Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mystery Manila: The Spirit Questor Adventure

When Halloween creeps up on the calendar, documentaries about otherworldly mysteries and the paranormal world are given a much larger chunk of airtime than usual. I loved watching these shows as a kid. Sure, for the most part I covered my face with my hands and tried to catch glimpses of the telly between the gaps in my fingers, but I did love them! I even had a fleeting desire to experience being a psychic—to be a “serious” ghost-busting expert that talk show hosts interview about lost spirits.

Years and years later, who would have thought that the dream-I-didn’t-really-want-to-come-true would, you know, sort of come true? And I signed up for it! Together with my friends Kit, Joanna, and our ‘office dad’ Sir Vic, we formed the group “Fat@Team” and booked  an adventure at Mystery Manila, the first live escape room game in the country.

Mystery Notepad MessagesMessages of the ex-“spirit questors” and ex-“kidnap victims” for Rebecca’s Room 
and Sinister Sensorium, respectively

We chose "Rebecca’s Room". For sixty minutes, we took on the roles of spirit questors that will investigate the mysterious disappearance of the tenant Rebecca Rubio and the hauntings in her room.

Since our office is just a few buildings away from the venue, we arrived a handful of minutes shy of an hour before our booked schedule. I think the Mystery Manila team chose the right place to put up their Makati branch—G. A. Yupangco building looms like a semi-abandoned establishment from a distance. You’d half-expect someone (or something) who doesn’t belong to your group to poke you during your short ride in the old-school elevator, and you’d get the feeling that there are eyes watching you while you walk down the corridors, what with all of Yamaha School of Music’s sketched portraits of classical artists hanging on the walls.

Mystery Leaderboard A round of applause for these awesome people!

Rain, one of Mystery Manila’s staff, briefed us about what to do in Rebecca’s Room. I had zero idea about the whole thing when we arrived there; I stayed away from reviews on the ‘Net because I wanted a very memorable firsthand experience. Rain gave us a news clipping of Rebecca’s disappearance and let us watch the trailer/preview for the game, and then we were all set. Before we took on the challenge, though, we were asked who among us love kids (all fingers pointed to me) and Rain gave us meaningful smiles, mentioning something about encountering a little child in there that would remind us of the Japanese horror flick The Grudge.

(I pointed out that I kind of liked Toshio, the little boy-spirit who screams like a cat in the film, but it turned out Rain is referring to the other ghost. Yes, the one with the blood-drenched face who creeps up on you under the blanket. So. NOPE. One BIG NOPE for me.)

Fat-a-TeamFat@Team’s notepad footprint on Mystery Manilas’s wall

As much as I want to relay our story in detail, I'm allowed no game spoilers here. For clues you would be communicating with Rebecca and the entity haunting the room through their own brand of ESP, which in our time translates to using a cellphone with a sensor to read near-field communication (NFC) stickers on the walls. The painted Stars of David and other symbols all over the place gave me the feeling I’m in a Supernatural episode…not as one of the Winchesters though, but as a member of the amateur Ghostfacers. Sam and Dean would probably scoff at us while we do our thing, haha!

What happened in the room to us was akin to something out of horror-comedy movie...or its blooper reel, rather. Our bloodcurdling screams would automatically be followed by laughter and break-the-fourth-wall comments (i.e. when a scary audio file plays on the phone and Sir Vic tells us about it, he’ll read out the the file name and how it’s ‘performed’ by an ‘Unknown Artist’).

Oh, and we tinkered with the locks in a way that would make a rookie thief look like he’s the best burglar in the world. When we found out there’s a secret passageway after successfully opening the last lock, we made every possible reason to not enter it. We assumed we’ll encounter the Grudge-esque kid in there so Sir Vic blurted out a funny “Takot ako sa bata! (“I’m scared of kids!)”, even if he has four kids of his own. Me? I have my “Claustrophobic ako! (I’m claustrophobic!)” even though I’m not, right after I saw that the passageway looked like a tiny, cobweb-shrouded tunnel. Seriously, don’t underestimate the power of imagination. It’s all that halted us from entering right away.

After minutes of stalling, I crept inside and realized it wasn’t as small as I thought.  When I reached the end of the first way and it dawned on me that I have to turn to another corner, I got crept out and shrieked that there’s an “eskinita” or alleyway where the kid (which I have unwittingly nicknamed “baby girl”) would probably come from to spring on us. I stood in place, not willing to see “baby girl” yet unless the whole group is with me already.


