Hotel review: Marco Polo Ortigas, Manila

Marco Polo in Ortigas, Manila was recently awarded a five-star rating by Forbes Travel Guide for the second consecutive year, which initially made me take note of the hotel and eventually, book a room accommodation. (I also saw last week the Italian film A Five Star Life, about a luxury hotels critic, which made me even more critical of my room at the Marco Polo.)

I booked on a weekend and so I expected more patrons than usual as this is considered a family hotel by most of the reviews I read on social media and websites. Before arriving, I called in to ask if they could accommodate us for an early check in at 1pm as we had finished lunch at 12nn and were already in the area. The staff at the front desk said yes. After doing a quick grocery, we arrived 30 minutes later at their parking garage, which was bright, clean, and well-maintained, though the entry/exit slot and corners are tight—it took some maneuvering to get the parking ticket at the machine slot. It would be great if the staff at the nearby exit booth could also help hand out the ticket if they see people struggling at the machine.

The check-in counter is found on the 24th floor, which we only found out after getting off on the ground floor, after having entered on the 4th floor from the parking lot. The security guy who inspected our bags before entering the building could have informed us beforehand which side of the elevator to take and on which floor to get off to have avoided this hassle. This would also mark the start of the frustrating elevator rides.

Marco Polo Ortigas

Unveiling the view

Checking in was a breeze—there weren’t as many people as I expected. I was asked if I’d like newspaper to be delivered in the morning, which I thought was a classy touch as most hotels I’ve been to no longer do that. On the right is a view of the Sierra Madre mountain range, which was framed to perfection by the grand floor-to-ceiling all-glass window: it was a view which you will not get in Makati. “I’ve booked you on a room with the same view,” Stephanie, the front desk staff, said. She did warn me about the “minimal” noise from the nearby hang-out spot, Metrowalk, but up on the 39th floor, we heard nary a peep from the restaurants and bars down below.

Marco Polo Ortigas

Laguna de Bay view

Sierra Madre mountain range view

Sierra Madre mountain range view; both views taken from our room on the 39th floor with a 50mm lens

The room was well furnished and tastefully decorated, though I dislike the huge painting that hangs above the bed—I think the green color takes away from the warm design of the rest of the place; otherwise, I love the old-school elegance of the room: the gleaming cutlery, the hair dryer with its own cabinet drawer, the welcome fruit (three oranges), the tub with Kohler fixtures, bathroom speaker with volume control, fluffy bathrobes that keep me warm even at 16C temperature—these were hotel standards that I took for granted in the ‘90s and early 2000s and which I rarely see in superior rooms now. And there are modern conveniences as well, such as an A/V panel with USB charger and a Nespresso machine with three complimentary coffee capsules, which was a great brand introduction to me. (Their coffee is strong and filled the room with its rich aroma!) There were also a lot of sockets 😍. With all our gadgets, there are never enough sockets these days. WiFi was fast and easy to connect to, but we were warned that we only have 8 hours’ worth of free Internet (though we actually still had connection the next day). LTE signal from Globe came to about two to three bars of signal, which was not super fast, but still okay for regular surfing.

The relatively flat real estate in the nearby towns and cities provide an unobstructed view of the landscape.

The relatively flat real estate in the nearby towns and cities provide an unobstructed view of the landscape.

Marco Polo Ortigas

The king-size bed is big and spacious enough for two. A glass window separates us from the bath, but blinders can be rolled down for privacy.

Marco Polo Ortigas

The room has a chaise lounge for a closer, panoramic view of the landscape. The oranges were juicy and seedless!

Marco Polo Ortigas

The lovely Nespresso machine which was easy to use and truly an inspired use of brand marketing; I now want one.

Marco Polo Ortigas

The relatively complete cutlery available in our pantry drawer. There’s also an ice box in the cabinet below this.

The bathroom is spacious for two, though the tub only fits one and even barely at that. I brought Lush bath bombs with me, though toilet amenities included a sachet of bath salts (but no hand lotion, which was weird—or was this a housekeeping miss?). The rain shower was fantastic and probably the best I’ve tried: water pressure was strong and the temperature remained consistent throughout my shower.

