My life is currently an Arkarna song.
I come from a family of audiophiles.
If there was only one thing my siblings and I share a love of, it would have to be an appreciation for music. I think it comes with being the child of a Music major, who, despite her failed attempts at getting us to play the piano successfully, somehow managed to instill in us a love for music.
Every time I come home to Davao, I would always come back to Manila ten playlists richer after raiding my siblings’ itunes library. Because I’m not as patient as my sister or brothers when it comes to discovering new tunes, I rely on them to keep their eldest sister ”updated” :D
So the moment I heard that an indie music festival called Wanderland was happening this summer, I didn’t hesitate pulling the “Ate” card and demanded my siblings fly from Davao to Manila to spend the weekend with me. Given the stellar cast of bands the organizer had lined up—The Temper Trap and Neon Trees, among them!—it took only a second and a half to get them to say yes. :D
So there we were last Saturday, surrounded by a sea of both neon-clad festival goers and hippie-themed revelers, all set to have a rockin’ good time. Behold, some of the indie pop and indie rock awesomeness that played before us:
New Zealand folk music band, Avalanche City
Tully on Tully
Homegrown talent Up Dharma Down
American alternative rock band Nada Surf
“The guys from Utah”—the ANIMAL that was Tyler Glenn and the rest of NEON TREES! They totally killed it that night! Kept the crowd alive and roaring from beginning to end! :D
And, of course, last but definitely not the least:
THE TEMPER TRAP!!!
Dougy Mandagi’s vocal chords will make you WEEP!
By the time The Temper Trap played Wanderland’s final song—”Sweet Disposition” of course!!!—my ears were ringing (with joy! pure joy!!!) and my heart really felt like it was about to burst. It was a heady combination of alcohol and dehydration (two cups of rhum for every drop of water), hunger (the fact that we haven’t had a bite to eat since lunch had slipped our minds), gluttonous music consumption, and dancing like crazy and (literally) rubbing elbows with our festival peers as we all reveled in the pulsating beats dished out by the bands. There is just something extraordinary about hearing the opening bars of your favorite song and hearing the throng of people around you roar in shared excitement! It’s a vibrant kind of energy that you want to always surround yourself with! :D
I’ve always loved rocking out at concerts—was lucky enough to catch Aerosmith and the Red Hot Chili Peppers when they came to Asia—but apart from occasionally dropping by UP Fair with its lineup of local bands, I’ve never really experienced a music festival of this calibre. And I know this is still nothing compared to the really big ones held in other countries, where the musical buffet lasts for days on end. Coming home bone-tired from Wanderland actually made me wistful for all the festivals I let slip past me. Now that I’ve had a taste of it, I’m definitely including events like this the next time I travel—and I am still pulling the eldest sister card and dragging my siblings with me. It’s the best way to bond! :D
Where do I even begin?
It’s a city that’s a riot of contradictions.
As kitschy and cutesy and outrageous as it is understated.
As obscenely loud as it is strangely quiet.
As modern as it is old-fashioned and traditional.
Where the weird and comical and NEON blend in
perfectly with the fashionable mass of neutrals and whatever color happens to be in trend that season.
An electric city of blinding lights,
cozy watering holes,
‘swankified’ shopping districts,
7-eleven mochi that’s so fucking good it will make you CRY,
an unparalleled, precise-to-the-last-minute transit system that (I’m told) will only be late if—and only if—somebody happened to jump off the tracks…
You really can’t pin it down to a single word—it just isn’t possible.
The trick, I learned, is to sample it all.
And yet even that isn’t enough.
TO GO BACK.
Before a new chapter is begun, the old one has to be finished: tell yourself that what has passed will never come back. Remember that there was a time when you could live without that thing or that person - nothing is irreplaceable, a habit is not a need. This may sound so obvious, it may even be difficult, but it is very important. Closing cycles. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because that no longer fits your life. Shut the door, change the record, clean the house, shake off the dust. Stop being who you were, and change into who you are.—Paolo Coelho
is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles
and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it
Got a really lovely text earlier this week from a person I interviewed for an article—the owner of a TexMex restaurant called Chihuahua.
