Saturday, January 16, 2016

Mabuhay Manila! Getting to Know The Philippines Through the Manila Conference

Friday, January 15, 2016
Getting to Know The Philippines through the Manila Conference

The first thing I have discovered about Manila is how to pronounce it. It is Ma-nee-la. That's how all the local people say it and that's how I will say it too from now on. Also, I have learned that the word for Hullo in Tigalo (the local lingo) is Mahubay!

I awoke late--about 8. 00 am. which is late by my Morning Person standards. Since breakfast is only served till 10.00 am, I decide I need to shower and get to the restaurant in the Lotus Garden Hotel (in which I am staying) for breakfast. Right from there, I intend to get the concierge to hail me a taxi to take me to the Manila Hotel where my conference in being held.

Buffet Breakfast at the Lotus Garden Hotel:
The hotel's buffet breakfast is more than adequate. There are cornflakes and bran flakes for starters--but I pass them up as I am trying to stay low-carb. I pass by an omlette-making station and decide that I will have one with The Works. I order it and go along to take a look at the other dishes. There are pancakes with maple syrup and all sorts of brunch dishes--fish with onion sauce, chicken adobo which is very good, bacon, hash browns, cooked rice and salad at one end with fresh fruit. I settle down with coffee and, in a bit, by omeltte arrives. I add some bacon to it and have myself a very nice brekkie, thanks.

Arriving at the Manila Hotel for the Conference:
Getting a cab is another story. The poor concierge has about 4 people ahead of me who have asked him for a cab. I wait for a good 20 minutes before he manages to find me one. I am at the hotel about 10 minutes later. The Manila Hotel is the Big Daddy of them all--the equivalent of the grand old Asian hotels of yore. Think Taj Mahal Hotel Bombay and you get the idea--they are of the same vintage. This one too was built in 1911. It is all marble foyer, glittering chandelier, fresh flower arrangements. We have practically taken of the hotel--we are over 400 delegates from all over the world (mainly Asian nations) and our events are spread out all over the hotel throughout the day.

I catch the last bit of one of the sessions. I have completely missed the Welcome Remarks, but I have no regrets. I was wiped out last night and deserved my lie-in. I pick up my 'kit'--it is substantial (a laptop bag, a very nice bright blue folder with a matching credit card holder --from the Philippines Tourism folk--a really well brought out program, a wonderful book of abstracts, a pen, a map of Metro Manila, two packets of dried cranberries for snacking!) I am directed to another desk to pick up my pass for the half-day sight-seeing tour of Old Manila for which I have signed up and which will take place tomorrow afternoon.They have thought of everything and I am very impressed. I catch about 15 minutes of a session on Philippines' cultural dance traditions and the attempts to incorporate it into school curricula.

     There is a brief coffee break but I am too stuffed to take a sip. I join many of the participants at two sessions on Filipino Dances--one is a Duck Dance which is particularly nice. Another is a stick Dance (like the Gujarati Garba). There is another dance which is performed with fans. I am fast realizing the Filipino culture has tons of dances. We are invited to learn some of the steps and many participants go forwards. About 20 minutes later, I go to another room where there is a demonstration on traditional Filipino musical instruments. All very interesting and a very nice way to break the ice and get to the more scholarly aspects of the program.

     In a little while, it is time for lunch and there is a feast awaiting us. I meet a number of folks--all strangers but all very friendly. I sit at the 'India' table where I meet an interesting father-son team from Chennai, another guy from Chandigarh and pretty soon, the contingent from Bangladesh join us. The food is sumptuous--so many courses, a little bit of everything for everyone. There is soup served at our tables (Pumpkin Soup, really good), bread rolls and butter and then the buffet service is open and I am piling my plate and thinking this had better stop soon or else none of my clothes will fit me.

The President of the Philippines Hath Spoken:
     After lunch, we are instructed to get ready for the arrival of the President of the Philippines,. Benigno Aquino. He seems a nice enough guy and he is not late! This is a relief as I dreaded being kept waiting as might have been the case if I were in India. He gives a very brief speech but it is sensible and not clichéd. The US Ambassador to the Philippines is also present and he offers to give participants a chance to visit the US Embassy if they would like to get there. The President's address lasts about 12 minutes and then he is off.

