Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Rushing Through Kyoto and Arashiyama

What can I say about Kyoto the city? Well, I have not seen enough of it to give a real impression except of a few firsts. The memory that really stood out was the regret of not staying long enough to take in the sights. We arrived in Kyoto late in the afternoon via Shinkasnen from Tokyo, and we went directly to Tofukuji Station in hopes of checking in our Airbnb so that by 3pm we could start exploring the city. That was the tricky part─finding the exact place in a location that's not that easily locatable with a GPS. For almost an hour we were going in circles. We were got close to the pinned location, but then we were either standing on the opposite street that we cannot cross because of a wall or we kept walking to a direction that looked completely different on the map; it was so frustrating that at some point we told the rest of our family to wait in one spot and we'd come fetch them the moment we find the house. Because really, it was sad to watch us haul our huge bags on the streets back and forth.  This led us to ask a few locals and experience what a lot of tourists had been claiming─how willing people are, to go out of their way and help lost-clueless tourists like ourselves. A girl walked us all the way to the police station and talk to the officer when she didn't know where it was. Surprisingly the police also didn't know where that street was because he was using this old area map...and so the girl assisted us to asking around and never left us until we stood at the door of our Airbnb. The whole thing must've took more than thirty minutes...precious time and effort that I'm sure not everyone is willing to do for strangers. I truly appreciated us getting lost even if that incident caused my mother to complain about how scared she got the whole time we stayed in Kyoto, because that gave me a first-hand experience of how well-meaning and valued courtesy is to the Japanese.  

Friday, November 17, 2017

Recipe: Strawberry Lavender and Poppy Seeds Shortcake

Taken last October 29, 2017...just a few weeks ago during a friend's birthday celebration. This was the most decent shot of the three taken by my brother to be posted on his IG stories. We barely got to take any photos of the food because were rushing to fetch our aunt that day. It's a funny story actually...we were buying groceries the night before the party when our matriarch called, telling us that she wanted my brother and I to accompany her to visit a wake. She's one of the people I we can't say no to...so what happened on my friend's birthday, we left them on their own at our place to accommodate our aunt. Long story short, we were the last to arrive for the party that we supposedly were hosting. The guests were left to entertain and feed themselves while we were away. 

So anyway, my brother and I had been planning to bake this almond and poppy seeds muffin for quite some time now, but we always found ourselves cancelling the bake last minute. Our constant dilemma about baking something that's fit for a dozen has always been, "how will we consume the whole thing?" Weeks passed and the mix just kept still in the pantry. Slowly I found myself finding the ingredients I wanted to add that'll make the muffin extra special. I had the vision in my head, until finally, the perfect opportunity arrived just when I have gathered all that I needed. Fate has declared, and it shall be done.

This is actually the first time, in a very long time...years really...that I found myself baking again. The last time I baked something that's well thought of was when I actually made the Mixed Whatevers Bread Pudding for a recipe blog entry in 2014. This time it was a little special; I was baking it as a birthday cake for a friend. Actually, it's a muffin that was baked in a cake pan so it's shaped as a cake. And well...unfortunately it came out of the oven burnt because I was distracted with making other dishes that day, still in the end I'm glad the birthday boy liked it. I liked it as well. The taste is refreshing and hearty, a combination of good flavors. I'm sharing the recipe because it's something that's a little more interesting in terms of the blending of flavors. I'm actually a fan of poppy seeds, but it took me years of search before I finally found one...in an imported muffin mix box. One of the muffins I enjoyed eating years back was the lemon and poppy seed one, but was eventually phased-out...and that was the last of my favorite muffin.

Don't judge me, the base muffin came from a pre-mixed box...but the twist comes in the frosting and the added ingredients that accumulated in my head after weeks of delay.

Frosting Recipe:
8 oz. Cream cheese block
200g Cream cheese spread
1 stick Salted Butter
3/4 cup Powdered Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
2 drops Lemon Essence 
Lemon Zest

Just mix them all together until smooth and creamy, adjusting the sugar according to preference. The turn out will actually be a little flat because of the cream cheese spread that easily melts...so if you don't want it soft, you can use another cream cheese block for a firmer frosting.

Muffin Recipe:

1 box of Betty Crocker's Almond Poppy Seeds Muffin Mix
    ...I think they require an egg and oil to be added to the mix
1 tsp. Lavender Extract
3 drops Lemon Essence
1/2 cup chopped Walnuts
Fresh Strawberries

Mix according to the box's direction plus the added ingredients and bake...making sure not to burn it like I did. Assemble the cake by cutting it in half crosswise and filling it in between with the frosting and slices of strawberries, topping it off as creatively as you can and dust it with powdered sugar if the strawberries are sour.

