Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday Cooking at the Mandarin Oriental




Last Saturday was a day for food and cooking.

I woke up really early to get to the Salcedo Village market and shop for organic vegetables and herbs for a dinner I was cooking for some friends that night. I already had an idea on what to do for starters and one main dish, but I was still looking for some inspiration for a second main dish.

This time -- perhaps because I was quite occupied with other things -- I came away from the market without a clear idea for my second dish. However I was pretty confident everything would somehow get sorted out by 730 PM -- as always.

COOKING AT THE MANDARIN


At 830 AM I went straight to the Mandarin Oriental to join the French cooking class of new Tivoli chef Remi Vercelli. The half-day workshop organized by Mandarin involved a really civilized continental breakfast, 3.5 hours of class in the very luxurious surroundings of the Tivoli, and then lunch with the chef to taste what we had just cooked.

Frankly, I had a wonderful time and I can't imagine a better way to spend a Saturday morning -- especially since our group yesterday was small (the hotel has a cap on the number of participants) and we had common friends and instantly clicked. The small number also meant we had a very intimate lesson -- almost like a very exclusive and private cooking class.

After we'd all had our croissants and tea, Chef Vercelli began our lesson which consisted of a proper three-course meal of classic French starters: a ballotine of foie gras to start, tuna ratatouille as a main, and a sinful floating island for dessert.

"Why are we making these in particular?" I asked Chef Vercelli before we began. He said: "I chose these because they're easy to do and many of the steps can be done one day in advance."

Then he added: "These items have appeared or are appearing in our a la carte menu, by the way."



PERFECT FOR WEEKEND COOKS

The Mandarin cooking class set-up is very conducive to weekend cooks like myself. I love food but I eat out more than I cook, and lately I've really been only making dinners on Saturdays and Sundays. And I joined the cooking class to relax and learn something new at the same time. Well, the U-shaped cooking station is set up right in the middle of the restaurant and we were only two tables in front. We could sit, talk, taste, stand and observe, laugh and joke around as we pleased. It was really enjoyable.

"Do you cook?" Chef Vercelli asked me. I replied: "I cook but I don't follow recipes and basically just base everything on inspiration -- the ingredients I feel should be included, and the order and process I feel should be incorporated into the dish.

SAVE THE BEST FOR LAST

The lesson passed very quickly and comfortably in spite of the fact that we were on our feet for the most part. Before we knew it, it was lunch time and the lesson was over. Happily, we'd learned how to cook three wonderful dishes and we didn't have to do the cleaning up after. Instead, we all sat down to a beautifully-laid out table for a three-course lunch with Chef Vercelli, consisting of the three dishes we'd just cooked. Lunch was delicious and it was an extremely relaxing few hours just chatting and laughing over the meal.

POST-COOKING MASSAGE

To continue my wonderful day, I'd booked a series of treatments at the Mandarin Oriental Spa and timed it exactly for the end of lunch. So when everyone went home, I simply took the elevator to the 18th floor where the spa was located. Thus passed another blissful two hours at the hands of the Mandarin's expert therapists. (More on this in a future blog)

I got home just in time to make dinner for six friends coming over. It was fairly casual but I was inspired by my cooking lesson, and decided to make a multi-course meal including a revised version of the tuna ratatouille I'd just learned. Everything turned out wonderfully and enjoyably.

SUNDAY DINNER OUT, FOR A CHANGE

The following day, Sunday, I ordinarily would have made dinner again, but this time for this friend of mine who always insists on inviting himself over. It's really fun to make dinner for him so I don't mind at all; but this time, he'd actually booked a nice restaurant and so we'd had a long and big Italian meal. In fact, we'd eaten so much that the waiters were surprised. And this capped a pretty perfect weekend of cooking lessons and massages at the Mandarin Oriental, Saturday dinner at home with friends and Sunday dinner out at a nice Italian restaurant with...

