Trip to Guimaras with UIC Non-Teaching Personnel

October 19, 2013

At UIC, we were granted yearly religious retreats.

While teachers take a break off from their classes, we spend every day in summer supposed to go to work. So such retreats come as a good break from the daily grind in the office. Although the idea of retreats is not new to me — I spent five years in the university exposed to this kind of recollections — such announcements are often greeted with excitement. Not only we get a few day’s break from work with pay, we also get to travel all-expense paid for by our employer.

Therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise that non-teaching personnel behave like students when we’re out there. Everybody knows everyone, and for some reason, I felt attached to everybody maybe because once in a while I come to offices and fix computers or teach staff how to use Office applications. (We at the Computer Center, are quasi-members of the non-teaching group since we are also given teaching loads during the school year.)

In my three years in UIC, I had the chance to join two of such memorable company retreats. First was in Cebu where we stayed at Betania Retreat House in Lahug. There about forty of us stayed for a couple of days, listen to teachings and had the opportunity to do a reflection, something that’s ironically hard to come by even in a religious environment (UIC is run by a congregation of nuns) because daily work is often overwhelming.

The following year, just before I left UIC, I was privileged to join the group for a trip to Guimaras, an enchanting place famous for the renowned Philippine mango. Yes, the best Philippine mangoes can be found in the province. The local government is so serious that no outside mangoes are allowed into the province to prevent contamination of its prized export-quality product.

guimaras_sunshine
Guimaras sunshine: on top of the ubiquitous jeepney somewhere in Nueva Valencia, with Jerry Flores and Noel Laud, 1999.

For once a year, we are all given the chance to occupy a moment of silence during these retreats, even if it’s sandwiched between moments of excitement as we explore places we’ve never been to before. Those sober moments also allowed me to ponder what are my immediate plans. I’ve been with UIC for almost eight years. Five years as a student, and remainder as as an employee of the same university.

I felt stable at work, comfortable with tasks and earn decent wage. But everytime I see my college classmates arrive from work abroad and share their stories over pints of beer and expensive dishes they treat us classmates, I get the urge to move on.

At the moment, we’ll have to enjoy this short break offered by the school. Our retreat house offered great facilities but what impressed me even more is the seclusion of the place and perfect landscape to meditate about life. After we concluded the retreat, the group headed from Guimaras to Iloilo, cutting through the interior of Panay island on our way to Malay, Aklan and Boracay. Joining us were faculty members of Pharmacy department who may have come from another retreat. As we concluded our annual retreat, I wonder when can I visit this place again, as I always do as I leave a place that left me a great impression.

During the overland journey, I felt sick. Thankfully, Ma’am Jaranilla was kind enough to offer relief, so I was able to appreciate that brief visit to Boracay.

Show More ‘Fun’ Videos in the Philippines

October 7, 2013

As I was watching America’s Funniest Videos shown at TVB Pearl last Saturday, I felt that this type of show should be a good fit for Philippine audience.

Being a fun-loving nation, whose latest selling point in the tourism front ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines’  obviously parlayed on the light-hearted disposition of Filipinos, we are definitely looking forward to having fun. In our culture, this is easily manifested. Some barrio fiestas have carabao racing, miss gay pageant and of course, food which binds all walks of life in celebration. I grew up listening to Yoyoy Villame and Max Surban and their songs filled with humor and reality. I watched Kulit Bulilit, Home Along Da Riles and Bubble Gang, all of which share a similar theme.

morefun_thestandard

But I was wondering why has Philippine television continue to be awe-struck with reality shows, game shows and recycled soap operas that operate with different cast of characters. There are contests about cooking the best food, losing the most weight, talents getting most votes, and game shows that are just about guessing and leave audience nothing to think about. They’re fun at first but soon they’ll wear out their warm welcome.

With AFV, it’s a proven winner. And I wouldn’t say otherwise if it’s been on air for 23 seasons to date. As more Filipinos have access to all sorts of recorders, notably smart phones and CCTV cameras, there are more opportunities to showcase why ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines’. We’re not just showing the tourist attractions in the country, we are also showing the innate attributes of a fun-loving people.

