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Fez

Tucked amidst the sprawling Serendra restaurant strip at The Fort, Fez offers Mediterranean fusion cuisine “with a Moroccan twist”. The food itself melds the artistic and culinary passions of the restaurant’s chef.

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This is the must-see documentary from 2006 that you probably haven’t seen yet. And it’s not Sacha Baron Cohen’s awfully distasteful Borat.

An Inconvenient Truth could have been more suitably titled The Truth About Global Warming. Or for the sake of becoming a bit cryptic, The Truth About Al Gore. But as Gore agonizingly postulates in the film, it’s not that easy to sell the truth especially when the most important target audience – in this case, the government – is itself suspected of manipulating it.

“An inconvenient truth,” Gore describes, is one we hold “at arm’s length because if we acknowledge it, then the moral imperative to make big changes is inescapable.”

America’s former vice-president gives out a rather simple analogy that makes today’s generation of humans no different from another four-legged creature: when a frog is submerged in lukewarm water, it could die a slow death as the water heats up. But dropped instantly in boiling water, Kermit leaps out in an instant. Gore’s point? People conveniently ignore the truth until jolted by a catastrophe.

This documentary encapsulates years of Gore’s efforts at “jolting” the American people about the perils of global warming. In recent years, he has even become a by-product globalization, wielding his now-famous slideshow (by all means, not your typical Powerpoint presentation) to audiences around the world.

There is no better time for Gore to resuscitate his public image as an environmental crusader than now. Mother Nature is on his side. Based on his account, global warming is to blame for every natural disaster that in the last few years – heat wave in California, drought in Darfur, Hurricane Katrina. Did you know that the ten “hottest” years recorded in human history have occurred in the last two decades, the hottest being 2005? Gore just provided doomsday sayers a lot to crow about. Come to think of it, global warming could literally translate hell on Earth. The Book of Revelations could be right after all.

Gore uses the power imagery – before and after pictures of melting glaciers, for example – to drive home a point. Even the cartoonish depiction of a polar bear swimming in the middle of what could be Waterworld, to show the dangers of the polar icecaps melting, is convincing enough rather than showing real-life bears drowning.

Hands down, Gore gives the best slideshows not merely relying on graphs, pie charts and comparative statistics and it is his presentation that the film focuses on. In between, the film capitalizes on Gore’s own imagery – it opens with him describing an idyllic landscape and throughout the film ruminates on his own nostalgia and how everything is lost for the future generation.

While this movie is about global warming, it gives a glimpse of Al Gore especially for those who do not know much about the guy other than the former number 2 guy to Clinton and the man who almost became US president. For some Americans, Bush winning as president is an ongoing inconvenient truth. The guy has his own documentary in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, only he cannot be proud about it. There are those who say An Inconvenient Truth is Oscar material. The film shows a man who becomes even more passionate in what he believes in as he goes on in his crusade. Indeed, there is no better actor than one playing his actual self.

The film is a must-see for anyone even remotely interested in global warming. Most people have an idea what it is but are probably clueless what causes it and how. After watching it, do your future descendents on this Earth a favor. Blog about it or pass on the message to your 10,000 Friendsters. Show Gore you can handle the truth.

Par Sallan waxes nostalgic about the good old days of radio, about how it has shaped his taste in music. Most people in their late twenties and beyond won’t have a hard time relating to his sentiments.

People don’t have as much faith in radio these days. Not since they began loading songs in their iPods. (In fact, FM radio is now only an option in so-called mp3 players.) Why would you listen to endless commercials or tedious banter from self-indulgent DJs when you can instantly tune in to your “Favorites” playlist?

Enter Pirate Satellite, a weekly two-hour show on NU 107 (in my book, STILL the only station that plays decent rock music) and once-rabid listeners (including myself) may find one good reason to have a little more faith in good old FM radio.

Par is the brains behind Pirate Satellite and he knows too well what has been ailing radio; it’s not just the incessant talking. A former A&R guy for local record labels and an underground DJ himself during the 80s, he is no stranger to the fact that radio stations would devote heavy rotation on current popular music being pushed by the record labels.

Thus, listeners don’t really have much of a choice other than listen to the usual radio fodder. Which isn’t all that bad really; it’s just that radio was once touted to be the barometer of good taste in music and that’s simply not the case anymore when all you need is a decent Internet connection and you can practically download any song you want.

