I buy books. And sometimes I read them. This blog is for the times when I do more than just store shelf candy.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Book Review: Claude Tayag's FOOD TOUR

If you caught Anthony Bourdain's Philippine stopover episode, then you have seen Claude Tayag. He entertained Tony at his restaurant/home/art gallery, Bale Dutung, in Pampanga, presenting a very posh, telegenic rendition of kare kare. He also introduced Tony to sisig.

And if you're not Kapampangan, maybe you were offended by his assertion that Filipino food is Pampanga food. But I got what he meant. He meant to say that Filipino food is different for everyone, depending on your own experience and cultural milieu. The food you grew up with as you lived in the region you grew up in, the food served by your mom and/or your lola, the food that comforted you as a child and continues to comfort you now is your definition of Filipino food.

But this is not about Claude Tayag's Tony Bourdain guesting. This is about his book.

If you are a foodie worth your salts, if you take every three day weekend as an excuse, an opportunity to discover the regions and their cuisines, then grab a copy of this book, and keep it close to your sunglasses and favorite weekend jaunt outfit.

It will be your guide, your handbook as you traverse the country and its neighbors, searching for fantastic culinary experiences that sate the appetite for food as well as for culture. It presents helpful information including contact details so you can replicate the food tours he has taken. Really, get a copy. I can see myself bringing this with me as I go south and north of the Philippines.

The book is actually a compilation of his columns in the Philippine Star. At the end of each entry is a recipe.

It is not the best written food and travel book I've ever read. Claude Tayag is not an awful writer, but let's just say his core talents lie in the visual and the culinary. He writes well enough in a breezy, conversational manner with no pretensions. Maybe a little unimaginative with a tendency to interject using the word "burp" a lot. But hey, you're not buying this book because of its literary merits. You're buying this because it will inspire and enlighten the hungry gourmand and antsy vagabond in you.

There are 3 things I didn't like about this book. The first one is its size -- bigger than your standard trade paperback, it is not very handy. The next one is its price -- P550; I think it's worth it because I will get a lot of use from the book. I also like the quality of its binding and paper stock, and that alone makes it worth it for me, but it's a prohibitive price if you want to spread the word about it and want each of your friends to get a copy. The last thing that lessened my enjoyment of this book is that the entries are verbatim lifts from his columns, and sometimes they would include captions for photos that were part of the original newspaper articles but were not included in the book. It was a bit frustrating not having the visuals that go with the captions.

But the things I liked about the book compensated for the above flaws. I liked the history of sisig, his dining guidelines, the healthy balance of street food and fine dining experiences, how he communicated his lip-smacking love of food with no apologies, and his practical traveler tips. I love the way his stories include his wife Maryann as his partner in gourmanding and traveling. He makes fun of her a lot, but he is obviously head over heels in love with her. And best of all, I like the pen sketches that accompany each article; they add so much value, art, and charm to the book.

Oh, and one more thing, don't read this hungry.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Musing Mondays: Mommy's Fault

Musing Mondays are hosted by Rebecca!.

Do you remember how you developed a love for reading? Was it from a particular person, or person(s)? Do you remember any books that you read, or were read to you, as a young child? (question courtesy of Diane)

I blame it all on my mom. I'm not sure how old I was when my mom started teaching me to read, but I remember that I wasn't in school yet, so I must have been 3. My mom would give me a newspaper and ask/command me to read in front of my relatives. Most moms would ask their kid to sing or to dance. My mom would show off my reading prowess. I remember mispronouncing the word highway, and they got a chuckle out of that.

Mom started me off with Ladybug fairy tales. Rumpelstiltskin just might be my very first book. In my mind's eye, I can still see one of my favorite books then, Little Match Girl. What a sad, sad story. Every birthday and Christmas, I would get 5 Nancy Drew books until finally I had the complete series. To this day, that collection is still in my must-save-in-a-fire list. I didn't really grow up with many toys so I had to rely on books for entertainment.

I blame my mom for this addiction to books. And I thank her much for it.

The Ultimate Bookworm Gift

I want one for Christmas! No, I can't wait. I want one for Independence Day. Slurp. Slurp.

