Wednesday, December 25, 2013

One night in KL: Introduction

Last November, I flew to Malaysia to interview Jay Park, the KPOP superstar whose career will be chronicled for the latest E! News Asia Special. He's the third in the Asian series, following Malaysia's Aaron Aziz and the Philippines' Anne Curtis. I was the only Philippine writer to be sent to cover the two-day event, which included a party at Zouk, a press conference the following morning, and an intimate interview.

I felt excited because I haven't been in Malaysia and this would be my second trip this year. It would also be my second trip alone. I enjoyed my solo jaunt to Hong Kong in August, so I knew this was going to be fun, too. Unfortunately, I was only staying overnight and most of my time will be spent on assignment.

I arrived Sunday morning and had time to check in at the Mandarin Oriental and visit some nearby places. I chose to stay within the vicinity because I only had a few hours free before the party E! Network was throwing. I wanted to soak in the culture, but I was in the upscale part of Kuala Lumpur so I went to some malls at Bukit Bintang to do some light shopping. My hotel was right next to the Petronas Towers so I had a spectacular view of it every time I was in my room.

I was not disappointed. The shopping was overwhelming. Most boutiques are designer labels, but I discovered that you can find great deals if you know where to look. I stumbled upon this basement department store that had dirt-cheap clothes, and I bought a pair of brown oxford shoes for less than a thousand pesos. I wish I could have gotten the name of the store because I could spend an entire day just hoarding their stuff. They had bags, sunglasses, shirts, pants, everything!

I also bought some dress shirts at Isetan, a favorite haunt whenever I'm abroad. I noticed that Malaysian sales associates are incredibly helpful and accommodating almost to the point of subservience. Their desire to help is so much that I was embarrassed to ask for a larger size because the associate would have to remove another shirt from its plastic bag, unfold it, remove the pins, and unbutton it for you. And they do all this with a smile.

But the most grueling part of my excursion (apart from buying pasalubong) was my trip to H&M, something I can only indulge in when I travel. Not anymore, since they are opening their flagship store in the Philippines by next year.

I didn't have the time to change my peso into ringgit before I left, so I only got to do it in Kuala Lumpur's airport (my flight from Manila was early in the morning, the forex stations were still closed). I made the stupid mistake of exchanging only a portion of my money, so imagine my shock when I was at the counter at H&M, ready to pay for my haul when I realized I ran out of cash (humiliating) and my credit card was declined (mortifying). I had to rush to an ATM to withdraw but they didn't accept any of my debit cards. Strange, because I was able to withdraw in Hong Kong.

Call me a slave to upscale fast-fashion, but I worship at the altar of H&M. Their pieces are perfect for my wardrobe, even if I'm trying to scale down to minimalism. I went after the party at Zouk so it was closing in a few minutes. I had time the following morning to sneak in before the press conference since the store was a few minutes walk away from my hotel.

The registration for Jay Park's press conference wasn't until 10:15, so I woke up early to get breakfast and exchange my money. The front desk offered forex services but they didn't accept Philippine pesos. I was scared. What if the forex stores didn't accept pesos, too? It was ironic. I was carrying a shitload of pesos but I couldn't buy a damn thing.

I walked to the mall next to the hotel. Malaysia has this odd habit of opening their malls early, but the stores opened at 10. So there I was, walking around at 9:30, staring at the windows of Fendi, Chanel, Balenciaga, and Versace, waiting for the forex I spotted in Suria KLCC to open. I said to myself, if this forex doesn't accept Philippine pesos, then the items weren't meant for me. It's terrible but I have this habit of attributing my shortcomings to fate.

I rushed to the forex a few seconds past 10. To my horror, they wouldn't be open for another 30 minutes. I had my press conference in 15 minutes! I was still in shock when I noticed that the bank across also offered forex services. I was on the verge of tears when they exchanged my money, and I was out the door the second the teller handed me the ringgit, which was enough to cover my H&M purchases. It felt like gold.

The H&M near my hotel was across the street, and another odd thing I noticed about Malaysia was the painfully long wait before the pedestrian crossing sign turned from red to green. I spent what felt like forever before I could cross (run), and I bounded up the steps towards H&M.... only to discover that the door wouldn't open.

