Monday, June 25, 2007

The Art of Reproduction

I never considered myself creative but my Korean painting teacher is very encouraging. He told me that i have a gift for "copying" artworks and that i have very skillful hands. I don't know about skillful but i do know that i can copy. That's all i can do given my limited imagination!

Can you tell which ones are mine?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Getting hooked on Pilates

I have been doing Pilates exercises with a private instructor for over a month and now I know why so many people are raving about it! It’s the perfect exercise for somebody like me with bad posture and underdeveloped core muscles.

Pilates is a physical fitness program developed by Mr. Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century. The fitness program is focused on strengthening the “powerhouse” region of the body, which includes muscles in the abdominals, lower back and glutes, to align the spine and keep the body balanced. In addition to building strength and flexibility, the exercises are also aimed at improving body posture and helping alleviate and prevent back pains.

For my first session, the instructor examined my spine, scapula (shoulder blades) and pelvis (hip bones) to check if my body was aligned properly. It turned out that my spine was tilted to the left, my left pelvis was higher than the right one and was slightly turned out, and my shoulder blades were rounded. No wonder I always complained about hip and back pains…

The next step after the assessment was to learn the proper breathing pattern which is very important for keeping your balance and preventing tension while you do the exercises. I was taught to expand my ribcage and back as I inhaled and contract my abdominal muscles as I exhaled, squeezing out all the oxygen from my lungs. It took me 4 sessions before I could breathe properly. Just learning the correct breathing pattern required a lot of mental concentration and control, which is what Pilates is all about.

The first few sessions of Pilates could be a bit discouraging if you’re looking for instant results. Until you get the breathing right, you won’t be able to feel the maximum impact of the exercises. Some exercises may seem simple if you don’t concentrate in isolating the correct muscles and controlling the movements. The key is to focus on your breathing and posture.

But contrary to what most people think, Pilates is not a weight-loss program. In fact, I hardly break a sweat when I do the exercises. Pilates is low impact and is focused on toning your small inner muscles rather than the big muscles. To help keep the fat away, my instructor suggested that I still do cardio or aerobic exercises 3 times a week for 30 minutes (since she knows I love to eat).

I still have a long way to go before I can move to an intermediate level but after a month of practicing Pilates, I feel like my core muscles are stronger and my posture is getting better. Best of all, I don’t feel as much tension in my back as I used to. If only for that I would continue to do Pilates.

If you are interested to try Pilates, I suggest that you start with a one-on-one session with a private instructor first to make sure that you have the proper posture and breathing pattern while doing the exercises. Starting with a group session might discourage you from continuing if you can’t perform certain exercises.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Why I don't wear my wedding ring

Whenever I’m in Manila people would often notice that I don’t wear my wedding ring and they would ask why. It bothers me sometimes that I have to explain why I don’t and why I only wear my engagement ring.

It’s a personal choice. For me, the engagement ring is more symbolic of P’s commitment to be my lifelong partner and wearing it is my way of showing him how much I appreciate his love and dedication. I know that he spent a great deal of time and effort in planning the most memorable proposal and to make sure that he slipped the best diamond ring (he could afford) on my finger when he asked me to marry him. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not about the diamond. It’s about him deliberately thinking of my happiness and providing the best he could afford. Again, it’s not about the money but the gesture. It also signified that all the years of saving and long distance phone calls finally paid off. We were ready to have a family of our own.

Now, I don’t wear my wedding ring because P is not comfortable wearing his. If he doesn’t wear his band then there is no point in wearing mine. Back while we were shopping for our wedding bands, he already expressed apprehension about wearing a ring (or any piece of jewelry for that matter). He said would rather have a tattoo saying he is married than wear jewelry. As a final attempt, we bought a pair of very expensive platinum bands thinking that it would encourage him to wear his ring all the time. He did wear his ring for the first few weeks but eventually it found its permanent spot in our safe. At least he tried. I don’t mind that he doesn’t wear his ring. It’s perfectly fine with me. Not wearing our bands doesn’t mean we love each other less or that we are less committed to each other. In fact, i find it liberating that we don't wear our bands. Somehow, in my mind, it eliminates the expectations and pressures of being married. The same way some couples choose not to tie the knot and just live-in. Don't get me wrong, i have nothing against couples who wear their bands. It's just my personal choice not to.

On a lighter note, I heard these days a lot of single women are more attracted to men with wedding bands. They find married men to be more mature, experienced and financially stable. Plus it’s convenient because they can have a relationship with no strings attached. That said I’m glad P doesn’t wear his wedding band.

How much of the Philippines have you seen?

