Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Three from Brocka

To commemorate the 70th birth anniversary of Philippine National Artist for Film Lino Brocka, the CCP screened his first three movies last Saturday, April 25, at the CCP Dream Theater. Billed as "Remembering Brocka: Realities/Rarities," the event offered a truly rare glimpse into the then-budding artistry of Brocka, who would eventually create more significant works that are still influencing Filipino filmmakers to this day.

Brocka's first film, "Wanted: Perfect Mother" (1969), is said to be a commercially-motivated move for the director, who at that time was already active in theater. Adapted by Brocka from a Mars Ravelo comic, Perfect Mother served as Brocka's calling card. And who wouldn't have called back after watching the movie? Though admittedly a partial rip-off of The Sound of Music, "Wanted: Perfect Mother" is a well-written and well-acted entertaining yarn about a father and his four kids' search for the perfect woman after the mother was killed in an accident. The top-notch cast includes Dante Rivero, Boots Anson-Roa, Liza Lorena, Caridad Sanchez, a very cute Snooky in her first movie, Gina Alajar, and über kontrabida Etang Discher. But the star of this movie is the first-time director, who tried to elevate this otherwise generic romp into a movie where every laugh is well-earned. In any other Filipino movie from the same era, the husband trying to reconnect with a former governess after not seeing each other for a long time would be a cheap excuse for a resolution. In "Wanted: Perfect Mother," when Dante Rivero calls Boots Anson-Roa in Canada and tries to woo her back to the country, we feel their happiness and wish the best for them. Why? Because Brocka made us feel that way, by taking us on an emotional journey with the characters. After the movie's over, you'd probably want to go on the journey again.

I didn't know that "Santiago" (1970) stars Fernando Poe, Jr. I'm always wary of watching FPJ's films because they're usually more like vehicles for Poe's persona than honest-to-goodness movies. I shouldn't have worried. Let's just say that in his second movie, Lino Brocka won over the king of Philippine movies. "Santiago" may even be regarded as a minor classic waiting to be rediscovered. In it, Poe plays a guerrilla fighter during World War II, who finds out too late that there were innocent people (women, children, elderly) inside an abandoned Japanese camp that he helped blow up. Racked with guilt and disillusionment with the resistance movement, he abandons the fight and flees to a small town, where he is ostracized by the townsfolk because he reminds them of their sons who had to leave their families behind to fight the Japanese. FPJ was FPJ, but after watching the movie, people would remember not how many Japanese soldiers he killed and how he did it or how he looked, but how truly good an actor he was when given great material to work with. Granted, the story doesn't really stray too far from typical FPJ fare, but the little-something-extra here is Brocka, who weaves the story with great skill (which can't be said of most of FPJ's bakbakan films), and shows confidence in staging huge scenes with dozens of extras and other technical considerations (if still a bit crude). If "Wanted: Perfect Mother" was the calling card, "Santiago" brought Brocka through the door, and serves as the earliest manifestation of Brocka as filmmaker-activist, capable of shaping people's ideas through his art.

The best among the three films shown at the retrospective was "Tubog Sa Ginto" (1971). In the movie, Eddie Garcia plays a closeted homosexual who tries to hide his true identity from his wife and son. Another adaptation of a Mars Ravelo comic, it is a story of struggle, deception, and ultimately tragedy, that for the first time showcased Brocka as a masterful director. While in his two earlier movies, some scenes were--to be honest--handled clumsily, in this movie, everything comes together perfectly. The cast, which also includes Lolita Rodriguez, Jay Ilagan, and Mario O'Hara, are just perfection. And whoever says that Brocka was not as humorous as Bernal should watch this movie; it has scenes that rival the best of Bernal and Gosiengfiao in the camp department. I'm not sure whether it's just Brocka or if it's quite the norm in early '70s Philippine cinema, but the bold colors, the tight shots, even the theme of the movie suggest the works of American '50s director Douglas Sirk, not unlike Todd Haynes' 2002 similarly-themed Sirk tribute, "Far From Heaven." In that film, a woman discovers that her husband is having an affair with another man, and is herself ostracized by the community for having a relationship with a black man. In "Tubog Sa Ginto," the characters are similarly so trapped in society's expectations and in their web of lies, that not even death can liberate them from their mise-en-scène, down to the last frame of the movie.

