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An Educated Taste for Drink January 31, 2016

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

January 31, 2016



The maestro of mixology, Hidetsugu Ueno, at his Bar High Five in Tokyo.


   Truth: all drinkers drink, but not equally. The great British drinks writer Michael Jackson (in my opinion, the most eloquent whisky writer who ever lived) used to say that any drinker who claims to possess a cultivated palate ought to drink first and foremost for the taste of it. “In the end, there are only two kinds of drinker,” he wrote. “The discriminating and the indiscriminate.”

   Let’s be honest. Not everyone really cares to have an educated taste for drink. At any given bar on any given night in any given country, you won’t have trouble finding indiscriminate drinkers – the boozers if you will. Boozers are fairly easy to spot; they’re the ones who tell you that all they want is to get a “good buzz” while appearing to drink fashionably, throwing their money at whatever expensive horse piss the bartender is passing off as chic. I apologize for the unkindness, but I just want to be emphatic. Spend all you want on expensive drinks; that doesn’t make you a better drinker.

   I find it more rewarding to drink at a bar with genuine people who know how to taste what they’re drinking and care about sharing that appreciation. Thankfully, I was able to enjoy such company when The Curator – that no-nonsense cocktail bar hidden by that dark sliding door at the back of Cyrano – invited the great Hidetsugu Ueno to serve as its celebrity guest bartender for one special night last December.

   “I have the world’s greatest bartender in my bar!” cheered a beaming Jericson, The Curator’s founder, happy with disbelief that he was able to bring this living legend of Bar High Five in Tokyo for a gig in the Philippines.

   “He wasn’t bothering to measure the drinks,” admiringly commented Poch, The Curator’s senior bartender, about their celebrated Japanese guest. “He was doing it by eye, making adjustments with each drink based on how he felt each glass needed it.”

   Now, I’m not the world’s most ardent fan of cocktails. Offer me a good whisky or a nice wine and most of the time I’ll choose either of those over a mixed drink. Having said that, this doesn’t preclude me from favoring three classics: the Martini, the Manhattan, and the Negroni.

   Invented by the Italians, who possess an enviable wealth of experience when it comes to making beautiful drinks, the Negroni properly made can be a sublime experience – lusciously smooth in the mouth, with a refined interplay of sweetness, richness, and sharpness over ice, making it one of the rare cocktails that can be perfect either as a casual treat over lunch on a sunny day, or as a suave gesture in the presence of evening companions. Unfortunately, local bartenders usually make this cocktail by applying a typically Pinoy sweet tooth, resulting in a syrupy slop that overwhelms the possibility of yummy subtleties. Hence, leading up to this night at The Curator, I had never previously at a local bar had a Negroni that was worth remembering.

   This night, however, our celebrity Japanese bartender offered guests his version, labelled a Black Negroni, which Ueno-san crafted with intuitive proportions of Tanqueray, Carpano Antica Formula, and Fernet Branca.

   “Here, try it,” said Joco, my Cyrano business partner, after he placed a glass on the counter. I took one sip and was immediately quieted. I wasn’t expecting Ueno-san’s interpretation to taste like this. Having been acclimatized to how local bartenders make the Negroni, I felt compelled to pause in silent reflection. I took another sip just to be sure about how I felt.

   It was exquisite. It was perfect.

   “This is an outstanding Negroni,” was all I could manage to say to Joco in that humbling moment. Joco, who is the first genuine Negroni aficionado I ever met and whose influence is the reason I acquired a liking for this classic drink, wholeheartedly agreed with my pronouncement.

   “I know,” he exclaimed enthusiastically. “It’s so perfectly balanced!”

   As if on cue, our mixologist hostess Tiff entered the scene and happily parked at the bar counter next to me.

   “Tiff,” I told her sincerely, “that is an outstanding Negroni.”

   “Yes!” she gushed with a big smile, unable to hide how awesomely she felt about it. “That’s an outstanding Negroni!”

   Tiff, who is one of the co-owners of The Curator and who holds the distinction as the mixologist who made the best Martini I’ve ever had anywhere, then compared notes with me about Ueno-san’s skills.

   “He used a larger than normal sized peel for the Negroni,” she said, fully aware that Ueno chose to use lemon instead of the usual orange peel to create a signature twist.

   “What amazes me,” I observed, hinting at the effect of that chunky lemon peel, “is that he figured a way to keep it balanced even as the ice continues to melt. The taste gets milder and milder as the drink gets watered down, but all the flavors still meld and beautifully come through.”

   If only boozers could understand this about drinking.

   There were other cocktails on Ueno-san’s guest menu at The Curator, but the fact that I was able to share drinks that evening with good folks like Joco and Tiff, who understood how I felt and whom I understood in return, only made tonight’s bar experience that much more fulfilling. Without folks like these at the familial heart of any bar, a bar becomes a soul-less community.

   And oh, there were plenty of boozers that night too, mindlessly downing Ueno-san’s superlative creations one after another as if they were popping pills for a fix. Whether they were just faking that they could taste the difference in Ueno’s drinks or whether they only understood the “cool factor” of being served $15 cocktails by the world’s most famous bartender, they still got the good buzz that they came for.

   Sigh…ignorance is bliss.






Our Awesome Lambanog January 14, 2016

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

January 14, 2016



Photo originally posted by FlipTrip founder April Cuenca on Instagram.


   “Lambanog tasting at Cyrano tonight!” happily announced the Instagram post of Ms. April Cuenca, founder of acclaimed Pinoy travel gateway FlipTrip, when she uploaded a photo last Saturday. “Say goodbye to rocket fuel-type lambanog. Blended lambanog from Quezon and Batangas will change how you see our awesome local alcohol!”

   Believe it or not, Cyrano friends, lambanog tasting nights are now one of my favorite things at the wine shop. Yes, we now offer lambanog in a wine establishment!

