Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Flash mob at the Peninsula Manila ballroom, at the Dutch party to celebrate the investiture of the new King of the Netherlands

The welcoming committee for the Dutch party
at the Peninsula Manila last night....

Now it can be told.

Last night, in Manila living a Travelife, I attended a party hosted by Ambassador and Madame Ton Boon Von Ochsee to celebrate the investiture of the new King, Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.

It was a full ballroom and a very well-attended party that began at 6 PM and ended at 11 PM. There was good Dutch food, lots of socializing, and merrymaking the entire night.

Giant video screens were also set up in the ballroom so that everyone could watch the simple but majestic investiture of King Willem-Alexander in real-time.

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SURPRISE, SURPRISE

The surprise of the evening, however, was a flashmob performance of about 50 people amidst a crowd of very formally dressed guests. And they were dancing to the song "It's gonna be a good night" by the Black-Eyed Peas.

The flash mob was organized with utmost secrecy by Ambassador and Madame Boon Von Ochsee, and they personally led the dancing.



STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL

Everyone who was invited to participate in this surprise flash mob -- the first ever at an ambassador's party or at any formal reception in the Philippines, I believe -- received an email from Madame Martine several weeks ago.

I was one of the recipients of this email.

All recipients were requested to keep the plans completely confidential, whether they were going to say yes to joining the flash mob or not.

There were to be three rehearsals.

JUST IN TIME

With the hosts of the evening, Ambassador and Madame Boon Von Ochsee


I was away in Japan for the first two rehearsals.

But I made sure to get back to Manila in time for the final rehearsal, which was held at the Peninsula Manila last Saturday.

Having arrived from Japan just the day before, I had no idea who else was participating in the flashmob.

But when I walked into the rehearsal venue last Saturday, I was surprised at the illustrious roster of "flashmobbers."


The Peninsula Manila was full of orange last night....



DANCING IS GREAT FUN

The final practice at the Peninsula Manila was lots of fun and we certainly worked up a sweat and an enthusiasm -- enough for many of us to suggest to the Dutch Ambassador that we make this a regular thing.

With his usual dry humor, the good Ambassador replied: "Ah, yes. Perhaps we should stage one in Greenbelt or Glorietta every so often, just to keep the momentum going."

A TINSLEY DRESS IN ORANGE

The flash mob group agreed to wear something in orange, and to stick together in the center of the ballroom at the appointed time. Fortunately, my latest order of Tinsley dresses arrived, and one of my orders was for a geometric print dress with lots of orange in it. I wore this, and I tied my hair back with an orange ribbon for good measure.

And the actual flash mob last night was a great success and incredibly fun. It certainly took everyone else by surprise.



Here are some of the other participants in last night's flash mob: 

Dutch Ambassador and Madame Ton Bon Von Ochsee
EU Ambassador and Madame Guy Ledoux
Israel Ambassador and Madame Menash Bar-On
Swiss Ambassador and Madame Ivo Seiber
US Ambassador Harry Thomas
Madame Isabelle Garachon of France
Former Italian Ambassador and Madame Luca Fornari
Consul Fortune Ledesma
Dawn Bennett of the Embassy of Australia


Then we ended the evening with a night of dancing at Salon de Ning....



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Monday, April 29, 2013

Back to the basics of a delicious chicken teppanyaki in Shibuya, Tokyo

That was my delicious and cheap chicken teppanyaki lunch
in Tokyo last week, living a never-endingly eventful Travelife

My first lunch back in Tokyo two weekends ago, living a Travelife, was at a pretty local restaurant in Shibuya that served chicken in unique ways.

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Each table had a teppanyaki grill for the evenings.

But at lunch, they served very reasonably-priced lunch sets that were quite delicious.

TALK ABOUT GOOD VALUE



I ordered a teppanyaki chicken lunch, and my set -- which cost JYEN 1400 -- came with juicy pieces of chicken already cooked along with some vegetables.

The chicken was cooked almost like a steak, and it came on a hot teppanyaki plate.

