By Ruel S. De Vera Associate Editor EVERYONE needs to remember their first time. Drinking iced tea, that is. This beguiling cocktail of the good and the bad, the real and unreal, the pedestrian and the unexpected, really is a drink that escapes easy classification. It’s both thick and thin, sweet and sometimes tart, smooth and yet filling, something to long for and look forward to and then is finished so quickly you didn’t notice; yes, it’s a lot like romance. Even what to call it is a matter of some dispute as the term “ice tea” had gained wide acceptance. While it is acceptable, it isn’t as accurate, as prevalent or as evocative as the term “iced tea,” which means tea with ice, after all. It’s a pretty safe bet that whoever it was who first mixed ice cubes with tea (most likely in India or China sometime before the 19th century) knew immediately this was going to be a pretty good drink. The variety of tea doesn’t even really matter but the key is the presence of ice, and lots of it. It might, however disturb some people to find out that sweetened iced tea is a much later creation, a very recent one, in fact. But for me, iced tea was a discovery that came with many other things during college in the early 1990s. At a time when it was a rather hard to find drink in restaurants, an iced tea stall appeared in our cafeteria, serving up a very subtly sweet and clear iced tea that we fell in love with. That stall stayed in our cafeteria for several years until it was driven out by the fact that all the food stalls had started serving iced tea as well. Since then, I’ve been driven to distraction looking for good iced tea wherever I was in the world. The United States is a strange case. Even just a few years ago, ordering an iced tea at McDonalds meant a gigantic, frosty cup of tea which was unsweetened and—believe it—seemed to consciously resist any attempt to sweeten it, no matter how many ounces of sugar and honey is dumped into the thing. It was really cheap though. I kept running into that problem, in both East and West Coast, a strange thing considering that all the iced tea served in the South is so sweet, it’s basically sugar with a straw. Now, many restaurants offer a sweet and unsweetened iced tea, many of them still rather bland. That’s a bit of a conundrum, consider that it is also in the States where I discovered my favorite form of iced tea evolution: Nantucket Nectars Half & Half, which is a ridiculously good mix of iced tea and lemonade, all natural and awesome. Every country now has its own way of taking iced tea. In the Philippines, our iced is uniform in two things: it’s wildly sweet and lemon-flavored, which is a very accurate description for Nestea. Nestea is so dominant that it has practically become shorthand for iced tea in some cases. It’s available in bottles as well as in powdered form, which explains its occupation of household pitchers and individual Coleman jugs. Its ubiquity, particularly as the bottomless iced tea of resto vintage, and dominance has led to the fact that it becomes the default iced tea. Plus, Nestea’s kalamansi flavor is pretty good and Nestea’s brand new Real Leaf iced tea in Honey Lemon flavor is wonderful. The chase for the choice iced tea thus leads to restaurants and cafes, with the overwhelming majority carrying Nestea and the rest bravely and innovatively coming up with their own iced tea derivation. Here are my five favorites: 1. My all-time favorite iced tea is, like many of our fondest memories, anchored to things that no longer exist. The iced tea in my college cafeteria and the patiently prepared concoction at the much-missed Prospero’s are simply the stuff of legend. The fact you can’t have them anymore makes them all the more desirable. 2. The iced tea at the original Penguin Café in Malate was a murky treat, all blend and somewhat creamy, inviting thoughts of everything for vanilla to mocha. Good stuff. This I also found in the iced tea of the defunct Eyrie Café in Katipunan. The closest approximation would be the iced team at the Good Earth Tea House. 3. The iced tea at Cibo is the perfect refreshment after a day at the mall. Tall and sweating, this lemon-infused (you really can tell) is a treat I begin thinking about the moment I actually set foot in the mall. And it’s really tall. 4. Kitchen used to serve a refreshing Pandan-infused drink called Leaves of Grass that I thought was the closest thing to an indigenous iced tea. The repeat trips to the bathroom due to the cleansing effect was worth the amazing taste of this drink. 5. The getaway version of iced tea that lives forever in my head is a summer wonder. All the fruit shakes at the amazing Jony’s Beach Resort in Boracay are works of art, but the tall drink of frozen water (with infused flavor) that is the frozen iced tea is the stuff of dreams. Which are yours? Read all about the newest iced tea on the racks on the August 2, 2009 issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.
