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PINOY NOODLES

Noodles are very much part of the Filipino diet. They can be eaten as lunch, merienda (snack), or dinner.  There are myriad noodle dishes in the Philippines, but I’m partial to only a few. One of them is pancit bihon – thin vermicelli noodles topped julienned vegetables and meat – which is a staple dish during celebrations like Christmas and birthdays. The other two are my very favourite. First is pancit malabon or thick rice noodles with shrimp sauce and topped with squid, egg, and crushed chicharon (fried pork crackling). I always order pancit malabon without the chicharon from Ang Tunay na Pancit Malabon on Tomas Morato in Quezon City.

Second is pancit luglug which is slightly more difficult to find than the other dishes. Goldilocks was one place I could find it when I used to frequent the place. There was also this eatery at National Bookstore building in Quezon City but it has since folded shop. Pancit luglug is like pancit malabon in terms of the basic ingredients namely the noodles, shrimp sauce, and toppings. Its name derives from the method of cooking the noodles which is dipping, or blanching, the noodles in hot water until they are cooked. Gourmands would point out that pancit luglug is the answer of the Pampangueños’ to another all-time favourite noodle dish pancit palabok, which has thinner noodles.

pancit luglug by Razon's of Guagua

pancit luglug -without the chicharon – by Razon’s of Guagua

Razon’s of Guagua satisfied my craving for luglug at their branch in Greenbelt, Makati. The restaurant, according to their website, “is home of the best Kapampangan dishes in town”. Its menu runs the gamut of Kapampangan specialities such as sizzling dishes viz. bulalo (beef soup made from shank and the bone marrow), sisig (chopped pig’s head and liver, and seasoned with Philippine lime and chilli), and bangus steak (milkfish). Noodles include the luglug and a pancit plus. There are rice- combo dishes and rice cakes too. For dessert, there are the silvanas, empanada, and halo-halo.  Dessert was truly satisfying when I tried their halo-halo for the first time. Halo-halo literally translates to mix-mix because when you order it you have to mix everything from top to bottom inside the parfait glass. Razon’s halo-halo is simpler and less colourful than, say, Iceberg, but which belied a terrific punch to the palate. It’s a merry mix of sweetened Saba banana and macapuno (coconut), which are at the bottom of the glass, evaporated milk, finely shaved ice that melts in your mouth, and leche flan.

halo-halo by Razon's of Guagua

Razon’s halo-halo features sweetened Saba, macapuno, and leche flan

Lunch of luglug and halo-halo with an uncle was a pleasant experience peppered by scintillating conversation. After all, nothing can go wrong with a meet up over Pinoy noodles and a Pinoy dessert.

BECOMING A THIGH WARRIOR

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A reality I envision myself fervently in is where I am looking as lithe and graceful as Plana Forma instructors Celine Encarnacion, Dani Cornejo, and Bernadette Osias. I’m elegantly lean as, together with either one of them, I extend my leg – toes pointed – back up in the air or the side like a ballerina. But alternate reality is mythical and I crash back on Earth struggling to hold my leg up or maintaining the half-way “sitting” position while pulsing for three counts at the barre. Barre workouts belie an effort that would make a grown-up cry. I’ve been keen to attend such a class ever since I first got wind of barre workouts from an FB friend who is passionate and passionately posted pictures about her barre classes in Kuala Lumpur.

Studio 1, Plana Forma Il Terrazzo

the studio ready for Forma classes [Plana Forma, Il Terrazzo]

Recep and waiting area

View of the reception from the studio foyer

I was on the lookout for a place to exercise while on vacation in Manila, waning something different from my usual gym workout. I found my answer at Il Terrazzo in Quezon City where Plana Forma’s second studio is.

“It’s a combination of Pilates and yoga, which you are familiar with, but we go deeper and concentrate on the little muscles. Give it a try,” said Celine encouragingly before leaving the studio. Her warm welcome and succinct explanation of the Plana Forma concept had me signing up for the Newcomer package of 10 classes.