Thought I’d share the story here :D
Tex-Mex restaurant Chihuahua adds a refreshing kick to Manila’s highly competitive dining scene
By Tricia V. Morente
Published: April 15, 2013
The formula for success in Manila’s highly competitive restaurant industry, according to Elian Habayeb, is actually quite simplistic: take a fantastic idea that’s really popular in the United States—or any country, for that matter—and apply it here.
But, the former DJ-turned-restaurateur clarifies, there has to be a real subculture behind it. “It can’t be something that you saw on TV once; you have to have lived it. It has to be part of your DNA—you either have to be born into it, in the country where the cuisine comes from, or you’ve lived so long in that country that it’s already ingrained in your system. And then you capture that same spirit and bring it here,” he says.
In the case of Chihuahua—the restaurant he co-owns with wine expert and Sugi General Manager Ines Cabarrus—it’s bringing the whole Tex-Mex culture he’s grown into while living in Houston, Texas. “The number one cuisine I know by heart, more than anything else, is Tex-Mex. Tacos, burritos, fajitas, enchiladas—all that stuff. Ines, who used to teach English to Mexican immigrants in Chicago, also lived in the Latino district for a while. She was eating this food for years so it’s a cuisine she knows very well. She’s immersed in it,” he says.
One thing Chihuahua does immediately off the bat is to inform their customers that they do not serve Mexican food. “We always say it’s Tex-Mex. It’s Americanized Mexican food. If you go to any of the border states in the U.S.—California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas—you walk into a ‘Mexican’ restaurant but it’s really Tex-Mex. That means burritos, tacos, nachos and margaritas. One would think that’s Mexican food, but the truth is it isn’t. Most of these dishes,” he informs, “were invented in the U.S.”
Chihuahua’s menu is pretty straightforward: nachos, tacos, salads, burritos, and burrito bowls. They have different kinds of meat that you can put into your burrito—steak, chicken, carnitas (slow-cooked pulled pork that tastes as good as it sounds) and picadillo (spicy ground beef). There are also veggie options for vegetarian diners, and everything is prepared “fresh, healthy and fast,” says Habayeb. “We don’t have a fryer. Everything is grilled, and we use light sour cream and USDA-certified beef. We also try to serve your food in three minutes,” he adds.
A “hot sauce library” that features four shelves’ worth of hot sauce bottles from all over the world is available for diners to try, and an eat-all-you-can salsa bar injects a variety of flavors to the restaurant’s already tangy dishes. Margaritas, of course, are a staple in every Tex-Mex restaurant and Chihuahua’s Chihuarita, with spiced salt and real Mexican tequila, is among the best in town.
According to Habayeb, what really prompted him and Cabarrus to put up Chihuahua is that they felt Manila was missing a good Tex-Mex restaurant. “Since I moved here in ’98, one thing I craved all the time that Ines and I lament does not exist in Manila is a good Tex-Mex place. There are a couple of good tries, but they’re disappointing in my opinion. So every time Ines and I would go to Houston and visit my family, that’s all we’d eat every day. Lunch, dinner, fast casual, fine dining—it doesn’t matter as long as it’s Tex-Mex,” he jokes.
Manila’s Best Kept Restaurant Secrets
Chihuahua, Habayeb shares, is actually part of the evolution of the book he co-wrote with Cabarrus called “Manila’s Best Kept Restaurant Secrets.” Launched in 2007, the book features a list of Manila’s best dining destinations. “A few years back, Ines and I were having dinner in Alabang somewhere…this restaurant was underneath a bank, and it was impossible to find it because there were no signs. I never would’ve found it on my own, and I said I bet you there so many great places like this all over Manila. There should be a book that features all these places,” he says.
The idea behind the book is “to serve as a guide for tourists, or a way for people to rediscover their city,” Habayeb says. “In every neighborhood, there would be restaurants that are hidden. So we started asking ourselves what are the restaurants that would make it inside this book, and the list started growing,” he shares.
