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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Manila, Berkeley, L.A.

I’ve lived in 3 places all my life: Manila, Berkeley and Los Angeles/Torrance. Here’s a little bit of what I love most about them.

10 Things I love most about living in Manila:
1. Of course, my family – home-cooked dinners with everyone around the table, sleeping in my parents’ room, the whole family watching DVDs, and trying new restaurants every weekend.
2. Sunday lunches at my grandparents place with the whole "extended" family – I can still taste my guama’s homemade meatloaf and carne frita (beefsteak).
3. Having several groups of wonderful friends to hang out with after work and on the weekends – friends from work, college and high school.
4. Sleepovers where hardly any sleep happens.
5. Actual weekends where I can just bum around, read books, and watch movies.
6. Bargain hunting with my sisters at tiangges (Greenhills and Tutuban in particular).
7. Going to mass at Mary the Queen where you always run into people you know.
8. Working at Jewelmer (interesting clients, wearing great jewelry, 2-hour lunches, putting together fashion shows and bridal fairs, employee discounts, traveling, working with friends).
9. Weekend out-of-town trips.
10. Bacolod Chicken’s chicken inasal; Via Mare’s gourmet tuyo; Dencio’s sisig; Dulcinea’s churros con chocolate; Tapa King’s tapa queen, Le Ching’s spareribs rice, Di’Marks (did I spell this right?) pizza with everything on it; oysters at Mario’s; prime rib at Conway; Digman's halo-halo; shabu-shabu at Tong Yang; the Mongolian barbecue at Little Joey’s; iced coffee at Dean Street Cafe; lauriats at East Ocean; La Gondola’s pasta negra; drinks at Bistro 110 and Il Ponticello; ice cream parfaits at Magnolia and the Peninsula; etc., etc.

10 Things I love most about living in Berkeley:
1. My roommates and people living in my building – never a boring moment!
2. Beers and live music at Jupiter every Friday night.
3. Saturday night parties on Milvia St. and Sunday afternoon backyard barbecues.
4. Long drives to Napa, Sausalito, Tiburon, and Monterey Bay.
5. Half-priced movies for students every Tuesday night.
6. Farmer’s Market every Saturday a block from where I lived.
7. Taking the Bart to San Francisco to watch flamenco dancing and to have dim sum in Chinatown.
8. All night study sessions.
9. My internship at Shaklee with an awesome group of people.
10. Sushi at Manga Manga; authentic French breakfasts at La Note; drinks at Café Strada and Raleigh’s; pizza and dark beer at Jupiter; vegetarian curries at Chaat Café; smoothies at Planet Juice, corned beef and cabbage at Beckett’s; coffee and dessert at Peet’s and Au Coquelet; “imitation chicken” dishes (I swear it could pass for the real thing!) from this hole in the wall vegetarian place on Shattuck; Frausto's for Mexican food; Mel's for burgers and buffalo wings; warm spinach salad with goat cheese at Chez Panisse; panfried noodles from Long Life Noodlehouse; etc, etc.

10 Things I Love most about living in Los Angeles/Torrance:
1. Being newly married and owning our own home here!!!
2. Living in a city that allows one to drive an hour and get to the beach, the mountains, the desert, parks, malls/outlets, museums, Hollywood, Downtown, and every major theme park in America.
3. Playing tour guide to all our balikbayan guests. We’re the number one stopover destination for family and friends (Philippine Airlines flies direct to Los Angeles!).
4. Discovering discount stores that sell brand names at half price: Marshals, TJ Maxx, Tuesday Morning, Ross, Loehmans, Kohls, and, of course browsing neighborhood yard sales!
5. Shopping in bulk at Costco and Sam’s Club.
6. Perfect weather that allows backyard barbecues almost all year long.
7. Learning to drive and getting on the freeway (minus rush hour traffic).
8. Taking turns hosting weekend get-togethers with friends, my in-laws, and family.
9. Watching my nieces and nephew grow up and getting to babysit them along the way.
10. Grilled short ribs and stone pot soup at the BCD Tofu House; soft tacos at Chipotle; dim sum at the Empress Pavilion or Harbor Village; prime rib at Lawry’s; the champagne brunch at Louise’s Trattoria; dessert from The Cheesecake Factory; udon bowls at Mitsui; anniversary dinners at Maggianos; margaritas and appetizers at Border Grill; Café La Strada’s salmon sorrentina; the lamb curry at Punjab; fresh Vietnamese rolls at Noodle Time; bibimbap at Tahoe Galbi; chocolate pudding cake at King's Hawaiian, having Pinoy favorites like Jollibee, Red Ribbon and Chowking close by, etc., etc.

