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Fighting Mall Culture: Fete de la Musique Manila

Fete de la Musique could very well be the underground music enthusiast’s dream.

Streets closed off to traffic, venues within walking distance of each other, multiple stages catering to various genres from Latin to blues to reggae, and all for free.

The main stage

I wish I had more to say about the music, it being a music festival after all, but for some reason I kept winding up in locations that only had DJs and too many sweaty bodies crammed together and attempting to dance. The club scene just isn’t for me.

The Latin Stage

Reminiscent of the street party at Cebu’s Sinulog Festival–except that it was all about music and that I ended the night dry– what I found instead was my ideal Manila street come to life.

Roads made for people on foot instead of people in cars have always held a certain allure for me. Weaving your way through street vendors, people-watching, and casually walking into bars with live music are experiences of your surroundings that you can’t get while hiding behind a glass windshield.

The added bonus were the spontaneous acts on the street, from drumming to hula-hooping. What city wouldn’t be a little better off without drums and hula-hoops? Throw in bubbles and some plastic balloon and I might have never left.

I finally wound up at the Jazz Stage, where I had the my first and last encounter of a live band that night.

I may not have gotten the full experience of the festival in terms of music, but it’s not everyday that you get to stroll through the streets of Makati on foot–especially when you’re that near the gentlemen’s clubs of P. Burgos. I’m sure not a lot of people will agree with me on this, but to me, this is what Manila ought to be.

Every rose has its thorn—or two or three

“ROCK of Ages,” adapted from Chris D’Arienzo’s book and Broadway musical of the same name, takes you back to the ‘80s, when rock and roll was big and hair was bigger. Despite the fact that it packed its 123 minutes of runtime with an army of problems, it has enough redeeming qualities to fit the bill of a guilty pleasure. I am not ashamed to say that I enjoyed it from start to finish.

It’s 1987 and Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) leaves her small town life for Los Angeles to chase her dream of becoming a rock star. Still starry-eyed and fresh off the bus from Oklahoma, she’s met with an unfortunate but not at all novel turn of events that put her dreams on hold. The helplessly charming Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), a fellow rock star hopeful, comes to her aid and helps her land a job at the famous Bourbon Room, where he works as a bartender.

Despite being an iconic music hall, the Bourbon Room, run by aging rock-enthusiasts Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand), is on its last legs. On the brink of financial ruin and the target of constant heat from the mayor’s wife, Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the club looks to the infamously unreliable rock and roll god Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) for salvation.

Predictably, the gig does not go as planned. It does, however, thrust the characters into a series of challenging situations that only their love for rock and roll will get them through.

All in all, it’s a remarkably lazy plotline. It’s overrun by campy clichés and its twists, if they can even be called that, are simplistic and predictable. Anyone hoping to see a powerfully honest commentary on rock and roll life in the 80s is in for a big disappointment.

If you were to watch the movie with no knowledge of its origin, you’d never guess that it was adapted from Broadway. The sets are lifeless and stagnant, and the choreography often noncommittal. When Catherine Zeta-Jones, no stranger to musicals, performs “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” she and her cronies are confined to a tiny chapel. Their movements were stiff and unintentionally amusing, and there was no real attempt to fully put the set space to use.

With the exception of the Stacee Jaxx numbers, there was nothing extraordinary about the cinematography. There were too many pan-in, pan-out, and cheesy double-exposure moments and nowhere near enough imagination. The moment it’s Tom Cruise’s turn to take the stage, however, suddenly Shankman pulls himself together; these numbers have an energetic and inventive quality about them that are hardly present in any of the other songs.

There was also the problem of flow. All musical directors are issued the task of smoothing transitions between dialogue and song. Shankman didn’t seem up to this challenge though, resulting in a number of awkward post-song moments. Save for a few medleys, he also failed to build upon the music, perhaps afraid of tampering with their original magic. What the barrage of covers then seems to add up to is nostalgia devoid of a sense of romance.

With so many factors opposing the film, how then can anyone bear to watch it? As is the case with most of Shankman’s films, its driving force is it’s sheer cheesiness. Simply said, the way to enjoy “Rock of Ages” is to do anything but take it seriously.

