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Balaw-Balaw Specialty Restaurant: The appeal of the peculiar

It is open-mindedness that Balaw-Balaw Specialty Restaurant is banking on, as it (continues to) makes waves as a small-ish venue somewhere outside of Metro Manila – specifically in Angono in Rizal, promoted as the nation’s “art capital” – offering the “exotic”.

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When Antonio de Morga Sánchez Garay described the food of the indios in his book Sucesos de las Islas, published in 1609, highlighted was our supposed fascination with “rotten beef and stinking fish”. But just as emphasized was the ignorance – for the very assumptions of supremacy of the supposed knowledge – on what makes Filipino food, well, Filipino. Particularly when discovered per province, the country’s numerous offerings can at times be Chinese-influenced (think of all the gisa/sautéing done), Spanish-influence (tapas, anyone?), American-influenced (think burgers, among others), and so on…

The venue, in itself, is nothing grand. But it does have a museum that makes waiting for the orders to arrive interesting.

Weird they may be for some (such as that Spanish historian), but for the open-minded, Filipino food can be… enticing.

And it is this open-mindedness that Balaw-Balaw Specialty Restaurant is banking on, as it (continues to) makes waves as a small-ish venue somewhere outside of Metro Manila – specifically in Angono in Rizal, promoted as the nation’s “art capital” – offering the “exotic”. After all, it is this – the appeal of the peculiar – that continues to define this resto cum museum in the home of the “Higantes Festival” (also known as the feast of San Clemente, celebrated every November 23).

The venue, in itself, is nothing grand. There are numerous subdivisions – the main hall, which can hold approximately 100 diners, a conference center good for 30 people, and another private area for 10 or more. On the tables are miniature versions of the higantes (giants) paraded in town during the “Higantes Festival”, their arms stretched to contain the messages and signatures of past clients; and all around are masks (they are for sale, the smallest ones usually costing P150) also signed by past visitors and then hanged for posterity by the venue’s proprietors.

At the back portion (past a mini-mini-bamboo forest) is a museum, highlighting the works of the owner and the local artists (they aren’t cheap, I tell you). The gathering of artworks continues to the second floor, which houses more artworks (painting, carvings, et cetera) and religious artifacts. This addition to the venue makes waiting for the orders to arrive definitely interesting.

What are worth having when dropping by the place are the exotic dishes. Think fried antik (ants) and adobong palaka (frogs) – some of the must-try.

And then there’s the food.

There are “regulars” in the menu – to be completely honest, nothing worth writing home about, e.g. Ginisang Kangkong (water spinach sautéed with onion and garlic, and then seasoned to taste), P130; Kinilaw na Puso ng Saging (banana heart marinated in vinegar, added with pork), P220; Bicol Express (pork cooked in coconut milk, with garlic, onions, green and red chilis), P230; and variations of sinigang (soup, whether using guava, tamarind, taro, et cetera), from P180.

But what are worth having when dropping by the place are the exotic dishes.

Yes, Soup No. 5 (soup with butt and balls of cow), P250, is no longer “exotic” for us (even if this is listed as such by the resto), but there are numerous offerings to be had. There is the Sinabawang Balot (duck embryos cooked in soup), P220, rich not just in taste but also in texture – somewhat reminiscent of the Kapampangan dish of Balot a la Pobre (balot cooked a la adobo). Since the same is not widely available in Metro Manila, the Tapang Usa/Baboy Damo (cured dried venison or wild boar), P300/P380, can be a treat – though on a more personal note, I continue to have issues chewing on the kin of Bambi and Pumba (LOL). Then there’s the Nilasing na Palaka (deep fried frog legs marinated in gin), P250, easily bringing to mind the “tastes like chicken” analogy. And then there’s the Fried Antik (fried ants), approximately P120, not at all maanghang (as I remembered accidentally tasting them when eating rambutan, tambis or macopa as a kid), but somewhat… bland – they need to be paired with vinegar for them to have taste.

Only available seasonally is the Kamaro (crickets cooked in garlic and seasoning), P300 – to be honest, this is but a glammed up version of what can be had in the streets of Bangkok. The Uok (wood grubs cooked as adobo or steamed with tamarind), P300, nonetheless, was interesting – not at all disgusting if you can get through the initial yuckiness in your head (for eating worms).

