Monday, April 26, 2010
As defined in Wikipedia, “boutique hotel” is “a term that originated in North America to describe intimate, usually luxurious or quirky hotel environments.” Sometimes known as “design hotels” or “lifestyle hotels, ” these types of hotels differentiate themselves from their larger five-star counterparts with their personalized level of accommodation and service facilities.
“Typically boutique hotels are furnished in a themed, stylish and/or aspirational manner,” its Wikipedia entry continues. “Although usually considerably smaller than a mainstream hotel (often ranging from 3 to 100 guest rooms), boutique hotels can often have hundreds of rooms in major cities. Guest rooms and suites are fitted with telephones, Wi-Fi internet access, air-conditioning, honesty bars and often cable/pay TV. With guest services attended to by a 24-hour hotel staff, many boutique hotels have on-site dining facilities, and the majority offers bars and lounges which may also be open to the general public.
The Scarlet in Singapore is one such hotel. Only a year after it opened in December of 2004, The Scarlet has already been reaping one accolade after another having made Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s Hot List of Best New Hotels Worldwide for 2005, DestinAsian magazine’s 2005 Luxe List and Luxury Travel magazine’s Luxury Travel Award for one of the Best New Hotels of 2005.
TabletHotels.com says that “the hotel occupies a row of preserved shop houses dating to 1868, and an original 1924 Art Deco building, all joined together and converted into a quite delightfully over-the-top boutique.”
Described in its web site as “vivacious and uninhibited” and with “interiors pulsating with eclectic tension,” there’s something about the low-rise Scarlet (a word that refers to a color synonymous with red) that makes it tower head and shoulders above the more established hotels in Singapore. It must be its Victorian-meets-Goth interiors punctuated by the usually tall and yes, made-up (!) doorman wearing a black trenchcoat that could have come easily been imported from Transylvania.
A nice touch is the cigarette-shaped leather pouch included in each door of these rooms where the complimentary copies of The Strait Times is delivered every morning.
The Scarlet is actually only the second hotel that I ever stayed (the one is our very own Nami in Boracay) that includes a DVD player in each room. Original DVD’s of popular titles can also be borrowed for free at the reception counter. I know people don’t usually come to Singapore just to watch DVD’s but in the case of journalists like myself who never really find the time to watch our favorite flicks at home, I have to say that having one at the hotel is a good reason to while away your free and idle time there.
There’s also something cool about the way certain suites are named (i.e. Swank. Lavish, Opulent, Passion and Splendour) as well as other facilities like its bars and restaurant (Bold, Breeze and Desire), meeting room (Sanctum), open-air Jacuzzi (Soda), gym (Flaunt) and even the branded bathroom amenities (Flair).
Although Wi-Fi internet is free, only guests who brought their own laptops are the ones that stand to benefit most from it. The hotel does have its own laptops for rentals but rates are pretty steep and availability might also be an issue. Fortunately, being located in the Chinatown area at 33 Erskine Road is also another plus for The Scarlet. not only was I able to shop for a lot of bargain pasalubong in Chinatown, I also found an internet rental station in one of the streets there that charges only S$1 (or about P30) an hour, by far the cheapest rate I encountered in Singapore.
Published room rates at The Scarlet don’t come cheap but the very five-star feel of the hotel’s facilities and yes, personalized service (the staff actually remembers returning guests like myself) makes the well-branded The Scarlet an ideal alternative to the Ritz Carlton and other posh high-risers in Singapore.
The Scarlet is located at 33 Erskine Road in Singapore. According to its Facebook page, the hotel is currently offering 50 percent discount on all suites until May 20 of this year. Photos for this blog post also taken from The Scarlet's Facebook page.
An event for bloggers hosted by The Scarlet:
While I personally believe everyone should view this thing called online dating with a fair share of skepticism, I also think that we should also not discount the fact that, well, there are more than quite a few experiences that do end up on a very happy note.
This is one of those stories.
