All posts filed under “Manila

2019: A Year in Review

Repatriation can be a pretty daunting experience. In the past few months, I tried a couple of things just to see if something would click. While I originally thought I would need a year to transition to life back in Manila, it took me twice the amount of time to fully settle.

On the first day of 2020, I changed my units of measurement from miles to kilometers and my personal accounting currency from US Dollars to Philippine Pesos. I guess you  could say I’m finally home.

Overall, 2019 was a pretty great year. I joined a great organization that allowed me to continue my product work, we moved in to a new apartment, I ran a lot, ate a ton of food, visited Japan for the first time (and enjoyed it) and watched my kids grow and thrive. It was actually a bit of the same, but in a different city with different ways of doing things. Sure, I had to unlearn a lot of things, but I managed to pick up pretty fast.

A new cycle begins. Pretty apt considering I’m turning 40 in a few months.

Travel

Nasugbu, Batangas.

It’s great being based in Asia. 2019 travel  was a mix of the familiar and the new. It’s been months since I’ve been on a long haul flight and I don’t miss it at all.

I visited Hong Kong way too many times (in a holiday sense) for it to count as international travel. To us Manila-folk, Hong Kong will always be a convenient travel option. It makes perfect sense— you get there in a little under two hours and upon arrival you immediately enjoy world-class public transportation, eat amazing food and have access to pretty good retailers. Flights can be quite reasonable too, and so are the hotels. A 3-day trip is more than enough to scratch my itch. What’s not to love about this city?

Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.

When violent protests broke out in the streets of Mong Kok, I was attending a conference a few blocks away. Curiously, there was a “business-as-usual” air  all throughout the event,  with only a few people worrying as their return flights were canceled. But it was clear, Hong Kong society is entering a transformative era. Things might never be the same again.

Towards the summer months, I joined my wife and her friends for a short weekend in Bali. A big group of us stayed in a villa where we were attended to by a staff of three. The villa had great rooms, a nice pool and a common area. We dined on home-cooked meals and relaxed amidst the view of adjacent rice paddies. It was an honest-to-goodness vacation, I  hadn’t felt  that relaxed in a while.

Villa Alea, Bali
Bali, Indonesia

We did check out the party scene in Bali. We felt our age, kept it real and realized that we’d rather be back in our villa not doing anything.

Bali, Indonesia

Japan

Osaka Aquarium
Osaka Aquarium

We visited three key cities in Japan over two trips, one in May and another in December. This country has everything, tasty food, great people, green parks, fast trains, rich culture, heated toilets and quite possibly the best convenience stores on the planet. What took me so long to go ?

Japan is the current destination du jour for Filipinos. Flights have become cheaper and visa issuance isn’t much of a pain anymore. This meant getting a lot of recommendations prior to our trip. It also helped that my father-in-law is a huge Japanophile, with a particular interest in Japanese trains that made it really convenient for us to get around the city.

Tokyo

What a view.
Go go curry!
Ginza, Tokyo

We began our journey in Tokyo, where my family traveled with the rest of my in-laws. We were a big group, with two toddlers in tow. That didn’t stop us from doing a lot of things in Tokyo. I took my son to Hakuhinkan, a building filled with tons of Japanese toys, perfect for a kid who’s into Tomica and Plarail sets. We checked out the teamLab: Borderless exhibit and treated ourselves to a pretty trippy light show. We bought gashapons at every opportunity (those things do add up), sampled a lot of food from those Konbinis, bought knickknacks from Tokyo Hands and walked a lot.

For a big city, Tokyo works really well. The public transportation system is great, its neighborhoods bring a lot of vibrance and personality (just like New York) and people are polite. I’d love to see more of Tokyo in the future. I feel we barely scratched the surface.

Kyoto

Kyoto

We hopped  on a shinkansen and made our way to Kyoto, the second leg of our May trip. we settled in a smaller hotel and experienced a city sans the overwhelming urbanity of Tokyo. We had a more relaxed pace during our time there, we opted to just randomly discover stores and restaurants in our immediate neighborhood. The kids even managed to play in a tiny city playground with locals.

We used Kyoto as a jump-off point for a series of day trips to the Osaka Aquarium and the Arashiyama Bamboo forest. We mostly did touristy stuff but even those things were fun enough, after all, we were there for the kids.

Kyoto is probably more representative of Japan. It’s quieter, full of people just minding their own business.

Osaka

Osaka

I had a different reason for visiting Osaka in December so it was just me and my wife this time around. Osaka is still distinctly Japanese, maybe with a little bit more liveliness in the air. It feels different from Tokyo, it’s just a bit hard to pin down why . Still, we enjoyed the sheer density of the place . The food scene is definitely more vibrant and our appetites pretty much guided us around the city.

Running

It may not have been as great as the previous year but I was still obsessively consistent. In 2019, I ran a total of 2,309 kilometers spread over 224 runs. I ran more indoors, on a treadmill, thanks to a lack of proper outdoor running options in Makati (good thing I can run down south on weekends). Burned through a lot of shoes as well, retiring my trusty long run Mizunos for a new pair (that turned out  better), cursed Nike for making narrower shoes, resulting in a nasty callus that requires a pedicure every six weeks, and rekindled my relationship with Asics.

First trail.

I’m slower now. I would say by a lot. Easy runs in New York meant running an 8:45 minute mile, now it’s more of a 10:15. But that’s okay. I’m not too bothered.

Coming from the running wanderlust I gained from Chicago in 2018, I ran the China Coast Half Marathon in January and it proved to be one of the toughest 21Ks I’ve ever encountered. As someone used to running flat indoors, the course’s 418m elevation defeated me towards the end.

China Coast Marathon.

It was a fun race though. The view from the top was great. Dodging taxi cabs from time to time was weird but kinda added some quirk to the race. It also marked my second half marathon in Hong Kong (the first one was way back in 2010 and  gave me a pretty solid reason to train early in the year.

My official time was 2:00:14. I was happy with it, given the elevation.

After a strong-ish start to the year, I settled into my running routine—- typically 4-5 runs a week, covering 40-42kilometers. I’ve run under the scorching heat frequently enough to know this is not for me. This also meant sacrificing a big chunk of my sleep to wake up between 4-5AM just to avoid 8AM scorchers. Same yearly mileage goal, different ways of tackling it.

Going for a quick run during a holiday has its perks. Not only do you get to see more of the city, you get to offset excess calories from all that eating. I ran in parks, on hotel treadmills (they count), around castles and palace grounds.

Great view.

I was still yearning to run a marathon. I felt I was in good running shape after the 2018 season. I originally signed up for the Porto Marathon in November but skipped that in favor of something else. Osaka was the more attractive option for me, given its proximity. Also, I didn’t get in any majors in 2019, thanks to my luck with lotteries.

I’m so glad I chose Osaka though. I was already smitten with Japan after our trip last May and  I wanted to see more of the country.

The 12-week training period is the marathon itself. It was a pretty difficult training session for me. Opting to do my speed runs on the treadmill. I trained with the standard McMillan Running program made available to Strava Summit subscribers. Since it worked so well for me in Chicago, I didn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t a second time.

Running like it’s 2009 with Coach Roel. Who’s now based in Davao.

I started my training in September. I jumped at the chance of joining some Berlin and Chicago-bound runners during their taper runs which would help me get over the mental hurdles associated with a grueling 12-week training plan. It was a considerably late fall marathon, which tends to cluster around the late September to early November. At one point, I knew I was going to train by my lonesome. Fortunately, I managed to reconnect with people from my past, and also meet new friends. I joined a training group for Osaka led by Coach Ige Lopez. It was great meeting all of these people. They’re a great bunch.

So yes, I did my usual mix of intervals (doing Yassos again), tempos and long runs. It was hard at times, I remember cramping on one long run in Alabang. I rarely cramp. I knew I wouldn’t be as fast coming into the race. And I was totally okay with that. There was just so much happening in my world, I’d be lucky to do a sub-5. I tried to follow the plan to a T, but life happened so I missed a couple of key workouts. But I had to finish what I started. So I just showed up.

The race itself was wonderful. The weather was perfect, a bit chilly but perfect for running. It was well organized too, with a pretty fun expo experience and great communications with its participants. It’s really something deserving of its status within the running community. In fact, it felt just like a major. With 32,000 runners, it’s not too far off.