Maybe the Department of Tourism can partner with a local TV station whose format is to find a funny video of a typical Filipino life: in the market, in the bus station or shopping malls. It easily relates to the Filipino audience, apparently low-budget and promotes the country in a light-hearted manner. Since Filipinos are also known to be creative people — at least when poking fun at more serious matters — there could be plenty of this type of videos submitted, especially if cash prizes are offered.

I hope someone will at least try to take this concept into reality.

Philippines to FIBA World Cup Spain 2014

August 11, 2013

One proud moment for every Filipino fan is to see his or her team punch the ticket to the world’s biggest stage of basketball competition. 

At the FIBA Asia Championship held at home soil, the Philippines’ withstood early deficits to win games against some of Asia’s top national teams. Beating the likes of Kazakhstan, Qatar and eventually conquering arch-rival Korea en route to FIBA World Cup in Spain next year, ending the world basketball championship drought was made even more special as it was done in front of die-hard fans.

Although yielding in the finals to mighty Iran, the Philippines put a gallant fight until losing steam amid presence of Iran’s mobile big men, notably Hamed Hadadi who was declared tournament Most Valuable Player, and losing Marcus Douthit to injury. The outcome of the tournament has made the Philippines stand among the best  Asian basketball teams.

spain2014
Pack your bags, we’re going to Spain in 2014!

The Cebu Pacific’s Price of Rapid Growth

June 4, 2013

Cebu Pacific’s rise from a mere low-fare airline to a national carrier has been impressive.

From 24 daily flights between Manila, Cebu and Davao in 1996, its frequency increased to 80 flights in 18 destinations in 2001. By 2008, Cebu Pacific was named the top Asian airline in terms of growth, with passenger surging from 3.45 million in 2006 to 5.5 million in 2007. Now it flies to 52 destinations on a fleet of 43.

With the help of government’s market deregulation, Cebu Pacific, under the management of JG Summit Holdings, flew to places previously not served by other carriers. Its no-frills approach attracted even more passengers, thus staying true with its logo “Why everyJuan flies”.

cebu_pacific_counterI have been flying Cebu Pacific most of my trips to the Philippines. With several flights to choose from, timing wasn’t much of an issue. I can fly on day time or take a red eye shift. I can fly direct to Davao (an obvious choice but this sector was short-lived), or pass through Manila or Cebu at my discretion.

Flights were mostly on-time too, so the infamous Plane Always Late definition of the erstwhile flag-carrier’s acronym was even more pronounced.

But with aggressive growth ambitions in mind, Cebu Pacific seemed lean more on revenue generation to support its plans while customer approval rating apparently dipped. As  more destinations were unveiled, so were the fees passengers have to deal with. The 15-kilogram check-in luggage, for instance, used to be part of the standard fare. Now, passengers are charged separately, plus an option for heavier baggage at extra fees.

Although this helps hand carry passengers save money, this scheme impacts a wider customer base. If passengers were already used to not munching anything in the cabin for free, CEB now up sell its flights with favorite Filipino dishes for hungry passengers, on top of the regular souvenir items. Wait, we can make  money further: introduce seat reservation system which enables passengers to choose seats.

Rising fuel cost has always been the obstacle to raking in profits, so being creative in pricing methods is but crucial in the survival and sustainability of the business, now that Cebu Pacific has wrested the coveted “flag-carrier” status.

Increased security measures, no matter how necessary, adds to passenger inconvenience and eventually drop in on-time performance. As of last check, May 2013 on-time performance was just 69.7%, a far cry several years ago when efficiency hovered around the 90s. When I flew Cebu Pacific last week (May 28th), our 1:35am flight for Cebu left Hong Kong International Airport 40 minutes later.

Inside the cabin I learned that the aircraft arrived late, so onward flight’s customary procedures — cleaning, refueling, and baggage loading — had to be delayed. Maybe it’s a forgivable offense but who knows the real culprit could be  some other unforgivable reasons.

cebu-pacific-1peso-fareJust a day after I returned to Hong Kong, the unfortunate landing at Davao airport took place. Cebu Pacific is not a stranger to previous air tragedies — the 1998 Cebu Pacific 5J 387 crash at the mountains of Misamis Oriental is one of the worst in Philippine aviation history — flight 5J 971 from Manila skidded off the runway of Davao’s Francisco Bangoy International Airport, leaving passengers in state of shock, but thankfully alive.

