The UNICEF Tap Project

This is genius.

You can help UNICEF provide much-needed water to children in need via the UNICEF Tap Project.

All you need to do is… nothing, really.

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You just have to lie your phone flat, and leave it. Even if you’re one of those people who has their phone practically handcuffed to them, you can still help and do this while you’re in the shower, doing chores, or even while you’re sleeping. For every ten minutes you leave your phone untouched, a day’s worth of water for one child is donated by a UNICEF sponsor.

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This is genius, not only because it couldn’t have made helping out easier, it also puts things into stark perspective. We live in a world where millions do not have regular access to clean water and, yet, somehow, going without one’s phone is considered a “sacrifice.”

The point is further driven home by the factoids and statistics that flash on your phone screen while it’s left idle. The site shares information on the impact of water access on enrollment rates, the reach of UNICEF’s programs, and other water-related facts.

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When you absolutely have to use your phone already, the timer will stop, and the site will compute for the amount of time your phone was untouched. It then converts your total time into water days:

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There really is no excuse not to do it. Head on over to UNICEF Tap Project via your mobile, and help provide vital, life-saving water to children in need. Giving back has never been so easy.

Note: If you’re going to this for an extended period of time (yay!), I recommend plugging your phone to a charger. Your screen will be active the entire time, with the timer, and the flashing of the water-related facts, so it will be quite a drain on your battery.

My Middle Earth adventure in the middle of Luzon

I am a big Lord of the Rings fan, so when my sister told me that there was a place in Pampanga that looked like slice of Middle Earth, I couldn’t believe it. Pardon my lack of knowledge on diversity of our country’s landscape, but I don’t really picture craggy rocks and leafy peaks when Angeles, Pampanga is mentioned.

I think the photos speak for themselves (i.e. “I told you so!”):

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Doesn’t this look like the Paths of the Dead?

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Can’t you just picture Aragorn emerging from the mist (steam, to be more accurate) wielding Anduril?

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All this you’ll see during the four wheel jeep ride to the Puning hot springs, from their restaurant. Technically speaking, the main point of the trip was to soak in the hot spring pools and get warm sand massages. To the LOTR geek in me, though, the highlight was the landscape: exploring it by foot, taking picture after picture, while humming the LOTR score and imagining Gimli, Legolas and Aragorn on their way to summon the Dead Men of Dunharrow.

Puning Hot Spring & Restaurant
Sitio Target, Barangay Sapang Bato
Angeles City, Pampanga
+63 919 339 2795

Eat and Shop for a Cause this #YolandaActionWeekend

Step 1: Donate. UNICEF Philippines, World Food Programme, and the Philippine Red Cross are good places to start.

Step 2: Volunteer. DSWD, PRC, ABS-CBN Foundation, and GMA Kapuso Foundation are all taking volunteers. There are also various private efforts all over Metro Manila and the rest of the country.

And you’re done, right?

Well, no. Even if you’ve wiped out your savings donating or blew out your back carrying sacks of rice while volunteering, there are other ways you can help.

Eat Out
If you are eating out this weekend, then make sure it’s in one of these establishments. All the restaurants and vendors below will be contributing some (in some cases, all) their proceeds to the Yolanda relief cause. Whether you’re jonesing for ice cream, burgers, katsu, ramen, cupcakes, or craft beer, you should be able to find a way to satisfy your craving and help out:

Photo from Pepper.ph

Shop
Aid Couture
is a Philippine Red Cross event that’s been planned way before Yolanda ravaged Central Philippines, and its success is even more critical now. The PRC will be selling pre-sorted and pre-washed clothing that were donated, but are not appropriate for practical use by the victims of calamities. Stylists Jujiin Samonte, Happy Andrada and others were involved in the styling and selection of the clothes for sale. Each item of clothing will have a price tag showing what  relief supplies the purchase price can help buy:

Image via StyleBible.ph

The event will be this weekend, November 16-17 at Alabang Town Center, starting 10AM.

Others things you can do:

  • Poledance for a cause (a sentence I never though I would type, by the way) with Polecats Manila
  • Workout with CrossFit MNL and pay with donations.
  • Shop Renegade Folk’s Holiday collection and get a free manicure. 100% of the proceeds goes to Yolanda relief.
  • For a list of other activities benefiting relief, click here.

Let’s all do what we can to help our countrymen through this disaster. This cannot be stressed enough: they need all the help we can give and more.

 

I wrote to the LTFRB

How many taxi crime stories have I read or heard about this month? Five? Six? Whatever the real number is, it’s too many. And with holiday season upon us, it’s just bound to get worse. I’ve wrote about tips for keeping safe when taking a taxi, but to me, that wasn’t enough. That puts the onus on the passengers to be careful, which is fine. But the responsibility to keep public transportation safe to begin with should be with the LTFRB (Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board) to begin with. So I wrote a letter to them. And you should, too.

