All I Want for Christmas

Christmas 2007: Nativity Scene
Christmas Eve crept up on me this year. Probably because Christmas Eve fell on a Monday: people thought they’d have enough time to get ready for festivities at home. Then, they wake up and realize, “I haven’t completed my shopping!”

pwease can i haz one LOL
It’s the reason my mom, sister, and I were at TriNoma yesterday picking up a few last-minute items, including my sister’s gift to me. (That picture refers to this lolcat.) We had to buy food for snacks and dinner, since our extended family would bring dishes for noche buena, which we’ve celebrated at our house for several years now. This year we had a new addition to the family (yes, we’re still growing!) — another baby girl.

Christmas 2007: I got it from my momma.

I got it from my momma.

Christmas 2007: Family Scene
Our Christmases are low key affairs; the loudest sounds are of our laughter and talking over the dinner table, catching up on each other, recycling old jokes and recalling running in-jokes that outside observers might not pick up on. Ü Of course the highlight of the evening is distributing gifts to each other, but really what’s important to me is everyone I love being in the same room.

Christmas 2007: Presents? I gots dem!

The gifts are just a perk.

Merry Christmas, everyone! God bless you all!

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Dream Come True

BODYJAM auditions posterLast Saturday night I had a nightmare that I had agreed to teach two classes on the same day at the same time at two different clubs. I couldn’t find someone to cover the class because I had found out too late that the classes conflicted with each other. In dismay I realized I would be a no-show for one class — and get suspended from teaching for that offense.

I think it was my subconscious mind expressing fears that I might not be able to handle teaching two programs at Fitness First, since I passed the BODYJAM auditions on Saturday. Funny having a nightmare after my dream to teach BODYJAM finally came true. I auditioned last year but wasn’t picked — but that freed me up for BODYBALANCE training last March. I’m a big believer in good things happening in God’s time, so only after more than a year of waiting did I get another chance at BODYJAM. A year of God leading me into situations of dancing while everyone’s watching, learning to manage stage fright, and enjoying the buzz of teaching dance. A year of growth and pruning to enable this vine to bloom and bear fruit.

now I can dance!
Now I can dance!

It all began again with Arnold Warren (BODYJAM program head here in the Philippines) drumming up interest in the auditions by putting up posters in all the Fitness First clubs. He also posted bulletins and blog entries on Friendster and Multiply. Talk about getting the word out: on audition day, almost 70 people showed up! There were so many auditionees that Arnold was compelled to disclaim, “If you’re here because you think this is a class or an event, you’re wrong!” And no one left.

Lining up to hand in our registration forms — I was #17 — I felt like I was auditioning for American Idol, except we weren’t going in one by one. (Whew.) And we weren’t singing either; over the next 55 minutes we would all be dancing and grooving to the same music and set of moves presented by BodyJam instructors. While we did that, three judges would make the rounds and list down who they thought should go to Hollywood go through the training. Our judges were Arnold, Ms. Fhe Manalili-Samia (former BODYJAM program head and Group Exercise Manager for Fitness First Ortigas), and Joseph Regala (GXM for FF North EDSA and Platinum Trinoma).

Simon, Paula, and Randy
NOT Simon, Paula, and Randy.

Our playlist consisted of the warm-up, isolation, and latin tracks from BODYJAM 42, the Candyman block from BODYJAM 40, the recovery track from BODYJAM 35, and the jazz cardio block from BODYJAM 35. Our groove-down was “Rock With You” from BODYJAM 33. Talk about intense! Midway through the warm-up the aircon cut out, ramping up the ambient temperature and causing the windows to fog up.

America's Next Top ModelAfterwards, Arnold, Ms. Fhe, and Joseph combined their lists. Those who had received votes from all three of them would automatically be admitted to BODYJAM training in February 2008. This time, it felt like America’s Next Top Model, starring Arnold as Tyra.

The first number he called? Mine! The funny thing is that I had completely forgotten that it was my number he was calling. Ten other people were called. Those with two votes were then called to dance off for five remaining slots. Arnold and his co-program head Clark Amaba then led these people through BODYJAM 43’s first cardio block, which few of them had seen, much less mastered (ensuring they were all on even footing). Afterwards, the auditionees were asked to stand in front of the assembly, introduce themselves, and state why they wanted to teach BODYJAM. This helped Joseph and group exercise manager for FF ABS-CBN Brian Peralta choose the final five.