July 2009 Archives
By Ruel S. De Vera Associated Editor ASIDE from being a fantastically funny TV show, the Big Bang Theory, I’ve always found, was best represented by the break in a billiards match. First, all those super dense particles forming a solid mass before suddenly expanding and flying apart, flying into each other and then flying in all directions. The billiards break is, in my mind, one of the most powerful, violent moments in sports. The player leans in, throws the cue forward with such ferocious velocity that the spinning balls seem to want to get into the pockets to hide there. I was never good at it. Growing up in the 1980s, billiards was not the global, made-for-TV spectacle that it today. It was the street smart man’s game, burdened with connotations of illegal activity, the kind of thing played in dark, smoky places where money changed hands. We all wanted to be the kind of man who played it. The popular place to play back then was literally a bahay kubo. It was a cogon-roofed structure that was perpetually dark. The bad boys already played there regularly. I went once and discovered that I have absolutely no aptitude for it. Today, that hut is gone, replaced by a Jollibee and a Greenwich. But even back then, Efren Reyes was a legend, just not as big as he is today. That distinction went to Amang Parica. But even then “Bata” was beloved for his crooked smile, his winning humility and of course his wicked table manners. When billiards exploded as a sport, the speed with which it spread would give you whiplash. This secret craft of the rogue had gone mainstream. It was on every TV it seemed. Countless billiards halls sprouted all over. Countless more people learned to play it. I actually believe at this point that most Filipinos under 40 are pretty good at it. Whoever is adept at it may surprise you. But that unique skill set and ironclad concentration required to be truly transcendent remains ever so elusive. Those who do have it have emerged from the shadows and into the floodlights to become household names: The aforementioned Reyes, Django Bustamante, Alex Pagulayan, Dennis Orcullo, Ronnie Alcano, and so on. They have their legendary quirks (Reyes, for example, known for removing his dentures for matches) and their tales of adversity (Bustamante valiantly making it to the finals of the World Pool Championships after finding out his daughter had died back home). In many ways, billiards is a sport that Filipinos truly have dominated like no other country. With the emergence of some guy named Pacquiao, boxing has returned to being the Filipino’s preferred sporting spectacle. But it is in billiards where we not only have had a long tradition of beating the world, it is a sport where we continue to do it regularly and will most likely continue doing so. Rubilen Amit’s ascension to the title at the Women’s World 10-Ball Champion means we have a new world to conquer. I remain useless with it. I know it’s not genetic because my youngest brother is an astonishing player. There’s no telling if boxing will remain as hot as it is now once Pacquiao retires but it’s clear that billiards as a sport is now ubiquitous and here to stay. Everyone knows the top talents and naturally expect them to do well. Like music, it’s become something Filipinos are synonymous with, even as the world keeps on spinning. Read about the newest Pinoy billiards phenomenon in the July 26, 2009 issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.
