Raul Lebajo’s ‘Enter His World’ Book Launch

In his book, the artist invites the viewer and art lover to enter his fantastic world and pursue the surrealist vision in his paintings and drawings.

It was a proud moment for our family when my father-in-law, master surrealist painter Raul Lebajo launched his first coffee table book entitled, “Enter His World,” at the Ayala Museum recently. Finally, it has been out after 20 years in the making. It was authored by noted art critic and historian, Alice Guillermo, and published by LC: Questor Worldwide Corporation.

In his book, the artist invites the viewer and art lover to enter his fantastic world and pursue the surrealist vision in these paintings and drawings.  “Special to Lebajo’s art is the experience of universal energy that courses throughout the whole nature,” describes the author. ”

Lebajo’s masterpieces crafted over the years are divided into several topics which composed the book’s entirety.  Of course, there are landscapes of cosmic energy, the secret life of plants, offerings of fruit, an uncommon aviary, reinventing nature, varieties of organic life, a marine universe, humans in nature, forces as archetypes, cosmic furniture, the vases series, sculptures, and other works.

“Raul Lebajo is a true artist of nature, but this does not mean that he does traditional landscapes and still life paintings of flowers. He does not paint valleys of earth, trees, and sky as though they stretched out before him, or does he paint flowers bunched together in a vase for his personal delectation. Not for him is a linear perspective, for, in fact, he plays with perspective, and his views are often warped, telescoped, spiraling, and spinning into multiple worlds,” – Alice Guillermo. She received her graduate degrees in France and at the University of the Philippines-Diliman.

#Throwback – Upclose and Personal with Ara Mina

“Ara Mina has a certain innocence and is in a category completely her own.” Meanwhile, this interview reveals a half-child, half-woman excited and eager to give her best shot.

What goes into the making of a sex goddess?

Tinseltown has never lacked young aspiring starlets willing to take their clothes off. But according to Direk Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, Ara Mina has a certain innocence and is in a category completely her own. Of course, it helps that she is really sexy and she is willing to titillate readers with candid remarks on her sexuality. Meanwhile, this interview reveals a half-child, half-woman excited and eager to give her best shot.

Having a great body makes me more confident, said Ara Mina. She described herself as dibdib manok. “Medyo hiwalay siya (referring to her breasts), so you need to push it, to achieve a cleavage. Sometimes it depends on the dress or bra I’m wearing.”

To maintain her 36-24-35 shape, Ara Mina said she works out at a gym twice a week and observes some dietary restrictions. “I have my own dumbbells,” she volunteered. She said she has not eaten rice for two months now. Also, soft drinks have not been in her diet for two years.

Back to her new movie “Tatlo,” Ara Mina admitted she felt uncomfortable kissing another girl.

“I was tense, especially with my kissing scene with Ate Rita,” she said. “Ingat talaga ako. Mayroong torrid kissing scene pero hindi naman labas ang tongue. Actually, na-tense din siya.”

Ara Mina, however, confessed that she has a liberal view of woman-to-woman relationships in real life.

“It’s fine with me. In “Tatlo,” you can’t blame Elsie (my character in the film) if she falls in love with another woman (Rita Avila). She’s looking for something that she cannot find in her husband (Tonton Gutierrez).”

She recalled how she experienced difficulties doing a love scene with Rita. She called it the “Scandinavian style” ( a pumping scene between lesbian lovers, but she did not explain it in detail).

“We tried to relax..Nakakangawit talaga, pinagpawisan ako,” she relates. “Biniro ko pa nga si ate Rita na ituloy na namin sa kuwarto. Sa eksenang yon naisip ko, parehas naman kaming babae. So I decided not to wear any plaster. Pero talagang makikita ang boobs namin doon.”

Ara Mina admitted that she can be attracted to members of both sexes.

“I think there’s nothing wrong with having a relationship with another woman as long as there’s no sex involved. I couldnít imagine myself having sex with another woman. I have best friends who are all girls. Sometimes I develop a crush on them. Sometimes, I feel I like a woman, and sometimes I like a man.”

But she denied being bisexual.

“Hindi ko masasabi,” she says. “Minsan gandang-ganda ako sa babae. Minsan nagsasabi pa ako, ‘Ang seksi niya.’ Wala naman akong nararamdamang feelings for her. It’s like an admiration.”

