Saturday, February 28, 2009

The shortest plane ride in the Philippines

Based on all the route maps I have checked, the flight between Cebu and Bacolod that I took last Saturday is the shortest commercial plane route in the Philippines. Served by both Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific, it's a mere 117 km from runway to runway-- definitely the shortest flight in distance, if not in duration.

For perspective, Tokyo's Narita International Airport is 60 km from Tokyo itself.

A distance of 117 km is normally very drivable. But Cebu and Bacolod are on different islands, divided by the Tañon Strait, with some rugged hills on both islands to complicate things. Buses are available for transportation between the two cities (taking a roll-on/roll-off ferry to cross the Tañon Strait), but a comfortable plane is preferred for those who can afford it.

The plane took off at 8:22 AM, and 17 minutes later the pilot was calling the crew to prepare for landing. The descent and preparation for landing took nearly half the time of the flight itself. Total flight time: 32 minutes.

It annoyed me that when I glanced at the fellow passengers on the plane, almost no one was looking out the window. I wonder... Are they really so snooty that they feel the need to mask their faces with boredom, or have they just grown so jaded that they feel no enthusiasm for a trip through the sky? At what point does one stop being filled with awe by looking down at the earth from 30,000 feet? I never want to become that guy.

Here's a few pictures from my flight.

This dainty thing was my vessel in the sky for 32 minutes. It has a capacity of just around 80 people. Checking in at the airport, they didn't just weigh my luggage-- they had to weigh me.

A view of messy, poorly-planned Lapu-Lapu City as we take off from the Mactan-Cebu International Airport.

The hilly terrain of central Cebu Island.

Clouds clouds clouds.

Coming down on Bacolod City, their glorious new "government center" stands out from everything else. The airport is actually in Silay City, 14 km to the north.

A view of the clean, manicured agricultural fields in the plains of Silay City.

Arrival at the New Bacolod-Silay International Airport.

It's a nice airport.

Monday, February 23, 2009

ABS-CBN presents the abridged Academy Awards

ABS-CBN's telecast of the Oscars was disgraceful. They cut out the entire segments for the awarding of Best Animated Short, Best Live Action Short, and Best Documentary Short. I mean, I know these are categories no one cares about, and it's likely that very few people even noticed that the show was being mutilated, but to deny the winners their moment in the sun is a shame. Who knows what else they cut out.

At one point it came time for awarding of Best Director, which is usually second-to-last if my memory serves me correctly-- So for a few minutes I even thought ABS-CBN edited out the awarding of Best Actor and Best Actress, which would have not only been inexcusable but inexplicable. Given their chronic lack of class I wouldn't rule out the possibility, but it turns out the award ceremony just switched around the order of things a bit.

God forbid things go over schedule and miss their stupid regularly scheduled 1:15 PM Wowowee. Immediately after Hugh Jackman gave his closing farewell there was a cut to Willie Revillamae and his godawful Wowowee-- I nearly threw up at the sight.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


You'll have to excuse all the movie commentaries I've been doing lately, as I've been feeling in a very Oscar-hyped mood. But with most of the recent nominated movies exhausted, today I'm reaching several months back to a summer release, WALL-E. And let me get this thought out right off the bat: The feeling I get is that if Pixar is unable to squeeze a Best Picture nomination out of a movie as finely crafted and artistically respectable as WALL-E, maybe they should just stop trying. I don't think any animated movie of this decade has been more deserving.

The premise is like one from an Asimov masterpiece science fiction short story. Hundreds of years into the future, the earth has fallen victim to out-of-control human consumerism and environmental neglect-- the whole planet is covered in garbage. The human race has abandoned the earth, leaving it for dead and escaping into a habitat in outer space. Only small garbage compacting robots are left behind on earth to sort out the mess, and 700 years later only one remains: WALL-E.

