May 1st – May 14th, 2009

by Bill Hersey

Easter in Marvelous Manila

I just got back from a week of renewing my long-time love affair with one of my all-time favorite countries, the Philippines. It was Holy Week and as the country is predominantly Catholic it was a very special time with a full calendar of traditional events, religious activities, family, friends, and meditation.

I took Philippine Airlines’ daily 9:30am, four hour and 45 minute flight from Narita to Manila on April 7. The Philippines are an hour behind Tokyo, so we landed at Ninoy Aquino International Airport at 1:45pm. I got through immigration and customs quickly, and a twenty minute and ¥1,000 taxi ride later I was at my hotel, the Manila Pavilion on United Nations Avenue in Ermita, the tourist belt. That gave me the afternoon and evening to catch a few rays at the hotel pool, check out a few of the many (and I do mean many) malls, have coffee at Starbucks with friends and later take in a delicious seafood dinner at the crustacean restaurant in the upscale Rockwell Mall.

Wednesday the 8th was pretty much a regular business day, even though I was told that half of Manila had headed for their home province or the beach or mountain resorts for the holidays. Like the main character in the best-selling book and hit movie Confessions of a Shopaholic, I spent much of the day at my favorite tailor shop, Arturo’s on Taft Avenue, designing all kinds of shirts they made for me, visiting the Mall of Asia (which is the third largest mall in the world), shopping at the huge, modern Shoe Mart in Makati, which is full of great buys on everything. You really have to see the unbelievable variety of good fashion, Filipino handicrafts, furniture, and anything and everything else you might want at these and many other outlets all over Manila—it really is pretty awesome. Shopping there is as good as it gets—check it out and I’m sure you’ll agree. Disney, by the way, will open the fun film Confessions of a Shopaholic here in Japan on May 30th.

Holy Week’s Black Thursday and Good Friday were relaxing, inspiring and quiet. Malls, shops, and even the movie theaters were closed. With very little traffic ( few taxis, no jeepneys), it almost looked like a ghost town in some areas. I took time to catch a few more rays, visited a few beautiful, old churches, went to Rizal Park for a church choir concert, and thanks to a cab driver, discovered the people-packed seaside market for (yes, you guessed it), more fun shopping. More malls on Easter Sunday, but this time I just enjoyed watching the many families with their beautiful kids having a great Easter enjoying the many holiday events that included Easter egg hunts, photos with the Easter Bunny, mimes, clowns, and all kinds of good music.

More on Manila later. For now let’s move on to old Edo’s always busy social scene.

Kuwait National Day

Kuwaiti Ambassador and Mrs. Abdul Rahman al Otaibi’s celebration of their country’s 48th national day at the Imperial Hotel was, as expected, a lavish and enjoyable event. The hosts and their top staff all wore national costumes while greeting the many guests as they entered. It was all very impressive. There were huge gold-framed portraits of the ruling Al Sabah family, a wall of congratulatory floral arrangements, and a tall replica of one of the country’s most prominent landmarks, the Kuwait Towers. One really got a look at Kuwait’s history, development, and culture through an excellent exhibition of photographs. There was also an exhibition of paintings by Kuwaiti artists, as well as a large model of a dhow (a traditional Arab sailing vessel). After enjoying the bountiful and excellent buffet, many of the guests relaxed in the large, colorful dewaniya (Kuwaiti gathering place), where they were served mint tea, arab coffee, and sesame-covered dates. As at most Arab events, there were a lot of great young people in attendance, including the Al Otaibis’ daughter Hala and sons Khalid and Hamood. It was a beautiful evening that brought back so many great memories of the four visits I have had the privilege of making to Kuwait, where one finds legendary Arab hospitality at its very best.