Vegans may want to try Crispy Alagaw Leaves (herbal mint leaves dipped in batter and then deep fried), P125 – though the venue needs to think of a better dip (than just mayo); or either the Rose petal salad and Bougainvillea flower salad, at P140 each – their bitterness denying their floral beauty.

This isn’t a place for everybody, that’s for sure.

But for those searching for something… different, this may well be worth a visit.

Balaw-Balaw Specialty Restaurant is at #11 Don Justo, Dona Justa Village, manila East Road, Angono, Rizal. They may be reached at 651-0110.

Health & Wellness

Transgender and gender-diverse individuals more likely to be autistic

Transgender and gender-diverse adult individuals were between three and six times more likely to indicate that they were diagnosed as autistic compared to cisgender individuals. While the study used data from adults who indicated that they had received an autism diagnosis, it is likely that many individuals on the autistic spectrum may be undiagnosed.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Unsplash.com

Transgender and gender-diverse adults are three to six times more likely as cisgender adults (individuals whose gender identity corresponds to their sex assigned at birth) to be diagnosed as autistic, according to a new study by scientists at the University of Cambridge’s Autism Research Centre.

This research – “Elevated rates of autism, other neurodevelopmental and psychiatric diagnoses and autistic traits in transgender and gender-diverse individuals” – was conducted using data from over 600,000 adult individuals, and it confirms previous smaller scale studies from clinics. The results are published in Nature Communications.

A better understanding of gender diversity in autistic individuals will help provide better access to health care and post-diagnostic support for autistic transgender and gender-diverse individuals.

The team used five different datasets, including a dataset of over 500,000 individuals collected as a part of UK’s Channel 4 documentary “Are you autistic?”. In these datasets, participants had provided information about their gender identity, and if they received a diagnosis of autism or other psychiatric conditions such as depression or schizophrenia. Participants also completed a measure of autistic traits.

Strikingly, across all five datasets, the team found that transgender and gender-diverse adult individuals were between three and six times more likely to indicate that they were diagnosed as autistic compared to cisgender individuals. While the study used data from adults who indicated that they had received an autism diagnosis, it is likely that many individuals on the autistic spectrum may be undiagnosed.

Transgender and gender-diverse individuals were also more likely to indicate that they had received diagnoses of mental health conditions, particularly depression, which they were more than twice as likely as their cisgender counterparts to have experienced.

In the UK, around 1.1% of the population is estimated to be on the autistic spectrum, and this result would suggest that somewhere between 3.5% to 6.5% of transgender and gender-diverse adults is on the autistic spectrum.

Dr Meng-Chuan Lai, a collaborator on the study at the University of Toronto, said: “We are beginning to learn more about how the presentation of autism differs in cisgender men and women. Understanding how autism manifests in transgender and gender-diverse people will enrich our knowledge about autism in relation to gender and sex. This enables clinicians to better recognize autism and provide personalised support and health care.”

Transgender and gender-diverse individuals were also more likely to indicate that they had received diagnoses of mental health conditions, particularly depression, which they were more than twice as likely as their cisgender counterparts to have experienced. Transgender and gender-diverse individuals also, on average, scored higher on measures of autistic traits compared to cisgender individuals, regardless of whether they had an autism diagnosis.

Dr Varun Warrier, who led the study, said: “This finding, using large datasets, confirms that the co-occurrence between being autistic and being transgender and gender-diverse is robust. We now need to understand the significance of this co-occurrence, and identify and address the factors that contribute to well-being of this group of people.”

The study investigates the co-occurrence between gender identity and autism. The team did not investigate if one causes the other.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge, and a member of the team, said: “Both autistic individuals and transgender and gender-diverse individuals are marginalized and experience multiple vulnerabilities. It is important that we safe-guard the rights of these individuals to be themselves, receive the requisite support, and enjoy equality and celebration of their differences, free of societal stigma or discrimination.”

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Health & Wellness

Supportive communities and progressive politics can reduce suicide risk among LGBTQ girls

New research shows that supportive communities – and a progressive political climate – can help mitigate the effects of stigma on mental health.

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Many LGBTQ youth continue to experience stigma and discrimination despite progress made in protecting human rights. Now new research from Canada’s UBC’s school of nursing shows that supportive communities – and a progressive political climate – can help mitigate the effects of stigma on mental health.

