Friday, March 7, 2014

Treasures amidst us

I have been an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) for quite some time. Like any other OFW, my main focus in life is to provide a bright future and comfortable life for my family. That was my way of thinking until I encountered the biggest trial an OFW would face.

In 2011, Arab Spring reached Yemen. There was continuous violence in Sana’a City, its capital. Fighting between government forces and protesters has resulted to loss of many lives.

Because of this, our government raised the travel alert to Yemen from level 2 to alert level 4 which was mandatory evacuation. Several of my fellow Filipinos lost their jobs since they were not able to return to work. They were on vacation when the ban was implemented while the rest of us were on duty.

I faced a huge dilemma for I need to choose between the welfare and future of my family against my personal safety. I chose to stay with my job and prioritized my family; two of my kids were in college while the youngest was in high school at that time. In addition, I would definitely find it difficult to find another job that offers 28 days work and 28 days vacation.

In short, for more than a year, I wandered in several Asian countries during my monthly vacation; I wouldn’t dare step foot in any part of my country since I knew that our immigration officers would definitely not allow me to leave again since I have a valid Yemen Residence Visa.

Since I couldn’t go home during my vacation I started my wandering in Singapore and explored Sentosa Island by foot. I noticed that plenty of tourists were swimming and basking in the sunshine along the beach while huge commercial ships anchored a few miles away were blocking their view of the horizon. I pity them since I have seen far more stunning sea view while frolicking at the beaches of Pangasinan, Zambales and Quezon many years back.

During my wandering, my wife and I visited Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We were awed by those great French architectures such as Notre Dame and The Post Office. These landmarks are truly impressive but lacking compared to our centuries old baroque churches. It dawned upon me that we have plenty of old churches dotting our archipelago nurtured by the faithfuls since time immemorial. I suddenly felt an urge to visit some of them and admire their enduring strength which represents the resiliency of Filipino people.

Camp John Hay

When my wife and youngest kid visited me at Kuala Lumpur, I brought them to Genting Highlands, a famous theme park with hotels and casinos at the top of the mountain. It was their first time to ride a cable car making the trip unforgettable. Upon reaching the peak, we immediately explored both its indoor and outdoor amusement parks; a visit to Ripley’s Believe It or Not completed our day. Though the whole place is considered as engineering marvel, its beauty is superficial unlike our own Baguio City. It took us less than a day to fully enjoy this place while our first Baguio trip that lasted for 3D2N in 2011 wasn’t enough to enjoy its entirety. With a stab of longing, I vividly remember the stunning Mines View, smell of pine trees at Camp John Hay, perfectly green Botanical Garden and a sneak at creepy Teachers Camp, among others. In addition, we were transported back to the past while having lunch at 50’s Diner. Given a choice to re-visit between Genting Highlands and Baguio I would definitely choose the latter anytime. Moreover, compared to our previous family trips abroad, we were most happy during our trip to Baguio City. It marked a lasting impression to my being that nothing can replace those treasures we consider our own. We simply need something to remind us that we have great places that can be at par and to some extent better than the world’s bests.

Malacanang of The North

Thus, after the travel ban was lifted in 2012 and around 16 months of being away from home, I arranged a family trip to Ilocos province for 4D3N and celebrated Christmas at Vigan City before proceeding to Laoag City. The whole experience was simply indescribable. The surreal and eerie atmosphere of soundless and deserted Calle Crisologo during our late evening stroll, the majestic view of South China Sea on our way to Pagudpud, the overpowering structure of Bangui windmills, the time-trapped Paoay Church are just some of our awesome experiences in Ilocos province. I can’t imagine how much thrill and excitement my family and I can handle if we would have a chance to visit our entire country. In fact, we haven’t set foot yet at Boracay, Palawan, Cebu and Bohol though we have plans to visit them in the near future before my kids start searching their own places under the sun.

at work
Because of our Baguio trip I never thought that my perspective as an OFW would dramatically change. Admittedly, I learned that there are a few things in an OFW's life better than being a miser and a workhorse. 

Because of this we started 2014 by spending a night at Subic Bay. The family enjoyed their first dip on the sea. It was blissful for any Pinoy Dad to see his family chasing and riding those strong waves until after sunset. We had a great dinner afterwards and enjoyed the sea breeze while a live band was performing on a makeshift stage. Chilled drinks completed my day.

In one of my sweet moments with my wife, cuddling her while watching our favorite TV show, I mentioned that it was my ardent dream to drive from Luzon up to Mindanao before I retire from my work abroad. She was quiet for a few moments then asked “Alone?” I smiled.