Thursday, April 26, 2007

Organize your own tours to local places

Before the ascent to Mount Pulag's Park Superintendent Emerita Albas, aka Pasu, always gives trekkers an audio-visual presentation on proper mountain and wildlife decorum, the dos and don'ts of trekking in a national park and an introduction of the features and demographics of Mount Pulag. She gives stern warning not to give anything (money, food, things) to the ethnic residents lest they are reduced to being treated as beggars and would eventually become beggars. She emphasizes the need to respect the environment and culture and preserve its beauty. Except for souvenir t-shirts, they do not attempt to sell us anything or give instructions on what to buy and from whom.

I learned a lot about Mount Pulag, the provinces around it and the inhabitants of the place, their way of life, beliefs, taboos and many others. That briefing gave us the confidence to move on and enjoy the mountains and sunrise. All 200 climbers at that time came home knowledgeable about Mount Pulag and proud of our heritage.

On the other hand…

When we toured the Ilocos last month under Engrande Tours, our tour guide had scant knowledge about the places we visited and the places along the way from Manila to Pagudpod and back. She said that she was asked to accompany us the day before and that she only operates in Fort Santiago, Manila. Well, she regaled us with her life as a gay while in the bus. In Laoag, Ilocos Norte, we were simply told to wake up early for the trip to Pagudpod the next day. We were not advised on what to see, where to eat (outside the hotel). Why is it that where they bought us to shop, the prices are always much higher than other places?

In our wandering about the Ifugao Province last weekend, again with Engrande, our seemingly uninformed tour guide lazily told us, by way of briefing: that we are visiting Banaue rice terraces, the 8th wonder of the world; that we must buy a lot (and, giggling, added so that they will earn more commissions); that we must tip the locals when we pose with them for pictures; that we must not haggle because the locals think badly of Filipino tourists who haggle to death, they love foreigners who readily pay their stated price; and that we must go only to designated places for dining and shopping (why kaya?) and wear our IDs all the time. I noticed from the pictures that the tour guides did not wear their IDs.

They brought us to Bangaan Village in Mayoyao. Some in our group of about 33 gave junk food to the children; one gave money. At first we were excited about visiting a local village with authentic ethnic residents. We walked down and along layered rice fields with cameras clicking every step of the way. Then my first disappointment came when I asked an old man to pose with me for a souvenir picture and he said, "May bayad." Of course, you have to also pay Php100-150 for about 5 minutes of use of their native dress for picture-taking purposes.

I truly appreciate Pasu and her group for their farsighted view of tourism in Mount Pulag and their deep concern and respect for the ethnic residents and the whole place. The Engrande tour guides are looking only at the here and now. They think they are being "charitable" because "nakakaawa naman sila" when, in fact, she is actually destroying their self-esteem and cultivating a culture of entitlement and begging.

I learned nothing about the places and the people we visited with Engrande. I only remember things that I saw and were captured by my camera. Our Department of Tourism has a lot of job to do reorienting the values of these tour guides and educating them about our rich history, the features and demographics of different parts of our beautiful country and the significance of our storied landmarks. Imagine, instead of telling us why the Banaue rice terraces is considered an international historic civil engineering landmark by both the Philippine Institute and American Society of Civil Engineers, it was introduced to us as "this is where Dayanara Torres stood to look at the rice terraces." Ngek!

On the way home, Espie Diega announced, "to your right is Mount Pulag." I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing the mountain from a different perspective so I scrambled to transfer to a seat to the right of the running bus, only to see so many mountains. Now which is Mount Pulag? I did not bother to ask.

If you ask me, organize your own tours via the internet or DOT—much cheaper and no need to wait for 32 others to use the bathroom at the gasoline station.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Cleanse and strengthen our collective spirit

One of the thoughtful things I heard from a TV correspondent about the horrible campus shootings at Virginia Tech is that "The dead are not just students. They are friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, sisters, roommates, classmates, brothers, cousins, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, grandfathers." Indeed. Then in a deeper way, we could empathize and sympathize with the VT community members and the bereaved families. Let us offer our prayers for the dead and the grieving.

While we look back to the root of the problem, let's also focus on moving on and facing the future. Joan Baez once said, "You don't get to choose how you're going to die, or when. You can only decide how you're going to live."

These have happened before in different parts of the globe. It could happen again not only in the school, workplace, church, mall, airport, and many others. And these dastardly acts didn't just happen; they are products of broken self-esteem and lack of faith that nibbled at the soul slowly through a period of time, nurtured by an uncaring and permissive culture.

What to do to cleanse our environment and strengthen our collective spirit? In Self & Soul, Adele Wilcox wrote, "In her 1996 book, It Takes a Village, First Lady Hilary Rodham Clinton contends that raising children encompasses both parental and societal responsibility. Ms. Clinton defines the village as the network of values and relationships that support and affect our lives. These can be either positive or negative. Consequently, the village, or society, influences children immeasurably, and our cultural values permeate formative minds. Parents have only a limited amount of control over what their children absorb from outside. The village's influence will seep in. As the village goes, so goes the child."

Define personal our life purpose and move towards fulfilling it. A meaningful purpose gives us a different perspective and attitude towards our job and life.

