The US Embassy in Manila launches its new annex building for consular services

Consular services, whether for non-immigrant visas, immigrant visas or services for American citizens in Manila has been improved several notches up with the recent inauguration of the New Office Annex Building (referred to as NOX 1 for short) on the US Embassy grounds.

Formally opened last April 27, 2011 by none other than U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, the $50-million annex building is not just “a work of art on a grand scale”, as described by Amb. Thomas, but also was built to the most stringent safety requirements. The media, including me, had the unique privilege of being toured around the building by the Consul General himself, Michael Schimmel.

One interesting thing that Consul General Schimmel mentioned was that, contrary to popular belief, 70% of all visa applicants actually get their visas approved. He also dispelled the myth that it is so hard for a Filipino to get a U.S. visa. Schimmel said that for as long as an individual can prove a professional and economic reason to return to the Philippines, that person will be given a visa.

Some interesting trivia and features on NOX1

  • The contract to design NOX1 was awarded to Makati Development Corp. (MDC). The building costs around US$50 million and is part of a $130 million investment in the local economy and the creation of 2,000 jobs for Filipinos. This is the largest contract yet awarded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations to a foreign contractor.
  • Ground-breaking was last June 29, 2008 and attended by then-US Ambassador Kristie Kenney, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and former OBO Project Director Rodney Evans
  • NOX1 is a 2-story state-of-the-art office complex covering a total office area of more than 12,000 square meters. The first floor is for non-immigrant and immigrant visas; the second floor is for American citizens.
  • NOX1 is the second largest such consular services building worldwide. The largest one is in Mexico.
  • Its structure is made of over 12,000 cubic meters of concrete and 5,000 tons of structural steel and it is designed to withstand even the most severe seismic event. From the looks of the outer walls, I can hazard a guess these are several inches thick and fully reinforced to withstand attacks from the outside. And the doors are heavy, with shatterproof glass windows too. I know….just opening those doors took some effort, despite these yogini arms.
  • Additional safety features include state-of-the-art fire detection and suppression systems.
  • It is a “green” building, with architectural features made of sustainable materials and cooling/lighting fixtures fitted with environmentally friendly and energy-efficient components. Even sewage waste from the building is treated and recycled into irrigation water at a newly constructed sewage treatment plant on site.
  • Visa applicants will be happy to note they now have 99 interview windows with sound-proofing for improved privacy during interviews. Of course, not all 99 are occupied by consuls at any one time but there are enough of them to ensure the wait won’t be long.
  • Public waiting areas on the first and second floors can comfortably seat more than 500 people in airconditioned comfort. Additional waiting areas outside (not airconditioned) have a capacity for over 300 people.
  • Both the airconditioned and non-airconditioned areas are equipped with modern queuing systems and LCD TV screens. Huge electric fans cool the non-airconditioned area.

Here are more pictures of NOX1. We were privileged to be allowed to take these photos because, I am told, once the building is operational, no one (not even the US Embassy employees) can take pictures.

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Tropical Storm Ketsana/Ondoy Inundates Metro Manila

Tropical Storm Ketsana (locally called Ondoy) was not a very strong storm. It was gusting at about 65-75kph only. An average tropical storm in a country that has known typhoons with strengths more than double that. But what set Ondoy apart from most of the storms was its enormous rain bands. The amount of rain it dumped on Metro Manila and neighboring provinces. In just 6 hours, Ondoy dumped rains equivalent to one month.

Typhoon Ondoy

The entire Metro was caught unprepared for the deluge. In our case, the day started out rainy but my kids had places to go. Our youngest had spent the night with other teeners for a fellowship at Taguig, almost across The Fort. My 2 girls set out for school: for classes and for one of them, community service in Sta. Mesa. Our oldest boy also left for his school bringing different sets of clothes for his graduation pictorial. My hubby was on a business trip in Bangkok and was set to return in the late afternoon.

