There are pandemic years and there are revenge years. Life nowadays has become a series of extremes. After spending two years mostly at home, you suddenly find yourself in airports once more. Life has changed - again - and what was old has become new.
This was 2022, the year we made an overextended leap forward to the familiar past. We had a lot of catching up to do.
(We Need to Talk About )The Pandemic
At least face shields are gone. Still, I would count 2022 as a pandemic year. At this point, a majority have received the jab, some double boosted for good measure. Masking remains to be the norm, yet we stopped caring about the daily case counts. Besides, the ubiquity of antigen testing kits made it almost impossible to get an actual count. All of it just didn’t matter as much. We were clearly less afraid of the virus.
December 2021 gave us a preview of our subsequent liberation. Family gatherings were back, though offices played it safe by still conducting Christmas parties via Zoom (last chance to save on costs?). People also travelled. If you ignore the detail where people still wore N95 masks out of habit, you would think the pandemic never happened.
That busy December proved to be a reprieve of sorts. All the revelry gave birth to multiple super spreader events (including one infamous incident in Poblacion, Makati), ultimately infecting us at home. First, our eldest, then my wife, then our youngest and then me. It was funny because one kid would be fine in the morning and then bedridden by the afternoon. It was wild.
Thankfully, all our symptoms were mild and the whole ordeal only lasted for a week until we tested negative. It took us two years to get infected and since we’ve recovered, I guess it’s time to really move on with our lives.
January was the beginning of our progressive shedding of the pandemic - maskless and roaming around the globe, exacting revenge on the virus that gave us two “lost” years. You know what? I breathed a sigh of relief at that point. The kids were back to face-to-face classes everyday. People were visibly happier as this existential dread has more or less subsided. We made plans.
We were just happy about this return to normalcy. This was revenge that was well, well deserved.
The 1986 Philippine Constitution mandates that a democratic election be held every six years. Prior to that, we had a dictatorship that lasted for 21 years. Since then, new Presidents have been democratically elected like clockwork (the incumbent can’t run for reelection). And while the credibility of these elections have been questioned, it never reached the point where we had to go back to the streets (we’ve had other reasons). From a national elections perspective, we’ve been fairly consistent.
This time around, we had all the reasons in the world to make our vote count. In the past six years, we all got invested in our respective politics, fueled by a pretty potent combination of populist leaders and social media algorithms. We were unwittingly forced to choose a side. While I’ve always opted to stay in the middle, sometimes you have to lean towards one side to make sure everything balances out in the end.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime brought about a whole new era of Us versus Them politics never before seen in the Philippines. Friends were unfriended, people walked out of dinner conversations. It was too much politics for my taste. But we live in interesting times, and all these issues, from human rights, income inequality and geopolitics to gender identity and climate change were getting harder to ignore. It came to roost and the bubble protecting the middle and upper classes has burst.
Our family chose pink. Leni Robredo represented the kind of future we wanted for our children.
The first few months of the year were quite fun and hopeful. We attended rallies big and small, and volunteered when we had the chance. I remember giving away merch for Christmas 2021 to help with fundraising. We did as much as we could. Participation gave us a sense of pride and ownership of the whole movement.
Ultimately, we didn’t share the same dream with the 31 million Filipinos who voted for Bongbong Marcos. Heartbreaking, but we respected the outcome. While we could come up with a lot of coping mechanisms to help us with our frustration, we all have to move as one, and can achieve this by working together again. I remain optimistic for our country and I really think the Philippines will have its moment sooner rather than later. Maybe we can all do ourselves a favor and oust Facebook.
If 2021 gave us a taste of revenge travel, then 2022 became the year we cautiously went all out. With the lifting of entry restrictions and countries actually begging for people to visit, a lot of people finally hopped on planes to get their fill. Our family included.
This longing to travel further intensified after the initial shock of January. People basically felt that 1.) They already caught the virus at least once and 2.) Even if they didn’t, they were way beyond pandemic fatigue and needed to get out of the country. We belonged to the former. While our travel plans weren’t exactly deliberate, our approach to travel in 2022 was more opportunistic and boy, did we have an open mind about this whole thing.
We didn’t really think things through for our first trip outside of the Philippines. It was all decided on a whim. Rica, with her devotion to BTS going strong in its second year, suddenly had access to a concert ticket in Las Vegas. I convinced her this was a good idea since I was meaning to visit the US anyway. She eventually agreed to the plan and we found ourselves booking tickets thereafter.
I still have a lot of unfinished business with New York. Figured it would be nice to visit before I joined Rica in Vegas. I wanted to renew my relationship with the city and do American admin things along the way (like getting new IDs). I allocated ten vacation days for the trip so I had to be smart about it.
It felt weird to leave the country after so long. The new normal meant reconciling your home country’s still active COVID-era policy with the one you were visiting. You saw it in the most mundane things, like people shedding their masks as soon as they landed in North America. As for me, I just complied with the norms of the city I visited, which meant that masks were optional. But there were a lot of good things too. For one, plane cabins weren’t fully booked so I actually had a row all to myself in economy.
New York City changed as well. It’s been three years, and things do evolve. The vibe felt different and this was most evident in the subway where people appeared to be more high strung than usual. This led to me theorize that everyone was still processing the collective trauma from the past two years. I may be overthinking it though.
But I experienced New York the way I always had. My first stop was Botanica, a dive-ish bar I used to frequent in SoHo along Houston Street. Met up with old friends and had a great time. This was naturally followed by a slice of the Spicy Spring from Prince St. Pizza. God, it was so good to be back.
I stuck to the renewal schtick of this trip. I actually made a pilgrimage (through a run) from my friend’s place in Battery Park all the way to the Upper West Side. It was so nice to see our old apartment and say hello to the doorman. I did a considerable amount of walking, too. Saw a lot of things you can only see in the city, like Duane Reades and Chase Banks on every corner, and that giant inflatable rat. Instead of chasing the new, I made it a point to enjoy the old and familiar. I basically revisited old meals, retraced old walking routes, and a few more. It was all about feeling like a New Yorker again, even for a few days.
It was time to head west. At this point, airlines were still struggling to keep up with demand after laying off so much personnel during the pandemic. This turned out to be a recipe for disaster.
It’s been a while since I last flew from La Guardia and I was pleased to see how nice it’s become. I was just happy to see a new-ish airport in North America. Unfortunately, they still don’t hold up to decades-old Asian ones (with the exception of Manila airports, of course). While I had a pretty positive experience at the airport, I couldn’t really say the same about my runway experience, with us taking off an hour later than usual.
That one hour delay proved to be quite costly. I ended up missing my connecting flight in Washington D.C. and for the first time in my life, I actually slept in an empty airport (well, attempted) until I got a new flight that took me to yet another hub (Colorado) before I got to my final destination. I arrived in Las Vegas, a day later than expected. I guess you could say that 10% of my trip was spent in an airport.
