Tuesday, June 26, 2007

From Yamashita to the Abu Sayyaf

I met a really impressive guy yesterday evening - Admiral Timothy J. Keating, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command. This is a photo from the front page of today's Philippine Star showing him touring an abandoned Abu Sayyaf stonghold in Jolo, Sulu together with U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney yesterday morning.

That same evening, they were both back in Manila at a reception in his honor at the U.S. Embassy. The second picture is of the Admiral and the Ambassador, flanked by the Japanese Ambassador, MRP and T.

Ambassador Kenney told us how the mud was so thick in Jolo that she had to take off her boots and walk barefoot to their plane. They arrived at 5 P.M. then somehow found time to shower, get dressed and get to the Embassy on time. (It looks like the Admiral had more stuff to put on!)

The reception was held at the "Chick" Parsons ballroom of the U.S. Embassy. It's an historic setting. After WWII, General Yamashita was tried and convicted of war crimes in the ballroom. Lee McClenny of the U.S. Embassy explained that it was one of the few structures in Manila left standing and where a war crimes trial could be held.

Lee also told T and I about Chick Parsons. He was an interesting fellow, with over 932,000 Google results. In the pre-Internet era, among other things he worked as a spy in Manila. General Douglas MacArthur called him "the bravest man I know."

Adm. Keating gave a short talk about the U.S.'s determination to win the war on terror. Whether one agrees with G.W. Bush's policies or not, it is admirable to see the dedication of these military men. It's not his job to question politics. He's been given orders and he's gonna carry them out.

It also gave me pause to think - the U.S. has been fighting wars in the Philippines for over a hundred years - from Aguinaldo to Yamashita to the Abu Sayyaf. That alone makes me wonder how long they will be in Iraq.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

What a difference a year makes!

T and I spent our 13th anniversary in Boracay. That's two years in a row that she's "kidnapped" me and brought me there as a surprise.

This time however, we had B, J9 and Ty along with us. All of them flew off to Bora on Thursday. When I got home that night, Annika gave me my tickets to follow them on Friday morning. The two younger girls didn't get to go since Annika had school on Friday and Athena, well, someone had to stay with Annika.

Bora was drizzly on Friday but the weather was perfect by Saturday. It's really a less hectic place during the off season. Flights were still full and there were lots of people on the beach, so I can only imagine the crush of the crowds during the summer.

It was nice to have the kids for the weekend. B hasn't been to Bora in ten years, but between getting a henna tattoo, accomplishing the Cocomangas challenge and chilling out on Jonah's Fruit Shakes, he did it all! (Note: the avocado-mango shake topped the taste tests.)

As for Ty, he's really soaking up the last week before he heads off to Florence for CISV. He has a great dragon tattoo to show off to the other 11-year-olds at that summer camp.

The scoop of the trip was meeting Kris Aquino and James Yap at Discovery Shores, where the coo-some twosome were spending the weekend. If T gets this photo into her article next week, she might even scoop Ricky Lo of Star!

As usual, more pictures are on Kodak Gallery.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Weekend in Yosemite

At the very end of the Vernal Falls trail is Emerald Lake, a small quiet lagoon where tired hikers can stretch their feet before heading down again.

B, J9 and I trekked all the way to Vernal Falls - what a great workout. Along the way, the views are spectacular. I can't load up all the pictures here but they are in my Kodak Gallery and I also have videos on YouTube. Those are the best sites to view all my stuff on Yosemite.

This trip was a typical, all-too-short break for me. Basically, it was a weekend stopover on my way home from the gaming summit in Montreal. The kids picked me up in the airport and we drove straight to Yosemite from there, staying two nights at the Yosemite View Lodge.

Saturday was our busy day, doing the trek and also biking around the Valley. The next day, all we had time for was a quick brunch in the quaint little town of Groveland just outside Yosemite. Then it was straight on to the airport again to catch the flight home.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Loto-Quebec, the Gambling Lord of the North

Walking around the Centre Eaton, the center of shopping in Montreal, we came across this kiosk for Loto-Quebec.

This state monopoly is the equivalent of PAGCOR and PCSO combined and they are everywhere. (Loto-Quebec runs all games of chance in Quebec, including casinos and lotteries.)

Their 2006 revenue was about P200 billion, 75% of which came from lotteries and P38 billion from 3 casinos. In contrast, PAGCOR revenue is about P25 billion from 14 casinos and PCSO only made P15 billion.

We spotted several other kiosks and on every floor, there were other simple outlets in souvenir shops and other stores looking to sell Lotto tickets along with Montreal keychains and other knickknacks.

Within the kiosks themselves, several "games" are available. The punter simply takes a card and darkens the numbers he wants and submits it to the elderly (they almost all were senior citizens) cashier, who then slips the card into a machine, which outputs a thermal receipt.

Interestingly, among its many lottery formats there is also a 6/49 lotto, exactly like the PCSO has here in the Phils. I note that the progressively increasing jackpot was at $35 million, which would be about P1.75 billion here! The PCSO 6/49 rarely gets into the hundreds of millions and when it does, people are lined up to buy tickets. Here, there was very little traffic at the kiosk.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Where's the Sun King When You Need Him?

Just checked into my hotel in Montreal - it's a grand name, the Chateau Versailles - but it's really just a dandified bed and breakfast. Looks like a four-storey townhouse with no elevators. Room is smallish with a big bed. The TV is mostly French but I found ESPN, so I guess it's ok.

The worst part is that the wifi in my room (only) is broken, so to do any internet I have to bring my laptop to the lobby and work from here. On the good side, the manager was apologetic and gave me free internet for the week because of the problem - at $16 a day, that's about $80 for the week, so I guess I can stand the trouble.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Rome vs. Montreal

T left for Rome last night to attend the canonization of Mother Marie Eugenie, the founder of the Assumption. Seems like all of Assumption is heading to the Vatican for the ceremonies on Sunday.

T just rang from Frankfurt, where their plane stopped over. With her on the flight was my cousin, Chona, who will be attending the rites with her two sisters, Nena and Binky. Amazingly, their other sister, Teri, who was once an Assumption nun, is unfortunately unable to make it.

When one thinks about it, it's not everyday that someone is canonized, so all the hoopla is well deserved. Aside from the official logo, there is also an official icon. The Assumption website has a ton of information for the worldwide horde of Assumptionistas who will be in Rome this weekend.

Meanwhile, it looks like the kids are gonna be home alone, as I am leaving for Montreal tonight. The purpose of my trip is as far on the other end of the socio-religious continuum as can be imagined.

Next week, Montreal plays host to the 9th Global Interactive Gaming Summit and Expo. Gaming, of course, is just a euphemism for gambling. This is one industry that is constantly in search of words to disguise itself. The latest is that companies are becoming reluctant to call themselves "casinos." The new word is "leisure." So this junket conference will probably be called GILSE next year.

Meanwhile, it looks like T will be spending the weekend praying while I will be spending the weekend playing. Well, hopefully T will be saying penance on my behalf.

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