As for the view, I’m rarely in the area, so the panorama was indeed a treat: way out in the background are the aforementioned Sierra Madre mountain range on the left and Laguna de Bay on the right. Antipolo, San Mateo, Angono, Cainta, and Taytay remain relatively flat, so you get unobstructed views of the land. At night, the view is “still and quiet” and provided an elegant backdrop to our nightcap.

Marco Polo Ortigas

I couldn’t think of a better ending to our night than with a glass of Moscato.

The pool, gym, and spa are all on the 22nd floor. We only got to look at the pool, which is indoor and heated. Because it is enclosed and there is not much room for people to go around, I can imagine how noisy and crowded it would be during peak hours. I like the amenities though, including the sauna, locker rooms, and grooming stations at the men’s room. As I noted in my Instagram, I brought gym clothes and was supposed to work out because I read that the facilities were nice, but I just couldn’t bring myself to sweat when I could relax all day and night long. No regrets.

When I woke up the next day, I checked the outside door handle expecting my paper—there was none; in fact, it would never arrive. We then took breakfast at the supposedly peak hour of 9 a.m. (as the infographic at the restaurant entrance showed) and we were able to get seats quickly, though upon entering the restaurant, we knew it won’t be able to accommodate twice the size of the crowd that morning. The passageway along the buffet line is tight and susceptible to traffic and I don’t think I was able to walk along the length of food stations without ever stopping and waiting /allowing for other people to pass. There are also chairs placed along this path and I imagine it would be a horrible dining experience to be placed on any of the said chairs.

The food itself is mostly limited to breakfast fare, which I suppose is fair enough, though other hotels offer variety that span the length of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. For a Hong Kong brand, the hotel had weak Chinese cuisine offering: there was only the noodle station, but there were no dimsum. For soup, there was only miso. No breakfast sausages, not even hotdog, if we are going to be ultra basic here. Nothing exciting; this is the first time I limited myself to bacon (there were two trays separating medium and crispy—a huge plus!) and hash browns at a buffet. It wasn’t a disappointing experience at all, but there is definitely a lot of improvement here. There is another breakfast option for Continental Club guests on a higher floor, but I read it is smaller and offers fewer breakfast varieties.

As for other dining or shopping options in the area, there are few choices in the immediate vicinity, unless you cross over to Metrowalk (5 minutes), or drive to Robinson’s Galleria (5 minutes) or farther still, Shangri-La Mall (10 minutes), which we did not do. Instead, we hopped over to Sapphire Bloc, which I’ve never been to before, and dined at Japanese restaurant Shinshen, among the other handful of restaurants and bars on the block.

Moving about the hotel could be a little taxing though—there are two groups of lifts which only serve select floors. From the ground and parking floors up, none service the room floors, so you have to get off on the 24th floor to transfer to another lift. Each one is small—if you are a family of four with two heavy luggage and other smaller pieces, you’re probably all it could fit. I noted there were attendants on the ground and 24th floors not only to greet the guests and push the buttons, but possibly, to also control the very probable scenario of a huge crowd waiting to get on the elevator. The ride itself is extremely fast though, and we get from the 39th floor to the 24th in a matter of seconds.

Marco Polo Ortigas

The mood lighting highlights the muted and stylish features of the hotel. This is the hallway on our floor.

Staff members are all pleasant, if not intimidatingly beautiful: seriously, this is the best-looking hotel staff I’ve seen in a while and I don’t know if I should even make that comment in the age of #MeToo. We didn’t make any exceptional requests—in fact, we hardly made any request at all—save for a glass water at the breakfast buffet and request for a late check out, both of which we didn’t get. We did check in an hour early as I’ve mentioned.

Pros: Luxury amenities—props to the rain shower and Nespresso machine; beautiful and courteous staff; the pool and gym seem worth trying, even if I didn’t get to (so make sure you do!); management seems keen on making the extra effort and improving its service—it responds to feedback on TripAdvisor and Facebook; this is more an excellent business hotel than a family hotel to me; good for solo travelers and couples as well

Cons: Unless it improves its menu, I’d rather opt out of the breakfast buffet, save money, and order out instead; this is probably not a hotel you’d book during peak seasons.

