Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Looking for Shangri-la


Tonight I went over for dinner to the home of my neighbor, the highly-esteemed Ambassador of Brazil, who is currently the most senior Latin American diplomat in the Philippines, as he gave a farewell dinner for the Ambassador of India, who is another ambassador I know very well and like immensely.

I'm really sorry to see him go; but as the good ambassador himself says, "There's no such thing as goodbye." And especially not in this small and highly technological world, and especially not with a Travelife.

Unfortunately, as many friends who've left Manila will attest, I'm really bad at keeping in touch with people who are out of my line of vision, even if they're never out of my thoughts for long.

DOUBLE-BOOKED TONIGHT

I was actually double-booked by two ambassadors for dinner today, but I just could not miss a party to say goodbye to the Ambassador of India, even if I had already attended his own farewell reception last Monday.

And tonight begins a round of diplomatic invitations that continues all the way till I leave for Myanmar in about 12 days' time. Lots of ambassadors are giving dinners around this time, for some reason; so from now till the night I leave, I'm literally dining with at least one ambassador an evening.

A MOST ELEGANT AND FORMAL DINNER


Tonight, though, I was very relaxed because psychologically it felt like a neighborhood event, even if the dinner the Ambassador of Brazil gave tonight was very formal, in reality. I put on a saree and headed down the road just after 7 pm. When I arrived, guests were having cocktails in one of the living rooms. Then, just before dinner, we were shown a seating plan on a tray in the living room. Upon reaching the long dinner table, we found menus next to each place, and a wonderful multi-course meal was then served very professionally and properly by the residence staff.

The Ambassador of Brazil gave a speech at the start of dinner and at the end, and the Ambassador of India responded somewhere in between. Meanwhile, seating-wise, I was placed in the middle of the table, next to a newly-arrived ambassador from another country. We had a very enjoyable conversation.

THE MOST INTERESTING PEOPLE
IN THE WORLD

The discussions we had were all very interesting, reminding me once again of just how different a dinner party is when every guest has lived and worked in at least a dozen places. Everyone has an understanding and appreciation of culture, is generally very knowledgeable about politics and history, and has just about a million stories to tell.

I won't divulge names or titles at this point, lest I give away someone's privacy. But, for example, one of them drove 24 hours to get to the Ajanta Caves from Delhi, while another considered Bangladesh one of his most favorite postings because of the people he met. Someone else regaled us with stories of George Bush, describing him as very charismatic and much smarter than general opinion.

IN SEARCH OF SHANGRI-LA


Meanwhile another person in our party tonight was spending quite a good deal of time and money traveling to the different Shangri-las in the world. And I don't mean the hotel chain.

"What do you mean -- different 'Shangri-las' in the world?" Someone asked.

NO WORD FOR HUSBAND

Apparently there are certain places considered very close to the ideal "shangri-la" and they're found in places as disparate as China, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He was visiting all of them. While on a visit to one of them, he'd stumbled upon a community where it was the women who actually took multiple lovers, instead of the men. "And did you know that in this community, there is no word for 'husband?'" He asked me rhetorically. "The closest word for husband is 'fertilizer.'"

I can tell you that I burst out laughing when I heard this, even if we were in a pretty formal diplomatic dinner.

TOO MANY STORIES,
TOO LITTLE TIME TILL TRAVELIFE JAPAN NIGHT


There were so many amusing and interesting stories like this. I could sit here blogging all night about dinner. Unfortunately, it's a very big day -- or series of days -- for us at Travelife Magazine, and I've got to conserve my energy for an evening of organizing, speeches, and welcoming guests.


Yes, it's finally TRAVELIFE Japan Night tomorrow and Pido Villanueva and his team of about 30 people are transforming the Dusit Thani Manila's ballroom into one huge cherry blossom paradise exactly as I write this out. He's even constructed a Japanese bridge to take guests from the cocktail area to the dinner area.

We have exactly 200 covers for tomorrow -- no more, no less. I tried asking -- or actually, begging -- for more, but our Japanese chef at the Dusit Thani will not sacrifice the quality of his food for my tears. That's how seriously he takes his degustation meal. And as of now, there's not a single empty seat in the house.

It's going to be a most amazing evening. But, if you're reading this blog, you'll know by now that Travelife Magazine only does amazing. Nothing less. Good night for now.

* * *

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one year after the Great Earthquake,
and to celebrate the beauty of Japanese culture.

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