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
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