The researchers combined data from the BC Adolescent Health Survey with an inventory of different LGBTQ events and youth supportive service in communities across B.C. They found that the greater the LGBTQ youth supports in a community, the less likely sexual minority youth, particularly lesbian and bisexual girls, were to have suicidal thoughts or attempts, or to self-harm, compared to their counterparts in communities with fewer supportive events, groups and services. The team also found that lesbian and bisexual girls in communities where more people voted BC NDP in the 2013 provincial general election were less likely to report suicidal thoughts or self-harm.

Where lesbian, gay and bisexual youth live – their community environment, and the kind of LGBTQ-inclusive supports that are or aren’t there – appears to play a role in their odds of suicidality and self-harm.

In their inventory, the researchers counted LGBTQ-youth drop-ins and LGBTQ-youth friendly health services, as well as positive events like Pride parades, anti-bullying days, and meetings for parents, families and friends of LGBTQ people. Community resources that show support for LGBTQ people more generally, such as rainbow crosswalks, supportive faith communities, and queer-friendly coffee houses, also made the list.

“The impact of stigma and discrimination continues to put the health of LGBTQ youth at risk, but this risk isn’t equal everywhere,” said lead researcher Elizabeth Saewyc, a UBC nursing professor and director of Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre (SARAVYC). “Our research found that where lesbian, gay and bisexual youth live – their community environment, and the kind of LGBTQ-inclusive supports that are or aren’t there – appears to play a role in their odds of suicidality and self-harm.”

Saewyc says research shows that safe and inclusive schools, particularly those with gender and sexuality alliances, or GSAs, contribute to LGBTQ youth well-being, but this is among the first studies in Canada to look at the importance of the wider community at the same time.

“Even after accounting for school environments, our study found community supports and progressive political climates contribute to lesbian and bisexual girls’ health. It’s an important point for health care professionals and policymakers to consider – that LGBTQ visibility and support throughout communities can make a difference. We also need to recognize that the work is not yet done–we still have a long way to go to protect the health and well-being of all LGBTQ youth,” said Saewyc.

The research was published in Preventive Medicine.

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Health & Wellness

Hedonism can lead to happiness

Of course self-control is important, but research on self-regulation should pay just as much attention to hedonism, or short-term pleasure. That’s because new research shows that people’s capacity to experience pleasure or enjoyment contributes at least as much to a happy and satisfied life as successful self-control.

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Relaxing on the sofa or savoring a delicious meal: Enjoying short-term pleasurable activities that don’t lead to long-term goals contributes at least as much to a happy life as self-control, according to new research from the University of Zurich and Radboud University in the Netherlands. The researchers therefore argue for a greater appreciation of hedonism in psychology.

We all set ourselves long-term goals from time to time, such as finally getting into shape, eating less sugar or learning a foreign language. Research has devoted much time to finding out how we can reach these goals more effectively. The prevailing view is that self-control helps us prioritize long-term goals over momentary pleasure and that if you are good at self-control, this will usually result in a happier and more successful life.

“It’s time for a rethink,” says Katharina Bernecker, researcher in motivational psychology at the University of Zurich. “Of course self-control is important, but research on self-regulation should pay just as much attention to hedonism, or short-term pleasure.”

That’s because Bernecker’s new research shows that people’s capacity to experience pleasure or enjoyment contributes at least as much to a happy and satisfied life as successful self-control.

Distraction disrupts pleasure

Bernecker and her colleague Daniela Becker of Radboud University developed a questionnaire to measure respondents’ capacity for hedonism, i.e. their ability to focus on their immediate needs and indulge in and enjoy short-term pleasures. They used the questionnaire to find out whether people differ in their capacity to pursue hedonic goals in a variety of contexts, and whether this ability is related to well-being.

They found that certain people get distracted by intrusive thoughts in moments of relaxation or enjoyment by thinking about activities or tasks that they should be doing instead. “For example, when lying on the couch you might keep thinking of the sport you are not doing,” says Becker. “Those thoughts about conflicting long-term goals undermine the immediate need to relax.” On the other hand, people who can fully enjoy themselves in those situations tend to have a higher sense of well-being in general, not only in the short term, and are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, among other things.

