Sunday, June 5, 2011

Just like old times

Among the many things I did yesterday was brunch at the Peninsula with my good friends Jonathan and Beliz and a couple of expatriate friends I've known through the years -- just like in the good and not-so-old days when Jonathan was still general manager of the Peninsula Manila and we all lived very happily in this town, meeting up several times a week and moving from one event to another within the same few square kilometers.



Jonathan breezed into town again this morning, straight from New York, for a very short visit. And with him straight off the plane, a couple of friends had gathered for a champagne brunch to reminisce about the good old days and to talk about the future. Everyone was off to somewhere. Jonathan and Beliz are off to New York, while Gladys & Fabrizio are moving to Jakarta on a very plum assignment. Another couple are flying to Luxembourg for the summer while I'm leaving for Istanbul and then onwards to Lisbon next weekend. Of course, I'm coming back and for me, it's just another trip. But two couples today are leaving Manila permanently very soon, and it's really sad to say goodbye.

In this small 21st century world of ours -- and especially with a Travelife -- a goodbye never really is a goodbye. I'm thinking of visiting New York in September, after all, and I already have a trip to Jakarta in my diary for mid-October. But it is drastically different to suddenly not have close friends a five-minute ride away, ready for a drink or dinner whenever you want or need one. Just the thought makes me very sad.


I'm terrible with goodbyes. When I was a child and we used to join tours of Europe where we were the only Asians amidst a big group of South Africans, Australians and Americans, I used to dread the last day of our three-week tours because I just didn't know how to say goodbye to people I'd come to know and spend time with over three weeks. So instead, I'd just disappear in the morning, preferring to not say a word than to actually have to say the dreaded word.

Years have passed since my summer trips to Europe as a child, but I've never improved on my goodbyes. Last year, my friend Nivat who used to be the country manager of Thai Airways in the Philippines, left Manila for a posting in Zurich, Switzerland. I'd known he was going to leave for weeks but I just couldn't send him a goodbye message or come round to thinking about a farewell. Finally, someone organized a farewell party for him with a snow theme, asking all the guests to come in winter wear. The idea was to make him feel that we were all with him in spirit, regarding those cold European winters. Finally, I donned my ski jacket and went to the party. When I saw Nivat, all I said was: "I haven't contacted you because I just didn't know how to say goodbye."


In the case of Jonathan and Beliz, it's been particularly hard because we've spent so much time together and had an incredible amount of fun through the years. A weekend was never properly complete without a dinner together; and no matter how busy we were, we always created an evening to be together almost every single week that we were in the same city at the same time.

And this goodbye has been long in coming as the Peninsula had announced his new posting in mid-February. I still remember the day I found out. It was February 15 and I was in a state of shock all day until dinner. And that was the day I had a wagyu dinner with J. I remember this distinctly because that delicious wagyu helped me recover from my shock.

And since then, there have been so many farewell dinners and events for this very popular couple that I've simply lost count of how many I attended. I did try to attend as many as possible, even if it's meant flying back thousands of miles in time for a dinner. Unfortunately, I did miss out on a few parties during Jonathan's last week in Manila, as I had to leave for Sri Lanka. The party they themselves threw for their friends at their home was especially memorable, I heard. One for the books. It had lasted until the wee hours of the morning, and at the end of the long night -- or should I say morning -- everyone had jumped into the pool in their party clothes.


This week is finally really farewell. But not until after a Peking duck dinner tonight. We've been meaning to have Peking duck for ages but we were always too busy to find the time. But tonight we're attending a cocktail party hosted by the Spanish Chamber of Commerce -- yes, it's goodbye but this is still Manila after all; so we're all double-booked tonight anyway. Thank goodness it's a double-booking for the same event, though -- but we've set aside the time for a relaxing dinner afterwards with no agendas. Just catching up, having fun and making the most of the little time left.

This week I've actually shed a lot of tears over goodbyes. On Friday, I found myself teary-eyed while discussing another sort of goodbye with a friend -- and just as I was pulling up into my office as well. But tonight, I'm going to try my best not to be sentimental. Maybe I just won't say goodbye. I'll just say: "See you in New York very soon."

Travelife's Special Summer Issue
with Angel Aquino in Boracay
Angel Aquino in Bora
for Travelife Magazine's April-May 2011 issue


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