Archive for December, 2011

This was not an easy year, for many obvious reasons. But it was another year of learning, another year with people I love. And there is so much to be thankful for, such as:

1. Loving family and friends. There are no words to explain it.

2.A wonderful spouse.

3. An equally wonderful, kind, intelligent and loving daughter.

4.The ability to meet our family’s needs and indulge a few of our wants.

5. New skills, such as managing a website, curing meats, and gardening.

6. Good health insurance, and a good institution that gives my family the opportunity to have that insurance.

7. Surprises. The kind that make you laugh and bring tears of joy to your eyes.

8. Writing, which lets me blow off steam and focus on the positive.

9. Amazing and inspiring role models.

10. Music, for the soundtrack of my life. (I will get to that one of these days.)

11. God. The Universe. The All-Knowing, All-Seeing. Thanks for everything.


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R and I are proud Negrenses. We were born and raised here, our home away from home has that distinct Negrense flavor, and we continue to talk, think and behave the way we were taught by our Negrense parents.

(A Fil-Am friend who visited us earlier this year expected to learn more Filipino during his two-week stay at our house. He went back to the United States speaking Hiligaynon.)

Despite the time we spend away from Negros, we always make an effort to educate the Babii about her roots. And yesterday, we took her to the Negros Museum.

 Negros Museum facadeFacade of the Negros Museum

The Negros Museum used to be housed at the Provincial Capitol a few blocks away. The Provincial Capitol used to be the seat of the Governor, but over the years, some Governors stopped using the place and it was given over to the Museum. Some years back, however, Governor Joseph Maranon revived the Provincial Capitol as the office of the Governor (rightfully so, I think). The Negros Museum was moved to a smaller building behind the Capitol, formerly occupied by the Provincial Library if memory serves me right.

Negros Museum floor

I have a weakness for old tiled floors, and the Museum’s is no exception. I dream of  my future house having tiled floors like this (I cringe when I see houses and buildings tiled with bathroom-like tiles). The walls in the Museum display a good number of paintings and murals depicting pre-modern and modern life in Negros.


At the entrance, one is greeted by a huge talibong. R says the length indicates it was wielded by a tall man.

I was looking forward to showing the Babii the gallery of international toys which made a big impression on me ten years ago, but sadly the gallery was closed. We moved on to the second floor.

Negros Museum stairwayStairway of the Negros Museum

The Museum, fittingly, has a grand stairway. The Babii, however, asked: “What is that thing at the top?” (Uhm, I don’t know, maybe it’s some revolutionary theme?)

At one wing on the second floor is a display depicting life in the sugar industry, the backbone of Negros.

Hacienda House

Above is a typical model of a hacienda house. Note the 360 degree view on the veranda and the little watchtower at the top for, uhm, certain activities.

Hacienda ViewA mural on hacienda life.

Further in, gadgets related to the production of sugar are displayed in various cabinets and tables.

Sugar Gadgets

On the left is a “quedan machine” according to R. Quedans are those little slips of paper confirming how much sugar a haciendero has in a particular sugar mill. This machine is supposed to type out those quedan amounts. On the right are laboratory equipment used for testing the concentration of sugar in the sugarcane brought into the mill.

Negros Museum food vendorA vendor selling local delicacies. But who eats at a food stall wearing a barong (formal wear)? (Ok, maybe the guy just came from High Mass.)

Negros folk songs

Local folk songs printed on canvas hang from the ceilings. A nice touch. I was quite surprised though when R started singing them.

Negrs Museum closed section

There was another display involving a huge boat and religious figurines, but the gallery was also temporarily closed.

On the right end of the second floor is another display on Negros life and the Negros Republic.

Negros Museum Wedding Dress

I took a lot of pictures, but posting them all here would just be picture overload. Above is an old wedding gown, probably donated by some kind soul. I forgot to take a closer picture of the details, but it was clear that each flower was painstakingly sewn and attached with a lot of care. One of my grandmas used to make dresses this way, but they don’t make dresses like this anymore (unless you want to pay an arm, a leg, and your first born child to a designer label, that is).

The Negros RepublicA brief history of the Negros Republic

Very few Filipinos know that when the Tagalogs launched the Revolution in Luzon, Negros launched its own revolution and won against the Spaniards. The Republic, however, was short-lived as the Americans arrived and the rest, as they say, is history.

Some observations and unsolicited (amateur) advice:

1. The Museum has a lot of potential, but space limitations are very noticeable. The Provincial Capitol was a lot bigger, and displays that are evenly spaced from each other give a significantly different impression compared to ones that are placed right next to each other. Sensory overload, and sadly some stories may fall into the cracks.

2. Aside from the stray foreigner who arrived just as we were leaving, there were no other visitors in the Museum. Unfortunately, this just confirms my observation that not too many Filipinos visit their own museums (aside from the mandatory school trip). If we don’t make an effort to know where we come from, how can we go anywhere?

3. I suppose that funding, as in most historical institutions, is an issue. I am sure that museum officials are exerting their best efforts, but sometimes the best of plans can’t move without funding.

