Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Korean Invasion

No, I am so not over Coffee Prince. I was actually in the middle of watching the whole series again when Yoshi’s portable DVD player conked out. So what I did was to surf for stuff Coffee Prince-related, and found me a summary of the novel on which the series was based, by Sarah the eminent Korean drama blogger. The novel was also fun, sweet and endearing, but not surprisingly I like the drama more bcoz it was way longer, hence the story and characters were better developed, plus a lot of my favorite scenes from the show were missing in the book, and besides in the book you don’t see Han Gyul strutting around like a demi-god in his utter tallness, arrogance and perfectly yummy face (to borrow Babette’s colorful term). (Gosh, I think I’m prepared to say that Han Gyul has now dethroned Hugh Grant from the No. 1 spot in my hottie list. Hugh has held that rank since high school. So long, Hugh.)

At the start, being obsessed about Coffee Prince was a bit like liking fishballs too much – you had to be quiet about it and not go around broadcasting it to the whole office floor or all your friends, lest you be found out to be the cheap, uncool, shallow person that you really are at the core of your being. Imagine my surprise when I found out I knew so many people who were so much more into these Korean drama things than I could ever hope to be. Jo, for example, has seen no less than 50 Korean dramas. She’s the senior lawyer of one of our consortium partners for our Cebu project, and her kids are all grown, so she has a lot of time on her hands to do as she pleases. She claims to have watched all of the Koreanovelas that have ever been shown on Philippine TV. The minute she sees a new trailer in Channel 2 or 7 she asks the office messenger to pick up the DVD version from Quiapo or somewhere and starts on them right away. When Jo starts spewing out Korean drama speak – down to the most obscure details like how they pay respects to their dead or Je-ju island which is apparently the uber cool place for Korean yuppies or which supporting actor from which series married the villainess from which other series – I feel compelled to bow down and chant over and over, “I am not worthy, I am not worthy …”

There's this other lawyer we work with for our Cebu project, a partner in the law firm we use as external counsel. He’s tall and athletic-looking, every inch masculine and serious and the epitome of the cocky lawyer who mercilessly slays his opposing counsel in the courtroom. You’ll never guess it from looking at him - but he also likes Coffee Prince. He has a huge crush on Eun Chan so Jo lent him Princess Hours where apparently Eun Chan is even more fabulous bcoz here she has long hair and is a girl thru and thru. You can guess what the three of us excitedly blabber about while we wait to be called for our never-ending NWRB hearings. What cracks me up about him is, he pretends that it’s his wife who watches these things. He even texts me to ask about the Korean drama site I talk on and on about – for his wife. For someone who doesn’t watch the dramas he sure knows a lot about the stories and characters and even the lines (altho he pretends not to know too much). (What a riot. Men are so transparent they’re almost as easy to read as the big letter E in those eye charts.)

I had dinner with Mailyn a couple of months back, and I discovered she also loved Coffee Prince. She told me how at night she would drive fast so she could catch the show on Channel 7. If she didn’t make it she’d bug her hubby Solo for a blow-by-blow. (Somehow this image bothered me. At 9 or so Mailyn is only just rushing home from work, whereas I would’ve been home for several hours, breastfed and changed Boots’ nappies a couple of times, watched maybe two episodes of Power Rangers with Yosh, not to mention had a leisurely dinner with Ches and our nightly stroll around the neighborhood. Tsk tsk. Sometimes I’m convinced I semi-retired too early.)

From Mailyn I learn that Maj is also hooked on Korean drama. The three of us used to work together at our former law firm’s corporate law group, and I remember Maj as heavily investing in all the latest bestsellers from Powerbooks and stuff. I wouldn’t have thought she’s the type to fall for something as silly as Korean dramas. It is Maj I think who came up with the brilliant plan of a trip to Seoul. And Mailyn just happens to have a friend there from her pharma company’s branch office. So of course I was falling all over my seat in excitement, until I realized that Han Gyul is still in his mandatory military training thing, so I asked could we make the trip when he’s out already? Hahaha. (It was like Loudette’s story about how, when she was a little girl visiting Manila from Cebu, she’d be so excited to see Martin and Pops in the flesh, as tho Manila was this small colony of sorts where you just run into your idol celebrities on a daily basis. Riot.)

I even found a couple who spend their bonding time watching Korean drama - Ate Gina and Kuya Jojo (who are part of my subset of older friends in the office, who’ve been in the water business since MWSS and who I love bcoz they give me a fresh perspective on how it’s like to have been married a long time and to raise kids in their teens, and bcoz they take the time and expense to travel with their families twice or so a year despite having to be practical as all parents are required to be, and bcoz for once I can be the younger sister instead of always being the ate as I am with my usual gang that includes twentysomethings Pau, Thom and Didoy.) Ate Gina has a collection of Korean drama DVDs to rival Jo’s, and she also contests Jo’s news on who’s married to who in Korean showbiz. (Hahaha.) She even watches the things on cable and downloads all these stuff from this online fan club site or something. They pity me bcoz I’ve only ever seen Coffee Prince, saying I’ve missed out on so much and how once I get hooked I’ll never want to watch Pinoy soap operas again (not that I do).