If you take cabs, or just have a sister/mother/daughter/cousin/colleague who takes cabs in this city, then you should write one, too. We need to let the LTFRB know that they need to take action to make taxis safer, particularly for women. I’ve written the below letter and sent it via the complaint form on the LTFRB site (the email address in the Contact Us page does not work). Feel free to use my own letter as your guide, but do replace my personal experience (my sister’s to be more exact) with yours. Maybe if enough people write in, they’ll do something about it.

Atty. Winston M. Ginez
Chairman
Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board
East Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City

Dear Sir,

I am writing as a young woman concerned about the welfare and safety of thousands of others like me, who take local taxis to get in and around Metro Manila. I would like your office to require all, not just taxi, public utility vehicle drivers to display a standard, certified and registered identification (with photo) issued by your good office in their vehicles. This practice is currently in place in major cities such as Singapore and New York, and will hopefully deter taxi drivers from victimizing their passengers. At the very least it should help in identifying and catching them if every they still choose to abduct, rob or even sexually abuse their passengers.

I am pushing for this because of the recent spate of taxi-related crimes these past few months. I am not sure if you are active on any social media platforms, but if you are, you have probably heard or read about at least one of the many instances where a woman (it’s always a female) became the victim of an attempted or actual crime while riding a cab. In the last two months alone, I have read about five or six stories on Facebook and this excludes the stories outside this timeframe. It’s a scary thought to think that these are only the stories that are shared within my small circle of friends, I’m sure there are a lot more out there that either have not reached me or have not been shared online at all.

My own sister was a victim of a taxi robbery, and, it is disconcerting to think that every time she or any of my cousins, colleagues, or friends ride a taxi, they are risking their property, their safety, and in extreme cases, their lives. This is not the reality women in this city should be facing every time they go to work or go home.

As the regulator of these taxis, I see it as your office’s responsibility to make this and all other modes of transportation safe for all citizens, especially women traveling alone. This includes certifying and registering all drivers, and requiring that they display standard identification as issued by your office in their vehicles. The current regulation requiring taxis to have plate numbers and operator names displayed has not helped prevent these crimes, as these can easily be tampered with or concealed. In my sister’s case, the information was covered with tape. Requiring drivers to register with your office, and display LTFRB-issued identification with their names and photos will hopefully be a deterrent for crimes. At the very least, it will make those who dare easier to identify and hopefully, capture. I hope your office will take this step to help the women in this city feel safer in a taxi.

I hope to hear back from your office on this, and also on other measures the LTFRB might be taking to counteract this wave of taxi crime, especially with the holiday season upon us.

Respectfully,
XXXXXX

Let’s make ourselves heard on this matter. We need to let our government know that it is NOT OKAY to not feel safe in our own city.

Overnight Oats

Almost every other health/wellness/weight loss article in the history of the internet keeps emphasizing how important the first meal of the day is. I’ve been paying no heed to those article and have been skipping breakfast for years. Not good, I know, but I’ve always had valid (or so I say) excuses: first it was “I leave the house too early” (5am), then it became “I wake up too late and too close to lunch” (10am), and on weekends, it’s “my brothers ate all the bacon/longganisa/tapa/tocino.”

I’ve been trying to change my delinquent ways and have made an effort to have healthy breakfasts as much as I can. And that’s where overnight oats come in.

My health-freak friend J introduced them to me. The genius of it is that you’re making your breakfast while you sleep. Before hitting the sack, you soak some oats in milk and yogurt. In the morning, you have a hearty, healthy and delicious breakfast waiting for you.

Overnight Oats basic recipe (if you can even call it that)

1/3 cup rolled/old fashioned oats (not instant)
1/3 cup fresh milk
1/4 cup Greek yogurt (regular works, too)

  1. Mix all ingredients together
  2. Add any flavorings and toppings, if preferred. Dried fruit is good to include in the soak to rehydrate them, and to serve as a natural sweetener for the oats. To infuse the oats with their flavor, spices like cinnamon or nutmeg should be added prior to the soak as well.
  3. Cover and refrigerate
  4. Have a good night’s sleep

The other great thing about this is that sky’s the limit for your flavor options. You can pretty much add anything you fancy to the oats: fruits, nuts, jams, chocolate chips, peanut butter, whatever. So even if you are having oats everyday, you’re not necessarily stuck with the same breakfast seven days a week. Just make sure that you don’t negate the oats’ health benefits by going overboard with the toppings.

I like this method of making oats versus instant oats cooked in the microwave. With rolled oats, you get less of a mushy texture: it actually still feels like oats in your mouth. The yogurt and the milk also results in a creamier mixture, instead of the pasty mess of microwaved oats.

Below are some of my favorite flavor combinations for overnight oats:

  • Dried strawberries and blueberries, honey, cinnamon
  • Almond butter, almonds, pinch of brown sugar

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  • Mangoes, candied walnuts, pinch of brown sugar
  • Almond butter, bananas, maple syrup

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  • Peanut butter
  • Cookie butter, candied walnuts, cinnamon

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It’s a testament to how good these oats are (or to how pathetic my life is) that I actually look forward to breakfast in the morning if I made this the night before. I also feel better about my day knowing that I started it right with a healthy meal, instead of leaving for work with an empty stomach and attacking the first carb that I come across at the office. And, when it comes down to it, these oats are just delicious.

