Monday, May 29, 2006

At Least it Wasn't the Butler

Ninety two percent of the eighty five million Filipino population are Christians with eighty percent being Roman Catholics. They take their religious duties seriously some to an extent that could be called fanaticism. During Holy Week in Pampanga Province some Filipinos indulge in flagellation and some even braver souls are crucified for as long as they can stand the pain.

Consequently it comes as no great surprise that 4 of the 10 Glorietta Mall screens are showing continuous sessions of The Da Vinci Code. Admittedly it isn’t the box office bonanza that Mel’s Passion of Christ was, but then it doesn’t have the same graphic appeal. Who would have thought that if you scratch Mel Gibson you’d find a Filipino from Pampanga Province?

Howard sanitizes the gory bits with his Happy Days approach to film making. The Da Vinci Code is Indiana Jones meets Happy Days and the mix don’t work all that well when the humour is left on the cutting room floor. It is little wonder that Cannes gave it the bum’s rush.

I must admit I haven’t read the book. Airport Literature is not my preferred reading material except when stranded between flights. This fortunately hasn’t happened since Dan Brown released his best seller. The last time it did happen I managed to down both of Mitch Albom’s novels, Tuesday’s with Morrie and The Five People you meet in Heaven, along with more Starbucks than is good for one. But that is another story.

To give the master mind behind the code his due, Dan Brown’s taking a hunt for buried treasure, mix in some mud to throw at a sacred cow, add a reluctant hero, a beautiful heroine who is more than she seems, an evil genius and a misguided flat foot and you have the recipe for a good old fashioned pot boiler. When the sacred cow takes the bait and bellows long and loud, best seller here we come, not to mention a lucrative movie deal.

The movie itself is ok, in a who done it sort of way, which if there are no other pressing matters will keep you seated until the final reel. Although I was sorely disappointed that Harrison Ford didn’t make an appearance. Tom Hanks just doesn’t have his rugged good looks nor his laconic humour, but perhaps folks the latter wasn’t his fault.

My other gripe with The Code was the ending, well more precisely the number of endings. A false ending can give a nice kick to send you on your way, but 4. Really Ron how many sets of steak knives do you think I can use.

The final word on The Code must go to my best beloved, who unlike your scribe is a card carrying Christian although not of the Roman persuasion. Her 4 word comment as we left the cinema was “I don’t believe it.”

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Construction Site Greenbelt Makati City

A new building is under construction at Greenbelt. At the time of writing I have no idea what the finished building will be. But it is a good sign that this bit of abondaned dirt is being turned into something.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

American Splendor

Although the film American Splendor has little to do with Philippines, apart from the fact that I watched it for the second time on cable whilst sitting in my lounge room in the Philippines, it is a very good film.

American Splendor is a bio pic which tells the story of the cult comic book writer Harvey Pekar. A file clerk who created a series of comic books about his very ordinary life in Cleveland, the trials and tribulations of man who sees himself as a victim. Unable to draw, he wrote the books and a variety of artists illustrated them. His graphic novel about his battle with cancer went on to become and award winning best seller.

What makes this movie stand out from the crowd of bio pics is how successfully the producers included the comic book style in the film. There are sequences told in comic book frames, in animation, live action with actors playing the characters along with appearances by the actual people being portrayed. The skillful blending of all of these facets makes for an interesting portrayal of the relationships that influenced the creator of American Splendor.

I have seen it twice now, once of the big screen and a couple of days ago via cable. There is enough meat in this film for at least another couple of viewings which pushes it up into my top ten. If you get the chance to see it, take it.

Monday, May 22, 2006

To Much of a Good Thing

I had a photo shoot over the weekend for ice cream in the Philippines. With a couple of models in tow we went in search of this summer confection.

A hundred meters from the house we hit our first ice cream opportunity. A street vendor with his colourful cart was headed in our direction. These guys ply the streets either with hand carts or on bicycles, ringing their bells or playing the same 6 to 8 bars of music ad nauseam.

Selling what is colloquially known as dirty ice cream they have a range of 4 flavours. The best explanation to the dirty reference I have been able to find is that this ice cream is made by hand often by the vendors themselves as opposed to the store brought variety which is made in automated factories. The flavours available are the purple ube, the orange mango, the off white with dark brown chunks chocolate and the off white cheese ice cream. For 10 pesos you can get a cone with a combination of 3 flavours.

Charlene and Grace attacked their cones with gusto little realizing, as this was their first food shoot, that by the end of afternoon the mere mention of ice cream would have them heading in the opposite direction. Once finished, a jeepney ride took us into the heart of Makati City to the hallowed halls of the Glorietta Mall.

