Character, Culture, and Chinese Dumplings

Taipei art park "Huashan 1914" at night

Taipei art park “Huashan 1914″ at night

“Character, Culture, and Chinese Dumplings” by Oz Mendoza was originally published in Mabuhay Magazine, November 2013.

Huashan 1914 Creative Park / 華山1914文創園區 (map)

A cluster of aged buildings in Taipei’s central government district, Huashan 1914 Creative Park has become a hotbed of commerce and culture ranging from the sophisticated to the avant-garde of the streets. It’s come a long way from its origins as a winery erected by the Japanese a hundred years ago during Taiwan’s colonial period (1895-1945).

Today, the weatherbeaten walls of the colonial-style buildings evoke a richness of character that lends a haunted elegance to the delapidation upon display. Despite the cracked brickwork, the paint-stripped concrete, the corroded metal supports, and the splashes of graffiti, the area feels grime-free—indeed it’s almost genteel. Continue reading

Remembering Leyte, a Year Before the Super Typhoon

Seascape at Calubian

Seascape at Calubian — Photo by Oz Mendoza

It has been over 100 days since the Eastern Visayas province of Leyte was hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (International name: Haiyan). The devastation it brought was shocking, especially to those of us who have ties to Leyte, Samar, and other severely affected parts of the Philippines.

This is my small tribute to Leyte, along with a gallery of images showcasing its beautiful landscape from the year before the storm struck. Continue reading

High Art Rises From Beijing’s Industrial Ashes

Outdoor sculpture in 798 Art Zone, Dashanzi District, Beijing

Outdoor sculpture in 798 Art Zone

An alleyway in 798 Art Zone

An alleyway in 798 Art Zone

“High Art Rises From Beijing’s Industrial Ashes” by Oz Mendoza was originally published in Mabuhay Magazine, August 2013.

When asked to think about “art and fashion,” what normally comes to mind? “Art” is likely to spark a memory of a famous painting or sculpture, or some timeless piece of graphic art such as Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. “Fashion” might bring up images of sleek runway shows or poised women in Prada strutting down New York’s Fifth Avenue.

Less likely to come to mind are visions of corroding machinery, rusty metal pipes, and towering smokestacks.

Yet such views abound in the streets and alleyways of Beijing’s most vibrant art and fashion district, Dashanzi—home to the refurbished factory spaces of 751 D-Park and 798 Art Zone. Here, post-apocalyptic grunge meets hipster contemporary in a fascinating fusion of artistic reinvention, engineered solution, and good old-fashioned Chinese pragmatism. Continue reading

JJ: Not Just Another Manic Market

Happy shoppers at JJ Market

Happy shoppers at JJ Market

“JJ: Not Just Another Manic Market” by Oz Mendoza was originally published in Mabuhay Magazine, July 2013.

Bangkok is a city of temples, tuk-tuks, and tourists galore. And let’s not forget: shopping. Glitzy temples to commerce scintillate along the sides of Rama I Road. Tailored gents and sophisticated ladies buzz through the malls alongside bubbly teenagers with k-pop inspired dresses and ‘dos. It’s a glamorous wonderland of designer goods and electronic trends. But it feels a little too shiny—maybe even a little too tame—for Bangkok. And you’ll be running the risk of sticker shock.

For a memorable and authentic Bangkok shopping experience, you can’t go wrong checking out the Chatuchak Weekend Market (map), or JJ Market as the locals have nicknamed it. You can’t pass up a visit to the biggest weekend market in the world. Once you get there, you may find yourself combating heat, crowds, exhaustion, and countless temptations to spend a little more baht on whatever’s just caught your fancy. But it’s a wonderland in its own way. Continue reading

Bar-Hopping in Bangkok

WTF Cafe and Gallery — photo by Oz Mendoza

WTF Cafe and Gallery

“Bar-Hopping in Bangkok” by Oz Mendoza was originally published in Mabuhay Magazine, July 2013.

Bangkok is known for being a party town. And perhaps no “town” in Southeast Asia offers so many varied ways to party. From the glamorous perch of Sky Bar at The Dome to the plastic chairs of a cheap speakeasy on Khao San Road—Bangkok provides watering holes to suit every taste and budget. Here are some of my latest bar-hopping finds, from artsy hangouts to headbangin’ clubs. Continue reading

Haw Par Villa: A strange theme park in Singapore

An artificial lake at Haw Par Villa

An artificial lake at Haw Par Villa — photo by Oz Mendoza

A few days ago, I gave a talk at the 3rd Travel Massive Manila. The talk was entitled “Culture as Adventure,” and as part of my presentation, I showed pictures of the bizarre theme park in Singapore known as Haw Par Villa. It’s a place that I think of as Singapore’s version of Disneyland – gone insane.

