A Quick Visit to Bangkok and Singapore, and Life Abroad

A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva
The Bohol Chronicle
October 27, 2013

In the week before the awesome, deadly earthquake that rocked Bohol and Cebu and other parts of the Visayas and Mindanao on October 15, my wife, Coring, and I made a quick visit to Bangkok and Singapore: two very different and fascinating major Southeast Asian cities.

Much earlier, in the full year 1975, we lived with our young children in Bangkok, following a whole year in Kathmandu, Nepal. [I lived alone in Nepal in 1973-74.] The sojourn in Nepal and Thailand enabled us to visit Kuala Lumpur and Singapore as well on our return to Manila. In these places and in the United States each of us gathered impressions that enabled us to better appreciate, as well as feel sorry on some points, about dear Manila in comparison.

We  commiserated with the Nepalese on their relative deprivation but appreciated the spectacular beauty of the snow-covered Himalayas all year round. Up in the highest hotel in the world we would see Mt. Everest, the highest peak on earth. I made a quick sketch of the panorama and later painted it from memory.

We’d gather more impressions as we lived in Tokyo before living briefly in New York. My work with the Ford Foundation in Nepal and Thailand (1973-1977) and the United Nations University center in Tokyo and New York (1977-1987) enriched our lives as all of us learned from our foreign experience and shaped our outlook as individuals and as a family. All our children were able to study in America. Our eldest, Lanelle, learned to be a potter as she apprenticed for three years with a Japanese master potter in Hachijojima.

Revisiting Bangkok. The Bangkok International Airport, called “Suvarnabhumi,” replaced the existing Don Muang Airport in 2006 for international flights. It is about 30 kilometers east of Bangkok and accessible for the most part by a skyway. There is also a train to take passengers to central Bangkok in 20 minutes.

The airport is so spacious that it allows simultaneous arrivals and departures, unlike our NAIA airports. All these make our airline travel and land transportation in Metro Manila primitive. But then Thailand boasts of 23 million tourists in 2012. Thailand is strategically located for world travelers from West and East of mainland Asia. Indeed, we saw many big, colorful tourist buses in the major tourist sites. For the most part we found road traffic better controlled than in Metro Manila.

Moreover, we were vividly reminded that Thailand is so much more exotic than the Philippines because of its temples and huge government buildings, its being a constitutional democracy with the King as Head of State, and its nationwide use of its indigenous language. Large signs are mostly in Thai, unlike the Philippines were these are usually in English or Filipino readable script. Most foreign travelers in the Philippines would find it comfortable because English is widely spoken and understood. We had trouble communicating in our two days in Bangkok.

Sidewalk food stalls and sundry goods stalls are on many streets, and people may avail themselves  of massage and beauty treats as well.

Bangkok, or Krung Thep, which means the City of Angels, was constructed in 1782. It now has a population of about 10 million and is considered one of the biggest cities in the world. But Metro Manila has over 12 million.

In land area the Philippines has 300,000 square kilometers spread over many islands. Thailand has a solid land mass of 514,000 square kilometers. In the 1960s and the late 1970s, the Philippines and Thailand had a similar population. But then Thailand adopted modern family planning that has kept her population down to about 65 million to our 94 million. Thailand has a per capita Gross Domestic Product of US$5,480.00 to the Philippines’ US$2,587.00; and Singapore’s US$51,709.00. Thailand is richer than the Philippines. It produces a lot of food for her people and for export. I also remember that in the 1950s and 1960s many young Thais came to the Philippines for their higher education.

On our way back to Suvarnabhumi International Airport our taxi driver was severely coughing. Coring tapped his back and gave him a lot of tissue. The coughing continued and he tried to stop as he could not control the vehicle. We were very worried for him, and for us, because he had to suddenly slow down while the other vehicles were whizzing by. And what if we missed our plane to Singapore?

Revisiting Singapore. This small but very rich, well governed, and well groomed island-nation-state always impresses us and makes us wonder about its people’s and leaders’ ingenuity. I have visited the place several times for meetings with scholars. One of our two sons, Jonas, and his family lived there for several years. And now one of our two daughters, Rossana, has just relocated there as a director at Standard Charter Bank, after some 12 years in London, working last for the Bank of New York, Mellon.

This time my wife and I visited for just a few days, but in style because Rossana lived in a luxury executive apartment for the time being. We only window shopped because the malls we went to were too upscale for our taste and pockets. At the Museum at Marina Bay Sands we managed to watch a movie and exhibit of an Egyptian mummy and an exhibit of 50 masterpiece photographs. Rossana also showed us the apartment building where she would be moving to that very weekend, and the mall across the street where we had our lunch.

On our last night Rossana decided to treat us to dinner at the restaurant on the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Tower. Trouble was it rained so hard and it was so windy, and too many people were lining up for a taxi. We were worried that she’d lose her reservation. So we dared run in the rain with our umbrellas, for a distance of almost half a kilometer. At ages 85 and 81, we managed to make it to our destination with our much younger daughter; as if we were all very much younger. We were drenched but quite happy, nay triumphant, that we had made it. [May I add some trivia? I and Coring have the same age as the King and Queen of Thailand.]

Rossana was determined to make it worth our struggle, so we had a very special dinner and a bottle of red wine to celebrate the occasion. Then the rain stopped and we saw a good side of Singapore in its evening splendor. We somehow felt dry too.

Thank you, Lord, for our most enjoyable and memorable visit with Rossana.  And for our whole safe quick journey.

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