Two years later, in 2007, the two had already published “Manila’s Best Kept Restaurant Secrets,” which is stocked in all the different bookstores, as well as selling in Europe and the U.S. through Amazon.com. A year later, the book eventually led the duo to organize the MBKRS Awards. The last one, held last November 2012, attracted over 150 restaurant nominees, as well as the participation of an academy of around 150 judges that consist of movers and shakers in Manila’s restaurant industry.
The MBKRS Awards are currently held biannually, informs Habayeb, and it was in gathering the restaurant industry’s most distinguished leaders that they decided to put all the knowledge they acquired to good use and opened Chihuahua. “We said, since we’ve already seen what works, and we learned so much from all these chefs and restaurant owners, and we know we have good taste and know how to detect a winner from a non-winner, then why don’t we open our own restaurant?,” Habayeb shares.
Today, Chihuahua has two branches, both of which are attracting a growing number of diners because of its great food and festive ambience—the Makati Avenue branch has also become known for its Salsa Night every Saturday. And the fact that both are located in prime Makati property doesn’t hurt either. But Habayeb says that “location is only one-third of the equation. You also have to have great food, and great food isn’t just a concept—it’s a daily struggle to get it right every day. Consistency. It’s making sure that people don’t develop short cuts. It’s you being on top of your people, making sure that the food during the first six months is the same as the food three years later.”
We got lost on our first night in Kyoto.
Our flight had arrived an hour late and it took us another hour and 10 minutes via the JR Hakura Express to get to Kyoto station, where we ended up taking the wrong exit that led us to walk—hauling our 20kg luggages, I might add!—two kilometers away from our quirky family-owned Japanese inn. To put ourselves out of our misery, we ended up taking a seven-minute cab ride to the wrong hotel (cost us a painful Y660!), where my friend Bea had a rude awakening in the form of an old man wearing only a t-shirt and his tighty whities. Haha. We eventually made it to our cozy backpackers inn, where the owner kept shushing us for making too much noise—we arrived a little before midnight and it was already lights out AND we were too excited to stay still.
It was, to say the least, a pretty eventful way to start our 10-day Japanese adventure. :D
If you’ve been following me in any of my social networks, you would know that Japan is like an ex I can’t get over. The place haunts me and I really felt I had to come back for a longer visit. What did me in was the second to the last day of our trip last year—that PERFECT afternoon spent walking along the quaint Sanjo-dori street all the way to Nara Koen, where the deers seem to outnumber humans and where the magnificent heritage temples of ancient Nara proudly stand. A gloomy raincloud had followed us around for days, but that amber-hued afternoon, the sun finally came out and we got to see and experience Japan in all its glory. There was just something otherworldly and ethereal about the place that hooked us in.
Fast forward to a year and a month later, and there we were again, drinking ourselves silly that cool spring night in Kyoto, grinning from ear to ear because we were finally, finally in Japan again :D We decided to make Kyoto our homebase this time—it had rained non-stop when we were there last year so we didn’t really get to explore Japan’s former capital properly. I was once again in charge of creating our itinerary, and this time I made sure to squeeze in as much of Kyoto’s must-see places as possible :D
All the effort doing research definitely paid off because the places waiting for us were absolutely beautiful. Here are the highlights of the first leg of our trip:
1. Exploring one of Kyoto’s many UNESCO world heritage sites.
Ranked first among Kyoto’s five great Zen temples, Tenryuji was built in 1339 by the ruling shogun Ashikaga Takauji, who dedicated it to his ally Emperor Go-Daigo who had then just passed away. By building the temple, the shogun intended to appease the former emperor’s spirits.
The buildings in the compound were repeatedly lost in fires and wars over the centuries, but its beautifully landscaped garden—created by famous garden designer Muso Soseki—survived the years in its original form. The garden features a central pond surrounded by rocks and pine trees, and is set amidst Arashiyama’s forested mountains.