“Through Pirate Satellite, we aim to bring back the days when kids would go out and buy CDs after listening to a song on the radio. And after they learn to appreciate the band’s music, they would go out and watch gigs. I hope something like that happens here,” Par tells me one Saturday night, in between cueing songs.

So what exactly can people expect to hear if they even bother to tune in to Pirate Satellite?

“The show caters to every genre of rock music as long as it’s revolutionary in sound,” Par says. Perhaps the best way to explain that is that the show consciously avoids playing music that’s already in NU’s rotation.

The show’s title is derived from a song by The Clash, by the way, so it’s not so surprising that Par pays a lot of attention to music tends from that era – Talking Heads, The Cure, and a lot of The Smiths, among other bands I saw scribbled in Par’s playlist.

But making the show a stronger case for music geeks to live by, even to the current generation weaned on anything indie, Pirate Satellite also plays contemporary bands that do not really get much airplay- The Unicorns, The Decemberists and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, among others.

“We do play occasional songs from the more popular mainstream bands around,” he adds. Yes, I did hear a Franz Ferdinand song. “But we make sure that the songs we play are exclusive only to Pirate Satellite.”

The show has a conspicuously foreign feel to it, thanks largely to the DJ’s Australian accent. Yes, the voice behind Pirate Satellite belongs to an Aussie and neither him nor Par would not reveal exactly who he is. Theirs is a simple story: bumped into each other in a party (ironically, a DJ Tiesto gig), discovered mutual tastes in music, came up with the idea of doing a radio show and the rest is Pirate Satellite history.

So where does Par get the music he plays on the show? The bulk of it is from his own personal collection (most of which he buys abroad or off the Internet) and that of his Australian host. He also gets “samplers” from record label people that are deemed “not commercially appealing” enough and sometimes he snucks in a song or two in the show.

He immediately dismisses misguided connotations given the show’s title. “All the stuff we play is original,” he says and continues with an intended pun, “This is original ‘pirate’ material!”

So would Pirate Satellite care to play hip-hop at all? I asked that question to which Par quickly replies that he’s been thinking of playing something by The Streets (the nom de guer of British rapper Mike Skinner). Maybe not THE kind of hip-hop most people would expect.

Pirate Satellite airs every Saturday night from 9PM to 11PM on NU107.

Served Hot, The Korean Way

Once upon a time, there was a wave of Chinese migrants in post-war Korea; in the process introducing Koreans to what is now a universal staple – noodles. Granted, the Koreans take pride in their own cuisine – jap chae, for one, is their own version of noodles – it inadvertently led to an earlier form of ‘fusion’, long before the term, in gourmet-speak, would refer to a form of cooking deriving from different cuisines.

Kyu Sik Kim, who hails from Seoul, South Korea but has spent almost half his entire life in the Philippines, was among those who grew up acquiring a taste for Chinese food. In fact, his Filipino wife of more than twenty years, Starlita, swears his husband’s favorite dish is anything that has noodles in it.

So it’s no surprise then that Mr. Kim would be inclined to venture into the restaurant business and open a place billed simply as a Chinese-Korean restaurant. (The restaurant’s name really is Jinjaru, which, his wife tells me, means ‘surely’ in Korean). But what exactly is the kind of food they serve?

Mr. Kim, in an affable manner typical of Koreans who’ve lived in the country long enough, simply tells me that it’s “Koreanized” Chinese food. A quick glance at the menu yielded a number noodle dishes or better yet, if it’s any measure of Chinese authenticity, the slight spelling error in “fried dumping”.

Apparently, many Koreans like him have fallen in love with Chinese food, only they want it served in a slightly different way – meaning, not too oily or sweet and definitely as little MSG (fondly called vetsin, in Filipino) as possible. Or spicy hot, but Korean spicy hot and not Chinese chili-sauce hot.

At this point, I half-expected bowls of Chinese noodles spiced with kimchi, a sort of Korean version of vegetable salad. But the Koreanized part doesn’t end there. Based on the menu, Mr. Kim’s restaurant can match Hap Chan, North Park or any place in the Binondo in variety of noodle dishes.

Filipinos are not exactly acquainted with Korean cuisine, at least not until recently since the so-called Korean invasion (it’s all over Asia, actually) has reached the country and a few Korean restaurants sprouted here and there. Unlike Chinese cuisine, which is deeply rooted in our nation’s history (take pansit, for example, which seems ALMOST as if it’s Pinoy already), not too many Filipinos are familiar with Korean food beyond dishes such as bulgogi or bibimbap.