Rayban Party

It was an evening of interesting people and lots of special happenings at The Liquid Room in Ebisu when Rayban hosted a big blast to show some of their classic and new styles of sunglasses. The company is, of course, a leader in its field. Tokyo trendies there that night included Warner Brothers’ Bill and Charo Ireton, Dewi Sukarno (who’s making big news with her trip to North Korea), TV personality Chris Peppler, and many familiar faces from the fashion and entertainment worlds. I would like to extend a special thanks to brothers Aldo and Fabio La Cavera, who went all out with Rayban to make sure all the special guests I invited had a good time, which they really did.

Emerald Ball at the Westin Hotel

Kudos to all involved in the planning and set up of the annual Emerald Ball at the Westin Hotel—it was the classy, colorful, and fun event it always is. Irish Ambassador and Mrs. Brendan Scannell’s dear friend HIH Princess Takamado, who adds glamor and class to everything she does, was the special guest. For the occasion she wore a chic evening gown that had green ribbons incorporated into the design. The gloom and doom of the world economic situation didn’t dim the positive feeling shared by the guests, who included many top business leaders. The dinner was excellent, Diageo kept the Guinness flowing freely, and there were great raffle prizes, an auction, and lots of good music with the Weekender’s very own Kieron Cashell belting out both Irish and pop songs. The nonstop dancing went on into the wee hours of the morning, and from what I heard, a good time was had by all. It was nice seeing many good friends, including the Westin’s GM Andreas Trauttmansdorff and his wife Dominique. Andreas has been super busy recently—in addition to Refugees International’s fundraiser ‘The Art of Dining,’ his hotel also hosted the always successful annual Austrian festival.

Just Talk

I hope you all did have or are having (depending on when you read this) a good Golden Week. Many of my friends are out of the city, but if you are here, there are all kinds of interesting, fun, and worthwhile happenings. I love Broadway musicals, and Japanese promotors have recently been bringing in some really good American and British productions of some of my all-time favorite shows. These include Xanadu and Hairspray. One of the top companies in this type of entertainment promotion is Kyodo Tokyo, and they’ll be bringing in one of the best musicals ever, West Side Story, as part of the show’s 50th anniversary world tour. Dates are July 29 to August 9 at Bunkamura’s Orchard Hall. For ticket information call 03-3498-9999.

I see they’ve changed that big sign on the highway over Roppongi from ‘Roppongi—High Touch Town’ to ‘Roppongi Roppongi.’ I kind of think the old one was more fitting because many people in that area were getting touched (sometimes grabbed)and many were getting high. It seems the warnings from several embassies, newspapers and radio stations about foreigners getting drugged and robbed at bars near Roppongi Crossing has had considerable effect on the Roppongi scene. You don’t see so many schills (or carnival barkers), as people say, acting aggressively. Let’s hope the local law enforcement keeps the pressure on.

I spent a recent morning at the annual Earth Festival in Yoyogi Park. It was colorful, fun, and informative, and packed with people. Jamaica will have their big festival at Yoyogi on May 9 and 10, and the big Thai festival will be in the park on May 16 and 17. I hope to see many of you at these two super international festivals.

Congratulations to government officials who are making the park a place for the people. I do, however, find it difficult to understand why they’ve stopped people who obviously need to make money to live from selling their second-hand goods on the streets on weekends. They really didn’t get in anyone’s way, they kept the place clean, and they had some great bargains. I always used to buy Walkmans, CD players and toys to take to the Philippines or to send to less fortunate people somewhere in this world of ours. This action by officials seems really strange at this time when so many people are having problems just making a decent living. I think it’s time for a little kindness and consideration.

Sarah Brightman in Tokyo

I first heard Sarah Brightman sing at her concert in London about twenty years ago, and I instantly became a devoted fan of the amazing British diva. Needless to say, I was overjoyed when a friend called recently to see if I would be interested in doing a party at the New Lex for Sarah and her 40-member entourage (orchestra, backup singers, dancers, stage technicians, etc.). Believe me, I really moved on that opportunity. Sarah, who showed up in chic black leather, was as nice and down-to-earth as anybody could be, and her very international group was a lot of fun and really knew how to party.