A Korea-Asean youth exchange program
Aboard the Korean Air, four Philippine delegates and one national leader seated close to each other unequivocally excited and expectant of what Korea has to offer soon after landing at Incheon International Airport at Seoul, South Korea. Alighting from the carrier after three hours travel and was already past four early morning Korean local time, a very cold atmosphere welcomed us that the freezing sensation soothed to our skin and rgently pervaded into our nerves, everyone was then saying with joy we're now in KOREA! Three friendly and of course young Korean delegates Kim Min Young, Bang Jun Shup and Ji Yeon Eo met us while holding their decorated placard bearing our names. Brief introduction and acquaintance ensued that turned the frosty air into a very warm reception. A bus then took us to Hamilton Hotel situated at the busy street of Itaewon, the official venue of the Korea-Asean Future-Oriented Cooperation: Youth Exchange Program 2008 from February 14-21.
February 14, 2008 marks the formal commencement of the week-long youth program, a week of brilliant exchange of views and sharing of cultural information. It was a heavily scheduled week loaded with workshops and of course coupled with relaxing and completely un-taxing breaks. Over one hundred youth delegates coming from the eleven member-states of ASEAN converged in their individual uniqueness, personal identity, peculiar cultural orientation and diversity all bonded under the spirit of amity and cooperation.
History tells us that the Association of East Asian Nations or popularly known as ASEAN was actually and originally conceptualized in 1961 by at least three countries namely; Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand. The said association was formally organized in 1967 and Narciso Ramos of the Philippines was one of the founding fathers of ASEAN along with Abdul Razak of Malaysia, S, Rajanatham of Singpaore, Thanat Khoman of Thailand and Indonesia's Adan Malik. These Asian nations having contiguity in geographical features with similarity although diverse in culture and ethnicity aim in accelerating economic growth, fast track social progress, cultural development and promotion of regional peace.
In the words of H.E. Luis T. Cruz, Ambassador of the Republic of the Philippines to Korea in his congratulatory message said in part, "since the establishment of KOREA-ASEAN Future Oriented Project in 1994, it has achieved many milestones in promoting mutual awareness and empowering vital sectors such as youth, women, environment and health."
Incidentally, Philippine delegates together with our Korean counterparts were able to grab a very rare chance to talk with this newly installed and posted Ambassador (just 8 days old in official fucntion that time we visited him) in a very short meeting at his office in Seoul last February 20, 2008. He himself a former director-general of ASEAN has shared many informative matters over a cup of coffee regarding bilateral agreements and relationship between the host country and the Philippines.
This program hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Republic of Korea (MOFAT), and organized by the National Council of Youth Organizations in Korea (NCYOK) and sponsored by the Association of East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have at least set three objectives: 1) to strengthen the future-oriented youth cooperation and exchange between Korea and ASEAN member countries for cooperative friendship facing the Asia-Pacific era; 2) to promote mutual understanding and trust via exchange between youths, the future leaders, and to explore their proper role in the future and 3) to cultivate community awareness in future leaders of our global society through increased mutual trust and friendship between youths of Korea and the member countries of ASEAN. The program also expects to firstly, strengthen the cooperation between Korea and ASEAN member countries for the upcoming Asia-Pacific Era; secondly, to improve mutual understanding and trust between Korea-ASEAN youths and foster sense of community and lastly, to encourage in creating a network among Korea and ASEAN youth and youth leaders.
Coming together with cultural heterogeneity, incongruous religious professions, different educational trainings and levels and most of all speaking in different tongues is not really a concordant scenario. Try to imagine 110 delegates gathered in one place eating together, sleeping in the same hotel and participating in the same workshop for a week with only one equalizer to conquer differences and that is the ability to speak and understand the English language not flawlessly or in good command and with facility but nonetheless we understood and could at least express each other's mind and feeling and even forged strong bonds of friendship and camaraderie with singularity of interest and unity of purpose. This only goes to prove and to show that no difference no matter how great in disparity is irreconcilable so long as mutual understanding prevails founded on trust and respect.