Plana Forma, I read on its website, is a ballet barre technique that merges the precepts of yoga, Pilates, and dance into an hour’s workout at their Plana Forma studios at Makati or Quezon City. Class reservation is done via mindbodyonline.com; you get a confirmation email after signing up. Important rules to remember are  to show up 15 minutes before the class or your slot would be given to someone on the wait list; and to bring your non-slip socks (sold for PhilP350 at the counter) for Forma classes, trainers for Zumba, and yoga mat for Forma Asana. You can stow your things in a borrowed locker and ask for towels (big or small) before the class. The studio closes shortly before lunch and opens before 615pm.

Newcomer to Barre

Thigh warrior beginners are advised to attend the Forma Core class to get familiar with the form, techniques, and breathing. I followed the advice and signed up for Van Manalo’s class that was packed to the rafters on an Eid Mubarak Monday morning. The push-ups were a cinch but the thigh workout, which came after the fast-paced, upbeat warm up, was more than challenging. Fortunately, my personal trainer had me do endless squats because I wouldn’t have lasted during the first set of eight half squats – visualise sitting minus the chair – at the barre.

New barre position

a view of Tomas Morato or a mirror for your spot at the studio


Studio 2, Plana Forma Il Terrazzo

Don’t forget your non-slip socks for the Forma classes.


Thigh warrior

a selfie by the neophyte thigh warrior before the start of class

It begins with students getting their two pairs of dumbbells – one heavier than the other – from a shelf near the music console for the warm up. Next is locating your spot at the barre that is already set up with a yoga mat, square cushion (aka square mat), black strap hanging from the barre, a blue ‘playground ball’, and a rolled-up thick blue mat. The endings are stretches that target the IT band (iliotibial band) and yoga poses for the upper body.

Beginners were laughing at Van’s class with his witty quips which he inserted as he counted or switched to the next movement. They certainly kept you distracted from the burning sensation in your muscles! I let out a guffaw in the midst of an abdominal exercise – small movements from the middle then upper section of the abs – when he wickedly wisecracked, “It should be your abdominal muscles tightening, not the face! Smile!”

Van Manalo, Plana Forma instructor

Van introduces himself to the class


Dani Cornejo, Plana Forma instructor

Dani gets to know her students

I attended two Forma Core classes – the other one with Dani who was less of a comic than Van but still peppy – just to get the routine down pat and then upped the ante with Forma Core+ with Celine who struck me as the geek of all the instructors. Her directions were accompanied by explanations of what is supposed to happen or is happening to the muscles complete with their scientific names. But just like Van and Dani, she was animated and had her signature quip “Beautiful” to compliment her students whenever they executed a movement well.

Picking up the Pace

Satisfied that I wasn’t lost in the routine anymore, I ventured into other classes viz. Forma Endurance, Forma Strength, and Forma Mi.X.ed. I met Celine again in Forma Strength that led to epiphanies about bikini bottom muscles and quivering legs: using your own body weight and engaging the core muscles should be the fitness goal from the beginning. If you can carry yourself in an exercise class, you’re on the right path to fitness. Moreover, little movements are more effective in getting those core muscle tight and strong. I credit my personal trainer for getting me in shape for Forma classes – I can keep pace with the instructors even though I may look like a gorgeous elephant projecting as a swan.

Celine Encarnacion, Plana Forma instructor

Celine prepares her music and (inset) at the barre [LiveCollage]

My Forma Mi.X.ed experience was with high-school-student-looking Clark Dela Riva. I meant high-school student-looking as an encomium. He injected a playfulness to the routine dovetailed with wisecracks a la co-teacher Van while flashing a boyish smile

“The face shouldn’t scrunch up like your abdominal muscles. Open the chest, relax the shoulders, and smile. Good morning!” he’d say innocently but with a hint of cheekiness, as we went about pulsing in half-squat position, squeezing the playground ball in between the legs, at the barre. He also had a signature spiel which would either be “Perfect!” or “Good morning”; at times he’d blurt out “Thank you” like a polite school boy if everyone followed his suggestion of, say, raising the arms to the sky for a more challenging mid-section workout.

I found my stride in Clark’s class, following seamlessly in working the core muscles because the tempo was similar to my gym pace, plus I got lost in his music accompaniment of mostly 1980s songs.

