Sunday, February 12, 2012

From New York to Manila with concern

Last night I’d just returned home after dinner when my mobile rang. It was a number I didn’t know as it came across as 000-something. Ordinarily I don’t answer phone numbers I don’t know, and especially not late at night.

But I decided to answer this one on instinct. For all I knew, one of my geisha was calling regarding Travelife Japan Night at the Dusit Thani on February 16 – a fully-booked degustation dinner featuring a special cultural show performed by young geisha flying in from Japan just for the event.

By the way, dinner’s full, but we still have places at lunch on February 17, which will also have the geisha show.

“I see you blogged about our little exchange,” he said, without even saying his name. “Do you always blog about your conversations with other people?”


I didn’t have to ask who it was.

It was my new friend, the well-dressed stranger I’d met over breakfast at the JAL airport lounge exactly one week ago.

I was on my way back to Manila and he was one his way to the States after visiting Manila and Tokyo, and our paths had crossed over Eric Kayser croissants and a copy of a Philippine newspaper.

As far as Philippine politics and business goes, he’s very well-connected and well-informed.

So he’d given me an earful about what he feels is the sorry state of the Philippines – a well-meant lecture, actually – and I’d recounted some of it in this blog. And apparently he'd found my blog on his own. I hadn't told him about this.

what he had to say about the Philippines

And last night he was calling from his car phone as he drove to a family lunch for his mother’s birthday in Connecticut from his home – or at least one of his homes – in Manhattan. He’d put me on speaker phone in his Porsche.

Anyway, to his question about whether I recall every conversation I have in this blog, I replied: “Nope. I just write about the interesting ones.” And I’ll bet he could hear me smiling across the phone lines as I said this.

I thought we were then going to talk about what’s happening in New York or our hazy plans to possibly meet up in Europe for dinner in a couple of months. Last Sunday at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, you see, we’d also found time to compare travel schedules and it looked like we were going to be in the same general area of Europe at the same time.

He’d suggested dinner at a very nice restaurant in Vienna, as I was going to be in Vienna and he was okay to fly over for one evening from Geneva, where he was going to be on business.

He'd told me over Skype a few days ago: “I can take a plane from Geneva to Vienna in time for dinner, and we can have the best tafelspitz in the world. Then I’ll fly back to New York from Vienna and you can head on to Prague or wherever it is you’re going,” he’d said.

Tafelspitz, when done right, just happens to be among my most favorite dishes in the world. The beef has to have the right ratio of meat, fat and ligaments; and the homemade horseradish and apple sauce, and the sidings are all very important.

Personally, I like the main restaurant of Plachutta in Vienna, and I think they serve the best tafelspitz in the world; but my new friend says there's an even better place.


But, no. The talk was not to be on travel but on politics in the Philippines. He must’ve been a professor in a previous life.

He said: “I really meant what I said. Do many Filipinos know what’s going on? Someone’s turning your country, your institutions and your values upside down and wrong is masquerading as right. I don’t think lots of people realize this.”

I sighed. Someone had just cooked me a wonderful dinner and I had had a pretty nice evening actually; and now I was being forced to think about some of the depressing things happening in the Philippines again.

He then asked – or rather, lectured -- me: “A country is supposed to have three independent branches of government. Do you know what happens to a country when one institution starts eating up the others like Pacman?”

I know what happens to countries when two of the three branches of government are subjugated to the other. We studied this in school. But, maybe because of the wine last night, I just couldn’t find the word for it. Or maybe I just didn’t want to know. Life’s much simpler, after all, when you’re talking only about travel, art and culture.


As I didn’t answer, he said to me: “Think about it. Because there are two end results, and both of them are not pretty.”

“Why are you so keyed up about the Philippines anyway?” I finally asked him. “You’re a million miles away.”

Then it was his turn to keep silent for a while. I guess he was trying to figure out an answer. Finally he said: "Let's just say I have vested interests in making sure the Philippines continues to be democratic, peaceful and investor-friendly."

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