These three films should not be used in any way to judge the totality of Lino Brocka's contributions to Philippine cinema. Brocka went on to revisit the themes in these movies to create stronger pieces of work--like Insiang, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang, Maynila Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, and Macho Dancer--certified classics that continue to inspire and influence Filipino filmmakers to this day.

However, the flip side to this is that Brocka's body of work has so dominated the consciousness of young Filipino filmmakers that everyone seems to be wanting to be the next Brocka, in their choice of themes, in their choice of milieu. They will all probably fail if they hinge their work solely on aping aspects of Brocka's because what made Brocka's films the way they are were Brocka's intellect and the richness of his personal experiences, and his way of translating them into art, and not really his decision to locate his classics in slums. I agree with what Boots Anson-Roa said in the forum held before the last screening, that our young filmmakers should find their own voice. Like, why be the next Brocka when you can be the first you? Granted, as shown by the retrospective, that it takes at least three movies for a filmmaker to be able to do that. Philippine independent cinema is enabling young filmmakers to find their voice. That is why despite the travelogues in disguise, the film school art projects, the "gritty" hand-held cinematography, the head-scratching pa-profound effects, and the criss-crossing tongues of current Philippine independent cinema, we keep watching, in the hope that we will find not the next Brocka, but the next filmmaker that will hopefully inspire a thousand others to pick up a camera and shoot.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Walang "kung anu-anong shit"

"Hay! Men! Ang Blog ng mga Tunay na Lalake" is hand-down one of the most hilarious and shockingly smart things I've ever seen on the internet, wherein (an) anonymous author(s) evaluates a who's who in Philippine pop culture whether they're "tunay na lalaki" (real man) or "'di tunay na lalaki," (not real man) based on their own "Manifesto ng Tunay na Lalake." (And don't fail to read the comments also, especially if the subject of the entry drops in and chimes in, just like a very sport Apa Ongpin).

Clearly tongue-in-cheek (no?), it's endless fun, and it's updated faster than your friends can post quiz results in Facebook! Not for people with no sense of irony.

Manifesto ng Tunay na Lalake

  1. Ang tunay na lalake ay di natutulog.
  2. Ang tunay na lalake ay di nagte-text-back, maliban na lang kung papasahan ng load. Gayunpaman, laging malabo ang kanyang mga sagot.
  3. Ang tunay na lalake ay laging may extra rice.
  4. Ang tunay na lalake ay hindi vegetarian.
  5. Ang tunay na lalake ay walang abs.
  6. Ang tunay na lalake ay hindi sumasayaw.
  7. Ang tunay na lalake ay umaamin ng pagkakamali sa kapwa tunay na lalake.
  8. Ang tunay na lalake ay laging may tae sa brief.
  9. Ang tunay na lalake ay di naghuhugas ng pinagkainan o nagliligpit ng kanyang mga gamit dahil may babaeng gagawa noon para sa kanya. Mas lalong nagiging tunay ang pagkalalake kung di niya kilala o di niya maalala ang pangalan ng babae.
  10. Ang tunay na lalake ay di nagsisimba.



Monday, April 27, 2009

Cool, still

Celebrating its 40th year this year, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) remains the country's premiere venue for showcasing up and coming Filipino artists. In between movies at the Lino Brocka retrospective last Saturday, and with Joy Division blasting in my ears, I walked through the galleries and took snapshots of the pieces that spoke to me (hehehe, is it even allowed? There weren't any signs.). Hey, when was the last time you visited the CCP? It's still worth the trek after all these years, and admission is still free.

(Click on any image to see more photos.)

Aliwan paradise

Here are some snaps from "Aliwan Fiesta 2009" held at the vicinity of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) last Saturday, April 25. Aliwan Fiesta is an annual, one-stop showcase of the different street dancing festivals held throughout the archipelago. Click on any image to see more photos.

(Click on any image to see more photos.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Vote for the country, vote for you

Stick these pins on your shirt or your bags (or wherever you wish), or give them away to friends and family, to encourage people, especially first-time voters, to participate in the 2010 Philippine presidential elections. To vote is to exercise your right as citizens, and it's one of the easiest ways to participate in nation-building.

You may get your pins from the Ayala Young Leaders office, or you may drop them a line at (02) 752-1065, text them at (0917) 511-7354, or send a message to

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Crazy day for gays and Jews

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ruffles feathers at the UN anti-racism conference in Geneva.

