Saturday, December 17, 2011


It was awe inspiring in so many levels.

And I had goosebumps numerous times as I slowly strolled down the vast galleries showcasing some of the finest works of art from the masters I used to only read in books - Renoir, Gauguin, Monet, Degas, Cezanne, Seurat, Sisley, Manet, Pissarro, Cabanel, Fantin-Latour, Seguin and many many more. On every turn, in every gallery, I couldn't count the number of times I blurted out "oh my god!".

But I almost burst into tears when I saw this (I am not kidding!), the showpiece of the very last gallery of the exhibition called Dreams and Reality, at the National Museum of Singapore. More than a hundred pieces on loan from the Musee D'Orsay Paris, but being in the presence of this piece is for me one of the highlights of my life. 

Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night Over the Rhone, circa 1888. It's the real thing, hanging right there for everyone to admire. And I am one lucky chap to have seen and experienced it up close. 

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rome on Foot: Part II

I arrived in Rome and immediately headed out to see what the guidebooks mentioned were points of interests. But my goodness, there were just so many!

I started with the churches and the palazzos, and in Rome you see them in every corner.

I got lost a few times, and I remember desperately trying to fight off the cold especially after mid day. That's when the wind started getting nasty. I felt my ears and cheeks were numb a few times, and my lips were dry they felt like leather more than skin.

But I didn't want to stop, I thought I was wasting my time resting for more than five minutes.

With each few hundred meters I saw more. I remember saying "oh my god!" a number of times. I was just in awe. But how can one put into words just the experience of being there? More so while standing right next to these?

As customary for any tourist traveling to Rome, I threw several coins at the legendary fountains of Trevi and wished that someday I'll get the chance to see its beauty again.

I went on discovering the ancient ruins at the Palatino/Capitolino Hills. I intentionally put this spot towards the end of my day because I figured the setting sun would create the perfect lighting to capture great images. I think I managed to do just that.

I just had to see the Pantheon before calling it a day. Dinner was a big and comforting slice of warm pizza at the Piazza Navona.

My day ended with me taking a cab back to my hotel. It was getting way too cold to walk back anyway. Rome also gets a little bit scary at night, so my paranoia got the better of me. While the cab was navigating a narrow alley, I noticed signs that Christmas was just around the corner. Christmas lights in Rome were nothing compared to what Ayala Avenue has during Christmas season, but who needs lighting when the city itself is what people came there to see? I had a cappucino at a bar before settling back at my hotel.

The following day I made my way up to Vatican City, which I think was the highlight of this entire trip.

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Friday, November 18, 2011


Now that we've shamed ourselves in front of the world by proving yet again that we, as a nation of 80 million people, cannot elect a single person worthy of the presidency, shouldn't we demand that this political soap opera extend to those rich monkeys in Congress as well? Aren't those idiots who call themselves "honorable" all Presidents-in-waiting anyway? I am sure that with the rate things are unfolding, the "bakya" in all of us wouldn't want this embarrassment to just abruptly end do we? Besides, what do the we talk about then? Good news about the economy? Our athletes winning gold medals? That makes us feel good and proud, we don't want any of that! We want what's awful and disgraceful and shameful about our country showcased for the rest of the world to see. That's our niche in the world, we're good at topping every darn survey of what's "worst" there is (don't we just love NAIA 1?).

Sorry for the sarcasm, but the news coming out of Manila makes me sick. You might hate me for saying this, but our country is drowning in stinking, rotting shit.

And only a fool would believe otherwise.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Beautiful Thought Indeed

I saw this on a Facebook page called "Beautiful Thoughts" one morning on my way to work, and it just instantly cheered me up. I told myself I just had to repost.

One day a farmer's donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn't worth it to retrieve the donkey.

He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone's amazement he quieted down.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up.

As the farmer's neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off!


Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up. Each of our troubles is a steppingstone. We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up! Shake it off and take a step up.

    Remember the five simple rules to be happy:

      1. Free your heart from hatred - Forgive.

      2. Free your mind from worries - Most never happens.

      3. Live simply and appreciate what you have.

      4. Give more.

      5. Expect less from people but more from God.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hillary Clinton

I've never been fascinated by any public figure until I've heard and read about Hillary Clinton.

I can unashamedly say that I've been a HUGE follower for a long time. Let me attempt to prove that claim.

First I've read two of her books. It Takes a Village, and Living History.

Since then I was hooked.

During the 2008 primary fight for the Democratic Presidential nomination, I'd obsessively search for news and articles online just to get my daily Hillary fix. I eagerly waited for new campaign ads on her website. I spent hours in front of the computer at home, and then again at the office in the evenings, looking for any updates about her. I watched every debate of the Democratic primary. I read and re-read political blogs about her, and even signed up on several news websites just to chime in and get my two cents across online discussion boards. I remember one Washington Post commenter (obviously a Republican) replying to one of my posts, saying it's a pity I was even commenting because I was obviously the lone dissenting voice. I even opted-in to her campaign mailing list (which was useless because I am not allowed to contribute to her campaign!).  I remember staying wide awake all day, coming off from the graveyard shift, waiting for results of the Obama-Clinton saga. The big States she won - New York, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and I celebrated with her. I was heartbroken when she almost lost it in New Hampshire during an interview, and was equally angry when she famously said "Shame on you, Barack Obama!" for resorting to Karl Rove-ian tactics in Ohio.