But alas, time ran out and we weren’t able to solve the mystery. Rain told us we were so close to solving it—but not after chuckling and commenting on how I looked like after crawling out of the passageway. It was only when they turned on the lights that I realized I was brandishing an empty bottle of Vaseline lotion in my right hand and a coverless Danish cookie tin can in the other, making me look like I’ve prepped myself with a makeshift sword-and-shield combo before meeting the ghost girl.

I swear, it’s not like I planned on hurting her or something.

All in all it was an amazing, exciting hour! We failed to solve the mystery but we succeeded in making this a very fun experience. We all agreed on coming back to Rebecca’s Room just to see the end of the game and—you know, despite being the bunch of scaredy cats that we are—to see “baby girl”. But of course, we’ll need to try out Sinister Sensorium first. ;)

I was told all rooms in their Makati branch were fully booked for the Halloween. But hey, fun and adventure knows no season, right? Go and try it! Visit Mystery Manila’s Facebook page for more info.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Book Review: Invisible Monsters Remix

Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Genre: Contemporary
My Rating: ★★★★ (4 of 5 stars)

InviMonsters Photo by maddiespictures

A reentry to Chuck Palahniuk’s universe after long stays in more run-of-the-mill (though not necessarily less entertaining) worlds in literature can send you a refreshing bolt of shock, reminding you of this author’s forte. He doesn’t hold back. He removes filters. He scrunches your eyes open as he exposes all the possible ugly truths in anything you may find beautiful. Sometimes, he makes you realize that ugly truths are the exact reasons why things are beautiful in the first place.

These realizations came back when I read Invisible Monsters Remix. I’ve been meaning to read Invisible Monsters for a long time, but I somehow got distracted by other genres—the lighter ones, those that spell the meaning of “escape” instead of those that enumerate why you really can’t get away from reality even through books.

In a recent book fair, I chanced upon a copy of Invisible Monsters’ “director’s cut” edition, Remix. The cover features a skinny blonde model whose disheveled hair was brushed to cover about three-fourths of her face, one dark eye staring out passively for dramatic effect. There was a bit of red paint over the picture to make for an illusion of carelessly smudged lipstick, a wonderful symbol for the book’s subjects if you ask me: the protagonist’s “post-accident” appearance, the fashion industry, the complexity of sexuality,  plastic surgery, and violence (that paint could actually be blood and not lipstick at all…or maybe it’s both, who knows?). The texts’ jagged font looked as if a lipstick was used to write them. My point is, everything about the cover drew me in. It’s just too Palahniuk to resist, the bits I said about beauty and ugliness above present in it. Even if I haven’t read the edited version, I bought the book without second thoughts.

Invisible Monsters Remix revolves around the story of a fashion model whose career and charmed life came to a halt when an “accident” leaves her disfigured and unable to speak. She becomes friends with pill-popping Brandy Alexander, and together they travel—conning people, rummaging big houses for drugs, and in the end finding out who they really are and what significant roles they play in each other’s lives.

The chapters jump around literally; there are footnotes telling you to turn to this chapter or that, almost in a Choose Your Own Adventure style minus its alternate-endings effect. The first release of Invisible Monsters years ago wasn’t as topsy-turvy as this; however, Remix contains Palahniuk’s original vision of the novel so I was content to have read it first. The structure’s purpose is to make it so that it resembles a magazine to complement its subject matter. It doesn’t affect the story in a major way, and to be honest I think Palahniuk didn’t have to do that at all, since the contents of every chapter jump around in time and dimension anyway.

Typical of Palahniuk’s characters, everyone in this book is screwed up in one degree or another. I wanted to fully grasp the narrator’s way of thinking, but it just drifts farther and farther away from normal as the chapters go (but then again, I wouldn’t blame her after everything that has happened to her). She projects as a mad example for the society’s obsession with attention the same way Brandy Alexander is an icon for the society’s obsession with beauty and perfection.

Story-wise, I fell in love with it. The narrator spews out the tale in staccatos of flashbacks and vivid imagery that held the plot intact until the bittersweet end. This is one of the few books I’ve read that contain more than one major plot twist that didn’t come out as lame or forced—at every reveal, I find myself wanting to release a thread of curses. I love how in his best satirical approach, Palahniuk showed that grit and glam are the conjoined twins of the reality of everything and everyone that values beauty as a very important “commodity.”

For a very satisfying read, I’m giving Invisible Monsters Remix four stars.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Latest Book Haul!

