geeky birthday surprise

J celebrated his birthday recently. I wanted to give him a cake with his likeness as a topper, playing video games, but since I was working with a limited budget, I decided to go for cupcakes instead.

I found Swell Sweets through good old Google, and browsed their designs, as well as external reviews by previous customers. Gel of Swell Sweets replies promptly and is very nice. I was also able to speak to her on the phone after giving her pegs through email, and she described what she planned to do “to make it special”. (Actually, I called their phone number just to make sure the outfit actually exists before making my deposit. You’ll never know, these days.)

Their website is under construction, but the link above goes to their Instagram. Check out their cakes, cookies, and cupcakes! For cupcakes, they require a minimum order of two dozen cupcakes, for a maximum of two designs. You can email Gel through swellsweets@gmail.com if you want more details, or to ask for a quotation.

J’s pretty happy with his PS4 and D20 cupcakes! PS4 is buttercream (my favorite) and the D20 is chocolate. Everything is edible except the stick and the wrapping.

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We also had a nice overnight stay at Solaire Resort & Casino. We were given a Bay View window at no extra charge.

Look at that view.

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We had a breakfast buffet at Fresh and the staff sang J a happy birthday. Thanks!

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reading the universe (esquire philippines, september 2014)

I did not mention Jammi by name here, because at the time she wasn’t doing a lot of readings and I did not want to bombard her with eager clients. But now, with the lovely Stone & Moon up and about, and the new year coming, I thought it’s time to share this story online, as a way of expressing my gratitude to Jammi.

This essay first appeared in an issue of Esquire Philippines, the one with the Eraserheads on the cover. You know the one.

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Photo credit: Stone & Moon

A friend of mine does Tarot card readings and past life readings. As a catastrophist whose main instinct is to think the worst possible future in any given situation, I found the past life reading more appealing than a reading about my future. What’s up ahead? Probably something fun and rosy, but if the Tower (which signifies sudden change, chaos, disruption) shows up in the spread, it’ll just add more stress and despair in my already stressful and despondent brainspace, so no thank you. Let’s just look back and see if once upon a time I were a princess. Or a serial killer. Or a serial killer princess.

So there we were one rainy Sunday, sitting at a small table in her and her husband’s apartment. “Which of these decks would you like me to use?” she asked. One deck was old and already turning brown on the edges. Her first deck, she said. Another deck was bigger than the average deck, almost as large as a notebook, and had bolder colors. The third deck was a beautiful lavender. The lavender cards complemented the purple scarf covering the table. We just needed a reed diffuser and a bead curtain and we were all set.

Kidding aside though, I came to her with an open, very curious mind. I had just one other reading, years ago, care of a housemate in college who only used the Major Arcana (the 22 main cards of a Tarot deck) and read the cards with a guidebook opened on her lap, like a doctor glancing at a medical textbook during a surgical operation. Is this the appendix or the spleen?

The cards said Yes to my specific question then, but having forgotten what I had actually asked, I couldn’t test her reading’s accuracy. But then, it’s not about accuracy, or proving that the cards told “the truth”. The future is not set in stone, my friend said, which I wholeheartedly agreed with. The Universe might say Yes, but if you didn’t act to achieve this Yes, the opportunity would just dissipate. As is the case with elusive taxicabs, the last cupcake on the table, that one moment when you could have expressed your gratitude to a now-estranged friend.

The most popular reading request, unsurprisingly, was a reading for love. My friend said clients would come to her and ask, When will I find a boyfriend? It was not the right question to ask, my friend said. Instead of demanding When, why not ask, What I can do to invite love into my life? All you needed was a little shift in your thinking. A more proactive stance before the Universe.

I was pretty secure with my love life, so I didn’t request a reading for that. (Also, if the cards screamed BREAK-UP IMMINENT, it would just ruin my Sunday.) I chose the lavender deck, because it looked pretty. While I shuffled the deck, my friend said she once did a past life reading for another friend, on that friend’s birthday during a full moon, at midnight. Birthday, full moon, midnight. As a fantasy writer, and as someone who belonged to a family that believed in the supernatural, this sounded to me like a (very interesting) recipe for disaster. “I wasn’t ready for it,” she said. After the reading she was so drained and thirsty she had to drink more than ten pitchers of water.

