Traffic travails in Metro Manila (Plus a couple of possible traffic solutions)

August 06, 2014

Traffic travails in Metro Manila
Plus a couple of possible traffic solutions




It is no secret that traffic in Metro Manila is horrendous. Even time-saving alternatives like riding the MRT becomes an exercise in patience when you factor in the number of people squeezed in per ride per train. It definitely falls in between having a tooth drilled and seeing your income tax deductions. Painful. It's a fact, though, that countries suffer as a whole due to this modern-day problem. A September 2012 article in the Inquirer noted that Metro Manila traffic "could cost the Philippine economy $3.27 billion a year in productivity due to wasted man hours and higher freight costs," and we're just talking about wasted man hours here. Let's not even get into the health risks of the daily stresses of commuting.

To be fair, this is not a situation unique to the Philippines; most crowded metropolises suffer this problem as well. For years, officials have been scrambling to seek out sustainable traffic solutions, and I am not alone in fervently hoping that they finally implement one that will drastically resolve our plight. In the meantime, here are a couple of alternatives that might just make us say "Sayonara!" to our traffic travails.






Alternatives


Bike-sharing schemes

In places like New York, Madrid, and Moscow, bike-sharing programs are offered to residents to help reduce the number of vehicles choking the city arteries. What's great about such schemes is that firstly, it promotes healthy living. You don't even have to find ways to fit in your cardio every day. All you have to do is go to work and viola! You've already clocked in at least 15 minutes of exercise. Secondly, it doesn't require fuel and is thus an eco-friendly practice. The fact that fuel isn't part of the equation also makes it a cheaper option.

Of course, this solution isn't perfect. In NYC, for instance, they're still ironing out the kinks, like the occasional instances when entire stations would be out of power, thereby causing inconvenience to people who planned on getting around the metro via this scheme. In Madrid, meanwhile, the reception isn't unanimously positive. Some of the locals have expressed reservations about biking in the dangerous streets of Madrid. 

For a program like this to work, it seems, dedicated bike lanes should be created in the main thoroughfares to ensure the safety of the cyclists. It would be self-defeating to play patintero (a traditional Philippine game, it consists of one team trying to get through the other end of the field without being blocked or tagged by the other team) with massive buses just to earn a living. 

BRTs

The idea of BRTs, or Bus Rail Transit systems, originated in Brazil. This mass transit system is similar to our LRT and MRT systems. Passengers have to pay before entering areas that are designated for buses to load and unload. Exclusive bus lanes and fixed bus schedules will ensure that everyone will get to their destinations on time. Apart from Brazil, this convenient and cost-effective commuting option already exists in China, Indonesia, and Thailand. BRTs are currently being planned for Manila and Cebu. 

On paper, it sounds really exciting because it seems to be a very efficient mode of transportation. An added advantage, as per a quote by DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya in an interview, is that entails lower capital costs and maintenance expenditures. I do hope that the Manila and Cebu BRTs will be linked to our other major transport hubs to make traversing the metro a lot easier. If the aforementioned BRTs are implemented right, it will doubtless make a lot of people very happy.


Infrastructure, etc.


Apart from bike-sharing schemes and BRTs, what other initiatives can help? Infrastructure, definitely, and also more trains for our beleaguered MRT. The Philippines is a growing economy; expanding its infrastructure is necessary. The roads are too limited at present. Coupled with too many vehicles, it makes for a veritable recipe for regular gridlocks. I will know that the country will have progressed significantly if it manages to fix its urban mobility problems.




Traffic in EDSA. Image from http://politekon.blogspot.com/.




Healthy eats in the Philippines

July 23, 2014

Healthy eats in the Philippines


Since July has been declared National Nutrition Month by Presidential Decree 491 or the Nutrition Act of the Philippines, I decided to write something about healthy local fare this week. Admittedly, a lot of Filipino dishes are laden with cholesterol (hello, balbacua!). For every indulgent treat, however, I submit that there are just as many clean eats to be had in our archipelago. I've culled a list of some of the most popular ones:

Pinakbet

Called pakbet in the Ilocos region, it's a vegetable dish with onions, eggplant, tomatoes, bitter gourd, squash, and okra. Some add a dash of bagoong (shrimp paste) for extra flavor.

Tortang Talong


Image from kusineradavao.com.


This personal favorite is a type of eggplant omelet. Eggplants are grilled, soaked in a beaten egg mixture, and then finally fried. You can have it meatless, or you can incorporate ground pork. It's usually served for breakfast or lunch.

Adobo

This is the most globally-recognized Filipino dish. Said to be Mexican in origin, it's basically a meat dish cooked in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, salt, and pepper. Pork and chicken are the most common types of meat used, though beef and lamb variations can also be had in select establishments. 

Tinola

Popular especially during the rainy season, it's a very simple broth flavored with vegetables and a few spices. Some versions include the use of fish instead of chicken, or green papaya wedges instead of chayote (vegetable pear). I like it with a dash of fermented fish sauce (patis).

