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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Movie Digest # 044

Power Plant, Cinema 3, May 5, 7:55pm

An honest-to-goodness, Gen Y pleaser popcorn film. As compared to other superhero movies, this one is less glossy and has another take on how a hero is made. Script is well written, unpretentious and appealing to modern-day moviegoers. The indie film-like cinematography is a plus, as well as its acting with just the right blend of CGI.

Friends who might appreciate it: those who are working for the company that provided the film’s software.

Greenbelt 3, Cinema 2, May 8, 7:45pm

There’s a 50-50 chance that you’ll like/dislike this film. First, the film is done by the same directors who gave us the phenomenal “Matrix” trilogy. According to them, they wished to have something for their nieces and nephews and I believe the purpose is well served with “Speed Racer”. Or maybe not. For an eye candy film, it is too talky and kids may find it boring (except for some action scenes greatly attributed to Japanese cinema). CGI-wise, the Wachowski Brothers give the movie buffs something new to feast on. On personal note: they should have picked a better lead actor. Too bad, the film flopped at the tills, for it deserves a wider audience.

Friends who might appreciate it: those whose name is not Rain.

Siam Paragon (Bangkok), Cinema 4, May 12, 7:55pm

What to expect? Nothing. Just enjoy the ride. The film could serve as a commentary on marriage and commitment in a not so conventional way. But don’t take the film too seriously. It’s a Cameron Diaz film after all.

Friends who might appreciate it: those who think that there’s really something about Mary.

Greenbelt 3, Cinema 2, May 22, 10:15pm

That John Williams musical score alone makes the film worth watching. First, it reminds (sorry, text generation) me of my childhood days especially school breaks and circumcision period. Secondly, Ovaltine Power! Hey, I haven’t seen and tasted that chocolate drink lately. Do we still have that in the supermarket? Kidding aside, Spielberg succeeded in bringing back a lost generation of wholesome and old school filmmaking where CGI was not dominating yet. I was easily transported to the 80’s even from the opening scene and the experience was like watching a digitally remastered age-old film. So go and pick up your fedora and head to the nearest cinema as this film slashes like a whip. Just be prepared though for a “Close Encounter of the Third Kind”-like scene right before the film ends. Oooops.

Friends who might appreciate it: those who’ve seen Vic Sotto’s “Crocodile Jones: The Son of Indiana Dundee”.

Glorietta 4, Cinema 3, May 31, 4:30pm

Wow, for not a fan of SATC, the series, I was impressed. Basically, I like it being glossy. It compliments the other side of the dingy city with all the glitz and glamor hidden in every New Yorker woman’s high-heel shoes. The film’s weakness perhaps is the TV-feel like script. It is too talky and some twists and turns depend on, err, speaking lines. For instance, the wedding was called off primarily because of Samantha’s comment to Mr. Big. The same goes for other conflicts and resolution. Almost everything is fixed and destroyed by mere dialogues. Very un-film for a visual form. Just the same, it’s a must-see except for some cuts that were ruined by our dear MTRCB.

Friends who might appreciate it: those who are very much fascinated with New York (like myself).

Glorietta 4, Cinema 4, May 31, 8:00pm

Jim Sturgess (fresh from “The Other Boleyn Girl” and the visual feast “Across the Universe”), Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, a cameo with Benicio Del Toro. Powerhouse cast, indeed. But it’s a little more than that. For a film, it is complete. It has a basic script template with good build-up, planting, story telling, characterization and the like. Acting is also good. Kevin Spacey will always be Kevin Spacey (intelligent acting resurrected!) and the amateur Jim Sturgess made it a point not to be thrown out in every scene. Another plus is the fact that material is based on a true story that makes it more engaging and a little believable. I am not sure if you may call it a weak point but the film is done not to win Oscars or something that is to be taken by the critics seriously. It could be a good thing.

Friends who might appreciate it: those who are equally fascinated with Las Vegas (like myself).

Glorietta 4, Cinema 6, May 31, 10:30pm

As the cliché goes, if it’s from Star Cinema, it must be star cinematic (read: formula). “Caregiver” is no different. It has the usual melodrama, which by the way, is a staple in a Pinoy movie. It has Sharon Cuneta at her best self. It has a little travelogue (London is lovely, I don’t mind). And it has Chito Roño doing one of his tearjerker films. The salvation lies perhaps on how the story was resolved by giving tribute to hard-hitting and determined Pinays and letting women empowerment overshadow social and economic ill called overseas work. The film’s not really about caregivers or OFCs, it’s about self-respect, moving on and fighting for what you think is best for your self and your loved ones.

Friends who might appreciate it: those who remain fasinated with London (like myself).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bangkok – Day 4

Bangkok Day 4 photo album here.

At last, my last day in Bangkok. It may sound clichéish but it was mixed emotions in the morning. Sad that my vacation was about to end and happy because I saved some good stuff for last. Day 4 was mostly spent walking around Bangkok (which I think was the best way to experience the city).

