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Mr. Carlo Ople really got everyone listening when he started educating the audience on how to promote yourself as a blogger.

In between regular trips to my physical therapist for the knee rehab and my internist for the contusion on my abdomen, I still managed to attend the 7th iBlog Summit held recently at UP Malcolm Hall (College of Law). Sponsored by the UP Internet Society, GMA News 7, TV5, the DigitalFilipino Club, and Samsung, the iBlog Summit is a yearly event, usually pulled off with the phenomenal help of the DigitalFilipino Club’s doyenne Ms. Janette Toral and a host of other dedicated local bloggers. 

Indeed, I had been wanting to join this event for 2 years but was not able to because I wasn’t in town most of the time. The summit regularly features a host of speakers and players of the internet and online technology industry in the Philippines. But most of all, the majority of the attendees are bloggers themselves — in fact, the whole blogging community shows up in full force at this usual 2-day event.

Lots of bloggers -- both established ones and newbies like myself -- congregated and shared stories at the recently held 7th iBlog Summit in Manila

Between lectures — some of which targeting first-time bloggers and net entrepreneurs who are already steeped in the language of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), social media (Facebook, Multiply and what else?), as well as the occasional “troll” (bloggers and other internet surfers who scout online forums and web boards, creating mischief by creating an online scene by lambasting somebody else on the forum/board), you get to socialize with a lot of people who share your passion — blogging!

Since my blog was basically created to chronicle my weird adventures in Saigon land, as well as talk about travel and lifestyle and the social scene in Saigon, I was a bit shy to introduce myself to the many bloggers there that seem to have more interesting and noteworthy topics to blog about. For instance, we have a category called “Mommy bloggers”, wherein one lady called Noemi Dado famously blogs about her pain and anguish when she lost her son to accidental drowning .

Another lady, Ms. Ria Tirazona, talked about her struggle to lose weight — and blogged about it. One great thing I learned from Ms. Tirazona’s blog is that blogs could be a great platform for advocacy of issues and causes. That gave me a great idea for a blog that I can use as a platform for a burning cause that I wanted to write about.

Still, I never realized that a Bloggers’ Summit could be a venue to find or reconnect with friends and colleagues you haven’t seen for years. For instance, I met my former boss Wally at a prominent research company, whom I haven’t seen for more than 15 years, walking around in a cane just like myself. And Claire, a former colleague of mine in my early days as a newspaper reporter, was also there as a fellow blogger.

Bloggers listen to a speaker's tips on how to establish an online discussion community revolving around your blog.

I recognized Roby Alampay, a reporter friend of ours based in Bangkok where I used to be based as a PR consultant, now the head of the online edition of TV Channel 5. And there was also Howie Severino, Vice President for GMA News Online, whom I do recall meeting sometime ago when I was a young cub reporter writing health stories. But I could be wrong . . .

I and my long-lost colleagues got to even meet and chat face-to-face with the Thirsty Blogger, Mr. Fitz Villafuerte, a famous blogger well-known for his entertaining and informative anecdotes about watering-holes across the country. 

And one gets to meet a host of savvy bloggers as well. One such blogger is Earth Rullan, a well-known blogger in the blogosphere who blogs about fashion and women’s issues. Always wanted to be a fashionista blogger — perhaps in some future time . . .  ; )

But the best part of the Bloggers Summit is the plethora of information you can gain from just sitting there for two whole days, listening to a gamut of speakers from the tech industry as well as the local bloggers community. There was Carlos Ople, obviously from the famed Ople clan, ex-Friendster executive, who taught us a thing or two about knowing how to prepare a powerpoint so you can make a sales pitch to a prospective advertiser of your blog.

Again, not all of the audience, such as me, have had the experience of “monetizing their blog”, so this piece of advice that Carlos gave — that it is just okay to approach a potential advertiser provided that you are professional in delivering such a service — was actually filed into my brain for future use.

Very practical topics, such as “How to prevent writer’s block” by seasoned blogger Roy de la Cruz sure put a few stitches in our stomachs for the funny quips that he delivered in between some home-grown advice on the topic.