The scrappy WALL-E has been working forever, compacting garbage and collecting souveniers of the remains of human culture. His routine is disrupted one day when he encounters Eve, a slick probe sent by the self-exiled humans to evaluate the planet's ability to sustain life. The two robots meet and... fall in love. :3

Amazingly for a family friendly movie, the entire first act of the movie is almost completely devoid of dialogue. It's just robots, after all. But on the positive, the lack of dialogue allows it to transcend language, and communicate to the audience in a more fundamental level. Even more amazing is how much personality and character they were able to cram into robots that are basically mute and have no real face.

Credit has to be given to Ben Burtt for all the work he's done on the sounds, an aspect of movies that hardly ever gets any attention. If you've ever listened to his commentary on Star Wars DVDs you know how much creativity and thought he puts into creating the noises-- he's like a savant that hears an opportunity in every unremarkable sound around him. Maybe the lack of dialogue forces my senses to reach into the void for something to listen to, but I don't think I have ever taken such notice to the quality of sound effects in a movie before.

The quiet first half of the movie is the better half, with a sense of wonder to every scene as it follows WALL-E on his otherworldly post-apocolyptic existance. The second half of the movie feels very different and takes on a more conventional tone, as the focus shifts to the human space habitat where WALL-E and Eve dodge security forces and a mutinous autopilot in order to set the ship on a course back to the earth. WALL-E was not nominated for Best Picture, as many people had hoped, and I'd blame the second half for that. Not that there's anything particularly wrong about it, but it's just not the type to win awards.

Personally I liked the reflective first half myself, when the movie was doing what it does best, broadcasting a sense of awestruck wonder through a song without words.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


The setting of Doubt is 1964, but the drab colors make it feel about a hundred years older. Or maybe anything set in a rigid Catholic school run by nuns seems a hundred years older than it actually is.

Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is the terror inducing principal of a conservative Catholic school in New York, a cynical bitch who sparks fear in the hearts of her students, and frowns even at the idea of writing with a ballpoint pen. I can hardly understand what makes fountain pens so virtuous myself, and I suppose that's says something about her vast disconnect from actual society.

She's a sharp contrast against Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a good natured priest who doesn't care nearly as much for such frivolous protocol-- he smokes, plays basketball, tells jokes at the dinner table, and makes Sister Aloysius' blood boil with the suggestion of including a secular song at the next school Christmas pageant. Oh Frosty the Snowman, you pagan nymph!

Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn's personalities come into direct contact when she suspects him of molesting a young boy, the school's first black student. He has a perfectly believable explanation, but she is relentless in pursuing her hunch-- all because he called on the boy to the rectory during class one day. With hardly a shred of evidence, and lacking even the support of they boy's mother, she sets out to destroy Father Flynn's reputation, or at least his career at the school.

Doubt got five Oscar nominations, four of them for acting, which has to be some kind of record. Aside from the two leads, also nominated is Amy Adams, who plays a young a naive teacher caught in the middle of the conflict, and Viola Davis, the black boy's mother who actually has just one long scene with dialogue. All these performances keep the the movie riveting, even at times when the plot wears thin (the climactic confrontation between Aloysius and Flynn is a heated argument that goes back and forth without really going anywhere).

The movie walks a fine tightrope, giving you all the reason to believe that Father Flynn is innocent, but planting just enough seeds of doubt to consider the possibility that he's not. Just when you think you're sure of the emptiness of the accusations against him, he give the kid a hug that last a second too long, or lets out a hint of telling defensiveness in his tone.

I've fluctuated from one side to another but mostly chose to believe in his innocence-- perhaps a lot of that comes from wanting to deny victory to Meryl Streep's character, who is simply an unbelievable tremendous bitch. The ending is very ambiguous, leaving me feeling very ambiguous. Given the title of the movie, that very likely was the point. Good job.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Bacong Fish

In the municipality of Bacong, Negros Oriental-- a small town neighboring Dumaguete City-- there is a big concrete fish in a vacant grassy field along the highway. (See the location on Google Maps) It's a big convenient landmark to people driving south from Dumaguete, or downhill from Valencia. If you see the fish, that's when you know you're in Bacong.

Last Saturday, Loren and I went to pay him a visit.

