Thursday, December 31, 2009

Katy Perry

ANOTHER one of 2009's bright spots.

Katy Perry kissed a girl and she likes it.

So did the rest of world who turned the one-time gospel music upstart into the pop music sensation that she is today. Originally performing under her real name Katy Hudson, she adopted her present name to avoid confusion with the popular actress. Shortly thereafter, she recorded her major label debut, the multi-million selling One Of The Boys that catapulted her to instant stardom on the strength of quirky tunes about metrosexual boyfriends in “Ur So Gay”, lesbian tendencies in “I Kissed A Girl” and unstable relationships in “Hot N’ Cold.”

The singer, who was recently in town to headline the biggest fund-raising event for the survivors of Typhoon Ondoy, also regaled the media with her outspoken views during her press conference preceding her concert. Excerpts:

On helping out the typhoon survivors

You know, you hear about natural disasters far, far away from where you live but you really don’t understand them fully until you actually see them. I’m glad that I can help out and do more than just sing because people are important to me. It doesn’t matter where they come from.

On being One Of The Boys

I guess One Of The Boys can mean a lot of things, both the album title and then the song. The song itself was talking about that transitioning point in a girl’s young adulthood, I guess like from being a pre-teen to a teenager where you lose the braces, maybe grow some tits and start shaving your legs and how like you used to high five the guy you like but now, you want him to like you back rather than see you as that like as this twerp, younger girl.

To read my full story and press conference interview of Katy Perry, you're gonna have to check out the January-February issue of Stella magazine, coming at your favorite newsstands this month.

Rico Blanco

WHILE 2009 was not exactly a year to remember for many Filipinos, it was still a pretty good year for a good number of them.

CNN Hero of the Year Efren Peñaflorida and seven-titleholder prizefighter Manny Pacquiao, among others, made us proud to be Filipinos with what they have achieved for the year.

And 2009 was also quite a year for talented singer-songwriter Rico Blanco. The former Rivermaya frontman enjoyed more carryover success from his breakout solo album, Your Universe that continued to earn him the kind of critical acclaim he never quite achieved with his former band.

In 2009, Rico also won several awards including Favorite New Artist at the Myx Music Awards; Best New Artist, Best Solo Artist and Album of the Year (Your Universe) in the 1st Philippine Radio Music Awards; and Song of the Year for “Antukin” during the last NU 107 Rock Awards 2009. The year also saw the relaunch of Rico's own official web site at www.ricoblanco.com.ph, even as he continues to hit his stride with his latest hit single, “Ayuz” also from Your Universe.

When he finally emerged from what was a wildly-speculated absence following his departure from Rivermaya in 2008, I had the chance to write a feature on Rico on not just one but two magazines that year. One of them was a Q & A format type of piece for MAXIM Philippines.

The other was this lengthier feature that I wrote for One Philippines, a lifestyle and entertainment magazine for OFW’s published in several countries except the Philippines.

So I thought since this has been a pretty good year for Rico and I’d honestly like for at least some friends to get to read that One Philippines piece back here at home, here it is in a slightly improved version.

Some of the pics in this post are from Rico Blanco's Facebook fan page.

ACROSS HIS UNIVERSE
Nothing’s gonna change Rico Blanco’s world
By EDWIN P. SALLAN

RICO Blanco just wanted a vacation.

“Look at The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith. These guys have been together for years. But no vacation?,” he protests. “I thought I was going to be with Rivermaya for life. Leaving the band wasn’t in my mind at all.”

Even though he dabbled in extra curricular pursuits like acting (Nasaan Si Francis?) and t-shirts designing (Bench’s Human brand), the brooding enigmatic rocker never had any intentions of leaving the band that defined him as a person and as a musician for as long as anyone can remember.

“My original plan was to take an indefinite vacation from the band and I tried to prepare everyone the best way I could,” Rico reveals. “Everyone reacted differently, of course and I understood that they wanted to continue without me. I have been working all my life since the band started and while there were breaks, there wasn’t a really long break.”

From Rico’s recollection, the band thought it wasn’t a good idea for him to take a vacation at the time of his departure. Apparently plans were already made and Rivermaya was booked for gigs for months. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Rico did what he thought was best under the situation—he quit the band.

“I was devastated but it was impossible to work under those circumstances,” he continues, “I lost a family when I left Rivermaya. I lost my brothers, my ate (referring to manager Lizza Nakpil) and the next thing I knew, I was already kicked out of our own mailing list. Except for a website where I occasionally posted brief statements, I had no venue to state my side of the story. All I heard was that I was no longer with the group and doing things outside of music.”

Describing his hiatus as “fantastic,” Rico stayed out of the spotlight for over a year as he traveled extensively to several continents. “I would wake up not doing anything except for mundane things that has nothing to do with music. For the first few months, I didn’t listen to anything. I didn’t touch my guitar or my piano.”

For someone who admits to being in love with music all his life, it was not at all easy for Rico to detach himself from something he does best. Forget the celebrated musicians that played musical chairs to Rivermaya’s rotating incarnations over the years. Frontman Bamboo Mañalac, bass player Nathan Azarcon and guitarist Perf De Castro may have been pieces of the puzzle that made the band work at certain stages of its evolution but make no mistake about it, it was Rico Blanco who created the blueprint for Rivermaya’s chart-topping success.

So what if Rivermaya always played second fiddle to the Erasherheads or any other band that took its place at the top after the latter’s disintegration? So what if because the band is perceived to be, uh, “manufactured,” they never enjoyed the kind of acclaim and respect that they actually deserve? And so what if Rico is more of a blue-collar superstar than the likes of say, Ely Buendia and Karl Roy, who are generally considered as rock royalty?

With his penchant for crafting unforgettable pop hooks that has that unmistakable McCartney-meets-Abba effect in our consciousness as exhibited by now classics like “Kisapmata,” “Himala,” “Hinahanap-hanap Kita,” and “Umaaraw Umuulan,” no one else worked as extra hard and no one else was actually more consistent in delivering the goods with every new release.

Which was why as much as Rico wanted to enjoy his lengthy time off after the falling out, he simply couldn’t stay away for long.

“I was surprised with the kind of support that I got from fans and fellow musicians who told me to just enjoy my vacation and take time off from all the bullshit,” he beams. “When I came home from the airport, an immigration official pretty much told me the same thing and I was humbled by it. But then these same people, my former bandmate Nathan in particular, later told me, “Hoy bumalik ka na! Tama na ang bakasyon!”

Rico eventually found himself writing songs again—lots of it. “I wasn’t planning on releasing anything, I was just writing what comes to my mind and I would record everything at first but when they became too many, I couldn’t stop. Then the Human deal happened and I was pushed back into the spotlight much sooner than I would have wanted.”

Human gave Rico a chance to flex his creative muscles further as the youth-oriented fashion brand gave him a chance to design his own pop culture-inspired t-shirts line, an immediate bestseller just like his own greatest hits. Even after the success of that well, diversification, Rico still wasn’t ready for a musical “comeback” which was a misnomer of sorts considering that he has yet to come back from something.

He eventually found himself at the studio armed with the new material that he wrote during his hiatus as well as some spillovers from the Rivermaya days that somehow never managed to see the light of day for one reason or another. The result is Your Universe, his debut solo release for Warner Music Philippines.