Tip: Booking through Agoda is cheaper.


Review: I’M Hotel’s Onsen Spa

Two weeks of the new year have gone by and I have already ticked off two new experiences:

Today, I’m nursing my aching body. After the Crossfit event yesterday, I went straight to I’M Hotel to try their well-reviewed Onsen Spa because my entire body was hurting and I knew I had to do something before delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) sets in. Glad that they were able to accommodate me even if I didn’t have any reservations: I got in close to 6:30 p.m. and fortunately, in 45 minutes, they would have a therapist available for the treatment I wanted, which was a 90-minute Philippine Hilot (P2,100). I used the time to shower and change into my yukata. Immediately, I was impressed by the service and facilities: the shower/locker room was on an open-air floor right in the heart of the noisy and busy intersection of Makati Avenue and Kalayaan, and yet, with strategic design, they managed to create a private and lush oasis. The shower rooms are so spacious, the one I took could fit 10 people in it. The same floor has a sauna, steam room, and onsen but I knew I didn’t have time for those because what I really wanted was to sit down, have tea, and maybe take a nap at the relaxing lounge before my massage; I’ll try those next time.

So I went up the mezzanine level, where I got to have my fill of ginger tea, which was perfect because I could also feel I was coming down with a sore throat (they also have green and cold tea). I sat in one of the giant recliner sofas and reflected on my day—but not without truly admiring the hotel facilities: I could see part of the swimming pool below as well as the bustle of Makati Ave, from which I felt so isolated and removed. Their website photos do not do them justice.

Close to 7 p.m., my therapist fetched me to bring me to another floor. (I didn’t mind the numerous transfers; the elevator is exclusively for Onsen guests, meaning you won’t run into I’M Hotel guests in their finery while you’re in your robe.) Again, it all looked monastic and luxurious, it almost felt like I was being ushered into a new religious order. The minimalist spa pod looked like it was lifted from a movie set, with its high ceiling ambient lighting. By 7:05 p.m., we got started.

Oh my god—best massage ever (though my massage experience in Bangkok came close because that made me sleep and no other massage has ever done that). At the spa lobby, there was an information sheet I filled out, which included how I wanted the pressure to be, and in the drawing of the human body, I encircled the parts I wanted the therapist to concentrate on: my instructions were followed to a T. His pressure—which never wavered from start to finish—was extremely strong, his hands felt like foam roller. I was wincing the entire time and I wanted to stop him on several occasions, but I knew it was the type of muscle kneading I needed. I also couldn’t count the number of times my body parts cracked, lol. That massage made me feel like a new person and the irony was, I was no longer feeling sleepy (I actually kept yawning during the competition, haha), but energized. Which was great, because I’M Onsen’s Spa’s package comes with a buffet meal! So I changed into my normal clothes, went up to Bloom Restaurant and wolfed down as much as I could because I only had protein shake, burger, and fries the entire day. By the time I was finished, I was so happy I booked a treatment here: it was so worth it.

I want to grow up and be the type of person who gets a weekly treatment here, haha. Five out five stars!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

9:10 a.m.
You know traffic is so bad when I haven’t even been to a Greenbelt 3 cinema in close to a year. I savored the seats, which I think is the best of them all (excluding La-Z-Boy types). I also haven’t been able to watch as much movies as from years before when we would run out of films to watch—that’s about once or even twice a week. Now, I have Netflix, plus the nearer Century City and PowerPlant malls, which all absolve me of having to go through horrendous Manila traffic.

