The Big Bad Interview – Full Transcript

 I sat down to interview the folks behind the Big Bad Wolf sale for this article:
Thanks to the BBW Founders for the interview 🙂

i ended up with about 9 Word Pages of material from  Andrew Yap and Jacqueline Ng (founders of BookXcess, the company behind the Big Bad Wolf booksale, and Miguel Mercado, Big Bad Wolf Philippine’s Marketing Head. The article had to be heavily edited for the news site’s short form format. 

I didn’t really ask much questions. Each short question was met with enthusiastic, eloquent answers. It was a pleasure and privilege to talk to them.

Publishing it here in its somewhat raw transcript (with typos and the occasional annotation) is the of the 40-ish minute interview with the hardcore, hardest-working book geeks behind the biggest book sale in the world.

VVB: Tell me about Big Bad Wolf. How did it all start up?

Jacq: BookXcess started 10 years ago and we started with a bery tiny bookstore. 500 square feet. It’s all about one thing, it’s too increase readership in Malaysia by providing affordable books. It’s a very simple mission, but with one bookstore, we couldn’t do much. So in 2009, we decided to create an event called Big Bad Wolf where people come and bring their friends, because when you go to an event, you don’t go alone. So that’s how we see the positive impact of how a big bad wolf event will have a very positive impact of increasing readership, by converting non-readers to a reader.

VVB: Tell me about the growth from Malaysia and going to other parts Southeast Asia.

Andrew: We started in 2009. It was only in Kuala Lumpur for 2-3 years. There were a lot of requests to go out of kuala lumpur. So we did quite a few stints, about 7-8 different locations around Malaysia. It was about two years ago in 2016. We did our first overseas event in Jakarta, and then a a few months later in August 2016, we did one in Bangkok.

Jacq: What happened was that the motivation that we get from organizing Big Bad Wolf, even from our first event which had only 120,000 books at the fair. We saw people coming in when people say that there is no market for English books. When they say that there are no people reading in their country. But we saw people streaming in for Day 1 despite it being the first time. The positive comments that everybody was talking about was that we allowed them to try new genres, we allowed them to try new authors. They’re so excited to buy to give to friends to try to spread the joy of reading and promote reading. So many people buy as presents, they keep a stack to give as birthday presents, as Christmas presents. So we realized that this model can work. So when we borught the sale to Penang, Johor, CHingganu, Ipo, We bring it out to people in the rural area, not in the big city where books even less accessible. They basically don’t have access to books. There are no major bookstores there. So where we are kind of stable in Malaysia especially when we knew that we had succeeded for the past 6 years, we have saw a very positive growth. When we started, Young Adult books didn’t sell in Malaysia because first of all, readership is low and teenagers don’t read…. At all.

So children’s books always sell because the parents will buy for the kids. So young adults are always a tougher sell. But after 5 years, the young adult books sold out. And we started to realize that it was because of our 5 year effort. For the past 5 years, our younger readers when Big Bad Wolf started have become teenagers.. So they have become readers themselves, and now they’re coming in to Big Bad Wolf and now are buying Young Adult Book. So we could see the positive progression and this gave us a lot of comfort that it works.

So when we are stable in Malaysia and the team has also grown from just two of us, so now a big team of us with management staff and we think we are ready to go overseas to demographics similar to Malaysia, English is not the firtst language. Books are generally expensive due to a weak currency, readership is low, also because of prive and accessibility to books. That’s why we chose Indonesia, Thailand to go in first.

And now we’re in the Philippines

Andrew: I think what Jacqueline mentioned, going to countries where people don’t even read English and creating such an impact there. It’s amazing. If you see the pictures of Big Bad Wolf Bangkok. It’s really something to behold.

Jacq: Normally the crowd comes in midnight. Most of the time, the hall is most packed almost around midnight because people come in after 10.You can’t even go in anymore. Tyou literally close the door because you cant fit in persons anymore.

Andrew: Philippines happened really quick. We met Luis from GK (Gawad Kalinga) about 7 months ago. And somebody introduced us, he was in Kuala Lumpur for a conference. He met us, we sat down, and we shook hands right after that meeting saying that “no matter what happens, it’s going to happen in the Philippines”. He did ask why we have never thought of goping to the Philippines which we actually wanted to do but we just never had the correct partner. I mean the Phlippines is not an easy market to get in. We had no friends here, we didn’t know anybody. Btu we knew that it was a market  we wanted to go in to, not because we think that we will do well here. But because we knew that the Philippines needed something like this. And so luis was saying that, if you come to the Philippines, you don’t have to worry about any problems, you don’t have to worry about any fears.

We are disruptors. SO when we come, a lot of people in the industry misunderstand us. And then it can be a negative thing in the beginning. Without friends, we can’t do that. So he said, whatever fears you have, let GK Take care of it.

So we formed a partnership, the whole reason why we have a superstar team here. Theya re all from GK.

Miguel: Well GK has a big network from the people who work in HQ to GK partners. We all just have the same mission and advocacy. The advocacy aligns for both Gawad Kalinga and Big Bad Wolf so it was very easy to get together. Second, yolu also see how much people work so hard here. Everybody is really focusing on the advocacy.The heart of the advocacy plus the joy of seeing people as they enter, it’s like they’re kids in a candy store. They’re jumping up and down, and like you, they say “”Ahhhh… the smell of new books.” And they start running up and around the corridors and start buying. What it hink is clear here is the advocacy, the heart of how it started, how it continuies to grow, and how people also come and realize that they are building a nation, improving the way we do critical thinking not only for us bhut also for the next generation. Whenever you have something like that, it just pushes forward and we’re very happy that Big Bad Wold has come here. And the plans really, are how we can bring this to more places in the Phlippiunes.

Q: Sot here are plans to go to other parts of the Philippines?

Miguel: There are plans, and I think it’s really about finishing this sale. BNut to dream with an advocacy, and to dream with a mission, it’s always there. It’s nice to see how people with the right, similar values are just going to come and will be coming.  I think what’s more magnified in the Philippines is how appreciative the customers and the other partners are. I think if we can measure the amount of THANK YOUS, THANK YOU FOR COMING, THANK YOU FOR DOING THIS on the scale in the PHiluippiunbs. I think it will continueto drive the mission.

Q: What kind of groundwork to prepare for the coming fort the Big Bad Wolf?

Miguel: What was good about Big Bad Wolf was that they already knew what to do. So the transfer of knowledge really became a sprint for everybody. As soon as we got confirmation, our teams got together and just started to run in terms of getting the venue, getting the markets, getting FB marketing up, making partnerships with people who also want to make a nation like ABS-CBN. All of that became a sprint to get Big Bad Wolf Phlippines happening. And we contrinue to sprint. Maybe after the sale, we’ll rest for a few hours (laughs) and then Im sure we’ll be working on the big ones already. As long as people share the same value, then it’s so much easier to work. It’s not perfect, but once everyone has the same value and same direction, it makes it easier.

Andrew: What makes it very meaningful, this event has so much PR mileage. And with a partner like GK and what GK stands for, we are able to maximixe the PR Mileage to the very end. Like getting more people to read, getting more partners involved, and also helping GK. To us, it’s not just abnout selling books, it’s not just about getting people to read more, but the whole reason we’re doing this is we want to change lives, and this is what GK does. You know they change lives. So us being able like a magnet to bring people together and gk being here and getting more, it’s another arm of rgk, literacy, that will value add to whatGK does. To us that is very very important. To have the right collaboration. We never had any collaboration this in any other country. Yes we have great partners.In any country we have grest partners, They never see the commercial aspect, it’s always one thing to make a change in their own way, in their own country. But here, working with an organization like GK makes the whole event to the m,aximum what we can do and moving forward.