I felt exhausted, betrayed. How could the gods of fashion treat me this way? I am a loyal disciple to the discipline, to the brand, why couldn't they give me this one shot at.... oh, the automatic sliding door was just delayed. The end of the story was, I ran down two flights of stairs to the menswear section, got my items without trying them on and happily paid for my purchases. Time check, 10:15.

In the end, I was a happy camper. Culture eluded me, but I already have plans of flying back next July for a one-week trip. For one day, I got to experience travel from another perspective: the chance at consumerism. My total damage: three dress shirts, a pair of shorts, sunglasses, and a pair of shoes. I also bought postcards (which I collect) and some tea at Harrod's in the airport. Not bad considering I was there for roughly 24 hours.

One Night in KL: The Jay Park force

My feature on Jay Park began the Sunday I arrived in Malaysia. I was to attend a party in his honor that night at the legendary Zouk, the Asian institution that plays host to the annual ZoukOut. I got to my hotel after shopping to rest and freshen up. I was staying at the Mandarin Oriental, with a spectacular view of the Petronas Towers, so I tried to make the most out of it. After a nice long nap and a nicer and even longer hot shower, I met my fellow journalists (a mix of Singaporeans and Indonesians) and headed to Zouk.

Jay Park whipping up the crowd into a frenzy. Photos from NBC Universal

Jay Park had this amazing energy on stage, that even a non-fan like myself enjoyed his performance. Photos from NBC Universal

 I was seated next to the stage so I mostly saw Jay Park's profile

I wasn't really expecting much because it was a Sunday evening. The outside of Zouk was also bare so I thought it was going to be an intimate party for press and friends. But the club was packed, filled to the brim with Malaysia's elite and what looked like teenagers. I had a bit of wine as the opening acts performed and when Jay finally came on stage, everybody went wild. I only know Jay Park as the Korean who sang with B.O.B. for Nothin' On You and for being the guy who was kicked out of KPOP group 2PM, but I was impressed. He sang and danced well. I think there was a point when I was singing along with the crowd (more like mumbling because the songs were in Korean).

The Petronas Towers look magnificent up close

I stayed for a bit after his performance but I left ahead of the press group. I walked back to the hotel, took some selfies with the Petronas Towers, and checked out some stuff at H&M (a more detailed writeup can be found here).

Photo from NBC Universal

The following morning was the press conference for Jay's E! News Special Asia Special. They did a short preview of the episode (it looked promising), and Jay answered some questions. I think I asked what it was like having all those cameras following you around. As much as fame is tempting, I still believe that anonymity is the best luxury, where you can throw a bitch fit and not have everyone remember it was you (granted that no one recorded your outburst.).

While I waited for my turn for the private interview, I gorged on this wonderful citrus dessert at the buffet. I also took the liberty of stuffing my pockets with Twining's Classic Earl Grey tea. In between mouthfuls of that dessert, I met a few executives of E!, including this one local who told me about her backpacking trip to the Philippines. She stayed at an inn somewhere in Makati, and her account of the city was accurate: on one side of the street you have a developed megalopolis and the other, you have 'homeless people' milling about. Of course, her description bothered me but I'm glad she enjoyed her stay. She loved Mang Inasal and had that for three days.

I pulled off a Beyonce and cropped the other writers out. Heh. Photo from NBC Universal 

Photos from NBC Universal

When it was time for the interview, I was joined by the two Indonesian writers who were with me at Zouk and for breakfast that morning. Their questions were geared towards the Indonesian fans while mine were random queries I cobbled on the plane ride to Kuala Lumpur. It was a smooth interview, Jay was enthusiastic, down-to-earth, and game for any question. There was this one time when I spaced out and upon landing back on Earth, he was talking about a piece of land a fan would like to give him?

Goodbye, Malaysia. Photo from Koji Universal

After the interview, I had enough time to pack before I was whisked off to the airport and found myself back to real life: the stress of the daily grind.

My exclusive story can be accessed here.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The last of my self-esteem.

Last week, my self-esteem took a nose-dive when something I expected didn't end up the way I wanted. A friend introduced me to one of her friends and we completely hit it off, until we met and he decided to just be friends. I had hoped it would turn into something deeper but alas, it was not meant to be. Ironically, we deluded ourselves into thinking that it was meant to be, after the unusual circumstances that brought us together.