   Sometimes referred to as coconut “moonshine” in the Philippines, lambanog is a traditional distilled spirit of the islands, made from the sap of the coconut tree’s unopened flower pods. What makes it so rewarding to serve this at the wine shop is that we now have our very own “house lambanog”, which we ourselves crafted according to our uniquely original style. It’s even more rewarding when we get to serve it to appreciative guests who know how to taste with discerning palates, which was exactly the case at last Saturday’s exclusive tasting event for Ms. Cuenca and her artist friend, Ms. Ina Jardiolin.

   I started the tasting session by explaining to my two special guests that consistency is a problem in this Pinoy cottage industry. Lambanog-making families typically resist suggestions to modernize their backyard production methods, which hinders the evolution of a better-quality product that can capture the imaginations of both local and foreign connoisseurs.

   “This made me think about how scotch whisky developed in Britain as a modern consumer product,” I said while I carefully arranged bottles and glasses on the counter in front of the two young ladies, who were seated at the bar.

   “In the old days, booze merchants needed a way to supply the British market with whisky of consistent quality and in large volumes. The problem was that even though whisky distilleries were plentiful in Scotland, each could only produce relatively limited quantities. The solution was for each merchant house to bottle its own “house” blend – selecting different whiskies from different Scottish regions from as many suppliers as necessary, then blending these whiskies with other grain spirits into a single product of consistent style and quality. That’s how blended scotch started, and that’s how Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s, Chivas Regal, and all the others became the successful global brands that they are today.”

   “So I thought,” I continued, after pouring some lamabanog for April and Ina, “why not do the same with lambanog?”

   That’s how I told my guests that Cyrano Wine Shop is the first in the market to innovate the concept of blended lambanog.

   “The first one you’re tasting,” I said as the girls tried the clear spirit that I poured from the heavy, impressively square-shaped bottle, “is a blend of Quezon and Batangas lambanog, which uses a very high proportion of the Batangas variety to give the blend a beautiful, floral softness.”

   “The second one,” I continued when the girls moved to the next offering, which was poured from the big, stocky, rounded-looking bottle, “has a higher proportion of Quezon lambanog, which gives the blend a more intensely flavored finish. The recipes for both blends are a trade secret, of course.”

   “Ours is the kind of lambanog that deserves to be leisurely sipped and savored in a bar,” I said, concluding my presentation. “Serve it chilled and neat or with a little ice…have it as your first drink of the night or as your nightcap…make a lambanog martini…just enjoy it as you please.”

   When the girls compared notes, April professed her preference for the more floral blend and Ina went for the one with a more intense finish. Regardless, the girls were visibly excited about both Cyrano blends, which they found so delicious and classy that the experience has changed the way they look at lambanog.

   My gratitude to both of you, April and Ina, not only for the valuable insights you offered about our new branded product and but also for your genuine appreciation of it. And yeah, thanks for calling it awesome!





Vicky’s Class of 2015 December 28, 2015

Posted by Alex Sawit in Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit

December 28, 2015




   What is it that they say in America…if you’re gonna talk the talk, you better walk the walk? Or as they prefer to say in England, don’t be all talk and no trousers?

   After last year’s running in London of this most spectacular lingerie show on earth, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 2015 in New York was something of a letdown for audiences here at Cyrano Wine Shop, where it is a tradition to screen the show immediately after its televised broadcast in the U.S. (the American primetime broadcast was on the morning of Dec. 9 Philippine time; the moment it became available via torrent, we finished downloading it in just over three hours and then screened it four hours later at the shop, beating the regional cable TV telecast that evening on Star World).

   “Hindi ko masyadong gusto yung Victoria’s Secret ngayong taon kaysa noong nakaraan,” commented my senior steward, Feona, who echoed my disappointment that this year’s show didn’t have enough going on to make it anywhere close to being as iconic as last year’s.

   There are two reasons for that. First, the song performances by the Weeknd, Ellie Goulding, and Selena Gomez just didn’t gel with each other in succession. Despite the presence of Goulding, who was the best vocalist among this year’s performers and whose Love Me Like You Do was the standout song of the show, the overall lack of soul in this year’s music was quite noticeable. It’s no surprise, considering that the Weeknd has never pretended that his music is anything more than fluff, and Selena Gomez…well, post-show critics accused her of lip-synching, but rightly or wrongly that only underscores the challenges she has in the area of voice projection.


Selena Gomez partied with Me & My Girls and the lip-sync accusations poured in.


   “But nobody watches Selena Gomez because of how she sings,” charitably pointed Bernice, one of the owners of The Curator at the back of Cyrano, after the screening. “They watch her because she’s hot!”

   Speaking of hot, this brings us to the second reason. The star power on the runway diminished significantly this year with the retirements from the show of two of their most beloved endorsers, Doutzen Kroes and Karlie Kloss; both were released due to increasing schedule conflicts with Victoria’s Secret (Doutzen has major commitments to other brands, while Karlie is now studying at NYU). Even the highly anticipated addition of rising stars like Kendall Jenner, who is unused to this kind of runway event, couldn’t make up for the shortfall, at least not for this year’s show.

   “She’s still nervous,” commented Cyrano’s music director, Kristine, as she watched Kendall walk during the show’s opening segment, explaining that the stunning brunette will eventually acquire a more curvaceous walking style once she gets used to it. “Pero and ganda ng mukha nito. I like this girl’s face. She’s beautiful and she gets her looks from her mom (Kristen Mary Houghton).”

   The VS newbie who generated the most buzz at the shop, however, was Kendall’s close friend and fellow VS star-on-the-rise, Gigi Hadid.

   “Sir, ‘yan si Gigi Hadid!” blurted Feona.

   My reaction was, in one word, “kaboom”.


The stunning Kendall Jenner…


…and that bombshell Gigi Hadid…kaboom!


   Who would have guessed that a girl wearing baggy, full-length firefighter’s pants with work boots as a costume would prove to be the most arresting sight on a night teeming with skimpier-clad ladies everywhere? The fact that the telecast included a special segment introducing audiences to a bubbly Gigi should serve as a clue that VS has big plans for this young woman. Let’s just hope VS won’t quibble about promoting both Kendall and Gigi as official brand endorsers as soon as possible, especially since the word is out that a few more Angels may be retiring from the show next year (thankfully, Candice Swanepoel with her mind-blowing hips is staying for the foreseeable future).

