me ampersand &; a refresh

me ampersand &; is my personal blog, an exposition of a life in conjunction. This blog has gone through several changes by way of look and feel, change in name, layout and, substantially to a certain extent, content. I believe this reflects that several major episodes in my life that have vastly influenced the way I see myself in the context of the world around me.

This refreshed version reflects what might be a penultimate (not knowing when the ultimate is) approach to this blog. I hope to journal my thoughts and commentaries, all personal, about my life in conjunction with the different facets of my life. me ampersand &; is a platform for me to expose my thoughts on, for example, me and the married life, me and fatherhood, me and my journey towards a Ph.D. degree, me and being a son, me and culture, me & CrossFit and the endless journey (and struggle) towards fitness achievement… the permutations are almost endless, which make it all too very exciting. I only hope I can live up to the calling of writing again.

Back in the early days of the internet which I was glad to have enjoyed in high school then later on as an expat living and working in Vietnam, I used to write regularly albeit on what we might consider being trivial today. I would probably still find myself writing about trivial matters of life as is afforded by an all-encompassing theme of a life in conjunction, but only in better form and with a stronger command of the language. (I hope.)

I am also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

So this is Christmas…


Twenty seventeen.

What a year.

There are so many things to be so proud of from this year. But life offers many surprises in so many dimensions. Life is a complex situation unraveling, at one point, piece by piece then all at once.

Life requires a good understanding of its complex nature. Life requires a profound appreciation of the complicated emotions it plays with.

But if there is one thing I have proven that I am capable of is kindness and maturity. It could be my age (I am turning 35 after all). But kindness is such a powerful theme. It describes my year — sometimes the lack of it, but never totally lacking.

I learnt that kindness saves everyone of the pain and gives us so much perspective. And perspective allows us to see meaning when there seems none. Perspective allows us to feel when there seems a drought of it. Perspective allows us to see more when it seems there is none.

Perspective allows us to cherish what matters most especially this time of year.

Family. Friends. Love. Laughter. Lightness. Spontaneity. Joy.

Perhaps those are all that matter in life. And this season alongside its complexities beautifully handhold us to embracing it fully.

That, whilst there is so much turmoil, there is love.

That, whilst there is much reason to be angry, there is forgiveness.

That, whilst there is much discontent, there is happiness.

Maybe, just maybe, that’s all that matters. Especially this season.

Goodbye 2017. I shall be writing more about you, but in memoriam.

So this is Christmas… and it is good.

Dentsu Digit DNA is looking for top talents in digital experience

Dentsu Digit DNA, the digital and activations brand of the award-winning creative agency Dentsu Jayme Syfu, is looking for top talents to take on exciting challenges in transforming digital marketing through digital experiences fuelled by powerful, life-changing creativity the agency is known for.

If you thrive in an environment where pressure to deliver only but outstanding work and could commit to learning and true collaboration amongst peers and real partnership with clients, then these roles might be of interest to you:

– Digital Group Account Director: we're looking for someone who is business savvy and has a stellar track record of winning new businesses and deepening relationships with clients. This candidate must possess strong leadership skills, willing and open to be a mentor to peers and colleagues and has the intellectual horsepower to engage senior clients through sharp strategies and powerful creative work. 10+ work experience is desirable.

– Digital Planning Director: we're looking for someone who can navigate through oceans of data and crystallise these data into powerful human insights that can leapfrog our creative work. You may have been on similar roles in planning, but may very well have been on more technical aspects of digital such as but not limited to customer experience, IMC, CRM, data and analytics, performance and innovation strategy 7+ years work experience is desirable.

– Digital Account Director: we're looking for someone who has a proven track record in fostering great teamwork to produce outstanding work for clients. This talent may have earned citations, awards or led projects that have exceeded client and agency expectations. This talent has also excelled in bringing to life projects amidst challenges in the day to day work. We're looking for someone who has an excellent work ethic that inspires everyone he or she works with to deliver only the best all the time. 5-7+ years work experience is desirable.

– Social Media Manager: we are looking for someone who has a fine blend of expertise in channels, platforms, emerging technologies, content and most importantly conversations managing communities that humanise brand propositions building stronger engagement and brand love. This talent is both the voice of the brand and the customer and is able to bridge strategy and creative in community and content engagement across a variety of platforms. 5+ years working experience is desirable.

Please contact me directly if any of these roles excite you! Send me a direct message or email me a link to your profile and portfolio. Email is pao dot pena at dentsujs (dot) com.

Nurture not torture – work-life balance needed in agency work

It is saddening to hear of a promising talent succumbing to martyrdom in the eternal pursuit of maintaining business and keeping clients happy. I agree to the many posts I have read on this same incident and the collective plea of an industry to reassess its work culture. It is indeed sad that it takes deaths like this for many to realise it is time to pause, stop and make a change. 