Reflected Ara Mina: A man is completely different from a woman when it comes to expressing affection.

“Ang lalaki siyempre medyo brusko; ang babae tender ang dating . Kaya lang nakaka-ilang kung humahampas ang boobs níyo,” she laughed.

In real life, Ara Mina said she has had lesbian suitors.

“I treat them as friends. Natatawa nga ako dahil kapag nanligaw sila, itsura nila babae, tapos inaamin nila na may boyfriend sila, pero may gusto sa akin at nag-I I love you,” she related. “They write love love letters, send flowers, chocolates, and stuffed toys. I entertained them kasi kung iniiwasan mo minsan delikado. Grabeng ma-in love ang mga lesbians; they’re very posessive, parang nakakatakot.”

Now that she gets to portray meaty roles, Ara Mina hopes that she will be noticed for her acting ability and not just her ability to show off those curves.

“Kahit na naghuhubad ako, gusto ko namang mapansin nila ang acting ko lalo na sa mga pelikulang ginagawa ko, para irespeto rin nila ako. Natutuwa naman ako dahil hindi nila sinasabi na bastusin ako, kahit na naghuhubad ako.”

She said she’s only daring in the movies. But she emphasized that she hasn’t experienced doing her onscreen love scenes in real life.

“That’s one good thing about me. At first, it was really difficult for me because I used to portray sweet roles. Like the scenes in my previous movie, “Sagad Sa Init” na nakipag-laplapan ako sa bubugan at sa kotse. As of now, yong mga wild things na nagawa ko sa movies pa lang.”

Ara Mina’s life changed when she junked her sweet image. But the transition was not easy. Going the bold route made it possible for her to land her first starring role in “Maldita.” But it was in the movie “Curacha, Ang Babaing Walang Pahinga” that film critics began to pay attention to her. Prior to this, she became a supporting player in such movies as “Roller Boys,” “Butch Belgica Story,” and the “Flor Contemplacion Story.” She entered showbiz at the age of 14 via the teenybopper show That’s Entertainment.

Looking back, Ara Mina said she couldn’t imagine herself portraying bold roles, or posing nude for pictorials. She was really conservative then, she said. She recalled how she would react negatively to the bold pictures she saw in the newspapers.

“Now, pagbukas ko ng dyaryo, ang sinasabi ko, Okay lang naman as long as ang mga shots mo na hubad ay artistic ang pagkakakuha,” she smiles.

Because of the attention, she’s getting at the moment, she vowed never to let success get into her head. She said she is especially thankful to her parents for understanding her when she decided to go bold without their permission.

In the near future, she hopes to bag an acting award, “Para masabi ko na rin na may narating yong paghuhubad ko,” she said.

Ara Mina is Hazel Reyes in real life. Her mom combined the names of her two sisters Ara Christine and Mina Princess to come up with the name Ara Mina.

The eldest in a brood of six (two boys and four girls), Ara Mina is a product of a broken family. She was only seven years old when her parents separated. However, she was not disheartened by what happened to her parents. Although both have their own individual families, they maintain open communications. “They are on good terms now,” she notes.

Ara Mina is a high school graduate of Morning Dew Montessori. If her schedule permits, she said she plans to take up Interior Design or Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines (UP).

Off-camera, Ara Mina is a sweet, simple person. She doesn’t talk much during interviews.

“Hindi ako palaaway,” she relates, “gusto ko lahat ng tao kasundo ko. Tapos sweet pa rin, nando’n pa rin ‘yong pagiging childish ko. Sa set nga, nagugulat ang iba dahil parang ang lakas kong maghubad sa eksena. Then after the scene para akong bata. They are confused. That’s who I am. Trabaho lang.”

Her type of man is someone who resembles actor Matthew Mendoza. “Parang hindi siya makabasag pinggan, tipong hindi ka lolokohin. And he’s a gentleman, baby face talaga, she notes. “Yong guy dapat mabango ang hininga, malinis sa katawan, sweet, and understanding.”

Although she admits she has had two boyfriends before, one from showbiz, and one non-showbiz. During her free time, she prefers to stay at home and shuns the nightlife.