Gosh, I just might never leave the house with something like this in my room.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


"Meritocracy" is one of those much bandied terms of the 90s. Pretty much the way "servant leadership" is today's buzzword, a favorite among cliche-loving speechsters. I didn't understand meritocracy much then, and it took Malcolm Gladwell's latest book for me to wrap my head around it. Ironically, the book illustrates it by underplaying it.

Gladwell asserts that merit alone is not the key to success. It it not what we do that enables us to get ahead. Which is not to say that hard work and diligence are not important. They are. In fact, Gladwell's magic number for somebody to achieve some kind of success in a chosen field is 10,000 hours. It takes 10,000 hours of practice to get good at something. Look at Bill Gates. He's been hacking (literally, not in the security assault sense) at computers since he was a teenager. The Beatles spent thousands of hours in smoke filled pubs to be as good as they are as a band. They worked harder than their peers so they got farther.

But 10,000 hours of practice is just part of the formula. There are other extraneous factors that have made people succeed where others failed. Things like cultural legacies. And circumstantial opportunity. And where, when, and to which family you were born. These things may work to our advantage or disadvantage.

The case of Korean Air pilots would strike you as a compelling argument that culture can affect our ability to do our jobs. In this case, their high regard for authority created communication problems that proved fatal. Recognition of the problem enabled the Koreans to turn the situation around. They had to stop using what is called "mitigated speech" to prevent more plane crashes. They had to be taken out of their culture and be re-normed.

Interestingly, the Philippines was mentioned as one of those countries most enslaved by this respect for authority. When my sister in law (a doctor involved in child protection) and I were discussing the book, she mentioned that our traditional practice of calling adults, related to us or not, with respectful terms as Tito or Kuya is a double edged legacy. One one hand, it makes us a gracious and polite lot. On the other, it sets up a situation of familiarity, misplaced trust, and undue respect that abusers may take advantage of. Like the Korean pilots, maybe we need to "shed some part of our own cultural identity" to prevent tragic circumstances.

But let's go back to the story of success that the book Outliers tells.

This book says that it is not necessarily the brightest who succeeds. Our smarts can only get us so far. This has been proven empirically. A high IQ can arguably get you to good schools. But once you're in, you're in the same level playing field as those who also got in, whether their IQ is higher or lower than yours. Interesting, eh?

Don't believe anyone who boasts of his success, 'I did this, all by myself." According to Gladwell, they are "products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky -- but all critical to making them who they are."

As usual, Gladwell fills the pages of a book with fascinating information shared through fascinating stories. Reading Gladwell always makes me wonder if there's any practical use to the copious information he shares. At the verge of (gasp) middle age, I no longer have any control over the circumstances and legacies that have shaped my life to the way it is now. And 10,000 hours? With a sinking feeling, I ask myself if there is something in my life, other than breathing and eating, that I have done for 10,000 hours. Hmmm, I better stop playing YoVille and do more of whatever it is I want to do best. I don't have much time left.

I suppose this is useful to parents, teachers, and any one who can influence the very young. This is useful to the young, the generation just starting to invest the first of those 10,000 hours. Gladwell says, "To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success... with a society that provides opportunities for all."

The book teaches us to look at the circumstances and the cultural aspects that can affect, positively or negatively, our chances of success. The first challenge is to recognize them. Then use or circumvent them. Then work hard, work smart, be open and alert to opportunities, and carry on.

Whether this book is useful or not, Gladwell, as he has done with The Tipping Point and Blink, entertains, engages, and encourages his readers to think.
Gladwell, I find him doing in all his 3 books, posits some brave, fantastic, maybe debatable, theories that may not necessarily be well grounded conclusions to his research, but he does make us think. Doesn't he?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

No to the Philippine Book Blockade

By now, every Pinoy bookworm has heard about the furor over the Philippine Book Blockade. I haven't blogged much about the issue because I don't think there is anything I can add to what has already been said by those better versed in the legal intricacies. And those with louder voices, stronger influence.

I am one of the most apolitical persons I know. I don't even like reading the newspaper, so in matters that concern the government, I usually play the silent observer. Even when I feel strongly about certain causes or issues, I prefer to be lend support by adding to the critical mass.