Jacq: When we talk about Big Bad Wolf even back home. I always remind the team that there are only three words that we care about. We are here to CREATE, to INSPIRE, and to EMPOWER. Everything we do, we move towards that objectiove and that mission. And GK is the same, the book that they gave us is HOW TO CREATE DREAMS, When we furst met GK and the first gift they gave was that book, you marry someone so perfect. So identical. Books are the same. When a child gets the correct book, that child will be next president of the country through dreams and being inspired. And only by briging the book here, and I’m not talking about cheasp books, but very good quality books and at prices everybody can afford and let them be acceissible. Reading and books should not be a luxury item and to certain upper class people. It’s more important to the lower income people. They resally need thsat inpsirtation and that power. When you inspre them, when you emporwr them, it’sd a totally different story. And that is what GK does everyday. It’s just a perfect marriage and we were so excited, which is why when we visited the philppines for the firsty time in july last year, we saw the amount of the country where the pobveryt of the people even in metro manila area, and we were quite surprised that Malaysia being pretty privileged compared to here. And the venue said that this is the only slot we have, Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year is a very big thing back home. “How are we gouing to do Chinese New Year?” We asked our project manager. What do you think? And he said, I would do it but I will ask my team as well. And she went back. The first thing she did was she spoke to her team about our visit here, and the special unique thing we are trying to accomplish here in the Philippines. The majority of the team said yes so everybody will sacrifice their Chinese new year to be here. We won’t do it for any special unique reason except for the special unique collaboration with GK and the additional meaning it carries for the Philippines, that’s why we are here despite we had to sacrifice the new year to be here.

Miguel: To emphasize that sacrifice, Chinese New Year for Chinese, for Malaysia. It’s basically like giving Chirstmas up for Christmas. It’s when reunions happen. Where you go home to families and families come home to you.

Jacq: It’s also a duty to our parents that we have to be home,. It’s very hard to tell your mother that I won’t be home this year. IT’s very hard to do that.

Miguel: Just for that sacrifice the team has gone through, they gave up Chinese new year plus nobody sleeps here. It’s not a written rule. People just come. For us, we don’t have a time. The Filipino group. We see how much they work. We try to equal. But it’s amazing how much people work

Andrew: Half the time, we need to go home and sleep.

Jacq: There’s just so much work. Every country we go to, I think we’re the only event  to do 11 days straight 24-hours non- stop. People have never done it bvefore. The convention center has never done it befiore. Everything is first time. But why did nobody do it? It’s so hard to even organize something like that. To get the staff. To get the commitment of the organizer to commit to an event like this. 11-days 24 hours nonstop.

Andrew: The Cost

Jacq: and the cost, excluding the setup and the teardown. And we are the only person in this event. We are not a book fair with lots of people and exhibitors.

Andrew: There;s only one reason why we started 24-hours. That is so customers will not have the excuse “I got no time to come.” When we first multed the 24-hours, the managers were saying that ‘you’re going over your head because overheads will be doubled and it’s not worth it.” As long as one customer comes in after midnight, the battle is won. That is how we should always look at it.”

Jacq: In the part of the world where we are, where a lot of us is a dual income family. A lot of them work dual jobs. Nobody has time to go out after work. And if we open the usual hours, close at 9 or 10pm. They will never come. After work, it’s already 8 or 9pm. We are just here for the first time in Metro Manila. People drive here. Like there was a customer the other day who took a jeepney for three hours to come here.  If we do have a closing time, it’s going to be hard for you to plan your trip. Like, what time do I reach there, do I have enough time to shop? Oh I don’t think so, IMaybe I go tomorrow, it will never end.

But if the door never closes, you are free from that burden.

Andrew: and here there are a lot of call centers, and these people who work at the call centers sleep during the day and work at night. And they will never get to come here if we don’t open 24-hours. And Manila is a city that never sleeps

VVB: Can you tell me about your relationship with the publishers? How do you get the prices so low?

Andrew: Not just the relationship with the publishers. How we are able to get the books so affordable is a combination of many things. Number One: It starts from us having the mission before the commercial sense of it. Numebr two: having the right partners who understand where we are coming from. We all have the same mission and then, the publishers. Everyone coming together to make this event successful. Everybody playing their parks. Publishes see a role that we play in the whole  book industry. The book industry is a complex business. They understand that we are not here to destroy the market. If we wanted to destroy the market, we would probably do this three times a year, maybe quartery or four times a year. But no, we are only here4 once a year. This is just to boost the industry. To injext some excitement into the industry. To get people to startr reading. People who have forgotten the joy of reading, and those who have mnot experienced the joy of reading, this event enables all to read. So the publishers see the role that we play and they work with us for the prices that we need and we have the support of over 100 publishers. IT is a very special position so to speak

JN: We also started the business very small ten years ago. Our suppliers had a chance and the time to get to know us.They seen us grow from very small, a two person company, to what we are today, and they see the dedication and the effort we put in. You know go through every book, we negotiate every book. No buyer buys books like that. Just to buy five books, we go through every effort. We don’t miss books. We cover every book they have available. We choose what we want for the market. Some of them were curious, top management and business owners  themselves. They say that you two are so hardworking and of course they want to know more.and when they learn about our mission back home and especially our sale has grown to a certain size, in 2011is when we started the biggest sale. 1.5 million books at that time. I have UK and American Publisher who came and witnessed the sale. Thinking “are you going to sell at the price you bargained so hard for?” “Are you really going to sell that price that you told me?” They flew all the way to see. “Like you say you’re going to sell at this price, are you going to sell at this price because you keep on haggling the price?” And then when they came, they were going through our tables and looking at the prices tag and of course we sold at the agreed price. And they keep on saying to them

Andrew: They literraly said “ You can’t do this. You can’t make money because it’s so cheap” They know the cost.They know the operations because some of them are resellers too.You’re going to crash and burn”

Jacq: You have no margin at all. And of course our books are non-returnable. But when they saw the door open and when they saw the custimers walk in, they got so inspired. They were nonstop taking pictures and videos on the phone. And the moment they went home, they have big operation back home. They have hundreds and hundreds of staff and they showed the photos and videos to their staff to inspire them. This is where thebooks go, this is who he books are benefitting.

Andrew: So now they support us even more. Sometimes when we negotiate price, I say “I nreally need this at this price.” And they say, ”aggghh” they know they’re going to lose money. They say it’s ok because it’s for the war effort. I mean literally, Those are the words they used. Because they know that to countries, especially developing countries like the ones in Southeast Asia, it’s really a war against corruption, poverty, and so many other issues the majority of the world is going through oppression. We know that books and education is the key to get out the change.”

VVB: I’m sure you’ve travelled around the world. How do you compare the readers of Asia to the rest of the world?

Andrew: very different. Initially, if you think KL and Manila. Is probably the closest compared to Thailand and Indonesia because they don’t really speak much English. Children’s books will do well because they can’t really read English. The older generation. If you are above 20, normally you don’t read much. It’s a burden for parents to get kids to start english. Naturally the childrens books do well.

