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Sunday, July 29, 2007

My Life Thus Far

I’ve been reevaluating my life thus far. Maybe this is me having a premature mid-life crisis. Or maybe, on this extremely RARE occasion where I have some free time on my hands, I’ve been given a chance to slow down and do some thinking. I’ve been considering the things I’ve done so far, where I am at this point in my life, and what I want to accomplish in the years to come. I’ve been reflecting on what are the things that are important to me, the lessons I’ve learned, and what I’ve found out about myself through the years.

I guess at the ripe old age of 32, I’ve had my share of ups and downs. I’ve had interesting experiences, both good and bad. I think everything I’ve gone through has been important in shaping who I am today. And although I’ve had my share of disappointments and regrets, I don’t think I would do anything differently should I be given the chance, since all the things that have happened to me, have played a part in making me who I am today. There are things I still don’t understand and sometimes question, but I guess, as with all things, the answers will be revealed in due time.

All things considered, I am happy with my life. I’ve been incredibly blessed with my family (both the family I was born into, my in-laws and my hubby). I think Jojo and I are ready for parenthood and I sometimes wonder why we have not yet been blessed with a child. But I know that there is a reason for that and when that blessing comes, it will be the right time and for the right reason.

My career has been colorful. I started as a part-time pre-school teacher, worked as a sales and marketing person, dabbled in market research, experienced life as an external HR/OD consultant, and am now working as a corporate training manager. I’ve gotten a bachelors degree in development studies, studied international marketing, went for graduate studies in organizational psychology, and a certificate in human resources. I see that although each of my professional and educational experiences has been different each one has serendipitously also contributed to the next step in my career development. There are days when I still feel challenged by what I do, but more and more I am thinking that the corporate world is not for me. I have been thinking about what kind of job I would be passionate about and would actually look forward to waking up for every morning. It’s strange how my thoughts seem to lead me back to what I used to do, somewhere in the realm of teaching and working with kids, where I got so much more satisfaction and happiness.

The other areas in my life such as my faith, friendships, relationships, health, and finances have had their shares of ups and downs. But in all honesty, I’ve been lucky because the ups have definitely outweighed the downs. And in general, there are very few things I can really complain about. I’ve lived a happy, sheltered life in Manila and a much more independent one here in the States. There are days when I prefer one over the other for different reasons. But lately am realizing that coming here may have been one of the best things that I have decided to do. I’ve learned to be self-reliant and strong. I’ve learned acceptance and flexibility. I’ve learned how to be more patient and to understand that the things that matter most are the ones worth waiting for.

My priorities in life have changed as well. I used to think that a good career meant a management job with a high profile salary. But lately I am starting to realize that money is not everything and that a good paycheck is only one part of job satisfaction. I used to think having a ton of friends was important but now I appreciate the quality of true friendship much more than the quantity of acquaintances. I used to thrive on having people around me … all the time. I was one of those people who could not enjoy a meal alone in a restaurant or go shopping by myself in the mall. But these days, I have learned to be much more comfortable with myself and actually look forward to indulging myself in alone-time.

I am at a point in my life where I am facing a crossroad. There are decisions I need to make to determine what the next part of my life has in store for me. While there are definitely no guarantees as to what the future holds and that sometimes our making decisions in life can be compared to a game of chance, I do believe that we have the power to choose to be happy. I have realized that our fate is not predetermined and that we have the power to pave our own destiny. If we end up miserable and living a life with no purpose and no passion, we only have ourselves to blame, since in the end, we are ultimately responsible for our own happiness and in shaping our own fate.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Happy Birthday, Father Bear!

Today is my dad’s birthday. Every year my brothers, sisters and I have such a tough time trying to figure out what to get my dad. After all, I’ve asked this before, “what do you get a man who has everything!?”. Seriously it’s tough! But this year, my sister came up with a brilliant idea. We would take care of footing the bill for one of my dad’s parties. Let me back track a bit and explain that every year my dad has several birthday parties. Unlike most people, my dad does not have a 1-day birthday celebration – rather, he has a month-long birthday blowout (several parties with different groups of family and friends). This year was no different. He has 4 parties planned over a span of 3 weeks. As our gift, my sisters, brothers and I were all chipping in to take care of his birthday lunch with family.

