Balikbayan Shock!

It’s been almost two weeks since this Pinay arrived in the Philippines, thank heavens her “Balikbayan shock” has subsided a bit.What is this “balikbayan shock”?Every homecoming Juan, Maria or Pedro has gone through it. It’s supposed to last for several days before finally re-adapting to the Philippine environment.So what are these things that shocked her?

The climate
It’s so humid in Manila! She wouldn’t have mind the sun’s blazing heat, after all, she’s been living in a continent which worships the sun to high heavens! The sun is what drives a European to leave his/her country of birth for a share of sunny Spain, southern France or most of Italy.
But in fairness, I dare any Filipino to go to Malaysia, Thailand or worst, Sri Lanka, and he will forever be grateful that he is living in the Philippines. Its humidity is average as compared to all these three countries. (But if we are talking about “progress”, that’s another story!)

The Texting mania
For the love of Adam, how can all these kids type, with only their thumb (and sometimes their left thumb! I swear i saw my right-handed nephew doing it this morning!) at such an unbelievable speed! Sure, they also do texting in Europe, but not as bad as here! In France, they tend to talk more on their mobile phones, which is just as annoying, especially when they are on the Metro. They don’t care if everybody around them are forced to eavesdrop on what they are chatting about. Which reminds me… the news that Emirates Airlines will soon allow mobile phone use inside their aircraft while airborne is really bad news! Of course, we still long for peace and quiet even while travelling 30,000 feet above!

I cannot fathom why, most kids of today, from 10 – 21, own a mobile phone, sometimes two (yes, two units!) …. endlessly tapping the keys, from morning till night, and even in their sleep! And when that tiny gadget rings, even if you have just heard them snoring, they will suddenly jerk, read their text message and start tapping on the spot!

the Telenovela culture
nearly all day long, lasting till late at night, GMA and ABS-CBN are showing an endless battery of soap operas! how can our government allow that? wait, i should ask, “how can parents allow that?”

but you know, if these are the only shows available on our two highly-rated free channel TV stations, then we are without doubt producing a generation of dumb Filipinos. Hello! are our students still studying? can we have a balanced type of programming please? one wherein we can watch educational shows, historical documentaries, artistic and cultural programs, travel shows showcasing the beauty of every barangay or province, and oh, so as not to be labeled a “killjoy”, then, a telenovela or two (UK has Coronation Street, France has Plus Belle La Vie).

And why can’t we follow other countries where they ban the advertisement of cigarettes and alcohol?

Did you know that in the UK and in France, each home that owns a television set is obliged to pay an annual TV license to the government. The government in turn distributes this fund among the different “free-to-air” TV stations on the condition that they (TV) have to dedicate a fixed percentage of their total programming towards children’s educational shows, cultural shows, science-related documentaries, etc. Well, i am not saying that we should pay for a tv license. But this system ( they also practice it in the US) works excellently well! Also, we won’t have to be bombarded by too much TV advertising!

the Pinoy Dream Academy

Call me “jologs” (a word i just learned from my pamangkin) but i can shout to high heavens that this show is a poor copycat of my favorite Star Academy in France! but when I discovered that Endemol, the same producer for StarAc France is also a co-producer of PDA.. hummm.. I am not surprised why most of the scripted activities of the “students” are exactly the same as what I have watched in France before I came home.

The Food
But despite all of the above, I would like to say that the Philippines is still on the top of my food heaven list! No genre of French or Italian cuisine or other gastronomical wonders could equal that of our native concoction of ampalaya, saluyot, our very own recipe of grilled bangus, sitsarong baboy, tinolang manok, litsong baboy, fishballs….. the list is endless! the kakaning Pinoy alone is a delight to nibble! (French patisserie is of a different league!).
Hey, my daily diet consists of everything fish! …… bangus, galunggong, tilapia……the taste is simply out of this world! Fish in Europe is bland! besides they are ridiculously overpriced! The most expensive, for one kilo, can already buy you a return ticket to HongKong, how’s that! Incredible but it’s true! Besides, consummable fish in Europe will soon become among the endengeared species list! flagrant overfishing by big companies who use huge industrial machines to vacuum practically all the fish in the ocean!
If only we could export some of our best seafoods to Europe, that could be our niche in conquering the European market.
Our more than 7,000++ islands give us the edge among other Asian countries.
As fish in Europe is food for the Rich, i always tell my European friends that fish in the Philippines is food for the Poor!

The young Filipino
And finally, …..may I say that i just love observing our youth of today. Everytime i go to the mall, I can’t help but notice how they are becoming more and more fashion-conscious, dressing like any ordinary European in the summer! although i wish Pinays wear more of the skirt than the overused “maong”. And most of them are still slim, despite the proliferation of fastfoods.

As to business, there are certainly an increasing number of entrepreneurs around. Countless business stands than the last time i was here. Eateries, food carts, even travel agencies advertising cheap flights to the islands, DIY shops.. and many more!

In Dubai, thousand and one night come out from the dunes

 (Excerpts translated from Paris Match, Special Anniversary Issue (November 2006)

The only limit: the heavens.

