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Every year, Shirl designs our Christmas cards around our best aviation story of the year.  Last year’s card had a Spitfire, and we have cards marking horrendous air traffic, a migration to a magical grass airfield, a year of endless, er … maintenance, a year of aerobatic training.  It was a close call this year, because I had to choose between flying in an actual dogfight vs. celebrating another kind of aerial victory.  Given the Season, it was an easy choice.

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In 1948, just 3 years after the World War against Germany ended, the Soviet Union blockaded West Berlin to force its former allies out of the city.  Deep inside East Germany, West Berlin was a democratic island in the middle of a Communist sea.

    

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Allied pilots flew over two million of tons of food, coal and other critical supplies to Berlin in 1948-49.  It was one of the coldest winters in Germany.  During his final approaches in a heavily-laden C-54 cargo airplane, American pilot Gail Halvorsen dropped parachutes with gum and chocolate bars to German kids who waited all day at the end of the runways.  He had met the German kids at the perimeter fence, and he realized that they had never tasted chocolate bars or chewing gum before. 

  

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The Airlift defeated the Soviet blockade, won the hearts and minds of a former enemy, turned around an impossible election for an American President, preserved democracy in West Berlin, and left an indelible mark in the hearts of German kids who today run Germany.

  

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I’m a supply chain professional, and a pilot.  I always wanted to fly, since I was a very young child.  I love candy and chocolate.  The story of the Berlin Airlift captivated me.  This is a heart-warming tale of pilots, kids, chewing gum, an incredible supply chain case study, fabulous feats of flying, and an aerial victory without any shots fired, neither at a former enemy or at a former ally.

This year I went to Tempelhof, toured the Allied Museum, walked the runways I had read about decades ago, and stood on the ramp beside a C-54 on that had actually flown in the Airlift, nearly 70 years ago. 

 

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I tried to give everyone a card until I ran out. And a few illustrated books about the Candy Bomber, which were really written for children. To all of you, especially those whose cards are lost in the post office supply chain, …

       

… Merry Christmas!  Frohe Weinachten!

  

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Posted from Manila

24 December, 2015

  

  

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You Had Me at ‘Dambusters’

   

   

I flew to Christchurch, New Zealand, for business meetings.  And to give a talk at an industry group’s private event.   I still get nervous at these talks.  I always need a touchstone – an opening slide or story — to chill out both my audience and me.  I didn’t know much about this group.  How to start? 

We were surrounded by airplanes.

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The event was in an aircraft hangar at a former Royal New Zealand Air Force base, RNZAF Wigram.  It is now the Royal New Zealand Air Force Museum.  Waiting to be introduced, I stood under an A-4K Skyhawk. 

  

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Earlier, my hosts collected me at my hotel and drove me to the site.  They apologized for not briefing me earlier on the venue.  I looked at the Harvard trainer swooping down at the gate and said, 

“It’s perfect.  You had me at ‘Dambusters ’. ”

  

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New Zealand is a country of pilots.  Because of the rugged terrain and distances between settlements, airplanes were an early enabler of nationhood. 

Aviatrix Jean Batten flew the first England-to-New Zealand solo flight in 1936. 

  

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Air Vice Marshall Keith Parks hailed from New Zealand, schooled in Auckland and Dunedin.  He commanded all fighter aircraft defending London and southeast England during the Battle of Britain. 

  

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Pilot Les Munro flew in the Dambusters mission.  He is the only living pilot today of that famous raid.  Kiwi.

  

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I had the perfect first slide for my audience.  But my complete presentation was already locked and loaded into the multi-media system, ready to project.  I quickly bluetoothed two photos from my phone onto a thumb drive.  I handed the drive to the technical booth.  They re-sized and inserted the two photos into my slide sequence while I walked back to the conference.  They introduced me and I started my talk.