I recently took the http://forge. codedgraphic. com/lakbayan/ test to check how much of the Philippines I have already seen and visited. My score was a disappointing C! And i thought i was well-travelled! There are still so many provinces and islands that i haven't explored yet (sigh). I realized there is more to the Philippines than Manila, Cebu, Davao, Boracay, Tagaytay and Baguio. My only consolation is that at least i have visited most of the places promoted by the DOT (Dept of Tourism).

Despite my low score, I'm still very grateful to my parents for making a point to show us as much of the country as their time and money could afford. Thanks, mom and pop!

Hopefully, P and I would be able to see much more of the country in the coming years.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Accidental Pork Chops

Being the typical Pinoys that we are, P and I sometimes crave for the classic porkchop with toyo. We have attempted to make it several times but every time we end up with a bitter porkchop because the toyo burns before the meat is cooked inside. But last Wednesday night, just by accident, we were able to make the perfect toyo porkchop! Originally, i was cooking Pork Steak but since it was left too long in low fire, the sauce evaporated and the chops were fried in their own fat. It ended up tasting better than originally intended (at least P thought so).

Here's our recipe for the toyo porkchop...

4 pcs pork chops
juice from 1/4 lemon
soy sauce
1/4 onion cut into rings
water (optional)

Wash the pork chops then season with salt and pepper. In a bowl or deep dish, marinade the chops with lemon juice and soy sauce. Just put enough soy sauce so that the chops are submerged in the liquid (not swimming in it). Leave it in the ref for at least 1 hour before you cook.

In medium heat, saute the onion rings until soft and brown then set aside. In the same pan, put the chops and pour the rest of the lemon-toyo marinade. Let the meat braise in the sauce at low heat. If you find the sauce too salty, you can add water to dilute it. Cook until all the sauce evaporates and the meat sizzles in its own fat. Serve the chops with onion topping.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Simple Pleasures

In the 2006 Worldwide Cost of Living Survey conducted by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Seoul ranked 2nd as the world’s most expensive city next to Moscow. It bumped off Japan to 3rd place followed by Hong Kong at 4th position and London at 5th. The survey covered 144 cities across 6 continents and measured the comparative costs of housing, transportation, food, household goods, clothing and entertainment.

It’s no wonder why more often than not, when I meet a fellow foreigner here in Seoul, our initial conversation would be about how expensive it is to live in Seoul (followed by “so do you like kimchi?” then we move on to complain about the lack of personal space in the subway). In my case, I do find everything very expensive compared to Manila standards. Here, I buy fruits and vegetables only by gram whereas in Manila it’s so cheap that you can buy everything by kilo! But comparison aside, even with a modest budget, one can still have an enjoyable time here in Seoul. With an open-mind and proper walking shoes, you can easily entertain yourself without burning a whole in your pocket.

Here are some of our favorite weekend activities that don’t cost much:

People watching at City Hall park – we just find our spot on the grass and bask in the afternoon sun. Since P is into photography, he takes photos of families and groups of friends who are hanging out and having their own little picnics in the park. It’s a welcome change to see the laid-back side of Koreans, not “pali pali”. Oh, but before you go to the park, make sure you stop by Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks for takeaway snacks and drinks.

Hiking –the most popular weekend activity in Korea. You will find hikers as young as 10 yrs to as old as 75 yrs trekking up the forest-covered mountains around Seoul. But just because you see grandmothers hiking up doesn’t mean it’s easy. Most of the trails are intermediate to advanced levels so you have to be relatively fit to climb. We also found that it's best to go after lunch to avoid the foot traffic going up since the trails can get quite crowded on weekends.

Kite flying in Hanggan Park – along the river park is the best area to fly a kite because you get a lot of wind action. You can buy a kite in any of the stalls along the park for only W5,000.00.

Visiting Palaces – there are 3 different palaces that are walking distance from where we live: Gyeongbokgung, Changgyeonggung and Deoksugung. Entrance fees to the palaces range from W1,000 to W5,000 only.

Browsing books in Kyobo Bookstore – I think only in Korea will you find a bookstore as crowded as SM on a weekend! And they actually go to the bookstore to buy books…not school and office supplies..haha

Walking along Cheonggyecheon stream – a 5.8km man-made stream that flows through downtown Seoul all the way to the Han river. It’s such a convenient respite from the hustle a bustle of the city. To take full advantage of this haven in the middle of the city, take off your shoes and wade your feet in the water just as the Seoulites do.

If there is one thing I've learned whilst living in Korea, it's learning to appreciate the simple pleasures in life. I realized there are a lot of other ways to enjoy the weekend apart from shopping and going to the spa.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Do we deserve to celebrate Philippine Independence?