Down with my last cup noodles and some pandesal (plus the OJ that I got from 7-11), off I went to a good start at 7:30am. I took song theow (a favorite since no demanding driver was around) to Lumpini Park (their Luneta). It was misty in the morning and for a working day, the park was too busy with locals doing tai-chi and other exercises. The park is clean and well maintained. I guess it’s a good spot to relax amidst the bustling city landscape. I stopped for 20 minutes and more and exited at one of the north gates.

I was not feeling that good that time actually. I knew that tonsilitis was coming courtesy of the ice-cold Coke Zero I got from the cinema lobby the night before. But Thai (by the way, should be pronounced as “tay” not “thay”) adventure had to go on so I took some turns and passed by at Chulalongkorn University (the closest they got to UP). My travel book suggested a visit inside the school ground to marvel at Thai architecture but upon looking at the premise from the entrance, the university could be as big as UP – Diliman. So I backed out and continued the walk. It is good to note though that I did some sightings of the nice campus buildings along the way.

On my way to Erawan shrine, I came across a walkway (similar to the one that connects Dela Rosa and Landmark in Makati) that interconnected malls and hotels. Very convenient. That also gave me a nice angle when taking a photo of the Thai dancers who were hired to perform as a way of thanksgiving to the gods. Erawan shrine is housed in one of the corners of malls and hotels and was beaming that time with busy fanatics from all walks of life and some tourists. Others were lighting some incense while others were just taking a bow. For 50 baht, you can also free a caged bird to embrace luck (similar to the Richard Gere commercial for HSBC). While sitting at the bench and enjoying the view, I completed five postcards bound for snailmail the next day.

Next stop was Baan Jim Thompson (“baan” is Thai for house). From Erawan, a tourist information staff had advised me to take a cab so I followed. In less than 10 minutes, the house of Jim Thompson, who mysteriously disappeared in Malaysia decades ago, was already welcoming me. Mr. Thompson, an American, was responsible for showcasing the famous Thai silk to the world (including a commision to costume the actors of the musical “The King and I”). I was primarily fascinated by his vanishing as it calls for a nice film project. Though the house was not that grand like a wat, it was amazing to hear stories from the curator. My favorite part was when we’re asked to locate the peepot in the room which happened to be a figurine that resembles a cat. The thing is you have to remove the “head” to pee. And yes, it’s only for men.

Late lunch followed at Tesco Lotus (I just walked from Baan Jim Thompson and passed by the National Stadium). The department store could be their equivalent of our SM branches where you can buy clothes and grocery items at reasonable prices. I got a Rama IX fanatic shirt, a pink one, for only 35 baht. Thanks to the 50% discount. Evelyn shared this story that on Mondays, locals wear similar shirt to support the aging king and to keep him stay in the pink of health (hence the color, I suppose). One floor below the supermarket is a food court, also with coupons. I got roast pork stew with rice and a glass of iced tea. By the way, there’s something Thai about ordering iced teas. If you request for the ice to be removed (which I usually do), expect less amount of tea (say, ¾ of the container). They will ensure that in case you’re in a 7-11 self-service type of store. At Burger King, they even charge 5 baht extra for iced tea without ice (on top of another 5 baht when asking for iced tea over soda).

From Tesco Lotus, I took a tuktuk to Hua Lamphong Station for 50 baht. Aside from the beautiful façade, there’s nothing much in the central station. I don’t know if it is normally busy but that time, the waiting area was jampacked with tourists and locals who were travelling to other parts of Thailand. The ambiance was very European with lots of backpackers sitting on the floor. From there, I walked for another 10 minutes trying to locate Wat Trimit (home to the largest golden buddha if I got my facts right). Along the way, a local approached me and attempted a good conversation which I gave in since the area was beaming with tourists and sounded safe. He said that Wat Trimit is closed due to holiday, or better yet, holy day for the monks. I’ve read about this in the travel books but I didn’t expect it coming. I just ignored the guy and proceeded to the temple entrance which was very much open at that time. If I believed him, probably he will offer a tour to Grand Palace and the like.

I can’t say that Wat Trimit was just another temple. It is small, yes. It also has buddha, yes. And a monk, yes. What separates the experience was the chance to be blessed by a monk (I was wishing that he’s not Michael V and will later on say, “yari ka!”) with water and a bundle of lotus flowers. Later on, the monk put a band (it was just a string commonly found at your dad’s cabinet) around my right wrist, tied it and cut it using a pair of scissors. As of this writing, the “luck” is still with me.