Just when everyone was still talking about that abbreviated Eraserheads reunion concert, Rico came out of left field and unleashed his own solo recording and the early returns looked promising.

There’s “Say Forever,” an 80’s homage to new wave that jumps in your face like a rat-tat-tat tommy gun. There’s the title track, an acoustic ballad in the tradition of “Himala” and “Balisong” that Rico says is “borne out of my appreciation for all the blessings I have received in my life.”

And then there’s the “epic” single, “Yugto” which at first listen would seem like it’s about his ugly divorce from Rivermaya. “The song is actually bigger than my own story,” he says. “It’s inspired by current events, what’s going on in the news and asking who is really telling the truth?”

Well, whoever is telling the truth, it certainly can’t be denied that Your Universe, which also features a stellar cast of musicians that include former Eraserhead Buddy Zabala, Razorback’s Louie Talan, Mojofly’s Ricci Gurango and Bamboo’s Nathan Azarcon, is a refreshing return to form for Rico. Sure, there are still some bruised egos to heal and maybe a lawsuit or two to settle with his old band’s management but as far as Rico is concerned, he’s already liberated by the whole experience.

“My music is my legacy and I’d rather let that speak for me. I was really surprised with the kind of high that I got from this new-found freedom,” he declares. “It exceeded all my expectations and I’m glad that I did it.”

Now Rico Blanco can take his vacation anytime he wants.

Your Universe by Rico Blanco is released and distributed by Warner Music Philippines. Also visit www.ricoblanco.com.ph.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Summer Tavern in Singapore

SINCE 2006, I’ve visited Singapore more times than any other country I’ve had the chance to go to, thanks in large part to the events I’m assigned to cover there.

Which also means I’ve stayed in some really nice hotels there such as the New Majestic Hotel that I posted here, The Scarlet, Raffles The Plaza and most recently, Swissotel The Stamford.

But for my money, the most memorable place I stayed in Singapore is still the first and it’s not even a hotel. See, as I wrote before, when people travel, especially in a foreign land, the last thing they usually care about is the place they’re staying. Since they’re either more concerned with their business or more excited with their sightseeing itinerary, clean rooms and adequate facilities are usually the only particulars most will look for as accommodations options go.

A hotel has to have a lot of character in order for transients to consider it as something more than just a place to call it a day. And character is exactly what Summer Tavern has in spades and then some.

This backpackers’ hostel (not a hotel) where I stayed and wrote about in 2006 for the i Section of the Manila Bulletin is certainly nowhere near as fancy as the other places I mentioned. But the experience of staying at Summer Tavern is something that you really can’t put a price on. Since I wrote about it, I’ve become good friends with Khalil, the very genial Jordanian owner and general manager. Even when I stayed in other places during my succeeding visits in Singapore including the most recent one this month, I always try to take the time to visit Summer Tavern and enjoy the sumptous dinner that Khalil himself cooks for his guests.

It’s equally heartwarming to see how much of the place has progressed since my first visit. At the corner of Carpenter Street in Magazine Road now stands Central mall that easily adds more shopping and dining options in the area.

And just across Summer Tavern now stands Hotel Tavern, a full hotel version with the same value-added amenities. For those with a little more money to spare, the room rates are still comparatively affordable.

Oh, and have i told you that a copy of my article is framed and posted somewhere in the reception area? Yes, it is and it always feels good to see that. Well, here’s a slightly revised and updated version of that 2006 piece:

A SCHEME WITH A CLASSIC LOOK
Looking for a cheap, chic place in Singapore? Try Summer Tavern
By EDWIN P. SALLAN

THE big booming voice at the other end of the line sounded so reassuring. “Come stay with us,” he invites. “I’ll take care of you.”

For anyone who just arrived in a foreign land they’re not very familiar with, no other words can make you feel more safe and secure. And in Singapore, there are probably few innkeepers who are capable of making one’s brief visit even more special than Mr. Khalil Abuthinin of the charmingly quaint bed and breakfast hostel known simply as Summer Tavern.

At least that’s how I felt during my very first trip to Singapore a couple of weekends ago for our recent Cirque Du Soleil coverage. Since my original accommodation arrangements did not come through and given my limited financial resources, I had to scrounge for a cheap place to stay in the net at the last minute.

Although I still had the option of staying with a friend of my editor and save myself a few more pennies, the notion of actually staying in one of these backpackers’ havens sounded more intriguing and appealing after reading what they have to offer in their respective web sites.

And it’s not just because the rates are dirt cheap at the Singapore dollar equivalent of around P900 to P1,300 a night. It’s also because of the amenities that are already included with such rates like toast breakfast with refillable coffee, maps, towels, local calls and more important for journalists like myself, CD burning, printing and unlimited broadband internet at no extra cost.

The catch is you’ll have to share the same fully air-conditioned room with about 20 other strangers (both male and female) from possibly 20 other countries at the most in an otherwise up-and-down dormitory-type of bed. Yes, it feels like the United Nations on a much smaller scale. Of course, it’s understandable that not everyone would feel comfortable with this kind of setup. Khalil, a Jordanian who is a hotelier by profession, felt this way himself prior to the establishment of Summer Tavern in 2004.

“I never actually stayed in a hostel all my life,” he admits. “Most of them are designed for low-end people and did not suit my class so when I was starting out this business, I traveled to many parts of Southeast Asia and stayed in lots of hostels in 2003 to see what they’re like. That’s when I realized that I have to make my own place different by making it big and luxurious and something that would suit all nationalities.”

Along with several partners, Khalil found a four-story building located in Carpenter Street in trendy Clarke Quay, which he describes as “the most premium area in Singapore” that would serve as Summer Tavern’s future site. The building housed a former “shophouse” and was supposed to be a corporate office that was abandoned by its original investors after the SARS outbreak during the early part of the decade. With an investment of S$400,000 which he says is “the most expensive hostel set-up in the whole of Southeast Asia” (at least at the time), the building was renovated and by March of 2005, Summer Tavern was established.

The idea for the place is to have what Khalil would describe as “a scheme with a classic look.” Khalil says the name is called Summer Tavern because summer is usually the peak season for tourists in Singapore and tavern is a better term than hostel because “it is a sign of luxury and does not sound low-end.” And with 90 beds and an online reservation system where a credit card is not at all necessary, vacancy is rarely a problem in this place. Getting an accommodation is as easy as walking in cold turkey, which is actually what I did.


From the brightly-painted exterior to its East meets West lobby that features a European-style in-house bar and a spacious living room area with several big couches for guests to chill-out and interact with each other, Summer Tavern has the look of a boutique hotel with a very distinctive appeal. There is a cozy reading area filled with travel books and local newspapers and yes, there are also four Compaq Presarios with bright LCD monitors for guests wanting to surf the net.

There are also nice little touches that adorn the reception area. Easily noticeable are the news clippings about Summer Tavern, the award certificates like the Best Small Hostel given by hostelworld.com and the nature photos of Khalil’s brother, who also works at the place and is a pretty good amateur photographer. There are also several golden kettles, a trophy that looks similar to an Emmy, and a collection of currencies and several bottles of beer including our fifty-peso bill and our own San Miguel Beer.

“Our actual official opening was April of last year but our first two customers, a couple of Germans, entered our doors as early as March,” Khalil recalls. “Then there was a flood in our area and media people who were covering it noticed our place and were asking what this place is. Two days later, they were already interviewing me.”