4. I hope that the Museum can soon migrate its website to http://www.negrosmuseum.com from negrosmuseum.blogspot.com. Having recently migrated our company files, I know that it takes some time and effort, but it can be done for a minimum fee or even free (if you’re a geek).   The hardest part is generating the content, and I would recommend including  a history of Negros, its geography, and short introductions to each gallery/section of the museum. Who knows, it may just garner more attention from potential funders.

5. Christmas season is the time when Negrenses come home for the holidays, often with some non-Negrenses/non-Filipinos in tow. This is the best time to showcase the Museum, but having certain sections closed is disappointing for visitors.

6. There was a scooter parked in the Museum. Right beside the Governors’ Gallery. Paging the parking police….

Scooter in the Negros Museum

The Negros Museum is on Gatuslao St. behind the Provincial Capitol. Entrance fee is P50 (US$1.14) for adults and P20 (US$0.46) for students.

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So I was this weird Negrense who never got to eat at Pendy’s. For thirty-three years. Yep, I lived under a rock.

I did finally get to have dinner there one night, and I can honestly say that I am happy to be scheduled to eat there for a few more nights this Christmas season.

I was ill-prepared for this first foray, however, as R, the Babii and I had a late lunch, followed by coffee and cake at tea time, leaving us quite stuffed come dinner time.

In an effort to “go light” for dinner, we ordered the Vietnamese spring rolls with peanut sauce and a Greek salad as appetizers.

 Pendy's Vietnamese Spring RollsThe last of the spring rolls which I couldn’t bring myself to finish.

Then the Babii chose a tuna sandwich, I asked for a club sandwich, while R and friend B ordered Angus steaks. R couldn’t resist giving a little speech about how “you don’t go to Pendy’s to order a sandwich, you go to Pendy’s to order steak.” (Well next time, we’ll skip Calea before dinner, ok?)

Ironically, they were out of steaks that night, so R and B ordered the Curry Shrimp in Lychee Sauce and Fish Fillets in Kaffir Lime Sauce instead.

Pendy's Curry Shrimp with Lychee SauceIf I wasn’t allergic to shrimp, I would have dug into this at the first instance.

Pendys Fish Fillet in Kaffir Lime Sauce

The spring rolls were great, and would have been greater if I didn’t ask them to take out the shrimps. But one can’t have everything. Sigh.

As for the Greek salad, it’s hard to judge this one after having eaten so many Greek salads made by actual Greeks (or close to Greeks). Plus I’m sure the cost of olives in Negros is horrendous, so I’m cutting the restaurant some slack.

The fish had a good balance of flavors; distinct but not overpowering, filling but not heavy. My kind of dish. The shrimp dish looked promising as well, but I didn’t feel like embarking on a massive public breakout so I skipped it. R and the Babii vouched for it and that’s good enough for me.

The club sandwich was a regular club sandwich, small by Western standards, but just the right flavor for me (and most other Negrenses, I suppose). In the end, we were so full that the Babii and I only finished half of our servings. I had the leftover sandwiches for lunch the next day.

Aside from the food, what I really liked about the restaurant was its distinctly Negrense vibe. There are no words to capture that aura perfectly, but it is in the way the waiters remember their patrons, the way they talk, the honesty of the food  and its flavors (no complicated plating and pretentious names here).

In this era of kitchen Olympics, it is oddly refreshing and comforting.

The next time I eat there, I’ll make sure to skip the cake, coffee, and maybe even lunch.

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I found a bottle of mild curry paste right before we went on holiday, and thought I’d experiment a little with something new:

 Mild Chicken CurryFor the first time ever, chicken curry.

Indian food does not figure  anywhere in my repertoire, so I did some research on how to actually use the paste.  It was only  then that I realized that is a complicated mix of all sorts of spices and leaves. Perhaps next time I’ll try making it from scratch.

I used this recipe from Allrecipes.com as a general guide, substituting the paste for all the spices. I also added potatoes and carrots, simply because the curry of my childhood always had carrots and potatoes.

The verdict? Quite good, but probably not spicy enough for R.

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I am in book heaven

You would think that English books could be found everywhere, but noooooooo…….

National Bookstore

So I burned a hole in my wallet again when I saw these cookbooks. I would like to buy more, but really, how am I supposed to transport them all the way back????

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Or, we can call this: How to Survive the Bethlehem Midnight Mass.

Attending Midnight Mass, on Christmas Eve, at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is a once in a lifetime event. Truly. What self-respecting Christian wouldn’t welcome the opportunity to experience Christmas at the exact spot where Christ was born?

(Warning: no religious/historical/factual debates here, ok? St. Jerome disapproves.)

St. Catherine'sSt. Jerome (R)

Anyway, allow me to give you some survival tips  insights based on the things I’ve learned during my own Midnight Mass experience.