“I don’t like going to discos, instead I sleep early,” she says. However, if time permits, she tries to catch the bands playing at Strumms Greenbelt and Conway’s Bar at Shangri-La Makati. Her favorite bands include Side A and Mulatto.

Ara Mina feels that her job is quite fulfilling at present. In her five-year stay in the business, she has been able to buy a condominium unit, a car, and jewelry. The other earnings go to her savings (time deposit) and to her family. She rewards herself by shopping for signature clothes and accessories.

“Nakakatuwa dahil at my age, nakakabili na ako ng mga ganitong bagay sa sarili kong kita. . . kung baga sarili kong pagod.”

Older men go for her. As a matter of fact, Ara Mina reveals that she has received around five ‘indecent proposals’ from different men.

“May nag-alok pa nga sa akin ng house and lot with matching brand new car and allowance. Siyempre ang kapalit no’n iiwanan ko ang career ko,” she revealed. “Yong tipong ibabahay ka. Hindi ko pinapatulan ang mga offers nila kasi kaya ko namang kitain sa sarili ko. Besides, I don’t want to experience what my parents had experienced in the past.”

(Based on the exclusive article published at the now-defunct Mirror Weekly Magazine by the same writer.)

As of a recent update, Ara Mina is experiencing a new “journey” in her personal life. She is now engaged to her non-showbiz fiance Dave Almarinez, CEO of Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC). 

Featured photo: Courtesy of Ara Mina FB page

Exploring the City of Angels

Bangkok first-timers chart a memorable weekend experience.

Creating an authentic travel experience in Bangkok is a must. Well-known for its vibrant street life and cultural landmarks, it isn’t surprising why Thailand’s capital is a favorite destination for many foreign tourists.

Its attractions are endless: dazzling temples, thrilling tuk-tuk rides, boats to the floating market or just to cross the Chao Phraya River, shopping sprees at chic emporiums, and tasting culinary delights with their fresh and unforgettable flavors, savored at either fine dining restaurants or street-side stall. It is an amazing place with something for everyone.

If you are a first-timer here, exploring the city without a guide is part of the challenge.

Arriving alone at the Thai airport.

How many charming and unforgettable locations will you find without losing your way? It’s fun to make your way around in a foreign country and return safely to the comfort of your hotel at the end of the day. That is truly an accomplishment.

This is what we discovered on a trip to the City of Angels, in partnership with the Erawan Group, ibis, and Mercure Thailand. True enough, a fun-filled getaway here is accessible at almost every street corner.

Conquering Chatuchak

A must for any shopaholic is the Chatuchak weekend market. It has everything you can ever want from all over Thailand. And yes, you have to haggle to get a bargain.

Easily accessible by BTS Skytrain, it is best to designate a meeting place near the market’s entrance where you can all gather after exploring the market’s many alleys. For almost half a day, we discovered outstanding finds that we all wanted to bring home.

The writer at Chatuchak

If you are going there, wear light and comfortable clothing and shoes. Protect yourself against the sun by wearing sunglasses and a hat, and use sunscreen liberally. Bring enough cash. Most vendors do not accept credit cards. Beware of pickpockets, and watch your belongings.

Stunning Temples

Any tour of Bangkok’s temples should start at Wat Pho. It’s one of the largest temple complexes in the city and is famous for its giant reclining Buddha that measures 46 meters long and is covered in gold leaf.

The Grand Palace is one of the most visited places and is probably the most stunning attraction in the city. It was built in 1782 and served as the home of Thai kings and the royal court for 150 years. It now welcomes millions of visitors each year coming from all parts of the world. Wat Phra Kaew, the temple inside the Grand Palace, is where you will find the Phra Kaew Morakot, or the Emerald Buddha, a sacred image carved from a single block of emerald.

 Since our hotel is located by the river, the trip would be incomplete without experiencing the magnificent Chao Phraya River at least once. We spent a relaxing evening at the riverside after touring the city.

Comfort at the Best Price

Our home in Bangkok was the ibis Bangkok Riverside, one of the economy brands of AccorHotels, which promises modernity, comfort, and service at the best price.

