Wednesday, January 11, 2017

SM Woman: Where are the Filipino Models?

I'll get right down to it. Growing up with everyone telling you that you should have lighter skin and more Caucasian features, e.g. high-bridged nose, long limbs, big round eyes, sucks, especially when you're brown, barely five feet tall, and have a tiny nub for a nose. Turn on the TV and all the main characters in teleseryes seem to belong to a different world. Let's go back in time - in the 50s, when Filipino actors looked even more Caucasian, as if they came from Denmark or Germany or Hollywoodland.

As someone who has traveled quite a bit, I have always been extra sensitive to hints of discrimination. Not because I'm paranoid, but only because I know it happens. You go abroad, you turn on your racism detector, and step away ever so slowly when it starts beeping. I am happy to announce that the only time I felt remotely discriminated against was when I was a young teenager in one of the shops in Hong Kong. Well it probably wasn't even a case of racism, but merely a case of an innocent girl encountering a rude person, who tsked-tsked behind me and sighed audibly while I was looking at socks at an Esprit store. I turned to her and saw her roll her eyes. She was probably thinking, "You can't afford socks here." and I so wanted her to be a sales person there and see me buy all the socks I could find, and as I exited the store, I would smirk at her and say, "Big mistake. Huge!" But alas, that Pretty Woman moment was not meant to happen.

Anyway, that was the closest thing to discrimination that I ever experienced, until now. I recently saw this SM Woman ad on Facebook and I noticed that none of the models were Filipina. And I live in the Philippines. Man, the fashion industry here must be so cutthroat if Filipino models need to compete, not only with one another, but also with foreign models who look like Hollywood stars. A model, in my opinion, should represent the people they are modeling for. I didn't realize we, all of a sudden, turned into Brazilians.

Hey, I am all for giving the job to the best person. But the color of your skin should never give you an edge over people of other races or ethnicity. Why do SM Woman models have to be white in a country filled with brown people? Is there a logical explanation to this? I can imagine Ikea catalogues printed in Sweden to have platinum blond couples with platinum blond children washing the dishes in their pristine kitchens. But how do these white models fit in our very Filipino lives? Does a Filipina suddenly become Caucasian when she wears SM clothes?

It is sad to think that in 2017, some people still think there is only one kind of beauty. It is like saying there is only one literary genre worth reading, or only one kind of film worth watching. That if you enjoy drama, you can't enjoy comedy. Or if you love fiction, you cannot possibly enjoy nonfiction. I see a lot of beautiful Filipino women on social media. And I'm not even saying that they should all look morena. There are mestizas and chinitas, too, for they, too are Filipino. But these models are not. And that is sad.

I can't believe I'm going to say this - but it's sad that we have to clamor for diversity to be included. No, I'm not a model. I'm just someone who writes. And I think Filipino models should speak up about these things, without fear of offending their colleagues. It is a legitimate issue, an issue, I believe worth discussing.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Prepaid Visa Purchase Card: An alternative to the killer plastic

My More Fun Prepaid Visa Card with the Miag-ao Church. It truly is more fun in the Philippines!

To swipe or not to swipe? Well, I guess the answer to that question is no unless you're the type of person who's likely to splurge, and by splurge, I mean staying at fancy hotels and shopping till you drop, while overworking those little rectangular plastic thingies in your overpriced Italian leather wallet you have yet to pay for.

My husband and I travel fairly often. Mostly to Japan (because it's so awesome) and Guam (because my nephew lives there and it's also awesome.) One thing my husband taught me is that being in debt is not a financial status you'd like to have. Of course, there are other things worth being in debt for - grown-up things like house loans, car loans, student loans. You get the drift. However, pleasure things, unless it's something extremely important to you, something you cannot imagine living without, are not worth the credit card debt.

The problem comes when having a credit card becomes a necessity, especially for someone like me whose hobby is to check for airline promo fares. (I was able to book tickets to Osaka for just over Php6,000 per pax, roundtrip; tickets to Guam for only Php5,400, tickets to Fukuoka for only Php6,000+.) To be able to avail of these airline promos, one needs a credit card. If you book a hotel room online, you need a credit card. If you want to buy discount tickets to a West End musical and you live in the Philippines, you need a credit card. If you want to purchase the latest Khaled Hosseini stab-you-in-the-heart novel, you need a credit card.

