BORACAY: SURVIVING FRANKENSTORM

Note: Photos and videos will be posted separately after I have reviewed them.

Wanted to go home Saturday as scheduled but Cebu Pacific cancelled our Kalibo-Manila flight. We were stranded for several days. Got home safely Tuesday, 1045am, thanks to a good friend of mine who helped me get 6 confirmed seats on the first Cebu Pacific flight out of Kalibo.

I woke up early Saturday morning because Ryan wanted one last swim before we left the island. To my great surprise the waves outside were Hawaii Five-O-ish; some locals were even surfing! Jovic learned from Rose at the front desk that it was Signal #2 of Typhoon Frank (International Name: Fengshen) and that boats were not allowed to travel between Boracay and Caticlan. We stayed an extra night in relative comfort — Crystal Sand still had electricity, cable tv, phone service and home-style food. Then we lost all Globe telecom signals. Despite the winds and flying furniture, Chinne, Jopet and Ryan donned unused garbage bags from Crystal Sand with cutouts for their heads and arms, and walked to D’Mall just to buy everyone Smart sims and load. Out of all our telephones, only the high end phones (Chinne’s Sony Ericsson T650i and Jopet’s Nokia N95) had reliable signals. Still, we managed to inform our families about our situation. We waited till the Coast Guard said we could take the ferry Sunday. When we did so at the first possible opportunity, the water was relatively calm. There is a smaller jetty on the eastern side of the island from where we took our boat. It is actually the shorter, direct crossing, with a beach entry.

Upon arriving, Chinne used her Diyosa powers in the midst of chaos to get us a van from Caticlan to Kalibo. We arrived to scenes of heartbreaking devastation. The river between Numancia and Kalibo had overflowed, mud was everywhere, houses and school buildings were smashed flat, trees fell on power lines, and dead farm animals were semi-buried in the debris. When we got to the airport we found that part of the roof was damaged, the runway was unusable, there was no power and therefore no communication with Manila or Caticlan. We decided to return to Caticlan. By the time we got there it was 730pm, and found the Coast Guard had banned ferry rides again. With no place to stay, we went to the nearest “hotel” and found it a depressing place. We decided to stay in the Caticlan jetty building instead. There was no light, but there were working clean flush toilets, a very clean floor, friendly staff, and its own security detail. Best of all, there was an open Andok’s opposite. We slept on the floor.

Next morning around 6am Jopet and I walked to the airport and signed up on all airline waiting lists. Wanted to buy tickets home with my credit card but remembered they were only taking cash since there was no telephone lines operating. Thank God for our Smart sims! Jopet called his brother Eric to wire us money via MLhuillier Padala because there were no ATMs or open banks in Caticlan. Ironically, when we finally had the money to buy the tickets, we were told NO ONE was selling tickets. We couldn’t even ask our relatives to buy us tickets online since there was no way of confirming the ticket locator number. And at one point, all waiting list numbers were wiped back to zero. It was an angry mob waiting to happen.

Somehow I was able to contact my friend B, who advised me that the Kalibo airport just opened and that I could use my return ticket with Cebu Pacific. To my great surprise, he was able to call me from his Sun Cellular number! All networks would lose connection after one second, but not Sun. It was the only network that could sustain a voice call! (Reminder to self: get a Sun sim for emergencies.) Through B’s request, a very nice girl from Cebu Pacific we’ll call KP later contacted us and reassured us of confirmed seats. We took the first van we could find at 6pm and got to Kalibo at 8pm. Fortunately we found a place to stay called Airport Line, a travellers’ pension house a couple of blocks away (P300 a room, with own bathroom and electric fan for 12 hours). Our bathing water was literally pumped by the pail-load. And each of us had to share their small pail with their roommate, not to mention leave a bit for flushing the toilet. Better than nothing. After not being able to take a bath or brush my teeth for 48 hours I felt like a human being again.

