27 August 2010

This is real love.

Oh, yes it is.

I requested a kind officemate of mine to buy a pot of Boots Original Beauty Formula Cold Cream for me while she was in Bangkok last week for vacation.

I've been trying this for cold cream three nights in a row already, and seriously, my skin looks and feels healthier and more supple. (Of course, my mom and sisters think I'm unhealthily obsessed with my skin. Sorry, I'm a skin care junkie.)

The product also has a vintage feel to it, and looks like something my grandmama would use. Well, older generations of women did use cold cream to remove skin impurities and retain that youthful look. When Kylie Minogue was asked about her ageless look, she revealed that her beauty secret was Pond's Cold Cream--and sales of that product in the UK soared in the next few days.

Well, I'm not a Pond's fan, so I'd rather go for something like Boots' Cold Cream. It's a bit heavy on the skin, but I don't mind; I have really dry skin, so I kind of feel that my skin is 'drinking' in all that cold cream. Heavenly.

Every time I'm in a Boots store in Bangkok, I always feel this mad urge to stock up. So whenever I get back to Manila, I have a load of Boots products in my luggage; I'm always afraid of running out of my precious supplies.

The skin balm and the lavender hand cream from the same Original Beauty Formula line are nice on my skin as well (perfect hand moisturizers while I'm working inside a deathly cold office), but this cold cream is turning out to be my favorite. Next time I'm in Thailand, I'm going to lug back some of that skin tonic and cleansing milk.

I suggested to my fundraising teammate Tintin (another Boots fan) that the next time our regional manager Yas comes over to Manila, we can ask him to bring our pabilin (purchase requests) from Boots. She said I was dead crazy, as she couldn't imagine our no-nonsense Japanese boss lugging around a bunch of beauty products for us.

Okay, maybe that was too much. It was just a suggestion, though...!

26 August 2010

more of The Ancestor's Tale

Just a few more interesting passages from The Ancestor's Tale:

Great things grow from small beginnings

"Usually, in everyday life, massive improbability is a good reason for thinking that something won't happen. The point about intercontinental rafting of monkeys, or rodents or anything else, is that it only had to happen once, and the time available for it to happen, in order to have momentous consequences, is way outside what we can grasp intuitively. The odds against a floating mangrove bearing a pregnant female monkey and reaching landfall in any one year may be ten thousand to one against. That sounds tantamount to impossible by the lights of human experience. But given 10 million years it becomes almost inevitable. Once it happened, the rest was easy. The lucky female gave birth to a family, which eventually became a dynasty, which eventually branched to become all the species of New World Monkeys. It only had to happen once: great things then grew from small beginnings." (Dawkins, p. 142)

On beavers' dam-building compulsion

"Dam-building behaviour is a complicated stereotypy, built into the brain like a fine-tuned clockwork mechanism. Or, as if to follow the history of clocks into the electronic age, dam-building is hard-wired in the brain. I have seen a remarkable film of captive beavers imprisoned in a bare, unfurnished cage, with no water and no wood. The beavers enacted, 'in a vacuum,' all the stereotyped movements normally seen in natural building behaviour when there is real wood and real water. They seem to be placing virtual wood into a virtual dam wall, pathetically trying to build a ghost wall with ghost sticks, all on the hard, dry, flat floor of their prison. One feels sorry for them: it is as if they are desperate to exercise their frustrated dam-building clockwork.

Only beavers have this kind of brain clockwork. Other species have clockwork for copulation, scratching and fighting, and so do beavers. But only beavers have brain clockwork for dam-building, and it must have evolved by slow degrees in ancestral beavers. It evolved because the lakes produced by dams are useful. It is not totally clear what they are useful for, but they must have been useful for the beavers who built them, not just any old beavers. The best guess seems to be that a lake provides a beaver with a safe place to build its lodge, out of reach for most predators, and a safe conduit for transporting food. Whatever the advantage it must be a substantial one, or beavers would not devote so much time and effort to building dams. Once again, note that natural selection is a predictive theory. The Darwinian can make the confident prediction that, if dams were a useless waste of time, rival beavers who refrained from building them would survive better and pass on genetic tendencies not to build. The fact that beavers are so anxious to build dams is very strong evidence that it benefited their ancestors to do so." (Dawkins, p. 189)

Okay, I know it's freakishly weird that I'm including passages here on monkeys and beavers and whatnot--but don't you think this stuff's pretty interesting?

