It has been decades since I experienced having no access to Wi-Fi. This was in Myanmar when I still worked for Frequent Traveller, a now-defunct business travel magazine published in Singapore. Internet was only available in hotels which was equivalent to having no Internet at all because by the time a website loads your bill would have looked like you spent hours on the computer. But I wasn’t really bothered by the absence of Internet. On hindsight, it was a welcomed respite from staying connected and from checking the phone for e-mails. Truth be told, I belong to the old school of communication – face-to-face was how I like interacting with people.

Nowadays, the mere thought of any venue having no Wi-Fi is just unthinkable. Indonesia is just as wired as Singapore down to their respective airports. America is a hit-and-miss; some places have and some don’t. As for Manila, I eschew using the Internet when I’m out for fear of hand phone snatchers roaming the malls. I do make an exception when I’m at cafes. Starbucks, my preferred coffee place, was a tad dark when I stepped into its Matalino Street outlet. Fortunately, Seattle’s was just next door which was brightly lit – it looked “happy” not brooding – but, to my surprise, was without Wi-Fi because of a cable problem, related the cashier. I took it for granted that by the time I returned the cable problem would have been fixed. After all, it is de rigueur to have Wi-Fi anywhere now much like it’s de rigueur for hotels to have buffets and free Internet.

classic mocha by Seattle's Best Coffee
Have a classic mocha By Seattle’s on a rainy day.
classic mocha with cinnamon roll
Pair the classic mocha with warmed up cinnamon roll

Seattle’s seemed unfazed by the absence of Wi-Fi and so were its customers including me. As I watched the rain lash at the cars and the umbrellas moving to and fro within my vision, I noted the more relaxed atmosphere as people marched inside the cafe. When I was there for four hours, people came to have coffee or order coffee and food to-go. The customers were variegated, I noted, as I sipped my classic mocha and bite into my cinnamon roll. Two nuns held my gaze when they entered Seattle’s because I was flabbergasted at the thought of holy women chilling in a café. I noted an elderly woman changed from a dress into a shirt and trouser ensemble, and claimed a corner as her own with a newspaper. A young man came, armed to the gills with his gadgets, and parked parallel to my table; with his paraphernalia were all set up, he was fast asleep when I next peeped. A lone man came and sat at the back of the room to nurse his Americano.  Two healthy cats walked up and down Seattle’s and its neighbour Kenny Roger’s. Two women and their children had a little reunion at one area. A couple came to have Seattle’s skillet meals of sausage and eggs mid-way to lunchtime, and the man almost left his hand phone on his chair which fell out of his trousers that people in the medical field wear. Gone was the busy din of a café that, I realised later on, agitated the coffee drinks. Seattle’s was quiet-busy with upbeat Christmas music playing on the loop overhead.

Conspicuously absent, and not to my chagrin, were the millennials strapped to their hand phones. There was this calming quiet enveloping the café. No one was taking selfies or photos except for me when I discreetly took shots of my orders for my blog. My thoughts just flew here and there as I spent the time organising the new sets of vocabulary for the new semester and discovering what was troubling the governess of Miles and Flora in Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw”.

The feeling I had could be summed up in the Japanese word natsukashii: “of some small thing that brings one suddenly joyously back to fond memories not with a wistful longing for what’s part, but with an appreciation of the good times.” That small thing was definitely the lack of Wi-Fi which didn’t figure during my growing up years. That very thought was soothing because Wi-Fi was never a necessity like air or water. I survived school and first-time employment without Wi-Fi. My existence didn’t revolve around Wi-Fi; my high school friends and I knew what it meant to be in the experience and to enjoy it. I don’t deny that Wi-Fi has its advantages if we’re talking about work, but outside of work is a different story altogether. There is some goodness to solitude in a café with a book and a meal, say, herb omelette with French toast.  It’s an experience these millennials should try.

herb omelette with French toast
Grab an herb omelette with French toast for lunch
Food Tales


Welcome to National Kitchen by Violet Oon! Your table is ready.