In all my years in the US, I never really considered visiting Las Vegas. There was nothing there for me. With the BTS concert coming up, we now had an excuse. I didn’t mind visiting this city known for gambling and entertainment. We booked a hotel along the strip.
As far as the trip was concerned, it was pretty much what I expected. People walking around drinking Daiquiris, big box stores, lots of really touristy places and a couple of slot machines tossed in the mix. The food was pretty great, and as for the concert itself, Rica had the greatest time (as I spent the night by myself in the casino floors - I didn’t lose any money).
After eating our way around the city, it was time to head back to our kids, who weren’t used to us being gone for so long. Imagine our delight when our economy tickets were upgraded to Premium Economy AND then Business Class on our way back to Manila from LA. It was like winning in the casino.
My brother-in-law and his family moved to Amsterdam for work in 2021. This gave our family a reason to visit Western Europe, with our last trip going all the way back to 2016. The thing with Europe is that it’s pretty diverse, and having had the opportunity to only visit two countries the last time, I wanted to see more of it. Of course we were more excited for our kids, given that it was going to be their first international trip after such a long time.
We timed it to synchronize with the “summer” breaks of our kids and their cousins. Rica and I split into pairs, with me traveling with Oz a week after the first cohort. After a pretty straightforward flight (I was just happy to see my son behave so well in the cabin), we found ourselves exploring Amsterdam for the first time.
There’s much to like about Amsterdam. The city is vibrant and the bikes, abundant. We stayed in a hotel situated along the canals, so we had a great view of city folk taking casual rides on their boats (it was summer after all). The days were long, so getting over jetlag was a bit tough. A lot of us fell ill in succession too, but other than that, we were so happy to have this as our first stop.
The city was definitely kid friendly. The kids enjoyed the walking and the museum visits. There were parks that had pretty good amenities. I particularly liked how small the groceries were. As for the food, well, it was honestly just okay. But given that this was a pretty big family trip, we mostly ate dinner in my brother-in-law’s place. I made some roast chicken bought from a local butcher once.
We went on a bike tour booked through AirBNB, which gave us a chance to see neighborhoods outside of the canal district. This brought us to the offices of Tony’s Chocolonely, a Dutch chocolate brand we still can’t get enough of. We also chartered a boat and went cruising along the canals (with food bought from an Albert Heijn).
This was the part where I paused and told myself that wow, other people just have it really good in wealthier parts of the world. The quality of life in Amsterdam is markedly better than New York and light years ahead of Manila. But then I realized that my rose-colored tourist lens tend to mask the realities that residents actually face.
I think a week in Amsterdam was just right for us before we moved on to the next country. In my case, I took a little detour.
Talk about perfect timing. It just so happened that my best pal, Gabe, was in Spain for an Improv conference. We made arrangements to meet up in Barcelona, which I elected as my second stop of the tour a few months back. While I was totally cool with solo travel - especially in an unvisited country, having Gabe as company was a great perk.
Barcelona was a logical choice for me. I already had a chance to visit France a few years back and I honestly don’t really know much about Spain, only that people typically visit either Madrid or Barcelona. After conducting a little bit of research and discovering that Barcelona had great cycling and running opportunities, I ended up booking a direct flight from Amsterdam.
There’s so much to love about Barcelona. Catalan cuisine is amazing, and we had our fair share of Pinxtos and Tapas consumed al fresco along charming streets. Its architecture is also inspiring and I managed to see some of Gaudi’s works as we walked the streets (in some cases, took the metro).
We were amused at shirtless and maskless people singing loudly in the metro on a Sunday night, knowing all too well that it might be a superspreader event (spoiler alert: everyone in my family got really sick, we didn’t even bother to check if it was COVID). Tourists and locals were happy to see things back to normal again.
I made it a point to sign up for one of those ubiquitous cooking classes (in Plaća Real no less). That experience was actually quite enjoyable, even the tour of Boqueria was fun. It was also nice connecting with other travelers.
As a migrant people, it wasn’t surprising at all to encounter so many Filipinos in Spain. From the lady working at the Tapas bar to the Filipino guy carving Jamon at the Boqueria, you’re almost guaranteed to sense the “Filipino-ness” of the other and unlock some perks, like an extra slice, some pintxos on the house and impeccable service. It really shows how united we can all get as a people outside of our country.
Barcelona shines best when you pay attention to the tiny details. I still remember walking along the streets of the Gracia district and walking into a neighborhood vermuteria. I also enjoyed the gravel roads as we made our way up the Tibidabo area. I would occassionaly gasp at some random Miro installation along the Rambla.
Maybe it’s a Spanish thing.
Madrid for a Day
Took a cab to the Barcelona-Sants station in the morning, having booked a high-speed train ticket to Madrid. I’ve always wanted to visit the capital city since a dear friend moved to the city back in 2008. I was told that Madrid was different from the distinctly Catalan Barcelona. Guess I had to find out for myself.
Spain in July is a sight to behold, on rails. Much of the country has a predominantly blonde hue to its landscape. It was just beautiful. After a few hours, we finally arrived in Madrid. I was there for a day so I wanted to make sure I got to eat as much as I could.
It so happened that some people from Manila were also there on holiday. I hung out with Karlo and his family for midday tapas (and the obligatory vermut, when in rome!). This gave me an excuse to see a couple of places like Retiro park and Plaza Mayor on foot.
It was so nice to catch up with my OG Rockeoke friend, Tals, and learn how people can lead their best lives outside of Manila. We had lunch at one of Madrid’s oldest restaurants (it helped that Tals was a contributor to the latest Lonely Planet guidebook).
Overall, I spent a total of 8 hours in Madrid. I was amazed at how easy it was for me to visit from Barcelona.
Copenhagen (But First)
Spain was great, but it was time to rejoin my family in Denmark, our last stop for this trip. Rica and the kids went there straight from Amsterdam and spent a couple of days in Billund, home of the Lego Headquarters and Legoland.
I made one last trip to Boqueria on the morning of my planned flight to the city. Imagine my shock when I discovered an email from SAS informing me that was my flight was cancelled. To make things worse, this email was sent shortly after I arrived in Amsterdam. It was definitely one email I shouldn’t have missed.
SAS fell short of giving me a replacement flight, so I was left to my own devices. I ultimately ended up booking a flight via Brussels(!) but it meant spending another night in Barcelona. By this time, I already parted ways with Gabe in Madrid. On my last full, “bonus” day in Barcelona, I visited the Sagrada Familia, and Boqueria one last time.
Okay, it was really time to see my family. But first, a short layover at the Brussels Airport where I treated myself to some Trappist beer straight from the country of origin. Paired with it some schnitzel. And oh, some of the seats at the airport were Brooks cycling saddles.
Found myself back in Copenhagen after six long years. All I knew was that I didn’t really have much time to enjoy the city. At this point, everyone had recovered from the virus (save for the last holdout, Max!). We managed to visit the Experimentarium, and enjoyed it (we visited a similar place in Amsterdam too). Ended up eating Danish hotdogs at the airport.