Near Wat Trimit is an arc that serves as the gate to Chinatown. Based on the map, the heart of Chinatown (where you can find Bangkok at its most atmospheric) is a bit far from the gate. The disaster came in when I hired a tuktuk for an hour-long tour, charging me for only 60 baht. Bad bait, I realized later. The driver, instead of doing the usual tour, sent me to a tailoring shop and requested if I can stay there for at least 10 minutes and pretend that I’m gonna but a suit. He mentioned that I do that, he’ll get a free litre of gasoline. I obliged at first with the intention of trying to make a little help. But when he brought me to two other stops, both selling expensive gem stones, I freaked out and agressively asked him to bring me to Chinatown, period. A senior female staff in the third shop, by the way, had an idea of what’s happening. She asked me why I kept on looking at my watch. Without much prodding, she advised me to go back to my ride and tell the driver that I’m not in the area to shop. There goes my third casualty of Thai hostility.

After a few minutes, the tuktuk stopped in the middle of Nowhereland. That’s the time to alight and restart the fun. But first I had to figure out where the hell I was. A little stuggle here and there ensued as I asked the locals where Yaowarat (the Chinatown-est street) is. All I got wa a smile and a clueless expression so I just walked and walked and finally came to halt to a loud street sign pointing to my next route.

Yaowarat was busy as expected. Jewelry shops are everywhere as well as food stalls, eskinitas leading to a wet market, souvenir shop and 7-11’s. It was too hot and very energy-zapping at 3pm. I just took some pics and imagined the neon signs being proudly switched on at night. I decided then to get a cab and skipped the walking.

Next stop was Wat Saket, which is another temple but with a dark history. I’ve read from the book that the area used to be a graveyard to a thousand Thais when the country was hit by an epidemic ages ago. Beside the temple is the Golden Mount, a manmade mountain with stairs around it. The structure used to be the highest point in Bangkok. At the back of it was a not so glaring exit that leads to Mahattahai U-Thit bridge and the all-white Mahakan Fort. A few steps from it is the Democracy Monument where student rallies are usually staged. I got a bottle of mineral water, grabbed a bench and continued my postcard writing.

At 4pm, rain was about to plummet as the clouds started to get dark when I was crossing the Democracy Monument rotonda. I passed by at a branch of Mc Donalds and hurried my ass off to Khao San Road (my last pit stop for the day). Heavy rain fell when I reached the street and some were not minding at all. The area is a backpacker’s paradise and is made famous by some Hollywood films (remember Di Caprio’s “The Beach”?). I just made a quick tour of the whole street mostly cramped with foreigner-friendly shops and al fresco beer houses (some of it are selling our very own San Miguel Beer). I chose an American fast food this time (read: Burger King) and spent half an hour munching fries and a burger while listening to a zen-like rhythm of the falling rain. The other table adjacent to mine had a Chinese-looking girl getting a little emotional while writing a letter. Was she broken-hearted? How sad can she get?

From there, I got a cab to Hua Lamphong (they refused to bring me to Suan Plu for it is too far from Khao San Road) then purchased a token for the subway (only three years old and very clean and comfy just like the sky train) to Silom and took song theow back to Suan Plu. On the road, I saw the Giant Swing which completed my dream itinerary for Bangkok. At the condo, I had a quick shower and went directly to Holistic Health Center for a nice traditional Thai massage (200 baht for one hour). I was already having hiccups then because of tonsilitis but their tea made it disappear for a moment. Evelyn and I met there and she also had a massage. Dinner came after with spicy kangkong and fried pork cooked in Vietnamese way. Awesome. The rest of the evening (we finished dinner at 9pm) was spent packing and DVD-burning all the pics I took for the whole trip. Evelyn asked the villa’s caretaker to hail a cab for me. At 10:30pm, I left the city center of Bangkok with a smile. It was raining.

At Suvarnabhumi (simply pronounced as “swarnabum”) International Airport, some scenes took place. There was a story on excess baggage and under-the-table deal, and another on change of departure schedule. I prefer not to go into gory details as I want to remember the place as a city of moving on and a trip to my own epiphany. Khap khun kap, Bangkok! Hope to visit you again some other time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bangkok – Day 3

Bangkok Day 3 photo album here.

My third day was another tour day. This time, I was booked to Ayutthaya Day Tour which, for me, was something that I was most excited about. Even before the trip, the ruins kept on haunting me like the strong images of Tony Leung Chiu – Wai confessing his sins to an ancient Angkor Wat pillar in Wong Kar Wai’s “In the Mood for Love”. As opposed to yesterday’s, the van arrived exactly at 6:45am to pick me up. After a few minutes, we were transferred to a bus that sent us to an hour-long out-of-town trip.

First stop was Watyaichaimongkhol which boasts of a century-old hall containing a golden buddha and a lifesize wax figure of a monk (with real human hair, the tour guide said). I tried their fortune-telling thingy (the one with a wooden container brimming with numbered wooden sticks) there, free of charge. After a serious thought (read: pray hard) on a particular aspect of life (I targeted love life for a change), you have to shake the container and let a stick fall on the floor. It wasn’t easy as I managed to throw all the sticks in my first try. Eventually, I got stick # 24 and proceeded to the section containing some sheets of yellow-colored papers with corresponding number and fortune. My luck says (yes, in English) I have to migrate to another place and start anew for the environment I’m having now is too negative and I’ll be victorious in the latter part of my life. I didn’t contemplate much on it as I still have to visit another spot where a number of buddhas are aligned near the fence and the must-see reclining buddha in yellow garb (Wat Pho’s smaller counterpart). The tour guide only gave us 30 minutes to explore the compound.

