Wednesday, June 30, 2010

SM Megamall's Mega Atrium

REPOSTING a piece I wrote for the Lifestyle section of the Manila Bulletin late last year.

SM Malls continue to look upmarket with the Mega Atrium

It's a mall within a mall and nothing quite like the “mothership” that houses it.

Actually, the Mega Atrium is a new “lifestyle area” that literally bridges the gap between Mega A and B of SM Megamall. It certainly feels more like the nearby Podium than the very mainstream Megamall itself, though.

Characterized by upscale retail stores like Fred Perry, 5cm, Promod, Gap, Steve Madden, Lacoste Footwear and Zoo York, specialty shops like The Soap Factory, Belo Medical Group, Toni & Guy Essensuals and Little Ones Dental Clinic and dining options like Gumbo, Holy Cow, Amici, Gotti’s and Haagen Dazs, the Mega Atrium is envisioned to be a niche mall that also offers respite and relaxation with other value-added amenities like valet parking, concierge and lounge areas, a chapel of the Eucharistic Lords, services and, of course, free Wi-Fi connection.

Covering four levels and a total floor area of 16,000 square meters, the Mega Atrium is designed by a team that includes Arquitectonica, W.V. Coscolluela and Associates, Monolith Construction and Development Corporation and DA Abcede and Associates while architect Joey Amistoso is responsible for creating the fifth level’s chapel.

The decidedly upscale vibe of the Mega Atrium is more in line with what SM previously accomplished with The Block, a similar, upscale area in SM City North. It is also in step with Megamall’s other concept areas such as the Artwalk and Art Center and the equally sought-after Megatrade Hall.

In terms of general look and feel as well as shopping and dining options, however, the Mega Atrium is also comparable to the likes of the nearby Podium and Shangri-La Plaza.

With its neutral color scheme of beige and brown and a 425-square meter circular atrium surrounded by shops and restaurants, it is easy to get acclimated and immediately feel at home here, especially when you compare it to the usually crowded and, at times, claustrophobic ambiance of the rest of Megamall.

The Mega Atrium’s second level also has an entertainment area ideal for lounge performances that can also be reserved for certain events and launches. Prior to its launch, we have in fact attended several events here and we find the place to be very comfortable and with better than average acoustics.

At 330,000 square meters SM Megamall remains one of the world’s largest malls. The elegantly-designed Mega Atrium is a welcome addition as it offers 32 specialty restaurants, 21 fashion boutiques and11 jewelry stores and specialty shops in four exciting levels of upscale shopping and dining.

The Mega Atrium is located at the Bridgeway Area along Julia Vargas. It has its own lobby entrance and private elevator at the Mega Side B of the Megastrip.

MEGA Magazine's 10 Most Beautiful Women

Dubbed as the country’s best fashion magazine, MEGA recently celebrated Filipina women blessed with both beauty and grace as it recognizes that beauty is not only skin deep.

In their recent May, 2010 issue featuring singer Sarah Geronimo on the cover and still available on most newsstands, MEGA, a magazine that I have been fortunate to be a contributing writer in the distant past, reveals its annual 10 most beautiful women namely KC Concepcion, Agot Isidro, Maxene Magalona, Timi Gomez, Cris Albert, Mitzi Borromeo, Stephanie Kienle, Chicho Suarez, Joanne Zapanta-Andrada, and Stephanie Zubiri.

We’re all too familiar with movie and TV personalities KC, Agot and Maxene but what about the rest? Some of us know Joanne Zapanta-Andrada as a model and writer while the prominent family name of chef and model Stephanie Zubiri also rings a bell to many. And the others have also carved a niche for themselves in their respective social and career circles.

But more than what they do for a living, it is their social awareness that also made them qualified for MEGA’s most beautiful list. During the launch party of this special issue at Greenbelt 5, I was surprised to learn that each of these women are also actively involved in worthy causes.

Stephanie Zubiri is an active speaker for Dakila Artists Advocacy for Climate Change. KC Concepcion is actually a United Nations World Food Programme Ambassador. Entrepreneur Timi Gomez is a co-founder of Why Not? Forum.

FILA and TIVA CEO Cris Albert is a co-founder of Operation Compassion. Model, dancer and Philux General Manager Stephanie Kienle is an active member of the French Virlanie Foundation. Graphic artist Chicho Suarez is a supporter of the Victoria Court HIV Awareness Organization while Agot is also a supporter of the Philippine Animal Welfare Society.

And then there’s CafĂ© Scientifique coordinator Mitzi Borromeo who is also the founder of Creative Cross Border Productions. There is certainly more to these women than just their pretty faces.

It was former Beatle George Harrison who once said that “beauty lies from within” when he wrote his now immortal standard, Something. That’s certainly the case with these 10 Most Beautiful Women. Yes, there is something in the way they move.

Featuring the equally beautiful Sarah Geronimo on the cover, MEGA’s May 2010 issue also contains the much-anticipated Beauty Awards that showcases the best in hair, body, face, and makeup. Still on newsstands. 

TJ Manotoc

Here’s my good friend and fellow Mac user TJ Manotoc geeking out as he talks about everything Apple in a 2009 feature that I wrote for MAXIM magazine. Imagine what he’ll say if the iPad was already around then.

Photos taken from TJ's Facebook page. 


HERE’S big news, Studio 23’s News Central anchorman TJ Manotoc is making headlines himself as a veteran Mac user.

When and how did you become a Mac user?

If I am not mistaken, it was either 2000 or 2001 when I first got a Mac. And who are to blame? My Mac ninongs, Elbert Cuenca and Teddy Manotoc, who else? Elbert convinced me Mac was the way to go, how much easier it was. Then what tipped me over the edge was my cousin of Teddy Manotoc. For one he wanted to buy a new desktop set-up for himself, and second he urged me to finally bite the bullet. He even lent me money so we could avail of bigger group cash discount.

How many Macs and Apple products have you owned or still own since then?

I had that iBook for quite sometime. In fact, regrettably, I didn't really get to use it well enough for the first few years maybe due to the lack of wifi then. Then I scored a second hand 15-inch Powerbook during a trade-in at a sale. Boy was that heaven! Moving from a 12-inch iBook to a 15-inch powerbook was an even more amazing experience since it also had built in wifi. After the Powerbook, I got a Macbook Pro 1.8GHz then got another second hand 2.4GHz Macbook Pro which is currently what I’m using. I also bought another second hand Mac Mini for use at home and for my kids. I just paired it with some basic keyboard an mouse and a simple LCD monitor.

In 2003, I finally bought an iPod and have been constantly upgrading it from a white 40gb to a black 80gb iPod Video then to that a 16gb iPod Touch. I also got my wife an iPod shuffle and my son had a long slim nano, then eventually the “fatty” nano.

As for other Apple products, I do have an apple wireless keyboard and wireless might mouse that I use at home on my desk when I put up my MacBook Pro on a riser to see the screen at eye level. Then I added an Apple Airport Extreme base station to be my wifi router. And I also have an Apple TV since they launched its 2.0 software. It’s been a joy renting HD movies (even cheaper than taking the wife out to the mall for a movie), watching free podcasts, and viewing photo slide shows on our wide screen.

Then just last year I bit the bullet again after a long wait, I got the official release of the iPhone from Globe.

What is it about the Mac that fascinated you? Why not use a Windows-based PC instead?