   Yeah, I can forgive the letdown. I’ll be replaying the 2015 show for Cyrano friends till the end of the year (and as often as requested beyond that), mindful that in Gigi they’ve found a diamond in the rough who will be polished to perfection by next year’s screening at the shop. With vivacious speech and a bombshell hip-sway in her stride, this is one sassy girl who can talk the talk and walk the walk – in this case, literally in trousers.



[ To read last year’s post about the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, go to Vicky’s Class of 2014 ]





Remembering the Asian Holocaust – part 2 December 7, 2015

Posted by Alex Sawit in In My Opinion.
Tags: , ,

By Alex Sawit

December 7, 2015



[ This is Part 2 of a two-part series. To read the start, go to Part 1. ]



   Ordinarily, a wine blog should not serve as a venue for matters unrelated to the subject of wine. Yet wine is ultimately the ally of honesty and truth, as expressed through the timeless saying, “in vino veritas” (“in drinking wine, truth emerges”). So when the world presents an occasion of such gravity that it gives dispensation to voice ourselves regardless of venue, we owe it to honestly speak the truth for all to hear.

   Seventy years ago, on September 2, 1945, government and military representatives of the Emperor of Japan signed the instrument of Japan’s surrender to Allied Forces, bringing a formal end to hostilities in the Second World War.

   This December 7 – the day on which we remember the Japanese surprise attack that plunged Asia into that world war – we owe it to further reflect on the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender and give remembrance to the victims of Japanese wartime occupation, not least of all to the millions who perished from the atrocities committed against them. It is only through such memorial by both the people of Japan and the peoples of Asia that genuine forgiveness and lasting reconciliation are achieved, giving our nations hope that those who faithfully remember the past need not be condemned to repeat it.

   – the Editor



The “Rising Sun Flag”, once used in World War 2 by the Imperial Army and Navy,
welcomes Prime Minister Abe at an inspection of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.



   Can we now trust Japan to revive itself as a military power – now that it has been seventy years since the end of the Asian Holocaust?

   It is a legitimate question and it needs to be answered.

   Under the present leadership of its ultra-nationalist Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, Japan is moving toward the full reinstatement of its military services, which will give it the ability to wage war overseas for the first time since World War 2. Currently, Japan’s post-war constitution only allows the country to keep self-defense forces that are non-aggressive in principle. Over the past decade, however, security threats from North Korea and territorial disputes with China have given right-wing politicians the pretext to attempt legislative changes that will pave the way for Japanese militarization. And since the United States, Japan’s former wartime adversary, is pushing for a strong Japanese military presence to counterbalance China’s ambitions in the region, it seems inevitable that Japan will once again possess a war machine to be reckoned with.

   But should I trust Japan as a revived military power in Asia?

   There was a time, not too long ago, when I wouldn’t have hesitated to say yes. Even though I was well-versed in the stories of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines and had familiarized myself with Japan’s wartime actions in the rest of Asia, at the time I felt very secure about the idea of Japan regaining its full military services.

   “Japan is a responsible First World country now,” I used to tell myself. “The war is long over and they’ve learned their lesson. Everything is okay. Surely by now, they’ve fixed their wartime problem.”

   Then a funny thing happened. After years of feeling comfortable with the idea of Japan reviving its military strength, I had a startling realization: that the first step to fixing your problem and learning your lesson is to admit you have a problem to begin with. After all, that’s what we tell our friends as individual people when we want to help them change for the better, right? Why shouldn’t the same principle apply to our friends as nations?

   So it hit me: Japan still hasn’t fixed its problem. And it hasn’t fixed it because Japan continues to deny that the problem ever existed. It’s been seventy long years since the end of the Asian Holocaust, yet to this day there endures a stubborn political culture of denial in Japan concerning Japanese wartime atrocities.

   Despite the overwhelming historical record of the holocaust, Japanese politicians continue to promote a domestic policy of lying about the full extent of their country’s guilt. Astonishingly, most of them feel it is irrelevant to acknowledge the truth to the Japanese people, believing all that matters is to preserve Japan’s honor by avoiding anything that brings shame to the country. These holocaust denialists have resorted to revising history itself, distorting and misrepresenting what happened to the point of portraying Japan as the innocent victim of the war. The most insidious propaganda device in their arsenal is the country’s education system; textbooks unscrupulously whitewash Japan’s wartime behavior, teaching generations of schoolchildren to be ignorant of Japanese atrocities and leading them to grow up believing that Japan was unfairly victimized by the victorious Allies (read any history book used in any Japanese high school, and the simplified narrative will say this: “During the war, Japan was bravely trying to defend its way of life against the people of Asia who were fighting against it. Then, for no good reason at all, their American allies started dropping atomic bombs on us.”).

   And now, under Prime Minister Abe, the holocaust denialists are stronger than ever.

   Abe has long been a controversial leader in Japanese politics. As Prime Minister, he has in the past publicly disputed the wartime rape and slavery of the Comfort Women (for years he insisted these were almost all prostitutes hired by the Japanese military), and has tried to suppress the admission of other Japanese atrocities. Further, Abe is closely affiliated with Nippon Kaigi, a highly influential right-wing organization which not only denies the Asian Holocaust, but which dreams of reviving Japan as a military superpower. In other words, Abe is Japan’s holocaust denialist No. 1.

   Still, it wasn’t until only recently that Abe and his political allies demonstrated how brazen they have become with their denialist agenda. On August 14, 2015, on the eve of Memorial Day in Japan, Abe addressed the nation and the world with a speech to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War 2. I have read and re-read the translation of that speech, which was released to the English language press immediately after the address. Based on that translation, I can say that Abe’s speech was a carefully crafted, flowery wording of revisionist history hogwash.

