Showing posts from 2014

Our stories reframed

“Real conversation with someone means looking into their eyes. When we spend time talking, we see parts of ourselves through the other person; and no matter the differences, we see that we all have something in common,” said Jose Edsel Diego and Biel Sabas, creators of Perceive.

The artwork presents two faces — one dismantled and one in its complete form with eyes made of mirrors — signifying the person underneath the face, the person whom we share the same stories with.

It is one of the art installations that constellate “Reframed,” the latest edition of College of Saint Benilde (CSB) Multimedia Arts Festival (MMAF), held last November 28 – 30 at Green Sun, Makati City.

The annual event is part of the CSB-MMA curriculum and this year, the young artists were asked to bare themselves in their creations. The result is an unapologetically personal portfolio. Walking around the exhibit hall is like walking into a big confessional. Yet instead of shock, contempt, or pity, you feel empathy …


What follows may undermine the pain of loss, of panghihinayang I suffered after seeing termites devour the spines and edges of my treasured books.

I say treasured, but in truth I didn't treat them as such. Those books were gone even before the pests reached them because (it hurts to say this) I abandoned poetry.

Lost Alice Fulton, Lucie Brock-Broido, Elizabeth Bishop, Luise Gluck, and Edna St Vincent Millay to termites. My fault or the world's?
— Razel Estrella (@fishpeep) November 30, 2014
Two days later, when I accepted that some things are filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster, this happened:

Knowing very well that trolls, bots, and fake identities are everywhere online, I double-checked if it was indeed Alice Fulton. My research showed it was her. So I followed, and in the same day:


Dammit I misspelled Louise. Apologies.


It's easier to get into my pants than inside my mind.

Bag brag

Excuse me but I just had another fashion breakthrough.

So usually the case is, at least for me I think, you watch runway shows then covet what's being modelled.

Tonight, I saw the Hedgren Eveline tote I bought last August launched in the Hegren Style Fair. They even showcased the same print!


For what am I?

People do not love us for simply being us. As even ourselves have a flimsy vision of who we truly are.

We fall in love with potential, and that's okay, even recommended.

Because if not for self-improvement, what other use do we have for love?


Seize the moment, live to the point of tears, YOLO. And when it is time to let go, let go.

Because nothing lasts. Material things, particularly gadgets, teach me, remind me this.

Recently, my Nokia almost died and I resuscitated it with a hard reset. Meaning I lost all data: contacts, messages, notes, et cetera. I had no backup, since the Nokia suite is not available on Mac—well I researched and there are ways to back up but it was too much of a hassle.

The loss wasn't a big deal. There is only one phone number important to me. Information I need to survive are saved in my brain.

I love my MacBook, I love Blogger. In my wildest fears, my laptop simply refuses to boot and all my blog posts are wiped out. I am both ready and not ready for that.

Kids say

the darndest, most honest things.

First, he called one of my colleagues, "Taba!"

Then he asked, "Saan daddy niya?" referring to the pig in Angry Birds (which he was playing on my cell phone).

Finally, when he remarked, "Ang galing ko!" for cruising through a level in Angry Birds, I retorted, "Tsamba".

"Ano yung 'tsamba'?" he said in response, in all sincerity, with full attention and anticipation with the knowledge I was about to impart. Unfortunately, embarrassingly, I was lost for words.

Guys, how do you explain "tsamba"?

A few good things

Things have been happening at the same time in the past couple of months, thus excitement, anxiety, and photos overload.

1. Home.I shared about it last May and now I can slowly move in. As I've already said to a few friends, my invitation goes, Visit me and I'll serve you pressed coffee, ube hopia, and play piano for you.

2. Driving. I've put this off for years and if all goes well, I'll get my license next week. Wish me luck! And because the universe ceaselessly teaches, I came across this poster on a Starbucks bulletin board:

3. Work's kinda fun and I kinda look good doing it. One of the perks of my job is I don't need to take a selfie, I come with a photographer. Heh. Kidding aside, it's a challenge to be healthy and graceful when the office and everything associated with it (traffic, yes?) stress you out. You have to beat it and show your problems who's boss.

To think, to care

David Foster Wallace's commencement speech addressed to Kenyon College 2005 graduates is the most profound and practical. And frankly the most important:

1) It zeroes in on what education is for: the system to develop critical thinking.
As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotised by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about &quo…


'Absolute attention is prayer.'
Over lunch I was reading Alan Bradley's 'A red herring without mustard' and the main character, Flavia, said something similar:
Thinking and prayer are much the same thing… Prayer goes up and thought comes down—or so it seems. As far as I can tell, that’s the only difference.My own thoughts switched between the food, the book, and the window. It was a nice meal of chicken roulade I was having while outside the skies were drab for two o’clock. It didn't take long before rain fell.