The meeting happened this time unlike my unsuccessful Sunday Brunch get together. Her suggestion was high tea at National Kitchen by Violet Oon. I was game because I hadn’t seen her – her is my former-freelance writer-now-friend Marguerita Tan based in Singapore – in ages and I have always been partial to high tea since Bekasi is bereft of it. There is also this inexplicable elegance in sipping tea (or coffee) in fine china and nibbling bite-size delicacies. Curiosity was another factor. The Peranakan restaurant, nestled nicely in the refurbished City Hall building which is also the new home of the National Gallery, is new to me. There were truly a lot of things to look forward to.

Look at the exquisite chandeliers! Check out the mirror ceiling!

For the uninitiated, Violet Oon is a household name in Singapore being a food critic, author, cooking show host, restaurant owner, and former journalist. Her National Kitchen by Violet Oon is drawing crowds that it is a must to reserve a table because it is impossible to just drop in and dine. Our meet up was propitious; tables were available, but we had to get there before high tea. No problem. Both of us were ready to savor the pre-high tea menu and waiting an hour plus was a walk in the park.

To get to National Kitchen, one is advised to enter via the Coleman Street entrance. The restaurant is at the corner of the City Hall wing of the National Gallery on the second floor in which you get to by walking a bit and turning here and there. The strategically placed signs easily gets diners to the eatery. It is small establishment yet not cramped although you will hear cachinnations from the tables around you and see what the others have ordered. Still, it is a cosy venue to catch up on each other’s lives. Plus point: the service crew is polite without being too unctuous and well-versed in the dishes. One recited the items of our high tea set without skipping a beat!

It was still early for high tea so Markie, as she is called, and I went for two popular starter dishes on the menu: chicken satay (S$15) and kueh pie tee (S$17). These we complimented with the hot and cold versions of Kopi VO “C” or coffee with evaporated milk. The chicken satay was generous in terms of thickness and number of pieces skewered on a stick. Tender too and with just the right level of spiciness, meaning the satay doesn’t “burn” your tongue. It is served with spicy peanut sauce with grated pineapple (a new take for me), steamed rice cake, cucumber, and red onion. Meanwhile, the kueh pie tee never fails to capture my attention. First, I am taken by the esculent cup masquerading as a “top hat” and, second, I like how the flavors come together and end with a crunch. The deep-fried cup-top hat holds the julienned bamboo shoot and turnip poached in prawn bisque which is topped by prawn, and can be dipped in chili sauce or sweet sauce depending on one’s preference.

The chicken satay is good for one or two diners.

Kueh pie tee – split it with a friend or have it all

Hot Kopi VO “C” goes well with the satay and kueh pie tee

Kopi VO “C” Peng or coffee with evaporated milk and ice with satay? Go for it!

KWe were finally able to sink our teeth into the Singapore High Tea by 2pm. Priced at $56++, the three-tiered serving stand showcased savory and sweet bites along with Kopi VO or teh (tea). Counting from the bottom, the first platter held the pulled beef sambal in steamed bun and hae bee hiam sandwich or spicy dried shrimp floss finger sandwich. The second platter highlighted the nasi kuning serunding, glutinous rice with turmeric and topped with spicy fried coconut flakes; kueh pie tee; otak crostini, spiced coconut cream fish quenelle on a buttered crostini; and buah keulak crostini, buah keulak infused with spices, minced prawns, and milk on buttered crostini. Skipping the pulled beef sambal, each savory delight was a bite of piquant flavors rolling in the mouth.

The top tier held the sweet stuff of which I instantly checked these two as my favorite kueh or cake: kueh lapis legit (layered buttery cake) and roti jala (traditional Nyonya laced pancake served with gula melaka – dark palm sugar – and banana coconut sauce). The other kueh included kueh beng kah, tapioca cake with coconut cream; kesturi pie, citrus curd on a a buttery shortcrust base topped with papaya and limau kasturi (golden lime) compote; kueh dah dah, grated coconut cooked with gula melaka wrapped in crepe infused with pandan; and kueh lapis sago, pearl tapioca multi colored layered steamed cake infused with pandan.

the piece de resistance – Singapore High Tea for two

Meet ups with good friends are never unpleasant events. The hours go unnoticed with the exchange of stories in between sips and bites. Undoubtedly, the whole experience is ameliorated with a good selection of a restaurant for the recollection of the past, talk about the present, and musings on the future. Indubitably, high tea at National Kitchen by Violet Oon made the meet up even memorable.
National Kitchen by Violet Oon at National Gallery Singapore

