Heaven For Little Girls

first published in Manila Bulletin, 2005

Cheerful but comfortable, fun but functional, the rooms of the young Abalos girls show how kids can make a space their own.

It has been said that all little girls are princesses. However, Charlene and Corinne Abalos, grandchildren of former mayor Banjamin Abalos, and daughters of former mayor and current congressman Benhur Abalos, can easily lay claim to being Mandaluyong royalty. But it’s not like they’re putting on airs. On the contrary, the kids are good-natured, chatty, and fresh-faced, full to the brim with energy and ideas. During the recent holiday season, the girls were bubbling over with excitement planning the Christmas party for the family and household staff, and organizing the Kris Kringle exchange gift logistics. It turns out that the Abalos girls are not only budding event organizers, but promising interior designers as well.

Charlene and Corinne can actually take the credit for much of the conceptualization of their rooms’ interiors. Their mom, Mrs. Menchie Abalos, gave them both free reign to think of how they wanted their rooms to look like. With the guidance of their Tita Myla Tirado, who also helped design the rooms of their other siblings, they were able to realize many of their whimsical decorating ideas. Left to their own creative devices, the girls came up with a cozy combo of Neverland, Wonderland, Oz, and Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Each room is a little girl’s personal dreamspace, a tribute to a child’s imagination, a special playground for kids and by kids. They’re best described in the words of their visiting friends, who say that once you’re in Charlene and Corinne’s rooms, you never want to leave. The rooms glow with bright hues and quirky patterns. Wooden molding and shelves in pastel colors accent the walls of warm cream. As an added fanciful detail, flowers have been delicately hand-stencilled onto every wall, geraniums for Charlene, lilacs for Corinne. Most of the furniture has been made to order, from the uniquely shaped beds to the plush chairs with the fuzzy upholstery. Continuing with the floral motif, the mantelpieces, armoires, and side tables displaying the girls’ assorted knick-knacks follow a scalloped petal outline. While in Charlene’s room, a gigantic exotic pink blossom holds up her entertainment system, its counterpart in Corinne’s room is a large dollhouse of salmon and peach, within which resides a clique of Bratz dolls. Not one to be outdone, since Corinne had her dollhouse, Charlene asked for a vanity table in the shape of a castle complete with towers from which hang her school medals. But what the kids are really proud of though are their specially-made, one-of-a-kind beds. If there was one thing that Charlene had her heart set on once she started planning her room, it was a heart-shaped bed. Her Tita Myla was able to oblige her and then some, creating a curved headboard covered in velvet, and having the mattress custom-cut out of Uratex foam to the desired specifications. For Corinne, she put together a shooting star with a rainbow tail, finishing off with flower-shaped mattress and base. Lying down on these elaborate confections, sweet dreams are guaranteed. As a convenient space-saver, full-length mirrors double as sliding doors for the girls’ wardrobes.

Scattered neatly around the premises are an assortment of stuffed toys, memorabilia, and play figures. Disney princesses and M&M candies for Charlene, Spongebob Squarepants and furry animals for Corinne. Charlene is also an accomplished golfer. She was introduced to the sport by her grandfather, an avid linksman himself. Her room displays a trophy and a few framed articles and pictures showing her enthusiasm for the game.

Eventually the kids might begin to opt for more sophisticated designs for their quarters, maybe something similar to their elder sisters’ tastes. But for now, Mrs. Abalos isn’t at all worried about the kids out-growing their rooms’ décor yet, not when she sees how much they’re enjoying themselves. At their age, there’s still a lot of time for play and toys. The fun has just begun for Charlene and Corinne, and they’ve clearly got the rooms to grow.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

Crash Chords: Rant and Rave

first published under music column “Crash Chords” in Manual magazine, 2005

Toti Dalmacion

“We are not hip, we are trendy,” and with that devastating statement music guru Toti Dalmacion effectively dismisses the nascent Filipino music scene that he himself has carefully helped cultivate. In an era of unlimited downloads, overstocked record stores, and competing music channels, it’s ironic how most Filipinos continue to stick to what’s popular, safe and familiar. What started out as a casual chat about different music genres morphed into an impassioned manifesto regarding all that is wrong with the local music scene. Toti did oblige us by offering a few pithy notes on the various genre definitions, but not before expounding that the labels are little more than shelving categories for the stores to use, and for record companies to slap onto compilation CDs that usually offer an inaccurate or watered-down version of the particular genre that they’re supposed to represent. Toti just wishes that things were less about the money, less about the image, and more about the music.

Differentiating the sub-genres of techno music is all about listening to the layers. It all started with the invention of synthesizers and drum machines. Which meant that an aspiring musician no longer needed to be a virtuoso or even play an instrument to make music. The grand history of techno, its sub-genres and all related electronic music that reside under the catch-all term ‘Electronica’, deals mostly with the ping-ponging of ideas across the Atlantic ocean, with one side embellishing the other’s inventions then throwing them back for another round.

Acid House

Cover of "Everybody Needs a 303 1"

Cover of Everybody Needs a 303 1

This dates back to the 1980s, a style that was played at the club “The Warehouse” in Chicago. This is where the characteristic synthetic plip-plop sound often heard in dance music comes from. The sound popped out when DJ Ron Hardy played around with a small synthesizer called the “Roland TB-303 Bass Line” which was originally meant to be used by drummers to emulate a bass guitar.

Example: Fatboy Slim’s “Everybody Needs a 303

Acid Jazz 

It’s actually a fusion of old and new classic jazz riffs and scat vocals with funky hip hop beats and modern techno sounds. Its attributes include hip-hop or house rhythms, live instrumentation, silky smooth arrangements, and an easy, fluid, soulful energy.

Examples: Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai


Brian Eno

Brian Eno (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

During raves, those with battered eardrums could rest by going to a chill-out room where ambient music was played. Associated with the experimental and avant-garde, it features lots of dreamy soundscapes, with a very discreet rhythm or none at all.

Example: Brian Eno – the godfather of this style


This is the most popular dance format in Europe. You’ll be sure to hear happy synth-tones, perky vocals, a catchy refrain, and short parts of crap-rap in between. This sub-genre dominates every chart and dance floor in the European Union.

Examples: 2Unlimited


House is what disco used to be, but with new machines having modernized and updated the sound. It is the musical core of today’s dance music. Emerging from clubs in Chicago and New York in the mid 1980s, it can be recognized by the 130 electric beats per minute big bass lines and hard drum loops.