Doing these lists has been somewhat therapeutic. On one hand it has made me truly appreciate what I have. On the other hand, I’m also feeling pretty nostalgic about the things I used to take for granted. And on a lighter note, going thru the lists have also made me quite hungry.

Interesting how people and food play such integral parts of what I love most about places.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Talking

Yesterday was a milestone in my budding career as an HR/OD consultant. After several months of being part of a team or being a co-facilitator at a number of compliance training seminars, yesterday was my first shot at doing a whole day workshop on my own.

WARNING: I’m going to do some bragging now so read at your own risk. The workshops went very well and I received plenty of congratulatory comments from the participants (a total of about 60 people). But the best comment was from Doug, a guy in his late fifties who remained very quiet (almost half asleep) throughout my presentation. He came up to me as I was leaving and said, “ I’ll admit I was not looking forward to this session but you made it worthwhile. That was a great workshop and you did a great job as a presenter”. What a compliment – especially after speaking about and facilitating group discussion on the edge-of-you-seat topic of “Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention”!

I think one of the best things I like about my job is the fact that I get to do a lot of talking. And I mean a lot. As my dad and hubby lovingly point out, I’ve got “the gift of gab”, which is a nice way of saying “sobrang daldal niya” (“She’s very talkative”).

Of course, with my job I literally talk all the time. To begin with there’s the hundred and one phone calls I make a week and the presentations I give trying to market our consulting services; then there’s the one-on-one coaching sessions I have with clients both in-person, on the phone, or over the internet; and finally there’s facilitating group workshops where I’ve had my fair share of airtime.

But obviously this love for the spoken word is not just on a professional level – the fact is I like to talk (yes - I like to listen too. I guess with some people it does NOT always go without saying).

I inherited my love for having conversations, that are for the most part intelligent (!), sometimes trivial, and in some instances downright silly, from my dad. A brilliant man who was known as “the bubbling brook” (aka the "clucking chicken") back in his younger years. Although in hindsight, most of my family (the females especially) are great talkers – family gatherings are never ever silent affairs.

And, of course, there are my friends. Especially my really good friends (you guys know who you are). Phone lines have been burned, teachers have been angered, restaurants have closed for the night, cellphone bills have doubled, and yet our conversations go on. Just imagine us getting together after not seeing each other for months – it's every man/woman for him/herself – definitely not for amateurs :) Classic example of “birds of the same feather …”.

And yet with my hubby, we're really more a case of “opposites attracting”. Great how that worked out though.

But I digress, back to my point, I do enjoy having conversations with people – most people. In fact, if I had to list my favorite things to do, most of them would probably involve talking - that and eating. In my opinion, the two main elements of a perfect evening include: good conversation and good food.

So, to summarize the last 9 paragraphs, I facilitated a great workshop yesterday and I like to talk. I could have stopped there - but have I mentioned I like to talk?