The waiter said to me: "It's cooked rare and delicious that way. But if you would like it cooked some more, just place it on the hot stone for a bit longer."

The teppanyaki plate came with a hot stone that could cook a chicken longer.



It was served with a bowl of rice, a bowl of grated yam to place over the rice, and another big bowl of healthy chicken soup.

The chicken soup seemed so good and healthy. I had a feeling it would be able to cure anything. Or at least to cure a common cold.




It was really very nice comfort food, especially when I think about the price.

After so many days of pretty fancy food, it was also wonderful to go back to the basics in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.



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Israel's birthday party, and a photo opportunity for AIESEC alumni with President Ramos



Today, I dressed up in a Sri Lankan saree and headed to the New World Hotel to attend the National Day celebrations of Israel, hosted by H.E. Menash Bar-On, Ambassador of Israel, and his lovely wife Madame Eti Bar-On.

The invitation card, which guests needed to bring if they wished to enter this very high-security party, said "formal attire."

For some reason, I felt like wearing a saree tonight, so I chose a lovely silk one with a rather modern print.

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A VERY PERSONAL NATIONAL DAY

The party was done with a very personal touch.

There were paintings of Israel on the wallbeautiful videos on large screens that truly made me want to visit Israel again (anyone want to join me?), and lovely music.



There was even some singing and dancing.

The food, too, was very good; and even Madame Bar-On was raving about it.



SO NICE TO BE BACK IN MANILA

After being away so much on a never-endingly eventful Travelife -- what else is new -- I was very happy to see many friends and acquaintances again at one event after another.

And on those days that I don't have an event penciled in, I have dinners scheduled with good friends.

I'm really looking forward to those dinners, actually. I just want to sit around a table and chill out.

REMEMBERING THE FUN OF AIESEC

But tonight, I bumped into two former AIESEC alumni by a happy coincidence.

We were all in different generations of AIESEC but somehow we knew each other from way back. The two guys went to UP and they're frat brothers as well, so there's definitely a connection between them.

But with me, it was hard to figure out the connection as I went to a different school and I got transferred to the AIESEC National Committee almost immediately upon joining AIESEC.

It turned out that one of the guys had also been in Boston for an AIESEC International Congress with me, ages ago. And then we'd seen each other with other AIESEC friends in New York.

Meanwhile, the other guy said to me, with a smile: "I used to read your articles about AIESEC, and that's one of the reasons I started thinking about joining. And then, when I saw all the pretty girls in AIESEC UP, I really decided to join."

A GREAT PHOTO OPPORTUNITY



We were having lots of fun talking about AIESEC when we spotted a photo opportunity with former Philippine President Fidel Ramos.

"AIESEC Alumni with President Ramos," I said, already thinking of a caption for the photo in my mind. Even at parties, my mind's automatically editing stuff.

"What's AIESEC?" President Ramos asked me, when I explained why we wanted the photo.

I then explained a little about AIESEC and then we had our photo opportunity.

THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC...

Ambassador and Madame Menash Bar-On of Israel

Then, long after the music had stopped and most of the guests had gone home, I stayed on at the party just because the Israel Ambassador and Madame Bar-On are really dear friends of mine.

So I made sure that their event was the only thing on my agenda tonight.

Then I went home, thinking about how happy I am to be back in Manila, and how I just had another wonderful evening in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.



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The best halo-halo in Manila is at XO46

The best halo-halo in Manila is at XO 46.
Simple and simply delicious.

Today I had a 5000 calorie lunch, but it was so worth it.

We had a fantastic Filipino meal full of cholesterol busters.  I gain weight just thinking about what we ate.

And then we ended this delicious feast with just about the best halo-halo in Manila.

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NO TIME FOR LUNCH 
IN A NEVER-ENDINGLY EVENTFUL TRAVELIFE

We were a party of four, and we ate at XO46, that great Filipino bistro in Salcedo Village.