It’s a great gift since I know my dad would be extremely touched by this small gesture. Also since Jules, Jojo and I are way over here – this was our small way to share in the family celebration. But lastly, it’s a gift that’s absolutely perfect for a man who has everything but has a soft side for intimate gestures from his family :)

Happy Birthday, Dad! I wish you lots of happiness, love, blessings and good health. I am thrilled that you liked our gift. Like I wrote in my last letter to you, this is our way of turning the tables on you … you have given us so much and every year on our birthdays you generously lavished us with parties, gifts and all sorts of treats … this is our way of giving only a small part of that back to you.

I am glad we made you happy, Dad. Seeing you this happy has made us very happy too and truly makes doing this so worthwhile for all of us. I say – this should be the start of another family tradition! I know I speak for everyone in saying “we love you very much and we thank you for being the best dad – ever”. We really hope that next year we’ll be there to celebrate with you in-person. :)

Monday, July 23, 2007


This weekend we celebrated, our niece, Maddie’s birthday. It’s pretty amazing that she is already three years old. It seems like just yesterday when we would take turns holding this beautiful newborn baby … and today she’s a lively but still beautiful little girl. Although it was a warm, sunny Saturday, we all gathered in my sis-in-law’s backyard for food, fun and games. We started out with parlor games for the kids but by the time we all had our share of spaghetti and cake, we decided that we wanted in on all the fun. The second round of games were for the “not so young” but the still young at heart. We played Musical Chairs, Statue Dance, and a couple’s version of the Egg Toss. While we all gave in to our inner child, I was reminded of how fun simple parlor games could be – even if we were playing for dollar prizes!

On Sunday, Jojo and I took it easy, woke up late, and prepared brunch together. We had a typical Pinoy brunch – sinangag (garlic fried rice), crispy spam, sunny-side-up eggs, tuyo (dried herring) soaked in spicy vinegar, and chopped fresh tomatoes. This is my favorite kind of comfort food. I can not think of any gourmet meal from any fine dining establishment that I would rather have than a Pinoy breakfast.

Sunday evening, we had my friend, Ray, and his wife, Janice, over our place. They are here for a couple of months from Manila. I’ve known Ray since high school and since the Filipino-Chinese community in Manila is really small we have a lot of common friends. We also hung out a couple of times when we both lived in the Bay Area (I was based in Berkeley and he was living in Palo Alto). Unfortunately we missed each others’ weddings (my grad school graduation was the same weekend as Ray’s wedding, and he was on a cruise with his family during my wedding). As a result, I’ve never met his wife, Janice, and he’s never met Jojo. So last Sunday was an evening of catching up and getting to know each other.

I decided to invite Ray and Janice to a home-cooked meal rather than meet up for a meal in a restaurant. Entertaining at home is much more relaxed than sitting in a restaurant and it’s great how no one stares at you if you linger too long over each course or laugh out a little too loudly. I’m also very proud of our house and enjoy showing off our cozy, homey, comfortable home. Plus, entertaining at home is a much more personal experience that you reserve for special people and those whom you want to build special memories with.

I prepared one of the meals I am most proud of making. It’s a delicious (or so I’m told!) 4-course meal that looks like I spent the entire afternoon slaving over but is actually super easy to make. We started with a Caesar salad (tossed romaine hearts, croutons, cold chicken strips and parmesan cheese with a creamy dressing). For our main course I had my version of a shrimp scampi dish - (it has all the elements of scampi – lemon, anchovy paste, garlic and red pepper flakes) – my twist is I put in a healthy dollop of pesto too and toss the mixture with spaghettini and grated parmesan cheese. So it’s a pesto scampi pasta dish. I also had a roasted porkloin (marinated with lots of fresh garlic, rosemary and olive oil). It goes with a rich gravy flavored with the porkloin drippings and white wine. For dessert I served a huge bowl of summer fruits (strawberries, melons, blueberries, mangoes and kiwis). After dinner, we played some Wii, told lots of stories and called it a night when we found out it was almost 11 PM.

