Round the World at 80 Proof

Part Two: Manila

Manila was insane. Traffic was a chaotic choreography that, before it was politically incorrect, we’d refer to as a “Chinese fire drill!” Local jitneys, called Jeepneys, ruled the roads traversing vague routes that locals understood, but were indecipherable to rookies like us. We arrived Thursday morning for a stay of two days and nights. The Hilton was our base and Paul C, our station chief in Manila was our guide. I first met Paul when he ran the office in KL. A middle-aged Brit professional ex-pat, Paul enjoyed the good life mostly operating out of the Anglo-American-European restricted men’s clubs.

Paul had his driver pick us up at the hotel later that morning and take us directly to his shirt maker who outfitted us in Barong Tagalong shirts. Made of light-weight, local fibers, they are accepted as proper business dress designed to be worn outside over a tee shirt without a jacket or tie to deal with the tropical heat. Then we were off on a tour of clubs, lunch and a short visit to his office so he could show it off and make note that this was an official visit. Cocktails at one of Paul’s favorite clubs proceeded a relatively early dinner allowing Alan and I to crawl back to the Hilton for a decent night’s sleep.

Friday was more of the same. Prior to the trip, I had hoped to visit the battlefields on Bataan and Corregidor, but reality proved both to be too far away from the city for a day trip. Paul did introduce us to a couple of his clients, but we met more of his ex-pat buddies than we did clients that day.

Paul hosted cocktails in his personal regal digs, then it was off to dinner followed by more clubs until we ultimately found ourselves back at the Hilton in the early morning hours. I recall a worker waxing the floors when we arrived. “Alan,” I said, “We’re screwed if we go to bed. Our flight to KL is at seven and it’s almost three. Let’s go up, pack and come back down. We’ll grab some shut eye at the airport.”

By 4 AM, we were checked out and on our way to the airport. Manila, without Jeepneys  allowed us to reach the airport in record time. We quickly settled in at the departure lounge for what we hoped would be quiet time.

Unbelievably, we found an open bar where I ordered us Bloody Marys. Alan and I were quietly resting on a faux-leather sofa nursing our drinks when, next we knew, there came this clatter of hoofs roaring down a near-by stairs like an imitation of Fred Astaire dancing his way to Ginger Rodgers. We watched the chap responsible for this commotion dance by and greeted him with what I considered an appropriate greeting of, “F— you!”

My obscenity didn’t stop him; it only redirected him toward us. He saw our drinks, went to the bar, grabbed a Bloody Mary, headed back to us, sat down, let us know he was an Aussie and, unimpeded, proceeded to tell us his story:

“Mates, let me tell you about the week I just had. I came up here on what I expected to be a hell of a trip. I was so anxious that I set aside the entire week to resolve the problems I’d encounter. But unbelievably, I pulled off the deal before lunch time on the morning of the first day!

“I couldn’t believe this miracle so after a celebratory lunch, I returned to my hotel where I had myself pampered that afternoon in their spa. I had a light dinner then headed to an upscale club to celebrate before checking out and heading home the next day. Ah, but I fell into the company of a beautiful American woman who took me back to her place and proceeded to f— my brains out!

“The next morning she insisted that I check out of my hotel and move in with her for the remainder of my stay. Not only was she a thoroughbred in bed, she was socially well connected. She took me to the race track, cocaine parties at her clubs, top shelf dining, dancing and drinking.”

Then he stopped, took a sip of his drink, shook his head and said, “It was the most incredible week of my life.”

“Where are you going now?” I asked.

“Why to KL,” he replied, “I’m meeting my wife and kids. We’re going to a Club Med for holiday. Well, good day mates, I’m off.”

With that, he disappeared into the terminal. The two of us sat there absorbing this encounter. “Alan,” I asked, “Do you realize what just happened here?”

Alan shook his head. “Alan, we were that bastard’s window of opportunity. We are two innocent bystanders to whom he could brag before he met his wife. Otherwise, he’d never be certain if what happened was real. Now he can relive it and know it was real.”