Thursday, 27 January 2005

Kung Hei Fat Choi. My flatmate Heather decides to throw an advanced Chinese New Year party to welcome the year of the Rooster. As usual, Heather invited tons of beautiful people to gorge on the mountains of dimsum we steamed earlier. I was born on the year of the snake and fortune says that Snakes will be lucky in the year of the Cock....there, I said it.

Monday, 24 January 2005

Drown the Liver. I live with two girls. And for some reason, we never seem to run out of alcohol in the house. My sober five years of undergraduate life washed down the drain by the Oxbridge rallying call of "Work hard, Play hard". From my lager loving gut, to Marine's wine kissing French tongue, to Heather's hardcore "punish the liver" choice of poison, my flat proudly displays our love for the environment by making sure every single bottle gets sorted for recycling.

Saturday, 22 January 2005

Back in Middle Earth. After a butt numbing trip (5 hour bus ride from Baguio to Manila, 0.5 hour taxi ride to the airport, 8 hour flight to Dubai, 8 hour flight to London, 1 hour bus ride to Oxford) I hit the sack and crashed. I woke up and my friend Alexandra prepared breakfast in bed (it was 8pm but I was still on Baguio time, so this is breakfast innit). Little did I know that one hour later she and Isabel would drag me (sore butt and all) to a bop in Magdalen college (which had a Hollywood theme). I came dressed as a villain in FPJ movies. I was so out of it I danced by standing still. Thankfully, another friend Hannah saw me in a state of shock and walked me home. I am not Paris Hilton, after a long flight, all I want to do is sleep.....

Friday, 21 January 2005

Things NOT to do on a long haul flight from Manila to London (2)

Turning on your cellphone to see if it really does affect the electronics of the plane (big noh noh) THEN upon realizing that you are above the English Channel, dial the local Al Qeda cell to see if they fancy meeting you at the airport for a drink (really BIG noh noh).

Things NOT to do on a long haul flight from Manila to London (1)

Kicking the window open to see if the drop in pressure affects the stability of the plane. Big noh noh..

Tuesday, 18 January 2005

Taong Bundok. In a few days, I will be back in middle England which is atomically flat. So, I am enjoying breathing the rarefied air on top of the mountains. It's been a relaxing vacation. It will take a while before I am truly ready to work again......

Monday, 17 January 2005

Flower Power. Benguet provides a sizeable bouquet of the flower requirements of the islands that every February we now celebrate the flower festival called Panagbenga ("blossoming"). The province has successfully grown roses, sunflowers, lilies, pansies, orchids, carnations,gladiolus, and slowly some farms are trying to grow tulips (under controlled environment). The picture shows flowers taken from my cousin's farm and arranged by my mom on a recycled coffee bottle.

Friday, 14 January 2005

This is the rear of my maternal grandmother's house. It was originally a sawmill built during the early 1900s and acquired by my grandfather. It is now in a state of disrepair but I remember spending some of my summers here. It is actually one big nursery where we incubated and propagated the young potato or cabbage stocks before planting in the farms. This is where I had my first brush with Mendelian genetics, trying to cross breed different varieties to come up with a strain that contained all the best traits of the parent stock. Who would have thought that I got from my grandma's genetics 'lab' to DNA cloning at Oxford? Not even the Las Vegas casinos could provide the odds to that.

Thursday, 13 January 2005

My uncle threw a Canao (ritual offering) and I got to dance the Tayao (ritual dance) and drink Tapey (rice wine). Canaos are a form of thanksgiving to Kabunian (God), or/and remembrance of the spirits of our ancestors, or/and appeasement of the anitos (minor dieties). Contrary to my conservative Belgian-slash-Catholic education which said these were pagan rituals, Cordillerans are actually monotheistic and one could provide the argument that the Catholic concept of Angels is no different to the concept of having Anitos. The reverence for the spirits of our forebears is a common theme among indigenous South East Asian tribes who all have similar rituals. As a new twist, modern minor Canaos (especially during weddings) sometimes involve a priest/pastor giving a blessing to start the ceremony. Anyways, the Canao my uncle threw could hardly be called 'minor'. I counted three Mambunongs (High "priests") in attendance (through which our dimension can talk to the spirit dimension), 4 carabaos (water buffalos) and 20ish (I lost count) pigs were butchered, and an Ayag ('call') was made to 14 clans across Benguet to attend. The picture above shows my uncle and aunt covered in the Benguet colours of red and black (it's our equivalent to the Scottish tartan identification).