Osaka Marathon Expo

And wow Osaka. What a great city. Great food, nice people and culture to boot. Rica and I got there three days before the race so I had ample time to soak it all in and have some glorious local food. We started the race at around 7AM so I was all relaxed and ready by then. It was also a big plus that our hotel was just two blocks away from the start line. I was ready, powered by one egg sando and a couple of carby treats I brought from Manila. They even had this jelly drink that has the same energy content of one cup of rice. It was pretty good. I hoarded carbs minutes before the race.

I needed all of it. The course had a lot of “false flats” – those things that sucker you into running the same pace only to leave you more tired than usual. It was quite scenic though– things you tend to forget once you’re there and focused on the next aid station. So yeah, I remember it as scenic. At the halfway point, clocking in at 2:04, I thought I was doing pretty well, the prospect of a hitting a new PR even possible.

As I ran through the next half of the marathon, my legs started to feel tired (rightfully so). I almost hit the wall in the 30s, if not for the food distributed throughout the course. Osaka is known for all the available treats along the course and it did not disappoint. I was actually full towards the end! It also helped that there were a ton of people – most of them elderly – cheering you on AND ready to give you a hit of their muscle spray which was quite endearing.

I finished the marathon with an official time of 4:13:02. 5 minutes longer than my personal best but 5 minutes less than my projected finish time. I was quite happy with the result. I think I’m going to do more of these in the next few years. Berlin is next.

Eats

Gado-gado, Bali.

No surprise that I sampled a lot of new food with all that travel. It was mostly Asian fare ranging from classics to new, interesting restaurants in the region.

Second Draft’s Fried Chicken, Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is a great restaurant city, filling that void created when I said goodbye to New York. We had a chance to check out two of chef May Chow’s restaurants, the Little Bao Diner in Causeway Bar and Second Draft in the Tai Hang area. The specialty buns were good, huge and tasty, but I’m now a fan of her LB Caesar and Brussel Sprouts. Naturally grammable sans the stunt food appeal, Second Draft was fun, serving great gastropub fare. We enjoyed her fried chicken that went really well with beer.

Mott 32’s Char Siu, Hong Kong.

Then  we had Cantonese siu mei staples like Yung Kee (we didn’t have the patience to line up at Yat Lok). You’ll always have a good time there. If you feel like splurging some more, there’s Mott 32 for their decadent char siu. Despite all this , I fondly remember those cheap, take-out char siu/siew yoke combo meals from the neighborhood siu mei place in residential Kennedy Town. I’d eat those in my airbnb and be full at probably a tenth of the price of Mott 32.

 We didn’t really eat out in Bali. For the most part we had our villa staff prepare our meals. While their nasi goreng and satay was tasty, it was actually the Gado-gado that stood out. We enjoyed it so much we asked them to make it twice. It was delicious. Otherwise, the restaurant scene, based on our limited experience, was okay. I had an okay burger from an okay Aussie brunch joint, and the food in Mexicola was just plain instagram bait. I’ve had better tacos elsewhere in Asia (read: Lagrima).

Lawson’s Tamago Sando, Tokyo.
Sushi, Tokyo.
Okonomiyaki, Osaka.

Then there was Japan, full of restaurants that get a lot of things right. It was love at first bite with the tamago sando .I ended  up running an ad-hoc taste test across all the konbinis just to figure out which had the best (Answer: Lawson’s). Some of our memorable meals included ramen with a nice seafood base, steak prepared two-ways (grilled and teppanyaki-style), both of which were good. The sushi place we went to, unfortunately, was a tourist trap and was kind of a letdown considering the rest of the restaurants we’d been to . And it’s Japan!

Have you had Tempura so good you completely ignored the shrimp and went crazy for sweet potato (custardy, rich) and baby corn (snappy, fresh)? We chanced upon an unassuming Tempura restaurant in Kyoto, filled with locals, and tucked into one of those side streets. It was magical. Right across it was a karaage specialty restaurant that was also good. We had biru with everything.

Tempura, Kyoto.

Speaking of alcohol, I also drank way too much chuhai in Japan, something my Fukuoka-based friend described as a typical gaijin behavior. I tried as many variants as I could while I was there, from the ubiquitous Strong Zero series to the canned highballs carrying the Suntory and Jim Beam brand. It was cheap, and delivered a nice kick at 9%. You can just imagine my joy when I saw them stocked in some Manila groceries.

Pork Intestines, Hong Kong.
Chicken Skin Yakitori, Tokyo.
Kushikatsu, Osaka.
Chicken Tendon Yakitori, Osaka.

I also ate a lot of street meat. From braised intestines in the streets of Hong Kong, to yakitori and kushikatsu in Japan. I should turn this into an instagram project.

Tandoori Chicken, Ricksha Streetside Tandoor.
Tacos, Lagrima.

Manila remains to be quite a vibrant city for dining. Standouts this year include The Ricksha Street Tandoor restaurant in Kapitolyo where I enjoyed their Tandoori Chicken Salad & Dum Biryani. I also enjoyed Siam Thai BBQ in the same area, proving that you have way better alternatives to those ubiquitous Samgyupsal-esque places all over the city. Elbert’s Pizzeria in Salcedo Village adds further fuel to a growing pizza scene in the city. Metronome was also good.

I’d like to go deep into certain genres of food at this point. I’d like to understand Japanese Curry some more, maybe experiment and find some East Asian food as well.

Chicken Kabsa
Cabbage rolls.

I’m resigned to the fact that I can’t do as much cooking as I want to. But our household help has proved to be quite a stellar proxy for all the things I’d like to try. Our cook previously worked in the Middle East and brought with her great recipes like Chicken Kabsa (a.k.a. Majboos), Biryani and Cabbage Rolls, all of which were really good. I’m a sucker for mixed rice dishes. I think we should have more of it at home. I also attempted to make kebabs with the wide grilling sticks I ordered from Lazada but can’t seem to get it right. Maybe it’s the lack of a proper charcoal grill. I have to tweak this further.

Music

I wanted to like my Spotify annual review a lot but Something about it was a bit off. All in all, I listened to 2,719 unique tracks from 1,449 artists.

My top 10 tracks for the year were all women-led. Leading the pack was Charli XCX’s single “Gone” from her latest album with me listening to it 253 times. I’ve followed Charli’s work for years now, even before her collaboration with PC Music’s A.G. Cook, and she continues to create the music of the future. Then more of the same from the past years, mostly Scandinavian pop, most of them danceable (I don’t dance). Scandinavian pop dominated my Top 100 list all in all. I listened to a lot of Tilda Austen, Sigrid, Eva, Noonie Bao, Lisa Ajax.

My commute was dominated by podcasts and audiobooks. I’ve narrowed down my Podcast listening to a pretty simple routine. There’s “The Daily” by the New York Times, “Track Changes” by Postlight and the occasional “Splendid Table” by American Public Media and of course “Planet Money” by the NPR guys. Otherwise, audiobooks (more on this later).

This leaves me with room to listen to music during my runs, which kinda explains why this year’s list is poppier than usual. In fact, I listened to music less than the previous year, mostly concentrated -in the months of June and July (at the height of marathon training). I also listened to music at work,  stuff from jazz guy Mathias Algotsson (whose album was aptly titled “Home at Work” followed by the inspired “Home at Work Again”). I also listened to a bit of Lonely Island just for laughs. “Jack Sparrow” remains to be one of the best comedic works in recent history.

As I built my running playlists, I’d often revisit old favorites so it was a big year for that too. In fact, I’ve iterated on my running playlist many times and it’s finally in a good, unstoppable state. As part of my marathon music prep, I come up with two playlists of equal length— a steady first half playlist with lots of pop, R&B and Electro then shift gears with my “And Off We Go” playlist with music from Sonic Youth, The Dambuilders, Com Truise and a whole slew of music you would categorize as “vaguely danceable rock music”. It’s a lot of fun. If there’s one thing to take away from this, just add Sonic Youth’s “Incinerate” and you’ll run faster by at least 20%. The same can be said about Mr Little Jean’s “Good Mistake”. These are timeless power songs. Then there’s “Pogo” by Digitalism. Of course!