Bernadette Osias, Plana Forma instructor

Bernadette gives a few pointers before the start of her class


Studio 3, Plana Forma Il Terrazzo

Gearing up for Forma Endurance

Bernadette’s Forma Endurance proved challenging. I was gobsmacked that I was hard pressed to pulse my left leg which was bent at my back while in a seated position as I held the barre. It looked easy but reality was far from it. Bernadette was the strict one; her voice exuded that martinet schoolmarm vibe andshe was very particular about everyone following her instructions to the letter including where you should face for the non-barre exercises.

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a reminder before and after entering the studio at Plana Forma Il Terrazzo

I’m down to my last two Forma classes and I’ll be going back to my regular workout. It doesn’t mean that I’m eschewing what I’m taking home from my Forma classes. On the contrary, I’m stoked to continue as an autodidact thigh warrior and work on my goal: Be a strong, elegant thigh warrior.

FORMA CLASSES AT GLANCE*

Class Pace Movements Benefits
Forma Core moderate with timed high-intensity intervals Pilates Principles of Isolation; isometric exercises increased calorie burn; improved balance, control, posture, stability, and endurance (cardiovascular and muscular)
Forma Strength fast with intervals of core challenges increased range with larger, full range movements increased calorie burn; improved power, strength, mobility, muscle strength, power, cardiovascular endurance
Forma Endurance fast with short recovery stretches wide range during all intervals increased calorie burn; improved alertness, coordination, power, agility, cardiovascular and muscular endurance
Forma Mi.X.ed moderate to fast, high-intensity, with 10-min recovery stretches repetition-base and less complicated improved upper body and core strength, muscle strength and power, cardiovascular endurance
Source: http://forma-asia.com/classes/ | *partial list (go to the web link for a detailed list)

 

SENIOR CITIZEN FRIENDLY

It has been almost seven years since I wrote about my shock and dismay over a dining experience with my family and my father’s senior citizen card (see Senior Citizen Discount blog post). It was just altogether unpleasant so we never went back to the restaurant again. Fortunately, seven years later, we haven’t had any untoward incidents with my father and mother’s senior citizen cards with restaurants including that restaurant we were at seven years ago. In fact, it’s smooth sailing when I hand my parents’ cards to the cashier; I only have to point to where they are if the cashier asks their whereabouts.

Asian noodles

senior citizens in the Philippines enjoy a discount with their meal | Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some places we frequent are senior citizen friendly (think generous discounts and friendliness), including how they accept the card/s when you’re paying. My favourite café Starbucks is very senior citizen friendly that my father is a big fan too that try and hang out as often as we can. The cashier doesn’t ask what the senior ate or drank, but s/he does inform you that there will be different transactions for the senior citizen-discountable drink and pastry, so you’re prepared to walk away with a few receipts. A bonus: the cashier smiles all throughout the interaction.

Another eatery that is senior citizen friendly is Dairy Queen at Robinson’s Magnolia mall. It was quite a generous discount off the banana split my mother ordered. Similarly, no questions asked about who’s going to eat it. Its neighbour Frutas, a juice and fruit shake stall, is also quite welcoming with the senior citizen card.

Ang Tunay ng Pancit Malabon on Timog Avenue in Quezon City simply accepts the card of my mother when we order a bilao (roughly translated as woven circular basket/tray) of pancit malabon sans the topping of crumbled pork crackers. The cashier though is more meticulous as she always asks my other to sign their record book and the receipt compared to Starbucks and Dairy Queen.

In terms of delivery service, two restaurants from the Max’s Group of Restaurants, Pancake House and Max’s, have embraced the senior citizen discount cards wholeheartedly. By this I mean you don’t have to remind them that you’ll be using the senior citizen cards of your parents. This is because once you’ve called for food delivery from either restaurant the details of the caller and the holders of the senior citizen cards are entered into their system thus the discounts are automatically applied to the bill. Thankfully, both restaurants don’t ask what the senior citizen is going to eat!

Using the senior citizen card seven years ago was short of excruciating  because my father – he was the only one with the card then – felt he had to prove he was a senior citizen and had to account for what he ate like a child. Seven years later, using the card has been a boon as it should be from the beginning. Both my parents just need to show their cards and they get the benefit they’re entitled to without having to explain themselves which they shouldn’t have in the first place.

