Sunday, February 22, 2009

ICCHS Batch 2009 (Main): Class Prophecy

I. Crocoland

It is the year 2029, and we, Sister Julie Anne Custodio and Sister Jennifer Limchiu, are now alluringly angelic holy princesses – a.k.a. nuns – at the San Dannea Cathedral, where our ‘queen’, Sister Bea Jan Wong, governs with her killer Chinese looks and her almost invisible eyes. Yes, her eyes. Together with her king, none other than the Mr. Universe-with-the-macho-body-and-six-pack-abs-turned-holy-man-of-God, Father Dann Christian So Chan, they run this giant house of worship.

Early this afternoon, we went to the Library of Princess Sarah, owned by the highest paid bookworm in the world, Janice Sarah Te, who sits on a seven-foot high throne of books at the middle of the library. When we entered, she sent us to retrieve a supposedly long lost magical book in one of the shelves at the back of the library.

It took us almost an hour to find the shelf – shelf 1234 – and ten more minutes to find the book. It was dusty, and the cover could barely be read. When Sister Julie opened it, suddenly, the book emitted a low, piercing scream. Then, a face came out of the dirty white page. It looked familiar. Or rather, he looked familiar. It was Vincen Gregory Yu! Vincen without the t, finally found after a decade of being reportedly lost inside the library. In a composed but powerful voice, he said, “Jzhuley, and Jzhennifeh, look into my eyes, beyond my glasses. Yesss, look, look, look!!!”

We sensed our environment starting to float, but still we stared. When at last, we could no longer take his seductive eyes, we fell to the floor.

When we opened our eyes, we saw a huge white castle in the distance. Then suddenly, we heard the sound of galloping hooves coming towards us. As we tore our gazes away from the castle, we saw, behind us, a knight, wearing skin-tone armor with gold breastplates and riding on a pink unicorn. He approached us.

The knight introduced himself as Sir Geecel Jan Palmes and asked us who we were. As we introduced ourselves, we told him all about the magic book, and asked him where we were, and if he knows the way back to our world. Geecel told us that we were in Crocoland. Unfortunately, he didn’t know how to get us back home, but he suggested that we ask Queen Maria Cristina Sucgang, who ruled the kingdom with her magical staff made of crocodile and alligator leather.

Because we didn’t know who this queen was or how to get to the castle, the knight kindly offered to get us an audience with Her Majesty. He took out his trumpet made of gumamela and sampaguita wreaths and blew so loudly we had to cover our ears. As the trumpet’s sound echoed throughout the kingdom, two beautiful giant butterflies came flying towards us.

It appeared that the butterflies had riders on their backs. Seated behind them were actually Sanlie Ong and Orly John Pelopero, our high school batchmates whom we didn’t know actually metamorphosed. The flight had a stopover for the butterflies to recover their energy, so while waiting for the butterflies to recharge, we decided to talk to pass the time.

We found out that the queen has her most trusted advisers, the Council of Five. The first adviser, Juliette Ann Pareja, is the Chief Adviser and manages the kingdom’s finances. No wonder she has more than $25 billion in her bank account. The second one was Yvander Dominique Bu, also known as the General and handles the kingdom’s defenses; though most of the time, he has to defend himself from his empress, Christine Michelle Yap, who is addicted to high heels and chocolate-flavored coffee. The third adviser was Kevin James Tan, the AA or Affairs Adviser, who, the riders said, has ears that can hear everything, gossip and fart notwithstanding, within 20 meters. The fourth one is Theodore Paul Delfin, the Peacemaker who is married to the fifth adviser May Tan, head of the Crisis Patrol that deals with disaster control such as the recent foot-fungus-and-body-odor epidemic that hit the kingdom.

Finally, we flew to the palace and arrived in no time at all. Whatever happened to tired butterflies? We were then led by the palace chief guards, Paul John Cordero and Andre Ross Guasin, to a spacious and elegant sitting room. There, we were personally served by the Royal Chef, Franklin Llamado, who offered us some of the most exotic delicacies we’ve ever seen: roasted cow testicles in tartar sauce, cockroach and frog salad, cat and dog stew, to name a few.