THAI COOKING CLASS AT THE MANDARIN ON MAY 7

Mandarin Oriental is having a Thai cooking class on Saturday, May 7, with Chef Channin Jakkased of the Mandarin Oriental Chiang Mai featuring spicy lemon grass salad with tuna, creamy red duck curry, and chilled water chestnuts in sweet coconut milk. For more information and to reserve, please call 857-4767.



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Thursday, April 28, 2011

A perfect day


Can this day have gone any better? Sometimes you just have almost perfect days and today is one of them. Interestingly I got very little sleep since I’d finally hit the sack at 230 am this morning and was up again by 530 am for some reason. Then I drove across town to make it in time for a radio guesting on The Wakeup Show with Vince Golangco and Tracey Abad. Now these two guys are a bundle of energy (I really don’t know how they do it); but the gist here is that I had so much fun shooting the breeze with them on-air, talking about our latest issue and also sharing a bit about my experience in the Tokyo earthquake.

This is my second time on their show and between my two guestings, which was basically a matter of two months, I feel a lifetime has happened. Of course, I’d been to six countries and a couple of cities in the Philippines, plus had a near-death experience in the Tokyo earthquake in-between; and so maybe that’s why I feel I’ve lived a whole lifetime between these two guestings. It’s like I came full circle between that first time and today.

Here are some photos of DJ Vince and DJ Tracey clowning around with their favorite magazine, by the way.

HAPPY DAYS OF CRAZY SCHEDULES

Then my day was taken up with meetings, all very successful. I’m happy to say we’ve concluded some significant deals for Travelife today -- the results of meetings and and lots of hard work hatching up plans the entire week. In fact, things have been so crazily busy that yesterday, when someone’s assistant rang me seeking face-time for her boss this week, I looked at my schedule on my computer and said to her: “Thursday at 630 AM or at 11 PM, or Friday at 1045 PM.”

But none of those worked for her boss. How about Saturday? She asked. Nope, I was scheduled to attend a cooking class with a top French chef from France at 9 AM and then was completely unavailable after that. And I so didn’t want to do another 630 AM meeting on a Saturday because I've been doing this all week. That’s how busy my week has been.

GOING DUTCH

Then tonight, I went to the beautiful home of Ambassador Robert Brinks of the Netherlands, to join in the official celebrations for the birthday of H.E. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. Ambassador Brinks has the kind of home I want to live in: it’s very modern and open, but it’s also warm and inviting. Not too many modern homes can get this combination right. I also like the touches of quirkiness he has in his home, in spite of its elegance and formality. For example, he has a complete row of little KLM blue and white Dutch houses – the kind they give away to business class passengers at the end of a long-haul trip -- on his dining room sideboard, quaint bird statues everywhere and a statue of a spotted cow in his garden.

The party itself was great fun, and as usual I bumped into many people I knew of all generations and professions and was able to catch up. It was a treat to catch up with so many people in one go, especially as I just have too few chances to meet up with friends in Manila. I even bumped into some people who'd joined the Travelife Turkey Tour in November, and we spent a fascinating few minutes talking about the joys of bird watching -- which is a great passion of theirs.

ONLY FOR THE BIRDS

Apparently the Philippines has 200 rare bird species, which is both unusual and amazing. "The entire Philippines can fit into one province of China, but they have only 100 rare species," one of my bird watcher friends said. I then asked: "Is the Philippines tops for rare bird species then?" I mean if we were ahead of massive China, we must be pretty near the top. Someone answered: "No, we're more in the middle, especially compared to countries like Costa Rica."

Tonight certainly was one of the most enjoyable embassy parties and I think much has to do with the fact that Ambassador Brinks is a warm and friendly ambassador who doesn't take himself so seriously. I stayed way longer than I expected to; and on the way out, Ambassador Brinks accompanied me until the door. There was one bunch of tulips from the Netherlands by the side of the door and he gave them to me on-the-spur-of-the-moment. It was the very last bouquet and I was so pleased to receive it.

MAKE MINE A HERRING

It was also at this cocktail party where I witnessed the pretty fantastic sight of formally dressed Dutch people holding up long and large pieces of herring above their heads and eating it by slowly dropping the herring into their mouths from above, inch-by-inch. I'd found a place to rest my plate and eat at the ambassador's long dining table, and somewhere down this table were a row of Dutch people sitting upright and literally pouring the herring into their mouths from above.

