Back at the beginning of the noughties, I initiated the formation of a small informal grouping of like-minded individuals for the purpose of male-bonding over short-duration trips to not too distant or remote places. The criteria for membership would be age (middle age to early sixties), health (reasonably good), and occupation (running own business or managing a business.)
And one other – compatibility as a traveling companion for the other members under consideration. As the person moving this project, and self-appointed leader of the pack, I made myself the sole arbiter of this compatibility factor. It was a heavy responsibility, but I would like to think that it was one well executed, given that the ultimate group stuck together for almost fifteen years.
By mutual agreement, we named the group the “Silly Slickers”. This moniker was a rip-off from the 1991 Hollywood movie, “City Slickers.” In the movie, the Billy Crystal character, a Manhattan yuppie, on the verge of turning 40, was roped into joining his two friends on a cattle drive across southwest USA. Through the time spent together, the shared experiences and conversations over the 2-week period, the three friends managed to work out some kinks in their respective lives, and at the end of the trip, returned to their regular lives much more clear-minded and focussed.
Of the four members making up the Silly Slickers, two owned their businesses, and the other two managed businesses for multinational corporations. All, therefore, were senior people in responsible positions. One was from the Philippines, and the other three from Singapore. At the beginning of the venture, the baby of the group was barely 50, and the most senior gentleman had just crossed 65. A good balance of youth and wisdom, one might say. All were in reasonably good health; in fact the oldest was probably the fittest, for he played pelota, regularly worked out, and did distance running. Each had a healthy sense of humour. As far as I knew, at the time, none of them was facing any knotty life issues. Though it wouldn’t have disqualified him, if one of them was. Perhaps the group interaction would be exactly what the doctor would order for that individual.
Being busy business people, they couldn’t afford to be away for long periods of time. Hence it was agreed at the outset that each trip would ideally not entail one-way commute time of more than 5 hours, and not being away from home for more than five days. The destinations should each be a combination of the exotic and the remote. There would be no wives, no children, and definitely no girlfriends. Also no golf, no mah-jong, and no carousing. Exquisite local food most certainly, and fine wines, local if available, imported if the only option.
And conversations. Lots of conversations. Free and open conversations. On group basis. One on one. Two on one. Three on one. Or whatever configurations suit the topic or the mood. But absolutely no one-to-one business transactions, although being business people, some of the time the conversations would revolve around the business of business.
It is probably a testimony to the compatibility and harmoniousness of the group, that the Silly Slickers managed to stick together for so long and undertook the number of trips they did. These trips included:
Benaue, up in the mountains of Central Luzon, Philppines, to view the locally touted “eighth wonder of the world”, the eight thousand feet high terraced rice fields. And to view the life-style of the ancient Ifugao tribe.
Pulau Tioman, West Malaysia. Involving boating and snorkelling. The only time an exception was made for golfing, because of the unique experience of playing amidst monkeys and komodo lizards on the golf course
Tuscany, Central Italy. Frankly, this trip wasn’t about Florence, or Michaelangelo or the arts. There would be something wrong with this picture of four guys viewing paintings and admiring sculpture together. No, that would have to be another trip, with the respective spouses. This one was about the landscape, the vineyards, and the big Tuscan reds, the Chiantis, the Vino Nobile de Montepulcianos, and the Brunellos. And the Florentine Steaks.
Siam Reap, Cambodia. Angkor Wat was a stupendous sight. Scaling it was a heady experience. Trying to get back down was challengng enough to make grown men and women cry (none of the Slickers did – they were too slick to be caught doing so.) If Angkor Wat was not enough to challenge the inner temple-ruin self, there were plenty of others, like Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, anthe Bayon.
Bohol, Central Visayas, Philippines. Paid our respects to the Tarsier, the smallest primate in the world, and tried to carve out a chunk of the chocolate hills to bring home. Dining on the beach, stuffing our faces with the spread of daily catch of fresh seafood. And for dessert, what else but the best-in-the world Filipino mangoes?
Guilin, Kwangsi Province, China. Gliding down the Li River from Guilin southwards to Yongshou, through the otherworldly karst topography. In Yangshou, feasting on the otherworldly fish looking like a platypus, and a small wild boar looking like a rat. Also watching a Chang Yimou choreographed “Liew Sun Chieh” show set in a natural lake at night.
Hanoi and Sapa, North Vietnam. A mandatory visit to the “Hanoi Hilton.” Choices of Vietmanese street food from bun cha to grilled cuttlefish and the ubiquitous pho, not to forget the easy availability of authentic French cuisine. Hanoi was a veritable eating orgy. Halong Bay, half a day trip away, was a feast for the eyes, with its towers of limestone peaking out of emerald waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. And Sapa, an over-night train journey away to the northwest border with China, bringing back haunting memories of Benaue.
In all, 7 trips over a stretch of 14 years. A fairly decent tally, if I must say so myself. It would have been more, if not for at least two trips being aborted:
2004, Luang Prabang, Laos, when air passage through Bangkok or Chiangmai airports were not feasible due to prevailing political tensions in Thailand.
2010, Borobodur, Indonesia, when the airport at Jogjakarta, was closed by virtue of being covered by volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Merapi. (The destination was eventually switched to Bohol.)
For whatever it meant to each of us, the Silly Slickers kept this venture going. A trip was proceeded with as long as at least 3 Slickers were able to make it. Based on the record, it could be seen that the members made the effort, year after year. The whole endeavour came to an unofficial halt with the sad passing of its oldest member in 2015. And then segued to an as yet undeclared but probably undeniable end with a younger member recently suffering a heart attack.
Sad, but it was great while it lasted. I think that, in truth, the Silly Slickers might have been slick, but they were far from silly.