Alma Reyes

Alma Reyes

Manila de Memoria


My recent comeback to Manila transported me back to the city’s olden days as far back as the 16th century when Escolta was first built. This almost forgotten walled city took its name from the Spanish word “escort,” and was Manila’s commercial hub of fashion and business in those days. Chinese immigrants concentrated in this district, which formed today’s Chinatown.


I explored the inner streets of Dasmariñas, Dela Reina, Rizal Avenue, Ongpin, San Francisco Bridge, and to Urbiztondo to capture a glimpse of Antonio Luna’s residence. The Spanish-styled construction resembles those of ancestral homes found in Kawit, Cavite, Taal, Batangas or Calamba, Laguna. Philippine flags are hoisted under the roof, which gives the landmark its glorified recognition, but the entire house needs extreme refurbishing.

Jose P. Laurel’s gated house in Peñafrancia Street, Paco, stands in a similar construction of capiz windows and balustrade balconies. Disappointingly, the home is not open to the public. It was, in fact, a surprise to discover that so many historical residences spread out in the city, but a majority are unfortunately left unmaintained and have missed out proper government redevelopment. As I skirted through the tight, busy streets of Old Manila, I couldn’t help feeling the heartache sting, just gazing at those habitats, once the glamor picture of decades past, succumbing to decay. The dark-stained walls, molden facades, stripped-off roofings, slanting second storeys, broken doors and windows, and overall mouldering conditions of residences and buildings around Binondo, Avenida, and Quiapo have camouflaged the classical columns, portico, curved corners, wrought-iron verandas, and grand colors of romantic architecture it once owned. Moreover, the heartbreaking sight had not been so different from the memory I had of the city when I was a child. The stark contrast with the skyrocketing condominiums, mega-sized malls and urbanization of Makati, BGC and Ortigas areas sheds a somewhat somber note of resignation.


Notwithstanding the gray scenery, a stop at the grand Palacio de Memoria along Roxas Boulevard provided some breath of consolation. The seven-storey colonial mansion dated back to 1930s was commissioned by Antonio Melian y Pavia, third Count of Peracamps, for his bride Margarita Zóbel de Ayala. After the war, the estate was sold to Dr. Francisco Villaroman, and later to the Lhuillier family in the early 2000s. Both the museum and the palace are elegantly embellished in Art Deco, terrazzo flooring, wrought-iron windows, and impressive decoration, thanks to interior designer Miguel Rosales. Numerous rare antique furniture, ornaments, and a wide collection of paintings and sculptures give life to the palatial edifice. You can find European treasures, such as an early 20th-century French impressionist sculpture by Louis Barthelemy, Italian inlaid console table, Art Nouveau lamp and vase attributed to Émile Gallé, Murano goblets, 17th-century ivory Goanese-carved Sto. Niño, and the hand-colored cartograph “Islas Filipinas” by mapmaker Francisco Coello, among others.

The special highlights of this property are two actual MosPhil aircrafts parked in the entrance garden. The original Ukrainian Antonov 24 B Russian aircraft was owned and operated by the Lhuillier family, but only flew briefly in 2005 to 2009 along the Zamboanga-Sandakan-Kota Kinabalu route. Today, this 50-seater passenger plane has been converted into the MosPhil Lounge that caters as a bar and cocktail venue by reservation. Inspired by the charisma of the 60s and 70s, the interior is dabbed with antiquities, glass tables over carpeted flooring, black leather seats, and a liquor bar. You can also step into the cockpit and check out old suitcases and cabin attendant uniforms.


Behind the palace is an al fresco restaurant surrounding a pond in a delicately landscaped garden setting. The glitter of the Palacio de Memoria, perhaps, beguiles the delusion behind its crumbling neighborhoods, but may sprinkle some tiny fragments of hope for our beloved ancient city to witness its much deserved restoration one miraculous day.


Contact Palacio de Memoria for guided tours and reservation for the restaurant and events.

© Alma Reyes 2023

Alma Reyes

Traffic by Alma Reyes

Being Touristy 

with Fake Food Sample-Making

Sometimes, while living in Japan for so long, you tend to shy away from those silly things that tourists love to do, like running across Scramble Crossing in Shibuya, wearing yukata to temples, or having a picture taken with Mt. Fuji as background.