For this online gaming couple, till disconnection do they part
By EDWIN P. SALLAN
So it’s no big surprise to hear about people who spend most of their waking hours in cyberspace as they take the love game to a totally different level—as in finding the right matches, soul mates, love of their lives or whatever we want to call them. And we’re not just referring to social networking sites like Facebook and Friendster but also to addictive online games that give new meaning to the term “levelling up.”
But a virtual wedding that took place in a computer game to be later followed by an actual civil one? For Angelito Cayabyab and his bride, the former Athena Ruflo who are also known by their user names (or should we say, “love handles”) Pipezz14 and Siouxsie in the increasingly popular online game, Highstreet 5, there’s no such thing as a thin line that exists between fantasy and reality. Not in their case anyway.
Yes, Angelito, a 25-year old single dad from Bulacan and Athena, the 28-year old proprietress of a network gaming computer shop based in Pasig met, fell in love and got married while playing as their characters in the game. Prior to playing Highstreet 5, Angelito was addicted to the first-person shooter, Counterstrike, certainly not the type of game where one meets a future partner in life, while Athena was playing a not-so-popular musical-oriented game called O2 Jam that neither had too many players nor the kind of community interaction that Highstreet 5 has.
For the uninitiated, Highstreet 5 is not your average online game that involves fancy costumes, castles, dragons, monsters or anything usually associated with medieval-like fantasy worlds. The game is all about a virtual lifestyle that pretty much mirrors our own real lifestyle as latest trends in music, fashion and street dance steps are among ts most appealing features.
“Apart from its fun and interactive in-game chat and in-game web cam view, HighStreet 5 also has its own social network community,” says Rio Rachel Encarnado, Marketing and Communications Manager for Eaglegame International, the local distributor of the game. “So by connecting both virtual and real worlds, the game becomes a gateway of several individuals to find their real life partners. Players, who started as opponents and unfamiliar with the other’s real personality become close and intimate both in-game and in real life as time goes by.”
That’s how Angelito and Athena were both drawn to the game. “A friend installed the game in my friend’s network gaming shop in August of 2008 and me and our barkada of seven just decided to try it out and the next thing we knew, we just kept on playing,” Angelito enthuses. “I met Athena or Siouxsie at the HS Dance Room of the game where beginners usually hang out. Right there and then, we did our first lover’s dance.”
“He was actually my very first friend in the game,” Athena fondly recalls. “There’s something about his character and his hair that attracted me. And since then, we would meet each other in the game and dance everyday. We would usually go online at around 11PM and finish around 3, 4, sometimes up to 5AM in the morning just playing and getting to know each other from within the game.”
And that was even before they actually saw each other via webcam which didn’t take place until one month later. Athena, who was then in a relationship at the time with a guy that's not into online games, grew fonder of Angelito as they kept on playing Highstreet 5. She eventually broke up with her boyfriend as a result.
Not knowing that Highstreet 5 has an in-chat and in-game webcam view feature, Angelito had to log-in from a friend’s Yahoo! Messenger account to get his first glimpse of Athena. Obviously not disappointed by what they both saw, their virtual courtship further blossomed until she finally agreed to be his virtual girlfriend on October 24. That was exactly one week before they would finally see each other in person at a Highstreet5 Halloween General Eyeball event in SM Megamall.
“He was suddenly very quiet when we saw each other,” Athena continues. “Parang na-torpe yata at ako pa ang salita nang salita.” During that EB, the couple did their first in-game “deep kiss” much to the cheers of their friends or “guild members.” After that, they were pretty much inseparable as an ensuing drinking session at a nearby bar was followed by a group sleepover at Athena’s place that lasted for two straight days.
“After that he went home to tell his mom that he has a new girlfriend,” she says. “Less than 24 hours later, he brought his clothes over and we’ve been together since, whether we’re playing the game or not.”
Angelito says that at that point, both of them could no longer imagine living life without the other. So they started to cement their, uh, connection and plan their in-game church wedding, complete with their own designed wedding invitations as well as their own immaculate white wedding clothes. The way they tell it, the in-game wedding that took place only last February 1 of this year had all the drama of a real-life nuptial.