What made this experience twice as hurtful was the fact that the last few guys I went out with didn't really last, for one reason or another. Somehow every one of them became 'just a friend.' I think what's worse than simply being friendzoned is being friendzoned after dating. And let me say that I went out with a lot of guys since my last relationship in 2010.

I'm not sure if my long state of singlehood has left me unable to live up to the 'boyfriend role.' I probably have forgotten The Rules of Dating. Whatever the case, my failed romances left my ego in a battered state. I felt fat, ugly, and unlovable. I felt like there was something wrong with me to drive all these guys away. It made me remember all those first-dates that didn't follow through. I wondered, am I ugly? Do I have a terrible personality?

I had a great childhood, but I wasn't exactly flowing with self-esteem. I had a weight problem that led to an eating disorder (210 lbs. to 140 lbs.), kids in my class bullied me for being effeminate, and I didn't have a lot of friends. I was quiet and painfully shy, so I spent my time reading books in seclusion. I even tried my hand at writing, when in the fifth grade, I finished a screenplay of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. I developed a more loquacious personality as I grew older, which resulted in my polar interests of literature and fashion, writing and partying. Until now I equally enjoy living it up with friends and also staying home to read books and watch films.

But no matter how much I accomplish, I still feel like I am that young overweight boy, sitting alone in the corner and being called gay. I guess I'm still living by the anorexic's code: I will never be thin enough. Whatever I do will never be good enough. I think the reason why I'm cooking up so many projects is so that I can validate myself, to fill that emptiness inside. I'm more confident now, but there is that nagging feeling of inferiority.

My failure to develop a romantic relationship couldn't come at a worse time because I feel like I am ready to enter one now. Strangely, I'm also not sure if I am ready for one, because I have an irrational fear of commitment. I cringe whenever someone becomes too clingy. I freak out when a guy gets too comfortable around my personal space. A guy had to sleep over my house one night and I had an internal meltdown because we had to sleep on the same bed. Then there is my inability to reveal myself, to talk about my emotions and open up about what I'm really thinking.

I think my ennui stems from feeling lonely. I have spent enough time to be alone and discover myself. I think the culmination of this reflection is my solo trip to Hong Kong where I was forced to face all my inner demons and internal struggles. I have experienced the joys and sorrows of being alone, and while I can be alone, I think it's time for me to share a part of my life with another person. I believe I have it all: great friends, a loving family, a successful career. But why do I feel incomplete?

Instead of having a solo pity party, I decided to act upon my insecurities and improve myself. I realized that I can't waste my life asking why men don't love me. I can't just say 'Well, this is what life gave me.' I have to constantly change and be a better version of myself. And as for the things I can't change, I just have to live with it and hope the world finds it tolerable, if not endearing.

Weight has been a lifelong issue so my first step has been to enroll at a gym. I just had my first week and I feel great. I learned that the whole world is a mess and the least I can do is dress my mess up. Granted, a fit body won't necessarily fill the void inside me, but at least I'll look great. And speaking of self-esteem, I'm finding it dangerous to let my entire core be rocked by a dry (and long) spell.

Finally, I believe that I will meet someone who can change all that, who can gracefully tread around my idiosyncrasies and make me forget my issues of trust, intimacy, and commitment. This is the right time. I just have to find the right man. Until then, I'll be preparing the best version of myself, with my sanity, my self-esteem, and hopefully, my fit body intact.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The five guys we date.

My relationship with men is complicated. While I love the idea of a hot, muscular, and intelligent guy sweeping me off my feet, their hang-ups - being needy, clingy, controlling - are enough to drive me away. Oftentimes I find myself thinking of giving up on men, but whenever I see someone gorgeous, I want to scream, "Why can't I quit you?"

But then again, you can't always have your cake and eat it, too. It's like finding a Margiela that fits you in an ukay - the thought is delicious, yet almost impossible. With guys, there always has to be that one flaw, that dealbreaker.

Now, it's easy when those dealbreakers are traits: they have a terrible personality. They are bad in bed. They have mommy issues. We all have them and hey, we just have to accept it. But what about chemistry? That thing that can be felt but can't be explained.

