Thursday, June 30, 2011

Digital detoxing and a long lunch

Last night I had dinner with my friend X at the Peninsula Manila. He was in the middle of what he calls a "digital detox" so he'd thrown away his mobile phone on purpose. Consequently, when I was running 20 minutes late because of the rains and traffic, I couldn't even text him to say so. But he was pretty relaxed about things, so when I finally walked into the restaurant, he greeted me with a smile. He'd been reading a copy of the latest issue of Travelife Magazine, and he was exactly at the page of my article; so it looked like he'd been keeping himself adequately entertained.


"What's with the digital detox?" I asked him. He shrugged and said: "Too much mental clutter. I realized I was spending too much time on calls and texts, and it was keeping me way too busy." Yup, we'd been communicating by email this whole week, but it was only last night that I realized how serious he was about the detox.

I had to take a few minutes to fathom this as it was poles apart from where I was psychologically. After all, just earlier that same afternoon, I'd just sent my other friend J a BBM saying how happy I was that he'd gotten me on Blackberry -- and now I'm hooked. I can't imagine life without it -- or at least I can't imagine having to deal with Manila traffic without it. I don't care how long it takes me to go from place to place anymore as I can work in the car and email replies to urgent emails in two seconds from wherever in the world I am; and my close friends can always reach me on BBM. So, in this state of mind, you can understand why I can't imagine a life without a mobile phone anymore.


We had other pretty interesting conversations last night. X believes there's big business to be done tapping the BPO market and he has all sorts of really brilliant ideas for capturing this market of young people with lots of spending money. "You can tap this market for making money," he said, "but you can also tap them as an advocacy. This is the future and it'd be great to make them more aware of better values, ways to improve their lives and make smart decisions. This could be a way to help improve the country. We're talking about a future generation of leaders, after all."


Then today I had lunch with M, our second meal together this week since we'd had dinner on the very day I'd arrived from Europe. And technically this was one of my last meals before flying off to Dubai on the weekend. M was also my last dinner the evening before I flew to Europe last June -- so you might say that meeting up before and after a trip is getting to be a habit. So I don't have to tell you when our next dinner's going to be...

In the middle of the morning, he texted: "Let's eat at Goose Station. I'm at a meeting so please get your sec to book us a table." This was the second invitation I'd gotten for The Goose Station this week. What's with guys wanting to eat at The Goose Station all of a sudden, I wondered.

Unfortunately, The Goose Station is only open for dinner so it wasn't a go. I texted him back: "Let's go to Masseto instead." A text came back pretty quickly: "Out of the way today. I don't want to get into Salcedo traffic. Let's go to Aubergine at the Fort."


Aubergine ended up being a nice choice because it was quiet and relaxing. There were few occupied tables and they had a pretty nice four-course business lunch. I wasn't that hungry, but when I saw the menu, I decided to take on the lunch with the works: salad and soup to start, followed by a wagyu ribeye steak and a decadent chocolate cake.

We had a pretty nice three-hour lunch trading business strategies and talking about our version of the good old day days. M, who's CEO of a pretty large outfit, told me: "I'm a very competitive person so I like people who work fast, or else I get bored very easily." I smiled. That could've been me. I replied: "Well, I want everything done yesterday."

It was his turn to smile. "That's my motto, too," he said.

We were basically just talking shop, but it's pretty fun to meet up as all kinds of other topics are interspersed into business. But it was certainly a very nice start to the weekend. And then it was back to work at the office....and off to Dubai tomorrow.

From all of us at Travelife Magazine, have a wonderful weekend -- wherever in the world you'll be.



Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A night of college memories

Today I left work exactly at 7 pm to make it in time for dinner with my old school friend Triccie. From the office, I picked her up at home and we went to the Dusit Thani Manila for a Japanese dinner at UMU.

I hadn't been to her parents' house in a very long time. But as soon as I stood outside her gate, a flood of memories of all our college parties came rushing back in a matter of seconds. We'd had so many fun parties at her house, and I'd also often had dinner with her and her parents after school or on weekends.


