We also passed a “KKK” restaurant inside the mall. KKK has, of course, a completely different connotation in the Philippines than it does in the U.S. I did still think it was interesting enough to take a picture of it, thought.
The KKK Restaurant in Manila’s Mall of Asia.
Today on the Jeopardy game show, Philippines edition: “I’ll take ‘things that don’t translate well culturally’ for $1,000, Alex.”
Eventually, we found our way to the bowling lanes. In typical American style, we got there early. No worries, more time to pre-game before the main event. The alley was huge. I don’t recall the total number of lanes, but there were well over 20. The Diamond had a great dinner spread set up for us, which included as much beer and wine as we could drink. I don’t care for beer and I don’t drink much these days anyway, but many of the other attendees gratefully pounded it down. Drinking, as it turns out, is a pretty universal pastime.
When it was time to go onto the lanes, we realized that our teams were off. A couple of people who were supposed to make up our third team were running late, so we had two full teams and one extra bowler. Being the type of person who’s just as happy doing the bowling as I am heckling the other bowlers from the sidelines, I told Ariana, our Air Force captain, that she should bowl and I would sit in the back and drink the Makati’s free beer. But she was having none of it. “Sir, you’ve been looking forward to this for weeks. Go ahead and bowl, I’ll sit this one out.” I thought this was a particularly kind gesture on her part. Not only was I looking forward to this, but Ariana is also an observant Mormon and therefore didn’t even have the consolation prize of an unlimited supply of free beer.
JUSMAG bowlers before the tournament. Yes, we brought our own trophy and medals… but we left with even more. Take THAT, Belgians!
I set up the trophy and medals from the last tournament and our “USA” boxing glove on a table near the beer, just to remind everyone that Team USA was still the boss. It was interesting to me how many people came by to take selfies or group photos with the medals and trophies. I mean, what exactly are you doing with these pictures, people? Is your Instagram game so weak that you’ve got to pose with trophies that you not only didn’t earn, but that belong to an entirely different country? But whatever, you do you. We know who REALLY owns those trophies.
Either way, we were leaving there with a trophy.
About halfway through the first game, I noticed that a very short, middle-aged Filipino woman was surreptitiously trying to stand beside me while my back was turned. She wanted a photo with be because I was so tall, and she was so short. After two years of living in Korea earlier in my career, this was something I was quite used to so it was no problem as far as I was concerned. But the woman got super-embarrassed when I looked down and saw her standing behind me, and all of her friends began laughing. Turning red, she started to walk away but I waved her back over and put an arm around her shoulders and stood up as tall as I could so her friends could take her picture with me. She even got to wear the Team USA boxing glove. At least she didn’t want to pet my hair, which was something that my very blonde wife had to deal with when we lived in Korea.
Our first game, my score is at the bottom. I know a 157 isn’t burning it up, but it’s literally the best game I’ve ever bowled. And we all got better as the night went on.
There was a lengthy delay in getting everything ready for the start of the actual tournament. We used the time to practice on the empty lanes. With an hour of uninterrupted practice without the distraction of keeping score, I was actually able to get my “spin move” down pretty well, and to (mostly) keep my ball out of the gutter. That would pay off later in the evening.
As we waited for the tournament to officially start we honed our game and availed ourselves of the Diamond’s generosity. Everything was going fine until… you guessed it… the Belgians showed up. As soon as they arrived I immediately regretted dialing back the obnoxiousness of Team USA. To begin with, the standard back bowling shirts that the Diamond had made for everyone weren’t good enough for the Belgians, who had very nice custom shirts made for their teams. They also had red, yellow, and black facepaint (their country’s colors) and, in a particularly intimidating move, they brought a team of cheerleaders consisting of young local national women from the embassy’s local civilian hire pool to cheer them on. And cheer they did.
The cheerleaders were particularly boisterous and would go wild for even routine events during the game. They had red, yellow, and black inflatable plastic rods that they would bang together and they event did a couple of chants and cheers in Belgish (OK, I know “Belgish” isn’t what they speak in Belgium, but I couldn’t tell what language it was so I’m going with that). Since I fully expected our American teams to be the most colorful and obnoxious ones at this event, I was a little taken aback. The Belgians really brought it. Unfortunately for them, all of the cheerleaders, facepaint, and custom shirts weren’t enough to get them past the first round of eliminations in the tournament. Buh-bye, Belgians. Our vengeance was complete.