I'm slowly being re-introduced to the whole chemistry thing because I started dating again this year. Allow me to channel Jourdan Miller from America's Next Top Model Cycle 20 and reiterate that I haven't had a boyfriend in three years so I'm a bit rusty when it comes to dating.

I haven't had the time to date because of my many projects (another Jourdan moment, sorry). This year I went out with only two guys (a far cry from my previous years, when I would date two guys a month on average). I guess I did some growing over the past few months and now I'm ready to open myself up to a romantic possibility. I credit my solo trip to Hong Kong as a cathartic experience.

As I start opening myself up again, I need a refresher on the dynamics of the dating scene. Below are some of the guys I encountered during my colorful past as a a serial dater and who I'm sure I will encounter again:

1. That guy you're sexually attracted to, but that's it. You know how you'd see a person and just know - without a doubt that they are a monster in bed and would make you see clouds after each orgasm? And yet no matter how good the sex, no matter the sexual chemistry, there's nothing beyond it. After a mindblowing fuckathon, you want to kick them out of your house so you can have that post-coital book-reading. Or in this age, post-coital tweeting. 

I've had my fair share of them, those guys you'd hook up with and have no interest in seeing outside the bedroom. This idea works only if the situation is clear that this is only a one night thing. Unfortunately, only a few such guys exist, and many continue reaching out, in the hope that a fling could turn into a relationship. No.

2. That guy you enjoy going out with, yet have no feelings of lust for. These are the guys you take everywhere. You have similar interests, are on the same wavelength, and they can tolerate all your hangups and flaws. You enjoy their company, and you genuinely like them, but the thought of having sex with them makes you cringe. I personally think that sexual chemistry is just as important as spiritual chemistry because what else is there to do when you find yourselves alone, at home, and in bed?

3. That guy you enjoy hanging out with, having sex with, and everything in between, but you have no desire to be in a relationship with. For me, these are the guys you can invite over for a passionate tryst and still have the desire to talk to after. Granted, most of our dates were spent in bed, and we have never gone out, but there is a special bond between us strengthened by the spiritual act of sex. I'm not sure how it'll fly if we actually go out, and I'm not sure I'd recognize them in broad daylight - or with their clothes on.

4. That guy you take out to give your ego a boost. I don't have guys like these, but I can imagine some people having someone they can go out with if their self-esteem needs a boost. I'd rather boost my ego doing something else (like saying something witty on Twitter or announcing on Grindr that I'm looking for sex and seeing how many people will respond), but if that's how other people nurse their wounded egos, then so be it. They better be prepared for the consequences, though.

5. That guy you like, but who doesn't like you back. Tough luck. Hey, we can't always get what we want. It's all a matter of personal taste and if they don't dig you, you have to respect their decision and back away. It takes a big man to admit defeat and if you can do this, it means you're emotionally mature. Real life doesn't work the same way in movies where you end up with your first love. You will not always get the girl. This is a heartbreaking experience but to be fair, you don't always like the people who like you.

5. That guy you actually, truly like, the one you would like get jiggy with, and share the most mundane, carnal, and sacred moments with. And who wants the same thing from you. The feeling when the person you like likes you back is something that can only be described as magical. Enough said.

I'm not seeing anyone right now but I'm okay. As the postmodern philosopher Swedish House Mafia once said, "don't you worry, child, heaven's got a plan for you." In the meantime, I just have to put my game face on and face the world. And if it doesn't work out, I just have to cry it out, wash my face, and say "next."

Sunday, September 15, 2013

34th Manila International Book Fair

This week has been a tremendous blur for my emotions. While maintaining my precarious balance with my writing gigs, I'm experiencing something I haven't in a long while, and the experience is quite exhilarating. It's given a pep to my step and has generally made me happier. I can't talk about it yet, but let's just say this is going to provide a nice break to my usual routine.

It's this eagerness that has led me to the 34th Manila International Book Fair yesterday even though I was developing a fever. The night before, I was out for drinks with some officemates and I think I overwhelmed my body with the amount of cigarettes I smoked (I'm a social smoker). I could have stayed at home and gone to MIBF today, but I did this small test of serendipity and I had to be there on Saturday to prove it. It ultimately failed but hey, I've always been a positive person! It was also a good idea for me to visit MIBF on Saturday because the UAAP cheerdance competition was held today so I suspected that the normally packed SM Mall of Asia would be bursting at the seams.

