Category: Threads


In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned the growing popularity of running as a form of exercise for many Filipinos. Key reasons include the following:

  1. You only need a minimum of equipment; a pair of good running shoes, comfortable clothing and probably a water bottle to hydrate yourself during the session should suffice. Some like to up the ante with an iPod full of their favorite exercise music, and special portable apps and devices to watch their progress and body functions.
  2. You can plot your own course on nearby roads, or even take part in the increasing number of running events within and outside Metro Manila.
  3. As a form of cardiovascular exercise, it is a great way to build up endurance and serves as a stepping stone to more advanced forms of exercise. It also burns a great deal of calories, if plotted correctly.
  4. It is less prone to injuries than many other forms of exercise, since it exploits our natural bipedal motion.
  5. It is one of the first exercises we ever learn in life.

In the last event I attended (The St. Luke’s Eye Run), I managed to improve match my old five-kilometer time in the six-kilometer group (meaning I ran faster). Hope does exist indeed.

However, concerns have grown over the increasing costs of running events. For instance, the recently concluded Condura Skyway Marathon cost me P950 to join the 10-kilometer run (which admittedly gave out cool medals in turn), while most events cost about a quarter to half that on equally good roads. And while this has been more the exception than the rule, there is a strong possibility that event organizers will raise registration fees to the point that it will become prohibitive (or at the very least discouraging) for people seeking to get fit on a tight budget. This will then force runners to pick their events and potentially demoralize participants from running.

So while I understand that organizers need to cover their expenses for such events and seek to make a profit, they ought to consider keeping the registration fees reasonable enough for most participants as this can actually mean better profits and a more solid reputation among the growing community of runners in the country. The Milo National Marathon is proof of that, and if their standing among the community is good enough, there is no reason both the organizers and participants can help each other in a win-win situation.

Considering that heart disease and diabetes are among the top killers of the country’s population, it is time that a run for better health and well-being get past the starting blocks and make that crucial march to the finish line.

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Speaking of running, since attending the Greenhills Eco Run in November, I have chalked up three more running events to my name as follows:

  • The 35th Milo National Marathon in December. This is the country’s longest running (and perhaps best known) running event, due to national recognition of the Milo brand (a chocolate malt drink made by global food giant Nestlé). As such, it has always garnered a strong following and simultaneous events have been held in areas within and outside of Metro Manila. I signed up for the five-kilometer running event and I finished just half a minute ahead of my earlier time in the Greenhills run. My main disappointment with the event was the sheer number of participants resulting in high pedestrian traffic, which prevented me from pushing myself much. I did get a singlet, as well as energy drinks, water and a banana.
  • The 2012 Condura Skyway Marathon on February 5th. While being the most expensive run I signed up for so far, I was drawn to the event by a chance to run along the length of the Metro Manila Skyway (which is normally off-limits to pedestrians). To test my mettle, I signed up for the ten-kilometer run and while even more exhausting than my earlier runs, was made fun by the cool weather and the sun rising over the scenic Laguna de Bay (Lake of Laguna). I got myself a singlet, a bottle each of energy drink and water, a poster promoting the preservation of mangrove trees and even a medal. My officemate Mike B. managed to survive the 42-kilometer marathon to cop an even bigger medal in the competition.
  • The Discovery Vertical Run on February 12th. This was held at the McKinley Hill outside Bonifacio Global City. While the event is noted for its ten-kilometer vertical run (nine kilometers on surface streets followed by one kilometer of running up and down stairs), I stuck with the five kilometer run instead. I did experience breathing problems which killed my progress, but I managed to finish the run close to my earlier times and I got prizes such as the usual singlet, a Discovery Channel shirt, a ballpen and photos with a running Chihuahua. Yes, that is not a typo.
  • The St. Luke’s Eye Run on March 11th. This was held in Bonifacio Global City, in the streets surrounding and near St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City. In what would be perhaps my single most significant run yet, I managed to match my old five-kilometer time of 48 minutes within the six-kilometer run. According to my calculations, it meant I ran the five kilometers in just over 40 minutes.

And during those times, I managed to put in some practice runs after work with my mates Joeven and Mike D. (yeah, I run with two Michaels). Despite looking and feeling like a dog put through non-stop rescue missions, I did enjoy the runs to some degree and I actually experienced the euphoria that experienced runners have spoken of.

And oddly enough, I saw some benefits sooner than I had expected. My notorious paunch (or belly, if you prefer), shrunk much as shown by my shirts fitting better in the past week or so. And with my usual habit of going around the house with only a pair of shorts on, my smaller abdomen was noticed by everyone at home.

Considering my concerns over my slowing metabolism and its implications on my health, I was amazed by the gains I had made and so have resolved to extend my foray into running. I won’t be breaking any records soon, but I may be gaining something more valuable in the process.

And that will be sweeter than any medal or trophy the world can give me.

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With the recent chaos at work and home, my attendance at running events has taken a serious hit and I have not attended one since the Eye Run back in March. Mapping out a suitable route has been a challenge so far, but I intend to pick up where I left off.

Oh, and knowing I had the proper mid-foot strike technique while running all along helps.

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The recent bout between Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao and Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley ended in much controversy when the American was declared the winner via split decision. Many fans and observers expressed largely negative emotions about the outcome, ranging from shock (as shown when his mother Dionisia Pacquiao fainted upon hearing the verdict) to utter disgust and dismay at the judges’ decision, all the way to anger among those who felt the Filipino pugilist had clearly out-performed his opponent. Even Bob Arum himself, the top banana of Top Rank Promotions, could not contain his disappointment with the decision, stating that the reputation of boxing had taken a serious hit with the decision and he was determined to have the judges investigated. And with the Associated Press count showing Pacquiao throwing and accurately landing a significant number of punches more than Bradley, this has solidified the case for many who feel that the Filipino should have kept the welterweight title in his corner after his performance.