   I don’t want to waste reading space by reprinting that garbage here in its entirety. So instead, I’ve taken the liberty to concisely paraphrase what he said. Here is a “simplified” rewording of the speech Abe delivered to the world in his official capacity as Prime Minister of Japan:


    “A long time ago, it was trendy for Western powers to be colonial rulers in Asia. So when Japan grew up to be as tough as any of them, it wanted to become a colonial ruler too. But by then, colonial rule was going out of fashion with the Western powers, and they rejected Japan as the new kid on the block. Japan felt this was unfair, to be penalized just for arriving late to the game, and that it deserved its turn to play. This caused Japan to make the mistake of trying to have its way by going to war with the them. Unfortunately, bad things tend to happen in war, and in the Asian countries that fought against Japan there were plenty of innocent people who died due to hunger and disease and as collateral damage. And yeah, our boys were allowed R&R with women in those countries. That’s just the way war is. And then we lost. Naturally, as the loser, Japan has apologized over and over again for what happened. These apologies are more than enough so that Japan should not be expected in the future to keep apologizing for its past. So I won’t bother to offer any new apology now on behalf of my country. We’ve learned our lesson, so thank you, have a nice day, and stop trying to make us feel guilty all the time.”


   What an asshole.

   It is important to be aware that, in his real statement, Abe only ever refers to civilian deaths by saying that, “innocent citizens suffered and fell victim to battles as well as hardships such as severe deprivation of food.” Nowhere in his actual speech does Abe directly say or even imply that millions of civilians in occupied countries died as victims of atrocities committed by Japanese imperial forces. And in addressing the sensitive issue of Comfort Women, he states with calculated ambiguity that, “there were women behind the battlefields whose honor and dignity were severely injured,” allowing room for Abe to maintain his position that these were women who lost their way due to wartime economic difficulties, causing them to fall into prostitution (they fell and “injured” themselves, so to speak).

   Prime Minister Abe and his holocaust denialists may think themselves clever at propaganda in Japan, but they are answerable before the inquiries of the world. How can they claim to have fixed their wartime problem and learned their lesson when they deny that Japan had a problem to begin with? How can they say they’ve changed for the better when they insist that Japan didn’t exactly commit the atrocities it is accused of? How can we trust Japan to be a “benevolent” military power in Asia in the foreseeable future when it is still in denial of its merciless past?

   Sadly, it has become a renewable source of nationalistic pride for Abe and his political allies to deny the Asian Holocaust, which they indulge in as a victorious form of defiance against the judgement of world opinion. The great irony is, while they may think they are making a show of strength, these Japanese politicians are unaware that in the eyes of the international community their denial is looked down upon as a show of cowardice in the face of a shameful truth.

   My answer therefore must be no. I will not trust the revival of Japan as a military power and neither should the rest of Asia – unless Japan has the courage to take that first step by admitting it has a problem with the way it sees its past wartime behavior.

   Courage is the measure of a heroic nation, not denial. Until it chooses to bravely accept the truth, without distortion or misrepresentation, Japan will always lack the complete trust of those neighbors it once visited with the atrocities of war.



[ This is Part 2 of a two-part series. To read the start, go to Part 1. ]





Remembering the Asian Holocaust – part 1 November 16, 2015

Posted by Alex Sawit in In My Opinion.
Tags: , ,

By Alex Sawit

November 16, 2015



[ This is Part 1 of a two-part series. To read the next, go to Part 2. ]



   Ordinarily, a wine blog should not serve as a venue for matters unrelated to the subject of wine. Yet wine is ultimately the ally of honesty and truth, as expressed through the timeless saying, “in vino veritas” (“in drinking wine, truth emerges”). So when the world presents an occasion of such gravity that it gives dispensation to voice ourselves regardless of venue, we owe it to honestly speak the truth for all to hear.

   Seventy years ago, on September 2, 1945, government and military representatives of the Emperor of Japan signed the instrument of Japan’s surrender to Allied Forces, bringing a formal end to hostilities in the Second World War.

   This December 7 – the day on which we remember the Japanese surprise attack that plunged Asia into that world war – we owe it to further reflect on the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender and give remembrance to the victims of Japanese wartime occupation, not least of all to the millions who perished from the atrocities committed against them. It is only through such memorial by both the people of Japan and the peoples of Asia that genuine forgiveness and lasting reconciliation are achieved, giving our nations hope that those who faithfully remember the past need not be condemned to repeat it.

   – the Editor



Aftermath of the Massacre of Manila in 1945.



   Being a Filipino who grew up in the Philippines decades after the end of the Second World War, I was taught from a young age that the Asian Holocaust was a monstrous act of evil that could only have been perpetrated by the most evil of monsters.

   I remember this through the stories told by my mother’s side of the family, who lived in Manila during the Japanese occupation. Sometimes, they told me about the outpouring of joy during liberation as my mother, aunts and uncles, and grandparents welcomed our American allies. Endearingly, grandma always giggled whenever she reminded me about how my mom had the chutzpah as a little kid to greet smiling American G.I.s marching in front of cheering crowds on the street, asking them, “Hi Joe! Want a pam-pam, Joe?” (my giggling grandma told me that the surprised American actually responded, saying, “Sure! Where??!!”).

   Most of the time, however, they told me how they were very fortunate when so many families lost their lives during the occupation. In these unhappy stories, the message was clear: the Japanese were monsters of brutality to the Filipinos.

   The Japanese, they told me, behaved as if they were having fun and games with a people whom they regarded as inferior to their own race. One story told of how sword wielding officers would amuse themselves by beheading civilians on the street to sow terror among the locals. Another story told of how soldiers would grab babies from the arms of Filipina mothers outdoors and toss them high in the air, and as the infants fell the soldiers would impale them on the bayonets of their rifles in a gleeful game of catch (accounts about Japanese infantrymen killing babies exactly in this way are found as far away as China; I have also watched archival Japanese propaganda footage demonstrating how an Imperial soldier with fixed bayonet should properly impale a child in the air). And if they felt that a community needed to be taught a lesson in colonial domestication, the Japanese would simply round up locals and massacre them by machine gun and bayonet, treating Filipinos no differently from uncooperative livestock being culled.

