Sunday, July 27, 2008

Fantastic Filipina:
MARISA DE LOS SANTOS, Best-selling Author

When her first novel "Love Walked In" was published, Marisa de los Santos hit the literary jackpot - it became a New York Times bestseller.

Since then, it has resided in many other bestseller lists and has been translated into more than 14 languages. The film rights was optioned by Paramount Pictures.

The author did a reading in Historic Filipinotown in Los Angeles to promote her latest book, "Belong To Me".

Incredibly poised and gracious about her success, she is what every young writer, Filipina or not, should dream of becoming.

Both her books have become bestsellers - a lovely phenomenon that surprised Marisa.

"It's been a great surprise…I wasn't a fiction writer at all so I wrote the novel for the pure challenge…Once it got rolling, my biggest hope was to be able to write for a living, which I've been able to do. It's a huge privilege," she says.

Before becoming a full-time writer, she was a college professor. She is also an award-winning poet.

"My dad is really happy for me to be finally making money from my writing," she adds with a laugh. Marisa grew up in Baltimore and Virginia.

Marisa's father, a general surgeon in the U.S., hails from Cebu. Her mother, who's Caucasian, was a nurse. The de los Santoses are now based in Cebu.

The author's next book is partly about the Philippines and will feature some Filipino characters.

But whatever ethnic backgrounds her characters have, in Marisa's mighty pen, they are always interesting. Her two books are filled with people who are both familiar and unique, with situations that are heartbreaking and heart-lifting.

"Love Walked In" and "Belong To Me" deal with the issue of what makes a family. Entertaining, intelligent and warm-hearted, both books are hard to put down once you get going.

As a bonus for us Pinoys, the books' main male character is a Filipino fleshed out in the best possible light: impossibly handsome, strong and kind, and cooks pansit really well!

For aspiring writers, Marisa has this advice:

"When you're writing, don't think about the fiction market. Don't think about getting an agent…Be true to your story, your characters. Write the book you want to write."

A busier schedule notwithstanding, Marisa's priorities remain the same. Her family comes first, she says. Marisa is married to a fellow writer and they have two kids.
She does her promo duties but tries to make out-of-town trips as short as possible.

"My children love it when they see their mom's pictures when we go to bookstores," she says with a laugh.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

You Need Philippine Passport?
You Need Six Weeks (and a "medium" smile, among other things)

Last June 2, the Philippine Consulate in Los Angeles (as well as the Philippine Embassy and other Consulates General in the U.S.) started processing Machine Readable Passports (MRP). Its features are similar to the U.S. passport. The cost is the same - $50, but everything else is not.

"It has superior security features compared to the green passports, which virtually eliminates the possibility of identity theft and acts of fraud," says the consulate.

If you haven't heard about the changes in the 1st-time/renewal application process, here they are:
1. You need to apply in person. Yes, even if you are from Southern Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and the far corners of Southern California. This is for "data verification, finger-printing and signature capture." (The consulate schedules a visit to cities so you can apply then; see info on consular outreach below).

2. It will now take 6 weeks to receive (pick-up or mail) the new passport so don't book that ticket till you have it in your hand. Have an emergency? Bring official documents (death certificate, etc.) that will prove your need. The consulate will do its best to accommodate you if you genuinely need to go quickly, says Deputy Consul General Dan Espiritu. The consulate can also grant a travel document, which is just for a one-way trip, but this is not supposed to replace a passport and is not granted willy-nilly.

Everyone else will have to wait for six weeks. Why that long? Because all applications are sent to the Philippines for processing.

3. Here's the link to the complete requirements, but pay special attention to the photo requirements because they are super-tight. Here are some:

Background – ROYAL BLUE
Size – 4.5 cm X 3.5 cm.
Pose – image of
applicant is 70 – 80% of the photograph
Straight frontal shot (no tilting of head)
“Medium” smile is allowed
Collared shirt / decent attire
Both ears visible

Now, the consulate cannot suggest this, but if I were you, I won't risk wasting money by getting these pics taken at outside places (like Walgreens, etc.) because they'll most likely be different from what's required.

Two friends of mine wasted $40 each because the ones they got outside didn't pass the stringent standards. There are two photo shops operating next-door to the consulate, and they are well-briefed on the standards. One charges $10, the other, $20.