Wednesday, 12 January 2005

It was only in the twilight of their Asian experiment that the Spaniards were able to settle in the Cordilleras, putting up some cattle ranches in the fertile La Trinidad Valley. A few years later, the Americans would buy the Philippine Islands from Spain at a "tiangge" (flea market) in Paris so it was time to bid "Adios" and say "Howdy". The Cordilleras is one of the few places in the Philippines that proudly retains its indigenous identity although because of 40 years of Hollywood, do not be surprised if you wander deep into the hinterlands and find that the local chief and his merry band of wise men wear a bahag (sort of like a g-string but not quite) paired with a wool/tweed (with the elbow pads) blazer. In my province (Benguet) there are three tribes, the Kankanaeys, the Ibalois, and the Kalanguyas. The Ibalois were the first settlers of Bag-iw before the Americans came to build upon it their Summer Capital (renamed Baguio to accomodate their nasal twang). For unlike any other city in the islands, only Baguio has 3 seasons (dry, really wet, autumn-ish) and temperatures are on average 5 degrees lower. Because of the elevation, Benguet has also more incidences of zero visibility due to Fog than 'foggy' London and ocassionally it also gets battered by hailstorms and frost. As an additional bonus, during typhoon season, our province is high enough to be able to kiss the eye of the storm which is truly destructive and beautiful at the same time. Shown above is the local sunflower specie called 'Marapait' (an obvious reference to its paradoxical traits) which grows abundantly along the roads. I am on my way to visit my grandmother.

Sunday, 9 January 2005

Self-Portrait. This is me drinking alone at Grappas, one of me and my friend's favorite places to chill located at Greenbelt in Makati. There is nothing really makalaglag-panty (eye-catching) about this bar-slash-Italian restaurant but my friend discovered that if you got a table on the balcony, you could actually hear the blues band playing at the adjacent bar. So we got to sit comfortably while listening to the blues. As a bonus, the bar owner has a microbrewery for the Czech/Pilsner method of making beer. This time, I drank alone at the bar making small talk with whoever was in a 2 meter radius. I was on my way back to Baguio after meeting my ex-gf for lunch and coffee when I decided to knock a few glasses here. (Hey, it's a five hour bus ride back to the highlands, might as well get semi-intoxicated to be able to sleep on the bus). Travelling Manila/Baguio is a body shock because while it was 25 degrees C in Manila, I arrived in Baguio at 4am and it was 6 degrees (plus windchill factor).

Friday, 7 January 2005

Bonfire. With the cold Siberian winds cooling the entire Philippine islands every January, the students of DLSU-Canlubang throw a bonfire...and I got the honor to light it...well, basically I lit a torch that was hoisted up to light the fuse of a rocket which flew down like a comet and hit a pile of wood which burst into flames...Cool eh? We had barbeque, some parlour games, and the students performed an act from Chicago. I basically took time off to exchange gossip with my former colleagues and the students. Coming back after a year, the students seem to have grown taller, or maybe I became shorter........

The Disappearing Act. A year ago there was only one coffee shop in Santa Rosa, Laguna. Now, there are a-plenty. Even the evil Starbucks has put up shop. I went to get my morning caffeine at Cafe Breton and amazingly the staff still remember me. (Again, let me impress upon you that a year ago, there was no other coffee shop in Sta. Rosa. The place has undergone a big transformation. A new major highway now links this industrial zone/suburban housing area (this is where Honda and Ford make their entry level cars) to Manila and more stores have put up shop including a store of Speedo, which baffles me because this place is landlocked)..Anyways, after caffeine, it was lunch and I headed off to the Palenque where there is a row of carinderias and ordered the very sinful dish called sisig (you don't want to know what's in it). With a cool breeze and a bottle of Coca-cola I gorged on every morsel of sizzling sisig on the hot plate. The best part of it was it cost me 45 pesos for the sisig, 5 pesos for the rice, and 8 pesos for the Coca Cola.....grand total of 58 pesos (=58 pence)...and the sisig was even meant to be shared! The picture above shows the sisig.....or more precisely, what is left.....burp....

Road Runner. I was invited to Bonfire night with the students of De La Salle-Canlubang which is located south of Manila. After the five hour bus ride from Baguio to Manila, followed by another 1.5hour bus ride to Laguna, I took the ubiquitous mode of lowland transport- the tricycle, to go to my friend's house to change and freshen up before joining the students later. A tricycle is basically a motorcycle with a small side carriage attached to it thereby making it a 3-wheeled vehicle. The carriage itself can carry 3 (THREE!!) people (assuming that you are of lean Malay proportions and not supersized) plus one person on the motorbike (behind the driver). So this one-meter square volume carries 5 people but I've seen it carry seven people on many occassions, including the ocassional live pig and fowl strapped on top of the carriage! Coming from the highlands where we always had proper taxis, I was always amazed by the tricycle because it seemed so fragile (It still is). There is a move to limit the number of tricycles in semi-urban areas mainly because they clog the roads and are a safety hazard, and the overburdened engine exhausts are a major source of pollution. But in rural areas, trikes are the best way to get around. The picture above is taken from the inside of the carriage. I paid the driver 25 pesos (=25pence) so that I would not have to share the carriage and told the driver to step on it. Whoopeee!