It’s music that’s so bad it crosses over to hip. The appeal is in appreciating the irony of it. It’s associated with coffee, beatniks, swingers, the jet set, the Rat Pack, Bacharach, and elevator muzak.

Lounge pushes a retro aesthetic restyled for the contemporary. Computers may be used to add that 21st Century Modern flava. It’s very jazz-influenced, and sometimes spiced up with ethnic flavors such as bossa nova.

Examples: Groove Armada


Not Toti’s favorite subgenre for sure, he terms it as music that has no soul or credibility; white, blank, and wimpy. Trance evolved from German Techno, using the rolling bass and sizzling keyboards of techno to give the music a hypnotic flowing effect, yet retaining all the driving, pulsating energy of its true techno roots.
Examples: Paul Oakenfold


Produced by taking hip-hop and fusing it with moody psychedelic electronic rock sounds over a down-tempo beat.

Usually melancholic in nature, the mainstays of Trip-Hop are R&B vocals over smooth Hip Hop beats/scratching layered with Rock and Jazz.

Examples: Massive Attack, Sneaker Pimps, Portishead.

To sample the abovementioned ear candy, pop into your nearest respectably-sized record store, browse online shops such as Amazon, or check out download tools Limewire or Soulseek (but don’t tell the RIAA that you heard of them from us).

More info at: www.ethnotechno.com/defs.php

-text by Jude Defensor, photos courtesy of Toti Dalmacion or the Internet, some rights reserved

Christmas Comes Home (Policarpio St., Mandaluyong)

first published in Manila Bulletin, 2004

Santa lives and the Christmas Spirit thrives at Policarpio Street in Mandaluyong City

Policarpio's Pride

Policarpio's Pride (Photo credit: d2digital)

Christmas inspires homeowners everywhere to unleash their inner decorator and bring out the ornaments, lights, and holiday cheer. In some neighborhoods, the frenzied and fancy preparations set off a friendly form of competition, resulting in streets lined with amazingly decked out houses. Regrettably, a number of these impressive displays lie behind gates and guards, in enclaves accessible only to their privileged residents, never to be shared with the general public. However, in a display of true Christmas spirit, one bighearted community has welcomingly opened its doors for everyone to enjoy their decorating efforts. For the past few years, the renown of Mandaluyong City’s Policarpio Street as a Christmas destination has continued to grow, spreading joy and merriment to all who come to visit and marvel at this colorful wonderland.
Mr. Anthony Suva, is the barangay chairman of New Zaniga, and the area around Policarpio is under his jurisdiction. He grew up in the community and his family has always been very active in the Christmas preparations.

This time of the year, the Suva residence temporarily transforms into Santa’s Philippine address. Mr. Suva doesn’t seem to mind accommodating their itinerant guest.

“I’ve been so used to it,” he confesses. “Ever since we were kids, my mother has liked Santas. The Santas come from all over the world. She buys them whenever she goes on a trip, or friends who go abroad bring them back for her since they know she collects them.”

At the Suva home, it’s really easy to believe that you’ve somehow been transported to the North Pole. The place is literally packed with everything related to Santa Claus. From figurines to lanterns, furniture and even table settings, every wall and every corner, from the garden to the roof, is dedicated to the jolly man in red. It’s quite obvious that Mrs. Suva, Ching to her family and friends, really takes her annual setting up of Santaland to heart.

“As early as August my mother starts unpacking and decorating here and there,” her son reveals. “Whenever she comes home from work or during her free time she works a little more on their arrangement. But because there are so many Santas, she usually ends up finishing by December.”

The other displays along Policarpio are no less impressive. Each home has its own particular theme, and each family within is just as enthusiastic at celebrating the season. Mr. Suva’s in-laws live across the street and their motif consists of carpeting their entire property, house, gate, and even water tower, with a blanket of Christmas lights. Down the street at Mrs. Lim’s, mechanical elves dance in time to music at Santa’s workshop, while an elaborate belen graces the facade of another home.

“All this started around ten years ago,” Mr. Suva relates. “The pioneers were my mother, and our neighbors, my future mother-in law, and Mrs. Lim. Every year they kept adding until it reached this.”

And “this” is truly a sight to behold. Sparkling lights cover almost every available surface, while life-size nativity figures, angels, and Santas greet passersby. As an added attraction, stalls selling food, gifts, and other Christmas items line the street, thus completing the festive ambiance. The street has been regularly featured in both the local and international media as a noteworthy Christmas attraction. Visitors from all over the country and even abroad, including some celebrities, have all flocked to Policarpio just to gawk at the displays and share in the merrymaking. From sunset to midnight the entire neighborhood resembles a giant outdoor Christmas party.

Policarpio's Pride

Policarpio's Pride (Photo credit: d2digital)

“In 1998, Policarpio street was officially recognized by the Department of Tourism as a tourist destination,” says Mr. Suva. “The tiangge started four years ago, and now it lasts from November 15 to January 6. We get around three to four thousand visitors a day, and this number increases the closer it gets to Christmas Day.”

There seems to be no stopping Policarpio’s popularity. It has gotten to the extent that the residents themselves are finding it difficult to reach their homes due to the additional traffic and parking woes. Mr. Suva’s responsibilities include dealing with the logistical challenge of keeping the area reasonably safe and orderly.

“The crowds and security are really a problem,” Mr. Suva admits. “There have been times when we’ve thought of scrapping the whole thing or at least toning it down. But eventually we all agree that it’s worth the trouble. Besides, it’s only 45 days out of the year.”

What makes it all worthwhile to the people of Policarpio are the smiles and happy faces they see on every child or child at heart who braves the hassles and hordes just to catch a glimpse of their marvelous decorations. All the efforts and expenses that they put into the preparation of Pasko Sa Policarpio are rewarded by the immeasurable amount of goodwill that is generated by the project.

Even Mrs. Menchie Abalos, wife of Mandaluyong’s congressman and former mayor Benhur Abalos, has been charmed by the Policarpio community’s efforts.

“As a kid, I never got to see the famous Christmas displays of C.O.D and other places,” she relates. “So I didn’t know what I was missing until Pasko sa Policarpio came about. Now I try to visit as often as I can, and each time I can’t help but feel like a child again and be amazed at all the lights and decorations. And it just gets better every year. What they’ve done is such a simple thing, but every Christmas it really means a lot to all of us here at Mandaluyong. You can’t fail to appreciate the boost in morale and spirits that their street brings.”