Manila was calling. The flight back wasn’t so bad, save for a harrowing transfer at the Istanbul Airport. Taking a redeye flight and rushing to your next gate 30 minutes away with two children in tow was not a pleasant experience.
God, we really missed this. It’s so good to travel again.
I thought I’d be done with international travel towards the end of the year. Our raging wanderlust was satisfyingly extinguished. But sometimes, when a sudden travel opportunity presents itself, you have to say yes. Even if it’s for work.
Imagine my surprise at adding yet another unexplored country to my list this year. As our Southeast Asian neighbor, Vietnam as a tourist destination often loses out to Hong Kong, Singapore or Bangkok. Since we have limited travel opportunities every year, Vietnam, while supposedly wonderful, was always deferred.
Hanoi. I didn’t really understand the nuances between the two major cities in Vietnam: Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. I eventually learned that Hanoi is the capital city and basically its cultural center, whereas Ho Chi Minh is more metropolitan.
Hanoi was charming. It’s home to interesting colonial architecture with a mix of orientalia, and the food is mind-blowingly good. I was amused at their “tambay”/drinking culture, with low benches found in the busiest of places. It was quite unique.
Since this was a work trip and we were only there officially for 48 hours, I was happy to find some time to run and leave the conference grounds to experience the city. It was short and sweet, but I’m looking forward to the day I return. I think there’s still so much to learn and discover about this country.
Seeing More of the Philippines
Found myself clocking in domestic flights towards the end of the year, all for work. These proved to be an opportunity to visit places I haven’t seen and if there’s one thing I realized in 2022, there’s much to see and experience in this archipelago.
Spent a couple of days in our company head office in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, in November and it was a pretty positive experience. Puerto Princesa is a huge area with a relatively small city center nestled between the Philippine Sea and Sulu Sea. I found the people to be really friendly and the surrounding mountains to be quite nice. I was really amused the presence of localized Vietnamese food, a culinary heritage that goes back to the Vietnamese civil war. The airport was also not bad.
We managed to go on a one-hour drive to check out a private beach, and one thing I noticed about Palawan is the presence of “Niknik” or sand mites. Otherwise, I’m just amazed at how rich the terrain is. It really is the last frontier and I hope it stays that way.
Visited another new city in the Philippines a few weeks after that. We have this program at work where we get to visit virtually any area in the Philippines and I opted to visit a city I’ve always wanted to see. It was time to experience Negros, with Bacolod as my basecamp.
I was asked to visit some of our company branches in the northern part of Negros Occidental. Seeing Mt. Kanlaon was pretty cool and I had a chance to visit the “Baguio” version of the region (through a city called Don Salvador Benedicto or DSB for short). As for Bacolod itself, I was impressed with all the new developments in the immediate area - a sign that things are vibrant in this corner of the Philippines. Overall, it was fun: the people were quite warm and food was delicious.
We never really thought we’d see so many interesting places in 2022. As mentioned above, it was really more opportunistic on our end (shortly followed by a nudge that tells you to just go, you deserve it). I’m looking forward to more of this in 2023.
For what it’s worth, eating was back back in 2022. Not only was I able to eat really well during my travels, but I managed to cook up a storm. I found myself inspired and excited to cook for my family again.
I’m turning into an Instant Pot kusinero. With it, I continue to make barbecue pork ribs, siu yuk, biryani and butter chicken. I picked up a copy of Melissa Clark’s “Dinner in an Instant Book” and tried out a couple of interesting recipes, like her Korean-inspired Brisket. This machine, which I bought back in 2018, has really come in clutch as an all-in-one device. It’s become indispensable.
The Instant Pot is also great for braising, allowing me to explore different kinds of “red-cooked” Asian stews. “Red-cooked” is a loose reference for pork or chicken that’s braised (meaning it’s browned then submerged in cooking liquid - like soy sauce, vinegar) and slow cooked. In this case, we skip the slow, simmering step and let the pressure cooker do all the heavy lifting. On this “red-cooked” journey, I managed to make Thit Ko (Vietnamese Caramel Pork), Buta Kakuni (Japanese Braised Pork Belly) and Moo Palo (Thai Pork Belly Stew with Eggs). I noticed these all have identical flavor profiles, save for some nuances (I mean, the Japanese dish still tasted Japanese). Other “red-cooked” dishes I’ve made in the past include Hong Shao Ru (the original red-braised pork), Hong Ba (Filipino-Chinese Humba) and of course, Adobo. I have a feeling everything originated in China (with the exception of vinegar-based Adobo - maybe!) and all these variations were localized in their respective Asian countries. For me, it was a great accidental exploration of a certain braising subgenre.
Became a huge fan of the Youtube channel “Chinese Cooking Demystified” in 2022. Their recipes were pretty easy to follow and Cantonese Shrimp Omelettes ended up as standard dinner fare.
I also continue to iterate on my roast chicken, settling on spatchcocking it, roasting in the oven then finishing it in convection mode (a.k.a. air frying) for a few minutes. We’ve eaten this with rice and pita bread. I also made some Lebanese Toum to go with it. It was so good.
Travel gave me an opportunity to buy unique ingredients abroad. I found myself making Peruvian Aji De Gallina again after buying a bottle of Aji paste from Kalustyan’s in New York City. Then I made some Ethiopian Beef Tibs since I got myself a pack of Berbere spice from the same store. My trip to Barcelona pushed me to buy a small paellera to make some paella at home but I still can’t get it right - despite finding real bomba rice on Lazada.
Pasta remains a key staple at home and to be fair, we experimented a bit in this department too. Aside for our usual spaghetti bolognese, amatriciana and pasta limone, we branched out to make Pasta Al’Assasina and some minimalist pasta recipes by Mark Bittman. Unlike previous years though, we currently don’t have a supplier for fresh pasta. We made all of this with your standard Barilla boxes and I’m actually happy that they’ve made the No. 7 Spaghettoni, widely available (because thin pasta is gross).
Promised myself we’d incorporate more seafood in our diets in 2022. While we’ve managed to eat at least one meal a week featuring our aquatic friends, I find it really challenging to source fresh seafood without proper coordination with a fishmonger (we found one early in the year, and they take orders via instant messaging!). Still, the simple bangus comes in clutch and we’ve settled for frozen versions that we turn into something classic like Daing, Bangus Salpicao and in some cases, just plain fried. It’s proven to be so convenient and cheap. We can totally eat more of this. I used to exclusively eat shrimp fresh, thinking the frozen version was inferior. This all changed when I saw a video on youtube that tells you to just rinse it under running water for fifteen minutes (this gets rid of the slime). It makes all the difference and now I stock our freezer with a bag as well. Frozen salmon is a hit or miss though. I just can’t get the skin to crisp up. But sure, we buy fresh fish if it’s truly worth it. We steam a lot of Apahap (Barramundi) chinese-style. There’s still a lot to learn - if only fish were cheaper and more accessible in the city!