For the most part, no case can be made in defense of the acting. Hough’s and Boneta’s performances are forgettable, and Baldwin continues to convince me that his “acting” just involves a lot of squinting and awkward hand gestures. But the cheap execution, coupled with the already flimsy plotline, seemed to be purposely tongue-in-cheek, which actually worked to the movie’s advantage. Of course, anyone who can’t find it in themselves to appreciate a good campy movie probably won’t think so.

On the other hand, Tom Cruise was—and it pains me to say it—fantastic in his performance as an eccentric, aging rock god. This fluke I chalk up to the fact his role here saves the audience from the challenge presented by most of his other movies: Being expected to take him seriously. His singing voice may not be breathtaking, but his portrayal of his drunken, slightly deranged character made this forgivable.

The ultimate factor in this film’s success as a guilty pleasure is, of course, the music. When you put their technical faults aside and appreciate them at face value, the song and dance numbers are—for lack of a better fitting word—fun. Even those who did not grow up during the 80s are bound to recognize the hits, even if, God forbid, only from Guitar Hero and episodes of Glee.

It was, in the strictest and most unforgiving sense, a technically bad movie. But while it’s far from fantastic, it is unabashedly fun. If you’ll let them, you may find that the cheesiest numbers, from “Can’t Fight This Feeling” to “More Than Words,” will have you grinning from their first few notes to their very last tacky transition, or at least keep you entertained enough to keep away worries of how Hollywood may be on the highway to hell.

Life lessons from film cameras

Disclaimer: I’m no photographer (despite all my dad’s wishes). I bought a disposable camera for my Sinulog trip because I didn’t want my dad’s Fuji x100 getting paint on it. I didn’t even touch the box while I was in Cebu though, so I ended up using it on different occasions.

1. Sometimes it does us good to have the privilege of the “undo” taken away.

With the age of digitalization and the Internet came the ability to publish, comment, tweet, copy, paste, reblog, like, and, conversely, take it all back again. There are pictures of people making pouty duck faces simply because they can.

Andrew and I never have pictures in which we both look nice. It just doesn’t happen. Not making an ugly face here was a conscious effort.

2. Since undo is not always an option, actively look for what’s worth your while.

I read somewhere that Ansel Adams used to send out his students with a just a single film sheet as an exercise. We may now live in a world of 32gb memory cards, but the concept isn’t as laughable as some might think.

Camille and Chau during our Mind Museum adventure

The day I “taught” Andrew how to ride a bike

3. Things won’t always go the way you hoped they would, despite all prior preparations.

When nothing can be done to remedy the situation, instead of getting all huffy about it, it’s best to see the good in whatever’s at hand.

Sams is a certified picture-ruiner (Our MO is to only count up to 2 and just hope for the best). I love this picture though.

4. Some our your attempts will yield results better than you expected while others will fall flat. Either way, you won’t know until you try.

The people who make Ateneo bearable

Fighting mall culture pt. 2 – Quiapo

Adventure number 2: Quiapo.

I regret not bringing a camera because, at the time we went, there weren’t thaaat many people. Better safe than sorry, I suppose. What I do have is the experiential article I wrote for my application to the Features staff of The GUIDON (I was accepted! The effort to not add about ten more exclamation points is ridiculous).

Quiapo: A Mallternative

It’s no secret that most Filipinos have a shameless fascination with luxury, and there’s no better evidence of this fact than the many shopping malls that litter our metropolis.

Their pervading presence and grandeur are impossible to ignore; With an SM at every turn and Greenbelt playing host to extravagant stores like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, it’s easy to forget that there is more to the urban experience than the mallrat concern for name brands, opulence, and air-conditioning. Surely there’s no reason any sane person would venture out into a place like Quiapo.

Obscure appeal
Isn’t Quiapo polluted, packed, and riddled with thieves and beggars? Can anything even be gained from a day spent drenched in sweat that might not even be your own, considering the crowds?

During my visit, I found that the answer to both questions is yes.

Yes, Quiapo is dirty. Spitting anywhere that men with overzealous salivary glands see fit is commonplace, and I passed a considerable number of couples taking turns perusing their partners’ scalps for lice. Yes, it can get congested, and one would be wise to be wary of pickpockets. The unsavory aside, however, my friends and I found that there was much to benefit from steering our way through narrow eskinitas and getting lost in Quiapo’s unpredictability.

