campus journalism

Of adventures and misadventures in the Philippines

Candy Gourlay
Despite Cathay Pacific's disinterest and NAIA's shameful behind-the-scenes thievery, all I can think of is how the beauty of the Philippines shines through

LONDON – So NAIA people, tell me  – which of you opened my suitcase after check in and stole the smart phone I bought as pasalubong for my son?

I mean, sure, Cathay Pacific in the UK responded quickly enough, providing me with a reference number to quote to my travel insurers. But it turns out my insurance does not include checked in suitcases (another sad story). And anyway, the Cathay Pacific baggage person here in the UK told me, “The whole world knows that NAIA is the most corrupt airport in the world – so there’s no point in investigating the theft any further. “

Aaaaaargh.

What a shame. What a sorry end to what had been a wonderful trip to the Philippines. 

Now I could easily use this to disparage that clever tourism slogan everyone seems to be talking about on Facebook. But no, I don’t want to go there.

Shining through

In fact, what this #cathaypacificFAIL and #naiaFAIL episode immediately brought to mind was another tourism ad.

In the late 1980s when I first moved to London with my husband, a Philippine Airlines ad used to play (surprisingly, frequently) on English television. 

Call it homesickness, call it yearning, but that PAL commercial never failed to get me going. Every time it played, I just couldn’t help the tears that always, always came to my eyes.

It would probably look quaint and decidedly soft focus to today’s edgier advertising folk. There were the usual slow-mo smiling people, the usual delicious pan over beautiful white beaches, the chocolate hills, coconut trees, and then the refrain:  “The beauty of the Philippines…SHINING THROUGH.”

Let me back track a bit.

World class?

I am always struck by how the words “world class” always figure in our national boasting. We claim to each other that our resorts are “world class,” our services, our English-speaking, our food –  all “world class.”

And yet as someone on the outside looking in, I am sad to say that the reality – especially in the touristic sense – falls embarrassingly short.

Like the time I was poolside in a Boracay resort,  applying sun cream to my baby daughter, and a resort employee reprimanded me, saying that sun cream and lotions were not allowed by the pool because they made the water greasy. Uh huh.

Like the time I proudly took my children to Pagsanjan to see our “world class”, “world famous” falls – arriving only to find our van being chased by shouting men on motorbikes trying to herd us toward their resorts.  

And when we complained to town officials, one official turned round and offered us a discount at another resort. My children laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation. But no. Definitely not world class.

Or what about all the times taxi drivers took one look at my fair-skinned family and turned off their meters? Bahala na kayo sa akin, they always wink at me conspiratorially. Subtext: foreigner ang asawa mo. Mayaman naman kayo. Pa-share naman ng ginhawa.  (You take care of me. You’re married to a foreigner therefore you’re rich. Why not share the profits?) Nope. Not world class.

It’s creepy. It’s ignorant. And it’s embarrassing.

Warm welcome

As an author here in the United Kingdom, I visit schools and reading groups trying to encourage children to read. So on this last visit to see my mother in Manila, I thought, why don’t you do the same in the Philippines where the impact of such a visit would be far-reaching.

My book came out in 2010 and I’m pretty much still a beginner author…but did that matter? I became an author because of inspirational adults throughout my life – my mother, teachers and librarians – who showed me the magic of story. They made me want to read, and they made me the writer I am today. I wanted to share some of that pixie dust.

So using Facebook, I sought the help of teachers in my quest. Lo and behold, several people responded. The result was an extraordinary several days speaking to children as well as groups of teachers. I found myself appearing before teachers, librarians, and children not just in the capital Manila, but in Tanauan, Batangas and Angat, Bulacan.

In every town, I was astonished to be greeted by beautiful dancing children, warm welcoming speeches, and tables laden with food.

I have never had as warm a welcome anywhere else in the world – I went thinking that I was the one bearing gifts, but afterwards, it was I who was moved and inspired by the way everyone simply put their arms around me and held me close. True magic.

Finale

All that – only to discover when I came out on the other end that I had been robbed as I made my sad good-byes.

But weirdly, that old Philippine Airlines ad came to mind. The beauty of the Philippines shining through.

Because despite the sordid and disappointing finale to my trip, despite Cathay Pacific’s disinterest and NAIA’s shameful behind-the-scenes thievery, all I can think of is how the beauty of the Philippines – that wonderful hospitality, the giving without thought of return, the unstinting welcome, that heart-warming, joyous, generous, relentless BEAUTY of the Philippines – well…it really does SHINE through. – Rappler.com


London-based Candy Quimpo Gourlay is a former Inquirer journalist. Her novel, “Tall Story” won the Crystal Kite Prize for Europe. It was shortlisted for 13 book prizes in the United Kingdom and nominated for the Carnegie Medal. The special Philippine edition was published by Cacho Publishing. Her novel, “Shine” is due for UK publication in late 2012. Visit www.candygourlay.com.