Our number complete, some administrative stuff was discussed, but my head was up in the clouds already. February might be a long way off, but I’ve waited a year for this. Two months is nothing! Ü

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When Work is Play

As promised, I took a lot of photos at the Les Mills Quarterly Workshop last December 1, 2007 at Fitness First Mall of Asia.

December 2007 Quarterlies: Jace, Kurei, and me

It wasn’t hard to do, considering that almost none of the group exercise instructors I know are camera-shy. (Check out my friends’ photos as well — Kurei, Vanessa, Bon, and Albert.) And no camera lens went unnoticed.

December 2007 Quarterlies: BodyStep 70

See what I mean?

I arrived some time before 9am at the venue, trying to beat the Christmas post-payday traffic rush. The first session (BodyAttack) had been canceled on short notice; master trainer Kylie Gates was injured, so she hadn’t flown in. We started the morning with BodyCombat release 34.

December 2007 Quarterlies: me and the Combat team

Unleash. Empower. Explode!

It’s the shortest BodyCombat release ever, clocking in at a little over 45 minutes when we blasted through it nonstop with trainer Ben Tang, after a short educational session on innovations in this latest release. I don’t teach this program, but I do enjoy any workout with friends, especially right before pigging out on pizza.

I’d been experiencing muscle soreness in my butt and inner thighs the week leading up to the quarterlies, so I backed out of BodyPump 64 (which I had pre-registered for) and sat out BodyStep 70 (which is a real leg workout!). Instead, I waited for the ultimate dance party workout BodyJam 43, where I could “shake all my stress away, yeah,” as Rihanna has sung.

December 2007 Quarterlies: Balance Babes

BodyBalance teachers can Jam, too!

BodyJam co-program head Clark Amaba had to present by his lonesome because Kylie was absent and our homegrown talent and trainer Arnold Warren was in Vietnam training a new batch of BodyJam instructors.

December 2007 Quarterlies: Clark the presenter

Clark chillin’ before presentin’

BodyJam is my first love among Les Mills programs, although I don’t teach it (yet). Let me tell you, release 43 is quite challenging in terms of getting the feel right during the Disco block. (Need. to find. inner. disco ball!) Once the House block kicks in, though, it’s “Please don’t stop the music!”

Last program of the day was, of course, BodyBalance, where our guest presenters Jackie Wong (BodyStep trainer) and Ben Tang (he teaches BodyBalance too! haha) with Ms. Peewee our BodyBalance program head presented release 39. What can I say about it, as an instructor of the program? One word. “Ouch.” But the music is fantastic and motivating, I think, and if I keep training in the weeks up to the launch (mid-January 2008!) I think I can manage this release.

December 2007 Quarterlies: with the bigshots

We can’t wait to teach BodyBalance 39!

The thing with work that seems like play is that we co-workers — and friends — don’t get tired of each other’s company. Luckily, Mall of Asia on that day was open until midnight, so we were able to wreak havoc at a Wendy’s and a Starbucks into the night.

December 2007 Quarterlies: Raven and me

I loved every moment of it. Kudos to Joseph, the group exercise manager for Fitness First North EDSA and Platinum TriNoma, for organizing the whole event. It was worth the journey all the way to Mall of Asia.

Until next time!

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Quarterly Fun!

For the last few days it’s all I’ve wanted to think or talk about. I’ve planned my entire calendar year-end around it (okay, that may be an exaggeration) and I’ve been so excited about it that I’ve already planned everything I’m going to wear. Actually, I’ve packed everything I’m going to wear just so I don’t use any of those clothes by mistake early this week.

me at my first Les Mills Quarterly Workshop What the hell am I talking about? It’s the second Les Mills Quarterly Workshop for 2007, of course. Held for all instructors of Les Mills group exercise programs, it’s like a grand convention of all my fellow instructors as we experience the upcoming releases, get to try other programs, and hang out with our best buddies. Yes, we also try to pick up new skills so we can make our teaching better for our participants. Ü It’s kind of like a Star Trek convention, except with more exercise instructors and less costumes.

like a Star Trek convention, with less clothing
Actually there’s less clothing involved, too. Haha.

Last April’s quarterly was my first, and it was tons of fun. Never mind that we had to travel all the way to SM Southmall since the event was held at the Fitness First branch there.

This time around, we’re traveling to the newest branch, Fitness First Mall of Asia. Yup, at that reclaimed piece of land in Pasay (I call it Farness First because it’s really far from Quezon City, where I live). I’ve been there several times this month to cover BodyBalance classes, so I know how to get there. Now I’m planning to form a carpool so we can imagine the whole thing as a field trip.