Well, one other touristy activity is trying out fake food sampling, which I would not have done if not for entertaining guests visiting Japan who wanted to experience doing it. Of course, replica food display in restaurants is a common scene everywhere in this country. Above all, it has gained immense popularity due to its intricate craftsmanship and authentic appearance.

So, off we went to Ganso Shokuhin Sample Store at Kappabashi. Here, a 40-minute hands-on experience workshop is given daily from 11:00 a.m. to 16:30 p.m. for ¥2,500 per person. The typical model course consists of tempura and lettuce. Other menus may be available by special request. Upon arriving at the store, you are escorted by the staff to a corner for a video demonstration of the sampling process. Video-taking is prohibited (only photography) during the workshop, hence, watching this video is compulsory.


On the second floor, the instructors welcome you with your apron, then proceed with the guided preparation, first, asking you to choose a vegetable to go with your shrimp tempura. These include green pepper, squash, mushroom or eggplant. Then, you are asked to dip your hand into the hot water to test the temperature. Making the tempura, apparently, is not very difficult, as it simply involves pouring the wax batter from a cup into the water from a certain required height, then moving your hand slowly in a zigzag manner to form the shape of the tempura. When the batter hardens, you can pick it up and form the tempura shape, making sure to leave the shrimp tail sticking out.

Making the lettuce, on the other hand, is a bit more challenging, as it entails a special technique of pouring the green liquid wax into the water, pulling the hardened lettuce, which has now stretched expansively, from under water, and lifting it up until also a prescribed height, making sure you don’t rip off the wax. Then, you can roll it steadily in your palm to form a ball-like shape. The instructor will slice the lettuce in half if you want to see the inside.


Ganso Shokuhin Sample Store has been manufacturing replica food samples for ninety years. In the 1800s, food sellers were said to have prepared actual food for display at restaurants, as written menus were not yet devised in those days. In the late 1920s, Japanese artisans invented artificial food sample-making as an alternative to food display. Takizo Iwasaki, founder of the Iwasaki Group that owns Ganso Shokuhin Sample, is said to have been the first developer of replica food. He experimented on a fake omelet dish in 1932, thanks to his wife’s preparation. His production method soon expanded commercially. In the 1930s, wax was used as the basic ingredient, but after the 1970s, the material was changed to synthetic resin for greater durability and resistance to heat.


Naturally, you can take your “craft” work home and also buy samples from their wide array of assorted products. Why not be touristy for a day and enjoy this fun Japanese cultural activity! 


Ganso Shokuhin Sample Store

3-7-6 Nishi Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo


© Alma Reyes 2023

Alma Reyes


Breaking Out of Your Shell with Flowers

Spring and summer are seasons of budding nature, and therefore, flowers. I found that in Tokyo (and elsewhere in Japan), it is easy to take refuge in the company of blooming nature even in the middle of a hard day’s work. It is said that there are over 3,600 parks in Tokyo alone, despite the fixated image of this concrete jungle blasting with skyscrapers and buzzing train stations. During lunch hour, we can see workers munching on their o-bento (either brought from home or bought at convenience stores) while sitting on a bench in some sheltered park with surrounding greens and colorful blossoms, or even a pond with playful ducks. Some train stations sit next to urban parks. Temples and shrines generally have a nook of ancient trees. Tokyo’s 107 rivers surely flow along landscapes of nature where locals stroll by on weekends or on the way to or back from work. The rotation of the four seasons adds a great deal to the continuous anticipation of florescence. The admirable thing about Japanese is they would steal moments to see these seasonal flowers as part of their cultural lifestyle.