Initially, it is the cool factor that gets you into the Mac, the gorgeous design and sleek look. Other than that, Macs are simply much easier to use, never crashes, never gets trojans or spyware, terrific built-in software like iTunes, iPhoto, Safari, iCal, Address Book and more. I used to have a PC as a desktop at home and it was a constant nightmare of hanging, slowing down and more than its fair share of virus here and there.

I'm one of those guys now who would really prefer to use a Mac if given a choice of what PC to use, even if it is on gorgeous piece of hardware like, say, the Sony Vaio line. But then again, to be fair, Windows 7 looks great. and I wouldn't mind using it if I need to.

What are your favorite Mac applications? What do they do?

There’s iTunes and iPhoto that offer simple and seamless ease of use with an iPod, or iPhone, the iTunes store, and with any camera. They’re just so idiot proof and fun to use. I also can’t wait for iLife '09 where I can tag faces on photos and arrange them by name.

For browsing I enjoy using both Safari and Firefox, very stable, has had tab browsing even before IE figured that out. Firefox also has a convenient “reopen all windows and tabs from last session” feature so I can shut down the browser to boost ram and not worry about the gazillion tabs I had open.

Third parties, there’s Simplify Media, Appzap, Whatsize and Visual Hub.

What other Mac or Apple products are you still lusting for? Do you also have a wish list of products you want Apple to make in the near future?

I am lusting for an HD Cinema display and a one terrabyte Time Capsule.

Of course I am hoping for Apple to continue to improve on the iPhone. I hope (but I know eventually they'll do this) they put in a nice pair of stereo speakers like what Motorola did years ago, have at least a 5 MP camera with flash, a front VGA cam for video calls, cut and paste and SMS forwarding.

I'd love to see a 15 inch Macbook Air with more juice and storage capacity with a smaller price tag, and to have a twisting screen tablet function. And I also want a new Apple TV that can also serve as an HD cable box where I can record live TV too and have rentals that don’t expire in 24 hours once you start watching. For me, 36 hours would be fair.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Colt 45 Vava-Vroom

WHO needs hi-tech gadgets and gizmos when the woman and vehicle of most men’s dreams are the ones up for grabs?

Colt 45, dubbed as "the strong beer for real men" is upping the testosterone ante further with its Vava-Vroom Real Man Promo that gives them a chance not just to drive home an attention-grabbing 4 x 4 truck by Ford but also enjoy a weekend getaway with the equally head-turning sexy actress, Cristine Reyes.

The “real man” who will be lucky enough to snag his dream wheels can also look forward to an unforgettable road experience with the ultra-tough features of the off-road vehicle that will be souped-up and customized by renowned 4x4 trend-setter Ramon To-Ong of 199 Off Road House. To-Ong has tweaked the vehicle in such a way that makes it ideal for our rough and rugged terrains along with oft-flooded and unpaved roads.

The equally lucky guy who will win the Boracay getaway with Cristine Reyes will be in for the experience of a lifetime as his weekend rendezvous with the sought after celebrity will also be documented by a camera crew.  Film clips and photos of the date with Reyes would surely give rhe winner some extra bragging rights to look forward to.

Joining the promo is surprisingly easy and very low-tech. Simply collect 10 Colt 45 silver crowns, enclose in an envelope with a piece of paper with your name, birth date, contact number, email address, home address and signature on it and drop it at any 2Go outlet. No mobile phone and internet connection required, how about that?

Entries may be dropped until September 15 with the draw to be held on September 30, 2010. As part of promoting the contest, Colt 45 is embarking on a roadshow in select bars and clubs in Dagupan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Laguna, Cavite, Naga, Legaspi and Cebu along with a motorcade in Manila starting in July that features the actual Ford 4x4 tough truck up for grabs.

Cristine Reyes herself will join the Manila motorcade and the Cebu and Dagupan roadshows while then treating the “real men” of Davao in a big Colt 45 concert there where she will jam with the country’s top bands.

To keep up with roadshow updates and other related developments, also check out the Facebook page of Colt 45 Vava-Vroom Promo featuring Cristine Reyes.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Jodi Sta. Maria-Lacson

Original draft of an article I wrote for the Manila Bulletin in 2007.

The occasionally badly drawn girl is one fine actress

SHE’S not bad. She’s just drawn that way—sometimes.

In at least two top-rated teleseryes in Kampanerang Kuba and Walang Kapalit, Jodi Sta. Maria-Lacson’s characters made life extremely difficult for lead stars Anne Curtis and Claudine Barretto. She was so effective in playing contravida that many fans of the shows found it hard to distinguish the actress from the character she’s playing.

“Maraming nainis because of my characters and I kinda expected that reaction when the roles were offered to me,” she admits. “But I wanted to try something different and they were such good roles so I just couldn’t pass up the opportunities.”

A member of ABS-CBN’s elite Star Magic stable of homegrown talents, the 25-year old actress has always taken the road less traveled as far as her choices of projects are concerned. A common trait that her characters, good or bad, shared, is that they were almost always headstrong, dating back to the tomboyish George in Tabing Ilog, her first major weekly drama series.

But far from the complexity of the characters she played, the real Jodi couldn’t be any more different. “Supersimple” is the word she uses to describe herself. “I’m not much into shoes, perfumes and clothes and I only buy when I need to. I wear what is usually asked of me during tapings and photo shoots. Kahit ano, basta okay naman, I’ll wear it. But after that, I just wear what’s comfortable like jeans, t-shirts, sneakers and slippers. I do have a few stilettos, though but that’s about it.”

Marriage and motherhood hasn’t changed her simple ways as well. “I don’t ask my husband to buy me fancy gifts,” she reveals. “For anniversaries and special occasions, we just go out and have dinner.”

Jodi admit's she is not big on cosmetics either as she looks naturally beautiful even without make-up. So when she was asked to endorse a new skin whitening regimen from Hype Skin Care, she was quite hesitant.

“I never tried any whitening product before as although hindi naman talaga ako maputi, I’m happy naman with my morena and tan complexion and I also have some concerns about possible allergic reactions,” she notes. “But Hype convinced me to first try their products out and I like that the results were visible after two to three weeks.”

It also doesn’t hurt Hype Gluta-C Whitening Soap and Hype Duo Lotion and Soap are in Jodi’s words “not sticky and easily absorbed by the skin.” These products which also contain Vitamin C and the powerful Glutathione anti-oxidant has maximum whitening and anti-aging properties while at the same time also providing adequate sun protection and much-needed moisturizing.

Small wonder why Jodi looks radiant and stress-free even as she now has her hands full despite her busy schedule that now includes a couple of modest business ventures. “We’re opening a salon soon,” she enthuses. “And I’ll soon be launching my own line of condiments. Oyster sauce, fish sauce, mayonnaise, hot sauce, tomato sauce, vinegar, name it, we hope to have it.”

Jodi is also excited about two independent films she recently completed. “One is called Maling Akala and it’s directed by Pablo Biglang-Awa and Ronnie Velasco. It’s about a girl who was abandoned by her boyfriend after he got her pregnant. When she went to the province, she met this very kind guy who took care of her and even pretended to be her husband. But there’s a twist to the story kasi the guy is not really who she thinks he is.”

“The other indie film is Nars by Adolfo Alex, Jr. and it also stars Jennilyn Mercado, Jon Avila and Coco Martin. It’s the story of our nurses, especially those who decide to stay here.”