After the rather barbaric meal, the Palace messenger Jazrelle Ang told us that our audience with the queen has been approved, so we had to dress properly. Thus, we went to see Boris Goddard Ong a.k.a. Giorgio Horhay dela Vuitton y Peñalosa, the most famous fashion designer in the entire kingdom.

Upon arriving at the little shop, Boris gave out a startled shriek. He told us that our clothes fit the fashion sense of a peasant, or that peasants have even better fashion sense than us. Together with his couturier assistants, Angelo Lim and Sheyme Robledo, we were made the most heart-stopping, stroke-inducing dresses.

Actually, Angelo lost his glasses so the measurements were a tad off, making the dress sizes a little too snug for comfort. Then, Sheyme forgot the list for the exact amount of cloth she was going to buy, so when she arrived at the textile shop called SanSan, owned by business partners Kurt Clarence Sanchez and Rigel Kent Sanico, she just made up the list as she made the purchases. We ended up wearing knee-high, peacock-themed cocktail dresses with matching rainbow shawls – strapless!

Next, we headed to the Royal Shoemaker, Enrico Uybalian, whose assistant Pamela Anne Cham secretly wants to make him her emperor. Pamela went to buy softened tree bark at the store of Mae Fleur Acosta, who’s always glad to give anyone who works for Enrico a discount. That’s what you call a love triangle. When the tree bark was finally acquired, the shoes started to be made, but they weren’t the right color, so Cyrene Laura Dimapilis, also known as the Color Girl, dyed them silver, which she bought at the House of Colors owned by Aingelee Arimas. The dye was actually made of carabao dung. Then, it was hair extensions with famous hairdressers Charmaine Joy Burgos and Loren Fung, who argued as to whether yellow or purple hair extensions looked better.

Fast forward to our meeting with Queen Maria. We told her all about our story and she told us to seek the help of the Great Wizard of Estancia, Ramon Christopher Subong, and his apprentices Joshua Defante, also known as Joshy the Fanty, and Anthony Cabochan, or Buchi for short.

When we arrived at the Wizard’s place, Ramon told us to go with him to the main magic chamber. There stood the two apprentices, whom he commanded to open up a magic portal that would lead us back. Joshua – or Joshy – raised his wand first, and behold, Kervin Leigh Clavero, the famous babaylan chief of the tribe that lives in Mount Everest and survives on a diet of snow, popped out of thin air. He looked puzzled, his cowboy hat on his head, and was sent back. Buchi tried next, and then, out came Maria Tannia Tanco, also known as Madam Bougainvillea with her 1 million hectare flower plantation. She was sent back, but not before throwing a flower at Cabochan. Dr. Jordan Christer Onglamsing, the kingdom’s ingenious doctor, suddenly entered the hall; apparently, he had also heard of our misfortune. Thus, he summoned his wife Alyssa Lee, the Good Witch of Mindanao, to open up the portal for us. She chanted, “Mindanaonum le placido penitente de sibyla irene dos basilios el sisa” – poof!

II. Museum of the World

We found ourselves in front of a door. It appears something went wrong. The door read: Museum of the World. We opened the metal doors and were overcame by the noise. People in gowns, modern technology – surely, we weren’t in Crocoland anymore. It was actually a museum! We decided to view the exhibits.

Exhibit number one was a talking basin which talks to you if you are bored. It was invented by – (gasp) – Ramon Khey, who also won the Inventor of the Year award. He looked crazy talking to his basin alone, which replied in sprays of water. The next one was the time machine, created by – oh, my! – Nico Levy. Mr. Levy actually accompanied Ferdinand Magellan in the first around-the-world journey and almost killed Lapu-lapu, had he not mistaken Magellan for Lapu-lapu! The third one was a flying carpet, made for pollution-free transportation, which, to our even greater surprise, was created by Janno Francisco himself! Then, there was the walking encyclopedia by Robert Mark Uy, who won a record-breaking nine gold medals at the Olympic Games for the 100m, 200m, 300m, 400m, 500m, 600m, 700m, 800m, and 900m runs; and the robot brain by Fiel Brian Edner Tan, who graduated Summa cum Laude with a perfect attendance at the Harbridge Camvard University – Is the world still round?!

