Blog

Lea Salonga Shines in Sweeney Todd

Born to and raised by parents who worshiped Tony laureate Lea Salonga, I obviously had high expectations of the Manila staging of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Topbilled by Salonga (as Mrs. Lovett) alongside Jett Pangan (former lead vocalist of rock band The Dawn as the eponymous character), the musical was long awaited.

It did not disappoint.

Especially Salonga’s performance. In several ways, I love her interpretation of Mrs. Lovett more than Helena Bonham-Carter’s. Compared to the latter’s, hers is a louder, more comical, lovesick woman. It was my first time to watch Salonga perform live, and the experience shattered my previous image of her as the almost-always wholesome artist. The lady can do comedy — the dark kind, even the one laden with innuendos.

The most memorable part for me — more than The Worst Pies in London — is her rendition of By the Sea. Hilarious. Letting out a seagull’s GAAWK and slithering on Sweeney Todd’s lap (seducing him in vain), she proves to be a more versatile artist than you’ve probably known her.

Sweeney Todd is staged at Solaire until October 27.

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Blog

The Crazy Crains

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The Haunting of Hill House is your binge-worthy Halloween treat

The Haunting of Hill House, at 10 episodes, does not feel long. It’s the story of a family of seven easing their lives into an old house and of what happens to them many years later.

“Ease into the house”, of course, isn’t exactly what they did. The house sucks them in to a whirlwind of paranormal events, ending with the mom, Olivia Crain’s (Carla Gugino), mysterious death.

The Crain family moves out of the house, but their lives are changed forever. Steve (Michiel Huisman), the eldest kid, becomes an author of paranormal stories. He publishes a book about the haunting at Hill House — a bestseller — at the cost of wrinkling his relationship with his sister, Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser), who has become a professional embalmer. Shirley considers Steve’s earnings blood money. Theo (Kate Siegel), meanwhile, secretly accepted Steve’s money to finish her PhD in psychology; aloof since childhood, she struggles with what seems to be the middle-child syndrome. Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) turns into a heroin addict and is at rehab. All but Nellie (Victoria Pedretti) thinks he can still change. But Nell is now a young widow suffering from sleep paralysis and the refreshed haunting of the Bent-Neck Lady from Hill House. Only Hugh Crain (Timothy Hutton), the patriarch, seems to be of clear mind, placid and wise from years of grief. And then Nellie kills herself. And the family gathers under one roof again. But the story is only just beginning.

The Haunting of Hill House transcends the horror genre into the genuinely dramatic. It tackles parenthood, sibling dynamics, and ultimately, love. It describes how people can sometimes have a twisted, deadly view of love. A love that confines. Fortunately, as the series shows, there is always the sane, serene, forgiving kind of love. The love that is freeing. The love that can vanquish all ghosts of fear and guilt and sin. The Haunting of Hill House beautifully unravels this towards the end.

Technique-wise, The Haunting of Hill House is a marvel. Episode 6 is especially remarkable for a long single-take/single-camera scene, when all the Crains gather for Nellie’s wake. It captures what one is sure to feel at excruciating events, when one painful moment just flows into the next equally stabbing one — no cuts. Anyway the series’ editing is superb throughout, actually. Even with its characteristic zooming back and forth in time, the series maintains a compelling story; it reminds me of Christopher Nolan’s time experiments. I just have trouble with some parts of the script — I mean, does Theo really need that long monologue on Episode 9?

But this baby is a 9/10. It’s beautiful, it’ll haunt you.

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Communication, Personal, Productivity

What I Learned from my Recent Job Search

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6 lessons that may help you land your dream job

After a long period of hemming and hawing, last May I decided to leave academe and return to corporate life.

That was one of the scariest decisions I made. True, I had about two months to find a job before my previous employer stopped giving me salary (my contract would expire at the end of our summer-term vacation); but also true, many employers are known to be sluggish at best and discriminatory at worst. I would probably need more than two months before I get to my next job.