HAPPY PLACE

Some say the coffee isn’t the real deal especially if you’re a hard core coffee drinker. Others say it’s quite expensive for just a Frappuccino or hot latte. A handful find it a convenient spot for meeting up and there are those who find it a great place to work. Case in point is my gal-pal – we go way back in high school – Melie when we caught up with each other one weekend. She was working in Starbucks Greenbelt while waiting for me. Apparently, she learnt and revealed to me that one is more productive while working in a café. Working or meeting up with someone, hard core coffee drinker or not, Starbucks is my happy place.

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a smile and a friendly note awaits you at Starbucks [Starbucks, Tomas Morato]

It all goes back to when I found myself living in a new country and walloped severely by homesickness, cultural isolation, and discrimination. It was my first time to be living apart from my family and the whole routine of being on my own was both exhilarating and unnerving, to say the least. On top of homesickness, I was culturally isolated – being a self-absorbed careerist wasn’t how I was raised to be. I didn’t believe in going up the ladder of success by stepping on others which put me greatly at odds with a whole lot of people. Then there’s my nationality that triggered my first experience of discrimination. The preconceived notion that Filipinos were only meant to be domestic helpers had preceded me unknowingly as well as all the stereotypes of being a woman that I thought had been deconstructed.

Starbucks, on hindsight, was the one place that I could piece back my fragmented self together quietly. Every single day was a battle against homesickness that left me weary and which was compounded by being treated as the peculiar one in the group to put it mildly. The Starbucks near my workplace then was a serendipitous find. There were no weird glances from the baristas to make you feel that you shouldn’t be in their country or any put-upon behaviour to take my order. It was just simple human decency: a simple warm greeting of “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” and what I would like to drink or eat that day. I didn’t have to constantly fear that someone was hatching a nefarious plan to make me the scape goat for their failure or put up with hypocrisy – you know when they smile at you and then stab you at the back minutes later. My visits to this Starbucks reached a point when I just showed up at the counter, exchanged pleasantries with the baristas which eventually became longer chit-chat that did wonders for my soul, and head to a table with my caramel macchiato. I didn’t need to say my name or my order anymore. A smile particularly one that goes beyond the lips and crinkles the eyes does have this energising effect on a person.

I’ve since relocated to another country where I’ve learnt to let my guard down and view humanity in a less jaded way. I still frequent Starbucks because it still remains my happy place; the baristas, store manager, and even the security guard still exude that affability which is more than welcomes. At Starbucks, I sew clumsily my tattered soul, chase away the negative thoughts gnawing on my thoughts, and glue back my shattered heart. It is also where I do most of my work, thinking of which stories to assign, new topics to write on, and new punishments for my students. Lastly, it is where I catch my breath after a tongue-on-the-floor workout with Pak Agus. I have a cup of no-sugar cappuccino or caramel macchiato with non-fat milk or soya when I remember to say it to the genial Starbucks barista.

FRAP HAPPINESS III

It is a love affair with Starbucks that raises from eyebrows but who gives a hoot. Others go for the lattes as they chill on the sofas; some get a kick from collecting the destination mugs or tumblers which I completely understand. I did get myself a tumbler from a Starbucks outlet in Ubud, Bali and a decorative mug from Disneyland, Anaheim. An old university friend gifted me with a San Francisco mug. Right now, I am on a frappuccino trip. This month I trooped down to my favorite Starbucks outlet at Tomas Morato in the Philippines where the baristas are warm and get my name right all the time. Moreover, they engage in friendly banter about almost anything under the sun. My last conversation was about my tattoo on my inner forearm that he found cool.

There are two new frappuccino flavors to add a zing to that hanging out-at-Starbucks routine. First is the Banana Split and the second is the Irish Cream Coffee Pudding. The former is a reworking of the all-time ice cream dessert favorite, the banana split. As you sip through the frap, it is a smooth sensation that starts from the bottom of which is strawberry whipped cream followed by the mocha frap – caffeinated or not, your choice – whipped cream drizzled with chocolate sauce and banana syrup. The crumbled waffle gets caught up in the swirl through the straw. The Irish Cream Coffee Pudding, on the other hand, is something new on my palate particularly the coffee pudding that was velvety with every sip. Like its sister-frap, it is available in regular or decaffeinated. But unlike its sister-frap, the ground coffee is sprinkled on the whipped cream for that wee-bit of caffeine kick. 

