Saturday, February 18, 2012

Truly Asia, and truly a Travelife

This is what a never-ending Travelife is all about. When you're not actually on a plane headed somewhere, you're in Manila but still feeling like you're somewhere else anyway.

If you've been reading this blog, you'll know that our lives at Travelife are like a daily dose of the United Nations. Of course. How else can we get inspired for travel ideas if we don't constantly talk to people from other countries and learn about their cultures? Travelife isn't just a magazine. It's a way of life. And this is what sets us apart from every other travel publication in the Philippines that's trying to be like Travelife.

You can't fake a Travelife or acquire one overnight.


This week was crazy. Apart from Travelife Japan Night, which was like a dinner with over 30 ambassadors and senior diplomats, we've also had a couple of formal dinners at the official residences of ambassador friends, including the ambassador of Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Last night, the Turkish Ambassador held a party at her home. It was a standing party but, as usual, her private Turkish chef made a wonderful feast of Turkish specialties. At one point, I was standing right in the middle of her very long buffet with a heaping plate of food, when one of her Turkish guests came up to me and said: "You obviously like Turkish food."


I'd actually been lost in thought at that exact point, as it was the first moment perhaps in the entire week, that I'd finally had a few seconds to breathe normally. The entire week had been completely crazy as we'd been preparing for Travelife Japan Night. And yesterday, the day after Travelife Japan Night, had been extremely hectic as well: I'd worked at the office, overseen our Lunch with the Geisha event at the Dusit Thani Manila, and then gone over to Travel Expo for Day 1.

I'd returned to Makati just in time to change for the Turkish ambassador's dinner. I'd arrived at her home and said hello to everyone, and then eventually I went into the dining room to get some food. It was at that exact point that one of the Turkish guests had approached me and said (to repeat): "You obviously like Turkish food." I guess this was because my plate was full of food.

I turned to him and smiled: "I'd been thinking about Istanbul, actually, and how I've missed the food."


Seeing the kofte (the Turkish ambassador's chef makes a fantastic kofte) and the various Turkish appetizers spread out before me had made me remember my favorite kofte restaurant in the tourist district of Sultanahmet, and my favorite circa 1935 Saray Muhallebicisi which serves great kunefe and a wonderfully spicy shawarma which I always eat with rice fried in clarified butter and a bowl of yoghurt.

Then I met some officials from Turkey's Ministry of Tourism, and we started talking about the places in Turkey I haven't been to yet. I've been to Turkey countless times but there's still so much to see. At least until last night, at the very top of my list was a place called Trabzon, which is on the Black Sea Coast but towards Georgia.

But then last night, the Turkish ambassador and other government officials convinced me to check out the other coast and fly to Antalya instead, where you can swim in the sea and see ruins under water, and then travel along the coast and upwards towards Nemrut, one of the most amazing ancient ruins in the world, and best seen either at sunrise or sunset.

I've been toying with the idea of going to Nemrut for the longest time, but it's terribly difficult to do so as it's so far out in the middle of nowhere that there's no luxury hotel around. And if you know me, you'll know that luxury hotels and I are inseparable.

But last night I was convinced to rough it a little bit for the sake of a visual feast unlike any other. And finally I've decided to do that in June.


Meanwhile, the dinner given by the Ambassador of Indonesia was a formal, sit-down affair to say farewell to two well-loved ambassadors: the Ambassador of India and the Ambassador of Singapore. I was honored to be included, as the entire long table was composed only of ambassadors and their wives, and the only exceptions (as well as the only Filipinos!) were a prominent cabinet secretary and his wife, and myself and Travelife's general manager.

It was an extremely well-organized dinner with formal menu cards and place cards, and a battalion of waiters to serve the five-course meal. But the atmosphere at the table was very friendly and fun because everyone save one was from Asia: all the ambassadors came from Asian countries, and I suppose the cabinet secretary represented the Philippines.

I've been to many diplomatic dinners and I have to say that I now realize that a dinner table of diplomats from the same region feels really much closer -- almost like a family -- compared to a dinner with diplomats from all over the world.

We talked about lots of interesting things which I can't really repeat here. But one thing that struck me was the fact that senior diplomats certainly lead every inch of a Travelife. Practically everyone in the table had either just arrived from somewhere in the last few days, or were headed somewhere in the next week. No one was actually staying still. And neither am I. Travelife Japan Night was a big success and it's over; Yangon here I come...

Just another week in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.



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