AT lunch the other day in a popular restaurant near the pier, we were told that on that day alone, tour operators had cancelled reservations for at least 400 Chinese tourists. Obviously, the recent horrible experience of their compatriots in Manila has driven them to change travel plans.

We saw a group of about 20 Taiwanese nationals come in later but their mood was subdued. There was hardly any conversation in the two tables that they occupied and the little that they had was inaudible. The atmosphere was almost deathly quiet but for the tour guide and her staccato instructions (in Chinese, of course).

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The day before, I found myself in an elevator crammed with Japanese tourists. What if we suddenly found ourselves in a hostage situation, I muttered to a friend, Rolly Valderrama, rather insensitively. The reaction was quick: anxiety written in 10 pairs of eyes. I hurriedly stepped out on the next stop, feeling sorry and foolish.

The bloodbath near the Quirino Grandstand left nine dead but the number of victims is actually many hundred times more than that count. Think of the overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong. I still remember seeing them milling all over the Victoria Plaza during a brief visit in 2008, one of them calling down to us, “Kain tayo, kabayan” from the passageway where he was having lunch.

How are they coping with the backlash from national shame day?

Think of the other Filipinos abroad and how they have to bear with the newly acquired reputation of our nation’s capital as the laughingstock capital of the world. “We’re so ashamed,” a relative who left for the US a week before the carnage, moaned over the phone yesterday. “People we meet couldn’t seem to suppress a derisive smile when they learn where we’re from.”

And think about us. We are victims, too. We may not be looking at too many sneering faces but we are nevertheless ashamed. The mass murder happened in Manila but rightly or wrongly, we are lumped in the same category in Hong Kong’s travel ban. And from the look in the faces of the Japanese tourists in the elevator, we have become the portrait of the homo sapiens as hostage taker.

If this is a cross that we have to bear, we can’t let it rest on our shoulders too long. I spoke to Mayor Michael Rama the other night and told him that the Quirino Grandstand incident has opened a sort of window of opportunity for us, Cebuanos, to show to the world that we are different.

Let former Miss Universe Gloria Diaz laugh about our supposed inability to speak the English language correctly (although I would love to listen to her say in her quaint Tagalog accent, “every time I look at you, I can feel the tingle in my skin rise”) but yes, we are different because we are a peace-loving and God-fearing people.

Although Mike joked about a Cebuano (Lapu-Lapu) killing the first tourist (Magellan), he agreed that now, more than ever, we have to let people from other shores know we are hospitable to, and nurturing, of our guests.

That is the point of the exercise, he said, in empowering the local police to adequately respond to a similar moment of derangement as the one that gripped the hostage-taker in Manila. But the safety of our tourists should be the concern of every Cebuano, he said.

I’m sure he wasn’t making any reference to the incident in the elevator full of Japanese tourists. Still, I made a solemn vow to myself never to do that thing again. It was a major, major mistake.

(frank.otherside@yahoo.com)