Saturday, December 6

I Need A Plastic Bag

I was just thinking that that first line from Katy Perry's "Firework"--"Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?"-- had to be an allusion to American Beauty, right?

Here's an old Salon article where Alan Ball talks about how he came up with the plastic bag scene. He encountered the wayward plastic bag in New York in the early '90s, when he was a television writer by day and writing plays for a doomed theater company at night. It sounded like a midlife crisis, when you think about it. That plastic bag circling around him felt like a moment of grace, and it came at a time when he was feeling lost and needed direction. Just like Lester in the movie, Ball felt like he had written himself into a corner, and all he felt was "anger at having to write television characters over and over who did nothing more than 'trade insults.'" 

The moment with the plastic bag stewed in his mind for years, and it was only in the late '90s that he came to write "American Beauty," which the article describes as something of a "minor miracle." Ball sold the script eight days after putting it up for sale, the director Sam Mendes allowed him to be on the set during filming, and eighteen months later, it was in the theaters. 

So I suppose one could say that plastic bag sort of saved Alan Ball's drowning soul in that moment. Of course, after getting accolades for "American Beauty," he continued to write for television, i.e., "Six Feet Under" and "True Blood." But perhaps winning that Oscar allowed him to call shots after that. 

Monday, August 11

Ang Tunay na Kuwento ng Hustisya

Spent the past week mostly holed up at the CCP watching Cinemalaya movies. The last film from the festival I watched yesterday was Joel Lamangan's Hustisya featuring Nora Aunor. 

Nora Aunor's Biring is full of idiosyncrasies: a devout Catholic who donates money for the construction of a church in her province, but refuses to give alms to a mother who uses her child for begging, but later gives her some help anyway, wants to care for her family with hard earned money that came from dubious ways, stays loyal to the one who has helped her in time of need, but will turn around when she finds another master to serve. 

Biring believes in the city as a living, breathing being--a kind of master/monster or demon to whom she must give offerings of wishes and money so that it might not devour her alive. It's a sight to behold, to see Biring on top of Manila City Hall's Watch Tower throwing her hopes and hard earned money to the winds of the city. At the end of the screening, a foreigner viewer--I think she was Japanese--asked us if it was possible to go up that tower to view the city. We said, probably not. Or else there would be throngs of people up there trying to do the same. 

Then there is that ending: The movie opts for an open, hoping to be ambiguous and edgy ending that has Biring laughing. So what did that man whisper to Biring during her bongga birthday dinner? What became of the notebook? 

Perhaps we will never know. So I opt for this one: 

Thursday, July 24

The Nagtahan Mabini Bridge

This year, in honor of the Mabini Sesquicentennial, the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) has recommended to rename Nagtahan Bridge to Mabini Bridge. 

Nagtahan when it was just a pile of wood across the Pasig River.

It's not so much as a renaming but going back to what it's been officially called decades ago. Apparently, Nagtahan's official name really was "Mabini Bridge," after Marcos's Proclamation of 1967. But we know what happened with that effort. Since it was built in 1945, and rebuilt in the 1960s after a barge rammed into the wooden piles, the bridge on Nagtahan Street has always been called Nagtahan and nothing else.* Presidential proclamations notwithstanding. The Malacanan briefer has this to say: "However, little notice was made of this, and in time the name was forgotten." 

And so they try one more time. They even had the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) change all pertinent road signs to read as such. 

This bridge shall now be called Mabini, okay? 

Even in Ingress, the portal that exists is not the bridge per se, but the image of Apolinario Mabini near the top of the bridge's crest, in the general area of where the Mabini Shrine used to be. 

Ohai, Apolinario Mabini! 
Maybe this time, Mabini Bridge will stick around.  

*It's the same way with Otis, now known as Paz Guanzon. All the bus signs still say Otis. Even all the establishments along that road refer to it as Otis. Some names have a way of staying "sticky" that even several generations and name changes later, people still know it by the name they have always known. 