Went a little crazy at the 34th Manila International Book Fair

Despite my failed attempt to manufacture serendipity, I did have a grand time at the MIBF. I bought 10 books and I spent only one thousand. Last year, I spent the same amount for seven books (Jessica Zafra's Twisted series and Alex Gilvarry's From The Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant, which he signed). I met two of my officemates and they had a grand time as well, one of them buying a handful of books and the other having her copy of Si Amapola Sa 65 na Kabanata signed by Ricky Lee.

Here are the books I scored for this year's MIBF. I'm happy because nine out of the ten books are by Filipino authors. I also got a copy of Bret Easton Ellis's Imperial Bedrooms for P99, the sequel to his first novel Less Than Zero, which I enjoyed tremendously.

  • Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis
  • Waking The Dead and other horror stories by Yvette Tan
  • The 500 People You Meet in Hell by Jessica Zafra
  • Manila Noir, edited by Jessica Hagedorn (with stories by Lourd de Veyra, FH Batacan, Angelo R. Lacuesta, Jose Dalisay, R. Zamora Linmark, Lysley Tenorio, Rosario Cruz-Lucero, Budjette Tan & Kajo Baldisimo, and others)
  • Ang Panibagong Kulam by Tony Perez
  • From Coffee to Cocktails by Celine Lopez
  • Paper Cuts by Pam Pastor
  • Etiquette for Mistresses by Jullie Yap Daza
  • Flames and other stories by Angelo R. Lacuesta
  • The Aswang Inquiry by Frank Lynch, SJ (with illustrations by Gila Cordero-Fernando)

I felt like collapsing in the late afternoon, but I promised my friends from college I'd meet them for dinner. I could have easily cancelled, but I haven't seem them in ages. My busy schedule doesn't permit me to to go out with a lot of people, and I can just imagine many of my friends pissed off at me for blowing them off. We were supposed to go out last July but I ran late with an interview for the zine that I didn't make it.

It's always fun to see them because we've known each other since college, back when we were all starting out. Granted, two of them were already supporting themselves, but it's inspiring to see how far we've come since school, when we'd drink every night after class and attempt to manage our money since we weren't earning yet.

I consider them as family because they have seen me at my absolute worst - from the time I threw my legendary bitch fit at Ascend to the aftermath of my failed romances -  and have been there at my best. I think it's important to have people like them in our lives, because these are the ones who have loved you when you had nothing, and who would continue to love you when you lose everything.

My fever's still in its developmental stage, but I hope it clears soon.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Chef Tatung's

The interiors of Chef Tatung's, a specialized Filipino restaurant tucked in the quiet suburbs of Taguig. Photo by Josephine Arce

These days, it's hard to find a unique dining experience in Manila. All we have are a rehash of the same, tired, and old recipes, or franchises of global fastfood chains that taste the same wherever you go. As a result, it's easy to become jaded when it comes to local food.

But a certain restaurant is changing all that, an elegant joint tucked in the middle of a genteel neighborhood, surrounded by acacia and bamboo trees away from the hustle and bustle of Metro Manila. Time and again I had to remind myself that I am still in the developing megapolis of Taguig, and not in the peaceful provinces of Baguio or Tagaytay. It could be the pleasant weather, but I think it's interiors of the restaurant, with its rich browns and warm woods, and antique Filipino furniture.

The restaurant is Chef Tatung's, a specialized place run by the effervescent chef who shares the name of his restaurant. What began as a home-based affair in Quezon City that served a small group of friends and neighbors became a full-blown business, serving dozens of guests at a time. Today, it owns its space at the Acacia Estates, Levi Mariano Avenue, Brgy. Ususan, Taguig City.

The extensive collection of Filipino food at Chef Tatung's. Photo by Josephine Arce

I was able to try his Sunday buffet with some friends from When In Manila. We were overwhelmed by the staggering number of Filipino food, an impressive array of choices that spanned the many islands of the Philippines. There were his staples: the lumpiang ubod in flavored crepes, the honey-glazed slow-roasted lechon belly, lechon Cebu, the warm Tsoknut chocolate cake, and the pichi-pichi with quezo de bola.

