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Maraming Salamat, Tito Ipe!

Today I received a terribly painful Facebook message from a stranger. It read, “kuya pumanaw napo si mang ipe o efren elgo. ngayon po ang huling lamay bukas napo ang libing. sana makapunta po kayou .. salamat” (Kuya, Mang Ipe or Efren Elgo passed away. Today is the last day of the wake. The burial is tomorrow. I hope you can come. Thanks.) His children had asked her to inform me about his passing.

While his name will probably not ring a bell, one look at him and you’ll recognize him almost immediately. This former balut vendor with absolutely no acting experience brought tears to the eyes of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world as he played the dedicated, charming old man with a resourceful eye in “Fine Dining”. And although he probably never realized it, he did so much for me in that one day that he agreed to act in my film instead of going out and selling balut. I am forever indebted to the man, which is why it pained me to learn that he had died.

Immediately after receiving that message, I prepared a copy of the film on DVD and had a couple of screenshots of the film printed out. I then drove off to a place that I should have gone back to at least once after that rainy November day back in 2010, but never got to. It was difficult to bear the idea that the next time I would be seeing a man who changed the course of my life, he would be inside his coffin. I regret not being able to drop by even just once after winning in Manhattan, even just to say thank you, and tell him about what happened, or to bring a bilao of pancit for him and his family. Despite the torrential rains, I was determined to pay my respects to Tito Ipe.

I arrived at the Gawad Kalinga Selecta Village where he lived at around 5PM. I was met there by Bon, who had helped me shoot the film. As we walked past the children frolicking in the puddles and the men and women gambling on the streets, I saw the familiar sight of the street where we filmed the first few scenes of the film. I walked into his house, the same house which we filmed Fine Dining in, and it looked the same. Nothing much had changed, save for the fact that there was now a coffin in it. I met his wife, and some of his children, who congratulated me on the award.

I gave his wife, Tita Milet, the DVD, the photos, and a love offering. She looked at the photos fondly, remarking, “Ang payat pa ni Tatay dito.” He had gotten sick throughout the last few months of his life, and had gained a lot of weight. It was hard to tell just by looking at his body, but you could see hints of it in his face. I learned that Tito Ipe had died of a heart attack last Sunday, July 15. I also learned that I’d gotten his name wrong all this time; it was Efren Elgo, not Erpo. I must’ve misread it when he wrote it down for me that day.

I stayed to chat for a while as they offered me a bottle of Mountain Dew which I graciously accepted. As I chatted with Tita Milet, it was easy to see just how much she had loved Tito Ipe, and how painful his death was for her. She was quiet, but very much thankful that I had come to pay my respects.

A few minutes later, I met the stranger who had sent me the Facebook message. Apparently, she wasn’t a stranger. She was the one who played the daughter in the film. She had a different name on Facebook, which is why I didn’t recognize her at first. I greeted her, and chatted with her for a bit. She had seen the film, and had even seen it featured on Bandila. She was now going to use the film for a report in school. After our short chat, I thanked them for their hospitality and went home.

Tito Ipe, I know I never got to see you again, and I know you’ll never get to read this. But I’d like to thank you once again for agreeing to act in my film. I owe you so much more than that one thousand pesos I paid you and the Jollibee meal I fed you for your troubles that day. I owe the success of the film and the impact it has made on my career to you. I hope you enjoy a taste of the real Fine Dining up there in heaven. Maraming salamat, Tito Ipe!

If you haven’t seen the film yet, you can watch it below:

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Coulda, woulda, shoulda been

How different would things have been if I made a different choice somewhere along the road? It’s a thought that comes to me once in a while.