Ruel S. De Vera Associate Editor I tried it, didn’t like it. Everyone wants to learn how to drink but the bizarre truth is, not everyone can. In high school, I posed as hard as I could. I’d nurse a San Miguel Pale Pilsen forever, surreptitiously emptying it out however I could when the people around me turned away in the darkness. Beer just didn’t do it for me no matter how desperate I wanted it to. I was the same way with smoking—all smoke, no inhaling. I guess that makes me a square but I always missed the easy camaraderie that came with a midnight round of drinks, the funny drunken stories and the surprise revelations. To this very day, the cozy, inebriated atmosphere or sharing a round or two evades me, makes me wonder. But I have come to accept that not everyone is built to drink, especially someone whose strongest preferred tipple is a Mountain Dew. The few times I have endeavored to try them, each alcoholic drink I’ve sample tasted like what I imagined witches’ brew to taste like. Beer in particular, no matter what variation touched my lips, tasted uncompromisingly bitter and I couldn’t keep it down. Wine tasted, in all honesty, like fortified grape juice. The only wine I took a fancy to was the amazingly sweet mompo we used to steal sips from when the priests weren’t around. And those pretend drinks like Cali Shandy and coolers always felt more like posers than I did. Add to that the fact that I get antsy when I’m out past midnight—or 11 p.m. for that matter. I remain in awe of people who start drinking at 9 p.m. and then, as the alcohol start flowing, keep on drinking and talking until 4 a.m. These days, those tendencies of mine have only gotten much stronger—as has my wonder for the mysterious allure and texture of cocktails. I remain envious of the shared secrets and confidences between drinking buddies out on the town for a night out. Even the vocabulary sounds enticing. I actually believe my metabolism now actively rejects alcohol—and maybe even the actual ability to withstand a night out on the town. Beyond increased age and the wish to retain my ability to walk a straight line, I like being able to keep my secrets and, from what I hear, a good drink and good company are the fastest way to loosen any tongues. Or so I’ve heard. Read about the best drinks and the nightlife in the July 19, 2009 issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.
Pennie Azarcon-dela Cruz Executive Editor, Sunday Inquirer Magazine WE all have them: habits we relish in private but would be too embarrassed to admit in public. You know, like watching Maricar Reyes in that Hayden Kho video so many times you’re actually growing hair on your palm just as the good nuns warned in grade school. Or hiding the mic when you go to the restroom so you can have another go at “My Way” at 3 a.m. before your host hurriedly packs the videoke and call it a night. Solving Sudoku puzzles during a serious management meet because the financial reports are just too boring. Surfing your Facebook account in the middle of a tight deadline in case someone tagged you. Taking too long in the Starbucks bathroom flossing your teeth even when there’s a long queue out there. Texting a dirty joke just as the light turns green because your BFF has to hear it from you right now. You know, stuff we do despite them being shamelessly crass, inconsiderate, politically incorrect, in poor taste, self-indulgent, downright stupid or wicked. “Don’t tell my mother,” this guy says on cable TV, as he traipses over to the Amazon to brave the piranhas and ogle bare-breasted tribes. And we all feel that way as we indulge our secret pleasures, habits that could indict us before a jury of grim-faced teetotalers but which we consider as endearing evidence of our splayed feet of clay. They humanize us, make us accessible social beings, give us enough fodder for the confessional, and future material for a memoir or a book’s back cover. Who knows, when we get famous someday, “Entertainment Tonight” can do one whole segment on it. And yes, even talk show queen Oprah admits to enjoying a whole season of “Grey’s Anatomy” in one sitting, even as her Save the World “to do” list piles up. Most of all, we indulge them because they feel good, damn it! People call them guilty pleasures, hinting at vague feelings of discomfort, that tiny squeak of conscience smothered in the full volume sounds of MTV. I call them Giddy Pleasures, my Type A competitive personality finally subdued by this very visceral need to enjoy life while I can. So here’s my top 10 list of giddy pleasures, no apologies: 1. Cheesecake. You’d think that because I bake this stuff, I would know there’s enough butter, eggs, cream cheese and heavy cream in here to tip the cholesterol level among the starving kids in Ethiopia or Calcutta. Not to mention clog up my severely-challenged arteries. But well, like someone said, life’s short and unpredictable so eat dessert first. And always. 