Only a fellow Korean transplant like Mr. Kim would feel familiar with the kind of food served in his restaurant. “There are many big restaurants in Korea that serve Chinese food like we do but not here,” he says.

The couple was generous enough to let my non-Korean taste buds sample Jinjaru best-sellers, including the ja jang myun or ‘chocolate’ noodles with seafood and black soybean paste (which adds to the brownish color). I didn’t find it hot enough, though, which puzzles me because I was told it’s a favorite among Korean patrons. Or maybe it’s just the kimchi freak in me.

Starlita, Mr. Kim’s wife and an expert in the art of making kimchi, was kind enough to discuss with me in full step-by-step detail on how to create the perfect kimchi. But I wouldn’t elaborate further out of respect that it should be a best-kept secret.

The sam gye tang or ginseng chicken is a lot like our local tinolang manok both in appearance and taste, only instead of ginger it contains ginseng roots. Yes, exactly what ginseng tea is made of and what could be the healthiest food in the menu.

The deiji bulgogi or sizzling beef is a must-try. Instead of the usual sisig-and-beer combo, make it a bulgogi-and-soju instead.

But my two-thumbs up go to what is called the san giup sal, which outshines the other dishes in both presentation and preparation. Picture this: thin, almost bacon-like slices of pork you grill yourself on the table along with some garlic and onions. Then dip them pork strips in sesame oil with salt, place them it in a cabbage leaf (the kind used for making kimchi) and add whatever you wish from a smattering of kimchi (eggplant, cabbage or cucumber), soybean paste, rice, garlic and onions, wrap it with your fingers and engorge in one big bite. It’s a lot like how the Vietnamese do it, but this Korean veggie wrap makes for an interesting mix of flavors – the unique spice of kimchi clashing with the saltiness of the soybean paste.

I washed everything down with a few shots of soju and thank Starlita profusely for the best-tasting kimchi I’ve ever had, genuinely rubbing my forearm on my forehead. She narrated a time when a Korean walked into their restaurant and got disappointed.

“For a time, we got used to serving our food not that spicy because Filipinos might not like that much. So this customer told us, it’s not similar to how it’s served in Korea. From then on, unless requested, we cook our food just like how my husband says how it tastes like from home,” she says. However spicy, it felt good to have it the original Korean way.

Jinjaru is located at Timog Avenue in Quezon City across GMA-7. Opens from 12noon to 6AM, to satisfy late-night kimchi cravings.

Served Hot, The Korean Way

Once upon a time, there was a wave of Chinese migrants in post-war Korea; in the process introducing Koreans to what is now a universal staple – noodles. Granted, the Koreans take pride in their own cuisine – jap chae, for one, is their own version of noodles – it inadvertently led to an earlier form of ‘fusion’, long before the term, in gourmet-speak, would refer to a form of cooking deriving from different cuisines.

Kyu Sik Kim, who hails from Seoul, South Korea but has spent almost half his entire life in the Philippines, was among those who grew up acquiring a taste for Chinese food. In fact, his Filipino wife of more than twenty years, Starlita, swears his husband’s favorite dish is anything that has noodles in it.

So it’s no surprise then that Mr. Kim would be inclined to venture into the restaurant business and open a place billed simply as a Chinese-Korean restaurant. (The restaurant’s name really is Jinjaru, which, his wife tells me, means ‘surely’ in Korean). But what exactly is the kind of food they serve?

Mr. Kim, in an affable manner typical of Koreans who’ve lived in the country long enough, simply tells me that it’s “Koreanized” Chinese food. A quick glance at the menu yielded a number noodle dishes or better yet, if it’s any measure of Chinese authenticity, the slight spelling error in “fried dumping”.

Apparently, many Koreans like him have fallen in love with Chinese food, only they want it served in a slightly different way – meaning, not too oily or sweet and definitely as little MSG (fondly called vetsin, in Filipino) as possible. Or spicy hot, but Korean spicy hot and not Chinese chili-sauce hot.

At this point, I half-expected bowls of Chinese noodles spiced with kimchi, a sort of Korean version of vegetable salad. But the Koreanized part doesn’t end there. Based on the menu, Mr. Kim’s restaurant can match Hap Chan, North Park or any place in the Binondo in variety of noodle dishes.