Now going to the decision, I cannot formulate a definitive opinion on that since I was only able to catch the first round (where Pacquiao seemed hesitant and lacking in aggression) on delayed telecast before I had to go to work. I would certainly welcome an opportunity to watch the bout from opening to last bell. But I certainly am concerned that the decision has gotten the American’s reign as welterweight champion on bad footing. And while I welcome a rematch to help address the question once and for all, there is concern that it may finally be time for the congressman of Sarangani province to hang up the gloves for good and focus on his many other interests in the country. It is a brutal sport, where people have actually died or had their lives changed forever.

But most surprisingly Pacquiao’s mother, who had long been trying to convince her son to retire from the sport, is now demanding that a rematch be set so that Manny has a chance to exact his revenge and take back the title now around Bradley’s waist. Talk about the mom making some real noise here.

As for corruption and greed in the sport, that is nothing new at all. For years professional boxing has been mired in controversy as millions of dollars are usually at stake for each big-name event and the question of where such huge amounts go is something that has long mystified experts. And with documented cases of corrupt combatants and officials fixing fights in the past, who can indeed say if the sport has truly shed its seedy reputation? So the judges throwing the decision Bradley’s way is not so unlikely after all. And understandably, as many point out, it should be investigated. But I do doubt that this alone will cause real damage to the sport, since boxing remains popular even though mixed martial arts promotions like Dana White’s UFC continue to grow in followers each day.

So while displeasure with the decision is understandable, it is not the end of the world. Should Pacquiao decide to pursue the rematch, he will still carry the hopes of millions of fans worldwide with him along the way. But if he decides it is time to retire, I will respect that decision as well. After all, he has way too much going for him as he has his duties as congressman and even has various businesses and investments in his name. And remaining as gracious as he could in his unpopular defeat, the Filipino pugilist has shown the world that winners are not always the ones with the gold on their bodies.

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After seeing my Mum’s posts on Facebook about her watching matches of the recently concluded French Open as well as her divided support for the NBA’s Western Conference Finalists the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, I have come to realize that I have more in common with my parents than I thought: A passionate love of sports.

Having played tennis, pocket billiards and basketball for years, Pop was always ready to share his opinions on his favorite sports and I could count on intense dialogue on those matters. He was also a follower of boxing, and his outspoken opinion on the controversial George Foreman-Axel Schulz bout in 1995 made me appreciate the sport despite my dislike for violence.

Mum, however, was more of a movie buff and I would usually find her in the room watching her favorite films on HBO and Cinemax. But when she started mentioning her admiration of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic with gusto as well as her knowledge of the sport, I learned then and there that she loved her sports too.

Congratulations are in order for Maria Sharapova of Russia and Rafael Nadal of Spain for winning their 2012 French Open singles division titles, by the way. They just proved why they are among the top ranked players in the world now. And though Rafa did it at the expense of my Mum’s hero, I bet that it will not be the last we hear of the World No. 1.

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After yet another unintended spell of dormancy amidst myriad distractions, I have decided to re-ignite my writing bug and get to my under-maintained-yet-overly-faithful blog. I’ll start with a recap of my activity from the past three-plus months. And here we go.

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Back in late March, Zynga launched its first-ever voice based teams for gameplay and technical support. Previously, only the Billing department provided this service to their players. With the monumental launch of this new line of business, I was nominated by several of my supervisors as a pioneer for the team, owing to my experience with handling phone calls in two of my previous accounts. Despite mild resistance, I accepted after learning of a good bonus to be added to our payroll and recalling the fond memories I had of my former line of work.

I was dispatched to the CityVille/Cafe World team when the service went live. Although I was averse to having to handle two key titles (and being the farthest thing from a fan of Cafe World was no helpful either), I bit the bullet and went about supporting my colleagues who had come from Cafe World and were learning their way with CityVille. In turn, I made it a point to try and learn what I could from my colleagues who had handled Cafe World. And slowly but surely, my confidence began to rise and I managed to revive my phone agent skills that had gone dormant in my tenure with Zynga.

The biggest challenge of being in the pioneer team was that of unstable schedules, as it jeopardized our chances of being able to file vacation leaves. As misfortune would have it, on the weekend my Pop planned his overnight birthday outing in Zambales, three my other colleagues had planned some serious things of their own. With the leaves denied, I was frantic. I managed to convince my supervisor to let me go out for the weekend (as someone was available to cover my absence) and two of my other officemates managed to push through with their plans. However, it left one of us to stay at work since no one could cover for him and I made a personal vow that he (and another teammate who managed to cover for me during my absence) would get paid back somehow. Oh, and I will go to the vacation weekend shortly.

With our schedules having stabilized for the time being, it has been a welcome change and I am hoping to get a more favorable schedule when the metrics for measuring our performance have been formally implemented. In the meantime, I stand on the lookout for opportunities that may help my personal career path finally escape the tar pit it has been in for so long.

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My sisters, niece and I posed for a picture at scenic Potipot Island Resort during Pop’s weekend birthday bash.

With my absence request approved, I was in for one of the best weekends of the year (as of this post). For the last weekend of April, Pop planned an overnight beach outing in Zambales with the family.