A month ago I came into a realization in a form of a dream...a voice called out to me and said that I should go into a food business. That it's about time I pursue something that I love and share what I can beyond my own circle. I've been stopping myself from going into a food business because of so many doubts even if people had been telling me for as long as I could remember that I should go give it a try...but I guess deep down I had always been waiting for a sign to tell me if and when I should start. I felt that gut inkling churning in my stomach after I woke up from that dream...I think I got my go signal. It's all a matter of time and preparation. The vision is in my head, I'm gathering the ingredients now...it's all about meeting the perfect opportunity by the time I have gathered all that I need. My heart is set. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Scary Stuff: Part 3

Here we go, another year has passed and most of everything being featured on TV and online is either horror or anything related to it. Time for some scary stories from my real-life experiences or first-hand stories of friends who experienced the paranormal. This year, I'll share three stories, two of which happened to me this year while one was told by an officemate years back that I never shook off from my memory because it was a good-horrible experience to share.

Here are links to the first two parts of this annual series I started in 2015.
Scary Stuff: Part 1
Scary Stuff: Part 2

Tracing the Scent of Cigarette 

I'll start with my most recent experience, one so fresh that I can still distinctly remember the smell as a went out of my room one morning. It actually happened a few days ago, just last week. I'm off from work on Mondays, so I usually wake up twice, first from my routine waking time that takes less than five minutes for me to use the toilet then go back to sleep, then wake up the second time at a more reasonable hour. The first was at 7am; I got up to use the bathroom and saw that my brother has already left for work, so, alone again. Meh. I went back to bed, closed the door and just before I could go back to sleep felt like someone entered the the condo as I heard some movements from behind the door. I assumed it was our friend who stays over to sleep with us arriving from an evening shift. So, I slept again and woke up two hours after. I got up and opened the door and could just smell that burning scent of a newly puffed up smoke from a strong cigarette wafting the whole unit. I thought our friend decided to smoke inside and throw the cigarette butt in our bathroom trash because I traced the smell coming from the bathroom, but the smell filled the air from my brother's room all the way to the dining area.

I rolled my eyes; not cool. We don't allow smoking inside as my brother and I don't smoke, so I immediately assumed it was our friend who dropped by to pick up his things that morning and puffing a stick and throwing it in the trash before heading out because no one was there when I went out of my room. I waited the rest of the day to tell our friend off about smoking inside, but he didn't arrive until the next day. The moment he opened the door, I had to ask, "Did you drop by yesterday and lit a cigarette inside?" To which he was quick to answer with a perplexed expression, "No, I didn't go here yesterday." My eyes sort-of widened saying, "Really? Because the unit smelled like cigarette smoke when I woke up yesterday." Well...he really didn't know what to say after my claim. I do believe him, because he recently quit smoking and shifted his habit to vaping, using only watermelon and strawberry juices to his puffing habits. After a few seconds he said, "Maybe it came from outside, someone might have passed by while smoking." I wearily replied with a, "Yeah, maybe." But of course, the doors and windows are closed and locked that time, and we live on the fourth floor. 

New Building Elevator Nightmare

This story was actually told by an ex-officemate during my advertising agency days. Now, to those not aware, ad agencies have one of the most toxic working hours that usually ends between 10pm - 2am, some even until 5am due to very tight ungodly deadlines. This happened back in 2011, when our company decided to vacate our old office to transfer to the newly constructed One Corporate Center building in Ortigas. The building was so new, we were one of the first few companies to occupy one of the the floors. Several of the floors were still under construction. I know this for a fact because there are days when I'd stop by an uninhabited floor, whenever I need some time and space outside of my cubicle. These floors were usually just a pile of hollow blocks and construction materials, and never did I spot construction workers in any of these unfinished floors at one time. 

One morning I saw some of my officemates huddle in a circle with one of the account executives looking flustered. I didn't really bother at first but decided to ask him what happened when the crowed dispersed. He stared at me with gaping eyes and said, "I went down for a smoke break last night because we were trying to finish a presentation for a pitch. I think it was around 11pm, and as I went back up to the office my elevator suddenly stopped on the 14th floor, when the doors opened it was pitch black. I was alone in the elevator and I repeatedly pressed close as I stood in one corner, but the door wouldn't close. I can't go out of the floor because there was nothing there, so I just faced the wall and waited for the door to close. After what seemed like forever, it did close and was able to reach the office." That sent chills down my spine knowing that I was usually one of the last to leave the office, so much so that I get to lock the office at times. I said, "Maybe you pressed the floor why it stopped or something." He answered, "No, I'm pretty sure I only pressed our floor because I was alone on the ground floor when I entered. It had to be pressed from the fourteenth floor elevator button outside for it to stop there." I kept on, "Maybe someone was playing a prank on you on that floor. You know, they'd press the floor then hide to scare you." But he insisted, "Not possible. I went to the fourteenth floor this morning and found the place to be bare and empty, no construction going on, nothing. And here's the twist...we don't have a 13th floor in this building, so 14th is considered the 13th." 