Naturally, flower shops abound in the city, such as the famous Aoyama Flower Market and its tea houses. At first, I thought of sharing only my pleasant experience in this tea house until I stumbled upon the story of its establishment and the philosophy of CEO Hideaki Inoue of Park Corporation, which founded Aoyama Flower Market. Inoue abides by his mantra “Become a bigger person by breaking out of your shell, again and again.” He started his career in an accounting firm in New York after graduating from Waseda University. Despite the vitality of the New York life, Inoue felt something lacking and came across flower advertisements on newspapers. He thought about the possibilities of the flower business, and began to do his research. He established Park Cooperation and set up the flower sales business in 1989. Soon, after four years, the first Aoyama Flower Market opened in Minami-Aoyama. In 2011, the first Aoyama Flower Market Teahouse was launched. Today, there are over fifty Aoyama Flower Market shops in Tokyo, and over sixty across Japan. Overseas, the shop opened in London in 1989 and in Paris in 2015. Inoue remarked, It is easier for people to go about their daily routines, but I do not like doing that. In fact, I want to break out of my shell. By repeating this, you grow and become a bigger person. If you do not challenge yourself, you will never know your real limits and will never grow.(

For Tokyo residents, you can visit the Aoyama Flower Market Tea House ( in Minami-Aoyama, Akasaka and Kichijoji. You can savor their refreshing fruit and herb teas (with rose, mint, marjoram, rosemary, lemon grass, cinnamon, orange peel, cornflower, and many other fusion flavors), and petal sodas and juices. Their floral-decorated sumptuous meals include plum and berry French toast, beef stew with olive rice and carrot salad, and omelette with homemade tomato sauce, avocado puree, seasonal leaf vegetables and edible flowers. Don’t miss the Hana-kanmuri French Toast designed like a floral crown filled with seasonal fruits, framboise, herb, and edible flowers. For dessert, the Flower Parfait mixed with rose jelly, cherry mousse, mixed berries, cereal, edible rose petals and vanilla ice cream is a hit. Most especially, the tea houses swarm with greenery and flower blooms hung from the ceilings and on the walls, inviting you to bathe in its forest-like ambiance. While embracing the floral scene, you may reflect on Inoue’s thoughts to always embark on something new and never be afraid to do things you have never done before. Enjoy some of the photos I took at the Minami-Aoyama and Akasaka locations.

© Alma Reyes 2023

Alma Reyes


Jeepney Press May - June 2023

The Japanese Psychology of Masks

Are you one of the residents in Japan who goes through an “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” when deciding if you should or should not wear a mask outside your home? Since the government removed the mandate of obligatory mask wearing a few months ago, I was quite curious to see how Japanese would diligently respond to the announcement. Expectedly, at that time, more than 90% of the locals could be seen still hanging on to their masks, indoors and outdoors, whether while walking on the streets, riding a bicycle (really?!), inside stores, supermarkets, restaurants, train stations or inside trains. 

I had started taking off my mask when walking outdoors (and absolutely while riding my bike), but admittedly, still put it on sometimes inside the train, especially when packed. At the two language schools where I teach, mask-wearing appears to be still the rule of the day (as of this writing). Similarly, I have opted to still wear it when having my one-on-one private lessons at a café (for being guilty of becoming Japanese, out of respect). Yet, I remove it when the lesson is over.  Recently, I have seen more people getting the hang of doing away with masks, but this percentage may have risen slightly to just 30%. Above all, many Japanese STILL wear masks outdoors while walking on the streets (and while on their bicycles), which I find utterly incomprehensible.

Japan is known worldwide to be mask lovers. Japanese have been accustomed to mask-wearing even before the COVID-19 pandemic as a precaution against cold and hay fever. Thus, while many Karens of the world screamed out of the frying pan into the fire during the lockdown peak in 2020 for refusing to be succumbed to the mask syndrome, social media went berserk in front of poker-faced Japanese who just shrugged off the chaos as ridiculous. On top of that, Japanese are well reputed for their austere adherence to cleanliness and public hygiene. The minute notion of sitting next to an infected person (even from just a cold) can trigger escalated stress. School children who suffer from a cold, runny nose, or excessive sneezing are often advised to stay home (and equally for teachers).