The continued success of a grassroots, non-profit, community project like Pasko Sa Policarpio once again proves that when it comes to celebrating Christmas, we Filipinos are all heart.

Policarpio's Pride

Policarpio's Pride (Photo credit: d2digital)

“We look at this project as our contribution to the community at large,” states Mr. Suva. “We’re located right next to Welfareville, and some families who live there don’t have much to spend on Christmas. The lights and decorations are like a free form of entertainment for all our neighbors. They can just come here, look around, and enjoy themselves. It may not be that remarkable for some of us adults, but the children get so much from it. And everyone seems to look forward to it every year. Christmas just won’t feel as complete without Pasko Sa Policarpio.”

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

A View From The Edge

first published in Manila Bulletin, 2005

RJ Ledesma’s wholistic approach to property development is turning things around.

A scenic view of Taal Volcano from Tagaytay.

A scenic view of Taal Volcano from Tagaytay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If one didn’t know RJ Ledesma any better, you’d think he was on something. Able to juggle more jobs than you’d think would be humanly possible, there’s something almost super-powered about his multi-tasking abilities. Maybe it has something to do with his enthusiasm for comic books, or the regular power-yoga sessions he attends, or his great devotion to the church and active participation in parish activities. Businessman, TV personality, new age guru, and devout Catholic, RJ somehow manages to keep all his balls up in the air while most people would simply keel over from both mental and physical exhaustion. Whatever keeps RJ up and running, he should package and sell it. And in a way, that’s what he’s trying to do. As one of his many occupations, RJ is also the Executive Vice President of Ledesco, one of the country’s pioneering real estate companies. Of all their projects, the one closest to RJ’s heart, his “baby” so to speak, is the Taal View Heights Nature Villas and the adjacent Buena Vista Nature Park & Country Club, a 26 hectare property in Talisay, Batangas, part of Metro Tagaytay. The development distinctly incorporates elements drawn from RJ’s varied interests and passions, thus making him the perfect front-man for the project.

We discovered a surprisingly speedy route to Tagaytay via the new STAR highway and before long our ears began to pop due to the lower air pressure and high altitude. Having reached the site, the unhindered view of Taal’s majesty is enough to win most people over. But with RJ, a tour of the location turns into something much more than the usual ocular inspection. “We want it to be a multi-sensory experience. You have the tactile experience by actually coming here. And then the auditory experience. You hear the wind, and also the water elements,” he explains.

No doubt made easier by his eclectic social circle, RJ actively attracts talented people to his projects. Pointing to the wooden figures accenting the grounds, he reveals that all the bamboo and arches were hand-sculpted by Amin El-Bahraoui, a very creative half German-half Moroccan sculptor who grew up in Cebu and has done a lot of work in Germany. “He just took all the driftwood in the area, started working on them and came up with all these sculptures. He uses the same paint that you find in old German churches”.

RJ also enlisted the services of green architect Pablo Suarez, who has studied indigenous architecture, feng shui, and other traditional architectural ideologies. Their philosophy is that these ancient principles continue to work up to this day because there’s an inherent soundness to them. “This area has particularly good Feng Shui because in front of you is a body of water,” RJ explains. “Water is a strong source of Qi. At the same time behind you are the mountains and they protect you from the bad elements. So as the good Qi emanates from the water, it is trapped here because of the mountains at the back. So that’s probably one of the reasons why people feel better and more energetic here.”

RJ and his team strove to preserve the innate beauty and energy of the landscape by retaining its ruggedness. “Some designers do it the easy way by flattening the area, so that they don’t have to build terraces or make use of the slope. But we tried as much as possible to use the existing contours. We always try to acknowledge the slope, the view and the wind. We agreed that all the greenery within the vicinity should be retained,” states Mr. Suarez. RJ backs this up with, “Nature doesn’t create straight lines. So all our lines are curved, uneven, organic. It’s appropriate because we’re promoting the organic lifestyle.”

Rene L. Ledesma, Sr., RJ’s father, feels that he is blessed to have a son who is as innovative and motivated about property development as RJ. Among the profit-driven realm of real estate, where the lowest common denominator commonly reigns, the Ledesmas stand out due to their high principles and forethought. “We are part of nature and we are part of this cultural area. We are not only located near Tagaytay, which is very beautiful and popular with tourists, but also historically rich Talisay. Apolinario Mabini was born there, and it is also where the Katipuneros were based for a time. And in nearby Taal you can still see 16th to 17th century architecture among their houses and churches. Much of the architecture of the buildings in our development is inspired by this area. We are doing all this out of respect for the culture and history of the region. We realize that as developers, we are also Filipinos who have to try to live up to our cultural heritage. We are borrowing from the vernacular of the place and making Filipino architecture come alive,” he states.

UNESCO awardee Augusto Villalon acts as the development’s cultural heritage planner and he intends to put up a showcase Filipino heritage home on the site. “Filipino architecture has been around for a really long time. It works very well for our climate and geography. It satisfies our environmental, cultural and spiritual needs. Mainly because it is a kind of architectural envelope that makes the Filipino more comfortable. We’re not as comfortable wearing super western clothes and living in outrageous western environments,” the master architect articulates.

Other developments sprouting all over Tagaytay feature a mishmash of architectural styles from around the world, from Swiss chalets and American log cabins to Mediterranean Villas. This housing hodgepodge results in a rather disharmonious landscape. Pretty soon, if development progresses unchecked, without any guidelines, Tagaytay will end up looking less like the natural and cultural Filipino wonder that it is and more like a tacky version of a Disney theme park or Las Vegas. Taal View Heights is one of the very few developments with a set of strict architectural and ecological guidelines to ensure that the community as a whole succeeds both aesthetically and environmentally.