Well here is a mature market similar to Malaysia, the difference that we see here compared to Malaysia. Is that You guys are so much more, how would you say, deeper readers? Let\s say like Biographies. In Malaysia, the biography readers are surface (?) but you guys go deeper into politics, history. In Malaysia, readers would go to a general history book. In the Philippines, readers would go right down to a particular person. That’s one of the diffence

Jacq: We go to countries like England and the US where we get the majority of our books. I mean it’s a totally different culture. In southeast asia probably because of the culture of wehere aour grandparents and parents are, we have never been a society that reads. I have not. He has not. Been in a family where our parents read to us.We grew up in a home where there are zero books. But idf you go to a british or American family, it is quite normal for their kids to be in bed by 8oclock. We sleep at 12oclock since young. Ive never slept at 8oclock. They put their kids to bed, They have a certain lifestyle. Our lifestyle is our parents work until 9-10pm and we sleep at 12am. So it’s a totally different thing. You know they read to put their kids to sleep. Our parents couldn’t even speak a word of English. There is a portion of us that is into reading but a majority of southeast Asian families, we never had that luxury or that environment, For education wise in school, it’s all about academics, how to passs your exam, how to get good grades, how to make sure you go to university, it was never about reading for pleasure. So when we were growing up, reading was for passing an exam, it was never for entertainment, it was never for pleasure, so thast is the current environment that we grew up with whish iis very different  from those who grew up in more developed countries like the US and the UK. The challenge of changing that in Southeast Asian countries is to inculcate that habit. And you need to start 1 generation, that’s all. Because if you become a reader, you will automatically impart that habit to your kids. And when your kids become readers, your kids impart that to your grandkids, their kids. So we juut have to start with one genewration but we have to start somewhere. And to start the habvit is not a one event effoirt, it’s not even a two year effort. To me, a minimum 5-10 change a certain majority of society to have that impact and for that to spread. Because if you are a reader and you come here, you might have 10 friends that did not come here. But because of you might have bought books and gacve it to them, and it’s because of you that they started reading. You will be picking books that they like. For example, if you ahad a friend who loves cars, and yuou saw a beautiful book about cars,  and you thought of him, and you buy and give it to hgim because the price is so affordable. So Through one customer, it litereally not just impacts him and his family, but it impacts his circle of friends and family. Imean this is what big bad wolf is all about. What the advocacy is all about. Why we make our lives so hard and why we price the books so low so it is easy for you to give?

VVB: In your few days here, what are your observations on the Filipino Market/Customers/Readers?

Andrew: For us, it’s been an emotional journey. The cultures are very different. Yes, we are ASEAN. Yes We are neighbors but honestly it’s very different. Sometimes we think how small our world is, but when you start learning about a totally different culture. Learnung and understanding our new friends, Initially, we were quite disappointinged that there were a lot of stray books. Meaning customers when they come in they get all excited and pick a lot of books and they find out they have a certain budget and they go to acorner and they just put the books that they want and it can be 80% of the books which is a nightmare. We have 200,000 books at the back. Now, If i give you a book right now and I tell you to put it back in the table, how long will it take you?.. How do you put back 200,000 books? It’s an impossibvle taks and that of course will hurt the sales. You notice that some of the tables are empty, some people are saying im looking for this bhook. Wehre is this book? It’s actually in that 200,00 books that we are working day and night. We have increased manpower to try to sort it out. But the tide of books that are coming in, we cant control. But we realize that this is why we’re doing this. And then they to get books will change people.l Get them to understand, to get them to empathize more what other people are going through, mutual respect. And all that kind fo thing. We also realize that we shouldn’t be disappoiunted but we should just take it in stride. This is one of the challenges and this is why we are here. Its not that that the public is purposely doing this or that they are inconsiderate. It is just how things are and how we can work to I prove it. Rather than get frustrated and channel our energy

Jacq: Its about education. It’s about educating them to let them see.ohhh, it’s a different perception that they didn’t realize that it costs so much problem.

Andrew: we do it too.sometimes you just don’t want one item. But here it’s 30,000 people doing it. We gotta understand their part. That is the only downide. The upside, there are a million upsides. Seeing the crowds, the response, the crowds are very appreciative of what we do. It’s probably 1% of bad and 99% of good

Jacq: I mean the true motivation, every customer I met, whether they are a journalist like you, or a stranger, or a partner, or one of the VIPs who were here during the launch. Every single person I was introduced to say Thank you for being here. For bring the sale to pHilippines. I mean for the past 10 years, we do receive a lot of appreciation and thank you notes, but never have I for once, receiecved thank you as though every single customer. You get 10% appreciation for any business, it’s a very strong adovacay already. Customers don’t have to say thank yuou  to them it’s a transaction. For us for the past 10 years, we get thank you njotes, FB Posoticive comments, but never had I onece have repeated appreciation from every single person that we met and until today when I go to the bank, the bank officer, when they know I am big bad wolf, they are like, thank you coming to the Philippines. That really touches me

Andrew: The Filipinos are really genuine people.

Jacq: And also we saw the comments, one thing about the stray books we realize it was to meet a budget. And the rich can alkways affor the tyhings that they need, they can buy books and accessibility is not a barrier. But the people who are not travelling or who have limited budget are the ones, thjat big bad wolf is all about. It is only through us, that is the only way they they can get books.

Andrew: the more stray books that we get, that means that we are attracting the correct crowd, the people who really need us. Those that can afford books, they will come natureally on their own. But our market is those who cant afford books.thgos that don’t have books around thgem. What happens when you attract them? This is what happens, the stray books,m the orphan books. The more orphan books that we get, the better. But it hurts us very badly.

Jacq: It’s just education. Sooner or later, when they realize it. They will know that by knowing their budget, even if they don’t want it, they’ll kow how to put it back. Both parties have to learn how to respect each other. But the fact that they are here, with a caertain budget and knowiung that they can bvring home four or five books, that is for us the biggest success of big bad wolf manila. I mean there are people who buy in trolleys, they can afford it. But the people who touch me most are the people who come with limited money, but they bring home with big smile four books and even two books.

VVB: What books are doing well?

Andrew: Very different. Fiction is doing very well. Business and Self-ghelp. But this is a testament as to what a mature English market is But of course, we are pshing very hard childrens section.Getting the kids to readm that is our priority.

VVB: Any Last words?

Andrew: We would like to say to tell everybody. We are here until this Sunday. Do come and visit us we’re here until Sunday. Admissions is free. It’s 24 hours. Even if you’re not into books, just come over and see. It’s the world’s biggest book sale. It’s airconditioned, get away from the heart. For those who have come, thank yuou, let the wordget around and tell all your friends. And we’d really appreciate the media for all the coverage thast they ahvegiven us. We could never ever have done it without you guys. This is evcerybody contributing and making this event successful. All out partners.

Cindy Commencal Graces the Third CommencalPH Link

Cindy Commencal, from Andorran bicycle manufacturer Commencal Supervelos, was guest of honor at the third annual Link, an annual gathering organized by Commencal Philippines for dealers, members, owners and riders.

Cindy is the daughter of founder, Max Commencal, and travels the world telling the Commencal story. The bicycle company, known to produce premium downhill and enduro bicycles, was started in 2000 and explosive growth when they started selling online four years later. Their sponsored riders have since rode away with world downhill championships. Locally, the 2017 Enduro Alliance Men’s Elite champion, Nino Martin Eday, is a Commencal Philippines Sponsored rider.