If my memory serves me right, the fish was once part of a playground that occupied the field. At some point the playground was removed, and the fish was inexplicably left behind. Maybe it was just too big to demolish. Maybe they didn't want to damage a piece of art. Maybe they just thought it would be funny.

Open wide, fishy!

Someone parked their goat beside the mouth of the fish, so they could keep each other company.

Yeah, so that's how I spent my Valentine's Day. Isn't my girlfriend the best?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Revolutionary Road

"You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. [...] Do you know what I'm talking about?"

Ok that's actually a quote from The Matrix, but that movie has a lot in common with Revolutionary Road, a movie about people living from day to day wired into an invisible machine of bland monotony, and the struggle to break free from it.

Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) are an attractive young couple in the suburbs of Connecticut: Married, two kids, stable job, beautiful home-- all that the 1950s American couple could hope for in a prepackaged life on rails. But April feels it, and maybe Frank does too, the emptiness of a fulfilled life with unfulfilled dreams. They're trapped in the monotony of peaceful everyday existence, living their lives without really living at all.

They plan to break from this world with a sudden move to Paris. Neighbors and co-workers are surprised by the decision, of course... they nod their heads in polite agreement, but they don't really know a thing, do they? They're too wired in. A wrench is thrown into their plans to move when Frank gets an irresistible promotion, and April gets pregnant, and they're forced to convince themselves that perhaps Parisians aren't the only ones capable of leading interesting lives.

This movie is directed by Sam Mendes (incidentally Kate Winslet's husband), who has already directed an amazing movie about the hopeless emptiness of suburban desperation-- 1999's American Beauty, which won an Oscar for Best Picture. Revolutionary Road takes a much less subtle, less weird, more direct approach to getting its message through. In the opening scenes we see April the housewife left alone at home, while Frank leaves in his gray suit and fedora to wade through Grand Central Station in a sea of other gray suits and fedoras. No words are spoken but you know what the movie's saying.

Revolutionary Road should have been at least nominated for Best Picture this year, as it's better than many of the actual nominees. In fact I would have considered it a contender to win. In other news, how the hell did Leonardo DiCaprio not get an Oscar nomination for this? And Kate Winslet too? They put out the most vicious, blood chilling marital fight scene imaginable.

Frank and April are visited by their realtor and her son John, a former mathematician who now lives in a mental institution. But his only mental illness, if you think about it, is his lack of inhibition to tell the truths that no one wants to talk about or hear. Amid all the flaky friends and acquaintances, only John seems to completely understand what the sudden move to Paris is all about. And only he condemns them for their doubts when they decide not to move after all.

Here's a quote from April:
"For years I thought we've shared this secret that we would be wonderful in the world. I don't know exactly how, but just the possibility kept me hoping. How pathetic is that? So stupid. To put all your hopes in a promise that was never made. [...] We were never special or destined for anything at all."

This is a really good movie, and I think I really enjoyed it, but it's hard to say you enjoy something with such a deeply depressing subject nature. In Frank and April we may see an unspoken side of ourselves, living our lives, marching towards the end without the ability or the conviction to stay from the path most traveled.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Durhan Tabuelan

Durhan White Beach Resort is a charming little resort in Barangay Tabunok, Tabuelan, Cebu. It's a 2 or 3 hour drive northwest from Cebu City.

On learning that we were going there for an overnight trip, my initial reaction was to say I wanted to see the town of Tabuelan, but when we got there I changed my mind. It's a very unattractive town. The sides of the road are filled with shabby ukay-ukay stalls (used bras P30 each, used panties P10 each), a very exposed-looking slaughterhouse, and roadside vendors selling the decapitated heads of uncooked pigs. Let's just get the hell out of here and go on to the resort.

Doing a Google image search for "Tabuelan", most of the results are of the beach anyway. The place looks much, much better during high tide than it does during low tide. The sight of the beach during low tide was depressing, and I don't have any pictures of it. But during high tide it looks like a tropical fairy tale.

Here's a few pretty pictures. Lately I've been taking a lot of pictures in a wide aspect ratio, because everything looks better that way.