Having finished only one series so far, I’m hardly the expert on Korean drama, but I think I might have some ideas on why a lot of us have gone crazy over them:

1. They recognize we have a brain and not just some lazy couch-potato morons who will fall for even the most outlandish plot twists and readily forgive sloppy or even practically inexistent research. I once saw a commercial for this top-rater Pinoy telenovela where the heroine and the villainess were going thru a DNA test to determine whether or not they were sisters. The whole test consisted of the two girls standing beside each other and staring at a computer screen. Hello, people! One lousy mouse click – that is all it would’ve taken to see from the Net that a DNA test involves a little bit more than that. Aaarrrgh.

2. They take the time and effort to come up with a show that breaks our heart or makes us giggle. And I don’t mean slapstick or a typical long drawn-out verbal exchange between two overly made-up female leads complete with slapping and hair-pulling. Rather, it’s the small, quiet moments, a well-placed soundtrack, one-liners that hit right on the spot, all these little touches.

3. They’re closer to home than stuff from Hollywood so we can relate to them so much more - premarital sex is also an issue instead of a given, the grandparents still live with the family and shamelessly meddle into the young ones’ love affairs, everyone’s hooked on celphones and texting, and all of those other crazy stuff so uniquely Asian.

4. They offer us a variety of actors and stories to choose from. So we’re not stuck with the same love team playing yet another variation of the formula involving a long-suffering, impoverished girl who catches the eye of the rich, kind, and over-all perfect guy and who turns out to be the heiress of some great fortune and marries him in grand ceremonies in a fittingly predictable ending. Ate Gina told me about this Korean drama where the lead is a single mom who expresses milk for her baby and leaves the little plastic bags of milk at the office ref which the boss mistakes to be popsicles and helps himself to. It’s a scene you’ll never see in local TV in a hundred or even a million years.

Sarah’s favorites include Dalja’s Spring which reminds me of Bridget Jones, Flowers for My Life which is something like Six Feet Under, as well as many other very Korean and truly authentic dramas. Fortunately I found some of these in Quiapo when we went to have Yoshi’s DVD player fixed. Now if only the boys would cooperate and start going to bed at a decent hour.

Korean dramas, here I come.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sentir Macau

It was still drizzling the day we set out for our Macau tour. What dampened our spirits tho was the news from Ann that Yosh was feverish and had rashes again. He had the same thing last month and the doctors said it’s allergy and we had suspected Johnson’s baby soap as the culprit since this was the only new thing he was exposed to as he was eating the same things anyway (mac and cheese and chicken nuggets forever and ever). Well he was back to good old Safeguard, so what could be wrong this time? He had two sets of enamored grandparents not to mention a lot of titos and titas who no doubt have been checking up on him every hour since we left, and have been not so subtly asking pointed questions to make us feel guilty for leaving him since we told them we were bringing only Boots. But apparently he didn’t wanna go with any of them and insisted on lying down on the couch and watching his Justice League and Backyardigans and stuff. My poor baby. It’s times like these when you realize just what a horrible parent you are and you just hope you haven’t permanently damaged your kids’ emotional well-being as to drive them to be serial murderers or something when they grow up.


Anyway. Ches and I muse how the ferry terminals in HK and Macau look even nicer than our ancient international airport. We encounter huge waves that wake me and Boots up from our sea- and rain-induced stupor. Apparently it’s typical fare for this area coz my bro in law who’s taken the same ride in the middle of summer also felt like he needed to cling to a lifesaver. The first sights that greet us are the grandiose casinos which I’m sure looked much more spectacular at night. But Ches and I are not gambling types anyway so that’s alright.

First off were photo stops in the lotus monument and the statue of the goddess of mercy (or proper names to that effect). And then there was the reglementary stop at a local store where the price of the souvenirs or delicacies or whatever they’re hawking is always a tad higher than in the malls or market, but you buy anyway bcoz you know the tour doesn’t include the mall nor the market. (Brainy, these tour guides.) The best find in this shop is what they call charcoal roast almond cake, this floury flower-shaped pastry with almond bits and a distinctive smell. Ches also buys boxes of what they call egg rolls which are good too but I cannot make myself like bcoz they crumble before you even put them in your mouth and I’m not exactly the world’s neatest eater.