Meanwhile, in Vegas...

I guess next time UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon plans on having Mr. Ahmadinejad, he's not going to send an invite to Perez Hilton.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mga panahon ng himala

Next month, respected and multi-awarded Philippine writer Ricky Lee is reissuing his 1988 anthology, "Si Tatang at mga Himala ng Ating Panahon." The news of Ricky's latest endeavor prompted me to head to my kangkungan to exhume my old copy of the book, which I bought from National Bookstore almost 15 years ago, when I was still in college and my dream to become a filmmaker was still in fever pitch.

The collection is a showcase of Ricky's skills not just as a screenwriter, but as a writer, period. There are about 20 articles in the book, a collection of short stories, magazine features, interviews, and a screenplay, revolving around roughly three themes.

The earliest works in the anthology are very political in nature. "Dapithapon ng Isang Mesiyas," "Pagtatapos," "Ang Mahabang Maikling Buhay ni Kumander Tangkad," "Si Tatang, " and "Servando Magdamag" are all sturdy political stuff, and the truly wonderful thing about them is the fact that he wrote them all when he was a teenager, which says tons about Ricky Lee as a young man, and where he is coming from as an artist.

The articles in the book that many people might find most fascinating are those in which Ricky focuses his attention to Manila's underbelly, using his eyes like how a documentary filmmaker would use a hand-held camera: probing, non-judgmental, but almost loving. These articles, written in a crisp, colloquial Tagalog (his trademark) that dares you to ignore it, are an endless parade of midnight souls, of prostitutes and pimps, and other creatures of the night, like characters from a Fellini phantasmagoria or a Lou Reed song. "Umusad man ang gabi't walang iwang customer ay may pag-asa pa rin sila. Pagsara ng bar alas dos ng umaga'y pupunta sila lahat sa Luneta upang salubungin ang umaga. Naroroon silang lahat tuwing madaling araw, mga call boys at call girls galing sa iba't ibang bars at night clubs, akala mo'y nagpatawag ng kombensyon ang patron saint ng mga puta...Naririto ang kanilang pamilya, ito ang kanilang buhay. Di magtatagal ay lalabas ang araw, sisikatan ang lahat, walang pinipili, mga puta man o hindi, CP at CB at CG, mga stowaway, biktima at nambibiktima, saanman ang teritoryo, lahat nang wala sa bahay, mga batang lansangan." Reminiscent of that last scene in Ishmael Bernal's "Manila By Night," in which the creatures of the night end up in Luneta park at dawn to welcome another day.

But of course. The articles in this anthology drank from the same teats of anger, frustration, heartbreak, and unrest that nourished those great Filipino films from the late '70s and early '80s. Sometimes I forget that he wrote many of them.

However, my favorite articles in the anthology are those in which Ricky Lee proves that he is not only a great fictionist and political writer, but also a great chronicler of Philippine showbiz and the movie industry. Aside from Ricky's distinctive voice as an artist, I think they are what make this anthology more special than other literary anthologies out there, and what sets Ricky apart from other "serious" Philippine writers. I truly believe that there should be more books written about Philippine movies and showbiz, perhaps the most colorful there is in this part of the world. Where's our own "The Kid Stays In The Picture" or "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls"? Where are the definitive biographies on Brocka and Bernal, of early Philippine cinema, of Sampaguita and LVN studios and even Mother Lily? "Manila By Night" alone deserves its own book, as well as the body of work of Joey Gosiengfiao (that's going to be a bestseller). And frankly, I'd line up to buy an anthology of vintage chismis from the pages of Orig and Kislap magazines. You can have your anthologies of Palanca award-winning works and the poetry of so and so, but when I was growing up in the '80s, ordinary people cared only about what's in those magazines or in Liwayway, back when movies were EVENTS: the glory days of theater tours and palengke tours, of premiere nights at New Frontier Theater, Kuya Germs' baratilyos, and those giant hand-painted movie billboards in Cubao wherein everybody looked fat. Before cellphones and PEP, huge swaths of Philippine rainforest were destroyed for paper so that people can write about and read about artistas and their shenanigans. Respect.