   From their stories, I understood why many Filipinos hated the Japanese for so long after the war. And as I grew up and read the war stories of neighboring countries, I further understood why many other Asians seethed with anti-Japanese feelings that linger to this day. Yet on my own, I also understood the power of forgiveness in the pursuit of lasting reconciliation. I do not believe in giving hatred a chance to forever chart the course of nations, which is why I easily and sincerely befriended post-war generations of Japanese and welcomed them to our country. At some point, people need to realize that we must all strive to move forward together in real friendship.

   Moving forward does not excuse us, however, from our obligation to the truth. For if we forget the past, in doing so we forsake its lessons, which the people of Asia have paid for in tears and blood. There will always be ambitious powers in this world, so ultimately I understand that if we are to prevent any power from reviving such tragedies tomorrow, then we must vigilantly remember the lessons of yesterday, when our countries were reaped as killing fields by the Empire of Japan.

   We must never forget the Asian Holocaust.

   When the word “holocaust” is mentioned, most people immediately think of the Holocaust of Europe, in which six million Jews and millions of non-Jewish civilians were exterminated under the wartime rule of Nazi Germany. So searing was that experience on the conscience of the West that it is now indelible in Western media, to be told always so that the world may never forget. This narrative has been repeated so successfully, however, that today many Asians think that the holocaust experience was only a European one, as if Asia’s experience was not comparable.

   Here in the Philippines, where locals are heavily influenced by Western media, this is especially the case among younger generations, who are too removed by time to comprehend what was once committed against their countrymen. I am reminded of the astonishment voiced by a distinguished Filipino professor not too long ago, regarding the disbelieving attitude of today’s youth, when he confronted them about how the Japanese massacred at least 70,000 men, women, and children in the city of Manila in 1945. To put it into perspective, this conservative estimate for the Massacre of Manila begs for comparison with the approximately 75,000 killed in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki – an event which the Western media annually commemorates with greater sympathy, influencing young Filipinos to the point of imagining Japan as the innocent victim of the war.

   “One of my students in a history class,” lamented Prof. Bernard Karganilla of the University of the Philippines, about this mass-murder of the people of Manila, “adamantly refused to believe that such barbarities were ever committed by the Japanese.”

   Although the Asian Holocaust as a term of reference is only now seeing increasing dissemination, its historical basis is undeniable. In numbers and brutality, the wartime atrocities of the Empire of Japan constitute a crime against humanity that parallels what Nazi Germany comitted in Europe. Most Western researchers estimate that over 10 million civilians were murdered from the continental mainland to Southeast Asia; some Asian researchers place the death toll up to 20 million or higher. Whatever the figure, internationally respected historians unanimously agree that these were sanctioned atrocities, condoned or permitted outright by the Imperial Throne and frequently organized as wholesale actions in which human beings were enslaved, tortured or exterminated.


Screenshot of Japanese propaganda film footage, showing two Imperial soldiers
re-enacting how to bayonet a Chinese baby thrown in the air.


   Beginning with its invasion of China in 1937, the Japanese Empire indulged in an ideology of racial supremacy over the people it conquered, in which non-Japanese were regarded as commodities that either were useful or needed to be disposed of (especially the Chinese, whom the Japanese derogatorily called chankoro to label them as subhuman slaves; such racist entitlement paralleled that of the Nazis, Japan’s wartime accomplices, who saw the Jews as “slaves and fertilizer”). What started with the Rape of Nanking thereafter exploded across Asia as an account of man’s inhumanity to man: the Sook Ching ethnic cleansing in Singapore and the rest of Malaya…the medical torture and live human biological experiments by Unit 731…the Three Alls Policy – “Kill All, Burn All, Loot All” – of genocide in China…the sexual enslavement of the Comfort Women…the list of atrocities goes on.

   I regret that it is not possible in one reading to do justice to all the stories. But being a Filipino, it is the Massacre of Manila that to me most painfully reveals the apathy for human life with which the holocaust in Asia was carried out.

   With U.S. forces battling their way into the Philippine capital at the start of February 1945, the Japanese proceeded to execute the civilian population of Manila – a spiteful course of action, designed to prevent the Filipinos from becoming a strategic resource of aid and comfort for their American liberators (some historians who disagree with the conservative estimate of the death toll suggest that, excluding the many who died as collateral damage during the monthlong battle for the city, the massacres alone killed anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 people). Through eyewitness testimonies of survivors, captured military documents, and the accounts of prisoners of war and their collaborators, we know that the Japanese were systematic: setting fire to residential neighborhoods and slaughtering the families as they ran out of their blazing homes, massing locals into execution sites to be promptly bayoneted or decapitated, herding the populace into large enclosures to be locked in, doused with gasoline, and burned alive. One massacre order, a copy of which was captured during the fighting, gave these instructions:


    “When Filipinos are to be killed, they must be gathered into one place and disposed of with the consideration that ammunition and manpower must not be used to excess. Because the disposal of dead bodies is a troublesome task, they should be gathered into houses which are scheduled to be burned or demolished [editor’s note: the latter refers to entombing live victims in buildings rigged with explosives]. They should also be thrown into the river.”

    order issued to Japanese battalions inside Manila, February 1945


   Given the multitude of stories on record about what the Japanese did in Manila, I will make it suffice to tell you about only one of the them – the story of one photograph, taken by a cameraman with U.S. forces after the massacres were finally stopped. It always breaks my heart to look at this. In the scene, three motionless Filipino civilians are lying in the rubble of their war torn city – all of them bayoneted by the Japanese. In the center is a young female, her face unseen because she is crouched protectively beside a little girl of about two or three years old. The woman, whom the photographer presumed to be the little girl’s mother, clearly bears her bayonet wound, outlined by the vivid cut in her clothing from the sharpness of the stabbing blade. On the far left, another victim is visible only by an outstretched left hand on the ground, with the rest of the victim out of frame.



   It is the face of the little girl that most haunts me. To look at her is to find fleeting refuge from the desolation and failure of mercy that is everywhere around her. Her face is so quieting, so freed from pain, so beautiful with the promise of a life that has been robbed from her. I look at her and think that, had she lived, she would now be the same age as my mother. She seems so lifelike, as if she were only napping as little children do when they’ve tired themselves after too much playing and getting dirty outdoors. And if I look a little longer, I can fool myself into asking, “Maybe they made a mistake. Maybe she’s just asleep. She isn’t dead. She can’t be…”

   Of course she is, I angrily tell myself.