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Photo credit: Esquire Philippines

It wasn’t a full moon that Sunday, so we should be okay. She told me the reading would present just one past life (“Because we have several”) that most likely affected an aspect of my present.

I wouldn’t bore you with the details, but the past life reading required a large spread consisting of several sections. In the section for love, she said I was patient.

“Really?” I said. Me? Patient?

“You should give yourself some credit,” she said. “The things you simply find annoying is probably the last straw for other people.”

She said this was because I was secure in the belief that my partner and I would go through life together. “You look at the big picture,” she said, pointing at a Major Arcana that said The World, “instead of focusing on the little details that annoy you or trouble you.”

She paused at a new section. “I think this refers to your writing,” she said. She said my stories dealt with dualities, and truths, and uniting two meanings to reach an understanding, even if in the end this didn’t always happen, or even if the meaning reached was not always acceptable. “This is interesting,” she said, after another excited pause. She said the inspiration for my stories came from past lives. I was not creating stories. I was remembering them. “And whenever you get stuck,” she said, “that’s your soul telling yourself, ‘Wait, that’s not how it happened.'”

Wasn’t that beautiful? Of course, my initial reaction was Story idea! because I was shameless and considered everything and everyone fodder for fiction. But it was a beautiful thought.

She turned over the final cards one by one.

In the past, she said, I was a boy. The son of a member of the royal family and a female servant. I lived in Russia, somewhere cold and dreary. The narrative was predictably as dark and melodramatic as a telenovela (or a Russian novel): boy’s family is slaughtered, boy escapes, boy becomes a man, man becomes a leader, man believes life is just a series of trials until he meets a younger man (Ooh!) and falls in love and realizes that life is beautiful and it is worth believing in something. Politics leads to the man’s lover’s death, but the man bears no ill will toward his lover’s murderers, believing that he and his lover will meet again. On his deathbed, the man makes a deal with God.

All he asks is the chance to meet his one true love in every lifetime hence.

“And that’s why you’re so patient,” my friend said, pointing at The World again, miming a tear falling down her cheek.

The most distant galaxy ever discovered was 13 billion light years away, born just 700 million years after the Big Bang, its light expanding with the expanding Universe. Our own Sun is nothing but a dot, hardly visible, next to the red hypergiant VY Canis Majoris. We are a speck of dust in the eye of a galaxy. It is impossible not to be awestruck and humbled, whatever belief system you adhere to.

And yet there is nothing wondrous about the children being bombed to pieces in Gaza, nothing magical about the 729 people that have bled to death due to the Ebola virus. Nothing small about any of these things.

I have been writing about dualities, come to think of it; about how life, compared to the bright expanse of the Universe, could be both insignificant and immense. I couldn’t unite these two truths, and maybe I never could. Maybe that was not the point.

There was no way to prove or disprove the existence of a former me, of the tragic man in Russia who had made a deal with the Universe. Who knows. Maybe our consciousness could survive death and time, and travel through the centuries and back again. It was an interesting idea, and I’ve always been partial to interesting ideas.

On the ride home, my boyfriend got caught up in the semantics of it. “All he asked was a chance to meet his lover,” he said. “Meet, not necessarily be with. Maybe you’ve already met your true love before and –”

“Oh, it’s you,” I said, cutting him off.

The speck of dust, being stubborn, as always.

singapore – day one

Our trip to Singapore became less an exploration of a new place than a meditation of what we’re missing in our own city. We spent a lot of time talking about home and how tired we were that we couldn’t have this. Every conversation must have ended with a sigh and a sad “Buti pa sila”. (Lucky them.) Emerging on Bugis Street from the train, we became very much aware of the nearly deserted streets, the lack of security personnel at the entrance of malls. The humidity and the sun reminded us of Manila but without the chaos of Manila. Singapore is like Manila that turned out right. (But then right is relative; as a tourist — a first-time visitor — I can only comment on Singapore’s skin but not it’s heart.) As a friend mentioned over dinner, it is the little things that will make you stay in Singapore: the fact that you can time the arrival of the bus on your way to work, the fact that you can get on the MRT wearing your backpack and not worry that a fellow passenger will grab your wallet and phone. The little things can make you stay, and it’s also the little things, like splinters, that burrow under your skin and will make you want to leave.