Next stop was the ruins that I was waiting for. We were transported to Phra Mongkhon Bophit and was given with an hour to walk around. Near the parking space is an elephant center where Miss Universe 2005 delegates had a chance to visit. To get to the ruins, you have to walk for 5 – 10 minutes more, passing through some stalls selling food and souvenirs. We were asked by the tour guide that in case we wish to have a picture with a buddha, we should sit beside it and should always be lower than the image. Another no-no is a sitting position with stretched legs making your feet point to the image. I was reminded by this when I visited Wat Phra Kaeow.

Anyway, the place used to be a seat of royalty similar to Grand Palace when Ayutthaya was then summoned as the capital of Thailand. This was right before King Thaksin left for Bangkok after the Burmese put the place on fire. What remains are some stones and brick walls comparable to those found in Intramuros. Nothing much in the area, actually, if you’re not into historical sites. I just did the “In the Mood for Love” thing and off I went to a nearby temple where another giant bronze buddha is housed (the largest in Thailand).

Last stop was another feast to the eyes. After a few minutes of bus ride, we were brought to Bang Pa-in (“bang” means community or village). The place is home to the ramas’ summer palace. One building is not open to the public as it remains exclusive to the royal family. The whole enclosure is big and can be explored through a golf car (for rent at 300 baht). I decided to walk. Besides it was breezy and cozy. Attractions include a “no-photo-inside” structure generically called “air-conditioned building”, a temple in the middle of a manmade lake, an art nouveau mansion, a pagoda and a lot more, all influenced by European architecture and design. One bridge is adorned with Greek gods and godesses similar to the ones you can see in Italy (e.g. the bridge along Tiber River near Castle of Angels). Except for the temple and the pagoda, you’ll mistake the place for something else. We were given this time an hour and a half to stroll.

When I thought the excitement was over, the tour ended with a bang. From the bus, we were boarded into a ferry for a nice Chao Phraya river cruise complete with Thai lunch buffet. That was already 1pm past and everybody was tired and hungry. And what a way to compensate! They’ve got chicken curry, a noodle dish that tasted like our pancit canton, the staple sweet and spicy pork and a variety of fruits and sweets. We only had to pay for the drinks (I ordered lemonade for 100 baht). The whole boat trip lasted for two hours. We passed by a rice station where boarding of sacks to a cargo ship was taking place, the Singha brewery, some houses along the river and more temples.

At 3:30pm, the ferry was already docked at River City. To avoid the gem store incident, I asked the tour guide to excuse me from the van assignment. Besides, it was cloudy during that afternoon and the aborted walking tour was too tempting to pass up. I retraced the route from the Portuguese Consulate then the post office where I bought 20 postcard stamps and the French Embassy. This time, I added the Assumption Church (one of the early Catholic churches in Bangkok) and, if I’m not mistaken, the Charter House (which architecture reminded me of some old buildings in Binondo). From there, I attempted to walk a little more until I reached a Muslim shrine (I forgot the name) and got a cab from there.

As planned, I had to pass by at my friend’s office at 6pm then off we’ll go to her favorite mall in Bangkok called Siam Paragon through sky train (BTS). At the mall entrance, there’s already a box office for movies where we secured two cheap tickets (prices depend on the seat plan) for “What Happens in Vegas”. I’m not really a shopping person so we just spent a few minutes taking photos of the car exhibit there and buying a copy of S. P. Somtow’s “Jasmine Nights” (recommended read by G. Byrne Bracken in his book “A Walking Tour in Bangkok”) before the film. I was amazed when we first approached the customer service counter of Kinokuniya (a big book shop and has branches in Singapore) and found no copy of the book, we were asked to check out another book store (a competitor perhaps). In Asia Books we found “Jasmine Nights”. My friend asked for a discount to “farang” and the lady staff asked if I have my passport with me (which I didn’t bring that time). Evelyn then presented her employment pass with her passport details on it and we availed a 5% discount (not bad). But the good stuff didn’t end there. We were then asked if we wish to have a plastic cover for the book, free of charge. Now that’s customer service.

Siam Paragon Cineplex, even just with the waiting area, is far better than my favorite Greenbelt 3 Cinemas. The lounge with its comfy sofas and an overwhelming chandelier could serve as dating place and EB spot. An IMAX cinema is also located nearby while the rest of the cinemas are reached through an esclator. Bag inspection is SOP and behind the attendant are some small lockers for cameras. The cinema we got was perhaps the biggest among the lot. It is so huge and it could match up for a concert venue. Right before the main feature (which began 10 or 15 minutes after the schedule in the ticket), Thailand’s national anthem was played. It was beautifully arranged/orchestrated and sung by a children’s choir, and played while vivid images of King Rama IX from childhood to current were flashed from the screen in sepia tone. That was one of the rare moments that the actual film was overblown by the experiences that occurred right before the opening credits.