Located by the banks of the Chao Phraya River, it offers outstanding value and beautiful river views. Situated close to the BTS Sky Train, which will whisk you into the heart of the city in minutes, it is also a short ferry ride from the riverfront lifestyle shopping and dining venue, Asiatique, and close to many other cultural highlights including the glittering Grand Palace.

ibis Bangkok Riverside has 266 cozy, contemporary rooms with double or twin beds, a desk, LCD TV with international channels, complimentary Wi-Fi Internet access, refrigerator, tea and coffee making facilities, personal safe, and hairdryer for a comfortable stay. The hotel also has a revolutionary bedding concept called Sweet Bed by ibis. It also has three spacious function rooms for up to 100 persons.
Taste, its all-day dining venue, reinvents tapas with new flavors and authentic local dishes. The Lobby Bar serves a wide selection of snacks and refreshments, while room service is available 24 hours a day. A highlight of the hotel is a fabulous riverfront swimming pool set in a beautiful garden and a petanque field for fun with the family.
Created in 1974, the ibis hotel chain is now the European leader in economy brands and the fourth largest chain in its category worldwide, with over 1,060 hotels and 135,000 rooms in 64 countries.
The writer @ ibis Bangkok Riverside

The Mercure Bangkok Siam, the seventh midscale Mercure property in Thailand, and ibis Bangkok Siam, the ninth economy ibis in the country, two hotels located in the central Siam area, provide guests with convenient access to all of the city’s top shopping, dining and entertainment venues.

Mercure Bangkok Siam has 189 rooms with a contemporary design, fully equipped facilities, complimentary Wi-Fi Internet access, three meeting rooms for up to 126 delegates, a swimming pool, a fitness center, and the Sky Bar. Privilege rooms come with a coffee machine, a variety of local teas, additional bathrobes and amenities, and an iPod dock. Guests also enjoy exclusive access to the Executive Club with its all-day refreshments, business center facilities, and an outdoor terrace.

Mercure’s signature restaurant, The Eight, is named after its location, and services guests from both hotels. This all-day dining outlet features an extensive menu of local and international cuisines with indoor and outdoor terrace dining.

Dining with Erawan Team and Travel Buddies

On the other hand, ibis Bangkok Siam has 189 modern rooms equipped with LCD TV, a fridge, and complimentary Wi-Fi Internet access. All rooms also offer newly upgraded beds that are supremely comfortable. The hotel’s Quick Bite restaurant is open day and night, offering round-the-clock light meals. Guests also have access to the swimming pool and fitness center facilities at no extra charge.

AccorHotels, the world’s leading hotel operator, is present in 95 countries with more than 4,000 hotels and 240,000 employees. Its portfolio comprises internationally acclaimed luxury brands including Raffles, Sofitel Legend, SO Sofitel, Sofitel, Fairmont, onefinestay, MGallery by Sofitel, Pullman, and Swissôtel; the popular midscale and boutique brands of 25hours, Novotel, Mercure, Mama Shelter, and Adagio; the much-prized economy brands including JO&JOE, ibis, ibis Styles, ibis budget; and the regional brands Grand Mercure, The Sebel, and hotelF1.

With so many places to see and so many hotels to stay in, only one thing is certain: a return to Bangkok is needed to discover more of its many attractions.

(Re-posted from Experience Travel and Living magazine

Martin Gerard Villamor: Cool Mayor of Cebu’s Nature Haven

With its vast freshwater supply, lush vegetation, and soon-to-open theme park, Carmen is set to be the top weekend getaway in Cebu.

Mayor Martin Gerard Villamor has fulfilled his vision for the town of Carmen, Cebu. Composed of 21 barangays the town’s assets lie on its forests teeming with springs that support the endangered bareback fruit bats, nocturnal cats, and other flora and fauna.

Now on his last term and eight years in office, Villamor realized that he can’t do everything. “I still have a lot of unfinished business,” he shared during an exclusive interview with Experience Travel and Living magazine at the Carmen municipal office. His top most agenda is to make Carmen a top tourist destination in the province of Cebu by focusing on eco-tourism.

“We are halfway there with the opening of Cebu Safari, the establishment of several monasteries for faith tourism, and the development of a road network leading to these destinations.” He will also set up the Carmen Marina that will cater to yachts and small boats, hopefully, all these will turn the town into a first-class municipality.