 

“Thank you for inviting me.  Isn’t this a great venue?  Let me tell you why.  Ever since I was a boy, I imagined myself flying airplanes.  Here is a picture of me when I was 8 years old.  That picture was taken just last Sunday.”

  

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“I love airplanes.  I manage manufacturing and supply chain operations in Asia and Europe now.  But when I grow up I want to fly that one (pointing to a de Havilland Vampire in the lobby). 

“You can see all kinds of magical views when you’re in an airplane.  Here is a picture I took with my phone last Tuesday from my airliner window, when I was arriving here.  These are mountains west of Christchurch.” 

  

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“I thought I would remind you what a magical country you live in, and how much I’d like to keep coming back.”

  

  

It was easy after that.  We talked about their industry, and why it was so vital in today’s global food chain.  How what they did added value to people’s lives around the world. 

Afterwards, a farmer, an analyst from an investment bank we all know, and an executive from a global trading firm chatted with me.  

Of course we talked about airplanes.

     

  

Posted from Bali, Indonesia, July 18, 2014
  

This is the 200th article we have written in Flying in Crosswinds
It’s been an amazing 7 years.  Thanks for sticking with us.  Over 12,000 followers of this blog, from a surprising range of countries.

Personal notes to friends: 

Andrew, as you can see I could not have avoided going to the museum!  Let’s go flying in New Zealand together!

Kelly, I promised you the photo of the New Zealand Alps.  Download away!  And fly safely, always.

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“Goose, you see a trailer?”
”Negative, Merlin.  Looks like he’s a single.” 
”Take it easy, Maverick.  I don’t like this shit.  I’m breaking high and right, see if he’s really alone."

— My friend Rick’s Facebook comment on the photo below.  

  

Bogey 9 o'clock level, where did HE come from?!

     

   

   

     

  

  

   

Rick was quoting from the movie TOPGUN.  I thought of other flying stories, like A Higher Call and Thunderbolt.  Tales of chivalry on both sides.  My childhood imagination, fuelled by weekly doses of “Twelve O’clock High” came rushing back.  When you see a German airplane outside your cockpit window, he wasn’t there to greet you, “Guten Tag, meine Herren, dies ist ein guter Tag für mich!”

  

A Higher Call

  

Rolf flashed past our wingtip and effortlessly arced back to our 9 o’clock. 

  

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Dogfights are won by airplanes with high instantaneous roll rates and sustained turn rates.  The faster you roll, the tighter your turn, the more likely you’ll get the other guy.  Energy keeps even vertical turns tight and fast.  Glider pilots are masters at managing energy.  Rolf flies aerobatics in gliders.   

  

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Even worse, Rolf was not flying a glider.  Rolf’s D.4 Fascination looks fast even on the groundDesigned by aerobatic pilot Wolfgang Dallach, it reflects the low-slung looks of a Messerschmitt Bf-109 or Focke-Wolf 190D, Luftwaffe fighters from World War II. 

  

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German machines are engineered for purposeful efficiency — BMW motor cars, Leica and Zeiss optics, the Deutscher fußball team that deconstructed the cathedral of Brazilian football last Tuesday.  German aviation pioneers have names that are famous even now:  Bölkow, Dornier, Extra, Langewiesche.

  

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So we were up against a German aerobatic glider pilot in a German airplane designed by another German aerobatic pilot.  Deutschland über alles.

Carlo is a much better English Lit professor than an aeronautical engineer.  He was about to get more education.   

    

  

“This is a great shot, Carl, I should be a photographer!”

  

  

Rolf again pulled low to our front and crossed our path left to right.  I felt Carlo roll into a right turn.  Ha!  Even mild-mannered English Lit professors have ruthless fighter pilots lurking inside.  He was pulling lead, closing.  

“C’mon, Mav, do some of that pilot shit!” 

But Carl was writing checks a Cessna can’t cash.

  

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“Are you trying to shoot me down?”  Clearly, Rolf’s eyes were locked on us through that bubble canopy.  Fighter pilot dictum:  lose sight, lose the fight.  

