Thursday, December 17, 2009

Those Christmas lights of Port Moresby


LAST Friday at sunset, the city government of Port Moresby launched an array of Christmas lights at the Unagi Park in Gordon district, in this city of more than 500,000 residents.

Like a proverbial candle light attracting nocturnal insects that included moth, the blinking spectacles drew many city people from all walks of life.

Mounted on several posts and in various designs, shapes, motions and colors, they ushered in the frenzy of Christmas 2009 as it is celebrated in the Christendom.

To the residents of Port Moresby, those dancing and blinking lights are a welcome treat during the holiday season and obviously, a feast for the eyes of the many and a rare visual indulgence for those who are seeing them for the first time in their lives, and they are many.

Indeed, such comes only once in a blue moon, an evening delight to lo and behold.

Now, this year’s Christmas lights sponsored by the National Capital District Commission (NCDC) under Governor Powes Parkop are an improvement (yes, I said improvement) of those put up last Christmas at Five Mile roundabout (rotunda) just about a mile away from the Unagi Park.

Surely, the city government has spent a lot to make sure it comes up this year with better evening spectacles for the city residents.

But then, last year’s Christmas lights, despite their simplicity in the eyes of expatriates (translation: nothing special, really, especially in the advent of the laser lighting gadgets and holograms that have become common in other cities, Manila included), were such a big hit simply because they were something I had considered a “first” in this country, and there were many reasons for my saying so.

The first is that last year’s Christmas light display was a tremendous upgrade of a Christmas that I first had in this country sixteen years ago this month.

For the first time, I set foot in Port Moresby at dawn of December 5, 1993, after disembarking from an Air Niugini aircraft at the Jackson international airport. I came here curious about a two-year contract with a newly-set up newspaper The National, now the leading daily in the country.

Momently forgetting how it was in Manila the night before, what I was seeing for the first time around me was nothing unusual – an airport already woken but still with one or two huge sleeping jetliners on the tarmac and a number of early morning welcomers clinging on the other side of tall, imposing airport perimeter wire fences.

It was a typical scene in a provincial domestic airport back home, except that those people wore no shoes or flip-flops. And it was supposed to be Christmas season but the hints that it was here to stay for the revelry were simply missing.

But hurtling back my mind to Metro Manila the night before on my way to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) to catch the flight to Port Moresby, I immediately felt the shock: Because along the traffic-jammed avenues where we cruised, beginning from our residence in suburban Pasig, we had been deluged with a flood of muted colorful explosions being thrown all over the place by a jungle of neon lights that had also defined the evening skylines of the metropolis along its great avenues and thoroughfares.

I had seen Las Vegas a few times before where I played the slot machines and the feeling of being there once more was as intense as what had overwhelmed me as I watched those lights whizzed by as we drove on.

Night time Christmas in the metropolis is superbly defined by millions of lights in various sizes, shapes, colors, mood and state-of-the-art technology that one would easily come to believe that there’s nothing wrong with the nation’s economy and that every able-bodied Filipino is earning a living and doing well financially. But it could be far from the truth.

Of course, the onslaught of Christmas carols – both foreign and Filipino – on the airlanes, in shopping malls and many other places where people converged for the Christmas hysteria was clear enough indication that the Yuletide season had finally descended upon us and the tills in all shops would henceforth begin to ding merrily

Alas, there was not a drop of this in PNG sixteen Christmases ago and in the next ones that hurriedly came next.

My first Christmas Eve here was a ho-hum, convincing me with brutal reality that I was somewhere in this part of the planet yet to be touched by civilization. Was it a Christmas carol I was hearing? Uh … no just a shrieking voice of a local band blurting out from a neighbor’s stereo. No sounds of Christmas, no indications that it was here and yet, it was December 24, if you want to know the truth.