It began on the morning of Saturday, April 28, when we headed to Pop’s house to rendezvous with our other siblings and cousins on our way to the beach. We arrived in Angeles City before lunch and left in a rented van headed for the Subic Bay Freeport Zone outside Olongapo City, Zambales. After about two hours on the road, we arrived at All Hands Beach and sat down to a hearty lunch getting together with other relatives including my Tito Alex, who was manager of the day-to-day operations at the beach resort. We spent the afternoon  and early evening bathing in the cool waters followed by some kayaking and beach volleyball. From there, we headed to a house rented for the evening, which happened to be the residences formerly used by the American soldiers. As it was still early, my cousin and I decided to rent a basketball at the nearby office and play a pickup game. Despite having to cut the game short due to my being out of shape, I managed to beat him and had a good workout overall. We ended the evening exchanging stories and relaxing to the quiet of the wooded surroundings.

We got up early the following morning (Sunday, April 29) and took the long drive to scenic Potipot Island Resort in the northerly town of Candelaria, Zambales. Pop and Tita Lydia decided to head home instead, to allow us more time to have fun. From there, we hopped on a boat and took the short ride to the island. After a long search for an available table, we found one near the docked boats and proceeded to a quick lunch before going for a dip in the clear waters of the South China Sea. However, the noticeable piles of garbage did lessen the natural beauty of the island and  it left me to wonder what had happened since my first visit there a few years ago.

With the sun setting, we took the long ride back home and managed to stop for some treats along the way, including a hearty dinner at Shakey’s Pizza in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone to celebrate a successful weekend. And upon arriving in Angeles City, we rested for a few hours before finally heading back to Manila in our own car.

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And this past weekend (almost a month to the weekend in Zambales), we got together once more for a round of laser tag at Greenhills’ LazerMaxx. As luck would have it, our cousin Petite happened to have free passes for a round of laser tag good until the end of May only so we got together for the event. In yet another intense 15-minute session with us being split into three teams of three members each, we would finish in second place and kill-wise, I ended up right in the middle of the pack as with our last session. We then headed to KFC for a hearty lunch before I rushed off to work afterward.

And so, with a pair of epic weekends in stride for April and May, my summer was not so much of a bummer after all.

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Recently, we moved to a more spacious unit within our present condominium of Narra Heights after having resided in our previous unit for the past four and a half years. Despite our hectic schedules and the ensuing inconveniences we met, we have now started to settle into our new unit. Although it is noisier outside as it is facing the street, it does afford a more interesting view of the city from the veranda. And being on the second floor (as opposed to the third floor) as well as closer to the gate, the walk to home base is certainly less strenuous.

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Due to my previously erratic schedule at work, I haven’t been able to run as often as I used to and I have ended up missing many a running event over the past months. I feel myself gaining back the inches I lost, and I am desperate to find a trail of my own to blaze.

Wish me luck, folks.

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Kevin Durant has led his Thunder past the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs en route to the Finals. Can he give the team a Larry O’Brien Trophy too?

The NBA Playoffs have been a hoot. The Oklahoma City Thunder, led by stars Kevin Durant, Paul Westbrook and James Harden, stunned the long time powerhouse San Antonio Spurs in six games to reach their first NBA Finals since moving to Oklahoma (with their last trip to the finals in 1996 as the Seattle Supersonics, where they lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games). After losing the first two games to the Texan trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, the young guns of The Sooner State won the next four games in improbable fashion to win the Western Conference Finals series. This leaves some questions for the Spurs, who in spite of their championship experience are sporting an older lineup that may have just a couple of seasons left in the tank.

Over in the Eastern Conference Finals series, the Boston Celtics were in nearly the same place as they hold a 3-2 lead against the Miami Heat. After the trio of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh gave South Beach a strong 2-0 lead, the Beantown Boys rallied their way to huge wins in the next three games. With the crucial Game Six at their homecourt of TD Garden, the Fab Four of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo counted on their experience of winning the title in 2008 to take them to the NBA Finals once more. In the meantime, LeBron James would likely suffer even more torment if his season ends very soon, as his perceived failure to lead his team to victory becomes a hallmark of his career.

But with their season at stake, the King James of old finally came out with guns blazing. He would torch his conference rivals with a 45-point outburst on enemy turf to win Game Six and even the series. And in Game Seven, the Heat survived a solid first half from the Celtics and with the game deadlocked at 73 points apiece to start the final quarter, Miami’s Big Three scored the team’s remaining 28 points (with James contributing 31 points and 12 rebounds, Wade adding 23 and Bosh scoring 19 for the game) to win the game 101-88 and secure their second consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.

This once, I’m considering backing up my bets with real money. I’ll know for sure soon enough.

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Tiger Woods may finally be back in the hunt.

This past weekend, the former World No. 1 golfer captured his second victory of the year at the Jack Nicklaus-sponsored The Memorial Tournament by two strokes, made possible with three birdies on his last four holes including a spectacular chip-in birdie at the 16th. With the win, Woods ties Nicklaus for second place on the all-time PGA Tour wins tally with 73 total, just nine shy of the late Sam Snead (82). After falling to a low of 50th in the world rankings, his two wins this year (he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March by five strokes, his first since the 2009 BMW Championship) have pushed him to fifth place among the PGA’s global talent. With the U.S. Open approaching later in the month, Woods may have finally exorcised the demons from the marital scandal involving him and his now ex-wife Elin Nordegren and his hunger for golfing greatness looks insatiable once more.

The question will be answered at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, California in just over a week. And the world will be watching whether he snares Career Major No. 15. Click HERE for my blog entry on my love for golf and a more detailed analysis of Tiger Woods’ chances.

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Pawn Stars features (from left to right) Corey “Big Hoss” Harrison, his dad Rick Harrison and his grandfather Richard “Old Man” Harrison, who own a pawn shop in Las Vegas.