Woman in Denial: “Waay kamo hot water? Abi ko hotel ini?” (What kind of hotel is this, you don’t even have hot water!)
Mai-mai: “Waay gani tubi, ma hot water ka pa?” (We don’t even have running water, and you expect it to be hot?)

The next morning at Kalibo airport there was another angry mob waiting to happen when the Caticlan passengers thought they wouldn’t be able to go home, since initially the Kalibo passengers got priority. Through a bit of people power it was finally arranged that those who got in line first got served, regardless of ticket route. It was the only way to start and keep the process going. Our confirmation via KP got us seats in the first of two planes that morning. I took some human interest videos — there was a woman crying when she checked in and saw the plane landing, the one we were going to ride home on. When she started crying nearly everyone got teary-eyed. As boarding was announced everybody cheered. We had bonded with each other since Sunday in the long lines at the airport, and even exchanged numbers.

I feel bad for the Cebu Pacific staff who had to face all the anger… they had also suffered from the typhoon and were unable to make decisions fast enough to satisfy the passengers. Most of the difficulty arose from lack of electronic communication, local managerial decision-making, and emergency preparedness-related customer service training. We truly appreciated this pretty tisay girl with the brown hair and headband who asked us as we approached the counter, “Kumusta na kayo, are you ok?” Truly, the first thing they needed to do in a situation like this was to show concern. One male employee got angry at a passenger as though it was the passenger’s fault they didn’t have the right ticket. But you see, it’s that lack of training or managerial supervision or service accountability that makes employees give excuses for lack of action instead of actually planning for and taking action. This giving of excuses just held everything up. They were not a team with a leader. They were a handful of tired, worried individuals, of which some were sheep or headless chickens shitting bricks. But Pretty Tisay Girl went on board before departure, to check if everyone on her list was accounted for, and even though we weren’t able to get her name, we certainly remembered her face. She had a smile for all of us before she left. What a winner.

Yeah, bad things happen to people who mean well. If according to the Cebu Pacific slogan: It’s Time Every Juan Flies, then Every Juan Must Also Be Able To Fly Home. I know the Gokongweis run Sun Cellular, they should turn this crisis into an opportunity to better serve Every Juan. If their ticketing employees had Sun work numbers, enough load, and enough electricity to juice up their phones, imagine how much faster confirming seats from Manila would have been! Every Juan among us was literally down to their last P200. That would have gotten us food, but not a place to stay yet another night, even if we had pooled all our resources. We were already on food and water discipline because the likelihood of finding a decent toilet was way low.

To my surprise, Sen. Mar Roxas was on our flight. He got the contact numbers of people who took videos of the destruction and of the difficulties at the airport. I think he went there to survey the damage, help plan for reconstruction and to deliver a message of reassurance.

I guess it will take time for Aklan to rebuild. As for me and my friends, it was an adventure. We returned home feeling like we had won The Amazing Race! We feel truly blessed to have survived and returned home to our families.

Chinne and Donna R, voices of the Frankenstorm Survivors, your Diyosa Powers rock! Thanks for fighting for passenger rights and keeping the group bonded. We’ll see each other soon for a reunion. Jovic, your managing the Caticlan and Kalibo lines inside the Kalibo airport was unexpected and amazing. Yen and husband, thanks for documenting the difficulties we encountered. Hopefully those concerned will make use of it to improve customer handling and disaster management.

B, you were literally my last resort. My phone batt was on its last bar when I contacted you. Thanks for being such a good friend 🙂

To my friend Clariza whom I woke up so early in the morning to help me with Seair information, you were a ray of sunshine.

To KP of Cebu Pacific, your concern and action struck the right note with us. Diyosa ka rin.