While Khalil was quite happy with the media exposure that Summer Tavern enjoyed, he also admits to “paying a price” for granting such interviews as 20 more hostels offering similar amenities mushroomed in Singapore shortly after that. Today, there are more than 100 establishments offering the same kind of services and “come as a guest, leave as a friend” concept that Summer Tavern pioneered.

“It’s a relatively new phenomenon for us,” says Rocson Chang, then Area Director for Philippines and Brunei of the Singapore Tourism Board. “The emergence of low-cost budget carriers like JetStar Asia opened a whole new market for people who travel and as a result, led the rise to a wider range of accommodation options in Singapore. There is also a stronger growth of these budget hotels and backpacker hostels as a result of their diversity and value-added features.”


For its rates, Summer Tavern is a steal. Worried about losing your valuables? Khalil and his extra friendly crew will give you your own small locker to keep them or he can store them himself in his own safety deposit box inside his office. Security still an issue to you? Khalil says not to worry as the nearest police station is just right around the corner and he himself is pretty much known in the neighborhood. A burly guy who comes across as a nice hybrid of Robert De Niro and Fernando Poe, Jr., there is little reason to doubt him when he declares his guests are well-protected.

And I can’t help but feel extra special in this place. During my first night, guests were treated to a DVD screening of Hotel Rwanda. My request to catch an episode of Rock Star: INXS was likewise granted. For those interested, Khalil also organizes trips to Johor Bahru, Malaysia where just about everything you can buy in Singapore is 50 percent cheaper.

On my last night, Khalil who is also a trained chef, treated one of his friends to a birthday party and the hostel’s guests were automatically part of the celebration as we were all treated to chicken barbecue wings and a glass of red wine each.

“We are not the Ritz Carlton,” he says. “You prefer to go about your business and be left alone, that’s perfectly fine with us. But we encourage you to open your heart and you will be more than a friend to us. Either way, the quality of heart-to-heart attention that you get from us is tremendous. You’ll find that our guests are mostly professionals including lawyers, accountants, sales executives, engineers and software programmers and many of them actually come back. At Summer Tavern, people are the most important to us. Once you come here, the place is not mine anymore but becomes all yours.”

Summer Tavern is located at 31 Carpenter Street in Clarke Quay, Singapore. For online reservations, visit their website at www.summertavern.com. In the newer Hotel Tavern just across it, all rooms have individually controlled air-conditioning, TV, free internet access and coffee / tea making facilities. For Superior Single Rooms, bathroom is located just beside their rooms with 2 rooms sharing one common bathroom.

A fun night at Summer Tavern:

Tikman Ang Langit...Sa America!

FROM a Facebook note I wrote last July of this year:

Below is an excerpt from a heartwarming note I just received from Serafin Tubles, a former officemate at my former employer, the Philippine National Bank. Bambi, as he is fondly known to us and who is now based in the US, recently got his copy of our book, Tikman Ang Langit: An Anthology On The Eraserheads there, At least, my byline managed to make it to America. The names he mentioned are also former officemates at PNB. Seriously, I got misty-eyed when I read this:

"mayroon na akong kopya ng tikman ang langit, hanep ang essay mo parang CIR (joke only) , gaano katagal mo natapos iyon piece mo? (hehe) I am proud of you pre, ishare ko ito kina boss wood, danny santos at iba pang tropa dito sa US. Kaya lang bakit pati iyong profile mo sa book at diyan sa facebook pareho. Maganda iyong book na iyon gagawin kong coffee table book ko at alam ko magugustuhan ito ng mga anak ko dahil parehong kaming eheads fan. Regards again and hopefully makapagsulat ka ng sarili mong libro in the near future."

It's the only thing a writer can ever ask for. CIR, by the way, refers to the Credit Investigator's Report that we used to prepare in the Bank when we were still, well, Credit Investigators.

Cristine Reyes

YOU didn’t think I’d let 2009 end without another pretty face in this blog, did you?

Of course not, and seeing the lovely Cristine Reyes last night at Attica with some friends is a good excuse as any to dig up a cover story that I wrote on this lovely and talented actress for the December, 2008 issue of MAXIM Philippines.

2009 has been quite a roller coaster ride for Cristine. She made headlines as perhaps the most famous victim of Typhoon Ondoy but she still managed to end the year on a high note as the leading lady of funny man Vic Sotto in the current top grosser of the ongoing Metro Manila Film Festival, Ang Darling Kong Aswang.

And here’s that MAXIM cover story, slightly revised. A little dated but still worth a browse.

Pics taken from Cristine’s Facebook fan page. If you want to see her MAXIM pics, you
re gonna have to buy the magazine itself. Back issues still available at Book Sale and Filbar
s.

SPLITTING IMAGE
Ms. Cristine Reyes, 19, is driving us bananas
By EDWIN P. SALLAN

NOW on her fifth year in the entertainment industry, Cristine Reyes is still only in her teens—all 19 summers of it. This year, the younger sibling of the equally drop dead gorgeous Ara Mina has stepped out of Ate’s shadow and has come into her own as a lead star to reckon with.

And a pretty controversial one to boot. In between all the thumbs up that came with every performance, every pictorial, every appearance and just about everything else, Cristine Reyes was a relationship with a matinee idol that led to a public and rather ugly tiff with his estranged girlfriend.

It was a storm that Cristine has weathered quite admirably and now minus the supposed distractions has come charging into our screens, big, small and everything in between at full throttle speed. She has more than held her own against the equally formidable cast of the all-girl gag show, Banana Split including former MAXIM cover girls Angelica Panganiban, Roxanne Guinoo, Valerie Concepcion and RR Enriquez.

She was very impressive in both Ate, an acclaimed film produced by Ate Ara herself and Kahit Isang Saglit, the smash teleserye that also started Jericho Rosales and Malaysian Carmine Soo. And she is currently lighting up your prime time viewing in her title role in the teleserye remake of the genre-defining Ms. Eva Fonda, 16.

Underneath all these increasingly “mature” projects remains a surprisingly tech-savvy teenager who still acts her age by listening to her iPod and playing PSP and addictive videogames like Rock Band in between takes. A split personality? Well, you decide.

Back in the 70’s, Eva Fonda was one of the classic films that defined the “bold era” of sexy films, so how did you prepare for your role in the teleserye remake? Did you get to see the original film and discuss it with the original Eva Fonda herself, Ms. Alma Moreno?

Actually, I wasn’t allowed to watch the original movie because they wanted me to make the character my own. Yung hindi lang basta kinopya yung pagkaka-ganap dun ni Ms. Alma Moreno, who incidentally, has a cameo in our teleserye as the owner of a talent agency. There are differences between the two versions naman. In the movie, Eva Fonda was a sexy dancer while in the teleserye, I play her as a model.

So how sexy is your Eva Fonda compared to the original?

You can see me wearing a two-piece bikini pero hanggang dun lang talaga. This is prime-time TV so there are limitations. Ms. Alma Moreno was telling me that during her time, bold is not really bold as we know it now. Noon, nagpapakita ka pa lang daw ng legs, bold ka na.

This year, you got more attention than you probably would have wanted to. What was that like for you? How did you handle all those issues?