The town will also be the home of the biggest Aqua Intergalactic theme park owned by Bantigui Leisure Resort. Located in Barangay Luyang, Carmen, the 5-hectare development project will boast inflatable facilities for swimming and other sports activities. The park is expected to be completed in two years’ time.

Despite being an agricultural town, Villamor said a good food security plan has yet to be implemented. “We try to maintain our town to be green, with lots of agricultural lands to plant crops such as corn for food security.”

Aside from fishing and agriculture livelihood, employment opportunities are now available for the people of Carmen with the growing number of businesses in the area.

A peaceful town

There are no drug-related problems in Carmen. Minor incidents and petty crimes are immediately addressed by the law enforcers.

In terms of infrastructure, the Mayor is concerned about the narrow roads that are contributing to Carmen’s traffic woes. He advocated for wider roads 20 years ago but unfortunately, land prices have gone up. However, he proudly claimed their barangay roads are better than most towns in Cebu.

Education is also a focal point. He stressed that the lack of education can hamper the town’s growth. Classroom shortage has been addressed already in most barangays. “To date, we only lack 10 or 20 classrooms, thanks to our partner, the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation.”

Last year, the town placed second among communities with a high incidence of malnutrition. This year Carmen went down to 22 or 23. Villamor is happy with this development and has since then assigned a dedicated health unit to monitor the issue.

Another concern to be resolved is water availability. “Many wanted to have water but don’t pay their bills so I decided to look for a private supplier to supply water to everyone,” he said. Right now, they have a grandstand near the plaza, partly funded by the water company. They built a sports facility so people will not be involved in bad activities.

Trust and Confidence

As he sets the vision and pace for the development of Carmen, Villamor has learned to trust the people around him. “They know how to do their job. Because of the trust, I seldom call for a meeting. I only call them when they have problems to report to me,” he quipped.

The down-to-earth mayor is adamant in pursuing a “zero-corruption” policy in his office. The “Transparency Seal” has been posted on the municipality’s website indicating its compliance. “When state auditors come here, I always tell them that they should dig deeper.”

His management style is unconventional. His simple manner of dressing reflects his laid-back approach to life.

He is known to be very approachable. He’s at work almost every day, answering questions and addressing barangay problems from the town plaza and not from his office at the municipal building. He signs papers in the morning and attends several meetings. He usually keeps his afternoons free.

His management style is unconventional. His simple manner of dressing reflects his laid-back approach to life. “My routine is almost the same every day with my glass of beer that helps me unwind,” he laughed. “What people love about me is that ‘this is who I am, they know that I’m gay, that I drink beer.’”

Definitely, the people will credit him for the town’s development, but the biggest challenge is his ability to relate to people of all types. “As mayor, you have to say yes. I seldom say no, I want to please everybody as much as I can. To be frank about it, I want to be as real and truthful as possible with as many people as possible.”

Heeding the call of politics

Villamor took up architecture at the University of San Carlos and became a successful businessman. He had a gasoline station and was also involved in construction and distributorship. But he gave them all up to be the campaign manager of his dad, Virginio, when he ran for mayor in Carmen. His dad was the municipal mayor for nine years, vice-mayor for three years, and the mayor again for five years.

Villamor had no plans of being in politics because of his temperament. He is very strict, a trait that is not exactly acceptable in public service. But as the years pass he learned to adjust. He is the 12th mayor of Carmen, “hopefully not the 13th,” he quipped, saying he now wants to give other people a chance to serve the town. He is looking to run for a councilor to help protect his legacy and other projects.

He is the eldest of seven siblings, with two adopted kids. “They (siblings) look older than me. My secret there is that when I get mad, I throw everything. All out ‘yan. After that, I will be fine. I don’t sleep on it. My staff would check on me if ‘may sapot pa ba si mayor’ (is mayor still mad)?’”

But unlike most of his other siblings and friends, he does not travel much. He wants to experience traveling from Saint Petersburg to Vladivostok in Russia by train. But for now, his heart remains in Carmen, Cebu. “I don’t want to make Carmen a city because the land taxes will get higher. I want it to remain a small, but a first-class municipality no less,” he concluded.

(Re-posted from ExperienceTravelPH)