Viewing: Manila

Manila shopping: The new & improved Bleach

I may have been adventurous with dining out on my recent trip home, but when it comes to shopping I’m completely a creature of habit. I have a roster of favorite shops in Manila that I hit for what I’ve come to think of as a kind of annual restocking.

My shopping list might not all be the stuff of Pinterest-worthy blog posts (plastic file folders and Japan-made pens at National Bookstore, for example), but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the store that’s consistently at the top of my list got a major makeover. I’m talking about Bleach, formerly known as Bleach Catastrophe.

Bleach Greenbelt new look

In the six years I’ve lived away from home, my yearly trips home are never complete without a few new goodies from this store. Some of my favorite shirts of Marlon’s are from here, and I wore Bleach all throughout my pregnancy (which says a lot about their roomy yet flattering cuts).

Bleach Greenbelt menswear

Alongside the launch of an updated look for her store, Bleach owner Tinay Villamiel also expanded into home and interior items with a pared-down, modern sensibility.

Bleach Greenbelt new interior

I love that these are designed and made in the Philippines, using natural materials (linen, canvas and cotton), but offer a younger, hipper alternative to the usual Asian-Filipiniana fare.

Bleach Greenbelt new home items

Bleach Greenbelt banquet placemat

Bleach Greenbelt eggs and bacon tote

Maybe I’ve just gotten used to seeing a lot of gray, but after the sensory overload that is Manila, Bleach was a welcome visual break with its subtle palette. It’s refreshing to see something a little bit different, like these French- and Scandinavian-inspired details tucked into Bleach’s clothing, homeware and interiors. We all crave a little something that will transport us elsewhere, which also explains the proliferation of Buddha heads in homes across Europe.

Bleach Greenbelt merci dress

Bleach Greenbelt oui pillow

Bleach Greenbelt French inspired details

I like the new home items, but I do miss the wider clothing selection of the old store. I’ve always loved Bleach’s comfy basics with a twist—although every time I visit the store, there always happens to be some kind of pearl-earring-and-Lacoste-wearing preppy girl who’s walking out looking like she doesn’t get it. Haha.

Naturally I couldn’t leave without picking up a couple of things for myself: this cozy charcoal gray graphic sweatshirt…

Bleach Greenbelt gray sweatshirt

and this little black dress with an asymmetrical hemline for just Php 495, or €7. Ridiculously affordable, even if you’re not converting to Euros!

Bleach Greenbelt little black dress

Looks like this LBD will have to stay hidden for a few more months before it makes a debut. Can it be spring now, please?

Ten months!

Tala is 10 months old! She looks as surprised as I feel. Is she really just two months shy of a year old?

Tala 10 Months

Lots of new things this month: some good (her first four teeth popping out on Christmas Day) and not-so-good (high-pitched shrieking, getting used to feeding her three solid meals a day).

The best thing about the last month is that she spent most of it back home, in the Philippines. She may not remember her first visit home, but I always will.

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What I learned about flying long haul with a baby

It’s no secret that I was dreading our first long-haul flight with Tala. Flying 13 hours from Amsterdam to Taipei, a two-hour layover, then another hour and 45 minutes to Manila with a 9 month-old baby, was a scary prospect.

I spent more time than I should have Googling tips for flying long-haul with a baby, packing and repacking our handcarry, and worrying myself into a state of suppressed anxiety.

But, like the first poopy diaper and the first vaccination, the first long-haul flight was way worse in my mind than in reality. Tala did great. We survived. I even managed to get six hours of sleep—that’s a full night in my book! And we felt like pros on the flight back home to Amsterdam.

Here are a few things I learned from the experience.

Long-haul flight on KLM with 9 month old baby

Fly direct and book bulkhead seats. Whenever possible, book a direct flight. Unfortunately, that’s not an option for us as KLM ceased direct flights between Manila and Amsterdam in early 2013. The next best thing: choose a flight with the shortest stopover.

Bulkhead (a.k.a. Economy Comfort) seats are highly sought-after by parents with babies and small kids, so book them way in advance. Even if baby no longer fits into the bassinet, you can use the extra legroom as a play/crawl space. Trust me, shelling out extra for those seats is worth it.

When possible, aim for takeoff 1-2 hours before bedtime. “Oh, your flight takes off at 8pm? You’ll be fine!” I heard that a lot. In reality, it’s a little more complicated than that.

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Maternity style: Tropical edition

By the time I flew home for the holidays, I was tired of piling on ten million layers before going out. So I was looking forward to wearing my “real” clothes (which is how I think of my summer clothes) and feeling like myself again for three weeks.