I’m happy our meal plan continues to evolve, with room to revisit old classics. For the first time in years, I made some Palestinian Musakhan and it turned out okay. Those stir-fried eggs and tomato made a comeback at the dinner table the moment I found the local equivalent of Beef Steak tomatoes. You find ways. And it’s a lot of fun.
Shedding the pandemic also meant eating out, so as soon as we were in the clear, we made sure to do a little bit of revenge dining. The existential crisis that plagued the restaurant industry finally eased and it gave birth to a new wave of upstart restaurants in Manila. I’m glad to have done our part in helping the restaurant industry recover beyond delivery.
But old habits die hard and we stayed loyal to our delivery staples to help augment weekday meals. It was really more of your usual, Shakey’s, 24 Chicken, Marugame Udon and Thai Plate. We turn to all these restaurants every time we’re sick of eating in. These restaurants continue to be good, but we’ve started to notice a substantial amount of shrinkflation, a symptom of the rising costs in this post-pandemic economy. Large Pizzas aren’t as large anymore and some ingredients have became sub-par. And don’t get me started on the great onion shortage of 2022.
We love when restaurants are consistent. Tanoshi, located inside Alabang Country Club serves the best Chicken Teriyaki in town, which we eat alongside their Potato Korokke (croquettes). Txoko Asador in Legaspi Village was excellent and their paella was really worth writing home about. I would also find myself enjoying a happy meal of spicy tuna with a cup of rice alone at the counter in Kikufuji every time I was asked to report to the office. We also like the food in Manduca, BGC. I guess I’m a sucker for a burger with spanish-style fries.
There’s also a couple of curious discoveries. I was actually surprised to see Makati Central Square play host to a couple of restaurants like Aida’s Chicken Inasal (the Kansi’s pretty good, on top of the inasal of course) and the Cuapao at Emer’s was worth a visit. We also splurged a bit by celebrating my birthday over at Gallery by Chele and left quite satisfied with everything we ate (gosh, everything was just great). On the other side of the spectrum would be the amazing Bananarhuma from Mang Tootz.
My trip to New York allowed me to revisit old classics, and that includes my standard Spicy Spring from Prince St. Pizza after downing a few pints of Lagunitas from Botanica along Houston. I also managed to have a meal at Oda House, now located in the Upper East Side just so I could taste their Kachapuri and Shkmeruli again. Heck, I even went to Katz’s to have a pastrami sandwich again. Then there’s the Elote from Cafe Habana and sandwiches from Num Pang. And oh! A huge plate from Go Go Curry! I consider this a renewal of my food vows with the city and ultimately, I again found happiness in my egg and cheese in a kaiser roll that I used to buy on the street. It was cathartic.
Las Vegas is a great restaurant city and we were lucky enough to finally try some of the stuff we heard of on social media. First on our list were the sandwiches from Eggslut (delicious). The old-timey Steakhouse, Bavette’s in Park MGM was quite delightful.
Amsterdam. Hmmm…since it was my first time to visit and I travelled with the family, I didn’t really get to eat out that much. I did, however, have pretty excellent fries from Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx and enjoyed it a lot. Otherwise, it was really a lot of novelty dutch food like pickled herring (which I ate in sandwich form), some freshly made stroopwaffels from a guy that looked like Benedict Cumberbatch and of course, a hodgepodge of fastfood, Dutch-style from Febo (which had some hits and misses, I liked the Sate-flavored Krokettes the best). We tried some Indonesian food from the city but it was just okay.
But Barcelona. Let’s just say I was so, so happy to eat my way through the city. Those 1 euro pinxtos paired with some cerveza always hit the spot and as mentioned above, even the simple anchovy tapas paired with some vermut were great. I enjoyed the fresh boquerones (anchovies) from a random restaurant in the gothic quarter. I also enjoyed the baby squid in olive oil from Boqueria (which I paired with some Pan con Tomate and eggs). Even my side trip to Madrid had me taste the best mushroom tapas and a memorable roasted leg of lamb from Posada de la Villa. And it wasn’t just the food per se, but the whole culture around dining that made me fall in love with the city. It was pure gastronomic joy.
That being said, I never thought I’d find my favorite dish of the year on a business trip. All it took was a little bit of free time that allowed us to leave the confines of our hotel and head out to the city center of Hanoi to taste what was going to be the best thing I’ve ever had this year. I never imagined I’d be sitting with locals in some alley with tiny benches.
The Bun Cha from Bún Chả Cô Nhung, where the meatball is covered in some edible leaf was a party in your mouth. The accompanying grilled pork that was swimming in this umami-filled broth made me see stars. We went to the one that Obama and Anthony Bourdain visited to compare Bun Cha’s but that didn’t hold a candle to the former. While we didn’t get to explore much of Hanoi (we had the requisite Banh Mi though!), I was so glad to have had a chance to taste this. And here I was thinking Spain would be the host country for meal of the year.
On the local level, I wish I had more time to eat my way around the Negros region. I did eat twice in Manokan Country though and really found the Inasal to be so great. We even had it with some fresh oysters sold street-side. I tried the infamous Chao Long of Puerto Princesa and found it be just okay (actually, more of strange since it was sweet!). I enjoyed the Danggit Lamayo though. It’s not your usual danggit. It deserves its own food group.
The journey from point A to point B is never, never straight. If that were the case, then most of us would never have to work, especially if you’re in the business of problem solving. After being in a completely new industry for more than a year now, things have more or less settled. And it’s been a lot of fun.
PalawanPay finally launched to the greater public in April of 2022 and we ended the year with around 6 million users, a growth rate I’ve never encountered in all my years of work. It was thrilling to finally see months and months of labor finally come into fruition. As a product guy, the real fun begins after going live. And we spent the remainder of the year iterating. I think we have something great going here.
This also made me appreciate how big and small our organization is. As a group embedded within a larger organization, we had the benefit of moving fast in our team of almost thirty people. Of course, we wouldn’t grow as fast without the support of our mother company. After trying this whole corporate innovation schtick out for years, the whole strategy just clicked. I couldn’t be any happier.
Fintech has been a lot of fun. I think there’s much to learn in the world of payments and finance. Humans have made a pretty wonderful system here and smart people clearly codified the way value is transmitted to help power an economy. The best part is that you really get to see society change and benefit from new technology.
On a related note, it was a tough year for other hyperfinancialized things like crypto. The market deflated and the mania from 2021 lost some steam, leading everyone towards another ice age. I’m still curious about what it can do, but I’ve made a choice to stay within the realm of web2 instead. It’s still warm and cozy.