More isn’t always better

“The pursuit of hedonic and long-term goals needn’t be in conflict with one another,” says Bernecker. “Our research shows that both are important and can complement each other in achieving well-being and good health. It is important to find the right balance in everyday life.”

People’s capacity to experience pleasure or enjoyment contributes at least as much to a happy and satisfied life as successful self-control.

Unfortunately, simply sitting about more on the sofa, eating more good food and going to the pub with friends more often won’t automatically make for more happiness. “It was always thought that hedonism, as opposed to self-control, was the easier option,” says Bernecker. “But really enjoying one’s hedonic choice isn’t actually that simple for everybody because of those distracting thoughts.”

Conscious planning of downtime

This is currently a topical issue with more people working from home, as the environment where they normally rest is suddenly associated with work. “Thinking of the work you still need to do can lead to more distracting thoughts at home, making you less able to rest,” says Bernecker.

So what can you do to enjoy your downtime more? More research is needed, but the researchers suspect that consciously planning and setting limits to periods of enjoyment could help to separate them more clearly from other activities, allowing pleasure to take place more undisturbed.

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Lifestyle & Culture

3 Ways to always feel that you are moving upwards in life

Here are a few things you can do to increase the chances that you always feel that you’re moving positively upwards in life.

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One of the best feelings in life is the sensation that you are constantly moving upwards. That you’re going from strength to strength and, that when you look back, you’ll see that you’ve travelled a long way in the right direction.

Of course, if you just leave life to sort itself out, the odds are high that you won’t end up feeling as though you’re consistently moving upwards. Rather, you will likely end up repeating the same patterns over and over, feeling stuck, and – in many ways – remaining where you are.

IMAGE SOURCE: PIXABAY.COM

Here are a few things you can do to increase the chances that you always feel that you’re moving positively upwards in life.

1. Always seek work that is fulfilling, and continually develop your professional skills

It might be that you are in a career that you love, and just don’t feel that your job is the perfect match for you. Or, maybe you’re not even a big fan of your general career.

We all spend a huge amount of our total time at work, so actively seeking out work that is fulfilling to you is one of the best ways of enhancing your well-being, as a whole.

Of course, the sense of moving upwards doesn’t just come from finding a new job, whether via a Practice Match service, or any other mechanism. In fact, even if you don’t find your dream job in the near future, the simple fact that you are always on the lookout can have a dramatically positive effect on your psychology.

By the same token, you should always work to develop your professional skills whenever you have the opportunity – both to make you more valuable as a potential employee, and also so that you keep moving upwards.

2. Pick up, and stick to, a good fitness routine

Physical exercise has all sorts of benefits, ranging from improved health outcomes and lifespan, to an enhanced ability to navigate the physical challenges of everyday life more easily, capably, and comfortably – whether that means carrying the groceries, or running for a bus.

Of course, regular physical exercise can also help to boost your confidence and your sense of well-being, both by releasing feel-good hormones, and also by helping you to move closer towards your ideal physique.

Perhaps one of the best things about a good fitness routine, though, is that it allows you to make measurable, incremental progress on a goal over time.

3. Practice healthy introspection, and assess the direction you’re heading in, regularly

If you don’t know where you want to go, you will be largely incapable of paying attention to the signs along the way that let you judge whether you are on the correct path or not.

Not only is it important to have goals and a clear sense of where you want to be, but it’s also important to regularly practice healthy introspection, and to assess the direction you’re heading in.
One great and time-honoured way of doing this is by journaling. When all is said and done, writing in a journal is basically the art of having a conversation with yourself.

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Health & Wellness

Laughter acts as a stress buffer – and even smiling helps

People who laugh frequently in their everyday lives may be better equipped to deal with stressful events – although this does not seem to apply to the intensity of laughter.

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People who laugh frequently in their everyday lives may be better equipped to deal with stressful events – although this does not seem to apply to the intensity of laughter. These are the findings reported by a research team from the University of Basel in the journal PLOS ONE.

It is estimated that people typically laugh 18 times a day – generally during interactions with other people and depending on the degree of pleasure they experience. Researchers have also reported differences related to time of day, age, and gender – for example, it is known that women smile more than men on average.

