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Bonding with Sarah

(Article published in the Oct 14, 2002 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

The skies were overcast when KLM Flight 2091 touched down at the Glasgow Airport in the early afternoon of October 1. The economic gloom that pervaded the International Monetary Fund-World Bank Group annual meetings in Washington, D.C. during the week-end seemed to have followed my plane from the U.S. capital, to Detroit, to Amsterdam, and finally to Glasgow, Gaelic for "Green City." In a short while, however, the weather cleared and the sun was out, however, brief.

Wearied by seemingly endless hours in the air crossing the Atlantic but more wearied the days before by trying hard to make it seem, to everyone who had cared to listen, that things are not as bad in the land of the morning as the newpapers paint it, I got my oversized suitcase from the baggage claim area and headed for the airport’s arrival exit. That suitcase was the reason from my going to Scotland. "Since you are already in Washington, D.C." said my wife just before I finalized my itinerary, "why don’t you swing over to Glascow and see how Sarah is doing?" Sarah is our daughter who for reasons I still cannot comprehend decided to take her masters at the University of Strathclyde despite having been admitted to the graduate program of Medill School of Journalism at the Northwestern University in the US.

"Why not?" I unwittingly responded, "Glascow is just a short detour from the standard Atlantic route to Asia, and I had not tried going home from the U.S. via the Atlantic, anyway". "And since you are going to see Sarah" my better half followed up, "you might as well bring with you the things she wanted to take with her to the University of Strathclyde but was not able to because she traveled alone". Ah, so. My role was to be the accompanying passenger to Sarah’s traveling baggage.

The city lived up to its reputation of being "The Friendly City" right at the airport. I asked the tourist information office how much the taxi fare would be to the University of Strathclyde campus and quickly I was told by the pretty attendant that if I took an airport taxi, it would cost me about 20 but if I did not mind waiting for a few minutes, she could call a private hire that would charge me for less. I remembered my father’s advice to do, in Rome, what the Romans do, and so, I, like a true Scotsman, took the private hire.

It was only 15 minutes from the airport to the University of Strathclyde Graduate School of Business Hotel (as the name suggests, a hotel run by the graduate students of business of the school) and eagerly, after checking, I texted her to say I had arrived, texting because she was off her classes at three and it was only two forty-five. "Meet me at the International Students Welcome Office at George Square at four", she texted back. That was a good ten minutes walk through streets that went up and down like Baguio’s roads, but the sky had cleared and the temperature was in the high fifties, getting there was not a problem.

The International Students Welcome Office, though no more elegant than the container vans we see coming from the piers, was friendly enough. George Square, however, seemed to me like a rectangle (it could be that travel fatigue had set in), and though there were four or five statutes inside the Square, none of them were of any person named George.

Sarah showed up at the stroke of four and introduced me to the guys in charge at the Office. They too, like the rest of the Scots I had asked for instructions from, starting with the pretty airport attendant, were friendly and with a smile I shook each ones hands, mentally noting which part of their left temples I would deliver a lunging whack with my arnis stick, just in case they tried anything funny with my daughter, without her consent.

We walked to my hotel. Upon reaching the lobby, she pointed to the building on the left. "That’s where we hold our classes," she said. So she could have simply walked over to my hotel at three. Mentally, I took note of the unexplained hour, and walked over to her flat, lugging behind me the humongous raison d’ etre of my being there. Along the way, like a tourist guide, she was giving me the names of the buildings and places, all of which I did not bother to remember, because they all had conspicuous signage, but I noticed a Lord Todd Bar, just around the corner.

Her flatmates, and an "honorary" member of their group, were all there, obviously design. This is the first time, I was told, that they all sat together for dinner. The dinner of fish and spaghetti, they also said, was cooked by Sarah. The variety of the menu did not surprise me since boiling and steaming were all the cooking she could do back home. I invited the girls, from various parts of the world, to Lord Todd and they all readily accepted, except a Chinese girl who initially balked but was persuaded I was harmless.

Lord Todd was full but we were able to get a vacant table, vacant because it was right underneath a big screen where the guys were watching the finals of a European soccer championship. After one round, the girls decided to go back to their flat.. And so did I head for my hotel, also for show. Thus ended the first day.

The second day, Sarah, coincidentally (my foot!) had no classes in the afternoon. She had a whole list of places for me to see within the span of four hours (they roll up the streets of Glasgow at six o’clock in the evening; late shopping is until 7 pm) but I insisted on going out of the city, not to see the countryside (which is truly as picturesque as the pictures you see in tourist come ons) but to see a single malt distillery. The nearest one was Glengoyne Distillery and there we were to spend the afternoon.

We had to take the train all the way to the end of the line at Milngave. We had to wait for about twenty minutes at the station for a bus that would take us to the distillery. Those twenty minutes were learning sessions.

An old man asked where we wanted to go, after noticing that we kept asking every bus driver that came along, whether his route would bring us to Glengoyne. We must have been a sight: a short white haired man, trying not to show he was shivering in what to the locals was fair weather, with his daughter, asking where the distillery was. He told us he was taking the same bus we should take and so not to worry.

In ten minutes, through acres and acres of sheep (white and black) and cows, we were at the distillery, already 15 miles north of Glasgow in Blane Valley, close to Loch Lomond and the village of Killarn. Glengoyne (pronounced glen-goyen and not rhyming with groin) was, we were told by the tour attendant, among the many illegal distilleries along the southern Highlands. A 19th century historian recorded that smoke could be seen each morning from 18 stills and the illicit spirit was smuggled into Glasgow by girls carrying tin pots under the hoops of their skirts. Glengoyne is legal now and so all I got was the sniff of fermenting yeast as soon as we got off the bus, but I did not get to see any pot, whether tin or not, under the skirt of the distillery’s tour guide. Sarah was insistent I behaved myself.

There were many more things we and Sarah did together during my four days in the Highlands, meeting her Filipino friends for dinner the night before I left, seeing (upon instructions of her mother) where she was buying her necessities, getting myself to accept that my eaglet is testing her wings atop far away crags and cliffs into the skies above the north sea.

The skies were overcast when KLM Flight 807 touched down at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in the early evening of October 5. In a short while, however, the stars came out. When the clouds parted, Ateneo was the UAAP Basketball champion.