Monday, April 25, 2011

Similarities and no differences in Hong Kong



In Hong Kong yesterday for less than 24 hours to sign some documents, I took advantage of a couple of spare hours to have dinner with my old friend H, a multilingual and multinational citizen of the world with homes in eight countries and ex-girlfriends in many more places than that. He was once master of the universe in Tokyo, and with impeccable timing he and his Ferrari moved to Hong Kong at exactly the right time to do so, and he promptly became a master of the universe there as well.


SOMETHING WRONG?


As always, wherever he goes, he's on top of his game and happily coasting along with a lifestyle of hard work and never-ending holidays to exotic places. His mantra is work hard and play hard, and he's one of these people who wants to have it all (and don't we all?). In fact, considering my trip to Hong Kong was very last-minute, it was a wonder that I even found him at work this morning, when I emailed on the way to the airport, and -- more importantly -- that he was free for the evening. Of course he immediately invited me to a fancy dinner in a glamorous and much-talked about place in Central with fantastic views and beautiful people but so-so food. If you know Hong Kong, you'll have an idea where I was last night.


"You're like me -- you're almost never free in the evening, and especially at the last-minute," I said by way of greeting. "What's wrong?"


He was waiting for me at the bar with a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket next to him, fiddling with his Blackberry. Yes, lots of my friends are on Blackberry but I'm only on BBM with three of them. He wasn't one of them. He smiled that delicious smile that had made many girls swoon in the past. Fortunately I wasn't one of them. I've known him for ages and we were always just very good friends. "Of course I had something tonight," he replied. "But I canceled it for you."


I'd written a novel some years ago about life in Tokyo amidst the heady rush of a couple of bull markets, and one of the central characters had been inspired by H. The character was smart, sweet, charming and kind; and generous to a fault because he'd been so lucky in life. But he was also unpredictable, used to getting his way all the time, quite competitive and incredibly spoiled -- the last was the result of women throwing themselves at him all the time, I always theorized.


He also played dumb about girls' feelings whenever this was convenient -- and this was way too often for my tastes. I always thanked my guardian angel that I was never on the receiving end of this charm as he left a very long string of broken hearts and angry females along the way. He was a great dinner companion but I also knew lots of women who were ready to hurl a buffet of expletives at the mere mention of his name. The character in the book I wrote is very much like him.


REAL LIFE BECOMES A STORY


The book was basically fiction but lots of it was based loosely on real life. And H had been tickled pink to be included and portrayed as a master of the universe forever getting into trouble because of girls running after him. I'd even written about a couple of double dates we'd had long ago that had actually happened -- and this is where real life became part of fiction. H just loved bringing to our dinners at some of Tokyo's best restaurants these beautiful women who never ordered anything because they were constantly on diets and who couldn't carry a conversation longer than five minutes.


"Guess what," I said to him, when we'd finished updating each other on our lives. He'd just sold a villa in the south of France to some Russian businessman in order to buy an even bigger one, and just returned from Tanzania to see the waterfalls. Meanwhile, I told him about my never-ending Travelife and all our wonderful projects in Travelife over the next few months. Apart from producing the Philippines' leading travel and lifestyle magazine, we're opening a store, organizing events and tours, and launching a tv show.


"One of my friends in Manila actually reminds me of you," I continued. He didn't look too pleased. "I can't have a double," he said, "I'm in a class by myself. You've said so yourself."


Then he thought for a moment and asked: "Is he as bad as I am?" I replied with lots of conviction: "Worse."


He paused again, as if to fathom the implications of a double who was double him. As I've already mentioned, he's quite competitive. Then he said, "That many girls, huh?"


"Not as many girls, I would think," I replied. "But he's worse because at least you know what you are. He just keeps denying any similarities and insisting he's a nice guy."


H smiled. "The worst kind," he said. "The man in denial. But -- similarities? How would he know about those if we haven't met?"



"Oh he knows of you," I replied. "I gave him a copy of my book last week to take on a trip, and I told him Chapter 2 was based on my friend H and that he reminded me of H. The moment he read it, he sent me a message saying Chapter 2 couldn't possibly be him."


"Hmm..I've never met a guy who didn't want to be me before," he said. It truly seemed an alien idea to him. Interestingly, I'd heard something to the same effect from H's double in Manila just the other day; and I'd had a long conversation with that same morning on why he reminded me of H.


"Oh he's very happy being himself," I said, "which is basically being you."



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