Now, researchers from the Division of Clinical Psychology and Epidemiology of the Department of Psychology at the University of Basel have recently conducted a study on the relationship between stressful events and laughter in terms of perceived stress in everyday life.

Questions asked by app

In the intensive longitudinal study, an acoustic signal from a mobile phone app prompted participants to answer questions eight times a day at irregular intervals for a period of 14 days. The questions related to the frequency and intensity of laughter and the reason for laughing – as well as any stressful events or stress symptoms experienced – in the time since the last signal.

Using this method, the researchers working with the lead authors, Dr. Thea Zander-Schellenberg and Dr. Isabella Collins, were able to study the relationships between laughter, stressful events, and physical and psychological symptoms of stress (“I had a headache” or “I felt restless”) as part of everyday life. The published analysis was based on data from 41 psychology students, 33 of whom were women, with an average age of just under 22.

Intensity of laughter has less influence

The first result of the observational study was expected based on the specialist literature: in phases in which the subjects laughed frequently, stressful events were associated with more minor symptoms of subjective stress. However, the second finding was unexpected.

When it came to the interplay between stressful events and intensity of laughter (strong, medium or weak), there was no statistical correlation with stress symptoms. “This could be because people are better at estimating the frequency of their laughter, rather than its intensity, over the last few hours,” says the research team.

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Health & Wellness

Experiences of loneliness may differ by age

Some factors were found to be associated with loneliness across all age groups. These included living alone, frequency of neighbour contact, psychological distress, and psychological and emotional wellbeing. The strongest association with loneliness was found for those who felt excluded from society.

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Loneliness in adult life is experienced differently depending on age, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health. The research concludes that there can be no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to reducing loneliness, as factors associated with it, such as contact with friends and family, perceived health or employment, may differ across the phases of the adult life span.

Thanée Franssen, the corresponding author, said: “The majority of studies focusing on loneliness have thus far been performed among specific age groups, such as the elderly or teenagers, or individuals with specific health conditions. To our knowledge, none of these studied the factors associated with loneliness among adults and how these change as people age.”

A team of researchers at Maastricht University and in the Public Health Service South-Limburg in the Netherlands used data collected in the Netherlands from September to December 2016 to examine associations between demographic, social and health-related factors and loneliness in 6,143 young (19-34 years), 8,418 early middle-aged (35-49 years) and 11,758 late middle-aged adults (50-65 years).

Overall, 10,309 (44.3%) individuals reported experiencing loneliness. Among young adults, 2,042 (39.7%) individuals reported feelings of loneliness, compared to 3,108 (43.3%) early-middle aged adults, and 5,159 late middle-aged adults (48.2%).

Some factors were found to be associated with loneliness across all age groups. These included living alone, frequency of neighbour contact, psychological distress, and psychological and emotional wellbeing. The strongest association with loneliness was found for those who felt excluded from society.

Some factors associated with loneliness were found to be present in specific age groups only. Young adults showed the strongest association between contact frequency with friends and loneliness. Educational level was associated with loneliness among young adults only, while an association between employment status and loneliness was found solely among early middle-aged adults. Frequency of family contact was associated with loneliness only among early and late middle-aged adults. For late middle-aged adults only, perceived health was associated with loneliness.

The authors suggest that people may feel lonely if what is the norm for their age group, such as completing school, being employed, having a partner or having children, deviates from their actual situation. As different factors are perceived to be the norm for different age groups, this may explain some of the difference in factors associated with loneliness between age groups.

Thanée Franssen said: “The identification of the factors associated with loneliness is necessary to be able to develop and target appropriate interventions. Unfortunately, most of the current interventions seem to be limited in their effect. A possible reason for this may be that most interventions for adults are universal. Results of this study showed that interventions should be developed for specific age groups.”

The authors caution that some factors that may affect people’s perception of loneliness, such as relationship quality, were not included in the current study, as they were not part of the original data collection. Due to the cross-sectional nature of the study, it was not possible to establish cause and effect.

Thanée Franssen said: “Our results also suggest that during the current COVID-19 pandemic, feelings of loneliness among adults may be impacted in different ways according to the important factors of their life phase. For example, young adults are not able to interact with their friends or classmates face to face anymore. This may need to be taken into account when considering the impact on loneliness of the current pandemic.”

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