I got it on the third month.

The journey was tough and rife with mistakes. But it all ended with more than I wished for. Here are the top six things I learned in the past three months, searching for a job:

1. Job hunting is a full-time job.

Turns out, looking for a job can and should be taken as a full-time job, because of all the research and traveling and writing you’ll have to do. It took me a while to learn this. I barely had any progress in June, when I was often busy at a volunteer organization I belong to. My mind was split into the job hunt and “extracurricular” tasks. It’s no wonder I had zero feedback about any of the applications I sent. So yes, “Professional Job Hunter” might as well be a thing.

2. Start early and relearn the ropes.

Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash

When you’re already having that vague, unsettled feeling of wanting a new job or career, then already start refining your resume and LinkedIn profile. Don’t wait till you’re out of a job. Reacquaint yourself with the basics of job hunting. The Internet is a vast resource for this, of course, but I recommend that you also consult an actual recruiter. Halfway through my job search, I belatedly consulted a recruiter friend on how to improve my resume. Turns out, I was doing my resume wrong! One of the lessons I learned: I didn’t really have to stick to just a one-page resume, especially since I was already aiming at managerial positions. It was a blow to my ego, but I learned a lot.

3. Learn new things.

One of the toughest parts of being unemployed is the psychological tunnel you’ll have to go through. Sure, there is light at the far end, but 99% of the place is utter darkness. It’s easy to imagine demons lurking in the shadows: the naysayers and their ugly ilk. So why not bring your flashlight or torch and read something on the way? You can also bring your smartphone for Duolingo!

Probably the good thing about being jobless is now you have time for reading. Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

What helped me a lot in the past three months were reading books and articles, watching online courses, and attending Toastmasters meetings. I also figured blogging was a good activity as well: creating something always brings with it a lot of research and discoveries. And if you have enough budget for it, you can try getting LinkedIn’s Learning subscription. They have hundreds of well selected courses I found both enjoyable and informative.

4. Learn from every rejection.

Now this is the hardest part of the process. Rejections hit right smack at our ego, the only thing we probably retained from our previous job. And this squishy blob— ego — gets even more sensitive when it’s not seated in a job or position; it becomes younger — as young as a four-year-old brat.

There, there. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

For me, the most humiliating part was how almost none of those I sent online applications to ever gave me feedback. Were my cover letters bland? Were my customized resumes too generic and unattractive? Are the recruiters simply sluggish as expected? These were the questions twittering in my head. Later on, I realized it must have been the resume (see #2 above). In any case, I realized it’s no use complaining; it’s only going to make my blood boil and probably make the people around me annoyed. When I already had my glass of bile-like sadness to last me another month, I finally decided that rejections are a good thing — like all the world’s failed courtships and relationships — they are signage that direct you to what’s most suitable to you and you alone. I threw away that glass of gloom.

5. Widen your network through extracurricular organizations.

I’m a member of Maharlika Toastmasters Club, where they never laugh at my jokes, hahahuhu. Photo: Maharlika Toastmasters Club

I mean Toastmasters. Okay, it doesn’t have to be Toastmasters, but find yourself an organization that will give you a diverse network of professionals. Thanks to Toastmasters, I found myself in a caring environment that promotes self-development, especially in communication and leadership. It was in Toastmasters that I learned to communicate better and began to lead teams and get to know a wide range of people — some of them recruiters. That “recruiter friend” I mentioned above is a toastmaster. And so is the one who recruited me to my new employer.

6. Get professional help (from heaven).

My personal favorite is St Josemaria Escriva, followed by St Clare of Assisi, for anything work-related. I started a novena to St Josemaria nine days before his feast day (June 26). On the eve of the feast, my then potential employer personally gave me an application form. Sixty days later, I got the job — one that’s even better than I wished for.