"You've got to try that," said Consul Tony Rufino, with whom I'd been eating with and exchanging some gossip with. "You're Travelife, after all."

It looked very unusual and in all my visits to the Netherlands, I'd never actually witnessed such a scene. But he assured me that this was indeed the proper way to have herring. I was set to try it as well, in my formal saree and all, but I they'd run out of herring by then. Apparently it was very popular.

NOSTALGIA FOR THE 80s AND 90s

The last event of the evening was a rendezvous with the Travelife staff, both present and former, at a very nice bar and lounge that we’re thinking of using for a Travelife thank you party for our advertisers. Great music was playing -- the band was actually playing songs from the late 80s and early 90s -- and finally I could relax.

Could the day have actually gone any better? No, this was one of those almost perfect days.


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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Traveling with Citigold


The other week, Travelife went to lunch at the Top of the Citi with the wonderful ladies of Citibank's private banking. It was a very enjoyable and intimate lunch, and I remember laughing so hard about their funny stories about acronyms used in texting and on Facebook. I think there's a lot of things lost in translation between generations and cultures, so acronyms you take for granted don't necessarily make it across the phone and Internet lines with the same meaning.

DECIPHERING THE CODES

The other day, I sent a message to a friend in New York, and I ended it with FYREF. "What's FYREF?" He BBM-ed me. And I immediately replied: "For your reference, silly. Now start using it." Well, according to the ladies at lunch, someone's mother thinks WTF means "Welcome to Facebook," so she's been using it very liberally on her new FB page -- to the shock of all her FB friends. I fell over laughing at that thought of a mother starting all her FB messages with WTF. That so made my day.

GREAT BENEFITS OF CITIGOLD

In between jokes and such enjoyable banter, we talked about Citigold, Citibank's wealth management service in the Philippines. They've just unveiled a wide and impressive range of services that certainly makes them very attractive to many high net-worth individuals in the Philippines. Citigold is one of the most successful brands of Citi in Asia Pacific, where we are widely acknowledged as the financial partner of choice by the affluent market,” related Aneth Lim, Corporate Affairs Director of Citibank Philippines.

Of course, Citigold clients have access to Citi lounges worldwide and get a wide range of advantages and perks. For the frequent flier, one of the most attractive benefits of Citigold is access to airport lounges, including the MIASCOR lounge at NAIA Terminal 1. I like the Miascor lounge a lot because it's more spacious than most of the regular airline lounges and they have pretty good food and very fast WiFi. The latter is important to me as I'm almost always doing ten things at the same time when I'm online and I have very little patience for slowness.

KOREAN NOODLES AND ADOBO

So even if I have access to the airline lounges, I almost always head for the Miascor lounge instead as there's more privacy and comfort there. In the mornings, too, they serve adobo rolls, taho and congee; while in the afternoon, they have Korean noodles, adobo rice and other tasty treats. Most of the other lounges don't serve actual food so I almost make a bee-line for this lounge when I'm hungry before a flight -- which is always.

“No matter how early or how late your flight is, you get 24/7 access to the lounge and you can even book any one of the two meeting rooms available for business or personal matters,” explained Karla Abat-de Jesus, vice president for Retail Bank Marketing.

24/7 INSURANCE COVERAGE

Another great attraction for Citigold clients constantly on-the-go is the 24/7 medical, security, travel and emergency support anywhere in the world through Citi’s partnership with International SOS (ISOS). This ensures that frequent fliers can travel anywhere, safe and secure, knowing that ISOS is there for any emergency.

ISOS has over 20 years of experience in helping customers stay healthy, safe and secure whenever they travel, with a worldwide reach that spans 70 countries with 27 Alarm Centers, 26 clinics and a fleet of air ambulances readily available for any kind of medical emergency. The medical and security expertise of its multilingual staff also assures every customer the very best assistance and care they would need.

