filipino sailors in athens – the one-night millionaire – em09

The One-night Millionaire
eastwind memoirs 01
By Bernie V. Lopez


An excerpt from the book
WINGS AND WANDERLUST – The Art of Discovering Your Inner Self
(send the book as a Christmas gift to friends anywhere in the Philippines, Php450 all postal charges included, received via JRS in 2 to 3 days, no credit card needed. Email request to


every path is unique
no one can live your life for you
gurus can only give tips and guidelines
in the end you fly your own aircraft
you flap your own wings
you watch your own sunset
you find your own path
in your own way in your own style
when you enter the dark forest
good and bad things lurk
to make and break your soul
take the chance, you will not regret it
darkness and light will encompass you
make the Lord your beacon
for He is the Light in your darkness
gather strength in His grace
and everything will fall into place
beyond your imagination


           On my second day in Athens, I wandered into Syntagma Square in the center of the city.


           GREEK WAITER (dressed in all-white) – Hey you, Filipino!
           ME – Hello.
           GREEK WAITER – You Filipinos are the craziest people I have met ever.
           ME – Really now. How come?


           There were about ten waiters dressing up with white linen a long table about a third of a kilometer long across the entire square. It practically ended at the horizon.


           GREEK WAITER – (Moving his finger 360 degrees.) You see this table, 300 meters long all around? This table is for big shots like the mayor of the city or an impor­tant business­man. This table is expensive. Only rich people have their parties here.
           ME – What does that have to do with crazy Filipinos?
           GREEK WAITER – (Pointing to one giving instructions to other waiters.) You see that crazy Filipino over there?
           ME – That’s the crazy Filipino? Looks normal to me.
           GREEK WAITER – You don’t understand. He is a humble second officer in a Panamanian ship that just landed in Piraeus yesterday. He can’t possibly afford to hire this long table.
           ME – If he is a Filipino seaman, he can.
           GREEK WAITER – That’s what I mean. You guys are crazy. He saves his salary for five years and spends it all in one birthday bash. He is inviting all Filipinos in the entire city of Athens, I mean all. Now, tell me, what is the logic in all that?
           ME – I don’t think you would understand even if I explained it to you.
           GREEK WAITER – Try me.
           ME – Well, okay. Filipinos have a different way of looking at things. Money is not everything. You work your ass off, that’s okay. But for a Filipino seaman, you earn money to spend it.
           GREEK WAITER – I give up. You’re just as crazy. I wouldn’t kill myself for five years inside the belly of a lousy ship just for a birthday party. He’s crazy.
           ME – I agree. He’s crazy alright. But in a commendable way.  He likes a birthday bash. What can you say? I must meet him and get invited.


           I walked over to him and he smiled upon seeing me, speak­ing in our native language,


           MONCHING (Filipino merchant marine) – Name’s Monching. What ship are you from?
           ME – Name’s Bernie. No ship. I’m not a seaman. That waiter says you are crazy for having an expensive party.
           MONCHING – (Laughing.) You only live once. You’re invited anyway to my birthday tomorrow night. All Filipinos are invited, no matter who they are, what they are, nurses, musicians, bar girls, whoever. Tell all Filipinos you know. Listen, I’m busy. You go talk to my friend Kardo over there.


           I went over to Kardo. He had a huge duffel bag with him.


           KARDO – What ship?
           ME – No ship.
           KARDO – I am the US Navy. Big warship. What are you doing here?
           ME – Not much. Just passing through?
           KARDO – And you’re not a seaman?
           ME – Nope.
           KARDO – That’s strange. You must be a tourist.
           Filipino seamen were not aware of Filipino drifters, hitchhikers, which were rare at that time. I did not bother to explain.


           KARDO – (Whispering furtively, to make sure no one else hears.) Listen, man, I need help.
           ME – Yes?
           KARDO – You see this?


           He opens the huge duffel bag. I peered in and saw a ton of blue seal Salem and Winston cigarettes, green and red like Christmas decor.


           KARDO – You help me. We sell this in the night bars. You get free drinks.
           ME – You’ve got about $2,000 worth in there, right?
           KARDO – Shhh. Shut up. Five thousand. That’s just for this week. If I am not tired, next week again. Unlimited supply.
           ME – I bet. You have a friend in the commissary.
           KARDO – Yes, Filipino also, my best friend. He gets 20%. Okay, okay, I’ll give you a commission.
           ME – I’m not interested in a commission. I’d like the drink though.
           KARDO – You’re on. Let’s go.
           ME – You navy men are crazy.
           KARDO – Of course, only way to be. This is nothing. I smuggled Harley Davidsons in Corsica and Smith and Wesson in Rotterdam. I’m a businessman, sailor on the side.
           ME – You got anything in mind aside from making money on the side?
           KARDO – Of course. Women. You want a woman tonight? On me.


           I did not reply. And so we left Monching, fixing up his birthday party, and went around the bars. I was amazed the bartenders knew him. He must have been smuggling cigarettes regularly for years. We had one or two free drinks in every bar. After about ten bars, we were dead drunk. The duffel bag was now almost empty. Kardo treated me to American steak somewhere. I could hardly walk. I couldn’t go home, so Kardo dragged me to his three-star hotel. Pretty good. I ended up with a hangover and missed Monching’s party. I could have met the entire Filipino community of Athens but I had a splitting headache from retsina, the Greek wine which smelled and tasted like aviation gas to a Filipino.


Read more eastwind memoirs
Send the book as a Christmas gift to friends anywhere in the Philippines, Php450 all postal charges included, received via JRS in 2 to 3 days, no credit card needed. Email request to


A Christmas Card (click photo to blow up)


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