“He saw you Carl.”

Carlo’s determined grin stayed fixed on his face.  He tightened our turn, pulling 2 Gs as the German airplane’s nose pitched up.

  

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Suddenly Rolf arced tight inside our own turn and whipped past high above us.  Carlo unloaded and rolled wings level.

“When you see a Messerschmitt, Carl, and we’re flying a truck, dive for the weeds.  Where is he?”

  

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“Behind us, Dad.” 

We were toast.  

  

  

Rolf’s pure pursuit curve smoothly slotted onto our tail.  Ratatatat! 

We went down in flames.  Rolf gave us a Westphalian wave.  Then he banked away, RTB.

  

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Carlo flew down Germany’s Röhr river and skipped our bouncing bomb onto the Sorpe dam. 

  

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Except that we didn’t.  We were shot down before our bomb run.  We had tried to dogfight a Messerschmitt with a Lancaster bomber.  If we had survived in another era, the air group commander would have banished Carlo to flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog poo out of Hong Kong.

Carlo flew a beautiful crosswind landing back at Woodland.   Then we had a beer.  Rolf was already working on the water heater in one of our guest rooms.

  

Now you know why the Sorpe dam survived the war.

  

  

Posted from Christchurch, New Zealand

11 July, 2014

  

  

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Shameful.  Six months between stories.  My excuses are a move to Singapore and demands of explosive business growth in the most burgeoning region in the world.
  
I travel alone over 200 days a year.  During one harrowing 12-day period last month, I spent each of twelve consecutive nights in a different city – ranging from Nashville TN to Dunedin, New Zealand, and two nights on trans-oceanic flights on B777s and A380s, surrounded by strangers.
   
I crave time in our little Cessna 152, flying with Carlo.
             
         
         
          
       
         
         
It was already drizzling when we took off.  It wasn’t quite a thunderstorm – no vicious lightning or thunder.  Nor was it the long, dreary monsoon downpour that recalls limping piano lessons, restless childhood hours trapped indoors, the summer vacation wasting away. 
     
No, this was a summer cloudburst, that ones that had us running into the streets as children, shivering deliciously under gushing downspouts before the sun sent temperatures soaring into the mid-30s again.
         
Huge raindrops smacked the windshield as we lifted off the grass.  Carlo, flying from the right seat, started an instrument climb.  The sun streamed through shafts of rain.  We orbited over the field.  Cloudbursts quickly move on.  It is best to stay in one spot and wait them out.  I set navcom 1 to the ILS at Clark, as a precaution.
  
       
       

Switching nav1 to the Clark ILS       
  
Carlo flew a perfect orbit.  You can see below his VSI perfectly horizontal.  Level at 900 feet, our entry altitude at Woodland Airfield.
   
  
    
    Carlo level at 900 feet, in an out of rain
   
   
   
     
The rain shafts moved on.  Visibility jumped to a bazillion kilometers and the air sparkled.  We jolted through some turbulence.  I thought of microbursts and shear and mountain waves across the top of Mt Arayat, three kilometers away.
  
  
  
Our wing-mounted GoPro camera shakes off the raindrops    
  
Time for an approach.  The smoke plumes from ground fires streamed in different directions, hugging the rice fields flat.  I pointed to one plume, on the horizon.  Horizontal.

  

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The Angeles City Flying Club weather station is on top of Hangar 1.  I looked up our website on my BlackBerry, and sure enough, the wind was 25 knots, gusting to 28.  Crosswind, though all three of our windsocks pointed in three different directions.
   
   

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The maximum demonstrated crosswind on a Cessna 152 is 12 knots.
    
I told Carlo he still had the airplane.  I wasn’t about to embarrass myself. 
  
Carlo flew a magnificent approach.  He crabbed 15 degrees into the wind throughout the pattern, then canted the airplane into a sideslip on short final.
  