My most vivid memory was when I passed her dining room earlier this evening: images of our friends and classmates around the table, joking around and having fun at a chocolate fondue party we'd planned together, entered my head. She may not remember this particular party, out of the gazillion parties and get-togethers we had in her home, but I remember it because we'd planned it together around the theme of chocolate fondue. We'd practically invited everyone in school and it had been a great night.

When I finally saw Triccie tonight, the first thing I said was: "Gosh, your house brings back so many memories." She laughed and replied: "That's so funny. Everyone says that."

Yes, her house was party central and the focus of so many college get-togethers.


Meanwhile, her favorite memory of me from college, which she likes to bring up every so often, is the first time she rode with me in my brand new German Passat. The moment I'd gotten my driving license sometime in second-year college, my father had given me a car and I'd taken to driving myself to school. Ateneo was a much more peaceful campus then, and those of us who took their cars to school everyday could basically find parking pretty easily.

Well, on one of my first days as a driver, she'd gotten into my car for a ride back to Makati. We'd been driving along for about five minutes when she suddenly turned to me and said: "Why is your rear-view mirror angled towards you instead of towards the back?"

I'd glanced at the rear-view mirror and said: "Oh, that. I just use it to check my eyeshadow."


Today, however, we had a very long dinner with some pretty serious discussions. She's always full of straight talk and good sense so it's very nice to have an evening like this every so often. As always, we'd ordered too much (or actually, I'd ordered too much) because everything on the menu looked so good.

"Did you order every single fish on the menu?" She asked me. She'd left the ordering to me since Japanese food was more my forte than hers. So I guess you know what I'm having for breakfast tomorrow morning.


After I'd dropped her off back home, I sped off down the South Expressway to Sucat, to go to the wake of the late singer and musician Josephine Ramos. I'd only met her a few times, but I'd had the privilege of working for her father and organizing some of his events on state visits.

One of my favorite memories of working with former President Ramos involved two major photo exhibits on the Philippines that I'd organized in Tokyo and Osaka with the help of Marubeni Corporation and the DTI and DOT. We'd timed the exhibits for a state visit of President Ramos, and he'd cut the ribbons for both exhibits with a phalanx of Philippine and Japanese dignitaries present.

We'd had the Tokyo exhibit first; and from Tokyo, the Philippine delegation had gotten on a bullet train for Osaka, blocking out three or four long cars to fit the entire delegation. I'd been extremely tired and stressed from all my PR responsibilities for the state visit and the Tokyo exhibit, and now the Osaka exhibit was coming up.

For the three hours between Tokyo and Osaka on the bullet train, I was really looking forward to some temporary downtime: curling up in my seat with an o-bento lunch and then having a nap before the excitement began again.

But that wasn't to be. One of the president's aides came looking for me with a message: "The President wants to see you."

FVR was in a private car in the middle carriage, and when I knocked on his door, he was there reading a pile of documents. He said to me: "I want you to make my speech for the opening of the exhibit in Osaka. It should be different from the Tokyo speech."

I had 2.5 hours to get a speech done, approved, and printed before we reached Osaka. And I didn't even have my laptop with me. Fortunately I was able to borrow a laptop and get everything done somehow. And one of the biggest satisfactions of my life then was seeing FVR reading a speech I had written for him, as the opening remarks of an exhibit I had organized, with an auditorium full of top government officials and businessmen from Japan and the Philippines. I was barely out of college then and it was an experience beyond my wildest imagination.


These were some of the memories in my head as the car sped down the expressway. I finally reached the wake past midnight and the crowds were thinning out.

While waiting to condole with former President Ramos, I talked to some people around me who were close to the family. Everyone marveled at how Jo was always so strong and unassuming, and how enjoyable her musical performances had always been. It's truly a sad case of someone gone too soon.

Before leaving, I approached President Ramos, intent on only saying a few words of sympathy. It was very late and I'd heard that he'd been staying at the wake until 4 AM everyday, so I was sure he was exhausted. But when I neared him, I observed that he was as lively and sharp as ever, and as always, conversing animatedly with guests in spite of his deep bereavement.

We spoke for a few minutes; and just before he was going to talk to another set of arrivals, he turned around again and said to me: "Your magazine. Travelife. Is that a lot of writing? Or a lot of marketing?"