My kids grew up in the pandemic and these are years I wish could’ve been more “normal.” I’m just relieved that they survived an infection and with the great reopening of 2022, they finally, finally formed offline relationships in school. While offices had to balance remote work and onsite work with these hybrid classes, Max and Oz’s school opted for daily face-to-face classes instead. I think this made all the parents happy. They’re finally getting the face time they so deserve (and the focus we needed to get some work done at home).
My boys had a pretty good year. I don’t think they were mentally/emotionally affected by the trauma of the pandemic years. They were kids being kids. With ample stimuli, which school provides, they’re actually okay and happy. We also started signing them up for extra curricular activities like tennis lessons and art classes. They’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
And they’re growing up pretty fast too. The brothers had to get prescription glasses after finding out they both have inherited astigmatism (eyeglasses look great on them, at least). Max’s milk teeth started falling out and he saved some of his teeth for some Tooth Fairy-supplied lego kits. Their media preferences shifted as well, Max has moved away from Minecraft to Roblox. Oz replaced planets with just colors in general. They still spend huge amounts of time on their iPads on weekends.
Max spent almost a month in Amsterdam and loved it so much. His best friend and cousin, Nicky was just as happy to have him around. Oz, on the other hand, found himself on a plane (with his 5-year old consciousness) that would take him to a whole new world. As parents, I’m happy they finally had a chance to do this. But man, traveling with kids is hard. I think we’ll have to wait a few more years to do travel at this scale again. They also enjoyed their visits up the mountain (in Rizal). These kids clearly have to be out some more. We also took the kids out to Leni Robredo rallies. Better to start them young.
Rica had a busy year at work, as always. We remain to share a workspace at home, three times a week. Her obsession with BTS is in its second year and she was happy to see them live in Las Vegas (great timing too, since Jin had to leave for military duty later in the year). Speaking of which, she’ll always be my favorite travel companion. I think we’ve gotten this down to a science already and it’s always a guaranteed good time with her.
We’re getting old though, and we’re starting to not only feel it, but see it. As parents in our almost mid-forties(!), we just have to make sure that we age gracefully, probably not gain so much weight and maintain enough strength to write recaps like this for more years to come. Heck, even my kids look so different from two years ago.
But we’re still here and full of gratitude. We remain blessed for having the opportunity to do all of these things in the pandemic era (and in this economy!).
While everything else had to be recalibrated, I stuck to my guns and tried my darnedest to actually preserve pandemic-born routines around cycling and running. Overall, I was happy to hit my goal of going beyond 365 hours of exercise (at the literal last minute), go above 4800 kilometers of cycling and 1200 kilometers of running. These targets only became a thing in 2020 since life was more predictable during the pandemic years. It was something I could easily commit to. Kenny Shopsin (as explained by his daughter, Tamara) would describe this as an “Arbitrary Stupid Goal” although it might not be that stupid!
Now in its third year, I continue to appreciate and enjoy the activity. I’ve also figured out a way to make my cycling mileage peacefully coexist with running based on the 1:4 rule (or one kilometer ran for every four kilometers biked - I guess goals weren’t that arbitrary after all). I just know that I can’t drop running despite all the fun I’m having with cycling. I applied a different rule around running/cycling ratios in 2021 though, operating at 1:5. I guess I took it easy this time!
Cycling has become exercise on weekdays and I ultimately found myself logging a huge chunk of my mileage on Zwift compared to riding outdoors. As the city gradually reopened for business, so did the traffic which made it quite hard for a pandemic-pampered cyclist like me to coexist with cars in the city. My first “real” bike, the All-City Space Horse was permanently attached to my trainer, only because it had a 11-speed cassette that was compatible with it. But hey, thanks to Zwift I can easily attend meetings and get a workout while I’m at it. The subscription fee was well worth it.
But when the opportunity arises to ride with a group, I take it. A big chunk of people I biked with during the great cycling boom of 2020/21 eventually returned to their pre-pandemic routines, save for a couple who stuck it out. With that, cycling has turned into a weekend warrior activity and I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much without Nic Reyes from that original group who enthusiastically organized all these weekend rides.
One involved riding a memorable century (his first!) from Alabang to Tagaytay. We did it in the middle of year so the weather wasn’t so nice anymore, but we powered through it and actually made it to the view of the volcano from a Starbucks. It was just the two of us and we made a lot of stops along the way, seeing a different side of the area on two wheels. Prior to this, I only had one other century under my belt and that was way back in December of 2021. But it was fun, I got a flat tire, my skin was burned on the ride back home but it was all worth it.
Other than that, there were also opportunities to ride from Makati to Rizal (either Antipolo or Sinai) with the original pandemic group. There was one ride which I aptly called “Fury Road” because it led to countless meltdowns over the depressing state of traffic on what used to be open road.
If there’s one thing I’m clearly thankful about, it’s the excuse to engage in a little bit of destination cycling. This activity gave me a chance to explore Amsterdam on a bike (which I had a hard time riding due to a rather strange pedal brake) through a tour I booked on AirBNB. Just like running, it adds a pretty interesting aspect to travel itself, it unlocks a different side of the city.
This was more apparent when I decided to book a cycling tour during my visit in Barcelona. I used bike rentals as a starting point in my search, but what I really wanted was a guided ride (not necessarily tour) of the area, preferably with a proper bike (whether it be a gravel or road). As it turns out, there is such an operator in the form of Montefusco Cycling.
This was a no-brainer. His tours include a choice of distance and ride type, bike rental then you’ll have the owner, Claudio Montefusco, take you on a one-on-one guided ride. All I had to do was bring my own kit, a helmet, and that’s it.
Scheduled my tour on my second day in the city. Claudio picked me up and told me we’d be on a gravel bike ride from the city then make our way up to Tibidabo, a hill overlooking the whole city of Barcelona. After a few adjustments with the bike, we were off.
This ride had everything I imagined it to be. We made our way east towards the beach, then a left turn towards Rio Besos, which led us to a climb up Tibidabo itself. This was where my first bonafide gravel adventure began, and I enjoyed every painful bit of it. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
But it was still a ride with a pretty challenging climb (by my standards, and I hate climbing). At one point, I got some cramps. The downhill part was a bit jarring and you could feel the gravelness of the whole thing. As soon as we hit sea level, it was a smooth ride heading towards the center of the city, where I enjoyed a nice little meal with Claudio at the L’Eroica Caffe in Barcelona. We biked back to the hotel. It was quite an adventure!
There’s still so much to experience on two wheels. The Serotta Coeur D’Acier I got from eBay still rides like a dream. My other frame, an unbuilt Serotta Tri-Colorado is still in storage. My uncle-in-law bestowed me with a Colnago C60 which I still have to build. Yes, these things can be expensive and I’m running out of storage space!
Fifteen years of running. After a brief lull during the pandemic, I’m still trying to get back in shape. The journey hasn’t been easy and the thrill and novelty of cycling has made this more of a secondary affair. My treadmill at home continues to be a workhorse and I’ve gone through multiple cycles of lubing (which I learned was quite necessary). I would run an average of three times a week, meeting my weekly quota of 21 kilometers for the most part. In 2022, I logged a total of 1,409.2 kilometers spread over 156 runs, or an average of 9 kilometers per run. This was almost identical to last year’s total mileage of 1,381 kilometers so you could say that I was still relatively consistent with the sport.