Filipinos are not exactly acquainted with Korean cuisine, at least not until recently since the so-called Korean invasion (it’s all over Asia, actually) has reached the country and a few Korean restaurants sprouted here and there. Unlike Chinese cuisine, which is deeply rooted in our nation’s history (take pansit, for example, which seems ALMOST as if it’s Pinoy already), not too many Filipinos are familiar with Korean food beyond dishes such as bulgogi or bibimbap.

Only a fellow Korean transplant like Mr. Kim would feel familiar with the kind of food served in his restaurant. “There are many big restaurants in Korea that serve Chinese food like we do but not here,” he says.

The couple was generous enough to let my non-Korean taste buds sample Jinjaru best-sellers, including the ja jang myun or ‘chocolate’ noodles with seafood and black soybean paste (which adds to the brownish color). I didn’t find it hot enough, though, which puzzles me because I was told it’s a favorite among Korean patrons. Or maybe it’s just the kimchi freak in me.

Starlita, Mr. Kim’s wife and an expert in the art of making kimchi, was kind enough to discuss with me in full step-by-step detail on how to create the perfect kimchi. But I wouldn’t elaborate further out of respect that it should be a best-kept secret.

The sam gye tang or ginseng chicken is a lot like our local tinolang manok both in appearance and taste, only instead of ginger it contains ginseng roots. Yes, exactly what ginseng tea is made of and what could be the healthiest food in the menu.

The deiji bulgogi or sizzling beef is a must-try. Instead of the usual sisig-and-beer combo, make it a bulgogi-and-soju instead.

But my two-thumbs up go to what is called the san giup sal, which outshines the other dishes in both presentation and preparation. Picture this: thin, almost bacon-like slices of pork you grill yourself on the table along with some garlic and onions. Then dip them pork strips in sesame oil with salt, place them it in a cabbage leaf (the kind used for making kimchi) and add whatever you wish from a smattering of kimchi (eggplant, cabbage or cucumber), soybean paste, rice, garlic and onions, wrap it with your fingers and engorge in one big bite. It’s a lot like how the Vietnamese do it, but this Korean veggie wrap makes for an interesting mix of flavors – the unique spice of kimchi clashing with the saltiness of the soybean paste.
I washed everything down with a few shots of soju and thank Starlita profusely for the best-tasting kimchi I’ve ever had, genuinely rubbing my forearm on my forehead. She narrated a time when a Korean walked into their restaurant and got disappointed.

“For a time, we got used to serving our food not that spicy because Filipinos might not like that much. So this customer told us, it’s not similar to how it’s served in Korea. From then on, unless requested, we cook our food just like how my husband says how it tastes like from home,” she says. However spicy, it felt good to have it the original Korean way.

Jinjaru is located at Timog Avenue in Quezon City across GMA-7. Opens from 12noon to 6AM, to satisfy late-night kimchi cravings.

After more than five years of operations, Pilipinas Teleserv, Inc. is finally expanding its operations overseas. But the locally owned call center operator, which has anchored its business on Philippine-based clients, primarily the government, is not too keen on looking for foreign investors or expanding as rapidly as the bigger, foreign-owned players.

“In this business, it’s easy to make big mistakes. We don’t really need investors right now; our focus is still on providing honest-to-goodness service. We don’t need to keep up with them,” said Raffy David, Pilipinas Teleserv’s director for marketing and quality assurance, referring to other operators that continue to expand and ride on the call center boom in the Philippines.

Since it started in 2000, Pilipinas Teleserv has built a successful and sustainable business from providing 24/7 call center support and delivery services to the Department of Foreign Affairs and the National Statistics Office – the former for passport renewal and the latter for procurement of legal documents such as birth certificates.

The company also launched last November a one-stop clearance service for the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, which is meant for “balikbayan” Filipino overseas contract workers. In 2002, Pilipinas Teleserv branched out into providing call center support for delivery services of local food chains McDonald’s, Max’s Fried Chicken and Super Bowl of China.

This year, David said the company will focus on its recent expansion into third party verification or TPV services. Third party verification refers to a service outsourced by outbound telemarketing companies to validate customer sales completed over the phone. In the US, telemarketing companies in the US are required by law to use TPV services when selling products and services over the phone.