And here is a way to add to the critical mass. Sign the petition here.


By the way, here is a page with a list of links about the issue: http://www.shelfari.com/groups/12439/discussions/118287/IS-CUSTOMS-CORRUPTING-OUR-BOOKS-

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Wishlist Wednesday: Lonely Planet's The Travel Book

Spotted at: New Arrivals, Lifestyle Section, 2nd Floor of the spanking new National Book Store at Glorietta 5

What it is about: Why, travel, of course. It's an A to Z catalog of profiles of every country in the world, 2 pages allotted to each country. With limited paper square inchage, It is not jam-packed with information. Instead, it highlights some very select aspects of each destination country. Specific suggestions on what you must read, watch, or listen to before you go there and what you must see, eat, and do when you get there.

Why I lust for it: Travel Planet is great at presenting different non-cliched views of places, of places far from the beaten path. Also, this will be a great addition to my collection of books that include The Photo Book, The Fashion Book, The Art Book, and The House Book. Yes, it's a shallow reason, but there's no logic to this book lust.

The price of the object of my desire: A little over a thousand pesos

Why I deserve this book and why you might want to give it to me: I survived Sagada (see previous post). And I used my mothballed backpacks to get there. I am sooo Lonely Planet.

Amazon reviews here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Nine Things I Learned about Life by Spelunking in Sagada

14 fun, fearless, clueless souls, most of them book geeks from my book club took advantage of the Labor Day weekend and grabbed the chance to tick off a bucket list item: Spelunking at Sagada. I was one of them. And that cliche about learning lessons the hard way -- this experience exemplifies it.

Here are the lessons I learned the hard, slippery, slimy, smelly, scary way:

LESSON ONE: The dumb gets farther; the dumber gets dead.
- For a bunch of book geeks, we did not do our research thoroughly enough. When asked to choose between the normal cave tour (PhP 100 per person) and the Connection Challenge (PhP 400 per person), which traverses 2 caves, Sumaging and Lumiang, we chose what sounded more exciting, more difficult, more unforgettable. Maybe we’ve been reading too much fantasy. Maybe it's the hashish in the Sagada air. We wanted to release the inner extreme athletes inside us. And we got what we asked for. And failed to anticipate just how difficult it would be, for geeks as well as non geeks, for the fit and for those whose most strenuous exercise is carrying bag loads of books from Booksale. We all had no idea what challenges lay ahead. The guides did not give us a clue.

On hindsight, that naiveté, that ignorance, that stupidity was good. If we had known how formidable the challenge was, most of us in the group would probably have not taken it. We would have backed out when we still could. At the mouth of the first cave.

Instead, we went in, excited, awestruck, dumbfounded, dumb as rats led by the pied piper. And got the surprise of our lives. Many surprises, in fact. Gimongous walls to scale, steep crags to climb down, cliffs to descend, slippery rocks to walk on, knee-deep muck to dip our bare feet into, blind corners to hug, streamlets to swim in, the narrowest of edges keeping us from plunging into deep dark pits. It was unbelievable what we had to go over, go under, go through, jump into, squeeze in, hurdle, straddle.

Truly, if somebody had shown me first a video of what we had to do, I would have chosen not to do it, knowing full well knowing full well that given my fitness level, I couldn't. Not knowing made me do it. It was sheer stupidity that got us there, literally in between a rock and a hard place. The uncertainty almost killed me, but it was also what got me through. The dumb, the clueless, when unaware of the dangers ahead, can actually accomplish more as he walks in ignorant bliss. And I’m glad I was stupid enough to do it. Because that was by far, the most exciting, most amazing thing I had to do in my whole life.

Of course, we were blessed to have survived relatively unscathed despite our ignorance. Tales of those who were stupid enough to go in without guides and never to come out again serve as a counterpoint to this lesson. It’s okay to be clueless sometimes, but rash stupidity could cost you your life.

LESSON TWO: We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Aww, shut up! - I do not fear heights, nor water. I have scuba dived in open water. I have rafted through grade 4 white water with a stupid smile on my face. I have parasailed alone and was able to look down without feeling squeamish. I get a kick from roller coaster rides, the higher, the faster, the scarier, the better. My bucket list includes bungee jumping and skydiving.