2. Lapid’s chicharong may laman. Go bite into one. Let’s see you fight the urge to finish the whole pack. Just keep telling yourself: the acid in the spicy vinegar neutralizes the fat while the vinegar’s garlic, ginger and finger chilis provide enough heat to melt the cholesterol. Yeah, right! 3. Reading Dave Barry or David Sedaris in the middle of a tight deadline for a serious story. Part of research, right? Just trying to find the perfect phrase to describe the human rights violations I’m writing on at the moment. 4. Reading Edna Buchanan crime novels and Dominick Dunne roman a clef novels. Fast-paced writing and plot-driven whodunnits from Miami Heralds’s top crime reporter, and the thrill of guessing the identity of infamous society figures in Dunne’s true-crime novellas. What’s not to like? 5. Watching “Seinfeld” and “Sex & the City” replays. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 6. Coffee, especially flavored coffee. Never mind the caffeine overload, this is the inseparable companion of number 1. After all, life comes in complementary two’s: yin and yang, night and day, sinner or saint, fat and blubber…that’s just about the long and short of it. 7. Reality Shows: “Amazing Race,” “Wife Swap (Trading Places),” “Top Chef,” “Project Runway.” Just for the pleasure of feeling infinitely superior to this bedraggled batch who’d do just about anything (mainly land on their ass) on national TV for 15 minutes of fame. And yes, hear some colorful bitching around that this time, isn’t coming from me. And hey, the recipes and the fashion styles aren’t bad either. 8. Watching “Air Crash Investigation” or “ Seconds to Disaster.” People at home hate me for this, especially since they usually fly with me on out of town vacations. The scolding goes: “Why anticipate the tragic? Do you have a death wish? So what’s the point? When the plane crashes, you die. End of story.” Aha! But there’s the rub, I say. I watch because I learn survival tips from these shows: why you should run downwards during a fire, especially inside a tunnel or constricted space. Why you should never inflate your life vest until after you’ve exited your plane that’s now sinking into the water. And so on. It’s pure logic dramatized and proven right by survivors. 9. “The Simpsons” and “South Park.” Witty parodies of serious issues du jour. Now you know where to lay the blame for my juvenile sense of humor. 10. Sleeping in on Sundays. Granted; I’m not your regular 9 to 5, 40-hour workweek Jane, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be a fulltime sloth on weekends. Let the kids eat take-out one more time. Give the dust mites a break. The helpers can look in the freezer and decide what’s for dinner. Not picking up after the hubby today. No, I’m not getting up earlier than 12. Why, even the Lord rested on the 7th day. So there. Now go away and let me stew in guilt. That little pang of unease is worth all the pleasures that provoked it.
Ruel S. De Vera Associate Editor THE very idea of the guilty pleasure is an exercise in wonderful indulgence. After all, the point is to be enjoying something that other people would frown upon—thus we don’t want to admit to it, thus we feel guilt at savoring such an experience. Yet the indulgence, the extravagance lies in the fact that a guilty pleasure is a continued activity. In other words, we enjoy it so much that the guilt and the implied subterfuge fail to end it. There is also the added dimension of the guilty pleasure being something contrary to the way other people perceive us—but not how we view ourselves. It is a tantalizing glimpse of the secret, authentic you—and it happens under everybody’s noses, bwahaha. Now I suppose one person’s guilty pleasure is another person’s regular pleasure depending on the thickness of your skin or relative indifference to how others perceive you. I guess it also has all to do with the relative level of sophistication (or lack thereof) you believe yourself to possess. Truth be told, I find it very difficult to conceive why any pleasure should be seen as a guilty pleasure save for the fact that some of these things are so awful they should cause guilt. But still, I believe I have observed enough of these so-called guilty pleasures in our fellow Filipinos to list a few: 1) Archie digests: It is odd that so many people feign not to read them, but I have it on very good authority that Archie digests (which of course also star the other denizens of time-lost Riverdale, Veronica, Betty, Jughead and even later member Sabrina the Teenage Witch) sell like hotcakes to this very day. Where are they? Well, they are stacked willy-nilly in our bathrooms, many of the Double-Digests bearing the telltale warped cover from having been wet and then dried after. 