First of all, how does one go about attending the mass? I suppose one must get themselves to Bethlehem one way or another, which isn’t always easy for many reasons. But before that, some preparations:

Church of the Nativity St. Catherine'sChurch of St. Catherine, Bethlehem

Step 1: Get tickets

The mass on Christmas Eve is a Roman Catholic mass. To gain entrance to the Midnight Mass, one has to apply for tickets at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem. As far as I know the tickets are free, but the Latin Patriarchate only gives a limited number of tickets to certain people.  And tickets usually run out months before Christmas. We were fortunate enough that  a good friend of ours managed to score some tickets for the mass (Thank you, Aling Jo! Pinoy Power!).

Step 2: Book a hotel in Bethlehem

This part is not a necessity, but can be quite practical because the Midnight Mass takes place around, well, midnight and finishes in the wee hours of the morning. If you have digs in Jerusalem or prefer to make the long drive back to Tel Aviv or wherever you are staying, you are of course very welcome.

Since my group and I brought all our children and the kitchen sink as well, we decided to stay the night.

The best place to stay would be at the Casa Nova, run by the Franciscan Fathers. The hotel is located right beside the Church of the Nativity and can save you from the long qeue and all the hassle of going through security (more on that later).

Don’t expect five star digs, since the religious prefer to live on the simple side, but it’s a nice, clean place to stay, with decent food. I have dealt with their staff a few times and they are always pleasant and accommodating.

Casa Nova Pilgrims House

So now that I’ve sold the place, what’s the catch? You have to book around a year in advance because about a million other people agree with me.

There are a few other hotels in the area, such as Intercontinental (and Four Seasons, I think). There are also new hotels popping up left and right, which is always a good thing.

For our group, we managed to book ourselves at the Carmelite compound. They have a nice guest house with an underground dining room, and good food too.

Carmelite Compound

All in all a good place to stay if you’re on a budget, but the catch with staying in religious places is that there are certain restrictions you won’t find in a normal hotel. Such as a curfew. Although in our case, since it was Christmas, the people running the guest house told us to just call them when we returned so they could open the gate.

Breakfast and dinner are also limited to certain hours. If you miss it, you’ll have to find food elsewhere. But for $30 a night with free breakfast (this was in 2009), this was already pretty ok.

Step 3: Tuck the children in bed and leave them there!

Did I mention there were children?

So our group had an early dinner and trooped through the narrow streets (on foot) to enjoy the sights and sounds on Manger Square before the mass. Yes, we brought the children, the youngest of whom was four at that time.

At this time Manger Square is ablaze with festivity. There are shows, food booths, loud music, and all sorts of things you would find in a giant fiesta, including the sea of humanity.

But what we thought would be an easy entrance to the Church of the Nativity (ala rock concert only– although to be honest I must have been thinking it would be as prim and proper as a ballet recital) turned out to be chaos. Understatement of the year.

Security is very, very tight because of local VIPs attending the mass. They ALWAYS attend the mass. Police units lined the streets and snipers were posted on the roofs.

There was a HUGE crowd waiting to enter, and it got to a point where there was a lot of shoving, shouting, jumping the qeue, more shoving…. It seems that the Christian values got shoved out to the side of the road as well. It was utter bedlam, and no I don’t have pictures to prove it because I was busy making sure my daughter didn’t get smothered.

At a certain point, a policeman in full SWAT gear started pushing his way through the crowd to let someone jump the line. At that point I was yelling hysterical because he was pushing against the Babii. Then a light bulb went on and I thought, WTF, I don’t have to do this. But we were in the middle of everything and the only way out was to move forward.

We did make it into the church compound. Eventually. Forty-eight years later. By that time the Babii was tired and sleepy and so were the other kids. The mass had started and we couldn’t care less. To recover from the trauma, we all went to the Casa Nova restaurant instead to get some coffee.

Step 4: Find a place to sit

We did eventually make it into the church (just so we could say that we were there), but the sea of humanity had  also moved inside, and there were bodies half-lying, half-sitting on the ground that you have to walk over to go…. anywhere. All the people looked tired. Some were sleeping. It was clear that many of them came from the far corners of the world.

And I wondered what it all meant for them, this shoving, yelling path they took so they could sleep through a ceremony in five languages.

In the end, we made our way back to the courtyard. Midnight found us under the ancient tolling bells, hugging each other against the cold and wishing everyone, friends and strangers, a merry Christmas. We were together, safe and sound, which is all I really want for Christmas.

P.S. Will I do it again? No. Once in a lifetime is enough.

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This is one of those rare times when we eat fast food.

We have a soft spot for Jollibee, a national icon with flavors that strongly to appeal to the Filipino palette.

Jollibee Chicken Joy

When the Babii was much younger, however, she preferred the “other” (read: international) brand. Chalk it up to some savvy marketing aimed to attract children.

We were holding out to have our first Chicken Joy meal together as a family, but things being what they are, the Babii ended up eating it with her aunt. Apparently, SOMEONE forgot to brief her on the “eat together as a family” plan.

Nevertheless, we went back together the next day. As I was exclaiming over the new offerings, the Babii blurted out: “Chicken Joy is the best.

I think we have a convert here.

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