And to my inaanak Raffi, take everything you have seen on our trip and learn from it. Don’t forget how the bad parts can become opportunities for bringing out the best in people. Don’t even forget that smelly bloated dead cow those men carted away from the muck in Numancia. It reminds us how glad we are to be alive. Remember, you HAVE to be alive to enjoy playing Team Fortress 2. Hahaha 🙂

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BORACAY: LEMON CHEESECAKE, CRISPY PATA & KARAOKE OVERLOAD

Our happy discovery on this trip was Lemoni Cafe in D’Mall. It’s included in the country’s top restaurants of 2007, according to Philippine Tatler. It’s the corner restaurant across from Bite Club and the D’Mall ferris wheel. Winners on the menu: the steak breakfast with fried eggs and roasted potatoes, the pork chops with roasted vegetables with a minty yoghurt sauce, the big breakfast with sausages and bacon, the seafood pasta, the fresh-baked wholewheat pan de sal and ciabatta, the baked lemon cheesecake, and the wonderful, wonderful Danesi coffee.

(Food photos taken with my JVC GZ-MG67u, a 2mpx CCD 20G hard disk camcorder.)

We enjoyed the food at Lemoni so much that we dined there three times and had coffee and dessert another time all within four days. The service was friendly and quick. Although at the last dinner, Chinne was craving for Andoks’ crispy pata. So we prevailed on the waitresses to allow her to bring it in. And while she was enjoying the crispy pata, the owner happened to be at the end table and noticed! He walked over and joked about how deliciously unhealthy it was. Chinne froze and had that sheepish aghast look on her face as she turned around to apologize. Jopet saved the day by mentioning the number of times we’d returned to dine, so Tom (an American engaged to a Pinay) said it was ok because the rest of us ordered and were repeat customers. He even mentioned that some people hang out there without even asking for water! We all congratulated him for inclusion in the Tatler list. To save Chinne’s reddened ears from further ringing, we hightailed it out of there. I went to get TDM a long-sleeved cotton camisa I had ordered from my suki vendor at the tiangge past Hey Jude. We later met the others at Cat’s Eye, our karaoke hang-out.

Jopet visits Cat’s Eye at least a couple of nights on each of his trips. Cat’s Eye is owned by a Korean married to a Pinay. His sister-in-law manages it and now knows Jopet pretty well. The last time we were there last October, people were just ordering beer and listening to us sing. And watching us dance to our own singing. We are that shameless! But we sound pretty good to begin with. We won’t win contests, but we like to have some campy fun. There are private rooms, but we sing only from the open bar, where it’s P30/per song. We each have a list of favorites, and songs that we like to sing all together. Chinne likes The Corrs and Patti Austin. I like Sergio Mendes and Heart. Jovic likes rock ballads from the 70s and 80s. Ryan likes OPM ballads. Jopet… he can sing anything, from Josh Groban to Ricky Martin, even to Beyonce re-arrangements. On our second night American visitor Angie and her cousin had fun singing “Proud Mary” and dancing with us. It was like we had gone to the gym and did aerobics for 3 straight hours. Our showstoppers? Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music”.

(Oy, we are such cam hams!)

On this trip we went back to Cat’s Eye three nights in a row. On the last night the wind and rain picked up, and a power outage silenced us too early for our liking. We walked home to Crystal Sand to eat Tostitos and chunky salsa and tried to figure out what songs from tv commercials we’d sing in a karaoke. The first that came to mind was “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” from our childhood. We ended the evening singing Paul Anka’s “The Times of Your Life” from that famous, tear-inducing Kodak commercial that starred the late actor Mario Montenegro. Which, incidentally, had won an advertising award for Jopet’s father! Imagine that.

Little did we imagine the violence of the weather that surprised us on the last night of our trip…

Up next — Boracay: Surviving Frankenstorm.

BORACAY: FOOD TRIPPING

Sometimes food is the center of our universe. Whenever the gang and I go anywhere for vacation entire days are planned around food, rather than “more exciting” activities like riding a Banana Boat. Looking forward to meals alone is certainly exciting enough. Besides, we use more of our senses while eating, as compared to while riding on an inflated platform behind a speedboat, screaming your lungs out and falling off. And you even spend less on it!

