Melvin Mangada's disruptive soul

Disruptive Soul 
By Walter Ang
November 2005
Metro Magazine

Melvin Mangada walks into the frame, his hair a lion's mane of wavy tendrils softening his tall frame. The background is his all-white lair, energy crackling in the air. The man is wearing a black sports jacket oh-so-casually paired with stone-washed jeans and blue Prada sneakers. A beam of red light shines against the wall behind him, sculpting a box with the letters "TBWA/SMP" for all to see. Everything looks and feels in place. The camera clicks away and you can almost hear him purr.

He's got every reason to preen. He is the "M" in those last three letters, the initials of a triumvirate who have been roaring loudly these past few years in the advertising industry. As executive creative director of this four-year old ad agency, Mangada has been leading his pack of copywriters and art directors towards one conquest after another.

"When I was approached to join TBWA, my only condition was that creative output must be regarded as the most important aspect if we were to build this agency from the ground up," shares Mangada. His singular focus for creative excellence has certainly paid off. On its first few months of existence alone, the agency had already won an Ad of the Year award from the Creative Guild (a group run by and for creative professionals in the ad industry).

Mangada is an apt candidate to execute the agency's guiding principle of "disruption" as a form of advertising communication since he imbibes this concept on a seminal level. A case in point is their address. With his partners Tong Puno and Jimmy Santiago, Mangada set up shop away from the maddening crowd of the Makati central business district. "That's one of the first things we did to shake things up," volunteers Mangada.

The result is a warehouse's shell transformed into a pristine space where, unlike ubiquitous offices filled to the rafters with rigid cubicles, people work together on interconnected desk spaces or a long table anchored in the middle of the floor. "We tore down walls and doors. We wanted an open, transparent space conducive for sharing great, creative ideas."

With their home based all prepped up, the agency was poised to disrupt jaded Filipino television junkies who'd seen it all. Under the leadership of Mangada, the agency's commercials got people talking. Sneakers, fried chicken, filmfests, pain relievers, anti- fungal creams are just some of the many products that have shot to stardom (and corresponding sales) due to Mangada and his team's touch. Bottomlines notwithstanding, he has also spearheaded donating the agency's talents to causes such as Hands On Manila, Buwan ng Wika, Mindanao Council for Women and Eye Bank.

Acknowledgements, accolades and new accounts started pouring in, but so did the long hours and lost weekends. However, with winning Agency of the Year the second time in a row this year, Mangada has decreed a slight pace change at the workplace. "Work is no longer allowed during weekends," he offers. "We'd like to relish what we have worked so hard for."

He treated himself to a well-deserved vacation in Europe recently and, true to form, did not go to the popular tourist areas. "I spent more time in the small villages outside Barcelona and the Tuscan countryside. Travel is a form of education you can't get from any institution, especially if you live with the locals. It helps with my creativity."

Also, he now has a little more time devoted to picking out artworks and paintings for the office. Original plans to turn the ground floor of their warehouse into an art gallery were scrapped when the agency had to expand exponentially with the number of new clients coming in. The gallery may not have come to fruition, but artworks are still generously spread out over the space, mostly from Mangada's own collection. "[The] ones that don't fit in my apartment anymore!" he laughs.

Down time is also spent scouring garage sales in the city for original mid-20th century designer chairs. "I'm fascinated by the concept and design of these functional items," he intimates. As he moves to perch on one of his finds (discovered in a sari-sari store), Magnada announces his latest work-related endeavor: chairing this year's Creative Committee for the bi-annual Advertising Congress.

To be held in Cebu, Mangada's committee is in charge of the Araw Awards, the "Oscars" of the local ad industry. He's no stranger to this milieu, having been invited as a judge for several international advertising competitions already, not to mention romping off with the most number of awards in the previous Ad Congress in 2003. And that was the just first one his agency had attended. When asked how he think TBWA/SMP will fare this year, an impish, feline smile spreads across his lips and his eyes sparkle.