IMG_0981We saw Coco, which I thought was about a dog, haha. If I knew this would largely feature skeletons, I probably would have seen Smaller and Smaller Circles instead (promise, I will try my best to catch it in cinemas #golocal), but reviews have all been positive. Good thing I didn’t invite my family to see this, but went with P instead—the movie was about remembering the legacy of family members who have since passed away. So ultimately, it’s a pro-life movie—having children to pass on one’s memories, craft, and business or livelihood. There is a huge deal made with having someone put up a dead family member’s photo on an altar (to celebrate Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead), symbolizing how they are remembered by the living. It reminded me of the guilt I have about not having children, robbing my parents of the joy of becoming grandparents, which they have been looking forward to becoming.

But could it also be vanity? Why do people need to remember you when you have passed away? I have no knowledge of my great grandparents—I cannot even speak their names for their names have never been spoken before me—except that one came all the way from southern China. In a huge family (my mother’s side), memories of ancestors ran dry after only three generations; two, on my father’s. If I die, no one would be indebted to put up my photo on an altar or visit my grave. But the internet lives.

Then over the weekend, I completed watching Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which is also about making babies, though more literal in the sense of an actual intercourse and on a broader matter, ensuring one’s survival—or lineage—in this world. It’s a fantastic series, alarming and terrifying in its probability of actually happening.

Fave hotspot: Seoul Galbi restaurant

This is becoming our default restaurant whenever P and I are in Brgy Poblacion, Makati. Which is interesting because this is an old (Korean, at that) restaurant in an area that has become the hottest spot in Manila for its vibrant local food scene, wherein new restaurants pop up every few weeks.

But for P and I, it’s reliable, comforting, and most importantly, delicious—check out the beautiful spread below.

Seoul Galbi spread

We always go for the pork belly and marbled beef; we tried the pork skin one time, but grilled, it turned out gummy and not crisp as I anticipated. The banchan, those small dishes that come with the barbecue, are fresh and well-seasoned. P loves their steamed egg, which got cropped out of the photo, while I can’t pick a favorite—I enjoy everything. They can be refilled twice, but the staff here has always been gracious and pleasant, I’m sure patrons would be able to charm them for more. (We never made it past to two refills as we always end up full even after round one.) What I do is get a big lettuce leaf, spread the meat on top, add as many of the kimchi as I like, then roll and eat it like a wrap. On some nights, we order rice and pick off the banchan as we eat along.

They use charcoals made from coconut and your server would gladly grill the meat for you. It can get smoky in there, but they have retractable exhaust hoses for every table, so it’s as manageable as it can get. Couldn’t recommend this place enough.

Seoul Galbi is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

My 2017 UAAP Cheerdance competition notes: Nowhere to go but UP

No shade, just keeping it real. #toughlove

  • So tired of the whining and excuses coming from UP regarding its academic load and lack of gymnasts. This has been ongoing for what, 5 years? Challenges aren’t exclusive to just one school. During the preview, there were stories from other schools about their athletes working as a janitor, not being able to visit a mother who suffered from a stroke in Bicol, and losing an ear from a motorcycle accident; one school had no reserve members so they had to stop training for three weeks and could only resume when all were healthy enough. EVERYONE has problems, even the best of them.
  • I don’t get UP’s recent disdain for themes as if the petty rephrasing to “kwento” is such a stroke of genius. (It is still a theme; potato, potahto.) And the irony with #kwentongisko is that there was no narrative in their performance at all. Watch it without the music and you will have no clue as to what the message is. (Even with the music, I had no idea what was happening. The cheer portion was a hot mess.) Now, compare that to their previous performances; even as a silent “film,” all their past routines will clearly give you the narrative, whether through the visually stunning uniforms, pompoms, formations, or choreography. Having a solid theme got them eight championships and it’s what would get them the next one, particularly if it won’t be able to recruit gymnasts. Play it smart. On that note…
  • … NU is not unbeatable. I think what we saw from UP is the equivalent of a person having a mental breakdown. And I can’t blame them—we really did witness atrocious judging in 2015. But I do hope the results of this year’s competition make them see that winning UAAP Cheerdance does not mean you have to play their game and recruit gymnasts year after year. Let’s say NU hit all their stunts, I thought UP could have definitely killed them in the creative department.