He said this with a bit of a twinkle in his eye. I replied with as much respect as possible: "Sir, I'm sure you know the answer better than I do."

And with a bit of a smile, he waved me off.

For friends of Jo Ramos
Mass on Thursday, 30 June, at 730 PM
Internment services at 12 noon on 1 July

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Art on the walls and on the table

This evening in our never-endingly interesting city found me traveling across town to Roxas Boulevard to attend the celebration party of our partners, the Business Mirror, in the penthouse of the new Midas Hotel. Business Mirror was named Newspaper of the Year by a very distinguished panel and this is the second time in five years that they are receiving this very prestigious award. We at Travelife Magazine are very happy for them, and we're very pleased to be associated with such a good publication.


We were also in very good company tonight. It was a pretty intimate party, but when I looked around the room, I saw so many big names and CEOs of major corporations. Like us, they were all there to help Business Mirror celebrate, and most of them stayed for much of the party.

It was my first visit to the Midas Hotel (which used to be the Hyatt Regency). Upon entering, I was struck by the designer boutique-feel of the lobby and its very clean lines. The decor that stood out, however, were walls of orange boxes on both sides of the lobby.

"Wow, those look like Hermes boxes," I said. They were almost exactly in that same shade of orange. I thought nothing else of it, however, until I reached the elevator where -- true enough -- a display of Birkins and their Hermes orange boxes were displayed in a row.

I'd budgeted exactly until 720 PM to stay at the cocktail party as I had a 745 dinner back in Makati. But obviously, when you try to cram too many things in one evening, schedules never stay on plan. There were just too many interesting people to talk to, and when I looked at my watch, it was close to 8 pm.


Fortunately, my art collector friend who'd invited to dinner was pretty understanding -- especially as I finally walked into The Goose Station at Fort close to 9 PM. We'd actually planned on a Japanese dinner at Kobikicho in Legazpi Village, and it was supposed to be yesterday. But I had to switch dinners around and so our next plan was to have dinner tonight at Sala. But over a series of texts to coordinate logistics today, we changed restaurants a couple more times. We'd already decided on Opus when I got a text from him at the Business Mirror cocktail party: "Do you mind if we make it Goose Station instead?"

I like Opus a lot, but Goose Station was good too, so we decided to have the 24-hour steak at Goose Station. Fortunately, he'd ordered ahead so that when I finally sat down at the table, my dinner literally got served to me within a minute.

Over our excellent steak, we talked of course about art. This is the same friend who'd convinced me to trade with him for a very large red painting that is now hanging in my dining room wall. He's constantly buying art -- I reckon he picks up a piece every week, although he (modestly) says it's more like once a month -- and his collection is now so big that much of it is in storage until he builds a larger house.

Tonight, we made plans to attend a local art event together in October. It's fun going to art events with like-minded people, after all.

"I can't believe we're having dinner in June and planning to attend something in Manila in October," I said. "That's over three months away." He replied: "It's your schedule that's the problem."

It's true. I'd just arrived yesterday from close to three weeks in Europe and I'm leaving again for Dubai over the weekend. And every single night is busy for the next few weeks, and every single month for the rest of the year is going to be like this, if not worse.


"What's your August like?" He asked, to prove his point on the impossibility of my schedule. I looked at my Blackberry. I was traveling so much that I couldn't even remember what was coming up on what month, without looking at my phone. Then I replied: "Actually, it's a relatively light month. No long distance trips. I just have Japan and Malaysia, as of now. But September and October are killers. I'm going back to Europe in September, and I have Taiwan as well. Then in October, it's Indonesia and Turkey -- and maybe Nepal."

Just then a little goodbye gift arrived from the chef in the form of a truly scrumptious macaron fashioned to look like a hamburger sandwich. We took one each and popped it into our mouths in one go. It was so good.

"Now that's what I call art," I said. Just another Tuesday night in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.