“The Emergency Healthcare Service is an exclusive service for our Citigold clients. With their very own International SOS membership card that contains the customer’s membership number and phone numbers, they can readily access medical, security, travel and emergency assistance 24/7/365, giving them peace of mind whenever they travel,” said de Jesus.

Citibank’s wealth management service in the Philippines certainly understands the unique needs of high net worth individuals that are drivers to succeed while enjoying the best that life has to offer. "Wherever our clients are, we ensure that we’re there to provide them all their needs as only a trusted global financial institution can,” added Aneth Lim.


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with Angel Aquino in Boracay
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Bordeaux wine for dinner and a countess for a mother



I ended work today in the offices of the Travelife TV team looking at the first edits of the Travelife TV show's initial episode. The guys were quite pleased with the results and they made a big fuss about my viewing these for the first time. "Shouldn't we show it to her on a large screen?" Someone asked, while another teased: "Maybe we should preview this in Rockwell?" So, of course, I chimed in as well: "Doesn't Greenbelt have a private theater you can rent? Why don't we watch it there?"

The images I saw on the screen were wonderful, and the cinematography certainly is world-class. I'm very excited to see this show air on television in a couple of months.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, SOUTH AFRICA

Afterwards I went across town to the Sofitel to join in the National Day celebrations of South Africa. It was quite a big affair with many ambassadors and VIPs in attendance, and the South African nationals were all in colorful national dress. I bumped into many people including Architect Jun Palafox, president of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), and we talked about the guesting of Vice President Jejomar Binay at the MAP luncheon meeting yesterday. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend the meeting yesterday. MAP is certainly doing very well under Architect Palafox in terms of activities, finances and membership.

"We have 180 people waiting to become MAP members," Architect Palafox told me. "But so far we've only inducted about 24 members because there's a screening process for membership." I promised to become more active in a MAP committee -- perhaps the committee for tourism -- very soon.

BORDEAUX WINE DINNER

I slipped out quietly, however, to make my way back to my part of town in time for the dinner of the Commanderie de Bordeaux in honor of Mr. and Mrs Olivier Bernard, owners of the Domaine de Chevalier winery in Bordeaux. Gaita Fores created the delicious dinner and it was held at White Space, amidst beautiful modern paintings.

I arrived just after cocktails had ended and everyone was getting ready to sit down to dinner. When I walked in, I was greeted by the quite amazing sight of two very long tables that were beautifully arranged, with artworks and very tall candleholders. It was really quite a spectacle to see, both intimate and grand. Seating had been pre-arranged by the Commanderie and so it was just a matter of finding one's place card.

I saw Edouard Mialhe standing somewhere near and he showed me my seat, saying: "I've seated you in between two gentlemen, who I hope will take very good care of you." Well, on my right was an old friend; and on my left was a very interesting Frenchman who I met for the first time, and who I'll call G. It was very enjoyable to spend most of the evening talking to G as he'd been to so many off-the-beaten track places in the world and had some pretty amazing stories of sleeping on a train for 48 hours and staying at a policeman's house near the Chinese border. Yes, I am now trying to get him to write for Travelife, and he's thinking about it as he's never written an article in his life.

A PARISIAN BLUE-BLOOD

G and I talked a lot about France. He's a born and bred Parisian with definite views on everything, and I know quite a bit about French society and systems since I'd once seriously considered living in France.

"France is nice to visit, but it's not so great to live in if you're ambitious and talented," he said. "And money and success are still taboo subjects. I guess it's part of the revolutionary spirit in the French that dates back to the 18th century."

I completely agreed. I was always uncomfortable with the socialist aspect of French society. Plus, their tax system is pretty heavy on certain groups of people. "Yes, everyone seems to lean so heavily towards socialism," I said. "I wonder what has happened to all the royalists?"

Then he leaned towards me as if he was going to share a delicious secret -- and actually he was. "I'm actually a royalist," he said. We'd drank quite a bit of wine by then so I thought he was joking. I looked at him and asked, genuinely surprised and curious: "Why are you a royalist?"

