By Joel T. Fagsao
The bungled rescue of the August hostage taking incident of a tourist bus resulting in the death of eight HK nationals came at a worst time. I was already scheduled for a September 22 trip to the land of Jacky Chan-my favorite artist in the Kung Fu genre. It was like (how I felt) getting into the hornet’s nest. I had this passport throwing scenario playing in my mind as I boarded Cathay Pacific-I would have loved taking PAL but the impending strike of flight attendants forced me to take the HK flag carrier. Things have changed since my last visit there in 1994. The Chek Lap Kok airport is an engineering feat. It sits on reclaimed land and is huge, as seen from my window seat. I felt the jitters as I followed Taiwanese nationals at the immigration counter. That’s it, I forgot to fill in the arrival card so I was told to fill it and do it on the side with a wrist wave. I did not want to come into conclusions of a rude welcome but somehow, the formal look immigration officers wore on their faces were on display for all arriving visitors. Nevertheless, I got only one question- why are you traveling alone? Sounds difficult- shall I just answer “major major?” Domestic helpers went on a different line. At least when passengers started filling up the lines, new immigration counters was immediately opened. HK is not without its commitment to get you to your destination from point A to point B in a jiffy. The legendary Metro Rail Transit has opened an airport line called the Airport Express. For 570 pesos, it gets you to Central (HK’s center point) in 30 minutes or less. I was met by Romar Sapla- your kailians (town-mates) would always be there in any place in the world.
In Tin-Hau where I was billeted, the Chinese owner greeted me in Filipino- lumaki ako sa Manila. So there, talk about centuries of trade with the Chinese. As a side trip, I met with the members of the Mountain Province HK OFW groups. It was a statutory holiday on September 23 and so we gathered at a park. I extolled on them to look into having one’s own business- something to look forward to when they finally call it quits. It was also a worst time; the peso has gone stronger- further eroding the exchange rate of their hard earned money. The discussions rolled in as to what businesses they can set up in Mountain Province. It was a matter of interest, skills, and the entrepreneurial mind set –the ability to fill a need of people in a certain area. One OFW quipped; can our government do something about the importation of vegetables from China? “I was into vegetable-raising, sadly we can’t compete with bigger, better looking vegetables from China, the lady said.” I prodded her to set sights on organic gardening and target a steadily growing market of health conscious Filipinos.
At lunch, I asked them if they have had encounters with government agencies-paying them a visit- aside from the Philippine embassy, they all answered in the negative. I asked if the skills training programs of the government reached them in HK, they too answered none at all. “And how about entrepreneurial development programs,?” I asked, “None at all,” they said. Save for some skills trainings at the Bayanihan Center- the OFWs were pretty much left on their own. It is at this point, that I try again to comprehend why we call them our modern day heroes. When they remit 20 billion dollars to the local economy each year, they should get at least something out of this- from our government.
I went sentimental and told them that the beginnings of Xijen College of Mountain Province was a result of money sent from my wife Helen, who worked in HK as a domestic helper in the late 80’s. I wanted to inspire them and let them realize that we can still create our own opportunities. The discussions lasted for some hours, questions about how to start a business, getting into businesses they are interested in. I got all their numbers and e-mail addresses- to continue assisting them online. Some familiar faces have been there since my last visit in the former British colony, I asked why they are not coming home- “well, you gave us something to look forward too, we are giving it some serious thought.., expect us to start our businesses soon..,” the ladies chorused.
The next day, I was on my own, but you don’t get lost in HK. Just hop into their MRT, purchase a tourist pass- you can use on the train all day- saves you –having to purchase single journey tickets every time. Then pick up a tourist brochure- they really are tourism oriented, as you see brochures displayed in strategic places. I decided to take a different route- do away with shopping (not much funds anyway) and feed your mind with the cultural and heritage sites. A must see is the HK Museum of History- the sprawling building puts you into several phases of HK’s history starting with the pre-historic age up to modern day HK. I stayed there for four hours- immersed in objects of exhibit and reinforced with audio and video presentations of the phases of HK’s growth. It was an exhausting day. (More next issue).