So, I drank myself to death that night, having downed several rounds of SP beer, booze that I had to make do with in the absence of my favorite San Miguel beer. But a lonely soul like me could not be too choosy of what poison to take for the heck of it. What was important that very moment was that I could somehow forget. Thinking of Manila, my family and my loved ones on Christmas Eve was an endless torture. Christmas Day. Here, I was alone in my flat not knowing what to do. There was no TV yet as the cable TV provider was unable to install my service as promised. Same thing with the landline phone, my supposed link to the outside world – my loved ones back in the Philippines. And no Christmas at all.

OVER THE NEXT 10 Christmases that followed, things began to improve, however. The ever-present Chinese-owned variety shops, especially at the Boroko shopping center, the supposed premier shopping area here in Port Moresby, began putting up many things Christmas, especially the items they sold – mostly from Malaysia and China.

They also put up popular icons of the season like Santa Claus and his Reindeers, Christmas lights, lanterns, wreaths, silver and golden balls, chrysanthemums, greetings cards and many more alongside the focus of the celebration after Baby Jesus --- the Christmas Tree.

Maybe because by riding the mood of Christmas season, these shops could entice the locals to come in along with some expat shoppers, browse the goods and buy something for the holiday. But because of their inherent poverty, they stayed away from such shops.

They would rather buy food for the table instead of wasting their kina on something that was totally foreign to them such as Christmas and the stuff that flooded the market to drum up holiday spending.

But the improving economy over the past few years has finally seen a lot more Papua New Guineans celebrating Christmas, the PNG way. They are now shopping for the holiday celebrations and buying a lot.

It only means that whatever economic upturn the nation has experienced over the last seven years has finally benefited more and more Papua New Guineans in terms of improved income.

And personally, I feel good about this, especially when I would see them inside shops, rubbing elbows with expatriates, eagerly shuffling the goods on the shelves and display counters which they intend to take home.

Well, this is really good for business and good for the economy too. More sales for the shops would immediately translate into more taxes for the government coffers, from which some development projects could be funded, thus generating a few jobs for the men in the street.

Over past many years, I experienced with them a struggling economy which was also the reason for a “struggling” Christmas feeling among many adults who had known of Christmas only in their mind. For the kids, the occasion was just a vague concept of adoration to the Baby in the manger that needed to be experienced in order to be felt.

In more ways than one, the Powes Parkop Christmas lights exhibit gave many of the city residents – most of them common people – a picture and feeling of what the whole celebration is all about.


THE Filipino expatriates here have been warned by the Filipino Association of PNG

(FAPNG) to be vigilant and be prepared from here on until December 31, New Year’s Eve, the day when a group of anti-Asians and anarchists will torch every Asian-owned “cottage industry” still operating by then.

The anarchic threat has been circulated in email-type memorandum addressed to all owners of Asian shops.

In this country, cottage industry means “variety stores, grocery stores, variety shops, fast-food and other small service enterprises”. My dictionary defines the term as “small-scale industry that can be carried on at home by family members using their own equipment”.

But since no Asian entrepreneurs operate a cottage industry, the anarchists have redefined the meaning to include “variety stores, grocery stores, variety shops, fast-food and other small service enterprises”, which are all owned and operated by the enterprising Chinese. This way, they could have some shops to burn and loot on December 31, their savage way of welcoming 2010.

The police hierarchy here is yet to make its mind known to the Asian community.

The Asian group in the PNG Diplomatic Corps is anxious over the security of their respective citizens.

The Philippine Embassy here in Port Moresby is coordinating with the Filipino community through the FAPNG on how to go about preparing for this imminent threat and thus, make sure all our “kababayan” are safe or out of the harm’s way.

In a recent email to the Filipino community, the FAPNG wrote:

Where to go (in POM), if the situation becomes critical:

- the embassy grounds (but gauge the situation if it is safe to be on the road)

What to bring, if going to the embassy grounds:

- travel documents and work papers

- some money

- some food and water

I just hope this is just a scenario.

Media sources said the top police officer, Police Commissioner Gari Baki, will come out with a statement regarding the threat, while initial discussions on how to deal with the situation have already been initiated by Port Moresby Governor Parkop and ranking police officials.

Well, that’s a comforting thought.


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