We made good ties with our ASEAN neighbors and friends like the delegates from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Korea. For the Philippines, though lack of support from concerned agencies, nonetheless, we proved once again and remain proud to our friends that we have something to flaunt and modesty aside, we made good alliances and even topped in most of the activities like engaging in intellectual discourses and disquisitions, group performances and even in the food festival. Among the Philippine delegates who made a significant role and made a difference in bringing glory and honor to the homeland were Jayson Israel Vinta of Bulacan, Ray Adrian Dante of Cebu City, Hannah Quijano of Iligan City and yours truly, Rhobert Maestre of Cagayan de Oro City. Thanks to the inspiring National Leader Mr. Apolonio B Maleniza II, the Executive Director and COO of the National Youth Commission who despite our childish tantrums and shortcomings helped us excel even though we lack the necessary apparels and accessories for all the activities.
Should I say, though most of the delegates were inexperienced in international discussions of global issues but the ASEAN's intellectual prowess took a huge leap in making the mind-boggling 2-day workshop (from Feb 15-16) fruitful with desirable results. This year's theme hinges on the Youth's Role in Expanding Korea-ASEAN Economic Cooperation. Indisputably, only those equipped with economic knowledge or training could make an immaculate discussion and contributions to the forum but remarkably the non-economic minds of the participants were squeezed in which the sap fructified into somewhat like a handiwork of the economists. Among the hypothetical topics being scrutinized were: 1) the creation of a win-win strategy for consumers in Asia in bringing the best and effective cooperation between agricultural-based countries and that of technology-based nations; 2) opening of a country's market in rapidly globalizing world with emphasis on the maximization of Foreign Direct Investment; 3) quite interestingly is the discussion on how ASEAN may economically function like the European Union, the one currency, one visa possibility; 4) the advantages of economic cooperation between Korea and ASEAN, with assumption that Korea will join later of becoming a member though already included in the ASEAN +3 along with China and Japan, also captured the thinking ability of the delegates in dissecting the problems and its accompanying advantages; 5)delegates offered practical solutions over the advantages and disadvantages of the Korea-ASEAN free trade agreements.
Worthy to mention were the economic expertise of the two resource speakers who helped us craft the answers to the topic-problem assigned to us. The input of Professor Byung-Il Choi opens our minds in leading us to economic thinking when he shared his ideas about the Future Prospects and Tasks of Korea-ASEAN Economic Cooperation. Professor Choi is the Dean of the Graduate School of International Studies of Ewha Women's University. While Professor Ke-young Chu, a PhD holder of economics at Columbia University delivered a lecture on the Opportunities and Challenges for the Youths of Asia in a Changing World.
ETERNAL EXPERIENCES: GOOD BREAKS AND RECESS
Aside from the healthy, sumptuous and tripartite Korean food served for us, Korea during our stay gave us experiences that we shall never forget as long as we live. It is noteworthy that the NCYOK unrolled wide open a red carpet accommodation for us. We were treated like dignitaries or celebrities to say the least. Photographer and cameraman tailed on us on every official functions and even we appeared on Korean television news and newspapers. The glaring flashes of the camera from time to time gave us a sense of great importance and the sense of pride. When we arrived at the Hamilton Hotel and assembled in the Rose Hall by high noon for the registration and distribution of supplies, we were received with most cordial welcome and a generous banquet filled with Korean food artistry tendered before us. On the following day 15th of Feb, it was a day filled with drama and pageantry since all was set for the opening ceremonies where everyone took a stride at the Cosmos Hall with our traditional costumes. Ladies and gentlemen came in sleek and style. Some wore heavily embroidered costumes, others in silk and finest cloth, with all the elaborate costumes, colorful and well-tailored attire it simply depict cultural diversity, richness in history and individuality.