“Our wedding was scheduled on 11PM but then we suddenly got disconnected,” Angelito remembers. “We had to find an internet café that was still open at the time. One owner was kind enough to give us a few minutes after I had to explain the urgency of our situation. So at around midnight, we finally got married with our friends and guild mates as our guests who were heckling, ‘DC! DC! DC!’ as in “disconnect.” Fortunately, there were no more disconnections.”
While they hope to have their own church wedding very soon, Angelito and Athena are building their lives as they continue to share the same interests. Who would have thought that playing an online game can result in a win-win situation for them? As the gaming couple found out for themselves, sometimes truth is not necessarily stranger than fiction.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Last November, I already posted one of the articles I wrote for this publication on the netbook phenomenon. Now that the latest auditions for the much anticipated new season of that acclaimed AXN reality competition show, The Amazing Race Asia has recently concluded, I thought it was the right time to post something I wrote about two of its previous participants.
This 2008 piece is actually the fourth feature story I have written on certain Amazing Race competitors since its first season. My first piece on The Amazing Race was the one on its Season 7 winners, Joyce and Uchenna, who I interviewed on the phone following their victory. I also profiled TARA 2's Vanessa Chong as well as the celebrated team of Marc Nelson and Rovilson Fernandez, who won the most pit stops that same season.
NOTHING SHORT OF AMAZING
Silver Age amazing racers Henry Chan and Ida Nerina prove that it’s never too late to go for gold.
By EDWIN P. SALLAN
IT was supposed to be the toughest race ever. The challenges among others included consuming large bowls of assorted fried bugs, frogs and scorpions; completely clean a dirty 22-seat passenger bus; fill a bucket full of water at the top of a mountain to a monk’s satisfaction; perform a bungee job from the top of Macau Tower; wash and clean a stinky live elephant; and move 10, yes 10, camels into their holding pen.
Those of us who are merely watching the top-rated reality competition series, AXN-Asia’s The Amazing Race Asia are convinced that such challenges are certainly not for everyone, much less for those who are already in their Silver Age. Well, Henry Chan and Ida Nerina, both in their swinging 40’s thought otherwise. Forming one half of two Malaysian teams, both Henry, a chef by profession and Ida, an actress slash producer slash director signed up for the show's third season and ultimately surprised both viewers and their younger competition alike with their very impressive showing in the race.
Breaking the age barrier
Ida agrees. “Uh, what's wrong with my age?” she protests half-jokingly in the same interview. “I mean, quite honestly, I’m in this industry that is so unforgiving about age that truth be known, I didn't even think of it. I saw it as a race and I want to race. That seems to be the only thing that I can imagine would prompt someone to fill out those lengthy application forms.”
With teammates who are also pushing 40 (Henry teamed up with sister Bernie, a well-known TV host in Malaysia while Ida’s partner and best friend, Tania, is a property developer there), both were not at all deterred by the physically and mentally tough nature of the race that took them on a grueling 11-week tour in Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, China, India and Oman. And they came prepared.
Ready to rumble
“Toughest race ever, they say? My teammate Bernie and I thought, ‘Bring it on’!” says Henry, who admitted to already being physically prepared even before joining The Amazing Race Asia 3. “I am a reasonably fit person anyway. I eat well and I exercise a lot. Prior to the race, I just upped the amount of cardio work I did at the gym. As for mental preparation, there wasn’t any at all. What you saw was us running on pure adrenaline!”
“I've been practicing yoga for the last seven years so I guess that helps,” Ida reveals. “It keeps you centered, you know. Mentally, I suppose Tania and I had agreed to just appreciate the fact that we're in the race and experience every emotion of the trials and tribulations that come with it, the pain or the pleasure. As for regimen, I just picked up my cardio and strength training after the audition just in case we were selected.”
Henry’s team was very competitive throughout the race, especially during the early stages. They were in fact considered by their rivals as the team to beat after winning two Pit Stops and placing second or third on three other occasions. They eventually got eliminated in Week 9, placing fifth overall. Ida’s team did better, lasting all the way to the final leg of the race before eventually settling for third place on what has turned out to be a rollercoaster ride punctuated by two Pit Stop victories and two last place finishes in, fortunately for them, non-elimination rounds.