Of course it wasn’t easy. You’re damned if you and damned if you don’t. I didn’t want to be interviewed that much because I didn’t want to tackle these issues. When I just ignore them naman and just play deadma, sasabihin nila masungit daw ako. But that’s really who I am, tahimik at hindi palakibo. During tapings, when I’m not doing a scene, I’m just inside my car, play games with my PSP or play music with my iPod.

So you don’t really socialize that much?

I do naman. I always take my pamangkins to the mall or ask them to visit me at the house when I’m happy, sad or just plain bored. I go out with my best friend to watch a movie or simpleng pasyal lang. During tapings for Eva Fonda, we were all in one dressing room so there was plenty of bonding moments with my co-stars and the crew. Kulitan na kami pag madaling araw na, we’ll have a bet on what time the taping will finish for the day. In Banana Split, the mood is very light and fun and since we’re all girls, mas masaya.

Speaking of Banana Split, how comfortable are you doing comedy? Do you think you have the talent for it?

I think I do. I’ve been getting good feedback for my performance in the show. We had a sketch and Dr. Vicki Belo who was part of it at the time couldn’t stop laughing. She called up me up just to tell me, “Idol kita!” because of that sketch alone. That felt good.

You've been in sexy cover shoots before for other magazines, calendars and others. How does this particular MAXIM shoot compare?

I’m surprised how excited I feel doing this. I feel more comfortable than ever. I even had no problem eating unlike before. I don’t feel insecure at all about my body. I always believe that one is as sexy as she carries herself. Nasa pagdadala lang yan.

You were voted among the Top 5 in our recent MAXIM Hot 100. How do you explain your appeal and popularity with the guys?

I was in your Hot 100? Can I ask for a copy? I really don’t know why I’m popular with the guys. Tahimik lang kasi ako. I guess many guys like quiet types. Maybe it’s the mystery they find very appealing.

What do you find appealing in a guy?

He should be down to earth for starters. He should be God-fearing as well. And also neat but not too neat as in vain ha! I don’t want to be with a guy who is more vain than I am. What else? He should be very comfortable with himself because I know guys who are very insecure. Maybe a little sense of humor is also nice and a certain swagger. May konting dating at yabang pero hindi nya intention na maging ganun.

So what’s Cristine Reyes like when she’s in love?

Me? When I want something, I want my man to bring or give it to me right away. I wouldn’t call it demanding because I don’t mean material things. It’s more about the simple things like not keeping me waiting when he’s supposed to pick me up or simply admitting that he’s wrong when he really did something wrong. Little things like that are really very important to me.

Top 6 Must-Have Touchscreen Smartphones

RECENT piece that I wrote for the November Fashion supplement of the Manila Bulletin:

TOUCH AND GO
Stylish smartphones for the holidays
By EDWIN P. SALLAN

IF you’re the type who knows what works well with what, from the clothes you’re wearing to related accessories like bag and heels or watch and shoe add-ons, then that fashion philosophy should also transcend to your mobile phone preference.

And now that touchscreen smartphones have been all the rage as of late, you also want something a stylish handset that doesn’t compromise functionality—a user experience that’s more than just skin deep.

Well, you can’t go wrong with the following holiday offerings that provides a healthy balance of both form and substance. Some of them even include a hidden keypad (or keyboard in the case of one) for those who still aren’t touchscreen savvy.

Samsung Ultra Touch. Sleek and elegant, it has an ultra-slim body encased in a stylish duralumin frame and a smooth and silky back design. The look is distinctive with a 2.8-inch full touch scratch-resistant screen and yes, a hidden keypad. With a 8 megapixel camera and GPS feature, it’s certainly more than just a pretty face.


Sony Ericsson Satio. Comes in black, silver and the must-have Bordeaux (think red wine) variants, the recently launched Satio is a no-nonsense phone with plenty of bells and whistles (i.e. 3.5 inch widescreen, 12.1MP sliding camera, HD gaming) and an eye-catching design that resembles most digital cameras with touch sensitive screens.

HTC Magic. Available in both sapphire and black variants, this Android-powered device is actually a more stylish version of previous HTC phones with a 3.2-inch touchscreen and a trackball for better navigation. A nice touch is the silver-colored plastic band that surrounds its polished plastic frame.




LG GD900 Crystal. Instead of the usual touchscreen, what you get is the transparent and illuminated Crystal Touchpad that’s made of durable tempered glass and Liquidmetal frame. The GD900’s cool Touchpad can also be used for navigating the phone. Oh, and it also recognizes handwriting and responds to multi-touch commands. Cool.

Nokia N97 Mini. Smaller and lighter than the original N97, it also improves on the plastic battery cover of its elder brother by replacing it with a metal cover. It also has a glossy front surface and a 3.2-inch display. Despite its size, the Nokia N97 Mini still retains the best features of N97 (yes, even that big, sliding QWERTY keyboard) in a rather compact and more stylish frame.

Apple iPhone 3GS. Doesn’t look much different from the iPhone 3G that preceded it. However, the new build has a smudge-proof coating that makes it easy to wipe off fingerprints and its new screen actually has an ultra smooth glide feel to it. And since this is an iPhone, there are lots of apps, accessories and covers out there to make it work and look even better.


Watch this Apple iPhone 3GS ad:

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

World of Feng Shui

SINCE the new year is the time when people start to wonder what’s in store for them for the next 12 months, Feng Shui is one of the things that usually come to mind.

And when people talk about Feng Shui in the Philippines, one of the names that easily comes to mind is Marites Allen. I got to feature the internationally-trained Feng Shui Master back in 2007 for the Manila Bulletin and even if I’m not exactly an avid believer, I got Ms. Allen to give me my own Feng Shui reading which turned out to be quite accurate for the following year.

Aside from talking about the ancient Chinese art itself, Ms. Allen, who also writes a Feng Shui column for Manila Standard Today and hosts her own Feng Shui talk show for the ANC Channel also talked about the World of Feng Shui stores, of which she is the franchise holder in the country.

I actually bought an Ang Paw envelope which contains three Chinese “prosperity” coins and a P20 bill in one of the World of Feng Shui stores. While I’m not sure if my own Ang Paw is responsible for much of the good luck that I've been enjoying since I got it, especially during Christmas party raffles and the other nice writing jobs and assignments that have thankfully landed on my lap, I guess it certainly doesn’t hurt having it in my wallet all the time.

Here's a slightly tweaked and updated version of that 2007 article:

MARITES ALLEN'S WORLD OF FENG SHUI
By EDWIN P. SALLAN

When you believe in things that you don’t understand then you suffer.
Stevie Wonder, “Superstition”

IF internationally-recognized Feng Shui expert Marites Allen is to be believed, there is no such thing as coincidence. Everything happens for a reason and much of the good fortune and yes, misfortunes that come our way are pretty much dictated by our surroundings, the yin and yang of our Chinese animal signs and the four pillars of our destiny.

“You may have so much money but you’re also very sickly. You may have the work but you may not have the love. And falling in love with the wrong person is no joke so what if you can actually avoid that, you might wonder,” she asks. Her answer is of course, yes, we can. She argues that people who know their Feng Shui have actually lived very fulfilling lives.

The popularity of Feng Shui or “the ancient Chinese art of manipulating and arranging one's surroundings to attract positive life energy so that it flows smoothly and unblocks any obstructions in the body and the environment” in the country is so phenomenal that a good number of its countless believers are not necessarily Chinese.