Among Ricky Lee's film work, nothing towers above "Himala," the acclaimed Ishmael Bernal movie, the screenplay of which is the centerpiece of the anthology. Not only do we get to see Nora Aunor's famous lines in print, Ricky also includes anecdotes on the writing of the screenplay and the making of the film, like how the cast and crew were unaware throughout the shoot that a crazed woman was imprisoned by her husband in one of the rooms of the house that stood as Elsa's residence. (I have my own Himala story: when I first saw it in a festival in SM during the World Cinema Centennial Celebration, the reels were not in correct order, so it was like watching Pulp Fiction. A deconstruction!)

But perhaps the biggest miracle in the creation of Himala was that the producers gave Ricky Lee total creative control in writing it. Imagine if they didn't.

My favorite article in the book is "1976: Isang Taon ng Kadaldalan at Kabuluhan." It was the year I was born. According to Ricky, it was "ang pinakamadaldal na taon sa pelikulang Pilipino" when everybody had something to say about Philippine movies. It was the year in which Brocka's "Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag" took home all the awards, and the year the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino and the UP Film Center were established. But most especially, it was the year of classic Filipino films: the controversial "Sakada," the inscrutable "Nunal Sa Tubig," "Insiang," "Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon," Ligaw na Bulaklak," "Itim," "Minsa'y Isang Gamu-Gamo," and Mario O' Hara's "Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos" (which, after snooping around in the microfilm division of the UP Main Library eons ago, I found out was the movie playing in Manila's theaters the week I was born). But apart from all this heady stuff, it was a year of sex in Philippine movies. "Dinumog ang mga basang kamiseta't masisikip na jockey at nang maglabasan ng sinehan ang kalalakiha'y nagpadamihan ng nakita. Saang sinehan naligong mas bold si Alma Moreno? Si Vilma Santos nga ba ang nakahubad na itinali ni Eddie Garcia sa Mga Reynang Walang Trono, binuhusan ng gatas kondensada at pinadilan sa pusa?" Seriously, where is the time machine parked?

If you're a Filipino guy and you were born in the late '70s, you probably got compared a lot to child actor Niño Muhlach. I sure was. "Ay kamukha ni Niño!" "Pakurot sa pisngi, parang pisngi ni Niño Muhlach!" My cheeks still feel numb. Muhlach was a megastar at the age of four. According to him, he probably made 90 films when he was a kid. In his book, Ricky Lee gives us two articles on Niño, one when he was at the height of his popularity, and one when he was already an awkward teenager with career prospects a big question mark. Such is the life of former child actors. It would be fascinating to read a third article on Niño, after the drug problems and other dramas and his success in the food business. I once saw Niño Muhlach in person while I was waiting for a jeepney to Philcoa in front of his ensaymada store in N. Domingo in San Juan. I'm not sure if I was starstruck, but I pretended not to see him. Somehow I got the feeling that he wanted to be recognized. But no one was looking.

I grew up in a small picturesque town in the province, which, especially in the '80s, was a favorite of movie outfits for location shootings. Word travels fast in a small town; a neighbor of a neighbor can tell somebody on the street that there's a location shoot at such and such place with so and so actors and almost instantly, we kids would be running towards the area as if relief goods had been air dropped in the Sahara. The artistas usually stayed in this white house in the plaza owned by somebody who worked for Regal films (he later won as konsehal because of his popularity among the townspeople), and there we would be at his window, our small hands grasping tightly the window grilles and stepping on his plants to see what the movie gods have sent us to gawk at this time. I remember seeing Liza Lorena through those windows. Isabel Granada. An exotic-looking Aiko Melendez when she was 14. Our childhood was peppered with moviestar sightings: a "bloodied" Rudy Fernandez on a balcony, Tony Santos Sr. sleeping on a folding chair in the plaza, Anita Linda, Richard Gomez on horseback, Maricel and Gabby outside our movie theater, Snooky waving at us while being made up in my aunt's panciteria. There was even a Hong Kong martial arts movie when our town was transformed into medieval China! When "Tagos ng Dugo" was being partly shot in our town during fiesta season, we were at the perya one night and were just instructed to turn our backs so that Strawberry (years before her unfortunate demise), playing a young Vilma Santos, could walk by as the cameras rolled. And I could still hear Maryo J. De Los Reyes shouting "direct yourself!" at his assistant director at five in the morning (yes, we were already up and watching before we prepared for school) because fake blood spurted improperly from Zoren Legazpi's chest.

