Jan 19 2015

Re-visiting old friends in Manila

This trip back to Asia offered the most delightful perk: finally, I got to see two old friends I have not seen in 23 years. Sylvia Tay and her husband, His Excellency Roland van Remoortele, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Belgium to the Philippines, were cohorts in crime in Kinshasa.1)How cool is it that I get to use “extraordinary and plenipotentiary” in a sentence?! This was during the bad old days when Mobutu was still in power(ish), gorillas were left relatively unmolested, rape was not a weapon of mass destruction, and I was married to god (self-professed). Sylvia, younger than I, shared the burden with me of being the two youngest senior diplomat wives in Kin.2)Really, I was only a semi-diplomat wife. My ex was the Resident Representative for the International Monetary Fund, which gave us UN immunity, and made him the most sought-after expat in town, what with all of the madness going on at the Central Bank. Plus, you know: god. This instantly made us Sisters-In-Arms, and we delightedly flaunted our youth and generally just enjoyed the hell out of Zaïre.

Fast-forward 23 years, and it turns out that Sylvia somehow managed to remain in her early 20s. She met me at my gate (an ambassador’s Get Out of Jail Free Card has its perks!), and I recognized her immediately as if it were yesterday. It’s practically inhuman, but I’m a big enough person (and I mean that figuratively and literally right now as I battle peri-menopausal Gargantuanism) to love her still, my Sister-In-Arms.

I spent too few days in Manila being fêted, wined, and dined and generally making a nuisance of myself. (Sylvia, if there are any repercussions from my calling for a very rich and powerful polo pony abuser to be flogged and shot, do let me know!)

It’s funny, but we didn’t play the “Do you remember” game—it was just three friends coming back together and enjoying one another’s company.

Just as it should be.

Roland’s role as Belgian Ambassador to Manila is rather an unusual one, as it’s his second non-contiguous posting there. But he’s made such an impact on the country that he was asked to return. He’ll deny it every which way to Sunday, but he’s a bit of a softy, so of course he said yes.

Sylvia is not your grandmother’s Diplomat’s Spouse.3)Stay tuned for a copy of the “1966 Vientiane, Laos Post Report” for just a smattering of what that looked like. The more I’ve read prepping for this trip, the more I think that “Diplomatic Wives in the 19th and 20th Centuries” would be a rollicking tale to write! Sylvia is a talented entrepreneur doing some seriously cool stuff educating kids about urban planning through “Youth Leaders for A Sustainable Future – Planning a Clean and Green Township.” The competition, started in Malaysia and Singapore, involves school-aged kids creating a “clean and green” prototype of an existing city.

This year, the city is Manila, which is in dire need of clean and green anything.

I love that the competition is about the kids. The professionals already know what’s possible or not, so, you know, limit-A-tions!

Seriously, this is a great project and I’m not doing it justice here. Check out the Facebook page if you’d like more info, and let me know if you’d like to get involved. https://www.facebook.com/activistarads.

References   [ + ]

1. How cool is it that I get to use “extraordinary and plenipotentiary” in a sentence?!
2. Really, I was only a semi-diplomat wife. My ex was the Resident Representative for the International Monetary Fund, which gave us UN immunity, and made him the most sought-after expat in town, what with all of the madness going on at the Central Bank. Plus, you know: god.
3. Stay tuned for a copy of the “1966 Vientiane, Laos Post Report” for just a smattering of what that looked like. The more I’ve read prepping for this trip, the more I think that “Diplomatic Wives in the 19th and 20th Centuries” would be a rollicking tale to write!
4 Comments
  1. Jewell

    I know we met for the first time in July/2004 at the ACS reunion in Falls Church, Virginia, but I wonder -do we know some of the same people? I was born in Manila in 1961, left there in 1966. Lived in Monrovia from 1969-1973. Lived in BKK from 1974-1978. Even ran into some expats in Thailand whom we’d known in Liberia! Small world. Thrilling to read of your adventures, thanks!

    Reply

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