Cindy Commencal was on hand to launch the new 2018 Commencal models. Most notably, the META POWER All-Mountain E-Bike. Pedal Assist Bikes or E-bikes are bicycles that have small, highly efficient electric motors mounted to their frames. Riders still have to pedal to make the bicycles move. The mounted motor just makes it easier and less tiring for cyclists to ride a bike. This is very useful for cyclists who pedal long distances or whose rides involve long and steep climbs.

“E-bikes are the future even in Europe. I’m sure it will be very good for the Philippines because the e-bike is a revolution in the mountain bike world. If you like riding, you can ride twice as much.”, Cindy said.

The META POWER is based off Commencal’s premium and proven META v4.2. The difference is that there is a Shimano Pedal Assist motor that is bolted onto the frame. While it does add a small amount of weight, the payback is that it is a lot easier for riders to ascend up mountains to ride down their favorite enduro or downhill track.

MTBPro, Commencal’s Philippine distributor, also had representatives from global suspension giant Ohlins and bicycle component manufacturer Spank, who presented new products and innovations that will be available in the local bike shops this year.

NOTE: This article originally published as

Nine Things To Do In Taipei

TAIPEI — With the recent lifting of tourist visa requirements for Filipinos, Taiwan is sure to become a favorite destination for local travelers satisfying their wanderlust.

And why not? With budget airlines having more flights to Taipei — AirAsia, for one flies daily from Manila to Taipei and three times a week from Cebu to Taipei — and with Taoyuan International Airport just a two-hour flight away from Manila, it’s an easily accessible destination for a quick trip to shop, to sightsee and to chill over a long weekend.

From towering feats of engineering to cherry blossoms and azaleas on a mountain top, busy cityscapes to heritage hillside to villages out in the rural areas, street food in the night markets to whiskey distilleries that rank among the best in the world, augmented reality (AR) gaming arcades to the secluded shrines that peer into a celebrated past, Taiwan is a place of contrasts and has something for every sensibility and for every bucket list.

One of the best ways to experience Taiwan for first timers is to consult travel sites. They often have a menu of activities recommended for tourists. This is particularly convenient if you have attractions that are a distance from your hotel as these are often packaged with a shuttle that picks you up from the hotel and brings you back afterwards. AirAsia and KKday, for instance, have joined forces to provide as much as 50% off on selected tours and packages to passengers flying on AirAsia to Taipei.

High-speed internet is recommended as English-Chinese translation apps like Google Translate will be a tourist’s best friend. Download the Chinese language pack while you have a decent internet connection so you can still use the translation features offline. Aside from this, you can use the AR function to read signs and to type out English words and show to merchants, waiters and taxi drivers.

If you cannot live without an internet connection, you can get a tourist SIM if you have an open line phone with unlimited 3G for three days or five days. 4G with a datacap will cost a little more, just go to a telecom shop with your passport to avail of this.

If you have a SIM-locked phone, you can search for routers for rent in Taiwan. You can pre-book this on travel sites, pick this up at booths in the airport. These booths close at around 12 midnight. If your flight gets in after midnight, you can have the router delivered to your hotel. If you are just planning to stay in urban areas and in the malls, you can sign-up for free iTaiwan wi-fi at However, service is scarce the moment you step out into the streets or out into the countryside.

Arranging transportation from Taoyuan airport to your hotel in Taipei is also very important. Trains to the Central Taipei train station depart at regular intervals. However, chances are that you may arrive after midnight, specially if you’re flying on one of the budget airlines. For travelers traveling on AirAsia, the airline has linked up with Experience Taiwan to provide coach services from the airport to your residence in the city. Visit for details.

Getting an MTR card for tourists is highly recommended. Once you get to Taiwan, go to the nearest MTR station and you can get a tourist three-day pass that gets you unlimited train rides. Though taxis are available and not as expensive as other tourist destinations, the best bang for your buck is still a combination of walking and taking the train.

Taiwan features cities built for walking. Make sure you have a decent pair of walking shoes. While the bus and train system are first rate, there is still a decent amount of walking to do from the stations and bus stops to where you will eventually be going. Night markets like Shi Lin are massive and will cause your feet a lot of pain if you aren’t prepared.

  • Taipei 101 has become symbolic of Taiwan’s engineering and design prowess. Building a 101 foot building in a region known for earthquakes and typhoons is no joke. It’s just something to be on ground level and looking up and appreciating how tall and massive this building is. You can roam around the mall on the lower level then take a trip up to the viewing floor on the 89th floor. Before you go check if the outdoor observation deck is open. It is usually closed during bad or cloudy weather. If you do go up, do stop by the 3-story spherical damper. This keeps the Taipei 101 stable during typhoons and earthquakes by counteracting vibrations and ground movement. The damper is such an attraction that there are cute dolls that visitors can buy as souvenirs. After seeing the view from the inside, hike up Elephant Mountain to see an alternative side of Taipei 101’s magnificence. This offers the best view of Taipei 101 with the Taipei cityscape in the background.


  • Taiwan is home to massive exhibition halls. There is almost always an a commercial show being held at any one of its gigantic exhibition halls. From electronics, to sports equipment, to bicycles, this is where Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) from China and across Asia come and display their newest wares looking for global distributors. The shows are often free for overseas guests (you just have to register ahead of time) and sometimes have great deals and sale items for visitors. This video is from the Taipei Cycling Show



  • Jiufen is a heritage village built into the mountainside. It is well worth the time to go here as it is simply gorgeous. This is built on three levels. The lower level is dedicated to shops. Mid level has the oldest cinema in Taiwan with a preserved food shop and a preserved movie projector. Right above is the mid level is a beautiful Tea shop which anime fans of Studio Ghibli will recognize. Stop by here for Taiwanese specialties, food and their mochi. Hiking up the upper levels will reward you with a beautiful view of the Taiwan shoreline and the surrounding mountainside.


  • Japan isn’t the only place to find cherry blossoms. You can find this around Taipei but the locals will recommend going up to Yangmingshan park to see these beauties in bloom. Take a bus from the Jiantan station to take you up to the Yangmingshan bus terminal. It is a bit of a hike up to the path the cherry blossoms. For an added workout, you can also climb up to the observation pagoda and the azalea garden from here.


  • A visit to the Chiang Kai Shek memorial hall for history buffs. This massive structure, dedicated to the first president of Taiwan, Chiang Kai Shek, rests on an enormous estate flanked by two national theaters, one dedicated to local productions and the other, to visiting productions from overseas. At the bottom of the memorial hall is a museum that has exhibits that commemorate Chiang Kai Shek ending a with a reconstruction of his office and lifelike wax figure of the first president at work. Take an elevator up to the main hall. This huge open space is dominated by gigantic statue of Chiang Kai Shek. Try to get here at the top of the hour to witness their own version of the changing of the guard.


  • Check out the Eslite Spectrum branch at the Songshan Creative Park for a taste lof Taiwan’s artsy and creative side. Besides housing a 24 hour bookstore, this branch has an assortment of spaces to satisfy your most eclectic pursuit. Growing Hydroponic plants? Leather working? Glass blowing? photography with film and a dark room? You’ll find it here alongside high end boutiques for bags, tea and Taiwanese delicacies.


