The Islander Girl goes to the DRT Expo Philippines 2016

Despite waking up at 5:30am (after falling asleep at 2am after a pool party), I managed to keep my mind in a coherent state and drag myself to the Diving Resort Travel (DRT) Expo Philippinesย held in SM Megamall last September 9 to 11 (I went on September 11). I couldn’t miss it as my friends scored great deals on dive gear last year and I really wanted to get a bigger mesh bag for my stuff. I’d also like to thank Jem and Bryan for dropping me off at Megamall and Starbucks for being my workplace from 8 to 11:30am as I waited for the mall to open.

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Entrance was originally pegged at Php 200 PER DAY but was lowered to Php 50 during the event itself. I have no idea what possessed them to think that Php 200 entrance was acceptable.

I was only supposed to stay for an hour – look around, buy my bag, and get out – but ended up staying for almost four hours because there were a lot of things to see and do. Which, according to my friends, was quite a departure from last year’s event.

The Philippine Department of Tourism had a pretty swanky booth to promote diving in the Philippines. Their canvas swag bag included a magazine featuring the country’s best dive spots, a bag tag (mine featured Siargao, which I hope to visit during the off-season), and a lanyard. There were also a lot of resorts offering special rate for those who booked onsite.

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There were talks on marine conservation. The one I managed to attend was on the promotion of shark tourism as a means to get fishers to stop hunting them, given by Steven Surina of Shark Education. Shark Education is a company that specializes in shark diving tours. The marine biologist in me couldn’t help but speak out at the end of his talk, reminding him (and everyone in the audience) that while tourist dollars are good, the tourism development has to be done in partnership with the local community so that they can benefit from the tourist dollars as well. It’s not uncommon in the Philippines for the local community to resent tourism because the developers and the tourists are foreigners and the locals themselves don’t earn that much from the industry. Steven talked to me afterwards (me speaking was a last-minute decision and so I wasn’t prepared and my brain and remarks were all over the place) so I had to clarify that I wasn’t attacking him or anything and was just saying that shark tourism (or any tourism) has to be developed properly. I also met Polly, Su, andย Lynn: really nice guys from Taiwan who shared with me that they had the same issues in Taiwan.

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Video of the talk by Lynn (my comments are at the very end):

Talks on underwater photography that were useful. I was only able to attend the talk by Penn de los Santos entitled From Ordinary to Extraordinaryย but I really enjoyed it. He focused on the basics: know your equipment before you dive, there’s always something nice to photograph, and look for that angle that will turn the ordinary shot into an extraordinary one. Great reminders for a newbie like me. His suggested cameras for beginners were the Olympus TG-4 and the Canon S series (I own an S95 that still holds up after 6 years).

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There were NGOs promoting the environmental conservation and responsible tourism. I only spent a significant amount of time at the Green Finsย booth – one of the staff chatted me up and I told her that I used to work for El Nido Resorts. Other NGOs were WWF, Greenpeace, Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, and Dolphins Love Freedom.

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And lastly: So. Many. Things. To. Buy. GYAHHHH! I was really only there to buy a new dive bag but UGH! Even if you gave me Php 50,000, it wouldn’t have been enough to buy everything that I wanted to buy. I finally got my bag from Aquaventure Whitetip, which had an Aqualung 80 liter mesh bag (it’s big enough to fit the standard plastic dive crate) for only Php 1,215 (40% off!).

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Yes, I stuffed a Superman pillow in the bag for this photo.

Another company I liked was Scuba System: a Hong-Kong based company who had cute AF dive gear under their Oceanarium brand. The whale shark and mola are regulator bags (!!!) and those gorgeous animal prints are on quick-dry microfiber towels. They also had nudibranch tissue holders (the tissues come out among the gills!) and mask straps. I was thisclose to buying the whale and dolphin-print towel but it was sold out by the time I went back to the booth to buy it (my wallet rejoiced). Fortunately or unfortunately Scuba System found a Philippine distributor at the DRT so it should be available locally in about two months (my wallet is bracing itself). Mares also had their Puck Pro dive computer on sale for around Php 12,000, which I would have bought if I had the money. Then there was Scubapro selling a mask and snorkel combo for Php 1,200, when a mask alone would have been around Php 2k. Gah.