The day’s almost perfect except for the missed call that was registered in my O2. I have a hint that it came from Cebu Pacific and the agony of flight schedule changes kicked in. I bought 200 baht-worth of celfone load from 7-11 and ring them only to consume it on waiting time. I used my Globe in roaming instead. To top it all, no change was implemented. It so happened that the SMS and call (and probably email) notifications were not in synch. That almost ruined my Ruins Day.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bangkok – Day 2

Bangkok Day 2 photo album here.

My second day was stricter as I had to wake up and be prepared in time for the tour van pick-up at 6:45 in the morning. Too bad, the van was late for 30 minutes. But no regrets. At least I had the chance to explore the area and took more pictures. Evelyn managed to book me this Floating Market Tour (1000 baht) in advance that includes elephant and crocodile shows, a lunch buffet and a visit to a rose garden complete with an hour-long cultural show. Whew!

Alright. From city proper, we headed south of Bangkok for roughly 45 minutes of smooth ride (mostly express ways or national highways). From the first stop, a long-tail boat was already waiting for us. It can accommodate five persons max (with me was a Dutch family of four). Then off we went to a canal ride a la Venice as we peek to Thai’s waterworld and simple living. After 20 plus minutes came another stop. It was already the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. The area is anchored by a giant old-school market and beside it, along the canal, are some, err, boats selling mostly fruits and souvenir items. It wasn’t as colorful as seen from the pictures but surely the athmosphere was very unique. Fresh from the long-tail boat, we had to get another boat just to “shop”. They charged 150 baht per person and the boat caters to four persons max. I was joined then by a Korean couple and an American – Italian duo. For thirty minutes, we assailed the canal of busy and crowded “shoppers”. It was rare that your boat won’t hit another boat either from the seller or from other tourists. Personally, I didn’t enjoy this trip much for I can’t swim and the feeling was anytime, your boat will capsize and be eaten by the muddy waters. But of course, that was an exaggeration. I got a 12-piece postcard set for only 60 baht (standard price from the city).

Beforehand, our tour guide asked us to come back at the port at 10am if we wish to ride an elephant. Ten minutes prior, I was alrady enjoying a pack of ripe mangoes while watching two locals playing “dama”. At exactly 10 in the morning, the American – Italian couple joined me in another 10-minute van ride to the Elephant Village. I was hesitant at first about the 600 baht fee for a 30-minute elephant ride. I first thought that it was only 200 baht. But what the heck, I was in Thailand and when in Thailand….

After paying up, we were asked (along with the American – Italian couple) to board through a pad (basically, it was just an elevated nipa hut). Since I was all alone, the crew allowed me to enjoy the ride alone. My elephant came first then another one queued for the couple. I was envious because I can take pictures of them together while we were getting into the jungle. But the fate’s on me as the elephant driver (or tamer or whatever) volunteered to alight and got my camera for a priceless photo-op (later on the couple asked me if I bribed him because they didn’t get the chance to stamp the whole experience with pictures except for the pricey souvenir picture). I even texted my brother about what I was having that time so that he can share a story to my “pamangkins” (I wish they were with me that time). Right before the ride ended, the elephants were asked to walk, knee-deep, in a makeshift river (also muddy). That moment alone was worth it.

Minutes later, the van was already waiting at the village’s parking area. We were then transported to a snake show which I passed up because it required another entrance fee of 200 baht. By the way, nobody from the van (we were ten) got in. Maybe we’re chickens. But on the brighter side, that was the time I got to bond with the other tourists. One of them was a Chinese girl (perhaps in her early 30’s, ehem) who happened to have visited the Philippines for a few times already and was alwas mistaken for a Pinay. Her buddy during the trip was a Pakistani named Osama. We had a rollcall, by the way, at the start of the trip. We were asked from what county we came from. During my turn, the guide small talked with the usual “Mabuhay!”. I said, “salamat!” with a smile for a change. We were “tambays” in a nearby resort killing at least half an hour.

Next stop was the noble Royal Thai Handicraft Center. This also wasn’t part of the itinerary but has no entrance fee so I jumped in. Inside was a group of busy sculptors doing their stuff, an array of artsy upholstery-making and carving. At the back was a showroom and a shop. I actually loved to buy some but the items were either expensive or too huge for a carry-on bag. I was later on surprised that from there, I had to take another van and be transferred to a different tour guide. The rest of my van-mates were already Bangkok city proper-bound and too bad that I didn’t get their names or contact details. We just shook hands and bade our goodbyes (weird but I wanted a group hug, hahaha).