Jodi admits that money is never an issue when it comes to her craft. “I’ve always loved performing,” she declares. “When I was a kid, I wanted to join Little Miss Philippines, madalas naming pag-awayan ng mommy ko yan. I was always active in extra curricular activities in school. I joined dance contests, singing contests, cheering competitions.”

That’s why doing indie films and even theater was a no-brainer for her. “You don’t get paid a lot for doing indies but I did it just the same because I want to experience working with people who are very passionate about their craft. Theater is a little different in the sense that you don’t get a second take if you forget your lines. In the case of Beauty and the Beast that I did for Repertory, we were rehearsing everyday.”

Jodi loves the business so much that she’s not averse to doing anything that would showcase her talents. “If I get an offer to perform in a play for Teatro Pilipino and the role is good, I don’t see why not?” she nods. “When I was in the US for a while, I got bored and felt worthless. I didn’t want to watch TFC because I’d cry and get depressed when I see my colleagues.”

Yes, performing becomes Jodi Sta. Maria-Lacson. And if the thought of seeing her play another menacing character would make many people’s blood boiling hot again, well, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

“I’m supposed to play another contravida role in an upcoming teleserye but my producers decided that I lie low doing these roles for now,” she says. “Masyadong tumatak yung Walang Kapalit sa isip ng tao.”

Like I said, she’s just drawn that way.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Red Dragon Farms

WHO doesn’t love success stories especially if it’s preceded by some kind of a major setback? Some people say things happen for a reason. When a door closes, a window opens.

Well, that’s exactly what happened to a veterinarian on his way to supposedly greener pastures in the land of opportunity except in his case, the opportunity knocked right where he already is.

Here’s one of the more inspiring news items that I wrote for the Infotech section of the Manila Bulletin last year. And yes, nice guys don’t always finish last.


MORE than 20 years ago, veterinarian Dr. Robert Lo was all set to migrate to the US. For reasons he could not understand to this day, the consul denied his visa application. “I was not even asked a single question,” he recalls. “And I thought I had all the necessary papers.”

It turns out that denial was a blessing in disguise. Dr. Lo went on to successfully head his own commercial livestock venture that is now one of the most successful in Central Luzon. And after more than 20 years of operation, Red Dragon Farms (RDF) has emerged as the winner of the Philippines edition of the ASEAN-wide IBM Business Reality Challenge as it bested over 100 small and medium-sized business ventures or SMB’s all over the country, including a formidable microfinancing company in the final round.

With 12 poultry grower farms across the region and a 2,000-sow level swine farm with their own respective feed mills plus a meat shop called Fresh Options that has over 58 stores all over Luzon including Metro Manila, RDF has done very well for itself despite being weak in the area of IT.
“Although we’ve been around for 20 years, we are still stuck with the same manual systems that ended up fragmenting our processes,” explained Dr. Robert Lo, founder, president and general manager, RDF. “Even as it has not adversely affected our success, our disparate ERP system often results in delays in the processing of documents. Sometimes, even check payments are delayed.”

The lack of networking and automation capabilities, among other IT challenges, is actually what tipped the balance in favor of RDF as far as IBM is concerned. As explained by Natalie Pia Azarcon, IBM Philippines Country Manager for ibm.dotcom, the whole point of the Business Reality Challenge is “to assist small and medium-sized businesses in improving productivity and profitability while reducing operation costs through the efficient use of information technology.”

Moreover, Azarcon said that compared to the other companies that participated in the challenge, it is RDF that best met IBM’s selection criteria as it also stands to benefit the most from the top prize that consists of IBM’s suite of free hardware, software and consulting services worth US$30,000 or about P1.47 million.

“Even with their phenomenal growth over the years, the IT side wasn’t emphasized,” Azarcon points out. “Imagine how much better they would have been if they had IT capabilities from the start. Now with the best IT company behind their back, RDF’s first enterprise-level should enable them to work faster and smarter than their competition, allowing them to get quick and accurate reports to improve management decision and have better systems management and controls for overall operational efficiency.”

For his part, a beaming Dr. Lo hopes that IBM can help them create a system that will not just only integrate the financial, administrative and people aspects of their overall operations but also help in the area of what he calls “business intelligence.” “We hope to be able to forecast good locations, popular products and deal with volatile prices in the market if we can set up good business intelligence for our company.” he says.

When asked if he still has plans of migrating to the US after his company had just won the IBM Business Reality Challenge, Dr. Lo can only sheepishly smile and shake his head. It looks like Red Dragon Farms will be around for at least another 20 years.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

LeSportsac's Artist In Residence Collection

REPOSTING recent article for the Fashion section of the Manila Bulletin.


Since its founding in 1974, LeSportsac, the iconic American brand with a strange French name, has been a sought-after name in bags and accessories. Characterized by nylon parachute material and colorful prints, LeSportsac has also, over the years, been associated with trendsetters as diverse as Stella McCartney, Jonathan Adler, Diane von Furstenberg, tokidoki and even Gwen Stefani.

So it probably comes as no surprise that the brand’s Artist In Residence series is also one of its most anticipated collections. Previous Artists In Residence collections, like the cute and cuddly line of Fifi Lapin (dubbed by Elle magazine as “the world’s most stylish bunny”) as well as the Paint Splash, Gingham and Numbers trademark of Japanese-American artist Tomokazu Matsuyama, have been very popular among LeSportsac fans.

Hot on the heels of these bestselling designs are the boldly colorful and intricately detailed magical worlds of Zurich-based, London-schooled designer and illustrator, Katharina Leuzinger, the latest Artist In Residence of LeSportsac for Spring 2010.

“Leuzinger’s blend of fancy and organized structure evokes an instantaneous emotional response of pure happiness that organically allows her work to tell its own stories and the prints she created for LeSportsac are no exception,” says Richard Ashcroft, sales director of LeSportsac, who was recently in town to promote the latest collection.

In further describing Leuzinger’s work, Ashcroft pointed us to two distinct sub-collections in this particular series. In the House Boat line, octopuses rule, multiple rainbows abound, and whales beckon with smiles. On the other end is Snackville, a place where snack time and home are given their due as it also tells the story of mustached houses and bunny abodes.

“I like things with spirit and soul, most of what I do will have some sort of character design involved,” Leuzinger herself confesses in an earlier interview. “So the houses as inanimate objects became a collection of different characters interacting with each other. I wanted to make something joyful and bright, which would distract you to happy thoughts when you sit in the train on a cold and gray morning.”

Katharina Leuzinger
When asked what’s the best thing about her work with LeSportsac, Leuzinger enthuses: “My favorites are the more geometric house characters. I love the fact that they’re not all very obvious ‘characters’. Elements such as the windows could be seen as eyes. It’s exciting to imagine a face or personality in something that might not be perceived as such by somebody else. It’s like seeing animals in the clouds and it’s quite personal.”

Ashcroft says the prints are available in nine new styles created exclusively for the Artist in Residence Collection. “The new and first ever accessories for the collection, the Play Case Cosmetic, gives consumers a chance to have pieces of highly adorable and completely packable art,” he further elaborates. “Shaped like one of houses featured in the Snackville print, the House Pouch is also a wholly unique part of the collection. Additionally, the introduction of the Mini Scout About Messenger, and the Girl Talk Hobo offer options for fashionable and fun every day bags, while the Double Trouble Tote are available for carry all and easy travel. Completing the collection is a seriously functional backpack, the Rascal Rucksack.”