I decide to hail a taxi (the cost is about US$1) and I return to my hotel for a rest. I unpack, get myself organized and take a nap and I feel extraordinarily refreshed.  After about a two hour break, I change and dress in slightly better clothing and return to the Manila Hotel by cab for our Welcome Dinner--this is preceded by a ton of Filipino dances--there is no end to them, it would seem. Beer and Iced Tea are served at our tables, and then there is soup (pumpkin again) and bread rolls with butter. After the dances and the speeches are done, the food stations are open for service and I find myself overwhelmed once again by the quality and the quantity of the food. Best of all, I get to taste Beef Rendang, which is a Malaysian curry of which I became aware only very recently when doing some research on the spice routes for a new course I am designing. It was absolutely delicious and I can see why it is so well-acclaimed. There are also loads of wonderful seafood and I am eating tons of shrimp of various sizes and mussels and calamari--amazing.

Getting Acquainted with Halo-Halo:
Best part of all, I get introduced to the most delicious dessert in the Philippines. It is known as halo-halo which means Mix-Mix. I am taught by those in the know how to assemble it. I am led to a table laden with a number of large bowls holding a lot of brightly colored items that are completely unfamiliar to me--they turn out to be preserved fruit including cherries. I am told to place a little bit of each of these things in the bottom of a bowl. They turn out to be red (azuki) beans, yellow beans, stringed coconut, gelatinized coconut water, a mash of purple sweet potato. Next I am told to pile on a lot of shaved ice on these items--which I do. Finally I am instructed to pour cream (from a pitcher) or ice-cream over the shaved ice. You are supposed to get to your seat and mix the whole concoction together and then spoon it into your mouth. I have never tasted any thing quite so unexpectedly delicious! I am absolutely delighted with it. And I am determined to have it many more times before I leave this place. There are also chocolate profiteroles (not great) and something called Ubi Ice-cream (which is a mauve ice-cream of ambiguous flavor, not very appealing).

A Reunion with Llew's Former Colleague:
At 8. 45, the formal Welcome Dinner is over and I move to the Main lobby to meet a former colleague of Llew named Andrea who is heading to the hotel to meet me. I am not tired (having gotten my second wind) and I am looking forward to seeing her again (we had last met at our place in Southport when she had visited us). She arrives at about 9.30 and although I am stuffed, she insists that we go to one of the restaurants in the hotel called Ilang-Ilang for a coffee.

It is great to see her again--she looks vivacious and happy at four months pregnant. We sit down with decaff coffee and two Filipino desserts which she insists on ordering so that I can taste them. One is called Puto Budong--it is rolls of purple sticky rice on which you sprinkle brown sugar, cheese and grated coconut. I neither cared for the texture nor the taste of it. The second dessert, Bibica--which sounded like the Portuguese-Goan Bibique--was nothing like the Bibica I know from Goa. This too is garnished with coconut. No, these were nothing to write home about, but I think Halo-Halo was awesome and I will have it again anytime if given half a chance.

Andrea gave me a ride back to my hotel before pushing off home. It was after 11.00 when I got back to my room and, to my disappointment I found my room so noisy from a club/bar on the adjacent street where music was simply blaring. I had heard this sound the previous night too but since it was much softer then, I did not make a fuss. This volume was too much to endure and I immediately called Reception and asked to have my room changed. They agreed immediately and moved me into  a super deluxe room for one night. Tomorrow, they will move me into another room that is on the other side of the hotel far from the club. The bell boy moved me to another room in a jiffy and I have to commend the hotel on their willingness to oblige me and the speed with which it was all accomplished.

My new room is huge and very quiet--heavenly. Needless to say, all I did was hit my bed as soon as I entered my room. I will deal with packing up and leaving my bags in Move Out condition tomorrow.

Until tomorrow...                     

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