So really, there’s no excuse for me to be skipping breakfast anymore (except for maybe my yogurt going bad) when it’s this easy and this good. Especially when I can have those addictive candied walnuts with it.

Taxi Riding Tips

A week after this, another story made the rounds on Facebook. A woman (again, a friend of a friend) got on a taxi and almost got drugged by the driver. The driver kept waving a towel in front of the airconditioning unit and the passenger began to have difficulty breathing and feel numbness in her limbs. She had the presence of mind (and thank God, the strength) to get out of the still-moving cab before the unknown drugs took their full effect.

This is just one of many scary taxi cab stories that we’ve all heard. My own sister was a victim of a taxi cab mugging on Christmas Eve, of all days. A colleague also had a similar experience: she ended up in Cavite, alone and virtually penniless after taking a cab from the front of our Makati office. We all know someone or have a cousin/colleague of a friend who has had a harrowing experience with criminals working as taxi cab drivers.

With Christmas fast-approaching (yes, really) and no apparent action from our police and public transportation authorities to address the situation, then it’s up to us to take measures to keep ourselves (and our friends, sisters, colleagues, cousins, etc.) safe when taking cabs. The tips below were pooled from friends’ practices and the learnings from people who have been in the same situation. But please feel free to add your own in the comments.

  • Take note of the cab’s plate number, and make sure other people know about it as well. Aside from sending friends and family the plate number, feel free to take it as far as my friend does. Take a picture of the plate number printed outside the cab, beside the door and post it on Facebook and/or Twitter as a record, along with the pick-up location:

  • Before boarding a cab, check for the plate number written on the inside of the taxi doors. If it’s too faded to read clearly, don’t get in. If it looks like it was taped over, don’t get in. In the cab my sister was mugged in, the original print was covered with tape and a different plate number was written. Most victims are trapped in the cab for long periods of time, enough time to etch those three letters and three numbers into their brains, if they were visible and readable. It makes sense that cab drivers with malicious intent would want to conceal the primary means of identifying their vehicle.
  • Take note of the operator/driver name as well. In case of an unfortunate incident, the more information you have, the better.

  • Check the front and backseats before getting in. One MO for these taxi crimes is to have an accomplice hiding in front of the passenger seat beside the driver. Once the passenger is comfortably seated in the backseat, the accomplice emerges from his presumably cramped hiding spot.
  • Check that the doors on both sides of the backseat can be opened from the inside. And sit behind the driver. Another popular MO is to have accomplices board the taxi along the way. This is exactly what happened to my sister after she hailed a cab at KFC on Connecticut in San Juan. After the taxi took a right turn at EDSA, the driver pulled over at the next building, where a woman and a man boarded the front seat and the backseat respectively. My sister was seated behind the passenger seat at that time, maybe if she was seated directly behind the driver, she would have been able to exit through the door on that side. More likely than not, any accomplices will be boarding from the sidewalk, the passenger’s side. If you’re seated behind the driver, you can quickly disembark from your side of the cab, as the accomplices are boarding, provided that that door isn’t child-locked. Just remember to check for oncoming traffic.
  • Have the numbers of taxi cab companies to call, especially on late nights/early mornings. It makes sense (although it’s not a guarantee, of course) that cabs from a big, well-know company are safer than the independently driven/owned ones. If you call for a cab, these companies will give you the unit number of the cab dispatched to you. That also means they’ll know who was driving your cab that night, and your driver knows that, too. They are also incessantly, and sometimes rather annoyingly, tracked by their dispatchers as to their status, their location, their ETA, etc. That would make them less likely to try to do anything untoward with their passengers.
  • Call someone to give them the details of your cab. Even if you don’t actually reach anyone (especially if you’re on Globe), pretend you did. Be loud, make sure the driver hears that you’re giving other people details: plate number, name of cab, operator name, pickup point, pickup time. Hopefully, if the driver knows that his details are out there, he’s less likely to pull something shady.
  • Be alert, follow your gut. A cab ride is not the time to check your Twitter or Instagram feeds. Keep your on eye on where you’re heading, how fast you’re going, what the driver is doing. If he slows down and starts to pull over unexpectedly, it might mean that he’s picking up his accomplices. Check if he’s taking the route you agreed upon. Observe the driver closely if he’s doing something out of the ordinary, like fiddling with a rag in front of the airconditioning. If at any time, you feel like something is fishy, pay and alight the cab at the first safe, well-lit area you come across. It’s a hackneyed saying but it’s true: better safe than sorry.

It’s a sad reality that all these precautions are needed, especially if you’re a woman commuting in this city. Hopefully, this will change, and hopefully, within our lifetimes. In the meantime, if you have any other tips or your own practices apart from the above, then please do let me know in the comments.

 

Photo credits: Thank you to my friends V and direk Tonet Jadaone for giving me their permission to use the pictures above.