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Bonus: I saw some friends there! Shoutout to Mavic and Gage, and a big HUHU to Jamie who went on Friday and didn’t tell me.

All in all, I had a great time. The DRT was a great place to be that afternoon ๐Ÿ™‚

Macy goes to ICRS 2016

I attended my first-ever International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) last June 20-24, 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii (!!!). Basically, ICRS is the biggest gathering of coral reef and reef fish nerds on the planet. I felt right at home ๐Ÿ˜€ <3

Here’s me presenting my study Abundance patterns of coral-dependent reef fish in select sites in the Philippines,ย co-authored with my boss and Denmark [another research assistant]). Fortunately or unfortunately, our session was scheduled in the theater so I presented on a sizable stage with a huge screen and the attendees had stadium seating. Other attendees said it was a plus because people could go in and out of the theater without the presenter noticing. Me, I was mostly concerned about presenting to a noticeably sparsely populated room.

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My presentation was scheduled at 9:30 am – not exactly primetime for scientists ๐Ÿ˜› Iris (a fellow Filipino who’s based in the National University of Singapore) joked that she thought of attending my talk but opted not to because of the early schedule. Don’t worry Iris, it’s all good ๐Ÿ˜› I had two people ask me about the study, though I don’t think the second one counts because she was more interested in the aquarium fish trade rather than the coral reef-reef fish patterns. Referred her to my labmate Jem though ๐Ÿ™‚

This is me thanking those who made my study and the trip to ICRS possible: our source of research funding (but not of travel grants) DOST-PCAARRD, my awesomesauce labmates, Dr. Ting Nanola of UP Mindanao of his insights, and Pinky’s Goodiesย bakery for the travel grant <3 Actually, that travel grant thank you should have been Pinky’s Goodies, Bar Pintxos, Alma Javelosa, Virgie Sorita, and friends and customers of Geekerie. THANK YOU!
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Before ICRS though, I attended a two-day workshop on coral identification at the Waikiki Aquarium taught by Russell Kelley of BYO Guides. Attending the workshop was more to confirm and shore up my existing coral ID skills rather than learning from scratch. It also showed me how to run a coral ID workshop, which is something I’m likely to use in the future ๐Ÿ™‚ Plus it was fun!

01 coral ID training group pic

ICRS was a great experience. I learned a lot from the different sessions and the sessions reminded me of how much I miss working on corals ๐Ÿ˜› The ones that stuck with me the most were the status reports on the 2016 mass bleaching event in the Great Barrier Reef and the update on the West Philippine Sea scenario (the wholesale destruction of the reefs by the Chinese, the illegal extraction of giant clams, sea turtles, and other endangered species, the arbitration case in the Hague, etc.). It was interesting to hear about the case from Dr. Kent Carpenter (he served as an expert witness for the Philippine delegation), whose testimony included citing a paper that showed that the Spratlys may be a significant source of coral larvae (and by reasonable extension, fish larvae) for Palawan and some isolated reefs in the West Philippine Sea. I also thought of looking out for Dr. Morgan Pratchettย but decided against it because I couldn’t think of anything intelligent to ask him about butterflyfishes and coral reefs, even though they’re my two favorite things. I did get to interview Dr. Terry Hughes (THE Dr. Terry Hughes!) though for an article about the mass bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, which will hopefully be done by this week.

No word yet on where ICRS 2020 will be as no one bid to host it. ICRS 2012 was in Cairns, Australia, then 2016 in Hawaii, USA. Maybe somewhere in South America for 2020? Let’s see ๐Ÿ™‚

EDIT: The United Nations Arbitral Tribunal rules in favor of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea dispute.