It was also time to refresh my shoes. I ended up upgrading to an ASICS Gel-Kayano from my usual GT-2000. I also enjoyed the lighter Mizuno Wave Inspire. I remain generally loyal to these brands after breaking up with Nike a few years ago.
Just like the past two years before that (essentially the pandemic), I missed out on major races in 2022 due to my not making it in the lottery. 2022 saw people signing up for majors again, clearly a sign that I too should run one soon.
It’s still a fantastic excuse to see more of the city when you travel. I was so, so happy to run my old routes in New York City. My run from Battery Park to our old apartment building in Riverside was quite memorable, and I even managed to stop by and take photos at the Little Island, a new park along the Hudson whose construction we missed when we still lived in the city. I also took some photos with our favorite Pinoy building handyman (who has since been promoted to doorman) and called it a day. Central Park will always be magical but I skipped Harlem Hill in favor of my favorite detour. I wish I had a chance to run in Las Vegas but I found the routes to be too tricky.
And then there’s the new. I found an excuse to run along the Canal District in Amsterdam while I was in town and really, really enjoyed those early morning runs on empty streets. I also managed to cover Vondelpark as well (I wasn’t prepared for the glare!). It was one photo op after the other. Barcelona, on the other hand, was quite exciting to explore while running, as you go through the city and hit the beach at one point. Did my usual lake run in Gentofte in Copenhagen. Speaking of lakes, I particularly enjoyed a morning run along the West Lake in Hanoi where you see other people exercising en masse. I remain blessed to have run all these routes, both old and new. It remains to be the most exciting way to explore the city as a tourist. I’m so lucky to have running in my life. Thankfully, I haven’t had any major injuries yet.
Got out of my treadmill cave once Amihan hit towards the end of the year. I started doing longer runs, going beyond my usual long run mileage. Things got a bit exciting in December when my old marathon friends decided it was finally time to sign up for races again. We decided on London and as soon as we missed our chance at the lottery, we made arrangements with a tour operator. We ultimately secured a slot for the London Marathon in April of 2023. I can’t believe I’m going to run a marathon again.
This means I have to build a base towards the end of the year right before the holidays. I’ve started joining group runs, realizing how out of shape I am. Still, it feels good doing long runs again. I really missed this. It’s time for some revenge running in 2023.
It was a year of exploration and experimentation with media. I guess you could say there was a little bit of “revenge consumption” thrown in the mix, too. Overall, I was happy with how I managed to balance everything else in my life with some good old entertainment.
I actually try my best to not frame entertainment as a productive way to spend time (it shouldn’t be) but sometimes it does, with a secondary utility to it. Media has this magical ability to help evolve your sense of self. It makes you smarter, see things from a different perspective and sure, makes you happy (or sad). Of course these things still consume a considerable amount of your day. But that’s par for the course.
It was another productive year of reading, continuing the trend from the previous year. This year was kind of a mixed bag: I read a couple of duds that I begrudgingly finished, but the great ones made up for it.
Thought I’d read most of the product management books in recent history but I was mistaken. This year saw a great comeback for product reading by discovering new books around “jobs-to-be-done” like Alan Klement’s “When Coffee and Kale Compete”, “Strong Product People” by Petra Wille and “Productive Tensions: How Every Leader Can Tackle Innovation’s Toughest Trade-Offs” by Christopher B. Bingham and Rory M. McDoald. I was curious about emerging management practices so I also picked up “Start Up Factory: Haier’s RenDanHeYi model and the end of management as we know it” by Joost Minaar.
It goes without saying that I’m committed to my craft. Enough to actually challenge my existing understanding of the work itself. The ideas shared by the books above show management from various lenses. The reader is tasked to come up with their own interpretation and even better interpretations of the subject matter. This has always been my general framework around management books and it has worked so well for me.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to learn from other companies’ experience and I consumed literature from three great technology giants, Apple (“After Steve” by Tripp Mickle), Microsoft (“Hit Refresh” by Satya Nadella) and Amazon (“Invent & Wander” by Jeff Bezos). The funny thing is, the more I read about these big companies, the more I realize we all work for human organizations, the only difference being that other companies have stronger cultures and it takes a huge amount of leadership to do that, with a brand of leadership crazy enough to push the envelope.
I made it a point to take a break from business/professional literature and indulge in some reading around culture, a subject that has piqued my interest in the past few years. I enjoyed W. David Marx’s “Ametora” from a few year’s back so I naturally picked up his latest book “Status & Culture” which was an exposition on how taste evolves and how it’s made. He mentioned one book that influenced him a lot (by way of Twitter) and this led me to my favorite book of the year, “Let’s Talk About Love” by Carl Wilson, a meditation on taste under the guise of the author’s journey to like Celine Dion. You really understand the motivation of taste in this book and I highly recommend it.
My fascination with urbanism and transport continues, too. I think “Street Fight” by Janette Sadik-Khan is a great book on the subject matter and it was so nice to bridge it with my personal experience of her projects while I was still living in New York City. Prior to that, I read “Building the Cycling City: The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality” by Melissa and Chris Bruntlett, which I also liked.
Other notable books include “Tikim”, a compilation of essays by the late Doreen Fernandez. I think I’ve read all of her compilations at this point and her work is always something to savor. I’m a huge fan. On the personal finance side, Ben Carlson’s “A Wealth of Common Sense” was pretty good and served as my annual reminder of sticking to my current investing strategy (which is to keep things really, really simple and not get into weird finance crap).
I think that reading 30 books is just the right amount of literature, but I really do have to incorporate more fiction.
Here are my Top 10 books for the year:
- Let’s Talk About Love by Carl Wilson
- A Wealth of Common Sense by Ben Carlson
- When Coffee and Kale Compete by Alan Klement
- Productive Tensions: How Every Leader Can Tackle Innovation’s Toughest Trade-Offs by Christopher B. Bingham and Rory M. McDonald
- Status & Culture by W. David Marx
- Street Fight by Janette Sadik-Khan
- Unreasonable Hospitality by Will Guidara
- Start-up Factory: Haier's RenDanHeYi model and the end of management as we know it by Joost Minaar
- After Steve by Tripp Mickle
- Strong Product People by Petra Willie
My Last.FM account continues to log my music and at some point, I might have to upgrade my account to paid to express my thanks for accurately tracking almost everything I listen to.
I must really like TWICE a lot because they remain to be my most listened artist for the second year in a row. What was originally meant to be an antidote for being a BTS widow turned into something else, with me actually listening to their music a lot. As for the rest of the artists in my little K-Pop detour, I’ve more or less left them behind in 2021. I just like TWICE a lot.