China had one or two teams at the tournament, it was hard to tell. But it appeared that their team(s) consisted entirely of local nationals. Maybe all of their diplomats and security personnel were too busy “belting” and “roading” (or dealing with coronavirus, two months before telling the rest of the world there was a problem). Some Chinese diplomats may have shown up later in the evening, but it didn’t make much of a difference. They didn’t make it past the first round either.
The European Union team fared significantly better. For their part, they brought bright yellow balloons with the EU logo on it. While more modestly-swagged than the Belgians, the EU team was significantly better at bowling.
To my surprise, my team was also significantly better at bowling. JUSMAG had two teams, one of which had what we thought were all of the best bowlers on it. This was headed by Staff Sergeant Gogo, a massive but modest Marine who, as we later found out, was literally the best bowler in the entire room. I was on the second team, the one with the “leftovers” from what were supposed to be the second and third parts of Team USA.
The tournament took a really long time. I had very low expectations of my team’s ability to perform, largely because of my own bowling ineptitude. However, being able to practice for over an hour really helped our respective games. Eventually, it dawned on me that we might actually have a chance to take one of the top three spots in the tournament. Over the course of the evening, my internal monologue went something like this: “This is boring. My arm is sore. It’s late. I’m tired. I want to go back to the hotel… what do you mean we’re in third place and are going on to the final round and actually have a chance to win this whole thing??? ‘MERICA!!!”
At the semifinals, the “all you can drink” beer and wine began to be a factor. I don’t like beer so I didn’t drink much. One of the other members of our team, Dick, was an observant Muslim so he didn’t drink at all. Logan, the Marine captain, and Pat, the Navy lieutenant on our team, drank a lot of beer but it actually seemed to help their game. The other teams also drank a lot of beer, but it seemed to cause a degradation in their overall performance.
That was very fortunate for us.
I don’t remember the last time I was part of a team that won something even remotely athletic or physical. It might legitimately be “never.” But at the end of this tournament, the team I was on placed first. The EU placed second. The other JUSMAG team placed third, and I think the Brits placed fourth. Team USA placed 1st and 3rd, and the Belgians and Chinese didn’t even make the final round. Mission accomplished.
The sweet taste of victory!
The Diamond’s prizes were extremely generous. Members of the winning team received individual trophies and a complimentary overnight stay for two at the Diamond. Prizes for second and third places were also well-received. To the surprise of no one, Gogo won best overall bowler.
Staff Sergeant Gogo (US Marine Corps) was the top bowler of the tournament.
So, to sum up: our joint team of Army, Navy, and Marines, with supporting fires from the Air Force, defeated the Belgians and Chinese and took home the first place trophy for America. And when it was all over, China brought… nothing. The EU team brought balloons. The Belgians brought cheerleaders. But the Americans brought… home the trophies. U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!!
One of the coolest parts of this whole thing (in addition to defeating the Belgians, of course) was that winning the tournament got us an office call with the Ambassador, arranged for by his aide who also happened to be one of my grad school classmates. Good times.
U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, Ambassador Sung Kim (center) and JUSMAG bowlers.
So that’s the story of my last “deployment” as a U.S. Army officer. You’re welcome for my service 🙂
Originally from Alabama, Charles (Charlie) Faint is a career Army officer currently stationed overseas. He holds five undergraduate and graduate degrees, the most recent of which is from Yale University, and he is “all but dissertation” in his Doctorate of Business Administration program with Temple University. Educated in fields ranging from engineering to international relations, to business, his research interests include conflict and negotiation, civil-military relations, and military veteran entrepreneurship. He served seven tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and over the course of his career was assigned to units including the 101st Airborne Division, the 2nd Infantry Division, the 5th Special Forces Group, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and the Joint Special Operations Command. He also served as an instructor at the United States Military Academy at West Point for five years, and was the head of West Point’s “Officership” capstone program for two of those years. Widely published in a number of blogs and professional journals, he is a Fellow with West Point’s Modern War Institute, and his most recent publication is co-authorship of the book Violence of Action: The Untold Stories of the 75th Ranger Regiment in the War on Terror. His views expressed here are his own, and are not necessarily reflective of the policy of the US Army or the United States Government.
© 2020 The Havok Journal