Well, isn't it???

22 August 2010

evolution explained

When I was young, I told myself I was going to be a scientist. I wanted to do something exciting, like be a paleontologist or anthropologist, or even be involved in the field of genetics.

But at the tender and highly impressionable age of 8, I came across a show on TV that featured a frog being dissected. Just one terrified look at the quivering innards of a frog that was cut open, and all its limbs stuck with pins to keep the entire body in place--and thus ended what would have been a potentially exciting scientific career for Gina.

It was one of those traumatic experiences that made me refuse to dissect a frog back in high school--and I was willing to fail my science subject (although I doubt my parents would have wanted me to) just to avoid the whole frog dissection lab exercise, but the teacher took pity on me--seeing how miserable and traumatized I looked--and made me do a paper instead.

And so instead of being some really cool scientist, I chose to embark on a frog-free career in communications and fundraising. Whatever scientific aspirations I had left in me found an outlet in just reading up on landmark discoveries in books and the internet, as well as watching National Geographic and Discovery Channel (the remote control in hand, with me ready to do some rapid channel switching should an image of a frog come into view).

The first book I started reading this 2010 was Richard Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. I could have finished it earlier this year, but there were too many distractions at work, and I even read a couple of books while I let The Ancestor's Tale sit on the bookshelf unfinished. It was only today that I started reading more chapters in earnest, these chapters covering the period of evolution 6 to 180 million years ago.

But back in January, I was already raving about the wonderful premise of The Ancestor's Tale in a previous post; I had just started then on the first few chapters of the book, which tackles first, in a radical reverse tour of evolution, the period of man's evolution that took place less than 6 million years ago, starting from that point where he "branches off" from his shared common ancestor with the chimpanzee.

My previous post pretty much summarizes what Dawkins' book is all about (and so does the Amazon link), so I won't repeat what I've talked about before. But I have to say that I do regret not finishing this book earlier; in less than 7 hours today, I have gone as far back as the Age of Dinosaurs, where one of man's earliest mammal ancestors during that period was the marsupial mole. (Yes, hard to believe, but hey, at least I'm still in the mammal kingdom. Give me a few more chapters, and I'd really start struggling with the idea that we are descended from lungfish.)

In a deeply religious country where most, if not all, believe that man came into existence as explained in The Bible's Book of Genesis, I choose to believe that in my own world, religion and science can conveniently get along with one another. I actually think that the First Story of Creation ties in quite nicely with the story of man's evolution--with the land and sea being created first, and then the plants and animals, and lastly, man, who is given dominion over all creatures.

Of course, everyone is free to believe in what they wish to believe in; I've never force-fed anyone my beliefs, and neither should anyone, not even my own mother (who gave up trying years ago to get me to attend church), coerce me into believing in God and denouncing science, and vice versa. The debate on religion versus science is moot, and there will always be a Great Divide, so I'd rather not waste energy arguing with people from these two opposing factions.

This does not mean I don't have a religious bone in my body; in fact, I believe in God so much, that I feel He is ultimately the Master at work behind the fearfully beautiful and intricate process of evolution. Nothing as grand as this--this whole scheme or design that takes place in the span of millions and millions of years, with each living thing being created and 'assigned' a function and purpose in life--can simply be left to chance alone. Evolution is complex, yet everything ends up falling neatly into place--and at least for me, I find assurance in the belief that only a higher being such as God can orchestrate something as wonderful as this.

That said, I just want to say how I am totally absorbed with the ideas postulated in this book. :)

Indulge me by letting me directly quote passages from the book; whenever a good thought or fact strikes me, I normally take note of it. Some ideas in books aren't exactly ground-breaking, as I've heard or read about them before, but I usually like how the author explains the ideas. I either write these down or manually type them, so that when I come back to these little notes, I remember which parts of the book I liked best. Dawkins is pretty adept in making science accessible and interesting even to the most casual reader--although of course, it helps to have a healthy interest in evolution for one to read this book.