As a real estate firm, Ledesco’s respect and sensitivity for the land’s natural and cultural assets serves as an example for others. In a country where both the public and private sector can hardly be bothered to consider such esoteric matters as land conservancy, RJ boldly wears his convictions on his sleeve. And he reveals himself to be something of an undercover conservationist, a guerilla defending the land from inside the industry that seems bent on destroying it. “Property development is a legacy business, whatever you build you leave behind for the coming generations. It doesn’t mean that if you develop property you can’t also be ecologically sustainable and culturally aware. It’s not a mutually exclusive thing. Although many have tried to keep it separate or even abhor it. We embrace it,” he affirms. These are fighting words to say the least, and not what you’d expect to hear from your typical developer. We’re fortunate though that RJ is zany enough to think outside the box, but canny enough to pull it off.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

All The Women, Independent

Mmes. Lulli Salcedo and Tina Cifra throw their hands up at us

For women’s month we sought to celebrate the diversity and independence of womanhood by featuring two strong and self-reliant single women, of differing ages and backgrounds, and the homes that they have made their own.

Ms. Luli Salcedo, an established veteran in the crazy and cutthroat advertising industry, is an exceptional example of a mature lady in her prime, looking forward to her golden years with grace. Her fresh and airy condominium in Mandaluyong is a serene spot smack in the middle of the gridlocked metropolis. “I’m a city girl but for my home I chose a country style.” From the bathroom to the kitchen, flowers and fruits fill each corner and adorn each wall. No area is bereft of charming little reminders of the pastoral life, even the eaves above the windows serve as display ledges for rows of porcelain collectibles. “I thought that since I only have a little space, I need to fill the gaps.” The rustic theme was a conscious effort on Luli’s part, “I think it makes up for the province I never had,” she explains.

Luli considers herself to be a creature of comfort, and her home had to satisfy her high standards of cosiness. “My home is my refuge from the office and the world. The moment I enter my place, I like to switch off all the tensions and stresses from work, the traffic, and people.”

It took a mix of the old and new, foreign and Filipino, to create Luli’s comfy country haven. “A lot of the things are from our old house. I have a blue pitcher that my grandfather bought in France. It should be over 80 years old.” Like her grandfather before her, Luli is also an avid traveller and collector. She has glassware from Spain and Italy, a pair of wooden clogs from Holland, and sculpture and candleholders from Bali. However, her larger living pieces are all locally made. “My furniture is from Pampanga and Baguio. The cabinet, an American hutch is from Greenhills. The coffee table is from Rustans.” An eclectic collection of candles and table lamps impart a warm and peaceful glow to the rooms and sunlight softly streams through curtains colourfully patterned with spring flowers. “The curtains are by Hanae Mori, a Japanese designer. They were a gift from my aunt.”

Improving her home is one extravagance on which she doesn’t scrimp on. She doesn’t mind spending money on features that she considers to be important, like fixing the floor, adding cabinets, and putting in the shower enclosure. She next plans to get the ceiling done, and to put in ceramic tiles and Spanish lamps.

“Fixing things the way I want to,” is what Luli rates as the best thing about having her own place. “I enjoy living alone,” she admits. The solitary life allows her to indulge her inner snob. “If you don’t feel like talking or eating, you’re not hurting anybody’s feelings. You don’t need to make pakisama.” The trade-off is that her inner handywoman also sees a lot of employment. “I have to do everything. I have to make sure the house is clean. If it’s dirty, you have nobody to blame but yourself. If anything goes wrong I have to take care of it or wait for the maintenance.”

Luli found the feat of getting her own place to be very liberating, but adds that one should pick a home for the right reasons. “I think women should always trust their intuition. I did, the first time I set my eyes on this place, I fell in love with it. It’s not like a typical condominium since it has gardens and walkways.” Her rules for house-hunting can be pretty much applied to everyday living as well. “You should be true to yourself. You have to be real. Know what you want. Don’t make choices based on what other people say is prestigious or impressive,” she cautions.

Living alone has fortified her spirit. “You get to know yourself better, your limits, your strengths, and your weaknesses. I used to be easily scared of ghosts and other things. But you have to realize that it’s all in the mind. You don’t really have a choice. You have to tell yourself that there’s nothing to be scared about. At first I couldn’t sleep for a month because I’d hear something in the middle of the night and wake up.” The experience made her realize something about herself. “I’m strong pala. I can choose not to be afraid of anything.”

Luli knows a thing or two about how to make the most out of life as a successful single woman. “If you’re single, you have to be your own best friend. In your journey you will stumble and fall a few times. If you don’t know yourself and if you don’t trust yourself, you might not be able to get up. If you like yourself and you’re happy with yourself, it’s a lot of fun to be single and successful. But if you’re the type who always needs to have somebody with you, somebody to tell you that you’re this or that, then it’s going to be difficult.”

Speaking with the wisdom that can only be gained through experience and a life well-lived, she offers a few words that most single women out there might find worth listening to. “You need to love yourself. The reason why I enjoy single life is because I have a big loving family. I have very few friends but they’re friends that I’ve kept for decades. These are the people I can talk to or run to. These are the people who are always there for me. That’s what’s important.”

Dra. Tina Cifra is a young pediatrician making her mark at the vast and venerable Philippine General Hospital. A far cry from the stereotypical medical hermit, she manages to find humour in even the most dire and morbid situations that frequently occur in her demanding profession. Tina is one doctor who you can easily take the hospital out of. Once you do manage to take her out of the hospital, that is. “My apartment is such a safe, snug haven from the madness of the hospital where you’re being jostled about everyday by patients and their mothers, and by consultants and their fellows. When I get home it’s such a relief,” she exclaims.

The contents of her quirky condo unit in Ermita stand testament to her extracurricular persona as a voracious reader, obsessive learner, movie and music lover. Tina’s shelves and storage space are crammed full of novels, textbooks, magazines, videos and CDs, ample evidence of a colourful life outside the medical realm. Amidst the crush and clutter, Tina feels right at home. “I like my place because it’s so cosy, and everything is within reach. It’s near work and near a mall, which is great.” So far, Tina’s been having a blast exploiting the benefits of unsupervised living. “Being on my own is exhilarating. After Catholic’s girl’s school, what do you think? Nobody’s looking over your shoulder. I can come and go as I please, watch TV till the wee hours, nobody’s going to scream at me and bang on my door at 3 am. I can make as much noise as I want. I can make telebabad all day, which is a pet peeve, since I was deprived of that in high school.”

Her place has played host to a ton of merry memories. “I’ve had the most fun here doing school projects, having sleep-overs and running around with friends.” And even if she enjoys the company, Tina has never seriously considered getting a roommate to help split costs and chores. “I’m too selfish to share my space,” she admits. “But independence has its downside. Nobody’s there to help wash the dishes. I have to do my own grocery shopping. When you get home there’s no food ready. And it’s really a drag taking out the trash, especially when it’s full of take-out boxes.”