But first:

Ah. Speaking of things that make you want to leave.

NCR Aviation Security Unit chief sacked amid NAIA ‘laglag-bala’ scam

And so we had to do this.

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It made me feel pretty stupid but what can you do.

We flew Cebu Pacific at 5:45 AM on Friday (the plane taxied for sooo long I had to remark, “Are we going to drive all the way to Singapore?”) and arrived at Changi Airport Terminal 2 at 9:20 AM. It was an unremarkable flight, which was great. (I’m not a fan of flying. It was the longest flight I’ve ever been on — I haven’t traveled to the US or Europe — and I was bored.out.of.my.mind. But when flying, boring is good.)

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Relevant source: Changi Airport Guide

One Singapore dollar is equivalent to around 33 Philippine pesos. We had our money changed at Sanry’s Money Changer before our trip. You can check out this link about the cost of living in Singapore to help you with your budget.

This is mine. I must tell you now that I over-budgeted on nearly every line item. You’ll be comfortable with less than S$200 pocket money.

Sample Budget $15 per meal 9 meals 135
$2 per water bottle 10 water bottles? 20
tourist pass 30
$10 per meal (snacks and coffee) 3 meals 30
Shopping 50
Pasalubong 50
Wiggle room money 50
 TOTAL 365

Our kaya toast meal (kaya toast, soft-boiled eggs, coffee with condensed milk) cost S$4.30 each, to give you an idea.

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From Terminal 2, we headed to the Changi Airport MRT station to buy a 3-day Tourist Pass. The pass, which gives you unlimited access to the buses, MRT and LRT, costs S$30 with a S$10 deposit. Go crazy! Get on and off every station if you feel like it! Just surrender the card and you’ll get your 10 bucks back. Unless you’d like to keep the card as a souvenir.

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There’s no shortage of maps and brochures at the airport. It’s a pretty Type A city. I love it.

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Relevant source: MRT Map

Getting around is pretty easy. (That’s coming from a girl who gets lost all the time.) To head to the city from Changi Airport, hop on the train heading to Tanah Merah. At Tanah Merah, switch to the East West line (green on the map) on Platform B.

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We got off at Bugis station and checked out Sim Lim Square.

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Sim Lim Square has a guide. Type A, like I said.

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It reminds me of Greenhills.

The store J wanted to check out was still closed, so we had a snack. Sim Lim Square has a food court in the basement.

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After that stopover, we walked to get to Victoria Hotel, which was on Victoria Street. I’d like to pretend I own the hotel. (And the street.)

We stopped for lunch in Bugis Village.

Laksaaaa.

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Victoria Hotel has a pretty great location. I recommend it.

We rested for a bit before heading to Gardens by the Bay to meet with Victor and Patricia, who have been working and living in Singapore for 15 years.

Remember when I said just a few paragraphs ago that I get lost all the time? So yeah, I got lost here. We have been waiting at the wrong ticket counter for 30 minutes until J realized, Maaaaybe there’s another ticket counter?

Sorry for the wait, Victor.

While lost, I snapped these shots:

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Victor took us on a tour of the two domes in the Gardens — the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest (S$28 for both domes, but Victor generously paid for our entrance fees: “Ken Liu [who attended the Singapore Writers Festival] wanted to go to the hawker stalls. I spent five dollars on Ken Liu.” So now I can say I’m more expensive than Ken Liu. Hooray?).

Victor said most of his friends from Asia prefer the Flower Dome, while Europeans more often than not prefer the Cloud Forest.

He was right. We loved the Flower Dome more.