It also certainly didn’t hurt that Chito Roño’s 2004 award-winning horror flick simply titled Feng Shui, tackled its more dire and ominous consequences and made even more believers of this Chinese practice.

Ms. Allen is quick to point out that Feng Shui is “no superstitious nonsense,” though. She insists that there’s a scientific basis for it. “Feng Shui is a very big responsibility,” she declares. “People come to their doctors when things are not right with their bodies. It’s the same with us Feng Shui masters. People come to us when something needs to be resolved.”

Whether it’s how certain buildings or houses should be constructed, where certain rooms or areas should be located, how furniture should be particularly arranged, when important occasions or milestones like weddings, store or shop openings should be celebrated, Feng Shui has very much influenced the way many of us go about our business.

Allen says that according to Feng Shui, we actually have three kinds of luck . There’s our Heaven Luck which is what is “pre-ordained and cannot be changed.” “This explains why some people are richer and prettier than others because that is what’s really written in their stars,” she notes. There’s Mankind Luck, “which is the result of our actions, our decisions, what we do with our lives.” “There’s a saying that the bus stops only once so you better decide if you want to be on it or not.”

And then, there’s Earth Luck which is “what Feng Shui is all about” The way she explains it, Earth Luck is how the environment affects one’s life. It is sort of the equalizer to Heaven Luck and Mankind Luck as with proper selection and arrangements of certain properties, we can find and restore the right balance in our lives towards a more fulfilling future.

Allen herself is proud of the fact that since she was awarded the Philippine franchise for the World of Feng Shui chain of boutiques in late 2004, there are now five stores in the country including one in Cebu. “I started out with only three personnel, now I have more than 50 in all my five stores.”

Founded by Allen’s own mentor, Malaysian Feng Shui master Lilian Too, the World of Feng Shui franchise also has stores in Brunei, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Japan, United Kingdom, Spain, Australia, Russia, UAE, Mexico, Belgium, the Netherlands and the US. It also has its own online store at www.wofs.com.

The stores offer items that help improve our Earth Luck. Its bestselling item remains as the Ang Paw or Hung Pao. These are three Chinese coins (“prosperity coins” as Allen calls them) tied together with red ribbon and placed inside a Chinese envelope. Designed for good wealth, the Ang Paw is something you carry in your purse or wallet at all times. Allen reveals that the ground floor of World of Feng Shui’s Podium store is “embedded with the prosperity coin.” “You could say we’re sitting in a bed of money.” she quips.

Other popular items are the Colored Crystals which people buy not just for wealth but also “for love and harmony and relationships” and the Sailing Ships that are “very popular with businessmen” as they are known to enhance prosperity luck with a golden wealth ship sailing into your home or office.

There’s the Feng Shui Almanac, a fully illustrated Feng Shui guide specially designed to enhance your full potential for the present year. Here, you can also select the best and most auspicious days and times for activities and events such as weddings, renovations, travelling, opening a business and more. This almanac includes auspicious and inauspicious activities, daily earthly branch and conflict animal as well as good, average and unlucky hours.

Then there’s also Lilian Too’s annual Fortune and Feng Shui books that offers highly personalized insights for the year that will ensure how you can maximize your luck and your opportunities.

And of course, there’s Marites Allen’s much sought after Personalized Feng Shui Readings which includes your personal kua number, Individual Eight Mansions analysis, Compatibility based on kua number, Chinese zodiac and year element, Flying Star Natal Chart analysis for your home and office, annual Flying Stars for the present year and Feng Shui solutions to your predicament. Readings are normally conducted at her office in New Manila or the World of Feng Shui store at the Podium by appointment although she can also fly to Cebu to accommodate residents in the area, also by appointment.

A big activity the store is gearing up for is next year’s “Marites Allen Feng Shui Spectacular 2010 Riding The Golden Tiger” slated on January 23, 2010 at the Center Stage of SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City.

“Even though Feng Shui does not try to appear as the answer to everyone’s problems or act as a mirror to one’s future, the lessons you will learn are valuable guidelines to realize that we have options. That we choose to act and decide by ways we deem helpful,” she concludes.

World of Feng Shui shops are located at The Podium, SM Mall of Asia, The Block SM North EDSA, Serendra Piazza and SM Cebu. Corporate Office is located at No. 6 Unit 8 Broadway Park, Doña Juana cor. 1st Streets, New Manila, Quezon City. Also, visit www.wofs.com and www.maritesallen.com.

And here's the teaser/trailer for Marites Allen's ANC TV show:

Rockeoke! Rockeoke!

THREE of the Christmas parties I attended to this month (or this year, for that matter) had one common denominator: Rockeoke.

Rockeoke? Well, the invitation I received for the recently concluded IBM’s Smarter Planet Appreciation Party pretty much hit the nail in the head with this definition:

“It’s an innovation in the party scene.

Rockeoke is basically live karaoke—where party people sing with a live band playing. It’s open mic so you sing in front of everyone, usually with a little help from a bottle of beer and a willing band ready to play any song/s you want.

It’s a brilliant idea because the truth is, no matter how old or young you are, you (usually) still nurture that secret desire to become a rock/pop star.”

It really can’t get any simpler than that. While I wouldn’t consider it much of an innovation since open mic things have been going on for quite a while not just here but particularly in the US and other countries, I have to give credit to Mag:Net Café in Bonifacio High Street for coming up with the term (at least as far as I know and for our own local consumption) and for an initiative that has become very popular and has since been imitated in so many other forms, even though it takes place in a less than ideal regular Monday night schedule.

I got my first brush with Rockeoke at an Intel Christmas party in 2008 where I got to sing R.E.M.’s “The One I Love” with The Johnnys (one of Mag:Net’s two Rockeoke bands) and managed to walk away pretty much unscathed. Although I would get to sing this same R.E.M. rocker for the few more Rockeokes that followed (in several other events and one regular night at Mag:Net) especially since I know the words by heart and also when the lyrics of other tunes I wanted to take a crack at aren’t available, I managed to expand my “repertoire” (repertoire!) by also having successfully, well, taming, other rock classics like Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train,” The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” and “Lovesong”, Gin Blossoms’ “Till I Hear It From You,” The Police’s “Message In A Bottle” and most recently, Live’s “Selling The Drama,” the Stone Temple Pilots’ “Interstate Love Song” and The Adventures’ “Two Rivers.”

And not just with the same band but also with Oven Toaster (Mag:Net’s other resident Rockeoke band) and with the harder-rocking Velcro who played their own brand of Rockeoke in the recent IBM party at Capone’s and also at the Intel party that followed at Toyz Lounge at The Fort. The Johnnys themselves played at Microsoft's own Rockeoke Christmas party at Gweilos also this month.

Rockeoke has become so popular that its concept is now even adopted by other venues and events. This month, I’ve heard of an Acoustica night and even a Pianoke night, similar open mic nights in other venues with self-explanatory live accompaniment.

And if I attended three Rockeoke-themed Christmas parties this year, my colleague Elijah Mendoza of Summit Media told me during Intel's party that he had attended six (!) as of that night.

While I don’t think I sing exceptionally well to start a new career, I think I sing good enough not to embarrass myself and perhaps to even impress a handful of friends. And while there are still a few unscaled heights that come to mind such as Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out,” Nirvana’s “Lithium” and The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done,” I’m okay with the few “greatest hits” that I’ve managed so far.