What my plate looks like when I go to a buffet. The lechon Cebu is on the lower-left hand side of the plate, and it is a revelation

Now, my strategy in buffet dining has always been to get a little bit of everything, that way I can take in everything without getting full. But my experience at Chef Tatung's was different. As soon as I had a bite of the lechon Cebu, I found myself scrambling for more. I think I had three servings of the dish, and I patiently waited for the waiters to bring more of the stuff. The meat was succulent and juicy, and the skin had a satisfying crunch that exploded in my mouth. The dish did not come with any sauce, but the second I smelled the faint whiff of lemongrass, I knew I wasn't going to need one. It was a favorite among the When In Manila team and we eagerly waited for replenishments.

The rest of the meats had a satisfying consistency. Turns out that Chef Tatung prepares everything from scratch, and uses traditional methods. That's why when you take a bite of the honey-glazed slow-roasted pork belly, you're getting the actual experience of a dish that was cooked in a brick oven for six hours.

The poqui poqui "lasagna." Photo by Josephine Arce

In Chef Tatung's, there's no space for preservatives or additives. He stays true to heirloom recipes and does not reinvent it or deconstruct it, opting instead to glorify the original way the dishes were cooked. However, the poqui poqui did get a new face. Chef Tatung turned it into a kind of lasagna, adding a thick and delectable layer of cheese on top of the grilled eggplant. It was heavenly, it was sublime, it was something I had over and over again.

Another dish that received a "westernization" was the lumpiang ubod in flavored crepes. Now, we've always enjoyed our lumpiang ubod in the traditional flavorless wrapper but Chef Tatung updated this by wrapping the coconut pith, vegetables, and tofu in a pandanube (purple yam), and egg crepe. The wrap only hinted at the ube, thus not cloying your mouth with sweetness but preparing you for the playful delights the chef will present you with during the main course.

If you're not sure what kind of adobo to get, get the adobo sampler to try all the choices

Chef Tatung is also known for his adobo sampler, a dish consisting of four variations of the classic Filipino dish. Chef Tatung serves it individually, but because of the number of variants, he has decided to put it all on one plate (with dividers, of course), so that guests can try a bit of everything and decide which one to get.

The adobo sampler is composd of the yellow chicken adobo, derived from the Batangas way of cooking with it with ginger; the chicken-pork adobong Ilonggo with annatto seeds and liver; the lengua adobo with olive oil, roasted garlic, and green olives; and the adobo Bisaya, which was marinated in garlic, vinegar, and bayleaves, and slow-cooked in lard. This last one is my favorite.


Perhaps the highlight of the meal (any meal involving me, actually) are the desserts. In keeping up with Chef Tatung's Filipino theme, the dessert table provided the best offerings. Now, these aren't just your regular desserts slathered with sugar. These are probably the richest and creamiest desserts I've had. The leche flan was a revelation, served frozen, and it was the creamiest I've ever had. The warm Tsoknut chocolate cake was good, too, but I quickly forgot about it when I had the pichi pichi with quezo de bola.

I'm not really sure how to describe it because I've only tried the pichi pichi Amber offers and I love it, especially with cheese. But Chef Tatung takes it on a whole different level. The pichi pichi itself is soft, almost fluffy, and like eating a cloud. But when you add the richness of the melted quezo de bola, it provides an interesting texture that made my eyes roll in delight. I'm not sure how many plates I had, but suffice to say that the waiters replenished the dessert twice after I started hoarding.

Chef Tatung's is that restaurant that provides good food and a good atmosphere. Its almost-hidden location makes it an ideal place for intimate meals with loved ones, and the interiors can add drama to any meal. The place can seat a hundred people but it feels cozy. For the best experience I suggest the Sunday buffet, so you can try all of the chef's best dishes amidst a calm and relaxing day.

Otherwise, the restaurant is open daily for ala carte meals from 11AM-11PM.

How to get to Chef Tatung's

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I Love Kusama at the Ayala Musem

There’s no place else to go but the Ayala Museum for the I Love Kusama exhibit. Mounted for the first time on such a large scale, the exhibit is home to the Philippines’ possibly largest collection of paintings, prints, installations, and merchandise of the famed Japanese designer Yayoi Kusama.