When asked about the criteria for selecting artists for its Artist In Residence, Ashcroft says that LeSportsac is always open to collaborating with artists that best complements the brand’s fashion-forward and trendsetting image. He also conceded that he is impressed with our own artists and designers here that it’s not inconceivable to have a Filipino Artist In Residence sometime in the future.

For her part, Leuzinger says she was very pleased with her own collaboration experience with LeSportsac.

“Previously I thought of LeSportsac as a brand with ‘classic essentials’ and wasn’t so aware of their collaborations with artists and designers,” she admits. “The collaboration process itself was very enjoyable, as my artwork and working process have been treated with utmost respect which I really value in a partnership like this. We discussed ideas and color palettes, but in essence I was given complete creative freedom, which was fantastic.”

The Artist In Residence collection of LeSportsac is exclusively available at Rustans Makati and Rustans Shangrila.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Atom Henares

IF you’ll believe everything Atom Henares tells you, then good things do have a way of landing into some people’s laps. At least that’s the impression he initially gave me when I interviewed him in 2008 for the Male Icon section of MAXIM Philippines magazine.

Of course, the truth is, any amount of success has to involve a fair share of hard work as well and the man forever associated with rock station NU 107FM is no exception.

Well, he may be a lot of other things to other people but for me, Atom Henares ranks among the most intriguing personalities I’ve ever had the privilege of doing a feature profile on.

And he is probably a hell of a loving dad for son Quark and daughter Cristalle, too. With Father’s Day coming up, I guess there’s no better time as any to repost this slightly revised version of that 2008 MAXIM magazine feature.

Photos taken from Atom Henares’ Facebook page. 

Interview by EDWIN P. SALLAN

NU 107 main man ATOM Henares on the benefits of being guilty by association and how to accomplish so much in life without really trying.

Is Atom really your real first name? What inspired your folks to give you that name or nickname, whatever the case may be?

The A is from Alfredo and the tom is from Tomas, the names of my great grandfather and grandfather on my mother's side. People call me Atom Bomb for short but the bomb is usually spelled B-U-M. That’s because when people ask me what I do, I usually say "as little as possible!” When people tell me to grow up, I ask them, “why would I want to do that?” My son Quark got his name because quarks are particles smaller than atoms.

Most people equate you with NU 107 in particular and rock music in general. How do you feel about that? Do you actually have other endeavors that people are not aware of?

I'm a Harvard MBA so I do have a grown-up side to me. I'm actively involved in the investment and management of a large palm oil plantation in Mindanao, power plants and electric utilities in the Visayas, a paper company and real estate projects including Serendra and Market Market in the Fort.

I have to say all of that because when I tell people that I work with NU 107 they say “Really? Why don’t you go out and find a real job?”

But truthfully people are much more interested in NU 107 and UNTV, our TV station than in my other businesses. UNTV is programmed for news and public affairs during the day and Ang Dating Daan, religious programming at night.

When people ask how I got associated with Ang Dating Daan, I say that we have an ex-deal arrangement. I give them airtime and they promise to make sure that I go to heaven. Do you want to come with me?

Have you always been a big fan of rock music? Growing up, what were your favorite songs? Albums?

Rock rules and some of my favorites growing up were: The Beatles’ “In My Life,” the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and Chicago Transit Authority’s “Make Me Smile.” I am also a big fan of the Police, U2 and Aerosmith, as well as our very own Juan dela Cruz band, especially their song, “Himig Natin.” The Dawn’s “Salamat” and Eraserheads “Ang Huling El Bimbo” are also favorites. These are bands who made a major contribution to the local music scene.

When you first started NU 107, did you ever think it would become the institution that it is now?

NU 107 is built on my love and passion for rock music. We have been around with the same format for over 20 years. That’s longer than any other station on the airwaves today. And we still sound as fresh today as we did in 1988. As you know, our staff includes major rock artists who eat, live, play and even dream rock music.

But I think our biggest contribution to our community is that we have given Philippine rock artists a broadcast platform to showcase their music 24/7. We support them by producing live events and we honor and celebrate them annually at the NU 107 Rock Awards that is also televised.

Your siblings Ronnie and Juno were once part of in the entertainment industry. Ronnie is still a formidable talent manager who was once a matinee idol in the 70’s and was even a leading man of Ate Vi, now the governor of Batangas. What’s it like being surrounded by all that celebrity?

Despite my unique name and accomplishments I’ve always been known in relation to someone else. First I was the son of Larry Henares, the writer, nationalist and Cabinet Secretary to President Diosdado Macapagal. Then I was the brother of Ronnie, the singer, actor and matinee idol or of Juno the Repertory Stage Actress. Eventually, I was known as the husband of Vicki Belo, beauty consultant for the stars, and since she has become even more famous, now as the Ex of Vicki Belo. Finally, and proudly, I am known in relation to my kids Quark and Cristalle, both of whom grew up so well. . . despite their parents.

What were the perks of having a popular movie star for a brother, aside from those lovely adoring fans, of course? Given your physical resemblance, have you ever been mistaken for Ronnie?

I was actually Ronnie’s manager and the money I earned from that paid for my vices at college. It’s really fortunate for me that Ronnie and I look alike. Because when I do something scandalous they attribute it to him. A long time ago I went to Boracay with a Spanish girl who went totally naked on the beach. Three weeks later Ronnie’s wife complained to me that Filipinos are so malisyoso because someone told her that Ronnie was in Bora with a good looking naked foreigner in the beach, when in fact she was with him in Manila at that time. Hindi ko inamin!

One of the highlights of the annual NU 107 Rock Awards is seeing you on stage presenting with some of the sexiest women of the season. Do you have any particular favorites among those women? Any favorite moments?

Rosanna Roces taking her top off on stage was a defining moment for the Rock Awards. You have to remember that there is a lot of intermingling between the rock, indie film and the experimental art scenes. The scene is very young, vibrant and passionate.

Beautiful and sexy stars and celebrities attend and participate in the Rock Awards because many of them are either directly involved in the scene or indirectly connected or supportive of it.

Your son Quark is a celebrated rock musician, a filmmaker and from what we've heard, a babe-magnet like his old man. What advice do you give him when it comes to dealing with women?

I am a big fan of both Quark and my daughter Cristalle, who is the Managing Director of Belo Essentials. In a parent-teachers meeting at Montessori sometime ago, the teachers were so impressed with how smart, hardworking and fun they were. Then the teachers looked at Vicki and I back then and said at each other “some parents really don’t deserve such wonderful children.”

Quark was in the Ateneo honor section in high school, won a Palanca Award for Literature in College and is now an accomplished movie, television and TV commercial director. But Quark and I have the same limitations with women. We are both too gentlemanly. And on top of that Quark is a really nice, decent guy.

As for advice regarding women I think that the Nike ad really nailed it on the head with the phrase “Just Do It!”

You're one of the few estranged husbands we know who remains in very good terms with his ex-wife. How would you describe your relationship with Dr. Belo now?

When women tell me what a great ex-husband I am, I usually agree and say that means that you have to first marry me and then divorce me before I am nice to you. Seriously, Vicki and I have gone through so much together in our earlier years, when we were both still starting our lives and careers. And then there are Quark and Cristalle. Those are bonds you can not replace. We are very supportive of each other.

We won't ask you how old you are but whatever the answer is, were willing to bet that you actually look much younger than your actual age. Do we have Vicki Belo to thank for that?