I have become heavily hooked on History Channel, especially for shows like Pawn Stars, American Pickers, American Restoration, Ice Road Truckers, Top Shot and The Universe. So much so that I did not shed a tear upon the removal of Discovery Channel from its standard lineup (even though I will miss Adam and Jamie’s antics in MythBusters). Along with Discovery Channel and sister channel Animal Planet, several other channels have now been made exclusively available to those who sign up for SkyCable’s DigiBox (a proprietary channel decoder box, apparently another sneaky way to make more money off couch potatoes like myself). Since the current cable TV arrangement in our condominium means that upgrading to the DigiBox will force all other tenants to upgrade, I am seriously considering signing up with another cable provider that can give me the channels I want without the added hullabaloo of gimmicky gadgets and excessive fees.

That is, after I get my TV fixed so that we still have options.

To return to my History Channel obsession, I found myself hooked on its most popular show Pawn Stars. The show focuses on the daily operations of the family-owned Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, Nevada. The main stars include Richard “Old Man” Harrison, his son Richard Kevin “Rick” Harrison, grandson Corey “Big Hoss” Harrison and Big Hoss’ childhood friend Austin “Chumlee” Russell. They go over items with clients and discuss the history of these items, as well as haggling prices with them as in a typical pawn shop business, but also features interpersonal conflicts between the cast members. In some cases, they even call in experts from other fields to help verify items that they are unsure of.

American Pickers (marketed as The Pickers outside the US) features the adventures of partners Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz as they travel across America looking for antiques and collectibles from collectors, hoarders and the like. They receive leads from Danielle Colby-Cushman, who manages their head office in Le Claire, Iowa. Interpersonal conflicts also feature in the show as well as their locating and haggling for prices of the various items of interest. On occasion, they also consult local experts to appraise pieces that they are unsure of its real value.

American Restoration (marketed as Kings of Restoration outside the US) is a spin-off to Pawn Stars and features Rick Dale, who featured as having restored many items for Rick Harrison of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop before. The show features him and his staff working on various restoration projects, with the usual interpersonal conflicts. Key members include his son Tyler, his brother Ron, his girlfriend Kelly and workshop employees Kowboy, Kyle, Bob, Ted and Brettly (Kelly’s son). The history of the items is also discussed in the show, and haggling does take place, although much less often.

The Universe is a show featuring the many amazing aspects of the universe and the objects within using computer-generated imagery, with many prominent experts in the fields of astronomy, cosmology and astrophysics sharing their knowledge. Subjects such as space exploration and time travel are also discussed, making for a highly interesting show.

Ice Road Truckers is a reality show featuring a group of truckers who make a living transporting various items along the dangerous Dalton Highway in Alaska, as well as the usual interpersonal conflicts. I quickly grew to like Lisa Kelly, a native of Alaska who made her mark as the first female trucker in the series and soon became one of the top truckers in the series and its spinoff series IRT: Deadliest Roads (which feature the truckers traveling on dangerous roads elsewhere in the world e.g. India, Bolivia and Peru).

Top Shot is a reality competition show featuring contestants from various fields across the US, who engage in various shooting challenges. Competitors are eliminated one by one until only one remains, earning him a $10,000 grand prize and the title of “Top Shot”. The show is hosted by Survivor contestant Colby Donaldson. Various weapons are used, from bows to handguns to SMGs to sniper rifles and all others in between.

When watching shows such as Pawn Stars and The Pickers, I cannot help but feel sympathy for the stars of the shows when the clients begin to haggle with them excessively. Often, they expect to be paid at an auction level price when in fact, they have to ask for a lower price to be able to make a reasonable profit when reselling these items (which the client in term can misconstrue as being shortchanged or cheated). In an episode of The Pickers, after they buy a carnival banner for $700 and end up getting an offer of as much as $10,000 from one buyer, Mike and Frank go so far as to visit the original owner of the banner and give $5,000 to help towards rebuilding the old amusement park outside New York City that he now owns.

On the other hand, Ice Road Truckers highlights the challenges of trucking in the climate and terrain of the northernmost US state and gives me renewed respect for truckers who travel without fanfare to make commerce possible. And The Universe is the perfect show for the astronomer in me, as I get to learn more about the vast space that we inhabit and its many unique features.

But National Geographic is not down yet. They still have Cesar Millan in The Dog Whisperer, and that makes the end of my work week truly enjoyable.

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The rainy season is upon us. With Typhoon Mawar (Ambo) dumping heavy rain only days ago causing serious flooding and three reported deaths, we can only expect more wet days ahead of us. Time to get the dusty boots, raincoat and umbrella out of our closets.

Tropical Storm Washi (Sendong) took over 1,000 lives in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City alone due to flash floods triggered by its heavy rainfall.

For many, winter is the coldest harshest season of the year. So when Tropical Storm Washi (Sendong) struck Mindanao just a week ago, it brought its own tragic chill to a tropical nation. The death toll has topped 1,257 with 85 others reported as missing, making it the year’s deadliest tropical cyclone. The cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in northern Mindanao were hardest hit due to flash flooding from the torrential rains, and damage from the storm reached nearly 1 billion pesos.

In response to the disaster, the government has mounted a massive rescue and rehabilitation effort, with government and private agencies leading fundraising events to help the victims. In addition, international aid has started to pour in with countries such as China, France, Japan. the United Kingdom and the United States pledging help to the affected areas.

Despite all the promised aid, one cannot help but think back on whether enough was done to lessen the impact of the calamity. Some have pointed out to PAGASA’s poor forecasting of the storm and the population’s unpreparedness. Others blame the continued effects of global warming and deforestation of the nearby affected areas, which made the flooding worse than it seemed. And still others point to corrupt public officials who pocketed fund for improving flood management infrastructure.