Kenneth Esguerra, senior curator and head of conservation for the Ayala  Museum. Photo by the Ayala Museum

Minister Setsuo Ohmori, Head of Chancery of the Embassy of Japan. Photo by the Ayala Musem

Yayoi Kusama became a mainstream hit when she was tapped by Marc Jacobs to design a series of bags for French luxury label Louis Vuitton. In true Kusama fashion, she draped colored dots on the handbags, shoes, jewelry, and clothes, adding a touch of whimsy on a storied brand. But even before her historic partnership with Jacobs, she has wowed the art world with her experimental take on art.

Infinity Nets of Love / 1998 / acrylic on canvas and Gathering of Souls / 1988 / acrylic on canvas and Sprouts (Transmigration of the soul, metempsychosis) / 1990 / acrylic on canvas

Sex Obsession / 1992 / acrylic on canvas (diptych)

Imagery of Human Beings / 1987 / oil on canvas (triptych)

Anyone familiar with Kusama’s art knows that she is known for her repetitive series of dots that take over her canvases. What many do not know is that these dots, or “infinity nets” as she would call them, are a result of hallucinations that began in childhood. According to her, “One day I was looking at the red flower patterns of the tablecloth on a table, and when I looked up I saw the same pattern covering the ceiling, the windows and the walls, and finally all over the room, my body and the universe. I felt as if I had begun to self-obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space, and be reduced to nothingness.”

Flower / 1989 / acrylic on canvas and Phantom Flower / 1989 / acrylic on canvas and Mushroom / 1989 / acrylic on canvas

Mirror Boxes, where a viewer can peep into a peephole and see small mirrored balls reflected infinitely

Woman with a Shadow of a Bird / 1975 / acrylic and collage on paper and Dots Obsession / 2003 / acrylic on canvas

She began “obliterating” items with dots as early as the age of 10, using canvases, everyday items, gourd installations, and penis-shaped intrusions that were another trademark of hers. Kusama is also known for her Mirror/Infinity rooms, an installation where an entire room is lined with mirrors and neon-colored balls to create the illusion of a never-ending space. Equally popular are her Body Festivals in the 60s where naked participants were covered in dots.

Mimosa / 1980 / marker pen on paperboard and Hat / 1978 / watercolor on paperboard and others

Statue of Venus Obliterated by Infinity Nets No. 2 / 1998 / mixed media and Sex Obsession (Gold Dress) / 1999 / dress, stuffed sewn fabric, gold paint

Yayoi Kusama merchandise

Because of her hallucinations, Kusama is voluntarily staying at the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill, where she continues to make art. Her influence is such that she is a respected artist in the avant-garde genre and has inspired artists like Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg.

Yayoi Kusama merchandise

Yayoi Kusama merchandise

Today, Kusama’s works are revered around the world, with exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, the Tate Modern in London, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in LA, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, among many others.

Collector Kim Camacho

Lito and Kim Camacho

Lito and Kim Camacho are two of the leading Filipino collectors of Kusama art, mounting for display their vast collection of art and merchandise. The couple first saw Kusama’s art in 2004 at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo for Yayoi Kusama: Eternity-Modernity. Some time later, the couple got to meet the artist in her hospital residence. According to Kim, she showed up in Kusama sunglasses, dress, wellingtons, and bag. Kusama was amused and ended up signing the bag and the wellingtons. According to Kim, this may be the only signed Kusama merchandise in the world.

I Love Kusama is part of the Ayala Museum’s Collectors Series, a program to showcase the selections from leading private collectors in curated thematic exhibitions. The Ayala Museum launched the exhibit for the 40th year of the ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation and the Philippines-Japan Friendship Month. The museum has also invited Akira Tatehata, one of the world’s leading experts on Kusama and the curator the Japanese Pavilion during the 45th Venice Biennale in 1993 (when Kusama represented the country) for a one-time lecture on Aug. 10, 4 p.m., at the Ground Floor Lobby. The exhibit will be on display until September 1.

This article first appeared at When In Manila.

Ang Bonggang Bonggang Batang Beki + Anong Pangalan Mo Sa Gabi?