Vicki is one of the best and most respected dermatologists in Asia. She single-handedly created the beauty industry in the Philippines and is often asked to give talks and lectures in international dermatological conventions. To answer your question: Only Belo Touches My Skin!

Final question, is it great to be Atom Henares? Or would you rather be someone else?

My life has and continues to amaze me. At Harvard, I was the classmate of greats like Meg Whitman, former co-founder and President of Ebay, and Elaine Chow, now U.S. Secretary of Labor. But I was also the classmate of Jeff Skilling, the disgraced President of Enron who is now serving a jail sentence.

I have witnessed and participated in historical and economic events that helped shaped our country. And I have dealt and befriended influential and interesting personalities from Presidents of the Republic to rock stars to celebrity strippers.

I have amazing friends and a wonderful family.

And every so often I ask myself how I got so lucky and wonder what I did to deserve my good fortune. And ultimately I ask myself when I can again become Atom Bum...and respond to the question what do you do by answering as “as little as possible!”

Florsheim Shoes

SINCE Father’s Day is just around the corner, I thought I’d commemorate it by posting a piece that I wrote for the Manila Bulletin in 2007 about a shoe brand favored by our old men. With a long and rich history of crafting some of the most sought after traditional dress shoes and loafers in the market, very few can hold a candle to the created that Milton Florsheim named after himself.

And if the latest models are any indication, Papa is not the only rolling stone. Men of all ages can have their Florsheim kicks as well.


SINCE it was established by Milton Florsheim way back in 1892, the Florsheim brand of boots, loafers and wingtips have outfitted generations of American boys and men for school, work, weddings and funerals.

But even as Florsheims are now sold in more than 50 countries across the globe, the traditional image of the brand has remained largely unchanged—for better and for worse. Not anymore. Addressing criticisms of “outdated styling” while at the same time realizing the existence of much “hipper competition,” Florsheim’s latest collections aim to show that it remains relevant in the new millennium. Thomas Florsheim, Jr., great grandson of Milton Florsheim himself admits as much during a recent interview with the New York Times.

“We know what people think when they think of us. They think of wing tips, the capped toe, the really brogue shoes and that we had gotten to a point where we were very stodgy,” the younger Florsheim says. “But we’re moving the needle in terms of style.”

“They’re not quite your father’s shoes anymore,” echoes John Plummer, President of Florsheim Asia Pacific, who was in town for the opening of the latest Florsheim concept store in TriNoma. “If you look around our store now, you’ll see that brand has moved with the times, in line with the market trends. It has moved from a brand designed for the corporate person to a brand designed for all occasions.”

Plummer says Florsheim now has a good number of shoes that you can wear with jeans and chinos, such as the increasingly popular Comfortech line. These are shoes that feature Florsheim’s patented cushioned footbed technology where “comfort features are built into the shoes.” These light Comfortech shoes also boasts of the Sofred System with Toe Off, Weight Transfer and Air Flow shock resistant zones designed to reduce leg and back fatigue.

“They’re high density insoles that bounce back for maximum comfort,” says Plummer. “And if you remove the insoles, you also got a shoe that’s ready for an orthotic, that thing that replaces the footbed for a better, more comfortable fit. Not too many shoes in the market serve that kind of dual purpose.”

The new, modern day Florsheims are also characterized by contemporary styles made from a wide variety of materials and colors including rubber soles cow, calf, goat, elk, suede and nubuck leather. Plummer says much of Florsheim’s new designs and innovations in recent years have successfully expanded their target market. “Over the years, we’ve managed to expand our demographics from the 35 to 60 years old bracket around 20 years ago to the 20 to 60 year old bracket that we have today,” he points out.

The current Comfortech line include penny loafer types (i.e. Wayne), casual slip-ons (i.e. Connelly, Hutton), boat shoes (i.e. Lockwood) and more. Outside of Comfortech, the classic dress shoes (i.e. Lyndon, Lexington, Berkeley) that defined the Florsheim brand are still very much available. It also has its Imperial line of classic wingtips (i.e. Florence), capped toes (i.e. Lawrence), brogues (i.e. Kenmoor) and moccasins (i.e. Lombard).

Aside from the footwear themselves, Florsheim stores also carry a complete line of shoe care products from dubbins to shoe creams which Plummer says are part of a specialized shoe care program designed for specific models made of specific materials.

Plummer is proud of the fact that Florsheim also has a very strong market here in the Philippines with sales that “would compare favorably with the rest of the world.” Florsheim’s TriNoma store is the 13th in the country for the last 15 years.

“Even as we tend to move away from making traditional footwear, our still popular dress shoes will always be a part of what Florsheim is all about” says Plummer. “Florsheim continues to evolve. We really haven’t done anything revolutionary, it’s all evolutionary. I guess more than our adherence to market forces, a big reason why we’re still around is because of our uncompromising drive to maintain high quality standards.”

Florsheim shoes are exclusively distributed by Retail Specialists, Inc. and are available at Florsheim concept stores in Shangrila Plaza, Gateway, Robinson’s Galleria, TriNoma, Glorietta, Powerplant Mall, Festival Mall, Alabang Town Center, SM Mall of Asia, Ayala Center Cebu, SM Davao and SM Cagayan De Oro. Also, visit Florsheim's official site here.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Online Poker

HERE is a sidebar to an article I wrote about a recent Asian Poker Tour tournament that I covered for Billionaire magazine, published by the same group that publishes the automotive trade publication, C! magazine.

Since a lot of people seem to be into poker these days, I thought this sidebar itself can stand on its own merits. I am not much of a poker person myself but let's just say that after this assignment, I did learn a thing or two about the game.

And yes, I have been practicing. Read on.


IT’S not just a virtual game.

Yes, the rules are pretty much the same but playing poker online, whether only for fun in Facebook or for real money in online sites like is a different kind of experience altogether.

Since you’re not actually playing in a casino or a specialized venue like the Metro Card Club in Metrowalk, Pasig, there are no poker faces and body language to observe. Among other disadvantages, there is no way of knowing if you are even playing a human opponent or the same human players logging in under different account names in the same table.

But many of the estimated two million players playing online poker daily on over 300 websites (according to swear that the advantages far outweighs its disadvantages, the most obvious of which is that it will make you a sharper poker player, whether you’re playing online or off.

Janice Jade Triste admits to regularly playing poker online from her own home. Her stunning runner-up finish in the recently concluded FPT Anniversary Tour is obvious proof that well, practice makes perfect. A few more reasons why.

Online poker is safe and fair. Most online poker sites are regarded as safe for the simple reason that by ensuring fair games, they stand to benefit and earn more from the rake that allows for bigger bankrolls and higher limits. Sites that do develop a reputation from cheating incidents are not likely to further attract more players and yes, online traffic from thereon.

Play more hands. Because cards needed to be collected, shuffled, and dealt after every hand, the average rate of play in a table is only around thirty hands per hour in traditional poker. Online, dealing and shuffling are instantaneous and thanks to what is called as “auto action” online poker tables average between ninety to one hundred hands per hour.

Play more tables. You can’t be at two places at the same time in the real world. In the virtual world of online poker, you can play in as rooms as you can. Depending on the site and the player's ability to make speedy decisions, a player can play several tables at the same time, viewing them each in a separate window on the computer display. If you’re playing for money, that can also translate to more winnings than real world poker.