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1yZNTmwcVleYB2NK0yOMDe?si=HlsA0TNqSM-LRQk6qvn-YA
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0WA7DQULin7dbTAQrnBLSX?si=tIpU3DkAReGJMtzPW89DPA

As for albums of note, I liked Shura’s “forevher” while Lil Nas X’s EP was an unexpected surprise (I’m partial to his track “C7osure”). I’m also honest enough that “Charli” by Charli XCX was a bit of a disappointment, especially after releasing a lot of bangers in the lead up to the actual release of the album.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1w4oUkhsk2hf4C9r5PxQKZ?si=vSqhl3JsRfe8R2_mVKF7bQ

I continue to “stan” (obligatory “is that what kids listen to nowadays” bit) PC Music only because they’re the best. Like really crazy good. Get on this train. 

Speaking of stanning, I sampled some Kpop, but nothing major. It’s actually pretty good. I respect the scene. It’s just that I’ve reached that point in my life where an album like “Home at Work” is my idea of a good time. I look forward to more music like that in my life. I’m getting old.

Technology

Software done right, is a beautiful, living thing. I love it so much that I practically earn a living from it as a product person. But sometimes these things wilt, either from bad decisions or an emergent alternative that’s good enough to replace the incumbent. As I begin a new decade of computing I said goodbye to software I’ve used for years (some going all the way back to 2004) and said hello to more progressive, hungrier products. It was a bit difficult to mechanically say goodbye, yet I emerged triumphant. I was ready to move forward. Farewell, Evernote and Flickr.

Then there’s social media. Things are generally more inward-looking for me right now. I only published one post on Facebook (only to thank people who greeted me on my birthday – I’m no barbarian) and shared two photos on Instagram in 2019. I still tweeted a lot though, probably more than the usual but then again, Twitter is a weird place. This sense of inwardness led me to finally cut off Flickr, whose community, much to my disappointment, died a long time ago. Couple that with a pretty stagnant and dated product experience, I just knew I had to let it go.

This was also the year of realized disillusion with some hardware brands I’ve grown loyal to. I think Apple has  become too complacent (save for the Airpods, now on my second pair). I was really taken aback by Apple’s response to this whole keyboard fiasco (yet, I got one of those newer Macbook Pros for work) and the lack of any substantial updates on the iOS and iPhone front. It just wasn’t something I wanted anymore. That Apple magic has somewhat dimmed.

I had the option to get a new phone at work so I jumped at the chance and immediately got a Huawei Mate 20 Pro. True confession: I used to view Android fanboys (disparagingly) as the same guys who used to overclock their PCs in the 90s. People who saw complexity and pointless performance as a plus rather than a liability. Let’s just say I ate my words. I love how I can actually customize a lot of things with my phone right now, from custom launchers to widgets.

But the big revelation here was the maturity of the Google ecosystem, which brings me back to my timely farewell to Flickr. Google Photos is what a modern photo management site should aspire to be. Not only  does it offer a better way to view and catalog your photos, it’s great at repurposing your photos. Your photo library becomes this highly personalized source of entertainment, from resurfacing and remixing existing photos to surfacing old photos from the past (in the form of stories). I love how I can autogenerate albums and I actually use its people feature. While there’s valid concern for privacy, given that Google is essentially an advertising business, I’ve more or less adapted a pro-data sharing stance. It’s always a two-way relationship with these platforms.

In a way, my shift to Google could be one of circumstance. Asia is more conducive to an open Internet where sticking to your typical Apple stack  can be limiting (but amazing in the US). Google offers more flexibility. To illustrate, my TV runs on Android TV. Equipped with the Google Assistant, I can now control my Xiaomi air purifier and electric fans through my TV(!) and phone. Of course you can do this with Apple, but your options are more limited.

I still got an Apple Card though. That thing is pretty.

On the note-taking front, I’ve successfully migrated my Evernote content to Notion, where it’s more organized and frankly, prettier. I like the flexibility provided by notion blocks. The ability to have multi-column layouts did it for me. It’s just a superior product experience. It also helps that there are a lot of users out there openly sharing their workflows. Evernote’s community, on the other hand, is dead. And these things do matter. As for notion, it has become a reliable note taking, lightweight project management, trip-planning app for me. Evernote’s old job, which- was to serve as a vault for important, scanned documents has been relegated to Google Drive and iCloud (just for redundancy), I don’t need a notes app for that. Still, there’s so much to improve on the Notion side of things, maybe better search and speed.

I love these morphable apps. Airtable is quite the workhorse– I’m using it as a CMS for some of the sites I manage, a home inventory (inspired by a paid option I found in the wild), planned our move to the new apartment – basically anything that requires a pretty rich database. It sucks as a spreadsheet and should never be considered as one – that’s what Google Sheets are for.

As for other apps, I still use Dropbox paper for general writing, especially product specs and longform content. I’ve tried my hand at Figma and see why it’s better than Sketch but I still find myself using Sketch as my core design tool because I’m just too lazy to learn a new design tool. I never missed a day in my Day One diary and look forward to writing  init every day. The whole Google Suite is just better, even after my exposure to Office 365 at work (is this even a valid argument?).

Slack remains to be my core chat tool, begging everyone at work (who’s used to Viber – the corporate messenger of choice in this market) to sign up. So far, it’s been good. The ones I have to interact with everyday are online so that works out . All I’m saying is, we should compartmentalize. You should separate work chat from the personal. That way you can mute it outside of work. Isn’t that better? Interestingly, Slack usage dropped for a total of 35 hours in 2019, a far cry from my News Deeply days.

Airmail remains to be my go-to mail client, having spent a total of 96 hours on it last year. This was followed by me spending 69 hours on my to-do list. Managing your tasks can have such a huge overhead.

I’ve tried a couple of duds too. Coda.io is pretty interesting but not good enough to make me choose it over Notion. Plus a whole slew of apps I completely forgot about (and there are lots of them).

I had a little bit of fun with hardware this year and it pretty much covers a lot of things. I suddenly had to upgrade my Fitbit Flex, which I loved, after losing it in Osaka in December. It was the third model I used (starting with the Zip, then the One). I needed something  I could put on a clip so ended up getting a Fitbit Inspire right away. I’m quite happy with it and I consider it a huge upgrade from the hyper minimalist Inspire tracker. And I have a better chance of not losing it.

I stand by my policy of having an almost ambient tracker. I don’t need another thing to put on my strap, that’s what my refurbished Garmin Forerunner 235 tracker is for. If you want to maintain a step habit, which I have since 2012, you want something that’s out of the way. I’ve seen way too many people get a Fitbit for Christmas, only to drop it after a few years (you should see my Fitbit friends list).

I also acquired a couple of neat toys that, in a way,  are a reflection of my new life here in Manila. We had to get Air Purifiers for our apartment, one Coway and another Xiaomi to make sure that the kids are breathing cleaner air in the city. I also got one of those Mi Walking Pads, which is a delight to use. I paired it with a cheap standing desk setup and now I have a walking treadmill I use at work. I have no excuse now not to hit my daily 10,000 step quota on days where I don’t run.

 As part of my whole Google ecosystem, I have a Sony Android TV that could be a bit better on the user interface side of things, and a Google WIFI setup that came with my home fiber connection.

I’m currently using a 2019 Macbook Pro (sans Touchbar) for work and I’m quite happy with it (I know I’m seriously contradicting myself here). I upgraded to the newer Airpods after my first generation Airpods died. I do most of my charging with Qi Wireless chargers.

 I’ve more or less kept the rest. My personal Macbook Pro from 2015 is still running pretty well despite showing some physical signs of age and my refurbished Garmin Forerunner 235 is still a workhorse. My phone doesn’t really matter much since they’ve all felt the same, performance-wise since 2017. Only the software has changed.

 The Southeast Asian Internet (in 2019)

It’s been more than a year since I last set foot in North America. I still think about the overall Internet experience a lot but I don’t necessarily miss it. More often than not, it’s really the external factors that irk me from time to time. Case in point, waiting times for Grab during peak hours. It’s really more symptomatic of the market rather than the technology itself, which is considerably more sophisticated than Uber. Lalamove remains to be indispensable for personal errands (without the complicated add-on fees and taxes of American startups). As for services I have yet to try, there are transport services like Angkas and MetroMart for online groceries since Honest Bee had to shut down. There’s a beepbeep.ph, as a service for motorists with their on-demand services. I love it. Klook is also pretty great for traveling, something North America badly needs. Our move to the new apartment was also aided by Transportify, though I had a pretty sad experience with Gawin. There are hits and misses.

