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.
FIRST DINNER BACK IN MANILA
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.
RUSSIAN EYE CANDY
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.
FERRARI ACCIDENTS AND COCAINE
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
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.