Tina tries to fix up her home to reflect her tastes and personality, although given her limited time and finances, it still has lots of catching up to do. “When I first moved in, it was like a little girl’s room, with posters of movie stars on the wall, some of which are still there. But it evolved over time,” she explains. “I don’t usually go for pink. I think it’s more of a reflection of me when I was 18. It could be sleeker.”

As a young professional just starting out, Tina really couldn’t afford to splurge on interior design. Most of her furnishings were bought at a furniture fair in Megamall. And yet, she has striven to add personal touches to her space, using it as an outlet for her creative sensibilities. “We were at this restaurant and there was this artist showing his collages. I thought, look at that, that’s just glue and magazines and paper, I can do better. And I think I did,” she asserts. However, her hopes for more home improvement opportunities remain strong. “A year ago, there was a big renovation. It was an interior decorating spree for a while. It was also when I made the curtains and the collages. It’s never happened again since then,” she says with some frustration. “I just play it by ear. I’m planning a big renovation soon. I want to repaint the walls and change the floors”

Tina has a few choice nuggets of advice for young people starting out on their own. “First, get a job. Always lock your goodie drawer. And never live by yourself if your parents aren’t willing to foot the utility bill!” she advises half-jokingly. Thankfully, Tina manages to revert back to her usual profundity for the closer. “It’s all about independence. Break away, be a rebel. Don’t always try to be part of a whole. You’re complete in yourself.”

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manila Bulletin, 2004

Measure of A Man: Joji Aguilar finally fits in

Designer Joji Aguilar

For celebrated fashion designer Joji Aguilar, moving into his new condominium in San Juan was a fortuitous occasion in more ways than one. “I decided to move in on January 22, which is the Chinese New Year, since they say its lucky,” he reveals. “I’m turning forty this March. Life is supposed to begin at forty. So I really hurried to get settled in my own place by my 40th birthday. I’ve wanted to be on my own for a long time.”

Joji used to live with his parents at their home in Quezon City. But his clients who lived south of the metropolis complained that it was too far. So, as a compromise he chose San Juan, “which is kinda in the middle,” as he puts it. “I found this place and I loved the view. It’s also very convenient for my clients.”

He then asked for his parents’ blessing. “They were reluctant at first, I’d been living with them for forty years, and they felt it wasn’t necessary for me to move. But I talked about it with them and they eventually understood, I showed them this place, and they loved it as well. I told them that I was going to get a 3 bedroom unit, with one for them if they want to stay over, one for my work, and one for me.”

It took a month and a half to remodel the space to Joji’s satisfaction. “At least I finished by my target date,” he states with relief, while sharing some hard-earned construction sense. “When you decide to fix a place, plan it well. Decide where you want everything before you tear out the walls or put the ceiling up. It will eventually cost you to have things opened up again and repainted. Plan out where you want each area to be, so that you can properly position the lighting.”

The ceiling previously featured a latticework that was eventually covered and incorporated into a cove lighting scheme to better highlight the dining room centrepiece. For his fitting room, which is Joji’s favorite space, partitions were constructed and a wall extended. Joji installed a museum-quality sculpted wooden divider, which was custom-designed by Lor Calma in 1963, and lit it from behind as an impressive wall accent, thus cleverly disguising the extension. This philosophy of creative camouflage greatly influenced the condo’s construction. “For example, I didn’t want to have a big stereo component in my sala because it will eat up the space and add unsightly wires. So I had it set up in a way that the music is piped in from my room to speakers in the sala’s ceiling and you can’t see the component and wires.”

Reminiscent of his fashions, Joji’s home is dramatic but not melodramatic, stimulating but not outlandish. “My clothes are very simple, with very few accents, just like my house. I like things light and airy, simple and elegant. I don’t want cramped rooms full of things you can bump into. Same as with my clothes, I don’t want a lot of decoration.” Splashes of vivid reds and greens are tempered by bouquets of white lilies and the earth tones of vintage wood and wicker. “My active color is red, even in my clothes and fashion shows I always use red, black, and white. I chose very simple white flowers, such as lilies and baby’s breath flowers because they complement the red.” The dining table centrepiece of green-colored fruits came about from a happy coincidence. “I have a best friend who loves green mangoes, while my sisters love dayap juice. That’s why I always have these fruits on the table.”

Most of Joji’s furnishings were generously given by his parents from their ancestral home as a grand housewarming present. The modernist influence of Filipino design legend Lor Calma can clearly be discerned in the classic lines of Joji’s vintage divider, chairs, sofa, dining set and coffee table. An avowed jetsetter, Joji added a few pieces from his travels. Various examples of Asian art from Thailand, China, and Japan, add an intriguing oriental tone to the rooms. “I love Asian pieces and icons, I don’t worship them but I like how they look. It makes the place feel exotic.” Buddhas serenely recline on endtables, painted porcelain urns stand tall beside dressmaker’s forms clad in Joji’s creations, and a truly stunning kimono woven from silk and embroidered with real gold hangs framed on the wall across the sofa. “This is a ceremonial kimono, used as a bridal gown by Japanese women,” Joji explains. “It’s the topmost layer which is the most ornate one. The pattern of birds has a special meaning. When I first went to Tokyo I promised to myself that I’d buy a kimono no matter how much it cost. I had it framed to preserve it. I used to visit Tokyo frequently back in the 90s and I was able to buy some very nice things from there like the kimono and some kitchen and dining things.” His glassware and the balcony set he shopped for in Makati. Some of Joji’s décor were contributions by grateful clients. The vases filled with sipa balls came from an interior designer whom he designed a wedding gown for. She thought that the rattan balls would go perfectly with his motif. He is also grateful for the support of his best friend Gerard Mendoza, who helped him out with some of the details.

Because of the careful placement of each object, there is no sense of clutter. “I picked out things one at a time. I want to remember where and why I got each piece,” advises Joji, “Don’t buy things in bulk. Buy things one by one so that you won’t end up with things that you don’t like. Space is easily eaten up so only keep the things that you want and give everything else away to someone who can use it. Don’t buy bulky things. Buy things with more than one use, like a sidetable that also has cabinets. Even in the washroom you can put in cabinets where you can store things.”