Last year, Pilipinas Teleserv the company bagged a TPV outsourcing deal with a US-based telemarketing firm, which also counts as the company’s first-ever client based outside of the Philippines. David said the demand for outsourced TPV services in the US is huge.

“I haven’t come across Indian companies that are into TPV,” he added, noting that TPV as a service is also relatively new for Philippine-based call center operators.

Bringing in results
In doing TPV, agents from a service provider like Pilipinas Teleserv simply listen to recorded telephone conversations and check whether the sale is valid or not, and make sure that all the required information was provided by the customer.

The service,however, does not end there. TPV acts as a sort of monitoring mechanism that evaluates how effective a telemarketing program is in bringing in results based on consummated sales. “We have a feedback program that generates comments on how a telemarketing can be improved by, for example, using (the word) “such” instead of “so”,” David described.

Since most companies in the US outsourced their telemarketing offshore to countries like the Philippines, these recorded conversations may actually involve Filipino call center agents. But as an independent TPV provider, David said a player like Pilipinas Teleserv has a “relationship” only with the principal client (or the one that outsources its telemarketing), not with the call center that provides the telemarketing service.

TPV is also meant to complement Pilipinas Teleserv’s current business. The company operates a 200-seat facility, located in Quiapo in the city of Manila, which employs around 320 agents that fill up three eight-hour shifts. “Our current services for DFA and NSO takes up mainly our dayshifts so TPV takes up our excess capacity atnight,” David said. “We knew we were too small to do outbound telemarketing ourselves.

And since TPV is not quota-driven like telemarketing, the requirement of the business is not that large in terms of manpower. For every 100 telemarketers, three or four agents can handle TPV, said David. Pilipinas Teleserv plans to hire at least 60 more agents this year to beef up its TPV unit as the company looks for more clients.

David added: “In telemarketing,there is someone else in the equation aside from the client and the service provider. We want (Pilipinas Teleserv) to be that “someone else”.

Closing the gap
Pilipinas Teleserv was founded by David along with business partners Jun Yupitun and Jeffrey Villanueva around the same time the call center industry was beginning its boom. The three studied together at De La Salle University. But instead of competing during that time with other call centers in getting clients from the US, the trio pursued Yupitun’s original idea of running a call center-based service for the National Statistics Office, realizing the then-tedious task of lining up for hours, even days, just to get a birth or a marriage certificate from the agency.

David, who later on pursued his master’s degree at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), crafted a business plan out of what was then a novel idea. “I had professors at AIM who wanted to to buy into the company but we decided to do it on our own,” he recalled.

Pilipinas Teleserv started with 16 seats, with two agents working on two shifts. The company now processes about 2,500 NSO applications every day. Applications can be done over the phone and payment is transacted through designated local banks.

The company also runs a similar service to the Foreign Affairs department that allows people to renew passports over the phone without having to apply for one physically. Last year, the delivery service was expanded\nfor first-time applicants who wish to have their passports delivered upon completion.

David said majority of users who tried these services learned about it through word-of-mouth. By applying the call center concept to a government setting, Pilipinas Teleserv is hoping to bridge the gap between efficient governance and public clamor.

“There is a huge gap between thekind of service government provides and the kind of service customers have come to expect from private companies,” he said.

The less gastronomically audacious would tend to shy away from curry either A) because of too much chili or B) because of olfactory reasons. But as the waitress at Hongkong’s Japanese Curry Shop BEE tells me, one can eat their curry every single day and still won’t smell even remotely like it.

Sounds like a good enough reason to try out something rather unusual and maybe bring a date along without too much aromatic considerations. After well-satisfied with the beef curry I ordered, I decided to ask the restaurant’s manager directly for an explanation. Surprisingly, she turned out to be someone I can relate to very well.

Levi Criste started Japanese Curry Shop BEE in 1995 and has been running it ever since. The restaurant now has three branches; staffed with Filipino waitresses and all located a few blocks from each other within Causeway Bay, which is on the upper east side of Hong Kong Island.

Unlike Indian curry, which carries very strong aroma, Levi tells me Japanese curry is not that spicy. Also, unlike the Indian or Malaysian kind, the Japanese do not use coconut milk. While she won’t tell me exactly the secret ingredients, Levi said they make their curry from chili, vegetables that they grind and apples. Yes, she said apple but I decided otherwise on asking why because at that point in our conversation, I was more interested about appearance.