Monday, June 27, 2011

True confessions in Hong Kong

So yesterday's blog entry was about going from one home to another. And tonight, it's about having one Chinese lauriat after another. Yesterday, Sunday, I was in Hong Kong and I had dinner at the Mandarin Oriental's fabled Man Wah Cantonese restaurant at the top of the hotel, which is one of my favorite Chinese restaurants. I come here each time I'm in Hong Kong, and a couple of times I've even dined here solo and ordered an entire Peking duck. You can imagine the stares I got from other diners when I did this. Even on a Sunday evening, which is typically a very quiet day for establishments in Central, the restaurant was full of prosperous-looking locals.


And tonight, my first night back in Manila, I had dinner at another fabled Chinese restaurant -- the Shang Palace of the Makati Shangri-la. So after my trip to Europe, it's been two wonderful Chinese dinners in a row.

Interestingly, dinner at Shang Palace tonight was with M, the same person I had dinner with on my last evening before leaving town a few weeks ago. We stayed up talking in the restaurant until close to midnight, which was the only time we realized that we were the last ones around and the staff was just too polite to tell us to go home. But that's another story.


Back to Man Wah at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong. After over two weeks in Europe, I was eager last night for proper Chinese food, and I convinced a British friend living in Hong Kong to join us for a lauriat dinner at the Mandarin.

He brought with him last night his new girlfriend, who was very much the type of girl he always dates -- a very pretty ex-model from an ex-Russian state with a penchant for expensive baubles, who wanted to be a lawyer and who seemed very street smart. She'd lived in Tokyo, Luxembourg, Greece, Spain and even in Bulgaria. In Tokyo, she'd done modeling for Louis Vuitton. She was certainly eye candy for the high-flyer he was, being the kind of guy who wanted to have everything in life -- a great career, cash in the bank, expensive toys and the beautiful woman next to him.


So I'd met a string of his eye candies before, but this new girlfriend seemed ambitious, determined and yet charmingly warm. She began almost every other sentence with the phrase "I have to confess to you..." which initially made me feel like she was going to admit to something earthshaking like "I have to confess to you that I was a Cold War spy," or "I have to confess to you that I was a man before a sex-change operation;" or "I have to confess to you that I was the ex-girl friend of a Russian mobster." Or perhaps the second wife of a Third World dictator.

It turned out that it was probably just the kind of stilted English she'd learned at school back in Russia -- or the result of her translating from Russian to English. Because her unusual way of starting her sentences with "I have to confess to you" was followed by statements like "that I'm crazy about spas." So what she actually said was: "I have to confess to you that I'm crazy about spas." Or her other confession: "I have to confess to you that I love designer clothes but I only buy at the Foxtown outlet in Europe."

But the two of them seemed very in love and my friend seemed quite happy. We talked about many things, but we began the evening by talking about travel, perhaps because of my connection with Travelife Magazine.


Then it was time for my friend to make his own confession. He was in troubled state of mind. "So I have two weeks to go on holiday and an unlimited budget," my friend began. "But the problem is, we can't decide where to go. We sat by the pool all morning googling places on our iPhones and we just couldn't decide."

He wasn't boasting either when he said he had an unlimited budget, but was just doing regular conversation. In his world -- the world of high-flyers in international finance -- people talk like this all the time and no one gives it a second thought because that's just how everyone else around them lives. Lots of them do have unlimited travel budgets.

"The trouble with you is that you're spoiled for choice," I said. "With enough time and no money constraints, you have the whole world and that's just too much. If you were just a little less fortunate, like most normal people, I can guarantee that you'd be booking a trip somewhere in 30 minutes. There would be at least five places you'd love to visit in a heartbeat." I'd definitely be able to quickly name five cities I'd love to spend two weeks in with an unlimited credit card.

He smiled. Being extremely competitive, he certainly liked the idea of being more fortunate than his other pretty fortunate peers. But it was this very same competitiveness that got him to where he was today -- and that's getting him to where he's headed tomorrow.


Over dinner, we continued our lively conversations, although most of it was more about reminiscing over 20 years of living very interesting lives around the world. We laughed so much remembering how he'd crashed a showroom Ferrari while on a test drive, and how he and three other friends had attempted to play golf one day at Seoul's poshest golf club. They were incredibly hung over and two of the guys were playing golf for the first time.