I'd been seriously hankering for spicy laing, adobo sa gata and bangus salpicao for the longest time -- but my never-endingly eventful Travelife just didn't make this possible until today.

Finally I had a few hours free today and everyone else was okay as well.

Chicken with patatas to start


THE BEST EXCUSE FOR MEETING UP

So I skipped breakfast and waited out my hunger until lunchtime, knowing fully well I would probably eat enough for a year in a matter of two hours.

We also had a good excuse for meeting up today.

On the guise of a planning session for our upcoming trip to Spain, the four of us organized a lunch meeting.

My absolute favorite tokwa't baboy


SPAIN, HERE WE COME

Yes, one of the trips in my never-endingly eventful Travelife for 2013 is a driving trip all over Spain.

The four of us are going and we needed to agree on the parameters of where to go and what to do.

As always, I'm in charge of planning the trip -- we are Travelife, after all, and absolutely no one can plan a seamless best-of-breed trip better than we can -- but of course I need inputs from the rest.

Excellent flavored puto


MY FAVORITE PART OF PLANNING A TRAVELIFE

So today I halted work for a while to do a bit more planning for my Travelife for this year.

There's Spain, of course.

But I also have a trip to France coming up, and one to Tanzania after Spain.

It's really fun to choose where to stay -- this is my favorite part, by the way, as I'm such a hotel junkie -- but it can get quite confusing when you're dealing with hotel reservations in 15 to 20 cities all at the same time.

This was a new pancit dish from the Visayas.
And it was so good.


SIMPLY THE BEST HALO-HALO IN THE WORLD

But the real highlight for today is the fact that I've just tasted the best halo-halo in the world.

Yes, it's official, as far as we're concerned.

The best halo-halo in the world is at XO46 -- and isn't this just perfect for summer.

Wine before halo-halo.
And mojitos after halo-halo.


INGREDIENTS FOR SUCCESS

What makes XO46's halo-halo so special?

For one thing, it's a slush. You don't get crushed ice. You get a cold drink that's really the equivalent of a slushie -- if you've ever had one of those.

Inside, it's full of the traditional good stuff that goes into a halo-halo, including leche flan, kaong, pinipig, nata de coco, sweet banana and other things.

But there are two secret ingredients in this XO46 halo-halo that make it completely different from anywhere else.

Of course, it's a secret, so even I don't know what these are.

The best halo-halo in the world...


THE PERFECT COMBINATION

I'm not even a halo-halo person, but I really loved this one. In fact, I actually shared one order with someone, and after tasting this halo-halo, I wish I'd ordered my own.

And guess what I had with my halo-halo?

A deadly glass of mojito. Drinking mojitos is a bad habit I picked up on the Travelife to Sri Lanka last February. All the guys were drinking it practically everyday at lunch with their curries and one day I had a glass with them.

And the rest is history -- although I still have to figure out whether I really like the taste or just the crushed ice.

5000 CALORIES I SO DON'T NEED

My all-time favorite bangus salpicao



"I must've had 5000 calories today," I said, very wistfully. It's one fancy event after another this week, and I need to fit into some pretty slinky dresses.

And tomorrow, I need to actually find something slinky and orange to wear to the formal party marking the coronation of the new King of the Netherlands.

Everything was so good at lunch today that I'd had triple servings. Maybe I should start thinking about tent dresses instead of slinky dresses.

And then there was this delicious halo-halo to top another delicious lunch in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

XO 46
The best halo-halo in Manila

Valero St., Salcedo Village
Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines

Tel 553-6632 / 553-6635




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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lamb biryani at Persia Grill, and no more missed opportunities in a Travelife



Last night I had dinner with three friends at the new Persia Grill at the Fort.

We all wanted something casual, fun and delicious.

Plus, I'd been hankering for good lamb biryani for days now, and this was the perfect opportunity, in between my never-endingly eventful Travelife.

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Persia Grill's lamb biryani is different from the ones I had in India on my last trip.

But it's delicious as well, especially with their special biryani sauce and yoghurt, plus their homemade creamy garlic sauce and hot sauce.