According to reports, flight attendants lacked crisis management skills in their failure to respond appropriately. This was aggravated by airport authorities refusing the entry of local rescue team into the premises, which prompted outgoing city mayor Sara Duterte to label them as liars. No wonder that it’s almost a necessity to include insurance in booking tickets online, even if I fail to do so.

I would imagine that Cebu Pacific excels in its marketing arm: regular promotion newsletters that feature Piso Sale and seasonal slogans like “Flights, Camera, Action”, “Stop Book and Listen” and “Juan to Go Farther”. Its short-lived dancing cabin crew surely attracted attention — and derision — of the media. But as the airline flexed its marketing muscles, other aspects are left wanting. Customer service may be understaffed or overworked, and it showed when Cebu Pacific recorded the highest number of complaints between December 2012 and March 2013.

Although active in social media, its messaging is almost exclusive to promotional offers (check out Cebu Pacific Facebook page), and devoid of contingencies, apologies and assurance to passengers affected by flight delays, cancellations and this Davao airport incident. Even after the statement from Ateneo de Davao University made rounds in Twitter, its Twitter account didn’t seem to notice and offered anything to address the call for boycott. Its homepage (checked at the moment of writing) doesn’t show guidelines for affected passengers, let alone a link to apology statement. In short, the company’s image is in tatters for failure to address these issues even when channels are available.

If there is one or two who can seize the moment and turn it into PR showcase its the competing carrier. Philippine Airlines can offer stranded Cebu Pacific passengers free one-way ticket to their onward destination — even if it means heading for a 3-hour drive to General Santos City airport. Not only distressed and disgruntled passengers will appreciate the move, more people will notice, and PAL could earn heaps of praise from often forgiving netizens and media alike. Now that’ could turn a one company’s PR disaster into a competitor’s golden opportunity.

Times change and what used to work before may not apply now anymore. As more flights get delayed, the high on-time rate highlighted in its past slogans was quietly replaced with “why everyJuan flies”, justifying its affordability and perhaps, better profit margin. If traditional booking process couldn’t cope up with overhead costs, CEB made adjustments — adding fees for luggage, legroom, food — even boarding passes are now printed on ordinary paper. In the name of profit and growth.

Airlines group forecasts that in 2013, industry profit will reach US$12.7 billion amid high occupancy rate. Cebu Pacific’s plans to expand flights to Middle East and Australia later in the year should help it grab some of the

But as Cebu Pacific grapples this controversy, surely it still has legions of die hard followers — the loyal Juans — but unless it, at least  tries to, addresses its flaws (some of which I’ve mentioned here), Cebu Pacific’s brand equity may drop to a new low, thereby limiting one’s perception of this airline as a cheap, oft-delayed, ill-prepared flag carrier of the Philippines.

Changing Technology with Pope’s Announcement

March 15, 2013

2005 and 2013. Two years that announced the new pope.

Just eight years apart but there’s a distinct difference and it obviously shows in the photos below.

People waiting for a new Pope's announcement

At St Peter’s Basilica where crowds brave the cold weather to announce the new pope. Clearly technology has changed how we do things. I wonder what it looks like in the next pope’s announcement.

Facebook Envy: When Social Media Interaction Becomes Competition

January 23, 2013

Facebook has been etched into our personal life that one might find it unimaginable not to access facebook.com in a day.

With the social media giant firmly entrenched into our daily lifestyle, we’ve already found a digital diary to record our life story, from simple life events to major milestones. At the same time these events are also broadcast for everyone to see. A new pair of shoes. A first glimpse of snow. Wedding day. Baby’s first words.

But life is complex, just like Facebook’s friend connection settings and privacy concerns, and what was thought as a simple update in your ‘Facebook wall’ may bring a certain degree of emotions to those who view them. When sharing words of wisdom from the Bible, a connection may find answers to questions, and transform lives even in a small way. When sharing a status update that you’re moving to another country for ‘greener pasture’, friends will be happy for you. At least that what their Facebook comments and likes seem to indicate.

But it may not necessarily be true to all. For others, such type of Facebook posts could trigger loneliness, misery and feeling of inferiority as friends share vacation photos, happy love life, and success at work.