  

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As he flared, you can clearly hear my mumble in the cockpit video – “Sh*t, he’s going to grease it on.”
  
Of course he wanted to do it again.  There was a group of R/C flyers sheltering from the gale, in the lee of Hangar 3.  They were gawking at us.  A Cessna 152 isn’t much larger than a radio-controlled airplane.
  
Carlo did three approaches.  All greasers.  The wind shifted on the last short final, and he got a freebie headwind.  He nailed that, too.
  

  
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I suggested he might quit while he was ahead.  Our faces were sore from laughing and grinning non-stop.  Did I mention I love flying with Carlo? 
     
As they pushed the airplane into Hangar 3, I took a photo of the windsock.  The wind had shredded it completely.
  
  
 
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Later, Mike taught Carlo to walk bowlegged.  Because he had BIG brass ones.

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I tried to take credit for all the landings.  “I used my autopilot to fly coupled approaches to our CAT III ILS at Woodland Airpark.  I use every resource, and I was totally in command.”  Nobody believed me.
  
   
   
Posted from Venice, Italy
May 26, 2014
   
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First Solo

 

 

I’d had 11 hours of flying lessons with my instructor.  Four weekends.

One day my instructor and I practiced some landings, and then she got out of the airplane.  I was then supposed to fly three takeoffs and landings, alone.

It’s called the First Solo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They say you never forget your first solo.  Well, I was 45 years old.  I’ve forgotten many things about that day.  Pictures help me remember.  There is a video somewhere, 8mm film transferred to VHS.  Probably all faded by now.

There is also a diary.

 

 

My most vivid memory is climbing after takeoff, glancing right, and seeing the empty seat beside me.  No instructor.  She’d left her headset on the seat.

I remember thinking, If I can’t land this thing, nobody else will.  I was alone.

 

 

I remember the wind was strong.  The school’s chief instructor pilot, Capt. Jhick, ex-Air Force, tough as nails, flew my pre-solo check at noon, the worst time.  Bad thermals, bad approaches, bad landings, bad everything.

He criticized my entire flight.  Poor speed control, tentative on flight controls, bad runway line up, poor altitude control.  I probably parked the damn airplane crooked.

In the end, though, he said I was safe enough.  Released for solo.

 

Safe enough?

 

 

 

I’d forgotten the beauty queens. 

There were local beauty contestants visiting the airfield that day.  And the media. 

Clearly, Carlo is very interested in airplanes

 

Geez.  My first solo crash would be covered live.

 

 

I’d forgotten also that Meynard was there, practicing aerobatics for the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.  He later became my instrument and aerobatic instructor.  But I barely knew him in 2003.

Meynard was told that is was the Big Day!  First Solo!

Meynard congratulated my son Carlo, standing beside me, 16 years old.  His first solo!  At 16!  His Dad even came to watch! 

Uh, no, Carlo said.  It was Dad who was going to solo.  Meynard turned to me incredulously, tickled to death.

 

“You??  You are the one soloing?!”

I found out later he learned to fly at my age, too.

Meynard, Julio, Gino, Tonet, Carlo

 

 

 

 

4pm.  It was time!  My instructor Ina and I took off in the 1978-vintage Cessna 152.  RP-C1051.

In 1978, when it was brand new, that exact same airplane suffered my cousin Rico’s first solo.  He is now an Airbus Captain with United.

My cousin Rico, center, in 1978, same airplane

 

In 2003 the airplane was already 25 years old.  I was 45 years old.  The instructor pilot was younger than the student and the airplane.  Ina is now an Airbus Captain at Philippine Airlines.

Ina and Tonet, Omni Aviation, a week after my solo, February 2003

 

I felt ready!  Ina was convinced I was ready!  I don’t know what the airplane thought. 

 

Ina flew with me on a final check flight, three takeoffs and landings.  She told me to think of my favorite food, positive thoughts.  Like Peter Pan.