A new dish at Persia Grill.
The dip is made of garlic and feta cheese.


THREE BECAME FOUR

We were supposed to be three friends at dinner last night.

But yesterday morning, at the Peninsula Manila, I'd bumped into a friend I'd been thinking of for weeks but who I'd been unable to see all this time because our schedules just hadn't matched.

We just happened to be in the same event -- and you'll be hearing more about this rather crazy event in a few days.

This tasted way better than it looks in this photograph.
It's chicken slow-cooked in fruits and herbs. 


TOO LITTLE SERENDIPITY

Over the past weeks, I've been in Vietnam, India and Japan; and when I was actually in Manila, she had been away.

By coincidence, we saw each other at this event on Saturday morning, after such a long time. So we decided then and there to have tea and some food at the lobby of the Peninsula Manila after the event.

We had a great but short time catching up.

The Persian national dish


NO EXCUSES WHEN YOU'RE SO CLOSE BY

There's never much time for anything these days, so before saying goodbye, she said to me: "Just text me if you're suddenly free or if you want to do something. We live so near each other."

It was true.

We lived so close to each other that there's really no excuse not to meet up.

Delicious beef kebabs...

..served with diced grilled tomatoes and yoghurt.
Plus Persia Grill's secret sauce.


But you know how sometimes that five-minute distance is even longer than a 5000 kilometer distance?

That ocassionally happens to me. Sometimes I see friends in another country way more than I see people only a few blocks away.

I guess you take the distance for granted when you're so close by. But I've resolved to now avoid this when possible.



NO MORE MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

But I now realize that being so close by and not seeing each other enough is really a missed opportunity for friendship. And this term "missed opportunity" really provokes an allergic reaction in me, as I never want to miss any opportunities in my life.

So that same afternoon, after we'd caught up a bit at the Peninsula Manila, I sent this friend a text when I was back home: "What are you doing tonight? Join us if you're free?"

I was having dinner with these two guys at Persia Grill, and I knew they'd be happy for her to join.

It ended up being such an enjoyable and delicious evening in Manila, living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.




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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Iloilo's Dinagyang Festival, from a fresh perspective.

Phoemela Baranda at the Boracay Regency Hotel

Travelife Magazine's wonderful summer issue (April-May 2013), with top model and PMAP President Phoemela Baranda in Boracay on the cover, has been on sale since last week, and I really hope you get a copy at the bookstore as soon as possible.

It's a truly wonderful issue that includes the most comprehensive feature ever done by a travel magazine in this part of the world on Johannesburg, as well as great stories on Vietnam, BaliLondon, and Israel, among many others.

We truly are a magazine with great stories by real travelers.

JOHANNESBURG in our April-May 2013 issue



THE DINAGYANG FESTIVAL 
FROM A FRESH PERSPECTIVE.
AND A VVIP SEAT.


Private investor and photo enthusiast Anthony Vecchio visited Iloilo for the Dinagyang Festival as a guest of one of the city's most illustrious families.

He took along his camera and captured this truly colorful festival from some very fresh angles -- not to mention from a VVIP seat at the Dinagyang festival.

When he emailed me some of his photos, I just had to ask him for the rest, so we could use them in this issue.

Photo by Anthony Vecchio

Lots of professional and serious amateur photographers descend on the Dinagyang Festival each year to take photographs.

But perhaps because Anthony is neither, and instead a very observant traveler with a kind heart and a very good eye for capturing a moment, he was able to shoot some really beautiful and unique photos.

I'm sure you'll enjoy these as much as I did.

A FANTASTIC ISSUE.
GET YOUR COPY ASAP.
THEN GET STARTED ON YOUR OWN TRAVELIFE.



Putting this heavyweight issue together made me realize that every place is an attractive destination in a Travelife, if you arrive with an open mind and enthusiastic energy for discovery and adventure

So read our magazine for inspiration and then start packing for your own version of a never-endingly eventful Travelife. ASAP.



