Wednesday, October 14, 2009

cambodian connections

The great thing about living in Cambodia is being able to welcome people you'll probably never have a chance to meet at home or anywhere else in the planet for that matter. I guess it's just a matter of being at the right place at the right time...

A couple of weeks ago, we welcomed the group of Ben Chan, creative director and founder of Bench, the Philippines' largest retail group with clothing stores stretching from San Francisco to San Fernando, Dubai to Divisoria, Beijing to Boni Avenue. He was with Miguel, the head architect of Bench; talent managers Arnold and Rey; Xander Tantoco and Mons, daughter of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo.

They visited our shop, Poetry, and did a big shopping spree. Ben got a couple of stuffs and was especially fond of the book I did. He asked me to collaborate on him on some design projects for Bench and Pinoy Lab. My designs will be available on Bench this December!

Had dinner with them on the last night at the Aman House. T'was such great fun.

The next couple of weeks, I got a call from the Philippine Embassy in Phnom Penh to welcome and help out Senator Pia Cayetano on her trip to Angkor. She came with friend Anne who happens to be a triathlete like the senator.

Senator Cayetano was here as a speaker for a United Nations-sponsored conference. A young driven politician, a great mom and a health buff, she is truly an incredible person that it's hard to believe she exists in the flesh... my wife and I have just become a big, big fan.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

three countries, one calamity

You've probably seen it in the news, or you've probably been one of those affected ones brought bu what is now dubbed as "Asia's Katrina" or the storm that broke records. Typhoon Ketsana will definitely be on everybody's books and until now, countless people are still picking up the pieces. I was "unlucky" enough to experience its wrath... in three countries nonetheless.

It started on the morning of the 25th of September, when I was still in Manila. I was preparing for my trip home to Cambodia, so I went to Greenbelt and Glorietta to do my final shopping as my trip is not until 2:30 in the afternoon. I left at around 8 am and the rain has already stopped. At around 10:30 am, the rain was absolutely beyond control and it was impossible to get a cab. After an hour of trying, I was able to find myself one but when we reached San Lorenzo Village in Makati to get my luggage, the house where I was staying at is already flooded to the waist. I was able to get my 40-kilo luggage from the flood waters all the way to the waiting taxi almost a kilometer away (the driver wouldn't plunge his car to the water even of I paid him a million bucks) and off to the airport we go. I was drenched to the bone. My Issey Miyake sneakers were squishing and I was shivering from the cold. I told myself I'll change when we get to the airport.
But as luck would have it, 80% of Manila was already underwater and we were stuck in traffic trying to find our way out in a little more than 4 hours. At 3:30, I gave up and asked the driver to take me to any hotel in Makati.

This is the scene right after the rain subsided, but it was just total havoc in the city.

The next day, I was able to get myself to the airport and was able to finally board the plane. The flight though was delayed for 4 hours as there was no electricity in the international airport. All baggages have to be loaded manually as the conveyors weren't working.

When we arrived in Bangkok, Ketsana has caught up on us and we were on standstill at the runway for an hour because of the lightning unfolding. I got out of the airport at almost midnight and Silom road was drenched to its knees.

When I went back, the airport was almost a ghost town. I finally made it to the flight the next day and was home in Cambodia at around 9 am.

But I was on for another surprise. Ketsana made it to Cambodia. This is the first time this ever happened as Cambodia is literally typhoon free. Everyone was caught by surprise when rain poured like crazy for 2 days. The river overflowed for the first time in history and this monk was trading the East River Road where theOrient Express Hotel is located.

Waters reached an alarming level and this motorcycle almost didn't make it.

Pub Street was still littered with toursits, but was also virtually a canal.

The Old Market Area is almost impassable and my car almost stalled in the middle of it this morning.

Don, my wife (both still toting Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Westwood in the middle of the calamity) and myself have to go out to shop for supplies as we have no electricity in the house in the past 2 days. I also had to get money from the bank to pay for my staff's salaries, so we had to brave the raging flood waters... in style...

Our fashionable New Yorker friend Eliz was still in vogue in the midst of it all. She deserves to be n the next cover of the September issue.

The biggest drawback here is that the Cambodians were totally unprepared for this storm. This has never transpired here and that was actually one of the reasons why we moved from the Philippines to here. I guess we all have to brace ourselves for global warming...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

becoming boracay

It's been more than 7 years since I last set foot in an island I almost called home. There was a point in my life when I savored trampling on its powdery white shores almost every weekend, and the best parties I've have had until now still screams the name Boracay.

I'm glad I finally made it back again on its arms, this time as a photographer for Fuego Hotels which has just opened a new property here called 7 Stones Boracay Suites. I came at the right time too as they were throwing a party for Channel V during my last night.

It was sort of like an after-party for the music channel as they were shooting their 2010 swimsuit calendar in the property.

Channel V jockey Alfie interviewing a Boracay local

I had to do some Tatler-esque shots as these photos are to be used for the Fuego Hotels Magazine... here's 7 Stones General Manager Dani (straight from Barcelona to Boracay!) with a guest and the Italian developer of the resort.

VJ Alfie with one of the models of the shoot

Dani with more models, stylists and Channel V people

Host of The Duke and Amazing Race runner up Rovilson Fernandez with another model

Guests from Spain, Australia and Taiwan...