OK, the trip went on. It was past 1pm already and the lunch buffet was really called for. Buffet at Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo was good and not spicy. I had lots of pad thai and just ignored the other meals (the chicken curry soup was soooo damn hot but it was good). We were dining in a hotel-like set-up, with the buffet tabled rightly placed in the middle. Forty-five minutes of good food and off we went inside the zoo where the elephant and crocodile shows were about to begin. Nothing fancy in the area. Near the entrance is photo booth with two tigers. Again, you had to pay extra for that. I proceeded to the elephant show which was already starting. It was crowded inside the ampitheater. I though I won’t enjoy the show but when the elephants did a football exhibition, complete with football jersey, that was something. The highlight perhaps of the show was the feeding session with the elephants aligned in the railing. A short ride is also allowed (again, for a fee). I left the place and walked a few steps to the nearby crocodile show. It was free flowing, no program whatsover. The finale, if you can call it such, was the part where the tamers put their heads inside the crocodile’s open mouth. Whoa!

Second to the last stop was a rose garden (used to be a haven for roses). It was included in the itinerary not for the flowers but for the cultural show that starts at 2:45pm (our van was 15-minute late). In a CCP like theater with stadium seats, the program was already taking place and early birds already got the best seats so I stayed on the side. There were some glimpses of muay Thai, a wedding ceremony, some dances including a singkil/tinikling-like steps rendered through an affecting folk music. After the show, we headed back to the city.

The last stop was a gem store. A welcome drink was waiting for us there and strangely enough, a single crew was assigned to each of the tourists. I can sense that I won’t buy anything so I rushed the whole browsing and waited outside for another set of vans that will bring us back to our places. This was my first casualty with Thai inhospitality. I had asked the tour guide to get me to the River City so that I can spend the late afternoon with a walking tour near the river. When they secured me a van, I was asked to get in. That time, the tour guide and the rest of my van-mates already left. Then a stocky man got in and made a comment that the van that was River City-bound will depart in an hour and a half (and he’s about to sleep to kill time). I didn’t know why they did that. They could have just informed me pointblank that they can't bring me to my preferred pit stop. With a cold shoulder, I left the place and got a cab.

At 5:30pm, it was raining hard in Bangkok. This slowed me down as my raincoat wasn’t strong enough. From River City and a pocket travel book in hand, I passed by the Portuguese Consulate (one of the early settlers), a Muslim temple, the main post office building, the French embassy, the old Customs House near Chao Phraya river and Oriental Hotel from where I stopped at the nearest boat station. I was already soaked in the rain and I pitied my S60. Minutes later, I hired a tuktuk to Baiyoke Sky Hotel, Thailand’s tallest building at 997 feet. It was too dark for an 8pm due to the afternoon rain but it’s good that they still allowed tourists to visit the 84th floor less the revolving viewdeck. So I climbed. The elevator alone was an experience as the glass wall behind gave an acrophobic view of Bangkok in night mode. The viewdeck was something else.

At 9pm, I wished I already called it a night but my legs were not complaining yet. How about Patpong? I hailed a tuktuk and asked manong driver to bring me to the red light district. First things first. I didn’t see Patpong at its glory. The driver had a preference and brought me to a bar (an equivalent to Pinoy sauna) instead. I think he cheated when he told me that Patpong was closed due to rain. Anyway, with a sense of adventure, I got in (the place is called Cupidy Bar) and the male crew asked me to choose from the beautiful women inside a glass cabin. On one side, the girls cost 3500 baht for you-know-what while on the other, 3000 only. I escaped the place uttering that it was too expensive. Manong driver didn’t just give in. He suggested a pingpong show for 500 baht but again, I said no while uttering the same line. And he brought me to another (“cheap, really cheap”) and another (“cheap, really cheap”) another (“it’s the cheapest in Bangkok”). To top it all, I said, I just wanted to sleep. And he obliged by bringing me back to Suan Plu and charged me a lot (that wasn’t my territory).

Right beside the condo was a hawker selling yummy noodles with roast pork. I got one for only 30 baht and it was so delicious. Later on, I found out from Evelyn that it’s the best of its kind in Bangkok.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bangkok – Day 1

Bangkok Day 1 photo album here.

Courtesy of Cebu Pacific’s “Every Juan Can Fly” promo, aboard flight number 5J 931, I first saw Bangkok last May 10 roughly at half past 1 in the morning (plus one hour for Philippine time). A post-rain breeze soaked the city. Besides, it was late in the evening and the athmosphere was quite bed friendly. Nothing fancy, I just went to the “metered taxi” queue and asked the dispatcher to make a note about my destination (Villa Suan Plu in Suan Plu/Sathorn area where my friend Evelyn is renting a condo unit). “Suan Plu”, by the way, is pronounced as “Swan Phu”. I always had a struggle with the taxi driver everytime I had to go back after a nightcap.

The thing with the Bangkok airport taxi, there’s a surcharge of 50 baht plus the meter plus the toll fee worth 65 baht (this is standard so don’t be surprised when asked about the fee). To reach Suan Plu, I paid around 400 baht plus tip for having an honest taxi driver (given that I was at first ignorant with the denomination, he returned the change after the two toll gates and he made it a point that I was gatecrashing the correct condo).