At the other side of the hall was the Chamber of Beauty. There was actually a gathering of beauties for a magazine pictorial! There was the newly crowned Miss Universe Joanna Kong of Japan, standing beside Miss India Lyxen Aubrey Cuñada and Miss South Africa Eunice Boston. A few feet away, there was Miss Kazakhstan Ezil Verne Uy, who was crying buckets of tears because she did not win the crown and was being comforted by Donna Lyn Ledesma, who was Miss China.

At the other side of the chamber, Singer of the Universe title holder Annaleigh Pearl Chua serenaded the crowd with her number one hit song, If I Were Not A Boy, as the world’s best belly dancers Angelique Joy Chua and Precious Janine Uy danced to the song. Then, the belly dancing was interrupted by what seemed like a flock of flamingos, but were, in fact, the Ballet Three – Thea Marie Quiling, Hannah Mae Alquitran, and Nikka Grace Yoro, who were performing the flamingo dance. Suddenly, there was a commotion. Rock stars Jed Aldrin Te and John Immanuel Dario were having a fight as to whose nose piercing looked better: Jed, on the right nostril, or Immanuel, on the left. With his members Salvador Gariando and Rinheart Quilino, Jed’s team is known as Aldrin and the Chipmunks; Immanuel, together with Jasher Joshua Chan and John Ray Palmares, are known as the The Terrible Three. The commotion was interrupted when the crowd stampeded towards Ellah Kaey Alvarez, Oscars and Golden Globe best actress winner for her portrayal of an insane soprano, and Connie Garcera and Daneelie Moralidad, the successors of the legendary Rene Lao in the world of wushu.

The commotion was actually headed by Juan Carlos Macalalag, president of the Paparazzi Party of the Philippines or the PPP, whose proudest members were certified camera addicts Sheradee Leparto, Trexee Anne Lao, and Sharmaine Deslate. We exited the museum in a hurry and saw that Janine Kaye Amacio and John Mark Prietos’ family taxi business has indeed flourished; around fifty of their cars were lined up at the roadside. Much to our surprise, they actually had the fashion model Li-anamay Zaragoza as a godparent during their wedding.

Across the street, environmentalists Mary Claire So and Laiza Angelli Cruz held placards which read: Patalsikin si Juan Carlos Macalalag!, and shouting at the top of their lungs, “JC Bumaba, JC Bumaba!” They claimed that JC’s excessive use of digital cameras somehow contributed to global warming.

III. The Ever Koolest Stacey

Still, we hailed a taxi. Not knowing where to go, the driver told us that as first-time visitors of the place, we had to visit The City of Hot People. The city mayor is Stacey Falsis, who was able to get rid of former mayor Airene Domingo by claiming that her waistline was way smaller and thus, could fit on the presidential throne more easily. Actually, she won through a massive text vote buying. Thus, the city is now known as TEKS, which stands for The Ever Koolest Stacey.

However, TEKS is a land of controversy. A recent one is about the fake whitening products of Maria Feliza Inez Lumbo & Irish Jane Lee, who claimed that the products actually made their skin fairer. The evidence, however, was Melanie Garingan, whose skin became black as charcoal the day after she first used the products. What she didn’t know was that the products were made of cat urine and mouse droppings. Thus, leading the offensive were the Consul-General of Zimbabwe Raulen John Degobaton and Attorney Hana Mika Hsia.

