[PHOTO AT LEFT - REMEMBERING GRANDPA: Manolo Soliven de Guzman, two, looks curiously at the marker of his grandfather Max Soliven’s grave at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Makati City, during rites marking Soliven’s first death anniversary yesterday. Soliven, the Philippine STAR’s founding publisher, died of cardiac arrest last year at the age of 77. Photo by MIKE AMOROSO]

MANILA, NOVEMBER 23, 2007  (STAR) CTALK By Cito Beltran - My uncle Manny recently made a remark that haunted me.

He opined that from time to time “you write like Max Soliven. You’re beginning to do travelogues”.

Now before anybody reacts, let’s figure this all out. The comment was not critical of Max Soliven or intended to make comparisons. The comment was about columnists writing about their travels abroad. The reaction is quite common among readers who by force of habit as well as expectation, rely on columnists to tackle politics and serious issues.

Through many years of practice it somehow became the norm that the opinion column or all opinion columns are suppose to be serious analysis of events or current situations. They are either full of doctoral level wisdom or blood and guts exposé that only the brave would dare write about. In other words someone said it was so and everybody presumed he was right.

The question then is: why have many veteran journalists and editors allowed the opinion page to be invaded by “travelogues” or “non-commentary” writing?

Simply because it educates readers, gives us a clearer picture and a better appreciation of the world we live in. It gives readers a vicarious experience and from time to time a realization of just how similar or different we are as people. While travelling with a group of motoring journalists around Thailand, I took note of the mini temple or altars that are in front of many Thai establishments. Very religious people might react and say that the Thais are into idolatry and ancestor worship.

But if a Thai journalist did a piece on Filipino homes and business, what would he notice? Of course our Santo Ninos, feng shui mirrors and pendants or probably our last supper paintings and gigantic wooden spoons. Could you blame the world if they still think we live in trees, if all we promote is our ethnicity and not our modernity?

Footlocker and Goodyear have icons or logos depicting the foot of Mercury — the messenger of the gods. But my friend Ron Castro who handles the regional PR concerns of Goodyear, told me that the Thais don’t consider the foot as a “respectable appendage” because bare feet tend to get dirty and ugly. So in Thailand, Mercury’s foot or any foot for that matter, don’t get high profile even as an icon, drawing, or symbol as part of the company’s logo.

The interesting thing about the unauthorized travelogues we write is it is intended to teach things that could likewise improve how we do things back home. For instance one thing we noticed in Thailand was in spite of the fact that the country had been taken over by the Military, I only saw one soldier in the entire three days we were there. Now if you compare this to other countries such as the Philippines for instance, many tourists get the impression that we are either under a dictatorship or we have high rate of criminality because of so many airport security, so many soldiers, so many PNP, so many MMDA enforcers, and the top of the list — every building or store has an armed guard.

Rather than create and establish a reassuring or serene environment, the authorities go out of their way to scandalize and exaggerate the threats as well as the counter threats by show of force. Only in the Philippines does bringing out the guns, the dogs and the muscle represent a serious commitment. In another country it would mean going to war.

Travelogues also help expose certain flaws or anomalies. When we left Manila we each paid travel tax as well as the P750 airport tax. In Bangkok, we were not charged airport tax. In comparison, the new airport of Thailand is probably bigger than both the Makati business district and the Fort Bonifacio complex. So if we’re paying so much for the airport tax, the question is where is all the money going and is someone auditing the funds? Has anyone noticed that the operating facilities of the NAIA have been shrinking? A fellow journalist claims that our 10-minute mandatory hover over the NAIA was not because of air traffic but because only three out of seven original radars were working in the country.

There is certainly much to be said about having a large sprawling complex but even with the NAIA one (which is just a “wing” of other international airports) things could be a lot better. But I learned that the computerized check in system of the NAIA is so outdated that if we fail to change the system into the current internationally established system, checking in of airline passengers might have to be done manually. Rumor has it that the system should have been changed a long time ago since the contract has long expired. But instead of a bidding, the process has been put off until such a time when the requirement becomes urgent which would then “force” the authority into a negotiated arrangement.

Not all travelogues spawn bad news.

We took our round trip to Bangkok via Philippine Airlines (PR730 & PR731) and I was certainly delighted with the flights. We flew economy ( which is how journalists really travel) but I certainly felt like a tourist instead of cattle. The planes were very clean and looked new and had lots of leg room. We were served hot meals and you didn’t feel intimidated to ask the crew to replenish your drinks.

Having been in the tourism industry in my past life, I immediately picked up on the extra effort of the crew led by Gloria Pido the Flight Purser, to assist or relate with passengers. A male steward quickly noticed we were harassed and made an effort to calm our frazzled nerves. The flight was so nice I actually laughed when I got sprinkled with water by a female flight attendant due to turbulence. It was a “refreshing experience”. PAL has certainly moved up in the regional flights.

So you see folks, Max Soliven made sense. He wasn’t bragging, he was sharing, teaching and learning. It’s been a year since he took his final vacation. Tomorrow we will commemorate not his death but his legacy. Too bad he can’t tell us what it’s like. That would be the travelogue to beat all travelogues.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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