In Dubai, even the sea shrinks in the desire to build always farther, always taller. Forty years ago, it was only a small fishing port. The discovery of oilfields, in 1967, changed the card, transformed this territory of 4,000 sqkm into a wealthy city and decided to spew out from the sand buildings and ultramodern highways. Out of the seven united Arab emirates, Dubai is the only one who had anticipated, very rapidly, that its reserves of black gold is not eternal. And to prepare its reconversion into an incontrovertible economic crossroads. Day and night, workers construct towers, tourist complexes and shopping centres that never cease beating all world records of luxury and excesses. Expatriates from all countries of the world are there, constituting 85% of the population. In Dubai, there is the sun, the sea, all the comforts of a western city, and no taxes. Millions of tourists flock there. To witness what became of a plain desert out of the craziest dreams of the capitalists.The portraits of Dubai change so rapidly. Faster than mobile phones. The city of world records transforms itself faster than we write.

The airport for example.
Planes of nearly 100 airline companies from all countries of the world touch down there. Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport easily passes off as a domestic terminal. One comes out exhausted having to walk around as many corridors and to parade infront of as many boutiques. But then, Dubai Airport is already obsolete! Soon, an expansion will make it the biggest airport in the world, 120 million passengers, surpassing that of any American hub or London Heathrow.

Another example? Last autumn, the Mall of Emirates, the world’s first shopping center (550,000 sqm) was inaugurated with 7,000 parking spaces. But today, it is already outmoded. The future Dubai Mall has already promised to be the biggest with parking space for 16,000 cars. Its opening is already planned for 2007 but hardly the drawing plans for this project are put in place that is has already been surpassed by the Mall of Arabia, much bigger, a pharaonic project, set in Dubailand. Five billion dollars and 45 theme parks. Extending to 186 sqkm, just the parks alone will double the entire surface of the city. There will be a real mountain, real ski slopes, real polar bears, under one dome.

Under construction is the tallest building in the world…Burj Dubai…height is still secret but talks are rife that it will reach 800 m as against that of Taipei101 of 509 meters… 18 months to its completion, it is already an icon, at least by the speed of its construction. An entire floor is added every four days, there are already 160 with an elevator capable of reaching the 138th floor in one go. It would have taken only 5 years from conception to completion. Night is like day where 3,000 Asian labourers are like ants continuously working in shifts to erect this building.

After the towers of Babel built in the sand, the tallest skycrapers in the world of which we still dont know up to where it will rise. The city and its port are permanently under construction.

In 30 years, this small emirate has invaded the sea to become the Las Vegas of Arabia. The Palm Jumeirah, extension of Dubai to the sea, started construction 5 years ago and will be welcoming, starting December, its first residents. The biggest artificial island in the world, its shape ressembles that of a date palm. It is visible from outer space.

In this small area of only 4,000 sqkm (4/5th the size of Cebu), it has to find a place. The sea. Again a record. Dubai possesses the biggest artificial port in the world. And artificial island as residence of the ultrachic… the Palm Jumeirah, a project of 1.3 billion usd. Villas priced at 1.3 million usd each were sold in just three days.

But the most beautiful will have to see the light of day in 2008: The World, 300 artificial islands, for a planisphere reproduction of our planet, 8 km in length and width. Each island has the contour of a country. Half of them have already been sold, majority to foreigners – who didn’t have the right to own properties in Dubai until 2002. Price of each between 15 and 40 million USD. The price of the villa is not yet included in the price. Rod Stewart has already bought the island of Great Britain for 33 million dollars. The small countries are badly represented but it’s normal. who will struggle to buy Rwanda? Obviously, there is no trace of Israel (You don’t enter Dubai with an Israeli passport)

Dubai houses the entire world. Here, one can gaze at the skycrapers which dwarf those in New York, ski like in the Alpes even if it’s 50degC outside, play in luxurious golf courses in the middle of the desert, gamble in casinos the Las Vegas way – even though Islam prohibits gambling.

Built of glass, steel, solar panels, all the buildings are competing in height, if not, in ingenuity… From the clouds, it’s a halo of unbelievable lights. By comparison, Las Vegas is a mere 60 watts!

And soon, Falconcity of Wonders putting in one place the reproductions of the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the hanging gardens of Babylon, the Pharoah of Alexandria, the pyramid of Giza…

One of Dubai’s pride is still the Burj Al Arab, the tallest hotel in the world, 127 floors at 321 meters. Its 230 luxury suites has given it the right to proclaim itself 7-star. The smallest room measures 170 sqm and the biggest…800 sqm. Bathrooms in marble and water faucets in gold are obviously obligatory. All this has a price.. from 1,200 to 10,000 euros per night. A stone’s throw away, another palace, the Madinat Jumeirah which extends to 43 hectares.

This complex of Arabic style comprises two 5* hotels, villas at 6,500 usd per night, a souk with 75 boutiques, restaurants, theatres. Three kilometers of canals allowing the circulation of “Abras” (traditional boats). To refresh, one of the biggest swimming pools ever dugged at 2,500 sqm. Dubai is also equipped with eleven 18-hole golf courses which are sprinkled with million cubic metres of desalinated water. Moreover, Dubai absorbs 4 times more water than the global average.

At the turn of the century, Dubai had only 10,000 habitants. Now it totals more than 1 million, 85% of which are expatriates. And its objective is to attract 15 million tourists each year.

The aim of Dubai is clear: to become, not the Las Vegas of the Middle East but more the Monaco of the desert. …… Dubai is certainly a city, vast and eccentric, but there is nothing much to do there.
The night clubs…. Prostitutes are more numerous than the dunes. And liquor is only prohibited one day per year, that of the birthday of the Prophet. And only from 6am to 6pm.