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What a breakfast taught me about hypocrisy
I experienced true obscenity at breakfast. No, it was not what you may be thinking it was not at Hooters before noon. It was in a five-star hotel in Manila, Philippines. - photo by Joseph Cramer, MD
I experienced true obscenity at breakfast. No, it was not what you may be thinking it was not at Hooters before noon. It was in a five-star hotel in Manila, Philippines. What would you call pigging out when others are going hungry?

I was hanging on tightly to my brothers coattails while we were in Manila for his World Trade Center General Assembly. Its mission is to franchise centers around the globe and facilitate deals. It is a place to exchange business cards in a variety of languages.

That is how we ended up in the Sofitel Hotel right on Manila Bay. The breakfast there was not how we usually experience the first meal of the day. It was not the packaged sweet rolls and weak coffee from an isolated motel on Route 66. It included everything the mind and the stomach could imagine and then some.

The general description of anything being the size of a football field is obviously an exaggeration. But this was about the size of a football field, though not quite.

There are buffets, and then there are buffets. This was the later.

It would be exhausting to name all the items and flavors. Japanese, Chinese and European favorites were served. Native dishes were prominently displayed. Halal-sanctioned meats and sauces were next to a ton of different breads. Good old bacon, eggs, corn beef hash, pancakes, waffles and doughnuts looked ready to bring on anemia. There was a Garden of Eden of fruits and juices.

I wont go on. The decadence was on display in the unbelievable array of everything to put into one's mouth before lunch.

The problem was that while I was stuffing myself, I knew there were people going hungry just outside the door. Yards from our hotel were several street urchins tussling on their playground, the dirt of the sidewalk.

Manila is a contradiction. There is a mega mall with five stories of everything. It was its own obscene buffet of stores and restaurants.

Over 100 million people live in the 7,107-island archipelago of the Philippines. More than 20 million live within metro Manila, and it seemed as though every one of them had a car or motorcycle. While poverty is readily visible, Manila is the capital of a growing economy. The city is massive. Its skyline resembles a mini Manhattan.

Another problem with the overabundance of breakfast was in reading about the sacrifice of U.S. and Filipino soldiers during World War II. We visited the island of Corregidor and the Manila American Cemetery. The memorial shelters 17,201 graves and honors 36,285 missing in action, including one of our cousins, Cyrus M. Forell, who was on the USS Hoel.

Included among them are the fatalities of the Bataan Death March. Their deaths were as much from dehydration, starvation and disease as from the bayonet.

Crosses and an occasional Star of David stood in rows upon rows. It was as if they were standing at attention in a gigantic formation, waiting for the next call of duty.

One has to put those images aside while taking a second helping of gelato and mango.

My participation in a revelry of calories while others were going hungry was the height of hypocrisy in the face of human suffering. I could have smuggled some of the rolls out and tossed them to the kids as we drove past in a taxi. I could have protested and gone back to my room and eaten the $9.79 Snickers from the minibar. So take this hypocrisy for what it is not worth.

The Philippine economy is growing like a tiger. The vast majority of my breakfast companions were rich natives. However, one glance at the slums reveals the country has a long way to go.

So how do I or should I repent from my Epicurean guilt?

After the Sunday brunch, we wandered through the hoods trying find a place to worship. Sitting with others who sang from the same hymnal made me grateful for organized charity, as did the message of generosity of gift coupled with lessons of self-reliance.

Perhaps to cover my doubts, next time, I will stay in a Motel 6.
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