Maria Taniguchi's 'Grave Findings: A Reclamation Project'

On Taniguchi's Trail
By Walter Ang
October-December 2005
Metro Home & Entertaining

You enter a slim corridor. Flanking the walls are two glass-paneled cabinets. The air is still. The path is stark. You perceive a wider space at the end of the hall. The effect is almost ethereal.

As you enter the first part of the latest exhibit at the Lopez Memorial Museum (ground floor of Benpres Building along Julio Vargas in Pasig City), it feels as if you are being led to somewhere not of this earth. In the two vitrines found on your left and right, however, are objects that ground you to the essence of "Grave Findings: A Reclamation Project."

Brown, glazed stone effigies no bigger than your palm are placed side by side in single-file in each display case. At first glance, you may assume that they are from some sort of unearthed collection.
That's until you realize these are miniature replicas of very modern stuff ? creature comforts like laptops, pillows, cellphones and even the most intimate of possessions: a pair of boxer briefs and a pair of high-heel shoes.

These sculptures serve as a way to ease you into the source of their inspired creation: the museum's permanent collection of earthenware excavated from Calatagan, Batangas. Commissioned to interact with this particular assortment, Maria Taniguchi created the ceramic pieces as her take on "pabaon," keepsake-wishes for the afterlife.

The 24-year old artist leads you to several installations that are cleverly woven into the existing inventory of pottery from the Calatagan dig. Her lacquered bust of Dr. Robert Fox, responsible for
excavating a majority of the displayed items, stands together with the cornucopia of unpolished plates and coarse jarlets. Her video interviews of the present dig-site caretakers shine their otherworldly glow onto the polished and smooth surfaces of traded and locally crafted dishes and bowls.

Taniguchi blurs the lines that keep old and new apart, perhaps pointing out the impermanence of these tangible objects or maybe nudging us to dig deeper within ourselves so we can be more than what we leave behind.

Call Lopez Memorial Museum at 631-2417.

Dan Lichauco opts for old furniture for instant character

Segunda Mano 
By Walter Ang
October-December 2005
Metro Him Magazine

Architect Dan Lichauco contends that nothing beats old furniture for adding instant character to a new place. "The first place I bring my clients to shop for furniture is their parents' house," he shares. "If there's nothing there, that's when we go antique stores or second-hand stores."

For this METRO HIM expedition, Dan ends up in Channalli, an antiques and furniture store tucked away in the ground floor of an office building in Makati. After a few minutes of scouring, he picks out a few pieces to demonstrate how a simple sleight-of-hand (and some imagination) can turn second-hand furniture into a thoroughly modern masterpiece.

Instant character
Dan found a pair of Argentinian wooden chairs bound with leather, aged to a perfect brown, to create instant gentrification for a room. The arms of the chair are actually barber shop strops, adding a sudden sense of whimsy and nostalgia for any guest. A great conversation starter, for sure.

To keep the look from feeling too dated and heavy, Dan uses modern lighting fixtures. "Don't be afraid to mix the old and the new," he encourages. By way of example, he then places a square white tile on top of a 1960s Vietnamese footstool to create a side table. The undulating pole of a shiny antique silver candelabra provides a cool foil for this stately look.

Eclectic elements
Now what bachelor would not want to have a leather-and-chrome recliner to complete his crib? Unfortunately, an industrial atmosphere can be a little too cold and daunting if not cushioned with a few softening elements.

Dan counters the horizontal line of the recliner with vertical accents like the single blade of leaf in a glass vase, a carved wooden totem (recycled from a door frame) leaned on the wall, and an antique lamp stand. The stand's translucent shaft gives the illusion of carved glass, complementing the recliner's aluminum frame. The red tassel adds a splash of color and fun.

The table lamp adds to the industrial look with its boxy frame, but since it's made of wood, provides a nice contrast as well. Wood is also the material that makes up a parabolic side table that mimics the curves of the recliner.