I reached Villa Suan Plu still clueless if I was in the right place. The place was quiet and an attendant who came from nowhere made a conversation in Thai. Since the taxi driver was still around, he spoke on my behalf with a piece of paper containing my friend’s contact details. I rang Evelyn and asked the attendant to allow me to proceed to her room. My friend Evelyn happened to be an officemate at Equitable Bank. We spent an hour or two more for chithat and “tsismisan”.

Since I was excited on what’s in store for me on my first day, I woke up with only two hours of sleep. I did the usual morning ritual. Evelyn’s place is a studio type with one master bed (I slept on the floor), a toilet, and a veranda for drying clothes, a sink and a makeshift dining area. We shared some Gardenia pandesal and cup noodles (my “baon”).

For Day 1, Evelyn joined me in her group of officemates with another visitor from Brazil. They settled for Thaksin Central Pier as a meeting place. To reach that from Suan Plu Soi 8 (phet in Thai), we took a song theow, which is equivalent to our jeepney only with better space for “sabit”. A ride costs 6 baht and you have to pay only after alighting. Then we took a sky train (BTS) from Sala Daeng (pronounced as “sala deng”) to the pier. There I met Hong and Joyce, Evelyn’s officemates, and Jefferson, their Brazilian visitor. As Pinoys as we are, we arrived 30 minutes late.

From the pier, we took Chao Phraya Boat Express to Tha Tien (15 baht, price is fixed) then took another boat to get across the river for 3.50 baht. Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, was right there waiting for us in the middle of a sunny Saturday. The temple has Khmer style, as my book said. I got a free entrance because I don’t look like a “farang” (foreigner). Aside from the porcelain-made giant temple (I climbed it for 20 minutes), there’s nothing much in the area so we got back to Tha Tien station. I bought a bottle of water and a stick of grilled longganisa (well it tasted like one but I’m not sure if it really was a longganisa).

Wat Pho (entrance is 75 baht) was just a few steps away from Tha Tien. Not another temple, I would say. The famous reclining Buddha is having a rest there. It was so huge that it occupied almost the whole temple. I now wonder how “The Beach” captured the icon in its entirety. Around the area are some chedis (pointed dome could be the nearest description). After this, hunger knocked in and we had lunch at a nearby carinderia (there are lots of it in Bangkok). I had fried rice and a not so spicy tom yum (how silly to have one). Jefferson didn’t eat any, I didn’t know why.

From there, we took a cab to Wat Phra Kaeo (the home of the emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace (which was so grand). To visit the area, you need to pay up for 250 baht. A bit expensive but that includes an entrance to Wimanmek Mansion (the largest teak mansion in the world), a favorite. This was the point when we felt the long hours of walk and water wasn’t helping. It was really hot that day. Well, on our way to Wimanmek, a giant komodo dragon sprung up from a nearby manmade canal with a catfish on its mouth. Adrenalin rush!

After Wimanmek, our group caught a cab and Evelyn and I were dropped to a mall (which I forgot the name). Going to the entrance, there was a crowd cheering for a celebrity product endorser. I just took a picture and didn’t bother asking who the hell was the “artista”. Inside the mall, I had the chance to convert my USDs to baht and bought some “pasalubong” that included spicy squid, champoy, durian chips (that taste like cashew) and more. I also got a muay thai shirt and a shot glass for my (and dad’s) collection.

From there, we stopped by at Pantip which is also known as the IT Mall. It boasts for what it seemed like an endless stalls for anything techie. My boardmate requested for a Kingston 4gig thumb drive which I got for only 500 baht. After 30 minutes, Evelyn and I were already in a bus to Suan Lum Night Market. We spent another hour or two for haggling and shopping. Then we had a dinner of pad thai, chicken with mushroom and kangkong. It was a coupon foodcourt, meaning, you have to buy some coupons first then use it to buy food and drinks. You may claim the unused coupons until a designated deadline. We capped the night with a nice tuktuk ride back to Suan Plu.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pre-Bangkok Thingy: Aliwan Fiesta 2008

100% unedited, ilang larawan dito.

Isang weekend bago ang pinakakaabangang trip sa Bangkok, nag-side trip muna ako sa Aliwan Fiesta n’ung May 3 sa harap ng Aliw Theater sa CCP Complex. Akala ko rati, little-known ‘yung event dahil bihira namang naanunsyo sa mga leading network. Sa Philippine Star ko lang nga nakita pero medyo malabo pa ang ads, walang oras at kung anong activity ang nakahain. Natiyempuhan ko lang ang detalye sa tambalang Balasubas at Balahura habang nakikinig ng radyo sa loob ng banyo.