Take a break anytime.  Enter and leave a table as you please, cut your losses and take a deep breath and try to catch your second wind, something you can’t do in real world poker. Online, you don’t just live to fight for another day, you also save on the usually expensive food and beverage that you’ll consume in casinos and yes, you don’t need to tip or give balato to the dealer and other employees on a winning day.

Players have similar habits. While you can’t see the eyes of your opponents or how he or she reacts to his starting hand and subsequent flop, you can still observe their hand selection tendencies as well as betting and raising patterns. For example, a player who raises instantly may not necessarily have a strong hand but may be only trying to bluff you while one who takes time to call your bet is likely to have a strong hand.

Get to know fellow players. Most online poker sites include forums and virtual communities where both novices and expert players alike can share their playing experiences as well as those all-important tips on how to become better players. Even when not playing, anyone who’s serious about the game stands to benefit from simply hanging out at these virtual communities.

Bangs Garcia

LET’S welcome this long weekend with a bang. Okay, make that a big bang or simply Bangs to be more specific. This year, I have been very fortunate to be invited to contribute articles to the long-running woman’s magazine, Woman Today including pieces on relationships and yes, a couple of cover feature stories so far.

One of those cover stories involved the much sought after actress, Bangs Garcia, who is now showcased in one teleserye after another. She has quite a story to tell, as the feature below will reveal.

Photos taken from Bangs Garcia's Facebook pages.


IN the new and popular teleserye, Rubi, lead star Angelica Panganiban is being promoted as “ang nag-iisang bida kontrabida” (the one and only heroine slash villainess) in reference to her role.

Well, it’s a title that might as well be given to Bangs Garcia, Angelica’s fellow ABS-CBN talent. One of the hottest names in the industry today, the much sought after cover girl is a lot more than just a pretty face and a drop dead gorgeous bod as she deftly switches from lead to character roles with nary an effort.

Whether it’s the mysterious punk rocker Bangs in the sitcoms, Let’s Go and Gokada Go or the sexy Neptune agent in Palos or the scheming stepsister in Kambal Sa Uma or the unrequited and suffering lover in both Katorse and My Cheating Heart or even her current starring role as the self-sacrificing and hardworking Carmela in Magkano Ang Iyong Dangal?, the 21-year old doe-eyed morena never fails to come up with performances that like her name, leaves us with a big bang.

Originally known by her real name, Valerie Garcia, Bangs (yes, she got her current stage name from those sitcoms) was already a local ABS-CBN talent in her hometown of Davao City long before she got acquainted with the rest of us. Even though she was still a nursing student at the time in Ateneo De Davao, she was also the host of variety show, Kapamilya Sabado Party that was telecast all over Mindanao and also aired on ABS-CBN’s The Filipino Channel overseas.

“My parents wanted me to take up nursing,” she recalls. “But I actually wanted to take up marketing or any other business course at the time. In my school years, I was a member of our theater group, doing singing and acting and I was also a member of our dance club. I was also a runner-up in a Ms. Freshman campus beauty pageant at Ateneo and prior to my local hosting stint, I won in a Mindanao-wide talent search called Campus Idols.”

Not that all of those extra-curricular activites meant Bangs was a slouch when it comes to academics. A consistent honor student since she was 6, she nonetheless had a hard time fitting in during high school when a group of what she describes as “mean girls” tormented her for much of her four years there. “I was really small and those mean girls were big and one of them was my classmate so it wasn’t easy for me and my self-esteem was at a low point at the time,” she laments. “Everytime I go to school, I felt like nasasakal ako so I had to go outside and I was so emotional pa naman and get affected so easily. That was the time I started to participate in those extra-curricular activities, mostly involving entertainment.”

Thinking outside the box turned out to be quite a blessing in disguise for Bangs. Turns out a major sponsor of the Campus Idols she won was Close-Up. That eventually led to her big break on a national level as one of the finalists in that Close-Up To Fame reality search.

“I made it to the grand finals,” she beams. “What’s great about that search is that the four or five finalists who made it to grand finals were actually from Davao. Ang gagaling ng mga taga-Davao.” Bangs ultimately finished as runner-up in that reality search but that’s only because she wasn’t aware that she needs to heavily promote herself to get those all-important text votes that ultimately swung the tide in favor of the eventual winner.

Her Close-Up To Fame stint also led to an important chapter in her life as she was required to be in Metro Manila for the contest’s three-month duration. “It was the first time for me to be away from my family for such an extended period of time,” she fondly remembers. “I wasn’t allowed to bring any family member with me and I was just living with my fellow candidates. That’s when I learned how to be independent. Handling money, handling myself, being disciplined. I learned a lot.”

And because the search itself was called Close-Up To Fame, more fame followed afterwards for Bangs. She won another pageant, Miss Philippines Youth 2006 and landed her first sitcom gig in the GMA Network as Cindy Kurleto’s best friend in the Vic Sotto-headlined, Da De Di Do Du.

“I then auditioned for two more shows in ABS-CBN, Pinoy Big Brother Teen Edition and Let’s Go but in the end, I chose to be in a regular show rather than compete in another competition,” she rationales. “And that’s when I became known as Bangs. The show was surprisingly a hit and people identified me so much with the character that well, eventually everyone started calling me Bangs and the name stuck.”

But even as she was maintaining a sweet and wholesome image, her sensual side did not escape notice. “Even while I was still in Let’s Go, I have already been offered to pose for both FHM and MAXIM but it wasn’t until I was given a daring role in Palos that I finally agreed,” she muses smilingly. “That was the time when I got my first kissing scene and unti-unti na kong tinatanggalan ng damit. But I only agreed to up to wearing a two-piece swimsuit.”

As the intriguingly named Sylvia Nazi (wotta name!), Bangs was an undercover agent and ex-girlfriend of Palos who continued to carry a torch for her former squeeze. “In Palos, people already thought I was a bad girl but I really wasn’t although my character was quite fiesty,” she says. “I guess that eventually led to my bad girl role in Kambal Sa Uma, which turned out to be a really big hit. That was a very challenging role for me but I enjoyed doing it.”

To her surprise, people didn’t actually hate her, at least not in the way they reacted negatively in public to other kontrabida actresses. “Walang nang-away sa kin, actually,” she quips. “I’m glad that people were more open-minded. In the internet, people hated my character but in person, they still adored me. I guess, people were able to distinguish my character and my person.”

In Magkano Ang Iyong Dangal?, Bangs landed the coveted role of Carmela originally offered to both Kris Aquino and Roxanne Guinoo. Describing her character as “someone who is more like me in real life,” how Bangs was able to relate to the role on a personal level is also the same reason why she is so effective in her portrayal.

Judging from the public reaction to the komiks-adapted teleserye, it seems like Bangs is now ready for prime time. But even as she has her sights set on her own starring role in the big screen. With a smooth-sailing path to success, it seems that her lovelife is taking a backseat in the process, something she herself doesn’t deny as she admits to not really seeing anybody right now.

“My immediate family is my priority,” she stresses. “We used to have a leather goods business that closed down so I helped my Dad, who is an engineer, get back on his feet. With my support, he was able to go back to Saudi Arabia where he’s working again. I’m really happy for him.”

As for that other or next man in her life? “Whoever he is, he should be smart. He should be a good conversationalist kasi madaldal ako para makasabay sya sa kin. Looks are really only secondary to me. I’m okay with someone who is not necessarily good-looking but he should at least be presentable enough in terms of how he carries himself, with the clothes he wear and of course, kailangan mabango. But that aside, it’s really his personality that counts the most.”

