Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blackberry Blues

I got a Blackberry a couple of weeks ago and it's been a difficult transition. Smart actually sends an "After Sales" person to help migrate files over to the new phone.

I kept it simple. All I wanted were my Treo's Calendar and Contacts. These are files that started when I got my first Nokia 9000 Communicator in June 2000 so that's a lot of stuff. The data has successfully made several device transitions over the years, eventually into my current Treo 650.

The Contacts issue was that the Palm OS has far more fields than the BB. So none of the Birthdays, Spouses, Kids, etc. made it from Treo to BB. OK, so maybe some of that is not too important but the killer was that the BB would only take one mobile phone number and one e-mail address, and in doing so wiped out quite a bit of data from my Address Book.

The Calendar fared worse. The BB first showed that it got all the data but a few hours later, all had been erased save for data from the past month. After Sales Guy tried twice unsuccessfully. Worse, somehow during the transfers, certain events in the Calendar became double entries. It seemed that whenever I had used the Details field in the Event, the event got re-entered, this time with the details as just part of the Event, shown in parentheses. Worse, there was no coherent pattern to which Events were repeated and which were left alone.

So I tried a new method.

I first downloaded PocketMac for BB from the BB website. Separately, I synced all my data from Treo's Palm Desktop to Mac's Calendar and Address Book software. That actually synced very well, except now the Mac Calendar has double entries and is a mess.

From the Mac Calendar and Address Book, I synced with the BB using PocketMac.

The Address Book made it with more info, but I am still working on sorting out exactly what fields were left out and which made the entire trip.

The Calendar was a mess with all the double entries and BB still had issues with disappearing events.

So today, I have three gadgets to carry around. My Globe is a Samsung U600, my Smart is the BB and my old Smart line is the Treo. I still use the Treo as my Calendar. One of these days, I'm getting the new Communicator and moving all that data over to that device so I can finally retire my Treo.

As for the BB, bottom line is: it's a one-trick pony.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Huugen Daz

We got a special delivery from the folks at Haagen Daz today - a huge container of one of their ice cream flavors: Pannacotta & Blueberry.

Unfortunately, there was no note attached, so we don't know if they were sending T a sample, hoping to get a mention in her column or if this was a misdirected delivery and should have been sent to an outlet instead.

Athena, of course, didn't have any problems with the delivery. She knew exactly what to do. Get it open now!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Interview with U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney

I had a great interview with U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney recently, for Forbes In Touch magazine. Here is the article:

FIT had the chance to interview U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney last July 18, 2007 at the Ambassador’s residence in Forbes Park. It was a wonderful chance to tour one of the most well-known residences in our community and to get to know the personal side of one of our busiest diplomats, one who has risen up to the very challenging job of looking after the interests of her country. FIT is proud to introduce our community to the more personal side of Ambassador Kenney.

FIT: Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to meet with us.

Amb. Kenney: You’re quite welcome. Would you like some coffee? I figured since we were neighbors we could have normal mugs instead of the Embassy china. These are my Galapagos mugs.

FIT: Thank you. I’ve always been impressed to come here and see the nice little touches of the U.S.A., like the Embassy logo on the napkins, and meet your long-serving Filipino staff.

Amb. Kenney: These guys are wonderful – Sally, Ledesa and Edgar. They’ve stayed and looked after the house, they look after me, they look after my cats. As to the logo, every ambassador gets that. That stays with the house along the official china. I like my coffee out of a mug, but the official china is more of a cup. So these are mine. An actual Kenney household item.

FIT: As a career diplomat, you must have lived in a lot of countries.

Amb. Kenney: I’ve been to a lot but haven’t lived in that many. Let’s see … Jamaica, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Switzerland, the Philippines…

FIT: A lot of Latin America! Many people say that we’re very Latin American.

Amb. Kenney: I see a lot of that here but with a different flavor. There’s a lot of Asia here, too. I think some of the best parts of Latin America are here, like the attachment to family – which I think is great! Also, Filipinos and many Latin Americans are able to make events special. There are ceremonies that make events special, like company anniversaries, openings, school awards… All these teach Filipinos of every age to be good public speakers. It’s amazing to me that people become very comfortable very early in life with speaking in public.

FIT: You’re the first female U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines. Have there been any special challenges?

Amb. Kenney: No! Not at all. People here are very friendly. This is a country that has a lot of dynamic women – you’re married to one! You’ve had female presidents, female heads of corporations, female NGO heads … I’ve never had trouble anywhere I’ve served in the world as a female diplomat. It’s also a modern era. I don’t think people care that much about gender anymore. If anything, the challenges would be tiny, odd things. The chair in my office was designed for a large male. The first time I sat down in it, my feet didn’t touch the ground! Teeny things like that.