Kaya n’ung Sabado na ‘yun eh sumugod ako sa CCP. Magko-commute sana ako dahil nagtitipid para sa Bangkok pero minabuti ko nang mag-taxi dahil medyo makulimlim at tila uulan (at umulan nga nang malakas). Sa kabila nito, walang masyadong epekto sa pista na nadatnan ko sa Roxas Boulevard. May ilang naghihintay at may ilang nagliliwaliw sa trade fair mula sa iba’t ibang probinsya.

Sulit na rin ang pagpunta ko. Akalain mo ‘yun, meron din palang matitinong proyekto ang gobyerno (Department of Tourism sa pakikipagtulungan ng Manila Broadcasting Company at ilang FM station katulad ng Love Radio) kamukha ng Aliwan Fiesta. ‘Yun nga lang, hindi masyadong na-optimize ang viewing area para sa publiko (libre ang cultural event na ito). May ilang elevated na upuan pero hindi masyadong naidisenyo nang maayos. Puno ng manonood ang lugar. Suwerte na lang at nakasingit ako sa kanang bahagi ng Aliw. Hindi ko man ganap na nakikita ang mga performers sa harapan, nakikita ko naman sila nang malapit kapag exit na. Malaki ang naitulong ng video display sa may entrance ng Star City.

Ang konsepto, lahat ng mga festival sa buong Pinas ay merong delegado para sa pasinaya. Halimbawa, Sinulog ng Cebu (na tingin ko ay pinakapalaban sa taong ito kung hindi man dahil sila ang defending champion) o Panagbenga ng Baguio o Dinagyang ng Davao. Hindi lang sila magpapakitang gilas, maglalaban-laban pa sila para sa tumataginting na isang milyong piso! Ang second placer ay magkakamit ng kalahating milyon at P300,000 naman para sa pangatlong puwesto. Kabuntot ng street parade ay ang kanilang karosa na may sarili ring pakontes. P300,000 naman ang mapupunta sa grand winner. Nakaupo sa bawat karosa ang naggagandahang binibini mula sa pinanggalingang probinsya. Suot nila ay kakaibang disenyo mula sa kagamitang organic. Hindi ko makalimutan ang isang binibini mula sa Bulacan na pinalamutian ng ‘sangkaterbang green mango sa mukha. Kaysarap pitasin ng mangga! Kahit sila ay merong giyera para sa Binibining Aliwan (nakakaaliw ang title). Hindi na masama para sa isang pautot ng gobyerno. Kung dito mapupunta ang aking tax, mananahimik lang ako tuwing filing ng ITR.

Mga 10pm na siguro nang mag-umpisa ang street dance/parade. Kumain lang ako ng hotdog on stick at uminom ng C2 bago makisiksik sa tao. Unang entry ay mula sa Leyte. Proud na proud ang katabi kong si manang. Asawa n’ya raw ang production designer ng float. Binisaya pa ako sa sobrang kagalakan. Sa totoo lang, breath taking naman talaga ang unang entry. Mahusay at synchronized ang performance na mostly ay mga bata. Inilagak ng unang kalahok ang level sa medyo mataas at hindi ito masyadong naabot ng ilang kalaban maliban na lang sa isa pang entry mula rin sa Leyte na tila mga bubuyog ang performer. Maging ang entry ng Catanauan, Quezon, ay hindi ko masyadong pinanigan. Amateurish ang kanilang entry. Marami pa sigurong kakaining bigas at lambanog. Pero kahit papaano, nagbigay na rin ng pride sa aking dugong Quezon. Maganda rin naman ang ibang entry. Walang itulak-kabigin, sabi nga. Ang mga float ay hindi nagpatalo. Stand-out para sa akin ang entry ng Laoag na isang malaking kalesa na yari sa kinaskas na kawayan. Maganda ang lighting nito at buong buo ang porma. Ang isa pang karapat-dapat manalo ay ang float ng Cebu. Nagmistulang pang-Rose Parade ang kanilang pambato. Isang leon ang nagpupugay sa isang imahen ni Sto Niño at isang giraffe naman ang gumagalaw sa likuran nito. Maganda ang robotics pero kung tutuusin, walang masyadong bearing sa okasyon. Sa effort, ito siguro ang the best.

Hindi magkamaliw ang S60 ko sa buong event. Nakakalungkot lang na naghihingalo ang aking camera kapag gabi dahil walang natural light. Hindi ko rin dinala ang tripod ko. Pero kahit papaano, nagpista ito sa kulay ng mga gumagalaw na imahe. Natapos ang huling entry ng pasado hating-gabi na yata. Bumili ako ng isang itim na hand-woven bracelet mula sa North Cotabato at nagpalipas-uhaw sa tulong ng isang serving ng Zagu. Kalahating oras o mahigit pa ang iginapang ng palabas. Itinanghal din ng gabing ‘yun ang nanalong Binibining Aliwan na nagmula sa Davao. Marami pa ring tao sa lugar. Hindi ko na hinintay kung sino ang nag-uwi ng isang milyong piso. Sabi nga ng isang kakilala, wala na sa pera ‘yan. Pride na lang ‘yan.
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