Balance Lifestyle Fitness Club

YOU know, I was never a big fan of the gym which explains why I can only dream of having a six-pack abs without actually making an effort to achieve it. Anyway, back in 2007, I was offered to test drive a newly-opened gym at Discovery Suites in Ortigas Centre called Balance Lifestyle Fitness Club for not just a one or two sessions but for an entire three-month period.

Yes, it was certainly one of those offers nobody can refuse. And yes, while much of it was hard work, for the most part I literally worked out a lot of sweat with my limited membership. Details? Well, everything you need to know about Balance is right here on this 2007 feature on Discovery Suites’ best-kept secret for the Manila Bulletin. Read on.


BALANCING a busy work schedule with the need to stay fit and healthy is never an easy thing. It certainly does not help if you’re going to a crowded gym where you’re supposed to lose calories but end up losing precious time instead.

That’s exactly what happens in most fitness club franchises that have been mushrooming like fast food restaurants in recent years. While it’s also true that a full house gym provides a somewhat competitive environment that is conducive to raising needed adrenaline levels as well as promote camaraderie among its regulars, the time spent waiting for your turn to use the treadmill as well as other gym equipment can often bring your energy level down and break whatever momentum you got going with your workout routine—not to mention the specter of missing an important appointment or two as a result.

Well, for those who are or are still on the lookout for a much better gym experience with conditions and programs that are also seem to be tailor-made for their hectic schedule, there’s a new lifestyle fitness club worth trying out. Located at the Discovery Centre of the Discovery Suites, Balance Lifestyle Fitness Club, as its name suggests, is what its Fitness Manager Ramon Rivera describes is about “the introduction or injection of stability, of control and equilibrium into the lives of our members.”

“Balance is for those who are willing to pay a premium for exclusivity, service and not having to cue up or be time-constrained on the use of a treadmill or other cardiac machines due to overcrowding,” he continues. “It is for those who opt to use the Jacuzzi, Steam Bath or Sauna after working out, and avail of hotel-grade amenities that also include clean locker rooms and Marks and Spencer toiletries. It is for those who’d also like to add, for example, 30 yards to one’s golf drive, or being able to hit a badminton smash with telling force, and not wake up with muscle soreness the next morning.”

Because of its premium rates, Balance is obviously not for everyone. But this also explains why this fitness club is never crowded at any given time. It’s not that its membership rates, which Rivera would not discuss on record, are too prohibitive for comfort, it’s just that as I personally found out during my trial workout at Balance that those who prefer to pinch their pennies for gyms that they think are adequate enough for their needs will ultimately pay the price of being inconvenienced in so many other ways.

With a pretty busy schedule myself, one membership privilege of Balance that I for one, very much appreciate, is that I can go directly to this gym without bringing any gym gear, except an athletic supporter when I need to lift heavy weights and maybe an extra pair of socks. Clean workout t-shirts, shorts and shoes (and not just any shoes, mind you, but the latest Nike Air Max and Air Pegasus varieties) are provided to those who don’t like to carry gym bags. For purposes of personal hygiene, it is still advisable to use your own workout wear but I think the availability of these gym gear is still a nice touch and certainly a big thumbs up for those who like to tone their body fat and lose calories right away after a hard day’s work.

Another thing that stands out at Balance is its state-of-the-art gym equipment made by Life Fitness, the leading manufacturer of commercial treadmill and other industrial-strength cardio, strength-training, and group exercise fitness equipment worldwide. “The choice in favor of Life Fitness brand is that they are better products, is aesthetically-pleasing and easily conforms to the theme of the Club,” Rivera notes. “The Signature Series, which has multi-lingual capability, also has an easy-to-use interactive screen monitor that is both cable and FM Radio-ready.”

Walking and running on a treadmill for 20 to 30 minutes can be a tedious affair for the uninitiated. It can be a lot less tiring when you can watch your favorite cable channel or listen to your favorite radio station right from within a Life Fitness cardio machine itself as I usually do when I do my cardio workouts here.

Other key privileges of Balance include a variety of group classes every morning including Taebo, Pilates and Yoga. There’s the calorie-busting spinning class (studio cycling) held every Monday and Thursday that I now look forward to despite its rather punishing pace because working out a big sweat is a lot more fun when it is set to the music of Blondie and Coldplay, among others.

“We also have free Wi-Fi connection for those who prefer to jog while using their internet-ready laptops and mobile units,” Rivera continues. “We also give a 10 percent discount on every Terra Wellness Spa treatment, two-hour complimentary valet parking per day at Discovery Suites, six Elite Passes for workout that you can give away and 10 percent discount on room rates and F & B outlets at both Discovery Suites here and Country Suites in Tagaytay.”

The workout programs itself are based on your weight and physical structure. My Lifestyle Coaches Dior and Izel designed a strength-conditioning program for me that placed emphasis on adding strength to my arms and legs. Among my exercises include Chest Press, Shoulder Press, Seated Leg Press, Back Extension and Abdominal Training along with some dumbbell lifting for good measure.

The weights that I lifted weren’t really heavy by gym rat standards but I guess the program is working so far as I recently did fairly well in a small billiards tournament that I was invited to participate. I’m usually not very good at any sport to begin with and I only signed up to, well, “do as the Romans do” but the additional strength almost carried me to the tourney’s semifinal round.

Of course that doesn’t mean that I’ll start to engage in another sport where I expect to do miraculously well. But Balance has done a good job of making me feel good about myself and be more conscious about my health and fitness—and without compromising my schedule, too. Whether it does the same for you is something you should consider finding out for yourself.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Return Of The Killer Arcade Games

BACK in the middle of this decade, between 2005 to 2006 to be more specific, I was a regular contributor for the now defunct GamesMaster, then the best gaming magazine in the country. It was actually the Phillippine edition of a franchise that originated in the UK. Although I was also contributing to other publications, I had a lot of fun with this particular gig as it allows me to enjoy my passion for videogames while making money out of playing them. Let’s just say that it does give a special meaning to work and play.

Aside from reviewing games, of course, I also got a chance to write for GamesMaster’s other sections, notably RetroActive, where classic videogames are revisited and Game Over, the last page editorial on anything gaming-related, mostly something to wax nostalgic about.

Here’s a slightly updated version of what I wrote for the magazine’s Game Over section back in 2005. What do you know? It’s still relevant after all these years.


THEY’RE back.

Easy to learn and often hard to master, arcade games are short and sweet videogames that have no saved states, no extra lives and no second chances. It’s just you, the arcade stick and plenty of coins or in the case of places like Time Zone, a lot of credits. You have to be really, really good to master the nuances, earn replays and save money, if that’s actually possible, on these games.

I have to admit that arcades gave me my first taste of videogames. Having discovered them in the original Harrison Plaza, coin-operated classics like Pacman, Space Invaders, Galaxian and Breakout were mesmerizing in all their jagged and blocky glory back in the day. As games started to look better, I took to later titles like the Mortal Kombat, Streetfighter and Tekken series like fish takes to water. Ditto with racers like Daytona USA and the original San Francisco Rush and gun shooting franchises like Virtua Cop and The House Of The Dead.