And then there were the crew. The alalays. The tagatimpla-ng-kapes. The smelly guys with the cables. The ones who used to tell us kids to step back or shut the hell up. "Ang mga maliliit na tao" whose lives and pains Ricky Lee was able to capture in one of the articles. Ricky treats his subjects--whatever their status in life--and the minutiae of their existence, with compassion and humanity. "...'Di sila puwedeng mapagod. Ang artista kapag inaantok, bibigyan ng kuwarto at ng treinta minutos. Ang maliliit na tao, bibigyan ng masamang tingin." "'Pantasya ko nga,' sabi ng isang crew, 'balang araw me pelikulang ipalalabas, and nakalagay, A Film By, saka hindi pangalan ng direktor ang kadugtong kundi mga pangalan namin.' Dahil pelikula rin naman nila ito. Kasama rin naman dito ang pawis at dugo nila."

"Iyon ang panahon ng bomba. Batuta Ni Drakula. Saging Ni Pacing. Hayok. Uhaw. The Bold and the Beauties. Sa mga titulo lang ay alam mo na kung anong mga kababalaghan ang nagsisirko. Ako'y Dayukdok. Apoy Ng Kaligayahan. Playgirls In The Night. May isang titulo'y Gutom, di naaprubahan ng censors, para makalusot ay pinalitan ng Diyos Ko, Patawarin Mo Po Ako, Ako'y Nagu-GUTOM!" Oh yes. Every other decade or so, the Philippine movie industry goes through a phase wherein it churns out a lot of softcore (sometimes hardcore) flicks that the public would always lap up, including a bevy of starry-eyed starlets willing to shed their camisoles for a few turns on the spotlight. Its first golden era was in the '70s, when said movies dominated people's imaginations, perhaps to forget the political and social upheavals happening in the country at that time. One actress that came out of these movies was Yvonne, whom Ricky Lee brilliantly profiles in the collection. "May mga artistang kapag kinausap, sasagot ng magalang pero ang isipan ay nasa susunod nang appointment, kausap ka pa ng katawan pero iniwan ka na ng isipan. Hindi ganito si Yvonne...Kapapanalo lang niya ng Best Supporting Actress sa Urian Awards para sa kanyang papel bilang putang kaibigan ni Alma Moreno sa Ligaw Na Bulaklak." "'Alam mo, mahal, di sana talaga ako pupunta sa Urian dahil ang mga kalaban ko'y mahuhusay - h'wag na nating sabihing mabibigat dahil n'ong sabihin kong mabibigat e nagtawanan ang mga tao."

Right after reading the article, I was like, I want to meet this person. I do not know Yvonne. I don't recall her name from my childhood. I wonder where she is now. I got introduced to her through the article. Who is she? (Or was she?) I wonder if I ever saw her pictures before, if not on TV perhaps in my aunt's dog-eared copy of Liwayway. Could I have seen her pictures before and didn't know it was her? In my town there used to be a movie theater. From what I hear, it even used to be a vaudeville theater before the war. In the early '80s, it would show from time to time bomba flicks, the promo photos for which would be plastered on the walls of the theater lobby like wallpaper, with naked bodies on top of one another like donuts in a donut shop. Was Yvonne in those pictures? I wouldn't know. It was also a time of Dolphy movies. Of Joey de Leon in drag. Of Panchito and his flaring nostrils. It was a time of double features, when we could get in for free because my uncle knew the owner. When people could smoke in the theaters, eat banana-cue, no air conditioning, and the smell of piss everywhere. It was a time of unbridled joy, when we could enter the heavy maroon curtains into this dark chamber and expected to be entertained. And we all were. But everything has an end. Just last year, I went home and saw the once magnificent movie theater of our childhood, torn down, its pieces scattered on the ground like shattered movie dreams.

"Si Tatang Si Tatang at mga Himala ng Ating Panahon" isn't just a showcase of Ricky Lee's prowess as a screenwriter, fictionist, and chronicler. It is also a rare glimpse into a world that simply doesn't exist anymore.

(PBA09sn6745n )

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Black Saturday, Easter midnight
(April 9-12, 2009)
Taal, Batangas, Philippines

(Click on any image to see more photos from my hometown)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Branded for life

My birthday-Christmas-New Year's-Valentine's-Easter gift to myself, etched for eternity by Ricky Sta. Ana's Skinworkz studio. I have a feeling this could be the start of a new relationship with my skin (darn it, Miami Ink!).