Looking back, both Henry and Ida now marvel at how their participation in their favorite TV show has changed their dispositions in life.
An experience to remember
“The Amazing Race Asia was one of the most powerful experiences I have had in my life,” Henry beams. “Watching it now is like re-living a dream I once had.”
These days, both Henry and Ida are back to their usual routines. Henry says he will resume his food consultancy business while also currently writing and developing food and travel shows for Malaysian TV. Opening a restaurant in New York is also part of his future plans. Ida, on the other hand, has a few acting projects in the pipeline for next year.
With no signs of slowing down, the two are both one in saying that age should not dictate how you should live your life and it should never be a hindrance in the pursuit of one’s dreams.
“When you start living life worrying about so-called ‘age-related concerns’ you will naturally start making this a reality,” Henry points out. “My advice: 1) never think of yourself as old or middle aged but rather experienced and well lived; 2) have a go and try to do anything and everything that you’ve always wanted to do and 3) if anyone tells you you're too old or implies that you have to behave a certain way because of your age, tell them to shove off because you don't buy it!”
The effervescent Ida has a more tongue-in-cheek way of putting it: “You know what? We'll all get old and wrinkly but truth is, it's probably other people's perceptions of age that will age you. So let your hair down and if you don't have much hair, well, get extensions!”
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
LEVEL UP! GOES TURBO-CHARGED WITH NEW ONLINE RACING GAME
By EDWIN P. SALLAN
WITH no less than celebrated race car champion Gaby Dela Merced as its brand ambassador, Level Up! games recently launched the full commercial version of the latest evolution of what company executives now say is their “most played online game.”
Crazy Kart 2: Race Battle Online or simply CK2RBO picks up where the very popular Crazy Kart left off, this time with a slightly more serious racing look-and-feel that recalls gaming franchises like the Need For Speed series. Previously available in closed and open beta versions, the commercial version of CK2RBO features improved graphics, increased levels of difficulty and more action-packed gameplay, among other new features.
“With this full version, players can navigate across 5,000 kilometers of varying tracks with hair-raising twists and turns and more challenging maps,” says Jeff Paulino, Level-Up brand manager for Crazy Kart and CK2RBO. “There’s a boss chase battle, race-team formation and quest systems and a driver evolution systems.”
Paulino says the game’s launch also coincides with the introduction of a new Cyber Racing League scheduled for eight legs in eight SM CyberZone branches all over the country. “This tournament is open to all players from Baguio to Davao City where the best players from each SM CyberZone branch will get the chance to vie for a slot in Level Up! Live 2010, the prestigious online gaming event where they can also win cash prizes and the honor of being named the first ever CK2RBO Cyber Racing Champion,” he enthuses.
For her part, Dela Merced, who also became a household name after a memorable stint as a housemate in Pinoy Big Brother Celebrity Edition, admitted she was initially invited by Level Up! in casual gaming get togethers says accepting the company’s offer to be the game’s brand ambassador is a no-brainer.
“I have been playing motor sports video games since I was a kid for different gaming machines like the NES or the Family Computer, the Super NES and the PC Engine,” she fondly recalls. “Actually, you could say that racing games are my first driving lessons, at least that’s how I fell in love with cars and motor sports in general.”
Dela Merced says being part of CK2RBO is her “own personal way of encouraging Filipino gamers to live their dreams.”
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
THE BIG LOSER
By EDWIN P. SALLAN
Have you ever felt good in the company of a loser?
Well, if that “loser” happens to be motivational fitness expert Dave Nuku, then you have every reason to be, especially if you need to lose more than just a few pounds yourself.
The New Zealand-born Nuku, the celebrated Blue Team trainer of The Biggest Loser Asia, the popular weight loss reality TV series for the Hallmark Channel, is also the Regional Fitness Manager for Fitness First Asia. He was recently in town to launch the new Lose Big Program of Fitness First that he himself designed.
No stranger to television and movie productions, the Kuala Lumpur-based Nuku once worked as a personal trainer in his native hometown and has trained, among others, the entire cast and crew of the Lord of The Rings trilogy. Also the author of the book Bodyfirst, a step-by-step guide to fitness, nutrition and healthy living, he is an avid fitness enthusiast that regularly competes in local and international running events and as his enviable lean and mean frame suggests, feels at home at just about any gym he walks right into.
