Hello from Tokyo, a city that once soared so high in the very late 1980s that people were sprinkling gold shavings on rice and soup and waving 10,000 yen (US$100 in today's money) notes in the air, as they stood in the streets, just to get a taxi. It was the height of the bubble economy then and everyone was feeling flush. They were using taxis like private cars, spending a thousand dollars in an afternoon shopping spree, and buying up real estate the way most other people would purchase a house in a Monopoly game. It was a glorious time to be in Japan and I was privileged to witness it at its height.
Then the bubble crashed and 20 years later, Japan hasn't quite gotten its mojo back. In fact, things are probably on a downward spiral economically, as more companies go bankrupt and more people steadily eat up their savings just to maintain a life. In 20 years, this country -- with its educated people, massive resources and once-rich coffers (the tax rate here is among the highest in the world) -- has failed to lift itself out of a recession and make life better for its people.
So it's not only the Philippines that's got problems. And, in Japan's case, it really has no proper excuse as to why it messed up so badly. It's a wealthy First World country with no major external or internal threats, and it's only mandate was to get out of a recession by stimulating local consumption so that exporters would not have to rely on the rest of the world for business. I really don't know why it could not do this. And today, Japan is a shell of what it used to be and aggressive Asian countries like China and India are well on their way to overtaking it.
On a personal level, I see how things have changed because so many shops and restaurants have closed down. Also, in my neighborhood, which counts two very recent prime ministers (Former Prime Minister Taro Aso, for instance, lives two doors down on a lovely estate with a Swiss-type chalet), former Indonesian First Lady Dewi Sukarno (who lives in a red brick house in front) and a handful of ambassadors as neighbors, so many apartment units are empty because so many foreign expatriate families have been sent back home. The other day I was walking past an expat building here which I know once housed a couple of ambassadors. I knew this because they were forever having parties at home and the streets would be perpetually clogged with cars with diplomatic license plates. Well, this entire building was empty and it was for sale! And apparently there have been no buyers or interested parties for quite a while, in spite of the attractiveness of the property. Signs of the times.
On a more positive note, the mood in the Philippines is upbeat and the latest issue of Travelife (June-July 2010) is a wonderful issue and perhaps our best one yet. The cover was shot in beautiful Bellaroca Resort in Marinduque, an island paradise in Marinduque that has spared no comfort and luxury for its guests, and which we consider the perfect honeymoon destination. The cover's a great collaborative effort of Dexter Francis de Vera, Travelife Magazine Creative Director, and Jon Vicente, Travelife Magazine Managing Editor; who teamed up again again a few weeks after this Bellaroca visit to do cover shoots for Travelife in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Watch out for these fantastic covers in our future issues.
Inside, it's a wonderful combination of travel articles with a good balance of luxury, adventure, romantic trips and backpacking journeys. Thailand has restored calm to its capital and it's probably the best time to get great deals on everything from hotel rates to shopping bargains. In our June-July issue, read about the Peninsula Bangkok, an oasis of opulent peace in Bangkok; and about the fantastic food offerings in Chiang Mai, as written by Jon Vicente, who recently flew Thai Airways to Bangkok and then Chiang Mai to go on a fabulous gourmet trip of Northern Thailand.
This issue is also full of adventure. In his engaging story Deep in the Heart, Robbie Francisco dove into Nueva Vizcaya’s charms in more than one way by exploring one of the region's most amazing caves. Meanwhile, Travelife Magazine Domestic Editor at Large Gabby Malvar, ever the thrill-seeker, did two amazing extremes. He walked an arduous 100 kilometers up a tempestuous Patagonian range curiously – but evocatively – named Torres del Paine (King of Pain); and then, in his local travel piece entitled Home Alone, he opted to spend 24 hours alone in a wooden hut in the middle of the ocean in Manjuyod. Some of those 24 hours were peaceful and relaxing, but a few of those hours were all about crashing waves rising to the floor of his nipa hut, and a terrifying experience.
Travelife's regular columnist and Global Editor at Large, international designer Rafe Totengco, wrote about a memorable spur-of-the-moment family reunion in Lisbon, Portugal, that made his mother the happiest in the world. But in-between family bonding, he checks out the dining and shopping scene in Lisbon and gives readers a list of the best places to visit, shop and eat in. On the other hand, architect Miko Liwanag, Travelife's newest columnist, writes about an entirely different kind of encounter in Kyoto, Japan, where he tracks down the elusive geisha and manages to elicit more than a smile from them. If you know Miko, who is a passionate traveler and heritage conservationist intent on visiting and saving as many of the world's old monuments as he can, you'll understand that he doesn't really have much trouble convincing anyone to say yes. But this is one rare time that he does have to work up a sweat.
Finally, Kaye Cloutman, Travelife's California correspondent, meanders through Napa Valley, paradise of food and wine, rubbing elbows with CIA operatives – that’s the innocuous, but no less world-changing Culinary Institute of America, as Jon says in his Managing Editor's Note -- and with all the cooking greats in this part of the world. She literally gets to eat everywhere famous and fine and she describes everything in excellent detail, so her comprehensive guide to Napa is the only thing you'll need to take with you on your own visit. And even if you don't plan on visiting Napa Valley anytime soon, it's a wonderful wishful read anyway. We should know. We got so hungry editing this piece that we closed our Macs as soon as we could and headed for the nearest French restaurant for a proper dinner. It wasn't as good as the dozens of meals Kaye enjoyed for her article, but it was better than nothing.
So we hope you'll grab a copy of this wonderful issue on the newsstands or at your nearest bookstore. It's a real keeper, whether you're planning a trip somewhere soon or whether you're just looking for something relaxing to read at bedtime. There's a reason why we're the Philippines' leading travel & lifestyle publication -- and that's because Travelife's an excellent magazine. Many thanks for your continued support. We all appreciate it.
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