Last week I was reading through the sixth book of The Old Testament, and was struck with chapter 4, Joshua’s account when God prescribed the elders of Israel to take twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan, so that when their children ask their fathers in time to come what these stones mean, the elders might reminisce on the faithfulness of the Lord bringing them safely across the river. I wondered how many times did the elders have to explain to their children the meaning of these stones. Or what about Rebekah? I have often wondered what evocative thoughts came flooding into her mind every time she drew water from a well after she met Abraham’s servant. Did Rebekah rejoice at the remembrance of that occasion which ultimately led to her marriage with Isaac? Or what about Moses? After God appeared to him at the burning bush that wasn’t consumed, did this great prophet pause with joyful memories every time he saw a similar bush? Or, what about Peter? Would this impulsive apostle remembered his denial of Christ afresh every time he heard a cock crow throughout the rest of his life? Did he break down in tears on each of these successive occasions? Or, what about Paul? Having persecuted the church of God prior to his conversion, what type of emotions stirred in his soul as a servant of Christ whenever he looked at the marks of the Lord Jesus he bore in his body? Were these scars in his own flesh a reminder of the scars he was responsible for inflicting upon many believers?
Stones, bushes, roosters, scars and wells. These objects probably have very little significance for you and me. But not so for Rebekah, Moses, Peter, Paul, and the congregation of Israel. Each of these persons, or group of people, experienced a life changing event when God providentially brought them into contact with the respective objects. Whenever we hear of Rebekah and the well, or Moses and the burning bush, or Peter and the rooster, or Paul and the scars, or Israel and the stones, we know there is a unique story behind each object with deep rooted meaning.
If this is a principle of life, how God works in each of us — using an object to remind us of His faithfulness — does He still work today in the same manner as He did with our forefathers? What object did God bring into your life that has a very significant meaning to you? Have you had a series of events occur that seem to indicate the presence of God? Have you encountered sequence of illuminated events that’s beyond your logical mind, or defied reason and explanation? I think we can all relate to this; of having a life changing experience that often reminds us of God’s faithfulness and sovereignty over our lives.
As for myself, if there’s one thing that always puts me in remembrance of God’s providence in my life, it isn’t a stone, or a well, but a hotel, and not just any hotel but a five-star hotel. It is something that evokes a type of sentimentality that’s significantly meaningful to me; a place that feels like a glorious connection to a man who is long gone and a distant childhood which is past.
At age ten or eleven, I accompanied my father on a business trip to Manila for the first time. It was quite a memorable journey; the very first time I got separated from my mother for over a week so my father made the trip exciting and extra special. I recall going with him to a meeting somewhere in Ayala Avenue, Makati; sitting and reading a book at the reception while waiting for him. Afterwards, we strolled around Greenbelt Mall and had lunch somewhere. Oddly enough, I have no recollection about the restaurant’s name nor its exact location, but I clearly remember the delicious pasta I’ve had. After lunch, we went to SM Department Store, and my father bought me a new pair of shoes — a lightweight and a very comfortable ’Mary Jean’ style called ‘Kung Fu’ shoes (Filipino kids who grew up in the 70s and 80s know exactly what I’m talking about). From ShoeMart we went over to InterContinental Hotel; just a couple of minutes walk under the sweltering summer heat, but I remember the sweat dripping into my eyes.
As we walked into the foyer, my father looked at me and asked, ‘Would you like some ice cream?’ I just had some sweets, and still very full from devouring a plateful of pasta but I replied, ‘Yes, I’d like to have some chocolate ice cream please!’ So he got me three scoops of chocolate ice cream from Café Jeepney, InterCon’s restaurant on the ground floor. We then sat on a huge couch and had a cosy little chat for what seemed like a very long time but probably for only an hour or two. It was my first visit to the first five-star hotel in Makati, the country’s business district, and the massive chandeliers, exceptional fixtures, beautiful fresh flowers, and the stylish setting left an indelible impression on me. That was my introduction to lounging or hanging out at the foyer of a five-star hotel.
Back in college, Manila Peninsula was the most popular hotel in town (not Manila Hotel or Westin Philippine Plaza, and there was no Shangri-la just yet), and it was my favourite place to hang out back then. My friends and I would sometimes go to Makati, hang out at the lobby of Manila Pen for studies and discussions together; we’d discuss our homework or whatever topic we picked for the day until we’re too dozy. Years later one of my good friends lived at a condominium right next to Manila Peninsula, and we would often hang out at the lobby of Manila Pen or Shangri-La Hotel on a Friday night to relax after a gruelling week. We’d end up chatting for hours on end while sipping a cup of tea, or mango juice (we’d sometimes consume 3-4 cups/glasses), and afterwards, we’d go home either to her condo or my condo, both just between five to ten minutes drive away. Never did it occur to me then, nor had any thoughts of one day getting a job at a hotel. My childhood dream was to become a lawyer, not a hotelier.
When I was studying in Japan, I always got invited to all kinds of events at a five-star hotel just about every week. These events were organised either by the Japan Ministry of Education or a local government agency for the foreign students, or a family affair arranged by my Japanese host family, Mr. Yafuso, then the Director of Okinawa International Cooperation Agency. He and his wife Mrs. Yafuso, and two children, Nina and Rico, happened to be very outgoing people, and always took me with them to all of their social functions. Consequently, attending a party or dining at a five-star hotel was a part of my weekly jaunts when I was at graduate school.