I believe the real solution to this problem is to work towards greater transparency between clients and agencies on the work and how to work together the right way. Oftentimes the real culprit is the lack of work processes with reasonable and standard turnaround times across the stages of the work coming to life. And because of that, expectations are not managed upfront and the first to take a hit on this is the agency being treated like a factory without some clients realising that this sort of way of working together, in fact, is to their disadvantage: poor quality of thinking, poor execution, and poor results. It is a vicious, ugly cycle. And what for? For accounts that are constantly hanging by a thin line on threat of putting the business on poorly organised and unfair pitches?

And then there are bad clients. These are clients who treat the agency as a sweatshop. All in the name of submission regardless of who and how the work was done. Unfortunately most schools only teach how to be a great ad person, but rarely how to be a good client. 

The relationship between clients and agencies is critical to solving this issue. It is what spells the difference between simply having a client-supplier relationship and a true partnership between client and agency. A true partnership is one that takes care of the people on both sides of the table, and not just numbers nor egos gracing the meetings. I am still hopeful as there are still relationships out there that run on the principle of true partnership.

As a client in my past lives, I admit I have been demanding of the agencies I worked with but I also know my limit and up to what human levels I could push the work to. If in the end it is not possible anymore nor healthy for anyone, together with the agency, we stop and pause and accept the reality that it is indeed not possible. Great work after all is a two-way road. The same is true for rubbish work. 

Now being back on the agency side, I have better appreciation of our role as agency leaders. I think it is imperative that we find and make time to nurture and not torture our people – our talents, our main assets driving this business of ideas forward. Putting the business first, on the agency side, I believe, equally means putting our people first.

Arrival (movie): a proper challenge from Hollywood

Arrival (movie) was a surprise. 
Not knowing exactly what it would be about – no prior research whatsoever before settling into the lazy boy – the movie is not just any other alien plot, but a story that beautifully conveys the message of the need for a common language that unites more than it now divides us. 
It also talks about the concept of God not having a sense of past, present and future and how gaining that ‘tool’ or ‘weapon’ unlocks a transcendental perspective which in this lifetime we may never truly achieve but nevertheless strive to learn. PERSPECTIVE is so powerful that it answers our profound human need to find meaning, to find purpose, to discover answers to questions we may never at all be strong enough to handle or comprehend. 
Arrival is also proof that you can always take a concept so commonly abused – like alien invasion stories – to a much higher plane. It also proves that Hollywood can and should serve a role so critical to the formation of the world’s collective intelligence by constantly challenging the audience to think and not to wait for laughter, tears, or ideas to be served on a silver, lazy ass platter. 
It is worth watching and absolutely deserving of a reflection or two soon after one steps back into the real world.

Hello there

Been a long time since I last wrote on my blog. Much has happened since my last post. 

I have yet to write again; the problem with writing is the discipline one needs to have in order for time to make space for it. 

I have quite a backlog of things to write about. 

  • Pablo becoming part of our lives 
  • Pablo’s first trip to the beach, our review of our return to Amanpulo 
  • My return to advertising after a stint in Philip Morris, some new views and reviews 
  • And more 

The list goes on and on. But it starts here. Needless to say, it’s time to get some WordPress premium ROI!


Dear Senator Miriam


Dear Senator Miriam,

I had the wonderful opportunity to interview you for our Filipino school publication, Ang Ubod, in 2000 back when I was still in Manila Science High School. I have ever since grown an admiration for your leadership, vision, and “coolness” which until today you have not failed to exhibit so as to inspire many Filipinos in the thought that there is hope in the Filipino and in our country. Your battle against cancer is almost like a metaphor for our common fight against corruption and idiocy running in our government today. Your sunny yet ironclad disposition against your own personal travails and our country’s is truly inspiring.

I remember when my editorial staff and I were waiting for you at the Senate for our turn to interview you in your office. We were very nervous to meet such a powerful woman whose very sharp words could very well pierce through our youthful insecurities. But we were soothed to discover a very welcoming person in you. You were very accommodating when you welcomed us into your chamber and your were very friendly to guide even the thinking process we had whilst we were interviewing you.

You would be happy to know that I have not failed the privilege of interacting with you some 14 years ago and have become successful (I sure hope my peers would say so, too!) in my own field. I am now 31 years old and still looking for that next big wave in our government leadership which I hope would be led and championed by you in 2016. You continue to inspire so many of us then student leaders who are now in the real world and for that and more, I thank you because the privilege of having you as our leader is ours to enjoy and celebrate.

I pray for your continued, strong recovery and a successful 2016 campaign. If you would be willing to open a slot for me in your campaign team, I’d love to volunteer in my own personal capacity as a private citizen to help push you and your agenda to the #1 spot in the country’s leadership.

With so much respect, and fanboy fanaticism,

Paul John Peña

PS. Attached is the front cover of the school paper published in 2000. What a wonderful time we had meeting you 14 years ago!

Bale Dutung: a case for excellent dining experience

I do not normally write about restaurants except for when I take photos of the good food I discover along the way. Add to that checking into restaurants I like whenever I get to try them out. Other than that, I do not typically write about them only because the web is already filled with many restaurant reviews some from real foodies, some from the occasional foodie and some who have been paid to write fake reviews.