Another controversy is about the stolen pair of stockings of singer-dancer-actress Sachiko Suzuki, which, she claims, is made of 24-karat gold. The police headed by Steven Clark Lim have been searching for it for months, and have even asked the help of Mayor Stacey, who is also busy with her own stockings. Just yesterday, Kim de los Reyes, ‘balut’ and ‘penoy’ tycoon brought word about the stolen stockings. He said that once, he saw a man wearing shining golden stockings and that that guy always goes to the local pub every night. Last night, Steven went to the pub. There he met Michael Co, the affluent manager of MO2000, and his fiancée, Rizza Carla Gallardo, who became the talk of the town when she declared at the city plaza in front of the media that henceforth, she shall wear nothing but jewels to be strewn all over her bodacious figure. Also, there was Engineer Rasheed Jan Carbaquil having a fun night drinking his favorite drink: Yakult, which he claims is enough to make a cow drunk. The stockings were never found.

This morning though, the Department of Controversy was razed to the ground since Gen. Kevin Allen Dalipe, Head of the Armed Forces, threw a grenade at the building, mistaking it for a drug den. Thus, department undersecretary Sharmane Vidal announced that all controversies should be neglected and that the people should all just face the present life.

In spite of all those controversies, the citizens still enjoy their living. Famous businesswoman Mariel Trinise Epilepsia recently opened another business called “TooBig Purified Drinking Water.” Two days ago, Danemar Kristine Calise, new principal of the University of the Elites, found her long lost sister, Kristine Joy Anne Go, who was recently hired as ABS-GMA’s new weather forecaster. McJolly and Chow Inasal, fast food chains owned by Anne Marie Fuentes and Jinky Lim, respectively, are doing quite well.

That’s what the taxi driver told us as we arrived at TEKS Supermarket, managed by Ramona Jane Subong. Entering the place with us was obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Hianne King, who told us that she finally got married last week after Sarmy Lahao-lahao became her 33rd patient to say ‘I Love You’ to her but the 1st to say ‘I Know You Love Me Too’. Inside the market, we felt the rivalry between Trisha Marie Tarrazona’s Brazilian Arowanas business and Sianne Grace Jaleco’s Catfish industry.

What we didn’t know was that the marine environmentalist group called Bantay-Isda-321 led by Sophie Joyce Legita was staging a rally inside the place. Spokesperson Daren Brillantes was shouting at the top of her lungs: Make LOVE, not WAR!

Suddenly, lightning struck the roof of the Supermarket. There was a blinding flash of light, then, darkness.

IV. Realm of Diana

We heard the peals of thunder, and when we opened our eyes, it was dark. There was total silence. We were lying on the ground. In front of us was a wooden door. In bloody red bold letters were written: Realm of Diana. Beneath the sign was another sign, which said: Diana Elaine Tan, Mayor and Goddess. We stood up and knocked at the door, which was the only thing visible. There was no answer.

The instant we opened the door, the silence was broken. In her lovely and musical voice, Diana addressed the city.

My people, we all know that there has been a little problem about the recently concluded election. Presidential rivals Jelline Patricia Alojado and Glynnie Grace Palabrica garnered the same number of votes. Since I, Diana, am still the president of the kingdom, I still have the power to declare a war: Team Alojado versus Team Palabrica. Each team will choose ten comrades to battle tomorrow. By the end of the day, the team with the most number of men alive will be declared winner. And by then, we will know who will be the next president. Agreed?”

We were standing at the entrance of a gigantic plaza. Diana, seated on her emerald throne supported by Ritz Glenn Cagalawan, Lester Bocablo, Rafael Melocoton, and Jhon Rey Sumido – also known as Diana’s Darlings – stopped for a moment to see the people’s reactions. At the far end of the stone-floored court were Senators Joenalyn Aliguin and Alexis Uy. Vice President Hyacinth Clarice Cembrano stood beside Diana. Jelline loved the idea. Seated at the front row, she shouted, “Hear, hear. I will bring Robert Ryan Chu, the bravest and best soldier there is.” On the other hand, Geneline Gabrido, Glynnie’s spokesperson did not agree, for she knew that no one has ever beaten Robert before, so she thought of another plan. She suggested playing jack n’ poy between the two teams instead of having a war. The only people who agreed with her were the priests of the kingdom, Fathers Steven Garcia and Sonny Alexander Manalo.