“I’ll admit [going to Quiapo] is out of my comfort zone,” said Camille Jurilla, a junior at the University of Santo Tomas and one of my companions on the trip. “Crowded, less than clean spaces, and there are random people everywhere. But it’s like an add-on to the experience.”

Before and after.

United in diversity
The description most befitting of Quiapo is perhaps that it’s a cultural melting pot: Upon alighting the train at Carriedo station, my friends and I heard English, Chinese, and Filipino words darting through the lively streets; not too far from Quiapo Church, home of the revered Black Nazarene, is the Golden Mosque, the place of worship of Quiapo’s sizeable Muslim population.

Nowhere is Quiapo’s multicultural propensity more apparent, however, than in Plaza Miranda, which abuts the church. Sardonicism is thick on the fringes of this quad, where paraphernalia of folk magic and Christianity are placed side by side.

This plaza is where rosaries and plastic-wrapped icons of the Sto. Nino, Virgin Mary, and Black Nazarene are sold alongside anting-anting (talismans) that are said to have supernatural powers, herbal medicines that can allegedly cure any malady, colored candles lit for divine intervention, and, though we didn’t see any, furtively-sold pampa-regla (abortifacients); a legion of manghuhula (fortune tellers) is also parked here, calling on believers and nonbelievers alike to have their palms read or their futures revealed with decks of worn Tarot cards.

A second look
Moving away from the plaza, we walked through the streets where once-illustrious Ilustrado homes have given way to food stalls, ukay-ukay- (second hand clothing stores), and optical shops.
At first glance, the streets took on a chaotic and surreal quality. Sunglasses were sold on the same table as rubber dildos; a cat slept snuggly on a tray of gold watches; on 10 pieces of jewelry, I spent what I would have on just one of the same quality in an upscale mall; vintage Rolleiflexes and the latest SLRs could be purchased at prices untainted by the rental rates of mall space.

All that jewelry (and the pieces I’ve already given away) for P400. For someone as cheap as me, this is like a dream come true.

Upon closer inspection, however, there is a certain, albeit obscure, magic to seeing Manila stripped of the constructed glamour and forced order that characterize our shopping malls and their surrounding areas.

“There’s a different aura in Quiapo,” said Carmela Bangsal, a student of the University of the Philippines Diliman and an occasional visitor of the area. She added, “It’s a given fact that most of the country’s population falls under the lower class brackets, so as the masses, they are what govern our media and culture. Quiapo definitely isn’t a middle class place. Given that, it’s where our culture thrives.”

Vintage high-wasted shorts for P50

Like any worthwhile adventure, the trip is not an easy one. It’s a far cry from comfortable, but its constant change and bustling disorder are the very things that drive its allure and make you slaves to its appeal. Embracing its uncertainties guarantees an unforgettable experience, and it takes no more than a visit to know it is not a place you can resist returning to for long. A place best visited with a mind open to opportunity and surprise, Quiapo has a pull to it that shopping malls have no choice but to yield to.

A for effortless (sample opinion column)

Back when I was running for g Editor of The GUIDON, I had to write a sample opinion column. I don’t know how it compared to those of the other contenders, or what the then-Editorial Board thought of it, but I still stick by what I wrote, and I hope to continue to do so until well after I graduate.

To those of you who blunted pencils filling in the ACET’s answer bubbles, to those whose names once appeared on the beaten blackboards that stand weather-worn outside the Blue Eagle Gym, and to those of you who picked Ateneo by your own free will, I ask you: Why?

Did you come here to earn the education that has maintained Ateneo’s place as one of the highest-ranked Philippine universities? Did you enroll to hear lectures by a legendary professor like Fr. Dacanay, or to tell Ambeth Ocampo the story of the battle between Magellan and Lapu-lapu from the perspective of a fish? Did you plan to be counted among the students who claim Bobby Guevara changed their lives?

In short, did you come here to learn?