And at the end of the summit, we had our customary group photo. Now how I wish I could get a copy of that photo for my blog as well ; )

I vow that I will return to the Bloggers Summit next year, keeping my fingers crossed!

Now I have to learn to walk with a steel cane -- but perhaps I won't need it for long ; )

I went home to Manila almost two weeks ago. I came home riding an early morning flight, was picked up at the airport in the wee hours of the morning by my dad, and then, figured out which specialist orthopedic doctor I had to visit soon.

I came home because I’ve been hit by a motorbike driven by an equally crazed young, female teenager who likes to drive off full speed while not looking in front of her.

At first it felt like a big bump in my schedule, just like the big bump this bike gave me on my tummy and my leg. I have two scheduled interviews for articles I’m dying to write about. I was one day short of enrolling again for the second level of bellydance classes I’ve been studiously attending the past month.

Yet these thoughts only came after I ended up in the emergency room of a supposedly upmarket hospital where the only people around there was a nurse and a guard. And you’re scared shit, not so much because you can’t move your leg and the right side of your abdomen is hurting like hell, but because of the realization that you could die, right there and then at the emergency room, for lack of attention or because everyone was moving at a glacial pace worthy of the demise of the dinosaurs.

I forgot my cellphone. I only had a beltbag and a wallet when I slipped out at night to buy breakfast in a convenience store a block from where I live. I couldn’t remember any one of my colleagues or local friends’ phone numbers. And I was continuously crying while the nurse was trying to ask what was the problem (wasn’t that supposed to be their job — to check what the problem was with me!).

And when you’re left alone thinking you might die anytime, it just struck me how short life is. And how much we spend our days thinking, worrying and working for sometimes the wrong reasons and for the wrong people. 

Life is very short — too short sometimes to worry about who likes us, what kind of achievement we’ve done, how much money we make, or if we’re missing that Backstreet Boys concert tomorrow. We’re walking leisurely one time and the next minute, we’re lying down on that road with our life almost snatched from us.

We must learn to live and treat life as if every minute is the last we’ll ever have.

But now, safe again in the confines of my little room, we also think about how we can turn adversity into opportunity. For instance, I went back to Manila to get a 2nd opinion from an orthopedic specialist (I think it’s a good idea because I was hit in the abdomen, and although the doctor in Saigon said there was no internal damage, you can’t be too careful). 

So by going to Manila, I get to see my family too. And my Papa will be happy. And I get to see my sister who is also a bit sick like me. And I get to talk to friends and potential biz partners to cook some really great ideas for new businesses.

Right now, the world is gripped with sorrow — from the devastation wreaked by an earthquake and a tsunami in Japan, as well as a potential worldwide nuclear catastrophe. Then the air strike on Libya over UN sanctions. And now Bahrain.

It seems that there is a never-ending list of woes, both global and individual. But as people, we know that the only way we can survive through these is to lift up our chins, strengthen our spirit, pray to God or our protective angels/guardians, and look on the bright side of things.

There will always be a silver lining behind any cloud. There will always be a reason for a tragedy in life. All we have to do is to find it — and to keep on having a positive attitude towards life.

Remember, the only person that can bring us down is OURSELVES! So look up and think “pink thoughts”. A happy life is just awaiting us behind that dark cloud.

After a certainly most boring holiday spent primarily at home, I am happy to say that I’m glad that TET holidays (otherwise called Chinese New Year in other parts of Asia and Chinese-influenced communities in the world) are almost over.

Yep, I showed up at the office today, expecting our ever loyal employees to be there before me, and wallah — they’re not there! Only my dear colleague Chi was there. And so laughing at the absent employees, we had a great time just having a long and late lunch.

But what drives up my ire is that “I couldn’t access Facebook” during the entire TET holidays! In fact, I can’t access Facebook at all when I use the internet at home

Okay, some people will disagree with me about the inability or difficulty of accessing Facebook in Vietnam. Some people say that you can tweak your DNS configuration, or even use one of those proxy servers just to access Facebook.

