Thursday, December 08, 2005

Nippon Maru sailing the blue, blue ocean...

This is the time of year when reminiscing about my unforgettable SSEAYP experiences is on a pivotal high, as the M/S Nippon Maru docks in Manila as part of its mission to take young ambassadors of goodwill "to the ports of the world with a message of love and peace" as the Nippon Maru Song goes. I was doubly excited since the National Leader of Japan for this year was none other than my SG-mate and Japan Youth Leader during our year, Atsuko Sawano (Atchee) whom I missed so dearly.

Which is why despite my class schedule, I made an effort to attend the reunion on board the ship last December 6. To add to that was the sumptuous Nippon Maru buffet we always looked forward to during the reunions.

There were a big number of 2002 PYs in the reunion. Vel from Brunei also joined the reunion. While two of the OBSC representatives this year were our batchmates as well, Mongkol from Cambodia and Eak from Thailand.

Nippon Maru dinners and receptions are always a sight to behold and taste... from the sushi artistically arranged on large plates, to sumptuous dishes inspired by various ASEAN and Japanese favorites, to the desserts, most especially the ice cream! Red and white wine, sake and Japanese beer is served as well.

I immediately noticed Atchee in her intricate kimono. It was so heartwarming to see an old friend here in Manila. And right there and then, I knew I made the right decision of skipping classes since it would have been unkind of me if I did not even meet her on her first visit to our country (the ship did not dock in Manila during our year). We were able to catch up the whole evening, interrupted by the usual programs since she had to do various ceremonial tasks as a National Leader.

Of course, SSEAYP activities would not be complete without the photos. And unlucky are the people requested to take photos since they end up holding so many cameras, busily taking snapshots as PYs (once a PY, always a PY) keep that one-minute smile... hehe!

We had to leave the ship at 9 p.m. as part of ship regulations. But the alumni association always prepares another party for the current batch of PYs, host families, alumni and friends as part of the warm welcome prepared for the delegates. So we all headed to Shangri-La Plaza Mall Streetscape for this year's street party.

Boy, it's been quite a while since I went out, no thanks to the toxic MBA workload. And the night was definitely fun! Even as the party ended, our batch decided to take Atchee, Mongkol, Eak and Vel to Eastwood for coffee but since Starbucks was already closed, we ended up with a better option... giving them a taste of a Filipino breakfast via the breakfast buffet at Something's Fishy.

We were able to talk to Mongkol and Eak about our plans to visit their part of the world next summer. And Mongkol, as gracious as always, offered to host us during the visit. That is the fulfilling part about SSEAYP, you have friends in every corner of the ASEAN and Japan. Which is why I was thrilled to receive the e-mail promotion of AirAsia's limited offering of all their tickets for free! So I grabbed the opportunity immediately and booked my tickets to Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand, with land trips to Laos and Singapore for next April! We ended quite late. All of us were exhaused. I was able to bring the them back to the ship at 4 a.m.

Poor me, I had work to finish and ended up in front of the computer til 1 p.m. Sleepless, I headed back to the ship and almost missed the farewell ceremonies because of the traffic, arriving just in the nick of time for me to give my present to Atchee. Back in 2002, she had given me her kimono and it was only now that I was able to reciprocate by giving her the very barong I wore during the program three years ago.

SSEAYP goodbyes are sad. And everytime the Nippon Maru sets sail for the next port, it always affects me as I watch it leave. The fun and heartwarming part about the closing ceremonies are the ticker tape farewells. I've always remembered the feeling of being the one throwing the tape from the ship down to the crowd below. But receiving the tape from someone close to you, being at the opposite end this time around struck me with a feeling of being left behind with all the memories, hoping that one day we would all meet again in this community we call the world.

I'd like to end on that note and prefer not to talk about my two hour ordeal in Manila's Christmas traffic jams. Hehe! Until next year, sayonara Nippon Maru!
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