I agreed with her, and I still do, that change cannot be had by simply giving a speech and waving a magic wand, hoping celestial beings would appear and make everything as it should be. That experience will always trump a hopey-dopey promise of change. But alas, Obama's message was more resonant. America couldn't pass the chance of electing the first black President, inexperience notwithstanding. And yeah, Oprah threw her considerable weight on the change bandwagon. Mainstream media made sure Hillary got the worst publicity character assassination, and painted her as Satan's wife incarnate. History was made. She lost. I was crushed. I consoled myself by watching the entire Clinton concession speech several times, until I memorized most of her catchy lines. I thought her message was eloquent and beautiful.

Then she became Obama's Secretary of State. A Secretary of State unprecedented in terms of unanimous support from the Pentagon, a perennial State Department rival for power. A Secretary of State unprecedented in terms of global name recognition and star power. A Secretary of State so well respected by the military brass she could very well be the Commander-in-Chief-in-waiting.

She recently lost her 92-year old mother, Dorothy Rodham due to illness. She was on her way to London for a conference on cybersecurity when she heard the news. But just a few days after she was back on the road in Guam, delivering a speech at the APEC Summit, in which the US is currently the co-chair.

Today she's in Manila, her second trip to the country since becoming the US Secretary of State - the most widely traveled SOS in US history, and according to many, one of the best who had ever held the job. While everyone is agog in Manila about the TRO on Gloria, Hillary will probably be in serious talks about China's aggressive claiming of the entire West Philippine Sea. I expect her to offer a forceful rebuke about the shameless arrogance and greed of the Chinese, their utter disrespect for UNCLOS and international laws. This can very well be something she'll be able to expertly sort out, as in the case of her victorious diplomatic behind-the-scenes on Libya (documented in TIME's excellent piece of her and Smart Power, out this month). Or her expert resetting of the US-Russia relations after years of animosity. Or her (and Susan Rice's) victory at the UN Security Council in imposing sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (against threats of a veto from China and Russia). Her list of achievements at State is rather long.

I often wonder about how America would be now, had she been elected President 4 years ago. Would the US economy still be in the tank? Would unemployment still be at an all time high of 9.1%? Would America still be in Afghanistan and Iraq? Would she have the same set of challenges as Obama has in getting reelected for a second term? I wonder if she will ever run for President again. I am hopeful about the last one, although she's said many times that it is not even in the realm of possibility.

Well I don't know how to end this post really. I can go on an on about the things I know about Hillary Clinton; her life, her politics and her stint at State. I can even go and describe in detail what she wore during Chelsea's wedding to banker Mark Mevzinsky. I guess my point is that I can always prove, if anyone would dare dispute, that I am a fan. A big big fan. But I highly doubt that though, I don't even know if someone would actually be interested in a topic as boring as what I wrote just now.

And this post got me itching to read her book, Living History, all over again.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rome on Foot: Part I

Rome. Beautiful Rome. 

It will probably rank as the most memorable trip of my entire life. There will be more places to see, but none would compare to the experience of traveling all on my own, to a place that inspires nothing less than awe. I realized while I was there that not everyone would ever have the chance to see the place, and there I was walking its streets, seeing it first hand, breathing its air and tasting its food. I felt blessed. Really lucky. I was happy beyond words.

I was there when the weather was a cool 15 degrees Celcius, warm enough so that I didn't have to fully button up my coat. It was a good trench coat, kept me warm in the bitter winter days while I was in Germany. I decided long before I even took the flight that the only way I wanted to experience Rome was on foot. I will walk with a map in my hands to discover every nook and cranny. I didn't want to have it any other way. I didn't care if I get lost, or if it started to get too cold. I figured that for a few euros, I could always just get into a cafe and sip hot cappuccino if my face started getting numb and I couldn't feel my feet anymore (happened to me while I was in Tokyo some ages back!). Contingency planning was key, I told myself, so I booked a hotel near Stazioni Termini so if I ever strayed to where I shouldn't I could just hail a cab, and every cabbie in Rome knows where the Termini is.

I arrived amidst a flurry of excitement at the Ciampino (the smaller of the two Roman airports). Tourists, many of them rich Chinese, milled about checking on maps and waiting for their tour buses. I bought a normal return ticket from a bus company called Terravision for 8 euros. I figured that was all I needed to get in and out of the city. No need for tour guides nor expensive cab rides. We queued up for a good 30 minutes because our bus was late, so the Germans among the crowd weren't amused. There was a bit of commotion when they all started ganging up on the ticket officer complaining about punctuality and poor service. Punctuality is indeed a German thing. I've seen that first hand in Germany. My daily car service from the hotel where I stayed in Weinheim to our office there would be at the hotel parking lot at exactly 8:30AM, the agreed upon time. The old driver never failed. So before that incident at Ciampino, I've never seen that many angry Germans. It was a sight to behold.

The bus left Ciampino and made its way towards Rome. As we were about to approach the city the cameras started coming out and the clicks just kept on coming. Too bad I all I had back then was my trusty Canon POS. I managed to zoom in to a ruin out on a field while our bus was moving. It was the first of many more ruins I would see on this trip.

Entering Rome

You would know once you've arrived in Rome.Vespas beating the traffic lights, animated conversations at al-fresco cafes, artwork, flowers and souvenirs sold everywhere, pizzerias and gelaterias abound, designer goods behind shop windows line cobble stone streets.

And then there are the brightly colored buildings, with their paints of bright yellow and orange molting away from the old concrete.

A few minutes after checking in to my hotel I was ready to be one with the city. Armed with only a map, some cash and my camera, I would wander across the vast ancient city and discover it on foot.

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