The anatomy of my bookshop trips used to consist of (1) a new novel tucked in my arm, (2) my wallet a few bills lighter, and (3) a wee whisper in my ear that urges me to start reading the book in my commute home. Now that I have towers of to-be-reads that may or may not be collecting dust bunnies at home, I make it a point to stop…hoarding…for a while and start ticking off the Unreads List.

BUT when you have an annual event like the Manila International Book Fair or MIBF, it’s hard not to splurge. Everything on the shelves is discounted and your money felt more and more like a transient thing in your pocket every passing minute—and you don’t care. There’s no way to tame a bookworm’s inner junkie in a place like that.

That's But 01. But 02 is: when you feel a bit under the weather and you need something to cheer you up.

Because to tell you the truth, I only bought a handful of books from MIBF. The rest are either given to me as a gift or bought on occasions when I’m feeling  a tad sad. Yeah, I roll like that. Anyhoo, without further ado, here are a few information about each novel.
  1. The White Tiger by Aravind Diga. Set in a raw and unromanticized India, The White Tiger—the first-person confession of a murderer—is as compelling for its subject matter as it is for the voice of its narrator: amoral, cynical, unrepentant, yet deeply endearing.
  2. Damned by Chuck Palahniuk. Follows the story of Madison, a thirteen-year-old girl who finds herself in Hell, unsure of why she will be there for all eternity, but tries to make the best of it.
  3. Invisible Monsters: Remix by Chuck Palahniuk. Injected with new material and special design elements, this book fulfills Palahniuk's original vision for his 1999 novel, turning a daring satire on beauty and the fashion industry into an even more wildly unique reading experience. NOTE: I’m done reading this and I love it! Full review to follow!
  4. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente. September returns to Fairyland where she learns that its inhabitants have been losing their shadows—and their magic—to the world of Fairyland Below. Sequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.
  5. Unnatural Creatures edited by Neil Gaiman. A collection of short stories about the fantastical things that exist only in our minds—collected and introduced by beloved New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman.
  6. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Leo Gursky taps his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he’s still alive. But it wasn t always like this: in the Polish village of his youth, he fell in love and wrote a book. Sixty years later and half a world away, fourteen-year-old Alma, who was named after a character in that book, undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family.
  7. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. Follows junkie William Lee, who takes on various aliases, from the US to Mexico, eventually to Tangier and the dreamlike Interzone. The vignettes are drawn from Burroughs' own experience in these places, and his addiction to drugs.
  8. Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron edited by Jonathan Strahan. Collection of “witch” stories from the biggest names in fantasy and young adult literature, including Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Diana Peterfreund, Margo Lanagan, Peter S. Beagle, and Garth Nix.
  9. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Deftly interweaving the lives of the blind Marie-Laure and German orphan Werner set during WWII, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.
  10. Landline by Rainbow Rowell. A tale about a disintegrating marriage and a phone call from the past—and not just from anyone’s past, it’s from the past self of the Georgie’s—the protagonist’s—husband. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but Georgie feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts. (Thanks for the gift, Mamu Kit!)

Like a brainchild of Morpheus himself.

A Book is A Dream that You Hold in Your Hand

Hooray, Tagaytay!

Since late June, my friend Eliza and I began religiously sticking to our weekend morning routine—completing a minimum of 15 laps around the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and, if the sun’s kind enough to not scorch our faces after 8:00 A.M., a round of seaside zumba.

This Saturday, however, we switched off our "health buff" mode for a spur-of-the-moment trip to Tagaytay City. The verdict? Super worth it! But with all those bulalo and mushroomburger goodness sitting on our bellies that night, we just had to go back to jogging the next day. Thank god it’s a holiday. :)

Up and eating in the ‘Sky’

Ferris Wheel
Wheel in the Sky.

With no itinerary or definite plans, we took a bus to Olivares and talked about wanting to try ziplining in one of the famous parks in the City. We planned to get off at the nearest tricycle bay where we could get a ride to Picnic Grove, Peoples Park, but the bus broke down and we had to transfer to another bus. Then this jeep came rushing in front of us, its barker yelling a thread of places that are unfamiliar to me except one: Sky Ranch. No argument between me and Eliza here: we just smiled at each other and hopped on.

There’s a crowd at the ticketing area when we arrived at Sky Ranch. Not wanting to join the then sun-drenched mob, we opted to have an early lunch.

