Close to Culture, Close to Creativity, Spot on Asia.

Articles by Chiara DC

Chiara DC

Chiara DC

Editor In Chief at OpenBrief
Chiara writes for a living, usually in transit.
Chiara DC

A glass of art and science, please.

Posted on July 29, 2013

Ronald Ramirez

Mixologist, THAILAND

When did a drink get so complicated?

Gone are the days when my idea of a mixed drink was a rum and coke or a gin and tonic. There’s a new bar in the ‘hood and mixology has been spreading faster than you can say, uh, mixology. The term itself eludes me. I mean, the last time I checked, the person behind the bar mixing me some rum, lime juice, and mint leaves was called a bartender. So, when does the guy behind the bar earn a license to be called a mixologist—if there’s a license at all? To be a professional bartender, the one responsible for managing everything behind the bar and ensuring that customers are happy—and behaved, often entails completing a bartending course.

Many professional cocktail mixers are uncomfortable with the label mixologist. Regardless, the fact remains; mixology is complicated. And no mixologist in their proper mind would say, “I’m just mixing things along, I really have no idea what I’m doing.” Nobody just takes the classic margarita and hands it over in foam/gel/mist form without trained calculation and a creative imagination. Mixologists go beyond the aesthetics of a pretty drink; they dive into the human experience by digging into the chemistry (especially in molecular mixology) of spirits, playing with flavour, touch and texture, and provoking a myriad of senses that are often roused by memories and emotions.



On top of the world’s highest open bar and the tallest in Bangkok, I had the opportunity to learn about the art and science that goes in a glass. After years of honing his craft all over Europe and Dubai, Philippine-born Ron Ramirez is back in Southeast Asia and is the resident mixologist of lebua’s Sky Bar at Sirocco. As he blended one spirit with another and traced glass rims with herb-infused salts, Ron shared his creative inspirations and gave a peek into a regular workday of a mixologist.


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Collectible Anthropology

Posted on May 12, 2013


Charisse Aquino-Tugade, Philippines

Anthropologist, Cultural Explorer, Founder of The Manila Collectible Co.

Weaving through the cobble-stoned streets of what was once a fortress-city, I wondered how I would be able to spot The Manila Collectible Co (TMCC). Its home, tucked within an enclave of Spanish colonial shops and galleries and sitting behind the iconic Manila Cathedral in Intramuros, is a charming, light-coloured baroque building with a little signage bearing the name, Villa Blanca. I had the privilege of interviewing its founder and owner, Charisse Aquino-Tugade, an anthropologist and cultural travel guide who was happy to share the story behind her shop and advocacy with Open Brief.

What is the story behind The Manila Collectible Co.?

My background is in anthropology and I’ve always been really crazy about our (Filipino) indigenous cultures and history. As a cultural travel guide, I would organise tours and go on expeditions to various parts of the country. The Philippines is so rich with artistry, ingenuity and craftsmanship, all of it deeply rooted in multi-cultures and history. Yet, (I noticed) not everyone really knows much about these artisans and craftsmen and what they create. By everyone, I mean, most of their own fellow countrymen. The reason for this is really geographical accessibility. Being an archipelago with over 7,000 islands, it’s just not easy to get around. Most of these indigenous artisanal communities dwell in obscure, tucked-away corners all over the islands. Their craft is a prime source of livelihood, yet how do they reach their market? How can they put a premium price on their work, when they themselves don’t actually realize the high value of their creations?

I am passionate about indigenous cultures and artisanal crafts, so I felt drawn to create a way — an actual physical space — to bridge this gap and just help make it more accessible. Also, my experience of working with museums and my love for the curative experience have shaped the concept of TCMM—which is a one-stop-shop anthropological gallery of art, crafts, and functional products for daily living, wherein everything is direct from the source and not mass produced for mass consumption.


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Photo: Dickie Neri

Staying Alive: What Moves A Country

Posted on April 26, 2013

This article is the 1st of 3 in a series entitled, Dance to Live: Decoding a Culture, which explores the intersections of dance, culture, history, and identity in the 21st century Philippine context, aiming to scratch the surface of an ever festive, ever gyrating culture and probe into the nuances and contrast with its Hispanic heritage, and its continental incongruity. This article offers an overview of the Filipino dancing culture as the world sees it, and attempts to peel the layers to reveal an ingrained permission culture.