Apparently, it’s not that unusual a theme park. A Thai friend told me that he visited a similar place on a school trip when he was a kid. But it provided my first experience with Buddhist mythology as a freaky (but cool) educational experience. What follows is a smattering of pictures depicting the more outlandish sights at Haw Par Villa. But these photos don’t truly capture the feeling of walking around the fantastical attractions that are so outrageous to the eyes of anyone who hasn’t grown up on Buddhist myths and tales (and traumatic school trips, I imagine).

Be warned: Some of the images that follow are somewhat gruesome. Continue reading

A Taste of Culture in Quezon Province

“A Taste of Culture” by Oz Mendoza was originally published in Mabuhay Magazine, January 2013.

Sinugnon na Pla-Pla

A tilapia dish at Kamayan Sa Palaisdaan — photo by Oz Mendoza

To experience the true local character of a place, you can’t merely look at the culture—you need to taste it, too. That’s the spirit behind the Kulinarya Tagala, a culinary and heritage tour that winds through several towns in the Southern Tagalog provinces of Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon. In my case, I only got to visit places in Quezon. But what lovely things I got to taste (and see): crispy kiping, charred kulawo, sweet leafy pako, and spicy longganisa. (And some nice houses, too.)

Continue reading

The Wooden Chair and the Footprint of Christ

“The Wooden Chair and the Footprint of Christ” by Oz Mendoza was originally published in Enrich Magazine, June 2012

Author visiting Bangkong Kahoy valley

The author visiting Bangkong Kahoy valley — photo by Oz Mendoza

The description of the place intrigued me. “Birds and butterflies, plants and flowers abound. The sounds of nature, the movement of the wind, the gush of pure water, the dance of the rain are all in harmony.” It was like a song, calling me, whispering of a better place to be than the one I was in.

Those words led me, three days later, to be jouncing along in the back of a Hummer on a rugged mountain road, finally about to see the fabled valley that is Bangkong Kahoy.

I wondered whether it would live up to my expectations.

Continue reading

Come to the Dark Side

“Come to the Dark Side” by Oz Mendoza was originally published in Enrich Magazine, March 2012.

Dark ChocolateThe Dark Side seduced me a long time ago. You may succumb to its temptations, too. And that would not be such a bad thing. You won’t have to blow up a planet or use your mind to strangle a underling (unless you really, really want to). You only need to eat the right kind of chocolate.

For a while now we’ve been hearing news about chocolate being a wonderful food that offers tremendous benefits to the body and mind. Sure, the news may be coming from people who just happen to be funded by The Hershey Company, but let’s set that thought aside for now. Maybe Willy Wonka had the right idea all along. Maybe we should all be living in a chocolate factory. Maybe we shouldn’t find it too funny that a candy company finances something called the Hershey Center for Health & Nutrition.

Chocolate, according to the Hershey Center researchers, is practically a super fruit. Sort of. From a certain point of view. Actually, the researchers’ paper is entitled “Cacao seeds are a Super Fruit.” Yes, in capital letters. Like it’s the leader of the Justice League of Food.

In short, it is cacao—raw cocoa—that is the real micronutrient champion. Cocoa appears to be rich in a class of flavonoids known as flavanols that are also found in red wine, tea, and many fruits, including apples, grapes, and lychees.

Continue reading

Kiri Dalena’s Storm-Swept Trees Invite Us to Peer into the Heart of Our Own Darkness

Washed Out (poster)

Washed Out (exhibition poster)

The Philippines is no stranger to devastating typhoons. The arrival of any of these whirling agents of chaos tends to mess up what little semblance of order we keep in our native land. Floods, landslides, traffic, crashing billboards — these unwanted visitors have an uncanny way of highlighting the weaknesses in our infrastructure, year after year.

Let’s face the facts: The death and destruction left in the wake of typhoons is caused as much by human failure and iniquity as it is by nature.

That was certainly the case in the disaster of December 2011, when Tropical Storm Sendong swept through Mindanao. Hundreds of massive tree trunks thundered down through areas of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, razing everything in their path. Entire families and homes were lost. Thousands of people were killed.

Continue reading