I’ll have photos and other stories after the event. I’m starting to get really hyper about it…

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Now Airing

Living Asia Prod June 28-30: Hi!
Hey everyone! My special on Living Asia Channel (99 on SkyCable) is airing this month. The show is called Gone for the Weekend: Bataan. The show’s synopsis:

“Two sisters escape city life by heading to Zambales and Bataan for the weekend. On this trip they rediscover a sense of community as they experience the locals’ shared respect for history and environment.”

Check it out at these times!

  • Nov. 19 – 4am, 5pm
  • Nov. 20 – 1am, 9am, 2pm, 10pm
  • Nov. 21 – 6am, 7pm
  • Nov. 22 – 3am, 11am, 4pm
  • Nov. 23 – 12am, 8am, 1pm, 9pm
  • Nov. 24 – 5am, 6pm
  • Nov. 25 – 2am, 10am

We shot this in June. I hope you enjoy the fruit of my labor — and tell your friends! Ü

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Planned Obsolescence

I remember being absolutely thrilled to have purchased my iPod, Prissy at a steal last April.

Since then things have happened that have put a damper on my joy. For instance, Apple released a new line of iPods that look so different from previous models that poor Prissy now looks dated. And while I have barely gone through half of Prissy’s 80GB storage, the 160GB storage on new iPods seriously has me going through buyer’s remorse. (I’m still paying for Prissy via credit card installment at 0% interest over 12 months.)

It’s been a few months since the new iPods have come out and a lot of people I know have “upgraded” to the new models. However, I realize that my iPod is still good; at some point I’ll just have to have the battery replaced, but there’s really no reason for me to get a new one. It’s just extremely clever marketing and hype that has me going, “Oh, I gotta have that.”

I’ll just console myself by loading more music and videos, and spiffying up Prissy with G-Mask. It’s not about what you have; it’s how you carry it. Ü

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Deal or No Deal?

I’ve been moonlighting as a faux Deal or No Deal girl as part of a friend’s office promotional campaign.

ETel Deal or No Deal Make-Up

I’m really not used to make-up.

ETel Deal or No Deal All Dressed Up

This is us all dressed up with our briefcases.

ETel Deal or No Deal Candid

This is us with the mastermind behind the office promo.

ETel Deal or No Deal aftermath

Afterwards. My pores!

We toured the company’s four Metro Manila sites and put on a little show before our assigned host (different at each site) plugged the promo. Something involving a million pesos, tax-free. In any case, it was a fun gig. But my back is killing me now. Serves me right for wearing 3-inch heels while walking up and down hallways. Ü

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The Love Affair is Over

After nearly two years of consciously choosing to spend both time and money with them, I am bidding farewell to The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Never mind that I once professed undying love for their Extreme Ice Blended Vanilla No Sugar Added drink, or that they’ve recently introduced a Splenda-sweetened poppyseed loaf slice to their menu (something irresistible to someone like me who avoids sugar). Conspicuous consumption issues aside, the reason I stuck with the Coffee Bean for such a long time is because their service was top-notch, and they really made you feel comfortable in their cafes. The loyalty program they set up with the use of pink cards (which enabled you to claim a free drink after buying 12 drinks) and later on Swirl Cards (which stores prepaid credit and rebates per P100 worth of purchases) kept me coming back.

Coinciding with their recent expansion (they’ve opened branches all over the metro, including Trinoma, SM North EDSA The Block, and Bonifacio High Street) came a deterioration in their value for money. No Sugar Added powders never came at extra cost before; now, asking for NSA powder instead of regular powder adds an additional P10 to the total cost of a drink — which is already pricey enough, with very few drinks priced below P100.

I might have tolerated the price increase if it weren’t for the drop in the quality of service as well. My sister found it increasingly difficult to make use of the prepaid credit she had paid for on her Swirl Card, but the last straw for her was the staff at CBTL Eastwood switching her card (loaded with P500, plus stored points from her previous purchases) with someone else’s card (loaded with nothing). She only found this out when she wanted to use her credit at CBTL Ortigas Park. And the crew even treated her like she was lying to them that it was not her card. She asked them to fix this problem three whole months ago, and it still hasn’t been resolved.

As for me, the turning point was at CBTL Promenade. I had already computed that my drink would have 10 pesos on top of the listed price on the board because I had asked for NSA powder in my Regular Extreme Ice Blended Mocha. So I just handed my 500 pesos to them and waited for my change. As they punched my order in, I realized that they were charging me an additional 10 pesos on top of my computed price. I said, “I ordered a REGULAR,” remembering that the barista had even repeated my order back at me. “It’s not a LARGE?” the barista asked, confused, closing the register and printing my receipt.