Since moving in, Joji has discovered the joys of solitude. “Peace of mind,” is what he declares the best thing about living by himself. “When you come home you’re so excited and everything you see you like because you placed them there yourself. It’s quiet, and you can do whatever you want. I love the freedom,” he beams. “If you live with somebody else you always have to take their tastes into consideration. If you don’t like how the house is arranged you can’t really do much. If you’re by yourself you’re able to fix it according to your taste.” For single people shopping for a new address, Joji recommends getting a condo. “It’s easier and cheaper to maintain. I can easily clean the place everyday, I don’t even need a maid. Another big convenience is that if I have problems with my lights or plumbing I can have it fixed right away because they have in-house maintenance. It’s also more private than a townhouse.”

Solitary life does have its pitfalls. Joji admits that getting freshly-cooked food is the biggest hurdle of living alone. “I don’t know how to cook and I’m too lazy to heat things so I often end up eating cold food straight out of the refrigerator. Sometimes, I end up with spoiled food, because I don’t know enough to put food into the refrigerator when I’m supposed to. But there’s always delivery.” Aside from sustenance, another basic human need, companionship, also takes some effort to obtain. “Sometimes, when you feel sad you have no one to talk to. Unlike at home you can just go out of your room and talk to your family. There’s the phone but it’s not like a face-to-face talk. That’s the price you have to pay for living alone.”

But Joji is emphatic about how much he has learned and improved as a person since going solo. “I see myself becoming more responsible. Now I have to pick up my own mail and see to it that the bills are paid. Living alone requires you to be extra responsible. You can’t leave without checking if you turned everything off, or you might end up burning your house down.”  Being away from his parents has also deepened his relationship with them. “I can appreciate the love of my parents more now. I used to take it for granted when we lived together. Now they really have to exert the effort to come here. I’ve become closer to them. Now we call each other everyday. And we talk for hours, which I never did when I lived at home.”

Asserting one’s independence can be one of the most fruitful and important decisions one can make. “Life on my own is fun. I’m enjoying it immensely. Almost every day I entertain guests, friends and family here at my place, serving them dinner, inviting them for wine and cheese. Unlike before when I lived at home I’d always find a reason to go out. But now I always find a reason to stay home. I’ve found my peace here. I’m forty now and I’ve been looking for my own identity. As a designer, I’ve found it in my clothes. But as a person, I’ve just now discovered it in my home.” In Joji Aguilar’s case, moving on meant settling down. Coming home became his greatest journey, and starting out became his grandest design.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manila Bulletin, 2004

Life On The Astals Plane

 first published in Manila Bulletin, 2004

In a real estate realm saturated with pretentiously packaged condominiums, or squeaky-clean suburban developments, not too many addresses remain that possess both character and cachet. The Syquia apartments in Malate, with its art-deco trappings, vintage elevator, heavy wooden staircases, and pinstriped doors is in a class all its own. Home to artists, art lovers, politicians, pundits, kooks, weirdos, and various combinations of the abovementioned, the Syquias’ walls provide refuge for personalities that are just too large to live behind any gated community, no matter how exclusive. And from the very start, Cita Astals seemed to fit in just fine.

“The first time I came here was in 1983 with some friends. It used to be like a giant dormitory, a lot of fun,” she reminisces.

An encounter with Cita Astals may not be the best thing to prescribe for the easily intimidated. Her stentorian voice and arched eyebrows definitely add to the daunting Astals Aura. Once inside Cita Central though, the longtime Manila councilor and lifetime artist is a very welcoming and accomodating host. Cita is puzzled why out of all the building’s notable residents, we’ve chosen to feature it’s self-professed “craziest one”. But of course, why should we settle for anyone less?

“I moved in with my boyfriend in 1989. And then I kicked him out and ended up staying,” Cita states succinctly. And who wouldn’t stay? The high ceilings, huge windows, polished hardwood floors, and capacious rooms evoke an era when space wasn’t a luxury, and luxury wasn’t in short supply.

Even with her ex out of the picture, she didn’t always keep all that space to herself. “For a time I’d share the place with friends. If I liked them they’d live in one of the bedrooms for a few months.” She also had the company of her much beloved pet dog, who unfortunately passed away. She tried breaking in a new puppy as a replacement, but that one grew too chew-happy and was returned to sender. Right now, besides her staff, the apartment also shelters several ancient plants that stubbornly thrive on in Cita’s makeshift lanai area.

Cita admits to not really having a plan or philosophy when it comes to fixing up her abode.“I prefer a simple setup. It’s a pretty simple place.” When asked to elaborate about her approach to interior design, she takes on a deer-lost-in-headlights expression. “It’s not meant to be anything. I didn’t really design the house, since I’m not much of a homebody,” she surrenders.

That simplicity also carries over to Cita’s concept of entertaining. “We don’t have big parties since I’m not really a party-thrower. The other people in the building are into that. Although sometimes we have dinners or I hold meetings here.”

Like in her life and career, Cita’s apartment has seen its share of radical shifts. One room in particular has undergone several transformations according to Cita. “It used to be where me and my boyfriend slept together. It was technically his room. One of my conditions if we were to live together is that I have my own room.  Although I never slept there for the 5 years that we were living together. I had, as you may call it, a room and a half!” states Cita, cackling merrily. “The room became an office for a while. It was where I made my book compiling all the ordinances of Manila. But now it’s my bedroom,” she asserts. The room still contains her infamous ex’s bed, which she continues to sleep on.

Cita’s onetime decision to brighten up her walls produced near-incendiary results. “I just wanted a change of color, I was getting tired of white. I wanted a mixture of yellow and orange. I experimented with this wall with the painters, then when we got what I wanted, I left them for a couple of hours.” She returned to find her entire apartment awash in flames, of yellow-orange paint that is. In a fit of creative zeal, the painters had left no wall untouched. Not really wanting to go home to a cabaret every night, Cita left one wall on fire, but had the others repainted a more sedate white and yellow-orange tone.

Scattered about the apartment are “An assortment of stuff I gathered from my travels and what friends have given me.” These range from images of Hindu deities, to Indonesian puppets, Grecian sculpture, oil paintings by local artist-friends, and even a sheepskin rug from Australia. And yet Cita remarks that visitors never seem to fail to zero-in on a set of figures depicting couples engaged in rather lascivious poses.