Whatever the reason, the important thing is that everyone does their part to make sure we are better prepared when such a situation takes place. It is sad that such a tragedy had to take place, and the proper people should be held accountable as needed. The main hope that we have is that in greeting a new year, we move forward carrying the lessons of the old year.

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Kim Jong-un, the youngest son of late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, remains an equally enigmatic figure after taking over from his father.

The recent passing of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il has placed his isolated nation (officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) back in the world spotlight. Already known for its repressive regime built under a cult of personality of its founder Kim Il-sung (Kim Jong-il’s late father), the country is also one of the most militarized countries in the world and has an active nuclear weapons and space program. The nation had already been involved in the bloody Korean War of the 1950s with its neighbor South Korea (officially the Republic of Korea), and relations have alternated between promising highs and frightening lows (notably the sinking of the South Korean Navy ship Cheonan by a North Korean torpedo in 2010). While initially involved in six-party talks in the late 90s, these fell through when the North Korean government proceeded with weapons testing and uranium enrichment programs (intended for its nuclear weapons).

With the late leader’s youngest son Kim Jong-un now assuming the role of his father and grandfather, an air of both hope and uncertainty has filled the air. For one, the new leader of North Korea is an even greater mystery than his predecessors were and as such, no one knows truly what to expect of the young man who is now the head of the most secretive country in the world. One can only hope that after more than six decades of suffering, the North Korean people will have some real change in their lives and the world can breathe easier for once.

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Comically, I am starting to believe in a sense of Armageddon slated by doomsday prophets to take place late this year. For one thing, the movie lineup for this year is a dream for many moviegoers. Here’s a quick rundown of the ones I have in my sights:

  • The Dark Knight Rises. This is the last Batman film to be directed by Christopher Nolan, who brought back respectability to the DC Comics franchise with 2005’s Batman and 2008’s The Dark Knight. Christian Bale promises to deliver a solid performance as the Caped Crusader and his alter-ego Bruce Wayne, while two classic villains will make for an interesting film. Anne Hathaway looks impressive as Catwoman/Selena Kyle, while Tom Hardy hopes to deliver a more intellectual and sinister portrayal of the brutal Bane.
  • The Avengers. With the recent string of well-received Marvel superhero films putting in an impressive build-up, it is only fitting that they get together as the mighty team known as the Avengers. Most of the cast from the previous flicks will be in the film such as Robert  Downey Jr. (Iron Man/Tony Stark), Chris Evans (Captain America/Steve Rogers), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury). Notable additions Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk/Dr. Bruce Banner), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye/Clint Barton) and Tom Hiddleston (Loki) are worth watching out for as well.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man. This is essentially a reboot of the Marvel franchise featuring the web-slinging superhero alternating as high school student Peter Parker, now being played by Andrew Garfield. Other notables to watch out for are Emma Stone (love interest Gwen Stacy), Martin Sheen (Uncle Ben Parker), Sally Field (Aunt May Parker) and Rhys Ifans (The Lizard/Dr. Curt Connors).
  • The Expendables 2. With the first film satisfying my craving for action star mayhem to the hilt, this film promises even more bang for the buck with an even bigger lineup. You have the returning cast of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Randy Couture (whew, had to catch my breath there) to start that appetite going. Then you add Liam Hemsworth as the team’s sniper, Chuck Norris (critical mass right there) and Jean-Claude van Damme as the primary antagonist (a rival mercenary), and you have a film that is more loaded than a tanker full of nitroglycerin going over a cliff. Seriously.
  • Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. After the lackluster performance of the first Ghost Rider film, Nicolas Cage (Ghost Rider/Johnny Blaze) is eager to give the anti-hero a rebuilt image. Johnny Whitworth takes on the role of the antagonist Blackout while veteran actor Christopher Lambert plays the role of the monk Methodius, who aids Ghost Rider in the film.
  • Skyfall. The 23rd film in the famous James Bond series features the return of Daniel Craig as Agent 007 of the British MI6. Judi Dench is back as boss M, around whom the plot revolves involving her past actions. Javier Bardem plays the main villain, with Naomi Harris taking on the role of field agent (and inevitable Bond girl) Eve. The release of the film is part of celebrations of the famed spy film franchise, for it was 50 years after the first Bond film Dr. No made its debut in 1962 with Sean Connery as the lead character.
So with that kind of film lineup, I somehow can’t help thinking that this would be a great way for any movie fan to go out. And these are just the ones I am looking forward to personally.

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Speaking of which, 2011 was one heck of a year for me. Here are some milestones I could actually crow on:

  • Became part of the pioneer support team for Zynga’s game forums. Basically, I would search the forums for posts and reply to those I could address as per support guidelines.
  • Celebrated my sixth year in the company, when I once considered six months as a miracle. Though I have remained an agent, I did apply for the game lead position and served as interim lead on occasion when no lead was available to cover our shift.
  • Hosted my first wedding reception ever at the request of a dear friend. The whole affair went very well, better than I had expected.
  • Attended my first running events. While not an athlete by any means, this got me interested in getting a few pounds (and inches) off my frame. And as long as I paced myself, any fears of collapsing in a heap would stay wishful thinking.
  • Hosted my first sportsfest in over two years, at the TELUS Healthy Living Cup finals. It all came about after a chance meeting with a top banana for HR while attending a meeting with the company president.
  • Was featured in two promotional videos for the company (branding video and advertisement for company event), as well as hosting an episode of Career Jam focusing on TELUS.
  • Attended my first laser tag session with siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews. 15 minutes is definitely enough for one session.
  • Attended a beach outing at Magalawa Island, Zambales as part of my dad’s birthday celebration. I plan to go back there soon enough.
  • Attended the first Dayrit family reunion in almost two decades at the ancestral home in Taytay, Rizal. Grandma’s amazing hot chocolate still tastes as wonderful as ever.