During our Boracay stay we had comfort food at our island home, Crystal Sand in Station 1. By comfort food I mean home-style, for us who enjoy hanging out at the trellised dining area in front of Rm. 105. That’s where we can be found at different times of the day, sometimes as early as 5am, having coffee and watching people. Chinne likes to imagine back stories about people that catch her fancy, such as the foreign gentleman impersonating barbecued pork while clad only in tiny bile-and-orange plaid trunks. Or the Korean honeymooners in their his-and-hers outfits. Or speculating on who the Gumamela Man might be, with his native hat, glorious long black hair festooned with hibiscus, as he rides by on his racer bike. Comfort food might be Bicol Express, with some grilled tanguigue or callos.

One night we bought a couple of big fresh lobsters, and since we couldn’t really afford a lobster per person, the Crystal Sand kitchen made Lobster Thermidor. It was my first time to taste it. Not bad, but I prefer seafood plain steamed, if it’s that fresh. Still, we had an al fresco dinner in front of the resort:


Our other favorite breakfast place is Cafe del Mar, next door to Crystal Sand. They have this pancake breakfast, where the pancake looks and tastes like bibingka. They serve it with sausages and fruit, usually pineapple. I would gladly have it over conventional pancakes anytime.

Another favorite place is Happy Ongpauco’s Hawaiian BBQ (also in Station 1) which serves great babyback ribs, fantastic roast chicken with gata and garlic mussels to die for. We’ve tried the strange but yummy Spam rice on a previous trip. It’s the kind of thing you end up craving for after a night out at the karaoke.

We also enjoyed the food at Saneh’Thai restaurant (yellow pork curry, chicken stir-fried with fragrant basil, squid sauteed in garlic, and the ever-refreshing green mango salad). It’s the one opposite our favorite creperie Crepes St. Michel, which was unfortunately undergoing renovation. We were greatly disappointed at not tasting our favorite Nutella crepes — considering we found Cafe Breizh (where I used to have breakfast crepes filled with bacon, egg and cheese) closed down. Alas. Fortunately, there’s Cafe Breton here in Ortigas Center, but it’s not the same without the sand beneath our pedicured toes.

While we were having coffee and drinks at Cafe del Sol (a white Russian for the curious me, San Mig Lite for Chinne, coffees for the boys and this humongous biko-like rice bibingka) who happened to be there but Lorna Tolentino and the Fernandez brood! They were accompanied by the still-gorgeous Amy Austria, Tirso Cruz III and his wife, Jinggoy, and various alipores. And there were any number of Brazilian-looking models scattered around the place (I can’t tell anymore, but they’re all twice my height and half my width). Of course, Chinne the people-watcher was hard at work, while reporting to one and all via cellphone.

More food tripping in the next entry — Boracay: Lemon Cheesecake, Crispy Pata & Karaoke Overload. Thanks to Jopet and Jovic for sharing pix from their cameras.

BORACAY: SUNNY DAYS SWEEPING THE CLOUDS AWAY


There’s nothing like being with your closest friends at the best of times and the worst of times.

This June 16th I joined my friends Jopet, Ryan, Chinne, Jovic, their son Raffi on our 4th trip to Boracay since October 2006. Long ago we made a pact that we deserved a vacation in a beautiful place for more than three whole days that 1) didn’t have to involve us doing every possible touristy action, 2) had a wide selection of cuisine choices, and 3) would satisfy our need for R&R and make us think fondly of home. Why did we wait for June 16? That’s when the off-peak season begins — rates go down, rooms are more available, there’s still lots of sunny days to go around despite the occasional monsoon showers.

