May 22, 2013

Maxine Syjuco: Child of Art

Artists are the select few with the gift of interpreting and bringing new life to the nature of things around us.

At first glance, Maxine Syjuco would strike you more as an artist's muse: she has an allure that captivates the senses of people around her, drawing them more to her with her naturally effervescent character.

Though not just a muse, Maxine is credited as one of the youngest and most promising artists of today. Maxine has already translated her deep passions for her own artistry in different mediums. Her family is quite well-known, dwelling in diverse forms of arts and expressions. Growing up around art and artists, it was inevitable that she imbibe the creative lifestyle around her. 

Having such a childhood provided her with a wonderful opportunity to bring the best out of her. Still, this is not the case for some children who have an innate talent waiting to be discovered. With this in mind, Maxine established her own art school called "The Little Picasso", to serve as a venue for her to teach and let children be involved in their artistic journey early. This lead me to inquire a few details, and pick the mind of one the youngest and most promising artists today.

Growing up, what were the major influences that directed you to the path of becoming a young artist?

Both of my parents, Cesare and Jean Marie Syjuco, are artists. As such, art was not just something that existed in our home— it was, in fact, a way of life. The culture in which I was raised was extraordinarily different from the traditional upbringing, specifically because I literally lived and breathed art. The major influences that directed me to my path as a young artist, therefore, were definitely my dad and mom. They have always been my major source of inspiration, and the passion that they pour into their art is both admirable and inescapably contagious.

What encouraged you to start "The Little Picasso", and extend your understanding on art to a much younger generation?

As a child, I always knew that my background was different and unique from that of most other children. In an instance as mundane as being seated at the breakfast table, for example, I was taught to see an orange as not merely a piece of fruit, but as a spherical and texturized object— one that, through the process of peeling, offers multi-layered possibilities of experience.

That type of thinking is precisely what has led me to my passion for sharing my love for art with children. To me, seeing life through artistic eyes is the greatest way to fully appreciate every single God-given creation around us.

What specific art form, topics or classes do you teach your students?

As a multi-media artist, I work with various mediums and through various processes. I don’t believe in confining art to strict and rigid genres based merely on a specific set of stylistic criteria. Given that, I encourage children to be mixed-media artists— providing them with all kinds of unusual materials to use in their artistic creations.

Normally, I begin each lesson with a basic overview of art history (I like to introduce them to the likes of popular artists such as Picasso, Van Gogh, Chagall, Magritte, Munch, Modigliani, Matisse, Seurat… sometimes even Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat). From there, we proceed into an analytical discussion of the said artists’ masterpieces, followed by an hour or two of creating their very own interpretations of these works.

In a nutshell, I teach drawing, painting, sculpture, mixed-media and sometimes even installation art. It’s a case-to-case basis, really, depending on each child’s specific interests, which is why I refer to my workshops as “Individualized Programs for Children’s Arts and Crafts”.

What in your opinion is the ideal age for children to start learning about art? What are factors that can bring out and enhance a child's artistic side?

The ideal age for children to start learning about art is 2 and up. It’s my personal belief that early exposure to art is an essential aspect in the formation of deep creative-thinking and open-mindedness.

A child’s environment plays an integral role in his or her artistic development. Books, movies, music… even simple conversations and body language — each of these can greatly shape and influence a child’s subconscious mind (where most creative ideas are born). Providing a child with colorful and imaginative sources of inspiration is the key to enhancing his or her artistic awareness.

As an artist, what do you see are things that people can do to encourage the younger generations to be more aware about art, and give them a better appreciation of the craft?

You know, if I had it my way, I would love to fill the world with art. On TV, for instance, it would be magical to have programs that catered to the unbiased population of artists who create art simply for the sake of sharing themselves with the world. On the radio, it would be fantastic to have a more diverse line-up of musical genres— maybe even programs that streamed live poetry readings and discussions between artists from all walks of life. And on the road, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have murals and large-scale installations in place of billboards?

But alas, given the way that things are, I believe it is of utmost importance to provide the younger generations with things that have been created in an honest manner of self-expression and freedom. To me, one of the most amazing powers of art is its ability to inspire and influence others… Like a ripple in the ocean, it can generate eternities of magical change and wonder into the current of the world.

The Little Picasso 
327 Country Club Drive, Ayala Alabang Village, Muntinlupa City

May 15, 2013

Tastes of Bangkok

A trip to Bangkok is always a lot more fun, sampling the best that only its cuisine can offer.

Food was definitely on our itinerary. We came across some wonderful discoveries and delectable finds that my mom, brother, and me enjoyed to the fullest. I had to let my guard down and savor the authentic flavors of Bangkok, even in the streets.