Banana Split frappuccino


Irish Cream Coffee Pudding frappuccino


Crank up the sugar rush with the new chocolate marshmallow cake – with a caramel middle – and your Starbucks routine is complete.

Chocolate marshmallow cake

REDISCOVERING BANDUNG

First impressions last and my impression of Bandung as a place nothing to rave about lasted for several years. My colleagues and students were always scurrying to Bandung every chance they got notwithstanding the snarled traffic to and fro much to my consternation. My first foray into Bandung was to a volcanic crater which wasn’t disappointing. The grey landscape was a dramatic departure from the usual green scenery I am used to, but which nonetheless piqued my interest. It was a stark flip to the presence of life; I now had an idea of how Demeter unleashed her vengeance on mankind for Hades’ concupiscence. Adding to my incredulity was the incongruous presence of hawkers with bonnets, scarves, and boa. Commercialism had found its place near the crater.

It wasn’t until only this May that I set foot again in Bandung. The invitation came from my gal-pal Theresia to join her church group, Wanita Katolik RI Ranting St Maria Ratu Pengantara segala Rahmat, from Cabang St Servasius, Kampung Sawah, on their annual outing. The gaggle of mature and young ladies was grass widows relishing the break from their duties as wife, mother, or padre de familia for a whole day. The journey wasn’t lacking in giggles and guffaws, complaints and ruffled feathers, and good old-fashioned camaraderie. I was witness to a tableau of familial ties in its rawness, which, being a recluse, opened a whole new appreciation in me for human interaction and Bandung.

BAMBOO VILLAGE

Dusun Bamboo, or Bamboo Village, is a green sanctuary located in Lembang. The relaxing effect of nature begins at the right of the entrance where your sight falls on rice paddies so green you’d think the landscape was photo shopped by the universe; to the left are vehicles to take one around the family leisure park. It is best to go on foot to take in nature and its cool air especially coming from scorching Bekasi where the temperature is a few degrees higher. Most travellers stay a night or more at Dusun Bamboo to get away from the madness of the city, as facilities are not lacking and restaurants abound. One restaurant, Lutung Kasarung, caught my attention because of its design: a birdcage. The dining “birdcages”, which fit two or more diners, are suspended in mid-air and accessible by walk ways several meters from the ground.  Further exploring Dusun Bamboo led Theresia and me to a lake with a floating platform surrounded by villas – presumably private dining rooms – accessible by a short ride in a decorated bumboat.

rice paddy 1 at Dusun Bamboo

the view that greets you as you emerge from the entrance


rice paddy 2 at Dusun Bamboo

I have mellowed so much – a rice paddy is a thrill to see now.


women on a day trip

Photo op on the walk way


with gal pal Theresia

with gal pal Theresia


floating platform and villas

stand or sit on the floating platform


bunga terompet

bunga terompet are everywhere at Dusun Bamboo


birdcage dining

book a birdcage for dinner for two or more at Lutung Kasarung


bamboo structure

exploring Dusun Bamboo

Naturally, like the millennials, the Wanita Katolik was not oblivious to selfies and group shots which weren’t just confined to the lake or rice paddies. The women know that immediate documentation on social media platform is imperative in today’s travels.

FLOATING MARKET

Next on the itinerary was lunch at the floating market. On account of being Ramadan, the floating market was easy to navigate: one could leisurely peruse the floating boat-kitchens on their offerings, exchange money for tokens, and secure a table. Apparently, the weekends – the time local tourists descend upon the place – are filled with mobs of diners jostling to, say, order a plate of satay and get a table.

Floating market sign

row of boat kitchen vendors 1

row of boat kitchen vendors 2

Which boat kitchen do you get lunch and dessert?


tokens at the Floating Market

exchange your rupiah for tokens to buy food and drinks


satay boat kitchen

“Do you want lontong with your satay ayam?” asks Theresia.


satay ayam vendor

preparing satay ayam on the spot


crispy tahu vendor

the tahu lost its crunchiness


pisang goreng

freshly cooked pisang goreng


lunch at Floating Market

Lunch is ready – dig in!


Cepot

Cepot, a wayang golek character, serves as scare crow too in an area of the Floating Market.