We head off to the Macau Tower, undoubtedly the highlight of the trip for Ches. Not so for me. It involved going up 61 floors and in certain levels there was a glass wall where you can see clearly how far away from the ground you’re going. At the 58th floor viewing deck the outermost floors were made of glass so you can see right to the bottom below where the cars passing by look as small as ants. Needless to say I wouldn’t even get near the thing. At the 61st floor you can pay a certain fee and be entitled to do bungee jumping and skywalking. Whadda!@#$? I’m not even gonna do these things for a million pesos, much less shell out money to be allowed to do them. Hello. It was so not a good place for acrophobics. About the only thing I enjoyed was the bridal car we saw parked by the entrance, and guess what was pinned to the front of the car instead of the usual bouquet? A bride and groom set of Hello Kitty and Dear Daniel dolls. You don’t get any cuter than that. From the Tower’s souvenir shop I also got for me and Jen postcards of Macau landmarks being shown off by Kitty. Winner.

We also go to Ama Temple from which the name Macau was derived (with an explanation too convoluted to repeat here). It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 500 years old, magnificent in every way, but I don’t know why, I just can’t get as excited over these temples as I do over, say, our ancient churches in Bohol or Ilocos. Maybe it’s just the overpowering smell of incense.

Lunch is at Babylon Casino in Fisherman’s Wharf. We enjoy the buffet as much as the sparkling, whimsical gold and turquoise glasses on the walls and all over. All the casinos and restos here had different themes – some looked like Victorian houses, one was styled as an African hut, and another was patterned after the Roman coliseum. Everything is all so extravagant and fantastic and you just know loads of moolah change hands in this place.

Some members of our tour group, a family of five plus what I assume to be two cousins, all fellow Pinoys, get back to the bus ater than the appointed time. So then the guide (a sprightly woman named Assunta with a sharp Chinese accent) subtly scolds them by saying, “Bcoz of the delay at lunch we only have 30 minutes at our next stop…” Hahaha. Ches and I notice this about the Chinese we’ve encountered, how they’re pretty straightforward and frank. What you see is often what you get. It’s a refreshing change from typical Pinoys who would sugar-coat everything they say to you then gleefully proceed to stab you before your back is even fully turned.

Fittingly enough our last stop is St. Paul’s Ruins which is actually the façade and stairs of a church the rest of which was destroyed by fire. It is perhaps the most famous of Macau’s landmarks. Just a few steps away are the Na Cha Temple and the remaining portion of the old city walls. The whole complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The façade is imposing and grand and with antique statues of saints and intricate carvings. From the top of the stairs you can see the cobblestoned path below all the way to the lavish casinos in the background.

St. Paul’s Ruins is more like it. It’s perfect in every way.

Junket Girls

Paula and I were sent to HK to receive an award for the company. I was ecstatic to be traveling with Pau, as she’s my dearest friend in the office, my long-lost little maldita sister, who shares with me the same views on major issues like how it’s not part of our plans to get filthy rich and how we’d prefer for our kids to enjoy their childhood rather than be achiever types and how we both think wearing huge plastic earrings (straight-from-168 is how she calls them) in the office is a no-no. But then she decided she’d bring her family along so the kids can go to Disneyland. So then I figured why don’t I bring Ches along since we both want to go to Macau. And of course we had to take Boots as well since he couldn’t possibly be left alone without a parent at only 7 months.

It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Yosh behind, but we tried to ease our guilt by rationalizing that anyway he’s just been to Disneyland for the second time just a few months back, and he had school too, and he was totally fine with the idea when I discussed it with him. I prepped him for it for weeks before we left, to the point where he would say, How many times do you have to tell me. (Groan. You breastfeed them for 2 ½ years just for them to talk to you this way.) His only condition was that I leave Ann enough money for him to buy Happy Meals so if he was feeling sad he could just buy the thing and be happy again. His needs are pretty simple, this little guy.

So we find ourselves in HK again after an uneventful plane ride that Boots just sleeps thru like the little angel that he is (well, most of the time, anyway). The only surprise was the Gerber jars given to us by the FA who played with Boots when he was awake. I didn’t know they served even baby food in airplanes, as we started lugging Yosh around on these trips when he was already a year and a half years old, by which age he would be given the usual kiddie stuff of cereals or burger steak or whatever.

We’re lucky to have missed Typhoon Frank which was battering the area day before we got there. I even heard from a friend from IFC that the IFC Tower had to be closed. It had become a dull drizzle by the time we got there.

First off we have lunch at the resto right beside the hotel, which we choose bcoz it looks like the real Chinese deal. It’s not the cleanest and the prices turned out to be on the steep side, but at least the food was really yummy. Never mind that we pointed to a picture of what was clearly crispy noodles and pork with cashew, and it said so too in English right there on the menu, but instead ended up with some kind of soupy noodles and a shrimp dish. At least they got the rice and duck and broccoli right. You’ve got to lower your standards and expectations when you’re in foreign land, I guess.