Color combo
Using his tile trick once more, Dan gives a low wooden Chinese side table from the 50s an instant update. He then frames it with plastic seats that evoke the 60s and 70s, playing with red and white as the color motif for this living room or seating area.

The color motif is repeated back and forth by placing a crimson cushion on the white seat and red funky ornamental glass vases (again from the 50s) on the white table-top tile. Notice how he staggers the heights of the vases to create layers and variety, but still maintains a unified look because all of them are the same color.

Channalli is at G/F Benlife Bldg., 166 Salcedo St., Makati City. Across the street from the Indonesian Embassy.

Speaking Chinese in Manila

Speaking in tongues 
By Walter Ang
June 6, 2005
Philippine Star

"Speak in Chinese!" is a line from my aunt every so often when she visits. When I talk to grandmother, I sometimes have to ask her to define what she just said or I'll turn to my sister for a quick translation. If friends have t-shirts with Chinese characters written on it and ask what it means, my answer is always punctuated with the word "something." For example, "This says, `The wind is something something power something something."

After being raised in a household where Fujian Chinese was one of the spoken languages and attending a school with some classes taught in Mandarin Chinese for thirteen years, this is what my mastery of the language is reduced to.

I am representative of a large chunk of the Chinoy population, usually third or fourth generation descendants of immigrants from Fujian, China, who were born and raised in the Philippines. We don't flinch when we swallow exotic Chinese dishes (unlike so many contestants on American reality shows), however, what comes out of our mouths usually causes a lot of flinching and frowns from relatives who are able to speak the Chinese dialects with mastery.

Mind you, my broken Chinese is not something I am very proud of. Of course, who would not want to be well versed in more than one language? Parents are forever trumpeting about lucrative job offers. I know of people from my high school who are now holding down great jobs in China, Hongkong and Taiwan. On local shores, we have the likes of wedding host Michael Lim who has captured a sizeable niche market with his ability to emcee parties in Tagalog and English, as well as both Fujian and Mandarin Chinese dialects.

For more practical reasons, knowing another language makes traveling less intimidating. I made it a point to remember the really vital Chinese phrases like "Save me!" and "Where is the bathroom?" Also, you can always gossip about another person in the same room as long as he or she doesn't know Chinese!

Knowing at least the basics of Chinese, I have also been lucky enough to be granted access to more nuanced emotions that only language can subtly convey. Watching Chinese films subtitled in English is the best example where this aspect comes into play. I always prefer to watch Chinese films in their original Chinese soundtracks instead of dubbed versions.

Living with the language
Growing up while having to learn Chinese makes for interesting memories. I remember instances in my childhood when I would pause in mid-sentence while speaking so I could process what language I needed to use for a certain word.

I once read somewhere that linguists know for a fact that languages are best learned as a child. The tongue and brain are still flexible and impressionable enough to acquire "sound units" as foundations to more complex word structures. Different languages have different "sound units," and after a certain age, it becomes harder for the brain to learn sound units of another language. This may explain why most adult Chinoys I meet are prone to pronouncing my name as "Wart."

There was no conscious decision for me to develop my affinity to English and ignore learning Chinese, it just gradually ended up that way. In the environment where I grew up (which I presume applies to many Chinoy households), it's not uncommon to hear four different languages in one sentence. Imagine Taglish and with two Chinese dialects spliced in.

Learning the language
Lest everyone assume my parents wasted tuition money on me, I do wish I were better at the Chinese dialects, but the opportunities to use it are, realistically speaking, few and far in between. Exposure to Chinese dialects is not prevalent as well. We used to have TV shows like Sesame Street and Batibot to help kids learn English and Filipino, but there was no counterpart for the Chinese dialects.

How the language is learned poses part of the problem as well. You first have to contend with the fact that you can't learn Chinese the same way you learn English or Filipino. It's not made up of letters that you string into words. You have to learn the characters that make up the words, at one or two characters per word.