Bulalo One does not simply miss eating bulalo when you’re in Tagaytay.

Craving for a bowl of hot bulalo, we sought for a place where we could get it without leaving Sky Ranch. Sandwiched between fastfood chains we found Leslie’s Restaurant—already jam-packed at 11:00 AM—and enjoyed our bowl of the tasty beef shank and marrow soup.

We prepared to line up at the ticketing area after lunch. However, we noticed how the crowds were not depleting and that the place was slowly being wrapped in fog. Now, we would like zipline through something that is…well, green. Not through sheets of white, cold smoke. Sky Ranch is okay, but we'd love to see trees while ‘soaring’ through the air. Eliza then suggested going to Picnic Grove, saying it’s greener there.

Lai and AiObligatory selfie with Eliza before leaving Sky Ranch :)

Eagle eyes

And it’s true! The place is lush and verdant, ideal for our coveted activity. So we bought our tickets, strapped on the harnesses, and off we go!

The moment we were launched forward, I felt like I was somewhat loaned the perspective of an eagle darting through the air. (Seriously, I couldn’t help but feel a tad poetic when I was there). Flying was an adulterated form of bliss—there was a refreshing kind of freedom in the experience, and I wished so hard it would last for more than a few seconds shy of three minutes. But hey, geniis nowadays require compensations too—400Php for a “two-way” trip? Next time, maybe. You didn't know? I'm a royal cheapskate.

ZiplineAnother bucketlist item ticked off :)

So yes, we did opt for a “one-way” zipline trip to the other side of the grove, squealing with excitement at the start and then keeping silent with awe as we drank in the beautiful surroundings.

Taal ViewingAdmiring the Little Beauty.

While waiting for our (free!) photograph, we took walks and marveled at beauty of the Taal Volcano from a distance. On our next trip here, Eliza promised, we’re going to take a boat ride to the Taal lake to get a closer look at it.

 IMG-20141005-01614 …of course, another obligatory selfie with Madamme.

HOME of the Orange Madonna

A few hours later, we decided to visit the Tierra de Maria Chapel in Nature’s Park that we passed on our way to Picnic Grove. Our attention was arrested by the fifty-foot orange image of Mother Mary—or more specifically, of Our Lady of Manaoag. We learned later on that the chapel was called HOME or the Haven of Meditation and Enrichment, and that many devotees from Manila and other cities are visiting the place for prayer and worship.

IMG_20141005_143506 Sending out sun-kissed stares.

The place was couched in a well-manicured flower garden. It was small, but it shelters a lot: there’s a symbolic “Wedding at Cana” wishing well, a religious store, different paintings of the Stations of the Cross, Forgiveness Corners, halls covered with the Calendars of Saints, and even a fish spa. People who visited are deep in solemn prayers; they were lining up to touch the image of Christ inside the Church (which, of course, I didn’t take a picture of out of respect).

Well and Stations 
Mama Mary's Religious Store

We got to take a closer look at the Mary statue because the chapel has a meditation deck on the third floor. From there, the Taal Volcano could also be seen.

We’re not only there for sightseeing, of course; we said our own prayers and wishes before leaving the place.

Chow again

Come merienda time, we’re craving for burgers: Mushroomburgers! Hey, they say calories don’t count on weekends, right? :)  The last time we went to this place, we were just wet-behind-the-ears college students on a trip with their favorite photography professor. In some form of salute to all the memories this place holds for us, we…gobbled down one burger each. Cheers!

Mushroomburger! I MISSED YOU!

Chow Time

Eliza got herself a Royal Burger with fries while I munched on the Mushroom Burger Melt with mushroom fries—the carbs are so going to hurl me back to square one on my ‘fitness routine’, but I didn’t care at that time. We had fun, talking about the trip and about the most random of things, ranging from how I spotted a guy that is a dead ringer of my DTI crush (What?! I allow my inner teen out sometimes) to how Elai is jokingly plotting pseudo-revenge on some girl, soap opera-style.

The sun was nearly gone when we got out the bustling diner. Before making our way to the Manila-bound buses in the nearest terminal, we bought pasalubongs (Loumars buko pie and tarts!), a few articles of clothing from an ukay-ukay, and tasty three-piece, almost-flour-free calamares on the sidewalk.


At the end of the day, when we have arrived in Manila, we promised to go back here and try all the other things we didn’t do here. Horseback riding? Cable car? Boat Riding? You name it. We’re all doing that on our next trip here. :)