(I) COEX AQUARIUM
February 17. After hard days labor, the buses outside were ready to take us to a wonderful experience and everyone was excited and ready to check-out from Hamilton and move to Gangwon Province where a big event waited. It was a 3-hour drive from the city of Seoul. Our first stop was at the COEX Aquarium which was housed in a multi-layered basement. Everyone had a fantastic underwater experience in a lively attraction and interaction with the marine life. There are 960 exhibition tanks and 140 tanks use for breeding purposes and about 650 species and 40,000 oceanic fishes. The unusual and rare collections of marine fauna and coral would surely capture one's senses of appreciation and care of the marine bio. Though the species were in captivity but it gives a strong message and admonition for its care and preservation. In juxtaposition, the Philippines almost decimated the animal and plant kingdoms simply because we don't care about the non-human life to the destruction of our own environment making our relationship with nature perilous and hostile. Ironically, we have the best and beautiful flora and fauna such as in the Sulu reef and other areas now place under protection and not to mention we are known to have owned the endemic and smallest primate in the world-the tarsier, but all these natural gifts and glories are now endangered and on the brink of total destruction amidst the welcome development of the newly opened Oceanarium in Manila.
(II) KOREAN FOLK VILLAGE
After we savored the Korean noodles and kimchi as our lunch, we then moved to the Korean Folk Village, just a 30-minute drive from the COEX Aquarium. Seeing the Korean folk village in Philippine perspective, although there are initiatives and even good laws in effect in our county for the preservation of the culture and the arts but all are threatened. In fact we often hear local news about serious attempts to displace the "Lumads" from their ancestral domains which also undermines their indigenous patrimony and identity. But in Korean Folk Village, one would be amazed and for sure salute the initiative in preserving its ancient history and tradition. Visiting the village, one could not miss the 260 pristine and traditional houses reminiscent of the Chosun (sometimes spelled as Joeson) dynasty and visit the recreated life of the Korean people through the authentic display of household wares, farm implements and goods, various handicrafts, pottery, brassware, knotting and embroidery, paper umbrellas, musical instruments and furniture and even symbols of superstitious beliefs are manifested. It is a complete showing of the primitive way of living. The original settlers were relocated in decent and quite modern homes.
This folk village is all about reliving the past and serves as reminder for the Koreans about the richness of their culture and history. And this is made into a natural museum which we would definitely appreciate ancient history and humanities especially the cultural aspect of its civilization. The place is relived and is made alive, festive and vibrant by the live entertainments like the farmer's music and dance, acrobatics, equestrian feats, horseback riding, seesawing, demonstration of archery skills while mounted on the horse, snow sliding. It was indeed a lucky day for all of us when the running water in the river found thereat turned into ice in which gave us time to enjoy and have fun with the snow sliding.
(III) SKIING EXPERIENCE
In countries where there are four seasons in a year, skiing has become a favorite pastime and popular sport especially in snowcapped mountains in some parts of the western world and in the world renowned mountain of Alps.
Partaking a la buena vida, the delegates were granted a once in a lifetime opportunity to enjoy the breathtaking adventure of skiing. Arriving at Hyundai Sungwoo Resort in Gangwon was a full energy recharged for all of us upon seeing the steeps or slopes for our skiing experience. For countries like the Philippines that only enjoys the hot and rainy days, our eyeballs would surely roll in awe and exuberance over the majestic view. On the night we arrived, I was pretty sure that the adventurers did not have much sleep while trying to figure out and engulf the skiing. We're grateful to the staff for securing that all of us would be billeted in the rooms where windows facing the ski area and would have a good glimpse of the different trails and closer look at the snow that was whiter than sugar crystals or perhaps potassium alum which was also illuminated with the white bright light emitting from the big halogen lamps surrounding the ski area making the entire mountain brighter as daylight where all the sun's mighty rays were concentrated was magical, oh what a SCENERY! And of course we could not help but to stay in the balcony connecting our rooms and pause for the panoramic view while making poses with our digital cams.
