Now, this is really something

Sometimes, as a writer, a title for an article pops in my mind before I write the piece. And that was the case when I went to the “Himala sa Buhangin” event of the provincial government at the Paoay Sand Dunes last May 10.

It was not just that there were a lot of activities that day: a sand castle building contest, 4×4 race, zorb ball rides, installation art, sand boarding, fire and belly dancing, a free concert featuring Up Dharma Down and Wolfgang, and endless stargazing up the sky and down the sandy earth where celebrities set foot. It was the way the activity was conducted and its magnitude.

There were free rides to and from the venue. Portable toilets were available and sufficient. Security was well maintained. Stalls served delectable food. And more. I felt that preparations were really painstaking and were executed with a lot of class and much love. That’s it, dear karikna. That is what makes the difference in any event. When you feel loved and valued by the people behind it… when you feel that they went the extra mile. It was the same feeling I had in Bohol each time I went to their tourist sites’ comfort rooms that were air-conditioned and spic and span.

Capitol Media Head Jun Gudoy put the crowd at 3,000-5,000 though I could believe there was more. I observed that 70 to 80 percent of those who attended the event were local government officials and employees, barangay and SK officers, and students who were doing summer jobs in government offices. Around 20 to 30 percent, many of whom are from Paoay, went there on their free will, and that, of course, includes me and two of my cousins who were on vacation from Manila.

Cultural activist Carlos Celdran was there. And he was amazed at how much the people were enjoying the activity. He said “Himala sa Buhangin” was a true festival of the people, unlike meaningless festivals that have sprouted left and right. He offered an interesting insight, “If it is good for the people, then it must be good for the tourists,” the famous tour guide said. And I agree. Any festival must have its own people in mind. If tourists come, it must only be because they are drawn to partake in a revelry that has evolved to celebrate what is best about their community. Of all the activities organized by the province, Himala sa Buhangin has, so far, the best potential to beef up arrivals. We are gifted with a beautiful desert which we find some use for only once in a while when filmmakers shoot movies. Now, we have seen its promise. And wow!

The PBA All-stars, who added glitter to the event, surely enjoyed every bit. And the masses had a field day meeting their favorite cage players, both the veterans and the upstarts. My personal favorite was Arwind Santos who I have come to know since his FEU days. Even with fame and fortune, he has remained humble and courteous. “Very cute at mabango,” was how my niece Tintin found the beefcake. She also had a photo with ace model Borgy Manotoc.

Speaking of meat, one of the night’s surprises came from the Fort Ilocandia Chinese Restaurant booth where food was sold at insanely low prices: chicken feet (8 pcs.), one of their specialties, was priced at only 50 pesos; dumplings at 35; sushi and maki, 55; two pieces siopao, 35, and other delicacies and breads that would normally cost an arm and a leg at the five-star hotel. Plaza del Norte’s Mongolian Rice, priced at 50, was also a good deal, given its generous portions of seafood and spices.

And there was beer. It’s good when cold, and even better when free. My former student, Pinili Vice Mayor Rommel Labasan, who was in a group of officials from their town, extended me a warm handshake and a bottle of SanMig Light. Later that night, Bombo Radyo boss Tony Casimiro and officers of our local chamber of commerce headed by New India’s Dilip Mansukhani, also invited me to their table for barbecue.

Wholesome families came, too, like that of eyebrow goddess Shirley Felipe who was with her lovely kids Crystal, Edward, and Dominic. I am sure karikna loyalist and bff Tita Lita Chestnut would have enjoyed the night, too.

Governor Imee Marcos thus has all the reasons to be happy. Himala sa Buhangin was a smashing activity. In our brief chat, she joyfully mentioned her Moroccan inspiration (She studied studied French and Dialectical Arabic in Morocco) which showed in how the tents were ornately and magically designed. It was like a dream… a dreamy Arabian night.

So, we tried to take pictures at the tent’s couches occupied hours earlier by PBA players. It was already empty by then. We were having a fun time just silently taking pictures with our creative poses. But, oh, some things were too good to be true. Police officers arrived and shooed us away. It was quite embarrassing because it felt like we were doing something illegal, and in public. No, I did not do a Claudine or a Raymart, we just silently left. By providence, though, the governor happened to pass by and instructed the men in uniform, “Hayaan niyo sila, dun lang kayo sa gilid.” And then she even suggested that I lay on the couch like a sultan, which I did.

