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Abang Tony
@ smagkachisaboy

There should be nothing special about the Philippines, abang Tony George (or TG, for short) said matter-of-factly. EDSA 1? His people take pride in Mahathirs iron-fisted reforms. Makati? Hi-tech Kuala Lumpur towers over it. Boracay? They got at least four Boracays and he has be en to the top 10 beaches of the world one of which is in the Philippines and it is located in in Palawan, not in Aklan On and on, he stacked the cards up against my country which he perceives is going down the drain with its political turmoil and seemingly endless search for identity.

He is quick to point out, however, that Malaysia is not utopia, what with its past two racial wars, the sometimes ruthless Federal Reserve Units (FRUs), its occasional harsh treatment of prolific writer and political activist Cecil Rajendra who happens to be his cousin, and a host of the usual human foibles you would find flashed in the New Straits Times. But compared to the Philippines, Malaysia is a paradise.

Yet, he said hes definitely going to the Philippines -- lock, stock and barrel. And for that, his friends tell him hes nuts. For they say what is so special about a country which has historically tended to take pride in its Western heritage, instead of identifying itself more with its Asian sisters and brothers? Why leave a country which turned him into a jet-setter and a co-owner of a company, and which gave him two residences and a Ford pick-up truck? And if he is to leave why not set sights on Ireland where he spent his college days or at the Northern Territories of Australia where he has been so often?

Indeed. But he says theres just something about the Filipino people that discounts the odds stacked against choosing to live in the Philippines. It puzzles him when poor Filipino folks manage to find something to smile, laugh and joke about even in the face of adversity. It intrigues him seeing the Filipino masses display ultra-practicality in their frantic efforts to survive with scarce resources. It tickles him seeing the tricycles and the other teeny-weeny yet unique inventions of the Filipino mind, drawing materials from a garbage dump called necessity.

And it inspires him sensing a strong value system among Filipino families. He is touched when a mother, upon seeing her three-year old sleepy head stumble into her tiny, roadside carinderia (eatery), drops everything shes doing and embraces him all the while softly asking, What is it, my dear? Do you need anything? Have you eaten already? It means a lot to him noticing Filipina domestic workers in his country straining every nerve to earn and save just so they can send much-needed cash to their expectant families back home. Thats why he said, I will give medals to Filipino women Filipina mothers should be gi ven a Congressional Medal They need to be given more respect I will never cross my Filipina maid!

But why should these little scenes affect him so much? Well, he tells me in his own country many of those who are materially blessed wear long faces all the time and are often scared by a rumor of a stock market meltdown; many have lost their sense of initiative and creativity in their enjoyment of government dole-outs; busy parents seem unable to find time to cuddle their kids; many seem to have lost any interest in spiritual pursuits; and not a few people have everything yet paradoxically have nothing at all

And so after weighing his options, he is now planning to sell some properties, emigrate to the Philippines, use his expertise in agri-business and bio-security to help a few secure a sustainable form of livelihood, and help support some local missionaries overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of the harvest field.

It didnt matter if he will miss the smokeless Malaysian-made Proton cars, the absence of incessant honkings along the jalans, the serenity of his neighborhood at Petaling Jaya, the black garbage bags neatly stacked at the foot of trees and posts by the roadside unmolested by scavenging dogs and people, etc. What seemed to matter to him most is fully focusing on doing and experiencing things that really matter.

It was only a four-day visit to Petaling Jaya, but it meant for me and Aldous Echegoyen a lifetime of learning. Malaysias discipline and development made us salivate with envy and teary-eyed with grief over the squalor our country is in. The self-sufficiency of the 23-year old PJ Church of Christ made us yearn to see more indigenous and self-sustaining churches in the Philippines. Yes, there is more to tell. Perhaps, a book to write.

But we will have you know in this piece that during those five days, a church inspired us to sustain and develop our current local missionary efforts and a Malaysian brother treated us with respect and love and has also helped us have a deeper realization of having neglected to see, as it were, the beauty of the lotus flower atop the murky waters -- that we can be awed at the 1,483-foot Petronas Towers without forgetting that there is something about the Filipino spirit that towers above that stainless steel-clad skyscraper.

And for this we are grateful to Salvador and Tony for making the trip possible. Terima kasih banyak-banyak. Thank you very much.

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