Ramon Orlina & the art of travel

Like many renowned Filipino artists, Ramon Orlina is a well-traveled man.

He has had, after all, over 30 one-man shows that have taken him to Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and the United States, not to mention actively participating in countless group exhibitions in countries that range from China to Sweden, Australia to Czechoslovakia. Add to that itinerary the multiple stopovers he has made all over the world to receive grants and awards, including the Toyamura International Sculpture Biennial Award in Japan in 1999 and the Top Prize Sculpture International Biennial of Basketball in the Fine Arts in Madrid, Spain in 2000.

Perhaps one testament to his being used to travel is the refreshingly accurate set of directions he gave me to his home — which is no mean feat, really, for I am sadly not too familiar with Manila.

What greets me upon getting to his home is a structure of two components — his home and his working area — joined by what appears to be a hanging bridge. Abuzz with activity, there are works scattered all over the place, glass sculptures in varying hues, waiting to be packed for impending travel to new owners or in preparation for a show and several pieces of old furniture and antique candelabras, what with the ongoing remodeling of his ancestral home in Taal, Batangas.

Favored site: The artist in Ayutthaya, Thailand where he executes bronze castings of his artworks

For a moment there, I was hoping Mon would not arrive on the appointed time to enable me additional minutes to explore his workplace. But I quickly catch him in his element tinkering with his latest Volkswagen Beetle almost as passionately as he would sculpt glass.

Once, he read an ad of a classic two-door Volvo for sale and he promptly called up the seller to make the purchase. Clearly, here is a man who does not think twice about the things he cares about most, seizing the opportunity.

THE PHILIPPINE STAR: What do you remember most of your first trip abroad?

RAMON ORLINA: I traveled alone on my first trip abroad. It was to Osaka, Japan for the World Expo in 1970 — a mind-blowing experience for the young architect that I was at the time. It highlighted no less than the best of the best of the arts and the architecture featured in the different country pavilions. This was a valuable experience for me as an artist in my youth.

What won’t you leave home without?

I would never leave home without my cell phone and my camera. But more importantly, I always make sure I bring a stampita and the novena prayer booklet of the Virgin of Caysasay of whom I am a devotee.

How do you pass time at airports?

I would usually just read Time, my favorite magazine. And as you may have noticed, I am also quite a car enthusiast so reading car magazines gives so much pleasure.

Who is your ideal travel companion?

Oil’s spoils: The serious museum visitor admires the scale model of the J. Paul Getty Museum designed by architect Richard Meier in Los Angeles, California.

Of course, my wife Lay Ann. We have been together for over 24 years and after four children traveling without her, for me, is almost unimaginable. I simply cannot make travel arrangements without her.

What is the first thing you do upon checking in at a hotel or a resort?

Right after I deposit our passports together with other valuables in a safe place, the next thing I do is to check out the fire exits, to make sure I know exactly where they are.

What do you consider a must-do activity in every foreign destination that you visit?

Visiting art museums is a must. This is not to mention the sites where public artworks are found, whether they are installations, sculptures, or buildings. Trained as an architect, I pay special attention to public art, to artworks people interact with in open spaces.

Describe your most memorable trip.

I was with Lay Ann and her family on an Eastern Mediterranean cruise aboard the luxury liner Celebrity Solstice. The service was superb and we were extremely pampered. The day tours in Santorini, Mykonos, Athens, Istanbul, Ephesus and Naples were immensely enjoyable. Somehow I always found myself lagging behind, engrossed in taking pictures. However, I appreciated Lay Ann’s family members who were very patient to keep waiting for me to catch up. And guess what? A photograph I took won the top prize in an in-cruise photo competition voted on by the passengers themselves. At least I hope that somehow it made up for all their trouble.

What do you miss most when you are away from home?

Ready, set, dive: The Orlina family prepares to snorkel in El Nido Beach Resort, Palawan.

I do love rice and I keep looking for rice meals most especially when I am away in Europe or the US. I always miss rice.

What is the best travel advice you have been given?

Always carry a flashlight. I was given this advice by a Japanese seatmate I had, on one of my flights. He shared with me a very memorable story. His hotel was on fire and what saved his life was a flashlight!

What is the strangest thing you have done on a trip?