2) Barry Manilow songs: It is really eerie how the lyrics of every single Barry Manilow song seem to have been hard-wired into the brain of all Filipino babies. This becomes evident when a Barry Manilow song comes on—be it on the radio, videoke or Myx—and then we find ourselves unconsciously singing along—YET CORRECTLY SINGING EVERY SINGLE LINE! This is particularly effective when the songs “Somewhere Down the Road” and “Copacobana” come on. Eerie. 3) Movies shot in the Philippines: No matter how bad the movie is, we can’t tear our eyes away when it is clear the movie we’re watching was shot here in these tropical isles, even if they are standing if for another Southeast Asian country, most often Vietnam. Sometimes, it is very cool, such as Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” or Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” but sometimes it can be B-movie territory such as the gloriously over-the-top Chuck Norris flick “Missing in Action.” It feels like a somewhat twisted sense of national pride even if our country is standing in for some other nation. It gets even weirder when we watch another country being passed off as the Philippines, as was the case with the latter parts of the Edsa 1 movie “A Dangerous Life,” which featured Sri Lanka because the filmmakers weren’t given permission to shoot in Malacanang. 4) Filipinos in foreign movies: This is an extension of the previous one, and it can be fun, such as catching Tetchie Agbayani in the bizarre Tom Hanks bomb “The Money Pit” or Cesar Montano in “The Great Raid.” Sometimes it is a startling celebrity sighting such as Donita Rose in the David Hasselhoff film “Legacy” or a downright alarming yet hilarious portrayal such as the mail order bride with the propulsive talent played by Julia Cortez in “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” There are more, I am sure, but what strikes me is that these are actually pretty fun and self-aware pleasures by themselves. They’re pretty guilt-free, if you ask me. Check out other guilty pleasures in the July 12, 2009 issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.
By Ruel S. De Vera Associate Editor MY father is many things—engineer, businessman, intellectual—but he is also something rare: a connoisseur of bad action movies. That’s rather unexpected because he is also a devoted viewer of good movies, period. Growing up, we were treated to a regular feast of great films, first in movie theaters then on TV and later on Betamax and VHS. We discovered the essentials, such as the musicals (Not just “The Sound of Music” and “West Side Story” but “The Fiddler on the Roof “ and “Oklahoma!” as well) and the great epics (“Gone With The Wind” and “Ben-Hur”) which came distinctly in two tapes instead of just one. But it was also uncanny how my dad would be able to visit a video shop and patiently peruse the selection and emerge with the strangest movies available. His best (or worst) genre: action movies. We watched the best first, of course, with us developing our own James Bond preferences (I liked Roger Moore, my dad preferred Sean Connery, nobody liked Timothy Dalton). Things got interesting when we stepped into B-movie territory. Chuck Norris was the tip of the iceberg, moving on to the cream of the bad movie crop: Michael Nouri, Michael Rooker, Michael Dudikoff and the immortal Jeff Fahey. These were ridiculously thin plot devices often with roman numerals attached to the end, or things like Dudikoff’s “American Ninja” or “Rage of Honor.” The Asian action movies were better, because the stunts were good and there really was some kind of a plot. The American ones were so bad they were good. The bad acting was not as bad as the array of naked and half-naked women producers inserted into every movie with as many gratuitous scenes as possible. But my dad enjoyed the sheer lunacy, often watching intently and laughing out loud. He savored the really bad stuff, which explains his preference for Charles Bronson. In that way, I learned that there was nobility in enterprises that did not boast a staggering budget. There was a joy in starting small. Today, there is a nebulous territory called straight-to-DVD, what used to be called “straight-to-video,” where wannabe big movies get demoted, and where B-movies continue to live. It has made a semi-star out of unlikely lead actors such as Mark Dacascos, whose “D.N.A.” in my mind is the single worst action movie ever made—which is why I like watching it. Like several other B-movies, “D.N.A.” was shot in the Philippines, another strange distinction for our country. I owe my father my twisted and yet unbridled love of cinema in all its forms, for my sense of irony and love for the intentionally funny. Now if only Michael Ironside made more movies. Check out other thoughts about action movies in the July 5, 2009 issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.