We would later learn that the police came under the instructions of a non-elective Capitol officer whose first name is similar to that of a feisty lady senator and whose surname means grass in Filipino. Some Capitol people say the lady really has some air and a tendency to be rough, mainly because she has been a powerful fixture for a long time.

But that was a forgettable incident. Still, my only regret is that I only have two thumbs, four including my toes, for I would have given ten thumbs up, or more, for that event that was really, really something.

Walang Himala?

Nope, meron. I went to one last May 10.

But did tourists come?

I ARGUE, dear karikna, that the Ilocos Norte Tourism Office folks are the busiest bees in this part of the world. And I argue further that their queen bee, Governor Imee Marcos is Awesome with a capital A. After the successful staging of the Sineng Pambansa here in Ilocos, they initiated a series of events for Halloween, the most notable being the Parada Iloca-locana held last October 31 in Laoag, from the cemetery down to the centro.

Viewers, including my dad who sits on a wheelchair, were so happy with the event. He was even doing the high five with zombies, white ladies, and elementals. I heard others who saw the event murmur, “First time detoy aya? Nagmayat.” (This is the first time, right?  Beautiful.) Beautiful, however, may seem an inappropriate term, because the parade participants were no doubt at their scariest best. But really, the event is very uplifting. It makes you feel that something good is really happening in Ilocos. Day after that, it was the eerie Tumba Festival’s turn to paint the town black in Paoay.

Did tourists come because of these recent events? No, not yet. But we are definitely moving in the right direction. We must continue to make Ilocos a fun place so guests would be enticed enough to hit the long road up North. There must always be a show to go to, a spectacle to marvel at, an experience to try, and temptations that are impossible to resist.

I am glad there is no stopping. Before I can even congratulate the masterminds, here comes the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals unfolding next week.

Hitler’s visit, unbearable speeches, amazing Miss Laoag tilt …and other notes on Pamulinawen Festival 2009

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Let me begin by saying ‘Congratulations’ to everyone behind the festival. I know they put in a lot of hard work in the fiesta preparations. By now, I hope they have managed to catch up on sleep, and that their eye bags have disappeared.

I acknowledge that writing a review like this one is a breeze, nothing compared to all the organizers’ sacrifices. They were actors, I was just a spectator. They labored while I savored the moments. I will therefore cushion the blows. Continue reading “Hitler’s visit, unbearable speeches, amazing Miss Laoag tilt …and other notes on Pamulinawen Festival 2009”

NO to beauty pageants… and political invocations

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Not once, but twice!

As with the past years, at least two beauty pageants are touted as highlights of the 2009 Pamulinawen Festival. The Search for Ms. ABC (Association of Barangay Councils) was held on February 4 at the Centennial Arena while the Search for Ms. Laoag is slated on February 10 at the same venue.

More mature societies have already shunned the idea of the traditional beauty pageant. Radical feminist groups, in particular, have lambasted beauty tilts as a form of exploitation of women and the perpetuation of a patriarchal concept of human aesthetics.

For what is a beautiful person? Organizers, of course, harp on the idea that beauty comes from within, blah, blah. But the competition criteria belie this. The minimum height requirement is 5’3”. Plus, you must look good in a swimming suit and, ergo, you must have a softdrink-bottle-shaped physique.

Such pageants, of course, would claim that they promote beauty with a purpose. This is why they are known for tokenism as well, which means doing something in a highly visible manner, though with almost-zero impact. Continue reading “NO to beauty pageants… and political invocations”

Pretentious & meaningless, Pamulinawen Festival kicks off

St. William the Hermit, Patron of Laoagueños, did not exactly relish fiestas
St. William the Hermit, Patron of Laoagueños, did not exactly relish fiestas.

The revelry leading to the February 10 Feast Day of St. William, patron of the city, begins today.

The Laoag City Fiesta I have grown up to know was simple, dry, and forgettable.  There were strings of parades, yes, but with very little  fanfare.  Then until now, the main attraction is a karnibal, which is not even 1/1000 as good as Enchanted Kingdom, located under the Gilbert Bridge.  There, I remember going to freak shows of sirena (mermaid), babaeng ahas (lady snake), babaeng pusit (lady squid), and other human beings whose physical deformities have been exploited in cash ‘s name. Continue reading “Pretentious & meaningless, Pamulinawen Festival kicks off”