   I don’t know how any Filipino can look at this beautiful little one and not see the sheer absence of compassion that was utterly delivered to her short life. I don’t know how any Filipino can see the woman crumpled in front and not feel that she must have used her own body as a shield while trying desperately to save her child, or look at the outstretched hand and not feel that here was a human being who did not deserve the perverted honor of an Imperial bayonet. I don’t know how any Filipino after this would not think of shaming young Filipinos into realizing that the Massacre of Manila deserves their obligation more than the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, to which they feel more connected to in solidarity with Western media sympathies. Indeed, it is the Western media who needs to be shamed into remembering that all this was merely one small chapter of evil in the Asian Holocaust.

   Looking at that photograph, I cannot help but revisit what my family told me, that the Japanese were surely evil monsters. How else could they have murdered so many innocent Filipinos with such heartless efficiency? Yet I know now that this was not true.

   No, it was not monsters who murdered my countrymen. As inconvenient as it might be, the simple truth is that the vast majority of those who carried out atrocities in the Philippines and across Asia were no different from their victims before they were sent to war. From farmers to fishermen, shopkeepers to street vendors, craftsmen to artisans, these were ordinary people – normal human beings who were set loose in violently abnormal circumstances. It is this everyday normality about the killers that ought to be disturbing to any of us, because it makes them so uncomfortably familiar to all of us.

   One of the stories that moved me to that realization was the courage of Jintaro Ishida, a Japanese war veteran whose remorse led him to became a voice of conscience in Japan. After retiring as a schoolteacher in 1988, Ishida sought to atone for his countrymen and implored them to honestly face the heinousness of their nation’s wartime past. He traveled repeatedly to the Philippines to conduct detailed investigations as he searched for massacre sites and interviewed survivors, and he eventually published books about the massacres in the hope of overcoming many in the Japanese public who continue to deny that the Asian Holocaust ever happened.

   Ishida also tracked down the Japanese war veterans who massacred Filipino civilians. One of them confessed this to him: “In the beginning, we could not kill even a man. But we managed to kill him. Then we hesitated to kill a woman. But we managed to kill her, too. Then we could kill children. We came to think as if we were just killing insects.”

   But while Ishida never participated in any atrocities during the war, the Filipino survivors he encountered always asked him the same question: Why were the Japanese so cruel?

   “Many people asked me this,” a heavy-hearted Ishida told the New York Times in 2001. “They asked me why the Japanese killed men, women and children…why didn’t they let these people escape? I had no answer for them. This made them angry. “That’s not a good enough answer. Why can’t you answer the question?” “

   It was only later when he returned to Japan, to interview and confront those war veterans who were guilty of these horrific crimes, that he understood what the answer was. Face to face with his fellow veterans, Ishida realized that they were just ordinary men like him – that in every one of them, what he was really seeing was himself.

   “During the war, I (was assigned for military service on the home front and) never went to the Philippines,” Ishida said, trying with difficulty to explain why he felt so personally accountable. “But if I had been assigned there, I would have been one of the Japanese soldiers who took part in the massacres. So it was hard for me to continue with the interviews (of guilty veterans). It was a horrible experience for me.”

   It is a disquieting moment in any individual’s self-discovery to realize that one need look no further than oneself to see where evil may come from – not from those monsters we conveniently blame outside of ourselves, but from the ordinary human heart that is within us all. Everything comes down to choice, whether to follow or not to follow that sickly sweet call to set aside one’s conscience. It is up to the individual to choose to do what is good or what is evil. Beyond that, we are all the same.

   Do monsters exist? My answer is yes, they do. And few as they are, they would not have the power to spread their ambitions in this world without the unquestioning obedience of ordinary people to impose them. The real question is, can ordinary people be as extraordinary as the monsters they choose to serve?

   I will answer with the words of the esteemed Jewish-American Holocaust scholar, Michael Berenbaum, who said this about the ordinary German people who operated and maintained the Nazi death camps – Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, and many more – all without question and in obedience to Hitler.

   “Ordinary people,” said Berenbaum, “are capable of doing extraordinary things…terrible things…evil things.”

   In the end, I feel that I have not undone the stories my family entrusted to me. Rather, I have merely completed them with understanding. As I said, I don’t believe in allowing hatred to forever chart the course of nations, but equally, I believe that we have a duty to valiantly uphold the truth. No matter how painful remembrance may be, the key to safeguarding the people of Asia, together with the rest of the world, from the revival of monstrous evils in the future is for us to always remember what really happened.

   Only by doing so can we ensure our safekeeping of the most important lesson about the Asian Holocaust: that without the collaboration of ordinary people – without a people’s consent to conveniently suspend the conscience of each individual – no holocaust would ever be possible.



[ This is Part 1 of a two-part series. To read the next, go to Part 2. ]





11th Hour November 14, 2015

Posted by Alex Sawit in Happenings at the Shop.

By Alex Sawit

November 14, 2015



Relax, Cyrano friends. It’s just a mock-up for the new location.



   “I’m gonna miss this place,” wistfully remarked Joco, who along with Ric is one of your ever amiable co-proprietors here at Cyrano (apparently, I’m not considered amiable enough, given that I’m the guy folks call the grumpy cat), after the wine shop celebrated its 11th anniversary last October 23, at the same corner of C. Palanca Street in Legaspi Village.

   “I’m not attached to this place,” I replied in a casual tone of voice, which really expressed how all of us were looking forward to moving to our new location next year – a very special location that’s just a brisk walk away from our current spot and which, given the time constraint we were under to search for a new place, we were happy to find at the 11th hour.

   Eleven years on the river of time…a lot of time for a lot of things to have happened for us to remember.

   What comes to mind most are the people we’ve met. As we like to say here, “At Cyrano we don’t have customers; we just have friends.” Of course, as one would expect as part of the nature of meeting people, a few bad apples came our way and went, thankfully, but many more have become true friends of our Cyrano family.