By midday, the rains were pouring like the heavens just opened its arms and released its entire contents. Our driver who had just dropped my girls off at Ateneo, texted me that he could not get to where our youngest was as the area around Tiendesitas Ortigas was too deep for the van to get through. I learned later that he was able to turn around but again had to stop at the Ortigas-C5 junction due to floods in the Libis area.

My brother who responded to my request to pick up our son at school failed even at that because Ermitano Creek near our house had overflowed and suddenly flooded the surrounding areas. Our barangay, which is considered one of the highest spots in San Juan, was underwater! Here are some pictures posted by people whose identities remain unknown to me but who I would like to thank for posting these online.

Gen. de Jesus St.

Gen. de Jesus St.

Another view of Gen. De Jesus with Xavier Gym in background

Another view of Gen. De Jesus with Xavier Gym in background

Wilson St.

Wilson St.

The afternoon was a stressful one. I kept calling my girls, my sons, the driver and several people trying to get everyone coordinated so they get home safe. It was a great relief to me when the girls were finally fetched by the driver in school after several hours of braving traffic and floods. They passed for our older son in school and got home by early evening. A kind family at our community also took our youngest son home. A couple of hours later, hubby called me. His plane had safely landed in NAIA but he had to spend a night at a hotel as the driver slated to pick them up was also stranded somewhere in the Pasay area.

Even now, the entire metro is reeling from the devastation wrought by Ondoy. Friends of mine have lost everything. Some are still staying at friends’ houses. My mom’s boarders on the first floor hardly saved anything as waters rushed into the house as the San Juan river overflowed. I was getting ready to evacuate my Mom, 2 siblings and the boarders last night as the water was just 2 steps short of reaching them on the 2nd floor. My sister and 2 of her kids were stranded in Makati and had to stay at a hotel while my BIL and another of their kids was somewhere in St. Scholastica area. No one has been spared rich, or poor.

The news say that this is the worst flood in 40 years. WOW!

While this seems like a major calamity on our hands, there are pockets of sunshine that always pop through in times of disaster. This is what Filipino bayanihan spirit is all about. Neighbors are helping each other. The internet is being widely used to act as a communication center for public service. Many bloggers on Twitter, Facebook, Plurk and other social networking media continue passing on telephone numbers of government agencies, reposting cries for rescue from families of bloggers, friends and strangers caught in places like Marikina and Cainta.

The relief and rescue operations are ongoing as I write this. In another post, I will put up as much info on donations (local and international) that I can find and I hope you, my readers, can respond to the wave of humanity in Metro Manila, Philippines needing a little of your compassion. We thank you in advance for any generosity and prayers.

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Al Jarreau/George Benson Take Manila by Storm (literally!!!)

I am a jazz lover and a child of the 70s/80s in terms of my music taste. There is a wide range of jazz artists I listen to but 2 of my favorites are Al Jarreau and George Benson. When a friend told me that they were holding a one-night concert in Manila, I called up yogini friend Chona who agreed to watch with me. This was my first concert again — in ages!!! And I am not exaggerating!

On the night of September 8, just when Chona and I were waiting to be seated at Italiannis Gateway, the heavens opened and a downpour of cinematic proportions came crashing down on the entire Araneta Coliseum area. Many of those eating dinner at Italiannis, like us, were just waiting for showtime. We even spotted some politicos in nearby tables as well as parents from my sons’ school. Seemed like my generation was coming out in full force to see the power duo of jazz!

Chona and I had Upper A tickets and as we purchased early on, we had a front row view. The show was delayed for half an hour due to the rains but as promised, it started at exactly 8:30 PM. And wow, these 2 did not fail me.