But despite these maneuvers and sometimes, the lucky chance of being able to get online through some server, it is MUCH, MUCH MORE DIFFICULT to get into Facebook these days. Because of that, I am faced with —

* Not being able to contact friends from as far as half a globe away

* Not being informed about what friends are doing as far as half a globe away

* Missed the latest jokes, the hippest videos and the wackiest antics of a few colleagues and friends

* Missed out on a couple of friend’s birthdays

* Missed out on trends and news from the home country or the region

* Can’t announce my latest blog posts on my Facebook page

* Can’t announce my status on my Facebook page

* Can’t inform my friends about my recent travel & lifestyle articles

And most especially, I can’t access my directory of friends’ emails and phone numbers as well!

But there is also an upside to life without facebook — I get to read more blogs online. In fact, I stumbled on this funny blog from China called “Ministry of Tofu” (www.ministryoftofu.com). Aside from its witty remarks and funny, sometimes weird stories (pole dancing subway commuters, sexiest Chinese language teachers, etc.), it also features stories of the ever-present issue of “online censorship” as well.

Which means we are not alone in this problem in this side of the world ; ) At least they’re having fun and a few laughs out there in China with their queer stories . . .

As I walked in Sonya's garden, I saw a clump of red flowers pointing directly to a nondescript fountain hidden among the flowering plants.

The bigger cottage occupied by my family and me at Sonya's Garden. Note the abundance of flowers around the cottage which almost covers it from view -- and prying eyes.

Even though it’s been about two weeks since my sister’s wedding in Manila, with the reception at Sonya’s Garden in Tagaytay, I still remember quite well the brief two-days holiday we spent at the famous Sonya’s Bed & Breakfast Cottages. Sonya’s English-inspired Cottages are so quaint and so rustic that it’s like being transported into a genuine traditional English garden setting.

The newly wedded couple, plus my father and my other sister and her husband, as well as myself, spent at least a day going around the cottages, sampling the herbal spa, and just moving from the newlyweds private cottage and the bigger one which was assigned for my family as well.

Here are some pictures I took of the quaint cottages and Sonya’s English garden. One thing to note is that most of the white linen with beautiful embroideries of flowers used in the cottages were made in Vietnam. If anyone would like to know where to source this kind of linen, you can write to me  : )

Ante-room of one of Sonya's cottages. Note the colorful glass chandelier.

One of my sister's trousseau laid out in the garden footpath.

This is the interior of our cottage. The burnished gold brass bed in the middle dominates the entire room. The floor is cement with long planks of what might have been the original wooden floor mixed with it. The capiz windows are marvelous - capiz being made from the mother-of-pearl shell that is pretty abundant in the Philippines. A wooden genuine Indian divider painted with Indian court scenes is seen on the right while a Balinese low bed is at the corner on the extreme left. Flowers from the wedding are on the table at the left.

The View from outside the cottage. The capiz windows are usually drawn shut at night from prying eyes outside.

The bigger cottage had three bedrooms with four beds. This one is a smaller bedroom with a cozy Balinese four-poster bed which was occupied by my father. It was much smaller but cozier for me. I particularly liked the painting of the half-naked girl on the wall above the bed as well as its small but handy bathroom with a rock garden.

A nice place to sit in the garden, right beside one of the bigger cottages.

A nice floral centerpiece among the garden chairs.

The view from the window beside the brass bed was so romantic that I had to take a picture. Flower arrangement courtesy of our wedding caterers ; )

The view of the Secret Garden of Sonya, especially of the little boy fountain, from the window of the cottage. Truly magical!

Capiz-paned windows, white linen embroidered with tiny red flowers, and a wrought-iron bed beside a romantic window -- what else could you live for? I wish I could have a similar bedroom in my house, sigh!