It was a nice weekend. Enjoying time with family, relaxing with my hubby, enjoying good meals and entertaining old and new friends at home. After great weekends like that, it’s really hard waking up to face a Monday morning!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Jojo's Birthday

Belated happy birthday, Ni! It’s been two days since your birthday but we’ve been so busy celebrating (among other things) that I have not had the chance to greet you via my blog. Just wanted to say, hope you had a great birthday and that we did justice to celebrating your special day. This year you specifically asked me NOT to throw you a surprise party and NOT to make “too big” a deal on your birthday. I had to really hold back because you do know how much I love surprising you and how I think birthdays should be a big deal. :)

I wish you the very best. You deserve that and so much more—especially since you have to live with someone who is an eternal worrywart, a reforming pessimist, a “makes mountains out of molehills” kind of wife who staunchly refuses to do laundry.

To my best friend, my partner, my ally and my love: Thanks for knowing when I need you to take the lead and show me the way, when I simply need your presence by my side, and when I need your support as I try to do my own thing.

Here are some pictures of Jojo’s birthday dinner at Shanghai Palace last Saturday.

The first table of 12 guests ... family and friends ...

Second table of 12 ... my hubby and I are in the background ... surrounded by my 3 nieces.

We had to have another mini-table for Mikey, Joe & Jay since there was no space in the 2 main tables. This was the bachelor's table.

The next day, we also celebrated by having lunch at Pacific Fish restaurant at the Redondo Pier. Now that Jojo has officially outgrown his allergy to crab ... he's been making up for all the years he's had to pass up on crab ...

Here's my hubby with his parents ... by the Redondo Beach Pier.

Just about ready to start our crab feast ... jackets off ... bags cleared off the table ... bibs secured around our necks ... mallets ready to start pounding ... looks like we're ready!

Here are our Dungeness crabs! I know they look like giant bugs ... but they are really very good once you get started. One crab per person is plenty - these things are huge and packed with so much meat.

Jojo also had a mini-party with his co-workers on the day of his birthday and another get-together here at home on the eve of his birthday.

Yes, I did try to "hold back" on making "too big a deal" on his birthday ... just like he told me to =)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Onami with the Imoos

Our good friends, the Imoos, are staying with us for a few days this week and next. We are really happy to have them over and glad that they have included a visit with us on their 3-week California roadtrip. It’s always nice catching up with Gail (she was my best friend back in the 6th grade up till her family migrated to Vancouver, but over the last 20 years – yes 20! – we’ve maintained a close friendship thru snail mail, email and occasional visits). Jojo and I also enjoy spending time with her very outgoing husband, Clay, and their adorable boys, Sean and Jake - plus another baby on the way!

To celebrate their first night with us, Jojo and I took them out to dinner. When Clay suggested Japanese food – Onami was our unanimous choice since all our past visits to this local favorite had been really pleasant. We’ve taken a number of our out-of-town guests there and even celebrated my 31st birthday with family at the restaurant. Food selection and quality were always top-notch, service was good, and the ambiance was nothing to complain about either. We were in for a surprise.

We arrived at 10 past 8 and were informed that because it was weeknight, the buffet would be closing at 9 PM – but the restaurant would stay open till we were ready to go. 50 minutes seemed like more than enough time for dinner even with a the huge spread of Japanese sushis, sashimis, appetizers, hot food, soups, desserts and green tea ice cream station. We all started off with round one - the sushi bar. This is pretty much where things started to go downhill. Here is a list of the things that went wrong that night:

1. The food choices were still expansive but were no longer “fresh” – most looked like they had been sitting under food lamps all day, some of the sushi selections were questionable, and a lot of the hot dishes looked reheated. Now, I understand that towards the end of the day, buffet selections start to deteriorate – but I insist that if a buffet remains open till 9, restaurant management should try to at least maintain some sense of quality (after all dinner prices are double that of lunch prices!).