What would have happened if I took the Singapore scholarship when I was in 3rd Year? If I had gone to La Salle or Ateneo instead of UP? If I applied to a need-blind Ivy? If I prepared harder for the Wesleyan interview? If I decided to take up Film? If I decided to go into another field altogether? If I didn’t defer Adcore? If I decided to join JMA or AIESEC? If I decided to join ISA and Broadass? If I decided to run for Maskom Council? If I decided not to join UP Debsoc? If I trained more? If I had higher seeding scores? If I had done better in tryouts? If I decided to adj instead of debate? If I didn’t join OML? If I didn’t go on all those distributions? If I didn’t go into filmmaking? If I didn’t enter Fine Dining into the MIFF? If I didn’t try to find funding for my USA trip? If I went Canon over Nikon? Apple over Blackberry? If I chose a different group of friends?

There are a million what ifs, a million questions, a million coulda beens, woulda beens, shoulda beens. I don’t know the answers. I don’t know what kind of person I’d be if I had taken a left instead of a right a few blocks back. But then again, nobody knows. I can guess, but only God would really know. I’ve realized that it’s pointless to ask “What if?”. It ends only in regret and in fanatic obsession over a lost cause. There is no turning back the clock. There is only the future and there are only my choices. I figure I’ll be happy either way.

They say it’s not about the hand you’re dealt, but how you play it. My second year in college is a month away. How will I play my cards this time around?

Day 13 in LA

Today I visited what could possibly be my future office–Hollywood. It was a cool and rainy day, just like one you’d expect in Manila.

I arrived at LAX where Ate Carleen and her friend, who was also named Lants (albeit spelled differently) picked me up. We weren’t quite sure where we were going so we ended up going to Umami Burger, which is a somewhat gourmet burger. It was my fourth burger in as many days, and it was pretty good. It was a Bad Boy Burger, with swiss-cheddar cheese, griled onions, and bacon lardons, all with umami sauce. We had some cheese tots, smushed potatoes, and french fries to go with that.

We headed off to a nearby mall where I bought pasalubong for my lola. The mall was relatively small and pretty quiet. But that was probably cause it was a Tuesday afternoon. We looked around a couple of stores as well.

Next stop was Hollywood. We drove to Hollywood Blvd, home of the Walk of Fame. I regret going shopping in Denver now! There were some great things at the souvenir shops. I came home with a clapper board, a director’s plastic megaphone, and a mini Oscar Trophy for Excellence. It was like a dream come true, in some ways. I saw the hand and footprint exhibit which apparently now has the Twilight trio immortalized.

We drove further up to a place called Griffith Observatory which overlooks the Hollywood sign. It was too bad it was too dark and the sign wasn’t lit up! No matter though. I did a thirty second exposure and got a great shot. We also took some photos of the LA nightscape.

We grabbed In N Out for dinner. I had a Cheeseburger, Animal Style, which is supposedly in the secret menu. It was great for a fast food burger, but they all start to taste the same after a while.

I’m in the apartment of Ate Carleen and Larry now. We played a couple of NBA 2K12 games on the PS3 which is why I’m still up. I’ll be sleeping on the plane tomorrow anyway.

LA was great. I can’t believe I’m only here for a night. I’m finally flying home tomorrow. Manila, I’m coming home!

Day 12 in Colorado

I had the time of my life doing something I never thought I’d do–skiing. Uncle Richard took me to El Dorado, a ski resort that’s 9,000 feet above sea level. It was a forty five minute drive from Boulder, and it was the whitest and coldest place I had ever been to. It was a great day for skiing because the sun was out and it wasn’t that cold. Relatively. It was still below zero.

I signed up for a first timers ski class and rented out some equipment. Ski boots are the worst thing ever. They pinch your feet and go all the way up to your shin, making it impossible for you to walk properly. I tried walking around a bit as we waited for the lesson to start but I didn’t get very far. Our class was really small. There were only four of us in it, so our instructor, Tim, was able to focus on us pretty well. He started us out by doing some exercises like duck walking and side stepping. We practiced going up and down a small slope and we learned how to stop. It wasn’t much fun…yet.