Not that you can’t play these games at home. Ports of these titles and more in consoles like the Sega Megadrive, the Super NES, the original Sony PlayStation and the Sega Dreamcast were often just as good if not even better as their arcade versions. But as longer and more complex gaming genres like RPG’s, real time strategy and stealth games began to emerge, the lack of depth of arcade games were exposed and their popularity declined. It also didn’t help that a large segment of the gaming population are now going online (a word they like to throw around nowadays is “massive”) as even the increasingly rare home conversions of recent titles are no longer a big deal for game reviewers who mostly dismisses them as shallow time-wasters.

As an arcade gamer by heart belonging to a country where the following of such games did not really took a major hit, I am saddened by this development as it has come to a point where recent arcade releases are mostly no longer being ported to the current generation of gaming platforms. I can understand why as good as they are, musical games like Percussion Freaks won’t play as well as home as they would in the arcades. But given the chance, I’m pretty sure that even with its limitations, there’s still a lot of fun and thrill value in the Midnight Maximum Tune series as there is in the Need for Speed franchise, which incidentally has also recently hit the arcades. Label me that dreaded title of “casual gamer” but yes, I do want to play Virtua Cop 3 and other recent gun shooters like L.A. Machineguns and Ghost Squad at home. And oh, man, can it really be just a matter of time before the latest installment of that wacky Metal Slug game becomes arcade-exclusive only?

I hope not because if this is some kind of a battle line to separate the hardcore from the average gamers, then whoever thought of it has no idea how hardcore and real an arcade gamer can ever get. It takes a lot of skill and more than great reflexes to master the arcades. I’d like to believe that there is a strong market segment for these kinds of games, something that gaming developers for PC’s and consoles should be foolhardy to ignore.

I don’t know about you but I think it’s a great time to go back to the arcades. And if the recent arcade conversions of Guitar Hero and Street Fighter 4 are any indication, the game is certainly far from over.

Arnel Pineda

JUST a few months after he was handpicked by the celebrated rock band, Journey as its new lead singer, I had the chance to interview Arnel Pineda back in 2008. Literally a journeyman musician, Arnel impressed the members of Journey when they saw several videos of him posted in YouTube singing their big hits.

The rest as the cliche goes, is history. Here’s that 2008 profile that I wrote about Arnel for One Philippines, an entertainment and lifestyle magazine for Filipinos abroad. Once upon a time known as the “Steve Perry of the Philippines,” he is now simply the Arnel Pineda of Journey.


THEY say that in order to go places, one literally has to go places.

That’s exactly what Arnel Pineda did. From Cubao to Makati to Olongapo to Hong Kong to yes, even cyberspace and now to San Francisco and beyond, the journeyman singer from Sampaloc, Manila has taken the roads most and less traveled in the pursuit of his rock and roll dream.

And at 40, a new life begins for the newly-anointed frontman of Journey. Yes, Journey, that stadium-filling rock band responsible for a string of hits in the 80’s that included “Don’t Stop Believin,” and “Open Arms” has just welcomed him aboard. And the irony is that for all his travels, Arnel did not even to have to travel some more to audition for what he now calls “a dream gig.”

Thanks to the rapid advances in technology in general and the website in particular, it was Journey who came looking for Arnel and not the other way around. See, the band, whose contemporaries include the likes of Styx, Toto and Foreigner has been enjoying a renaissance of sorts in recent years after some of its greatest hits have been featured in such high profile film and TV productions like Charlie’s Angels (“Anyway You Want It”), the Oscar-winning  Charlize Theron-starrer, Monster (“Don’t Stop Believin”) and just last year, in the closing credits of the final episode of the HBO mob series, The Sopranos (“Don’t Stop Believin” again).

Problem is, the original voice behind those classics, Steve Perry has already left Journey, apparently for good, way back in 1997. Although Perry’s shoes have since been filled on two occasions by sound-alike and okay, look-alike vocalists in Steve Augeri and Jeff Scott Soto, they simply weren’t acceptable enough for most of the band’s fans. So the search continued.

“I was frustrated about not having a singer,” guitarist Neal Schon admitted in an earlier interview. “So I went on YouTube for a couple of days and just sat on it for hours. I thought I would never find anybody.”

And then Neal found Arnel. A battle-tested veteran of such touring bands like Ijos, Amo, New Age and most recently, Zoo, whose cover performances of Journey’s songs uploaded to YouTube including a stunning note-perfect, goose-bump worthy reading of “Faithfully” got Schon’s attention.  A couple of email exchanges and one fateful phone call later (“I didn’t believe it was Neal Schon who actually emailed and called me”) and just like that, the latter’s long musical journey ended with well, Journey.

Dubbed in YouTube as “the Steve Perry of the Philippines,” Arnel makes no bones in acknowledging his longtime admiration for the former.Still overwhelmed by his sudden good fortune, he says his stint with Journey also gives him the honor and opportunity “to preserve Steve Perry’s legacy.”

“My voice is my weapon and my greatest fear would be to lose it,” he told the local media during the recent launch of “Pain In My Heart,” Zoo’s latest single, a “farewell gift” of sorts. “I’m happy to be a torch bearer for Filipinos. With this gig, the fire of the Filipino spirit is with me.”

“Arnel brings a soulful and passionate voice to Journey,” continues keyboardist Jonathan Cain. “His personality is very well-suited to our music. He’s a sincere, authentic person with a great smile and a big heart. I think fans are really going to love him. With Arnel’s soaring tenor, Journey returns to our heritage sound.”

Of course, we all know that popular Spiderman mantra that “with great power comes great responsibility,” right? Well, Arnel reveals that attached to his Journey selection are tons of responsibility and hard work. Arnel’s official Journey begins with an exciting but grueling world tour that starts next month in Santiago, Chile and includes stops in Las Vegas, Paris, Japan, Australia and hopefully the Philippines by the end of the year. Recording an album of all-new material is also part of the band’s busy schedule.

“There’s a lot of hard work involved,” Arnel admits. “I need to familiarize myself with all those Journey songs I grew up with and that require proper vocalization. Although the band loves my accent, they hired a speech therapist to soften it a bit and there are also some English words that I need to fix. I’m also at the gym everyday to increase my stamina as this will be a long tour.”

Arnel happily announced that he has already bonded with his new bandmates that also includes bass player Ross Valory and drummer Deen Castronovo. “They’re already asking me what Filipino food I can cook when we hit the road,” he muses.

“It’s so exciting to sing with one of the best bands in the world,” he adds.“ I’m actually looking forward to the scrutiny I’ll get from the hardcore Journey fans.  I know they’ll expect me to sound exactly like ‘the voice’ but that will never happen.  I know there's only one Steve Perry in this world. What I’m bringing to the table here is my own singing, which is pure Filipino. The band and the fans are going to have a taste of that for a long time.”

Arnel says it won’t be a problem for him at all if Steve Perry, whom he never met, decides to come back to Journey. “If that happens, I’m more than willing to step aside,” he reveals. “But I’ll be more than thrilled to perform with him on the same stage if given the chance.”

His selection as Journey frontman came at a time when Zoo was beginning to make waves, whose debut album Zoology was launched only during the last quarter of 2007. Its kick-off single, the rollicking “Gimik” is already a huge radio hit and has the makings of an OPM classic. He does not dismiss the possibility of rejoining them in the future in a possible post-Journey scenario.

“Zoo will move on without me and I’m sure they’ll be fine,” he declares. “But me and those guys, we’re like a brotherhood, and if the time comes that I’m no longer with Journey, then who knows?”