Our hotel is right in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui so I leave the boys to rest and head straight to the shops after we check in. It’s my lucky, lucky day as I find on about the third shop I enter the red Hello Kitty suitcase I saw at the HK airport the week before when we went to China and which I was hoping to find in HK at a much lower price. The sales girl gave me a price that she claimed was 40% off the regular but which was actually just a bit lower than the airport price. So I looked around and found another luggage shop that sold it for what was more like 50% off. Winner. In my shopping trips that followed I found another Hello Kitty suitcase which I also saw at the airport, a smaller pink one this time that came with like a lunch box and sold for also less than the airport price. Ches tried to pre-empt everything – futilely – by remarking, Don’t tell me you’re also thinking of buying that. I could’ve told him, I’m way past thinking about it; I’ve completely made up my mind. Ches never learns, I swear. Spending your hard-earned (ok, maybe not that hard) per diem on two Hello Kitty suitcases – I dare anybody to explain to me what’s so wrong about that.

I also go to the usual jaunts – the ubiquitous Sasa and Giordano and G2000 and even Mannings and Watsons to look for more of the electric Tweety toothbrush that I got for Vada last year. I was also delighted to discover quaint little stores that sold Chinese-inspired satin thingamabobs and even a bread store called Simply Bread that was stylized just like Bread Talk.

I ask at the reception before I go out and again when I come back how long and how much cab fare it takes to get to Marriott where the awards dinner was. At the first try they told me it was about 5 to 10 minutes and HKD20 away, but the second time it became 40 minutes and HKD100. It turns out they thought I was going to Mirage Hotel or something like that so I needed to spell it out on paper. Groan. That’s one lesson learned when you’re in a foreign land: always ask the same question twice with at least two different persons. It was like when I called our travel agent there to confirm the time for our pick-up to the airport. She could’ve easily said, 2:30 like in the message I left you. Instead, she got all panicky and gave me her office phone to call bcoz according to her, I don’t speak English. And I was tempted to reply, Oh, ok. You’re talking in a language that sounds a lot like English to me.

Pau and I end up taking the MTR after I find out that Marriott is just one station away. I love the MTR bcoz it’s so efficient and fast and cheap. You only have to learn to figure out all the signs, which platform to get on and which exit to take and all that. It can be intimidating at first but it’s not rocket science even for non-geniuses like moi.

Pau and I live it up at the dinner, chatting up a storm about office gossip (as if we don’t already do this everyday in the office) and dissing the oh-so-serious-looking senior executive types in attendance and enjoying the 12-course meal. We love the fresh orange juice that keeps getting re-filled before we even empty the glass. I don’t like the food as much as I did last year tho. Maybe bcoz I was pregnant then and forever ravenous of anything edible. Or maybe it was bcoz this time I was the one going up the stage and receiving the trophy and delivering some little speech, strenuous activities I can do away with for the rest of my life. Thankfully I don’t slip or commit some heinous grammatical error or otherwise put my company in disgrace. So it’s all good.

We get drenched on our way back. Girly clothes, high heels, make up and all. Pau remarks, Who would have thought we were up on the stage receiving an award just a few moments ago? We looked more like shivering little mice then. Groan. I guess you can pretend to be a star for only a short while.

The following evening Ches and I go off in search of the Avenue of Stars which we read in the hotel brochure is just several minutes away and supposed to be the best site from which to watch the famous Symphony of Lights. We get lost along the way but eventually manage to end up right at the viewing deck, which is filled with other tourists who like us were keen to watch the light and sound show put on by the magnificent skyscrapers at the HK side across the harbor. Well worth the many minutes of walking and getting lost.

We walk some more and see the Clock Tower, Cultural Center, Space Museum, Museum of Art, and our original destination, the Avenue of Stars. Ches has a grand time posing with the hand prints of Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Bruce Lee. Going back we find the right direction and realize the whole site is really just a few minutes away.

But this is one of the best things about going on a trip with your hubby and best buddy – you can get lost and be all sweaty and short-tempered, but at the end of the day you realize had the best time anyway. Well, that and a baby like Boots who’s unbelievably low-maintenance, who just feeds and sleeps like a good little boy, and babbles and smiles at us and perfect strangers, foreigners and fellow Pinoys alike who engage us in small talk on his account. His face looks even more maamo than Yoshi’s was as a baby, and he’s lots fairer, too, so people are always asking us what his gender is. Two airport personnel do not speak a word of English between them but Ches and I know by the way the guy pumps his fist after Ches confirms it’s a baby boy that the two have just been betting on Boots’ gender. Riot.

We just hope this baby face doesn’t end up hyper and altogether too much to handle like his kuya. Or, on second thought, however Boots ends up, as long as he’s healthy and happy like kuya – then I guess Ches and I are lucky, lucky parents.