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

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