So as fate would have it, many years later I ended working at Sofitel Grand Boulevard Hotel. The career switch, from manufacturing to service industry was motivated by my desire to go to law school. My plan was to take evening classes which I couldn’t do in my previous job. I soon found out though that as the Manager of the Japan Market of Sofitel, I had to take care not only of the Japanese corporate and travel accounts, but also have to make myself available, sometimes 24/7, when there’s a huge group of Japanese in-house guests. Hence, the plan to pursue law studies didn’t work out but I had the most enjoyable job ever! And very glamorous, too. I had to dress up nicely and get myself dolled up everyday, meet all types of people from around the world, eat delicious food at the hotel for free, and enjoyed many other perks. As to giving assistance to the Japanese guests, I do recall only two or three occasions when my sleep was interrupted; I had to jump out of bed in the middle of the night and run to the lobby to help a Japanese guest who was ill (most of them didn’t speak English and I had to call the doctor and do the translations). But it’s nothing compared to the joy of being able to help someone in need, and the fun of being able to walk into the hotel’s kitchen at ungodly hour to get food, or pick one or two desserts to bring back into my room after attending to a sick Japanese guest. And yes, I’ve eaten tons of sweets at Sofitel! I got to do all of that and many other things I never got to do at Hitachi or any other workplace.
A year after I moved to the hotel industry, I’ve meet at the lobby of Sofitel a young man who would, over two years later, become my husband. Never in my wildest dream did it occur to me then that I’d end up marrying him. Never did I dream about living abroad, much less marrying a foreigner. I’ve dreamt of marrying a Filipino, and live in the tropics. Now I look back and ask myself, ‘Who would have ever thought that I’d land a job at a five-star hotel in Manila seventeen years after my father brought me to InterCon, and that, I’d meet my husband at the lobby of Sofitel eighteen years after that first lounging experience at InterCon Hotel with my father?’ (Now, I am not here to share my love story. I’ll leave that with Jared since he’s a great story teller. He’s very good at it that each time he shares our love story to a different set of young people at our church, these kids always end up laughing and crying especially when he gets to the part where he’d say, ‘I walk into the revolving door of Sofitel, and behind the fountain at the lobby there was a rainbow, and I saw the most . . . then, you know what? Elna did this and that . . . terrible . . . she broke my heart twice . . . it took me two years to convince her to even go out with me for a date . . . now, let me tell you blah blah blah. He’d go on and on and these teenagers would be laughing their heads off and/or crying their hearts out!😂) Sorry I digress.
On hindsight, the trip to Manila with my father as a young girl was our first and last trip together to the capital city. As the youngest in the family, my siblings had remarkable memories about him, much more than I had. He seemed to innately know that his time was extremely limited and he made sure to take me, his youngest child, to Manila without my mom or a sibling, and tried to create a memorable event I’d never forget. He probably had an innate sense of his mortal timing. May be he had premonition that he only had three to four more years to live hence, he had given me the trip of a lifetime.
Who would have ever thought that my visit to InterCon with dad would be a precursor to many more meaningful events in the future? How could all these string of amazing events perfectly fit together and make for a lovely story!? From ten to twenty eight, God had beautifully woven together a tapestry — a remarkable story that providentially occurred at the lobby of a hotel. The Lord had certainly planned it all before I was born (Psalm 139 is the perfect scripture for this). I know He had chosen me even before the foundations of the world to be one of His children, and all of these events unfolded according to His plans and purposes for my life.
Having reflected on all of these, I now realised why I take so much pleasure in having Afternoon Tea at a five-star hotel. I realised it’s not about the dainty sweets and sandwiches, or about the scones and exotic tisanes which I love, or about lounging at the foyer of a hotel. Subconsciously, I have a connection with a lobby of a five-star hotel that’s deeply meaningful and very personal; it’s like a homecoming and I am always reminded of my dad and of my ten year old self. Reminiscent thoughts of my childhood always come flooding into my mind each time I walk into a lobby of a five-star hotel. Needless to say, I can’t help but try to recapture the past, and rejoice in the Lord for providentially using a hotel to accomplish some of His plans for my life. As I look back, and I know it will be all through my days on earth, the lobby of a five star hotel will always be a little reminder of God’s faithfulness in my life.
Frances J. Crosby, one of the most prolific hymnists in modern history, beautifully penned a hymn — ‘All the Way My Saviour Leads Me’ — which deeply resonates with me. It’s one of my all time favourites!
Sadly, both InterContinental Hotel Manila and Sofitel Grand Boulevard are now defunct, and I truly mourn for the loss of these historic hotels. I say ‘historic’ for these reasons: (1) InterCon was the first five-star hotel in Makati, the country’s business district, and it was designed by a famous Filipino National Artist Leandro Locsin; and, (2) Sofitel Grand Boulevard, formerly Silahis International Hotel, was built in Manila Bay area in the 70s as part of the plan to modernise the city as a whole and especially Roxas Boulevard, and it was one of the best hotels in the country in its heyday. (Featured images, both from mapio.net)