Sinigang

A classic Filipino sour soup with fish, prawns, or pork. Its sourness is due to the addition of tamarind or guava in the broth. Vegetables like water spinach are usually added to it

From a Su-tu-kil restaurant in Mactan, Cebu.

Lumpiang ubod
Fresh vegetable egg rolls made with ubod (the pith of the coconut tree), shrimps, onions, and a sweet sauce.

Fish kilaw

Imagine fresh fish dressed in palm coconut vinegar, ginger, chili, and various spices. It's best to consume kilaw immediately.


Want to whip up a few of the above? The Filipino Community Heart Council of San Franciso developed an eating guide following the dietary guidelines of the American Heart Association. Among other things, this eating guide lists down the following elements that ideally should be used more often when cooking:

Fruits and vegetables
All fresh foods and vegetables

Oils and condiments
Ginger, garlic (though garlic is so expensive nowadays), mustard, pepper, herbs and spices

Meats and proteins
Bangus (milkfish)
Tuna (packed in water)
Tulya (clams)
Sardines
Chicken
Pork (leg, whole rump, center shank)
* Meat alternatives: tofu, egg whites, dried beans

Grains
Sweet potato
Whole grain bread
Potato (baked, boiled)
Unsweetened cereals


Finally, do check this healthy reinvention of the ever-popular adobo by Cris Abiva and published on the Female Network. It only takes around 40 minutes to make and serves four to six: 

Ingredients


1/2 kilo chicken breast fillets, with or without skin
6 tablespoons vinegar
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon crushed peppercorns
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Instructions


1. Marinate the chicken in a mixture of the remaining ingredients for at least 2 hours.
2. Drain the chicken. Put the marinade in a small pan and add ½ cup water. Simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt if needed. If you want a slightly thicker sauce, add some cornstarch dispersed in water.
3. Heat a grill over medium heat. Cook the chicken until completely done. Serve with the adobo sauce.


* Tip: Marinate and grill the chicken with the skin on to make the meat moist and flavorful. Just remove it after cooking so your dish has a lower fat content.






Sources:

http://www.livestrong.com/article/458499-healthy-food-in-the-philippines/

http://travel.cnn.com/explorations/eat/40-delicious-filipino-dishes-157035

https://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@wsa/documents/downloadable/ucm_456134.pdf

http://www.femalenetwork.com/food/lutong-pinoy-makeover-healthier-takes-on-5-favorite-filipino-dishes

How I got published

July 09, 2014

How I got published




Though a major daily did publish two of my works in the past, this blog is solely about my recent foray into health and wellness writing. I've always been writing; I can't even remember a time I didn't. Most of my compositions then were just stashed in a notebook, and it was only several years ago that I decided to share what I know. What's knowledge anyway if you don't share it?

After posting my essays and poems via a now-defunct blog for a couple of years, I eventually ventured to magazine writing in order for me to share my technical knowledge as well. If you're wondering about my chosen topics (health and wellness), the answer is simple: I'm a health buff and I love learning about the latest developments in that topic. Incidentally, I'm a registered nurse with a specialization as well.

The process was pretty straightforward. I started by making a list of all the local health and wellness magazines I was aware of and then submitted copies of my resume to their editors. Most didn't reply, but a few did. I followed up on those that did, and starting writing for them about a month after.

To date, I have eleven published articles. I would've had more, except that I also have a day job. Your number of published articles is really dependent on how prolific a writer you are.

Here are some tips for those who want to do the same thing:

Have a voice. Have something to say. Content is king. Read as much as you can, and definitely experience as much as you can. Also, don't be a copycat. Nurture your individuality. Show your perspective.

Adopt a tone. That said, you have to be flexible and tailor your articles to suit your target demographic. You have to speak in a language they can relate to. My first published health article had to be rewritten because the tone was a bit serious.

Ready a couple of sample works. Especially if you're relatively unknown, you need to have sample works on hand to show to potentially interested editors. They might be willing to give you a shot. Your sample works might be all the convincing they need. 

Be patient. You may have to wait a long time before anyone gives you the time of day. Don't be disheartened. Just keep knocking.  

Have reliable sources on hand. I regularly trawl the Internet for credible journals and papers. I also interview health and wellness experts on occasion. These come in handy when researching facts about the subjects you write about. 

Be prepared for edits. Turn in your best work, and then be prepared to edit them some more. Editing is an inevitable part of the game. 

Be prepared for rejections. You may have the most fabulous ideas, but they might not necessarily be the ones that will fly. It could be a case of timing. Other times, it's just a case of tweaking the focus of your story pitches.

Best of luck!




My first published health article can be found in this issue.





I used to contribute to Women's Health Philippines. I am currently in the roster of Enrich Magazine, the official magazine of Mercury Drugstore.

Where to eat in Cebu: food tripping recommendations

June 25, 2014

Where to eat in Cebu: food tripping recommendations



Cebu is a beautiful city in the south of the Philippines with lovely beaches nearby. It's also a great place to feast on gastronomic fare. Here are some establishment recommendations:


Sutukil (sugba, tula, and kilaw) restaurants - A handful are located just a few feet away from the Lapu-Lapu Shrine in Punta Engano. Indulge in very fresh seafood selections. Just pick what you want and specify how you want the dishes cooked.