  • A visit to the King Car distillery in Kamalan is a must for whisky aficionados. King Car distillery produces Kavalan whisky, one of the world’s best labels and has won over 100 medals in international whisky competitions. From the Taipei Central Bus Station, take a bus to Kamalan then take a taxi to the King Car distillery. The bus ride takes you through the longest tunnel in Taiwan and breathtaking vistas of Taiwanese rice paddies. Once you get to the Kamalan station, take a cab to the King Car Distillery. You might want to arrange a return trip to the bus station with the taxi driver before starting the tour. The tour itself takes about two hours, or more if you want to go around the grounds. The tour starts out with a video of the parent company and then a short walk to the distillery itself. It is a must do for whisky lovers as every step in the turning of barley into the golden elixir is covered. The tour ends at the Spirit Castle with a whisky appreciation session where visitors are given tasting notes to sample small portions of different varieties.


  • Taiwan has been regarded as the foodie capital of Asia. And no wonder, as the variety of food that can be found just around any street corner is amazing. Yongkang street in Taipei is a nice slice of Taiwanese culinary life. Take the MTR to Dongmen Station. Take a few steps from the station to take a pilgrimage to the first branch of Xiao Long Bao giant, Din Tai Fung. Yongkang street is just around the corner. Check out the scallion pancakes being sold at Thanh Ky Vietnamese restaurant around the corner. Then saunter about the area to find quaint shops and a school. Across the schoolyard, you’ll find Yong Kang Beef Noodles. Order the spicy beef noodles and you’ll get fiery-red soup with beef that just seems to melt in your mouth. Wander about the area a little more to find Boba Milk Tea to wash all of the calories down.

NOTE: This was originally published as

Noodles and Dumplings at Jing Ting, City Of Dreams

I knew I was in for a different Chinese culinary treat as soon as I stepped into Jing Ting, City Of Dreams’ new Chinese restaurant.

The complex isn’t a slouch when it comes to Chinese food. It already has the upscale fine-dining Cantonese restaurant Crystal Dragon at the Crown Towers Manila; and Noodle8 for hungry gamers who don’t want to stray away from the casino floor.

Jing Ting fills the casual dining void in between the two restaurants. Stepping into its cool interiors lined with vintage Chinese gray bricks and adorned with oriental paintings and accoutrements, one immediately notices the modern open kitchen where the mad skills of the chefs in making dim sum and hand-pulled noodles are occasionally on display.

Jing Ting differentiates itself by specializing in Northern Chinese cuisine. This landlocked portion of China is heavy into meats and wheat. Wheat noodles and dumplings are prevalent in lieu of rice. Cumin, a spice more associated with Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, is also a distinct flavor in Jing Ting’s offerings.

City of Dreams brought chef Yang Chen Fie, affectionately called Chef Alan, from his restaurant in Beijing to be Jing Ting’s chef de cuisine. With his 15 years of culinary experience, this is his first time outside of China. This young and dynamic chef just needs two minutes to prepare a bowl of hand-pulled noodles from scratch and can prepare 600 dumplings in an hour.

For appetizers, I really liked the Cold Shredded Rice Roll. The almost translucent rice roll had a pleasant chewy texture to it that was akin to thick vermicelli noodles that nicely soaked up the spicy red sauce.

A visit to Jing Ting will not be complete without trying out the hand-pulled noodles and Jiao Zi dumplings. The wheat noodles are prepared as they are ordered and reach the diner fresh from the kitchen. The result is a somewhat thick firm chewy noodle that serve as a tasty bed for their stir-fried toppings.

The Jiao Zi dumplings are larger than the usual dumplings one finds in other Chinese restaurants For P378 for a bowl of 8 dumplings, this is excellent value for money.

These dumplings also come in a big bowl with 30 pieces for a larger group of guests. These come in the Beijing pork, poached pork and kimchi, mushroom vegetables and pork, and chopped beef and celery varieties. They also have a pan-fried version which reminded me of a Japanese gyoza.

The meats really highlight the savory and cumin flavor profile of the menu. The tender “Genghis Khan” Roasted Prime Beef Short Ribs has a thin cumin crust and was tender to the bite.

The “Xinjiang Style” Spicy Lamb Skewer didn’t have that gamey aftertaste that’s normally associated to lamb dishes. It’s served hanging on top of a dish of cumin and the drippings from the skewer mixed in with cumin make for a nice dip should a guest want more flavor.

The Chinese Burger uses flattened semi-fried Mantou bread with a filling of sauced minced pork.

Jing Ting has an array of desserts to end the meal. Check out the Palace Snow Skin Pastry Roll with Sesame and Peanuts. Instead of the mochi balls, these are rolled up with the peanut paste and cut up into bite size pieces.

The Chilled Honey and Red Bean Cake look like dark red sapin-sapin or maja blanca, firm gelatin-like cakes that are subtly sweet with that distinct flavor of adzuki.

The food at Jing Ting is fast, and relatively affordable compared to its neighbors. It is an excellent addition to the restaurants at The Shops of City of Dreams.

Jing Ting is located at The Shops at City of Dreams Manila. Restaurant hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m.

NOTE: This was originally published at



Godspell 2017

MANILA — MusicArtes’s production of “Godspell” returns for a limited run.

First staged by MusicArtes last year, “Godspell” is a retelling of the Gospel with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwarz, the man behind “Wicked.” The first act is a collection of entertaining, sometimes irreverent, interpretations of the parables, while the second gives way to the passion of the Christ, from Jesus’s increasing clashes with the Pharisees, to the last supper and to His eventual death and resurrection.

The cast is a bit different from the first run but still a veritable who’s-who of Philippine theater. Lorenz Martinez replaces Red Concepcion, who is preparing to play The Engineer in the UK tour of “Miss Saigon.” Gab Pangilinan replaces Sheila Valderrama-Martinez and gets to sing the play’s iconic “Day by Day”. Multitalented actor-beatboxer and “Rak Of Aegis” musical director Myke Salomon capably replaces OJ Mariano juggling the role of John the Baptist and Judas.

An Anton Juan-directed play never fails to make its material relevant for modern times. During the performances of parables shunning greed and hate, the audience gets to see projections of fascism, human trafficking and US President Donald Trump in the background. This gave a looming dark side to this “Godspell” staging.

This production of “Godspell” is set in a slum area. At first glance, it’s easy to mistake the junk heaps for some sort of surreal aquarium because of its shimmering Day-Glo inspired lighting. The setting itself is clever as junk and trash are recycled to make spectacular props to make eye-popping scenes. The misery and ignorance often associated with slum dwellers are nowhere to be seen. Rather, slum dwellers wax philosophical about Socrates, Descartes and retell the parables in different ways.

Juan liberally scatters memorable moments throughout the production. There’s Jef Flores channeling the gentle Christ during the parable segments, Maronne Cruz’s transformation from a ukulele playing hippie to a rocker chick in mere minutes, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo’s indie Mary Magdalene, the “All For The Best” vaudeville two-man comedy act, the Japanese retelling of the Prodigal Son, Caisa Borromeo’s showgirls-inspired “Turn Back, O Man,” and the post-intermission reprise of “Learn Your Lessons Well” where the entire cast can be seen playing a musical instrument. These are just some of the bits that made me go “awwww” while I watched “Godspell.”

I thought that this production was a wonderful celebration of the Gospel. There is just so much joy in this production. And in the end, that is what worship is really all about.