Their main building. They have rooms in here.

Very green. Very Philippines.

The whole beach isn't rocky like this, but the rocks make for nice pictures.

It's like I'm really in the province!

I'm the wind! Whoosh!

Set the camera to 10 second timer, hurry over to the rock, look out at horizon, feel like idiot.

Sunset. It's like looking at God.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Kidnappings, embargos, and media hypocrisy

Exhibit A:
Last June, Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Sulu kidnapped ABS-CBN's star anchor Ces Drilon, along with two cameramen and a university professor. But the big story didn't come out in any of the day's papers-- ABS-CBN, in the interest of protecting one of their own, applied a self-imposed embargo on information of the kidnappings, and quietly called on other media outfits to do the same, “primarily for the security and safety of Ces and her companions". They obliged. You may remember, I blogged about this. They didn't want a media situation that the kidnappers could take advantage of.

Exhibit B:
Three weeks ago, there was another kidnapping, this time of three foreign workers of the International Red Cross (ICRC). Again by Abu Sayyaf gunmen, and practically in the same town. There was no self-imposed media embargo this time, and no indication that the idea was even considered.

Going a step further, last Wednesday The Inquirer splashed in their front page headline the kidnappers' outrageous demand to speak to the Vice President of the Philippines, along with a bunch of other important dignitaries. "Abus want Noli in talks". The kidnappers made a phone call straight to The Inquirer, who apparently has no problem being their tool. This comes despite the government's attempts to control the flow of information. It boxes the government into a difficult situation where they must respond, and it gives the upper hand in negotiations to the kidnappers.

So, the Abu Sayyaf is communicating their demands directly to the public through the media. Isn't this exactly an example of a media situation that the kidnappers are taking advantage of? The kind of situation the media embargo was supposed to prevent in the case of Ces Drilon?

So what gives?
The very reason I blogged about the news embargo back in June was that I knew the media was holding itself up to a standard it couldn't maintain-- there would hardly be any discretion shown if the person kidnapped was not one of their own. That's called hypocrisy. The false representation of holding beliefs and virtues that one does not actually possess. The media is lucky the public is too jaded to hold them accountable.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Reader

"If people like you don't learn from what happened to people like me then what the hell is the point of anything."

That Holocaust-related line, a microcosm of the entire movie, comes from a very Jewish professor halfway through The Reader. If you miss to absorb that point, you won't appreciate the message that the movie is trying to tell. Actually you probably wouldn't appreciate the movie at all.

In Germany in the Summer of 1958, 15 year-old Michael Berg spends most of the first third of the movie naked, having a cold sexual affair with an equally naked 36 year-old Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet). The age difference is considerable, and while it may have some significance (haven't thought about it too much yet), that's not the main point. The affair is abruptly extinguished, and years later an adult Michael happens to see Hanna's trial-- accused of atrocities when she was an SS guard in the Holocaust. Michael knows a secret that may exonerate her, but to reveal it would also be to reveal their taboo relationship.

Ok, up to this point was the part of the movie I enjoyed. After that, the in-between-the-lines started to overwhelm the lines themselves. Hanna is found guilty and receives a life sentence in jail. Many years later, Michael attempts to reconnect with her in some way by sending her recordings of himself reading books and notes, just as he read to her during their affair. Based on the tapes, she learns to read and begins to write letters back, which go unanswered.

See, her illiteracy is a metaphor for... something. Perhaps her inability to understand the gravity of the atrocities that were committed in the Holocaust. She was definitely guilty, by the way, at least to a certain extent. Learning to read while suffering in jail for her crimes is another symbol for gaining understanding. And if I keep talking about it with the benefit of having been thinking about it for the past few hours I run the risk of making it sound better than it really is.

The second half of the movie is heavy handed and boring and made me forget how much I appreciated the first half. As merely a movie it makes no narrative sense. As an allegory for German guilt it may be brilliant, but to look at it in such a light requires such detachment from the reality of events on screen that I'd find myself no long applauding the movie itself but merely my ability to untangle its buried themes.