Last New Year’s Eve, Mag:Net Café Bonifacio High Street, the joint that started it all had its own New Year’s Rockeoke with Oven Toaster as it says goodbye to 2009 in true Rockeoke fashion. As the club would put it in one of its earlier Rockeoke invitations, the basic mechanics remain simple enough: Pick up the mic. Suck it up. Rock on.

Now you try it.

Watch actress Sheryl Cruz try her hand at Rockeoke in this video uploaded in YouTube by filmmaker Quark Henares, one of Mag:Net's Partners (that's him in the pic below this post's title) and I presume, Rockeoke brain thrust. Sound quality is bad but well, you get the picture:

Same Old, Same Old?

OKAY, let me try to finish the year in almost the same way I did in 2008. Below is a Note I wrote for my Facebook profile page last year shortly after I filed for early retirement from my day job at the Philippine National Bank where I was connected for 21 years.

My last day of work was originally the last working day of December, 2008. However, I was granted an extension of three more months so I remained at my desk until March of this year.
Much of what I said below still holds true. And while there's a lot to like about doing freelance work where I pretty much control my own time and my own pace, not to mention where I can also choose the subjects worth writing about, there's something about my old office routine that I still miss.

The manangs with their dirt cheap meriendas. Lunch with officemates at the office cafeteria on weekdays and somewhere special (in our case, a nice restaurant at SM Mall Of Asia) during paydays. The two-gives, four-gives and whatever gives installment items (clothes, jewelry, health supplements and what have you) we buy from our suking vendors. The health cards and annual executive check-ups. The camaraderie, the office politics and the gossip that goes along with the whopping eight hours and sometimes more that we spent in our respective desks.

And of course, the power clothes (the nice shirts, ties, slacks and dress shoes) that pretty much belies how underpaid most office folks really are.
Which is also probably why there's a part of me that wants to go back to at least some of that. Or maybe not. Or maybe..never mind.

The more things change, the more they stay the same? Just as I wrote below, I have no clear idea what's in store for me in 2010. But even with the not-so-pleasant things that took place in 2009 (i.e. Ondoy, Maguindanao), there are still plenty of things to be thankful for, many things to be hopeful for and oh, yes, a few good reasons to keep smiling about.
At some point, we do all have to move on.

Here's how my year ended in 2008.

CROSSROADS
By EDWIN P. SALLAN

In a pretty good year when almost everything went my way, there were still a few things that didn't.

Call it second wind, third wind, nth wind, whatever wind, I guess you could say I got my mojo back in 2008. I re-discovered the joys of working, be it at my regular job at the bank where my 2007 promotion led to an important role in our division or at my freelance writing on the side where there was a lot of personal fulfillment with what I thought was some of my best work in recent years. The best of both worlds became truly the best of both worlds in 2008. I guess you could say I was on some kind of a roll or whatever that is.

At some point, we all have to move on.

2008 was also some kind of transition year for me. And graduation day as far as my work in the bank is concerned came at the last quarter when a recent merger that many of you may have read about resulted in an early retirement offer that was simply too good to pass up.

There's a part of me that always wanted to quit my day job so I can finally pursue what I really wanted to do, to go where my heart truly belongs. It still felt a little painful, though, when I told my bosses that I'm leaving because I intend to "follow my heart." Only this time "following my heart" takes on a slightly different meaning from what I had in mind just a couple of years ago.

Just as it felt a little painful and yes, a little emotional when I was asked to co-host our office's Christmas party, something that would turn out to be my first and last at the bank, my second home and my second family for, oh, just the last 21 years. What can I say? My bank job was a nice little gig that, at times, broke my heart, lifted my spirits, made me proud and yes, ultimately paid my bills.

Truth to tell, I'm actually a little scared about all the uncertainty that the near future brings, especially with all that crisis talk and financial doomsday scenarios people are predicting for 2009. At the same time, I'm a little sad that with all of this also came an opening, a possibility, however remote, for a much-awaited second chance that I was hoping to pursue at the right time. Unfortunately, some opportunities present themselves a little too late. Sometimes, things have a way of simply not working out.

At some point, we all have to move on.

I said goodbye to a lot of things in 2008. A long career that has by and large, been very kind to me. A comfort zone that I worked very hard to establish yet was largely criticized by some well-meaning friends. And yes, the many people that I'm used to being around me for quite some time, some possibly for good.

There's something to be said about closing doors and opening windows. I absolutely have no idea what's up for me in 2009. They say things are supposed to get worse before they get better. Well, I do hope the worst is over for me by now.

As much as everything didn't go my way in 2008, there are still plenty of things to be thankful for, many things to be hopeful for and oh, yes, a few good reasons to keep smiling about. Yes, I'm also actually excited about the options and prospects I'm looking forward to for the coming new year.

At some point, we all have to move on? As a friend would put it, to move forward is more like it. Happy new year, everybody.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Frozen At 20,000 Feet

FROM 2005 to 2007, the Discovery Channel aired a documentary series about the life-threatening experiences of ordinary people that were faced with incredible circumstances as actors re-enact their stories.

One of the series’ more memorable episodes featured three British climbers that got caught in a snow storm in Alaska's Mt. Mckinley, dubbed as “The Great One” and arguably one of the toughest peaks in the world. I was fortunate enough to be offered a telephone interview with Nigel Vardy, one of those climbers and now I’m reposting a slightly revised version of the article that was first published in the i Section of the Manila Bulletin back in 2007.

Although I Shouldn’t Be Alive has since been discontinued, re-runs are still being shown at both Discovery Channel and sister channel, Animal Planet as part of its Discovery Classics series. The entire series is also available on original DVD.

You can also visit the official site here.

And here's my story:

TOUGH CLIMB
Having survived the toughest of odds, Nigel Vardy is back in “peak” form and all set to reach new heights anew.
By EDWIN P. SALLAN

EVEN the man himself thinks he shouldn’t be alive today.

Celebrated British mountaineer Nigel Vardy has successfully “lived through” the jungles, waterfalls and mountains of Chile, Guyana and Bolivia but he will be the first to admit that no amount of training and mountaineering experience has prepared him for his toughest challenge yet: Mt. Mckinley.

“Though not the highest mountain in the world, Mt. McKinley ranks as one of the hardest to climb,” Nigel wrote in an article posted at his website. “Its difficult approach and unpredictable weather makes it one of the biggest challenges in mountaineering. It stands 20,320 feet above sea level and dominates the Alaska Range of mountains. First climbed in 1913, McKinley still proves to be a difficult challenge. In 1999, 1183 climbers attempted the climb with 508 reaching the summit—a success rate of only 43 percent.”

Given its degree of difficulty for most mountaineers, I couldn’t help but ask Nigel himself during a recent long distance phone interview what attracted him to Mt. Mckinley to begin with.

“Mt. McKinley is a very magical mountain in the mountaineering world, because of its northernly location and some of the legendary climbs and stories that you hear,” he notes. “It’s one of those special mountains that many, many people want to climb. I had looked at the mountain, but never got an opportunity until, particularly Steven Ball, who always wanted to climb the mountain, was talking to Anthony Hollinshead. I know Anthony from many years ago, and the idea was put to me and I accepted the climb.”

