The One-night Millionaire and The Smuggler * A True Story * eastwind

Two Filipino Sailor in Athens
A True Story
eastwind journals / eastwind memoirs 01
By Bernie V. Lopez,
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This story is dedicated to the millions of OFWs scattered across Planet Earth.


This is a true story, with dialogue reconstructed and names changed. In the 70s, I was a daring adventurer, hitchhiking 25,000 kilo­meters for 18 months, drifting through 18 countries in Europe and North Africa. On my second day in Athens, I met two awesome Filipino sailors in Syntagma Square. Monching was throwing a giant birthday party. Kardo was smuggling blue seals and making a killing. I hope they, in their old age, if still alive, can read this and reply to me.


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 half a kilometer long across the entire square. It practically ended at the horizon.


GREEK WAITER – You see this table, 200 meters long all around? This table is for big shots like the city Mayor or a VIP. This table is expensive. Only rich people have their parties here.
ME – So?
GREEK WAITER – You see that crazy Filipino sailor over there?
ME – 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.
ME – I would say ten.
GREEK WAITER – Then he spends it all in one birthday bash. He is inviting all Filipinos in the entire city of Athens, I mean all. Now, tell me he’s not crazy.
ME – I don’t think you would understand if I explained it to you.
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 nice way.  He likes a birthday bash. What can you say? I must meet this guy.
MONCHING – (I walk over to him.) – Name’s Monching. What ship are you from?
ME – Name’s Bernie. No ship. That waiter says you are crazy for having an expensive party.
MONCHING – (Laughing.) You only live once. You’re invited tomorrow night. All Filipinos are invited, no matter who – nurses, musicians, bar girls, consuls, 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 in 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. (Whispering furtively.) Listen, man, I need help. You see this?
Filipino seamen were not aware of Filipino drifters, hitchhikers, which were rare at that time. I did not bother to explain. He opened 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 got about $2,000 worth in there, right?
KARDO – Shhh. Shut up. Five thousand. That’s just for this week. 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 – I smuggled Harley Davidsons in Corsica and Smith and Wesson in Rotterdam. I’m a businessman.
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. So we 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. Sayang.
while on the road
I met a lot of people in pain
at times, you cannot see the pain
it is hidden in Kardo’s friendliness
and Monching’s willingness to share
you have to learn to discern
beneath the millionaire kardo
I saw the pain of being lonely
holed up in the engine room of a ship for years
for monching, I could see the despair
for ‘business’ as a way to escape spiritual poverty
the same poverty I felt in new york
yet their pain was nothing compared to
those of others I met on the road
my three-year adventure in europe
gave me valuable lessons about life
I always prayed for the many people in pain
I met on the road, including myself
my adventure sanctified me
and lifted me out of the mire of spiritual poverty
all of a sudden, there was meaning, not absurdity
to all OFWs, hang in there
your sanity and sanctity
depends on being for others
the secret in discovering yourself
lies in discovering others
This is an excerpt from the book
The Art of Discovering Your Inner Self
To order the book, request by email to
500 Philippine pesos, sent to your doorstep via JRS if you are in the Philippines.
Read more eastwind memoirs
Inspirational eastwind verses


no one can live your life for you
gurus can only give tips
in the end you fly your own plane
you flap your own wings
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
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