The Reader surprised people the most by getting an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. And now, having seen all five nominees, I totally agree. There are more deserving movies, yes, like The Dark Knight or WALL-E-- far more mainstream and accessible movies, but why not? Oscar nominations are not just for movies like The Reader, which have their meaning buried deep under layer upon layer of heavy intellectual metaphor. Makes a review of the movie useless because the only types of people that would be satisfied by it are the ones that would rather be doing the reviewing. As for me, I'd rather watch a movie to be entertained, or maybe enlightened-- not just given another way to be confused.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Gay gay gay.

Milk is an appropriately gay name for the flamboyantly bubbly gay man that is Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist who became the first openly gay man elected to public office in the history of the universe when he was elected to the Board of Supervisors in-- where else-- San Francisco.

The idea is that your heart should be inspired by this marginalized homosexual valiantly overcoming adversity. Is it working? Let me dampen your spirits though: His electoral win was largely due a 1976 change in election rules, when San Francisco decided to choose supervisors from districts rather than a city-wide vote. Milk's district was the fruitiest district of America's most liberal city, so basically the only constituents he had to convince were the hippies and the gays. His closest opponent was another gay man.

The highlight of his political career is his campaign against an initiative to ban homosexuals from schools. As Supervisor he crosses paths with Dan White, a social conservative who doesn't seem to be a bigot but has a difficult working relationship with Milk. I don't think it's a spoiler for me to say that Milk is assassinated by White, and indeed the movie gets this out of the way by announcing it through news footage at the very beginning.

I feel like I'm using the word "gay" too much. Yeah, well, this movie is very gay. Super gay. And if even if you think you'd be ok with that, the first half of Milk will test your limits. It has a sort of claustrophobic atmosphere, trapped in this unworldly bubble where all the gays are wildly promiscuous, and everyone is gay. With the exception of the mayor, all the straight people with screen time are portrayed as villainous crusaders against the gay.

Despite supposedly being an inspiration, Harvey Milk doesn't seem like that much of a nice guy either. He picks up bozos from the streets to have casual bedroom rendezvous that turn into shallow long term relationships. His political stands use strawman arguments and logical cloudiness. And honestly he was kind of a dick to Dan White. What's annoying is that, despite the movie portraying all of this, he's still painted as a saint.

Sean Penn is a great actor, and in this movie he acts nothing like Sean Penn, and it's just annoying. He puts out a great performance but it's not fun to watch. Just like in I Am Sam, he puts out this nasally whine that haunts my ears well after the movie ended.

Despite its technical achievement, the whole movie just seemed disingenuous to me. Like it was trying to find a cohesive narrative where one didn't really exist. Milk wasn't even assassinated because he was gay, it was just because of some frivolous politics.

Roger Ebert called Milk the best movie of the year. His opinions are always worth listening to, but as for this... Ehh. I don't get it.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire quotes Wikipedia

This is what I get for prowling Wikipedia while watching movies.

In Slumdog Millionaire, the tour guides at the Taj Mahal are reading lines from the Wikipedia article on the Taj Mahal. It's heard as ambient noise when the main characters first wander in:
  • ...the Taj Mahal is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture...
  • ...during the birth of their fourteenth child...
  • ...was completed around 1648...
  • ...a labour force of twenty thousand workers...
  • ...became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was cited as "the jewel of...
All those lines are found in the Wikipedia article, and all are heard within a span of 20 seconds about a third of the way into the movie.

You could be tempted to suspect that Wikipedia is the one that is, in fact, quoting Slumdog Millionaire. However, all these lines were in the old Wikipedia article from November 2007, before the movie began filming.

Also of note: The current article says the Taj Mahal "was completed around 1653". That was a change made in November 2008. The old version of the article says 1648, and that's what is quoted in the movie.

The movie was great, by the way, and I'll give my thoughts on it sometime. I just wanted to get this post out first because I couldn't find any other blog or news article that makes note of it. Probably because I'm the only one that does this. Someone should just release a media player for me that displays wikilinked subtitles.