1 St. Andrew’s Road #02-01, National Gallery Singapore 178957


Reservations: +65 98349935
Lunch: 12pm – 3pm (last order 2:30pm)

Dinner: 6pm – 11pm (last order 9:30pm)

Veranda: 5:3m – 11pm (last food order 10pm)

When the Blues Hit


Stress is sufficient reason for corporate warriors to want to escape the concrete jungle that asphyxiates them. Joining these corporate warriors are those in the education field who are as world-weary, frazzled, and harassed by the demands of work. Their urge to escape from the feeling of exasperation intensifies with each passing day until it reaches a point that they have to take a step back, breathe, and flee.

This is precisely what we three – me, Anto, and Theresia – did. We fled from the stress that peaked during end of the first semester at school. We desperately needed to view the world from a different perspective. We found ourselves first on the 69th floor of The Westin Jakarta for dinner at Henshin Restaurant and Bar then two floors down two hours later at the alfresco rooftop bar.

view from the staircase as you go up to Henshin
Henshin bar
de-stressing at the alfresco bar of Henshin
bathed in pink with one of my best buds
Theresia at one side of the bar and its majestic view
electric candles in blue
electric candles in yellow-green

The view from Henshin – bar or restaurant – was jaw-dropping: the night mantle draped on Jakarta’s cityscape was punctuated by well-lit buildings and parallel lights lined up horizontally below. Raffles Jakarta was just across The Westin. We three were at Arts Café two weeks ago. High above, life seemed agreeable, smooth-sailing, and shimmering with possibilities, and difficult colleagues tolerable. Two floors down at the stylish yet comfortable “sky bar”, the view was simply awe-inspiring. Light, upbeat music wove through the two seating areas of the bar taking one back to a journey down memory lane with the songs of the past the DJ kept on going. Lights were soft; the electric candles surrounding one side of the bar changed colour every so often bathing people in shades of white, green, pink, and blue. Cool winds that later became chilly as the night moved forward didn’t deter anyone from lounging on the long, wide sofa beds. While Anto and Theresia went about taking pictures, I ensconced myself at the sofa bed and observed people looking for places to sit, people engaged in animated conversations, people dancing near the bar, and the ebony ceiling above me. Fortunately, it wasn’t raining that night unlike two days ago.

The rooftop hideaway was a welcome respite from the demands of the world below. We could have stayed but fleeing from reality for too long isn’t good for the soul either.

Thought: “I will be returning to reality soon.”


Food Tales


cupcakes and meringues
The plan was a meet up, but it fell through because she got caught in traffic at the opposite side of Jakarta. So I ended up enjoying Fairmont Jakarta’s Sunday Brunch alone one November. It was not a sad affair as a table for one normally impresses upon others who are with friends, family, or a special someone. I wasn’t really all by my lonesome self. The crew of Spectrum came up every now and then to inquire about how I was doing or to suggest something that I should try. On two separate occasions, two trolleys trundled up to my table: caviar and liquid nitrogen ice cream. I just let the caviar chef do her magic with the multi colored caviar likewise with the one making the liquid nitrogen cheese ice cream. At that time, too, I was accompanied by Italo Calvino whose book “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” I went back to after putting it down for a while. 

Spectrum’s Sunday Brunch is a grandiose affair compared to its regular buffet. The dessert station burgeoned into a station plus a long, tall table teeming with sweet delights and a medium one across it with cupcakes and meringues guarded by superheroes. Another station that whets the appetite is the seafood laden with fresh shellfish – clam, bamboo clam, mussel – ready for the picking along side lobsters and its cousins. Sauces are below the seafood waiting for be slathered on the chosen seafood. For meat lovers, the piece de resistance is the huge leg of roasted beef that is immediately seen when one emerges from the entrance into the dining area. Behind the roasted beef is a long array of Chinese and Indonesian dishes ending with a turkey ready to be carved at one’s bidding. A second long table features a wide assortment of salads and appetizers. Parallel to this smorgasbord are several open-kitchen stations viz. Japanese, noodles, grill, and Italian which ends, on a diner’s right side, with the open-kitchen dessert station overflowing with ice cream, cookies, bread and butter pudding, waffle, etc.