Al Jarreau started out the first set. Is this guy already 68 years old? Well, he belted out songs with the same timbre and versatility he had from decades ago!  His vocals were intact! I heard snippets from different songs: “Berimbau”, “Mais Que Nada”, “Agua de Beber”, and even “Girl from Ipanema” sang in that all-too-familiar Jarreau voice like no other. My only disappointment? He did not do “Spain”!!! 🙁

The next set was George Benson and personally, I loved him better because he sang many of the songs I loved: “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You”, “In Your Eyes”, “Give Me the Night”, “Turn Your Love Around”, “Love Times Love”, and others.

If we talk of performance level, Al Jarreau stood out because he had a flair for playing around with his vocals and the songs, being playful with the audience and the band. But in terms of music to my ears, George Benson’s repertoire was IT!

They did a jazz piece together bringing the audience to its feet, clapping, dancing and singing along. And when everyone roared for an encore, they sang “On Broadway”.

The blogger in me wanted to bring a digicam but I was not sure of Araneta’s rules. I should have listened to my instincts! The video snippets I took from my camphone leave much to be desired.

But just to give you an idea of what we experienced the night that the Jarreau/Benson tandem took Manila by storm, here are some of them (warning: the visuals suck with the camphone I had. But the music is still awesome).

Thank you, Al Jarreau & George Benson, for a wonderful, nostalgic trip back to a wonderful time in my life. It was a night I would long remember and relish.

Turn Your Love Around

Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You

In Your Eyes

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iblog4: The Bloggers’ Summit

Are you an active blogger? Then come join the Manila bloggers’ summit on April 26!

Last year, about this time, I came across an announcement about iblog3. Imagine, it was already the 3rd year running and I never even heard of such a summit. So, curious me decided to go attend even if I knew absolutely no one in the crowd. My first blog was just weeks old then and I knew next to nothing about stuff they talked about (problogging, Google Adsense, SEO, podcasting — DUHHHH!!!)

By the end of the 2-day conference, I had a pile of business cards from bloggers: probloggers, media bloggers, personal bloggers, and even vloggers. Not only that, I came to know the faces behind the more famous blogs you come across, got more-than-I-could-digest blogging information and even won a raffle prize.

This year, it will just be a 1-day event but still packed with very useful topics you could bring back home for your own blogs. Best of all, it is FREE!!!

Date: April 26, 2008 (Saturday)
Time: 9am – 5pm thereabouts
Place: Malcolm Theater, College of Law, UP Diliman

It’s better to reserve early so that you are sure to get a kit with handouts and be enrolled in their mailing list.

Here are some useful links:

iblog4 homepage

Register for iblog4

List of iblog4 registrants

Since joining iblog3 laslt year, my blogging life has never been the same. I now have thispublic blog as well as a yoga blog, The Yogini from Manila (chronicles of my life as a budding yogini). I  joined several blogger events and now count some of these long-time bloggers as my good friends.

Hope to see you there!

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Earth Hour 2008

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO REDUCE THE EFFECTS OF GLOBAL WARMING?

Join Earth Hour 2008 this coming March 29, 2008, 8 PM.

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Last year, March 31, 2007 to be exact, Sydney turned off its lights for 1 hour.

– 2.2 million people

– 2,100 businesses

Sydney landmarks like the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House turned their lights off; weddings were done by candlelight. That collective effort resulted in reducing the city’s energy consumption by 10.2 percent for that hour, equivalent to taking 48,000 cars off the road for an hour.

Inspired by Sydney, other major cities are joining Earth Hour 2008, Manila included (with WWF-Philippines leading the pack). In their website, WWF-Philippines reports that Pasay City Mayor Wenceslao “Peewee” Trinidad agreed to turn off all lights along Manila’s historical Roxas Boulevard seaside strip for 60 minutes on 29 March to show support.”

 

What can YOU do? The Earth Hour 2008 website gives these suggestions:

  1. Sign up for Earth Hour 2008
  2. Get involved and create a bigger, better Earth Hour
  3. Reduce your impact on climate change
  4. Create your own Earth Hour event
  5. Calculate your carbon footprint

In its list of participating cities, Earth Hour 2008 reports Manila’s vision as follows:

The people of Manila care deeply about climate change and we are united in our resolve to meet this challenge in the best way that we can. This is why the City of Manila has teamed with WWF to make Earth Hour 2008 a success around the world by being the lead city in Philippines participating in the simple but momentous act of turning off the lights for one hour.