Going crazy for Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians Kevin Kwan book signing

The author of two of my new favorite books was in town last weekend! Kevin Kwan of Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend fame held book signings and readings at Fully Booked‘s Bonifacio High Street and Alabang Town Center last August 15-16, 2015.

 

A photo posted by Macy (@theislandergirl) on

 

Crazy Rich Asians was published last 2013 but I only got to read it last year. I loved it so much that I read China Rich Girlfriend as soon as it came out. Crazy Rich Asians starts off with Rachel Chu, an American-born Chinese (ABC) economics professor who gets invited by Nicholas Young, her boyfriend and a history professor, to go with him to his best friend’s wedding and spend the summer in Singapore. What Rachel doesn’t know is that Nick just happens to be the scion of one of Singapore’s wealthiest families and the most eligible bachelor on the island. Once she gets there, it’s private jets galore, palatial homes, couture dresses and all the other trappings that come with being crazy rich, plus the requisite backstabbing, gossip, and meddling relatives. I can’t describe China Rich Girlfriend without spoiling the end of Crazy Rich Asians, but be rest assured that whatever outrageous antics the characters got into in the first book are multiplied a hundredfold in the second book. Because hey, there’s crazy rich and then there’s China-rich.

Side note: personally, I think the secondary characters make the books. Rachel may be the heroine but I found Astrid Leong’s (Nick’s cousin) story to be more engrossing. Sorry Rachel.

Danes and I arrived in BHS at 8am, ate breakfast, and lined up at 9am for the 10am registration and distribution of book passes. We ended up being #19 and #20 in the signing line, which wasn’t bad at all. The event started at around 2:15pm with a Q&A session with Kevin, moderated by someone from Fully Booked. Some interesting tidbits from the Q&A:

1. They’ve already started scouting for locations in Asia for the CRA movie (as they should be!). They’ve also started talking to actors who could be in the movie. (I’d love to see Ming-Na Wen and Gong Li take on the roles of the mothers but gawd, they look so ageless that I don’t think they’ll be cast. Can I get Shu Qi for Astrid please? Shu Qi is 39 but certainly looks younger than that.)

2. Everything in the books is real. Everything – except the characters and the plot – are real. That Boeing 747 in China Rich that’s fitted with a freaking koi pond? It’s real. Kevin said that he “doesn’t have an imagination” (ha!) so everything he describes in his books is something that he’s seen for himself. OH. MY. GOD. I had a follow-up question on how he even gets access to everything (since he said he’s seen everything he’s put in his books) but I was too shy to ask. Boo.

3. The series is planned out as a trilogy BUT the fate of the third book depends on how sales are for the second book. I hope CRG is doing really well!

Kevin then read part of a CRG chapter – the one where Kitty Pong steps into Hong Kong’s most exclusive Christian church for the first time. He does a great Corinna Ko-Tung but his Kitty Pong needs work. That doesn’t matter though as I still like him anyway ๐Ÿ˜› kevin kwan signatures The signing itself started at around 3pm. The line moved pretty fast so Danes and I finished at 3:30pm. I stayed in Fully Booked to finish some work so I got to see the event end. The folks at Fully Booked were nice enough to let me talk to Kevin again after he was done signing the books ordered online. Kevin was really nice about it too and I appreciated him taking the time to discuss the ending of CRG.

Thank you again to Kevin Kwan for coming over to the Philippines and to Fully Booked for making it happen!

Science Nerd Mode at the 3rd APCRS

These past few months have been pretty crazy. So these things happened this May and June:

1. Co-organized Nexcon, a f*cking kickass science fiction and fantasy convention
2. Went to Japan for the first time. JAPAN!
3. Helped train DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) personnel in coral reef survey methods
4. Presented at my first international scientific conference: the 3rd Asia-Pacific Coral Reef Symposium (APCRS)
5. Went to Taiwan for the first time to present at APCRS and to explore

The blog posts will not be in chronological order. There. You have been warned ๐Ÿ˜›

Anyway, this here blog post is about APCRS. The Asia-Pacific Coral Reef Symposium (APCRS) is an international gathering of scientists, policy makers, natural resource managers, and other stakeholders to share research and experience in coral reef biology, ecology, and conservation. I wrote about the conference here.

