Sunday, June 30, 2013

Postcards from Fragrant Harbour (4 of 4)

The Two International Finance Center, Hong Kong's second tallest building: [Left] smothered in fog (which reminded me of the Shanghainese skyscrapers), viewed from the City Hall courtyard; [Right] a clear early morning view from the Airport Express station in Central.

Statue Square. The Legislative Council Building is the one with the dome (I thought it's a church). The Bank of China Tower needs no introduction. This was taken during Labor Day, and the entire place, especially the underground tunnel leading to the MTR station, was filled with Filipinos. A little more to the left and the photo would have captured the Pinoy Labor Day festivities, which included a parade ala barangay fiesta.

On our last night, we walked for thirty minutes from Mira Mall beside Kowloon Park to the International Commerce Center, passing through the park for added fun. The Ritz Carlton occupies the 102nd to 118th floors of the building--the world's highest, as it claims. We hit the lounge and bar at the 102nd floor for an 11PM view of the city. That's three of the world's highest hotels conquered (a refresher course here). [2nd photo] That "artwork" is made of individual crystal-bead thingies.

Two admirable things about Hong Kong transportation: Taxis equipped with an abundance of change (our beloved barya), and health advisories in the train (on hypertension, in this case).

Chek Lap Kok Airport Terminal 2! It's just a check-in facility (three islands), but what the hell. The wavy roof, plus the fact that the place has more dining facilities than NAIA 1 and 2 combined. It also has an IMAX theater.

HKIA Terminal 1! Never gets old.

Airport photography is one of the best things in the world. The eastern side of the airport (spot the Air India). CX 773 and A330, and plants. CX A340 and coffee drinking. 

This is how you capture an airborne, post-take-off plane: Find a nice spot, and wait.

Take-off views of the airport. Let's play spot from the sky: [1st photo] Two Uniteds and a Thai Airways; [2nd photo] PAL 747 and Aeroflot 77W; [3rd photo] Tsing Ma Bridge.

Home sweet home in Clark, featuring the bluish blur that is Mt. Pinatubo.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

PDI Review: 'Disney's Tarzan' by Viva Atlantis Theatricals

My review of "Disney's Tarzan" by Viva Atlantis Theatricals is in today's Inquirer - here! Show closes tonight.

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'Disney's Tarzan' swings - and barely hangs on

Towards the climax of Act II of "Disney's Tarzan," the short-lived Broadway musical running until Saturday at the Meralco Theater as Viva Atlantis Theatricals' second offering of the year, its titular ape-man, torn between remaining with his adoptive gorilla family and following his newfound human friends back to England, frustratingly exclaims, "I'm so confused!"

Well, that's just about our overall sentiment after sitting through this clunky, two-hour production that has exactly two standouts.

The first is American actor Dan Domenech, whose credits include "Rock of Ages" on Broadway and a spot on the fourth season of "Glee." Now, as Tarzan clad only in a traditional "bahag," Domenech shines with a portrayal of commendable consistency. His attention to character - the slightly hunched posture, fists as locomotive devices in the manner of gorillas - makes for a compelling interpretation of this Disney-fied man of the jungle. Simply put, when he's an ape around humans, you believe him, and when he's a human around apes, you also believe him.

The second is the set by Lex Marcos, the same brain behind the enchanting flying carpet scene in last year's "Disney's Aladdin" and the underwater kingdom in "Disney's The Little Mermaid" the year before (both staged by Atlantis Productions, by the way).

This time, Marcos has created a jungle out of the aged theater. The proscenium is "overgrown" with interlacing leaves and branches, the stage constantly awash in shades and shapes of green, and a scrim is put to perfect use in depicting horizon and distance.

Where's the magic?

Unfortunately, lush scenery and a good Tarzan do not a compelling show make.

For starters, how about a book that has no intent whatsoever of becoming its own person, so to speak? The musical, based on the 1999 Disney film that in turn took after Edward Rice Burrough's "Tarzan of the Apes," tells the story just as it appeared in cinemas 14 years ago, give or take a few elements.

A family of three washes up on a beach after a shipwreck, the parents get killed by a leopard, and female gorilla Kala takes the human infant as her own, to the dismay of her mate Kerchak. The baby grows up to be Tarzan, and one day, he meets Jane, who's come to the continent with her gang of Victorian Brits with varying agenda.

The essential love story, singing troop of apes, tree-swinging and high-flying stunts - they all made it to this "Tarzan" of the Great White Way. Yet, the sad fact is, David Henry Hwang's screen-to-stage translation comes off as largely uninspired - seemingly a bunch of animated storyboards sheepishly set to the "Play" button that, not surprisingly, falls flat on its behind with more than just a faint thud.

In other words, where's the magic?