Now for the geeky part: This reads "malaya" ("free") in baybayin (later known as alibata), the ancient Filipino way of writing. I know the message is a bit corny, but it's an ideal, a truth, that I truly believe in. Anyway, not many people know that there were many variations of baybayin, used by Filipinos before the arrival of the Spaniards, who then successfully erased it from the face of the Earth (well, ha ha, not entirely; a handful of minority groups in the Philippines still use variations of it). So which variation to use? The first character, "ma," I took from the variation used to write "Doctrina Christiana," regarded as the first book ever published in the Philippines, in 1593, used by the Spaniards to Christianize the "indios" (who of course could only read and write in baybayin). The second character, "la," is a modern variation/interpretation circa early 20th century, which I chose over the others for its simplicity. And since I'm a proud Batangueño, the third character, "ya," is the closest I could find to a variation used in the province of Batangas, when it was still called Kumintang, circa late 18th century (I hail from the town of Taal, which used to be called Bonbon, and was the capital of the province).

So it seems that, in spite of the funky tats, I am, in fact, a nerd. I think I should put glasses on them.

Happy Holi!


Holi is the full-moon springtime festival of colors celebrated in India, Nepal, and neighboring countries. On this day, people come out and throw colored powder and douse each other with water. Some use water guns to spray each other with colored water. (Air can relate because in Thailand they also use water guns on New Year's Day). This year the Holi falls on March 22 (Saturday). According to Mukti, the "hilly people" of Nepal celebrate it on this day, while the Terai people (and the people of India) celebrate it the day after. We're in the Terai, but since a lot of hilly people have settled here, we were guaranteed to see some action.

We had a deadline for our preliminary report at 7pm, so we set out early in the morning to give us enough time to finish writing after lunch. Yep, we decided to watch the festival, and possibly participate as well (Air wore a plain shirt and jogging pants, just in case. I did not intend to join so I didn't dress down.) Mukti said Butwal would be the best place to find people doing the Holi, so we drove for almost an hour from the Hokke hotel in Lumbini to reach Rupandehi's biggest city.

Upon reaching Butwal, we first stopped at a store selling colored powder. There were kids throwing powder at each other and splashing each other with water. Air immediately joined the kids, running around like crazy. Air was so into it that in no time she looked like a huge mess, her shirt and pants (and hair) wet with colored water. I managed to avoid the powder. I just wasn't in the mood. The people were laughing and clapping as Air ran after the kids (and vice versa). Good thing I asked the hotel for a clear plastic bag to cover my camera with because I knew it could get wet.

After that, we drove further until we reached the hills. It was my first sight of Siddhartha Highway, a scenic route that is almost 200 kilometers long that weaves through several districts including Palpa and finally Pokhara (more on them in later entries). We came upon a group of young people who had set up a road block. They wanted to put Holi powder on us and to ask for donations. They were friendly, if a bit stubborn about the donations. We tried to shake them off until Mukti asked for 10 rupees. Air opened her window and threw powder at one of the guys and they laughed. Another group involving old folks wearing colorful clothes sang and danced for us, and even asked Air to join them.

As we went on, we were stopped by at least three more groups asking for money. It seems they were really letting nobody pass without getting money, although I saw a guy in a motorcycle just zoom past. I got irritated and nearly lost my cool. I thought, hey, you cannot coerce people into giving you money. I mean, in the Philippines, people also do this, but not this much, certainly not a few minutes apart in the same highway. And a no is a no. And I know that this seems to be common in Nepal. I feel it's like institutionalized coercion. Young cadres of the Maoist party of Nepal have been known to block roads and trekking trails to ask for specific amounts (I read they even issue receipts, and if you don't pay, well the next collector will ask to see your receipt, so if you can't produce one, then you have to pay him).

We stopped at a roadside teahouse at the edge of a cliff. The air was crisp and the view amazing, reminding me of Tagaytay in the Philippines. There were other tea shops around, selling yummy-looking food. The place seemed a popular stop for buses and other travelers. At the side of the road, an ancient-looking water spout shaped like a lion's head gave out water continuously, where people washed their hands and faces.