* Some people will offer to escort you with umbrellas to your restaurant of choice. Tip at will.



Lato (seaweed salad).


Shrimp sinigang (a soup dish with a sour flavor associated with tamarind).


Fish kilaw (a dish made of raw ingredients and soaked in vinegar and spices).



Larsians Fuente - Grilled meats served in a no-frills environment. It's located in the heart of the city near Chong Hua Hospital. We stuffed ourselves with delicious blue marlin, chorizo (pork sausage), and tanguingue (Spanish mackerel) and were pleasantly surprised when the bill amounted to only Php 136./person. Cheap and yummy? Oh yes.

* Expect to use your hands here. They'll just provide you with plastic gloves.



No-frills.


Happy tummies.


Puso (these are portions of rice packed in coconut leaves; this is how rice is served in Larsians and Matias).


Balamban Liempo - They seem to have several to go branches all over Cebu; we ordered from one such branch for dinner at home. I have never tasted liempo (or grilled pork belly) as tasty as Balamban's. I kept wondering about the spices they used.

Matias Restaurant - In Fortuna Street, Mandaue is another popular restaurant with very little fuss. Noting the crowd on a weekday afternoon, I imagine it to be packed on weekends. Barbecues are their specialty. If you're in for something extremely indulgent, order the balbacua, a dish made of stewed oxtail mixed with beans and other spices. Fair warning: it's very cholesterol rich. 

* Prepare to use your hands too. Utensils are available upon request.

Lantaw Floating Native Restaurant - A relaxing dining spot by the sea. We tried the one in Day-as, Cordova in Mactan. I appreciated the live music, helpful staff, and good food.




Shortly after dusk. Photo by my sister.



Baked mussels.



Really enjoyed their calamares (fried squid rings) and pinakbet (not shown; it's a vegetable dish with sauteed meat and shrimps).


Pasalubong (Gifts to bring home to loved ones)


Shamrock in Fuente Osmena - Apart from the otap (an oval-shaped sweet biscuit) that made this brand famous, I recommend the nondescript caycay (biscuits covered with peanut bits).

Rico's Lechon - Try their spicy lechon (roasted pig). It's actually more flavorful than spicy. My favorite lechon can be found in Iligan. This one, though, made me go hmm...



A kilo's worth.




The cost of poor customer service

June 11, 2014

The cost of poor customer service



Companies peddling budget services shouldn't budget their customer service too.




Upset customers equals bad business.



I availed of promo-priced services last year, and was I ever happy. Everyone gets a kick out of getting a good deal, and I am no exception. When the time came for me to avail of the services, however, I learned that the company had already suspended the said services a few months ago. The belated discovery of this crucial information led to ruined plans and unattended reunions. Though the company tried to contact me via my mobile number several times beforehand, I wasn't able to answer any of them because I was busy at work. I did also receive auto-generated emails from them, but the oddest thing about those emails was that they mentioned a future date of suspension, when in fact they already had been suspended a full month and a half before I received the emails!

Needless to say, I was upset by the turn of events, and even more upset by their crummy way of dealing with the situation. Their perfunctory reply to my letter of complaint sounded so generic it smacked of insincere platitudes of regret. Worse, it washed its hands of any culpability from the incident. Budget companies nowadays seem to ace in serving generous heaps of inconvenience. Companies should invest in customer service, regardless of whether they're selling are budget products and/or services. 

Now, I am well aware of the saying, "You get what you pay for." I still believe that companies peddling budget products and/or services shouldn't also provide shabby service to their clients though. I may just be small fry but a multitude of dissatisfied customers like myself equals a significant loss in business transactions. Taking heed of such details pays off. 

To put things in quantitative perspective, consider that 82% of respondents surveyed for the Customer Experience Impact 2010 report said that they have stopped doing business with an organization due to poor customer service. Of these, more than half (55%) mentioned that the negligent company's failure to come up with a timely resolution drove them away. A considerable 79% felt compelled to gripe about their experiences publicly, including in social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. 

A March 26, 2014 article in entrepreneur.com dwelt on this matter as well. U.S. businesses lose a whopping $83 billion annually due to "defections and abandoned purchases brought on by poor customer experiences." Tellingly, almost two-thirds (63.9%) of customers indicated putting more premium on customer service than price when deciding whether to continue doing business with a particular organization.


Taking good care of your customers means taking good care of your business. Positive experiences lead to glowing testimonies and customer trust and loyalty. That's what the best brands have and bank on. It's a simple concept that is not-so-simple to execute. Either way, it's an integral part of business worthy of attention and the best effort.







Image from:
 http://blog.returnpath.com/blog/casey-swanton/how-to-lose-customers-and-alienate-subscribers.

Stats from:
 http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:sr5vCr6JNXUJ:www.entrepreneur.com/article/232580+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ph
http://www.slideshare.net/RightNow/2010-customer-experience-impact
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