Back to the book, now dessert. A few bites and pages after, my head turned again to the window. The rain stopped, but I squinted at the grounds, checking for traces of water.

There appeared to be none and before I could even spot a mirage, my view gradually shone yellow.

It was the first time nature made me smile the way a human being does—slowly, unexpectedly.

It was the first time I caught myself smiling.

Update (September 2, 2014):

I came across Phillip…

Yellow and blue

Feeling like a failure for, at 31, am already taking pain relievers.

Took the day off to drop by the hospital and have my back checked. Because of bad habits, I over-stressed my muscles, which resulted into nasty spasms the last couple of days.

Spent the rest of the afternoon at a nearby cafe, reading. Literature, after all, is my preferred drug. Coincidentally, the colors of the cup and saucer matched the colors of my jacket matched the colors of my mood.

Glenda's visit

Many might begin their story the way I will: Glenda woke me up with her winds. But perhaps only I would continue it this way.


While nervous curiosity and fright were felt, I knew I was safe from where I was, at home—or as a friend joked, in my fortress.

And I returned to the safety of sleep.

When I woke again, it was past noon. The rain was no more and so was Glenda's singing. Taking their place was sadness.

For in my world and for who I am, this typhoon was a brief respite from normalcy.


When I was in grade school, already slothful at a young age, I was too anxious of homework, projects, recitations, and imagined death as a way out. ‘What if I died? Then I’d be free from all this (I didn’t have a name for it then, but the word that best signifies the signified is) responsibility.’ But at that age I already understood as well that reality is disappointing and even death would not come to save the day.

So I would be smiling a sweet, happy smile when, very early in the morning, …

Silent story-keepers

It's one thing to feel lucky for being able to do what you love (say, write) for a living and quite another to do it on your own terms (say, write about what you actually love the way you want to).

Browsing through my photo albums, I came across the beautiful images of Manila American Cemetary and Memorial. I was assigned to do a story on it for Rektikano Magazine and, to date, it's been one of my favorite published works. Below is the original/unedited draft.


Silent story-keepers
Appreciating the bitter-sweet beauty of the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial with John Silva
We may need to have made an indelible mark on our lives, to have married the wrong person, pursued an unfulfilling career into middle age or lost a loved one before architecture can begin to have any perceptible impact on us, for when we speak of being ‘moved’ by a building, we allude to a bitter-sweet feeling of contrast between the noble qualities written into a structure and the sadder wider reality w…

Dressing problems

Wednesday 11am, managed to drag myself out of bed, showered brushed teeth put on whatever clothes. A glance at the mirror—out of habit—didn't like what I saw, changed outfits three or four times.

Walang gana, we say in Tagalog. That's how I felt. Despite this lack of enthusiasm or better yet a mental readiness to face the day, I couldn't go out looking pangit.

And that was something to be happy about. That I still cared. That I haven't accepted defeat and instead 'dressed up, fought, [made] amends'.


On a related note, I came across this article about Elizabeth Hawes today. I haven't heard of her and, as the author remarked, neither have you. The piece, however, served as a good introduction to the American fashion designer. Let me end this blog with Hawes' words so you can begin reading her:
If you’ve solved your dressing problems satisfactorily for yourself, you are bound to attract the people you want to attract and for the reasons you want to attrac…

A lonely office

Sadness is saddest when quiet. When you find it inside a cold house, when love has learned late how to express itself.
Those winter Sundays
Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices? To me and a couple of friends, the above is our go-to Father's Day poem. Regardless of season and kind of relationship, though, the poem speaks of the unglamorous, everyday—even administrative—nature of love.

As pointed out in this essay (about knowing when one is ready to marry), 'love' has two varietie…


Colors of the Wind didn't hold my attention during the time Pocahontas became popular. Last Thursday, though, I was at an event with a musicals theme and the song was performed. Then it hit me: Paint with all the colors of the wind is such a beautiful line.

Well, the proper thing to do afterwards is search for it on the net—music and lyrics—listen a hundred times then sing along.

So I discovered more stunning lines. Sing with all the voices of the mountain... Roll in all the riches all around you / and, for once, never wonder what they're worth... You'll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon / for whether we are white- or copper-skinned...

More surprise. Further research taught me that Stephen Schwartz was the one who wrote it. But I saved the best for last. Below is my favorite part of the song, where 'colors of the wind' is placed in context and turned into poetry:
You can own the Earth and still
All you'll own is earth until
You can paint with all the…


Nothing ignites the imagination than awareness of limits.

