Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Erasmus Mundus journey comes full circle

erasmus mundus forum
It has been nearly 10 years since my Erasmus Mundus journey began. After my daily blogging here tapered off, I experimented with photoblogging, then with blogging again at Pinoy Erasmus Mundus, then travel blogging, and now, I am back to EM with the Erasmus Mundus Forum. It's funny how I'm leaving trails all over the internet, which is now spelled with a small "i". How time flies.

This shoutout is for the forum, which just launched two weeks ago and is still taking its baby steps. The format is one I'm not so familiar with, but I believe it is essential for the task. I'd like to give back in the hope that one day the forum will be on its own two feet. It will take some time, but I'm hopeful. Please show it some love. Come visit it at

Sunday, August 17, 2014

I have found a new home!

I've moved! I'm back online with a new travel blog. It's called HOW ABOUT HERE.

My old posts here will stay right where they are. But for new stuff (or old stuff in a new form), HAH is the place where it's at. Come follow me there. :)

Monday, March 25, 2013

There goes the Future

I'm a month behind in posts but here's something to tide you over until I find time to sit down and write a proper one. (From the looks of it, that will take another month or two.)

My piece on FMFA 2013 at Sepang International Circuit: Future Music: Where the World Says Andale!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Temples of Angkor

Banteay Srei, a small but lovely pink sandstone temple 70 km from Siem Reap

Gong Xi Fa Cai! What are your travel plans for the Year of the Snake? If you've never been to Cambodia, let me share photos of my latest trip with you. They're here in this Travel 3Sixty Facebook album.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Les Miserables (2012)


Why even bother to write about the film adaptation of the musical Les Miserables, when I can't ever be objective about it? You know what? I'm not sure, either.

This post was spurred by Hyperactive's Facebook link to his review and our eventual mini-discussion in the comments.  If he had not suggested that I write about it, I probably wouldn't have, simply because I don't think it matters anymore. But maybe I do have a story here. So I will explain why I saw it the way that I did.

Les Miserables was my gateway drug to musical theatre.

It was almost 20 years ago when I was introduced to the musical by a classmate of mine. We were in sixth grade. She told us about Les Miz because her cousin was playing Gavroche in the Manila production. I wasn't the only one who got hooked; there were a bunch of us who didn't see the show but became fans. The inevitable happened--we craved for more. Thus, the other mega-musicals of the era followed: Miss Saigon, Phantom of the Opera, the rest of the Andrew Lloyd Webber canon...

I remember sharing the double cassette tape of the Les Miz Original London Cast recording with my brother. The song titles were printed on white stickers on either side of the tapes, which eventually became beige with our constant handling. The tapes were so overplayed that our players would sometimes eat them. (Oh, I don't want to explain this to the kids anymore. Basta.)

My brother and I enjoyed the Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert, too. He was the one who bought the album. I believe we even recorded the televised show on VHS. By the time the 25th Anniversary Concert came around, everything was online already, so it wasn't that hard to geek out.

Yes, I bought a book for its cover
Point being, I love the show. Nevermind that I only watched it in 2000 from the farthest section with a cheap ticket from Leicester Square. (Joanna Ampil played Eponine. That made me really happy.)  Nevermind that I didn't finish the 1400-page complete and unabridged book. I still managed to absorb the easy 300+ pages of an abridged version. Cheater.

Clearly, I am not the biggest fan of the musical either--I can't remember every name in the OLC ensemble and it's not even my favorite musical of all time--but I'm sure we Les Miz lovers number in the millions and we are passionate about it to this day.

So when the film casting speculations started to circulate, of course I was breathless with anticipation. When the teasers started coming out, I was still able to contain myself. When the excerpts surfaced, I felt I had seen enough and that I could manage my expectations.


When the featurettes were posted, I watched them all and enjoyed the production details that I missed from not doing theater for years. And when came out with Les Miserables advent calendar (go on, open it!), I checked it every week (not daily--that would have been really unbearable) because I needed a fix.

I avoided reviews like the plague and went home to the Philippines for the holidays annoyed that the only thing in the way of me watching Les Miz was the Metro Manila Film Festival, which starts on December 25 every year. Mmff talaga!

When I came back to Kuala Lumpur, I made sure to watch Les Miz on the first weekend I could. But when I did...(And this is the part where I need to plagiarize my Facebook comments and assume that you've seen the film.)

The film started out big and grand, as I had never seen the chain gang before. But like the ship in the opening sequence, the film quickly showed that it wasn't the watertight epic I was hoping it would be. The big question was:

Where were the melodies? Where there actually songs?

It's unthinkable to accuse Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil of creating music that is forgettable. Their forte is getting audiences to remember the themes. How come nothing stuck?