I totally dig this whole superapp scene made popular by the likes of Grab and Gojek (which isn’t available in the Philippines yet). To a certain degree, Lazada is also a superapp (I guess in the same vein as Indonesia’s Tokopedia). They all seem to have a core wallet strategy, then offering a whole slew of adjacent services on top of their core offering. Grab can do logistics, food delivery, bills payment and  airtime while Lazada does the same too with airtime. I haven’t completely utilized these apps, going more with Paymaya – a true wallet app with really generous rebates when you pay your bills and groceries. In this superapp world, the incentives are financial for me.

After a period of disappointment, I’ve been happy with our online banking options as well. BPI does it pretty well, followed by Security Bank. I’d love to try Unionbank one of these days. I think they’re well on the right path to make things better.

The Southeast Asian Internet is far from perfect. I’d love to see online pharmacies giving the incumbent Mercury Drug a run for its money. Here in the Philippines, you have an overabundance of lending apps, a classic case of the lechon manok phenomenon. Maybe it’s also time for us to have a good regional ebook and audiobook retailer, although I can see how they’ll have a hard time competing with a juggernaut like Amazon when it arrives on our shores.

Gaming

I went on semi-hiatus this year. I did buy a lot of games though, mostly out of peer pressure and serious FOMO. I wish I had more time to play. I really do. There was an attempt to relive my Zelda experience (by proxy) with Skyrim and although I see and actually appreciate the appeal, the realization that it was going to be yet another 200 (or more) hour game just made it hard for me sustain. It’s great though. It feels as if you can do so much more in that universe. There was also an attempt to play Super Smash Bros Ultimate, but that didn’t work out so well. I’m just not good at playing Smash and I’m totally fine with that.

Tetris 99 was a pretty good distraction and West of Loathing was a throwback to those days we played Kingdom of Loathing at work more than a decade ago. Untitled Goose Game and its novelty wore off after a few attempts. Maybe I’m better off playing “big” games on the Switch. The last game I played, Pokemon Sword was fun. But again, you really have to put in the work here.

I sometimes wish I could find more time to play. After all, I’ve got a TV set in a living room with a Switch. Kids, especially toddlers can be a blocker too. And I’m usually tired by the time I get home. I’m not good at this whole gamer dad business.

But yes, I’d love to play the latest Borderlands game and I still have to check out Subset Games’ Into the Breach.

Reads

I’ve completed Goodreads’ Reading Challenge for the seventh straight year, going all the way back to 2013 – where I set a yearly reading quota of 20. It has since normalized to 30 books a year and I’ve been setting this target since 2015. While it’s good to read all of these books, I’m now starting to feel less attached to what I read. I feel I haven’t been retaining as much, a lot of ideas have been falling through the cracks.

As an aside, I live by very simple rules in my life. Run 1200 miles a year, read 30 books, set aside a certain amount of money for savings and if possible, run a marathon. I noticed everything flows from there. You can see where this is going. I’ve become an achievement junkie and it has somehow led to this state of subpar retention when it comes to books. Maybe I’m measuring progress with the wrong metrics.

I discovered the utility of audiobooks last year, again more as an adjustment to my relocation to the Philippines. It just makes more sense for me to listen to audiobooks while sitting in Manila traffic. It’s essentially the same pattern of media consumption I had in New York, where I would catch up on my ebook reading during my commute. The intent remains the same, the medium just adapted  to its environment. I should note, however, that I tend to retain more information with audiobooks. And this was an unexpected benefit.

I listened to a total of 19 audiobooks last year, translating to a lot of listening hours (considering that an average audiobook is 8 hours long). I guess you could say I listened my way through my reading quota. I’m currently subscribed to Audible, with the occasional purchase of credit bundles. It’s been such a great experience. And they have Android Auto/Apple Carplay capabilities too.

I gained additional credits in my personal MBA in 2019, reading a lot of books about Management and Leadership. I’ve been an individual contributor in the past decade and with my new role in Cignal, so I had to reacquaint myself with these unsharpened skills. I started with the basics, going with “The First 90 Days” by Michael D. Watkins then progressed to Julie Zhuo’s “Making of a Manager”, “Radical Candor” by Kim Scott, “Measure What Matters” by John Doerr and Ben Horowitz’s “What You Do is Who You Are” and “Trillion Dollar Coach” towards the end of the year. This set of books gave me a general toolkit to draw from. And this was something I really needed in 2019. Of the lot, I found “Measure What Matters” to be really inspiring, “Making of a Manager” on the other hand, was quite a good listen, allowing to me to get a refresher course on the basics.

Then there were books that were so below the radar, only the dedicated and curious are rewarded with a find so good that you’re just surprised by its unseen value. I was thinking about Nokia one day and wondered if there was a good case study out there about the company’s history, notably what caused the company to lose so much market share to Apple and Google (by way of Microsoft). In my search, I stumbled upon a pretty boring looking book called “Transforming Nokia” written by its current chairman Risto Siilasma. And here I was thinking, “what? they’re still around?”. This book is a great modern fable of too much success, a company’s decline and its eventual redemption. The prose isn’t entertaining, oftentimes, robotic but the message is clear – with great management – and a great board of directors in this case you can pretty much steer a company to a dramatic turnaround. You won’t hear stories like this nowadays. I have so much respect now for Nokia and its leadership team. They should also write a book on Foursquare and maybe even Vonage.

I remember kidding to someone about completing my “modern grifter” trilogy years a few years back, right after reading “Billion Dollar Whale” and “Bad Blood”. The joke was finally complete when I read “My Friend Anna”, the story of New York City grifter Anna Delvey. It was generally entertaining, as is always the case with high profile scams. As a bonus, and not necessarily part of my imaginary grifter trilogy was Evan Ratliff’s “The Mastermind” – the story of a hacker turned kingpin who somehow built his empire from the Philippines. In Makati no less.

I’m a nonfiction reader by default. I do, however, read at least one fiction book to keep things fresh. In 2019, I read Ling Ma’s “Severance”, a post-apocalyptic zombie novel with a deadpan narrator. I liked the book a lot, it was quite an easy read(listen) and goes to show how boring life can still get when society breaks down.

Other notable books of the year include John Hodgman’s “Medallion Status” and “Vacationland“. I didn’t know he was such a gifted writer, in the same vein as David Sedaris. I also liked the bittersweet saga of Serious Eats, through the almost eponymous book “Serious Eater” by Ed Levine. I also enjoyed Russ Parsons “How to Read a French Fry” as well as Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics”. I wanted to really get into James Clear’s “Atomic Habits” book, maybe I’ll have a chance to read this again. There’s just so much to digest in that book.

There’s still a ton of stuff to read (more of listen) out there. But I have to somewhat tweak my accidental solution to information retention with audiobooks. Goodreads recently clarified that rereads actually count against your reading challenge targets. I think it’s time to revisit some old friends.

Family

5 and 2
Max
Oz
It’s possible that Oz contracted Dengue during this shoot.

My wife chides me for not talking about our family too much. Well, it’s really more of a privacy concern more than anything. But hey, a big bulk of the “action” came from this part of my life. It’s the most important part!

Rica has pretty much transitioned to Manila-life, way earlier than I did. She’s still in advertising, enjoying a leisurely stroll to work (occasionally hailing a Grab) and has taken up spin classes in the neighborhood. The kids on the other hand have been busy during the day with school. It’s funny how 2 year olds like Oz have the option to attend special classes where they learn their ABCs. Max, on the other hand is doing great in a Montessori setting. I’ve taken particular interest in their toys as well, with both kids into cars, the Tomica kind in general. Max has graduated to legos with Oz taking over Duplo duties. I think these toys are great for creating new neural links in their developing brains.

It’s good to be surrounded by family. Again this is one of the major reasons why we decided to move back to Asia. Everything just seems tighter and stronger at this point. We are blessed to raise our family around a community. We wouldn’t  have it any other way.

Looking Ahead

I’d like to have the mental capacity to “create” and “share” again so this means increasing my output. I see a lot of great opportunities towards building datasets and turning it into real products. I love how Airtable has made this whole thing fun and I’m trying to come up with ways on how to do more with it.

On a related note, I’m also loving the growing NoCode movement. While some of us have great memories of visual software development with dreamweaver in the late 90s, I started playing with modern versions like Squarespace and a whole slew of visual page building plugins in WordPress like Visual Composer a few years ago. I think this will result in a new “adept” class of professionals, people who understand how the web should look like without the need for sophisticated engineering. Being tool adept is a great modern, professional skill. You’ll go places with this mindset.