The sun, bright and fiery than ever, burns mercilessly. Its rays seem to stretch out to the opposite poles of the earth, spreading and engulfing like wildfire. Wildfire of a tropical summer, burning as bad as it drains.

And at the heart of this noontime spotlight—of smog, traffic and road rage—is a solitary figure, with a large grin and limbs that swing, wave, and gyrate to an esoteric beat. The person is in uniform, almost-easily recognized by the general public as a traffic enforcer. A public servant. A civil officer. He looks like he’s having fun, as he twirls and beckons to one side of the thoroughfare. His hips don’t lie; you can almost hear him vocalize, as he signals to your car to move along and make it snappy.

Enveloped by thick layers of fumes, vehicles, and tension, this officer maintains his routine of standing—dancing—in the middle of the road to ease the traffic and your nerves. And so far, it seems to be effective. The decrease in horn honking is noticeable, as well as the minimized tendency for gridlocks and counter-flows, not to least mention the steadier traffic flow—perhaps not the smoothest, but nonetheless calm and cooperative.


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Hunger + Survival = Mother of Creativity

Posted on March 19, 2013


Clara Balaguer, Philippines

Founder, Office of Culture and Design

“To us, art, literature and design are not elitist luxuries. They are useful necessities.”

Clara Lobregat Balaguer is an oddball.

As she meets me for this interview, it’s not so difficult to notice that she does stand out in a crowd than it is to pinpoint why. Yes, she is rather tall compared to the average Filipina; her woven sombrero towering over everyone else makes it easy for me to spot her. She greets me with a smile, full and fiery red. I am relieved; she says she’s been stressed. She has been buried deep in work, which at the moment is in post-production for a film about an active volcano in the Philippines and the displaced indigenous people living around it.

Photo: Office of Culture & Design

Photo: Office of Culture & Design

This is just one of her hands-on projects for her company, the Office of Culture and Design (OCD), which serves as a platform for artists, writers, and designers in the developing world. That description barely sums up the OCD as a leveraging multi-platform. Based on the mixed composition of its projects, its stakeholders and the diverse range of collaborators, the Office of Culture and Design is a constantly fluid, constantly evolving entity engaged in as many diverse forms of mixed media as the opportunities it aims to create and open. And that’s the striking feature of this creative enterprise: whether it’s a book, or an art workshop, or a film documentary, there is—and always will be—a bottom line. Each creative project identifies and directly engages with its stakeholder—real people.

And without an actual label for the OCD (a social enterprise? a creative social enabler? a design thinking firm?), it is pretty much an oddball in the business world. A mixed-breed and ongoing experiment in various aspects, albeit effective—just like its founder.

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The Craft of Making Digital Pages

Posted on February 17, 2013

At the rate technology has been rapidly evolving, it only follows that the very tools used to produce or convert a book into digital form have become increasingly accessible and available. DIY-publishing tools (such as Amazon’s KDP, Smashwords’ Meatgrinder, iBook Author, PressBooks) have been sprouting all over the place like cabbage—bionic, mutant cabbage with a hint of gremlin. In less than a decade, the process of getting published has turned from cred-heavy and labour-intensive, to just a few clicks on your own personal device. Many have lamented that it is the end of professional publishing. Is it? One particular publisher disagrees.


Classic novels adorn the walls of Flipside’s Office

Located in Eastwood City in Metro Manila, Flipside Digital Content has been around since 1999 and is considered a pioneer in digital publishing in the Philippines. Formed as a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble under a different name (EPVI, or Electronic Publishing Ventures, Inc.), the company produced thousands of titles in multiple formats including OEB, Microsoft .LIT, Rocketbook, Softbook and Glassbook, and Print-on-Demand. After a few years of company acquisitions and some shuffling, the company re-organised in 2010 as Flipside Digital Content Company, Inc. and launched an all-Filipino e-publishing business to bring English titles from Asia to worldwide markets in the form of e-books.

Combined with a professional heritage in print typesetting, the group applies a meticulous, ‘hand-crafted and hand-coded’ approach to e-book publishing. This analogue philosophy is what makes Flipside stand out in this increasingly automated industry.


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