What I loved about dressing for pregnancy in the tropics:

  • Getting to wear sandals. Pretty toes, yay.
  • Packing only two pairs of shoes, because staying with my mom and sister means a bottomless shoe and accessory closet—and a trip to Landmark means shopping for cheap flats!
  • Putting away my thick, woolly maternity tights and seeing my legs again

What I didn’t love:

  • THE HEAT. OMG. Being pregnant, your body temperature is already higher because of increased blood circulation and being plunged into tropical heat does not help. At all. On my last few nights, I couldn’t sleep unless I had both the aircon (set to 21 degrees) and the electric fan on. December showed no mercy to this pregnant mama.
  • Bloating and expanding because of said heat. I didn’t go up a shoe size, thank goodness, but I gained FIVE POUNDS of water—which I lost the day I returned to wintry Amsterdam.
  • Humidity-triggered frizzies. Good thing there’s The Twist!
  • Sweating your way to that dewy (read: oily), no-makeup look. I found myself quite startled to see how much makeup women pile on in Manila (some women really need to lay off the foundation!) until I remembered that it melts off in minutes.
  • Being forcibly reminded of how everyone dresses in the same preppy/simple girl uniform. I lost count of the number of neat ponytails, Longchamp Le Pliage bags and round pearl earrings I saw in my two weeks back home!

All that aside, what I loved most about dressing for the heat was getting to dig out some of my favorite outfits from storage—like the printed vintage shirtdress I hadn’t seen since August…


and being able to wear my normal, non-maternity clothes… even in my third trimester.

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Sofitel staycation

Disaster struck when I returned to Amsterdam from Manila: my entire hard drive crashed. I last backed up right after learning I was pregnant, which means all my digital keepsakes from my entire pregnancy—ultrasounds, weekly belly photos, videos—except for what’s on this blog, are gone. I don’t want to think too much about it, it hurts my heart.

Thank heavens for small blessings. While trying to piece together what little I had left, I discovered the pictures from our fifth wedding anniversary still in my SD card. Marlon and I like to celebrate anniversaries at the beach, but I couldn’t bear another flight on top of two long-haul ones between Manila and Amsterdam. So this year, we opted for a weekend staycation at the Sofitel Manila, which we’ve never been to and had an appealing resort-in-the-city feel.

I’m so glad I still have pictures to remember this wonderful weekend: breakfast in bed, with a side of something special

Sofitel anniversary breakfast in bed

which turned into lazy afternoons (we had two!) by Sofitel’s gorgeous pool, lined with tall coconut trees and directly facing Manila Bay.Sofitel Manila pool

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Quiet time in the city

Too many years of pre-Christmas chaos led me to expect that Manila would be crazy, jam-packed and debilitated by traffic. But I was pleasantly surprised. It seems we arrived home at just the right time, or maybe everyone did their shopping early this year. Maybe it was because Christmas was on a Tuesday, giving everyone a much-needed weekend to get things done.

Whatever the reason, I found the Makati commercial/business district surprisingly quiet on the Sunday before Christmas. And that was actually nice.

After living in a city where very few buildings are over 4 stories, Makati’s towering, densely packed skyscrapers are almost a strange sight. I’m not used to them anymore.

Neither am I used to such insistent brightness, or spending so much time in malls…

… or being confronted with such urban density. For example, Makati’s population of approximately 530,000 (about 2/3 of Amsterdam’s population) is squeezed into a city roughly 10% the size of Amsterdam. This is why people who whine about how crowded Amsterdam is always get a blank look from me.

But hey, I’m not complaining. I’m not used to swimming outdoors at 6pm on a December evening, either. But it doesn’t mean I didn’t relish it.

And when the city rolled out its one of its famous sunsets, this slice of quiet time became even more precious. This, I miss.

Did you manage to find a pocket of quiet time this holiday season? It feels wonderful, doesn’t it?

Filipino favorites at Sentro 1771

When Marlon and I first started dating, we were 22 year-olds whose typical date was a movie and dinner at Greenbelt 3, then newly renovated and thus the trendy place to be. One of our dinner favorites was Sentro 1771, which we revisited last week after catching The Hobbit at Greenbelt.

*love* Sentro. I can’t believe it’s now going on 10 years old!

After almost two years of living in Amsterdam, it now strikes me as a bit strange to find an excellent restaurant in a mall. You’d be hard-pressed to find a mall in Europe, much less a decent restaurant inside one; it seems the rule of thumb is, the further away from a commercial establishment, the better the chance of a good meal. But Pinoy culture is different: the mall is the place to be. Thus some of the best, most loved restaurants are in malls.

Like Sentro. I’m pleased to find that the food—classic Filipino favorites with a modern twist—is still as good as it was when it first opened 10 years ago. That deserves major props!