A study jointly conducted by two German universities found that there is rampant envy on Facebook, which now has over one billion users, making it the biggest platform to  compare social lives online.

Jumping in Beijing: Not everyone seeing this on Facebook is happy?

Jumping in Beijing: Not everyone seeing this on Facebook is happy?

Researchers found that a third of users felt worse and dissatisfied with their lives after visiting Facebook. Visiting may mean browsing, posting updates or engaging in fan pages or interacting with connections through comments or chat. Mind you, researchers say, those who plainly browsed Facebook without ‘contributing’ were affected the most. Passive Facebook users could just be lurkers who are happy viewing shared media or personal posts rather than ‘leave digital footprint’ in there. ‘Contributing’ to me sounds like posting or sharing on Facebook. Does this mean a third of my friends who barely update their Facebook status — unless they barely access their accounts — end up having negative experience? It’s hard to tell unless I ask them for honest answers.

“We were surprised by how many people have a negative experience from Facebook with envy leaving them feeling lonely, frustrated or angry,” researcher Hanna Krasnova from the Institute of Information Systems at Berlin’s Humboldt University told Reuters.

“From our observations some of these people will then leave Facebook or at least reduce their use of the site,” said Krasnova, adding to speculation that Facebook could be reaching saturation point in some markets.

A realization put forward by researchers from Humboldt University and from Darmstadt’s Technical University made me feel a bit guilty. Vacation photos were the biggest causes of resentment, with more than half of envy incidents traced to viewing someone’s holiday snapshots. Most of the posts I make on Facebook are those when I am traveling. But that’s because I love to travel and not to trigger envy on others.

Next to vacation photos, social interaction is second biggest cause of envy. In the age of digital marketing where likes, comments and are counted as social engagements, people start using these metrics to measure their worth and compare it with others. It’s easy to compare if you received more Facebook wall birthday greetings than your bitter rival in school or office.  Or if your ‘self-portrait’ photos attract more likes and comments than a similar post by someone you know. (This, of course, may be because you have more friends connected in Facebook.)

The study, which involved 600 German respondents whose replies researchers believe are consistent internationally,  showed that people in their mid-30s are most likely to envy family happiness while women were more likely to feel envy over physical looks and attractiveness. Such feelings of envy were found to prompt some users to post more about their achievements to portray themselves as superior over others.

Men tend to self-promote on Facebook to highlight accomplishments (work promotion, company awards, beating a personal running record?) while women put emphasis on good looks and healthy social lives (bikinis, new makeup or hairstyle?).

So if we fail to “like” or praise these photos or updates with our comments, does it mean our passive use of Facebook indicate envy? Only we can answer the question.

More Love for Bratislava

January 7, 2013

The first intercity train ride we took in this vacation was the Prague to Bratislava route. The journey normally takes about three hours as we pass through a few stops.

Buying train tickets can be a dilemma since buying them online a few weeks before intended travel provides psychological assurance, but also at a hefty price sometimes. On the flip side, waiting to arrive at the station before securing a train ticket entails nervousness to a newbie traveler, but ensures you are not paying more for that extra convenience you can handle yourself anyway.  I’d like to call out Rail Europe, whose Hong Kong website offers train tickets at exorbitant prices compared to the actual rate you pay on the station. While I read at a certain forum that its UK counterpart offers more reasonable train ticket fares, I’ve resolved to avoid the company in favor of buying tickets at the originating station, if circumstances allow.  Now, you can choose what’s best for you.

Boarding the EC 171 Hungaria, we left Prague close to noontime and arrived at Bratislava around quarter before four. Our second class compartment was good for four, and we shared seats with a South Korean student and a Hungarian elderly woman. Both of them are bound for Budapest, the terminal station of this route. The seats are actually facing each other but, unlike taking the seat opposite driving directions at Hong Kong’s double decker First Bus units, sitting on either side offers the same level of comfort.

The short trip takes us to the plains of Central Europe, this time occasionally covered in a blanket of snow or hectares of leafless oak and linden trees. From a distance, it is easy to observe small farming hamlets with a handful of dwellings, whose household, at this time, must have been busy tuning up fireplaces as evidenced by the faint smoke coming out of the chimney.