I wasn’t part of any research project and I didn’t want to ask for money from DOST (because that money always comes with strings attached) so I ended up paying for almost the entire trip out-of-pocket: the conference registration, hotel rooms, plane ticket, everything. I lucked out in that some of my labmates scored funding so they paid for the hostel rooms in Taipei both before and after the conference and since I have valid US and Canadian visas, I was visa-exempt for Taiwan.

We took an 11:00pm flight out of Manila on June 20 and landed in Taipei at 1:30am the next day. Took a cab to the hostel because the airport buses stop running at 12pm and arrived there at around 3am. Note to self: don’t take any more red-eye flights as much as possible. Gyah. June 21 was our lone “full” day in Taipei before taking the High Speed Rail from Taipei to Kaohsiung the next day. From Kaohsiung, it took a 2-hour bus ride to finally get to Pingtung.

This is me at Taipei Main Station killing time before our scheduled train. Since we were taking the HSR from end to end, we could take the express train with fewer stops and cut the travel time to 1 hour and 30 minutes instead of 2 hours.
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Pingtung felt like Boracay sans the sand. Not sure why that is, but the Taiwanese don’t build permanent structures on the beach (local zoning laws maybe?). There are hotels, bars, and restaurants that face the beach but all the actual partying takes place on the road behind the hotels, parallel to the beach. I found that an excellent alternative to Boracay’s usual scene as it means less trash on the beach. After registering at the conference hotel, we walked back home and looked around for a place to eat. We met a Filipino waiter who recommended that we NOT enter the restaurant he was promoting because the food was expensive and not that good. Haha. When we asked him why he told us that, he said “E kababayan kayo e” (“You’re Filipino too”).

03 Pingtung night time

APCRS was a great experience. I learned a lot of new things from a lot of different people. Funnily enough, I just noticed near the end of APCRS that I ended up meeting a greater proportion of Singaporean, Malaysian, and Hong Kong-Chinese researchers and students because they were working on one of my favorite topics: the impact of pollution and sedimentation on coral reefs. I presented a paper (entitled Spatial Variation of Coral Recovery in the Shallow Water Reefs of Bacuit Bay, El Nido, Palawan one Year After the 2010 Mass Bleaching Event, co-authored with my adviser) during the mini-symposium on coral bleaching and the impacts of climate change on reefs (my other favorite research topic). It was a supremely nerve-wracking experience and despite practicing several times, I still ended up talking a little too fast and ended my presentation with several minutes to spare. Ack. The moderators asked me two questions and three (three!) people told me that my research was interesting. YES! Although fine, one of those was a friend so I suppose that doesn’t count. All of the other COMECO labmates who came to APCRS were fisheries people so I only saw them during the breaks and only one of them attended my presentation. Ah well. The perils of having differing research interests.

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Aside from being able to learn from other, more experienced researchers, another thing I loved about APCRS was the chance to catch up with some science friends. I attended a training workshop in Sanya, China in 2011 (read about it here) and I saw many of the same students in APCRS. On the making friends front, I liked the IOC-WESTPAC training better because there were fewer participants (about only 2-3 per university) and and many of them also stayed in the marine station. In our case, we were billeted with the Thai and Malaysian participants, who were given a separate area because of their dietary restrictions. We added each other on Facebook afterwards and kept in touch. After three years of talking online, we finally saw each other again. Lots of hugs and “OMG you’re here!” all around, plus updates on what we’ve each been up to.

This is Mathinee from Thailand. She’s taking her PhD in Japan and the culprit behind the smuggled sake (more on that later). This brilliant lady studies coral diseases.

