Upon the invitation and prodding of my good friend Mr. JR Relloso, the AIM-trained Director of the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Institute (SMEDI) Foundation, Inc. of the Ateneo de Naga Univesity, I went to Megamall in Mandaluyong City the other day for the annual Bicol Regional Trade Fair dubbed as OK Bikol (Orgullo Kan Bikol). The Megatrade Hall 1 at the 5th Level of Megamall's building B served as venue of this year's trade fair. It was organized by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Tourism (DOT) with the special participation of Gayon Bikol.
Inside the venue, neat and professional-looking booths were set up amidst the light and festive mood. There were, in my calculation, close to a hundred of them inside, showcasing the best that Bicol can offer to the rest of the country, and even to the rest of the world: from furniture to handicraft; from beverages to pastries; from the ubiquitous Pili nuts products to the uniquely rare tourist destinations of the Bicol provinces. Manned by apparently happy and excited Bicolano and Bicolana entrepreneurs and approached by obviously curious and eager customers, those booths became the colorful and creatively designed tiny showrooms of the region inside one of the biggest malls in Asia.
A stage was likewise set up on one corner of the venue where programs are held for entertainment and information purposes. I was told that a number of Bicolano artists performed there the past days, like the famous comedy band from Lolo's Bar the "4rk Barrel". That day, top magician Lou Hilario performed magic tricks interspersed with promotional pitches about Bicol and its tourist spots and products.
Meanwhile, all over the place, DTI and DOT officials could be spotted enthusiastically welcoming important guests and overseeing things while their staff were also seen busy taking care of a motley of things that, by the look of it, was necessary to ensure the continued success of the trade show.
Having said that, it's good to see the products of our very own local entrepreneurs being given the proper attention and support from the government through trade fairs like that. Being a firm believer of the great potentials of entrepreneurship as an engine of socio-economic growth in this country, such undertaking is something that sits very well with me. Pray that we will see more of these projects and other similar initiatives like bigger and more accessible microfinance programs, entrepreneurial skills trainings and workshops, and more proactive support systems. All of which are, as might be expected, aimed at helping our entrepreneurs make it through the oftentimes challenging road ahead and eventually succeed in this noble and very promising field.
On a very personal note, I simply loved listening to the familiar Bicol dialects being spoken by most of the people there - not to mention the familiar 'feel' and 'drift' in the air that seemed to whisper one thing to me, you are inside Bicolano territory amigo! I believe it was the same thing that was felt by many of the people there, some of whom I suspected to have been lured inside by the idea of seeing, tasting, feeling, or even smelling something that would remind them of home and in a way, would bring them back there - even for some ephemeral moments that nonetheless turned out to be opportune and sanative especially for the weary heart and the homesick soul.
By the way, the SMEDI group led by JR was there to promote the Tatak Atenista products made by the entrepreneurial students of the Ateneo de Naga University. In addition, the One Town, One Product (OTOP) program of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) was also there - and I beamed with pride upon seeing the product (Dried Abo or "Tiger Toothed Croaker") of my family's adopted hometown Calabanga on display - together with the other institutional exhibits like those of the Bicol provinces, some Bicol-based schools, and the Department of Tourism.
However, I had easily concluded that the booths of OTOP, Camarines Sur (that featured its now famous tourist spots and its world-renowned Camsur Watersports Complex or simply, CWC, managed by another good friend Bing Rivera), and LGU Magarao (Magarao Parahilot) were the clear crowd-drawers at least on that day. In fact, I myself marveled at the video clips of some of the world's best wakeboarders who had found their way to and raved about the facilities of Camarines Sur's CWC. I also found the products of the participating towns of OTOP to be quite interesting. Lastly, I myself queued up for a good deal of time just to have my hilot, now dubbed as the "Philippine Touch Therapy" by our trade/industry and tourism officials. Magarao, of course as most of us Bicolanos know, is really popular for its parahilots - aside probably from being known to be the hometown of Dina Bonnevie, one of Philippine showbiz' most celebrated actresses. These parahilots are in turn known for their amazing skills in bone setting and traditional therapeutic massage.
And so when my turn finally arrived, I asked the parahilot, in Bicol-Naga of course, to give me his best shot as my entire body was really aching that day, maybe a result of braving the hustle and bustle of Metro Manila and of Megamall itself! Fortunately, he was just more than glad to comply. In our conversation, he confirmed that their booth has always been a "blockbuster hit" - even during the past OK Bikol events. That was probably the reason why their group was given two booths instead of a single booth given to the rest of the OTOP exhibitors.
In the end, after almost an hour, I came out of the booth convinced that I just had one of the best massages I had for months. I wanted to extend but the big Caucasian guy who was waiting for me to finish so that he and his own parahilot could then use the single bed alloted for male customers who opted for a full-body massage began to look and act a little impatient. And a mix-up with such a humongous, impatient "man mountain" was the last thing I want especially after that relaxing, stress-busting, pain-relieving massage! So I gave way.
My parahilot just invited me to visit their place somewhere in Makati for an unrestricted massage or hilot session. Wait, Makati? Is this an indication that the Magarao Parahilots have already begun their Metro Manila and who knows, their countrywide 'invasion' by way of the financial capital of the Philippines!? I digress. :)
So, the total cost of the full-body hilot? Php 250.00.
Not bad bako?
Before I left, I asked my parahilot: "Bistado mo noy si Ligid?". "Kumusta na man si Ligid? Yan an dinakulaan kong parahilot."
"Yaon pa duman ser sa Magarao. Nagpapa-ligid pa man guiraray!" My parahilot quipped with that piquant, peppery mixed air of humor, exuberance, and hospitality dished out with a smile -- Oragon-style.