To: Balesin Members and Friends
Chiz and Heart’s Balesin Wedding
What a week this has been! The fabulously beautiful wedding of Chiz and Heart, as you all know by now, was held here at Balesin last Sunday. I will not attempt, in this update, to outdo the euphoric media coverage except to say that never have I seen such a spectacular yet dignified wedding. For us here in Balesin, it is certainly the wedding of the year and, probably, of the century!
I am of course no expert at weddings since the last wedding I attended must have been 35 years ago. I have studiously avoided weddings as I consider them a waste of my time, but certainly not this one!
My own wedding was 53 years ago (believe it or not). The only thing I remember about it is the 200 guests who all came from my wife Monica’s side who tried to get me drunk, but they were unsuccessful. Since I was the only one from the Philippines, I could not deputize anyone to toast for me, but at the end of the long evening, I remember still being up on my feet, although a bit unsteady.
The day before Chiz and Heart’s wedding was Valentine’s Day, which also was Heart’s birthday. It had been raining rather persistently for the two days before that and not only the bride and groom but I, and my management group here in Balesin as well, were biting our nails. Heart had a birthday party at the Royal Villa the night before the wedding and they asked me to say a few words. I ended up making a “fearless” forecast that on Sunday, their wedding day, the sun would shine! And sure enough, it did. The wedding ceremony, which was held at the Spa gardens fronting Lamon Bay, was an indescribably beautiful affair and at the end of this update, I will include some photos to try to capture the beauty of that wonderful day.
Lest I end up trying to do what I set out not to do, i.e. not to try and outdo the media reports on the wedding, let me now turn to our latest creation, Rico’s Hideaway, which we opened this week. I just came from there this afternoon, and they had more than 70 people there for lunch. Rico’s Hideaway is Rico Sison’s former house which he had successfully hidden from me for these past three years. When I discovered it just before Christmas, I decided to eject him, and so this tranquil and beautiful setting that he had transformed into his erstwhile home is now one of our jewels on this island. In any case, now that we have completed virtually every project on the island, Rico will be spending his time in Manila supervising the interiors of The Residences at Alphaland Makati Place, and thereafter, in Baguio for our new project, the Baguio Mountain Lodges.
Balesin Royal Villa
Back in Balesin, The Balesin Royal Villa has been a big hit with everyone who sees it and I am continuously amazed at the demand to book it, despite its higher rate. Two nights ago, I had the pleasure of hosting cocktails for Ricardo Po’s class reunion of his Harvard Business School Class of 2001 (exactly 40 years after my own graduation from Harvard “B” School). Most of his classmates were from the U.S. and Europe and they were fascinated not only by the Royal Villa but by the entire Balesin Island. They said that they have never seen anything in the world like this before (and they are very well-travelled people).
The Music Lounge
The Music Lounge was also a big hit during the very busy weekend. For the wedding of the century, it was filled to capacity and jumping until the wee hours. This weekend too will also be busy, with guest DJ Nix Damn P! One of the guests at Chiz and Heart’s wedding told me that it beats any night spot in Manila. Since most of the guests at the wedding were booked at Costa del Sol, it was easy for them to hang out at the Music Lounge which is located on the Ground Floor of the Casa Grande of Costa del Sol.
“Un Rincón de Chile”
I hadn’t been back to Chile since my 25th wedding anniversary 28 years ago, but spent a week there last month with Monica. I had forgotten what a lovely country it is with fantastic wines at very reasonable prices. I bought some 50 cases of some of their best wines after a wine tasting tour of the Colchagua Valley, the most renowned of the Chilean wine growing regions. As a result, I have decided to transform one restaurant in Toscana Village into “Un Rincón de Chile” (a corner of Chile). We will not be serving Chilean food as such, but we will display and make available to our guests the superb wines of Chile. We will also serve Pisco Sour, which is the national drink of Chile, together with some Chilean bocaditos (which we refer to here as pica-pica foods) such as empanaditas and lomitos. You can still book it as a restaurant, but the menu will be the usual Toscana menu since the Chilean food anyway is similar to that of Toscana.
I should say something about the noticeable increase in the number of members and guests coming to Balesin. For January, we were up 70% over January of last year. And for February so far, we have exactly doubled last year’s patronage, thanks in part to the wedding entourage of Chiz and Heart. This has caused me to decide to finally take the plunge and acquire an ATR 72, a very reliable turbo prop which can seat 68 passengers. One advantage of the ATR72 is that it is still being manufactured and the spare parts are readily available. There are some 750 ATRs in service all over the world, including seven or eight with Cebu Pacific. Thus, even on a busy weekend, like this one, when we have over 500 members and guests, they can easily be accommodated on several flights of the ATR72, supplemented of course by our Jetstreams and Cessna Grand Caravans. We are also seriously now studying the feasibility of lighting the runway in order to make night flights possible, and I will report to you more on this in my next update. In March, I will be in Europe and among the items on my agenda is to look at several ATR72s on offer. With a bit of luck, we should have our ATR flying to and from Balesin by the middle of this year.