Monday, September 19, 2005

Mooncake Festival

I hosted my very first Mooncake Festival party last Saturday night – Mooncake Festival was on Sept. 18th this year. We had a potluck dinner where I made hotpot satay soup with beef and shrimp balls, pork and vegetable dumplings, straw mushrooms, baby corn and bok choy. The rest of the dishes were pork curry with potatoes and carrots, crispy noodles with seafood (lauriat style), and stir-fried beef with broccoli and snap peas. Of course, for dessert we had traditional mooncake each filled with lotus seeds and 2 egg yolks.

We had about 20 people over – including my in-laws as well as my SIL’s in-laws. Next to the dinner, the highlight of the evening was the long anticipated Dice Game. The game involves rolling 6 dice in a deep bowl and winning prizes based on the dice combinations. I was slightly rusty on the rules and scoring – but my mom was kind enough to email me the instructions for the game.

Now, I don’t know if the Dice Game is actually a tradition in all parts of China. I spoke to my Vietnamese-Chinese and a Taiwanese friend and both of them were not familiar with the game. But back home, every Filipino-Chinese household I knew played the game, which we called Pua Tiong Chiu. So maybe it’s a Filipino-Chinese tradition or maybe it was only played in the Fuchien provinces of China (where most Chinese in the Philippines emigrated from).

Either way, these annual Dice Games were certainly a large part of my growing up years. We had two sets of games – one where we played with my Father’s side of the family (this was where you could earn serious money – since my angkong was extremely generous and the cash prizes along with ho-pia (mooncakes) were very much in demand). Then there were the games with my mother’s side of the family – where instead of money we had gift prizes like chocolates, canned goods, chips, etc – where surprisingly, the friendly competition would be just as fierce!

These games were really great times for both sides of the family. It was when everyone from the eldest member (from my angkong to my guakong) all the way down to my youngest cousin would eagerly wait their turn to roll the dice and hopefully win the grand prize. There would be a lot of good-natured teasing (especially from my uncles!), mock competition between families, friendly banter between cousins, and a host of different techniques on the luckiest way to roll the dice to come up with the elusive winning combinations. I remember most fondly my dad’s affable antics, like dancing on the sidelines, or blowing on the dice before rolling them, or getting a good luck kiss from my mom - he would have everyone laughing or good-naturedly rolling their eyes. At the end of the game, there was never an empty-handed player – everyone always won something and traditionally grand prize winners were gracious and always gave out balato (or token prizes) to the ones who didn’t do so well. It was always a happy occasion.

It is this sentiment that made me want to start the tradition with my new family. Although my hubby’s family never played the game before, everyone was incredibly receptive to the idea and gamely chipped in money to buy our prizes. And believe me everyone got into the game! Last Saturday night, the competition was just as spirited and as aggressive as the ones I’ve been a part of back home. There was the usual teasing and bantering, and then naturally my BILs came up with their own techniques for winning - some of which worked while others were at least good for a laugh. It was a lot of fun - even if my hubby and I didn’t win any of the major prizes.

On Sunday, in keeping with the "Chinese theme" of the weekend, my BILs came over and helped my hubby move our bedroom furniture around. This was our big feng shui makeover. So now, with all the mooncake we had and our new feng-shui-approved room – it’s time to bring on the good fortune!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Weekend Highlights:Little Women

With all the feng shui planning going on I completely forgot to mention the real weekend highlights. We started the weekend early on Friday. My hubby and I took our nieces and nephew to the Universal City Walk for the afternoon. Oh to be that young and carefree again – you can not imagine the thrill these kids had over playing with miniature toy dogs, splashing in the water fountain, running in open spaces, and eating pretzels dusted with cinnamon sugar. Spending time with these kids is just as thrilling for us, not to mention great practice for when we have our own! Later on, we met with my BIL and SIL for dinner at Buca di Beppo and afterwards caught part of a concert benefiting Hurricane Katrina victims.