   So here’s to family. Cheers to you, Cyrano friends, and to our beautiful future together. As Joco said it, “Our best years are ahead of us.”





Wine Friendly Poetry November 10, 2015

Posted by Alex Sawit in Stuff in General.
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By Alex Sawit

November 10, 2015



   “You want to do one more poetry reading (in) November?”

   That message to me was texted by the founder of the Drunk Poets Society, which I am happy to say has made a merry home for itself at Cyrano. I gladly consented to the request. It’s been a while since the wine-loving Society had a poetry reading here, and with schedules beginning to tighten as we approach the sprint to year’s end, we realistically have only one more evening to do this before the holiday season partying takes over our nightly preoccupations.

   The theme for this planned evening? Romantic poetry, of course.

   I’ve said it before: wine is passion, words are love. If there is any storytelling indulgence that befits a wine bar hideaway which bears the name of a romantic poet, it is romantic poetry. And since this is the Society’s last poetry reading planned for the year, I’ll indulge in offering this wine friendly poem by my own hand, so that anyone that evening may read it aloud as amorously as one pleases.

   Enjoy the poem, Cyrano friends.





More Than Words



My lady,
I know our words are a joy to us each evening,
these sweet conversations,
sprinkled with moonbeams and starlight,
of friendship and warmth heartfelt to the heavens.
Yet I cannot deny
my quiet yearning,
knowing that to honor you
restrains me in your presence.

More than words,
‘tis my wish to be with you, freely and affectionately,
to vow upon this ring
of golden moon and diamond starry sky.
More than words,
‘tis my wish to hold you through the night,
whispering in your ear my ungentlemanly desire,
that I may see my own intent returned through your gaze
with burning tenderness.

My lady,
do I speak beyond my reach?
I pray you hold not my confession against me.
But know this:
You are the treasure of my heart.
And whensoever you brave your fears,
to accept me completely,
I shall confirm my sincerity with my lips upon yours
and make you mine.

Oh my love,
I ask that you have faith,
for I have conquered torments
that have felled lesser men.
More than words, believe in me,
and we will slay your fears together,
my strength making yours greater,
my hope sending yours higher,
my love and yours lifting us always, ever free.



Alexander Sawit
October 24, 2015






Kendo Lost in Translation October 3, 2015

Posted by Alex Sawit in Stuff in General.
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By Alex Sawit

October 3, 2015





   I was reviewing old commentaries on this blog when I realized that one discussion – a visitor’s comment followed by my own reply – actually deserves to be elevated as a post in its own right. The discussion is attached to a post written several years ago entitled, How to Practice Kendo Without Thinking, in reaction to which a visitor raised the issue of confusion when translating Japanese martial art terminology into English.

   Asian martial arts (especially Japanese ones) are popularly seen by the public as sources of “hidden knowledge”. To be honest, however, a lot of these esoteric teachings are needlessly made difficult to understand by their custodians. This is because Asian masters traditionally explain many of their teachings using indirect answers, philosophically expressed through “flowery” concepts. Further, masters often do not pass all their secrets to their disciples, leaving succeeding generations of instructors to figure things out on their own, which in turn can result in successors misinterpreting the original concepts.

   Scholarly research reveals that such misunderstandings also happen in Japanese kendo. In modern kendo, two concepts that many students and even instructors frequently misinterpret are the Empty Mind (mushin 無心) and the Unified Strike (ki ken tai ichi 気剣体一).

   In the original post, these concepts are presented in simplified form, purposely without Japanese terminologies and deconstructed to make them less confusing to a general audience.

  Here is the visitor’s comment and my reply (if you haven’t seen the original post, read How to Practice Kendo Without Thinking).



    [ SPOILER ALERT – In the interest of establishing absolute clarity for kendo practitioners so that there could be no possible misunderstanding, even though this is spoon-feeding it, the discussion’s main message is this: without Empty Mind, you cannot deliver a Unified Strike. ]



    Dang Trinh – October 24, 2011

    Hi Alex,

    Regarding this passage:

    “At the risk of sounding grandiose,” Ishida reflected, “I’d say the ultimate goal is to master a strike in which the mind, sword and body are united as one.”

    I have just been informed that the word “mind” is the incorrect translation of “ki” in kendo. What Ishida sensei mentioned was ki-ken-tai no ichi, a fundamental concept in kendo, which means the union of spirit/energy, sword and body/movement.

    “Ki” is a common idea in Eastern martial arts, which refers to the flow of energy in a body. This idea does not exist in Western sports nor martial arts, therefore it’s hard to find a proper translation for it.
    However, I think the word “mind” can be misleading.

    Just want to let you know. Cheers 🙂



    Alexander Sawit – October 24, 2011

    Hi Dang,

    Thank you very much for your comment as it is always great to hear from martial artists who walk the noble path.

    Regarding the translation of “ki,” I shall offer the following explanation.

    In Ki Ken Tai Ichi (気剣体一), the kanji character “ki” (気) is the representation for “energy.” The English translators of the documentary “Kendo’s Grueling Challenge” knew very well that this is the literal translation of “ki.” However, this literal translation is misleading if it is not understood in proper context.

    In the context of Ki Ken Tai Ichi, “ki” does not refer to the general circulation of energy in the body but refers specifically to the warrior’s “mental energy” — the clarity of focus that makes a warrior’s mind totally resolved in the face of death even as others around him are descending into fear and panic on the battlefield. It is the warrior’s mental resolve that initiates the strike, therefore if his resolve is filled with doubt then his strike is also in doubt.

    This is precisely the reason why the English translators of the documentary interpreted “ki” using the word “mind.” Even Ishida, in the quoted passage about delivering a unified strike, was referring to a mental thing. “The more you’re self-conscious about it,” he pointed, “the less possible it is to deliver.”

    To put it simply, “mental energy” is the more precise interpretation of “ki” in the context of Ki Ken Tai Ichi. It is just more succinct and meaningful to translate it as “mind” for the martial artist.