But wait, there’s also New Jeans. New Jeans comes from the same K-Pop industrial complex that introduced BTS and these girls were touted as the next big thing to come out from the genre. I would say that I listened to them just as much and found their music to be really refreshing. It’s unlike any other K-Pop act I’ve listened to (to be fair, my exposure to the scene is fairly limited). But the music is good and fun. I’m looking forward to hearing more of them in the future.
Now that we got that out of the way, it’s been a pretty good year for old music. I found myself returning to old favorites like Yumi Zouma, Charli XCX and even Veronica Maggio, whom I first encountered in the late 2000s. This was musical comfort food.
It’s really more of the same, if you think about it. Mr Twin Sister released a Mr Twin Sister sounding track with “Expresions”, Yumi Zouma did the same with “Where the Light Used to Lay”, Charli XCX with “Constant Repeat”, Disclosure with “Waterfall” and Magdalena Bay with “Hysterical Us”, Phoenix(!) with “Tonight” , Kelela with “”Enough for Love” and “Oh, Shadowless” by Neko Case . These were all enjoyable. I grew up with these acts. Well, grew old is more apt. I’m just happy that they’re still around to supply the soundtrack to my life.
Scandinavian Pop makes me whole and it’s starting to feel like maybe I don’t mind being sonically stuck inside the dressing room of an H&M. We’re talking about the cheesiest of scandipop, “Titans” by Vilde, “Hoghusdrommar” by Veronica Maggio, “Electric Motion” by Drew Sycamore and “Bad For My Health” by Hanne Mjøen.
My top album of the year was the Encanto Soundtrack. Only because the kids love listening to it through my Spotify account in the car. I know I’ve lost credibility in the past few years and I love it. I’ve been liberated from the curse of having “taste” when it was overrated in the first place. It just makes for some weird Spotify reports. Oh, I should also mention that the Sing 2 soundtrack featured heavily there too.
For new music, DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ is pretty great (which reminds me of Girl Talk with the mashup bit dialed down a bit), Liam Benvi’s “Hiccup” is a lot of fun, “Another Week” by Lucy Tun is earwormy too.
If I were to choose a song that will forever remind me of the year, that crown actually has to go to “Us” by FKJ (French Kiwi Juice). There was a point where I would listen to this over and over and I’m actually surprised that it didn’t even make it to the top 10.
We’ve got a lot to talk about gaming. Well, more than the usual. The thing with gaming is that I’ve always been a casual console gamer by way of the Nintendo Switch. I’ve had an on/off affair with the console depending on the game du jour. With the exception of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Hades, my experience as a gamer has been quite intermittent. Not that there was a hole in me waiting to be filled. Gaming has always been a secondary thing in recent years. If it’s there and it’s good, I’ll find time to play it.
The previous year was a pretty meh affair.
Everything changed in January when I discovered that Teenage Engineering decided to sell a PC case.
I consider myself a fan of their work but never really got around to owning any of their products, since they mostly produce electronics for musicians. They do a couple of collaborations here and there (including a set of really nice speakers with Ikea) but often sell out. They actually developed a console with another company I admire (Panic) called Playdate but it still hasn’t come out.
So the case. The computer-1 is a flat-pack mini-ITX case made of aluminum. It’s been a while since I owned a PC (The last time was 16 years ago). Instead, I survived the past few years playing whatever’s available on the mac, including Diablo III, which was a pretty degraded gaming experience (these things just weren’t built for that purpose).
computer-1 was sold out the moment it was released. Too bad. The case started showing up on eBay with scalper pricing. Maybe it wasn’t meant to, be but I actually got wind of a second run of the case and managed to snag one.
There you go. I guess I was building a PC.
And that’s what I did. As soon as the case arrived in Manila, I asked my friends for recommendations on which computer store to actually bring it. Building a gaming PC with a mini-itx pace was tricky, because not all graphic cards have a version that can actually fit inside the case. You ultimately have to settle for older ones (but should still be okay).
Found a builder in the form of Hardware Sugar, an independent PC store with phenomenal customer service. They also happen to be in Makati so it all worked out well. After a few weeks of waiting, my gaming rig was finally complete and ready to play.
But it’s Windows. I’ve lost most of my computing muscle memory since moving to the Apple ecosystem in the mid-2000s. Soon, I found myself setting up Steam and other things, including a license key for Windows (I’m just not used to paying for operating systems anymore!).
Now that we have the whole rig up and running and ready to play games, I had the difficult task of choosing my very first game. A lot of games came out during this time, including Elden Ring which I backed out of only because I wasn’t familiar with the genre itself. And it was hard.
I chose the controversial Cyberpunk 2077 instead. For reasons largely unknown. I just thought it was a game I would actually enjoy (take note that I haven’t played anything by CD Projekt Red - like The Witcher). I just know that it was heavily bashed during its launch and only resolved things with a patch released in 2022. Still this didn’t deter me from actually buying it. Besides, it was on sale!
This was already March - just the right time for me to actually enjoy my first playthrough of Cyberpunk 2077 on my brand new Gaming PC. I should also note that this rig looked really good.
I loved Cyberpunk 2077. It wasn’t the mess all these people on the Internet said it was. Sure, I missed the whole launch day bugfest, but I thought it was a pretty great game with a great story. The gameplay was pretty fun for someone who hasn’t played a proper PC game in years, so I’m glad I chose this as my inaugural game.
It was then followed by a series of hits and misses for the rest of the year. Witcher III was a natural next game after finishing Cyberpunk but I had a hard time mastering the controls (which frustrated me!). Valheim was good as a concept but I found the whole crafting thing to be such a chore. I actually made some progress with Age of Empires IV but lost interest down the road. No Man’s Sky was initially lots and lots of fun until things got boring even if it’s procedurally generated. I didn’t last a day with Rust and found it to be confusing. Farcry 5 was entertaining but so difficult. Borderlands 3 was great and I’m taking my time to finish it.
And just like that, I turned into one of those guys with an insanely irresponsible backlog of games I have to beat. Steam sales have become normal. Overall, this experiment with PC gaming paid off. But man, I have to finish these games!
Things were relatively quiet on the Nintendo Switch. I just picked up a copy of Nintendo Switch Sports, had fun with it for a few days then my son and I moved on to other things.
Still, this is a new gaming era for me. I’m so glad to back at it and I’m looking forward to more titles in the future.
Tech and Productivity
Aside from the gaming PC, which is probably one of my biggest tech acquisitions in recent years. I took 2022 as an opportunity to update my essential hardware based on a refresh cycle of four years (this used to be much shorter, like two years). This year, I’m just happy to move back to the iOS ecosystem by upgrading to an iPhone 13 (from an XR) and the latest iPad.
Somewhere along the way, we have made our hardware “good enough” not to upgrade. This is good for your wallet and the climate. This is especially the case with the iPad, where the base model is capable of doing so many things without that sluggish feeling (unless you use it for more demanding tasks like gaming or production - but there’s the iPad Pro for that. Also why). For me, an iPad a pretty great media consumption device. Like a Kindle with apps.