We headed to the beginner’s slope, which they called the Magic Carpet because you ride up a conveyor belt to get to the top. There, we learned how to turn properly. As I learned, skiing isn’t about going down in a straight line. It’s all about turns, and swerving your way to the bottom. This is where I had the most trouble. I had problems turning left–i could only turn right. Tim taught me another way of doing it and I got it after that. I was far from even looking good, but at least I could control myself. I fell a few times though. It also started to snow a bit. I loved it!

After lunch, we practiced the Magic Carpet a few more times before we headed to the more advanced slope. It was called the Bunny Slope, or something like that. This time, we got to ride a ski lift! It was amazing! I had a fantastic view of the park. I fell down when I got off though. The trail itself was a lot more challenging because it was a lot steeper. I did it twice with Tim and fell a couple of times, but generally it felt great. I could feel the wind going through me as I skied down the hill. In the middle of the second try, we pulled over and played around in a 12-inch deep layer of powdered snow. It was amazing! I got to make my first snow angel. I don’t care if I’m an 18 year old boy. It was fun!

After the lesson ended, I went back up two more times to do it. It seemed like I did better when the instructor wasn’t looking! Nothing against him though. He was a fantastic teacher. I learned how to unload from the ski lift without falling and I got my turns down too. After that, we went home.

My body was still a bit sore and I was still reacting as though I had skis and poles. I’d lean every time the car would turn. We stopped by a hardware store called McGuckin’s which had practically all the hardware equipment you’d ever need…and more! All their staff members are professionals in their respective fields, be it plumbing or lighting, so they really knew their stuff. I bought a fire starter just for kicks.

We had dinner in a place called Ted’s. I had a Bison BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger. It was great but it tasted just like beef.

I had an amazing time in Colorado. Uncle Richard and Tita Sockie really made sure I had a great time. It’s off to LA tomorrow!

Day 11 in Boulder

The surprising thing about Boulder is that, even if the weather reports all say it’s below zero, it doesn’t actually feel that way. I went out today with thermal undergarments under a shirt and khakis, and I was pretty much fine.

I heard mass with Tita Sockie at the Sacred Heart of Mary (I never knew there was such a thing) Church in Lousville. They had ministers holding chalices so it’s probably a bit safer to conclude that it’s a common practice in America.

I went to Target afterwards and bought a number of gadgets including a pair of noise-cancelling headphones for the plane. I also bought a cardigan that was on sale, and a black director’s hat (it’s really just one of those New York cabbie hats but it can pass for a director’s hat!). I really love the selections at Target. It’s just so convenient!

I got my first taste of real (sorta) rock climbing today. Uncle Richard took me to this outdoor goods store somewhere in Denver where we climbed a path (is that what you call it?) that was a 5-7 on a scale of 5.0 to 5,15. So it was hard enough to be challenging but easy enough for me to get all the way to the top. It required a lot of upper body strength which I didn’t really have, but I managed to find my way to the top nonetheless. It wasn’t easy though, and my forearms ached afterwards. I stretched them so hopefully they don’t hurt as much tomorrow.

We headed over to a small bar/restaurant called Gordon Biersch where we watched the Superbowl while I ate a Kobe Beef Cheeseburger that was delicious. It was my first time watching it, and I was not disappointed. Even the commercials were amazing. They should be–they cost $3.5 million a spot. We stayed until Madonna’s extravagant but amazing halftime performance, and then continued the game at home.

I was rooting for the Giants since I had just come from New York where all my cousins were cheering them on and I enjoyed seeing their amazing comeback. You don’t need to know much about football (I was learning as I was watching) to enjoy the great passes and the great tackles. Bradshaw’s drive and touchdown was amazing as well! The Patriots played well and I’m glad it really came down to the last pass. Games are more exciting that way.

I’m going to go skiing tomorrow! I am so excited. I hope I don’t freeze to death.

Day 10 in Boulder

Snow, glorious snow!