I couldn't stop myself and dared him that we go check it out. He took me there and I found his words to be true. No 13th floor, and the 14th floor was just an empty unfinished space. No construction on going for and workers to work on. It was just a bare floor with unpainted cement walls and exposed wiring with no bulbs whatsoever. I turned to him and asked one last time, "So what did you do in the elevator while this was happening?" He replied with a flustered expression, "Nothing! There was nothing I could do. The doors weren't closing and I'd rather stay inside the elevator than exit to this floor. I just pretended to be brave and wished the doors would shut at every press. That really shook me." Yeah, I'd be shaken too if that happened to me. I'm glad it didn't, up to the day I packed my stuff out of that building. As another officemate with a third eye would attest, there are spirits roaming in our floor. We'd know when she's seeing them because she would suddenly stress out or fall quietly uneasy. So a new building does not guarantee a paranormal-free experience, not even on the 29th floor.

Seeing My Brother's Doppelganger  

This is probably the ultimate dream of a curious soul, seeing a full bodied apparition in front of your face, just to validate that the stories are true. For years and years, from my childhood down to this day, I have always wondered what spirits look like, and if those who describe them are accurate in their telling. This year...about three months ago, I finally saw one, and it confirmed so much of the details being told by friends.

I woke up at 8am that morning with a bladder that's about to burst. I opened my door and immediately saw my brother pass in front of my face in a rush going to his room. A second after I saw our friend right behind him also about to head into my brother's room. He stopped and was shocked at my expression, we stared at each other and turned our heads to see the door of my brother's room swing as if someone had just entered as it was pushed then pulled back. I saw my brother go behind the door. I thought he forgot something and was rushing to pick it up before heading to the office as he was wearing his white polo. I turned back to our friend Andrew and asked, "You and my brother arrived together?" He gave me a most baffled expression, "No...I arrived alone. Your brother's not here." I was just as baffled, "But I saw you walking in a rush right after him. You arrived with a friend then?" He said, "No, seriously I didn't arrive with anyone, I came alone." I interrogated pointing to my brother's room, "Then who's behind that door?" He went to the room to check behind the door, "There's no one here!" I blurted, "But you did see the door move, right?" He agreed, "Yeah, but I didn't see anyone." I also agreed, but differently, "I also saw the door move, but I saw someone go behind it." Well...at this point we both got scared of our conversation, but I really had to pee.

I took my thoughts inside the bathroom, figuring out what might have just happened. I kept repeating in my head what I saw...only to realize that maybe it wasn't really my brother that I saw. I took to detail what I saw...I saw a figure of what I thought was my brother. He had the same haircut, and my brother had the same crisp white polo. I saw his side profile, the ears I could remember...but the face had no distinction...it was smudged out as most have described when seeing ghosts. I could see the partition between his polo and his black slacks...but I didn't see his feet, and his movement in that split second of seeing him rushing, there was no striding action of the legs...it was like he just glided pass me. And that last frame when I saw him go behind the door, there was no actual pulling and pushing of the door, it's like he just moved to the side and went behind it without turning in any other direction. All that, plus the fact that several of my friends have experienced seeing other friends who are actually not present here at that given time, three of them actually also claiming to have seen me crouching out of my room and moving to the refrigerator while I was asleep sort of proves that maybe there is a doppelganger in our midst. 

So, what does it feel like to finally see a full bodied apparition? More than scared, I was amazed and curious at what I saw. Especially now that I experienced first-hand seeing what they describe as "ghosts" is actually what I saw is nothing less than extraordinary. So when people ask me, "Do you believe in ghosts?" I can easily claim, "Yes, even before I saw one myself, I already believed."

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Snippets: Post Birthday Celebration

Taken last August 27, 2017. Today marks the first month of my final year of being in my twenties; next year I will no longer be able to say that "I'm twenty something." This year I had a pre-celebration with two of my high school barkadas and my brother, simply because I really miss people; and a post-celebration with new friends I met just over a year ago, because I felt like I at least needed to celebrate my last year as a twen-ager (I claim that word─I thought of it just now.) I am yet to celebrate with another set of friends to be able to say I celebrated my birthday. On the day of my birthday itself, it was a solo occasion as I attended the 6am mass alone, and spent the day toiling on several workloads, that I was no longer in the mood to celebrate at the end of it.