Shaky accent
The score by Phil Collins is not much of a charmer, either. The film's songs are still there; "Son of Man," "Two Worlds," and the Oscar winner "You'll Be in My Heart" have to be the most familiar. The extra baggage, however, proves rather forgettable (and here, we try and fail to name at least one of the new songs).

Onscreen, "Tarzan" was an exciting dive into the life of the African jungle; for the stage, Hwang and Collins have created a mere copy of the film, sans any spark of the original work. A tragedy, then, that director Chari Arespacochaga can only play shepherd to the turn of events, which is all at once plodding and flitting. A scene unfolds and a song gets performed, but nothing really sticks to memory.

There's also the matter of Jane Porter, the female lead. Onstage, she has been reduced to this wide-eyed amateur scientist who rattles off Latin animal and plant names for a first song. (That number deserves the honor of being the show's strangest: The dancing insects and plants look more out-of-place than exotic.)

Rachelle Ann Go, who made quite a splashy theater debut as Ariel in "Disney's The Little Mermaid," can belt out the score alright, but her shaky British accent and one drop too many of that young-girl, over-the-place naivete weigh her down.

Outstanding voices

How about Ima Castro as Kala and Calvin Millado as Kerchak? Both are outstanding voices (Castro, in particular, has the flavorful task of belting out "Two Worlds" and "You'll Be in My Heart"), and both are actors of certain acclaim (Castro as Kim in "Miss Saigon," Millado as Roger in "Rent").

Yet, when placed beside Domenech's Tarzan, their "un-gorilla-ness" is glaring. How they move and carry themselves, which is very much Homo sapiens, render them the least gorilla-like among the entire troop.

Jeffrey Hidalgo as Tarzan's sidekick Terk is a more consistent package, but he's hardly given major exposure, while Eugene Villaluz plays Jane's father Archimedes with understated elegance.

Speaking of apes, how about Eric Pineda's gorilla costumes? They look like a cross between a Pacific tribesman and an encyclopedia illustration of the Himalayan yeti. But they're nothing compared to the leopard (the musical's most thankless role) whose headpiece could have easily come from a party clown's closet.

After two hours of acrobatic gorillas (courtesy of choreographer Cecile Martinez), shouting child actors, sparse laughs, and a considerable amount of belting, the rhetorical question becomes altogether unavoidable: What. Was. That?

This is a "Tarzan" that swings - and barely hangs on. Here, emotions are often expressed in terms of decibels, and confusion - be it in individual characterizations or whole scenes - seems to ring louder than clarity.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Postcards from Fragrant Harbour (3 of 4)

Heaven descended upon us like the Niagara that afternoon in Ocean Park. We bought the fancy plastic raincoats. We headed for the aviary, but the trail had transformed into a pool, so we sought shelter in Whiskers Theater, just in time for the sea lion show. This was when they showed us how they train the sea lions: Teach a trick, let it do the trick, give it a treat. They tried the technique on the poor kid.

The Chinese alligator: second best animal in Ocean Park (after the octopus).

The rain dispersed the hordes of Chinese tourists, sending them scurrying towards their buses. We virtually had the park to ourselves then (that's what it felt like, but feelings can be deceiving). Imagine the rides without the lines! An eagle and the Pacific Pier lighthouse were harbingers of good fortune.

We ate at Maxim's in Hong Kong City Hall on our last day. During the absurd wait (I don't think the place ever runs out of customers), I paid the City Hall theater a visit--well, just the outside of it. Hong Kong Repertory Theater calls this place home, which reminds me of our Repertory Philippines in Onstage Greenbelt 1 (and I wish they'd do "Pippin" next year).

Cosette, Fantine and Eponine sing in Cantonese!

While looking for Hollywood Road, which we ironically had no problem getting to during our first day, the Hong Kong Fringe Club looked inviting (maybe because I was thinking of "Defending the Caveman").

The massive Abercrombie and Fitch in Central. For art lovers, the walls. For everyone else, the model. Half-naked at work, more fun in Hong Kong.

The strangest photo shoot ever, at apm, a mall in Kwun Tong (near what used to be Kai Tak Airport), where most of the outlet stores were closed during Labor Day (surprise!).

Evening shopping in Mongkok! It was like Little Manila there. But the standouts had to be this store full of cats, and sidewalk octopus (fried and breaded). I bet if we just looked hard enough, there'd have been steamed horse dumplings or hammerhead shark ramen as well.

Night views of Hong Kong's four tallest skyscrapers! Clockwise from top left: Bank of China Tower (4th), Two International Finance Center (2nd), International Commerce Center (tallest), and Central Plaza (3rd).