On the ground, Ina told me to stop the airplane on the grass.  She got out of the airplane.  Hair blowing wildly in the propeller blast, she shouted at me to do three takeoffs and landings.  If I got into trouble, I should land at Clark’s runway, big enough for B-52 bombers. 

 

Instructor pilot Ina gets out of the airplane

I'm on my own!

 

I remember being very alert.  Almost giddy.

 

“Clark Tower, 1051 holding short Zero-Two Omni, ready for departure.”

“1051, is this is your first solo, sir?”

“Roger that.”  I cringe even now, remembering that.  “Roger that” is so cheesy Hollywood.  The correct response is “Affirm”.

 

"Is this your first solo, sir?"

 

“1051, you are cleared for takeoff.”

 

To complete the crazy day, there were US Marine CH-47 twin-rotor helicopters and C-130 Hercules 4-engine military transports everywhere, the annual Balikatan joint military exercises.

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  USMC CH-47 Sea Knight

 

The tower warned, “Jackal flight, use caution, Cessna student pilot on first solo.”

Imagine that.  He warned the C-130 military pilots about me! 

Then there were American voices on the radio.

 

“Good luck!”

“Beers on you later!”

 

Then I took off, looked to my right, and saw the empty seat beside me.  I thought of my Dad.

My first landing was dream-like, as good as it gets. 

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I taxied back and waved to my sons, the instructors, the beauty queens, the media. 

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Big cocky mistake.

The second landing was a man-made earthquake.  The entire airframe reverberated from the impact.  This is what started global warming.

B-O-O-M!!

B-O-O-M!!

Another bounce.

BOOM!!  The earth shook. The gods quailed.  Birds fled south.

And a third impact.

BOOM!! 

On the video tape, you can hear my sons.

 

Gino:  “Oh.”

Julio:  “Oh.”

Carlo:  “Oh, what the heck, anything you can walk away from, right?”

 

The third landing was, mercifully, like stepping off a sidewalk. 

 

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I parked.  I remember Gino was the first to congratulate me.  I remember the traditional dunking.  Pinning on the wings.  The car ride home in wet pants.

Gino congratulates me!

Carlo joins in on tradition

 Ina pins on my wings

 

 

On CNN that night, the news was about the tragic disintegration of the Space Shuttle Columbia over Texas, returning to land from earth orbit.  I was aghast.

I hate to trivialize an aeronautical tragedy.  But I couldn’t help but reflect that I had just done what very few human beings have done – to launch myself off the planet Earth, and return safely with my destiny entirely in my own hands.

In that sense, I had done what the Shuttle Columbia did not, sadly, that day.

 

There was nothing on the news about the beauty queens.

 

February 1, 2003.  Eight years ago.

   

   

  

  

Posted from Bangkok, February 1, 2011.

Link:  A pilot scared of heights?!

                   

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“I Hope You Make It Home”

 

People from 12 countries read the post about Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler on Christmas Eve.  Mostly Europe, the US, of course, but also Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.  I was a bit startled by that.  There are very few World War II veterans left with us, and their stories are going with them.  Over 30,000 men died in B-17 Flying Fortresses in World War II.  There were 28,000 German pilots who flew in the Luftwaffe in World War II.  Less than 1,200 survived.  I’m glad there is still some interest in that conflict, and ‘the Greatest Generation” who fought with honour in it.

 

 

 

 

My friend Rick read the article Jagdflieger – Fighter Pilot, which I wrote here on Christmas Eve.  He then posted a video link on my Facebook page.  The video shows Brown and Stigler at one of the reunions of 379th Bomb Group of the US Army Air Corps. 

I thought I would share it here.  Rick always shares great stuff with me, and I’ve learned never to pass up on his Facebook links.

Here’s a nostalgic video of Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler.  The ball turret gunner, Sam Blackford, is also in the video – his segment is especially poignant.