FIT: I guess most ambassadors are still male! I looked you up on the web and noted that your husband is also an ambassador.

Amb. Kenney: Yes, Bill is currently moving to Colombia. We met in the foreign service, when we were both working for [Secretary of State] George Shultz [under President Ronald Reagan]. When we got married 21 years ago, we decided we would never take separate assignments unless we were offered two really good ambassadorships – nothing else. And now it happened. Who knew? It’s difficult of course. We see each other every three, four months. I’ll catch up with him in Washington in August.

FIT: What brought you into the foreign service?

Amb. Kenney: Actually, sort of peer pressure … when I was at university. The State Department gives a test every year if you want to be a diplomat. So my friends were all taking it and they said, “Well it’s free, why don’t you just sign up?” So, I signed up and I passed the test. And then there’s an oral exam. And I sort of just kept passing and was offered a job. At age 25, I said this might be fun for a year or two. I liked it and never left.

FIT: Do you have any children?

Amb. Kenney: We don’t have any children but I have three cats – Niles is 10, Emily is 9 and Junior is 8.

FIT: What breed are they?

Amb. Kenney: I’m not sure. I found them in an animal shelter in Washington and adopted them. Niles is still quite wary of people and I suspect he must have been badly abused. Emily is very shy. I like to say that she’s sensitive because a photographer called her fat. She was quite thin and hungry when I first got her. They’ve been to Chile and they were in Ecuador with me. They’re all fat now. They’ve gained weight since we moved to the Philippines. My attitude is that’s okay as long as they’re happy. They have a great life. They sleep 18 to 20 hours a day.

FIT: You’ve always seemed like such a friendly person, so natural.

Amb. Kenney: I actually love people. The thing I like best about my job is the chance to meet new people and understand what they do and why they do and what’s different and what’s special. Locking me in an office is the worst thing you can do to me. I learn better by seeing. It helps me get a sense … Why are we doing that? Why do we have this program? Part of my job is to look at what the United States is doing here. Is it good? Does it make sense? Are we adding value here?

FIT: How many people work at the Embassy?

Amb. Kenney: We have 1,500 staff, with 1,000 Filipinos and 500 Americans. What I try to do is, a couple of times a month, I have a lunch with different sections of the Embassy. Sometimes I have lunch with just the Filipino staff; they don’t always like to talk if their supervisors are there. I had lunch with the Motor Pool last week. That was fun. The drivers, they have a lot to say. They’ve been here for years. They have a lot of views. I actually have a great job. I like living here. Filipinos fit my personality so well. Very friendly, very outgoing, very interesting. This is a huge city, there’s somebody who does something of everything. A place where people are easy to talk to. There’s no door closed.

FIT: Well, the U.S. has had a relationship with us for over a hundred years now.

Amb. Kenney: Yes, and you want to be sure you don’t take that for granted. Just because you’ve had a good relationship doesn’t mean you can sort of just say, “Oh well, we don’t need to agree.”

FIT: I think one of the things that has been fantastic is that the relationship has had its ebbs and flows, but the institutions remain. U.S. AID has always been here…

Amb. Kenney: … the Peace Corps has been here forever. In two weeks we swear in the newest group of Peace Corps volunteers. There’s always been good moments and bad moments. I think that’s to be expected.

FIT: Like in any relationship.

Amb. Kenney: Somebody asked me that on TV the other day – there have been issues the Philippines and the United States don’t agree on. And I said, I don’t know about you guys, but even with my husband we don’t always agree.

FIT: Exactly. But you move on.

Amb. Kenney: Yes, exactly. We can agree to disagree. Or this one we don’t see eye to eye. My husband “claims” he doesn’t like cats. We have three.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Good-bye Sister Nieves

My Tita Hermy died last Sunday. She was 85. My Dad has two sisters and both became nuns, Sr. Nieves and Sr. Trinitas, both with the ICM order.

When she was younger, Sr. Nieves had worked a lot in Bontoc and the nuns talked about how a delegation from there was expected to arrive for the funeral tomorrow. When I was much younger, Tita Hermy had been one of the older ladies who taught me Scrabble.

I was able to make it to the wake just tonight, directly from work. Her elder sister, Sr. Trinitas, was seated in an anteroom having dinner. When I went up to greet her, my Dad asked her if she recognized me.

She said, "yes of course," but in her eyes I could tell the mental Rolodex was having trouble connecting my face to a name.

"It's Dennis, Tita Carmeling," I volunteered.

"Of course, of course. Your cravat is very nice, like the colors I see on TV."

I was wearing a fuschia tie, which T had bought for me in Rome. It was so loud that it had elicited undue mirth during our usual somber Mancom meetings earlier.