That was during the autumn of 1998. Six months of planning, commitment and training on the part of Nigel, Anthony and Steven followed. By April of 1999, they were ready for McKinley. Or so they thought.

By Nigel’s own account, it took them six days to reach the base of the mountain alone after negotiating a good eleven miles of glaciers that are not without their share of crevasse. “Crevasses are deep cracks in the glaciers surface and can be hundreds of feet deep,” he points out. “To fall down one can mean severe injury or even death.”

Reaching the base of Mckinley is not nearly half the battle won. Further obstacles include “a 1,200 ft gulley of snow and ice followed by undulating snow and rock ridges.” And then there was the weather. Due to its high latitude and its proximity to the jet stream, the mountain is also characterized by an unusually severe risk of altitude sickness and extremely cold weather.

Even with all these odds, Nigel and company made steady progress during their 17-day climb and were actually a few hundred yards from the summit. That’s when the “ferocious winds and below freezing temperature” took over and it was simply impossible to continue. It was certainly not encouraging to be told over the radio that rescue is still a good two to three days ahead.

“I suffered quite severe frostbite, losing all of my toes, the backs of my heels, all of my fingertips and my nose, which ended up being amputated or fell off,” he recalls.

Anthony and Steven also suffered from frostbites and hypothermia but all three of them were rescued just in time to cheat death. How they managed to survive is now the subject of Frozen At 20,000 Feet, the premiere episode of the acclaimed Discovery Channel series, I Shouldn’t Be Alive.

The series showcases the world’s most incredible stories of survival, displaying people’s innate drive to live—even in the most unimaginable situations. Told in the present tense with a mix of high-caliber dramatizations and first-person interviews, each episode is told from the perspective of the survivor. Advanced graphics provide practical information about survival and reveal what happens to organ functions and the human body as it faces extreme challenges in harsh environments.

Asked why he agreed to share his near death experience with the world when it was an ordeal that very few would like to relive all over again, much less talk about, Nigel says it wasn’t an easy decision.

“I think initially I agreed with it, because it’s a good story to tell, and I think it’s a story that people can learn from and gain knowledge from the experience,” he says. “Also, I’m a storyteller. It’s one of my things in life, so I do rather enjoy that. It was very, very difficult for me, though. I don’t know if you’ve actually seen the documentary yet. But the interviews that were done with ourselves in front of a camera, we’re going through the actual experience for something like eight or nine hours of questions. And mentally, that was quite hard. You don’t revisit it as hard as that or as long as that, in fact, I don’t think I had since the accident itself.”

“I remember going through the interview being physically and mentally exhausted and driving home that night and just going to bed. I couldn’t even face staying up. I was so tired and for a couple of days, I was very quiet. I go quiet when I start to think. And I found it quite hard to deal with although I thought it was worthwhile. I think occasionally, it is good for you to revisit these things, to put reality back into perspective.”

Since surviving Mt. Mckinley, Nigel Vardy went on to scale greater heights. “Obviously my injuries have recovered over the last seven years,” he quips. “And as you’ve just gathered, I’m on a skiing holiday and have climbed, skied and traveled the world extensively since McKinley. I’ve climbed extensively in the European Alps, the Arctic and the Himalayas. I’ve got a couple of peaks to climb in Africa, which are not icy or cold. But certainly I will continue winter climbing and Arctic climbing for as long as I’m able to, anyway.”

What about Mt. Mckinley? I asked Nigel if he has plans to come back there anytime soon? “It’s always disappointing for every mountaineer not to make it to the very top,” he laments. “Coming back to Mckinley is something I think your heart would like you to say you can do, and we’d like to go back and we’d like to have another go and stand on the summit. One thing I have learned, however, from experience is that when you’ve suffered frostbite, your injuries tend to suffer the cold a little bit more. And I know that if we had another very, very bad time on McKinley, then it could be extremely bad for me.”

“There is an old English saying, which is “Discretion is the better part of valour.” And I think at the moment and perhaps forever, I may have to leave McKinley alone and concentrate on other things.”

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Zouk Singapore

Still think Singapore is boring? Then you probably haven't visited here in quite a while. Check out this slightly revised version of an article I wrote in 2007 for the Manila Bulletin. It's certainly reflective of the increasingly eventful nightlife there.

“THE CLUB OF THE FUTURE”
By EDWIN P. SALLAN

ITS name is actually taken from the French Carribean word for “village party.”

And that's exactly what you always get at Zouk, the club that has come to define Singapore's vibrant nightlife. Norman Cook a.k.a Fatboy Slim considers it as “one of the best clubs in the world” while Trance guru Paul Oakenfold regards it as “the club of the future, no question.”

So what's so special about Zouk and what makes it different from the other clubs, based in Singapore or elsewhere in the world? You've heard of warehouse parties, right? Zouk literally took the concept a little further when it transformed three old warehouses built on the Singapore River back in 1919 into three interconnecting clubs starting with Zouk itself in 1991, then Velvet Underground in 1994 and finally, Phuture in 1996.

Zouk boasts of state-of-the-art sound and lighting and a huge dancefloor where every inch is usually fully occupied by house and techno revelers starting at the stroke of midnight. Seven resident DJ's and visiting artists that include the Chemical Brothers, M People, Bjork, Kylie Minogue, Sasha, John Digweed, Tiesto, Paul Van Dyk and of course, Cook and Oakenfold have all contributed to what this world-class dance club has become today.

But patrons don't have to wait until the clock strikes 12 in order to get their Zouk fix. The other clubs are so designed to either prepare you for the pulsating rhythms ahead or cool you off in between the hot and heavy dancefloor action. A more laidback ambiance awaits you at the Velvet Underground lounge where its soul and garage music is nicely complemented by by its velvet wall interiors and original modern art works.

For those looking for something more eclectic, there's Phuture adjoining Zouk's main building. Here, the music is a nice mix of trip hop, down tempo and the like. Atmosphere-wise, Phuture, as its name suggests does have a space age feel to it, with its own, well, futuristic lighting, liquids-in-glass vials and metal interiors. Then there's also the Wine Bar, Zouk's official “pre-club and chill out area” just outside its doors.

But as impressive as Zouk is from an architectural and interior design standpoint, what really defines this premier party place in Singapore (and now in Kuala Lumpur) is really the people. There's something about the diversity of the 1,000-capacity Zouk crowd that I for one, find very fascinating. It's an odd but happy mix of students, bankers, lawyers, models, hairstylists and more, from all walks of life and practically of all ages—lending credence to the club's tagline of “One World, One Music, One Tribe, One Dance.”

Why Zouk was able to attract a diverse crowd like this may have something to do with the Mambo Jambo theme night that it has successfully pioneered. See, back when Zouk was first opened, its original vision was to introduce House music to Singapore, something that most Singaporeans haven't even heard of back in 1991. So Zouk introduced a blend of music that incorporated pop hits from the 70’s and 80’s with house music that made the playlist rotation every Wednesday nights.

Some of the more popular “retro” dance tunes that were quickly embraced by the Zouk crowd along with the newer house tracks were Bananarama's “Love In The First Degree,” Shannon's “Let The Music Play,” Al Corley's “Square Rooms,” KC & The Sunshine Band's “Give It Up,” the Village People's “YMCA” and oh, yes, Rick Astley's “Together Forever.” Man, Roderick Paulate will feel very much at home here at Zouk.