“Our curry is brownish in color because it is continuously cooked over slow fire,” she explains. That makes Japanese curry, sauce-wise, a lot like say our own caldereta and as Levi adds with a smile, “Mas matagal, mas sumasarap. (The longer it is cooked, the better-tasting it becomes).” Of course, adobo stocked in glass jars or garapon, ideally “aged” in the ref for days, immediately comes to mind.

The curry fired up my taste buds alright but the kick was gradual and subtle, semi-sweet even, not hot enough to make me whistle and wipe trickles of perspiration off my forehead. The beef in my curry was soft and tender my teeth didn’t even need to chew on it with effort. My combo meal also included a bowl of piping hot Japanese ramen with tempura, which, interestingly, is made of breaded tiny shrimps, the kind used to make okoy.

My curry was also served with a siding of Japanese red pickles and the waitress obligingly gave me some more, much to my delight. I told Levi the pickles provided a balance to the spiciness of the curry. She praised me for noticing because, apparently, the pickles served its purpose in that mini-curry ecosystem in my plate.

Prior to setting up the business, Levi took up cooking lessons in Japan and her restaurant is now acknowledged to be the first one in Hong Kong to serve Japanese curry, a fact pointed out by the magazine article passers-by can readily see and read to whet up their excitement and corresponding appetites.

Of course, being a Japanese restaurant, the menu also contains staples like ramen, sushi, grilled entrees and donburi or rice toppings. Aside from beef, there is also chicken, seafood and even hamburger curry. Pork cutlet, says Levi, is the best seller. “People in Hong Kong want variety in their food,” she adds.

As for the curry, Levi, who speaks fluent Cantonese having found her busy taking delivery orders on the phone before our chitchat began, says patrons actually notice the difference. Perhaps not just the taste, but the long-term olfactory benefits as well.

Japanese Curry Shop BEE II is located at the Pak Sha Road in Causeway Bay, H.K. Levi says she plans to open a branch in Manila soon.

Remember to crane your neck upwards and be not afraid to ring doorbells. Good enough unsolicited advice for anyone who wants to check out what is arguably the hippest shopping destination in Hong Kong.

Now Hong Kong, arguably, is really just this one huge shopping mecca that happens to have a Disneyland just recently. But for those in the hunt for a so-hip-it-hurts experience, it pays to look beyond the glitter of shopping malls and take a casual stroll along the streets of Causeway Bay. Once again, look for signs that point to shops located in top floors.

A friend of mine, who’s been living in Hong Kong for years now, told me about how locals (or Hongkese, as he calls them) are fond of imitating the Japanese when it comes to fashion and all things uber-cool. True. Because the one thing I remember the most from my brief sojourn I can sum up it three words: A Bathing Ape.

For the unaware, A Bathing Ape is this trendy Japanese label owned by a guy named Nigo who looks like your typical hip-hop-loving, bling-wearing kid in baggy jeans. The brand caught fire in the States, thanks in part to entertainers like Jay-Z and Pharell Williams. It certainly is catching fire among Hongkong’s hip set. And it can certainly burn a hole in your pocket if you splurge on a pair of jeans worth no less than HK$500 (in peso terms, that’s about seven times as much).

Options abound, though. And the Japanese aesthetic – both in fashion and in the stores’ interior design – is no less evident in most of the local shops like this little shop I found in Mongkok that sells shirts emblazoned with Star Trek characters. Dusty (www.dusty.com.hk), located along the same area, is akin to A Bathing Ape’s retro sneakers and trucker hat vibe.

Anyone who’s into vintage stuff can scour through stores along Lockhart Road and Jaffe Road on the north side of the main thoroughfare Hennessy Road (sort of like our very own EDSA). I chanced upon Retrostone, a shop that stays true to its name with loads of vintage Levi’s and cowboy-inspired flannel shirts. I found the store’s attendant scribbling prices on a chalkboard. If this is Hongkong’s version of the ukay-ukay, it definitely is a lot more expensive.

Another interesting store I found was Underground, which sells, in no particular degree of conspicuousness, boots, bongs (yes, they’re proudly placed by the wall) and hard-to-find vinyl albums, mostly Japanese imports, of course. The mood here is definitely industrial-slash-punk; the store itself resembles an underground club complete with a DJ booth. The store sells original UK-made Underground footwear, including to-die-for boots (that would make DMs-wearing people green with envy) and creepers (those platform shoes that Bono wears. Remember that photo of him and Bush walking on the White House lawn? ).