These things are by no means revolutionary. The time is just ripe for greater adoption of these tools. And that’s pretty exciting.

I’d love to go deep with a couple of things in 2020 as well. Maybe I can spend more time in the kitchen, improving my skill. I’m curious about working with flour, water, salt, yeast and all that good stuff. Maybe I can practice again with Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread since I don’t have a stand mixer (nor do I plan to get one, those things occupy so much space). I’d like to learn more about Mexican cuisine. Fermentation is also interesting.

I don’t really have any bold, new initiatives this year. I believe in the power of incremental growth. Small tweaks can really go a long way. I started the year resetting my tools and dropping some. But the core framework (see aside above) remains the same only because it has worked so well for me in the past.

I’m turning 40 this year. I’ve gone through enough cycles already and it’s nice to approach this age in a time of relative stability. I’m happy to be where I am. There’s no place I’d rather be. Not even New York City.

META

This marks my fifth year of writing this yearly essay, but also a reminder that I’ve only been doing this one post a year schtick this whole period. I keep telling myself that I should write more. Some people have told me that they checked out my “blog” and I find myself really embarrassed for subjecting them to this exercise in navel gazing.

But this is such a great exercise in reflecting on the year that was. There’s a tiny part of me that does write this for third-party consumption, only to give some people I’ve lost touch with a sense of catching up (if they can power through all 7,500 words of it). This year was particularly long. I’ve become more verbose in my writing thanks to my daily journaling routine which has progressed from 200 words to a day to more than double. Life remains more or less the same, I’m just getting more comfortable putting it in writing.

I do believe that people will start embracing inwardness soon though and entries like these – putting yourself out there, is going to be a thing of the past. Maybe we’re all tired of keeping tabs. I am.

I started writing this essay on the 23rd of December. Then I started writing a section a day on weekdays. I had to rewrite a lot of sections in the process. It’ll never be perfect. I still see typos and regrettable prose from the previous years. I’ve kept at it on a daily basis, setting up a recurring task for January and February. I finished the first round of copyedits on February 9. It all came together towards the end of February, thanks to my wife! You should marry someone willing to edit this. Photos were added in March. Links came last. I should be more efficient next year. Or reduce the length by half!

Thanks for reading. Whoever you are!

2018: A Year in Review

We knew the day would come. It was time to leave New York, a place we called home for more than 8 wonderful years. With the arrival of Oscar in 2017, it was just a matter of waiting for our apartment lease to expire, giving us a 90-day period to say our bittersweet goodbyes to a city whose affection was just as elusive as it was rewarding.

Repatriation can take its toll on you. It involves a lot of emotional, financial and mental preparation. Despite all this, my family powered through the first quarter of 2018, shipping twelve big boxes, a few pieces of art, a reliable dining table and two kids from the Upper West Side to the suburban town in Manila that is Alabang. My family was finally home.

While all this was happening, I still had one foot in Manhattan’s door. I managed to secure a pretty great arrangement with my then employer, News Deeply, to continue working from Asia. In order to make this happen, I would voluntarily fly back to New York every quarter, a month at a time. If you read between the lines, I figured out a way to not say goodbye. 

With this unconventional work agreement, I’d start my workday at 4 PM and finish by midnight. It worked out pretty well – in the daytime I got to chat with our development teams in Ukraine and India while hanging out with the kids. A couple of months would pass and the next thing I knew, I was on a flight back to New York.

I always felt that I never left. Only the seasons changed. But the pain of trying to find an apartment, missing my kids and dealing with jetlag (every quarter, a month a time) made me wonder if it was a good idea after all. Was it really worth it?

2018 was also a terrible year for digital media (especially in New York). Towards the end of August 2018, News Deeply entered into survival mode, paused publication for a majority of its verticals and as a consequence, let go of most of its people. The whole ride was pretty much over by September.

All in all, I spent 40% of the year in New York City and the remaining 60% of it in Asia. One day, you’re complaining about the subway service, the next, you find yourself stuck in Manila traffic. Those Manila/New York City cycles felt like a weird homecoming. You weren’t really missed. Both cities expected you to hit the ground running. The whole idea was good in theory, but I was surprised by how I relieved I was when I didn’t have to fly back to New York anymore.  It was time to embrace my new home.

We’re still settling. We have yet to move into a new apartment, and we have to find a new school for Max. We found jobs. We’re surrounded by family. We’re discovering new things about the city that has changed so much since we left. It’s good to be back.

Running

2018 was my biggest running year yet, breaking last year’s record 1310 miles to hit a new high of 1503 (approximately 2400 kilometers). I even managed to put in some good mileage in the first quarter, thanks to a mild New York winter. When I first arrived in Manila sometime in April, I took a while to acclimatize to the heat and humidity, opting to run indoors instead.

But I did go places, from doing hilly loops in Alabang to relaxed runs by the sea. Looking back, I realize I’ve been running almost consistently (save for a brief adult dodgeball detour) for 12 years. I remain thankful for the fact that I haven’t really had any serious injuries and while my enthusiasm for the activity wavers, I still find time to lace up and go for a run. I’m just happy I’ve kept a sport for this long. Who would’ve thought?

Chicago

Thought I was done with marathons after New York in 2010. But with the birth of my eldest, quitting tobacco and the discovery that I could log more miles in a week (with great results in terms of speed), I ran my second marathon in Chicago.

After a grueling 12-week training period, mostly by myself, I set a new personal best with a 4:07 marathon. I originally wanted to do a sub-4 but was quite happy with the results nonetheless. It’s still a 45-minute difference from my previous PR.

The race itself was wonderful. It had almost the same energy as New York, but a fast and flat course. It was also well organized and I particularly appreciated the Biofreeze (a.k.a. American Salonpas) stations along the course. While it drizzled on the first half with high humidity, I was pretty relaxed as I breezed through the miles. Unlike my previous marathon, I didn’t hit the wall at all. I guess the Gatorade chews worked, and the previous night’s Thai fried rice helped as well.

I enjoyed Chicago so much that I may just embark on a journey to do 5 out 6 majors. I’ll take it slow, but I don’t plan to wait nine years in between marathons.

Eats

Having spent a significant amount of time in two food cities, 2018 was one of discovery. I managed to explore more of New York, thanks to my transient housing situation, and I’ve been able to enjoy Manila’s vibrant restaurant scene.

New York will always be my favorite city for food (I am half right and half biased) and this year I tried so many things for the first time such as West African food, primarily driven by my curiosity to try Jollof Rice (very, very good). In October, I dragged a couple of friends to check out this Georgian resturant in Alphabet City. I’d been dreaming of trying Georgian Khachapuri and boy did it not disappoint. It was everything I imagined it to be. We ate it with some dumplings and Chkmeruli, a dish I hope to replicate here in Manila, paired with nice crusty bread.

I also had a brief love affair with Nepali cuisine. Thanks to News Deeply’s proximity to Curry Hill, I was a regular in Dhaulaguri Kitchen where I would often eat by myself, ordering a plateful of Momos AND getting a Buffalo Sukuti Thali with unlimited basmati rice. I was quite depressed to eventually learn that they had to shut down their Manhattan branch.

On the Mexican side of things, I discovered a little Antojitos cart near the office and I lined up for their Arroz con Huevos y Saliccia served on a Taco. Living by myself in New York for a few weeks also meant having the time to trek all the way to Jackson Heights to finally try Colombian Bandeja Paisa. God, it was so good. My one-month stay in Prospect Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn also meant that I had access to Peppa’s Jerk Chicken, a dish I would bring to potlucks in Manhattan.

On the healthier side of things, when that Nancy Silverton x Sweetgreen chopped salad came out in April, I was practically there almost every day.

Once I began staying in the Upper East Side, I kind of went overboard with Pye Boat Noodle, a neighborhood Thai joint with origins in Queens. I used to order their noodles, but I eventually just kept things real and ordered their crab fried rice. This dish gave me so much comfort and made me excited to travel to Bangkok a few months later (more on that bit). This was, without a doubt, my dish of the year.

My time in the kitchen was significantly limited. I had a kitchen I could call my own for only two months, and save for the occasional request from my in-laws to prepare something at home (which I eagerly welcomed – sometimes to a fault), it made me realize how cooking has become such a big part of my life and how much I miss it.