I left Maryland this morning to fly four hours west and one mile high to Denver, Colorado, the Mile-High City. Even if I was one of the last to board, I managed to get a seat on the front row in between two elderly men. It didn’t have a tray table, but I did get unlimited refills since we were right next to the stewardesses.

As we neared Denver, all you could see was a white blanket of snow. There was a blizzard yesterday and all the flights were cancelled. You could see why! There was about a foot of snow covering the ground.

The flight was actually pretty smooth. When we landed, the stewardess commented, “Just so y’all know, that was a great landing.” It was the bags that took long though, and I had to wait a half hour to get all my bags ready. Thankfully, Uncle Richard was already there and we spent the time chatting away.

We passed by a delicious gourmet burger place called Red Robin, where I had a delicious Bacon Cheeseburger. I’m not quite sure if i like it better than Five Guys, but it’s definitely within that league. We took out a couple of burgers for lunch, then had snow for dessert. Yes, actual snow! We got snow from the backyard and mixed it with cream, milk, and sugar. It was delicious!

I got to visit a Walmart as well today. It was really something! I have never seen any supermarket quite as large or as stocked. We picked out a couple of things and headed home. Uncle Richard made this delicious baked salmon with a crust of breadcrumbs, pecan, and parsley with baked potatoes. We had banana foster a la mode for dessert.

In other news, I forgot to mention that yesterday, the waiter at the restaurant (Fogo de Chao is the name) asked me about my camera because he had apparently bought a Canon 5D. Wow, waiters with SLRs! I wonder how much they make.

In other news, Jim Paredes shared Fine Dining on his Twitter account! He said that he really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to see how far we’ll go.

Colorado is pretty cold, but so far I’m alive. I can’t wait to see what else this icy town has in store for me!

Day 9 in Baltimore

I am becoming very bad at this whole remembering business. I left my passport at home on the way to the airport so we had to go back to get it. Thankfully, we were only about ten minutes away. Ate Mary Ann took me to the Long Island Airport where I got to experience a curbside check in for the first time. I’ll further remember it because I had to take out stuff from my check in luggage because it was overweight.

It was pretty easy to get through everything except maybe the x-ray machine. I had so many layers on on me because I had to put on a sweater I took out of the bag. They also tossed out the Nutella that I accidentally left in. Whoops.

The fight to Maryland was reminiscent of a Cebu Pacific flight except they had free beverages and refreshments. The pilot flew the plane the same way. Seating was on a first-come, first-served basis so I ended up near the  back. I got an aisle seat though!

Ninong Doc and Tita Avic picked me up and took me to this amazing Brazilian steakhouse. It was unlike anything I’d ever had before! There’s an unlimited salad bar and an unlimited streak service. They had sixteen different kinds of steak from fillet mignon to ribeye to lamb. They were ask deliciously grilled. Waiters would go around with meat impaled on long Skewers that they’d cut for you. Amazing! We had key lime pie for dessert.

Both of them work at Johns Hopkins, the number one hospital in America, and so they took me there afterwards. I got to see one of the oldest buildings as well as a terrific statue of the Risen Christ. I felt like I was on an extended campus tour! The weather was fantastic so we got to take photos outside.

We went to Cold Stone afterwards where I ordered a delicious mix of peanut butter ice cream with Reese’s, Snickers, and Butterfingers. I never got to finish it though. It was huge! I also got to see Costco, which S&R was supposedly modeled after.

We headed home for a sorry while to pick up the kids and pretty soon we were  off to a big mall called Arundel. We looked around and had dinner in the food court. I finally got to taste Popeye’s again! I missed those biscuits. There were a lot of outlets  too.given more time and more luggage,I would’ve probably bought a few things.

I wish I could’ve stayed longer. Baltimore is a great little town and there are so many things to try and do. I’m sure there will be a next time though. Colorado tomorrow.  It’s snow time!