Causeway is also home to surf and skate shops, especially the area around Lee Gardens. Which prompted me to ask this pretty lady manning a store called Island Wake, “Is there a like a beach in Hong Kong where people surf?” Apparently there is, and her store sells snowboarding equipment as well. Is there snow in Hong Kong?

Another shop called 8 Five 2 gave me some sort of epiphany about vintage jeans. After engaging the guy at the counter in a little banter about the ultra-expensive Evisus, Sevens and Levi’s I saw, his eyes lit up when I said I’m from the Philippines. “Dude, I heard it’s the best place to find vintage jeans aside from Bangkok!”. Ukay-ukay images began popping up like thought balloons.

The truth is, the only thing I was able to buy at Causeway are ten pieces of stickers (bargained at HK$20 with two freebies courtesy of the guy I chatted with at 8 Five 2) and this red shoelace that would go well with this pair of vintage Nike Air Force hi-tops I scored UK-style in Baguio. But hey, if I had more time I would have definitely seen a lot more interesting shops and hopefully, be able to buy more stuff. Especially that great-looking Captain Spock T-shirt.

If you get yourself a map, Causeway Bay is somewhere northeast of Hong Kong Island. To get there, hop aboard bus number 74, which will traverse Hennessy Road. Ring the bell and get off once you see Sogo mall. From there, just walk around the area for that so-hip-it-hurts shopping experience.

Dicta License



Like his bandmates in Dicta License, Pochoy belongs to a generation weaned on grunge music. And a lot of Rage Against The Machine, which, by his own account, propelled him to write songs during his college years. Now studying to become a lawyer, he still writes songs although he must’ve realized he need not scowl, spout fiery lyrics or most obviously, wear dreadlocks (if not tattoos and all sorts of insignias) like Zack Dela Rocha in order to get his message across.

In fact, for a band that’s heavily influenced by the political rock of Rage, you wouldn’t imagine them looking quite preppy, dressed in the Abercrombie and Fitch kind of way. But then again, the boys of Dicta License would rather let their music speak for itself. Plus, really now, flannel shirts are so 90s.

“We’re not out to make music that’s been done before, that speaks of activism. With our own kind of music, we’d like to think we care and we have something to say. Even if all of us grew in subdivisions, in the city,” Pochoy says earnestly in an interview.

The shift in his songwriting is never more evident than in the band\’s debut album titled “Paghilom”. While the title alone may invoke political and social undertones, the band readily tells me there is only song in the album (“Demockracy”) they consider political. Rather, they describe the rest of the songs as positive in tone, in tune with the album’s title itself (which means “healing” in Filipino).

According to the band, the album’s carrier single, “Ang Ating Araw”, speaks (or maybe dreams) of national healing. Dicta License fancies itself apolitical, not taking any sides; preferring instead to spark social awareness and consequently, let their audience decide. “It was a conscious decision for us to make songs in Filipino because we wanted to connect with our audience. For us, it was more fitting to write in our native language because we want to understand what we are saying ourselves,” says bassist Kel.

It may have taken the band past their high school and college years to realize that even with the kind of music they play, there is nothing more powerful than playing a song in your own language. But it just times itself well enough for their first real Dicta License album, with song titles like “Daloy ng Kamalayan” and “Alay Sa Mga Nagkamalay Noong Dekada Nobenta”.

Pochoy himself admits his songwriting has also somehow simmered down – from being angst-ridden before to being more laidback now. From earlier songs like Duct Tape and Smoke Under The Table, which became part of their self-produced EP released in 2003, what is considered a turning in the band’s existence is when Pochoy began writing songs in Filipino, digging deep into the lyrics of Francis Magalona and in the process, discovering classic Pinoy rock icons like Asin and Freddie Aguilar.

“We’re not out to make music that’s been done before, that speaks of activism. With our own kind of music, we’d like to think we care and we have something to say. Even if all of us grew in subdivisions, in the city,” Pochoy says earnestly in an interview.

The shift in his songwriting is never more evident than in the band’s debut album titled “Paghilom”. While the title alone may invoke political and social undertones, the band readily tells me there is only song in the album (“Demockracy”) they consider political. Rather, they describe the rest of the songs as positive in tone, in tune with the album’s title itself (which means “healing” in Filipino).