He shrugged as if it wasn't so important to him. But it turns out he was serious. He said: "I've got blue blood in me. My mother's a countess."

WORK HARD, PLAY HARD, HAVE IT ALL

Our conversation on things French continued throughout the evening, but by dessert, he was talking a little bit more about his life philosophy. "I'm for working hard and playing hard," he said. "People should make sure to enjoy their life, but without giving up the quality of their work."

I thought about my endless days of travel, work, luxury resorts, cocktail parties and fancy dinners. It certainly was a busy and stressful but happy and extremely eventful life. Perhaps almost as eventful as the life of a guy who's mother is a countess and who motorbiked across Vietnam to the Chinese border and ended up sleeping in a policeman's house. Then I reached for one of my glasses of wine -- a Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 2000 -- and clicked it against his, and said: "Amen to that."

Commanderie de Bordeaux dinner
Domaine de Chevalier

Chilled Negros crab with Sagada oranges and orange salt
Iloilo scallops with carabao butter
Fennel confit
served with
Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2007
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 2007

Homemade fettucine
with foie gras, rose pepper and santol glaze
served with
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 2006
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 2005

Scallopine di vittelo "La Foresta"
with melange of mushroom, winged beans and corn
served with
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 2000
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 1990


Chinese pear and jackfruit strudel
Majayjay vanilla bean bath
Bulacan pastillas de leche gelato
served with
Chateau Guiraud 2000




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for Travelife Magazine's April-May 2011 issue


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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

PhP1 Million for Miss World PH and Honda's giving away iPads



Part 3 in a three-part series starting with:

* * *

Traveling solo is great fun and in previous entries, I've already mentioned my favorite solo experiences and also the lessons I learned while traveling solo. I believe traveling solo (at least sometimes!) has made me stronger, more reflective, self-reliant and independent. There's really very little you can't handle once you've been able to conquer a foreign city or country by yourself.

VALUABLE THINKING TIME

There's also so much more thinking time when you're by yourself. Today, for example, I was on another plane watching a movie that made me think about human greatness and how relative this concept is. It's easy to conceptualize the president of a country or a fireman in the 9-11 bombings as great because of the heroic valor he or she displayed; but just because you don't lead a country or save the lives of people, it doesn't mean that you can't live a life of greatness.

Not all people will have such traditional opportunities for greatness, but it doesn't mean that 99% of the population will not be able to live a life of value. In everyday life, achieving greatness is still possible on a daily basis, and this can be defined by the personal challenges a person is able to overcome. The movie got me thinking about this -- and I believe people can live a life of greatness by overcoming their fears, being more selfless, doing good in small ways, and inspiring others even by modest examples.

If I had been traveling with someone on the plane, I wouldn't have had time to think about such lessons gleaned from a movie.

SOLO TRAVEL GUIDELINES

That said, when traveling alone, I always err on the side of caution as there are certainly more dangers to traveling by yourself. Many unsavory characters are constantly on the lookout for easy prey, particularly among solo female travelers in tourist locations.

Here are my personal guidelines for solo travel:

1) Always stay in a good hotel and use the hotel services as much as possible. In general, I never get into taxis at night unless these have been pre-arranged by my hotel or restaurant. Subways, too, are a no-no after 9 pm even if people tell me they're safe to use. I'd rather avoid risks.

2) Don't talk to strangers -- and especially not to strangers who approach you first. In fact, I'm probably less friendly when I'm traveling alone, and that's basically because I have my personal security wall up. The only exceptions are strangers seated next to me on airplanes; and even then I don't usually do much talking anymore.

3) In less safe cities, order room service for dinner and stay within the safety of the hotel.


4) When traveling alone, make the hotel safe and the general managers your temporary best friends. I keep all valuables safely locked and ask the GMs for recommendations and assistance.

5) Never go down dark or empty streets after 7 pm unless it's in a city you already know very well. One block can make all the difference between a bad neighborhood and a good one.