2. 15 minutes before 9, the staff started helping themselves to the buffet. While I certainly have no issue with sharing the buffet with the restaurant employees, I do take exception to the fact that several times, the person before me would get the last serving of a dish. I think it would be a good practice in customer service to leave some food for paying customers.

3. True to their word, the buffet lights were shut down at exactly 9 PM (and not a second later), but soon after the lights in other sections of the restaurant were shut down too – including the restroom while Clay and Jake were still inside!

4. A few minutes later, the music died down and the place started getting slightly warmer (which meant they had turned off the air-conditioning). Without background music and the hum of the AC, the place turned eerily silent.

5. By about 9:20 or so, the other restaurant staff started leaving – as in going home! Even the valet guy walked into the restaurant and handed us our car keys because he was heading out.

6. Our server (who I guess was stuck at work because of us) started removing our plates just as soon as we picked up the last of our food from it and was wiping down the other end of our table even as we were still working on dessert.

7. When we finally finished, slightly past 9:30, the front door (which is the main entry way) was already locked for the night and we were directed to walk down a very dark hallway – dimly lit by the “Fire Exit” sign at the end of it. We had to take the back exit, past the dumpsters, into the parking lot which was, of course, also deserted at this time.

It was a definitely a night to remember! I was slightly embarrassed since we were with guests. But am thankful that Clay and Gail are such an easy-going couple that they could laugh about the whole incident. I can think of a number of our other guests who would have made a much bigger deal! But in all honesty I was really disappointed with the quality and service and will definitely have to think twice about another visit to that place any time soon.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Belacan Grill - Malaysia in the South Bay

It has been a while since I’ve blogged favorably about a restaurant in the South Bay. Although my hubby and I consider ourselves seasoned restaurant-adventurers, there are too few places in and around our area that are worth dedicating a space to on my blog. Last weekend, we managed to stumble across one that deserves mention. I had read about a Malaysian restaurant called the Belacan Grill tucked away in a residential section of Redondo Beach. I had read several internet and print reviews all raving about the place, the food, and the service. I was intrigued.

Belacan Grill is not an easy place to find. From the outside, the place is small, clean but pretty non-descript. Inside, it is a pleasant surprise. The interiors are elegant with crisp white tablecloths and napkins, sparkling silverware and stemware, and illuminated by tableside candles in glass votives. The décor was decidedly “Southeast Asian/Malaysian” inspired with a very colorful, lifesize tricycle-cart (similar to Chinese rickshaws) at one end, a nipa hut façade on the other, large artwork depicting Malaysian panoramas, native figurines, and hanging fabrics with interesting patterns. It was authentic and vibrant in a non-kitschy way. Despite being dimly lit and having large pieces or artwork strewn around, the high ceilings gave the place a spacious feel.

Service was prompt. We were greeted and seated right away. Our server was attentive in taking orders, giving recommendations, and keeping our water glasses filled. But in true Asian fashion, he was far from being overly-friendly and could be described as remotely aloof – which works out great for me. I am annoyed by servers who are too in-your-face and who hover around watching you eat!