    Further, the kanji character in question, “ki” (気), has variations in meaning. In addition to being a representation for “energy,” it is also a representation for both “spirit” and “mind.” This is not surprising considering that in Japanese culture both “spirit” and “mind” can exist as a harmonious concept. Hence, in Ki Ken Tai Ichi (気剣体一), it is absolutely correct for “ki” to be translated as “mind”.

    Let’s put it this way as martial artists:

    Weak MIND = Weak SPIRIT

    Strong MIND = Strong SPIRIT

    You can not have a strong spirit if your mind is weak. You will not have a weak spirit if your mind is strong.

    At the end of the day, it is faithful training that expedites this mental resolve. So please accept my best wishes for your training and continued advancement. And since this is a kendo discussion on a wine blog, I guess it’s only fitting that I say…”kampai!”





FHM Asks Stupid Questions August 31, 2015

Posted by Alex Sawit in Stuff in General.

By Alex Sawit

August 31, 2015



Screenshot of Max Collins, FHM Philippines Cover Girl for March 2015.



   Here’s good news: we now have FHM Philippines on Cyrano’s video playlist.

   Having started a tradition of screening the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show at the wine shop, it now makes sense to add FHM Philippines to our “bar friendly” playlist of videos (in other words, this is the kind of eye candy that both guys and girls actually enjoy watching together while drinking). Local FHM frequently produces outstanding content nowadays for upload to their official YouTube channel, so all we’re doing is selecting the right stuff for the viewing pleasure of our kind of wine crowd. Judging from the reactions of Cyrano friends during the past week, these videos are already a hit.

   Now, here’s the bad news.

   I don’t usually feel the need to act as a grammar cop. But when a predominantly English language magazine as popular as FHM Philippines keeps displaying the same grammatical error in its videos, I can’t help but wonder what the editors are doing. When you teach the wrong thing, your followers will learn to do the wrong thing. If FHM’s young, social-media savvy readers adopt the magazine’s wrong grammar as part their everyday language, it’ll be a headache to correct them once they’re set in their ways. Just think of how difficult it is right now trying to fix their Pinoy-style telephone speech when they put someone on hold, saying, “For a while…”

   Here is FHM’s offending onscreen headline with its grammatical error, shown in five versions (as featured in FHM’s monthly series “Stupid Questions” on YouTube):

    “FHM Asks Stupid Questions to Arianny Celeste” (August 2015)

    “FHM Asks Stupid Questions to Valeen Montenegro” (July 2015)

    “FHM Asks Stupid Questions to Arny Ross” (May 2015)

    “FHM Asks Stupid Questions to Patricia Javier” (April 2015)

    “FHM Asks Stupid Questions to Max Collins” (March 2015)


Screenshot of a YouTube episode of “FHM Asks Stupid Questions”.


   It’s embarassing. FHM Philippines has been saying it this way on its videos for over a year now (the oldest episode of “Stupid Questions” that I found on their YouTube channel is that of Beauty Gonzalez, FHM’s August 2014 cover girl). In a bygone era, this kind of high-profile copy error for a major brand would have merited the courtesy resignation of the officer who approved it.

   We live in different times. So for the benefit of FHM Philippines and its readership, allow me to demonstrate why that headline is annoying to the normal English speaking world (to make it easy, I’ll rephrase it in question form).

   WRONG: “May I ask stupid questions to you?”

   CORRECT: “May I ask stupid questions of you?” or “May I address stupid questions to you?


FHM’s teaser for next month’s cover girl.


   Take a hint, FHM Philippines. We’re fans of your videos, so please fix the way you’ve been phrasing your headline before it’s too late. Otherwise, I fear that the day may come when one of your readers will appear at the shop declaring, “Can I ask an intelligent question to you about wine?”





A Thirst for Wine Fusions July 19, 2015

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink.
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Guest post written by Gail Sotelo

Reposted from 2shotsandapint.com

July 15, 2015





   “You’ve never liked a drink this much this soon,” said Chad.

   I agreed.

   Well, he has seen me drink so often that I took his word for it (in my defense, I tried very hard to act cool in Burgundy while having that divine glass of Aloxe-Corton).

   Going back to the drink I was having at the time that merited Chad’s statement, it was the newest offering of Cyrano, simply called “Brew-Blended Wines”.

   By definition, the drinks are classified under the “beer-wine” cocktail category. They come in two flavors: The “White Label” Torrontes-Weizen, and the “Red Label” Sherry-Shiraz-Weizen.

   Oh, and did I mention that these are proudly Cyrano’s own concoctions? Alex, the bartender, told me the recent craft beer trend inspired them.


Yummy, creamy Red Label.


   For that evening, I decided to try the Red Label.

   I was immediately blown away.

   The taste is reminiscent of a Belgian Stout Ale in terms of flavor profile and effervescence. I personally love the notes of chocolates, raisins, prune, and earthy malt, all tied together with a decadent, creamy texture.

   It can be consumed in any situation: a nice dinner, while watching TV, having dinner with friends, watching Eurovision (I have Alex to thank for this), and even on date night (especially if the decision between having wine or beer leads to an impasse).

   So, if you’re a traditional beer drinker who wants to develop a taste for wine, a wino looking for a change, or an adventurous drinker willing to try something deliciously different, you should try a carafe (or two) of these fabulous beverages. Tell me what you think. Cheers!





Guest post written by Gail Sotelo

Reposted from 2shotsandapint.com

July 18, 2015



White Label fresh from the carafe.



   We finally managed to try out the White Label version of Cyrano’s new Brew-Blended Wines last night…. We weren’t able to do so last time because, according to Alex, it was all Feona’s fault.

   Seriously, people should drop by Cyrano just to see these two banter.

   Anyway, the white counterpart of their home-made cocktail is refreshing, easy to drink, and easy to finish. It’s perfect for people who like drinking more feminine, effervescent beverages.

   Don’t get me wrong, though. The crisp notes of this drink can appeal to beer lovers as well (especially those who prefer Pilsners).

   Try it out and tell us what you think. Cheers!