(And to think we nearly skipped this!)

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I love the color of these deep purple flowers.

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Weird cactus.

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Hello, Little Prince.

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I love the shape of this cactus.

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I forgot the name of this flower, but it smells like rot.

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Another strange flower.

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Not a very good shot of a very tall cactus.

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I wish I knew more about plants! Victor knew a great deal about flowers and vegetables, which was a pleasant surprise.

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We had dinner and fun conversation at Supertree Dining. (J is still dreaming of that plum juice.)

Thank you Victor and Patricia!

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Day Two!

six and twenty-nine

Jaykie and I recently celebrated our sixth anniversary and my twenty-ninth birthday. Confetti! Sampaguita garlands!

Thank you to Manix Abrera for this great sketch.

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Thank you to J for the books.

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J took me to a nice steak restaurant (wherein I ordered a pasta) and I bought a bunch of Halloween-themed donuts that I was not supposed to be eating.

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I had a quiet, carefree birthday this year. Just the way I like it.

And now, a word from Tits Palmer*:

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*from Kate Beaton’s fantastic Hark! A Vagrant

things i love, summer edition

I turn my head and suddenly it’s June. I don’t write blog posts as often as I used to; I often find myself composing essays in my head but it appears that I enjoy doing that more than actually posting them. That should give me more energy for my fiction, I suppose. What’s new? I found a new old job (long story), got a new haircut, slowly melted in the heat. I hear we’ll see the end of humanity in a hundred years (the prediction was old — made circa 2010 — but the linked article is new, saying an old thing about carbon emissions, to which no one ever listens). I feel happier and more content than I’ve ever been, and I see the irony in this.

Well, since we humans are still around, here, some things I love:

Acacia Hotel Manila

J and I, for his birthday weekend, were looking for a nice place to unwind when I found Acacia Hotel‘s deal on Deal Grocer. We got two vouchers to stay for two nights in their Executive Suite, buffet breakfast included. The hotel is located in Alabang. Great location, great service, excellent amenities. Everything looks new and clean. (And they offer Aromatherapy pillows, which I like.) I recommend you check it out.

We made plans to take a dip in the hotel pool, check out the spa, use the gym, and so on and so forth, but of course we ended up just staying in the room to watch movies or heading out to eat sushi. Also, we realized that we like Alabang and wouldn’t mind living there. If only it weren’t so expensive, and so far from everybody and everything.

– Sink into your own much raved-about custom-made, memory-foam “dream bed”.
– Bathe in a sublime bathroom with separate rain shower and bathtub.
– Prepare hot meals in your own kitchenette and take advantage of suite perks such as personalized butler service.
– Then, enjoy other first-rate amenities that are deliciously part of your stay: Wi-Fi access, flat screen TV, a full-sized executive desk, an electronic DND panel and safety deposit box, among others.
– Lounge around the beautiful swimming pool and spa, bask in natural daylight or romantic moonlight at the gorgeous Samanea outdoor garden, or discover the newest in dining experiences on this side of town with the hotel’s restaurants.
– With Acacia Hotel’s sophistication, style, and signature authentic Filipino hospitality, you don’t need to go out of town to experience a luxurious getaway.

Acacia Hotel Manila

5400 East Asia Drive corner Commerce Avenue,
Filinvest Corporate City, Alabang,
Muntinlupa City 1781

Telephone: ++63 2 7202000 / ++63 2 5885888
Mobile: ++63 917 5281504 (room reservations only)
Email: enquiry@acaciahotelsmanila.com

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I love the toiletries.

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20150605_220605Butterbeer from Early Bird Breakfast Club

Also recommended: their grilled cheese and tomato soup, their Yin-Yang Champorado, their French toasts.

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20150601_190754Love Letter: Batman

J found this by chance in Hobbes & Landes in BGC. I’ve played the original Love Letter, but I enjoyed this variant more! I took this home and my siblings got obsessed with it.

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20150610_201954Page-turners

like this one

20150531_142439along with Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch (until autumn 2014) and Stjepan Šejić and Ms. Marvel by Sana Amanat, Stephen Wacker, G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona.