If you’re still in between jobs, I hope you got something useful here. Don’t give up. Let the naysayers say their nays. In time and accompanied by hard work and prayer, you’ll get the job suitable for you and you alone.

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Productivity

Creating a Life Plan

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How I use Milanote to plan my life and achieve goals

Vacations and transitions between jobs present opportunities to get to know yourself better — who you are, what you have, what you want, how you can pursue them. A few days ago, I reviewed my so-called Life Plan and made some tweaking. I was relieved to get out of a limbo after that; nothing feels damper than not having a clearer self-image and personal plans.

I also realized what an awesome app Milanote is.

Screenshot_2018-08-20 Start planning your next creative project in Milanote

Screenshot of Milanote’s homepage.

Milanote is described as “a tool for planning creative projects,” relying heavily on the power of visuals and boxed lists to aid creators and strategists in coming up with plans. I used it for some brainstorming work before, but it’s in goal-setting and action-planning that I’ve reaped most of its rewards. I realized Milanote does it so well for me because I’m part-visual, part-list-manic: I can drag-and-drop images that inspire me, lay them out, group them together, whatever is necessary to give me a good conceptual structure for my ideas. It’s vision-boarding on steroids.

In this blog post, I’ll give you an idea on how I use Milanote to make my Life Plan. You just might find something useful, too — or give me some tips on how I can improve my method.

(To give you a glimpse of what I’ll be talking about, here it is. You may refer to this as you go along. Or not. Whatever.)

I call the document a Life Plan, though really it’s just for a particular year, as you’ll see why below. And there are eight sections or parts in this plan:

1. Theme of the Year

The first part is the Theme of the Year. I started coming up with it when Pope Benedict XVI dedicated 2013 to the Faith (“Year of the Faith”). There were no year of whatever in the three years after that, so I just named them after the other supernatural virtues (Hope in 2014, Love in 2015). And then Pope Francis made 2016 Year of Mercy; so did I. My 2017 veered to the secular and I called it Year of Achievement, and this year is…

Why come up with themes? Not exactly sure why. But somehow the years’ decidedly positive themes give me a sort of affirmation, giving me direction on what projects to take and a lens to find some sense in the past. For example, in 2014, “Year of Hope” was simply meant to be an optimistic reminder throughout the year, particularly since at that time, I was rather depressed. In 2015, when I had finally bounced from the trough (and I had moved on to Year of Love), 2014’s theme of Hope became even more meaningful.

So I’m keeping this section.

2. Vision

This is the ideal state which I strive for during the year. Since it’s ideal, there’s really no need for me to scruple over whether it’s realistic or not. Realism comes at the goal level (see section #6). Closely related to the Theme, the Vision gets my motivation going. That’s why I also make sure its wording gets me giddy about a future state.

A good vision can follow a template as simple as: “I am an [adjective]+[noun].” I am a well-known real estate broker. I am a financially free entrepreneur. I am an organized and fun-loving mom. Something like that.

3. Framework

In pursuing my goals, what do I consider as natural laws, the mechanism by which pursuits work? This set of laws or mechanism is what I call “framework”. In academe, we find a study framework to see a particular phenomenon using a particular perspective. Doing so gives a certain sense to the thing you’re studying; it doesn’t seem as much of a puzzle anymore, although you will still have to adjust or discard your framework, if necessary, once you conclude the study. And it’s the same with understanding yourself and your life. You need a framework — a set of assumptions — that will simplify or guide your project, i.e. your life.

For this year, I decided to use the following framework: systems of good habits lead one to success. Meaning: if only I carry out certain good acts consistently, then I’d soon excel, sometimes even without my noticing it; it just happens.

Of course, you can use other frameworks for success. Find what suits you best and then follow through.

4. Key Outputs

These are my main deliverables during the year. Often these are “large” tangible things like reaching a particular weight or getting a certain professional certification or traveling to a dream destination. While I place this high up in the Life Plan, this is actually a product of the list of goals I list in the sixth section. This list is most useful when I want to see what big, concrete things I still have to achieve this year. And I find it helpful to indicate the deadlines for these things, too.

