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Lessons from Bali

The hypnotic chant reverberates and echoes down below the waters of Bali. The sky turns into a palette of crimson, orange and blue as the sun disappears into the horizon. I am sitting in an amphitheater inside Ulu Watu Temple, which is perched precariously on top of a cliff, here in Bali, an Indonesian island known for its volcanic mountains, charming beaches and iconic rice paddies.

The setting is dramatic in its simplicity, perhaps one of the most dramatic in the world.

 It is 6 p.m. and Balinese performers have started the traditional Kekak and fire dance, said to be the most unique among Balinese dances because the dance does not have musical accompaniment. Instead, around 70 men provide the sound — a hypnotic chattering of “cak-cak” sounds. 

Kecak tells the story of the Hindu epic Ramayana and the hero is Rama, an incarnation of the god Visnu. He came to earth to defeat the evil demon Ravana. It is a story of love, struggle, magic and heroism. It is elaborate, entertaining and with the setting sun as backdrop, it is a feast for the senses.

 Watching this, I am green with envy. I wondered why in the Philippines, which has so much tradition, history and culture, we lag behind in tourism. 

Cultural tourism

In the age of social media and internet, the country’s tourism authorities can do the succeeding generations of Filipinos a favor by keeping our traditions and culture alive.   

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These opportunities shouldn’t be confined to field trips in schools and the yearly Linggo ng Wika. 

It is important to perfect what we can offer not just to foreigners but also to local travelers.

Through cultural tourism, locals and foreigners alike can learn about the country’s long-held traditions.

Culture and tradition are kept alive if these are passed on from one generation to the next. Culture is passed on by learning and it is seen in people’s writing, music, dances, and religion. 

Indeed, culture is the soul of a nation. Let’s not lose it.

The Philippines, after all, has many stories to tell.  Our culture is everywhere. It’s in our mythologies, the folklore, the food, literature and many age old places around the country that have long been forgotten. 

These things should not be lost in the country’s tourism programs.

 I often ride the kalesa around Intramuros. I do it with my favorite person after my weekend desk duties at the office in the nearby chaotic Port Area.

 The kutcheros would show us around Intramuros, but would always lament that a certain museum or a portion is closed.

 We can learn some lessons from Ubud, which has succeeded as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Southeast Asia.

It has successfully balanced generating tourism revenues while preserving its culture and traditions. There are no McDonald’s or Western dining franchises, at least in the city center. Visitors can enjoy traditional Balinese dishes in restaurants and cafes.

 Even the offerings for visitors are all about local culture. One can shop for traditional batik, enjoy Balinese food, immerse in art and cultural workshops, retreat in yoga classes, pray in temples or watch Balinese dancers every night in the plazas.

 At home, the Department of Tourism’s list of accomplishments from June 30, 2016 to June 30, 2017 is topped by the “spectacular staging of the 65th Miss Universe.” 

Tourism can provide a major leg of revenues for the Philippines – employment and lots of income for local businesses.

 But let’s have a program where we don’t exploit people.  Hosting global events can help but we need more than that. 

I hope the country can have a serious plan for tourism, starting with the right infrastructure.  And perhaps, there should be specific tourism programs for the different areas in the country which will showcase not just the beauty of the islands but specific culture and traditions.

 Culture is very important because that is what is unique to a country.

If we build, they will come

In the movie Field of Dreams, an Iowa farmer hears a mysterious voice one night in his cornfield saying, “If you build it, they will come.”

 He heeds the voice and builds a baseball field. And then, the White Sox comes to play.

 This can apply to the Philippines. Let’s build and they will all come.

 The Philippines has so much to offer.

 Let’s have a program that is popular, yet not exploitative, one that will maximize the involvement of the people and ensure equitable distribution of economic benefits to host communities.

It should be a program that will allow for the revenues to be re-invested for conservation of the country’s natural and cultural resources.

 I’ve been to so many nice corners around the world but I am still in awe of the profound experience I get traveling around the Philippines because of the warmth of the people and the beauty of places. Foreign visitors, I am sure, will agree.

Mountains, cliffs, sunsets, warm communities, rice paddies, secret beaches, downtown markets and rich culture – they all helped me see that in the Philippines, I can discover as many Edens of my own.

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