Tuesday, November 8, 2011

From Tokyo and Catbalogan to Forbes Park

This afternoon I returned to Manila from an extended holiday to different places. From the airport it was almost straight to office as we're wrapping up the first half of our next issue (Travelife Magazine December 2011-January 2012, out on the news stands on December 15) and also preparing for a series of trips and our travel-writing workshop on Saturday at Fully Booked in Bonifacio High Street.

We have a full house for our travel-writing workshop, by the way, so if you've signed up but aren't sure of going, please contact Bernice at Travelife Magazine (Tel 8138400/ 8922620) to give your place up as we have a long waiting list and unfortunately we can't add any more people unless someone drops out.


Then tonight it was back to regular programming in Manila, which means a never-ending Travelife of a different kind. I was invited by the Iraqi Ambassador and his lovely wife to a dinner at their home in South Forbes, together with a couple of ambassadors and honorary consuls.

The Iraqi ambassador lives in a very pretty house on a corner of South Forbes. One of its best features is its garden, and this isn't apparent until you actually get into the house and go through the living room to head for the garden itself. And as I was doing so, what struck me most was the very stylish Arabic way the Madame of the house had arranged everything so that you immediately felt you were in a lovely neighborhood of Bagdhad (I believe the best neighborhood for a very long time was in the district of Mansour) during less violent times.


Now it's pretty standard for ambassadors to have beautiful homes and to create a venue for showcasing the best of their country's arts, design and culture. However, what's very impressive about the home of the Iraqi ambassador is that almost every single thing was locally sourced and most of it is from Pampanga. So the Iraqi ambassador and his wife were able to create this very Arabic environment purely from local items.

I was very impressed. And when I brought it up with the ambassador's wife, she told me: "It took a lot of time and work to create this." I replied: "That must've been such fun to do." I love decorating homes so I can only imagine how enjoyable that must've been to source things from all over Luzon and come up with a home that impresses people as Arabic at first glance.


Then we moved on to the garden where tables were set up for al fresco dining next to a buffet of Western, Asian and Middle Eastern specialties catered by the Makati Shangri-la and a quartet stood in one corner singing songs in various languages for the many nationalities present.

There was no seating arrangement so I found myself sitting in the liveliest table, sandwiched between the Brazilian ambassador (who speaks Tagalog so impressively) and the Qatar Ambassador (who speaks Spanish equally impressively). There were also several honorary consuls at our table, along with Anna Marie Pamintuan, editor of the Philippine Star.

We had a very merry time indeed, marveling over the prowess of the Brazilian ambassador at Tagalog and listening to his stories. One of them involved the true story behind the song about the Girl from Ipanema, who is a real woman; and the song was written by Carlos Jobim and a Brazilian diplomat who were sitting in a bar on the beach as this lady walked by. Of course Carlos Jobim became very famous, but the diplomat lost his job because he apparently was not supposed to be on the beach at that time and that day. He was supposed to be at work.

That's the Indonesian ambassador playing the guitar,
with the Brazilian ambassador singing next to him,
and the Iraqi ambassador looking on.

After such a story, we just had to forcefully request the Brazilian ambassador to serenade us with the song about The Girl from Ipanema. He very kindly agreed, and went on to sing Besame Mucho as well, together with the Ambassador of Qatar. Then the Ambassador of Indonesia joined our table and took up a guitar to sing a medley of songs in Italian and Spanish, including La Bamba.


I stayed much longer than I expected because it was so nice to see so many friends again after having been away for over two weeks or so. I ended the evening talking with the Ambassador of Austria and his wife, both of whom speak Japanese excellently and are avid lovers of things Japan. We talked in Japanese and promised to get together soon.

And next to me at the end of the evening sat a former Ambassador from the Netherlands, who happened to be visiting Manila as the house guest of the Ambassador of Finland. He'd since retired from Dutch diplomatic service and was now living in beautiful Fountainbleau, in France, about an hour's drive from Paris.

"Where have you been in the Philippines?" I asked him. He'd been in Manila for three nights and then had spent another three nights in Catbalogan. This surprised me, as I don't know too many tourists who would spend half their Philippine holiday in Catbalogan, beautiful as it may be. Apparently they'd gone to visit their former Filipino housekeeper who was now living in Catbalogan, and had stayed three nights at his home. He'd had a grand time.

"And now here you are at a dinner in Forbes Park," I said. "You're certainly experiencing all kinds of things in the Philippines."

He replied: "Yes, and I've enjoyed every minute of both Manila and Catbalogan."

Just another international evening in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful, Travelife.

Travelife Magazine's
Oct-Nov 2011 Issue


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