Approaching Bratislava Main Train Station

Approaching Bratislava Main Train Station

First stopover was at Kolín, located along the Elbe River and just 55 kilometers from our starting point. The train station is rather old, and just like the more popular Praha Hlavni Nadrazi, has Soviet influence painted all over it. Twenty minutes later, we made our second stop at Pardubice, known for its chess tournament and home of ex-NBA player Jiri Welsch. Just the same as Kolín, there’s not much activity in this station except for a few boarding passengers. The surrounding was cold and doleful. Perhaps locals are just dealing with Christmas hangover and wish to stay indoors.

Inside our compartment, our elder companion chose to occupy time with her daily dose of sodoku and a handy paperback. The South Korean guy must have felt isolated from his American friends and decided to leave his luggage — and reservation label outside our compartment — and head towards the more jovial cell a couple of blocks away. Shortly after, a female ticket inspector armed with bar code reader, pen and perhaps a box of currency visited each cell and sought for our tickets. Our tickets were printouts from an online booking transaction so it was necessary to scan the accompanying bar code, while the conventional ticket the Hungarian passenger is holding deserved a quicker glimpse and a nod of thanks.

One of the things we can easily do while traveling is to rob our bags with whatever food it can offer: crackers, granola bars or mint candies. But I realized that it is much more important to keep hold of drinking water. We brought with us the indispensable 500 ml bottle container primarily to make sure we have steady supply of fresh water during long trips, especially when water is expensive (a small bottle costs about 1.5 euro), if available at all.

After equally short stops at Břeclav and Kúty, we drew closer to Bratislava as we begin to see bigger buildings, busier roads and thriving workforce, from street sweepers to truck drivers. We bid goodbye to our Hungarian roommate who offered sort of greetings (which unfortunately sounded gibberish to us) with a smile. It was almost 4 pm and noticeably the weather isn’t favorable for backpacking couple stuck in a gloomy winter afternoon. Melting snow offered risk for slippery roads. But never mind, we have to make the most of our brief stay in this place, the shortest among our four-city journey.

One of the things I often read about Bratislava is their notorious ticket checkers who allegedly prey on innocent/ignorant passengers who fail to validate tickets after boarding the trolley bus. Mind you, Bratislava doesn’t have a subway line so trolley buses and trams are the most efficient means to get around. But even before we arrived, I was determined not to take public transport mostly because the hotel we are staying (Abba Bratislava) is just about twenty minutes away by foot and located in between Bratislava hlavna stanica and the city’s major attractions.

Amid the rain patches and wet footwear, my wife and I braved the cold, wet weather to reach our hotel. Once we arrived at Abba Bratislava Hotel, we were rewarded with warm and accommodating front desk personnel and wonderful hotel room. This is the convenience of a smaller, boutique hotel: no long queues and you certainly get to your room within ten minutes of your arrival.

Bratislava Castle Winter Night

Bratislava Castle Winter Night

Since we are bound for Vienna tomorrow afternoon and time is of essence, we decided to take anevening walk to view part of the city. It’s a good thing that Bratislava’s main attractions we well-lighted and tourist-friendly (plenty of pubs and coffee shops remain open until late).

One of the most attractive landmarks is the Bratislava Castle, located on top of an isolated hill and just overlooking the Danube river. Equipped with a map provided by the proactive hotel staff, it wasn’t hard to find our way through the attractions. And I guess we will be forgiven for being ignorant on the distinction among tram stops, trolleybus stops and bus stops even though we never attempted to board any of them. The whole town is nicely paved, with occasional cobble stone pathways especially leading to Bratislava Castle. On the way you’ll see cozy small cafes populated by hockey fans watching live games (ice hockey is Slovakia’s national sport; its national team won silver in the 2012 Finland/Sweden World Championships) while enjoying a cup of coffee or a pint of beer. Otherwise,  the path we took was a dark, cold and desolate slice of the city.

The weather was rather unpleasant; it wasn’t only cold, it was also wet that pavements are pretty slippery especially those with chunks of ice and snow, and reminded me of a hard fall I experienced at Flagstaff, Arizona. No wonder, I am thankful I brought that bulky but reliable pair of Rockport shoes which were more ideal for such terrain. On our way leading to the Castle, like in many other instances, there are hits and misses. It’s not unusual for us to retrace our steps once we found out we’re on the wrong way.