Bale Dutung is quite the exception though because it sets the bar really high in terms of providing their dining guests a superior dining experience that’s worth the 95Km drive from Manila.

Rhex first brought me to Bale Dutung in 2011 on our way to Baguio. It was our first time to try their famous 10 course degustation with a feature on enjoying lechon in five ways. We visited Bale Dutung again in 2012 to try their Kapampangan menu, also a 10 course degustation that’s not just about lechon.

Today, we brought my dad who’s visiting from the US to Bale Dutung, which for Rhex and I a third time to dine there. And all three visits have been nothing but excellent. In my opinion, Bale Dutung has cracked the perfect recipe for making people happy through a memorable culinary experience.

Yes, of course, it is the food by Chef Claude Tayag that draws us to Bale Dutung despite our self-imposed strict low calorie diets. All 10 courses are paired with hefty servings of trivia, stories, and perspective from Mary Ann Tayag, the chef’s wife. She patiently walks you through the challenging 10 courses of the meal. She actually tells everyone that her job is to make sure she gets to take their guests to the last course. I will write more about Mary Ann later. We had the lechon degustation today and each dish served was a delight.

Secondly, ambiance couldn’t be better. You will enjoy your degustation in an al fresco setting. First time we went there, it was so hot they had to place huge blocks of ice in front of industrial fans. So, it is best to come in light, casual, summer-ready clothes. The restaurant is set at the open air ground floor of a traditional Filipino right next to a garden. Place has a good mix of antique furniture and decor which Mary Ann says Claude loves to collect.

Third and most important reason why I think Bale Dutung is a great case for excellent dining experience is the woman behind the success of the chef — Mary Ann Tayag. She calls herself as the “serbidora” in charge of making sure you enjoy the food they have passionately prepared for their guests down to the last dish of 10 courses. She welcomes each group that arrives smartly, professionally and at the same time in a very personal way. When you’re booking, she would ask for the complete names of those in the party. As we have built some rapport with her, and this being our 3rd time to visit, today, she went straight to our table, sat down and caught up with us like we were some old friends whom she hasn’t seen in a long time. Sharing stories and insights is her strong suit. A former flight attendant before discovering her passion for food and her husband, she knows how to carry a good conversation never making you feel awkward with all the attention she gives you. She has so much to say about food and the food business. She trots around the floor to talk to the other guests making sure they are enjoying their time at their home. She uses a portable PA system to talk about the background of the dish they are serving and tips on how to enjoy them. But just like good friends, she joined our table to eat with us after going around other guests’ tables. There are also a few little details that add to the very personal touch of Bale Dutung: your assigned table comes with a degustation menu card personalised with the names of the people in the party, official photo op with the chef for their collection along with a guestbook that’s passed around for giving feedback or immortalising the memorable dish which also has the pictures of those who dined with them that day.


In my opinion, Bale Dutung won’t have the same experience without Mary Ann which gives their good food, great ambiance an irreplaceable unique personal touch. Chef Claude came out to meet the guests and join them in group photos and later on joined our table for our own photo as well. Rhex tells me that Chef Claude came straight to him to shake his hand perhaps recognising that this is already our 3rd time to visit as though he knew Rhex personally well by now. Mary Ann walked with us to our car then, like old friends, we beso before saying goodbye. When we get married, we are hoping to invite her to become one of our ninangs.


Top tips:

1. Come early or be on time. The degustation doesn’t start if other tables are not yet filled with guests who have made the reservation. Sometimes, late guests are also indirectly called out by Mary Ann.

2. Rhex and I love the lechon menu. If you want the best of both the lechon and Kapampangan menus, opt for the Anthony Bourdain menu. Note though you sometimes have to go along with what menu has been requested by the largest group in the party.

3. Buy their homemade bagoong. It is the best bagoong out there. And you can’t buy it from the supermarket which already sells Claude’s sauces.

4. Take San Fernando exit. We like this better than the Angeles Exit.

5. Book ahead. Mary Ann has already said no to some presidents because schedules didn’t match.

Bale Dutung is a 1.5hr drive from Manila and can be found on most GPS apps. Address is Paul and Francis Streets, Villa Gloria Subdivision, Angeles City, Pampanga. It is worth the full tank and saving an entire day for the experience. Reserve at (045) 6250169.

71 Gramercy: hot and not

I wanted to write about my experience at this new place last night, but then I am stopping myself from ranting through my blog. I am just going to charge last night’s table reservation brouhaha to how busy the place was because of Valentine’s Day, Payday and Friday all rolled into one recipe for a crazy, busy night for the staff.

What I love about this place is that it gives Manila a different flavour aided by a stunning view of the city from an awesome vantage point. It is a good place to celebrate a busy week with friends and drinks are not that expensive.

How I wish though that the place — and the people that go there — didn’t have so much pretension that could kill real, good fun.

But maybe any club (or lounge) is the perfect place for it. You just have to ignore it and focus on having fun with the real people you are partying with.

Good thing I was with great company last night enough for me to chalk up the kinks of this place to experience. I’d still go there for a refreshing (and often inspiring) view of our fast rising city.