A few weeks ago, I did a report in Balitang America about the frustrations voiced by some kababayans who found the new process tedious. I talked to a family who came all the way from Texas to apply; I also talked to a lolo who was just so frustrated by the lack of information. There were some very confused (hence, angry) applicants because, at that time, the consulate had two websites with conflicting info.

The applicants' concerns were heard and immediate actions were taken by consulate officials. Also, Public Affairs Officer Eric Sierra built a user-friendly and, more importantly, updated website: If you accidentally click on the outdated website, they provide a link to the new one.

As for the distance concern, the very busy but accomodating consulate does consular outreach & you can apply when they go to your city. This August 9, it will be held in Dallas, Texas from 9:00 am until 4:30 pm at the PNB Remittance Center, Inc., 940 E. Beltline Drive, Suite 130, Richardson, Dallas, TX 75081. PNB’s contact details are as follows: (972) 470-9910, (972) 470-9912, (281) 988-7001, and (800) 762-8788.

In doing the report, I got some tips that I'd like to pass on to you:
1. Bring a photocopy of your old passport.
2. Wear a dress or shirt with collar, if you're planning on getting your photos taken there.
3. Oh, and here's the link to the passport application form that you can print & fill up ahead of time.
4. Don't forget to review the step-by-step procedures. It's just 8 steps! Very easy to follow. This way you won't feel lost when you get to the consulate.
5. Don't bother calling the appointment number. I called that number myself to test it & didn't get a response. Just show up. And avoid coming on Monday mornings. That's when it's busiest.
6. BOTTOM LINE: Don't wait till the last minute to renew/apply for the new passport.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

SCAM ALERT: Phony E-mail Promising Additional Economic Stimulus Refund Money

First of all, did you hear about the talks that a second stimulus check is coming this year? This report says it is really being "considered" by Washington leaders.

On to our main topic: Earlier this year, I wrote about the stimulus checks. Now comes the double check incident & a scam to watch out for.

Some Americans are getting second checks (duplicate amount as the first one) by mistake. The bottomline: If it's for a duplicate amount, don't cash it until you've checked if it's not a mistake. The IRS will get it back from you at some point. Here's what to do if you get a duplicate check.

But there are taxpayers who will accurately get a second check starting this month if their "original stimulus payment did not include a payment for their eligible child," according to the IRS.

The two things above are just for some of us, but here's what's going to affect a lot of us: stimulus payment scams.

Today, I got the e-mail (above image). It's official-looking, all right, except for that "Best Regards" gaffe. It said:
"The fastest and easiest way to receive your full refund is by direct deposit to your checking/savings account,as payments continue on a weekly schedule through July.

To properly receive your full refund, fill out the form below and submit before July 24th, 2008 to ensure that your refund will be processed as soon as possible."

I knew it was a scam because the Internal Revenue Services NEVER requests detailed personal information through e-mail, and does not send e-mail requesting your PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.

When you get the same e-mail, DON'T click on the link. Immediately forward it to the IRS scam reporting email address:

Here are more info from the government on these types of scam.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Manila Fire Photo on NY Times Front Page

Amazing photo, dire circumstances.

This dramatic shot is on the New York Times front page today. Dennis M. Sabangan of the European Pressphoto Agency caught these Pinoys sa bubong as they "tried to put out a fire with buckets of water in a slum in the capital, Manila."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

PASYALAN: Universal Studios

When I was still living in the Philippines, Universal Studios Hollywood theme park was a dream destination. That's why, the first time I got in in 2000, I was like a kid in...Universal Studios Hollywood theme park.

Sure it's a tad pricey (click here for ticket prices info), especially in these economic times, but it is a must-visit whenever you have out-of-town (and country) visitors so it makes sense for us SoCal peeps to have annual passes.

The weekend before the July 4th holiday, we visited Universal Studios in Hollywood. But what put a damper on an otherwise fun day at the world-famous "entertainment capital of L.A." was an incident I witnessed at the gate: at least two Pinoy families were not able to come in because they didn't realize that they came on a black-out date. They drove from far away, with multiple disappointed family members in tow, and didn't realize that their annual passes are not valid on certain dates. Sayang!

