SEOUL, APRIL 5, 2006 (STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - If you ask Al Mendoza of the Inquirer, he’d rather call us the Fab Four because of his loyalty to the Beatles. If you ask Nick Giongco of the Bulletin, he’ll probably say we’re the Four Gladiators because of his love for boxing. If you ask Ernie Gonzales of the Inquirer, he’ll definitely insist we’re just four parbusters on the same flight because of his passion for golf.

As for me, we’re the Soulmates in Seoul.

Last Monday afternoon, the four of us took a Philippine Airlines (PAL) flight from Manila to this South Korean capital to be on hand for the meeting involving the top brass of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), representatives of four of the country’s major cage stakeholders and Federation Internationale de Basketball (FIBA) secretary-general Patrick Baumann.

The meeting with Baumann was set at the COEX Intercontinental Hotel last night.

We were invited to see for ourselves whether or not the POC was gaining ground in its efforts to convince FIBA to lift the country’s suspension.

POC president Jose Cojuangco Jr., first vice president Rep. Monico Puentevella of Bacolod City, secretary-general Steve Hontiveros and legal counsel Egmidio Tanjuatco arrived here Saturday night to attend a series of Olympic-related meetings, including the crucial get-together with Baumann.

Also flying in from Manila were representatives of four hoop stakeholders-Philippine Basketball Association chairman Ely Capacio, vice chairman Ricky Vargas and commissioner Noli Eala, Philippine Basketball League commissioner Chino Trinidad, University Athletic Association of the Philippines Board of Trustees member Jose Capistrano and National Collegiate Athletic Association vice chairman Paul Supan. They arrived late yesterday afternoon in time for the 6 p.m. meeting with Baumann.

We were informed about this trip only a week ago. Luckily, the Korean Embassy took just a few days to issue our visas.

Al, Nick, Ernie and I met up at the airport for the 2:25 p.m. flight. Looking like a dashing jetsetter, Ernie had nothing to check in and walked into the terminal carrying only a sling Nike golf bag. Al, Nick and I checked in our little trolleys. Nick had his laptop tucked inside a backpack while mine was in a brief case.

There was a slight delay in our departure because a passenger who had checked in his stuff decided not to leave at the last minute and the ground staff took some time to fish out the luggage. Then, we had to wait a few more minutes as the plane was on standby before being cleared for take-off.

As usual, the PAL flight was smooth and comfortable and the service was excellent. We were served a hot meal during the 3 1/2 hour flight. The only distasteful part of the trip was my seatmate, a Korean in a coat and tie, took off his shoes and socks and sat all the way through in his bare feet. At least, he had the decency to keep his exposed feet away from me.

Before we knew it, the plane had already landed at the Incheon International Airport.

We went through immigration in a jiffy and our trolleys were first off the carousel. At the airport Shinhan Bank, we exchanged $100 each for 94,000 Korean won then boarded the bus for Hamilton Hotel in the Itaewon district. The bus ticket cost $13. The ride was about 1 1/2 hours and we reached our destination after five stops along the way, dropping off passengers.

Because our cells don’t work here, Al rented a phone from an airport booth at the rate of $1.30 a day. He inserted his SIM card in the rented phone to preserve his Philippine number.

We arrived at the 155-room, nine-storey Hamilton Hotel close to 9 p.m. (Korea is an hour ahead of Manila). Al and I got a room together while Nick and Ernie took the other room. As soon as we dumped our stuff in our rooms, we went out for dinner. Restaurants are next to each other on both sides of the Itaewon strip where our hotel is strategically located. Al and I had steakhouse burgers at Burger King while Nick and Ernie went to Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The weather was cool and nippy, about 12 degrees Celsius. Al described it as jacket-weather.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel and quickly got on the phone with Puentevella and Tanjuatco for the lowdown on what’s been going on.

Will there be good news to report? We hope so. When we return home, maybe we’ll be called the Seoul Survivors.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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