On Saturday we went to see the new home of two of our very good friends in Arcadia. It was really nice catching up with them and playing with their adorable baby boy. They in turn invited us to a great, authentic Thai lunch at this place called President’s Thai. The company was, as always, awesome and the food was so incredibly good. (Not like a lot of the hole-in-the-wall Thai places we've been to in L.A. and the South Bay). I can’t say enough about the spicy green chicken curry with lots of fresh basil, the tender beef satay with just-the-right-sweetness peanut sauce, the tasty ho-fan-like noodle dish, and the shrimp tom yang soup with a kick! Not to mention the flourless chocolate cake for dessert - yum! Later that afternoon, we stopped by the place of another family friend (whose daughter was celebrating her birthday that day) – we could only stay a while since we had just enough time to get to Orange County.

The real weekend highlight was of course the long-awaited Little Women musical at the O.C. Performing Arts Center. It was AWESOME. Watching the play made me fall in love with the story all over again. The musical chronicled the adventures of Jo March as a writer in New York, but seamlessly interspersed that with flashbacks of her life in Boston during the Civil War, growing up with her sisters Meg, Beth and Amy as well as their loving Marmee. It is such a timeless story – both poignantly funny and sad at times – but so full of life and incredible spirit.

The musical is fairly new and so I didn’t recognize any of the songs but in some way everything seemed so familiar. Since I am no theater expert, I am not going to write a lengthy review of the musical. Suffice it to say the play was well written, the actors were superb (especially Kate Fisher who really showed off the spirit of Jo March and Maureen McGovern who was every bit the way I imagined Marmee would be), the songs were entertaining, and the stage backdrop was top class.

The only thing I noticed was that some parts of the original story were edited (as I guess is the norm in most theater or film adaptations). Some of these were my favorite parts though – like Amy’s writing her will patterning it after Aunt March’s, Marmee giving each of the girls a little Pilgrim’s Progress guidebook on Xmas morning, the March sisters giving up their Xmas breakfast for the Hummel family, and the part where the girls first meet Laurie from next door. Also the musical made no mention at all of gentle and loyal Hannah (their housekeeper) who I’ve always considered as part of their family. But despite that, I truly had a fabulous time and found myself both laughing and crying as I got caught up in the lives of the March sisters.

P.S. My hubby seemed to enjoy it too – for the most part.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

To feng shui or not to feng shui?

In the case of my cultural identity I would say I'm made up of three cultures. Although my family’s ancestry is Chinese (my paternal grandparents and maternal grandfather were from mainland China) and I grew up in a family that maintained a number of Chinese traditions and values, we were never raised as strictly 100% Chinese. For one thing, my grandparents settled in Manila and all of us (starting from my parents’ generation) were born and raised there. This exposed us largely to the Filipino culture and way of life. We went to school, worked alongside, and made friends with Filipinos. In my case, I also married into a traditional Filipino family. Another piece of my cultural identity was a large exposure to the Western world – American in particular. My parents both received an American education and were quite open to Western thinking. Added to that is the fact that I grew up with so much American influence - television, movies, books, music, and to top it all off - getting an American education.

So technically, I am Chinese by ancestral origin, Filipino by nationality, (Malay by ethnicity- as most Filipinos are) and grew up largely influenced with an American way of thinking. How’s that for globalization?

Which brings me (finally) to the point of this post. A couple of days ago I was talking to my mom who casually brought up the fact that she had a friend who was apparently some sort of feng shui expert. (FYI: Feng shui is an Asian philosophy that creates an environment which is ergonomic; it allows one to work and live efficiently, comfortably and successfully by following the patterns of nature).

While talking to her friend, my mom found out that our bedroom was apparently a feng shui no-no and that several changes were suggested to correct that. I must point out that while my mom herself is not a feng shui devotee – she did mention that sometimes feng shui does bring about good fortune, as well as balance and harmony in life. Hmmm ...