BACK IN MANILA AND I GET AN iPAD

Well, I returned to Manila this afternoon after a very quick trip abroad and it was straight to the Honda showroom to arrange for a new car. When thinking about which car to get, I was sorely tempted to go for one of the fancy models many of my friends ride around in. I even went so far as to test-ride a couple of luxury European brands and also a Lexus. Regular readers of this blog may remember that I'd downed a shot of whiskey at Polo Club's Last Chukker sometime back and then I'd headed straight over to the Lexus showroom on a whim.

Well, all the cars I rode were wonderful and I was so tempted with two in particular. In fact, I'd already made up my mind about one of them when at a dinner last week, someone told me about the horrors of maintenance and the fuel consumption. Fancy cars are equally fancy to use and maintain; and I'm certainly eager to do my part for the environment as well by trying to use more eco-friendly vehicles.

In contrast, the Honda is not very flashy but it's a perfectly good car. I test-rode one of the only two models left on the Philippine market of the new Accord last week and I liked it. It took me all of five minutes to make up my mind to buy one, and I would actually have gone home that day with one if the color I wanted was available. The Accord is nice and understated, and the gas consumption is on the conservative side. Plus, the 2nd model left in the Philippines was in a color I wanted.

This afternoon, I took possession of my new car -- and Marie, my Honda salesgirl, just informed me that I also get the latest 3G iPad as a gift. That certainly made my day as I'd put off buying an iPad in favor of the more sensible decision (at least for me) of buying a small and very powerful Macbook Pro that I literally take with me everywhere. It's not as light or cool-looking as the iPad, but it can certainly contain my whole life in one gadget. If I lost my MacBook Pro, it's far from an overstatement to say that I'd be completely lost.

So just in case you're thinking of purchasing a Honda car soon, remember that they're giving away iPads for certain cars for the rest of this month. Or at least until supplies last, I was told.

A WONDERFUL BIRTHDAY

Then tonight, after work, I headed over to Alabang for the birthday party of a much-loved personality in Manila. It's a testament to his kindness and sweetness that so many people showed up to celebrate with him from all industries and generations of Manila society. There were even friends calling from as far away as Zurich to send in their greetings since they were missing the party. Even I'd made the trek to Alabang in spite of complete fatigue from a very early morning trip to the airport today, as I just couldn't miss his birthday.

PhP 1 MILLION FOR MISS WORLD PHILIPPINES

It was a very big party and I sat at a rather eclectic table of people who knew each other but had almost nothing in common. There was a proper program emceed by Cory Quirino and with well-known singers entertaining us with medleys of songs. One singer named Kevin who is rumored to soon be one of Manila's hottest singing stars bravely sang a capella since his tape broke down; while another singer sang so many semi-sweet songs that really made me sentimental. As the songs were going on, Cory Quirino sat next to me and we talked about her efforts to organize and promote the upcoming Miss World pageant. She's planning to hold the swimsuit competition in the underground river in Palawan and she hopes to give the winner of Miss World Philippines a cool PhP1 million -- which is quite a record sum for this kind of prize.

"I want to really give the winner a chance for a better life," she said. "Lots of beauty contest winners find that their lives don't change much after winning. I want this time to make a difference."

Again, an example here of human greatness.

DANCING ALL NIGHT

Then a DJ came on and everyone got on the dance floor. Because there were different generations around, the music ranged from foxtrot to cha-cha to swing (my favorite) and current hits. Someone took my hand and got me on the dance floor, and before I knew it, it was way past midnight and I'd been dancing all night. I really like the swing so I don't need much prompting to get up when I hear swing music playing; but I was very surprised to realize I enjoyed the cha-cha and I loved the foxtrot. It had been a long time since I'd gone to a dance party and it was really an enjoyable event.

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



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Monday, April 25, 2011

Similarities and no differences in Hong Kong



In Hong Kong yesterday for less than 24 hours to sign some documents, I took advantage of a couple of spare hours to have dinner with my old friend H, a multilingual and multinational citizen of the world with homes in eight countries and ex-girlfriends in many more places than that. He was once master of the universe in Tokyo, and with impeccable timing he and his Ferrari moved to Hong Kong at exactly the right time to do so, and he promptly became a master of the universe there as well.


