Friday, March 23, 2012

A Chinese lunch and a Pakistani dinner



Tonight I went over to the beautiful residence of the Ambassador of Pakistan in South Forbes as he had a party to celebrate Pakistan's National Day. It was a very nice celebration, as well as an opportunity to catch up with some old friends and meet a couple of new ones.

There were a couple of European ambassadors around and the talk somehow led to the recent visit to Manila of H.E. Karel Schwarzenberg, the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic. He's led a very interesting life that included an amazing childhood and a privileged existence, as well as some difficulties during the dark days of the totalitarian regime in the Czech Republic.

DISTINGUISHED LINEAGE

He also belongs to one of the grandest families in Europe -- "he's always invited whenever there's a royal wedding somewhere in Europe," someone whispered -- and he's basically connected to many people who have shaped European history in one way or another.

He's also very proud of being a Schwarzenberg, and of being a Czech; and right now he's a Minister and a Prince, but he's also likely to become the next president of the Czech Republic as he is immensely popular with Czech citizens for his statesman-like ways and yet also for his penchant for straight talk. No beating around the bush here. He'll tell you exactly what he thinks and he won't pretend to be what he isn't.

TEA WITH A PRINCE AND A MINISTER

I was privileged to be one of the few people to have a one-on-one meeting with him during his two-day stay in Manila, and I enjoyed our conversation so much -- I even laughed out loud a couple of times because of his most interesting stories. And when I told him I was going to Prague in a few months' time, he said that I should come and see him so that we could continue our conversation. I'm so looking forward to that.

BEAUTY OF PAKISTAN

This visit earlier this week was one of the topics of conversation at the party of the Ambassador of Pakistan tonight. Of course, the Ambassador of Pakistan and I also talked about the beauty of Lahore, which is one of the places on my current bucket list, and again one of those places so few people have ever been. I'm going to get there someday, and it will be sooner rather than later.


"Pakistan also has one of the oldest cities in the world," the ambassador told me tonight, "and we also have one of the oldest universities in the world, and that's just outside Islamabad." Oh, I am so going there one of these days.

Then I went back home early as I'm trying to conserve my energy for a pretty hectic next few weeks, which starts in a couple of days with a trip to Sri Lanka with two friends, and then goes on to Japan, Korea and China. I'm basically going to Japan to act as tour guide for my friends.

In Japan, I have 35 visitors coming over in a period of 2.5 weeks, including for the peak of cherry blossom season -- and that's just 35 visitors at last count. I guess all my friends got excited to visit Tokyo after TRAVELIFE Japan Night last February 16. Of course, I've booked most of them at my favorite Peninsula Tokyo.

This Sri Lanka trip was supposed to happen today, but it kept getting pushed back for some reason or another. But now, finally, we have our tickets and I got the itinerary in Sri Lanka finalized -- although I haven't really told either one of my friends yet. Maybe they'll get to read about it ahead in this blog.

SRI LANKA, HERE WE COME


Anyway, after two days in Colombo -- I hope we find time to sit on Colombo's golden beaches as one of the guys is bringing a bottle of whisky for that -- we're heading to Sigiriya, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and this time I'm finally going to get to climb the mountain. I visited Sigiriya last year and I didn't climb the mountain, and I've regretted not doing so ever since.


Another thing I regretted not doing was visiting the ancient caves of Dambulla, which we literally passed by last year, but didn't have time to stop and look at. This is the only UNESCO World Heritage site in Sri Lanka I still have not seen -- so I'm going to this, finally.


And then, we're going on a safari to the middle of nowhere -- a vast protected area that is supposed to be one of the greatest natural reserves in the world. I'm not really a safari person but I'm excited to experience this -- and I hope my friends are up for it because I haven't told them yet.

I also thought I would be flying via Singapore on the way to Colombo, so I'd already emailed friends in Sing to arrange quick lunches and drinks both ways; and I'd already psyched myself up for my traditional chicken rice lunch with my friend Tricee. But in a matter of hours, I ended up with a transit via Kuala Lumpur instead, so I had to cancel lunch with Tricee in Singapore.


If all of the above sounds terribly complicated, you'll be even more surprised to know that everything happened in a matter of hours. We changed flights, changed itineraries, got tickets and visas and basically recreated an entirely new trip in something like three hours -- all while we were closing a magazine issue today and I also had lunch with officials from the Chinese embassy.

Yes, we can now open a travel agency -- and we would probably be great at it too. Except that we're already happy running the Philippines' leading travel & lifestyle publication. We're just about everywhere we want to be.

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