the folks at IHR just cannot do without me, and although i've left the office more than two years ago, they keep asking me to return, if only to inject some variety to the monotony of their lives. so they've decided to invite me to this symposium on the death penalty, meant to open the eyes of some newly elected congresspeople to the issues relating to the right to life and capital punishment. i was there just to moderate the interaction between the speakers and the participants, and so early monday morning, i stuffed a couple of barongs into my lowepro street & field rover light, and still found space for my travel iron and my laptop. i just had the bag plus my camera beltbag. this is what you might call packing light. i was at the airport early, and i didn't have any check-in baggage, so i found myself at the cellphone charging area of NAIA II, putting some power into my iPod. i had been deprived of sleep, not to mention that makiling had exhausted me, so i dozed off while i was there. i was facing the busy part of the airport, and there were a lot of people passing by, so all these strangers saw me while i was in that awkward sleeping position, my back slouched, my hands cupping my crotch, my head tilted back almost at a right angle, and my mouth slightly open. only later when i boarded did i realize that i was in business class! too bad i wasn't able to take advantage of the mabuhay lounge.
it's not my first time to take mabuhay class, but i had forgotten they served hot meals on this ride rather than the usual snacks in those plastic packets, consisting usually of crackers and some stuffed cakes. i had mushroom omelet with longaniza, and after breakfast, i tilted my seat, raised my footrest, and enjoyed the attention (sir, hot towel sir? sir, do you need anything sir? sir, would you prefer juice or water? sir, can i give you a massage?). i arrived in cebu in style, and in a moment, i found myself at the opulent lobby of shangri-la's mactan island resort. "mabuhay! welcome to paradise!" and well, i could not quite disagree (i may have less infrastructure in mind, but the heck!), except that i never imagined paradise crawling with kimchi-loving koreans. sandara park, is that you? they were part of a tour group, taking advantage of a honeymooners package, and paced around in quick steps around the hotel in pairs and in matching clothes. the hotel staff call them PITA (pain in the ass). they take island hopping trips in heels, they would eat food not served for them, they'd take things and refuse to pay. there are a lot of complaints.
the folks at shangri-la really are some of the most hospitable hotel staff i've met. i am probably not the most competent person to make that comment, since i don't frequent hotels, but i have been to a handful, and i must say the cebuanos at mactan island resort are tops in that department. i was shacked with paloys (rhinitis) in room 6079 (which isn't even on the 6th floor, go figure). paloys is a huge person (his own words; imagine a life size teddy bear), with an equally huge sense of humor, and a lot of wit to match his unassuming intelligence. i suppose because of his size, he'd be more tolerant of alcohol. after the sympo on the first day, we took the second secretary of the royal dutch embassy to ratsky's in ayala center cebu, and paloys had around 8 bottles of san mig strong ice (2 bottles more than i). when we returned to the hotel, he went straight to the john and regurgitated the prawns we had for dinner. he doesn't chew his food that well.
the sympo on the first day consisted of lectures from justice vitug and prof roque. justice vitug is an endearing old man, with an overpowering gentleness and humility, and whose small, physical stature finds no place in my towering regard for him. he carries the welcome burden of his erudition with restrained, but natural dignity. we sat together at lunch and he spoke to me with a relaxed, grandfatherly demeanor. prof roque, meanwhile, is a young, energetic academic, whose booming voice is almost as loud as his competence in the subject of international law. he spoke, though, with some consciousness of the composition of the audience, and had been perspiring heavily as he dealt with the inquisitorial cong lagman and the stubborn cong baterina.
we had dinner at the mactan pre-function ballroom. it was an immense hall which we had to share with the koreans (we were supposed to have it at the buko bar, but the rains washed out our venue). i was having more than my fair share of prawns when the cultural performers pulled me to the stage to dance the tinikling. i didn't need a lot of prodding, but i was still chewing a piece of huge prawn when we started jumping, and i felt the masticated food in my esophagus running up back to my mouth. i felt like throwing up at the dancer, and i quickly lost appetite after that.
the following day, i woke up with a really bad headache. paloys and i lingered in our large beds for a while longer before we actually stood up. the lectures for that morning were from prof hodgkinson of the univ of westminster and justice langa of the constitutional court of south africa. the articulate and funny british professor, whose name sounds like a new disease, is a giant of a man who directs the centre for capital punishment. justice langa (whose name i kept forgetting while i was up on the podium, so i referred to him as "our distinguished guest from south africa", "the good justice," etc.) is a humble and learned man, who had very black african sensibilities. by that i mean his speech had a musical and sonorous quality to it. he reminded me of an african yoda, because his face sort of spreads out horizontally, and as astutely observed by paloys and myself, his eyes were set so far apart across his face that i could place all of my five fingers between them and touch neither. he must have very good peripheral vision then.
after dinner, we proceeded to K1 in crossroads, cebu city for some serious singing. the beautiful italian participant, adriana, tagged along, and i belted "the reason" and "desperado" for her. i had no idea my singing voice could be so powerfully flat. we returned to the hotel at past 2am, which prevented me from getting up to swim in the hotel's extensive pool area. the following day, we still had a few hours to spare so we toured the city basically to buy some nasty smelling danggit and the classic dried mangoes. we had lunch at CNT in front of SM, and it was arguably one of the best lechons i've had. no need for mang tomas here.
after we had checked in, we barely managed to abuse the goodies at the mabuhay lounge since it was all of a sudden boarding time. i didn't have a window seat, which was sad because i could see that the sunset was painting the sky in a most interesting mix of colors. on the plane, i was possessed. when the stewardess-in-training was asking me what i wanted to have for dinner, i turned on my best british accent and harangued her about the menu. little did i know that while i did this, the other stewards and stewardesses were behind me, watching and listening with amusement. one of them even engaged me in conversation, and i think the entire business class of that flight was disturbed. i should remember to always take my medication.