Or did you choose the Ateneo to have its gleaming name shoot off of your resumes and job applications when the time arrives for you to come down from our proverbial hill? Are you among those who pick the “easy-A” professors and claim that it is the grade, not the education, which takes one from deplorable to employable?

Six years ago I graduated from a Montessori grade school, one that didn’t weigh learning with grades or comprehension with exams. Today, six years into my traditional schooling, I am still shocked by the value many students place on their class marks, as though report cards are the be-all and end-all of their education.

Many scoff at the idea of an “unmeasured education.” What will I have to show for the years I spent slaving away in my classrooms? I am often asked. Grade school may not have given me report cards boasting lines of 9 or straight A’s, but I exude the education I attained in the ways in which I carry out my work, think, and make choices. To me, high grades are gratifying but are by no means an expression of what or how much I have taken in and digested.

“Grades are a reflection of learning” is the eternal refrain of every grade-giving administration. But more often than not, they are no more than manifestations of a test’s degree of difficulty, the laziness or fastidiousness of a teacher, or the amount of information one can cram in the days (or hours) leading up to a test.

If it is grades alone that land us in the high-paying jobs that many of us so covet, yet we have retained none of the knowledge that earned us those marks, we lose every right to brag and boast about our alma mater and our success. When knowledge is absent in the presence of a good grade, to take pride in our achievements would be ridiculous.

As we were constantly told at OrSem and are still being told in some classes, passing the ACET is supposedly testament to the fact that we are a cut above the rest. By being among the very few who are granted a spot in this well-funded, high-ranked, and esteemed university, we are allowed access to an excellent education that is almost sure to take us far in later life. From my experience, however, it’s seldom that this is accompanied by the reminder that excellence is not based solely on one’s QPI.

With finals and, for the seniors, graduation fast approaching, perhaps it is time to reevaluate the meaning of the Ateneo education that many of us take such pride in. When the day comes that we must hand in our transcripts to potential employers, will we possess the knowledge to back them up?

Fighting mall culture pt. 1

In a fit of boredom, I recently did an online search of “must-visit places in Metro Manila.” The expected hits (Ayala Museum, Intramuros, Divisoria, and Quiapo) turned up, but also making it to every Top Ten list and photo compilation were… shopping malls.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. We’ve got Mall of Asia, the 4th largest mall in the world, the Greenbelt complex, awarded for its architecture, and an SM everywhere you turn. In general, the well-to-do Manilenyos of today have very much become a mall rat people, so naturally a shopping mall is what comes to mind when we think of our cities. But I refuse to believe that a look into our consumerist culture is the best of what Manila has to offer. Surely we have more to boast about than our concern for name brands and luxury, opulence and airconditioning. And so the search is on for places I can show off to both non-Manilenyos as well as Manilenyos who are tourists in their own city.

First stop: East Kapitolyo Drive, Pasig.

Kapitolyo is best known for Charlie’s Grind and Grill, but just down the street is a place called Poco Deli. Like its car wash-cum-grillery neighbor, Poco Deli’s outside looks nothing short of sketchy, an image aided by their having a doorman armed with a golf club (security budget’s tight). This inside is spacious and warmly lit though, and it feels homy without trying too hard (That’s you, Mary Grace).

Dan pondering the significance of mini chocolate chips in her life.

Dan and I shared the salmon pasta that didn't have much salmon. Still good, but I wish I had gone with the recommended 4 Cheese Pizza.

Andrew's German Nuemberger Sausage. Looks like an Offbeat Burger, but makes so much more sense.

Camille had the steak sandwich. One of their bestsellers, it's mozzarella cheese and grilled steak jammed between a bagel. It was suuuperduper.

Then we walked further down the street to Mad Mark’s Man Sandwich and Frozen Desserts, where they serve homemade ice cream at reasonable prices (P68 per scoop, in relation to Gelatissimo’s cringe-worthy P110).

Clockwise from top: Half-baked Madagascar, Madagascar Crumble, Javan Cocoa Hot Chocolate, and Dark Roast Sumatra.

Cams with her Dark Roast Sumatra and Andrew with his Madagascar Crumble

Ending it a little poorer, stuffed to bursting, and ready to go to bed (baboy reflex), I thought the evening was an encouraging start to what I really need to be an adventurous summer.