Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Middle Earth

Where would you be? Said He.

In a place where humans are less. Said I.

Where you can find friends and make love above the grass. Said I.

Where paths are unfamiliar but will leave you with an awe. Said I.

Where the wood gate welcomes you by. Said He.

Maybe. Said I. Or it could be an arc that may transport us by. Said I. 

In a dimension where the blue meets the green. Said He.

Where we can fly in a cotton-like sky and be mesmerized by the ice. Said I.

Where we can break the ice and kayak with surprise. Said He.

Surprise? Are we? But the surfers can be. Said I.

The surfers and me. With your lovely and mighty beauty. Said He.

Beauty?! I jump in the lake of lies. Said I.

You'd want to jump in the abundance of middle earth  in its vast peculiarity...
Where textures and patterns are unfathomably real...
But only one thing my dear... 
sheep are many and the Maori are not the majority. Said He.

Of rings and hobbit, we all want to be... in  place called the land of the kiwi. Said I.

Monday, July 28, 2014

With Locals (Vietnam)

I have recently tried something interesting that led me to write and share  here in my blog. I know all of you guys are aware of the idea about home-cooked meals and sharing it to people as a paid meal is becoming a popular thing these days. Though it is not a new idea, it created a bandwagon globally! I myself have done this thing seven years ago when I opened my tiny 24 square meter avant-garde apartment in Manila and welcomed a hundred of couples and cooked them some lovely honest to goodness meals!  It is indeed called “The Artist Chef” intimate dinner for two.

Given this digital age, the idea has evolved into the next level – there are two websites that I know who are doing this thing in Southeast Asia. One is plateculture website. This site invited me to be part of their community of cooks and I currently offer a unique global cuisine dining experience on their website.  But one day, I wanted to experience this idea through a deeper Vietnamese style of cooking and I wanted other people to cook for me. I didn’t try plateculture as I have heard more buzz about this website called “WITHLOCALS” and I have been seeing blogs and links about this dining experience through local food.

I decided to bring my Italian friend and her boyfriend to try this local food in a different kind of experience since they just moved to Vietnam. I carefully looked at the roster of passionate cooks they have on their website who offer different things. Some you can find a street-food style and some are very unique in terms of experience but they are not situated in Saigon. Then I finally stumbled on this cook named “Tuan Tu.” His cooking seems to be my style of eating  & dining and that’s one of the reasons why I chose him. He is a bit pricey but I still went for him because I think his style is something that will up the ante of Vietnamese cuisine. I was looking for something that you cannot find in a restaurant but still has the charm of an honest to goodness home-cooked meals! I want something different and a serendipity dining experience.

The dinner meal cost is 30 USD per person and it’s a whopping 90 USD in total that I had to pay. The website asked for my deposit and the rest will be paid in cash to Tuan. I will recommend and guarantee that it is 100% safe to do transactions on this website. So I prepared my balance, which is 1.6 million VND before I headed to this hidden apartment in an alley right in the heart of the city center. I came in first so Tuan offered me if I like wine, without a doubt I said yes for an Australian Shiraz versus the Chile wine he had on his other hand. My two friends arrived and we appreciated the atmosphere of Tuan’s high ceiling apartment. I was expecting he would put us on rooftop with all the set up but he said rainy season is unpredictable and the rooftop is being renovated.
Moving forward to the meal Tuan served, we were welcomed by the traditional Fried Vietnamese Spring Rolls. We had 3 pieces each and it tasted good and yummy but honestly the dish has no difference with the one I tasted at Ngon, Hoa Tuc and the rest of other low and high-end restaurants in the city. Tuan also poured some wine to the glasses of my friends and served each of us with a small bowl of clam soup. It was very aromatic and comes with 3-5 pieces shells, some coriander and tomato. But still I didn’t find the kick that I was looking for.

Finally the main dish came out, the crab with tamarind sauce.  It was good and true to the taste of the dish! It is exactly how it supposed to be with a bit of the white wine flavor. But it lacked bread so we looked for it and wondered why we didn’t have. We asked Tuan and he said wait for a few minutes. I think they still have to buy outside. Lastly we were served with the last plate, which is the chicken rice.  The chicken lacks taste and the plain rice did not go well with the chicken so I just tasted a few bite and didn’t finish the dish.  

To wrap the meal, 3 glasses with cube mixed fruits were served and accompanied by a pot of Japanese Tea. It was a pleasant meal and we even had these photos that we took after the dinner. But wait until you get the bill. I was expecting to pay my 1.6 million vnd balance and what surprised me was the bottle of wine that cost 580k vnd and that’s 27 USD! I didn’t realize drinks weren’t included so you guys should read carefully the details of your bookings. It would be nice if I he told me about the price of wine that was served so at least I wouldn’t get surprised because it’s not a pleasant surprise. But it was nice to have a free pot of Japanese tea.

