On the showbiz scene, Manila is starting to bring in some of the world’s top entertainers. Mariah Carey did her “Charm Bracelet” concert while I was there, and young pop star Mandy Moore also played. One of the world’s hottest bands, Limp Bizkit, had scheduled performances in late November. Filipino talent is traveling abroad as well. The popular boys group Hunks gave two sold-out concerts in Tokyo recently, and one of the top Filipino bands, South Border, will perform in Tokyo soon.
Egyptian Counsellor Ahmed Farouk Tawfik Wahby and his wife Nesrin hosted a reception at the Egyptian Embassy to introduce newly arrived Ambassador Hisham Bade and hi lovely wife Dahlia. I had the privilege of knowing Hisham when he was a counselor at the embassy many years ago. There was a good turnout of Japanese government officials, diplomats and business leaders there to welcome the Badrs and wish them a long, happy stay in Japan. I had to leave the party early, but not before sampling some of the delicious Egyptian buffet. The embassy staff had gone all-out, and the buffet included two huge cakes, one decorated with the Pyramids and the other with the Sphinx.
Saudi Charge d’Affaires Mohammad Ameen Wali hosted a gala reception in the Hotel New Otani’s Hoh-oh Room on the occasion of the National Day of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Huge gold-framed photos of members of the ruling family were flanked by long rows of congratulatory floral arrangements from business associates and friends of the “Desert Kingdom’.’ A tall ice carving of Saudi Arabia’s national emblem was illuminated in the center of the room. The buffet featured the best of Arabic, western and Japanese cuisine. Dessert was sesame-covered dates and mint tea. The evening gave me an opportunity to see a lot of Saudi students I’ve met over the years who are studying here. The big Janadriyah Culture Festival will be held outside – in February. I did a Weekender cover story on the exciting event several years ago, and what a great experience.
Like the many people there, I totally enjoyed the opening program for the three-day Vietnamese Festival in Hibiya Park. Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Phan Gia Khien had flown in for the many-faceted event that included a fashion show, music and dance performances, handicraft exhibits and sales, and a wide variety of Vietnamese food. Vietnam Air also had a booth, and the staff kept busy talking with Japanese who plan to visit Vietnam. The airline, with its top-notch promotional campaign, has done an excellent job in helping make the country a top tourist destination for the Japanese. I would also like to congratulate Vietnamese Ambassador Vu Dung and his wife Nguyen Thi Tuyet Mai. During their almostfour years in Japan, they did an exceptional job for their country. I’m sorry I was out of Japan during their sayonara, but I did have Vietnamese coffee with the ambassador at his residence, and we agreed to meet in Vietnam.
Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to fly over to one of my favorite getaways-the Philippines for a seven-day break. Things here in Tokyo have been really hectic and, as I’m sure you know, there are times we just need to get away from it all. My Philippine Airlines (PAL) four-hour flight got me into Manila about 1:30 p.m., immigration and Customs procedures were fast, and I hopped into an airport taxi for a 20- minute, $6 ride to the Philippine Plaza (Westin). It had been an allnighter in Tokyo, so I relaxed in the hotel’s beautiful garden for a few hours. The sun was out, and the temperature a comfortable 33 degrees Celcius. Early in the evening, I dropped by my tailor shop, Arthurs on Taft Ave., to order a few shirts, vests and jeans. The tailor’s really good and so inexpensive. The next morning, I took one of PAL’s many daily 55-minute flights to Mactan Island, just outside of the Philippines’ second-largest and one of the nicest cities, Cebu. This time I stayed at the Maribago Blue Waters Resort. It was great, as were the next two days of islandhopping, fishing, exploring, “seawalking;’ relaxing and enjoying it all. I sincerely feel the Philippines is one of the most underrated tourist destinations in the world. With its natural beauty, great first-class hotels and resorts, excellent restaurants, endless shopping opportunities and warm love-life, hospitable, English-speaking people, the Philippines is really a top bargain getaway.
*First published at the Tokyo Weekender