South African Chamber of Commerce’s Chrissi Theodorakakos with cast members of the Cirque du Soleil show “ZED”

With the current happenings in two of my favorite countries, Tunisia and Egypt, I am finding it difficult to pull myself away from BBC and CNN coverage. I’ve traveled extensively and spent considerable time in both countries. I almost always traveled alone, often by car, gave rides to many hitchhikers and never felt threatened or endangered in any way. I always came back to Japan with great memories of the many people I met. I was, of course, aware that these countries, like so many all over the world, had their problems, which included too long and often too strong, dominating leadership that often meant less freedom and opportunity than most of us were fortunate enough to have grown up with.

One of the biggest problems I saw was unemployment, especially for young men, even some who were college graduates. In both Egypt and Tunisia, the sidewalk cafes in major cities as well as small villages are kept busy with men who don’t have any work but somehow manage to scrape together a few coins for coffee and a place to spend the day. For the most part, I found those I talked to and often became friends with to be intelligent people who wanted to make a better life for themselves and their families but just didn’t have the opportunity. It really makes someone that has had the chance to do this realize how lucky they are.

It’s interesting as well as sad to hear the quick responses of the leaders who are in trouble to these tragic situations. It may well be too late for them to start doing what they should have been doing for years. It’s not going to be easy to solve many of the problems their attitudes and neglect have caused. It’ll get worse before it gets better. Just the effect of the loss of tourists in Egypt and Tunisia is really going to hurt so many people who depend on tourism for a living.

It’s difficult to know what we as people who are concerned can do to help the situation get better. The leaders who are pretty much responsible for the problems should be replaced as soon as possible. Hopefully the replacements will be more sensitive to the problems of the people, and will make every effort to insure the basic rights and equal opportunities for all. It won’t be easy and will take time, but somehow, it has to be done. Each of us can do our part by being more tolerant, helping the less fortunate whenever we can and praying to whoever or whatever you believe in for the bloodshed to stop and things to get better in this old world of ours.

South African wine promotion

My thanks to the South African Chamber of Commerce’s Chrissi Theodorakakos for the invitation to the promotion of South Africa’s excellent wines, dried fruits and rooibos tea at the Hilton Tokyo. It was a relaxed, colorful evening of good people, superb South African food and lots of good entertainment. I enjoyed seeing friends from Cirque du Soleil’s “ZED”, which is currently playing at Disneyland. I know many of them from their parties at the Lex. Kudos on their performance at the reception — they’re so good and so international. It was also nice seeing pop star Baby M. She looked great in a dress she had designed herself and made in Manila. Her mom Monica Hui was with her that night. She’s a very busy and very cool lady who helps Baby M in her career and owns a tourist lodge in SA. The mother daughter team do a lot of charity projects in the Philippines, and Baby M has an adopted Filipino brother and Filipina sister.

Still on South Africa, sorry I couldn’t get to the decoration ceremony for former South African ambassador to Japan, Baldwin Sipho Ngubame. Ben (his nickname), who was a good friend when he was posted here, was back for a short time to receive the Grand Cordon Of The Order Of The Rising Sun at a ceremony at the busy ANA Hotel. Our congratulations.

Brazil’s Global TV films a drama in Tokyo

I was surprised when I got a phone call from a Brazilian friend asking me about the possibility of a film crew here from Rio shooting a segment of a new Brazilian TV drama at the new Lex. No problem I told him, adding that the club would be packed on Saturday night when they hoped to film. “Great, that’s what we want,” he said. The cast and crew, about 26 people, showed up at the club with what seemed to be tons of equipment and miles of cord and cables.

The cast included gorgeous superstar Barbara Paz and actors Paolo Wallean and Christian. Barbara’s married to award-winning Brazilian director Hector Babenco, who directed one of my all-time favorite films, “Pixote”. The crew really knew what they were doing and, even with the crowd at the club, finished filming in a little over an hour. Most stayed on, made new friends and partied until 5 a.m. Man can those Brazilians party.

Cote d’Ivoire National Day

Ivory coast ambassador Liliane Boa hosted a relaxing midday reception at the New Otani on the occasion of her country’s national day. It was a beautiful day, and the hotel venue gave guests the opportunity to see the hotel’s huge and magnificent garden. Kudos to the food and beverage department. The buffet of mostly African food was excellent. JETRO president Sadako Ogata of UN refugee fame was there, and I always enjoy talking with this very special lady. It was also nice seeing the ambassador’s daughter, Malika, who took a day off from school to help with the celebration.

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 83rd birthday

It was the first time for Thai ambassador Virasakdi Futrakul and his wife Aumuporn to host a birthday celebration in Japan for their highly respected and much loved king. They chose the Imperial Hotel for their venue and, along with their staff, went all out to make it the well attended festive occasion it was. Special touches included each guest receiving a Thai orchid at the reception entrance. The buffet featured long, beautifully decorated tables piled high with steaming dishes of Thai food favorites. Entertainment included traditional Thai music and dance. The Futrakul are a very dynamic couple, perfect as their country’s representatives to Japan. (Bill Hersey)