However, people who don't like being in debt have another option - a prepaid card which acts like a credit/debit card like the BPI More Fun Prepaid Visa Card. It's a card that you need to load or top up in order to use it. There is no minimum balance, no loading up charges, and no purchase charges, etc. It's so cool because you can personalize it. Mine, which I got yesterday and which I paid Php 350 for, has a picture of the Miag-ao Church in Iloilo, which I took in March this year.

Loading it is easy. Since I have an existing BPI account, and I have the app on my phone, I can easily transfer money from there. You can also do it via the ATM or over the counter if you don't have a BPI account. I used mine for the first time yesterday to buy something online and it worked instantly. There was no need to activate it. Children as young as 10 can get one, although I wouldn't advise it.

I love the fact that it's a Visa card because there are stores that I frequent that give special discounts to Visa cardholders. By using this prepaid card, I can avail of the discount without having to worry about credit card interests. The card is valid here in the Philippines and abroad and is not limited to Filipino citizens. Foreigners can avail of it as long as they have a valid government-issued ID.

The only thing I don't like about the card is that it doesn't function like an ATM, which I firmly believe it should (and hopefully its future version will have this feature.) If you don't want to renew the card, which expires in 1 1/2 years, the bank can transfer the balance to your account. If you don't have a BPI account, you can ask for a manager's check.

The thing I didn't like about the whole process is that it took BPI 3 days to send me a confirmation. 3 days is too long. A confirmation should be sent instantly. How else will you know if the transaction went through?

To find out more about BPI More Fun Prepaid Card, click here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tokyo in 2 Days

The Tokyo Tower. Picture taken on our last night before heading back to Nagoya.

I cannot and will never ever deny my abhorrence for the term "bucket list." Ever since the movie of the same name came out, people have used the term non-stop, and I must admit that it elicits in me the very same reaction as nails digging into a chalkboard.

However, no other term has ever meant so much to so many people. Perhaps it is because most of us have a list of things to do or see before kicking the proverbial bucket.

I myself would like to go to Africa to see the Big 5, (a dream of my husband's which, over the years, has rubbed off on me.) I would also like to go back to Egypt, this time armed with a digital camera, which, unfortunately did not exist in 1997. I would also like to go to England, my husband's birth country, a place that became so near and dear to my heart the moment I heard Julia Roberts say, "I'm just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her."

Tokyo, on the other hand, was never on my travel list. Tokyo, for many years, topped the list of most expensive cities in the world. For someone with limited budget like me, expensive cities should never be a goal.

On March 19th, the day my mother, my husband, my two friends and I traveled to Tokyo on board the Shinkansen, I was proven wrong. A one-day metro pass costs JPY600 for adults and JPY300 for children. Food costs the same as in Osaka or Nagoya. There are a million things to do that cost little to zero money at all.

We left Nagoya at 6:15 am and arrived in Tokyo just two hours later. Tokyo Station was abuzz with people walking in all directions, scurrying to God-knows-where. We had been staying in Nagoya for a few days, and the ease with which my husband had mastered the Nagoya metro system led us to believe that Tokyo's would be a "no biggie."

We were wrong.

When we got to the Tokyo station, we walked for almost an hour before we could find metro ticket machines. My husband knew how to get from the station to the hotel, but that was it. It wasn't even 9 o'clock yet, and check-in was at 1 PM. The plan was to do some sightseeing first before heading to the hotel, which was a sensible plan especially since we were only spending two days in Tokyo.

The group consensus was to to take the Hop On Hop Off bus, which, logically would be just outside the Tokyo Station. After asking the woman at the Tourist Information Center, we found the Sky Hop Bus ticketing office right across the station. Cost for one Adult ticket is JPY 2,500. A bit steep but necessary when you're pressed for time, and when figuring out the subway system is much like trying to open a Japanese puzzle box.

The Tokyo Skytree on a cloudy day.

We took the Asakusa Tokyo Skytree course which goes from the Marunouchi, to Tokyo Skytree, the Senso-ji Temple, Ueno Park, Akihabara, Sin-Nihombashi, and back to Marunouchi. It was the perfect route for us because it is quite far from the Sunshine City Prince Hotel where we were staying.

Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa.

Woman in a kimono posing next to artificial cherry blossoms.

Lantern that hangs above one of the gates of the Senso-ji Temple.