So now two of my Dad's siblings have passed away this year. Only three of the original seven siblings are alive, two having passed away two years ago.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sojourn in Solana

Weekending in Anilao is beginning to be enjoyable for all the kids, ages 2 to 22 (almost). T and I even found time for the special pursuits of each.

For B, it was a great time to go diving before he heads off to the U.S. again. His short, post-graduation vacation is almost over. He is due in Evanston in early August to take a YPO-Kellogg course called "Preparing for Professional Life" together with about 30 other fresh graduates from all over the YPO world.

He had a mix of dives, ranging from a tough, current dive in Mainit Point, where we got to see some barracuda but also got caught up in Mainit's torrential currents, to a more leisurely outing at Twin Rocks, where we spent close to an hour finding octopus, terrorizing pufferfish, taking pictures of clownfish and nudibranchs, blowing bubble rings and generally just taking it easy.

At Twin Rocks, B also got to try out his videoing skills:

With us in Anilao was B's girlfriend J9, who took the scuba diving course with him and Tyrone. T's Speedo shorty wetsuit was a perfect fit on J9, which turned out great as her Scubapro suit was a bit too thick and unwieldy for her.

Annika got to try out T's octopus regulator after our Twin Rocks dive earlier today. She turns 10 in January and she is suddenly interested to go scuba diving before her birthday, just to beat her brother Tyrone, who went scuba diving in Palau when he was 9 years and 11 months.

Meanwhile, Annika spent a lot of time snorkeling, so I think she will be quite comfortable in the water if we can get her into a class in the next few months.

The last time T and I were here, in February 2006, we were able to visit with Ichay and Raul Bulaong, and took their girls and nephews to Sombrero Island for the day. Unfortunately, they couldn't make it this weekend, but we saw their new sailboat, Marikit, moored just off their house. We will have to try that sometime!

Earlier this year, while T and the kids were away, Tyrone and I spent a weekend in Solana with his cousin Francis. Some of those videos are on YouTube and I did blog that trip earlier as well. It's too bad he is still at CISV in Italy. The news we heard from Sunshine, his Adult Leader, is that he asked a French girl to one of their formal dinners and she said yes. Apparently he is supposed to be the heartthrob of the camp.

As for Athena, she is enjoying salty water more and more. She used to hate the feeling of the sand in her toes, but on this beach visit she was quite happy to sit on the beach and play, as well go dip her head into the water.

There's a great satisfaction, truly, to seeing the kids evolve, each at their own stage and at their own pace. When things are going great, it's much like a perfectly blown bubble ring, rising softly to the surface.

Would that currents never come into their lives to break up their fragile rings...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Cirque du Pasay

R got invited by PAGCOR Chairman Efraim Genuino to the premiere of their show, Wanders, tonight, but his response was that he was unavailable and that I would be going instead. Luckily, T and I had only two other S.E.'s (Annika's term for Social Events) planned for the evening, so squeezing in Wanders was feasible.

The show was sort of PAGCOR's attempt to draw a wider crowd to its Airport Casino, which has a huge amphitheater. I was familiar with the theater because we had been able to use it for a couple of "Araw-Araw Premyo Sa Resibo" shows last year.

Wanders is basically a combination of Chinese acrobats with Pinoy singers and dancers. Tonight's premiere even included a cameo by Martin Nievera, as the President and First Gentleman, plus all the PAGCOR bigwigs were in attendance. Also in the main row were former First Lady Imelda Marcos accompanied by Teyet Pascual and pianist Ingrid Santamaria.

If one has been to Vegas and seen the Cirque du Soleil, then Wanders is clearly not in the same league. That said, Vegas is the center of the casino world, so it's unfair to compare. (Despite Macau's having beaten Vegas in total revenue last year, I still think Vegas is tops in terms of overall entertainment value - for now.)

When looked at purely for its entertainment value, then Wanders can be graded more fairly. PAGCOR has "spared no expense" (to use that well-worn phrase from Jurassic Park) in combining a very energetic Chinese troupe with equally eager Pinoy performers. Filling out the ensemble are six leggy models from Belarus who were more than adequate at their on stage performance - after all, all it involved were knowing just basic dance steps and getting in and out of feathery costumes.

After the show, T and I ran out of time for a swing by the Bastille Day festivities in Spirals at the Sofitel. Instead we headed to Cuisine to wish MVP a happy 61st birthday. It ended up being a full Saturday night, with two out of three S.E.'s completed.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Pork's Park

Just flew in from Davao, where I spent the day touring a huge estate in the foothills of Mt. Apo. The owner started accumulating the 220-hectare Apo property in the '60's, after having started out in the piggery business.

His close friend, Col. Joseph McMicking, who developed Forbes Park in Makati to become the premier residential area in the country today, suggested that he call his piggery Pork's Park, and indeed, it was known by that name for a long time.