We left Manila on the earliest Cebu Pacific flight, arriving in Kalibo at 0915am. Our suki van driver Ralph was there to meet us. He’s driven us on almost all our Kalibo-Caticlan trips since 2006. [For those who’ve never visited Boracay before, the 1.5-hr trip is a scenic drive, with newly planted rice fields giving way to the mountains and a view of the sea. Drivers like Ralph are DOT-accredited, and meet passengers directly at Kalibo airport. Single passengers may join any airconditioned van leaving earliest, paying about P200 per head for the one-way trip. The destination is Caticlan jetty, and the P200 includes the ferry ride to Boracay. Visitors to Boracay pay a one-time fee of P50 worth of local environmental taxes before boarding. The ferry ride is short, about 10 minutes in fair weather. Upon disembarking, we usually take a P100 tricycle ride to Budget Mart which is near the resort where we usually book. OR you may take the slightly pricier Manila-Caticlan direct flights on either Cebu Pacific, PAL, Seair, or Air Philippines to save vacation time.]

We were greeted by a sunny day, then a bit of sunshiny shower as we checked into Crystal Sand resort. And also by Jerry, the Bora-cat. He hangs out with the security guard on a white plastic chair on the entrance to D’Mall, and is a sort of mascot to the employees of Cafe del Sol and Aria restaurant. Dig the white shell necklace and laid-back attitude! That’s the precise vacation mood we wanted for ourselves on this trip. It developed with the sunny days, and we had FOUR straight sunny days.


Between the lot of us we had 2 video cameras, 1 digital camera, 1 Nokia N95, and 2 other camera phones. Needless to say, it was a photo-fest. At the airport, at the beach, at the restaurants, at the karaoke, at D’Mall.

I’m writing separately about the food and entertainment, since the side stories there are pretty funny.

The gang is planning to return in October. I’m not so sure I’ll be with them, since I have to be in Boracay Dec. 19 for my kinakapatid Jun’s wedding to the lovely Heidi.

If, like me, you love the sea, the sun and the sand, Boracay is Paradise. There are budget, comfort and luxury options of enjoying this trip, and if you can afford to declare to the Universe that you deserve it, it’s one of the best gifts you can give to yourself. But go with someone you love, or go with friends who love you. You need someone to make sure you’re evenly applied with spf 50 sunblock. As in all things, love is in the details.

Up next — Boracay: Food Tripping; Boracay: Lemon Cheesecake, Crispy Pata and Karaoke Overload; and Boracay: Surviving Frankenstorm.

GLOBE P5/15 MINS REVIEW

I really, really appreciate this Globe service offering. As a postpaid subscriber, I was seriously considering having my Nokia 6120c openlined before the one-year warranty was up, just so I could use a Smart sim for the P10/30 minutes internet service. Now I don’t have to. Now I can hold off getting a usb 3G HSDPA modem, because I can always use the money elsewhere.

I first tried it last May 17th, while inside a building within Ortigas Center. I connected the 6120c to my ASUS eee 701 4G unit “Luthien”, using the original Nokia data cable that came with the handset. The latest Nokia PC Suite was installed. For best results I made sure that my internet phone setting was at TIME instead of KB. [Important: To find out what your current setting is, text STATUS to 1111, and if you are not yet on TIME setting, text TIME to 1111 and wait for the confirmation before you avail of the service]. Using a variety of online internet speedtests on a workday afternoon, I got an average download speed of 420kbps. Not bad! On our home wifi network (PLDT Dsl), I get an average of 790-820kbps max around noon and and about 380-440kbps at peak hours when I share the bandwidth. The Mozilla Google homepage loaded in 3 seconds. Now I have no idea what speeds other people get on their connections, but this is plenty fast enough for me to do the things I like doing, whether for work or for enjoyment.

When trying to connect from a coffee shop in Megamall, I decided to test my theory that it makes more economic sense to buy just the coffee you like and connect using Globe, instead of being forced to upsize or buy a P100 card for an hour’s worth of surfing. First of all, I believe in not abusing coffeeshop real estate and utilities because other people need their coffee and seats too. I’m nice that way. But when you consider that one hour’s worth of surfing with Globe costs only P20, and the short latte you really like is P80… would it be absolutely necessary for you to spend the minimum purchase of P150? Of course, you need the 3G phone to begin with, but if you can afford both the laptop and the price of fancy coffee, I’m sure you already have one. Speedtest results at the coffeeshop : 216kbps.