Talking about his experience in The Biggest Loser Asia, Nuku describes it as a “baptism of fire.” He admits that yes, he had to apply for the position of trainer and send his own audition video just like any of the other numerous aspirants. “Aside from the fact that yes, it is particularly challenging, I thought being part of the show with a successful format like this would be such a kick and a real thrill,” he exclaims.
When he got the gig, Nuku admitted to having felt the pressure to perform. “This is after all, a weekly reality show where people are accustomed to see visible results with every airing,” he points out.
Bringing his impressive but no mean feat in The Biggest Loser Asia to the Lose Big Programme of Fitness First, Nuku says the program actually follows a format similar to the show in the sense that it takes on two teams of eight for a total of 16 participants with a qualified trainer leading each group. Open to all Fitness First members and non-members, the intensive program and structure allow participants to achieve their weight loss objectives together with people who share their needs and motivations during a 13-week exercise and nutrition weight loss program.
“Most people who want to lose weight have the desire but not the exercise program appropriate to their weight class and needs which is why they do not lose the weight,” he points out. “This is where I and the Lose Big Program of Fitness First comes in, where needs are specifically addressed, ensuring not just a significant weight loss but also a healthy lifestyle.”
In citing a specific example, Nuku points to The Biggest Loser Asia’s Filipino runner-up and fan favorite, Carlo Miguel as an ideal role model. “Carlo, while not under my team is someone that I eventually became close to and remains in touch with,” he admits. “He is an inspiration and an amazing competitor with a superb attitude.”
To qualify for the Lose Big Programme, interested participants must have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 and above or a body fat of 35 percent and above. Rolled out in four phases, the program will test the participants’ courage, determination, maintenance of momentum, and finally, total control of one’s body and weight as each phase accomplished is a feat that will propel them to go further and push themselves beyond their limitations.
After 13 weeks, participants should have significantly lost the unwanted weight they used to carry, allowing them to now plan their own fitness regimen.
“Like the show, the Lose Big Programme should empower people to take control of their lives that allows them to physically and mentally adapt to the challenges it presents by never emphasizing the negatives and simply focusing on the positives,” Nuku stresses.
“Bottom line, I cannot make people want to lose weight. No one can. They have to have the desire and motivation to want to lose weight on their own themselves.”
Not bad for a “loser,” huh?
The Lose Big Programme is now available at selected Fitness First branches on a first-come, first-served basis.
Anyway, let’s pick up where we left off starting with a familiar pretty face that I featured for the i Section of the Manila Bulletin in 2007. At the time of my interview, Ruffa Gutierrez has been out of the local spotlight and was keeping herself busy in Turkey where was supposedly leading a blissful married life with then husband Yilmaz Bektas.
Since her “return,” Ruffa continues to make headlines with her much-publicized separation from Yilmaz, had a celebrated and acclaimed antagonist turn in the Philippine remake of I Love Betty La Fea, had a nice run as co-host of both Ruffa and Ai (with Ai Ai Delas Alas) and The Buzz that ended on a rather sour note with an ugly spat with Kris Aquino. She is now the latest prized acquisition of TV5 where she is not just one of the judges in the reality talent show, Talentadong Pinoy but also the main host of Paparazzi, a new showbiz talk show that airs on the same time slot as, yes, The Buzz.
At the time of our interview, Ruffa was promoting another reality competition series for RPN-9. the Philippines Next Top Model is actually a local version of the very popular America’s Next Top Model hosted and co-produced by Tyra Banks. The local series, however, failed to duplicate the success of its US counterpart and according to Wikipedia, actually ended earlier than expected.
Still, interviewing Ruffa while she was having her make-up for the photo shoot that followed was quite an experience. In more ways than one, she was a pretty interesting subject. Here’s a slightly revised version of that 2007 feature.
By EDWIN P. SALLAN
IT’S not a comeback, she insists.