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And this one is Yan from Singapore. She’s taking her PhD in Australia, shifted her research to seagrass (noooo!!!), and became a Whovian because of her Australian friends. Dangly TARDIS earrings!

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And this is Eric from Hong Kong. His work focuses on how pollution affects coral reproduction (perfect research topic for Hong Kong, IMHO).ย We actually saw each other a few months after the training in Sanya when I went to Hong Kong. He also came to El Nido earlier this year but since I wasn’t based there anymore, I asked Virgie to help him out. He and his friends now grace posters promoting stand-up paddleboard tours (not because of Virgie!), but that’s a story for a different day.

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He and his labmates from the Chinese University of Hong Kong are campaigning against the construction of a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport because the land reclamation will, among other things, drive out the few Chinese white dolphins still left in the bay. The reclamation will be the second-largest in Hong Kong’s history, only beaten by the reclamation to construct HKIA in the first place. Read more about it here.

No solo photos with Iris but I do have this nice photo of Team Philippines courtesy of Richard ๐Ÿ˜€ Lots of Filipino scientists at the conference, including those who represented universities outside of the Philippines. Apparently, the National University of Singapore is a popular destination for recent MSI graduates.

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I also (sorta) got to make new friends courtesy of the student night. They took all the students who signed up to attend and randomly distributed them around several picnic tables where they could talk while grilling their own food. A noble effort and I did get to talk to the guys in my group but I’m a naturally shy person and don’t make friends easily. Ack. The organizers supplied beer and soda but Mathinee smuggled in some extra-strength sakeย [rice wine] from Japan that she so generously shared with the other students.ย I thought I would be prepared for the burn because of the sake-tasting in Japan but I was wrong ๐Ÿ˜›ย The students were also supposed to present a “cultural performance” per country. No one prepared anything serious but I have to give credit to the Thai group for gamely going first and kicking things off with a lovely (and slightly drunken) dance number. Everything else flowed after that. The large amounts of beer probably helped too.

These lovely photos came from Eric.ย The top one has Dr. Nina Yasuda, me. Rem (my labmate), Yuta (Dr. Yasuda’s student – he studies population genetics), and Eric.
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APCRS 2018 will be held in Cebu so I’m really looking forward to it. Let’s hope I get to publish and do more research before then ๐Ÿ˜›

NexCon Manila – the ultimate science fiction and fantasy party!

The thing that I’ve been helping out with since graduation is finally happening this weekend! Welcome NexCon Manila, the biggest science fiction and fantasy event of the year! It’s on May 31-June 1, 2014 at the Bayanihan Center in Ortigas. What a way to cap off your summer ๐Ÿ˜€
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What makes NexCon different from other local conventions is that we focus on science fiction and fantasy content from the Philippines and the West. The biggest activities are the film, comics, and literature panels featuring genre entertainment leaders –ย groundbreakers here in the Philippines and abroad. Where else can you sit down and discuss film with Erik Matti (Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles, On the Job) and Louie Suarez (RPG: Metanoia),
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comics with Leinil Yu (Superman: Birthright, Avengers), Danny Acuna (veteran komiks artist), and Carlo Vergara (Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah),
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and horror literature with Karl de Mesa (Damaged People: Tales of the Gothic Punk) and Yvette Tan (Walking the Dead and Other Horror Stories)?
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And the fun doesn’t stop there! GeekFight Trivia Night is celebrating it’s 5th anniversary at NexCon Manila with GeekFight Battle Royale! They’ve planned eight kick-ass rounds of all things sci-fi and fantasy, including rounds that are freaking genius. One of the rounds started out as a joke but they ran with it anyway, so be prepared! I would so join if I weren’t a co-organizer ๐Ÿ˜›
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And last but not least, we have the contests! There are three contests for the event: Cosplay Masquerade, Cosplay Rumble, and Take Cover. What’s the difference between Masquerade and Rumble? Check out the infographic below:
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For hardcore competitive cosplay, I recommend joining the Rumble. Best in Show receives a 7″ tablet from our sponsors!
Take Cover is a photo competition, where you edit your awesomesauce cosplay photos into even more awesomesauce NexCon Manila comic book covers!
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Did I mention that we’re ending NexCon with a (Big) bang? Because we are! Indie bandsย Peso Movement, Stereodeal, and Paranoid City – all fantastic bands and Converse endorsers – will get you dancing, singing, head-bobbing, and geeking out, all at once ๐Ÿ˜€
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Interested in going? Buy your tickets now! There are different ticket tiers to suit everyone’s interest level and budget. I highly recommend that you get the Gold ticket for maximum enjoyment, as it includes access to all the panels and contests for two days, access to NexCon Rocks (the closing concert), AND a free limited edition NexCon shirt if you’re among the first 200 ticket buyers ๐Ÿ˜€
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Continue reading “NexCon Manila – the ultimate science fiction and fantasy party!”