Over all the cost is a bit pricey for the quality of meals that were served and with the size of serving. It is a whopping total of 120 USD for 3 people or 40 USD each! It’s ok to pay that big amount but with something that is really unique and will surprise you. Taste wise it was good; it’s just so happened that it didn’t meet my expectations.

End of the story, it’s worth trying the website “WITHLOCALS” to validate the experience. It’s not a bad try with Tuan as well; he is nice and spent a lot of time talking with us. Maybe I will try something cheaper another time. Who knows it might surprise me again next time. There are a lot of passionate cooks and activities on that website and I encourage travelers or expats to try the unique experience the website is offering. It’s not just about the food; they also have some fun activities that you can check out. I would attest that their idea of giving travelers a website portal that enable them to experience an authentic local moment whether on food or local activities is such a brilliant thing on the planet!

Hope you share this story to more travelers as a heads up :)

Visit the website to explore more on your own...

big hug,
joanie  xxx

Monday, March 24, 2014

Enjoys living my AsiaLIFE!

(November magazine cover of AsiaLIFE)

Hello Blogger!

I often fluctuate in terms of writing something on this blog, but definitely I do not forget about it. I maybe lazy writing here recently but I'm quite busy writing about my life above the rainbow sky. Today, it is fairly different as I sit on a sturdy chair with a bit of sun shining upon me against this frosted  glass window in my office. I am simply happy to say that I am back in advertising as a Creative Director in a Digital Ad agency :)

(Chefs from different restaurants in Saigon from  4 countries)

The last quarter of 2013 has its good and not so good ways to end it,  and it has been a roller coaster ride since I came back from Italy. But I must say, that was one helluva ride! It's a once in a lifetime chance that not everyone on this planet can have - I am one of those lucky ones.  To start with the not so good ones -- after an era of running a quaint cafe in Saigon, things must come to an end. I fully believe that I put my heart and soul with that business and I have used all my talents and personal resources just to make it rise, but it has been very challenging to put patches on the given holes. I did try to put all my concepts in terms of menu, events, design, public relations and how I managed the people -- but it was tiring at some point. My frustrations rose to the maximum level and it took its toll on me that made me realize I don't want to have a business like this at this point of my life. When this cafe decided to be sold, it was a sigh of relief and a call for me to move on to another phase. It was a remarkable experience to give a good legacy to a meek cafe and put it in the landscape of Saigon's bar and cafe scene through the nicely design advertisments and conceptual music and food events that I did. It became a buzz to mostly expats which is the cafe's target. I'm glad that most of friends  gave me a tap on the back with all my efforts. I am also forever grateful to those who supported me in many ways. 

(Poulet marinated in Ginger & Cumin with fettucine with the marinade 
as a sauce plus the Raspberry & Strawberry campote dip for the fowl)

True to the saying that "when God closes a door it opens a window" and even before the cafe I was running ended, I got a work offer from a digital advertising company and the food styling that I set up has started to flourish. It also began to get good projects before the year ended. The nicest way to give an exclamation mark for 2013 was,  the moment AsiaLIFE magazine invited me to join their annual cook-off video episode and be part of the magazine cover story. It was a milestone for The Artist Chef :)

(Verdict from Richard Mr. Sterling - An American food and travel writer)

It was the most amazing culinary experience I've ever had! This gave me a validation of how master chef contestants would feel. Real time cooking, on the spot recipe concoction with the given ingredients that would define Saigon for 2014 - all in front of the rolling camera. My recipe represents a mini thanksgiving meal. Saigon is a melting pot, from that idea I put up a few different cuisines I have learned from foreigners. I put it on one plate that can be eaten and be shared the Vietnamese style. This invitation is not about the competititon beacuse there isn't any prize! It is about the experience I had with the top caliber chefs in Saigon (including a chef who worked for a Michelin star restaurant in Chicago) with real toques on their heads. Hats down towh all them specially the most humble and fun to be with French chef Mr. Thierry!

(Chef Thierry - Executive Chef of Boat House Saigon in Thao Dien Village)

In life we are given moments that sometimes we don't understand but we have to embrace it the moment it's there. It will make sense later on, believe me. Whether it's about your career, life or love - follow your heart... I usually do and it makes sense. I have no regrets of the things that happened in my life...whether that specific moment or person who came my way for a long time, quite a while or short-lived, I have embraced them with full stamina or I simply gave my all. I followed every beat of my heart bravely that's why I got buckets of stories to tell everyone that could be familiar or unfamiliar.