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Friday, April 26, 2013

Deja vu in South Africa's birthday party tonight at the Makati Shangri-la

The first course for lunch
on board Philippine Airlines from Tokyo to Manila today...

This afternoon I flew into Manila from Tokyo, and from the airport I went straight to work.

I was excited to check the layouts of a series of articles coming up in our next issue that I'd collaborated with a friend on. I'd written the article and some of my nicest photos were also in it, so it was a pretty personal layout.

And absolutely beautiful, if I may add. Catch it in the June-July 2013 issue of Travelife Magazine. And, yes, read our wonderful current issue in the meantime.

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SOME OF US ARE BACK...

Our editorial team had just returned from a big weeklong trip somewhere for a cover shoot, so there were lots of stories and jokes being exchanged all around.



I'd been in Japan for this same time, Meanwhile, a good friend of mine had hosted them somewhere for this cover shoot and been their "boss" for a week.

After hearing the stories about their trip, and their new boss, now even I'm confused on who the real boss is.

Lots of our team are still away as well, in places as disparate as Sydney and Taiwan.



HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SOUTH AFRICA

From the office, I did a quick change and then made a U-turn for the Makati Shangri-la to attend the South African National Day celebrations in the Makati Shangri-la ballroom.



South African Ambassador Agnes Nymanande-Pitso, full of energy and life, had once again organized a sit-down dinner of South African specialties, and great entertainment to go with it.

The dinner was cooked by three South African chefs flown in just for the occassion.

Team South Africa for tonight's party

FROM JAPAN, JUST FOR THE PARTY

Ambassador Nyamande-Pitso is a very good friend and so she is one lady I can't say no to.

I'm a big fan of South Africa as a country and a destination, as well. So you might say that I returned to Manila just to attend the party tonight.



SOME SENTIMENTAL SONGS....

I really liked tonight's entertainment, by Baby M, a pretty famous half-South African, half-Japanese singer who had flown in just to perform tonight.

She sang a first set of slow and sentimental songs, and then a second set of fast dance songs -- both sets were so very South Africa.

Her version of "You were always on my mind"
was the best I'd ever heard...


In her first set, she sang her version of the song "You were always on my mind." It was so beautiful.

Frankly, I don't really like this song. But the way Baby M sang it made me positively sentimental because it was such a fresh and also non-soapy way of singing this song -- but touching all the same.



IS THIS MY LIFE -- OR WHAT?


The tourism promotion video of South Africa that played onstage the entire night made me equally sentimental for South Africa as well.

That's Table Mountain on the video...

I'm not sure if it was because we'd planned our trip to South Africa last November so well, that we'd included everything that was really best about South Africa; or maybe they'd just read our minds.

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Or maybe there was a photographer trailing us on our trip the entire time and we just didn't know it.

But that video tonight literally showed almost every place we'd visited, stayed in or dined at during our two weeks in South Africa last November.

I felt like I was watching a video of my trip instead of a tourism promotional video.

HERE WE GO AGAIN...



I saw the beautiful Westcliff hotel in Johannesburg, and the safari jeeps of the Sabi Sabi Game Reserve.

And Moyo and Melrose Arch, where we'd had lunch on our first day in South Africa, and then the Palace of the Lost City, where we'd had a club sandwich for lunch on Day 2.



I saw the balloon ride and all the museums we visited.

It had Constantia and the drives around Cape Town, the V&A Waterfront, and even the crafts shop where we'd finally found our trophy-grade zebra skins.

And, of course, the iconic places like Table Mountain and Franschhoek.

The clincher was probably Reuben's, a nice restaurant in Cape Town where we'd had lunch one day. This lunch hadn't even made it to the actual pages of Travelife Magazine, but I saw it in this "video of my trip."

Talk about deja vu. It made me remember what a wonderful Travelife we'd gone on.

I already have Tanzania penciled into this year, and three safaris are going into it. And tonight, I just decided to include South Africa again somehow into my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife this year.





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