I was young and traveled on a shoestring budget. Dreaming to see a Broadway show and not being able to afford a ticket, I successfully sneaked my way in at intermission. I happily watched the second part of the musical for free.

Let’s talk about favorites now. Name your favorite city abroad?

Prague in the Czech Republic with its famous cultural and historic landmarks that survived wars. The architecture is breathtaking. What a joy it was for an artist and an architect such as myself to explore and experience a city that is rich in the arts with so many museums and theaters to visit.

Name your favorite spot in the Philippines?

I will have to say Taal, Batangas. Not only is it my hometown, but it also has a lot of potential to become an amazing tourist destination for all.

Favorite airline?

Whenever possible, I only fly Philippine Airlines. One might say I am being patriotic in that sense. But I believe we have some of the world’s best pilots. However, when for some reason or another PAL is out of the equation, then I take Cathay Pacific.

Feast for all senses: The traveling pair succumbs to the beauty of Florence, Italy.

Favorite airport?

Kanzai Airport in Osaka, Japan. Its awesome architecture has inspired me so much that I honestly couldn’t stop taking pictures — from every distance, from all angles.

Favorite museums?

Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain. It has the best Goya collection, as well as of El Greco.

And if you could take home a piece of art, which one would it be?

I’d bring home a Picasso! Did you know he was also a sculptor? I love how, unlike other artists of his era, Picasso really took the time to live his life. He was not a recluse, a cloistered artist suffering in seclusion, who did not know what was happening in the world around him. He knew how to live well and his art took off from that. Picasso is an inspiration — that is what I hope and see myself doing, too.

Favorite hotel or resort?

Excellent food matters to me a lot and I have found the food at Four Seasons in Singapore is to my palate’s liking.

Favorite park, building or landmark?

I love the Statue of Liberty and what it stands for. Not to mention that not only is it a marvel to look at, but one can also climb it, have a very physical experience by being inside the sculpture itself. It is a masterpiece!

Favorite musical or play?

Now you see it, now you don’t: Prince Andre of the United Kingdom is intrigued by the many angles and facets of “Golfer,” a gift from Willie Soong at the launch of Land Rover Philippines.

The Sound of Music. The music is timeless and that’s exactly what I go. Another favorite is The King and I as portrayed by Yul Brynner, who I think was one of the best, yet one of the most underrated actors of his time.

Favorite restaurant?

Pintu in Ayutthaya, Thailand, a place where I visit a lot for work, where I got the materials which I put together for the massive sculpture, the “Quattromondial Monument” I did for the Quadricentenial Commemoration of the University of Santo Tomas. Pintu is a home-style restaurant, that only mostly locals know about — a secret place with the most amazing Thai food.

Name an event anywhere in the world you would like to participate in.

The next World Expo, wherever or whenever it happens. Like I have said, it showcases the best of the best. It would be a privilege and an honor to be present. I even felt bad missing the one in Shanghai, China.

What are your pasalubongs — inbound and outbound?

Coming home — branded luxury bags for the family are always part of the shopping list — especially for my three daughters. And going away — our famous dried mangoes! Too bad however, that the quality has not been consistently good lately. I really don’t know why.

What is the worst souvenir you have ever brought back from a trip?

A toy Roman sword complete with its shield clearly made of plastic. It was for my son. The toy set itself was not stupid. But the hassle of making special arrangements to hand-carry it, after 9/11, was. It was a nice pasalubong, but I still wonder if it was well worth all that trouble.

Name a city you have never visited, but would like to some day.

Not a city, but entire countries — Egypt for its pyramids, and Israel and Jordan for their religious significance.

What would you say is the best part of travel?

Arriving in a beautiful, interesting place, that also has excellent food. Good food is essential in making a trip memorable. I can’t emphasize it enough.

What would you say is the worst part of travel?

Being stuck in an economy seat of a plane, on a long flight. Once, I had a fractured leg in a cast and I was cramped up in such a seat on Lufthansa. It was such a long flight to Frankfurt and I must say the aircraft had the smallest legroom ever!

If you could reside anywhere in the world aside from the Philippines, where would it be?

Santorini, Greece. Ibang klase, as we would say in Pilipino. It’s such a different experience. It’s so relaxing and stress-free.

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