People would ask me, what do you do for a living? What is your profession? What is your passion? What is your dream? To simplify my answer that I myself often struggle to answer -- Well... I am an advertising chic who got a decade of creative advertising expertise and a culinarian slash food stylist whenever and wherever. I also have a huge passion for traveling because I want to embrace different cuisine, art, culture and people who will nourish my being. I still dream a lot of big things in my advertising, art and culinary journey and I will definitely share it once I achieved them again...

Hurray to the surprises of 2014!  This is my galloping year -- I believe so :)

Until the next dabble of words about exciting stories whether off to renaissance life again or back to some down under adventures or to to jump from the sky in a place called middle earth, lets see...

You can watch the video of the cooking episode with the link underneath:
AsiaLIFE Annual Cook-Off Challenge

big hug,
joanie  xox

Monday, September 02, 2013

Scusa Ma Ti Chiamo Amore

Peculiarly for today I want to write something that one can consider food for the heart and could probably nourish you as an individual. Everyday of our lives since we were born, our hearts beat for several reasons and for whatever purposes it serve, we are entitled to follow it. The heart desires many things in life and the moment we fail to obey it, we might forfeit a wonderful opportunity that may come.

I myself forfeited many small opportunities in my day-to-day life but I have no regrets about it. Sometimes it's okay to miss small waves and just be prepared for the giant ones. My impulse for following my heart's desire is often big. In this life that no one can guarantee what could happen, what we can only trust is our gut-feel. That's what I did three years ago.

It was that year when I felt that I was in the verge of wanting to see a bigger world from where I was. I went to travel to UK and Europe by myself with one objective --- to see the other side of the planet! After a month of hopping in Europe, and Italy was my last stop -- I brought home an enormous amount of wonderful things. Aside from that, I had something to ponder about and contemplate for bigger waves that are coming -- on whether to risk or not.

A year later I made a risk. I quit my career that I had for a decade. I moved to Italy to study my favorite cuisine then eventually worked for a freelance job in marketing. It was La Dolce Vita to best describe what life I had there. I never had that certain happiness in life. It was the joy of having all those snippets of events that happened in my life in Italy that I will never ever have if I just stayed with my job. Those memories are about the friends I made, the food I cooked and ate, the places I visited, the houses I stayed, the culture I tightly embraced and love that I felt.

But because life is always bitter-sweet by default, I must say that I also had my hurdles and frustrations when I was there. It even made me cry. It was very challenging for me at that time and my title for this post which means "Excuse me for calling you my LOVE" would some how help me define the emotions that I feel now.

I flew 14 hours straight without stop-over just to reach my destination. I crossed the Pacific Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. I passed by two continents before landing my feet to where life will walk me. The time difference is five hours from where I came from. And if height should be a comparison, it's a whopping 12 inches difference. If you will try to compute the age, I'm five years ahead. I don't speak the Italian language but thankfully there's GOOGLE translate to get us by. What am I entering to? I asked myself that time. This must be something.

My love for Italy,  made me sacrifice a lot of things that up to these days I am not over contemplating of taking another risk for whatever giant waves that may be ahead of me. I'm still somewhere in between finding "COSA CHE AMO" and if any moment the leap of fate is back, I can only say these things:

"Non posso garantire un sorriso giovanile che dura per sempre, né per riempire lo spazio del divario torreggiante abbiamo fisicamente abbiamo, ma queste sono le mie promesse: prometto che un giorno io possa articolare le cose che voglio dire nella lingua che ci sia comprensione , prometto di cucinare ogni singolo giorno della nostra vita e, infine, io prometto la mia fedeltà che dura una vita"


big hug,
joanie  xxx

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Jesse & Celine

From the pinky tangerine color of  “Before Sunrise” in Vienna, to the Yellow Ochre hues of “Before Sunset” in Paris, finally comes the most anticipated movie of this era. This is the last movie installment of the three geniuses behind this trilogy--Director Richard Linklater and actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy. They finally set an Aquamarine color mood to the film “Before Midnight” in Messenia, Greece! 

I would presume that everyone including me followed Celine and Jesse on their saga of their romantic story about love that started 18 years ago in Vienna. Their screen romance brought in a good chemistry to the film that made millions of followers engaged themselves to the story.