Since only two agreed, it was obvious that the war would still be carried on. Not liking wars at all, we interrupted. Diana and the people noticed us and thankfully allowed us to speak. We suggested having a dance showdown.

Everyone agreed, especially world-class choreographer Russ Martin Uy, who heads the Do the Move Dancing Class; renowned dentist John Kenneth Clement; and the newly crowned empress of Egypt, Her Royal Majesty Empress Mardi Grace Rayco.

The dance showdown took place at the crack of dawn. Jelline’s representatives were Maria Evanessa Bacus and Vanessa Javier, while Glynnie’s contestants were Daniel Go and Dennis Go. Three judges were hired during the showdown: Jim Therese Gayotayan, famous for her tiger look; the world’s most famous male ballet dancer and winner of the All-Male Primo Ballerino Dancing Cup, none other than Eli Justin Lim; and Karl Bryan Bacugan, host of the No Deal or Deal: The Dance Showdown.

Jelline’s representatives performed first. There was only one cheer. It came from Wendy Camarista, who thought it was Glynnie’s team that was performing. Anyhow, the results eventually arrived and the winners were… Daniel and Dennis, which only meant that Glynnie’s the new president. But Jelline did not stop there. She argued that her rival won only because one of the judges, Ms. Gayotayan, is actually Daniel’s wife!

At the end of the show, we headed for the Church of Churches, where Pope Bryant Li congratulated us and United Countries Secretary-General Patricia Beatrice Valdez named us Ambassadors of Goodwill. Outside the church windows, we saw a helicopter manned by Phillip John Ross Pediapco, who was waving at us.

Suddenly, the gigantic face of Janice Sarah Te covered the ceiling. Then, everything dissolved. We found ourselves, once more, on the floor by shelf 1234 – indeed staring at Janice’s face.

Where have you been?! And what did you do with that book?!” she hollered at us. Then, a few feet behind her, stood Vincen, smiling.

Janice, it’s all alright. Here, take a look at the cover – it’s cleaner now,” he said, handing the book to Ms. Sarah. We all gathered to look at the cover, and a wonderful feeling – that of satisfaction, of nostalgia, of happiness, and of contentment – swept over us.

The cover read: ICCHS Main Campus Batch 2009 – The Prophecy.  

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dead Cells on Moi Head

Best hairstyle award.


As if the world hasn’t witnessed enough miracles yet.

As if flattery were an everyday drop of rain.

When my name was called, it was just like hearing a piglet sing All I Ask of You (pun intended).

When I headed upfront to get the award, people noticeably had their eyes glued to my head. Or the mass of black dead cells hanging on it. Yeah, yeah, I know: It’s such a beauty…XD

Have you ever had people stare at you unceasingly, focused on a certain part of your body and struck by news that totally got them by surprise?

The day before the promenade, Eli told me that we should to go to Rene to “have our hair done.”

I told him, “Why on Earth do you have to go to Rene? Like, you’d only do that if you’re desperate enough to win the best hairstyle award.”

Apparently, heaven heard me.

Or maybe, it was Eli wishing to win best hairstyle…

(In response to my winning the Best Hairstyle Award (Male) during the ICCHS JS Prom 2009.)

Saturday, February 7, 2009


My brother won in the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature Kabataan Essay category when he was in 1st year college (he wrote the entry at the end of his high school senior life). I decided to give it a try last year. The theme was, “If you were to take a foreigner to only one place in the Philippines for only one day, where would it be and why?” The blog entry title is actually the title of this piece.


“Why do foreigners bother to come to the Philippines?”

I don’t mean that to sound sarcastic or anything, because honestly, it’s something that I used to always think about. Maybe because every single time, the thought itself struck me as something as complicated as, say, Martial Law.