“Godspell” runs until May 21 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium of the RCBC Plaza, Makati. Evening shows at 8 p.m. on May 12, 13, 19, and 20, with 3 p.m. matinees on May 14, and 21.

NOTE: This review originally appeared as

World War II Tour around Bataan, Tarlac and Nueva Ecija

April 9, 1942 was one of the darkest days in the Pacific Theater during World War II. The Japanese Imperial Army , led by General Masaharu Homma, landed in Northern Luzon and pushed back the combined forces of American and Filipino soldiers into Bataan. After three months of fighting, Bataan fell to the Japanese. Maj. General Edward King, the officer in charge of defense of the Bataan Peninsula, surrendered on April 9, 1942. Corregidor and the Philippines fell shortly after on May 6, 1942 after the surrender of  General Jonathan Wainwright. This coming April 9th is the 75th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan and the Death March.

The Bataan Death March will be remembered for the brutal treatment of the approximately 75,000 Filipino and American soldiers by their Japanese captors. General King attempted to surrender Bataan. The Japanese did not accept this as they wanted the surrender of the entire Philippine islands, which King had no authority to do. This is why the Japanese were particularly savage to the soldiers. The Japanese captors thought that rules regarding the humane treatment Prisoner Of War did not apply to the Bataan soldiers.

The weakened soldiers were forced to march from Mariveles in the south, and Bagac in the west up into Bataan and into San Fernando, Pampanga covering a distance of around 100 kilometers. From San Fernando, the 60,000 soldiers who survived were loaded like cattle into boxcars and shipped to Capas, Tarlac.

Here is a road trip itinerary that visits points of interest for those who might be interested to take a trip back into history.


On the southernmost part of the Bataan Peninsula is Mariveles. This city was home to logistics facilities of the US army. This was a strategic location for its close proximity to Corregidor. who needed to shuttle men and equipment to and from Corregidor. At the fall of Bataan, around 70,000 Filipino and American soldiers were gathered up in the warehouses and logistics complex to start the arduous march.

The KM 0 marker is right near the water and the unofficial Mariveles bus terminal. If you are adventurous enough, check out the hidden roads that mark the first couple of kilometers. One particularly dreadful realization is that the first 10 kilometers of the march for the hungry, sick, wounded and shell-shocked soldiers was an uphill climb towards the northern part of Bataan. You will find more death march markers as you travel north to the other destinations in this list.

Other points of interest are the viewpoint overlooking Sisiman Cove right before entering Mariveles and the swanky Oriental Hotel. Look around the city as you may luck out on sales on products that are manufactured in the export processing zones.



Bagac was the starting point for the death march. A contingent of 5,000 soldiers started out from Bagac. The road going east to Balanga crossed mountains and would have been absolute torture for weakened soldiers. JJ Linao Road, the mountainous zig-zag road that connects Bagac to the Bataan highway, has death march markers and several memorials of skirmishes in the mountains. The Philippine-Japanese friendship tower with the Friendship Bell at the entrance of Bagac is a gesture of peace and friendship from the Japanese

Today, Bagac is a sleepy seaside town. You can head for the western shore where you can find pump boats to bring you island hopping or to La Playa De Caleta beach in Morong. Las Casas Filipinas de Alcuzar, the heritage resort known for its reconstructed traditional Filipino houses, is running a specially curated photo exhibit by the Ortigas Foundation to commemorate the anniversary of the Fall Of Bataan.


A pilgrimage to the Mt. Samat National Shrine or the “Dambana ng Kagitingan” is a must for World War II history buffs. Mt. Samat was the last stronghold of the Allied forces. Bataan fell when the Battle of Mt. Samat was lost.

The 6.5 kilometer drive up Mt. Samat is an adventure with its steep zig-zags. Before continuing up to the shrine, you may want to check out nearby Dunsalan Falls via zipline. The zipline takeoff station is about halfway up the mountain.

The first thing you’ll see is the colonnade which contains beautiful marble structure with an esplanade, relief sculptures and the eternal flame. Wander off to the side to find the stairs that lead down into  the World War which contains memorabilia and documents from the war. It is absolutely heartbreaking to read the telegraphs sent by General King, General Wainwright, and General McArthur to Washington informing then President Roosevelt of their plight.

There is a path behind the colonnade that leads up to the cross. It’s very fulfilling to hike up this path as you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the colonnade with against a spectacular backdrop of the Bataan flatlands. If you don’t want to walk up, you can just drive up to the parking lot beside the cross.

It’s overwhelming when you get to the base of the cross for the very first time. The 92 meter high structure just towers over you. Make sure to go around the base as there are more relief sculptures on all four sides.



Balanga is the capital city of Bataan. For first timers, it is a pleasant surprise to go around the city marveling how clean and how progressive the town is. The plaza itself has a mall and is home to the Balanga Plaza Hotel, something that one doesn’t expect to find in Bataan.

Balanga is also the where the soldiers from Bagac and the soldiers from Mariveles converged. A flaming sword at the city’s periphery marks the location where the soldiers from Bagac and Mariveles converged into one column to continue the march to San Fernando.

Search for the Bataan World War II museum in Balanga located at the back of an elementary school on JP Rizal St. At the entrance are bronze statues of General King and his staff seated despondently across their Japanese counterparts. Contrary to popular belief, this was not the actual surrender site of General King. That site is marked by a fenced-in memorial in Lamao a few kilometers down south.

A tour into the museum starts with a video about the fall of Bataan. Visitors can go around looking at the memorabilia, uniforms and weapons from the war. Some of these are real restored uniforms, helmets, weapons from the war. The centerpiece of a the museum is a diorama that shows the horrors of the death march. Hidden in the diorama are anecdotes of civilian bravery like children who dropped food from the treetops and ladies who tried to smuggle soldiers out of the column into freedom under their dresses.

If you are lucky, you’ll have a very enthusiastic lola as your guide who was one of the bystanders who smuggled food to the starving soldiers.


Getting out of Bataan near the road going to Dinalupihan, you can find a monument of the first battle of Bataan. This marks the place where the Japanese broke through the first line of defense of Bataan.

The road from Bataan to Pampanga has death march markers every kilometer or so. Follow the markers until you hit the San Fernando Train Station. At this point, 10,000 soldiers died on the road from Bataan. The Japanese could not afford any stragglers. Death was meted out to any Filipino or American soldier who showed any sign of weakness. Asking for water was asking for a bullet to the brain. At this station, the 60,000 remaining survivors were stuffed into rusty closed boxcars to make the journey to Camp O Donell in Tarlac.


From San Fernando, take the North exit of NLEX and head on over to the SCTEX heading for Tarlac. Exit at the Dolores exit and head for Capas. Death march markers will appear again denoting the place where the survivors got off the train and walked the remaining kilometers to the Camp O’ Donnell concentration camp where 27,000 Filipinos perished. A big number of these prisoners were already sick and weak from the weeks leading to the Fall of Bataan. The Japanese were just expecting 10,000 prisoners instead of the 60,000 they received at the camp resulting in woefully inadequate space and facilities. The atrocities went unabated also because Japan did not respect the humane treatment of POWs as stated by the Geneva Convention in which Japan had yet ratified its inclusion

If you are using a GPS, look for “Capas National Shrine” instead of “Camp O’ Donnell”. Camp O’ Donnell is an active military camp and going there is not recommended.