Let’s rewind a bit down the memory lane how these two films climbed the chart of my number one favorite movies of all time regardless of the genre. To begin with, I’d say I have aged with these movies along with the characters. Who wouldn’t? Common! It’s 18 years! I was in my high school when “Before Sunrise” was released on 1995. And unfortunately I didn’t see it at the cinema but it was one of those movies that were shown on HBO during my UNI days. I slept late night those times doing my drawing plates. Being a Fine Arts student, this type of film is something that will make me set aside my pencil and have a sit on the couch first and watch. Well it’s worth the time then and it even became my favorite movie.

On Before Sunrise, who wouldn’t want Celine and Jesse? They were young souls and wanderer of what would life be in the future. How can I forget the “Milkshakes” poem read for Celine by an anonymous poet on the street of Vienna? I’m sure all the girls’ hearts melted as well. Among other scenes I like were the one inside the booth, on top of the Das Wiener Riesenrad giant ferris wheel at Prater amusement park (now a popular wedding venue in Europe), the fake phone call at the restaurant, and of course the picnic before the sun rises at the Maria Theresien Platz. With these snippets of location that each tells a story, now has it’s own “Before Sunrise Vienna Tour” and it’s on my list of things to do when I visit Vienna soon. On another note, this also reminded me to ride the train that passes the Semmering railway. Going back, the before Sunrise obviously has an open ending at that time but it never came to my mind that it will have a sequel.

Coming from the open ending of Before Sunrise, during the time that mobile phones, email and any other means of internet communication were not yet popular as the traditional mail and landline telephone—This was when Jesse and Celine just made an agreement to see each other again at the same spot of the train platform in Vienna after six months. Nine years later, came the sequel of the movie and it was called “Before Sunset”

The two young sweet hearts did not see each other after six months. It took us nine years to find out why and the sequel narrated the reasons. “Dammit! Why we didn’t exchange numbers?!” that was the sentiment of these two people when they finally met at this quaint bookstore in Paris called Shakespeare and Company for Jesse’s book launch. Celine said, “What happened is what meant to happen. It’s written in our fate that we are meant to see each other after nine years here in Paris.”  Yes they finally met, Jesse is married and Celine got a list of past unsuccessful relationships. These things didn’t hinder the flare they have for each other. With obvious manifestations, Jesse enthusiastically invited Celine for something. Definitely he is up for something and that made this exciting story goes on.

Things started when the lovey-dovey dined at Le Pure Café in Paris with countless recollection of the past and exchanged of few questions. From there they headed for a cruise at Seine River and enjoyed the afternoon breeze. At some point they headed to Celine’s apartment to have an afternoon tea. The moment finally came when Celine played a song on her guitar called “A Waltz for a Night” and mesmerized while sitting was Jessie. The movie ended with Celine dancing and telling Jessie that he is going to miss his plane. The movie ended with another open ending. This created different conclusions to the audience—will Jessie miss his plane? What else Richard Linklater have in mind? For sure he is on for a part 3!

Another nine years passed by, after a long speculation of the part 3 of this movie—it finally came out! Whew! Another nine years of anticipation just ended. For a big fan like me, I have endured the long waiting and possessed the virtue of patience. It is always worth the long wait. Although up to this moment I still haven’t seen the movie so the anticipation in my heart is still high up and frustration starts to loom.

Greece is one of the countries I wanted to visit and there’s this town called Crete that I really want to see. There is something about this town that I am really curious to go if hands of fate allow me. It’s a small and quaint landmark that I will leave it as a mystery for now and keep it for myself. Not far from Crete is Messinia, where the beautiful setting of “Before Midnight” happened.

Celine and Jesse, aged and got two lovely kids. A story manipulated by fate. Comes in three exciting movie installments in a very well written screenplay. The power of words and conversations clearly stunned me how Linklater wrote it with memorable lines versus any visually arresting trilogy ever existed. A timeless film souvenir  that I will definitely watch over and over again with popcorn and milkshakes.

For now, I just want to make a plan of visiting Greece, France and Vienna to do my own tour of the places that Jessie and Celine went together on their eighteen years love story saga.

Meanwhile lets see how the hands of fate maneuvers with my life :)