I might have the answer: the music was sacrificed in the name of ownership and acting. Then again, you don't have to rewrite the sheet music to own a song. It's also possible to act and still stay more or less faithful to the book (and I don't mean the Victor Hugo one).

I've admired Hugh Jackman since I found out about The Boy From Oz. Since his "Bring Him Home" made me cringe, I don't know what to think of him anymore. Man, was that unlistenable.

There is nothing bad you can say about Anne Hathaway and she's a shoo-in for the Oscar. Her part of the story was the most moving one for me. (Though the actress is only human, as Ricky Lo knows. I don't intend to watch his or Manny the Movie Guy's interviews, but Jessica Zafra's dissection of the non-event is enough for me.) That doesn't spare her from Hatha-haters, though.

The Thenardiers are not as effective as they are onstage. And really, is it too much, Mr. Mackintosh, to have a Marius with dimples? Just kidding.

Not even the presence of the original stage Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson (as the bishop), could save the film. But he was the model of simplicity, true to his character. And that is because he didn't need to prove that he can sing. It was nice to have Aaron Tveit and Samantha Barks there. I'm on the fence about Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne. I will be harsher to movie stars than to theater people, but props to them for going through six weeks of rehearsals.

As for Javert...poor guy. Moving on...

You left your coat, dear. Every woman is an Eponine. That's why we react to that waist. It's hard enough to breathe, all the more to sing. © Universal Pictures  

Schoolboys. Just as foolish in the 19th century. © Universal Pictures

Let's face it: there's nothing quite as amazing as a revolving barricade. The barricade is a character on its own. If it is not dynamic, it is dead.

The zooming-out-to-the-heavens shots reminded me of the Phantom of the Opera film. Joel Schumacher was crucified for that (but more because he gave Batman nipples than for anything else), but in hindsight, POTO is much more watchable than Les Miz. Not so sure I'd listen to its soundtrack but I definitely cannot listen to the Les Miz film soundtrack. Or even watch it again. In a few years, perhaps, for a sing-along. An aside: you should see the version I saw in the cinema. It had subtitles in English, Malay and Chinese. Mic na lang, karaoke na!

Ay, sorry. Where was I?

I want to believe that Tom Hooper is an intelligent director and that he tried his darndest to put this film together. There were some smart choices there--live singing and the addition of the new song, to name two. Surely he could have done something to make the lovebirds not look like complete fools. He doesn't really care about them, does he?

It's understandable that the female echo in "Drink With Me" disappeared, but taking away the Fantine-Eponine harmony at the finale? That, for me, was the last straw.

And now, a word on all those closeups. The cinematography is as unforgivable as it is unforgiving. If you're going to be all auteur with a musical of this magnitude, you'll alienate not just theatergoers but film lovers for whom every shot, every angle has to be meaningful.

Les Miserables went on to win the Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was robbed! That was a much smaller film but very well made. Fine, smaller films are much easier to get right. In the case of Les Miserables, scale was always part of the equation. But it is not the only thing that matters.

Do you hear the (theater) people sing praises for the movie? It had heart, yes, but I'm not sure if it beat with the glorious music that is the soul of the musical we love. And that is why it made me more miserable than I thought I would be.

I wanted to pick a fight (and still do) with my boss when he said that the movie is better than the musical. It makes my blood boil. Then I stop to think. Am I the more irrational one, 24601?

Les Miserables is still a motion picture event and a milestone for movie musicals. Some viewers might need hankies. If you haven't seen the film, go see it. Let's compare notes afterwards. Talking about it helps me make sense of these intense reactions that took me quite a while to explain. (Another reason why this entry is getting longer and longer.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Coron and beyond

It's our year.

The Philippines has been appearing on top (but sometimes bottom) of all sorts of lists. I'd like to believe that there is more good press than bad, though the latter easily outshadows the former. I'm trying to do my share.

Mention my country and you're supposed to think of islands.

That's me in an oversized life vest with my mom in a bangka, halfway through a 3.5-hour ride. But how about this?

Let me tell you more in Calamian: The Crown of Palawan.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

AirAsia Awesome Islands & Beaches Travel Guide

This early, I have so much to be excited about. I've got a few trips lined up, more in the planning, and surely some unexpected ones coming later. Add to that a handful of resolutions that will change  my life... if I can keep them up.

I have neglected my blog in the last two months, but I hope to reverse the one-post-a-month trend. At some point I will probably do a major overhaul, but right now it's all about content, which tends to be scattered between Travel 3Sixty and Facebook instead of landing here.

