Tropang Gutom: A year of fellowship, food, and everything fun

Last January 31, Tropang Gutom turns a year old. Somehow I feel like we have been together much longer than that. I have known Mia and Cel since 2002 when the three of us first joined the SMCM high school faculty of which Ma’am Noems has been a member since forever hehe. Badong and I were among the first batch of ISO internal auditor trainees. Benjie was my fellow first year adviser when I was a substitute teacher for Miss Javier. I would see Vhong, Rheena, Ele, and Marianne around whenever I came to SMCM to visit during the period I was not teaching there and when I rejoined the school from 2011 to 2014. Actually, TG has been formed before I became part of it, but our love for food and adventure has forged our bond. Though there are times that some members (read: me) would miss meetings (aka food trips haha), TG keeps everyone updated through Facebook.

In 2015, TG embarked on two major adventure: a camping trip to Nagsasa in Zambales in April and a nature trip in Baler, Aurora (which I have yet to write about, sigh) in November. With TG, planning a trip is as much fun as the trip itself. No stones would be left unturned; hence, the numerous meetings held. Just imagine the amount of calories consumed in all those meetings lol.

To Tropang Gutom, because our kind of hunger leads to happiness, may we always be hungry for the next adventure.

We are Tropang Gutom and we are hungry for the next adventure!
We are Tropang Gutom and we are hungry for the next adventure!

My Osaka-Kyoto-Tokyo trip in retrospect: Lakad-kain-lakad in Osaka Day 1

Not even a month had passed since I got home from the JENESYS 2.0 program I took part in, I booked a ticket to go back to Japan. My IDC officemates Jub and Emma had already booked their roundtrip tickets to Osaka, and I thought it would be fun to join them, but I had people who I wanted to see, so I made mine Manila-Osaka (Kansai) then Tokyo (Narita)-Manila. I would learn later that my fellow Jenesyst Neri and her brother Greg also planned to go. Unfortunately, Emma could not go with us. Hence, I was with Jub for the first part of the trip (Osaka-Kyoto) and with Neri and Greg for the second part (Tokyo).

Day 1 Departure and Osaka by night

Our flight to Osaka was delayed a bit, but nothing could dampen my excitement for this trip. Although I was going to Japan for the second time, it was my first time in Osaka and Kyoto. Jub and I intended to take not less than a thousand photographs each. I was only able to take about 900 (Gomen, Jub-san!) even if I wanted to take a shot of every nook and cranny. I was in so much awe that I was afraid that I would not be able to capture the moment.

To save on train fare, we got JR-West Rail passes. Such a pass can be issued to a foreign tourist under “temporary visitor” status and is valid for unlimited travel in the Limited Express “Haruka” and Local Trains operated by JR-West within the area indicated on the sheet. Since I would be going to Tokyo for Day 4, I got a Kansai Area Pass for 3 days.

Waiting for our train to Shin-imamiya
Waiting for our train to Shin-imamiya

We were booked at Hotel Taiyo, which is actually near the train station, but we took a wrong turn somewhere and ended at a police station! Nope, we did not do anything wrong. The kind elder we asked for directions does not speak English so he thought it was best to ask the police for help. They have a map of every neighborhood at the station, and the kind elder accompanied us all the way to the hotel. This was only the first among many of the kindness of strangers we experienced in Japan.

After checking in, it was time to look for food. It was already late, and most of the shops were closed, but we found this really good place to eat at:

Anybody knows how to read this? :)
Anybody knows how to read this? 🙂
Isn't their interior neat?!
Isn’t their interior neat?!

This place uses a meal ticket machine. Just insert your money, press the button corresponding to your choice, get the ticket, and give it to the waiter.

Got a ticket to eat!
Got a ticket to eat!
Tamago donburi--scrambled eggs on rice
Tamago donburi–scrambled eggs with savory sauce on rice

After our simple but satisfying first meal in Osaka, we took a walk in the quiet neighborhood before going back to the hotel. The next day was going to be full-packed!

The magic of Cynthia Alexander’s music

is that it can be timeless such that the words still speak to me even if I have not heard them for some time. It can transport one to another place and time, most likely to that moment of one’s discovery of her music. In my case, that would be in 2000 when I was a relatively newbie in the publishing industry. Her second album Rippingyarns had just been released, and it was what I asked my secret Santa for Christmas. I would play the cassette tape in my portable player (Watashi no Aiwa wa doko desu ka?) over and over until I have memorized her songs. I eventually got a copy of Insomnia & Other Lullabyes I think at the UP Shopping Center where I usually find albums of my favorite singers-songwriters.

Sadly, I did not catch any of her farewell shows. That’s why I was excited when I learned that she was coming home to play at the Jack Daniels Indie Music Awards. The schedule was a problem for me though as I had to proctor final examinations early the next day. Then the Teatrino show was announced but the balcony tickets were quickly sold out. The Conspiracy Cafe gig was my last chance to see her before she left again for the US.

But who would go with me? Gigs, particularly the special ones, end way past midnight. But it really was a special one, so I asked my very important person–Nanay–to come with me to Cynthia’s show.

Our Cynthia Alexander at Conspiracy Cafe tickets
Our Cynthia Alexander at Conspiracy Cafe tickets
Isn't my Nanay cool?
Isn’t my Nanay cool?

I actually shamelessly messaged Conspiracy Cafe’s Facebook page to ask for a reservation to which I got a positive reply (I just love Conspiracy!) but I understood when I saw a note on Cynthia Alexander Music Facebook page later on that the show would be on a first come first serve basis and that Conspiracy gates would open at 6 pm. Nanay and I got there around 7 pm and had yummy sisig and rice for dinner.