But yes, we find ways to scratch that itch. A short Bangkok trip provided the opportunity to attend one of those touristy (but good!) cooking schools in the city. Bangkok Thai Cooking Academy’s program was perfect – you choose from a list of dishes you’d like to cook (you get to make five all in all) and you prepare them in rapid succession in an airconditioned kitchen. It begins with a token market tour but once you get to the kitchen, everything comes pre-prepped (say at 80%) and all you have to do is go about your business in the wok. I was blown away by how convenient the whole thing was. Anyway, I ended up making Pad See Ew, Yum Woon Sen Salad, Black Pepper Beef, Banana Fritters and probably my favorite of the lot, Khao Soi.

I made some No Knead bread in Manila just to remind myself of how easy it is to make. I also tried to recreate the Thai dishes at home, with limited success. I invested in a couple of 1-inch wide skewers to make homemade kebabs. My friend Melissa’s cast-iron paella is such a crowd pleaser that I made it multiple times (thanks to bags of Vigo rice that we brought back from New York) and turns out New York Times’ Persian Fried Chicken recipe is quite possible to make in the Philippines (hint: dried mint? it’s just mint tea!).

I’d like to cook more at home. I can’t wait to have my own kitchen.

Music

It never fails. I always compose this annual essay with the notion that it was a bad year in music. But the more I unpack what I listened to in the past year the more I realize that it wasn’t bad at all. Still a big year for Scandinavian pop. While I didn’t enjoy new stuff from artists from the past years, there’s a new crop of pop singers that made up for everybody’s else’s sophomore curse.

This year’s guilty pleasure was Silk City/Dua Lipa’s banger “Electricity” that proved too good to resist. I don’t know man, I just like piano-laden, 90s-esque house music. This song helped me power past the 16th mile during the Marathon, it’s good and indulgent. Just the way I like it.

Speaking of music, wow Last.fm actually fixed things! Nice to see (free) reports back in the fray.

Productivity & Apps

I’ve fully transitioned my design workflow to Sketch (and no, I’m not considering Figma anytime soon) and I had no reservations canceling my Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. I also canceled my Basecamp 2 account after using it (heavily, at times) for seven years. I find myself spending less on apps compared to a year ago. It’s nice to downsize.

I still can’t quit Evernote. There’s way too much stuff connected to my account, which includes downloads of all my US bills via FileThis, cloud syncing with my Scanner Pro app. Evernote attempted to introduce a new app, but it didn’t really change things. Since then, I’ve become a fanatic Notion.so user, which is something Evernote could’ve been in a parallel universe. Notion provides me with enough flexibility to create documents with special layouts. It’s such a wonderful multi-platform productivity tool.

I’ve long recommended Day One for journaling, which I primarily use for memory augmentation. I’m glad that I’ve kept this up for three years now and as I enter my fourth year of journaling, all the investment in writing a daily entry is paying off via its “On This Day” feature. It’s so nice to see how much can change in a year. Augmented memory does compound!  

Slack remains to be the most dominant app in my life, with over 142 hours logged last year. 

I reduced time on Facebook from 111 hours in 2017 to just 10 hours in 2018, something I deliberately decided on when I started the year. I subjected my algorithm to a horrible diet through the years and it made me realize that it’s no longer the fun place we had in 2007. I’ve started to feel less happy after visiting the site. I had to cut it out. But not quitting it altogether since so much of my livelihood is dependent on running ads on the network (I know) and it’s still a great way to chat with people. Thankfully, I can go to messenger.com and do my thing there.

There are greener communities of interest out there and Facebook’s just not doing it for me. And maybe it’s time for people to start weaving their own communities again? Can we make Flickr a thing again? 

Gaming

I don’t know what possessed me to get a Nintendo Switch at the beginning of the year. I originally thought about getting a console only because I have a son that I’d like to eventually play games with (true story) and it’s been more than a decade since my last. So one cold January day, I dragged Max with me to Best Buy to get a Switch. I ended up getting Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as my first game, as recommended by a store employee. 

It made me fall in love with gaming again. As my first Zelda title, I didn’t know what to expect. Everything about it was such a great experience, from exploring the kingdom of Hyrule by horse and good ol’ fashioned mountain climbing to solving puzzles found in over 120 shrines (I completed all of them). BoTW kept me company in the months my family was already in Manila. Finishing the game was bittersweet. It was 350 hours well spent.

 

Since then, I’ve tried my hand with other games. The only other thing that kept me engaged, despite my relative lack of skill in it, was Fortnite. It took me a while to get over my fear of sucking until I realized that it’s actually okay to be mediocre at it. Sure, you can hate hate it, but for the most part, it’s really a game where people hang out. Of course, I don’t really have a lot of gamer dad friends into this game, but it was nice racking kills with a random squad of people ranging from 4 to 50. And when they sold the Technoviking emote on the app store, I knew I had to buy it.

Other games of note include Mario Kart 8, Overcooked, Smash Bros Ultimate and of course Skyrim on the Switch. I wish I had more time to play, but I’m just thankful I have time to play in the first place! But if you feel like a lapsed gamer as I did a few years ago, go get yourself a Switch and play Zelda. It’s a great gateway drug to gaming.

Books

This year’s book lineup was a bit of a mixed bag. There were some books that I read because of the reviews (read: you can’t entirely trust them) and some I read because it gave me a break from the whole single-word-titled-book-on-this-“surprising”-scientific-study (what do you even call this genre!?). It wasn’t my best reading year, but I had to power through.

I discovered Jackie Parry’s writing on my once active Amazon Prime Reading account. Hey, it’s a book about cruising so why not give it a shot. I liked her “This is It” book so much that I read her first memoir “Of Foreign Build” a few books later. Her books provided me with a nice dose of escapism.

Other notables include David Sedaris’ Calypso, which made for some light reading on my commute from my apartment to the office, and Porter Erisman’s “Six Billion Shoppers,” also a great read on the emerging market e-commerce scene.

It was also a surprisingly good year for work-related nonfiction. I found “Interviewing Users” by Steve Portigal and “Product Management in Practice” by Matt LeMay extremely helpful for product work. In fact, I could go to say that Matt Lemay’s book was my read of the year. Maybe I did save the best for last.

I also gravitated towards grifter-themed books. I was entertained by John Carreyrou’s “Bad Blood” and Tom Wright & Bradley Hope’s “Billion Dollar Whale”, often leaving me amused and shocked at times. I can’t wait for the Anna Delvey book to complete my trilogy. There should be one.

I think I’ve had it with these nonfiction fads. Even this year’s roster of Scandinavian books, with “Päntsdrunk” and “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”, bored me. I expected more exposition on the subject matter instead of making it embarrassingly tongue-in-cheek. I don’t know, maybe I’ve outgrown its utility. I almost gave up on “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” because of its self-indulgent writing style, while Yuval Noah Harari’s “Homo Deus” was not as good as his first book.

Since I don’t have much of a commute in my new life in Manila, I experimented with a couple of audiobooks to see if it’d stick. Having lived in NY meant that I still had access to my NYPL account with Overdrive support. Combine this with the library chrome plugin and I can check if an ebook or audiobook was available. All in all, I listened to three ebooks, most of which were good! Maybe I’ll do more of that this year. It still counts! And it’s going to be good for my long runs.

Content

I think I’ve pretty much normalized my media diet. I’m not much of a consumer of the moving image, but I still had a chance to watch almost all of the essential ones on the plane. “Incredibles 2” was great;  with “Fallout,” Mission Impossible continues to be one of my go-to movie franchises; I loved, loved “Isle of Dogs” while “Avengers: Infinity War” didn’t excite me at all. I loved the humor of “Spider Man: Homecoming”.

As for TV, well, I don’t choose shows deliberately. I just co-watch with friends and my wife. I liked some episodes of Chef’s Table and Samin Nosrat’s “Salt Acid Fat Heat”. But I can’t, for the life of me, remember anything else remarkable from 2018.

But yes, games, books, my Instapaper backlog – these I can get behind. I also developed a newsletter habit in 2018- I eagerly await emails from Quartz’s “Obsession”, Ben Collins’ spreadsheet nerdery, NYTimes’s Cooking, Smarter Living and Running and Shane Parrish’s Farnam Street Newsletters. Of course, it’s a bit of a pain to read in Gmail. Maybe I should create a dedicated newsletter address? 