I received an invitation this week for the Philippines’ Independence Day Ball on June 8 at the Hyatt Hotel. I was surprised that the Philippine Embassy would organize a hotel ball to celebrate Filipino independence when there are 40,000 Filipinos here in Korea. How do they expect to fit everyone in a hotel ballroom? I asked if everyone who goes to church in the Hyewha (where at least 1,000 Filipinos attend service every Sunday) are invited and I learned that the ball is only by invitation…simply translated means it’s only for the elite Pinoys.

How can we celebrate Filipino independence when we ourselves still discriminate our own people? I would think that since we are in foreign land that we would have more respect and appreciation for OFWs who work so hard for their families back home. How can we expect other people to respect Filipino domestic helpers and factory workers when we ourselves do not give them the respect that they deserve? If we can’t treat them as equals then how do we expect other people to treat them as equals?

A Singaporean lady once openly expressed her opinion to me that she feels sorry for Filipino women because they are being exported by the government to work as domestic helpers. While it is sad that we have to send our mothers, daughters, or sisters abroad to work, I believe being a domestic helper or caregiver is a very dignified job. Why do people hire domestic helpers if they were not needed? I don’t have a helper and I do house chores myself, does that make me less of a person?

I think if we want to achieve real independence, we should break away from the “I’m better than you” mentality. We should free ourselves from the bounds of social classes. If we want to progress, then we should be able to respect each and every Filipino, regardless of his net assets (or the lack of it).

If the Filipino ambassador sincerely wanted to celebrate Independence Day then i suggest we do a concert in a gymnasium to bring everyone together. Admittedly all pinoys love to sing and dance, regardless of social class.

5 things i'm grateful for today

I recently came across an interesting article entitled “Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude”. In the article, the writer suggested that we should write down or at least take a mental note of 5 things we are grateful for each day. This will help us appreciate what we have and put us in a positive frame of mind which will eventually lead the way to a life of success. On the same day that I read this article, I saw Oprah featuring the inspiring real life story of Cris Gardner, the character played by Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happiness.

It all made sense to me. Always keeping a positive disposition helps us achieve our goals and in order to maintain a positive mindset, we should be thankful for the blessings that we have at the moment. It’s very easy to take our blessings for granted, specially when we are so busy building our careers and taking care of the family. When we forget about how much we have, we fall into the trap of complaining and feeling sorry for ourselves. Who would want to be stuck in such a rut?

For today, I am grateful for…

1. The no-work holiday! P did not have work today so we spent the afternoon planning and preparing our dinner menu. Call us weird but cooking and preparing our meals is one of our favorite things to do together.
2. My part-time job as an English tutor. Aside from earning money, the tutorial job gives me a sense of purpose and fulfillment. It also gives an opportunity to experience local Korean culture and lifestyle through my students.
3. Free buffet breakfast. I enjoy my favorite meal of the day for free everyday! Who wouldn’t be grateful for that? It’s also my chance to load up on fresh fruits (for free) since fruits are very expensive here in Korea.
4. The new dinner recipe that we tried tonight which turned out to be very yummy!
5. Having my own laptop.

It really feels good to go through this exercise. I already feel like a success! :)

Friday, June 1, 2007

(Un)Fried Chicken

After 8 months of on-the-job training in the kitchen, i can now say with conviction that i can cook! With one exception though, i still can't fry chicken properly. Every time i attempt to fry chicken, it ends up either burnt (oil was too hot) or soggy (oil was not hot enough)...sigh. BUT the good news is, i have found a way to cook crispy chicken without having to fry it! Want to know how? Well, after several attempts at cooking chicken, i discovered that baking chicken in 230c for 35-40mins makes it golden brown and crispy just like fried chicken (only healthier). Here's how to make crispy chicken without frying:

4pcs chicken thigh fillets
1tsp lemon juice/calamansi
1tsp finely chopped garlic
1/4 large onion cut to rings
1tsp olive oil

Rub the chicken fillets with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Then squeeze lemon juice on the chicken pieces. Keep the marinated chicken in the ref for at least 30 minutes before baking.

Pre-heat the oven to 230c. Meanwhile, in medium heat, saute the the onions and garlic until slightly brown. Transfer the cooked onions and garlic to the baking dish and arrange the chicken pieces on top of the onion and garlic mixture. Bake the chicken uncovered for 30 mins (or more) until the skin turns crisp and golden brown.

For maximum gastronomic pleasure, prepare a garlic-soy sauce-vinegar dipping sauce for the crispy chicken. Enjoy!


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