Conspiracy Cafe's sisig with egg
Conspiracy Cafe’s sisig with egg

What made the night more magical was Vin Dancel of Peryodiko. That “Dear Prudence” cover! (Cynthia would later sing “Blackbird.” Loved both.)

When it was Cynthia’s turn to perform, I had to stand on a chair because my view of the stage had been blocked.Good thing was that no Conspi staff asked me to get down. At some point, even Nanay stood on a chair. We all have missed Cynthia and her music that after her supposed last song “Comfort in Your Strangeness,” we did not want to leave yet.

Cynthia actually stood in front of me during the set break to talk with some friends but I got too shy to ask for a photo op. Her friend helped me get my CD signed though.

My signed copy of Walk Down the Road
My signed copy of Walk Down the Road

I am so grateful to be there and feel the magic of Cynthia Alexander’s music. I hope I get to be there when she holds a homecoming gig again.

The Summer of Friendship

I believe the four of us were fated to be friends although it would be curious at first how we became to be when we seem to have nothing in common except for attending the same high school. I was not even their batchmate, having graduated 4 years ahead, but not once did they make me feel that it matters.

MD and I met through a common friend Rose. I had my first summer job at her mother’s shop. Ber and I attended the same elementary school, but we would not meet until 8 years later. Bong and I met at MD’s place where we played against each other in a game of Jeopardy.

An ordinary day that summer, long before the age of the social network, the four of us forged our bond. Just four kids trying to figure out how to fix a broken TV. I do not even remember if the broken TV was the reason that Bong and Ber came to MD’s place for, or they just came over for lack of other things to do on that particular day that summer.

That summer day led to other days of hanging out, late night walks and conversations about anything and everything over shared Slurpees and hotdog sandwiches or whatever we could afford. Whenever we were allowed, we took Tita Aida’s owner. We watched shows, attended birthday parties, sang Eraserheads songs, earned money and went to Enchanted Kingdom. So much seemed to have happened over such a short time. We had grown much together.

Then we had to grow apart. MD went to the land down under. Studies, work, and other relationships demanded much of our attention.

But our friendship from that summer remains. That’s one of the reasons summer makes me smile.


Wear your personality, wear PersonaliTees

“Who are you wearing today?” is a common question during Hollywood red carpet events. But we do not have to be celebrities to be asked or to answer this question. I believe regular people like us reflect our very own personalities by what we wear more than the celebrities who have stylists who dress them up for the events they attend. This is why my friends and I chose “Who are you wearing today?” as our tag line and named our shirt design and printing biz PersonaliTees.

PTees logo

Obviously, we at PersonaliTees are shirt-loving people. Kindly pardon my shamelessness at modeling our own products. Don’t worry, this is as far as my modeling career could go haha!

PTees Yoda
My first PersonaliTees shirt: Yoda I have become.
sushi girl
Sushi girl meets National Artist Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera at the Philippine Literary Festival 2014 last October
Nodame Cantabile-inspired shirt

So if you want personalized shirts for yourself, family, barkada, organization, or what have you, just leave a message in our Facebook page



Jelling over jellymaking at Heda Community Center

After an overnight stay at the different family-run inns, we headed to the Heda Community Center where we learned how to make tokoroten. To be honest, I did not have any idea what tokoroten is until I saw the pictures and the procedure. Tokoroten is jelly (gulaman) which is sometimes called  agar-agar in my local language.

Dried agar-agar
Dried seaweed

To make tokoroten, we need dried seaweed, water, and vinegar. Wash the seaweed in water and drain. Boil water with a little vinegar. Put the seaweed in the water and vinegar mixture and let it boil for about 25 minutes.

After boiling the agar-agar in water with vinegar, take it out and put it in a cheesecloth. Squeeze the liquid out.
After boiling the seaweed in water with vinegar, take it out and put it in a cheesecloth. Squeeze the liquid out.

Put the gelatinous liquid in a tray to cool it down. Cut it into bars.

Tokoroten bars
Tokoroten bars

Cut into smaller chunks or use a special tool to make tokoroten noodles.

Tokoroten noodles
Tokoroten noodles

We seasoned our tokoroten with ichibana (a local citrus) and light-colored soy sauce (looked like patis to me hehe). I guess it can also be made sweet with sugar syrup.

The Heda Community Center people are very accommodating, and it was so much fun making tokoroten with them.

Say “Takaashigani!”

With what little Nihongo I know, I tried to converse with the awesome ladies of Heda Community Center. I think the most useful expression for me in this trip is “Isshoni sashin o tottemo ii desu ka?” which roughly translates to “May we take a picture together?” This always got a positive response. This time though I learned a trivia. Instead of saying “cheese” when taking a picture, people in Heda say “Takaashigani!” which is Nihongo for long-legged crab. Izu holds the Guiness record for crabs with the longest legs. Omoshirokatta ne!

Meeting art angels at Nihon University

I always look forward to the Nihongo Center Foundation Open House in October because it is where I get to experience Japanese culture. At NCF, I got to wear a yukata for the first time in 2008, watch my first sumo match in 2010, and try calligraphy in 2011. I consider NCF teachers art angels because they incorporate Japanese art in Nihongo lessons. My all-time favorite is still origami. I have a penchant for activities involving paper.

For the JENESYS 2.0 Cultural Exchange Program, Team Shizuoka visited Nihon University College of International Relations in Mishima City. When I saw that we were going to learn sumi-e and ikebana, I felt excited for it was my first time to try both sumi-e and ikebana, yet anxious because I did not know if I was any good with ink or flowers. Thankfully, we had very patient teachers who showed us step by step and helpful Nichidai students who assisted us during the art lessons. They are our art angels in Japan.


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Sumie no sensei


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Ikebana no sensei