As we go about poring over her knickknacks, Cita realizes with some amusement that almost all of her furnishings and decor used to belong to friends “All except the electronics and appliances”.

Even her hefty low-slung sofas and seats weren’t sourced from a store. “I bought the furniture from a friend of mine who was leaving the country. He had brought them in from Nepal.  It’s very strong, old wood. This set is around 30 years old. It spent 10 years in Nepal, and 20 years in the Philippines. All I did was have the cushions re-upholstered.” The couch in the hall is upholstered in leather and is for visitors to sit on, while the couch in the sala has cushions of katsa for the lounging comfort of close friends.

Her favorite piece is a solid wooden coffee table set in front of the couch. “You don’t need nails to assemble it. The pieces lock into themselves, like giant wooden Nepalese lego blocks!” Cita exclaims with a throaty laugh.

While we take photos, Cita wonders whether the bright pink top she wears could clash with her blazing walls. “Pink is my working color,” she explains. “Notice that I don’t have anything colored pink in the apartment. This is so that I won’t blend into my furniture!” And with that we unearth yet another one of her rare and quirky design rules.

Although a bit hazy as a homemaker. When it comes to her role as a public servant, Cita’s ideas and contributions are very concrete. “I’ve opened a road. We cleared it, partially put in the drainage and cement. But there’s still another 600 meters to pave. I would like to see that completed,” she states. “I also have an ordinance now to regulate the caretelas. So that they don’t cheat the tourists or be cruel to their animals.”

Cita’s big vision for Manila literally lies on the horizon. “I dream of having a beach in Manila, a Boracay-style beach,” she reveals. Backing her aspirations with action, Cita has actually been working to make her dream real. “We’ll have to treat the water for that to work. That’s why for my latest ordinance, I filed the Manila Water Code charter. So for the first time we’re going to have laws for our water.”

As we steer the conversation away from home and on to city hall, Cita sheds her giddy daze and regains the steel and focus that has made her such a lustrous presence on stage and screen. “The mayor and all the councilors are working together towards the same goal of improving the city,” she proclaims with some pride. “But there’s still a lot of work to be done. We’re always hoping to have more new buildings, new developments in the area. Little by little things get done.” If and when the day comes when it really all gets done, then maybe Cita can finally find the time and inclination to indulge in a bit of domesticity. But politics is impossible to predict, and Cita is just plain unpredictable.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

Sea In The City

first published in Manila Bulletin, 2004

A Porthole Peek Into Karen Padilla’s Private Pulo

ABS-CBN reporter Karen Padilla drops anchor in her new home. Marooned in the middle of land-locked Quezon City, Karen decided to build a little island cove of her very own. With the help of her loved ones, especially her mom, pulling off the quirky design feat turned out to be smooth sailing. Karen’s airy sala feels more like a beach side park than the inside of a townhouse. Instead of the expected couch and coffee table, we have a park bench, a lounge chair, and an abaca rug stamped with nautical patterns. But what Karen is most proud of is her little strip of beachfront property. It’s not an actual piece of real estate but a unique floor decoration composed of wood, glass, shells, and sand that she thought up herself. She had the wooden base for the sand made of old planks, then topped it with her personal shell and starfish collection. Behind it stand a row of empty bottles, like you might find littering the sands at an island resort, gathered from the remnants of various celebrations through the years. This provides a clever example of turning would-be discards into wonderful decor.

The seaside motif extends to the next floor where a miniature lighthouse beams down through the balustrades. The second floor (or upper deck) is also where we find Karen’s not-so-buried treasure in the form of an antique pull-out sofa bed. This ancient piece of furniture, which Karen utilizes as a couch, is of an indeterminate age, but its solid craftsmanship and richly textured wood attest to it definitely having seen several generations of use. “It’s gone through three different houses already, passed on from one family member to another,” Karen confirms. “The stories this sofa can tell! But we’re keeping them all secret,” she jokes. She’s probably hinting that it contains a hidden stash of pirate’s gold secreted within the old timbers. Although a simple piece, it’s sturdy construction hearkens back to the days when furniture was meant to last. “We’ve had it re-finished and re-upholstered. Because of its simple design, we decided that a simple material like katsa, or cheesecloth would work best for the cushions. It’s very comfortable.” Standing beside the venerable couch is an equally aged-looking bookshelf, containing a collection of racy bestsellers that would do very well as beach reading.

Karen apologizes for her home appearing a bit stripped down. She explains that she isn’t completely done with unpacking and arranging her things. But as it is, the uncluttered spaces, bright colors, and nautical accents of her home create a light and breezy living area where you can almost smell the ocean and hear the waves.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

Danger, Doug Robinson!

Douglas Robinson is a model with a mission. Not content to coast on his good looks and sculpted physique as most model-slash-whatevers are expected to do, Douglas dares to dream. He plans to progress from the launching pad of humble hyphenates, and graduate as a Great Actor, full stop. And why not? He apparently has the looks, and with the success of Metro Manila Film Fest entry Bridal Shower, he’s got the big break. As for grit, his story is the stuff of drama anthologies. Born to a Filipino mother and an American father, he is not ashamed of his humble beginnings. Growing up in Cebu, Douglas admits that unlike other mestizos, he wasn’t blessed with a privileged upbringing. For 17 years, he was denied contact with his father by his American wife. It was only when they had divorced that he was able to recover the address of Douglas’s mother and track them down. It all ends happily though as Douglas was finally reunited with his father in the States a few years ago. While he was in America, Douglas even grabbed the opportunity to enroll in a Theatre and Arts course at Parkland College in Illinois where he graduated with a Certificate in Acting. This, in addition to his Bachelor of Science in Maritime Technology degree from the University of Visayas, sets Douglas apart from the average Zoolander. Also, his sideline as a marketing agent for a financial directory is about as far from the runway as you can get. Douglas says that he works hard and dreams big because his family is counting on him and so he can’t allow himself to fail them. At the moment though, they’re all pretty proud of his accomplishments, and so far there isn’t much they should be worried about.