The recent TV appearances, the shampoo commercial that was the subject of a controversy involving not her, but two of her other, uh, “co-stars” and now, no less than the coveted hosting job in the Philippines Next Top Model—not exactly the things that Ruffa Guttierez would consider as attempts at reclaiming her spotlight.
Given that Ruffa says that she was never gone to begin with, what’s to reclaim? “Although I had to take two years off from work to be with my family, I was always there naman,” she insists. “When I wasn’t busy as the president of our own TV station in Turkey that brought Fashion TV in that country, I was always supportive of my mom’s work here and my brothers who are very popular now.”
But now that Lorin and Venice, her two daughters from Turkish husband, Yilmaz Bektas is now 2 and 3 years of age respectively, Ruffa sought permission from Yilmaz to “continue doing the things I love doing.” So when Solar Entertainment approached her to do the glamorous reality competition series, it was simply a no-brainer for the effervescent actress, model and former beauty queen—still stunningly gorgeous and disarmingly endearing even with her oh, so familiar expression of “My God!” that often punctuates many of her sentences.
“I already have everything I could ever want. Anything else that the Lord could give me is just icing on the cake. But this is a project that both me and my husband believe in,” she enthuses. “I’ve always loved fashion and I’m a big fan of shows like Project Runway, America’s Next Top Model and its host Tyra Banks. I love Tyra so when the opportunity to host this was offered to me, I just couldn’t say no.”
All versions of the show follow the transformation of young women into potentially fierce supermodels as they vie for a coveted modeling contract—all under 24-hour-a day surveillance that follows their every move. Each week, one contestant is eliminated based on her previous performance and on the challenges presented on the show. Aside from weekly evaluations, the intensive training prepares the aspiring young models for the fast-paced and high-stress nature of the modeling world by looking good not just on fashion photo shoots but also on the ramp.
“In this show, we intend to turn the girl next door into the next fashion diva,” Ruffa exclaims. Like Big Brother and other similar shows, all finalists are cooped up in one roof and Ruffa knows what it’s like to be in that kind of pressure cooker. The one-time Binibining Pilipinas-World and Miss World Second Princess says in her experience, “girls do get jealous of one another, intrigues and catfights do happen.”
Ruffa cites her own experience in the Binibining Pilipinas pageant as an example. “I applied at the last minute, wearing only sneakers and polka dot t-shirt at about 11:50,” she recalls. “I made it before the 12 midnight deadline but half of the girls still walked out when I was accepted. Since then, I kept hearing things about how the pageant is “lukong makaw” or why an actress like me is allowed to join even though it’s not against the rules.”
“One time, there was this other contestant who wanted me to be disqualified because I left my room one night,” she continues. “What she didn’t know was that I asked for the organizers’ permission because I had to attend to something important and they allowed me to. Contrary to what the other contestants were thinking, I did not ask and was not given any VIP treatment there.”
Ruffa actually felt vindicated when she won Binibining Pilipinas-World instead of the “higher” Binibining Pilipinas-Universe because she thought it was a vindication that she was not given any preferential treatment in the pageant, She was also, not a lock to win the top prize as many had anticipated. “My fans were still upset about it at the time, though and threw tomatoes at the judges,” she quips.
That’s why she can relate to the finalists of the Philippines Next Top Model. As their supposed “mentor,” Ruffa says she’s here for them as “their big sister and their best friend.” Her personal interaction with the girls, however, is limited on camera as she was instructed by the American representatives of the Next Top Model franchise that she can’t speak to any of the contestants outside of the show.
“I still got attached to them just the same,” she admits. “During our first taping, I was teary-eyed when the first girl got eliminated. I really want all of them to win but I understand that this is a competition where there has to be winners and losers.”
As for learning new things, Ruffa says she is not at all averse to this and in fact treats every project that she was ever involved with as a learning experience. In the Philippines Next Top Model, she has so far learned a lot from “the best people in the fashion industry” that are involved in the show. “I take note of all the advice and comments of the judges to the girls as many of them are in fact something that I can apply to my own career,” she says.
For more of Ruffa Guttierrez, visit her official website at www.ruffagutierrez.com.