I was in Baguio a couple of weeks ago for a work trip, and was billeted at the Baguio Country Club. I know there is open wifi there, but for some reason, the signal was not very strong where my room was. So I took out the trusty Nokia 6120 and its cable, and got a not-too-bad speed of 140kbps. Again, enough just for emails and YM messaging and smaller file downloads.

I’ll make it a point to save screenshots of my speedtests from now on.

MRT HOLDOUT NO MORE


“Ayoko ng mainit, ayoko ng masikip, ayoko ng mabaho, ayoko ng putik! [I don’t like the heat, the crush of people, the bad smells, the mud!]” goes an oft-quoted line by actress Maricel Soriano in one of her movies. Now I’ve had my share of each, but I’ve gotten to that point in my life where I don’t have to take them on all at the same time. And so when the MRT was finally fully operational in 2000, my friends and family were all agog about taking the train everywhere. I was the lone holdout. I was perfectly willing to take a cab everywhere, considering it takes me from point A to point B in just one ride. If I could pay to avoid stress (what Maricel said, plus vertiginous visions of steep grey staircases), I would. But cashflow always has its limits.

One Friday night this May I called a boutique owner about the availability of crafting supplies in her Greenbelt 2 shop. Having just experienced scouring eBay for items, and anxiously awaiting news from a UK seller, I wanted to see which items I could save delivery costs on. Lo and behold, the very items I wanted were much more affordable here than if I had ordered them from Singapore! We’re talking made-in-Germany Addi Turbo circular knitting needles, which sells retail in the US for $15 a pair (here in Manila it’s half that price; in Singapore, it’s US$10, and I’d still have to add cost of shipping). If I could pay a reasonable price for a global product distributed by a local business that pays taxes and employs Filipinos and gives me instant gratification, I would do so in a heartbeat.

So the very next morning, wanting to put my cab fare budget into my craft supplies budget, I left for the Shangri-la MRT station on Shaw Blvd. Within an hour, I was able to: ride to Ayala Ave., buy my craft supplies, pay my cellphone bill, and ride back to Shaw. So many things accomplished in an hour! Amazing. My wallet was lighter by four P5 coins and two P1 coins (P11 each way) — plus more I didn’t count, for the Philippine National Red Cross (with its teen volunteers at the train stations always polite and smiling, how can I not share?). Yes it was a clean and safe ride, a bit warm despite the airconditioning, but this was a Philippine summer.

I could not imagine why I had held out from riding the MRT for so long. I just wasn’t ready before this, I guess.

I took the Ayala to Shaw route again after a breakfast meeting in Glorietta last June 5. I especially liked the view over Guadalupe bridge, and wanted to take a picture or a video with my cellphone but was afraid people would think I was violating their privacy. I was in the women-only train, which I was glad of, but I suppose if I planned the timing of my trips, any train on the MRT would work equally well. Some bloggers I met the next evening at Juned’s birthday dinner wanted to discuss the discriminatory quality of having a women-only train, but they did remember that wheelchair-bound passengers, pregnant women, women with young children and senior citizens were welcome to that train too.

Having lived abroad I took the ease of travelling by train or tube or tram or bus for granted. Blind passengers with seeing eye dogs, even paraplegics driving motorized wheelchairs, had enviable mobility. In countries where public transport leaves and arrives according to schedule, where my safety was relatively guaranteed, I didn’t need to think twice. Given the current rise in oil prices, I’m pleased Filipinos have public transport options like the MRT and LRT. Of course, I never intend to take the train on a rush hour. Never. I long ago promised myself not to arrive anywhere in a bad-hair, short-tempered state if I could help it.

I hear there’s a continuation of the MRT route planned, from SM City North Edsa towards Fairview and ending in San Jose del Monte (Bulacan), announced in the news early this year. But first I want to try going to Divisoria from Shaw (Shaw northward to Araneta Center interchange, switching lines to the LRT ending at Doroteo Jose). Yes, my motivations are craft-related, and it’ll be an adventure.