I wasn't in the zone that day, so I was not able to cook as tasty as I wanted it to for some reason. I felt something off with the taste. I was so stressed that time, I assume. There was so much struggle to cope up with, but my brother kept on bugging me to celebrate. SO, FINE! 

I cooked five dishes and baked dessert that day. A supposed lunch, we ended up eating at 5pm...because I told them to arrive late because the food will also be cooked late. My friends helped make some of the dishes, but our food theme was Korean-international-fusion, hence there were some Korean dishes, as well as non-Korean ones. My brother made the pretend-Sicilian salad, a friend grilled the porterhouse steaks, while I cooked the beef stir-fry thing, fettuccine pasta ragu using the porterhouse meat as the sauce base, samgyupsal, japchae, some kind of Korean stew using the Ifugao-smoked-pork etag as my meat base, and a tray of orange-essence-infused brownies. Our drinks were a combination of flavored soju, red wine, tequila, and rosé. We finished eight bottles that night.

It was a good day to celebrate, even if I was tired at the end of it. 

I actually posted this same photo on my Instagram with the caption, "Sometimes I think people celebrate birthdays to feed hungry friends." Yes, I thought of that quote, so I also claim it. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Snippets: Arashiyama's Bamboo Grove at Kyoto, Japan

Taken last September 6, 2017 at Arashiyama's infamous Bamboo Grove in Kyoto, Japan. The trip was actually one major cause of my absence from ever updating the blog for the month of August. Other than the fact that it was my birthday month, having to work long hours five days a week and juggling pending activities, I was the one organizing our first official family trip to Japan. I've never been to Japan, and I never been out of the country with my whole family before; having to put two and two together stressed me out so much that I never had enough free time from the end of July up through mid-September.

But at the end of the day, nothing compares to the feeling of making a long-time dream happen. I worked hard for this, and I cannot clearly describe the feeling of finally being able to stand on the very spot where I used to only see in pictures, aspiring and wondering whether I can ever make it happen. More than just appreciating the actual beauty of the place, it's that sense of surreal elation that got me saying to myself, "Wow, I'm here." 

The bamboo grove isn't exactly extensive, it's just long enough to look good in pictures, but does not stretch as far as the eyes could see. But walking through it gets you in a meditative state, wherein you feel nature touching you to your soul. Even at a supposed hot day, passing through in between the bamboo path gave out a cool breeze that wafted at my skin like a perfectly blended air to soothe down my tired limbs. This is one for the books, and as I've mentioned in my Instagram post that day, it was "An exceptionally tiring yet amazing day."

Monday, July 17, 2017

Van Gogh is Bipolar at Maginhawa

Van Gogh is bipolar, and he's a Dutch artist who lived a tragic life, one of the most prominent artists who we briefly discussed in my Art History class back in college. Van Gogh is Bipolar, is a restaurant, one we've been discussing about trying out since after college...and one I finally got to try last week. Ever since my brother experienced eating there a few years back he'd been repeatedly telling me about his desire to go back for a second. After agreeing that we eat dinner with a few friends at a new Korean restaurant at BGC, he tells me that he just made a reservation at Van Gogh is Bipolar because he forgot what we agreed on a few hours prior. But come to think of it, I think I was meant to go there because just two days before we went to the restaurant a friend posted a link on Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal as Van Gogh in a docudrama called Painted With Words. The beauty of the script lies in the fact that they used a lot of the words coming from the written letters of Vincent sent to his brother Theo. A word of caution though, the movie is a downer...because it deals with frustration, depression, loneliness, and art at the same time.

Here's the link to the 1hr.20mins. movie by the way: Painted With Words

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Rooftop Poetry

I met someone on a rooftop, the same rooftop where I was asked a question that cornered me into a brief malfunction, and got me thinking long after I answered the question. He was tall, pleasantly charming, British, and in an advertising field in London. We spoke a bit about our travels, and I suggested some local beaches where he could go to because he's also surfer without much itinerary on his supposed three-week solo travel. A few weeks after I met him, I tried recalling that night and ended up with this silly poem. My interest in creating poetry ended in high school...which was over ten years ago, because at one point I found them to be too ambiguous and pretentious, that I just stopped it all together. Now, after maturing a bit, I'm trying to reignite my appreciation for poems by writing one. I wrote it in one sitting, uninterrupted, but this is just a casually written thought as to how I felt that moment of reminiscing. And no, I don't do word counts and rhymes in my poetry.  


An undefined moment
Of an unspecific time
In an indefinite place
I met your eyes with mine

It was an unsolicited chance
Of uncharted plans
But in that one instance
It felt just right

I may have forgotten your name
Your face now a blur
But in that fated encounter
We made ourselves smile
And just for that cameo moment
We were in each other's lives