For one, I couldn’t seem to put how Westerners still flock to our country despite the abductions of Father Bossi and the Burnhams, which I thought should’ve served as some kind of “DO NOT ENTER” sign to them. With a variety of more exotic, more attractive places out there to choose from – Singapore, Japan, China, Thailand, for instance – I couldn’t help wondering whether foreigners are only after having their pictures taken with the perfect cone of Mt. Mayon or the idyllic panorama of the Chocolate Hills as a scenic backdrop. Coming from a nation with 7,107 equally-blessed islands, it’s surreal to believe that people are only after our God-given beaches and mountains. There has to be a bigger, much stronger reason for that.

But constantly thinking about that only led me to blind alleys. So there, foreigners come here, period. And they arrive in a sun-drenched Philippines hearing the very enthusiastic “Mabuhay” (a greeting generally meant as welcome and hello) from plane and airport employees, not knowing that thousands of Filipinos, on the other hand, are headed overseas, most even wishing to switch places with these tourists. It’s all part of one huge irony. Lately, however, I’ve began entertaining a newer, even grander thought:

What if I were the one to take these tourists around the country, instead of having them lose their way, fall prey to snatchers, or go see and visit just the “ordinary stuff?” It’s a brilliant idea – at least for me. I can perfectly picture myself walking ahead of a noisy group of backpackers, pointing out this and that, talking about historical tidbits, complete with a megaphone at hand.

Being underaged, however, I guess it’s one idea that’s just going to be an entertaining daydream for me. So anyway, say, it’s just a one-man team, and the guy has only a single day to spare? There’s only one place that comes to mind: Iloilo City.

Many people would find this an oddly interesting choice. After all, those who come to the country usually hie off to the cool mountain villas of Baguio or the white sand beaches of Boracay, some even preferring to spend the entirety of their stay in the congested atmosphere of the metropolis. But if there’s one reason that surpasses all others about my pick for a destination, it would be this: Iloilo City is my home.

I want this visitor to come to Iloilo because I want him to know my home. I want him to see another side of the Philippines – one without childish politics in the papers, one without the smog and literally bumper-to-bumper traffic, and one without commercialized beaches and malls that are perennially full to overflowing. I want him to realize that there is still another side to the country – one that’s not Manila but also not Sulu or Batanes.

Much more than that, however, Iloilo is the one city in the Philippines that I know about best. Imagine a field trip to the animal kingdom: Elephants would not be teaching you how to stalk prey by the riverbanks, nor would a gator talk about the importance of having ivory tusks, right? The point is, because Iloilo is my hometown, I can certainly cater to all of my visitor’s needs, give him the most informative and relaxing tour there is, and make his stay uncomplicated and comfy – thereby, making the most out of his trip. If the guy only has a day to spend, then I might as well help make it as memorable and enjoyable as a flight to the moon.

If I appear to sound a bit biased, it’s because it’s not just for the sole reason of the city being my home that I’m taking my visitor there. Iloilo may be less popular compared to the likes of Cebu and Palawan, but it nonetheless possesses certain aspects to which other places in the country lose out to.

To start with, the place offers an entirely different atmosphere. It all begins from the moment the plane touches down the airport: On one side, there stands what has been named “the country’s most beautiful airport terminal”; beyond the length of the runway, the majestic peaks of the provincial border loom like bluish shadows. Downtown, the nostalgic tone is unavoidable, especially as one meets the Hispanic edifices and narrow streets interloping with paved roads and modernized clusters of buildings, the hustle and bustle of the metropolis fused with that small-town, quiet-village ambiance. It is exactly that “big-city-meets-the-province” feel that puts the place in a league all its own – a uniquely rustic yet urban piece of land.

After all, travel is more than just obscenely huge malls and packed museums; it is a journey into another world, a cultural immersion. As the saying goes: “When in Rome, do what the Romans do.” Visiting Iloilo is basically an all-in-one package; it has the three things that matter most in travel.