The dilemma, therefore (if it were put to such), of wearing or not wearing a mask is not simply a matter of allegiance to government regulations or exercise of personal judgment. For Japanese, this issue is a reflection of civic responsibility.  “Ki wo tsukau” is a fundamental attribute of Japanese social decorum. It is one of the cultural traits I particularly respect Japanese people for, although disproportionate practice of it could be overbearing sometimes. The expression entails displaying consideration for the other person’s feelings or disposition above one’s own. It is a golden etiquette that foreigners can learn from. I have asked many Ja the sun or the cold.” For some, wearing a mask can imply protecting oneself or others from hay fever or a cold; thus, nobody could really demonize them for being conservatively stuck-up.

As for the ubiquitous sight of mask-wearing while walking ALONE outdoors or riding the bicycle, this eccentricity can only be rationalized by habit. Alternately, some Japanese find it cumbersome to put on and pull down their mask time to time depending on where they are, thus, keeping it on regularly solves the fussiness.

Notwithstanding the current global situation of mask-wearing being almost invisible in many countries, many Japanese still restrain from foreign travel, and some have probably developed acute paranoia towards non-Japanese whom they believe may be more prone to the infection than them. Is it still a wonder why many Japanese suffer from stomach or intestinal pain when they travel abroad? We all know that bacteria has given a lot of merit to immunization, so virtually, the greater exposure one has to germs, the less probable feasibility he would be infected. It would be a spectacular sight to witness that day when all Japanese would have finally given up their dearly beloved health-protection and social etiquette armors. After all, if there is anything that Japanese are most comfortable in, it is being guarded in their own shell that keeps them secured to a safe zone only they can trust.

© Alma Reyes 2023

Alma Reyes

Why Every Filipino Should Watch “Triangle of Sadness”

Jeepney Press March - April 2023 Issue

It is not every day that we see a Filipino actor take a lead role in an international film. But, this is not the sole reason why every Filipino should watch the captivating film “Triangle of Sadness” by multi-awardee Swedish director Ruben Östlund. Garnering the Palme d’Or 2022, European Film Award for Best Film 2022, and more awards and nominations for directing, screenwriting, costume design and acting performances, this aesthetically crafted film conveys so many overlapping messages that may hurt, anger, or enlighten us, and awaken the baffling realities of our daily existence.

In a gist (spoiler warning), the story involves two young millennial fashion models, Yaya and Carl, who win an all-expense-paid cruise trip in exchange for social media promotion, and mingle with the bourgeois and oligarchs on board the yacht. Amidst the sexism and social and work hierarchy visible on the yacht, the passengers succumb to seasickness and possibly food poisoning during a stormy dinner, causing havoc, electricity failure, and sewage flood. Pirates from nowhere bomb the yacht and leave eight passengers and crew trapped in an isolated island.

Every scene in this movie is important and worth scrutinizing because it satirically represents every fragment of our distorted social structure and human relationships. The opening scene with the shirtless male models of varied ethnic backgrounds prepping up for an audition speaks of a delusive diversity and inclusion. The shot of the single Asian judge seated at the table of judges, physically and verbally secluded from the “white” judges, mocks the concept of racial equality. On the humor side, the models are coached to look serious for a high-class brand (Balenciaga) and smile for a lower-class brand (H&M)—a metaphor on how lower classes of the society appear to have a happier outlook in life than the more stoic and formal upper class. Don’t we Filipinos know this too well.

Then, there is the gender equality issue when Yaya and Carl argue about footing the dinner bill. Intriguingly, Yaya, who is a a more high-end successful model than Carl (therefore, earns more income), admits that she had been manipulating Carl and enjoys the thought of being his “trophy wife.” We ask ourselves if women truly play secondary roles in the society, making them exert more effort (than men) to be recognized, and whether power play between men and women can be the root of relationship issues. Can Filipino marriages and corporate systems relate to this?