Come on, UP: you’ve rocked a coliseum; you’ve sent in tribal warriors and ended a performance without being on the mat, with a “naked” Oblation to boot; you’ve used sunflowers, disco balls, and cone-shaped bras as pompoms; you’ve gone blond and shaved your heads; you’ve had female bases and male flyers; you actually represented all schools in one routine (now, that’s a stroke of genius); and you freaking had a heart-shaped pyramid!

You have a storied history and legacy behind you. You got this. But there’s a lot of work to do.


PS: The judges scored it fair and square this year: as I’ve previously written,

…what’s the point of having difficult stunts if you can’t execute them properly? In sports, a score is earned not by effort but by execution.

so I was glad to see that AdU, UE, and UST earned the top spots. When I tweeted my personal ranking, I based it on how the NCC would judge it. I hope they stick to rewarding those with a good balance of difficulty and clean execution.


First impressions: the XF 23mm F/2 WR

Did a quick test of my new XF 23mm F/2 lens yesterday. (Apparently, I’m now that person who can write the lens type and brand without referring to the unit or Google. This is coming from someone who asked why his prime lens wasn’t zooming during the camera test.) First, let me give another shout out to i-Click Outlet. They are friendly, responsive, quick and hassle-free to deal with. I’ve been looking for the 23mm in black, since my 50mm is already in silver and I wanted a lens that would finally match the body color of my XT20. (Now, that I have a black lens, I actually think a silver one gives my camera more character—and yes, I don’t think these things matter to serious photographers, haha.) The lens wasn’t listed on their website, so I figured there’d be no harm in messaging iClick on Facebook. Within minutes, they promised to deliver it to me the next day, which they did.

Contrary to reviews I’ve read, I found that the lens performed well in low light conditions. These were taken around 6 p.m., which was already dark. Most were set in ISO Auto 12800, hence the graininess.

Auto focus was way faster and more reliable than my 50mm, where I had to depend more on the manual settings. But image quality was way sharper with the 50mm even when cropped. (For example, these photos of SCTEX views were taken from a moving car.) Still haven’t tested how the 23mm would be able to handle the same conditions.

Other XF 50mm F/2 photos:

I got the 23mm because I wanted a wide angle; I found it difficult to take photos, of say, my hotel room at I’M Hotel, which I had hoped to write a review on. It was refreshing to take photos yesterday, wherein the field of view was close to my vision and I didn’t have to look through the viewfinder before realizing I have to move further away from my subject. However, I realized that composition was actually easier with the 50mm as subjects are easily detached from their environment, which is my personal preference: I like isolating my subjects and creating a sense of stillness. With the 23mm, I need to be more careful with my composition since more objects are likely to make it to the frame. So in other words, my 23mm and 50mm complement each other and I should stop my lens shopping here.

The Plaza Hotel

During our January trip to Bataan, we decided that if we were coming back, then we had to stay at The Plaza Hotel. It’s in the provincial capital and is one of the four main buildings surrounding the town plaza: the 18th-century Balanga Cathedral, the municipal building, and a mall (which say a lot about our priorities in this country, haha). So when P decided he wanted to return to the province for his birthday weekend, I arranged our stay at this hotel.

The hotel’s façade, heavily documented on Instagram, is impressive. Despite the three centuries of Spanish rule, we have little to show for colonial architecture, so exteriors like this are a novelty. At night, the view is even more stunning, especially in a city that seems asleep by 10 p.m. However, I also recognize how incongruous the design is, not only after having had a feel of its surroundings but also after having entered its doors. For example: how come such a majestic-looking building does not have parking facilities for its guests? And why is it that the window of the executive room looks out into the hotel staircase? There are also signs of wear and tear throughout the building—all easily dismissible—but given the ostentatious facade, expectations run high until charity sets in, and so, they are lowered.

Where it has a lot of class though is in its service. Check-in was breezy and prompt, with a professional and smart-looking front desk that moved like clockwork. Every request we made at the front desk was delivered within 5-10 minutes of our call. The room was simple and elegant: I liked the muted colors and soft lighting, plus it smelled great. There were enough electrical plugs—five if you exclude those taken up by the lamps—because I find that power sources are becoming a scarce commodity in hotels lately. Air conditioning was strong and the free WiFi was fast (I wish we brought our laptops so we could have binged on Netflix), but what I couldn’t stop raving about was the cable TV—I’ve never seen channels that crisp and sharp.