The first interesting food find that we had was Som Tam Nua in Siam Square. We were there for a quick afternoon snack so we decided not to order a lot. Of course, we had to try its famous Thai Papaya Salad, which was awarded a CNN Best Eats Awards. The papaya and tomato's flavor brought out a mix of sweet and tanginess to the salad, while the nuts and fried pork fat added the extra crunchiness and texture. This dish deserves my praise!


While inside Som Tam Nua, check out their cute pastry corner!

I truly enjoyed our lunch at the Tha Chang Pier. I normally wouldn't agree to such an open and outdoor dining, but Bangkok has been known for its street food - with travel agencies even offering tours on Bangkok's best street food! My mom ordered the fishball and noodles in curry, my brother the pad thai, and I the chicken fried rice. The curry was mildly spicy and was just right for my tolerance. 

The fried rice took some time to prepare but it was worth it. The serving of the chicken strips were quite generous. I'm normally used to the Chinese way of preparing fried rice where the egg or the taste of the meat overpowers the taste of the other ingredients. The one I had in Thailand was a good mix that I loved. I was surprised to pay just around fifty baht for the fried rice! I was already told that food in Bangkok was going to be cheap but I was surprised to know how low the prices are!


The lady who prepared the Pad Thai was amazing. She knew the preparation by heart and was simply grabbing the ingredients left and right, throwing it all in the hot wok. My brother felt that the Pad Thai needed the extra spiciness, but I liked how it was not at all salty. It was quite fresh since the shrimps and vegetables in the dish were still quite crunchy. 



It was a hot sunny day in Bangkok and I had to satiate my craving for a cold cup of Thai milk tea. The guy selling the milk tea placed a lot of ice in the cup. I thought that what I might be drinking was going to be flavorless with all the ice in it. But to my surprise, the amount of ice balanced the sweetness of the milk tea, turning it refreshingly sweet.

Come nightfall, we went to Yaowarat for the evening street food that Bangkok's Chinatown has been known for. I was so amused that even at late night, people were still swarming to the area to get a table and have dinner - or midnight snack, I guess.

We ordered the beef noodle soup. A lot of people were waiting to be seated and my curiosity was hyped up. Sadly, after we tried the dish, we were not satisfied at all. The soup had a strong taste of ground pepper - like light beef broth mixed with copious amounts of ground black pepper. I'm not sure if the Thais like that taste but I wasn't impressed at all.

The best that I ordered that night was the mussel omelette. The batter was freshly mixed as the eggs were cracked open after I ordered. With an abundance of mussels fried in the egg, I was delighted with every bite. Whatever was in the mixture, it made the aroma delectable, and my order delicious.

My brother was enticed to buy a bottle of fresh pomegranate juice. Fresh fruit juices were available at almost all corners of Bangkok's street food areas. The colors were quite vibrant and in Bangkok's hot weather, it was ok for us to pay around ten baht for a bottle and cool down.

At one area of Yaowarat Road near Phadung Dao Street were countless people enjoying grilled seafood and other seafood orders. We only found out about it after we chose to eat at the portion of Yaowarat Road near Ratchawong Street, and was walking to the MRT station. This is a must try for me next trip I have to Bangkok.



One of the most delightful finds that we had was another version of the Thai Papaya Salad. This time, instead of fresh papayas, friend papayas were mixed into the salad. The papayas were like crunchy chips in the salad. There was a strong lime flavor, adding a more tangy taste to it.

I was about to give up when, during my entire stay in Bangkok, I have not even tried my all-time favorite Thai dish, Tom Yam Goong. It would've been weird for me to be in Thailand and not even taste it at all. Fortunately, our last dinner was pretty unplanned. After walking around Pak Khlong Talat, we stumbled upon this small side street eatery that had a crowd of people in its tables. My mom urged us to check if they served Tom Yam Goong. I was relieved to find out that they do! In our sheer excitement, we immediately got a table, and, even if the servers had a hard time understanding us, we pointed our choice of dishes in their English menu.

We had another round of fried rice and my mom ordered the fish in yellow curry. I didn't care anymore what they wanted since all I was craving for was authentic Tom Yam Goong! The taste of the Thai basil, lemon grass, mushrooms and seafood, blended with whatever spices they used to create the soup, was simply divine. It was a literal 'save the best for last' moment and it was worth the wait.

Bangkok has a peculiar and amazing array of food choices that surprised me. Actually, one of my concerns in going to Thailand was the food. I knew that they used an abundance of spices in their dishes, and the flavors I might not be what I'm accustomed to. I was afraid to eat something really hot and spicy, or something quite sour. 

I was quite intrigued how exciting my epicurean adventure in Bangkok was. There were still a lot of places I wanted to try but my schedule was quite limited. Still, I was amused at how I allowed myself to experience street food dining, enjoying food bought from different stalls in Bangkok since I doubt I would do it in Manila. Other than shopping, I realized that dining is an itinerary worth pondering on when planning a trip to Bangkok.