Our first stop was at “Dippin Dots” which touts itself as being “Ice cream for the future”. Here the girls purchased a regular (small) tub of what looked like Hundreds and Thousands on steroids. But, instead of being hard candy that sticks between your teeth it was melt in the mouth ice cream. This was gone in a matter of minutes with a spoon full or two for Kuya Henry.

A short stroll along the avenues of shops and eateries that is the Glorietta Mall saw us arrive at the ‘Food Place’ within whose confines resides the Ice Monster. Apart from selling ice cream and iced fruits they also sell the Filipino delicacy of iced confection delicacies Halo, Halo. It is basically a mixture of sweet preserved beans (red beans and chick peas), coconut meat, jackfruit, pounded dried rice, sweet yam (ube), leche flan, shreds of sweetened plantain, filled with crushed ice, milk or coconut milk and topped with ice cream.

The Ice monsters version left something to be desired and after a few spoons full and a couple of shots it was consigned to the trash, much to the horror of the girls at the Kano’s sayang. Another stroll through the crowds of the mall and after a couple of wrong turns we found ourselves at the fast food Mecca of Glorietta adjacent to the central atrium.

Passing the Mc Do’s, the KFC’s et al we headed for Chow King. A subsidiary fast food franchise of the big daddy of Filipino fast food franchises, Jollibee. At Chow King one can get, if not the best, the most photogenic examples of halo, halo. It arrives, a mouth watering treat in a fluted plastic bowl big enough to satisfy a man sized hunger.

Grace and Charlene did their best but were forced to concede defeat a third of the way through. With some 80 odd shots on the disc I was happy to call it a day and the alacrity with which the girls agreed indicated that ice cream was off the menu for the next few days.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Its on Amazon

Finally, 3 weeks after publication The Streets Of Manila is listed on Amazon. This book is a selection of up to the minute photographs from the streets, the malls and the markets the the Philippines capital. They were all taken between August 2005 and February 2006. From demonstrators confront police during the state of emergency on 24th February to the calm of the Pasig River as dawn breaks over Mandaluyong, it's all there.

To see The Streets Of Manila on Amazon click here.
To take a peek inside the covers click here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mediterranean Tastes in Metro Manila

In the tradition of that special Sunday in May we, myself and number one son, treated the best beloved to dinner at a restaurant of her choice.

Her choice was Café Mediterranean at the Power Plant Mall and a bloody good choice it was too. From the moment we walked in and were assailed with the exotic aromas from the kitchen to leaving with our doggie bag it was a lovely repast.

As the name suggests they specialize in Greek and Italian cuisine. For starters we shared an assorted platter of tit bits, humus, falafel, Greek meat balls and kalamata olives steeped in olive oil with warm pita bread on the side.

For mains, I had penne pasta with a ham, sun dried tomato and cream sauce served with a balance that ensured the sauce didn’t over power the taste of the pasta, although the garlic bread accompaniment could have had a closer involvement with the clove. The best beloved had mousaka which came with buttered rice. It was her first taste of this Greek dish and although she couldn’t finish it at the time what was left did make for a lovely lunch the next day, so I have been told. The gusto with which number one son attacked and demolished his spicy chicken and butter rice ensured a good nights sleep for the chef.

This was all washed down with a Spanish red of mixed parentage and although not remarkable was a pleasant drop. Being served in water glasses did remind me of the Greek restaurants I frequented in the southern Greek city of Melbourne. And being served at room temperature earned them several brownie points.

The all up cost was a very modest 1500 pesos (about $AU40.00). Will we eat there again? The next time we feel the need for a break from Filipino fare it will be high on our list of priorities, there are a couple of dishes on their menu, I for one, would like to try.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Pondering Manila's Traffic

It seems to be a generally held opinion that the traffic in Manila is at best chaotic and at worst mayhem on wheels. This is not only voiced by visitors and expats but also the locals although with the latter group there seems to be a certain pride tingeing the assertion.

With some 20 million people trying to get from A to B on streets of which the majority were built before the invention of the horseless carriage, it is to be expected there will be a level of congestion. But my ponderings whilst biding my time as a jeepney passenger in yet another traffic snarl have brought another variable into the equation.

I guess I should admit that I am no longer a driver and since my driver’s license expired a few months back and I felt no compunction to renew it, it is a lifestyle I shall maintain for the foreseeable future. Being a street photographer, zipping around in a tin can at 60 kilometers an hour meant I was missing far too many photographic opportunities. The fact that my car had died and would require an injection of 2 grand, that I didn’t have, made the decision to employ shank’s pony and the public transport system a lot easier. Once I recovered from the withdrawal symptoms it turned out to be quite a smart move, I got a lot of otherwise missed photos and the savings funded 3 overseas trips.