The first time I had to take a high ropes challenge, I couldn’t contain my excitement and wanted to zip down the wire a dozen times. I was fearless. I was 25 years old, a size 6. I could do anything.

As a trainer facilitating high ropes challenges, I had seen participants break down in tears as they confronted their fear of heights. I could only watch without really understanding what that fear was all about.

Until now. 42 years old. 70 pounds overweight. My sense of balance faulty. With nothing to rely on but the grace and strength I got from ballet classes with Ms. Valeriana in second grade, and from a few lousy attempts at a badminton regimen.

In the cave, we had to rappel down a cliff, the bottom of which we couldn’t see from where we were. No harness, no safety nets. The ropes did not even have knots for gripping. And what confounded us was that the rope was tied to a lithe, little man, barefoot, sitting by the edge of the cliff. Our lives depended on him being strong enough not to be pulled by our weight to go hurtling down with us to our sure deaths.

I was afraid of falling to my death, the guides picking up my brains and innards splattered on the cavern floor. I was afraid I would die without having completed my scrapbooks. I was afraid of falling and not dying, but being permanently disabled and not being able to drive myself to the bookstore. I was afraid I'd look stupid.

I was afraid. Petrified. As afraid as I’ve never ever been in my whole life. So afraid I cried for a few seconds. What made me cry was this inner struggle of accepting that I had to do it. There was no chickening out, no charming or bribing my way through, no delegating the tough parts to others, no negotiations, no way to circumvent the challenge. I had to get down that cliff or else stay in that cave forever subsisting on a diet of bat sashimi. I was so afraid, so stupefied my brain could not even manage to make my life flash before my eyes.

But then again, after all the drama, when I got out of the cave, got home, and had a shower, I realized I had no scratches. No bruises. I did not even break a nail or scratch my pedicure. Not even though I slipped a dozen times. Not even though I missed a step rappelling up a crag and I held on the rope, swinging dangerously, ramming my already sore body against a rocky wall. I suppose fear kept me safe. It made me walk slower, and made me look like a stupid granny wimp, but it was also the instinct that made me take only sure steps and kept me from harm.

Fear is not always a bad thing.

LESSON THREE: We are stronger, faster, harder than we can ever imagine. Like I said, I’m not in the best shape. I find myself panting just mounting the bed. And I would never believe that I could do what I did in those caves. I still could not believe it now.

Nearing the exit, we stared at a 3-storey high, 15 degree steep wall that separated us from the freedom outside. In normal circumstances I would have thought it impossible to climb it and survive. But all the earlier challenges showed me that I could do what I never thought I was capable of doing. So even if the adrenalin was already starting to dwindle, and I was tired from 7 hours of gruelling spelunking, I just took a look at the challenge in front of me and did it. I heaved, I grunted, I whined, and I climbed, and climbed,and climbed until I finally got out of that cave. I realized I am stronger than I ever thought. I can do far more than I ever thought possible.

I realized how much our mindsets limit us from doing what we want to do, how much we underestimate our strengths, how much power is within us. It took the caves of Sagada and 5 sadistic guides to make me discover my inner strength.

LESSON FOUR: Crap is inevitable.In the last upward stretch out of the cave, we had to climb stone steps, made extremely slippery by bat excrement. The stench was unbearable, but the worst thing was that we had to hold on to some of the rocks to balance or lift ourselves up. Our fingers would land on inch-thick sludge – thick, icky layers of moist, mushy guano. And every germophobic fiber in my body would cringe and cry. But I just had to hold on for dear life fueled with the desire to just get out of that wretched cave that had held us captive for far too many hours.

In a Mythbusters episode, Adam and Jamie once concluded that “Poo is everywhere.” Literally. Sadly, it is true metaphorically too. Life can get crappy sometimes. Oftentimes, one can walk around and avoid stepping on poo, but there are times when there is just no way around it, and one has to bear with all the crap. You just have to grin and bear it. The thing is a little crap ain’t going to kill us.