In this specific case, limits mean floor area and cash.

Nothing energizes the spirit than building and building beautifully.

Let's see how this'll turn out.

Maybe by September I have more colorful photos to share.

Maybe by December I'll invite you for a pre- or post-holiday dinner.

At once open and intimate

In three years of working as a features writer (for a broadsheet and a few magazines), the Diageo Reserve World Class Bar Crawl on May 12 (yes, on a Monday!) is by far the most enjoyable event I have ever had the privilege of being invited to.

It's one of those rare instances wherein I can actually say I feel like I'm not working.

A brief background for the uninitiated: Diageo Reserve World Class is an international cocktail education program and bartending competition. Last year the Philippines made its debut in the event with bartenders from five bars joining. This year, bartenders from eleven different bars participated. Reserve Luxury Manager for Diageo Philippines Marie Ona attributes the jump in number to the mushrooming of bars that 2013 saw.

In celebration of this blossoming cocktail scene in Metro Manila—and I guess as an occasion for the four Filipino bartenders who qualified for the regional finals in Singapore to warm up and keep their spirits high—Diageo Reserve or…

In the mail today

You have to give your friends credit for being sensitive, perceptive, and downright loving. The book is second-hand and several passages have been underlined:
But that is the whole point of a European cafe: to linger excessively and utterly without guilt.

People are least happy when they're commuting to work.

"Not my problem" is not a philosophy. It's a mental illness.

In other words, better to be a small fish in a clean pond than a big fish in a polluted lake.

Commuting, in particular, has been found to be detrimental to our happiness, as well as our physical health.

From feeling to power

After quite a while I find myself a proper weekend—48 hours all to myself. April has been generous with exciting projects and charming men (heck I met Jojo Lastimosa and R2 Tolentino), as well as sweet gifts. The days were long and oh so good. Tiring, yes, but how can you stop when the world is in a kind mood.

May, only two steps into the calendar, seems determined to take on the role of being cruel. Whatever euphoria I experienced the previous month was instantly snatched. I was hurled back to the sad fact, that these instances of happiness are simply that: instances, now memories. All this aggravated by the heat (we're under a 29-degree weather as of this moment).

I spent half of Saturday afternoon composing a letter to someone that angered me the previous day. Before sleep and as soon as I woke up, my mind was filled with this fresh frustration and I couldn't just let is pass. But neither could I make a phone call and confront this person, no. I would simply destroy their r…

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

This is always asked in job interviews. After a decade of being an employee, it's only now that I can confidently talk about my weaknesses.

I think slow.I need hours, sometimes days to process an event.I abhor multi-tasking.I am easily distracted.I need to be alone about 90% of the time.I need to be outside 50% of the time.Routine makes me lethargic.When I see no greater purpose in a task or project and the people around me have neither passion nor vision, I get discouraged and work with a heavy heart. As for my strengths, I'm sure some of my weaknesses are welcome values to many enterprises—but I haven't really reflected much about it yet (see first two items on the list). Next time.

Doors opening and closing

This witticism made its way through my timeline a couple of days ago:

When one door closes, another opens. Also, you can open the closed door. That’s how doors work. How do you know so little about doors?
— Bill Murray (@BiIIMurray) April 9, 2014
Then thanks to Spotify, which only became available in the Philippines last Tuesday, I discovered Sue Ellen's version of Pet Shop Boy's 'Being Boring'—what I swear to be my 30s anthem.

Along with it is the re-discovery of the lyrics:

I came across a cache of old photos
And invitations to teenage parties.
'Dress in white', one said with quotations
From someone's wife, a famous writer
In the nineteen-twenties.
When you're young you find inspiration
In anyone who's ever gone
And opened up a closing door.

She said, 'We were never feeling bored...'
When I went I left from the station
With a haversack and some trepidation.
Someone said, 'If you're not careful
You'll have nothing left and no…

Twitter, Blogger, etc

For whatever it has become to different people, I think the magic and essence of Twitter are in its 140-character limit and thoughtfulness in unburdening the user of that automatic connection with people whose thoughts and whereabouts they don't necessarily care for.

Meanwhile, celebrities—and the rest of the deeply status-conscious—value it as a free tool for measuring influence.

The little bird turns 8 and looks back at the very beginning:

Thanks to all of you who have come along in our first 8 years. Take a look at where we—and you—started.
— Twitter (@twitter) March 20, 2014
My not-first #FirstTweet:

There you go! I've deleted all my twitter updates! Ha. Ha-ha-ha-hu-hu. *developing technofear* (or more of twitterfear)
— Razel Estrella (@fishpeep) June 17, 2009
So I can't really remember my actual first tweet, but the above is proof that I, like everybody else, didn't know what to do with the new platform—but eventually did. A coup…

Meanwhile, I made a wish


Live to dine

First an apology: The reason that I went to Blue Bay Walk was Hot Star, but unfortunately, my camera-phone acted up and all the photos I took of the joint weren't saved. So I must convince you by words: Hot Star chicken is delicious.