Here in Manila we understand that climate change is the most significant threat to life on Earth. One way to slow the current rate of global warming is for each individual and business to make small adjustments to the way they live. To meet the threat of climate change we need to demonstrate how simple and easy it is to make the small adjustments to our lives that begin to make the difference.

An event like Earth Hour that achieves full community involvement in a simple action like turning the lights off can make a huge difference. And even more importantly, it will mark the beginning of a campaign to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of Manila significantly by the time Earth Hour 2009 comes around.

WWF and Manila invite all households and businesses to take part in Earth Hour by turning off their lights for one hour at 8pm on March 29 2008. Information on how you, your business or local community can get involved in Earth Hour 2008 can be found on the Earth Hour website.

Let’s do our share. Pass on this information to your family and friends.

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My Day with Happy Slip

Feb. 7, 2008, Mag:net Cafe Bonifacio High Street, 11:00 am – 3:00 pm

I was not familiar with the place and had to ask some security guards where Mag:net Cafe was. It was just a little before 11:00 and thankfully, the place was not yet full. After registering at the entrance, I made my way into the cafe and reserved the nearest table I could get. Dine and Noemi were still at Krispy Kreme and they soon arrived together with Tin Mandigma of WikiPilipinas and that made up our table of 4.

Christine arrived promptly but to the disappointment of many of us bloggers, she was immediately whisked to an open area of the cafe for media interviews. Thankfully, lunch (FREE!!!!) was served so we had time to socialize and catch up among bloggers. I went around meeting those I knew virtually but was seeing in the flesh for the first time (people like Manuel and Angel Viloria, Anton, Jayvee, Juned and Ivan Henares).

After the media interviews, Christine’s also famous cousin, Josh Verdes, who composed many of the songs featured in her videos, sang 3 of the more popular ones on YouTube (Save Me, Home, and Love At First Sight). Then Christine gave her opening remarks, gamefully answered some questions (sometimes acting out her other family members — to everyone’s delight), and spent time with each and every one of us for a short chitchat, autograph signing, and pictures.

When I got to the front of the line, I told Christine that my 2 girls felt bad that they had to be in school and could not come with me. But she accommodated my request to personally write to them (and a niece) using stationery that I had brought along with me. She also autographed a picture of herself in Luneta which Yehey.com provided all of us.

Towards the end, as everyone got their moment with her, I was able to go back to her with my videocam to get a personal message for my girls (and she cheerfully did, to the delight of my girls). Josh was also able to give them his own message so I think my mission was more than accomplished that day.

We were one of the last to leave Mag:net. We watched from the 2nd floor as Christine was mobbed by adoring fans while she was in her coaster. This is what is amazing about this bubbly girl. She was all heart for everyone she met. Even while inside her vehicle, she went all the way to the back and continued smiling for the small crowd that had patiently waited for her on the street since they could not enter the venue. Waving, smiling, pretending to cry (to show them how she wished she had more time to meet them). And when her coaster sped away, she continued waving from the rear window of the coaster. Such a wonderful, beautiful person inside and out….

Now that she is back in the States, we sit back to wait eagerly for her to edit what must be volumes and volumes of footage from her trip to the Philippines. I am sure what will come out of that will be hilarious at times; but more than just funny, it will be videos filled with love, warmth and sunshine….because that is what we saw from the real Happy Slip.

Christine, no doubt about it…you are one heck of a Philippine Ambassadress. We hope you can come visit more often to get to know your heritage. You bring Philippine sunshine and warmth with you wherever you go and likewise, we will always carry you with us in our hearts.

I will upload YouTube videos of her opening remarks and Q & A portion soon. Watch out for it here.

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