This house is the family's "Malayan House," still the center of their day-to-day activities on the estate. It's a unique design, with the roosters on the roof truly giving it a Malay flair.

Now in his 90's, the owner has always been a well known horse aficionado. His first big winner was a horse named Empire Joy, who won on his wedding day. Fifty years later, on the couple's golden wedding anniversary, another of his horses won, coincidentally also named Empire Joy.

These four five-month-old chestnuts come from a stud whose lineage can be traced to A.P. Indy, who won Belmont and was sired by Seattle Slew, the Triple Crown winner, who in turn was sired from perhaps the most famous Triple Crown winner of all, Secretariat. Amazingly, all four share the same white markings on their foreheads, although all come from different mares. Watch out for these four in the local horse-racing news in the months to come.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Weekend in Sofitel

The midpoint of the year is always a time of nice surprises for me. The week before mid-year is our wedding anniversary and July 1st, the beginning of the second half of the year, is my birthday. T always has a little surprise around both events, so I've learned not to have too many plans around these two weekends.

This year the birthday surprise turned out to be a Sofitel weekend. This is a fairly new/old hotel in Manila. The Sofitel chain took over what was the old Westin Philippine Plaza, and put in $12 million worth of refurbishing into the rooms and the main restaurant, Spirals. The result created a "resort" in the city, all without the hassle of having to fly anywhere.

For me, the surprise started with T announcing that I shouldn't make any weekend plans. Somehow you didn't need to be a genius to figure out that something was afoot.

As early as Saturday, June 30th, I was receiving texts from "unusual" sources, like T's classmates. As there were quite a few, I already began to suspect that Saturday night would be a special.

One nice text came from Tita Mary de Leon, who was in Redwood City at the time. She also sent siomai with a signed card, which means she either couriered in the card or had pre-signed all the birthday cards for those birthdays she would miss while she was in the U.S. Either way, it was delightful of her.

MIL sent a couple of shirts, so I texted her back a thank you, to which she replied, "I heard you're spending the night in Sofitel." I just texted back that the rooms were supposed to have been nicely refurbished and I was looking forward to it.

Anyway, after the afternoon's underwater hockey game in the Army Pool, T, B, J9, Annika and I all got ready to head over to the Sofitel for what was supposed to be a private dinner. Once again, the cover was somewhat blown, as Rosan suddenly appeared and "decided" to join us for dinner. Perhaps it wasn't just us after all.

When we got to Spirals, I could see Kiko, Martin and several other nephews peeking out of the door to one of the function rooms, so clearly the jib was up. Inside were Mona and Elena. A surprise was that their respective husbands, my brothers Robin and Dave, were not there having decided to bike in Cagayan or someplace instead. Also around were Tessahay and Emily, Anton and Alexis, and Joey and Rosette.

The Spirals buffet is the mother of all hotel buffets, with amazing entrees including stuff that aren't in most other buffets like fresh oysters or chili con carne or cotton candy. It's so exhaustive that I gained two pounds over the weekend!

The thing about T is that even when the cover is blown, there are still surprises to be had - like an onion that has layers and layers of peel to be exposed. At the end of the dinner, Athena and a gaggle of maids suddenly appeared, to bring us to our room.

Just as we were heading up though, Alex and Tintin appeared, having finally put their own boys to bed. So we hung out at the lobby for a drink with both - nothing too involved as Alex was running a 21k at 5am.

Upstairs in Room 955, I found out that we had a two-bedroom suite: one room for the girls, a middle living room for everyone and a plush bedroom for us, complete with such romantic touches as a glass-walled bathroom. In the bathroom closets was what I might call the core of the onion - yet another surprise: two Zegna suits for me, which T had bought during her trip to Rome for the canonization.

At this point, parts of this blog have been expunged to be able to retain its G rating. Let me just say though, that we did get to see Sharapova in her "swan" outfit winning one of her early matches at Wimbledon.

The next morning, while everyone was still asleep, Athena and I went off to go swimming in the hotel pool. She now stays a full hour in the water before she gets cold. As usual, she loves jumping around and going underwater, totally unafraid. I would've taken her down the water slide but at the last moment, felt that maybe at age two, she should wait another year or so.

My parents and B joined us for a three-hour, Sunday birthday lunch at Spirals. The buffet was even bigger and this time there was free bubbly as well. I can't call it champagne as it was sweet enough to accompany the halo-halo dessert and therefore unlikely to have come from France. Still, a nice enough afternoon aperitif that my Dad had three glasses.

With a full weekend like that, I think the Sofitel should do quite well. There's no beach, of course, but between the pool, the food and the great city views from the room balconies, it's enough of an escape from the city. Perfect for a birthday weekend.

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