After taking our breakfast all rushed and overwhelmed to the ski lesson already donned the ski suit given to us for keeps. While riding the gondola lift that would take us to the chosen slopes with full gears on, gloves, boots and ski poles, our lips started to quiver and our knees begun to wobble but all these discomforts were gone when we had our first round. This kind of recreation transmits a message of disciple and concentration. To master the art of ski, one should impose strict discipline in movement because any single and uncoordinated move one would find himself stumbled.
(IV) COOKING FESTIVAL
As the late Filipino gourmet Doreen Fernandez and herself a professional cook says that "Filipinos are often identified with FOODS." This is also best illustrated in the essay of Carmen Guerrero Nakpil entitled "Where's the Patis?" And T.S. Elliot has something to say about food "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons".
The ASEAN cooking festival gave the delegates some sense of good taste and a show off of cooking skills and secrets. Philippine delegates flaunted their beef caldereta and chicken adobo (supposedly with achara but unfortunately the papayas were already ripe)that the writer himself cooked and savored it for the ASEAN taste buds. After the national leaders who also served as connoisseur tasted all the foods prepared with passion by the respective delegates of the eleven countries, the decision was handed down and it turned out that the Philippine dishes won the 3rd place while Korea garnered the 2nd place and Indonesia's super spicy tasty entry enjoyed the 1st place.
Notably, ASEAN have different cooking styles and taste, however, there is one common taste or flavor shared by all and that is being SPICY. The reddish palatability is the ASEAN FOOD identity. Well, we say so considering that history has it. During the age of exploration where the competing Spanish and Portuguese expeditions were in search of the SPICE ISLAND, and of course Philippines and the Moluccas Island were subjects of "spice dispute", control and trade. Moluccas is now part of Indonesia, no wonder they won. My congratulations to my fellow delegates!
(V) KOREAN NATIONALITY: PERSONAL VIEWS
With my 7 days sojourn in the Capital city of Seoul and at Gangwon Province, I made a personal observation and reflection over the host city which gave way to my ambivalent loyalty of being PINOY, sometimes I am proud, sometimes not, sometimes ashamed. I have the same observation when I was in New Zealand almost 2 years ago. Many would disagree but this is just my observation.
Filipinos are known to the world in different levels and reputation, be it in history, politics, economy, beauty, talent and many aspects. We are also known to have national heroes in the likes of Jose Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, del Pilar and others known for their patriotic and nationalistic virtues, in essence they were known of exemplary virtue for "love of country". But where is this trait which we are supposed to inherit and emulate? Maybe gone or we are just conquered by apathy. What I have observed in Korea, the Korean people are very nationalistic. They love their country so much. For instance, a foreigner could have a good hint that a particular name of a person is Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai perhaps or those belonging to the Asian regions except for Filipinos which is hard to recognize. All Koreans carry Korean names usually consisting of three names and could also be translated or written in Korean calligraphy. They usually have 2 first names and a surname. And they often write their complete names beginning with the last name. Like the names of Kim Min Young (Min Young are the first names and Kim is the family name) and same with Bang Jun Shup (Bang is the family name), then by just a cursory reading one would have an inkling that this could be Korean names or could be mistaken as Chinese but at least sounds Asian. The name Apichet Kiatworakon this is a Thai name but could also be mistaken for a Laos name but nonetheless sounds Asian. Same with the name of Mohd Khairul Syafiq Azzmi or Tandian Syumsudin one could surmise that these could be Malaysian or Indonesian names or at least with Islamic construction. But take the case of Rhobert Maestre, Ray Adrian Dante or other modern or westernized names it's hard to guess whether it is Asian or western. Well, history again justifies this construction of names, since once upon a time the powerful nations in the west ruled here like Spain and United States, Dutch and others thus becoming as "melting pot". What I'm trying to drive is that, the Philippines could actually Filipinize the first names, a law could be possibly passed without running afoul to liberty in choosing names. Korea and our Asian neighbors portray a "nationalized way" to show their identity. I think we could start and do it here for the coming generations.