As a budding media commodity, Douglas is refreshingly free of pretension and conceit. When asked about what he considers his best feature, he replies that he believes his politeness and amiability are what have helped him get ahead. Hardly the answer one would expect from one who looks good for a living. And yet we at BluBook can honestly attest to Douglas’s good nature. He’s not entirely free of wickedness though. One deadly sin Douglas ought to be punished for is that of vanity (although for a male model, his transgressions are probably par for the course). Douglas is unapologetic about his frequent spa trips. But maybe he shouldn’t be blamed for it since in his line of work one really can’t afford to look stressed out. He was introduced to this particular indulgence by a friend. Upon discovering just how rejuvenating a few hours of pampering can be, Douglas took to the spa like a fish to water. In fact, it’s quite likely that Douglas was a merman in a past incarnation. He even won medals as a swimmer in high school. He believes that he is most in his element when wet, either dripping or submerged. The sensation of water against his skin not only energizes him, but it also makes him feel sexier somehow, he confesses. And so the BluBook team was only too happy to oblige Douglas with his aquatic fetish (and risk drowning in the process).

We had to keep our wet and wild ideas in check though in order to maintain Douglas’s hot-but-wholesome image. He is being positioned as a Boy-Next-Door type, which is a logical course considering his Mr. Nice Guy personality. However, his Caucasian features might just be a little too patrician for most baranggays, while his Cebuano blood adds a tinge of the exotic that would look a bit out of place in white bread Middle America. So we’ll all probably be hard-pressed to find such a specimen of manhood living down the hall or across the street, except maybe in the fantasy neighbourhoods of the movie world.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

Tales of the Taciturn Temptress

first published in Blubook magazine, 2004

Jane Umali proudly answers to the titles of supermodel, single mom, and business woman. But as for temptress, she isn’t quite sure. “I’ve never been put into a situation where I had to tempt someone. I’m not like that,” she admits.

As far as Jane is concerned, getting her guy doesn’t really require that much effort.
“What I do if I like someone is I just look at them, I can get them with a look,” she reveals. “I don’t need to walk, light a cigarette, or flip my hair, my eyes are powerful enough. I believe that even if you’re not a model you can say everything with your eyes.”

And this was exactly how Jane has lured her previous suitors. In fact, she snagged one of her ex-boyfriends using nothing else but her legendary gaze. “We were at a bar that was so full of people, but there was this one moment where our eyes met,” she recounts. “I looked at him without malice, but then he approached me and asked me if I liked to dance. And he told me that the reason why he approached me is because I looked at him. But I didn’t even put any effort into it.”

Jane makes it clear that she’s no predator. “Even if I really like a guy, I don’t make the first move,” she declares. “Maybe I’ll just ask a friend to introduce me. When a guy is already my boyfriend, then maybe I’ll cook for him to show my affection.”

And what type of man does Jane feel deserve to taste her cooking? “The guy should be adventurous and do different things,” she states. “I scuba dive and go mountain climbing, so I like daredevils. But I want to be able to have a nice conversation with a guy. If he’s a man who can teach me things, who can make me mad, and make me curious. Then I’ll find him interesting.”

It’s what’s bubbling inside that matters to Jane, and not the glossy surface. “I’m more into the person. I’ve never been particular about looks,” she reveals. “If you’ve seen my previous boyfriends, they’re not all good-looking.”

Supermodels all have to start out somewhere, and Jane got her first break not far from home. “When I was 17, Bobby Novenario discovered me because we were neighbors,” she relates. “I joined contests, the Mutya ng Pilipinas, Supermodel. From there, I did runway, then print and commercials.”

Striking, statuesque, and game for anything, the vivacious Jane easily conquered the modeling scene. “I guess I was a favorite at the time,” she muses. “But I didn’t let it go to my head. I don’t really know what sets me apart. I never really thought of myself as spectacular. I was just one of the models. Joey Espino said that if you’re a model then every aspect of your life, whatever you do, you have to show to the people that you’re a model, even if you’re just walking on the street or buying something from the store. But I’m not like that.”

Throughout her extensive and colorful modeling career, one incident still stands out in Jane’s memory. “During my time, seniority was a big deal,” she discloses. “Once, all my stockings had runs. And all the other models were trying to scare me that Ben Farrales would scold me because of that. I wanted to borrow stockings but nobody would lend me any. I’d always lend my things to other models but when it was my turn to borrow something nobody helped me. My momentum was ruined, instead of being able to concentrate on stage on how I should project and walk, I was terrified about getting scolded for not having stockings. That was the worst. But from there I learned to be able to stand up for myself. Because if you don’t people will walk all over you.”

Not one to bow down to convention, Jane has always stood tall, and continues to live it up at an age when a lot of women, and models in particular, are content to settle down and rest on their laurels. “I still have a lot of plans,” she shares. “I don’t think you should ever stop. I feel like I haven’t done half of what I want to achieve.” And to her mind, she has little to regret as well. On the contrary, Jane has definitely earned the right to hold her lovely head high. “Having kids is what I’m most proud of,” she declares. “I’m proud of my titles, being a Supermodel of the Philippines, and a Mutya ng Pilipinas. I also have my own business.”

Even Jane’s friends spare no compliments in their admiration of her. “Men love to explore knowing her because she spells excitement, adventure, and stability,” raves a close pal. “She’s a friend for all time. She’s always there for you.”

Although she can certainly pull it off, Jane is no diva, and has no qualms about letting her hair down. “I’m flexible, if you want sosyalan, I’m up for it,” she maintains. “But I can also eat fishballs on the street, even if I’m wearing a sexy outfit. Some people may find me very intimidating in the beginning, but when you get to know me, I’m cool with anyone.”

It may not be evident from Blubook’s phenomenal photos that Jane was recruited for the pictorial on very short notice. But like the consummate professional that she is, Jane stepped up to the challenge and took it to the next level. As far as she was concerned, playing the seductress for us at Blubook was a piece of cake. “At first, I was really excited because it’s been a while since my last pictorial,” gushes Jane. “It’s the first time after my pregnancy that I’ve played sexy and worn clothes and makeup like that again. It was so sudden, and it was at a really weird time. And I had no idea what my outfit was going to look like and how daring it was supposed to be. But it was very fun.”

The alluring vixen who emerged at the shoot surprised us all and even Jane herself. “I may already be a mom but I can still justify wearing those outfits,” beams Jane. “I gave them what they wanted and they got it.”

For Jane, this pictorial has given her the opportunity to prove that a woman can raise her kids by herself and still look good regardless of all the pressure and stress. Despite having to deal with all the responsibilities of a working single mom, “you can still look like a model, and even be a model,” she affirms. And one look is enough to make us all agree.

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