For now, I'll leave you with inspiration, suggestions and tips for your travels. Check out our fresh travel guide, Awesome Islands & Beaches. Download it now.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Download now: Travel 3Sixty December 2012

My story on Wuhan, China is in the December 2012 issue of Travel 3Sixty. Download or read our last issue for the year (as well as the previous issues) online and browse through our guides. Keep your own copy and you won't run out of travel ideas. Everything is free. Don't forget to share!

[UPDATE] Check out my companion article Food Trip: Wuhan on Travel 3Sixty.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Berjaya Hills

An entire month passed by without a post. Time to work on this backlog.

Bukittinggi? I thought that was somewhere in Indonesia. I would never have imagined that there would be a French-themed resort in the mountains outside of Kuala Lumpur. Just an hour's drive from the city is Berjaya Hills, home of the pretty but somewhat tacky Colmar Tropicale.

The place draws its fair share of daytrippers, but you can spend the night in peace here. There's not much to do but take pictures, buy souvenirs and play games.

Face to face with a black swan

Further up, it's much cooler at the Botanical Garden and the Japanese Village. A nice afternoon outside the city.

The drive is very pleasant, too. Smooth roads with a view of the limestone mountains.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Find it on a map

I'm a cartophile. Share the love.

A map of London by Abi Daker

Sara Drake's awesome work, one of the 40 world maps featured at

Cycling in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by Nik Neves, seen at They Draw and Travel

Friday, October 26, 2012

Classic Pinoy breakup songs, the English collection

These Filipino songs in English from the 90s and the early 2000s are classics. These are sad melodramatic tunes--nothing bitter, nothing to rock out to. I put together this playlist for my friend months back, when he couldn't get himself to listen to it. Since he's better now, I'm posting this in the hope that he will refer to it when he needs a good cry.

Ella Mae Saison "If the Feeling is Gone"
Ella Mae Saison "Now That You're Gone"
Ella Mae Saison "Til My Heartaches End"
Freestyle "Before I Let You Go"
Freestyle "Missing You"
Nina "Someday"
Side A "Set You Free"
Side A "Tell Me"

Love that last one. Don't want to end on a sad note, so here's a bonus uplifting track: South Border "Rainbow"

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kinetic Rain (2012)

ART+COM's brilliant work, on view at Changi Airport's Terminal 1

I haven't been as mesmerized by a work of art in a long time. If you're passing by Singapore, it's worth taking the SkyTrain to Terminal 1 to watch this in action.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Labrador Nature & Coastal Walk

Singapore never fails to surprise me. I've done five trips there since 2010 and I still see something new each time.

Labrador Nature & Coastal Walks connects Labrador Nature Reserve and the high-end enclave Keppel Bay. It makes for a wonderful walking and jogging path, as you can see on this morning shoot on my mobile phone.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

For your consideration: Myanmar

So the first half of the month came and went without as much as a word from me. It's been a packed two weeks, and when it did become more relaxed, the internet connection was down. And just before I can catch up, I'm setting off again for another country.

Girls who travel love stripes! On the Irrawaddy River

 Bagan, Myanmar

Let's make this easy. Here's my latest article on the Travel 3Sixty website: Next to Nirvana. Go ahead and click. You might just like it. Thanks in advance for sharing!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

"It's a Sunday night, a night never to be trusted for emotions..."

Regardless of what you think of John Mayer, his music has a way of speaking directly to this generation. This song has been on my mind for a week now after I saw it on a friend's wall. It's not new, but the song and especially the intro sound as if this has actually happened to everyone.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Talentime (2009)

Tried to not be affected by the late Yasmin Ahmad's last film. Failed.

Another trailer here. They don't look like they're from the same film, no?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Tapau Secret Show

There's something wonderful about exclusive last-minute gigs. They're stressful because you have to quickly decide whether or not to go, but not knowing what to expect is also good--you're bound to be surprised.

Just hours before the show, word about TAPAUtv's Secret Show spread. All you had to do was show up...assuming you can drive over to Puchong, which is outside of Kuala Lumpur. (To Chatime Galleria's credit, it's a lovely place, very cozy and intimate.)

The show started with the lovely harmonies of The Impatient Sisters plus a cellist. Their voices blend  so well.

Narmi was, in a word, cute. Such a radio-friendly voice. My only problem is that the whole acoustic setting reminds me of the scene in Manila ten years ago, though admittedly Narmi is more polished.

Oh Chentaku played some covers and originals and got the audience to sing along. I can't help but compare the vocalist to Journey's Arnel Pineda.

Last but not the least, an unannounced performer: Yuna, whose international album was produced by Pharrell Williams. One word: ukelele.

The turnout and reception of the secret show were both fantastic. Congratulations to Ikan Paos Kolektif, the group behind Tapau. Hope there will be more secret shows soon.