First of all, there are the people themselves. If there’s one characteristic that defines the Ilonggos best, it would have to be their way of speaking. I always chuckle at how newcomers in the city find the spoken language baffling yet captivating. Think of it as saying “Do you want me to punch you?” the same way as “You’re such a nice girl?” sans the glaring eyes and harsh, challenging tone. Well, that’s aside from their supposed frugality (as compared to their fellow Hiligaynon speakers in Negros) – a main reason why Mang Inasal, the grilled chicken resto, dominates the fast food business there. Otherwise, smiles and laughter usually fill every corner of the city – Iloilo’s not called the “City of Love” for nothing, after all.

When it comes to places of interest, Iloilo certainly does not lose out to its sister cities. A city tour, for one, takes only half a day – ample proof of how small the city is – yet the sights that one can visit are actually numerous and distinctive: Molo Church and its all-female-saints line-up, Jaro Cathedral and its belfry, the harbor and Fort San Pedro, Chinatown and Calle Real, to name a few. Simply put, Iloilo is one place where an afternoon can be spent with an unfussy, enlightening walk by the sidewalks. And in many ways, it’s actually at the crossroads of Western Visayas – where Boracay, Guimaras Island, UNESCO Heritage Site Miag-ao Church, Antique, and even Bacolod City are all within easy reach.

Finally, if there’s one factor that matters most in travel, it’s food – and Iloilo definitely has its unique and well-known food culture to boast, and one that has been said to be extremely palatable. I can now say that with certainty, given that every time we have non-Ilonggo guests, they leave the city with palates longing for more of the local cuisine – plus, some extra pounds. The most recent evidences for that are some of my brother’s classmates in Manila, who came to visit a few weeks ago. During the day of their flight back, they were all visibly talking about how “healthy” they’ve become. With the famed Lapaz Batchoy and Pancit Molo leading the menu, plus goodies from the fabled Biscocho Haus, it’s hard not to see why.

By the time my dear visitor finishes his day in the city, I’m positive that the way he views our nation would already be in a more positive light. That’s very plausible, considering that he gets a glimpse of some not-so-famous city that aims to be labeled as first class within seven years, running under the slogan of “USWAG Iloilo” – Go Forth Iloilo! And with the slightest spark of hope within me, I hope that this new friend of mine will be more than determined to spread the word about Iloilo City, and do his part in making my hometown even more progressive than it currently is.

Because in the end, travel will never be about grandiosity or luxury; it will always be about experience and culture. That’s the real Iloilo City: where people continue to smile, laugh, and feast amidst a bleak political and economic setting; where the atmosphere has more than just Eiffel Towers and Great Walls; and where tourists are offered that once-in-a-lifetime experience of the real classic meaning of “Mabuhay!” That’s something only few people realize, and few places offer. That’s what makes this country different. And that’s exactly why foreigners continue to flock to the Philippines.

Allow me to greet you “Mabuhay!” – anytime.

My letter to Jinni

I joined in last year’s Philippine Postal Corporation National Letter-Writing Contest with the theme, “I am writing to tell the world why we need tolerance.” I think my entry arrived late, though. Here it goes:

112 Iznart Street
Iloilo City 5000
April 3, 2008

Dear Friends,

“Curly hair”, “dark skin,” and “long shaggy shawls” are three things that conjure up an almost perfect image of my dear friend, Jinni. She’s probably one of the few people I’ll never ever forget or lose contact with later on in life, because she’s, well, special. I say “special” because first of all, she’s what people would casually label as “black.” And she also happens to be Muslim.

What makes Jinni really special, however, is that by just being herself, she went through a lot of traumatic experiences during grade school, even up to now. People used to call her “Miss Charcoal,” and I once saw how a fellow classmate prevented her sister from making friends with Jinni – all because she’s supposedly “the perfect example of an aborigine with poor hygiene; plus, she isn’t Christian.” Needless to say, she almost always ends up being the butt of everyone’s jokes.

