“YOUR country is a paradise. It is a rare gem in this planet.” The guy is Robert Russel (58 years old, ex-U.S. marine). I met him at a coffee shop inside the mall. He saw me spreading the brochure of Negros Occidental given by Raymund Alunan. In three hours, I would be met by a tour operator friend who wants me to prepare a package for heritage tour.
Our conversation was cordial. He started telling me that he is in the Philippines for almost two months. He visited some tourist destinations in the country … Dacuycuy Farms in Cauayan, Sinking Bell Tower of Laoag, Sandbox in Porac, Balay Cena Una in Legaspi, Ugong Rock in Palawan, Kawasan Canyoneering in Cebu, Doot Poktoy in Tandag, and now he is in Bacolod to end his Negros tour.
“I can stretch my dollar in your country. You have the best food … not expensive, and I love the weather. I stayed longer in Sipalay.” He added, “Filipinos are friendly and they love to drink. They love to have blow-out everyday.” He ordered for another cup of coffee to catch up with my first cup. The “tourism-in-me” just popped up. “You like my country. What are the things that you don’t like?”
He smiled sheepishly and looked at my eyes. “Your public markets are dirty. You may not be aware that you buy your food there. I see rats and cockroaches having their tours even when there are many people around. The market toilets are dirty and smell abysmal. Anybody can just spit anywhere. Some gentlemen urinate in the corners. The fish is just displayed on top of the table without ice box.”
He is brutally frank by telling me that in some places traffic flow is really a problem. “The motorists seem not to understand traffic rules. Many vehicles are parking in the wrong place and the traffic enforcers are tolerating them. These are good cars and I am sure that the owners are rich. In my country, erring drivers are apprehended … rich or poor.”
“You do not have smoking areas. Anybody can just smoke in your park. Even inside government buildings, some are smoking. I was once a marine. I smoke but I could not afford to smoke in public. There should be a kind of discipline. Well, I am not surprised, your vehicles are smoke-belching. You are not particular about it. I love to stay inside your big malls. People do not smoke here.”
“Do you find our country peaceful?” I asked. He laughed like a child. Generally, Filipinos are peace-loving. It is only your president and senators who are quarreling. I read them in the papers. Your president hates my president. Your president speaks grotty words even children are listening (on TV). He is amused. “I think many Filipinos make fun of your president. He is always changing his mind.”
Mr. Russel seemed to enjoy talking to me. “I also read in the papers that some of your policemen here are drug protectors. They are involved in illegal drug trade together with your politicians, and even your lady senator. “There are also drugs in America coming from Mexico or South America but our government is strict on this.”
He told me that he is planning to go to Kanlaon for a climb. I advised him to secure a permit from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “I just don’t know if I have more time. I am also worried about the presence of guerillas in the countryside (referring to NPAs). I was once a soldier and I do not want to be mistaken as a spy or CIA agent. I am a private citizen now who enjoys my pension.”
“My government (US Government) is also absurd. Donald Trump won as president. I did not vote for him. Many Americans are clamoring, especially the businessmen. We cannot understand his foreign policy. He wants to befriend Russia. We do not want Putin. Putin loves to invade. I do not want that America will go to war again, not even the Cold War.”
I intended to ask him about China but he stood up to meet a lady … dark brown, five inches, and thin. “Oh, this is Maila. I met her in your paradise and she’s with me.” The girl spoke shyly, “Maayong buntag”. (I presumed that she is from Cebu.) They went out of the coffee shop (both holding hands). I told myself, “The Philippines is really a paradise.”
Robert Russel is just one of the visitors coming to our country … spending his money as a tourist. Asean delegates are here now. I know that they will also see what Robert saw. I hope that they will also find something good in our paradise.