 

Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler, formerly adversaries in the air, join an

A word about my friend Rick — Rick’s Dad was an F-86 fighter pilot in the Philippine Air Force, and was also a published poet and author.  Doesn’t get better than that.  Rick and I have never actually met, an anomaly we will fix sooner or later.  Maybe one day Rick will write here or elsewhere about his Dad.

 

Posted from Manila, December 27, 2013

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About Time

     

It’s been intense at work.  Constant travel, permanent jet lag.  Asia, Europe, trans-Pacific.  Again and again.

Zero blog writing.

My friend Harvey asked me to post here a couple of Facebook stories I wrote after seeing the movie ‘About Time’ during a layover in Bangkok.  A ‘romantic comedy’, it was a perfect little gem, delightfully set in Cornwall and London, boxed in a poignant soundtrack … with a heart-warming twist at the end of its necklace.

        

        

      

    

What if we could go back in time?  But only within our lifetime, so we “Can’t kill Hitler or shag Helen of Troy”, ruefully observes the Dad in the movie.  Which day would I re-live?

            

The dawn my son Carlo was born?  No ultrasound previews back then.  The nurse came out of Delivery and mouthed the word, “Boy”, thumbs up for healthy.  I danced an insane jig in the deserted corridor.

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Or the day my 16-year old David saw the Eiffel Tower in Paris?  He stood there, staring.  “Never thought I’d see this in my lifetime, Dad.  Thanks for taking me here.”

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Or the day I passed by their home, after not having seen Julio for a year.  There was a toddler in the garden, lugging a can bigger than him, watering the plants.  I had to look twice.  My son, Julio.

           

          

But then, what if we couldn’t go back anymore?  Except for one last time?  Which day would I choose?

             

My Dad worked in an oil refinery in Rosario, Cavite, a three-hour commute each way, every day.  Sometimes, after arriving home at 8 or 9pm, he sneaked me out to watch a movie in Quiapo, downtown. 

One time it was a war movie.  A B-17 pilot flew a one-way mission without his crew, to find an enemy fleet.  I can’t find it anymore, even after incessant Googling.

One typhoon weekend, Dad and I watched massive breakers smash against the seawall at Dewey Boulevard.  Boys love this stuff.  Then a gigantic end-of-the-world wave leaped high over the seawall.  BOOM!

In a coffee shop across the boulevard, he ordered a 7-UP and used up all their paper napkins to wipe me half-dry.  “Don’t tell Mommy!”

Another movie date was The Godfather.  Late for the last showing, we got in after Dad gave the guard a few pesos.  Dad slept the whole time, exhausted.  Afterwards, at a Chinese restaurant, we ordered chopsuey rice.  They were closing, past midnight.  They had to re-open the kitchen.  It took forever.  I was embarrassed.  Today I realize it was his dinner. 

When I woke up the next day for school, he had already left on his commute to work.

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A few years later he was gone.

Moms and Dads don’t get enough thanks.  It would be nice to go back, ask him belated questions about work, fatherhood, coping.  Laugh about the grandchildren he never saw.

        

About Time’s real romance turns out to be the love between the grown-up son and his cool Dad, a literary academic who retired early to spend more time with his family.  The audience that laughed for two hours unabashedly cried at the end.  I couldn’t see much on the train ride home, myself.  The movie delivers.

    

The carefully selected soundtrack features Paul Buchanan, Ben Folds, Nick Cave, Ben Coleman, others.

I want to live forever,
And watch you dancing in the air

        

This is director Richard Curtis’ (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Love, Actually) final film.  It nudges us to appreciate the things in life that truly matter more than time. 

There’s gold in them hills.
So don’t lose faith
Give the day a chance to start

 

After all, at midnight, each day ends, gone.  The only time travel in this world are the stories and pictures we leave behind, told again and again.

                    

About Time

    

  

Posted from Singapore, October 26, 2013

   

  

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