I logged a total of 2,202 hours and 29 minutes in front of screens last year, a 400-hour decline from the previous year (this alone is worth celebrating). This actually represents a decline for two straight years now with 2020 setting the record with 3,059 hours logged, clearly a sign that we’re moving on from the pandemic. I never thought of it that way.
Just like last year, chat and teleconferencing apps dominated usage with the amount of hours spent on MS teams jumping from 2021’s 166 hours to a whopping 248 hours spent in 2022. Day One usage has also increased from 171 hours to 194 hours, clearly showing a trend towards longer entries (this was also fueled by travel, which gave me more things to say).
Social media usage continues to decline, with Twitter just logging 177 hours compared to 273 hours the year before that. Facebook also had the same decline- from 167 to just 78 hours. It would be dishonest of me to say this was a conscious decision on my side, but I’ve come to realize that social media generally makes me unhappy. I pray that we eventually wean ourselves off this little experiment in the future and nurture more human connections offline. We fed this beast through they years and while it was pretty useful, I really think these platforms harmed us more.
So where did that time go? For one, I spent a total of 65 hours playing Cyberpunk and of course, the gains made by MS Teams and Day One. As for the rest, I still maintain my core personal software stack.
Notion (60 hours) has proven to be the most versatile piece of software I’ve ever handled in decades, allowing me to run multiple databases, take care of meal planning, manage projects and take notes, too. This is all part of my digital gardening and I’m so happy I made the jump from Evernote to Notion a few years ago. Teuxdeux (65 hours) has been my task management tool for almost a decade and my usage of the service has evolved as well. Airmail (81 hours) has been consistently stable, and I recently upgraded to the latest version. I absolutely adore Google Photos (27 hours) and Moneywell (24 hours) because they simply work with my personal workflows.
Software powers my life, probably more than others. I would say that my usage has allowed me to go beyond my current ability, effectively making me even more productive. But still, I’m happy my overall screen hours declined this year. This means more time for hobbies.
Hobbies & Collecting
True to form, all the mania around my new hobbies eased a bit, allowing me to enjoy it at a pretty sustainable pace. This was by design. But isn’t everything I talked about here a hobby? Do collections count as hobbies? What about exercise? It’s really hard to attach labels to these things since hobbies can be both. As long as I need/collect gear and do it solely for fun (meaning I don’t need it for learning or monetization) then it counts as hobby.
I guess I can call myself an experienced Gunpla builder now. I ended up focusing on more high-effort kits as opposed to ones that you can build in few hours. The total number of unique kits I built in 2022 dropped by half from twelve to six.
In fact, I didn’t really plan to build that much. After getting my feet wet with a lot of High Grade kits in 2021, I mustered enough confidence to actually expand to Master Grade. These kits, which follow a 1/100 scale (compared to the 1/144 scale of High Grades) introduce more detail and articulation. Since I didn’t want to rush the completion of these things, Master Grade kits take me months to fully build from the initial assembly (with lots and lots of sanding and polishing) to applying decals then finishing with a top-coat. There was even an instance where I had to paint some parts of a model. It was a lot of fun.
As mentioned above, Bandai Namco went all out with the launch of their new series, “The Witch from Mercury”. This meant introducing new, “modern” kits to the market. Given my experience with older High Grade models, the newer ones were so much better and dare I say - more fun to build. I ended up building three kits from the “Witch from Mercury” series and enjoyed it.
I eventually capped the year with a Master Grade Gouf, a Zaku variant that expands on my existing collection of Zeon-type mechs. In fact, I’ve decided that I’ll keep future builds (unless it’s really cool) to this type of kit. After building so many of these, I’ve gotten to know what I like and don’t like. But wow, what do you do with all of these things? I realized that almost all hobbies take up so much space and there’s this constant negotiation with your shared space to make room for more. Ultimately, something’s gotta give. Unless you have room for new shelving, which is what I did.
Gunpla is definitely the hobbiest of my hobbies and I really enjoy it a lot. It’s also a great antidote to all the things I do in front of screens (which partially explains the big drop in screentime mentioned above).
I really want to get into it, but I find myself lacking opportunities to take nice photos and take my entry-level mirrorless camera seriously. I only bring my camera every time I’m on holiday. I did take some photos though and here are some of the ones that I actually thought were okay.
I shouldn’t actually collect stuff. I’m burdened by stuff. That being said, the prospect of collecting something appeals to me. I figured I’d style myself as a Teenage Engineering collector this year but it’s going to be a pretty expensive and impractical (I’m not a musician!) affair. But I’d love to hunt for things down the road, 2022 just wasn’t the year for that I guess. But I’d love to join communities of the same interest. Maybe that can happen soon.
2022 was a pretty great year. I’m in a pretty good place and I just hope that things continue to be calm and sustainable as we begin another year.
I’m just thankful to have “survived” the pandemic years and I really think we’re finally getting out of this rut. Of course, I’m still worried about the virus, especially with the threat of long COVID. But there’s a clear consensus that we’re are now living in a post-pandemic world. It’s not quite the same though and things still feel a bit strange.
This also means that another year has passed. Biologically, I’m already feeling changes in me, reminding me I’m in my early 40s. I’m not as fit anymore and I think I’ve been losing more hair than usual. I’ve developed fat in new places. I don’t really have much control over this matter but I can live with that too.
I’m pretty certain that we’ll continue to exact revenge on the pandemic in 2023. More and more people will live their lives beyond Zoom. Come to think of it, we’ve been slowly crawling back since 2021, but 2023 is the year where it finally feels like 2019, save for some quirks of course. I’m also anxious about the economy, given all the layoffs in multiple industries, with everyone saying a recession is coming but I’d also like to think that we’ve developed a pretty resilient environment.
We still have to show up and do our thing everyday (except on holidays, of course). The continuum needs us more than ever.
I actually started this year’s end-year essay pretty late, writing the first words towards the end of January. Life happened in between (not to mention getting sick towards the end of the year). As things become more and more “pre-pandemic” in nature, it’s getting harder and harder for me to find time to put a few words in. Writing this has been quite intermittent. But it does feel great when I do find time to write! I had a nice little stretch in May where I just wrote around a thousand words a day, totally not worried about finishing the whole thing in time (it’s all arbitrary anyway). After struggling with this year’s entry, I finally had a shitty first draft going on June 1, 2023 and this was ready for one last round of proofreading on June 21, 2023.
But then I had serious issues with the website. A virus infected my long-running Wordpress install thanks to MediaTemple migrating over to GoDaddy. It was all a mess. This entry is now powered by Notion. Published on the 10th of October 2023. I was so late on this one.
I’m also trying to be more organized (by theme) instead of something loose in the previous years. It’s still unnecessarily long though! May this year’s entry put you to sleep.