I don't even know how they got on the course since two out of four in their party had never hit a ball in their life save for a few rounds on the driving range; but they probably got on the greens because they were foreigners. Well, it had taken them 30 minutes to get past Hole # 1, as the two first-timers were hitting balls every 10 yards. And by the time they'd done three holes, there was a very long line of fuming Koreans behind them. By the 5th hole, everyone else had lost their patience and had booted them out.


The biggest confession of the day concerned cocaine, although I can't even remember how this topic came up.

"Those days are behind me now," he said, meaning those days of attending parties where cocaine was served on silver trays like appetizers or petit fours. He never said whether he'd actually tried the stuff.

I had to ask: "Those days?" I'd known him for the most part of those 20 years, but I'd never ever tried cocaine or been to a cocaine party. I was also in Tokyo at exactly this same time but, again, I'd never ever been to a party where the hostess served cocaine to guests. I don't think I've even seen cocaine before.

"Japan and Hong Kong were crazy," he continued. "There was a time when every dinner party I went to involved a proper three- or four-course meal followed by dessert and cocaine arranged on a tray."


"Were we going to the same parties?" I asked him a little incredulously. He replied: "You were too much of a good girl. You were always working too hard and hanging out with the right kind of people. I don't think diplomats ever had cocaine parties." They most certainly didn't. As far as I could tell.

"And Hong Kong's still bad, although I never touch the stuff," he said, obviously relishing my surprise. It was like we'd known each other but we lived in two completely different worlds. And maybe we actually do.

"Last night, for example, we were at this bar in Repulse Bay when a couple of friends walked in," he continued. "I knew they were getting high on coke because they came into the bar all quiet, and then one by one they left for the bathroom. A few minutes after coming back from the bathroom, they were all noisy and very happy. That's one sign of people doing coke, by the way. They'll usually be taking turns in the bathroom and passing something around very discretely."

Talk about the useful things you learn on a 15-hour stopover in Hong Kong. Just another 24 hours in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful, TRAVELIFE.


From one home to another -- and another

Last weekend was spent basically making a long trip across the world. I finally left the beautiful Silver Spirit cruise ship -- my home for the last eight days -- in Barcelona and then flew back to Manila via Istanbul and Hong Kong. In Barcelona, I got a car and driver to take me around the city for a few hours to revisit favorites spots and old haunts: Sagrada Familia, the Casa Mira, and the old town around the cathedral.

And then I got a bite of tapas -- several plates of my favorite jamon jabugo accompanied by slices of local cheeses and an order of fried anchovies -- before heading to the airport to catch my flight to Istanbul. If you've read my previous posts, you'll know that Silversea is like a second holiday home to me; and it was very comfortable to be on the Silver Spirit again, after sailing with this same ship and crew just three months ago, from Bali to Manila.


In Barcelona, which has a really impressive modern terminal so in keeping with its reputation as a design capital, I boarded Turkish Airlines to Istanbul to catch my onward connection to Hong Kong. Again, it was like another "home away from home" as Turkish Airlines is really a comfortable set-up. Everyone who travels with me when I take Turkish Airlines always laughs, because I get this feeling of being so at home once I get into that THY 777 jet that crisscrosses between Hong Kong and Istanbul. I like everything about it, including the size of the beds, the meals, and the entertainment.

The Turkish Airlines flight that departs every evening from Hong Kong is really a great connection between Asia and Europe, as far as I'm concerned. The planes leave either place at midnight, and you arrive in either Hong Kong or Istanbul with enough time and daylight to still get a lot of things done. So last night in Istanbul, I got on the plane, had a couple of appetizers and some champagne, and then pressed the buttons to transform my club seat into a proper bed. I've ridden business class long-haul on so many airlines now, and Turkish Airlines is really among the most comfortable. It's wide, completely flat, and it comes with comforters instead of blankets.

I went to sleep and when I woke up, we were less than one hour away from Hong Kong and I had just enough time for breakfast. Talk about a painless way to travel between continents.