It was also a great year for Podcasts, and the Times raised the bar originally set by NPR. I thoroughly enjoyed “The Daily” by Michael Barbaro, Rukmini Callimachi’s Caliphate, “How I Built This” by Guy Raz, Bobby Lee’s TigerBelly, NPR’s Planet Money, and Track Changes by Postlight.

There’s so much great content out there, and you don’t need an algorithm for this. I trust the people I follow on Twitter a lot for media recommendations, something I never get on Facebook.

The Asian Internet

Moving back to the Philippines also meant dealing with a new technology ecosystem, which, I can say, is just as vibrant as North America. While the Philippines still has a lot of catching up to do many of the services we grew accustomed to in New York have an equivalent here, more or less. This was clearly evident with Lazada, the now Alibaba-owned e-commerce site that probably has a larger marketplace than its US counterpart. I’ve long wondered about how decent last-mile delivery was with a site of Lazada’s scale and I was really impressed (and you don’t even need to sign up for a service like Amazon Prime). With this discovery, I’ve managed to buy some electronics, even obscure kitchen stuff. The price is a mixed bag but I’m generally fine with it. As for ride sharing, I find Grab- the Asian Uber- quite a joy to use with its loyalty program and other perks. The downside of Grab is you can’t really hail one when you desperately need it, like say Makati on a Friday night. Zomato is also better than Yelp as a directory but not so as a trusted source of reviews, as it seems to be overrun with food blogger types (which the platform inherently rewards). It does have Zomato Gold, which I was thrilled to sign up for. Postmates, a service I didn’t really use in New York has an equivalent in the form of Lalamove, useful for running small errands for ridiculously cheap rates. Booky’s a limited alternative to OpenTable but I don’t really see myself using the app that often.

So what do I miss? Not a lot actually. Maybe Fandango for movie tickets? There could be one out there, I just haven’t checked. As for Seamless’ Philippine equivalent Foodpanda, I haven’t ordered from them yet. Honest Bee is also a thing here in Manila, but I was never into the whole Instacart business. I like going to the market. Oh, I know what I miss. I miss ordering prescription refills from my phone, but that’s not really a dealbreaker for me.

The only thing that frustrates me is the apparent iffiness of the Internet. Which is already a given. LTE can be fast at times, just a bit spotty in areas outside of Manila. Home internet is something else- no surprises there.

Learning Better

I consume a ton of insights and information on a yearly basis and I’m starting to feel a tad insecure over how much I retain. I tend to compensate by using the cloud as an external brain and as I continue to evolve my own personal knowledge management framework, I’m now trying to wrap my head around the retention and learning bit. Where is my single source of truth?

I’ve always likened reading to Highlander’s the quickening. One should feel more informed and empowered after finishing a book or even an article. To make up for this, I’ve developed a couple of things that help me process everything. For one, I’ve learned to embrace the speed and tactility of writing my notes on loose paper and then encoding them on a notion.so page every Friday. I then refer to the same note on a Monday to make sure I don’t drop the ball on anything. As for all the articles I save on Instapaper, I created a simple IFTTT task that saves all of my highlights into a Trello board aptly named “Accumulated Acumen” – drawing inspiration from Jackie Parry’s “Cruiser AA” book. I then use a simple monthly framework to go through my notes to refresh my memory. Readwise, an app designed to remind you of all your Kindle highlights more or less does the same thing, but in email form.

I tried, a few years ago, to build a commonplace notebook in Evernote but that too was a lot of work! I should iterate on this more.

Looking Ahead

As I look back on everything that happened in 2018, I find myself in familiar territory, even though a lot of things have changed. My family’s adjusting well to their new life in Manila. Max is thriving in school and making new friends. Oz, on the other hand, just celebrated his first birthday and is growing up fast. Rica is back in advertising and appreciates the strong ecosystem of friends and family for our children. We are all benefiting from our little village here in Manila. As we continue to make Manila “home” again, we could sure use all the help we can get.

2019 is going to be one of continuity. I’d like to think we’re still in a transition period. In order to move forward, we have to build a home first.

P.S. Did I tell you about this time where a couple of movers stole my wedding ring?

2016: A Year in Review

We were certain about a couple of things at the start of the year. The US presidential race had a clear favorite, financial markets were relatively stable and even work plans were all in place.

Yet here we are in 2017. Who would’ve thought that President Trump would be sworn in a few days? That the Philippine president would cause so much division among my friends and family? Who honestly saw this coming?

Still, I think 2016 was a pretty outstanding year.

Eating In… 

We pretty much spent the same amount for restaurants and groceries this year. This meant that we pretty much dined at home in 2016 – an amazing feat if you live in New York City. If there’s something we can take away (no pun intended) from this, this translated to huge savings on our part, enough to offset childcare costs. This makes me happy.

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2016 was a great year for cooking. I finally found my groove in the kitchen.  We experimented a lot this year and this led to new meal plan staples like beef kababs, porchetta, fish cakes, a simple Lebanese lentil soup, weeknight pasta, and shakshuka. In fact, I even got out of my comfort zone and started making fried chicken at home with a dutch oven. My pantry also diversified a bit and now you can find Za’atar spice, Tahini, Garam Masala, tubs of Miso and Gochujang. And oh, did I mention that I finally nailed meatloaf?

Gear wise, I finally upgraded to a steel pan for making pasta, a kitchen scale that proved to be extremely useful,  and an instant-read thermometer for roasts. On the knife front, I jumped in on the Misen Knife hype train only to be disappointed by its apparent dullness. My $7.00 kiwi knife is way, way better in terms of sharpness and value.

Speaking of which, I really have to streamline my kitchen. I’ve been guilty of acquiring unitaskers in the last five years and I’m running out of storage space. Given a chance to start my kitchen gear all over again, I probably would’ve skipped the dutch oven, a lot of graters and a salad spinner. These things take up too much space and I found myself using my cast iron pan for a majority of recipes.

There is a downside to all this home cooked grub. The in-laws gifted me with a Zojirushi Rice Cooker and we had so much fun using it that we ended up cooking more rice than usual. At one point, we were buying 25lb bags of jasmine rice which would last us a month. As a result of this processed carb madness, my blood sugar levels went up and I just had to quit rice. Since then, we’ve pretty much transitioned to bulgur after trying out cauliflower rice. It’s gross.

But hey, I lost 8lbs since the beginning of the December. That says a lot!

…Sometimes Out

I  live in a city where restaurant dining has evolved into a sport yet I still went to the same places. There’s Dons Bogam in K-Town for their lunch special, Golden Unicorn for Dim Sum, Prince St. Pizza for their pepperoni squares, Taiwan Porkchop House in Chinatown, Spice for their lunch special,  and Legend 72 for Upper West Side chinese. My most recent discovery was the lunch special from Curry Express in Curry Hill.

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And then you have your gems. Max and I enjoyed the Crispy Mimiga from Momosan, Nomad’s Chicken Burger,  the fried chicken from Dirty Bird in Morgantown, WV, The Flæskesteg sandwich form Benny’s Pølsevogn in Gentofte, the Fried Chicken Taco from Huahua’s Taqueria in South Beach, any sandwich from La Sandwicherie – also in South Beach, Hot Star Fried Chicken from Manila/Hong Kong, the 3-way lechon from Mesa, the Egg Custard Bun from Sun Hing, Hong Kong,  and the eggs en cocotte with foie gras from Le Jardin d’en Face in Paris.

Read

I’m on my fourth year of the Goodreads reading challenge and I maintained my reading quota of 30 books for the year. I was pretty much done by early December.

I’m quite happy with this year’s lineup. I managed to read some of the year’s most popular books like Adam Grant’s “Originals”, Bill Burnett’s “Designing Your Life”, Paul Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air” and  Jake Knapp’s “Sprint”  both of which were standard fixtures in airport newsstands. As I transitioned towards a frugal mindset, I count “The Millionnaire Next Door” and “The Index Card” as life-changing reads. For fun, I added John Armstrong’s “How to Worry Less Money” in my repertoire.

It was a big year for food writing too. I started the year with a compilation of winning entries from the Doreen Fernandez Food Writing Award, then moved to Fuschia Dunlop’s “Sharks Fin and Sichuan Pepper” and Ina Yalof’s “Food in the City”.