Thursday, July 17

The game as tourist guidebook

Chris Suellentrop's review of Ingress for the New York Times had me nodding:
Video games are a spatial medium, filled with words like “map” and “world” and “travel,” but in the physical realm, most games are played indoors by stationary players who sit in basements and living rooms in front of TV screens and computer monitors. 
Instead, my favorite way to use Ingress is as tourist guidebook. Beyond that vampire grave in Rhode Island, Ingress also led me to a home on the Upper West Side where Babe Ruth once lived and to the site of Thomas Paine’s death in Greenwich Village...Even so, I discovered plenty of plaques and markers that I didn’t know existed.
Because this is also my favorite way of using Ingress. Yes, part of the motivation of visiting as many portals as possible to score the Explorer badges. But I take the exploring seriously (but in a fun, geeky way). 

My favorite, mostly accidental finds include the house where the body of Jose Rizal was hidden after his execution, the birthplace marker for a top Filipino poet I stumbled upon as I shuffled from one campus to another, and this fantastic graffiti in a parking lot. 

I'm sure there will be more to discover. As soon as I get off my lazy ass and start walking around again. 

Sunday, July 13

Pandacan Pho

Sometimes, when I feel under the weather or need to cheer up, a steaming bowl of pho is the way to go. Since the bridge is still under repair, I haven't really passed by that area. So imagine my surprise when I saw the signage for what appears to be a Vietnamese food place.

There used to be a Cebu lechon place there that I never got to try. But since I was in a rush to get a cab to get to Diliman to join the really long line of people waiting for possibly their last chance for a taste of Beach House barbecue before it closes down, I only got to check it out a couple of days later, when I had some errands to run. 
The first thing that greeted me upon entering Nguyen Food House was the chatter from a table of Vietnamese aunties by the door. There must have been five or six of them, all talking excitedly with each other. The shop assistant gave me a menu and I asked what their specialty was, and she pointed to the bowl of pho. I asked for the steak and tendon kind.

She came back with a bowl of thinly sliced meat ("steak," I assume) and beef balls with a generous heap of spring onions and a tub of togue and calamansi. There's also some hoisin sauce and hot sauce--I don't think it's rooster sriracha. This has obviously worked with what is available in the area. So don't expect lemon wedges or big stemmed supermarket beat sprouts. You're looking for "locally sourced," here you go--togue kung togue. 

But a slurp of the broth confirms that a bowl of pho is a bowl of pho. Yes, this is slightly different from what we have been used to from the mall-based Vietnamese food we have been used to. Aside from using local ingredients, this bowl is also about 20% cheaper. What it has going for it is that it is made by a Vietnamese mommy. I asked her where she's from and she said she lives in the Nagtahan area. Again, you can't go any more local than that. I also assume that the owner's friends live nearby for them to hang out in her store. 

It's also a nice addition to the sort of eats one can have. If you want Indian food, it's only a few minutes away from Assad's in the UN Avenue/Otis area. And now we have pho. Really, what this town needs is a decent coffee shop. There was a cafe in that building area once, but it didn't last long and the space is now occupied by a spa. So maybe people want a massage more than they want coffee. 

A bowl of noodles that cost Php199 (but can be comfortably shared by two people) is probably expensive by the town's standards. Perhaps they can have a sampler or "merienda bowl" at Php99--you know, just so the people in the area can try out the noodles and get used to it and make it an alternative to the mami that they know. I just want the place to stay open for a really long time. 

Nguyen Food House is on the ground floor of Residencias de Manila, Jesus Street, Pandacan. 

Sunday, June 22

Sound and the City

What does the city sound like?* 

When one thinks of the city, our first thoughts are visual: the skyline of tall buildings, streets and avenues all lit up with neon. There are more elements which make up the urban landscape other than the visual. The sound of traffic, vendors plying their wares, pedestrians hurrying down sidewalks. 

Even more curiously, do all cities and urban areas sound the same? How is downtown Manila different from Las Pinas or the fringes of Rizal beyond Ortigas? 