In Hong Kong, I'd barely landed and my other "home away from home" was ready to greet me. As I stepped out of the plane, there was the familiar Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong's Meet and Greet staff at the airplane doorside with a sign and a welcoming smile. She'd also prepared a passenger cart to navigate that long airport and get me to immigrations ahead of everyone else. That walk to immigrations from the Turkish Airlines landing gate is certainly a long one, and there are just so many people on that immigration line -- so it made all the difference after a long but not uncomfortable flight to have the cart.

Within 20 minutes, I was in the hotel car zooming past picturesque bays and hills towards Central. I was back in my part of the world and now in good hands. Everything works like clockwork at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong -- I've been staying here for years and this has got to be one of the finest hotels in the world for service, as far as I'm concerned -- and as we glided into the driveway, the hotel's welcoming committee was at the driveway with my check-in documents and key all ready for handover. No downtime for registration and zero fuss.


"Welcome back to the Mandarin," the girl said. We walked through the lobby and straight to my suite on the 22nd floor as I had all my details on file and all she needed was to update my passport. With such tedious things out of the way so quickly and effortlessly, I was able to head for the spa within a few minutes of arrival and was soon chilling out at the Mandarin's Chinese Herbal Thermal Steam Room before anyone else could say "Welcome back to Hong Kong."

I returned to my suite just in time to get ready for the arrival of an old friend who was joining us for dinner, and bringing his new Russian girlfriend with him. A real high flyer, he's quite a catch in many ways so he's never without eye candy next to him -- usually a European model-type with a sexy accent.

Anyway, we were going to have a lauriat dinner at Man Wah, the Mandarin's fabled Cantonese restaurant on the top floor; but since it was such a lovely evening in Hong Kong and my suite had a terrace with an amazing view, I decided to ask them over to my suite to start the night off with champagne on the terrace. No need to go to Sevva for cocktails when I had the same view in private from my hotel room terrace.

We had such interesting conversations over delicious Cantonese food at Man Wah until late last night. More on that and his new Ferrari in my next blog entry.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

A week on a silver sea

Hello from Istanbul. I've just flown in from Barcelona and am killing time at the airport before my long flight back to Asia after my Mediterranean cruise, so I thought I'd write a little bit about my wonderful week on board Silversea's Silver Spirit, the luxury cruise liner's newest ship, as it sailed from Lisbon to Barcelona.

Last week I boarded the Silver Spirit in Lisbon and at 6 PM, we sailed out of the harbour towards Spain, with the sun slowly going down over this picturesque and yet crumbling city of old glories and past memories. We were all on the top decks of the ship, drinking champagne and having caviar with blinis as we sailed away with chill music in the background, excited to be on a new adventure that would take us to amazing places. The beautiful scene certainly inspired many of us to think about our lives and our good fortune -- we were all lucky to be exactly where we were, on perhaps the world's must luxurious cruise ship as it sailed out of one of the world's most beautiful cities.


I had my iPod with me, and interestingly, I was playing some songs that had accompanied me the last time I had sailed on this very ship, which was about three months ago, when I’d boarded the Silver Spirit in Bali and sailed with it through Malaysia until Manila. That was just after the Tokyo earthquake, and I'd survived the earthquake and slept on an airport floor and then flown through four cities in two days to get to Bali in time to board the Silver Spirit. Listening to these songs again on board this very ship brought back lots of different memories.

The songs were “Do It For Love” by Hall & Oates and “It’s Over” by Level 42. I’d never heard these songs before but they’d found their way into my iPod and I’d discovered them on my last Silversea cruise, and listened to them over and over again as I walked the decks for a bit of exercise, as the ship made its way through the middle of nowhere somewhere between Malaysia and the Philippines.


By the way, if you want to know what surreal is, it's walking the decks of the Silver Spirit with your iPod as the ship crosses the ocean with nothing but blue sea and blue sky around you, three days after almost falling off the Tokyo Bay Bridge during the Tokyo earthquake. Then you get into your evening gown and and head down for a five-course dinner and champagne, followed by all-night dancing under the stars.