Unlike the floating market of Thailand, the boat-kitchens are moored to their places, the vendors – cranky or not – waiting for customers so they could fire up their stoves. Others are a little too swift in their cooking that their dishes are exposed way too much than they should. That was my mistake in buying crispy tahu (tofu) which had lost its crunchiness. Fortunately, the chocolate-cheese pisang goreng (banana fritters) was cooked on the spot hence it was still crispy when it was time to have dessert. Similarly, the skewered satay ayam (grilled chicken) were placed on the grill only after we had placed our order. The satay ayam was good, but its proportion to the lontong (rice cake) was a disappointment compared to the wonderfully balanced portion at Satay Ayam Madura, a satay stall at Summarecon Mall Bekasi.

The language barrier broke down a bit as I caught snippets of the Wanita Katolik’s stories in between bites: a crabby member’s endless complaints, how good the es cendol (cold Indonesian drink), who is ordering pisang goreng again, the oleh-oleh (gift; food or not) and kue (cake) they should buy at the floating market, etc.

KEBUN BEGONIA

Majority of the women had a penchant for gardening so Kebun Begonia, a garden-and-vegetable market, was the last stop. The whole lot was divided into the garden, or what I call the selfie place with its various picture stations, and vegetable patches. It was every woman for herself at this point: some scrutinized the flowers, evaluating which ones to add to their garden; Theresia et al took selfies; and I went for ginger tea. Ginger tea is ubiquitous in Indonesia particularly hot or cold wedang jahe. My hot wedang jahe helped to chase away the cold seeping into my body and rejuvenate my flagging energy (I had been up since 4am). Some joined me for a cuppa and quickly put me to shame. They downed it like water to the last drop while I struggled with the strong, biting taste and only finished half of my cup.

welfie moment at Kebub Begonia

Strike a pose!


Selfie moment among the flowers

an Instagram-worthy shot

Walk through flower beds


Or walk around pots of flowers


First impressions do last but they can quickly change when the opportunity presents itself. Bandung was a revelation with its greenery and cool weather. Fortunately, traffic was smooth because of Ramadan thus no delays in the itinerary. It was a bonus too to have been part of a group of women who, despite the language barrier, made an extrovert-introvert agnostic feel very much part of their close-knit group.

TOM’S HIGH-RISE UNIT

The impetus to read J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise was admittedly because of Tom Hiddleston who talked about it in one interview as he was part of the movie cast. But somehow life got in the way and reading High-Rise took a backseat until I saw a reissue of it at Kinokuniya, Plaza Senayan. The impetus kicked in again because gracing the cover was Tom Hiddleston who played one of the primary characters in the book, Dr Robert Laing.

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Hiddleston aside, the opening paragraph on Dr Laing’s meal had me riveted – stunned but riveted. I had to be certain that what I read about the Alsatian was correct. The prose is straightforward in its description of what happens in the modern tower block and the tenant-characters’ physical attributes and emotions as chaos descended upon the expensive high-rise. Written in the mid ‘70s, I was struck by its verisimilitude with the current world situation of, among other things, society plummeting into the abyss of primal behavior, of the disintegration of order, and of the triviality of human lives. The chaos is almost palpable; it’s as if you’re watching it but through the novel.

Plot-wise, you push on to see how the narrative would come to an end. I personally like to read how a plot comes to its denouement if there is one. In High-rise, you read the breakdown in the high-tech 43-storey London skyscraper, a microcosm of society in general, which burst the bubble of tension long present in the socially-demarcated high-rise giving rise to mayhem. Tenants fight tooth and nail for survival and domination; most are caught up in their narcissistic visions of entitlement while some, like Laing, walk the thin line of sanity and insanity. Who wouldn’t be interested in finding out the resolution?

Character-wise, each comes alive with his/her idiosyncrasy, i.e. the truculent television producer Richard Wilder and his mousy wife, Helen; Anthony Royal, architect of the tower block, who seem to revel at the disintegration of order within his creation; and Laing who struggles between rationality and going off the deep end.

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Human behavior has always fascinated me and learning how each character turned out, how each dealt with the bedlam, kept me turning the page onto the next until the last page. There is something interesting about characters falling into the abyss of irrational behavior while trying to be less foolish in their actions.