World's Largest Human Peacock
by Antonio Graceffo
April 16, 2007
“We believe it is the largest human peacock in the world, but we didn't know how to contact the people at the Guinness Book of World records.” explained Mayor Hagedorn.
On the morning of March 4, 2007 it was expected that 4,000 students, from the national high school, would turn out at the Puerto Princesa City Sports Complex to participate in the world's largest human peacock. In the end, the unofficial count went to 6,500 participants.
The students weren't paid for their participation. This human peacock, whether it becomes a world record or not, is testament to the community involvement in Puerto Princesa and the support the people have for their charismatic Mayor Edward Hagedorn.
Down on the football field, a sea of children mulled around, in their brightly colored costumes, waiting for their cue to march out and take their places. Interviewing the kids, I found them to be bright, sweet, intelligent, and respectful. They were both happy and excited to be participating in this historic event.
“The Palawan Peacock is the mascot of Puerto Princesa City .” Explained Kathryn, a high school junior. “We want the world to know about the beauty of our city.”
A boy, named Rener, had this to say. “Today, we can express our feelings about Puerto. The best things about our city are fresh air and clean, beautiful nature.”
“We are also very friendly.” Interjected Will. “Tourists need to come here because we are hospitable.”
Part of community involvement and education in Puerto includes education about tourism. Mayor Hagedorn realizes how important tourist dollars are to the local economy. As a rule, children are being educated, from a young age, to help promote the city. Under Mayor Hagedorn's watch, dual pricing has been abolished. For the most part, tourists pay the same price as locals everywhere within the city limits. Crime is nearly non-existent, but crime against tourists is a strict taboo.
In the Philippines , nearly all school subjects, with the exception of Philippine history and culture, are taught in English. As a result, by the end of high school, most Filipinos have a good command of English. Many college graduates are at native speaker level. This makes things a lot easier for visitors to the islands. You can read all of the street signs and nearly anyone you stop on the street can speak at least some English.
“We encourage others to watch us make the peacock.” Added Kathryn. “We want them to know that our city is beautiful and fascinating.”
Apart from strutting around in their peacock costumes, the kids of Puerto were like kids everywhere. They attended school, played video games and all of the girls had a crush on Philippine pop star, JR. Sports programs are huge in Puerto with boxing, martial arts, football, basketball, and swimming. The city hosts extreme sports challenge as well as motocross and cycling. The city is also leading in the international Takraw championships. Takraw, a very popular game in Asia , is similar to volleyball but it is played with your feet, rather than your hands.
The Philippines is a country plagued by widespread unemployment, impossibly low wages, and an acute lack of industry. Universities are inexpensive and the educated populace speaks English. The average annual family income in the Philippines is around $1,000 USD. As a result, the largest export of the Philippines is human. Nearly 20% of the population is currently working overseas. With the exception of nurses and IT specialists, the most common employment available for Philippine women is as domestic help. The most common employment for men is in factories. These relatively low status jobs are often being filled by university graduates who, in better economic circumstances would have a wide variety of better choices open to them.
Educated Filipinos spoke about the choices open to them. “I can stay here and earn $100 - $200 a month, working in my field. Or, I could go abroad and earn $1,000 a month in a factory.” It was a tough decision. Could you imagine someone offering you nearly a year's salary as a monthly income?
One new option, open to only a select few Filipinos, is working in a call center. One college grad said that after a grueling selection process he was offered a job, paying 16,000 Pesos a month. This is nearly three times his current salary of 6,000 Pesos a month. Apparently, the most coveted call center jobs are sales related. With commissions, a telemarketer can earn even more. But accepting a call center job means relocating to Manila . The family would still suffer from separation, as they would if he went abroad. Additionally, he would have the added expense of maintaining an apartment in Manila .
The peacock was such a positive event, but lurking behind it was a specter of the future. The probability is that these kids, with their good English and eager excitement, would wind up scrubbing toilets in Norway or standing on an assembly line in Korea . Saving the Philippine economy is equal to saving the youth. When tourism increases enough to provide well-paying jobs for everyone, then the children of Puerto wouldn't have to leave. The Mayor also hopes that the city will become an attractive location for conferences, business fairs, and maybe even call centers.
By getting the whole community involved, Mayor Hagedorn was off to a good start. Since he began, tourism has increased more than ten fold. If by working together, the citizens of Puerto Princesa could manage a similar miracle over the next five years, Puerto may become the first Philippine city to import foreign labor.
When the signal was given, the kids marched out on the field and formed, unofficially, the world's largest human peacock. Traditional Philippine music played over the loudspeaker. At times it was reminiscent of tribal beats. At other times, Spanish and Muslim influence was obvious. In the end, it was 100% unique, and 100% Filipino. More than six thousand of The Philippines best and brightest children were dancing to the beat that had sustained their country for years. When the dancing was finished Mayor Hagedorn announced that he had bought ice cream for everyone. The children cheered. Puerto Princesa had one more brush with history, and moved one step closer to its goal of an economy supported by sustainable community based tourism.
Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is a professional fighter and the author of four books available on amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website www.speakingadventure.com
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