Engage only in life-enhancing work. Work that destroys life consumes our soul also. Work that tears us apart from our family or deprives us time with them destroys the very thread of society that binds us all. Let us shun away from work that forces us to go against ethics and common decency and business that might destroy persons' and families' value system.

Stay upbeat and positive. There is so much to life. As I gallivant around Benguet Province, the Ilocos Region (and as you are reading this I am in Sagada and Banaue), I notice how people who live the simple life have much more positive worldview and satisfying relationships. Pagudpod seems to be a God-forsaken town to a true-blue ManileƱa like me, but the people there are a happy lot. I have not seen anybody with worry lines on their faces and their smiles are much wider; their laughter, much spontaneous. Maybe they don't watch Pinoy Big Brother and, ergo, don't get riled by Wendy schemes and pretenses.

Eliminate the negative habit of worry. Worry does not solve any problem; on the other hand, it aggravates them. Ms. Wilcox writes that worry is derived from an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning "to choke." So every time you worry, you are putting your hands around your neck choking yourself. If anyone in your life is physically, sexually or extremely emotionally abusive, leave immediately. Corporate leaders need to watch out for these abusive people and do something about them. They ignored Cho Seung-Hui.

Finally, let's live beyond ourselves. Doing for others with no expectation of personal gain is key to well-being and spiritual development. Ms. Wilcox says, "Our spirituality and self-esteem begins within ourselves but continue to grow when lived out in relationship." Let's influence others with our goodness.

As the village goes, so goes your business. It is imperative for business to take concrete steps towards cleansing and strengthening the collective spirit in their own organizations, where people spend most of their active time.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Enjoy summer while saving the earth

Faye Corcuerra, like many other moms, are scouting around for events, workshops and other activities their children can engage in during this long hot summer.

Why not save the earth? Let me count the ways:
  • Plant a tree. In five years, you could enjoy their fruits or flowers (e.g. ylang-ylang) and, everyday, the refreshing shade and fresh oxygen they provide.
  • Grow your own veggies, herbs and flowers in discarded cans, milk and cereal cartoons or plastic bags; just be sure that they could hold one quart of moist soil and you poke holes at the bottom so water could drain out.
  • Recycle all kinds of paper—boxes, writing papers, bags, newspapers and others except those shiny or plastic laminated papers. You may also collect bottles, aluminum cans, copper wires and others. When you gather enough sell them to a recycling center.
  • Adopt a piece of the earth. Divide your yard into the number of people in your household and assign responsibility for taking care of their piece of real estate to each member of your family. It is daunting to be assigned to sweep the whole yard every morning; it is easier to take care of a small piece. Take pictures of the before and after of your adopted land and appreciate what you have done.
  • Learn and enjoy riding a bike, scooter or skates. Encourage each other to walk instead of using your car to go somewhere near.
  • Go leak hunting. Celebrate Easter this whole summer but instead of eggs, go find leaks in your water and electric system. If you have air conditioning, look for air leaks around windows and doors. Unplug any electrical thingamajig that is not being used and turn off lights when not needed. Read near a window or in your yard. Parents could teach the kids how to read the water and electric meters.
  • Take the number of times each of you open the refrigerator and impose penalties for those who open the door more than 3 times a day. You will not only save energy, you will also deter unnecessary snacking.
  • Talk about global warming and how to protect the rainforests, barrier reefs, etc. Surf the internet for materials and prepare a slide or video presentation; use as discussion theme during family gathering and bonding time. The kids could learn not only about caring for the environment but also about preparing and making presentations, emceeing, planning a program and others. Parents can act as mentors and coach.
  • Organize a litter drive in and around your house. Let the kids make attractive garbage cans or baskets or bags from recyclable materials and put them in strategic locations in your house. Encourage everybody to put trash in the garbage bag. The cleanest room or adopted piece of earth gets a prize.
  • Build a bath, feeder and nest for birds. Soon enough you will enjoy the company of birds and be treated to their musical interlude. For the bath use ceramic or plastic bowl that can hold 2 inches of water and hang it up high. For the nest, use carton and dried grass of leaves. String several unsalted peanuts still in their shells or orange peel and hang them from up high and birds will feed on them soon. Tip: birds also love peanut butter.
  • Take a bag wherever you go. When you swim in the beach or pool, climb a mountain, or simply go walking, take along a garbage bag and pick up the trash that you see lying around. No wonder Mt. Pulag is clean and neat, all our local guides and sherpas toted a bag with them and picked up any kind of litter they found along the way (probably carelessly thrown by uncaring climbers).
  • Find a new home for your old things. Summer is a good time as any to clean and clear your closets, drawers, dressers and those boxes under the bed. One man's garbage is another man's treasure. If there are things in your house that you have not used in the past two or three months and will not use anytime soon or don't want anymore—board games, clothes, school materials, shoes, sandals, sports things, ornaments, personal accessories, textbooks, toys and many, many others—collect them and donate them to the Red Cross, public library, public hospital or have a garage sale.
  • Precycle it! Don't buy anything that you will not use within a week. Don't buy anything in styrofoam or plastic. Bring your own basket or bag when you shop at the wet market or grocery. When you buy halo-halo, bring your own glass or jug. Reuse aluminum foil, paper and plastic bags, some food containers and many others.
There, that will keep your whole family busy the whole summer, do some bonding, fatten your family kitty while saving the earth.

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