So what does 2012 bring for me? Your guess is as good as mine. Hopefully, more fireworks for me this time around.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Some fashion statements stand the test of time. High heels. Denim jeans. And a personal favorite, the Barong Tagalog.

So imagine my delight when my beloved national costume/formal attire got another opportunity to shine at a formal event, its first in over a year. And yes, I’ll wear it over any business suit or tuxedo.

More than a year ago, my friend Gepay announced that she was getting married to her boyfriend/officemate Giane after what I initially described as a “whirlwind romance”. She then invited me to take part in the event by hosting the reception program. Needless to say, I assured her it would be an honor to help celebrate perhaps the single happiest day of their lives.

So I had the date down. November 12, 2011 at 4:00 PM. The historical Malate Church was the wedding venue, with the equally historical Manila Grand Opera Hotel & Casino as the reception venue. I even managed to file my leave just two weeks before, and I was clearly relieved when I found that my leave request had been approved.

Two days before the big day, I had my Barong Tagalog dry cleaned at a laundromat. On the day itself, I was in touch with my friend and the wedding planner and I promised I would be there early for the event. With time passing quickly, I managed to have the laundromat deliver my Barong Tagalog at home and I made preparations in haste.

I left home after having a light lunch and took a taxi to the hotel to meet up with the bride. However, a sudden downpour caused traffic along the way to build up and what would have been a 20-25 minute trip slowed to a 45-minute crawl. Fortunately, I arrived at the hotel with plenty of time to spare and I met up with the wedding planner to discuss the event details. I would be hosting the event with Rudolph, a close friend of the groom who also happened to be the bride’s brother-in-law (as he was married to the bride’s sister). Rudolph would also serve as commentator for the wedding ceremony at the church, and I would ride shotgun along with his family to and from the wedding.

We arrived at the church before the ceremony time of 4:00 PM, and the ceremony was soon underway. At the wedding itself, I met up with their officemates from TrendLabs (including the one I had given a stuffed toy tiger the year before). With Giane dressed in a neat grey suit and Gepay dazzling in a brilliant white gown, it felt like a truly wonderful day. With the conclusion of the wedding ceremony, we soon posed for pictures with the newlyweds and gave then the traditional send-off at the cathedral door by releasing butterflies in their path.

I felt a sense of dismay, however, when some of the butterflies ended up being stepped on and crushed amidst the festivities. But this was soon replaced by relief and wonder when one of the butterflies ended up landing on my Barong Tagalog and staying there for most of the evening. It would become the subject of many a picture then and I actually took pride in showing off my “living” corsage.

My friends Giane and Gepay formally tied the knot as a married couple and everybody was in a great mood. An epic event worth celebrating, it was.

We arrived back at the hotel where I got to interact with the couple’s respective family and friends before the reception. Soon after, Rudolph and I went into full hosting mode as we ran through the program. We were treated to many memorable moments, such as a surprise dance number by the newlyweds, messages from family and friends and even contests for those in attendance. We even got to watch a very touching set of video presentations, one of which re-enacted the day that the groom proposed to his lovely bride. And to cap the night off, pictures of the guests with the newlyweds soon overflowed from camera to camera, each a testament to the uniting power of an event showcasing the greatest of human emotions.

We were treated to a sumptuous dinner and even got the chance to ham it up with a rented photo booth where we could try on all sorts of wacky costumes and outfits. And after receiving warm gratitude from the organizers and the newlyweds, I even got a neat bottle of white wine to take home along with wonderful memories of a great night.

Rudolph was even so nice as to drop me off at the nearby SM Mall, where I could easily take a taxi home. I even left my butterfly for his youngest daughter to take care of, as she was attracted by the lovely insect.

And that is how once again, my Barong Tagalog was the highbrow hero of the day.

I managed to get home before midnight, and I was greeted by my sisters upon arriving. My younger sister Fran had managed to get five tickets (courtesy of her officemate) to the third bout between Manny Pacquiao and Mexican nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez to be shown at SM Mall of Asia live in the morning. As my elder niece Noelle decided not to go after an exhausting day at Ocean Park Manila, it was left to me, my elder sister Mitzi and her son Mikhail, Fran and our cousin Nico (who by the way passed the civil engineering board exams held recently) to take advantage of the freebies.

We left past 9:00 AM of Sunday and despite initial difficulties with getting parking due to a recently concluded running event, we managed to secure good seats and had a lot of great food in tow for the event. We were treated to the undercard bouts, which provided some very interesting moments of their own.

The featured bout began past noon, with Filipino Internet sensation Maria Aragon performing the Philippine national anthem “Lupang Hinirang”. Maria, who gained fame with her rendition of Lady Gaga’s hit “Born This Way” going viral earlier in the year, was even invited by Lady Gaga herself to perform live with her and later led to the young Filipina gaining much acclaim and praise from all over. Rendering the American national anthem “Star Spangled Banner” was another Filipina, Thia Megia. Thia gained fame as a contestant on Season 10 of American Idol, where she made it to the final group before being eliminated.

Longtime rivals Manny "Pac-Man" Pacquiao and Juan Manuel "El Dinamita" Marquez hoped to settle their feud once and for all in their third meeting. Alas, controversy would hound this bout as well.

After a slow start in the first four rounds with neither boxer gaining a clear advantage, Marquez started landing more solid punches while Pacquiao seemed somewhat hesitant to engage in a slugging match with his adversary. In the last four rounds, Pacquiao managed to negate some of Marquez’s advantages and landed some great punches of his own. In what appeared to be the most decisive of their three fights (considering the draw in their first bout and the split decision favoring the Filipino in the second), it appeared the Mexican had finally gained the upper hand in their intense rivalry.