Enjoy your “frozen” cheese ice cream
Caviar on wheels right at your table
bite-size caviar
Grilled shrimp and chicken satay
Get your fill of dimsum.
Clams, mussels, and lobster from the seafood corner

Sunday Brunch for one is, as I have discovered serendipitously, far from an affair of solitude. Mine turned into a time of being away from the general melee of society, narcissistic individuals, and everyday struggles. It was just me, my book, and excellent food.

Clockwise: orange cheese tarts, apple crumble cake, zepote, and salted caramel popcorn cake
Food Tales


Luce and Attems wines waiting to be poured

History has seen King Henry VIII making heads roll for whatever he deemed were their transgressions. But somehow the Luce Estate escaped his edict related Peter Ferguson. Apparently, there must have been something in their wines that he enjoyed, continued Ferguson, as laughter erupted from the cordoned off room. This was fact number one that had me intrigued me about the red and white wines my friends and were all set to taste that night. Continuing with his annotation about Luce Estate, fact number two was completely unexpected. Ferguson revealed that their wines are organic – meaning pesticides are not used to ward off the bugs and whatnot that ruin crops. They use earthworms which are then hunted by birds. The winemaking process is all natural, he emphasized.
Mr Ferguson is the Global Sales Director- Commercial Director of Luce Della Vite and Attems, wine brands of the Luce Estate. He presided over the Luce Wine Dinner at il Mare of Hotel Mulia on September 26. It was a night of unforgettable gastronomic culinary experience with special thanks to Chef Roberto who, in the words of the Ferguson, “did a magnificent job of pairing the dishes and wines.” 

I couldn’t agree more. Chef Roberto’s opening salvo for the five-course meal was cod fish tripe, green peas, Chilean sea bass confit that he paired with Attems Pinot Grigio 2015 with its crisp citrus alternating with ripe apricot bouquet. The vibrant fruitiness of the wine proved an excellent partner to the fresh, flavorful fish: it was a smooth tango of sipping and dining.

First dish: cod fish trip with Attems Pinot Grigio 2015

Second dish: Don’t call me lobster soup paired with Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato 2015

Following up the energetic opening that greatly stoked the diners’ palates, Roberto served up a whimsically named dish that belied a taste that one would seriously relish. He was on a roll as he partnered Don’t call me lobster soup with Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato 2015 and its aromatics of fragrant strawberry and wild cherry mingled with roasted espresso beans and ginseng. The lingering crisp finish ending on a tasty bitter note on the palate combined effortlessly with the succulent seafood trying hard not to look like lobster. Scooping from the bottom was a secret on how to enjoy it that Maurizio, head of il Mare, shared with us as he table-hopped making certain everything was fine.

We were then immediately introduced to the next two stars of the night, Lucente Tenuta della Vite 2013 and Luce Tenuta della Vite 2006. Lucente, sourced from the same vineyards as Luce, arrived first and was a perfect companion to the truffle scented duck tortelli, mushrooms, and foie gras. Its underlying crisp balsam taste blended with the succulence of the roasted duck, tickling the palate to no end. Close at the heels of Lucente 2013 was Luce 2006, the first wine created in Montalcino by blending Sangiovese and Merlot. Its rich aromatics of red berry fruit, dried plum, and blackberry plus pungent balsam and sweet vanilla provided the flavorful backdrop for the charcoal grilled lamb rack served with eggplant and sesame to further dazzle the diners.

Third dish: truffle scented duck tortelli paired with Lucente Tenuta della Vite 2013

Fourth dish: charcoal grilled lamb, eggplant, and sesame paired with Luce Tenuta della Vite 2006

As the hours moved towards the new day, the conversation at our table grew animated and so did the laughter. Yulianto, a non- wine drinker, was taking to the different wines poured into the glasses like fish to water. The creases on his brow had vanished and his thoughts on work were eclipsed by deciding on which bottle of wine he liked the most. Meanwhile, Theresia was comparing notes on the previous wine dinner she had attended and was discovering Luce was more to her glass of wine. 