Aside from their nationalized names, anywhere in Korea, be it small or big establishments or malls, there is always presence of Korean restaurants or food scattered to remind them that they are in Korea. They prefer Kimchi rather than foreign menu but we Filipinos though we need to taste it also but more often we prefer hamburger instead of Filipino delicacy because of its "socialite" effect. Koreans also patronize their own products especially in fashion but we Filipinos are so much fanatic with big names and brands like that Levi's, Guess, Ralp Lauren, CK and other brands for the niche and "socialite" market. Generally and ordinarily, Koreans prefer locally made apparels and clothing rather than branded ones and lo! I admire their dressing panache. They also speak their own language, in fact their major dailies are written in Koreans but us Filipinos we write using a foreign language in major tabloids and even speak English in public places. I could still recall my high school days that a fine would be collected once we speak the vernacular language, we are proud of our being "INGLESERO" rather than the use of the native tongue. More often than not we boast and take a long queue at foreign movies instead of those local films rather we laugh at it and say "badoy", why not improve rather than laugh?
Well, in politics and governance, each country has its own share and issue of corruption, but what really differs Philippines from Korea and say New Zealand is that in the latter when a public official is suspected and charged with corruption said official resigns in point of honor and let investigation enfold and if found otherwise then resumes to office but here in the former if an official is charged he will always hold on his seat till death, stage rallies and release political propaganda or when a case is filed his term already expires before the case is decided, or shall I say "pakapalan nang mukha".
What Korea and New Zealand have in common is that they both love and take pride on its culture and love much their country. I remember an essay written by an American who stayed here in the Philippines for quite sometime made a very critical observation and said "Filipinos are doomed to forget their identity". He indeed made a very valid assumption, with the deluge of western concept imported and adopted by us as measured in fashion, style, food, products and the idea of being "liberated" to the replacement and destruction of our own identity, forgetting our identity is not far to happen. Aside from lack of discipline as best observed and concluded in the streets, drivers' attitude, traffic altercations and the habit of being late and "pasingit", name more we have it...what else? Our motherland and her identity is severely wounded and tarnished and profusely bleeding, and the wound cuts and cuts deeper, let's heal it, discipline and love of country I suppose are the major antidote to national progress along with values and moral regeneration to reclaim and redeem this nation's identity from sham and before doomsday!
There is nothing more laudable than to give thanks to those whom we owe our gratitude. We sincerely express our heartfelt gratitude to the Republic of Korea for hosting this highly educational youth program and the spectacular experience. Delegates were given the chance to travel to the country for free from international airfare and accommodation all expense paid for by the MOFAT, NCYOK and ASEAN. To the staff headed by the very patient program director Miss Jun Rebecca and the friendly and equally patient facilitators, to begin with Miss Kathy Lee and Kim Ju Yeon, Messrs Kim Seong Jin, Park Byung Guk, Song Seok Ju, Kwon Hae Sung, Lee Soon Se and Hong Ki Min. To all of you KAMSA HAM NIDA!
To our fellow delegates especially our Korean counterparts with special mention to Jun Shup Bang, Min Young Kim, Ji Yeon Eo, who met us at the airport and who kept us in company since day one till our departure and also to Jong Ho Kang and Hee Kyeong Yu for taking us to subway train and to Nam Daemun in the night market, also to hyung Min Hoo for allowing me to wear the Hanbok (Korean traditional costume). And many more, forgive me if I can't mention all of you but rest assured you are all in our hearts. Juk doh rok sarang hae, man na su gap sup ni da!
And to our ASEAN friends thank you for sharing friendship with us. We'll cherish and treasure our experience. Long live the ASEAN spirit! I would like to personally thank the National Youth Commission (NYC) through the office of Commissioner Princess Abante for the help extended and also Commissioner for Mindanao Hanny Camid for the support and most of all Mr. Eddie Cuaresma, CSEE, Area Officer of NYC North-eastern Mindanao for his unwavering support in many ways. Thank you also to Xavier University through Ms. Irene Guitarte, Director of Student Affairs for sponsoring my airfare to Manila. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas! Mabuhay ang Kabataang Pilipino!
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Published on 6/16/08