Mga kababayan
, if you have an annual pass, you have to be aware of the black-out dates. They are specified in your pass cards - the same one you present at the gate. If you'd rather not deal with black-out dates, you should purchase the slightly more expensive no-black-out pass rather than the regular one.

Our passes also had date restrictions but we were able to get in because we had a limited-time-only coupon that allowed us to get in on a black-out day. My best friend (and Universal Studios frequent guest) Teeny clued me in on how to get them AT NO COST: register your annual pass at the Universal Studios website and get exclusive member benefits, which in this case was a coupon for entrance on June's black-out date. Through this, we also got Priority Boarding and 20% discount on food & merchandise purchases.

For one member of our group who didn't have an annual pass, we were also able to save by using a $15 off coupon that I clipped from the L.A. Times Sunday coupons.

It was our second visit this year, and the first ever for my mom. No matter how many times you've been to Universal, the park never ceases to entertain.

The newest attraction was the Simpson's Ride. My friends gave it a two thumbs up - I couldn't go this visit because I was keeping my mom company and she wouldn't be able to stand the ride's sudden movements. But there are plenty of other enjoyable attractions for the whole family: For instance, we all had a blast at WaterWorld. Action, adventure, a handsome cast, and lots of water - what's not to enjoy? (Digression: The guy currently playing Mariner is already worth the price of admission, if you ask the girls in our group. Sigh. What a hunk.)

Of course, a trip at Universal isn't complete without taking the Studio Tour. In fact, on the official studio map given out at the gate, they mention this one as the first thing to do. "See how Hollywood magic really happens. Explore Hollywood's backlot..." Yes, all that & more.

Though I've seen them before, I was still enthralled with the eeriness of the War of the Worlds crash set, still yelled like a little girl at the faux earthquake subway scene, and still got wowed by the two dancing and hurtling cars of The Fast & the Furious. If you're a silly bunch, as we are, the ride could be rife with funny moments: For instance, we are still laughing to this day when we recall how one of our companions, a manly man in all respects, yelped when Jaws suddenly appeared on his side. Ha-ha-ha! I think that's the one that's really worth the price of admission.

The Shrek 4-D attraction is also a must-see for the whole family. It's funny, and I have five words for you: Watch out for the squirts! Also, a tip, when you're lining up outside the auditorium where the "prisoners" are doing their bit, try to get through the middle door as they are the best seats in my experience. Heavily pregnant women & others who can't stand it when the chairs suddenly move can occupy the back seats where they could enjoy the show without the jarring movements.

We ate at Doc's Brown's which has really great chicken & okay prices, but unfortunately, they have uneven service. Tip: When you're lining up to order & you're paying by credit card, you can skip the regular long line & go to the right line where you can pay self-service - so much faster, though we were stuck by a few minutes when the cashier can't complete the transaction for some reason.

At lunch, we were serenaded by an awesome mariachi band. After that, we went around some more, and took photos with the characters. Before we knew it, the day is done! We missed going to The Mummy & Jurassic Park rides & others but our aching feet told us that we've had enough for the day.

If you're planning a visit soon, here's extra info from Universal: "If you are a "Regular Annual Pass" or "2008 Pass" member and you would like to re-visit on a Black-Out Date, there are two ways you can: (1) Purchase a special 1-day upgrade; or (2) Purchase a full upgrade to a "Premium" or "No Black-Out Annual Pass". Both upgrade options are available at the Annual Pass Center near the Universal Studios Hollywood entrance turnstiles when you arrive at the Park."
For the rest of us, there's always (the almost black-out-free) September!

1. Go early. The park opens at 9 am so you'll have more chances of stuffing your day with all the park has to offer.

2. Don't forget to get a studio map at the entrance.

3. Bring some light snacks para tipid.

4. You can ask any employee about your fave character appearance times. For WaterWorld, you can pose with the actors right after the show.

5. When you get the Sunday paper, clip the Universal coupon. You never know when you or a friend might need it. Sayang din yung $15 discount per person, di ba?

[The lovely lady up top is my friend, L.T. The other one is of another friend, Nini & her fam. The high-flying girl is from WaterWorld. All PHOTOS are from our February '08 visit.]