Enjoying my first glass of Luce wine

Good friends, Luce wine, and good food – simple pleasures of life

Chef Roberto, like a maestro of the orchestra coming to the conclusion a moving music piece, closed dinner on a soft, elegant note with the creamy strawberry mille-feuille, leaving an audience fully satiated but sans the uncomfortable heavy feeling in the tummy. A wine pairing dinner can be an easy affair to conduct for professional chefs, but it takes a maestro of the kitchen and a top quality wine maker to create an unparalleled dining experience. My glasses are empty – I need more Luce, please. 

Here & There



Being in a huge group presents a slight problem for me in terms of interaction. An introvert-extrovert, it takes a lot of psyching myself up to be a social butterfly and not instantly morph into a wallflower in fantastic heels that would quietly steal away once an opportunity presented itself. But a reunion lunch with friends that go way back to my high school days is something I look forward to. Although it’s just half of the group that meets in the Philippines and several months since we’ve last “spoke” over Messenger, it seems like we were just talking to each other yesterday. This year’s reunion lunch was at The Red Crab in Greenbelt because we were all in the mood for seafood, and not to forget that although Café Breton is a fantastic place, we have had our fill of crepes. It was my first time at The Red Crab and it proved a good choice even though the variety of shellfish like clams and mussels were not available because of typhoon Urduja. It was a feast of Crab Maritess, succulent 900-gram crab stir-fried in loads of garlic that’s good for three people, platter of fish, shrimp, and squid, and adobong kangkong (water spinach in soy sauce and vinegar) punctuated by great conversation: the world, global issues, and our individual lives as parents and a singleton.

crab and vegetables from The Red Crab, Greenbelt
When the Blues Hit


inside Eight Coffee
the view from one of my favorite spots at Eight Coffee

That I am a creature habit who is a bit of a recluse is no secret. And this recluse is partial to places that although open to the public still offers a hint of seclusion. I’ve found that place in which the word refuge comes to mind whenever I head to Jalan Puloh Sirih in Galaxy City. First, there are several cosy spots one can claim as one’s space – I’ve claimed two as mine. Second, I can read uninterrupted; there isn’t this sense of someone invading your space unlike in Starbucks where the presence of a new customer drapes like a thick shroud over your shoulders. Third, the ambience is mellow, punctuated by the earth tones of the interior and the smooth songs wafting through the air. Nothing jarring like rock or even soft rock.  Fourth, I like the food selection. It’s got its fair share of pasta, rice dishes, finger food, and sweet stuff to end a quick repast on a sweet note. My perennial order to satisfy my sweet craving is the banana cake drizzled with caramel sauce and served with vanilla ice cream baked by former student-turned-friend Nadia Kris Sigit whose family owns the café. On certain occasions, when I happen to be there by four in the afternoon, I go for the fluffy pancakes topped with slices of banana, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and criss-crossed with maple syrup, which is a new addition that is only available at that time.

banana cake – baked by Nadia – served warm and with a scoop of ice cream
Iced caramel jelly and books – simple pleasures at Eight Coffee

Eight Coffee has been serving iced or hot coffee and meals for several years now.  I trek down there when the monotony of living gets me or when I need to unwind after a strenuous workout, but not with a reflexology session.  I quickly head to one of my favourite spots and plunge into my book after placing my order at the counter which, being a creature of habit, is a tall glass of iced macchiato or iced caramel jelly partnered with pasta aglio olio or chicken teriyaki. Most of the time I am alone unless Nadia serendipitously drops by or am catching up over coffee with one of my few friends once in a blue moon.

pancakes with slices of banana drizzled with caramel syrup and dusted with sugar powder
iced chocolate – a break from my regular coffee

I’ve appropriated Eight Coffee as my sanctuary like the tranquil spots I’ve claimed as my own. It’s one of the very few places I go when I need to climb out of the rut I am in, examine my thoughts and feelings to slowly piece a new version of myself together again.


Food Tales


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.



Quote 2

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; 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.

Quote 1
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.


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: | *partial list (go to the web link for a detailed list)


Here & There


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

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.