big hug,
Joanie xxx

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Polaroids from Firenze

When I first stepped on to this renaissance city of Italy in the year 2010, I wasn't smitten until I lived there. On my first arrival at Firenze, the train station called Stazione Santa Maria Novella welcomed me with it's old and charming look. I feel like I was transported back in the old days of Europe just like how I've seen it in any old movies. There were twists and turns before I arrived at the house where I will stay in Florence in 2010. The Italian owner told me that she had a full-house when I arrived so she cannot accommodate me, unexpectedly. Oh oh... that was really unexpected for me! But it was a pleasant surprise that she drove me with her mini cooper and brought me to hostel where I will stay and happened to be her hostel. Then I had my accommodation. It was at Via Aprile Venti Nove where I first stayed in Florence. Great view of the duomo Santa Maria del Fiore and the terracotta roofs of the neighborhood. After a year, I came back to live in Firenze. I stayed at Via Agostini Lapini near Piazza Alberti with my peculiar landlord Letizia and cool Chinese, Spanish and Belgian housemates. I also stayed and lived at Borgo Lorenzo with my Italian best friend. The street of his house is just beside the Duomo and every morning I wake up with the sound of the church bell ringing.  I also stayed at Via Della Scala just behind Stazione Santa Maria Novella but only for awhile to stay with my Amore that time. The first shelter I had in Firenze will always be significant for the reason that it became my passage to different houses I have visited and stayed in Firenze. Mi Manchi Via Aprile Venti Nove :)

How many times in this lifetime that I've seen a carousel? Countless. But the one that gave me goosebumps is the carousel at Piazza della Repubblica. Its grandeur and elegance are the characteristics that make this piece of art remarkable. I was told that the arc at the Piazza has been the gateway of the cavallo (horses) during the old days. And this carousel stands just so close to the arc. Whether day time or night time, this cutie ride glistens to whoever will see it. I saw this carousel for the first time during the night-- and it really gave me a nice feeling just by staring at it for a long time. So when I lived in Firenze, it's impossible for me not to pass by Piazza Repubblica just to have a look at this majestic rotating object. Even the surroundings of the Piazza became the venue of a lot interesting activities. Mi Manchi Piazza della Repubblica :-)

Bicicletta. The typical means of transportation among foreign and local students in Firenze. I lived in Florence and I was on my third day living there when I contacted a guy named Pietro. He was selling his bicycle and lives in the nearby town called Sesto Fiorentino. Although it was difficult for me to transport the second hand bike which will cost me 60 euros, I still looked at it. Pietro told me that there are cheaper bikes, but those are the stolen ones! Uhu... it's the same everywhere! Bicycle thieves! So after meeting Pietro, I just decided not to buy one and just rent a bike when I need it. I think it's better that way and there will be no attachment involve. I usually park my rented bike just outside the house at Via Agostino Lapini-- my Spanish housemate had her bike too and parked there as well. The joyride of the bicycle is one of the most interesting things I had in Firenze. Having experienced driving on the cobblestones was quite tough and challenging. Not to mention all the ATAF buses running around you plus the pandemonium of tourists were all part of the daily traffic struggles! Indeed, Mi Manchi Via Agostino Lapini :-)

Via Dei Martelli, reminds me of the Vodafone shop, Mc Donald's, a museum, and countless cafes that will lead you to Piazza San Marco. It's also one of the main big roads around the center of Firenze and most of the time there are plenty of tourists walking. Christmas Day of 2011 was the first time I saw this road with just a few people walking by. It's Buon Natale as the Italians will say... The beauty of doing nothing strongly happens on Christmas day. My memories of this main road is quite random and not really stunning. But I always remember simple and non sense situation most of the time. Because when you look at small things in a bigger perspective, you will then realize the value of it. I would say that this main road had serve snippets of good memories of my stay. I would truly say...  Mi manchi Via Dei Martelli :-)

Ponte Vecchio from another point of view. You will see this bridge with the Arno river and all its typical features on all touristy photos but it's rare that people would pay attention on this tiny handcrafted metal thing. This is being sold to tourists when you go around Ponte Vecchio near Uffizi gallery. I find this object as a charming discovery in the most romantic spot of the city--Ponte Vecchio! The old bridge is the spot to view the river, listen to Saturday night live music, eat gelato, glance at the jewelry shops or simply have a good walk. I extremely miss it. Mi manchi Ponte Vecchio :-)

These are some polaroids from Firenze from my 2010-2011-2012 stay in the city. These photos are not the highlight or the most important photos I had in Florence but receiving them now reminds me that I really had tiny bits and pieces of wonderful memories during the time I lived there. I would love to write more of my Italian life, but I told myself that maybe I should write a book. It's just hard for me to put all the details of my stay into writing at the moment. There are ups and down since I came back from Italy. Roller coaster ride back here in Saigon but now I'm quite settled with some things. And today, I received these photos that made me wear a little smile on my face. No matter what, Firenze will always be my home and definitely I will be back soon whether for travel, exhibition, shopping or to live again. Who knows? For now I find comfort and happiness from where I am and who I am with ---without forgetting the good memories I had back in Italy. They will always be in the pocket of my heart :-)

I welcome myself back to blogging this 2013!

big hug,
joanie xxx