In the meantime, I leave you with this nifty site ParaSaTabi.com, which has been giving out online public transportation routes within Metro Manila since 2005. Many thanks to UrbanRail.net for the above image.

WORLD CINEMA MARATHON

Written elsewhere in another blog I own, shortly after Holy Week:

For the last three weeks my stack of unviewed dvds has been growing. My interest in Oscar blockbusters has not been engaged much, except for Ian McEwan’s “Atonement”, but since the theme is tragic and depressing I have held off watching it. I’m a bit lucky to have found a couple of friendly sources for my preferred movies, namely foreign language films. The latter are so hard to find. I just never got the time till now (it being Holy Week), to watch them.

I like watching world cinema in their original language with English subtitles. That way I get the full expression of the acting. Dubbing in English disappoints me, especially when the voice does not match the character, or when poor dubbing results in too many lip movements and not enough syllables heard. And, of course, good translation is critical.

The other night I watched an old favorite, Laura Esquivel’s Como Agua Para Chocolate (“Like Water For Chocolate” – 1992). I had read the book before the movie was released, a prime example of Latin magical realism (read: suspend your disbelief at the appropriate plot devices). I hadn’t watched it for years. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, although I still agree with my original opinion that the actor playing Pedro plainly wasn’t compelling enough for Tita to knit miles of bedspread for. Lots of mouth-watering cooking scenes, as family recipes are a recurrent theme in the book. A favorite scene is where the revolutionary captain goes after the middle sister running naked from the burning bathroom, plucking her from the ground and heaving her onto his horse in one amazing fluid motion. It’s the kind of scene that makes people clap in the middle of the movie house because of its supercharged erotic audacity.

Last night I watched Zhang Yimou’s award-winning Da hong deng long gao gao gua (“Raise The Red Lantern” – 1991) for the very first time. I am such a Gong Li fan, you see. She plays Songlian, a former university student married off at 19 to a rich man as his fourth wife (read: concubine) in 1920s China. Songlian, imprisoned in her gilded cage, finds herself thrust in the middle of household intrigues more dire than any Desperate Housewife can handle. Five stars for this! It deserves all its accolades — for plot, direction, cinematography and acting. It affected me. And yes, it bears watching again and again.

To end the evening on a lighter, albeit no less critically acclaimed note, I watched Juzo Itami’s Tampopo (“Dandelion” – 1985). Fondly called “the first Japanese noodle Western!”, this is food porn at its best. Think Clint Eastwood and… er, Shirley MacLaine… only in Japanese. This is a sensual feast of a comedy where a cowboy hat-wearing truck driver helps a widowed single mother open a successful ramen house… together with his cute young sidekick, an ancient noodle sensei, a rich man’s chauffeur, and a thuggish building contractor! Favorite scene #1: Homeless gourmet tells Goro and Tampopo about the fine nuances of flavor between the dregs of three bottles of French wine he scavenged from the rubbish bin of a restaurant. I wish I knew the exact dialogue, but he talked like a professional wine taster! It was dead funny! Favorite scene #2: Well-dressed Humphrey Bogart-ish gangster (who is obsessed with food and cinema) and his girl have sex AND food. This theme certainly came out an entire year before 9 1/2 Weeks and for me was a better, more successful treatment. Check out the part where they kiss, passing a raw egg yolk from mouth to mouth, whereupon the girl is overcome with desire and goes limp. It’s a very romantic side story where every side story is about food, its preparation and its appreciation. But don’t forget it’s a comedy! A very Japanese one. I actually got hungry watching everyone slurp ramen (which occurs with delicious frequency in this film).

In the meantime I am trying to find or download Ang Lee’s Yin shi nan nu (“Eat Drink Man Woman” – 1994).

Yes, I must admit, a lot of the foreign language films I watch seem to feature love, sex, food and death. All good reasons for watching.