5. Why the Year Has Been Awesome So Far

This is the running list of achievements during the year. Many of the items here come from the Key Outputs, others are accomplishments that I did not see coming. It’s good to have this list because it reminds you that, even when things look bleak, still there are some good things that are happening — we just don’t care to look.

This is actually a recent addition to my Life Plan. When I realized it’s already August, a vague feeling of dissatisfaction settled in. It’s uncomfortable, like wearing tight underwear, or munching a tea bag. The way to feel less sorry — and even to feel good about myself — is to count my blessings; thus “Why the Year Has Been Awesome So Far.”

Applying vision-boarding principles, the more inspiring the images, the better. Screenshot of my Life Plan.

6. Goals

And so here we are at the heart of the document: goals. We have hundreds of goals. But it’s good to keep them to a minimum, so there’s greater focus. After all, some of the goals we have in mind are actually natural by-products of other goals.

For my year’s goals, I try to sort them according to the various facets of my life. You may also call them priorities — although sometimes I hate using that term because some items can’t be given a particular order: they simply have the same “weight”.

These facets I turn into “cards” (in Milanote parlance). Right now, I have 12 cards, though I try to pour most of my attention to the first five or six. Again, the importance of minimal number for maximum focus. (I know, I know, 12 is too many, but I just want to be as comprehensive about understanding myself as possible.) For 2018, my cards are:

  1. Spirit — I struggle so much in getting a better relationship with God, but I believe that if this is in good standing, I’ll be in good standing everywhere else
  2. Profession — My 20s are over, and boy what a decade of experimentation that was. This card covers everything related to making up for lost time in developing my career.
  3. Finance — Because everybody wants to be financially free, of course. Unless you’re Richie Rich, or one of those crazy rich Asians.
  4. Toastmasters — My lone “extracurricular” self-development organization. I’ve gained so much from this group, and there’s still a whole lifetime in which to gain from it — and serve it — more.
  5. Masters — I’m trying to finish my MA in communication.
  6. Family — I don’t live with my family, but I try to be an “active” member as much as possible.
  7. Love — Maybe it shouldn’t be called that way (cheesy!), but this refers to my trying to become a better boyfriend.
  8. Fitness — Looking good and feeling good are often the strongest confidence booster.
  9. Culture — Food, places, experiences, and ideas are some of the most beautiful things in this world. I don’t want to miss out.
  10. Friends — Perhaps because I’m quite an introvert, I have very few close friends. Sometimes I still struggle relating with them. That’s why I keep it a point that this area is one of the active cards in my plan.
  11. Business — Someday I’m gonna put up a business.
  12. Travel — My one luxury.

Each of these cards or categories have one main goal, under which are subgoals, which are often habits that I try to foster. After all, I believe that habit systems are the key to attaining excellence. If you notice, some items have been scratched off: that’s because as far as I’m concerned, I’ve already turned them into reliable habits. A triumph; no need for me to fuss over them.

7. Routines

Since I struggle with habit formation, I need to keep some routine-related things especially in mind:

  • System Changes — The three key ideas I try to apply in daily life, based on insights I gained from prior self-reflection. Normally these ideas counter the main vices or negative habits I’ve noticed in myself. For example, I and some people close to me have complained about my tendency to overthink. So I’ve proposed to myself that I “focus, and not overthink.” The items on System Changes are the mantras I should be sort of “reciting” in the course of each day.
  • Morning and Evening Routines — The first few activities I do upon waking up and the last ones before hitting the sack are like bookends that keep the books of my day well propped up. I got this idea from author Brett McKay some years back. Having these routines is consistent with my habit-systems framework: I know I’ll have a good day if my day starts with my Morning Routine, and I know my day has ended well if I close it with the Evening one.

No more images because I got tired. Screenshot of my Life Plan.