This is the part where my explanation of growing up with three cultures comes to play. Right away, my “westerner” thinking argued that this was a complete waste of time. I mentally started going through a list of practical reasons why this was not a good idea. Then my “Filipino” mentality kicked in and recognized the fatalistic nature of feng shui – which led me to think about the possibility of this being a way to help out the fates. Interestingly enough I’m Catholic too and this makes me largely against any type of superstition. But then again my Chinese side saw the value of this suggestion – in addition to some type of ingrained filial piety – where I still feel guilty about not listening to what my mom says. So literally I was going back and forth with this idea.

To feng shui or not to feng shui???

I guess the argument that tipped the decision was my hubby’s – he claimed that we had nothing to lose and a change of scenery may be fun. Good point. Hence a good chunk of our weekend was spent going through feng shui articles on-line and scouting for the necessary supplies for our big bedroom makeover.

Some interesting facts that my mom’s feng shui expert friend shared with us: since I was born in the year of the Tiger and my hubby was born in the year of the Monkey – the best day for our makeover is Sept. 18th. All changes need to be done on that day. We don’t have to do all the work ourselves as long as the people helping us are not born during the year of the Pig. (Don’t ask me why).

Here is a list of the suggested changes for our bedroom:

1. Cover all mirrors that show our reflection while sleeping - this is tough since our closet doors are mirrored and take up an entire wall of the room. (Options are to cover the mirror using curtains, sheet paneling, or wallpaper).

2. Re-position the bed so that the foot of the bed does not face the bathroom door.

3. Move the bed away from the window.

4. Cover the window with some sort of shade.

5. Change the color of the walls from (the current) deep burgundy to an earth color (we are debating between celadon green and a deep tan).

6. Have a living plant inside the room.

7. Remove all electronic equipment from the room (or at least cover them up when not in use).

So far, we have several possibilities for each one of these changes. It will be interesting to see how much actually gets done on the 18th. Beyond that, I'll let you know if we become any more fortunate, harmonious or balanced!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Labor Day Weekend

Three day weekends are awesome. Of course the regular two-day weekends are great too. But having that one extra day certainly makes a huge difference. My hubby and I have been anticipating this weekend and we were both really excited knowing we had 72 hours of “freedom” in store. We had made plans well in advance and had several “projects” in mind. So what did we end up doing you might ask. Was our three-day weekend spent …

A. Relaxing

B. Shopping

C. Sightseeing

D. Food tripping

E. All of the above

Well, here’s a clue – it was the "LABOR DAY" weekend.

So, the answer is “E. All of the above” and “F” - we did what every new homeowner and time-deprived couple does. In between relaxing, shopping, sightseeing, and food tripping, we also worked on our home.

The last three days have made me feel as if I were part of an edition of Weekend Warriors or Curb Appeal – or one of those TLC / HGTV home makeover shows.

Let me share some of the highlights:

Saturday – shopping for shelving and storage supplies at IKEA, cleaned out our garage, joined by my BIL who helped my hubby build shelves and shoe racks, celebrated with a leisurely sunset walk around PortsO’Call Village in San Pedro, had a late Chinese dinner, and stopped by our all-time favorite store, Barnes and Noble, for more books.

Sunday – lunch at a Mexican restaurant, then off shopping for indoor plants, outdoor flowers for our garden, and a “park” style bench at Home Depot, spent the afternoon working in the garden, went to mass, and had hubby’s family over for a barbecue.

Monday – went to Walmart to buy decorative flowerpots for the porch and a new sprinkler system for the garden, bought outdoor candles and wrought iron sconces at Big Lots for the patio, spent the afternoon attaching the sconces, reading, napping, working on the computer and catching up on email.

Alright, nothing really earth shattering and mind blowing about the last 3 days, But I have to say, it was extremely productive, quite relaxing, and definitely time well spent bonding with my hubby. Also, our garage, front porch, flowerbeds, and back patio look terrific (if I do say so myself). I’ll try posting pictures if I can. (I should have taken “BEFORE” pictures though – that would make the “AFTER” pictures stand out more). Oh well.

Guess, I’m ready to go back to work now …