According to the band, the album’s carrier single, “Ang Ating Araw”, speaks (or maybe dreams) of national healing. Dicta License fancies itself apolitical, not taking any sides; preferring instead to spark social awareness and consequently, let their audience decide. “It was a conscious decision for us to make songs in Filipino because we wanted to connect with our audience. For us, it was more fitting to write in our native language because we want to understand what we are saying ourselves,” says bassist Kel.

Dicta License traces its roots in the previous decade alright. The trio of Kel, guitarist Boogie and drummer Bryan were once part of a youth group in church during high school and have been playing together since. (Kel and Boogie, being full-time musicians, do double duty as part of Kjwan while Bryan plays for a side project called Black Rims). Pochoy was then singing for his own band Reaction 105 while still a freshman in Ateneo and although two years younger, the three found in him someone who can sing and rap to the kind of music they wanted to pursue.

And so after jamming to Rage Against The Machine’s “Bombtrack”, they went on to form Dicta License. Rage has since disbanded a few years ago (actually replaced by fashionably-named Audioslave with erstwhile Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell singing but nonetheless still scowling) while Dicta License is slowly coming out on its own.

Like his more senior cohorts, Pochoy himself is trying to expand the kind of music he listens to these days, tuning in hip-hop artists like Kanye West and Common. “We try to open our ears to different kinds of music, not just rock,” he says. And maybe put a lot more soul into their songs.

Dicta License is Pochoy Labog (vocals), Boogie Romero (guitar), Kelley Mangahas (bass) and Bryan Makasiar (drums). Paghilom, the band’s major label debut album under Warner Philippines, is currently out.

Cavana


When I asked Tey Kim Tiam, chef for newly-opened Singaporean fast food chain Cavana, what made his company decided to do business in the Philippines, he gave a rather curt yet simple answer: “Chicken.”


Having been in the business for nearly two decades now, Cavana serves chicken in a variety of ways: grilled, roasted, in black pepper and of course, Hainanese, the signature Singaporean chicken dish. Thanks to a local franchisee, Cavana opened its first outlet in the Philippines some four months ago.


Tey, who has been training local chefs since Cavana opened its first branch in SM Megamall last December, knows for a fact how crazy Filipinos are about chicken. Cavana has loyal customers among Filipino workers back in Singapore.


“Many of them keep asking when are we opening a store in the Philippines,” he recalls.


Singapore-based Carona Holdings Pte. Ltd. began offering Cavana for franchise in 1998 and after about ten stores in Singapore, the business expanded abroad with three more outlets in Indonesia and most recently in the Philippines. (Cavana is actually the name for outlets that serve Halal or Muslim food while those that serve non-Halal food are named Carona.)


Soon, Cavana franchises will also open in Malaysia and Dubai in the Middle East.


But as he describes it, Tey admits he had to make necessary adjustments to suit the Filipino taste. In some of his visits to the country prior to opening Cavana, he also did his own research about how we Filipinos like our food. “Filipinos love their food richer, more salty while Singaporeans prefer their food light,” he compares.


“After three months, I’m slowly getting used to the heavier flavor myself. When I go back to Singapore, everything there becomes tasteless,” he adds, laughing.


Aside from Hainanese chicken, which is Cavana’s specialty, Tey points to black pepper chicken and black pepper beef (yes, Cavana also serves beef dishes) as best-sellers ever since the store opened. At a price range of about P120-P130, it is a hefty enough serving along with vegetable sidings.


The chicken or beef dishes go well with a side order of coleslaw and lemongrass lemonade, another Cavana specialty. As with main ingredients like black pepper and curry sauce, Tey says the dressing used for coleslaw is likewise imported from Singapore. And to emulate that distinctively sunny Cavana atmosphere, the tables and chairs are likewise came all the way from Singapore.


In only about three months of living in Manila, Tey, who has been a chef for 15 years and spent almost half of it in Cavana, has grown accustomed to local food, pointing out kare-kare, sisig and crispy pata – which is not really surprising given his preference for places to eat out.


“Before, I like Centro in Greenbelt. Now I like going to Krocodile (Grill),” he says, with amusement, knowing exactly how un-Singaporean his newfound gustatory delights.


Cavana is located at the ground floor of SM Megamall Building A, beside PowerBooks.