8. SWOT Analysis

(This should probably be at the top of the document — even before the Theme of the Year, because it helps me to identify what I lack and what I already have, therefore informing me how to craft my vision and goals.)

The SWOT Analysis, of course, looks into the internal and external forces that affect your pursuit of goals. Albert Humphrey is credited to be the creator of this self-awareness tool in the 1960s.

  • Strengths are your current abilities, talents, skills, and stock knowledge (e.g. writing skills, singing talent).
  • Weaknesses are your inadequacies — abilities, skills, and knowledge that you don’t have yet (e.g. driving skills, ignorance about the complexities of taxes).
  • Opportunities are factors outside yourself that may help in achieving your goals (e.g. vast professional network, close proximity to workplace).
  • Threats are those people or things outside yourself which can foil your plans (e.g. envious coworkers, micromanaging boss, rainy season)

Once you have your SWOT Analysis matrix filled, you’ll have a better perspective on yourself. Often, for me, the best part of doing SWOT Analyses is figuring out my strengths. Like most people, I’m really quite insecure, and nothing beats discovering some innate qualities — Strengths — which I already have and which I can exploit to my advantage, if I wanted to.

That’s it! And congratulations for reading (or scrolling down, haha) this far. As I’ve mentioned, my Life Plan is a work in progress, much like its subject: me. So if you have some tips for me, please don’t hesitate to tell me in the comments below.

In case you missed its link above, here’s a peek into my Life Plan.

And if you’re interested in signing up for a Milanote account, please use my referral link. Thank you!

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Culture

The Real Temple Run

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What makes a 21k run around Cambodia’s Angkor Wat exhilarating

Back when Temple Run was a hit, I decided to someday go running around the jungle temples of Cambodia. Dodge some crazed gorillas maybe. Jump over ravines probably. Definitely with the dashing air of Indy Jones.

In July 2014, it came true.

The plan was to go around the Angkor Wat Archaeological Park, from my hotel in Siem Reap and back to it in maybe three or four hours. My first half-marathon.

It was grand.

The sweat and blisters and vehicle smoke notwithstanding, the run was exhilarating, for three key reasons:

The change of landscapes — from Siem Riep’s bustling streets to the asphalted road with impenetrable jungles on either side to the majestic moat surrounding Angkor Wat — made for a real beholding of raw and rugged beauty. Add to the experience the monsoon rain that goes berserk one moment and gives way to the sizzling sun in another.

With a bit of imagination, I “saw” how ancient Khmers transported the 10 million sandstone blocks from faraway mountains. It is said that King Suryavarman II had the Angkor Wat built in the early 1100s, dedicating it to the Hindu god Vishnu. His ambition for the project was such that the temple — currently the world’s largest religious monument at 1.6 million square meters — would be a gilt heaven on earth — Mount Meru, home of the gods. It boggles the mind how such a colossal complex would be located in the middle of nowhere: now the complex is practically in a the middle of a vast forest, but in its heyday it was a city larger and busier than London at the time.

The air was fresh, crisp, and moist — far from what I was used to in urban Manila. Drizzles punctuated the run, but that only made it more exciting, and refreshing when needed. It’s good to plan your route well, though. There were stretches in the route that were hardly inhabited (but the roads were well paved); I didn’t have a bottle of water with me, so I had to run a couple of miles before I reached the nearest store. Don’t be like me.

Angkor Wat from its east entrance, at the moat’s edge.

So if you happen to visit Siem Reap, why not go temple running? It’ll be a unique experience. But don’t commit the mortal sin of not taking a closer look at the temples a day or two before your run (there are more than a dozen in Angkor alone). They are ruins, yes. But what treasures they hold. On that trip to Angkor Wat, I realized the impermanence of earthly life and glory, and how nature and time can overcome man in the end. If you want adventure and some introspecting, go to Siem Reap.

And don’t just go: run.

More photos »

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