Thursday, July 26, 2012

The stained glass of Chartres and (literally) flying ice to Tokyo


Hello from Haneda Airport, having just arrived in Tokyo from Sapporo, on an All Nippon Airways (ANA) lunchtime flight. It's only an hour and forty minutes by plane to Tokyo from Hokkaido, and there's an ANA plane practically every 30 minutes, so it's pretty much like riding a very comfortable bus.

That's just ANA as well, not to mention all the other Japanese airlines plying this route.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE


So with what basically amounts to a commuter plane ride today and very little sleep last night, I was expecting an uneventful, if not tedious flight.

Just to make sure I didn't get antsy, I took out my Mac for some work, and also my stash of magazines and newspapers to get through so that I can catch up on the news and actually continue being a good conversationalist at dinner parties, able to talk about history, politics, culture and all kinds of things. Not just travel.

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Someone recently told me -- hopefully in jest -- that I'd stopped talking about history and contemporary world affairs because I've become so engrossed in culture and traveling.

These are all not necessarily incompatible, and neither are culture and traveling uninteresting; but he implied that I've become much less interested in the world at large, from a socio-economic perspective, as a result of a never-ending Travelife, and therefore less stimulating company at dinner.

WAY MORE THAN A VILLAGE



In a way, it's true because there are only 24 hours in a day and so much energy to expend, so you have to choose carefully what to expend it on. It may also be a result of now living in the nice but rather small village that's Manila, instead of a world-stage city like Tokyo or other major capitals in the First World.

People really do tend to get lost in a smaller world, when in Manila, where lots of dinner topics are more about other people you know, than about what's happening in the international art scene, or about the impact of a new Socialist president in France on the EU, or the political reshuffle due to happen in China this autumn, for example.

When you live in a major world city and are somehow involved either in finance or media, these are the kind of things people talk about over lunch or dinner, and everyone's expected to hold their own. It's pretty stimulating and lots of fun.

So anyway, after this guy told me how I'd become slightly less interesting since leaving Tokyo, I decided to at least make more of an effort to keep myself interested in world affairs.

However, instead of gettting through my stack of publications, I had a pretty interesting flight that involved reading only one article.

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CONVERSATIONS WITH A STEWARDESS

First, a very nice ANA stewardess came up to me during a lull to make conversation about my laptop cover. My Mac has a custom-made sticker with a Japanese screen design, you see. It cost US$25 and I put it on my Mac just because I thought it looked nice.

But it actually protects my Mac from scratches as well. God knows it's probably the most over-used computer on the planet, not to mention the best-traveled one; so the sticker thing does come in handy.

The stewardess said to me: "Is that really a sticker? It makes your computer look so stylish."

I'd never really thought about it, but I guess it does make my computer look different from most other computers.

LITERALLY, FLYING ICE



Next came an incident with ice. If you've traveled with me, you know that I'm constantly eating ice on a trip. This plane ride was no different. I was on my fourth glass of ice, perhaps, when a nice ANA stewardess decided to do me a good turn by giving me a fifth and full glass of ice. This was of course very welcome.

Unfortunately, when the plane went through a bit of a bump, the glass jumped as well and -- in front of my horrified eyes -- an ice cube jumped out of the glass and landed right on the lap of the elderly and rather dignified passenger seated next to me.

What exactly do you do when an ice cube lands on the lap of the passenger seated next to you?



We both froze. I thought for a few minutes, and I guess so did he. Then I couldn't postpone the inevitable any longer and I had to make an executive decision about what to do; so I quickly said sorry and then picked up the ice cube from the top of his suit as he watched me as well, not knowing exactly what to do himself.

Through all this, save for my apology, we exchanged no other words.

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NEW BOOK TO READ

Finally, towards the end of the flight, I picked up a copy of Time Magazine's latest issue and there was a review of a book written by journalist Kati Marton, ex-wife of anchorman Peter Jennings and second wife of the high-profile diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who had worked as a key backstage conduit for several US presidents.

Richard Holbrooke passed away last December and his wife Kati recalled her life with him in a short but apparently highly recommended book called Paris: A Love Story. How very apt for our upcoming August-September issue, which is probably the most comprehensive feature on Paris that you'll ever find in the local market.

We're not Travelife for nothing.



Their love story seemed terribly interesting and so very much a Travelife kind of story. Being both "citizens of the world," their official first date wasn't really dinner in some fancy bistro in Washington D.C, or a play or opera gala in Manhattan.

Instead it was a three-day trip to Chartres and the Loire Valley, plus a couple of days in Paris. Their best memory of this first date was sitting in Chartres Cathedral admiring the magnificent stained glass windows and imagining how early piligrims must've been amazed by such a sight.



SWEET AND HUMAN

They simply traveled together rather than being romantically involved, as it was really an extended and rather glamorous version of a grown-up first date -- he was in his 50s and she was in her 40s, after all, and both had careers and lives of their own.

But by the end of their five days together, she writes that they were finally holding hands while walking the streets of Paris.

I thought this was very sweet, simple and human, considering the complicated lives they led and especially for a glamorous couple who lived so much of their lives in the spotlight, among the rich, famous and powerful. Bill Clinton had helped them move and Pakistan's president had given Kati some advice on bereavement when Richard Holbrooke had finally passed away.



Yes, they found happiness and got married. Richard Holbrooke became the US Ambassador to the United Nations and together they became the "it" couple of New York -- they were both smart, cultured and vivacious for life, and apparently they hosted the most interesting dinners with everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Nelson Mandela as guests. It was their golden age and how nice that they had found each other for this.



It wasn't a completely perfect life -- whose life is? -- but it came pretty close to this. And they lived fairly happily for 15 years together. Yes, second chances are possible and true love can happen at any age. So by the time we landed in Tokyo, I'd made up my mind to buy this book and read the rest of this story...

Good night from Tokyo after a very nice shabu-shabu dinner with the Philippine ambassador to Japan.


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