Project Bakawan, through its Sound+Movement component, aims to explore this facet of urban life. Project Bakawan is a collaborative art event seeking to increase awareness of current environmental issues. Set on February 2015 in celebration of the National Art's month, it will engage artists in collaboration with the academic community to formulate an acute analysis of our environmental situation and come up with creative responses that will interact with the UP Diliman community.

Curator Dayang Yraola invites Metro Manila's inhabitants (or passers-by--or anyone, really) to contribute an audio recording of people, events or activity, places recorded from anywhere in Metro Manila. 

It could be a recording made using professional machines, mobile gadgets (mobile phone, tablet, etc) or any portable recorders; minimum of 30 sec, maximum of 3 minutes; on AMR, MP3 or WAV format; and not more than 2.5MB.

Please follow this format for your contribution:
Filename: Contributor’s name_Content_Date

Additional notes:
Contributor’s name can be a pseudonym
Identify content as: Nature, People, Machines, Structures, Event, Traffic, Others

Composers and sound artists will use the collected sound files for their individual compositions, which is part of a sound installation in U.P. Diliman for Project Bakawan in 2015. Project Contributors will be duly acknowledged.

Please submit audio files to with subject heading [Bakawan Audio]. 



*This reminded me of Jodie Foster's character in The Brave One, where she hosts a radio show about the city life. Alas, i never got around to blogging about it. 


Sunday, June 8

Botong Francisco at the PGH

I was at the PGH last night because I wanted to capture the portals I had submitted that have gone live this past week. But because I had somewhere else to go, I wasn't able to go inside to reach the hallway murals. I stayed at the flagpole area and the lobby. 

There were five murals inside. A hospital lobby isn't really the best place to stand back and admire those murals. There were too many distressed people worrying about the state of their loved ones. I didn't really have the heart to make them move to the side so I could take full detailed photos for portal subs. But a closer inspection lead me to a marker in between one of the panels which said that the murals were by Carlos Botong Francisco. Yes, the National Artist Botong Francisco. 

I knew two have already been submitted as portals: Awit ng Maharlika and Ang Albularyo The Healer. I had a renewed appreciation for them, as well as the other three.

This morning, when I checked out information about the murals online, I found out that only 4 of those 5 murals belonged to the original series by Botong Francisco called “The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines." The oil on canvas measured 2.92 meters by 2.76 and 
"depict the history and development of medicine in the country from the pre-colonial period, the Spanish colonial period, the American Occupation era, and the modern era of the 1950s."

First, a correction from art expert Ana Labrador: Because the paintings are oil on canvas and not made directly on the wall, they are properly called paintings, NOT murals. “Murals are defined as paintings done directly on the wall and have been conceived as integral to the architecture. These paintings are not murals since they have been commissioned in 1953, 43 years after the PGH opened to the public." Given the number of people who pass through the PGH lobby, the paintings have probably been seen by millions. But distressed patients aside, the paintings were also “the least written about of all the artistic works of Carlos V. Francisco."

Photo from Dr. Rico Quimbo's Flickr.

But all the years of humidity and thick crowds have lead to the paintings being as distressed as the patients there. So in 2007, the National Museum stepped in and took down the panels for restoration, which was funded through a cultural preservation grant from US Ambassador Kristie Kenney. They had a photographer make reproductions and that's what we now see in the PGH lobby. Meanwhile, the original panels are now in the National Museum.

The restored paintings at the National Museum.
Photo by Buen Calubayan from the GMA online article.

If only four of the panels are by Botong, that means that the fifth panel, the green one, has been added much later. I'm no art expert and couldn't identify paintings by artist on sight, but somehow that last painting was different from the others. It was probably added to "continue" the story of medicine in the Philippines since Botong's ended in the 1950s. The question now is: Who made that last panel?

Not by Botong: The mysterious fifth panel.

Of course, if it's only for Ingress portal submission purposes, I doubt that the casual player or NIA Ops would ask for the painter or a portal would be more valuable because it was by a National Artist. But if you're a geek like me, one of the joys of playing Ingress has to do with "accidental" learning about things like history and public art. The itch of not knowing would be there to scratch until you learn for sure who made the darn thing.