Zouk's much-awaited Wedneday nights, later dubbed as Mambo Jambo became increasingly popular with the clubbing crowd and became one of the main highlights of the Singapore’s clubbing scene in general as rock, dance and hip-hop was later added to Mambo Jambo's merry mix of House-driven dance hits.

The Mambo Jambo concept of Zouk became so popular that a CD was released in 1998. When the Ministry of Sound decided to give Zouk a good run for its money when it opened in December of 2005, it was noticeable that it seemed to follow the former's winning formula: a huge dancefloor that played techno and house music and several genre-specific rooms (or clubs-within a club) including one that played 70’s and 80’s disco classics.

In addition to the many artists and events that it hosts every year. Zouk also stages ZoukOut, a dusk-till-dawn annual year-end ball that is also touted as one of the world's best parties since it was first organized in 2000. ZoukOut 2006 drew a record crowd of 20,000 party animals who danced the night (and morning) away at Sentosa Island's Silosa Beach.

During my last visit to Singapore late last year, both Zouk and the Ministry of Sound were part of our group's itinerary. While we had a great time at both clubs and I for one, will have to admit that the clubbing experience they they respectively offer is like nothing else I have ever seen, I have to give a slight edge to Zouk. Perhaps because of its more established reputation, it comes off as more loose and judging from the merry faces of its diverse patrons, just a tad more fun.

As its name suggests, Zouk does define partying like no other club can.

Zouk is located at 17 Jiak Kim Street, Singapore. Also, visit its official site at www.zoukclub.com.

A video glimpse of Zouk:

Meet Our National Rugby Union Team

AS a sport, not much has been known about rugby or rugby union, to be more specific, here in the Philippines. So when I was first offered to write a story about it for GARAGE magazine late last year, I had to think twice before accepting it.

But since I always wanted to write sports stories and I did find this as a challenging assignment, I relented and did some reading up on the subject. Turns out I had a really good story on my hands as the Philippine National Rugby Union Under 20’s team that I wrote about continues to bring more honors for the country, having just recently won the Asian Championships title.

The assignment was also particularly memorable as it was also my first time to work with photographer Shaira Luna. Yes, that same Promil gifted child is all grown up and is now one of the more sought after freelance photographers in the country. I believe it was also Shaira’s first time to shoot a sports-related assignment and if her pictures I posted here are anything to go by, she did very well on it, too.

I didn’t exactly saw what happened on the field as Shaira was trying to take her photos but from what I understand from our conversation later, it was quite an experience for her. I did learn that she got hit by the ball on the head (thank God it was nothing major, just a very minor bump) and that the players also took a liking to her. But she politely told the boys off by simply saying that she is three years older than all of them, hehe.

In any case, all’s well that ends well. Personally, I thought I did pretty well myself on doing a sports story that I knew nothing about. Well, you decide. Here’s a slightly revised version:

KICKING UP A STORM
Meet the Philippine National Rugby Union Team
Text by Edwin P. Sallan
Photos by Shaira Luna

“ANYONE who enjoys playing any contact sport can play this,” the coach declares. “Tall, skinny ones, strong, fat types or the quick and speedy types, there’s a place for you in my team.”

The coach is Australian expatriate Matt Cullen and his team is none other than the relatively new and increasingly competitive Philippine National rugby union team that for the last four years has been quietly putting the country in the international rugby map.

Neither as popular as American football nor as glamorous as the David Beckham-starred soccer (original name: association football), rugby has nonetheless maintained a steady following in over 120 countries all over the world, many of them from Europe and Africa. Here in the Philippines, the sport is governed by the Philippine Rugby Football Union and has been affiliated with the International Rugby Board since 2004.

“Rugby is played both as a 15-a-side game, and as 7-a-side and 10-a-side variations called rugby union, rugby sevens and rugby league,” Cullen says while revealing that the Philippines do have a national team for each variant. “The basic object of the game is that teams should score as many points as possible, by carrying, passing, kicking and grounding the ball with the team scoring the greater number of points being the winner of the match. It is classified as an 'end zone invasion game'. The aim of each team is to gain possession of the ball, take it into opposition territory and to place it in the in-goal area or the end zone.”

Unlike American football or soccer, it is not uncommon to see fast-paced and high scoring games in rugby, particularly rugby union which the Philippine team plays. A recent game against Brunei only last July had a score of 101-0 (not a typo!) in favour of our nationals, their biggest win to date. This may be attributed to the game’s continuous possessions even when a player is tackled. More possessions naturally mean more opportunities to score.

“There are no limits on how many times you can get tackled. As long as you hold on to possession, play is not stopped,” reveals Nathan Welch, a bulky 19-year old half Australian whose mother is from Tarlac. He is also and one of the eight forwards of the Under 20’s (U/20) team. “In rugby union, you can play for as long as you want as long as you don’t get sent off,” he adds. The term “sent off” is the equivalent of being thrown out or ejected by game officials in basketball.

Welch says rugby can be an extremely physical and fiercely competitive contact sport, although he’s surprised to learn from statistics that soccer has a higher injury rate. “Because of that, courage and bravery is more important than size,” he points out. “In rugby, heart is very important.”

John Gardner, another 19-year old half-Australian forward whose mother is from Bacolod describes himself as “a marked man in every game.” Known to his teammates as Phumba, after the wild boar character in The Lion King, the brutish Gardner admits that the intense rough play of rugby does tend to get personal. “Sometimes you just lose it and get sent off,” he remarks. “But most of the time, what happens in the field stays in the field and after that, we get together with members of the other team and just have fun.”

Coach Cullen says “the long-standing tradition of players from competing teams enjoying each other’s company away after the game in a social context remains at the very core of the game.”

“It is because of, not despite, Rugby’s intensely physical and athletic characteristics that such great camaraderie exists before and after matches.” Teamwork, understanding, co-operation and respect for fellow athletes are what rugby football is all about.

Cullen who has been at the forefront of developing rugby as a fun sport that everyone can enjoy is proud of what he has achieved since taking over the reins of the national team. Since 2005, the men’s team have won one Division higher with every campaign. They went undefeated in the Divison 2 in the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) Under-19 division tournament in 2006 and won the Silver Medal in the 2007 Southeast Asian Games.

Although the present U/20 team has a balanced combination of size and speed, with rookie back Jeepy Paypon, providing much-needed agility. “I’m happy coach included me in the team,” enthuses the 18-year old speedster, who also happens to be an orphan. “Although our three times a day practices are very hard, I’m happy to get this opportunity to represent our country.”

Even with an already competitive squad composed of many expats, Cullen hopes to further improve his roster with players coming from the Philippine Military Academy that now includes rugby football in its curriculum.

“Instead of going to schools like De La Salle and Ateneo to recruit our players, we prefer to go to the PMA where players are stronger and the attitude and discipline is excellent,” he rationalizes. “In five years time, I expect 50 percent of my team to be graduates of PMA.”

Right now, the Philippine Rugby Football Union has its eye on the bigger prizes. Cullen says the Southeast Asian Games is certainly within reach with the Asian Games gold not too far behind as well as the World Cup 2011. “We’re already one of the top eight nations in Asia as far as this sport is concerned,” Cullen beams. “Our potential to succeed is simply enormous, there’s no other way but up.”

For more information on the PhilippineU/20 National Rugby Union team, visit http://www.prfu.com/.