This speaker

that I didn’t buy but took a picture of while in the store because I thought it looked really cute.

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some misadventures, and a beautiful january wedding

We were headed to Tagaytay. The morning was uneventful: we met up on time, didn’t encounter heavy traffic, stopped at Paseo (which I didn’t know had a gazillion store outlets!) for Kanin Club, had coffee, went back on the road.

Then we used Waze.

Then we got lost.

To be fair, it wasn’t Waze’s fault. I think the Internet connection got cut just when we were about to take a critical right turn. Our 30-minute trip ballooned to nearly two hours trying to look for the hotel.

So our plan to nap, take a shower, and spend time fixing our hair got squished into fifteen precious minutes. But we still found time to strike a pose.

heh

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We had reservations (it’s funny when you take into consideration that word’s other meaning) at Le Jardin Rosella. It was a beautiful place, but the staff seemed…clueless. Like they weren’t expecting us. So we got dressed in the building’s downstairs washroom while waiting for housekeeping to bring our keys. While waiting for anyone, really. Anyone?

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Anywho, we had to dump our stuff in the rooms and run because the church was an hour away.

But our timing was impeccable. We got to the church seconds — seconds! — before our friend and colleague walked down the aisle. We cheered for the bride, nearly including ourselves in the SDE video (which would have been a production disaster, or a viral video in the making), hardly believing our luck. What are the odds.

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It was a beautiful ceremony. The priests knew the couple so their homilies and messages to the newlyweds were personal and heartfelt.

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The group photos were from Maida (who organized this trip, sponsored by Waze). (I’m kidding.)

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The bride letting her hair down.

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Now, back to the hotel. We got back at midnight and there were no extra beds (even though we paid for extra beds) and no running water. We had to hunt down people to get these necessities, and when we finally got water running, there was no hot water. Remember that we were in Tagaytay. In January. At midnight. Hashtag pulmonya.

The next day, we were told, after we waited for more than an hour, that they could only serve four meals. I don’t know how they came up with this number. There were nine of us, and we were all paid. The OIC, Lala, gave excuses (they were busy with an event, maraming absent, papunta palang po ako ng office) instead of apologizing. Only one staff member, Roland (or Ronald, I forget) understood customer service and went out of his way to serve us coffee.

So thumbs-down for Le Jardin Rosella and their incompetent OIC, Lala. Don’t stay with them, or at least think twice. I think you’re better off staying somewhere else.

But two thumbs-up for your lovely wedding, AJ and Vanna! The very best of luck to your life together. :)

And sige thumbs-up na rin sa hardin ng Le Jardin. Idinaan na lang namin sa photo-op ang galit. Haha!

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what i did on my birthday weekend

– Re-read Stephen King’s Pet Sematary

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– Read a bunch of stories from Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year series. (I was in a very horror kind of mood.)

– Watched all 13 episodes of Hataraku Maou-Sama (The Devil Is A Part-Timer). The Dark Lord of Ente Isla and his demon general Alsiel flee an attack by using a portal between worlds. They end up in modern Japan, where there is no magic and everything is expensive. The Dark Lord is forced to work part-time at a fast-food restaurant, while Alsiel stays in their rented apartment, figuring out how to get them back to Ente Isla, do housework, and make sure they’re living within budget.

It’s as crazy, charming, and funny as that summary. I loved it to bits.

– Did an interview with Philippine Star SUPREME about creepypasta, NoSleep, and online storytelling. [Read: “The new weird” by Don Jaucian]

– Ate a bowl of Ramen and sea salt caramel chocolate mousse.

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– Received cake, a black balloon, and a bag of treats from my lovely colleagues.

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– Received cake from my siblings.

– Ate a lot of cake.

Flashback:

– Attended the second Usapang May-Akda, featuring Emiliana Kampilan of Dead Balagtas.

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– Bought a new copy of elsewhere held and lingered and had it signed by the author. Happiness.

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– Jaykie and his drawings.

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