On the way to the city, we were stopped again several times by groups asking for money. I got so irritated that I just closed my window and paid no attention, pretending to understand what I was trying to read. I don't know if it's because of the age gap, but I was also a bit upset that Air seemed to be so into this merrymaking that I felt my blood rushed to my head when some green Holi powder flew into my direction when she was trying to horse around with some of the people outside. I didn't mean to be rude, but all I could think about was finishing our report and not getting powder on my clothes. I swore Holi's not my favorite festival in the world.

We made it back to Hokke at around 1 pm. After taking a shower and putting on fresh clothes, we started with our report. I felt we took too much time already so we had to work.

Around 3:30 pm, there was a knock on the door. We were being invited by the hotel staff to eat something at their quarters to celebrate the Holi. Air and I looked at each other and said, okay, 10 minutes, because we're in a hurry.

Upon reaching the quarters at the back of the hotel, we were immediately met by a bucket of cold water and several pairs of hands putting Holi powder on my face! Nyaarrgh! And I'd just taken a shower and was wearing a new, white shirt!?! I was definitely taken aback, not just by how messy I now looked, but also by how happy everyone seemed, which was infectious. It's not unlike when Filipinos celebrate the feast of St. John the Baptist and people just go nuts splashing water at everybody, all with a sense of fun. I tried to escape from more buckets of water and more Holi, to no avail. Air started running around doing the same to everybody. My camera got wet so I gave it to one of the staff to put it somewhere dry. After several more minutes of craziness, we were given delicious food and drinks and posed for group photos. Air thought the celebration was the perfect ice breaker: after that, they were no longer faceless hotel staff. They became our friends. And my new white shirt, now soiled with colorful Holi powder, will remain unwashed for eternity, the perfect souvenir of this unbelievable day.

The celebration didn't end there. In the evening, after e-mailing Kathmandu our report at 7:30 pm, we were invited to join the staff for drinks and music. Under the full moon, we ate Nepalese snacks and drank whiskey and San Miguel beer (go Pinoy!). The staff also invited a group of senior Japanese pilgrims and a couple of Russian guys who were also staying at the hotel. One of the staff, Sachindra (Sachin for short) -- who tends the hotel shop and who strangely looks Spanish because of his Caucasian features (he is a Newari, from the city of Patan; more on that later) -- started singing some Nepali songs with his guitar. He said he plays with his friends in a band in Kathmandu. But to my horror, he called me and asked me to sing something. Yikes, I don't really sing in public in the Philippines, certainly not with Japanese and Russian people around. He gave me a "songhits" with Nepali and English songs. I knew one song there, the Beatles' "And I Love Her," so I mustered up the courage to sing that, which surprisingly went ok. Next to sing was a couple of Japanese ladies, and then it was dancing time, with the cooks and the gardeners giving their all, Bollywood style!

After a quick tour of the kitchen (where they gave us more food), I sneaked back to our room at around 10:30 to call it a night. Mukti and Bhimji followed. Mukti was worried about Air being left alone with the other guys at the party. I told Mukti that I'm sure Air will be fine and I didn't think anybody would do anything bad to her. (You see, Nepalis retreat to their homes quite early, with shops closing at around seven. And women certainly don't stay out late, unlike where Air and I are from where people start coming to clubs at 11 pm. Although Mukti may have had a point, as I learned the next morning that some of the guys got drunk). I appreciate Mukti's concern, but maybe he's just not used to young women staying out late. Air meanwhile thought Mukti acted weird.

(Click on any image to see more photos.)


How do you deal with a crazy person?

You can't!

For anyone vaguely familiar with Korean culture, two things are as clear as day: First, North Korea is not going to listen to any foreigner, unless it greatly benefits financially from said foreigner. Second, North Korea will probably blink only if its main benefactor, China (and Russia? and Iran?), will completely cut off financial support to its ideological ally. However, for anyone vaguely familiar with China's modern history, one thing is also as clear as day: that's not going to happen!

In the meantime, the situation in the region (and that includes all of us Asians) is more unstable than ever, a crazy man holding our sense of security and peace of mind hostage.

God save the Queen

On his first trip to Europe as president, Barack Obama visited Queen Elizabeth II and gave her an iPod. An iPod! Pre-loaded with Broadway tunes. The woman lives in London. Didn't they think that show tunes must be coming out of her nose by now? I'm pretty sure she hasn't recovered from that bombastic Andrew Lloyd Webber royal celebration a decade ago.

Click on the CD cover to hear snippets of those songs, that theoretically she's currently listening to as she stares lovingly at the family jewels.