One really must learn the language by rote. This becomes a trap for some as they never move on to learning by comprehension.

Let me illustrate: in kindergarten, we learned the Chinese names of things(house, pillow, tootbrush, etc.) and moved on to complete stories (much like Reading & Literature class) in elementary school. That's when the learning starts to falter. Students retain the learning process of "simply memorizing" when they must begin to learning through "understanding through context." But there lies the rub, if you don't remember the words, how can you understand?

While I'm not an educator and am not an expert on language instruction, I've always felt that the curriculum we had was designed on an assumption that Chinese is spoken fluently at home. It relies on the notion that there is repetition and reinforcement after school hours, two key ingredients in learning a language.

But real life is not so clean cut: "My parents don't speak it all the time anyway," "We're living in the Philippines, not China," "Since you don't use it in your everyday life, why learn it?" These resentments also become barriers in learning the language.

Learning and studying Chinese can cause many a heartache for most students who have to take it up. In the school I attended, you had to pass your Chinese classes otherwise you'd be held back in that grade level. With a full English curriculum load to tackle, the extra Chinese classes can take its toll.

Since I was never really very good at it, I spent half my high school summer vacations attending remedial classes for the Chinese subjects that I'd failed. I remember a few times during final examinations where I would break down in tears while reviewing. I would get so frustrated at the endless and pointless memorizing I had to do just to pass a class. Sure, I had classmates who passed Chinese, but it seemed to me that the ones who had a hard time with it far outnumbered those who actually understood the lessons.

Life after school
I did a mini-survey of my high school batchmates on their thoughts of having learned Chinese in school. For all the mental and emotional torture we had to endure, a lot of us don't really regret having taken up the language. We only wish the curriculum had been more suited to our needs. "The lessons should've been more conversational in nature," is usually the comment.

There's been a trend of Chinoy college graduates taking up further Mandarin studies in China. While their parents are glad to have the children take up the language albeit late, is it really such a good thing that you have to re-learn something you've spent 13 years learning already?

The curriculum and the teaching methods should be evaluated if they are working for the students for the right reasons. It doesn't make sense to keep old ways just because X percent of the students pass it anyway ("If your classmate can pass it, then so should all of you.") or because they have to match the standards with, say, Taiwan or China.

I suspect one problem is that teaching Chinese is considered "just another subject" when it ought to be taught as a foreign language. I've heard that some local schools have already incorporated the Pinyin system ? the official romanization system of Chinese devised for, among other uses, as a tool for non-Chinese media (thus "Fujian" instead of "Fookien") and as a pronunciation tool for language learners.

To be fair, most of my Chinese teachers were real troopers. They did the best they could and had a sincere desire for the students to learn. But hackneyed teaching methods (maybe a little more classroom role-playing and Chinese cartoon screenings would help?) and an ineffective curriculum (the need to make it less rigid and more conversational) doesn't really help much.

The local Chinese school system has to acknowledge the fact that they are teaching a language to Chinese-Filipinos in a Westernized milieu. Not until then can they unlock the potential of the Chinese language for their students.

REVIEW: Tanghalang Pilipino's staging of Pirandello's 'It is so! (If you think so)'

Rumors, facts and humor 
By Walter Ang
Jan. 24, 2005
Philippine Daily Inquirer

What Filipino's day is not peppered through and through with discussions on who's doing what and who's doing who and what have you? While it is part and parcel of the Filipino way of life, rumor mongering is not exactly something that should fall under the category of national pride. It is a little comforting, therefore, that Tanghalang Pilipino's latest production reminds us that gossiping is not necessarily an exclusive Filipino pastime.

It is something that cuts across countries and cultures, as evidenced by Luigi Pirandello's comedy "Cosi e (se vi pare!)" or "It is so! (If you think so)." This tale revolving around juicy gossip and malicious rumors has been translated by Jerry Respeto as "'Yun na nga! (Kung yun na nga)" for local audiences to relish.