How quaint the rock garden in the small bathroom adjoining the cottage's small bedroom! It was a novelty standing on flat smooth rocks while pebbles are strewn around your feet ; )

This antique mirror circa my lola's generation is so cute that they even had colored flowers sandblasted on its rim! Notice the hanging floral house robe reflected in the mirror and my arm caught in the reflection.

The romantic pebbled pathway to Sonya's Country Cottages.

A romantic nook in the garden. I wonder how this lovely seat is sheltered from the periodic rainshowers that January day?

Hiya!

I’m catching up on my blogging again ; ) Not that there isn’t much to write. There are actually tons. But haven’t had my mind focused on the blogging lately.

But there is much to celebrate. For instance, my youngest sister got married last Saturday – in a quaint little church on top of a hill in Tagaytay. They call it Calaruega. How people managed to choose this church for a wedding truly amazes me. The only dirt road leading to this church is pockmarked with holes. But there it is – along with its singing and iPad toting resident priest!

It was a great feeling – to see your sister and her new husband, her friends, colleagues and loved ones gathered around, all beaming with smiles, all laughing. For starters, my sister wore a fabulously hand –embroidered wedding gown care of a well-known Filipino wedding gown couturier, Ms. Veluz. She’s as chirpy as any one I know who really relishes designing all those frou-frou, fairytale like wedding gowns.

My sister’s was no exception. It was a confection of white tulle and lace, heavily embroidered with exquisite beading and some shiny Swarovski crystals. It had a little train and a long veil as well.

And most importantly, it took me 20 minutes to get my sister’s gown unzipped (we later found out that my sister was sewn into the dress , hence we couldn’t find the hooks).

So I had to don a blush pink bridesmaid’s dress, which honestly, I don’t think I did look very well in it : ). Still, it was fun to see half of the head honchos of the Philippine advertising industry being there, clowning and slapping jokes like little schoolboys and schoolgirls.

And the bride was radiant; so was the groom – har har har!

The Blushing Bride & the Suave Groom faces the wedding guests at Calarueda Chapel in Tagaytay.

The only thing that marred the event is when the bridal car driver tried to pull a fast one on me – charging an additional fee that was equivalent to 3 hours overtime when we only spent an hour more than agreed upon. No worries but at one point, I thought I was going home with a sore fist and bloody murder in my eyes, as I was prepared to slug it out with this lying and conniving driver out at the parking lot.

What I like most about the wedding? Taking photos of the preparations, including the pre-wedding fittings (when do I manage to fit a gown as gorgeous as that – har har har!).

So as a last say in this blog post, I turned another year older about 2 hours and 55 minutes ago. Yes folks – I was born 5 minutes after midnight in a cold January morning in Quezon City  not so long ago – har har!  My mother said I was so tiny and white, and loved to cry – har har!

And like any other birthday, I couldn’t sleep very well. Always thinking something good is going to happen after that magical time when the clock strikes 5 minutes after midnight.

Which brings me to the topic of my new zodiac sign, in the wake of an inclusion of a supposedly 13th sign in the Western Zodiac horoscope. So now I’m a Capricornian. This is not surprising to me. Having been born on the cusp, I have both characteristics from Capricorn and Aquarius, my birth sign.

But what the heck? I would love to have a world that don’t need all these signs. And this is the end of my blog post. Finding myself so sleepy all of a sudden . . . .

Time passes by so fast; we are back again in Saigon.

Before I found my flat which is just a block away from my office in District 1, I took up residence first for more than a week in a little hotel along Pham Ngu Lao Road, which is in the heart of the backpacker area in Saigon. I thought I would be bored to death again in that area, because if you’re not the type to drink yourself to death in the late evenings or are into shopping, you wouldn’t enjoy the hustle and bustle of the backpacker area.

Aside from showing up at the office nonetheless, I managed to spend my mornings at breakfast eating a banh mi, a baguette with slivers of pork meat or canned sardines, veggies, a little pate and a chile or two. That Vietnamese sandwich was enough to keep you going for 3 hours until lunch time.