The manager had to come and fix what had been punched in, then asked me, “You don’t want to make it a LARGE?” I stood my ground. But it wasn’t over yet. When they finally handed me the correct receipt, I still hadn’t received the proper change for my P500 and it took another few minutes to get my money.

With issues like this, I can’t help feeling like I’m being robbed at point-blank range every time I step into a Coffee Bean these days. Gimme a Starbucks any time. Sure they might be the McDonald’s of overpriced coffee shops, but even McDonald’s has superb quality control.

UPDATE 11/09/2007: I received a nice comment on my Livejournal post concerning this issue from Paulo Perez of CBTL Promenade. Here it is:

Hi Noelle! Good day to you. Just want to apologize in CBTL Promenade’s behalf about the incident. Rest assured steps have been taken to avoid this incident from happening again. Thank you for your feedback. We really appreciate it. Hope you can visit us again at the Promenade. Please feel free to send me your contact number at [email address redacted] so we can contact you and personally assist you in your next visit here.

All the best,


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“Did Ayala Malls and SM Corp have a major disagreement, and that’s why they closed their bridgeway?” I asked myself in disbelief as I confronted the wall of steel blocking my way through the glass doors to Glorietta. I had just enjoyed a quick (and late) lunch at McDonald’s in SM Makati and was supposed to wend my way through Glorietta and Greenbelt before crossing Ayala Avenue on my way to the Living Asia office. I shrugged my shoulders and took an escalator down, hoping to enter Glorietta at the ground level.

As I started to exit SM, I noticed a whole lot of people just standing in front of Glorietta’s entrance. The mall’s interiors were dimly lit and the establishments inside looked closed. My stomach churned as I started to catch whispers of explosions and bombs.

Because the establishments on the perimeter of Glorietta were open, I stepped inside a Mercury Drug and asked the guard why the mall was closed. “May sumabog sa loob (Something exploded inside [the mall]),” he explained. “May patay (Someone died).”

Kailan nangyari? (When did it happen?)” I asked, feeling my lunch start to rise into my throat.

Mga 1:30 (At 1:30),” he informed me.

I walked toward Glorietta Park where several small groups of people had gathered into their own small circles gazing up at the mall’s facade. I took out my cellphone and found my parents and sister had gone nuts texting and calling me asking me to avoid Glorietta because a bomb had gone off there. And boy, did I know it. Between taking their calls and sending text messages back, I took some photos and video of the organized chaos in front of Glorietta and noted the helicopter making repeated runs in the airspace overhead.

glorietta bomb aftermath (3)

As I walked down Ayala Avenue and crossed toward the Makati Stock Exchange, I was walking with a group of people that included a young couple and their daughter. The father was carrying the little girl and the couple tried their best to be calm around her. Then, as we reached the Stock Exchange, the father passed their daughter into the mother’s arms as he walked inside a bank. The little girl asked the mother something, to which she replied, “E diba may sumabog sa Glorietta? Hindi ba katabi natin yun? (Didn’t something explode in Glorietta? Weren’t we standing next to it?)” I took a closer look at them. They were carrying hardly anything, and the daughter was sock-footed and holding her sole shoe in her hand.

glorietta bomb aftermath (9)

I had arrived at SM some time around 2:20pm. An MMDA truck and the ever-vigilant media (represented by ABS-CBN News) already were parked out front. The SOCO police van arrived just as I was walking away from the scene, continuing on my way. They — and I — had only missed the explosion by an hour.

glorietta bomb aftermath (8)

I’d been delayed in my trip to Makati because of a traffic jam at Ortigas when I dropped my sister off at her meeting in Megamall, unaware that a 3-day sale had commenced today. Then, I had chosen to park in Shangri-La Mall and took the MRT from Shaw Station to Ayala Station, which connected into SM Makati. I had been so overcome by hunger that I chose to eat first before continuing into Glorietta. So I couldn’t help feeling like I’d been saved by the skin of my teeth from peril, however remote it now felt. Thank God!

UPDATE 4pm: It was a bomb, according to the police.

I’ll have photos and video up when I get home. I’m posting this from a computer workstation at the Fitness First in Makati.

UPDATE 7pm: Photos are now up. And MLQ3 has referenced this post, as well as my friend Joanne’s Multiply blog post.