It was also here where we had our first sighting of Japan’s beautiful sakura (cherry blossom) trees. :)
2. Strolling along Arashiyama’s lush bamboo groves. A gentle breeze blew past us while we were walking around Arashiyama, and the moment we entered the path leading to its famous bamboo groves, we were hypnotized.
The bamboo trees, some as tall as four- to five-storey buildings, swayed gently back and forth, its leaves emitting a rhythm that sent us on a trancelike, meditative state. This, of course, did not keep us from camwhoring like crazy, as seen below:
3. Stalking geishas in Gion at dusk.
Last year, we walked around Kyoto’s Hanami-koji dori in the middle of a downpour. It wasn’t the most pleasurable experience but we did get to spot a number of elusive geishas hurriedly walking past. This year, on a whim, we decided to have dinner again in Gion, and true enough, five minutes into our walk, we spotted a geisha rushing to her appointment for the evening. They walk like ninjas, I tell you. Really fast. One minute they’re there, and the next, they’ve disappeared off an alley or a building. :P
4. Retracing Sayuri’s steps at the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Remember that scene when Sayuri ran through hundreds of vermillion torii gates to offer a prayer to the gods asking she be a part of The Chairman’s life?
That scene in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha was shot in Japan’s Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is famous for its thousands of vermillion torii gates. The hopeless romantic in me couldn’t resist including it in our itinerary. :D
The shrine is said to be the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues and ema (wishing plaques) across the shrine grounds.
After our 20-minute trek into the torii trail, we were drawn to a vendor selling takoyaki (octopus balls), which we have been craving since we arrived.
The dish was a treat, but what was even more fascinating was that we got to see how takoyaki was prepared. Felt like an episode straight out of an Anthony Bourdain travel show. :D
5. Reliving our Nara afternoon with the deers.
When we saw that the train to Inari was the same that went all the way to Nara, we couldn’t resist going back.
This visit felt like a homecoming somehow—it amazed me how clearly I remembered every thrift shop we went to, every cafe we ate in, the alley that opened up to a lush Japanese garden that I remember taking a picture of, and even the graffiti wall that served as the background of a photo of me and Marlon.
We skipped going to the Todaiji Temple (although I was really tempted to see it again) and ended up just going around the park and ending our day with the really yummy parfait Marlon had last year—we all ordered it this time and, indeed, it was really worth coming back to Nara for :D
Behold, the look of pure delight:
6. Spending a gluttonous afternoon in Miyajima, an island off the coast of Hiroshima.
This day holds the record for the most number of times we spent eating. Apart from taking in the gorgeous view of Miyajima’s famed Itsukushima Shrine, touted among the top three most photographed sites in Japan, we practically spent the entire day restaurant- and food kiosk-hopping. We gobbled up everything we could get our hands on—fresh oysters, baked buns filled with succulent unagi (eel), fried cuttlefish, sweet bean buns shaped like maple leafs, matcha ice cream, Japanese set lunches arranged artfully in bento boxes, fresh sushi with oodles of wasabi, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
I think the unspoken rule of thumb that day was, “What we see, we eat.” It was the point of no return. lol.
I know I’ve been quite the delinquent blogger (and photo uploader for that matter—still haven’t gotten around to posting our Tokyo photos!) because April has turned out to be quite the packed month. After arriving from Japan, I suddenly found myself shuttling from one place to the next—thank you Travel Gods!—and it’s only now that I really go to take the time to look back on what has been an unbelievably epic trip. While I don’t think I’ll be going to Japan anytime soon (that is, unless a promo fare comes up again haha), I know that it is really a place that I will keep coming back to. :)
Next entry: Tokyo at its most Tokyo-esque! :)
I am so loving Taiwan…the people here are so nice and I am so amazed by their agriculture. Really hope we can replicate it in the Philippines.
Photo taken earlier today at a tea plantation in Alishan. :)
Finally seeing Taipei tomorrow..I’ll know by then if I will come back to the country for a second visit. Hehe. Good night, y’all :)