Sunday, June 23, 2013

'Forgetfulness: A Series'

As mentioned last January, my poem, "Forgetfulness: A Series," was accepted for publication in the 2013 Bacopa Literary Review, which is based in Gainesville, Florida. The Review was released last month, and I still haven't received my contributor's copy (they initially sent it to Iloilo, Philipines [sic]). [Update, June 29: My copy's finally here!] The writers, as stated in the website, come from India to Ireland, Canada to the Chuvash Republic, Indonesia to Nigeria.

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Tell me again of that city we built
with only the mud and stone that filled the garden
behind our house. It was beautiful, yes? How the buildings
spiralled to the sky with blatant ambition, how their windows
reflected the light coming from the stars, seeming to create
towers of fire visibly burning from a thousand miles.
I remember the chimney with its red brick,
the front door pavement chipping away on the edges,
the moss that colored the white-washed walls
perpetually wet with rain and sprinkler water.
I remember the morning views from our bedroom, how the clouds
would seem to glide past the shrubbery thriving on the terrace.
Those were cold mornings, weren't they? How we'd shiver
in bed, layer our bodies with blankets bought fifteen years ago
in some flea market in Bangkok. Good times, I remember.


Remember, grandmother says, the stories you once knew
by heart. But my grandmother is fast fading away,
too eager, it seems, to take her shadow's place on the wooden floor.

Her sly lips no longer part as often, no longer spill the secrets
she kept from the ten thousand people she'd met in her life. She only
to the gentle sway of her rocking chair, only speaks in her dreams.

Remember youth. Remember running down endless leaf-laden trails,
spending nights in haunted woods, waking to mornings filled with
from a hundred curious animals. How you stood on a cliff

gazing longingly at the bluish blur of a distant castle. Those days
were the best of your life, when adventure not merely consisted
of midnight trips to the bathroom or boiling water in the kitchen,

but much more, much farther. Substance comes to those
whose age deserves it - but my grandmother, who sits silent
on her rocking chair, never had a voyager's soul, nor a hunter's heart.


Think only of one thing, of something that will make you remember:
the gifts, the boxes of jewellery, the bouquets that cost a fortune.
The meanings we crafted for our words, the pictures we painted with
    our sentences.
Think of the tender kisses we planted on each other's neck, of our
searching the maps of our bodies for islands lost forever in the ocean
of skin-draped flesh. Afternoons standing on the balcony, a naked
displayed before the sea and the sunset. Good times, I remember.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Postcards from Fragrant Harbour (2 of 4)

The happiest place on Earth never gets old. The happiest man on Earth would look into the Mirror of Erised and see only himself, exactly as he is. Because it shows our deepest desires, like a slice of Fantine's pie for Bamatabois. Fact: Disneyland Hong Kong is the smallest in the world, but you already know that.  

My first trip to Disneyland in 2007, I found The Festival of the Lion King enchanting and The Golden Mickeys rapturous. Not this time. The former  has become a sloppy, floppy song-and-dance cycle inundated with overindulgent props and cheap acrobatics for the easy-to-please. Simba was girlier than Nala, and the singing was devoid of life. The latter was a more consistent show, but I didn't like the Quasimodo; Bebe the host was a hottie though. And the Mainlanders beside me had terrible halitosis.

Facade of "It's a Small World," or the dolls exhibit. Different zones with pediatric mannequins dolled up according to region - Africa, China, Rainforest (which is to say, the regional divisions don't even make sense). The titular children's song plays in different languages as one rides a motorized Westernized banca down the chlorinated waterway. If you reach the end without passing out from an auditory overdose of the song, you get a prize.

We had this hotel guide book that I swallowed start to finish as a kid, and one of those featured for Hong Kong was the South Pacific Hotel!

First time in Hong Kong, we stayed in the Park Lane [right]. Second time, we did The Wesley, which is now the OZO Wesley. I was with adults, who are theoretically more difficult to travel with. 

I loved "Iron Man 3," but haven't seen the first two, so don't take my word for it. But the wit! And arrogant Robert Downey Jr.! And Ben Kingsley! Honestly, this film was enough to wash away the muck of last year's "Avengers."

I'm immature this way. Tagalog speakers rejoice!

One of the competitions MTG Philippines joins is the Po Leung Kuk Primary Mathematics World Contest. I don't know if this is the place,  but I got a bit giddy upon seeing this. Maths used to be a huge part of my nerdy life, because "the limit does not exist!"

Ocean Park is almost unrecognizable after seven years! There is now just one mega-aquarium, which is really much better and more convenient. Lobsters in action! Octopus! (Thus, one of my dreams was fulfilled.) Hammerhead shark!

There used to be just two giant pandas in Ocean Park. Now there's at least five of them. Plus the smaller reds. These two pandas made blankets of bamboo for themselves, which must be how they do things in animal bum world. However, you have to feel sorry for anyone or anything that poops balls of undigested plant matter.