Recently, there has been a growing interest in the LGBT community, thanks to My Husband's Lover. Its cultural impact is so broad that it trends on Twitter almost every night, and even spawned a proposed bill in the government (which I think is ridiculous). I don't care much for the series but I'm glad that the show is breaking stereotypes and showing that gender expression is fluid and isn't limited to effeminate types.

From a literary perspective, books about homosexuality are also enjoying the press and attention it so rightly deserves. Just recently, Rhandee Garlitos wrote Ang Bonggang Bonggang Batang Beki, the first children's book to tackle effeminacy among young boys, and the UP Babaylan, in partnership with the UP Center for Women's Studies published Anong Pangalan Mo Sa Gabi? At iba pang tanong sa mga LGBT, a photobook featuring common questions asked among the gay community.

If my memory serves me right, the last Filipino book that dealt with homosexuality was Louie Mar Gangcuangco's Orosa-Nakpil, Malate, which raised awareness on HIV-AIDS while weaving a tale of young love and heartbreak.

Like Orosa-Nakpil, both Bonggang Beki and Anong Pangalan attempts to raise awareness for the LGBT cause. Both are entertaining, but beneath that is a core that struggles for acceptance.

Rhandee Garlitos' Ang Bonggang Bonggang Batang Beki

Ang Bonggang Bonggang Batang Beki is a children's book written by Rhandee Garlitos, with illustrations by the talented Tokwa Penaflorida. It's about a young boy whose favorite color is pink, and while his sexuality is not the focus of the story, it shows the power of family and love.

The idea for a children's book to tackle this sensitive topic is great because it eases children who may feel that effeminacy is not normal, that it's something that needs to be changed. After all, we all have that one uncle who tries to "man us up" through basketball.

I interviewed both Rhandee and Tokwa for Supreme, and I got into a brief argument with someone on Twitter who felt that effeminacy automatically equates to homosexuality. I felt sorry for his misguided beliefs (his sources date back to 1963) and his insistence that there is, and should be, only black and white when it comes to sexuality. He claimed to be an expert on sexuality but it was highly doubtful so I ended the conversation.

Ang Bonggang Bonggang Batang Beki will formally launch at the Manila International Book Fair on September 11-15. Read the Supreme interview here.

The UP Babaylan and the UP Center for Women Studies' Anong Pangalan Mo Sa Gabi? At iba pang tanong sa mga LGBT

Anong Pangalan Mo Sa Gabi? (What is your name at night?) aims to address the misconceptions about the LGBT community by answering the most common questions asked of them. Some are innocent and well-meaning, but many are offensive and downright ignorant. Questions like "paano kayo dumadami?" (how do you have children?) and "paano ka umiihi?" (how do you pee?) are just some of the ridiculous questions asked, but answering them is the only way to enlighten people and inform them that gay people are exactly the same, who do the same things the same way straight people do. The answers are serious, witty, engaging, and hilarious.

Here are some of my favorites (most of them have been shortened):

Q: Anong klase kang bakla? (What kind of gay are you?)
A: Special kasi with egg. So, ikaw naman ang tatanungin ko. Anong klase kang straight? Asado o bola-bola? (Special with egg. How about you? What kind of straight are you? Asado or bola-bola?)

Q: Gay ka ba? O bi lang? (Are you gay or bi?)
A: ...para tumaas ang halaga sa pamilihan, maraming gay ang nagpapanggap na 'bi' lang sila. Hindi original pero Class A sa mga peke. (To increase their market value, many gay guys pretend to be just 'bi'. They're not original, they're Class A fakes)

Q: Sinong lalaki, sinong babae? (Who is the man and woman in the relationship?)
A: Kailangan ba laging may babae at lalaki? Hindi ba sapat na ang dalawang tao ay nagmamahalan? (Is it important to have a man and a woman? Isn't it enough that two people love each other?)

Q: Ayaw mo bang magkaanak? (Don't you want to have children?)
A: Ang pagtataguyod ng pamilya, pagpapalaki ng anak at pagiging isang mabuting magulang ay wala sa kasarian kundi ito ay nasa kakayahang magsakripisyo at magmahal. (The ability to raise children and be a good parent doesn't rely on gender, but the ability to sacrifice and to love.)

Anong Pangalan Mo Sa Gabi? is available at the UP Center for Women's Studies. Read about my article for Supreme here.
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