LESSON FIVE: That big, fat ass (or nose, or ears) of yours will someday be put to good use. - What got me through the toughest physical challenges and the most perilous conditions? My stamina? Strategy? My upper body strength and leg power? Nah! It's my big, fat ass.

As we slid on rocks and soil, our guides asked us to rely on a skill creatively called the butt technique. Many, many times, we had to get ourselves closer to the pull of gravity and sit down, and let our butts do the walking, the wading, the sliding. And for the first time in my life, I thanked God for my ample assets.

I have always had what are euphemistically called child-bearing hips and the most generous rump to go with them. I hate how they get in the way of fashion and vanity. But that time at the cave, I was so grateful for all that generous padding.

It was a clear case of making lemonades out of life’s lemons. Life is fair when the things we consider as faults are actually blessings in disguise. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about 1930s born Jewish lawyers who were barred from WASP law firms forcing them to develop skills that would actually spell their success 20 years later.

So, don’t whine too much about your big ears or your big butts or whatever it is you consider a liability. They just might come handy someday.

LESSON SIX: Trust the experts, especially when you’re not one. –For all the bravado and the pride we felt after that incredible experience, we all know we couldn’t have done it without our guides, James, Andrew, Mark, Matthew, and Jory. (Those apostolic names did not escape my attention.) So many times in that whole experience, we really did not know what to do and were too afraid to do whatever it was we had to do. We had to literally let our guides lead our feet through every step. I mean every little scaredy step. And they would even let us step on their knees, shoulders, hands, and bear our weights as we shifted our balance to move forward.

For control freaks like me, it was very difficult letting go, trusting someone else, and bearing the shame of total reliance on others. But what choice did I have? So, I had to let go and let the guides get me through. When the guide said, “Trust me,” I had no choice but to obey. I trusted him with my life.

It’s the same thing in life. Don’t be macho. There are times when we have to let the experts show us how. We have to humble ourselves and allow others to help us for the sakes of safety, survival, and success.

LESSON SEVEN: Rest when you get the chance and enjoy it. – Spelunking with a large group, we had to sometimes wait for each other as we shared 5 guides and the light of a few kerosene lamps. Those were moments for rest. I loved those moments as we caught our breath and had the time to look around and admire the beauty within the cave – the fantastic rock formations, the shadows and the lights creating moving art against the smooth and the rough rocks, the heights, the layers, the sexy curves of walls, the secret crevices, the trickling and falling of the water, awesome sights no camera can capture. They’re meant to be etched in memory.

Those rest breaks slowed us down and stretched what was meant to be a 4-hour trek to 7 hours of torture. But those breaks actually fueled me, not just by replenishing energy, but also by inspiring me with beauty, and reminding me how blessed, how privileged I was to experience something so awesome.

LESSON EIGHT: The less you have, the less you fear. – Travel light. Travel light. Travel light. It’s a lesson that in my years of jet setting and island hopping, I still cannot comprehend. But when you’re in a slippery niche, 20 feet off stable ground, trying to balance yourself is made more difficult by anything hanging from your neck, shoulders, arms. Having too many things -- some of them precious like high-tech cameras, your return tickets -- complicates matters as you try to protect your goods when really you should be protecting your head and limbs. The less you have with you, the less you worry about losing or breaking them.

At one point, I had to accept that my camera had already been destroyed by the water and the blows. Strangely, I felt liberated from having to take more pictures and finding time to download them when I get back home.

Travel light. It’s still a maxim I find hard to accept wholeheartedly. But it is a lesson well learned in those dark, dank, dangerous caves where material possessions play second fiddle to life and health.

LESSON NINE: Shoes are important. – You have to use the right shoes for the right time and place. I thought my trusted Teva’s were good enough. But they are trekking shoes, not spelunking shoes. And at some point, it was better to go barefoot to let our feet grasp the rocks more securely. Having the right shoes for the right time and place is important. Okay, I don’t really know what this teaches me about life. I just want to justify my shoe closet issues.

Today, I say CAVE is a 4 letter word. My joints are still sore. My voice a bit hoarse. My body recuperating from all the slips and falls. But I can say about spelunking at Sagada, I’ve been there and done that. And I’m glad I did.

Sagada pics here:





Related Posts with Thumbnails