But in yet another highly controversial ending, Pacquiao would win the bout via a majority draw decision, with two judges favoring the Filipino pugilist 115-113 and 116-112 and another judge calling it a draw. The decision was met with boos from most in attendance, and in his frustration the Mexican left the ring before he could be interviewed.

The crowd in the movie theater had an almost stunned reaction after hearing the verdict and after a few more seconds, some mild cheering ensued. Instead of my usual cheer with a Pacquiao victory, the first words I uttered as the decision was read by veteran ring announcer Michael Buffer were these:

“He won? Seriously?!”

The controversial decision prompted me to post on Twitter that I felt that somehow, Marquez should have won the bout considering the punches he managed to land and Pacquiao’s somewhat hesitant approach to his rival. It then reminded me of the International Boxing Federation heavyweight title bout between famed boxer George Foreman and his German opponent Axel Schulz in 1995. In a bout where Schulz was clearly the aggressor landing blow after blow on the aging American, Foreman retained the title in a highly controversial decision. My dad, who was watching the bout with me, theorized that the decision had been made to build up Foreman in a future “dream match” with Mike Tyson, who was also working to rebuild his boxing career. Nothing came about of the said bout and after losing the heavyweight title as the oldest champion in boxing history, Foreman would retire for good and gain new-found fame with endorsing the George Foreman Grill.

Soon, I was made aware of the stats that had come out of the fight favoring Pacquiao, where he managed to throw and land a higher percentage of punches than Marquez. In addition, many boxing analysts pointed out that in a title bout, the challenger has a prerogative to be more aggressive and keep coming at the champion, something which Pacquiao displayed but Marquez did not leading to his loss on the judges’ scorecard. And finally, footage of the bout showing the Mexican stepping on the Filipino’s foot in several instances in an alleged attempt to allow him to hit the champion has circulated on Facebook, with many decrying the tactic and reversing their formerly adversarial stance on the controversial win.

A friend of mine pointed out that points on a boxing judge’s scorecard are like points in a basketball game. The target is to have more points than your opponent at the end of the contest, and even if the way in how they gain these points can always be questioned, they will still count as long as the officials consider them valid. So clean or dirty, get enough points and you get the win.

So the verdict now is that more than the champion’s failure to knock out his challenger for a decisive win, Marquez’s inability to clearly dominate Pacquiao put his efforts in vain.

So am I ready to take back my statement that Marquez deserved the victory and heap praise upon Pacquiao’s shoulders?

Not so fast, folks.

True, I accept the numbers as being accurately tracked by trained ring officials and thus, Pacquiao could have very well landed more punches without my being totally aware of it. After all, the TV camera can only see so much from a certain angle.

True, Marquez did not impose his will on Pacquiao as he should have despite doing some things right.

But it was still a close call. The match could indeed have gone either way. And while Pacquiao did just enough to win, Marquez had things in control from the middle and the champion had to play catch-up before the bout ended.

What has me concerned is that Gayweather will call this bout a clear case of officials partial to the reigning pound-for-pound king of boxing and this may make him even more hesitant to set up their much-awaited fight. Sure, once can call the unbeaten American a coward who constantly hides behind (or even under) his mother’s skirt, but he has clearly gained some confidence after his recent victories over Victor Ortiz and Shane Mosley (the latter whom Pacquiao had beaten before the rubber match with Marquez).

And while I am confident that Pacquiao never intended to win this way, it will not rank as one of his better bouts. The Filipino has found the one Mexican he could never kill (despite his Mexican Killer” moniker owing to his success against Mexican boxers). It is also a sign that he is not getting any younger either as shown by a noticeable drop in his usually blinding speed. Quitting while he is ahead may be the next decision he has to contemplate. And while it may mean the grand bout that happens each generation may never take place, he has more than enough to rest on. And I’ll call his legacy probably the greatest thing he has ever done, for proving that the Filipino can truly be great if he sets his mind to it.

And while not being the most gracious in defeat, I still salute the Mexican challenger for showing plenty of guts and heart against an eight-division world champion. Whenever he decides to retire, he’ll go down as Pacquiao’s main nemesis and a true world-class world champion quality boxer.

So what of Pacquiao-Marquez IV, one may ask. Much as I crave a decisive victory, I think three controversial down-the-wire matches is enough. I still squarely root for Pacquiao, and ugly as the win may be, it still is a win.

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And finally, I celebrated yet another candle on my cake 11 days ago. 130+ greetings on Facebook, Twitter and my mobile phone is a pretty sweet deal. And while my original celebration plans did not push through, I am still doing my best to enjoy myself.

To those of you who remembered and celebrated my natal day, thank you all. And to those I have met along the way and became a part of my history, thanks as well.

And I’m not done with November yet. Not by a long shot. Cheers!

*****

Joe Frazier, one of boxing's legends, passed away on November 7, 2011 at the age of 67 after battling liver cancer. He will be regarded by many as a superstar who gave fellow great Muhammad Ali his toughest challenges to date, including their "Thrilla in Manila" rubber match in 1975.

Speaking of boxing, the great Joe Frazier coincidentally passed away at the age of 67. A former Olympic and world heavyweight champion, “Smokin’ Joe” was best known for his rivalry with fellow great Muhammad Ali in which they sparred with each other inside and verbally outside the ring. They fought in three great bouts, none of which was more famous than the “Thrilla in Manila” held on October 1, 1975 at the Araneta Coliseum. He was a swarmer who could wear down opponents by giving and taking punishment, setting them up for his patented left hook when they were most vulnerable. And while he struggled with financial and health concerns in his last years, Frazier took to training many young boxers and remained well-respected by most of his peers.