Sometimes, I wonder if all that people ever wanted Jinni to say was “Wait, I’m late for my next terrorist attack” or “I’m Muslim… and I’m violent” or “I rode a camel to help build our mosque this morning,” because isn’t that the way we stereotype people like her? And that’s all part of this intolerant world…hypocritical, narrow-minded, racist, chauvinistic, biased, bigoted…whatever you call it.

Don’t get me wrong here – I want tolerance; it’s a brilliant thing. But cynicism aside, it’s sad that the idea of tolerance no longer appeals to our present audience. I’m pertaining to the millions – no, billions – of people out there who are much more cultured, grounded, and practical in terms of dreams and ambitions. It has almost become a farfetched idea to think of a world where there is total mutual respect between every single breathing Homo sapiens sapiens – regardless of who you are or what you believe in.

Try asking some bloke out there about his stand on global tolerance and I can only think of two possible outcomes: Either you’ll think he’s crazy for being such a snobbish and pessimistic realist, or he’ll think you’re crazy for being an equally mindless and impractical dreamer. The thing is, thinking that tolerance will ever completely sweep this planet has become, for most, a Martian notion.

This shouldn’t be so.

Jinni taught me that.

First of all, we already have a global market. The Chinese, who comprise a fifth of the world’s population, have long been recognized for their contributions in the business sector. Depicted as hard-working, rich, and frugal, they have definitely gone a long way in promoting the economic development of China as well as of the respective nations where they currently reside.

Being Chinese myself, it certainly makes my blood boil whenever I hear someone imitate the supposed “Chinese way of speaking” – that “ching chong chang chi” hullabaloo with matching sarcastic inflections. Worse, there are those who remain what is termed in Chinese as “bai hua” (“anti-Chinese”). It strikes me that these people may have never come to realize the seamless integration of Chinese culture with the rest of the world – what with the Chinatowns, the merriment of the Spring and Moon Festivals, the scrumptious noodles and Peking duck, the majestic Great Wall, even the splurges and great buys in those miniature bargain stores.

The point is, blatantly poking fun at the way “white-skinned” or “slit-eyed” foreigners speak and dress is already intolerance. If we truly want progress, then we must learn to work well with Koreans, Arabs, Indians, Europeans, Africans, and all other nationalities, as well as respect their cultures and languages. My school now has around forty Korean students, and the number increases annually. Stereotypes never work. It is in encouraging tolerance that we hold the key to genuine globalization.

We don’t stop with racial and cultural diversity; we consider gender as well. Sure, homosexuality isn’t part of Christianity’s “The Creation,” but then, weren’t some of the greatest fashion trends and icons created and spawned by gay designers? Didn’t Sir Elton John write and sing some of the best songs ever known, or Cameron Mackintosh produce Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Cats, and several other hit musicals? We need not purge people like them; we need only respect, if not accept, them.

However cliché and old-fashioned it may sound, I believe the single most important reason for tolerance is: World Peace. Harmony among all peoples. It’s probably the most wonderful thing ever known to man, but it’s also the most difficult to achieve. Our lack of it has led to over thousands of soldiers dying amidst the carnage of a pointless war in the Middle East, hundreds of monks being persecuted in Burma last year, and journalists dropping dead like flies here in my homeland. Maybe if everyday were pageant day, where people support and applaud someone who thinks world peace is what we all need, then this world could be a brighter and more peaceful place to live in.

I don’t see myself as some sort of ambassador for goodwill in the future, much less a pro-tolerance activist. I’m not even sure if people out there would pay attention to the words of an idealistic youth. But that’s exactly what makes the youth different – we dream of better things. And this is my stand. This is my voice, saying: We need tolerance. Because we need a better future. Because people are being killed, degraded, scorned, and disrespected. And, most importantly, because millions of Jinnis out there continue to suffer in silence, waiting for that moment when the world would finally embrace them with open hearts and minds.

Your friend,

(Have I mentioned that I lost? Haha.)