It’s been a while since I’ve read something that provided so much inspiration to my workflow (since David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”) so it was so much fun reading Dan Charnas’ “Work Clean” – a productivity system modelled after the concept of “Mise en Place”.  This was my favorite  book of the year.

Of course, this year’s reads wouldn’t be possible without the amazing New York Public Library. I can really feel my taxes at work here. I pretty much took advantage of the fact that they’re good with newer titles and you can also borrow content for your kindle. Prime reading, introduced late in 2016 was also a pleasant surprise (quality wise) considering that it’s just an add-on to your prime account.

Running

I broke new ground with my mileage this year, clocking a little over 811.3 miles or approximately 1,300 kilometers – spread over 174 runs. In fact, I’ve run more this year than I did in 2010, the year I trained for the New York City Marathon. December, typically a slow month for running ended up becoming my biggest month, with 108 miles over 24 runs.

It helps that I have access to a gym here in the building, allowing me to run on days where it’s just too hot or cold. The best outdoor runs were along Riverside Park during Spring, Summer and early Fall where you can either choose to go all the way up to 125th st. or down to Chelsea Piers for a fun 6 or 8 mile route.

As for touristy runs, I managed to log some miles in Miami’s South Beach and around the lake in Gentofte, Denmark (where I ended up swallowing a lot of gnats in the process).

Travel

I traveled a total of 57,202 miles this year, spread over 6 countries and 11 cities.

I mostly traveled for work. I visited a pre-Zika Miami in February and really enjoyed the food and the Wynwood district. I also spent a huge chunk of time in Hong Kong, working from our shared space in Kennedy Town while I explored the city on weekends. I’ve been to Manila twice, where the cityscape and people are constantly evolving.

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My family spent a couple of weeks in Europe during the summer, hanging out in Copenhagen and Paris. I’ve always wanted to experience Scandinavia and I felt that Copenhagen really delivered on its promise as a clean, happy and cozy city. Paris, on the other hand, was quite intense, rivaling New York City in its energy – with better bread.

My last trip for the year was an overnighter in West Virginia. As an immigrant, the concept of a college town felt was pretty foreign to me. Engaging the people of WVU was quite an eye-opener and I learned a lot about the whole state itself and how they’re trying to cope in a post-coal world. It was quite inspiring.

Music

Music became more of a utility this year. It kept me company while I prepared dinner at home, made me mentally focused at work and motivated during my runs. Having said that, I didn’t really work that hard to find music. Spotify pretty much did all the work for you with their Discover Weekly and Release Radar playlists. And while I did cherish the chase, it seems that machines are just better at figuring these things out. It’s just a matter of training your algorithm.

It was another shameless year of pop(ish) music both old and new. I went through an extended Sophistipop period this year, which started out with a random curiousity towards Prefab Sprout and down the rabbit hole I went (again). For this year, I really enjoyed Jessy Lanza’s Oh No, George the Poet, the sophomore Niki & The Dove Album, Anohni, and Yumi Zouma’s Yoncalla album.

So here’s an unpopular opinion. I think you guys have to listen to the “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” album. The thing with Lonely Island music is that the jokes are extremely clever, going beyond the shock value of their lyrics. But then again, I might be reading too much into a diss track about the Mona Lisa.

As for my kitchen playlist, it’s mostly a sampling of Scandinavian Jazz Trios (which is shorthand for saying that I try really hard to be sophisticated as I cook meatloaf).

Productivity

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I recorded an all-time high of 1994 hours, 31 minutes in Rescue Time. And that was just time spent on my Macbook. My productivity pulse went down to 75 from 2015’s 80.

It was an election year for the Philippines and the US, so naturally I spent a huge amount of time – 157 hours to be specific – frantically refreshing News websites for the latest polls, elections results and commentary. For example, I spent a total of 8 hours, 26 minutes on Fivethirtyeight alone. New York Times, which we can access for free in our office, clocked in at 16 hours.

Social Networking was also unusually high this year. On top of election fever, I also managed a lot of Facebook ads this year so that counted towards the total.

This year’s most used and abused app was Slack at 185 hours. This is significant a shift from email, which went down from 2015’s 199 hours to 140 hours this year. Spreadsheet usage also went up from 43 hours to 55. Google Sheets just keeps getting better.

I started journaling habit using the Day One app. I was never the type to keep a journal but Day One’s simplicity made it easy. Now that I’m a year in, it’s utility has increased by flagging you on your entries from the previous year.

I did a couple of “unproductive” things too which meant using my Macbook Pro for gaming. This year, I played a lot of Borderlands 2 (I know, it’s old) and tried out interesting games like This War of Mine. For mobile, I pretty much got obsessed with Pokemon Go for a couple of weeks. I must say it’s a great time to be a gamer, regardless of hardware.

The Year Ahead

A year ago, we thought we’d be out of New York by now. In December, my wife and I decided to extend our New York life indefinitely. The city has been such a great enabler, it really made a lot of things possible despite the skyrocketing rent, crazy childcare costs and everything inbetween. Yet, we’re still here, still thriving and raising a toddler in the process.

After writing this yearend report, 2016 wasn’t really that bad. My family will continue to do things that worked well last year, from saving, to cooking and traveling. We’ll probably have a couple more surprises in 2017 and the best thing we could right now is to be resilient and more importantly, just show up and get things done.

 

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Damaged Philippine Passport Incident 529. The Case of the Detached Cover.

I’m back in the Philippines.

An apologetic TSA agent managed to detach my passport cover in Newark Liberty airport last night. I didn’t know the implications of having a damaged passport until I conducted some research during my layover in Hong Kong.

You see, some E-Passports issued by the Philippine Government in 2010 have a tendency to fall apart. The government claims that there were only 528 incidents of such damage – make it 529 now. The spine is the most vulnerable part of this particular batch of passport and they’ve mitigated this with some tape. There was even coverage in local news about a kid who wasn’t allowed to fly out due to his damaged passport.

I went straight to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) office as soon as I arrived. Upon inspection of my “mutilated” (their terms, not mine) passport, they felt that it was necessary for me to have it replaced. Sadly, this is something tape can’t fix. To be fair to the DFA, the staff were accommodating and professional. At least they showed some empathy on the situation. But yes, I had to pay for my new passport and  I had no choice but to accept what they offer me. It could be worse.

From what was originally planned as a short, 1 week trip is now tentatively set to almost 2 weeks. If I get my passport in time, I have to at least extend my stay in Manila for another 5 days.

Ouch. Time to send out some emails.

UPDATE (January 3, 2015)

This post got a lot of traffic based on the comments below. While it originally intended to be a rant, here are some notes that may hopefully help address some of your anxiety.  Good luck!

  • Natanggal ba yung cover?  Detached cover? – Yikes! Your passport is definitely mutilated and my advise is for you to rush to the nearest DFA consul office or Philippine Embassy so you can request for an immediate replacement. The risk here is that even if you’re flying out of the country, say, from the United States – they won’t allow you since your passport is damaged! Avoid the stress and pray that they’ll send you the replacement just in time for your trip. I was lucky because my passport got mutilated AFTER inspection (it was accidentally detached by a security offices sa airport). Bottom line is, it’s going to be a real hassle and your best bet is to go straight to the DFA offices in Macapagal upon arrival. Time is of the essence!
  • Nabasa? It got wet?  – Hmmm….I actually heard of a case on Facebook where my friend still managed to travel back to the Philippines. It’s worth a shot BUT I recommend that if you have time to have it replaced, do so. An added benefit of that is you kinda renewed your passport in advance.
  • Kinagat ng aso? A.k.a. my dog ate my passport – Oh my god, okay that sounds really bad. On top of reprimanding your dog, it sounds like you would need a replacement!
  • Nasulatan? – It’s akin to vandalism, intentional or not so this might fall under the damaged category as well.

Basta, ang rule is if your passport shows some form of damage (not to be confused with wear and tear), let’s say sira talaga siya (natiklop (bent), napunit (torn)) it always pays to be on the safe side. When in doubt, get a new one. Lalo na kung may time pa! 

Yes, it’s a hassle but the good news is, you’ll be given a new reinforced passport that should survive future trips.

Having said that, check out these links for additional help:

Procedures from the DFA

More Info here

Good luck! If you found this post helpful, please check out AndyanAgad.com if you want to send grocery packs for your family in the Philippines (sorry for the shameless plug).