Since the development is new, I decided to roam around. My openness for discovery led me to try these two cafes. Why I chose them? Because I like what they serve and their facade, appealing.

1. Chef J Tesoro Mini Pies and Tarts
This is me, my scene. Intimate, clean, warm lights, fancy but nothing too extravagant, with a few surprises.

2. Angel N Kiss Bakery
Again, me. Coffee and bread and pastry. What's not so me is the super upbeat mood. By the way, on TV is someone performing 'Let it Go' in a Korean variety show (thought that's nice to share).

I'm very happy about this visit. A friend once said that we have lots of restaurants in Manila, but how many of them satisfy? Those mentioned here exceeded my expectations. I also appreciat…

More thoughts on death

More, because it occupies my mind every day. And the recent news on the matter has brought me to these:

1. Really unfortunate when you die on the same day a celebrity dies. If you're a celebrity—when you die on the same day someone with greater fame than you dies.

2. I won't be caught dead wearing that. But we wear, do, and say things we don't like in unguarded moments. An immediate trace of our human frailty, something that we, because of our certainty in living another day or maybe year to fight, consider amending in the future. Look at your last status update, what would be your sort of 'last words'?

I'd cut the last four lines. Or edit the last two.— Razel Estrella (@fishpeep) February 6, 2014
3. The initial responses are, He died too soon. Too sudden. Why him? The mistake is trusting there is a system and a logic to figuring the proper time of departure. Somehow the same can be said of a happier event—I can't believe my luck!


Today I attended the 6th National Architecture Symposium organised by the UST Architecture Network (ARCHINET). This year's theme is 'Emerging Visions: Shifting Perspectives in Architectural Evolution' and lecturers include Inge Goudsmit of OMA Asia and Andreas Schmitzer of Project A01 Architects.

Asked about materials they used in a certain project, Schmitzer gave a generous response that centers on 'hiding the material'. He said something along the lines of, 'The truth is everything is fake. Everything is not what it seems.' I wanted him to talk more about it, but there were time constraints.

Another interesting—and in a way consoling—tidbit is that architects already consider themselves lucky if 10% of their work is realised. Most of the designs they spent sleepless nights on will never be constructed, and therefore will never be utilised and enjoyed by anyone.

The highlight of the event is that I was sitting beside and even shook hands with Architect Bon…

After watching Rise of the Guardians

I can’t pinpoint when and how I learned that Santa Claus isn’t real. My best guess is that my parents never really cared about making me believe in the fellow. Even though they bothered to provide gifts from a quote-unquote anonymous sender in several Christmases, I had always known that it didn't come from the North Pole.

What I do remember quite vividly is that I consciously created an imaginary friend. It seemed cool to have one, so I made myself one. That buddy of mine existed inside a bottle of Sprite. When there was somebody around to see, I would grab the bottle and whisper to it. The entire experience wasn't fun in any way and completely awkward.

Despite the knowledge that there is no Santa and a talking friend that can fit in a soda bottle can only be imaginary, I remain to be drawn to them. Even as an adult—in fact the older I get, the more do I appreciate fantasy and devour children’s stories. Maybe because I missed them during my childhood.

A while ago I had …

Reflections after reading The Beach by Alex Garland

‘I want to do something different, and everybody wants to do something different. But we all do the same thing. There’s no…’

‘Adventure.’ Because I associate the word with popular books and movies, adventure signifies something exciting, with an element of mystery, risk and danger. It is ultimately safe, because with books and movies, even if it does not reach a positive conclusion, I, the audience, am physically removed from the harms pervading the narrative.


In the Alex Garland novel, the first adventure is getting to—and therefore proving the existence of—‘the beach’, a mythical island-paradise in Thailand; the second is living there; and the third, leaving.

In life, not as clear-cut.


So the beach is real, alive with a small community that keeps it habitable to the few of them who discovered the place and decided it was theirs to call home.

The trick is how to keep the secret Eden from the rest of the world. With how the book ends, it can’t be done. If anything, I gather…

2013 snapshots

A couple of things to note— All snapshots were taken using my camera-phone. I selected a photo per month then arranged them chronologically. This collage is definitely not a 'best of' list as most of my favorite moments are private and too quick for the shutter.

Happy New Year to all!