'Twas a great night of party, booze and pool fun... I got myself a wealth of photos worthy enough for blackmail but I promised everybody not to post it here... or else... it's still unbelievable how such small island can cull that much euphoria in parties... must be the air... must be that amazing shot I can't recall (a shot of Sambucca, Cuervo gold and a dash of Tabasco), or maybe just because people forget the world exists once they set foot here. Whatever it is, wish every weekend is like this in Cambodia!

Monday, September 14, 2009

in search of a pearl

Woke up one day and found myself in Makati where I started working 8 years ago. The next morning, I found myself waking up with the sound of the lapping waves, birds and an eerie silence - marooned in a series of islands called the Pearl Farm Beach Resort...

I'm here on the island's rustic arms - beaches fringed by coconut trees, impossibly emerald green waters and quaint traces of its Maranao roots. When I got a call from my former employer weeks ago to help him redo the brochures, photography and corporate identity of Fuego Hotels, it took me only a second to think and say yes.

So now, I'm on the lap of pure luxury, shooting the resort's many facets and charms. Its beaches and natural beauty are nothing short of captivationg, but sadly, the resort in itself needs an enormous facelift...

It's rooms and structures were breathtaking a couple of years ago, when I first came here, but of course, time and age takes its toll among everything created by man. At least, this room at the villa of former Miss Universe winner Margie moran is definitely not bad...

Pearl Farm's resident parrots were definitely a riot to tourists and were absolute charmers. They should be on the payroll too and should receive hefty tips.

And the Ylang Ylang Spa was still gorgeous, but like the resort, it needs touch ups in a whole lot of ways. Took me time to make it look like this on the camera.

But no matter what state the resort falls into, the most precious pearls you can find there are its amazing, warm people. They were there always to lend a helping hand, make you feel welcome, feed you a huge buffet of tuna sashimi, deliver a tuna melt sandwich on another island in 10 minutes, open the blutique at midnight so you can buy a pair of Havaianas, extend bar hours from 11 pm to 2 am so you can enjoy drinking more San Mig Lights, bring you to the airport on a speedboat at 4 in the morning in the middle of a storm so you can catch your flight (I can't believe I made it alive and I'm writing this), and among others, still smile wholeheartedly after all this.
I am definitely coming back. And hopefully next time, not for work, but with my wife and son... and yes, with flights in the afternoon so I don't have to have raging seawater get in my Louis Vuitton luggage again.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

shooting the queen and wrestling a llama

Okay, I admit. I need to get a life. I've been pretty stuck with work and the new shop for the past months that I almost forgot the existence of life beyond the office -that's the very reason why I haven't uploaded anything on my blog in like 5 months. I haven't touched my Facebook account since the French Revolution. I haven't upoaded anything on my Flickr account since Alexander the Great last tried conquering India. And my Friendster account (if that thing still exists), has been hibernating since the last Ice Age. It's sort of a llama (yes, the animal) of responsibility that I've been wrestling for the past months.

Recession has hit us pretty hard here that we have to sweat our asses more than the usual in order to make ends meet. And me, grappling with a monster (monsters actually) I've created (a design studio with an army of people to feed, and two shops/boutiques/galleries that we've invested on) have no choice but to be a slave to this llama of choice.

But as I'm hit in the head with the realization that I actually need to go back to things that I enjoy doing in the past before I lose passion with them completely, I am turning around my life by going back to my blog. Again.

Had a really cool chance of photographing Cambodia's Queen Mother recently as official photographer to her state visit to the Artisans d' Angkor.

Cambodians stood in unity to welcome Her Royal Highness, Queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk in Siem Reap last week.

As the queen mother and the king father are these days, based in Beijing, China, their return to Siem Reap is truly a momentous occasion. They were greeted by an immense throngs of people from all walk of life.

The Queen Mother, originally named Paule-Monique Izzi, was born from a French, Corsican, Italian father and a Cambodian mother.

That explains her lovely bi-racial features... and her uncanny resemblance to England's Queen Elizabeth II.

At Artisans d' Angkor, she was presented with a gift of a finely carved gold leaf encrusted Buddha statue for her inspiring help to the project. In return, she presented everyone with gifts too!

But the clincher was when she asked to do an offering to the presented statue. She asked her staff for incense as offering, but no one in the crowd had a match to light it up. As everybody rushed to find her a match, I came to the rescue by offering her my lighter. She gladly accepted it, smiled and gave it to the Royal Protocol Officer (that's him lighting the incense with MY lighter) who gladly gave it back to me after the ceremony.

She left afterwards on board the Royal Benz #003. She wowed the crowd with her remarkable royal presence. And I, being scorned for being a smoker, learned one valuable lesson that day. Smoking can lead to royal connections.

I think I'll put my lighter up for auction on Ebay pretty soon. That may just be the end of the recession for me...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

sweat in black and white

Had a great time last Saturday shooting for Don's autumn / winter 2009 - 2010 collection and you can just imagine how hot it was, in the middle of the Cambodian summer, to wear jackets and layered clothes. Well, at least that's how Serge and Elodie, our models felt, but it was definitely a blast doing the shoot... even with sweat rolling down their cheeks and all...

Our models were Elodie from Paris and Serge from Russia who were really cool and game even if the airconditioner in the studio was on the brink of a revolution.

This is just a preview of what Don has n store for the Philippine Fashion Week in May. This collection will be available shortly after at POETRY by the Alley West.