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Tour of duty |

Young Star

Tour of duty

- Armi Millare -

MANILA, Philippines - It took us roughly three hours to land in Saigon. Usually, I prepare myself for trips out of the country, especially if I’ve never been there before. I make sure that I’ve got everything planned and put together, from my wardrobe down to where I want to go to eat. But I don’t know what got into me this time around: I had forgotten to call my provider and apply for a roaming service, my clothes did not make it from the laundry, and I had absolutely no idea which country we were going to, except that the lotus flower was their national flower and that the band and I were to do two shows in front of a presumably foreign crowd.

I was so out of it knowing that we were going to be traveling without our manager — like a gaggle of geese without our dearest gander. (He had to do business on the night of our first show in Saigon.) It was off-putting, to say the least. Memories of our first show outside of the Philippines came welling up. That was in Hong Kong in 2007 and I could swear that I felt like an earthquake bound up in jeans, my stage fright upped by 342 percent. So that being the case, the thought of going overseas — minus the bear who solely rooted for us when we were starting out in Manila — was crippling.

It was hot during the daytime. Unbelievably. When the boys and I walked around to get something to eat, we were practically drenched in our own sweat. We bought fresh spring rolls from the street served by the cook, her bare hands all covered in magic peanut sauce glory.

Right after, we headed back to the hotel to get ready to go to the venue, Vasco’s, which was set within a former colonial opium factory. Upon arriving, we saw that the entire first floor was empty. Two people outside smoking, and that was it. But the moment we reached the hall leading to the bar, the place was packed. We could barely breathe and my knees started shaking.

By my estimate, there were only three groups of Filipinos that night in attendance. The first was composed of friend/artist Hannah Liongoren and co., a basketball coach and friends who recently moved to Vietnam, and us. The rest were clusters of expats from all over the world. They were all quiet at first — you could imagine hearing crickets after our first song. Eventually, they danced to the rest of our set, made up of songs mostly sung in Filipino.

Due to the heat, we didn’t really get to go around that much and experience all of Saigon. We took the first flight out to Hanoi the next day, straight to the hotel and to the concert grounds to sound-check for the Fourth Hanoi International Music Festival or CAMA (

Hanoi was more the quaint, more provincial side of Vietnam with small shops on the side and infested with motorbikes with a ratio of 10:1 over cars. Confused by the currency exchange, our elation at finding ourselves suddenly becoming millionaires in Viet Nam Dong was short-lived. Our first meal was 842,000 VND. Each transaction thereafter challenged our math skills and ate into our (newly-found) fortunes.

The gig, however, was a success. I had to give a shout-out before the last Tagalog song saying, “It would really be great if you all understood what I’m about to sing — where are the Filipinos here in Hanoi?” One guy raised his hand.

We always tell ourselves to give it our all during for every performance — you never know who’s watching or listening to you. Following this simple rule, you’ll most likely succeed or at very least please yourself — your own worst critic. It’s always worked and tonight was no exception. We were called back up onstage to play one last song, and more and more people came closer toward us, grooving to our music.

Unfortunately, we had no time to be tourists. We were there to work, share the music with a new crowd and make them realize that there’s more to the Philippines than huts and tarsiers; that we have what it takes to be heard, even for just a few minutes. Though we did have a lot of time on our hands, we spent it on rest, performances, airports and street food in varying order. But if there’s one thing I’d recommend to the casual traveler/serious gastronome, do not miss the Banh-Mi for anything: a baguette with vegetables, herbs, liver pate, pork sausage, vinegar and a special sauce sold in the streets. That’s one thing I could eat forever.

It’s best to enter into a new country without expectations, that way nothing becomes a disappointment. Vietnam looked beautiful to me. So much that I would come back to see how it’s doing — when it’s a little colder, I suppose. Its charm lies beyond what I had seen: booming businesses, buildings under construction and people walking their dogs while on their scooters. I know there’s more to the place than what I experienced this time round. I’m sure I’ll be back for more. After all, every compelling story has to have a magnificent introduction. It’ll be worth returning just to know the rest of the tale.

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