Now that the walking habit is fully ingrained and as I make my round the streets of Manila one of the most notable observations is the Filipino’s affinity with their streets. From the time they can walk the street is an extension of their home, a play ground, a meeting place with friends, an ever changing vista to watch and contemplate in quiet times. Games of pool and basketball, practicing skate board jumps or just hanging out, the street outside the front door is where it happens.

Very little attention is paid to the vehicular traffic on these side streets that The Filipinos call home. When a vehicle comes along it will announce its arrival with toot on its horn. Then the residents will temporarily stop their activity, let the car or truck pass and then resume where they left off.

Now take this ingrained attitude of “it is my street” and put it behind the wheel of a motor vehicle and it is little wonder that there is a blatant disregard for other users. The only other city I have experienced with similar traffic is New York and there I am led to believe there is a similar affinity with the streets, especially in the inner city neighbourhoods.

From my experience of inner city living in Australian cities where in the majority of cases the residents tend to live their lives off the streets and there the traffic seems to be somewhat more orderly. There is no empirical evidence to support this contention, it is just my observation and speculation, for what it is worth.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Silver Screen

Slipped the chain on the weekend and headed off to the cinema at Glorietta. They have 8 cinemas in the Glorietta mall, 4 a piece at Glorietta 1 and Glorietta 4. Interestingly tickets for the same film are 40 pesos cheaper at Glorietta 1.

Went the whole hog and had merienda (afternoon snack) at the Mall food hall. We opted for waffle dogs. A hot dog encased in waffle dough and deep fried. A very Filipino taste sensation, the combination of the meaty flavour of the red sausage with the sweetness of the waffle mixture is interesting and not as unpalatable as it sounds. In my case it was an American dog which did actually taste like the ones I had on the streets of New York. The best beloved had a German Frank and one can only surmise that the taste contrast was even greater.

Inside the cinema the first impression is of space. Unlike Oz movie houses where getting the maximum number of seats into a given space is the priority, here there is lots of leg room. One can stretch out with ease, no more knees under the chin. They are also comfortably air conditioned. I had read somewhere that it is advisable to take a sweater to the cinema in the Philippines as the aircon is usually set on high. It was just right at Glorietta 1 for wearing a t-shirt.

The movie was Mission Impossible 3. The best beloved is a big Tom Cruise fan. This I can understand, as eye candy he has to be up near the top of the heap for the ladies. Nice teeth, a great bod and can run a mile at top speed without breaking into a sweat or even breathing hard at the end with not a hair out of place.

The convoluted plot is pretty much the standard fare for this genre of movie, reluctant hero, vulnerable love interest, evil master mind and traitor on the inside. The mayhem is well done although repeating the same footage of a car going end over end in 3 different car chases was a bit cheap. And silly me, I always thought IMF stood for International Monetary Fund.

Mission Impossible 3 is to the movies what World Championship Wrestling is to television. If WWE or whatever it is called today is your thing, you will love Mission Impossible 3.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Expat 9/10

The blog has been reviewed by the Bloggy Awards and although not getting the coverted 10/10 award it did get 9/10. That being said it did receive a 10/10 for reader enjoyment, which is what it is all about. Whose smiling?

"Henry’s blog deserves a 10 for reading enjoyment, as one does, indeed, get a good peek into life and living in the Philippines both for locals and expats alike. And the Aussie point of view would definitely be appreciated by the author’s compatriots who are likely to be interested in visiting this country sometime."

If you want to see the complete review click here.

Talking about reviews did get this comment on The Streets of Manila at pissedpoet pics.

"I suppose it was destiny that you'd produce a book given your passion for capturing images of everyday life in Manila, and writing about it.

Shooting from the hip is a style you've mastered and I do enjoy the way you capture a sense of movement in your images. The hustle and bustle of the natives going about their business is certainly worthy of capturing and writing about.

Keep on taking those unposed photo's Henry - they're good stuff.

Darren Stones"

WOW it has been quite a week.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Streets of Manila

Hot off the press comes a book based on the writing here, along with images from The Expat’s sister site pissedpoet pics.

The Streets of Manila comprises sixty six full colour photographs from the streets, the malls, and the markets of the Philippines National Capital along with a selection of essays that have graced these pages.

If you have visited the Philippines the images in this book will bring back a flood of memories of your time there. If you just have a passing interest in this unique Asian city this book will show you the real Manila. If you’re interested in photography, especially street photography, the photos in The Streets of Manila will captivate and intrigue you.

Printed by Lulu Enterprises the quality of this paper back is second to none. The Streets of Manila is available on line through Lulu and by using their super saver shipping it is delivered free of charge world wide. Click here to access your copy of The Streets of Manila.