I think it’s hard to make Filipino food (which is generally brown and messy) look pretty, but Sentro did a great job with these Smoked Fish Spring Rolls, a nice spin on the usual fresh rice paper spring roll.

Our favorite dish, Corned Beef Sinigang (beef short ribs in tamarind broth), is still as good as ever. And they still bring a small tasting cup of broth to your table, so you can adjust the sourness and spice to your preference. I’ve always thought it’s a great way to bring the feel of a home-cooked meal to a restaurant setting—after all, everyone makes their sinigang (and similar traditional dishes) just a little bit differently from everyone else.

Sentro’s coffee pie is one of my all-time favorite desserts, and a real must-have. This tiny slice combines a rich, dense coffee mousse with a moist but crunchy chocolate-cashew crust.

Sentro is really generous with the brewed coffee! Marlon couldn’t finish his mug (and what a lovely mug it is, too). I love that coffee is served with muscovado sugar.

For a restaurant that’s been around for 10 years, Sentro is doing spectacularly. It still has that modern Filipino look (love these lamps and all the warm wood), and more importantly, food that’s consistently delicious. So glad I got to revisit this Filipino fave!

My Ateneo Christmas

How was your Christmas? I hope it was filled with lots of good food and great presents! (And not so many nosy relatives.) I enjoyed a nice, low-key Christmas with my family at my sister’s house in Laguna, with our usual holiday traditions: carving up the Majestic ham with the wrong knife, fruits and queso de bola at the Noche Buena table, and guessing what each present is before opening it (something my mom is really good at).

Aside from these holiday rituals, there’s one Christmas tradition I truly treasure… but it’s not one that I share with my family. And that’s celebrating Christmas at my university, the Ateneo de Manila.

For me, Christmas isn’t complete until I do what I’ve been doing for nearly 10 years, which is sing at the last Simbang Gabi mass before Christmas, on the evening of December 23rd. As part of the Ateneo Chamber Singers (which always sings at the same mass every year), I did this all the way until I moved to Singapore. Even when I wasn’t in the choir anymore, I’d still fly home, make the trip to the university, and sing at mass with my friends.

My Ateneo Christmas always makes me feel that I’ve come home. In fact, my Ateneo Christmas has a home: the university church, the Church of the Gesu. I think it’s one of the most beautiful Catholic churches in Manila, but I may be biased.

It’s illuminated by garlands upon garlands of Christmas lights, strung from the massive trees lining Bellarmine Field in front of the church.

It’s warmed (and fed!) by freshly cooked bibingka—rice cakes with hot butter, salted egg and grated coconut, for my non-Pinoy friends—and light, crisp churros con chocolate.

It’s made beautiful by the gentle faces of the Nativity by the altar, and by the decorations hanging from the highest point of the Gesu’s peaked ceiling. They’re different every year, but they’re almost always in the school colors of blue and white.

And my Ateneo Christmas is filled with music—with songs that I’ve known by heart for years, sung by the beautiful voices of people I love and miss. Their voices really are beautiful, and this time I’m not biased!

It always makes me a bit sad to just be a member of the audience—instead of singing with them for the mini-concert before the mass—and realize that there are songs I don’t know anymore. But I’m just too happy to be surrounded by this music, to really dwell on what I’m missing. And when I do get to add my voice to theirs for the mass, it’s the happiest feeling. It’s Christmas, and I’m home!

Old Manila notebooks by 23060

I seem to be in the mood for architectural drawings these days. After sending out my canal house Christmas cards, I rewarded myself by placing an order for these illustrated kraft paper notebooks by Kath Mitra of 23060.

I first saw them on Daphne’s blog and was immediately drawn to the line drawings of old Manila churches—I just love old buildings. I eventually found my way to Kath’s Facebook page and ordered a set of three notebooks (Php 559, or €10) to add to my little stationery collection. They will be sent to my mom’s house while I’m in Manila for the holidays, so yay!

An architect by profession, Kath draws buildings for a living and for fun. Fascinated by stories her history professors would tell about old Manila, Kath set out to create notebooks and products that bring Manila’s faded architectural treasures to life. She has a series of notebooks featuring Manila’s Art Deco cinemas such as the Metropolitan and Capitol Theaters, and is working on designs for mugs, cushions, coasters and more.

“I make notebooks so people will know about these buildings, and appreciate the fact that these beautiful structures are not found in Paris, Tokyo or wherever, but in the Philippines,” says Kath. “It makes me happy whenever people recognize the buildings printed on the things I sell. I get a sense of fulfilment whenever the architect behind the buildings I use is acknowledged or remembered. I guess I’m sentimental like that.”

With just a few days to go until I fly home for the holidays, Manila is very much on my mind. I know the heat will probably be torturous, but there’s nothing like Christmas in Manila. I can’t wait to be home!