Most importantly, the bed was comfortable and the pillows were some of the best I’ve ever laid my head on; the top sheet and duvet were both tucked tightly under both end corners so they stayed in place until the next morning. I wish we could have stayed in all day!

The free breakfast meal was at Plaza Brew, a trendy and well-designed coffee shop on the ground floor that seemed serious with its craft and which wouldn’t be out of place in Katipunan. We wanted to try the well-reviewed Café Kyoto on the third floor, but it was literally a hallway with tables and chairs as it shared what is already a small space with the hotel’s reception floor.

Overall, it’s a charming, friendly, and graceful hotel that would have been easily outsized by the grand spectacle that is its façade if it didn’t turn out to be smoke and mirrors. Perhaps, there’s the silver lining and I would be glad to stay here again.

Tip: Go to the 6th floor to see a view of Balanga City. That’s the 18th century Balanga Cathedral in the center



Book review: American Pastoral

I learned about this book by Philip Roth from a Ewan McGregor interview, where he mentioned having directed and starred in the film version of this novel. The film flopped despite a Pulitzer-winning material, which has also been included in Time Magazine’s all-time 100 greatest novels. Curious, I read.

Set in the 1960s, an all-too perfect, upper middle-class Jewish-American (the novel never fails to make this distinction) couple find themselves with an activist daughter who is swept off by the civil rights movement of that period. What we get is a novel-length rumination on the frustrations of a pastoral-slash-suburban family, whose American values of hard work, socioeconomic mobility, and morality, are threatened by an emerging modern capitalist society. I felt like a therapist being unloaded with pages and pages of trauma inherent in the social constructs and pressures of being THE star athlete, THE beauty queen, THE beautiful young family with the picket fences and swing in the backyard—of being an American (stars and stripes!!!)—then in the end, they all wonder about what went wrong. I have little to no sympathy for almost all the characters in this book whose collective vanity denies everyone the chance to move forward; instead, the navel-gazing merely perpetuates a victim complex and that is repetitive plot-wise and unfortunately for the reader, holds true in the dialogue, too. (A perfect example is a 2,000-word dialogue in Chapter 9 between the Swede and Sheila Salzman that is ultimately summed up as thus: “Merry is crazy.” “No she’s not.”)

No doubt this is an excellent novel to read in the age of Trump, when terrorism and violence are no longer a foreign threat, but homegrown. Unfortunately, I am in fact not a therapist and I am not being paid hundreds of dollars per hour for this session.  America, he’s with you.

Review: My 2017 grooming stash & lineup

I’ve been switching up my grooming products every now and then. It’s mostly out of boredom, so you can still go back to my previous reviews and they still work just as well for me. Lately, my skin has gotten oilier again, which harkens back to my teenage and twenty-something years. And at my age, oil is a welcome problem, as long as it doesn’t come with acne (but which I do still get once in a while.) So I’ve tweaked my lineup to address my concerns.

This was my lineup in 2016:

Olay Total Effects 7 in One Day Cream (Normal) with SPF 15 Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
The Face Shop The Fresh for Men BB Cream with SPF40 Kiehl’s Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion
Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate
Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate

And this is what I use now:

Avène Extremely Gentle Cleanser Lotion Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Skin Brightening Exfoliator
Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate VMV Id Anti-Acne Toner
Olay Total Effects 7 in One Day Cream (Normal) with SPF 15 mixed with Quick FX CC cream Kiehl’s Age Defender Anti-Aging Moisturizer for Men alternating with VMV Illuminants+ Cream: Advanced Brilliance Treatment
Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate

Listing this down, I realized I have so many products, lol.

I decided to get rid of Cetaphil after having read the article, Cetaphil: Why The Popular Cleanser Isn’t Doing Your Skin Any Favors, and I have yet to read a statement from Cetaphil debunking the allegations.

“Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser contains just eight ingredients: water, cetyl alcohol, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, stearyl alcohol, methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben.

“All but the water are chemically manufactured (let’s hope), and propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, and the three parabens have a seat on the dirty dozen, a list of cosmetic ingredients to avoid as potentially toxic.”

Gaah. So I switched to Avène Extremely Gentle Cleanser Lotion, which couldn’t get any more emphatic in its name. It is fragrance- and paraben-free and made in France. Its water “originat(es) as pure rain mixed with sea-spray rich in mineral salts… mak(ing) its 50-year journey through the Cévennes Mountains in Avène, France.” LOL. It has an entire brochure included in the box on the subject, which could be seen as pretentious at first glance, but which I realize is really pride for their history and work, particularly in treating skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, rosacea, psoriasis and eczema. Anyway, I thought it was all wonderful, but you can decide for yourself.

My latest drugstore buys

It is a no-rinse formula, which I have yet to try doing, because being in Manila, I just have to rinse off all that grime and dirt from my commute. So I damp my face with water, then get a dollop of the cleanser—and my initial impression is that it is luxuriously creamy, even if it doesn’t lather—then rinse with water. As an “extremely gentle cleanser lotion,” it did the job well because when I used my VMV Id Toner (when I tested this cleaner at night; I don’t use toner in the morning), there were no residue on the cotton ball.

The Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate I’ve written about here. This is my second bottle and I have to admit, this product hurts my wallet the most. But my overall complexion has never been better. I have a couple of tiny spots now and I have yet to get a haircut, but if you look at this video from a month ago, which does not have any filter, this is how my skin looks on its best day.

Since I use quite a number of products, I cannot qualitatively attribute everything to the concentrate, but based on my one-year experience with it, I know this is one of the products that I cannot leave out of my grooming stash.

Olay Total Effects is a staple for decades (here’s a 2012 entry) but I might soon replace it because among all my products, I noticed that it’s one of two things that is making me oily along with The Face Shop’s The Fresh for Men BB Cream. I plan to buy the Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer—and I will soon—but during one of my drugstore jaunts, I came across the Quick FX CC cream. I find it a bit expensive for a sachet that’s worth P99, but it does the job of providing the bare minimum coverage. (I mix it with Olay, which is my default way of putting on tinted moisturizer because I don’t like tint-heavy coverage.) I most like it for its zinc oxide, which is a natural sunscreen that’s also good for burns, rashes, and irritation. The cream is light green in color, which is good for cancelling out red tones, if the primary color wheel has taught us anything.

Night routine
I got a sample of Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Skin Brightening Exfoliator and I’m sold! I got two sachets and I made the mistake of using too much from the first sachet because as I realized, this is the most lather-y cleanser I’ve ever used. So now that I’m on my second sachet, I’ve been very prudent in my application, squeezing out as little as three drops and it would still lather my entire face. So if I eventually buy a bottle, I know for sure it would last me for over a year.

I love how my skin looks clear and radiant after every wash. Along with the Line-Reducing Concentrate, I know that this is one of the products that have made a huge difference on my skin. It is paraben-, fragrance-, and colorant-free. Unfortunately, the product page doesn’t say what the microbeads are made of, so it must not be environment –friendly.

For everyday use, I apply the VMV Id Anti-Acne Toner, which I’ve written about here and as far back as 2010, so folks, this is tried and tested. I only use the Kiehl’s Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion for spot treatment because it can be very drying. Then for the last step, I alternate between the VMV Illuminants+ Cream: Advanced Brilliance Treatment, which I’ve been using since 2012, and one of my newer additions, the Kiehl’s Age Defender Anti-Aging Moisturizer for Men. The Age Defender smells so good and it does a good job of moisturizing without the greasy feeling, though I wouldn’t use it on a hot summery night. The ingredient to watch out for here is the capryloyl salicylic acid, which is anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and an exfoliant, according to this website.