Gold Membership Program
The Gold Membership Program, which we launched a few weeks back, has proven to be very popular. For those of you who do not know what this is, all existing Balesin Island Club members prior to February are now known as Diamond members since they all have the privilege of 14 free nights per year. But the present price of Php4 million per Diamond membership has proven a bit steep for those who want to become new members. We therefore decided to create the Gold Membership which includes only 7 free villa nights a year, but is priced at a bit over half that of a Diamond membership, at Php2.2 million. All Diamond members will have the option to convert their Diamond memberships into two Gold memberships and thus have more designated assignees but fewer free villa nights per year. I hasten to point out that we are still in the process of getting the regulatory approvals, and therefore all Gold memberships are only in the form of reservations, but they can already enjoy the Club privileges.
In my last update, I described to you the new Nature Trail that we have decided to build through the forest so that our members can enjoy the beauty of the flora and fauna that we have been blessed with on this island. There will be two major trails: one 5 hectares, and one half that length, and we expect to be able to open them by March.
Many of the guests who have been here over the last few weeks have been very pleased with our new Globe cellular service. Since most of our members are Globe subscribers, we no longer need to provide them with a temporary cell phone when they are on the island since they can now use their own. I am told that in a month’s time, the Internet service for both Smart and Globe will be available at all villages on the island, an event which I believe will be unanimously welcomed.
Jon “Bon Jovi” Joven
Jon “Bon Jovi” Joven, whom I hijacked from being a Cruise Director on a cruise ship before Christmas, has proven to be a big hit. He sings on the island on weekends and holidays. He also now performs at the Club Lounge of The City Club in Makati every Tuesday and Wednesday. Jon, who has a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management from the University of Wichita in Kansas, in addition to having a beautiful singing voice, is not only very popular but also very effective in contributing to the improvement of our entertainment and hospitality functions at Balesin. I have therefore designated him, in addition to our resident crooner, Manager for Entertainment and Hospitality, a position for which he is well qualified. Jon has a concert here at the Clubhouse every weekend and when you come, you should not miss him. I attended his full house concert last night and it was truly enjoyable, and the audience would not let him stop until I finally had to turn off the lights so Jon could move on to the Music Lounge, where he also performs.
My New Grandson
I hope you will indulge me if I end this update on a personal note. Yesterday, on Chinese New Year, my second grandson was born in London, the son of Stephen and his wife Laura. I have just seen pictures and he looks wonderful, although a bit like a cross between Winston Churchill and a turtle! I have no doubt that as time goes on, he will become better looking, as I am told most babies do, and as did his older brother Sebastian, who is now three years old. I will be leaving for London in early March to, among other things, take a closer look at him.
I have chosen the following pictures, and have tried to capture not only the glamour and glitter of Chiz and Heart’s wedding, but also some of the many fun things that take place here in Balesin.
Kung Hei Fat Choy to all!
ROBERTO V. ONGPIN
Chiz and Heart Balesin Wedding
The beautiful bride walks down the aisle
Wedding Ceremony set-up at the Balesin Spa
Stunning bride at the Balesin Royal Villa Grand Staircase
Heart’s beautiful gown and trial in Balesin Royal Villa Maharlika Suite
Sponsors Roberto V. Ongpin and Sen. Grace Poe – Llamanzares
Chiz walks down the aisle with twins Ma. Cecilia and Joaquin
Newlyweds with Principal Sponsors
Wedding reception presidential table set-up at Toscana
Elegant and classy reception set-up at Toscana gardens
Newlyweds during the ceremonial cutting of the cake
Newly opened Rico’s Hideaway
Perfect cabana to watch the sunset with family and friends
Rico’s Hideaway with Balesin Members and Friends
Rico’s Hideaway at dusk
Balesin Royal Villa aerial view taken by Caliber King
RVO hosting cocktail for the Harvard Alumni Reunion at the Balesin Royal Villa
Balesin Music Lounge
DJ Nix Damn P mixing at the Balesin Music Lounge
Members and friends partying and enjoying good music at the Balesin Music Lounge
Jon “Bon Jovi” Joven
Jon Joven serenading the crowd with all-time favorite ballads
Members and friends sing-along with Jon
Baihana (by Ryan Cayabyab) entertaining guests