Rest in peace, Smokin’ Joe.

In a disturbing display of apathy, in China a pedestrian ignores a toddler hit by a truck earlier and saunters on. The disturbing surveillance footage showing a young child hit by a truck and later ignored by passersby has sparked outrage all over the world.

Recently, a video from China went viral which sparked anger from many around the world. A toddler had managed to wander out on a busy street and soon fell victim to a hit-and-run from a passing truck. Making matters worse, she was soon run over by a second truck and she lay dying on the street with passerby after passerby ignoring her. Eventually, it was a humble street scavenger who took pity on the child and moved her to the side. She was eventually brought to the hospital by her distraught parents and she succumbed to her injuries just days later.

What has people up in arms is not that she managed to leave her parent’s shop and wander on a somewhat busy street, which is something her parents will have to live with for the rest of their lives. The real tragedy was that after being hit and run over, the toddler lay on the pavement clinging to life while those passing by did nothing to help her. Imagine what could have happened if the drivers who had hit her, or even the pedestrians lifted a finger to help her. She might be alive today, and those people would know the satisfaction of having done good for their fellow man.

I was watching the movie Patch Adams starring Robin Williams, and as the title character he said the following lines that got me thinking:

“What’s wrong with death, sir? What are we so mortally afraid of? Why can’t we treat death with a certain amount of humanity and dignity, and decency, and God forbid, maybe even humor. Death is not the enemy gentlemen. If we’re going to fight a disease, let’s fight one of the most terrible diseases of all, indifference.”

I always considered myself (to a certain point) one who cared a great deal about others, often to the point of overstretching myself. But deep inside, I always felt a great sense of satisfaction when I have done good for others. It is the kind of feeling that you won’t get from doing just anything.

Just a few days ago, I was at the MRT station waiting for the next train to work when I was approached by a man who mentioned he wanted to get to Magallanes and it was his first time riding the train. I mentioned to him that he was on the right train and it would be the next station after I got off at Ayala station. After we boarded the train, I then decided to stand near him and right before I disembarked, I reminded him that the next station was his stop and he should be okay from there. After he thanked me as I exited, I felt a high I had not felt in some time.

We are all connected in the circle of life, I once learned. And if we did just one good deed every day for the rest of our lives, imagine how much nicer the world could be for once. But only if you truly believe it.

*****

The bustling Terminal 1 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila recently gained infamy as the world's worst airport by a travel website. The terminal has exceeded capacity since 1991, and many of its facilities are now overcrowded and non-functional.

The website Sleeping in Airports recently rated the Ninoy Aquino International Airport as the world’s worst airport, pointing most of the blame on Terminal 1 where most of the international and local carriers are now based. You may get access to the review here. Below are a few of the reasons why Terminal 1 got such an appalling rating, according to reviewers:

  1. Terminal 1 was built back in 1978, at a time when the air industry was experiencing a growth boom. It reached capacity in 1991, and many travelers have complained of overcrowding in the said terminal.
  2. Facilities are long outdated and limited, with restrooms having non-working plumbing and limited counters to handle the growing volume of passengers.
  3. Incidences of criminal activity in the airport have been reported, with pickpockets and thieves brazenly stealing from passengers and alleged corrupt airport employees asking for various “fees” for many services that should otherwise be free of charge.
  4. There have been reports of structural issues with the aging Terminal 1, such as ceiling collapses in certain areas.

And just before that, I came across a blog shared by my high school batchmate about a British national who regularly travels the world as part of his work, and he regularly stays in Manila as part of this. Recently, he wrote a scathing (but surprisingly truthful) post on his poor experience in the city during his last visit, which then triggered some terrible outbursts from those who read it. You may get access to the blog by clicking here.

It is surprising how defensive we Filipinos can be when someone makes a joke about us, yet we do not care to look at why we are treated as if we have “Kick Me” signs taped to our backs.

So instead of a knee-jerk reaction to such negative comments and perceptions, wouldn’t it be better to take these criticisms constructively as a way to improve ourselves and the country? When one thinks about it, there is much we can do to build our nation and it always begins with us. We are at least partly responsible for the poor reputation of our country in the global eye, and it is up to us to prove that we are not an ass-backwards lot.

As Dr. Arthur Mendelsohn (portrayed by Harold Gould), a mentor of Patch Adams said in the same movie:

“You’re focusing on the problem. If you focus on the problem, you can’t see the solution. Never focus on the problem!”

*****

Just recently, the National Transitional Council announced the death of longtime dictator Muammar Gadhafi after ferocious fighting between rebel forces and Gadhafi loyalists in the former leader’s hometown of Sirte. With the death of the erratic and repressive Gadhafi, the rebel forces of the NTC proclaimed victory in the months-old civil war and announced that they had full control over the country.

With that victory comes a huge price to pay for the Libyan people, however. The economy is in ruins, and property and lives have been lost. Experts have estimated that it will take years before the country resumes its previous levels of oil production, which will lead to higher global crude oil prices. Rebuilding the lives of its populace will take perhaps the longest of all, as many Libyans were born and knew only a life under the Gadhafi regime.

So while I salute the Libyan people for their selflessness in fighting for the most basic of human freedoms and rights, they have much work to do. And while it will not be easy, based on how hard they fought for the right to live with dignity and without fear, it should be more than worth it.

Looks like Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams in good company now. As symbols of people triumphant in the face of great odds with little more than determination and a passionate love for their own personal causes, it is something we can smile about despite the insanity of our world.

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Looks like I’m spending yet another holiday at the office, while my siblings, niece and nephew get to have some time away from the city with my kin in the province. Oh well, time to make the extra pay bonuses count. Happy Halloween, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day, everyone.