SOMETHING WRONG?


As always, wherever he goes, he's on top of his game and happily coasting along with a lifestyle of hard work and never-ending holidays to exotic places. His mantra is work hard and play hard, and he's one of these people who wants to have it all (and don't we all?). In fact, considering my trip to Hong Kong was very last-minute, it was a wonder that I even found him at work this morning, when I emailed on the way to the airport, and -- more importantly -- that he was free for the evening. Of course he immediately invited me to a fancy dinner in a glamorous and much-talked about place in Central with fantastic views and beautiful people but so-so food. If you know Hong Kong, you'll have an idea where I was last night.


"You're like me -- you're almost never free in the evening, and especially at the last-minute," I said by way of greeting. "What's wrong?"


He was waiting for me at the bar with a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket next to him, fiddling with his Blackberry. Yes, lots of my friends are on Blackberry but I'm only on BBM with three of them. He wasn't one of them. He smiled that delicious smile that had made many girls swoon in the past. Fortunately I wasn't one of them. I've known him for ages and we were always just very good friends. "Of course I had something tonight," he replied. "But I canceled it for you."


I'd written a novel some years ago about life in Tokyo amidst the heady rush of a couple of bull markets, and one of the central characters had been inspired by H. The character was smart, sweet, charming and kind; and generous to a fault because he'd been so lucky in life. But he was also unpredictable, used to getting his way all the time, quite competitive and incredibly spoiled -- the last was the result of women throwing themselves at him all the time, I always theorized.


He also played dumb about girls' feelings whenever this was convenient -- and this was way too often for my tastes. I always thanked my guardian angel that I was never on the receiving end of this charm as he left a very long string of broken hearts and angry females along the way. He was a great dinner companion but I also knew lots of women who were ready to hurl a buffet of expletives at the mere mention of his name. The character in the book I wrote is very much like him.


REAL LIFE BECOMES A STORY


The book was basically fiction but lots of it was based loosely on real life. And H had been tickled pink to be included and portrayed as a master of the universe forever getting into trouble because of girls running after him. I'd even written about a couple of double dates we'd had long ago that had actually happened -- and this is where real life became part of fiction. H just loved bringing to our dinners at some of Tokyo's best restaurants these beautiful women who never ordered anything because they were constantly on diets and who couldn't carry a conversation longer than five minutes.


"Guess what," I said to him, when we'd finished updating each other on our lives. He'd just sold a villa in the south of France to some Russian businessman in order to buy an even bigger one, and just returned from Tanzania to see the waterfalls. Meanwhile, I told him about my never-ending Travelife and all our wonderful projects in Travelife over the next few months. Apart from producing the Philippines' leading travel and lifestyle magazine, we're opening a store, organizing events and tours, and launching a tv show.


"One of my friends in Manila actually reminds me of you," I continued. He didn't look too pleased. "I can't have a double," he said, "I'm in a class by myself. You've said so yourself."


Then he thought for a moment and asked: "Is he as bad as I am?" I replied with lots of conviction: "Worse."


He paused again, as if to fathom the implications of a double who was double him. As I've already mentioned, he's quite competitive. Then he said, "That many girls, huh?"


"Not as many girls, I would think," I replied. "But he's worse because at least you know what you are. He just keeps denying any similarities and insisting he's a nice guy."


H smiled. "The worst kind," he said. "The man in denial. But -- similarities? How would he know about those if we haven't met?"



"Oh he knows of you," I replied. "I gave him a copy of my book last week to take on a trip, and I told him Chapter 2 was based on my friend H and that he reminded me of H. The moment he read it, he sent me a message saying Chapter 2 couldn't possibly be him."


"Hmm..I've never met a guy who didn't want to be me before," he said. It truly seemed an alien idea to him. Interestingly, I'd heard something to the same effect from H's double in Manila just the other day; and I'd had a long conversation with that same morning on why he reminded me of H.


"Oh he's very happy being himself," I said, "which is basically being you."



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