But the best thing I liked doing at Bui Vien, a street behind Pham Ngu Lao and parallel to it, was sitting in one of those roadside cafes, and drinking their traditional iced-cold coffee with milk called “café suda”, or “café su nom” which is the hot version of it.

Normally, the type of coffee that you mix with café suda is rather bitter — and the condensed milk that they mix with it actually balances the bitter taste. But with café su nom, you drink the coffee filtered through a steel filter with the brew being catched from below in a cup.

And while you’re waiting for your coffee brew to be filtered, you look at the street and see the passing of motorists, tourists and the ordinary hectic day-to-day life in not just the backpacker area of Saigon but everywhere in the city. 

Sitting at a roadside cafe in the Pham Ngu Lao area. Simply bliss!

Hiya! It’s been a while since I wrote my last entry here. Been out of Saigon since March, got caught in Bangkok during the arson attacks, and haven’t had the time to update everyone what I’ve been up to all along. So I’m sharing with you an interesting anecdote about an incident I had some time ago, and my interest in interior design and art, among other things.

The Argentine artist Lucas Rise ponders life and the meaning and inspiration behind his art in his garden.

Sometime in late 2006, I was on the verge of relocating myself to Vietnam. I was thinking what kind of flat I was going to secure for myself, as well as how it would look lik. So I started looking over several interior design magazines in Bangkok.

One magazine caught my eye. It was Living Thailand. In one of the articles was featured a young man who painted colorful wooden cabinets — of the type I like! You know — brightly striking reds and blues and yellows, whimsical, quirky, and to a certain point, rather like child’s play.

Carrousel. My favorite piece among Lucas's quirky cabinets, mainly because of the use of bright colors and because the flowers remind me of the flower drawings I used to make as a child.

Since the magazine was actually written in Thai, I was quite content to just view the colorful pictures of his rehabilitated cabinets, and to have an intimate view of his equally interesting and homey atelier. Later, I found out he crafts all of his cabinets painstakingly by hand — a brilliant feat since sometimes he uses mixed media — like metal studs, wooden pegs or 20,000 hand-cut and painted pieces to decorate an old wooden armoire.

That young artist’s name is Lucas Rise. Just in his early thirties, Lucas hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina, a country where every one seems to live life with gusto (not that different from most Filipinos though J) — truly a Latino to the bone! After being a finalist at the prestigious Platt National Art Awards (Buenos Aires) for an art entry featuring 20,000 handmade pieces of wood attached to a refurbished cabinet, Lucas’s quirky cabinets and other mixed media pieces have been highly revered by young people of his generation as well as art and interior design connoisseurs. His fame has traveled to other countries, particularly Paris, Istanbul, South Africa, Brazil and the US, his current domicile.

The following are some photos of his amazing work, which I happen to be updated about from time to time through all these years that I have had the graces to make contact with him. I must say that no other artist has piqued my fancy or tickled my imagination than Lucas and his very unique wooden cabinets.

A piece called African Whimsy. This series of photos show how the cabinet was made. Notice the unpainted wooden pieces on the cabinet on the right hand side of the photo.

Almost complete!

The finished product at last! What does it remind you of?

For more photos and information about Lucas’s work, see his personal website at www.sansparapluie.com.

Lucas is currently holding a one-man art exhibition of his wonderful cabinets in Orange County, California from June 3-27, 2010 at Saltfine Art Galleries, Laguna Beach, Southern California (see link for more info: http://www.saltfineart.com/exhibitions.php).

Lucas, if I had the means to fly there to the US, I would have done so just to view your exhibition. May you continue your great work; rest assured that we will never tire of being amazed of your artistic talent!

I think this is the first time Lucas used a figure of a person in a cabinet. Notice the figure of a lady on the cabinet's side.

Does the design look familiar to most of my Vietnam-based friends? The armchair back is made from a hand embroidered pillowcase from the Northeast tribes of Vietnam which I had sent Lucas as a present from Vietnam. And with his creative brilliance, he found textiles which perfectly matched the color of the pillowcase to finish a neo-ethnic looking piece! Brilliant!

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