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One Ayala @ HK: Pinoy fiesta revelers occupy Hong Kong |

Modern Living

One Ayala @ HK: Pinoy fiesta revelers occupy Hong Kong

ARTMAGEDDON - Igan D’Bayan - The Philippine Star

HONG KONG— The night before, I was sitting in a McDonald’s in Wan Chai in Hong Kong; a cluster of overseas Filipina workers around me  fries and Bibles on the tables. “This is a way for us to overcome difficult times away from family,” a woman tells me in Pilipino, must’ve seen my quizzical expression. “Liza,” a single mom, left her kid with relatives in Nueva Ecija to work as a saleslady in a Bookazine. (She told me where to get good art books: “Page One sa Times Square! Wag mong sabihin sa boss ko na tinuro kita sa Page One ha.”) “Rose” is the sole breadwinner in a family of eight; her husband is a bum (not in the Jack Kerouac “dharma bum” sense, though). Thus, she dreads her end-of-contract notification by the end of June. The brother of “Marites” has terminal cancer. She got the text message the moment she unpacked her luggage in her employer’s apartment in Kowloon. The women hold hands, started praying. Bless ‘em all. I, a hell-bound reporter for this newspaper you’re reading, made my way to a place with brighter, redder lights to get a beer or 10.

The next morning, I spot the same group on Chater Road in Central Hong Kong along with an entire constellation of our kababayans (15,000-strong), waiting for the prusisyon to commence. A procession that is precisely in honor of, as the event host would say, “our modern-day Filipino heroes.” Liza, Rose and Marites are beaming with delight. This, after all, is their party. “Kuya Egan!” they exclaim, remembering the crowfeather-haired dude in black they shared their stories with in the heart of a Saturday night.

Yes, you read it right. Juan or Juana dela Cruz would think for a moment that he or she is back in, say, Samar or Isabela and the fiesta fineries — the dramatis personae, the food, the props, and the prayed-for good weather — have all been accounted for. And the only thing needed is a good stretch of road to walk and remember the blessings, the bountiful harvest; also to pray for deliverance from the evils of our age. And Chater Road is where Pinoys usually congregate on a Sunday to, well, chat and catch up on the lives of compatriots.   

Flowers, check. Religious icons, check. Comic relief courtesy of Pinoy television stars Pokwang and the tandem of Jose (Manalo) & Wally (Bayola) of Eat Bulaga, double-check. Dance numbers, hell yeah! Everything is in place for “Alay: A Tribute Festival for the HK Filipino Community.” The special event is Ayala’s thanksgiving to Filipino migrant workers, and this is the third year that Ayala Corporation, Ayala Land, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), and Globe Telecom have come together as One Ayala to reach out to our sisters and brothers in good ole HK. Special guests include the Philippines’ consul general to Hong Kong Noel Servignon, Ayala managing director and group head for corporate resources John Philip Orbeta, and BPI president Cezar “Bong” Consing and executive vice president Antonio Paner, and BPI International Finance Ltd. managing director Jojo Salvan.

In the first two years, the Ayala group partnered with the Consulate General of the Philippines in Hong Kong and Filipino organizations to commemorate Philippine Independence Day for special events “Lakbay ng Kalayaan” and “Isang Hibla, Isang Bansa,” respectively. The first one engaged Filipino groups in reenacting historical events that led to Philippine Independence; the second one featured musical and theatrical performances as well as a Jose Rizal-inspired walking tour of Hong Kong and an exhibition of photographs by Jaime Zobel on Philippine weavers.

Sonia Zerrudo of Wimler Foundation Hong Kong Ltd. Explains, “Last year, we had theaters-on-the-street. Central Hong Kong became alive. Seven spots that had something to do with Rizal, nilagyan namin ng small play.” She adds that one of the Filipinos-in-Hong-Kong orgs even train household service workers to become cultural historical guides, even running Jose Rizal tours. “We take people on a Heritage Hong Kong journey infused with Philippine history.

The third One Ayala’s a charm. And it’s not just a case of throwing a street party full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Ayala’s JP Orbeta explains, “One Ayala presents a strong synergy point for Ayala, Ayala Land, Globe, and Bank of the Philippine Islands to look into the growing needs of our customers in the international market.  While we aim to raise awareness for products and services of Filipinos living and working abroad, every One Ayala (event) seeks to promote Filipino heritage, history, and culture in their respective communities.”

Orbeta amplifies, “And it is important that our interaction goes beyond marketing or selling. We try to educate and guide our kababayans in areas of financial literacy and investments. They work  hard for their families and it helps to share knowledge to guide them in managing their resources or earnings.”   

So, you know your Star Wars and Star Trek mythologies, or how many clutch plays LeBron James wove on the road to the NBA Finals, or what violations would be slapped by the MMDA once Dan Brown decides to go joyriding in Manila. You’re a genius in terms of pop culture, but how knowledgeable are you about Filipino fiestas, their key components and genealogies? What’s the reason behind Agoo’s vegetable ensemble of sitaw blouses and kalabasa bras? Why is the scarecrow the leading bogeyman in Isabela’s Bambanti Festival? Why do Cagayan women dance in cornhusk skirts, while the Ilonggos gyrate in fiery black? How will Pokwang fare as Reyna Elena?

Standing here near Statue Square and watching the ongoing parade, I am being schooled by our kababayans dressed in their hometown best.

Representatives of 12 Filipino organizations (from Abante Cagayanos Hong Kong to Migrant Ilonggo Group International, from the United Northern Samar Association in Hong Kong or UNSAH to Leyte Achievers Club) are carrying small Sto. Niño statues, dancing on the streets and restaging their respective regional celebrations — Dinagyang, Sinulog, Sandugo, Sillag, Bacao, and Dinengdeng, among others. Maypoles make a cameo appearance, lending an international flavor to the event. (And fittingly enough according to one of the Ayala peeps, the parada started near the Prada shop along Chater Road.)

Today’s roadside attractions are booths that feature the handiwork and resourcefulness of our countrymen working abroad. They arrived at the venue as early as 7 a.m. to start building festival booths on modest seed money and limited time, using straw, cardboard, wooden doilies, plastic flowers and what-have-you. And these people have done — let me squeeze in a throwback moment — a MacGyver, resulting in warm, kaleidoscopic tones of home: from Pahiyas to Panagbenga to Mais Festivals.

I admit there are lots of things I (and even you, dear readers) don’t know about our own country in terms of the Philippines’ rich cultural traditions. A great thing that overseas Filipino workers — with the assistance of One Ayala and its co-presenter Wimler Foundation — constantly remind us that home… definitely… is where the fiesta is.

* * *

The event is presented by One Ayala and Wimler Foundation, co-presenter Globe partner CSL, sponsors Air Asia and Duty Free Philippines.

In June One Ayala will also hold a thanksgiving event for the first time in Singapore — organized in cooperation with the Philippine Embassy and Singapore Telecom — where Ayala Land president Antonio Aquino and John Philip Orbeta are expected to meet with a group of Filipino migrant workers.

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