But last week, I was sailing out of one of the most charming cities in the world with champagne and the works, and a wonderful dinner to look forward to. It's truly a Travelife, and I kept thinking how lucky I am to be living the Travelife I want. I never take this luck for granted, and there's not one single morning that I wake up not feeling happy about this good fortune to be constantly visiting amazing places, doing interesting things and spending time with pretty wonderful people.


That’s what a Silversea cruise does to you. It makes you happy to be alive and thankful for being at the right place at the right time. Moreover, it's truly a wonderful holiday and a great way to see new places and revisit old ones. It helps, of course, that a majority of the Silversea staff are Filipino; and on the rare occasions that they see a kababayan on board the ship, they're happy to pamper and spoil that passenger.

Lots of my friends in Manila have begun taking Silversea cruises, but on the cruises I've been on so far, I've never been fortunate enough to have another Filipino passenger on board (although I heard through the grapevine that a Filipino family is boarding this same ship in Barcelona, on the same day that I'm getting off the ship to make my long way home back to Asia). And, in fact, on some cruises, I've been the only Asian. I once boarded Silversea's Silver Whisper in Istanbul to join its maiden voyage to the Ukraine. I was the only Asian and, boy, was it easy to make friends with everyone.

So I get terribly spoiled by the staff, who save me good tables, keep my glasses filled with champagne and my favorite vegetable juices, and basically bend over backwards to get my requests done. When I'm on Silversea, I always order apple-carrot-cucumber juice at 8 AM everyday and then cucumber juice before dinner. In fact, on this particular cruise, a couple of waiters came up to me and said: "Ma'am, I remember you from your cruise in March. You kept ordering cucumber juice."

The Filipino staff onboard Silversea are all so professional and hardworking, and kind.


And just in case someone starts thinking that we're waxing rhapsodic about Silversea because we're on some media trip, I just want to add that I've been sailing Silversea as a regular customer for years. In fact, on this cruise, I attended a cocktail party given by the ship's captain for regular Silversea clients, who are automatically made part of Silversea's Venetian Society, which is the association of repeat customers.

At the party, the cruise director announced that one of the perks provided to loyal customers who chalk up at least 100 days on board a Silversea ship is unlimited free laundry during the cruise. Now I know I've been on a lot of Silversea cruises but I've never really counted the exact number of days. But on this cruise, I was given the unlimited free laundry service which was certainly a wonderful and convenient perk.

On my last cruise day, I sent all my clothes for professional washing and pressing, and my butler brought them back in a few hours all beautifully folded and wrapped in tissue paper, ready to place in the luggage. Now that's certainly an incentive to cruise at least 100 days, as laundry on a ship can otherwise come up to a pretty hefty bill. The beautifully-folded packages also made packing completely effortless.


I had less than a minute to feel pretty important, however, as soon afterwards, the ship's captain began recognizing the real loyal customers in the group. On my cruise alone, there were several people, as well as couples and families, who had sailed as much as 850 days each! Yes, a couple from Switzerland had each sailed over 850 days with Silversea -- which means a total of over two years on board a ship for each. There was also a family from the UK onboard who had each done over 550 days per family member. And these were just the numbers for people actually on board our ship.

We all started doing the math for the people from Switzerland, seated a few rows behind me, who had sailed over 850 days. Even if they'd managed to get super discounted cruises, that would still easily run up to at least US$500,000 per person or well over a million dollars per couple on the cruise alone. Not to mention the cost of getting to the destinations, the tours, the spa services and the pricey Internet service which is a long-distance satellite service that costs $1 for 2 minutes for slow downloads.


I bought this Silversea cruise I'm on at a charity auction to raise funds for the GK communities in Mindanao last year. So we do put our money where our mouth is as far as travel is concerned. And when we at Travelife say we like something, it's because we've literally bought into it as well and can recommend it with authority.

Back to that cruise on auction. The auction price went a bit higher than what I would've paid on the market, but it went to a very good cause anyway -- and I had a fabulous time. So all in all, it was a great win-win situation. And just another wonderful week in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful, TRAVELIFE.

Good night from Istanbul. When I wake up, I'll be in Hong Kong and on my way to my home away from home in this former Crown Colony for a Peking duck dinner with friends.