Let’s go back to the Filipino casting in this film. The boat scene tries to open our eyes to class segregation, and what a better scenario to show it than on a cruise where the fancily dressed ultra-rich behave like royals sipping champagne on the upper deck, while the minorities (enter Filipino crew) labor as cleaners, dishwashers, technical engineers, and so on in the lower deck. Here, we meet Abigail (played by award-winning Dolly de Leon), the toilet manager, who later transforms into the heroine of the movie. She is fastidious, efficient, and diligently able to manage her co-workers, in contrast to the American captain (Woody Harrelson) who is drunk and unmindful of his passengers’ welfare. He exchanges political and intellectual combat with the filthy rich Russian Dmitri—a plain ridicule of US and Russia capitalism and socialism. Furthermore, even within the Western system, the white-collar crew must heed the wealthy passengers’ commands—again, denoting unequal treatment and hierarchy abuse by bosses towards subordinates. They cheer enthusiastically “money, money, money,” signifying their synonymous desire with that of the lower deck crew’s. 

The most entertaining part of the movie is the island scene. Abigail claims her position as the new “captain" since she is the only one in the group who can catch fish, cook it, and set up a fire—an indication of the upper class’ inferior survival capability. She exercises her new power to set rules and undermine the group who, in turn, now falls as slaves to her in order to survive. The hilarious scene of Abigail distributing cooked octopus bits one by one to the group with her getting the bigger share epitomizes the sometimes, false distribution of wealth we witness among governments. Abigail sleeps comfortably inside the lifeboat while the others suffer out on the sands. Moreover, she exploits Carl to be her lover (reverse labor abuse)—something that she would never be able to do if she were living in the real world. This reminds us of many Filipinos who choose to work abroad to enjoy benefits of luxury and status that cannot be attained back home.

The open ending leaves puzzled viewers imagining what Abigail would finally do after Yaya discovers an elevator on the other side of the island that leads to a hotel resort (therefore, the “normal” life), and pulls Abigail to join her. Instead, Abigail picks up a rock and attempts to kill Yaya, but that final act is not shown. As a Filipino like Abigail, do we empathize with her disposition? Naturally, if the others learn that there is a way out of the island, Abigail would lose her attained power. She would resume her unprivileged status, and be disrespected and ignored once more.  What would you do in Abigail’s shoes? Is it enough for lower-class Filipinos to remain in their rank as long as money secures them? Could there be an end to feudalism in the Filipino society, which continues to encourage the outspread gap between the rich and poor?

We applaud Dolly de Leon for her wonderful performance. She is the only Filipino actor, so far, who had been nominated at the BAFTAs and Golden Globe Awards. Her awards and nominations are countless among film associations in Los Angeles, Portland, Vancouver,  London, and more. Be sure to catch the movie and feel the Abigail in you.

© Alma Reyes 2023

Alma Reyes

The Long Journey with Jeepney Press

Jeepney Press January - February 2023 Issue

Congratulations to Jeepney Press’ 20th Anniversary!

It has been quite a full 17-year journey writing for Jeepney Press. It all started in 2005 with a good friend, Tony Fernandez’s book review of an architecture book, “Mini House Style” I had co-published with an editorial office I was working for at that time. JP was still being printed and distributed by post. I remember often being excited to pick up that 10-copy bulk of printed journals in my mailbox. Naturally, at some point, JP had to cope with the digital era; thus, printed copies saw their goodbye and turned to online media.

The years have been an extensive learning experience, searching into bits and pieces of Japanese culture, customs, festivals and events to feed foreign readers in Japan about routinary life in this country. I also had gracious opportunities to interview notable people, like designers, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and authors to feature them in the newspaper. Thank you to the Movement 8 Designers of the Philippines, fashion designer Feanne, Professor Ambeth Ocampo, One Hundred Homes for Barangay Inangatan volunteer group from Ateneo de Manila, Gerry Baron of Magdalena’s Cacao Bean Chocolates, psychologist Lissy Ann Puno, Kentaro Inada, Boy Katindig and Stephen Bishop.

JP also inspired me to explore Japan’s beautiful cities, parks and gardens, which I enjoyed photographing and sharing to the readers. I congratulate Dennis Sun for his continued dedication in keeping the newspaper alive and strengthening the spirit of Filipino camaraderie in Japan. I hope that many readers will view Jeepney Press not just as a literary medium, but also a supportive hub in bringing Japanese, Filipinos and other foreigners together as part of a special community. Thank you for allowing me to contribute to this endeavor.

More Power and All the Best for 2023!

© Alma Reyes 2023