On bipedality (walking on two legs)

"Perhaps we rose on our hind legs, not because that is a good way of getting about, but because of what we were then able to do with our hands--carry food, for instance.... Other kinds of food such as meat or large underground tubers are harder to acquire but, when you do find them, they are valuable--worth carrying home in greater quantity than you can eat. When a leopard makes a kill, the first thing it normally does is drag it up a tree and hang it over a branch, where it will be relatively safe from marauding scavengers and can be revisited for meals.... Having much smaller and weaker jaws than a leopard, did our ancestors benefit from the skill of walking on two legs because it freed their hands for carrying food--perhaps back to a mate or children, or to trade favours with other companions, or to keep in a larder for future needs?

A particular version of the 'carrying food home' theory is that of the American anthropologist Owen Lovejoy. He suggests that females would often have been hampered in their foraging by nursing infants, therefore unable to travel far and wide looking for food. The consequent poor nutrition and poor milk production would have delayed weaning. Suckling females are infertile. Any male who feeds a nursing female accelerates the weaning of her current child and brings her into receptiveness earlier. When this happens, she might make her receptiveness especially available to the male whose provisioning accelerated it. So, a male who can bring lots of food home might gain a direct reproductive advantage over a rival male who just eats where he finds. Hence the evolution of bipedalism to free the hands for carrying." (Dawkins, p. 91-92.)

Not only does the theory of man evolving from a creature walking on all fours to that of a bipedal entity interest me, but my recent attendance in a gender sensitivity workshop has made me more conscious of how man and woman have played out their roles in society (both in ancient and modern times) which directly result in how people today develop gender-based notions and decision-making.

On racism in evolutionary theory

"Early explorers often assigned the native peoples of the forests a closer affinity with chimpanzees, gorillas or orangs than with the explorers themselves. In the nineteenth century, after Darwin, evolutionists often regarded African peoples as intermediate between apes and Europeans, on the upward path to white supremacy. This is not only factually wrong. It violates a fundamental principle of evolution. Two cousins are always exactly equally related to any outgroup, because they are connected to that outgroup via a shared ancestor.... All humans are exactly equally close cousins to all gorillas. Racism and speciesism, and our perennial confusion over how inclusively we wish to cast our moral and ethical net, are brought into sharp and sometimes uncomfortable focus in the history of our attitudes to fellow humans, and our attitudes to apes -- our fellow apes." (Dawkins, p. 111.)

Powerful stuff. The Great Ape Project, as Dawkins also mentions, proposes that great apes should be granted, "as far as is practically possible" the same moral status as humans. This moving notion, like many other ideas in The Ancestor's Tale, sets my science-loving mind and heart racing.

Mommy and me

One of the best "de-stressers" at work is seeing a photo like this.

And I am always reminded why I love my job, and what it all means to me and ultimately, to the children.

In celebration of Breastfeeding Month, UNICEF Philippines invites all mothers out there to share 1 or 2 photos capturing their precious bonding moments with their children. It can be a breastfeeding picture or a photo of you hanging out with your kid/s, or simply any photo depicting your special mother-and-child moment. =)

Accompanying your photo should be your name, your child’s name, and 1-2 sentences on “The most important lesson I wish to teach my child is ….”

If you have exclusively breastfed your child, feel free to share your thoughts on breastfeeding as well! It is UNICEF's hope that you can inspire other moms to breastfeed.

For those who haven’t experienced being mothers, you can join this campaign by sending a photo of you and your beloved mommy, accompanied by 1-2 sentences on “The most important lesson my mother has taught me is …”

Please send your photos to psfrmanila@unicef.org and UNICEF will upload them right away. You can also check out the lovely photos that several mommies have already sent right on UNICEF Philippines' Facebook photo album "Mommy and Me"!

Thank you, everyone!

21 August 2010

timeless Emma

People don't seem to have any trouble liking Jane Austen.

What she writes about is so universal, you get it immediately. Never mind if the language can be dull and suffocating sometimes. Once you plow past the stiff formalities in her characters' conversations, you find yourself, rather grudgingly, liking Austen after all.

To be honest, I've always enjoyed the movie adaptations more than her novels--which is saying a lot, because I'm more of a "the-book-is-always-better-than-the-movie" person.

Now, over the years, I've read and watched different versions of Emma more than I care to admit. Well, okay, I admit to the painful struggle of teaching my younger sister to read a Young Adults Classic edition of Emma while I was 12 and she was 10 (and I failed miserably in that attempt, because now she refuses to read any classics).