Pirandello is a Nobel laureate whose 1921 play "Six Characters in Search of an Author," was recently proclaimed "the most original play of the 20th-century." Even if "It is so!" was written in Italy 1918, TP's adaptation provokingly shows how it could very be Manila 2005.

Their world
The TP Actors' Company deftly fills the roles of the Agazzi family and a whole plethora of characters who do nothing but dissect the goings on of the new neighbors in town: Signor Ponza, his wife and his mother-in-law Signora Frola. These gossips wonder why Signora Frola lives alone and is never seen with her daughter.

The Agazzi family and other townsfolk feign hospitality and concern when the Ponzas call on them. However, as soon as the Ponzas are barely out of the door, suspicion, doubt, skepticism, fabrication and fibbing become the order of the day. The only voice of reason amidst this buffet of lies is Signora Agazzi's brother Lamberto Laudisi, who watches and listens on the side. Laudisi is the Greek chorus with a conscience, more so after everyone is thrown into a doozy when Signor Ponza and Signora Frola independently accuse the other of being insane.

The look of the production builds on the characters' "plastikan" toward the Ponza family by bedecking everyone in plastic, literally. Costume designer John Abul ingeniously transforms linoleum tablecloth (the kind sold in Divisoria that comes in tacky, gaudy designs) into flamboyant, eye-candy couture.

Details come alive as he repeats motifs found in the tablecloth patterns as accent pieces, demonstrated by Signora Agazzi's butterfly ring and hairpin. Set consultant Riz Herbosa, on the other hand, complements the costumes with kitschy furniture still wrapped in plastic. She turns the same tacky linoleum tablecloths used for the costumes into wallpaper.

Our world
This is the synthetic, pathetic world where director Herbert Go and assistant director John Victor Villareal pokes fun at the Pinoy's penchant for tsismis and satirizes victims of the nouveau riche syndrome.

One of the most hilarious devices they use in this production is making the entire cast eat constantly throughout the play. Every single person who comes into the Agazzi household brings a customary pasalubong of merienda. Everyone who happens to be in the household gamely partakes of the food while saying their lines. The menu starts off with shingaling and goes on to include siopao, broas, suman, popcorn, even melon seeds. The smorgasbord of Pinoy delicacies ends with what may be a symbolic kamote-cue. Highlighting symbiotic partnership of food and gossip definitely packed a creative wallop.

The ensemble cast had great energy and constantly elicited howls of laughter. They obviously seemed to have fun with their roles, gamely hamming it up for the audience. We even caught Signora Agazzi using her water goblet as a finger bowl ? nonchalantly rinsing her fingers in her own drink and then, without batting an eyelash, proceeded to drink from the same goblet. Skyzx Shannah Labastilla, playing the Gobernor who later on appears in the play to mediate the confusion, does a spot-on impersonation of Miriam Defensor Santiago.

It's wonderful to see how this production does not simply present a translation of Pirandello's play, but a very tongue-in-cheek adaptation that comes alive with very Filipino quirks and references to modern Pinoy pop culture. The original butler in the original script is transformed into a scene-stealing, jaded katulong who, at one point in the play, brings out a folding chair into the family dining room and sits down to watch the telenovela-esque proceedings ? while eating watermelon seeds, of course. As the play nears its poignant end, a cross-dressing neighbor adds to the confusion of rumors with his version of the events in cryptic swardspeak. This prompted a lady behind me to comment in exasperation, "We need a translator!"

These two seemingly marginal characters provide an interesting foil to the spirit of Pirandello's farce. At the end of the day, when it comes to the truth and its many tangents and convolutions, are we really just a little lost, watching on the sidelines, trying to make sense of it all?

"'Yun na nga! (Kung 'yun na nga)" runs until Feb. 6. Call 832-3661 or 832-1125 loc. 1620/21.

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