Celebrating Lucy’s third birthday at Fully Booked!

First off, congratulations to Lucy for turning three-years-old! Lucy is Fully Booked‘s mascot/spokesperson and overall social media “figure”. Second, sorry for only writing about the event now >_< Lucy’s birthday celebrations took place last July 27-28ย in Fully Booked’s Bonifacio High Street and Alabang Town Center branches but due to work, school, and reading my book haul, this post is a month late. Anyway, enough of that! Danes wanted to go to the party but wasn’t able to because of prior commitments. This post is partly to annoy her and tease her a bit about what she missed ๐Ÿ˜› Games, free books, and Magnum ice cream? The perfect party!

00 event proper

It was a small party but still fun ๐Ÿ™‚ Fully Booked’s staff set up tables where partygoers could play bookish games. You win a game, you get to pick a book “blind date” as a prize ๐Ÿ˜€ The first table had a word scramble game, where you had to unscramble at least five Star Wars or Harry Potter terms within 30 seconds to win. I wasn’t sure I wanted to play this game as I’m a massive fan of both franchises and it would be very embarrassing to lose ๐Ÿ˜› Luckily, I didn’t so I earned my ticket for the book blind date. Wheee!

01 word scramble game

The second game was a “pair us up” challenge, where you and a friend had to match up at least five famous literary pairs within 30 seconds to win. I got the deck with Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley in it and submitting their cards together broke my heart. I did, however, qualify that I was doing it under duressย ๐Ÿ˜› Mwahaha! The only pair I wasn’t familiar with was Eleanor and Park, who are apparently the main characters in the popular YA book “Eleanor & Park”. Danes says the book is really nice (it’s about first loves) so that’s one more book to add to the “to read” pile. Found it funny that the comic book-themed deck had Iron Man and Pepper Potts as the pair (along with Mr. Fantastic/Invisible Woman and Clark Kent/Lois Lane) when they’re not together in the actual comics. Ah well ๐Ÿ™‚

02 pair them up game

My favorite part of the afternoon: choosing my blind date! Instead of simply giving the books away, Fully Booked wrapped them in opaque paper and wrote short descriptions on the front. I ended up choosing a book described as featuring “secret society”, “1920’s New York”, “romance”, and “magic”. I double-checked with their super-friendly staff just to make sure it wasn’t The Diviners by Libba Bray (since I’d already read it) but it wasn’t! Something similar then ๐Ÿ˜€

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Book Blind Date candidates. Who to choose?!

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I ended up with this one.

04 friendly fully booked staff

The super friendly Fully Booked staff and Marketing Team

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My book blind date! Read my review here.

All in all, it was a great party. Kudos to the kickass Fully Booked team who organized the event! Special shoutout to Ms. Victoria from the Marketing Department who recognized me from the “What’s Your Story” campaign. Haha! I met her in the Katipunan branch November last year ๐Ÿ˜€