When you turn into O’ Donell road, you can’t miss the 70 meter obelisk that is the focal point of the Capas National Shrine. When you enter the 54 hectare area, you’ll see a promenade cutting into the middle of forest of young trees. You can walk the rest of the way but I would recommend just paying for the parking fee and drive to the back.

Just like the cross at Mt. Samat, the Capas obelisk is an imposing structure. The wall where the names of those who died at Camp O’ Donell are engraved is an engineering feat in itself. You can hear a whisper from across the circular area 70 meters away.

Go around the shrine to find an actual boxcar that was used to cart the prisoners from San Fernando. Seeing and touching this up close made me realize the horror of squeezing 150 people into a corrugated metal box designed to hold 50 people in the scorching heat of summer in April. It was so crowded in the boxcars that those who died on the train journey died standing up.

Right beside the boxcar is a small museum with memorials for the Americans and Czechs who died at the camp.



Camp Pangatian is the real life setting of the 2005 movie “The Great Raid” with Benjamin Bratt and Cesar Montano. It told the story of the daring rescue of 500 American soldiers by a group of Filipino and American army rangers.

It is a little hard to find. It’s not on Waze but it is on Google Maps. When you get there, you’ll find that the memorial is split into two.

One part is a children’s playground with a circular building at the back. On top of the building is the “Hour of Great Rescue” memorial which was built to look like a sundial. Surrounding the sundial are podiums with metal plaques telling the story of the rescue

The fenced off area is the Camp Pangatian Memorial Shrine with immaculately manicured lawns. The gate facing the main road was locked. If you chance upon a gardener working inside, you can circle around to the back of the park and look for a door that you can go into the museum.

This was a study in contrasts as the American part of the park was much better maintained than the Hour Of Great Rescue sundial. Graffiti was all over the sundial and a relief depiction of the raid was torn away.



The WWII markers and monuments are maintained by the Fil-American Memorial Endowment group. This is a non-profit group composed of Americans and Filipinos who’ve made it their mission to preserve Fil-Am military history. It is this group that maintains volunteers that go out to clean and repaint all of the markers. Visit them at to learn how you can help or donate to the cause. You may even find a resource to guide you around Bataan when you decide to take a trip back in time.

The author would like to acknowledge Robert Hudson, Vice President of FAME, for information and insight regarding the Bataan sites and the Fall of Bataan.

NOTE: This was originally published as

Geeking Out On Saving Sally


I first ran across “Saving Sally” on Facebook with an appeal from its creator, Avid Liongoren, appealing for funds to finish the film’s post-production. A short trailer with unfinished special effects and at times, black and white animatics, gave funders a preview of the movie.

Even then, it was obvious that it was going to be something special. Live actors composited on animation were somewhat reminiscent of the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “Mirrormask.” But after much excitement from the local geek community, it disappeared from the scene.

Fast forward a couple of years and I’m glad to say “Saving Sally” was rescued through Liongoren’s blood, sweat and tears as he literally gave up almost everything just to finish this movie.

The movie does not disappoint. The crowdfunding trailer did do justice to the end result, and at the same time, tempering expectations for an indie special-effects laden movie.

The movie’s tagline, “A Very Typical Love Story,” is true to the plot. That is, if a typical love story involves nightmarish monsters, steampunk inventions, and geeky parents. Told mostly in English, the love story has beats from the Japanese anime’s “will-they-won’t-they-someone-say-something-already” plotline.

Enzo Marcos plays artistic Marty, a comic-book artist who falls for the titular Sally, a quirky “inventor-mercenary” played with much gusto by Rhian Ramos. We follow Marty’s quest to save Sally from the monsters he sees in the world and, ultimately, from herself. A shout out to Bodjie Pascua, who plays Marty’s dad. Any computer-game- and gadget-loving geek would love to have him as a father figure in the few moments he’s on screen.

The world we see is through Marty’s comic-book fueled eyes. And what a world it is! Off-kilter shapes, dazzling colors and cartoony extras with touches of Filipino culture like jeepneys, a certain masked character that goes around UP, and street food vendors make the Manila Enzo and Sally live in familiar yet otherworldly at the same time.

The film’s age shows a bit because of the lack of dynamic moving shots. Most, if not all, of the scenes with CGI backgrounds were done with the characters in just one place. This is where the creators really showed off their quirkiness, passion and creativity. The phallic CGI character of Sally’s boyfriend, Nick, was borderline juvenile but in the end, still was used to make a point.

The film proudly shows off its geek and comic book inspirations. A reference to the death of a certain robot leader in a particular animated movie decades ago back drew a laugh from the audience members in-the-know. Shots of local Filipino comics “Trese” and “Elmer” were a nice touch. Even the gadgets that Sally uses are cobbled together with bits of steampunk and robotics.

But special effects do not make a complete movie. I thought there were some dragging sequences. At times, the two leads seem to disconnect. I thought the resolution of one of the major subplots of the movie felt jarring. What I liked was the way the movie ended with sequence to wrap everything up.

This movie really reminded me of “RPG: Metanoia” (read my review here) from the 2010 Metro Manila Film Festival. With its heart and brain on its sleeve, “Saving Sally” is like Liongoren writing a love letter to its intended geek audience. Even Sally outrightly says she prefers geeks to the athletic types. Geeks will love the easter eggs, the cultural references, and certain scenes that pay homage to other fantasy and sci-fi movies. Everyone else will be wowed by the effects and the love story.

I really wish we had more Filipino films like this. It is not a perfect movie but, in the moments where it shines, it absolutely dazzles. Highly recommended for the audacity to tell a very typical love story in a very atypical way. Stay until after the end credits for a really nice animated short.

NOTE: This was originally published as

9Works Theatrical’s A Christmas Carol 2016

MANILA — The story of Ebenezer Scrooge has been staged countless times by local theater companies. And why not? It’s a timeless story that’s perfect for the Christmas season.

Yet jaded theater fans would probably say “Bah Humbug” to yet another version of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” with anticipation of “same-old corniness” of this story of Yuletide redemption.

9Works Theatrical and Globe Live’s dark and magical production of Lynn Ahrens’ and Alan Menken’s “A Christmas Carol” quashes these expectations with a light and sound spectacle seemingly made for modern audiences.

At its core, “A Christmas Carol,” which opens Saturday, is really a ghost story set in the London slums during the Industrial Revolution. While this is still a family-oriented musical, 9Works Theatrical dared to bring this dank setting to the Globe Iconic Store stage.

This version of “A Christmas Carol” has the beats of a Disney movie. I thought that the music was very similar to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” particularly during the dark parts. The music was given justice by the 22-piece 9Works Philharmonic Orchestra and guest choirs that will be appearing throughout the run.

What first struck me entering the venue was how the massive the set was. The set was three floors high and had islands and bridges that extended into the audience. I think that it would be better to pick a seat at the back to fully see what is going on. This became more evident as the play progressed as so many things were happening on stage that it was pretty hard to look back and forth and take everything in.

Miguel Faustman, himself a veteran of various versions of “A Christmas Carol,” plays the miser Ebenezer Scrooge. The character fits him like a glove. This time, though, there is a menacing quality to his Scrooge.

“Miss Saigon” and “American Idiot” veteran Ariel Reonal plays Scrooge’s doomed partner Jacob Marley. The first appearance of the character is scary and sets the tone for the rest of the ghosts.

