one since it's like being under the sea. When a shark passed overhead, everyone gasped in amazement. It's something that never really gets old on you.

Ang Kalaliman (The Deep) doesn't feature the once beauteous Jacqueline Bisset but sharks and stingray. Its here where the Oceanarium gets a little thin. Not to many displays left.

They have a wall where one can scribble their name that they were here for the experience. It's a nice touch to the end of the journey. We kinda wish there was more though.

The souvenir shop when we went there didn't have much merchandise left. The shirts and other apparel have been selling like crazy.

My personal favorites were the electric eel (these are huge suckers), the large Groupers that look a little frightening but have been known to approach divers out of curiosity, the Blue-spotted Ribbontail Rays, and the Tawny Nurse Sharks. No Great Whites here, fellas.

It wasn't much if you've been elsewhere, but it was still plenty fun. The next time we go back, hopefully they would have finished more areas and it would be a weekday. Less people and more time to enjoy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Count the headlights on the highway

This has got to be one of my all-time favorite scenes in any movie. This is that tour bus scene where Stillwater and their entourage do their sing-song bit (after Russell Hammonds' -- Billy Crudup -- accident on stage the previous night) to Elton John's "Tiny Dancer." It's got some great lyrics and it's a strong feel good moment in a great film that still makes my hair stand up to this day.

Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the band
Pretty eyed, pirate smile, you'll marry a music man
Ballerina, you must have seen her dancing in the sand
And now she's in me, always with me, tiny dancer in my hand

Jesus freaks out in the street
Handing tickets out for God
Turning back she just laughs
The boulevard is not that bad

Piano man he makes his stand
In the auditorium
Looking on she sings the songs
The words she knows the tune she hums

But oh how it feels so real
Lying here with no one near
Only you and you can hear me
When I say softly slowly

Hold me closer tiny dancer
Count the headlights on the highway
Lay me down in sheets of linen
you had a busy day today

Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the band
Pretty eyed, pirate smile, you'll marry a music man
Ballerina, you must have seen her dancing in the sand
And now she's in me, always with me, tiny dancer in my hand

Three of Cameron Crowe's movies are in my all-time list of favorite movies: Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, and Singles. Dude, Singles got me into grunge and confirmed in my mind's eye that Matt Dillon was his generation's version of James Dean.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Intramuros on my mind

Today, Ateneans make references about going down from the hill. But to the dwindling few who went to Intramuros and Padre Faura, it was all about “the bridge” that connected the Jesuit Mission House and the Ateneo Municipal along Anda street. The Mission House was next to the San Ignacio Church, one of the five churches in the area and the one run by the Jesuits. There was another Jesuit property where the Pamantasan ng Manila stands today.

The bridge was said to be representative of Jesuit doctrine back then – somewhat at a distance from those it served and worked with but at once among them and in their midst. It was also reflective of the passing of knowledge for in the Mission House were said to be wizened men – brilliant minds of Europe and later North America who went about their work in making fishers out of Manila’s finest.

The world passed by under the bridge. Kalesas and later the first motor vehicles made their way through. Some have ventured about the romanticism of the bridge’s symbolism, but in truth, the ramparts where the seafront wall still stands maybe offered that better view for beyond lay the sea before the Americans reclaimed from Neptune.

I was weaned on Philippine colonial literature and as it fascinated me, I longed to discover the Old Manila; our colonial past. You could finagle me into saying that I read Nick Joaquin who kept those memories alive through his pen. My childhood geography finds memories of my parents taking me to Binondo to watch Bruce Lee films have that grainy feel of a black and white film. Those days seem an age ago but remain cherished in the way people used to stick pictures by the mirror instead of using them as wallpapers of laptops. Binondo was where people went for Cubao was in its nascent stages of development while Makati was brand new. I walked the streets of Avenida, Ongpin, and Quiapo before it became synonymous with snatchers, contraband goods, and urban decay. Remember when you saw those Love Buses of Imelda Marcos that traversed the city en route to Escolta? No you don’t of course. Stupid me. Who cares about Old Manila? My sense of nationalism may have taken a huge dip in recent years, but there are some things I am passionate about.

I rejoiced when Intramuros was “restored” to a semblance of its former beauty. But looking at it now, it will never be a “heritage” site.

In the old Ateneo site sits an ugly Clamshell where debuts, parties, and other functions are held but today after the tenure of former Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon, is more often than not silent because of inactivity. Outside the San Ignacio Church is a basketball court – a whole court to pique your interest. On occasion the ruins incredibly are refuge for the homeless. The Memorare statue is dirty and filled with homeless people sleeping on the benches and reeks of human waste.

A thirty-minute kalesa ride tour (Php 150 per pax don’t let anyone else fool you) is not so bad. The history lesson is not so bad (did you know that the original site of the University of Santo Tomas is now a Banco Filipino building – I quipped, since they’re the oldest university in Asia the old tagline fits, “Subok na matibay. Subok na matatag.”

Another joke here, “The Starbucks in Intramuros” was a remnant of the American Period.” The kutsero and the guide had a laugh about that.

I traced my roots, my grandfather, my father, and my uncles who went to the Ateneo in Intramuros and Padre Faura and that will always remain in my heart and mind. Forever a part of my geography.

There's the court -- next to the ruins of the San Ignacio church.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A dog's best friend and mine too

I got these pictures from my dad's e-group. The first one shows a dog watching out for his friend who got hit by a car. Incredibly, it throws caution to the wind and stays put trying to wake him up. Notice how he plants his paw on his fallen friend.

Here he tries to push his friend to safety once more disregarding the onrushing traffic from either lane.

By now a lot of motorists have stopped to take videos and pictures of the dog as it continues to push his friend to safety.

I have had quite a few pets but the one I love the most is my Dalmatian/Labrador Lougee. She's not only a funny dog but she's extremely bright. When she wants to come inside the room, she knocks. When she wants to go out, she looks at the her dog chain. When haven't gotten up from bed in the morning and she's hungry, she wakes me up by nudging my feet or licking my hands. I've installed a latch on my outside door because she can actually open the doorknob by using her front feet to turn it.

It's incredible how Lougee can distinguish people aside from how their smell from how they open the gate. If she doesn't know the sound she barks which is good reason for all of us to look outside. And on several occasions, there were indeed people at the gate.

Whatever I eat, she eats as well. Whatever meal I cook she gets a piece of it too. I even cooked her a steak meal one time -- complete with mashed potato, beans, gravy, and corn.

She's sick right now and I'm worried to death about my dog. I brought her to my vet in Greenhills and only hope that she'll be healthy real soon.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Building a Legacy -- the old and new Ateneo dorms

Here's an avp presentation of the the Ateneo dorms -- for Cervini, Eliazo, and the new and yet unnamed one that will be open this May.

There were a lot of great offshoots from the making of this. We had to cut out the sharings of Dick Gordon (about making takas to watch James Bond movies in Cubao) and Fritz Gaston not being thrown in the pool during his birthday kasi "malaki siyang tao." There were a lot of other funny stuff as well. I did stay in Cervini for one semester at the behest of Bro. Jim Dunne. Supposedly it was because to be closer to school but in truth I was courting a girl from Eliazo. I once tried the harana with four friends -- two who were dormers! Former Blue Eagle Nonoy Chuatico who is a great friend was one of those who joined that harana.

Watch out for the full-length interview with Gawad Kalinga's Tony Meloto.

The music I used was by Jim Chappell, Tommy Dorsey, and Chuck Mangione ("Give it all you've got" the official theme of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York).