After three stops, we were ready for lunch. Ironically, our first meal in Tokyo was at a Korean restaurant called Yan-San-Do, on the 8th floor of a building near Ueno Park. I had beef stew (the sinewy kind) with rice, salad, and a sampling of tasty Korean appetizers.

My meal at Yan-San-Do JPY 780 (with free cold tea).

We took a quick stroll at Ueno Park. It was cold and damp, so after a taking a few pictures, we decided to head to our hotel.

Entrance to Ueno Park

Me and my friend's umbrella

Sunshine City Prince Hotel's location is ideal for people who want to find everything in one place. It is technically inside a building which houses a mall, an aquarium, a gallery. It is located in Ikebukuro, the oldest part of Tokyo. The streets are lined with shops and restaurants. The most important thing about Sunshine City Prince Hotel, according to my husband, is that the Pokemon Center is there.

Due to the nature of my job, vacations are sometimes interrupted by work. So while my friends were taking a nap in their tiny budget double room (the same as ours), and my mother probably napping as well, I was busy revising a write up for a fashion website that will launch in September. Thank God for the internet. My husband, at this time was busy perusing the shelves at the Pokemon Center, deciding whether to add this or that to his collection. He returned wide-eyed, itching to go back. I told him I'd go with him. I told my mother we were headed to the mall. She said she'd come.

My husband Pete right outside the Pokemon Center

Pokemon plush toys

While my mother and I were waiting for my husband who was still inside the shop, we heard a group of girls singing at the mall's activity center. Clad in white blazers and blue and white frilly skirts, the girls entertained a crowd of mostly men (if I'm not mistaken, only men) who knew the lyrics and the dance steps to all of their songs. I captured part of their performance on video, but was told that photography wasn't allowed. However, I was not told to delete the video or the pictures. I believe the girl band is called Up Up Girls. However, the schedule posted on says that they performed at the Sunshine City on March 16th. 

Japanese girl band performing at the Sunshine City Fountain Square
Our first day in Tokyo ended a bit early. My friends Emilie and Karen went out to have dinner on their own. My mother opted for a Family Mart meal. Pete and I went for good ol' fashioned American fast food. 

The next day, we checked out of the hotel and walked around Ikebukuro. We waited for BIC Camera to open and when it did, bought three sefie sticks (JPY5,000 each, my most expensive purchase.): one for Emilie, one for my mother, and one for me. Outside the store, we took countless selfies, I felt embarrassed at first, but I had to grab the opportunity. This was our last day in Tokyo. 

Shameless selfie no. 1

Shameless selfie no. 2

Shameless selfie no. 3

From Bic Camera, we headed straight to the Tokyo Station where we would leave our bags. The first set of lockers we found were all full. We managed to find empty ones on our second try, which wasn't so bad. The lockers we found were more high-tech than the others. There were English instructions which made the whole process a lot easier. 

From the Tokyo Station we went to Shibuya to see the famous Shibuya Crossing, to have lunch and to take pictures of Hachiko, the loyal Akita dog who went to the Shibuya station to meet his master, Professor Ueno, every day even after his death. 

Chaotic Shibuya. Thank God it was still a bit early when we got there.

The best ramen I've ever had.

Ramen place where the Japanese patrons come and go, some in under 30 minutes. The Japanese eat fast.

A group-fie!

Mom and Hachiko
My husband suggested we go to Harajuku next, a popular tourist destination known for the sheer number of people who go there. This is perhaps the busiest place I've ever been to. I regretted spending a big chunk of the little time we had there in a queue to go to the restroom. But what could one do? 
Lovely Harajuku girls.

Nice suit.

My patience paid off.
From Harajuku, we headed to the Tokyo Tower, which would be our last stop before heading back to Nagoya. We had spent two days of non-stop walking in Tokyo, and wanted to be rewarded by the sight of the glowing Tokyo Tower against the backdrop that was the darkened sky. 

Unfortunately, the Tokyo Tower was far from the metro stop, so we had to walk I don't know how many blocks to get a glimpse of it. Thank God for my husband's superhuman GPS ability, we found the tower as the sun began to set. 

First glimpse of the tower. Not funny when you're tired and cranky.

One of my favorite pictures.

The glowing Tokyo Tower
After seeing the glowing Tokyo Tower, I was ready to go back to Nagoya. We went back to the station to retrieve our bags and to catch the next Shinkansen to Nagoya. Fortunately, we were able to get seats in the non-reserved car, but for two hours, we had to sit next to strangers. Well, after what I had just experienced in Mega Tokyo, that wasn't really much of a buzz kill.