So I wasn't really an Emma 'virgin' when I decided to watch BBC One's 2009 four-part TV series on this Austen classic one lazy Saturday afternoon.

I think it's amazing that fans are given the opportunity to enjoy Emma for four hours, rather than the more constraining 2-hour movie format. The characters then become more fleshed out, and there's plenty of opportunity to put in more detail to the plot without being long-winding. And four hours seriously give you more time to fall in love with the characters.

I've read Emma several times, but screenwriter Sandy Welch's whipsmart script provides a fresh approach. At first I felt a bit troubled with the way the arguments between Emma and Mr. Knightley were so lively at times (I mean weren't we all used to the exchange of veiled barbs while they were sitting stiffly on couches or something?), but I eventually got used to this new approach by BBC.

Romola Garai, who plays Emma Woodhouse, is just so LUMINOUS in this role; the girl seriously does not have any bad angles. Jonny Lee Miller (whom I first loved when he played Sick Boy in Trainspotting) is the best Mr. Knightley I've ever come across. There's something so satisfying about seeing him act in a period piece because I'm not used to it (although he was fair enough in Plunkett and Macleane). And Michael Gambon as Emma's extremely nervous, hypochondriac of a father, Mr. Woodhouse--well, you really can't go wrong with having Michael Gambon in a movie, right?

P.S. Eighteen years after my 12-year-old self failed to convince my sister that Emma is worth spending time on, I finally got her to watch this 4-hour BBC special. Success at last!

16 August 2010

solution to rosacea

Just a little break time from all those travel entries I've been posting--although I'm so happy and grateful that several people have come up to me to say they love my little posts on my Europe trip, and that these are well-written and super interesting to them. (Wow, I'm overwhelmed, because I honestly think my writing's pretty rusty and the stuff I write about are rather mundane, but thanks everyone for the love. Will post more about my Europe trip when I have the time. It's Paris up next, by the way!)

On to a bit of frivolity.

Well, not really. It was a necessary purchase, but a bit costly on the pocket.

I've had mild rosacea all my life, and I recently discovered Jurlique's Calendula Lotion, which is excellent in soothing sensitive skin. I checked a website dedicated to people with diagnosed rosacea (ranging from mild to serious rosacea), and Jurlique's product was recommended for those with a condition like mine.

Actually if you know me and see me everyday, you wouldn't really notice the rosacea. Like I said, it's pretty mild. At most, people think I have a rosy tinge on my cheeks (so yeah, this blogger obviously doesn't need any blusher--ever). It only flares up during extreme heat, or when I'm encountering a rapid change in temperature, like going from a warm place to a cold one, and vice versa. It also shows up at the most inopportune moments, like when I'm laughing real hard or when I get embarrassed--so please don't tease me, because I do end up blushing!

And the redness is most apparent after I'm done with a workout or a run. Whenever I get out of my bikram yoga class, for example, my face feels like a glowing tomato, which is so not sexy. One of the reasons why my rosacea manifests itself is because I love, love, love spicy food, and I cannot live without that.

But on most days, my cheeks just exhibit the slightest tinge of rosiness, and other people think it's cute and all--but it's the vain, hypochondriac side of me that really fusses over this condition in the most paranoid of ways.

I ended up buying Jurlique Calendula Lotion because it promised that the soothing properties of calendula would help decrease the redness. Tried it, and my first reaction was: "Oh, f#$%! It smells like soy sauce!" Definitely not something you'd want to put on while you're with a bunch of people. It's not the cream kind of lotion that one slathers on--it's more like toner actually, so the "lotion" on the product box may actually be misleading.

Like toner, I just apply several drops on a cotton pad and pat my face, compressing the pad into the problem area, just like what the instructions on the box say. The "lotion" does have a cooling, soothing effect and lo and behold, it really did dramatically reduce the flaring up.

The lotion still stinks to the highest heavens, like other Jurlique products, but people really swear by this brand. I'd used to pass by the Greenbelt 5 branch of Jurlique and wonder why the prices of their hand creams and such were ridiculously expensive, but I guess as long as the product works for me, I'm good. Even if my face smells a tad like soy sauce--despite the facial night cream slathered on top--before I go to sleep.