Finally, after catching our breath and averting slips, we reached that majestic Bratislava Castle, its recently-repainted white walls  are illuminated by the lights that magnify its beauty. In other places, castles like this may require people to pay to get in. But Bratislava Castle was free to all who wish to explore this landmark built in the 9th century. A couple of guards at the gate were unmindful of our presence along with a dozen others who were greeted with a reassuring note that the castle was open until midnight.

I learned that from this point in the hill, it is possible to view portions of Austria and Hungary, given good weather conditions. But we didn’t expect that on this cloudy night.

Bratislava Tram

Bratislava Tram

Going around the city’s main square was like a smaller replica of its big sister Praha. The places described in Wikitravel were just a stone’s throw away from each other. There was a sense of more intimacy — fewer skaters in a smaller skating rink, fewer passengers on trams with fewer sets of coaches. And even at night time, it was a wonderful place to take photos. It wasn’t hard to update Facebook check-ins on mobile either; wi-fi hotspots are plenty within the main square, notably on nearby bars. I just had to stay close to a pub near Saint Michael’s Gate. No need to buy drinks or ask for password to get a connection.  It wasn’t long before we discovered that Taiwan has been assisting Slovakia in its wi-fi projects.

The following day, we decided to check out early and leave our luggage at the counter as we continue exploring the city. We would pick them up on our way back to the main train station, again by foot. This is why I think Abba Bratislava is an ideal hotel for short-stay visitors to make the most of tight schedules in the city.

Before heading towards the main train station for our hour-long travel to Vienna, we treated ourselves a well-deserved dose of rice meal at a Turkish restaurant Bosphorus along Obchodna street. Devoid of large malls in sight, we resolved that presents to friends will have to wait until we arrive in Vienna, or Budapest.

I am glad I inserted Bratislava into the “original” list of cities we planned to visit (which explains why we only had a day to spare here). The visit was worth the inclusion. The city, at least the more prominent attractions, can be explored in a day.

As we were waiting for our train in the station, the past 24 hours seemed like a blip in our brief European tour, but it dispelled some of a newbie traveler’s worries. That security is still best served with common sense, that rude ticket inspectors may have better attitude than advertised, and such a city, whose popularity isn’t at par with Paris, London or even its revered neighbors Vienna or Prague, should remain the way it is. Bratislava certainly left me with good memories.

China Mobile Bill: More Than Communication

October 25, 2012

I wonder how difficult is it to ask a company to innovate and change its somewhat wasteful ways of delivering service to consumers? 

While many businesses (including government agencies who should serve as models) have openly embraced the use of the Web to transact business with customers like online banking, paperless bills and other innovations that have helped preserve precious trees, there are those who just don’t get it.

Or at least staff well-versed enough with the eco-friendly plans of the company and got buried in a maze of daily tasks.

We have been asking our mobile phone line provider not to send us paper bills since they also send us SMS reminders that reach us much quicker than any form of surface mail. But for some reason, this simple request made at their shop (just after paying the bill) apparently isn’t working. So I thought of different reasons why paperless bill could hardly replace paper bills.

I may be wrong but hey. that’s just what I think every time I check the mailbox and find bill reminders whose information I already know a few days ago.

So if I were to make a play of the slogan “more than communication”, it might be .. “also helping destroy the environment” or “..also helping preserve jobs and businesses”.

Newsweek’s Printing Demise

October 19, 2012

The moment I learned Newsweek is ending its printing run after nearly 80 years of service, it reminded me of how its sales people must have tried its best to resuscitate an increasingly extinct part of the media business.

I subscribed to Newsweek’s print edition for a year beginning the summer of 2010. At the time I needed a regular dose of news updates and commentary on top of my digital subscription of South China Morning Post where my interests fall mainly on local topics.

But shortly after I received my initial set of copies in our tiny, cranky mailbox at Wai Lee Building, I soon realized that the content was opinion-heavy with emphasis on US political issues, foreign policies, bickering ideologies and the like. None of such topics piqued my interest.