We started with fresh coconut juice served in coconut shells. It was light and refreshing. We nibbled on the coconut meat while waiting for our food. Our first course was the house specialty, Beef Rendang. It is a popular Malay dish – similar to curry but without the strong curry taste. It is reminiscent of our local Beef Caldereta but with a hint of coconut milk. The beef was very tender as a result of long hours of slow-cooking over a low flame, reducing the sauce to a thick paste that coated the meat. I loved the sauce - I could taste exotic flavors that remind me of ginger, turmeric, and even a hint of cinnamon, plus a host of others that I could not distinguish. Whatever they were - the dish was perfect with steamed white rice and crisp green beans sprinkled with Belacan paste (a salty paste made of tiny dried shrimp). Our next dish was Wild Serai Shrimp which was stirfried with wild serai (lemongrass), green and red peppers, garlic, onions and a sweet oyster-sauce-like paste. It turns out it was kecap manis, a Malaysian dark soy, which is thicker and sweeter than other soy sauce varieties. The shrimp was large and fresh and the sauce was sweet and quite pungent. I thought the dish tasted like a well-prepared Chinese stir-fry, but was not as great as the Beef Rendang. Our last dish was Mamak Mee Goreng, a classic Indian style noodle dish with a dash of curry, dried red chili peppers, chicken, tofu, shrimp and bean sprouts. It is sort of like Singapore style rice noodles – with sate sauce. This version was very good, quite spicy, very flavorful, and had lots of meat and veggies to go with the long, thin yellow noodles. Perfect.

Malaysian food, as I’ve come to understand, is a mix between Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine. Belacan Grill was a great way to sample each of these 3 cuisines. We decided to pass on dessert although I was sorely tempted to try the Ice Kakang, a dessert made with red bean, sweet corn, grass jelly, syrup and topped with shaved ice. Maybe next time. I am actually looking forward to a return trip to try the other interesting things on the menu. I am just hoping my high praise and rave review does not jinx our next visit!

Click HERE to see Belacan Grill's website.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Unc's Visit

My favorite uncle (who also happens to be my ninong - both at my baptism and at our wedding) stayed with us for a whole week. It was really great seeing Uncle Wash (better known as "Unc") and hanging out with him, as well as my Aunt Pizza and my cousin, Notsky.

Ever since we were much younger, "Unc" was always the uncle you could count on to provide us with fun things to do (from sports programs at Polo Club, to major fireworks every New Year's eve, lavish parties at his home, mini-golf games at Par 42 and 44, movies at Louie's Cinema and in his home theater, and even motorcycle rides on his bike). Of course, he was also the uncle who teased us mercilessly and who always demanded we give him back massages in exchange for what was then below minimum wage! =) He is always so full of energy - that it is pretty infectious to be around him!

I'm so glad to see that although he has mellowed somewhat - he is still the same old Unc that we can count on to be there for us. Of course, now he's also the uncle who sends us a thousand emails a week and gives us countless tips and a lot of advice on our careers, finances, and life in general.

Here are some pictures of their stay with us:

As with all our visiting guests, we had to have the prerequisite backyard barbecue. Here are Jules, Jojo and I with "Unc" and A. Pizza. We decided to grill burgers that night. The burgers were thick and juicy and were grilled to perfection by my hubby - the "Grill Master"! Our theme that night was "California Burgers" and so for toppings we had 4 kinds of cheese (cheddar, Jack, Havarti and Provolone), beefsteak tomatoes, dill pickles and avocados. Yum!

Here we are with my cousin Notsky who just graduated magna cum laude with a double major from Menlo College. Congrats, Nots! We are so proud of you. It's so great seeing Nots again (he was here about 2 years ago). We are hoping he'll fly over and join us this Xmas.

This was taken after a really good Italian lunch at Cafe Bizou in Pasadena. The other folks in the picture are Unc's friends (and their families) from way back in high school. One thing I forgot to mention about Unc is that he is the most sociable guy I have ever met - he literally has friends everywhere and believe me when I say, everyone knows him!

This was our dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in L.A. I've blogged about it before - the place is called Lu Din Gee in San Gabriel. It's a small but quite elegant Taiwanese restaurant and usually packed. And although it is quite a drive and a long wait to get in - it is so worth it in my book! We had to call ahead to order their specialty, Peking Duck. The dinner was my brother, Jules', treat to welcome Unc to L.A.

We've had many other good times while Unc was here - our Southern BBQ dinner at Lucilles, our crab dinner at Redondo Pier, picking lemons in our backyard, and just hanging out watching the Military and History Channel on tv. By now, Unc and A. Pizza are back in Manila while Notsky is back in Menlo finishing up his last month of school. Hopefully we can have them over again soon.