Norby David’s Ghost of Christmas Past was playful and lithe, bringing Scrooge back to happier times and showing his eventual descent into a miserable human being.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, ably played by Franz Imperial, brought Scrooge to the present, showing how yuletide joy could be found despite the dark setting. This is where I thought the production dragged on a bit due to extended dance numbers and borderline bawdy set pieces.

And then there’s Ela Lisondra’s Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come, a silent graceful harbinger of the fires of damnation. Don’t blink during this sequence as things happen very quickly.

It’s rare to rave about the special effects in a local theater production but 9 Works Theatrical was not shy about showing off their technical mastery. From little touches like changing window colors to denote multiple timelines to terror inducing phantasms, digital projection, sound design and lights come together to repackage an old story into a spectacle today’s audience can appreciate.

A surprise on Christmas morning on stage with the cast singing the last song makes for one of the most joyful finales I have ever seen on a local stage.

It would’ve been easy to make this another corny production yet this was a grand ensemble play with so many movie parts. 9Works Theatrical and Globe Live have elevated “A Christmas Carol” into a magical, big-budget, light and sound musical spectacle.

Yet with all its shiny trimmings, “A Christmas Carol” doesn’t lose its heart.

“A Christmas Carol” opens Saturday and runs weekends at the Globe Iconic Store in Bonifacio High Street Central until December 25.

NOTE: This was originally published as

Nonna’s and Mama Lou’s in Nuvali

MANILA — Ask a foodie from the south where to go for great food and Mama Lou’s, which first opened in BF Homes Paranaque, will be one of the top answers.

Long known for homey Italian dishes, Mama Lou’s has opened further south along with its “daughter” restaurant, Nonna’s. Just a hop, skip and jump away from each other at Solenad in Nuvali, the two restaurants offer their multi-faceted interpretations of Italian cuisine.

The food at Nonna’s is playful and, at times, deliciously experimental. Perhaps this is where the culinary minds behind the restaurants come to play to test recipes before making it available to the Mama Lou’s branches. I thought some of menu items were gimmicky at first. But upon further savoring, there was a rhyme and reason behind the unusual presentation of the dishes.

The starters let the ingredients sing. The Mushroom Chicharon is one of the reasons to come to this restaurant. Made from mushrooms sourced from nearby Silang, these crunchy bits spiked with their vinegary sauce opens up the tastebuds for what’s to come.

The Insalata Caprese is a vision of freshness and simplicity made up of cherry tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinegar.

Rostito Di Manzo, its version of Beef Carpaccio, comes with arugula and cherry tomatoes which is like a side salad to the paper thin slices of beef in extra virgin olive oil.

The pasta dishes show a more experimental side playing with ingredients and using only fresh tagliatelle in the recipes. The caviar that tops the Caviar Alfredo pasta dishes may seem wanting. The small amount packs quite a salty wallop that’s enough to give character to the dish.

The Vesuvius penne topped with tomato, cream and pesto, looks really different. Since the penne is served standing up, the sauces just seep into tubular pasta definitely upping the flavor per bite. This was finished in the oven, so the penne is consistently al dente.

Nonna’s brick-oven pizza is soft and chewy showing off the amount of technical know-how that went into producing the crust. The dough is a recipe from the Association Venezia Pizza made with Caputo flour, sea salt and fresh yeast.

The toppings are also a bit unusual. Kimchi pizza is for those enjoy a little heat in their food which is a nice fusion of Korean and Italian.

The Clam Pie is a best-seller. It’s essentially clam chowder pizza which is tasty by itself. But put on a spoonful of honey and some chili flakes as suggested to give it a sweet and spicy spin.

End the meal with the Piazzaockie that’s like a S’more packed into a jar. Best eaten while it’s still piping hot, it’s nice to dig in and have the gooey marshmallow, and have all of that in one spoonful.


If you’re looking for something a little more traditional, cross the street to end up in Mama Lou’s.

Where Nonna’s bywords are hip and playful, Mama Lou’s are traditional and homey. Mama Lou’s is synonymous with hearty meals and tradition. Mains, crispy crust pizzas and huge servings of pasta that that this venerable Italian restaurant are staples in the menu.

The appetizers are more familiar. Nachos, onion rings, gambas, and French fries grace the starter part of the menu.

For those looking for more substantial starters, the menu has garlic sausage, Beef Carpaccio di Manzo, and even, poutine and escargot. It also has appetizer platters for those who can’t decide what to get.

Italian restaurants are known to be pockets of carb heaven. Mama Lou’s is no exception. The pasta entrees of Mama Lou’s are huge portions that are good for sharing. These are made with Barilla pasta in contrast to the fresh pasta from Nonna’s.

The pastas come with olio (oil), cream Alfredo, pomodoro (tomato), and diavolo (spicy tomato) based sauces. The Spaghetti Seafood Olio and the Spaghetti Con Tuyo Filleto are old favorites that frequent diners come back for again and again.

Mama Lou’s also has handmade pasta (lasagna, ravioli and squid ink pasta) and risottos like the Buttered Risotto and the Risotto Di Mare.

Mama Lou’s pizza crust is thin and crunchy as compared to Nonna’s Neapolitan pizzas. All of the pizzas come with a side of alfalfa and romaine.

Apart from favorites like All Meat and Seafood, The Mama Lou’s Special, topped with mango and prosciutto, is a specialty of the restaurant.

Those with a sweet tooth will not be wanting from the dessert selection. Try the mango or blueberry cheesecakes. Have coffee with the tiramisu, apple pie a la mode, and chocolate cake to finish the meal.

Old and new, traditional and experimental, homey and playful — Mama Lou’s and Nonna’s takes on Italian food won’t disappoint.

Mama Lou’s and Nonna’s are located at Solenad in Nuvali, Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Mama Lou’s is also located in BF Homes, UP Town Center, and Evia Lifestyle Center.

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Blue Man Group at Solaire

MANILA — When you get into your seat, look up! The laughs start even before the show starts with irreverent announcements discouraging texting, drone-flying, plerking, and cob-wobbling (whatever that means) that escalates quickly at the expense of several hapless audience members.

Then the show begins in earnest with the acclaimed Blue Man Group.

Founded in 1991, this multi-awarded part-performance art, part-science lecture, part-rock concert, and part-improv act hits Philippine shores for the first time, opening at The Theater of Solaria Resort and Casino on Thursday.

The onstage shenanigans of these three silent blue painted men will amaze, tickle and, at times, gross out. Nothing is spared in the insanity as liters of paint, mashed bananas, marshmallows, Twinkies, Jello, fire extinguishers, tissue paper, deadpan voiceovers and lucky audience members are used to roll-in-the-aisles comedic effect.

The show serves up a kinetic feast for the senses where the transitions between scenes come at a frenetic pace. Day-Glo, pastels, and the iconic Blue Man Group wind pipe organs work with the technical whizbangery of lights, and gigantic moving transparent LED screens to make this show a spectacle of sound, and a symphony of sight. It is an absolute joy to watch this live just to feel the bass when the percussions kick in.

This polished production isn’t afraid to alternate between eardrum-splitting head banging sets and small intimate scenes that build up to its grand penultimate act that transforms the theater into a big playground that will make adults feel like kids again, leaving the venue into a delightfully beautiful mess.

This is one show that should not be missed for the laughs, the spectacle, the jaw-dropping sense of amazement, and for the zany blending of science, music, comedy and art.

The Blue Man Group is on a limited run at The Theater at Solaire until September 25.

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