“Unlike alpha hydroxy acids, which are water soluble, beta hydroxy acids (and its esters—such as CSA -jason) are lipid (oil) soluble. This means that they not only exfoliate the upper layer of skin, but also penetrate deep through the epidermis to exfoliate the dead skin cells and excess oil built up in the pores. For this reason, capryloyl salicylic acid is frequently used to treat blackheads, whiteheads and acne. Yet its keratolytic ability is not the only reason for why it is so often administered to treat blemishes and breakouts. This ingredient also functions as both an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agent, making it an ideal anti-acne ingredient. While many other exfoliants (i.e. AHA’s) often irritate the skin, salicylic acid does just the opposite by reducing inflammation. This is due to the fact that it shares a similar chemical composition as Aspirin, a well-known analgesic and anti-inflammatory, and thus shares many of Aspirin’s functions as well.”

Afterward, depending on the weather and usually when I’m in a hotel, I would use Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate just to seal all that product in. (I bought it last year and I’m still nowhere near halfway through my bottle.) Into the Gloss has a very informative guide on how you should layer your products.

S-Town and Still Processing podcasts

I’ve finished the S-Town podcast. (It’s amazing how time spent in traffic, commuting, and walking fly by compared to when I’m listening to music, which now seems less entertaining to me.) The seven-episode podcast is about the investigation of journalist Brian Reed into the claims of horologist John B. McLemore, who emailed Brian about an alleged murder in the latter’s hometown of Woodstock, Alabama. It features their recorded conversations as well as interviews with Brian’s family and friends, who all eventually get embroiled in an entirely different controversy among themselves.

S-TownAs a gay man myself (spoiler!), I wasn’t as captured by the revelations on/by John, so I wasn’t exactly in tenterhooks at the end of each episode or whenever a secret was revealed. As I listened in, however, I was conscious more about how the controversies were ultimately a family matter that didn’t need to be exposed in such a public, not to mention, unflattering way—and I didn’t understand how everyone didn’t pause, especially after episode 2, and think about keeping their dirty laundry private, except that Brian has become a family friend and a minefield of resource for the parties involved. It feels not only voyeuristic, but also manipulative, in that they become unwitting participants to an edited soap opera. (The manner by which each episode ends with a teaser about what’s coming on next does not escape me.) If you actually liked the podcast without any moral guilt, let me know in the comments.

Meanwhile, I’ve removed Still Processing from my feed. Since it was recently 4th of July, their latest episode is devoted to barbecue. And here’s what the hosts have to say about barbecue. Barbecue!!!!

Wesley Morris: “… It will be useful to talk about the politics of this food, the realness of this food, the actual legitimate quality of the food…”

Jenna Wortham (italics mine): “… Where does barbecue come from? Who has the right to make barbecue? What does it mean when we sit down and eat it in a restaurant that’s black-owned? What does it mean when we go to a restaurant and sit down and eat it where it’s white-owned? Is it Southern food? Is it American food? Is it Black food? I mean, there’s so many questions about barbecue that we need to get to the bottom of before we can actually eat any.”

Like, really!

There’s a part of me that wants to feel guilty especially after reading reigning Drag Race winner Sasha Velour’s interview, where she said,

“I hope my legacy is that sometimes that level of thought is an asset, especially now in this political moment, because this political moment is very anti-intellectual, anti-information, and anti-historical.”

… but I’ve had it with this politicization of everything, such that barbecue is now considered as co-opting black identity or culture (at least as far as the episode’s intro is concerned—I was so repulsed I didn’t proceed any further and deleted the show off my list because I refused to be high-jacked into a needlessly political conversation about barbecue that’s not even about vegetarianism.) The self-righteousness was off the charts, I wonder how they go through life without going into a huge debate about the uprightness of the food and clothing they buy and transportation and services they use. (Jenna admitted to having used Uber at an earlier show because she said she had no other option. Uh yeah, walking.) As a Filipino who sees barbecue as something that’s actually proletarian—and I mean that in a good way especially as street food culture goes—I’m repelled by the dogmatic possessiveness over an ubiquitous food item or cooking process present, familiar, and comforting all the world over.

Barbecue!!! 🍖