What do ambassadors talk about when they get together for dinner? Do they try to solve the problem of world peace over glasses of wine with stiff, icy honorifics ? Not!
Ambassadors are among the coolest, most charming and relaxed people I know. Proof was the recent intimate dinner I attended at Manila House, hosted by Agnes Huibonhoa, Honorary Consul of Gambia, for two birthday celebrants. It also served as a farewell dinner for an ambassador and his wife who were leaving the Philippines the next day.
We were talking about life as we know it now, and what the future holds for the next few months. (It seems more doable at the moment to plan only by the month, yes?) So I decided to ask everyone: What’s your Christmas wish?.
“Please don’t say world peace,” I whispered behind my face mask to our vivacious Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teddy Boy Locsin. And so his reply came spontaneously:
“My Christmas wish is to be able to go to Japan and just walk around, seriously! I love Tokyo! To me, just strolling around the streets, looking at the shops, and going into any restaurant, that’s happiness!” said Teddy Boy.
His co-birthday celebrant, French Ambassador Nicolas Galey, merrily declared in similar fashion: “My wish this Christmas is to be able to have a good time in Siargao!”
To which his wife Camelia Galey said “Amen,” and added: “May this COVID leave us so we could all go back to our normal lives.”
Japanese Ambassador Koji Haneda, who was all set to go back to Japan the next day, agreed. “I wish we could have COVID under control so we can all have a joyful Christmas.” To which his wife Ihoko Haneda said: “May Christmas be a wonderful time to share with the ones we love.”
Was Louie Locsin a bit teary when she said “My wish is to have a happy Christmas and share this happiness with a lot of people”?
Vietnamese Ambassador Hoang Huy Chung said it all in one word: “Happiness!”
Special envoy to the United States Joey Antonio likewise added: “I’d like everyone to be happy this Christmas — our friends, relatives, loved ones.”
There was a certain pain and longing in everyone’s hearts. We could ignore the issue of world peace, but the pandemic, we could not. The atmosphere was getting sentimental and it took the bubbly Singaporean Ambassador Gerard Ho Wei Hong to break into laughter: “All I want for Christmas is to be able to travel to Japan. I’ve spent the last 15 years spending Christmas in Japan!”
Between bites of delicious grilled jumbo prawns and avocado tartare, Cultural Center of the Philippines chairman Margie Moran sighed: “I’d like to have freedom, to be free to travel without having to take tests, at least anywhere in the Philip-pines.”
Betty Sy, president of SM Hotels and Conventions, had a different wish: “May we have a more environmentally-conscious world.”
Agnes offered a toast to Ambassador Koji Haneda and his wife Ihoko as she bid them farewell: “Thank you for all the good deeds you have done for the Philippines... and for touching the hearts of Filipinos. You are truly our friends.”
Agnes expressed her own Christmas wish: “To be able to hug and kiss again my loved ones (her daughter is in France with her family). During these difficult times, I’ve realized that human relationships are so important. Real friends are what I truly value now. Moving forward is what the world needs now.”
And me? I’m simply looking forward to my next glass of wine with ambassadors extraordinary.