Friday, April 3, 2015

10 Things to Do in Nagoya

Taken at the Tokugawa Garden

I recently came back from a trip to Japan. The first time I went there was last year. I went with my family and couple of my friends. During that trip, I visited Osaka and Kyoto. I was totally smitten, I must admit, and for this reason, my husband and I booked tickets for him and me and my mom and dad just a month after we got back. Of course we had to wait for Cebu Pacific's Piso Fare (because I refuse to pay more than Php 8,000 for a round trip ticket to Japan.)

My friends Emilie and Karen also decided to come along, and our group grew from four to ten, and then shrank to seven. My dad, unfortunately was not able to come because he died in December. Two other friends backed out because of schedule conflicts.

The trip pushed through. The first group (hubby, mom, and me) left for Nagoya on March 15. We stayed there for 11 glorious days. The other group (Emilie, Karen, Elmer, and LJ) left on March 17 and stayed until the 24th.

Nagoya is such a beautiful city with parks reminiscent of European parks. It is not as busy as Osaka, so if you plan to spend a quiet holiday with friends, then perhaps Nagoya is the better option. The enviable metro system is easy enough to navigate since there aren't as many lines as bigger cities like Tokyo. If you know you'll be taking a lot of train rides (metro rides) then better go for the one-day pass which costs 740 yen. It'll save you time and money.

We stayed at Hotel MyStays Sakae which is about 8 minutes away from the nearest metro stop (including waiting time at traffic lights). The area is considered a popular shopping district because it has quite a few department stores. Our hotel is conveniently located as it is right next to a Family Mart and is surrounded by restaurants. There's a Denny's right across the street, but food at other restaurants are a lot cheaper and IMHO tastier. Besides, you didn't come to Japan for American diner food, right?

Anyway, I'm putting an end to this long intro. I now give you my list (in random order) of things one should do in Nagoya.

1. Browse the second hand Rolex section.

You must be saying, "What did she just say?" but even if you're not into expensive pre-loved watches, it's nice to be able to look at the beautiful items without judgy eyes judging you. Japanese sales people are very polite and they welcome inquiries about the items they're selling without scrutinizing you from head to toe. They're not like sales people in other countries who might not even bother with you if they think you can't afford to cough up a few thousand bucks for a watch.

Also, second hand Rolex watches in Nagoya are quite "affordable" and no, I'm not being snooty. I mean the resale value of some of these watches are so low that a lot of them cost less than half the price of brand new ones. So enjoy looking at the bright, shiny, sparkly things inside the display cases. Who knows? You might end up going home with one.

2. Have a sushi night.

Food is quite affordable in Nagoya. You could have a decent meal for less than 700 yen, and almost the whole time we were there, we ate really affordable food. Breakfast for me was usually a sandwich from Family Mart, my own 3-in-1 coffee, juice (also from Family Mart), and fruit. Lunch would be chicken, rice and soup, and free water or cold tea, or soda. On our last night, my husband and I decided to eat sushi and it was fantastic! Japanese meals are very filling that if you order it, there's really not much room for anything else. So when we had sushi, we didn't order anything else apart from our cold drinks. Besides, a sushi place mainly just serves sushi.

Sushi from Oshidori Sushi

3. Be your own tour guide.

Instead of paying for a professional guide, do your own research and be your own tour guide. There are countless helpful websites that will show and tell you where to go. You can just buy a Me-guru One-Day Pass (850 yen metro and bus combo). The bus stops at all the must-see tourist spots in Nagoya like the Toyota Commemorative Museum, the Nagoya Castle, The Nagoya Tower and many more. It is much cheaper than, let's say Tokyo's One-Day Hop On Hop Off which costs 2,500 yen each.

Nagoya Castle

Me and the first car Toyota built

First truck Toyota built

4. Go crazy at the Pokemon Center

My husband is a huge Pokemon fan and has been to three Pokemon Centers in Japan. Four if you count the old one in Tokyo. I myself don't get it, but apparently there are a lot of Pokemon fans of all ages out there. It's fun to be a kid again, so a trip to the Pokemon Center in Nagoya (or any Japanese city) is truly a treat for the young and young at heart. I even found a special toy that means a great deal to me and two of my best friends. 
Hubby bought me this Cosplay Pokemon. Very Nacho Libre.