When I decided to make this subscription following an online promotion (which came in with a free silver wristwatch as sweetener), I had imagined its content to be similar to Asiaweek and Moneysaver, two of  my favorite copies to read at the UIC college library. Each page of those magazines seemed like a serendipity in the making, whether it’s the current issue or a historical archive. These two tackle topics that are close to my heart, literally. Asian currency crisis, most liveable cities and how to live a week on a shoestring budget in the university.

As I’d return them into the shelf, another piece of information enriched my brain.

But Newsweek’s content was different. Obama’s policies, healthcare problems and sober news about the economy felt so hardcore for my understanding. Unable to follow closely with its merging with The Daily Beast which emphasized more on analysis of the news, rather than just delivering it plain and simple, and simple changes like adopting a new (read: uglier) typeface, I slowly began to lose interest. Not that Fareed Zakaria’s political views are lame and uninteresting; content was just not a good fit for me and my interest. So once a new copy arrives, I simply skim through the content without ever spending much longer time reading than unwrapping a subscription copy from its plastic cover.

So as the subscription reached its terminal stage, I was surprised to receive extra issues. I called in the customer service worrying if I overlooked the terms and failed to switch off the auto-renew button.

“Sir, those issues are complementary and comes with your one-year subscription”, quipped the man on the other line.

After a couple of weeks, I continued to receive renewal forms packed in white envelopes especially labeled “urgent”, “act now” or other forms of calls to action statements. By that time, I already switched allegiance to National Geographic.

I did not realize that more than a year after receiving my last issue, Newsweek will soon follow the fate of Asiaweek and Moneysaver: shutting down print edition. At least, Newsweek offers online access while those two never lived to see the daylight.

As though ushering the age of digital media just took place, Newsweek’s predecessors made earlier transitions. Seattle Post Intelligencer switched to online version in March 2009.  The revered New York Times made a bold move to pay per access, claiming success afterwards, and proving my initial thoughts on websites ditching ad-supported free pages in favor of paywall wrong. Just last June, Dow Jones positioned SmartMoney as online-only magazine. And did I just mention earlier I have a digital subscription of SCMP?

So as Newsweek marks a countdown to its last printed issue by end of the year, I feel sad. But it doesn’t always mean the paper is conceding defeat — even though admittedly, it’s been losing money for years — only repackaging itself to cater to the taste of modern media consumers.

Stop Food Waste – Support Foodlink

October 2, 2012

Hong Kong is a gastronomic paradise.

Or so they say. It is home to thousands of restaurants, from relatively-unknown to the Michelin-certified, Hong Kong map can easily double as table menu. Armed with eye popping choices of food, views and occasional chance to rub shoulders with the local who’s who, restaurants are poised to win our hearts to try their signature dish. To a hungry stomach, no expensive menu is not affordable.

But not long after we paid the bills, our plates are washed and as the chef punched in his time card on his way out, piles of food waste lay at the front yard waiting to for dump trucks to pick them up and throw them out somewhere.

About 3,200 tons of food is wasted in Hong Kong every day. Unconsumed food or leftovers from from restaurants, hotels and other commercial and industrial sector continues to grow. With Hong Kong’s limited space allocated for landfills — three of them will encounter overcapacity before 2020 — reducing waste is an urgent matter.

Especially if waste aren’t necessarily waste; they can be reused for good purpose instead of clogging our dumpsters.

Food is an especially wonderful resource to be wasted. People in Hong Kong may have felt the sting of inflation and that includes rising cost of food. Yet, big supermarkets can afford to throw away unsold food items which could address hundred’s of family’s meals every single day.

Enter the food charities, such as Foodlink Foundation, which help distribute food from Hong Kong’s hotels to fellow charity groups who care for less fortunate members of the society.

Although the intention is noble, anyone who feeds the hungry is doing an honorable job, there are also risks they face. If the ones they feed fall ill due to food poisoning, they could face lawsuit. Unlike their counterparts in USA and Australia, these charities have no legal protection regarding the matter.

Hong Kong’s lifestyle of lavish banquets and bottomless buffet culture may be appealing to many of us, but the fact is that huge amount of food is wasted every single day is simply an unsustainable cycle. One day we may come to realize there’s nothing left on the table for us to eat.

Let’s not wait for this doomsday scenario to happen. Stop food waste, order what you can consume. And to hotels and restaurants, be more responsible. Stop food waste. Support Foodlink.