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Losing (and hopefully, finding) Your Stuff at LAX

I'm sure most of us have had that scary feeling when we're traveling. One moment we're calmly boarding our plane, and the next moment, ay naku! We suddenly realized we possibly left something at the airport.

If it's false alarm, good for you! Pero kung talagang may naiwan ka sa airport, it might not be the last time you see your stuff. All you have to do is find out who to contact and take the time to make the call.

The Los Angeles Times recently published an informative article on what to do when you lose items at the LAX.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the LAX police maintain a lost-and-found departments so if you lose something there, you might have a good chance that you can get it back. TSA hold most items for 30 days, the LAX police holds them for 97 days. Unclaimed items get donated.

The top 5 things they've recovered? Cellphones, luggage, electronics such as cameras & DVD players, laptops, and clothings. Each day, they find about "400 objects from checkpoints."

Writer Jane Engle lists the tips to remember to avoid losing-it hassles and what to do to when it happens:

* Carry on valuables. For every TSA employee who handles a bag, seven to 10 airline or contract employees may also handle it.

* Mark everything with a phone number and an e-mail address. Tape a business card to your laptop.

* Consolidate items. Put your keys and cellphone in your laptop case before going through security.

* Know whom to contact. Each airport may work differently. At LAX, if you think the loss happened at a security checkpoint, call the TSA at (310) 665-7382. Visit for more info, click on "For Travelers" and select "Lost & Found. There you can see the contact info for all airports.

If you think you left your item somewhere other than a TSA checkpoint, contact your airline or the LAX Airport Police Lost & Found; (310) 417-0440,

Monday, July 7, 2008

"Filipinos In The East Bay"

Ang di lumilingon sa pinanggalingan, di makararating sa paroroonan.

This popular Filipino proverb teaches the need to look back to guide us in our journey towards our destination. And Filipinos in the East Bay, a new book written by four accomplished Filipinas, does a remarkable job of taking the reader to the journey taken by early East Bay Filipino Americans in the early 1900's (such as the pensionados), then back to the future where many kababayans have found their niche in the mainstream.

The writers, Evangeline Canonizado Buell, Evelyn Luluquisen, Eleanor Hipol Luis, and Lillian Galedo - accomplished Filipinas all - wrote Filipinos in the East Bay because "we knew that if we did not tell our stories in our own voices, the others would tell them for us."

The "vibrant past" of early Filipino immigrants is laid out in evocative pictures. What the images don't tell, the finely researched and succinctly written captions do. Go to page 33 and see a picture of a happy couple – a Filipino and a Caucasian – cutting their wedding cake, and imagine the difficulties that they must have endured back when Filipinos cannot legally marry a white woman.

Go back a few pages, and you will see the work I.D. of Marina Angel, who "worked as a welder in the Richmond Shipyard with other women during World War II."

No white collar jobs were available for Filipinos at that time. They "faced severe discrimination," the book says, and they were "viewed as 'filthy' and suited only for menial work."

The book, with over 200 vintage photographs, culled from what must be baul-baul of Filipino family memories and storage rooms, is divided into four chapters: Journey for Opportunity, Expanding Community, Changing Demographics, and The Journey Continues. From the pictures of early businesses owned by Filipinos to the modern images of notable kababayans, it is evident that their continuing journey remains to be a fruitful and eventful one.

Below is a Q&A with author Evelyn Luluquisen.

The book is published by Arcadia Publishing, the premier local history publisher in America.


Filipinos in the East Bay, $19.99, Arcadia Publishing. Available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at or (888)313-2665.

FilipinOnline: Why did you write the book?

Evelyn Luluquisen: When the Filipino American National Historical Society of the East Bay got together to do oral histories in the 1990's, we learned that our people wanted to see their stories in writing. We knew that if we do not tell our stories in our own voices, then others will tell them for us. We would risk losing the essence and truth about the Filipino-American experience. Our stories could fade from memory, and one day our children's children would ask: Who are our ancestors? What were they like? What did they do? And we would not be there to answer their questions and, possibly, there would be no where to look.

What's the biggest lesson that you learned from writing the book?

That it is possible to achieve a major recording of our history through primary sources. The photos and the contributor's in their 80's and 90'shave so much to share about their lives, our culture and history.

What was the most important information that you learned from all the research?

That much of our history is still unrecorded and the time is now to make sure it does not get lost.