Absol is a name that means a lot to a friend of mine :)


5. Spend a few hours at the Port Nagoya Public Aquarium.

If you want half a day of reprieve from all that shopping, head on down to the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium. Don't let the name throw you off. "Public" doesn't mean deplorable. It's a huge aquarium that can rival some of the world's best. Just to sit in front of one of the many aquariums is very relaxing. I also love the fact that bringing your own food is encouraged. There are many tables and chairs for people who have brought their own food. There are restaurants and a cafeteria on the top floors. When at the cafeteria (food court), be sure to order and pay for your food using the machine by the entrance. Ordering is easy enough. Just insert the money, choose the food you want, and get your ticket and change. Before you go back to shopping you can take pictures of the Nagoya Port outside the aquarium. Also, you can buy shrimp products from the Nagoya Shrimp Factory on your way back to the metro station. 

My hubby needs some lovin'

Love this pic!

Penguins are the coolest!

Found this mailbox just outside the Aquarium. 

6. Visit Don Quijote.

Ever heard of a shop that has everything? Well Don Quijote has EVERYTHING. From gym equipment to Halloween costumes, from electronics to designer handbags, from cosmetics to laundry detergent, and the list goes on and on. Even if you're not big on shopping, you have to visit this place if only to take pictures. I'm telling you, you'll go over those photos again and again. Here are some crazy pictures I took of my husband there.

The name on the box

Knock off Mario

Pete the fishhead

Channeling Goku

 7. Eat strawberries.

Unless you're allergic to them or simply can't stand the sight, smell, and taste of strawberries, or they're not in season, do yourself a favor and try Japanese strawberries. I've been to Japan twice and both times I made sure I bought strawberries at least once. They are sweet and succulent and perfect! When you're back in your hotel room, and your stomach starts to growl you'll be glad you bought strawberries. Hmmm. I can still taste them!




8. Go to Toki Premium Outlets.

Although not technically in Nagoya, Toki Premium Outlets is very accessible from Nagoya. Just take the JR Chuo Line to Tajimi. From there take the bus which is just outside the train station usually parked on bay number 2 not far from Family Mart. Train fare costs 670 yen, while the bus fare is 440 yen.

We went to the outlet on a Saturday which isn't the best day to go. Weekends are very busy. The big anniversary sale didn't help either. But we managed to buy a lot of goods for our business so everything turned out for the best. Mom, hubby, and I left the outlet early, though, so we could catch the 6:30 PM Mass at the Nagoya Cathedral.

Outlet Day! Woohoo!

Toki Premium Outlet

Bus Schedule

9. Go to Osu for bargain hunting.

If you love beautiful stuff but are not willing to pay full price, head on down to Osu. There are quite a few second hand shops that sell pre-loved items in various conditions. You can find second hand designer watches, bags, scarves, jewelry, etc. for a steal. Komehyo is a good place to start, but there are other smaller shops that offer great deals as well. Being on vacation doesn't mean you have to break the bank. Before going on a trip, set a budget for yourself. Decided which items are must-buys and which items you can live without. Buy yourself that scarf you've had your eye on, but only if the budget permits. Make sure you visit Osu first before buying anything from a department store. The Osu Kanon Temple is another reason to visit Osu. Watch people feed the myriad pigeons on the temple grounds. Marvel at how they all take flight at the same time. Make sure you watch your head, though, for the pigeons tend to fly low at times.

Got there too early. Some of the shops don't open until 11:30 am.

Lovely mural 

Marker inside Osu Kanon grounds

Osu Kanon Temple

10. Explore Nagoya at night.

Nagoya is one of those cities which are beautiful in the daytime and at night. Don't forget your camera for the lights on the buildings and on the Nagoya Tower are simply mesmerizing. The cool breeze also means you and your loved can get a little closer while walking hand in hand. Perhaps you'll find a cozy cafe where you can enjoy a night cap, or perhaps a great sushi place where you can warm yourself up with a glass of warm sake.

Nagoya is one of those beautiful places in which one never runs out of things to do. I hope to be back there before the year ends. Hopefully with my nephew Yeshua this time. He's a Pokemon fan, too, like his uncle. :-)

Park at night

Don Quijote Building

Sunshine Sakae

The Nagoya Tower