ANYONE WHO’S had the experience of knowing a Filipino as an acquaintance, friend, colleague or lover will sooner or later uncover this quirk of nature about us and our kind : love us or hate us, warts and all, but almost to a man, the Pinoy is an ideal host. Once you cross the threshold of his (I use masculine pronouns but I refer to all genders) munting dampa, you acquire the status of VIP guest, whether you are regular invitee or the guest of honor, of the Pinoy homeowner.
An invitation to share a simple meal, seek shelter for the night, or celebrate a special occasion is never taken lightly by our brown brothers and sisters as it means granting his guest every comfort, entertaining his every request, and heeding, with reasonable limits, his every pleasure. It has been how most of us carry ourselves in parties, weddings, fiestas, through the centuries till now.
This was why we swept aside any previous engagement we had for Friday evening last (not that we had a busy calendar anyway) to accept an invitation, for two awesome reasons. First, that the inviter was a Pinay who had painstakingly made sure that the occasion would be remembered via thorough preparation, an impressive venue and her personal touch; and second, that the inviter was no less than the current Philippine Ambassador to New Zealand, Her Excellency Virginia Benavidez. 🙂
Before you arrive at a hasty conclusion and accuse me of sounding like a starstruck fan, it’s because I admit I was and I am. I’ve never attended an official government function of either my temporary host country or that of the Philippine Embassy, I’ve never even been to the latter except to apply for a passport renewal. And now my family was invited to the official residence of my country’s Ambassador. How can you not be dazzled by that?
The Ambassador’s official residence, to begin with, was no munting dampa, or humble hovel, it’s just a figure of speech I like to use in reference to my own abode, but which definitely doesn’t apply to Ang Bahay, the name the residence is given. It’s modest for a top-level envoy but tastefully bedecked with Christmas artifacts and Filipiniana within and without the house, a tradition started by previous ambassadors no doubt enhanced by the current occupant.
Friday evening by the way was to celebrate the accomplishments of the Wellington Filipino Sports Association in fostering friendship and Pinoyness among our Welly Pinoy community, but the good Ambassador used the occasion to show her appreciation for every Pinoy, present or otherwise, who made it easier for her and the Philippine Embassy staff to serve the greater Filipino community NZ-wide.
To be brutally honest, I had no more right than any Pinoy to be in that gathering, whether that Pinoy was a farm worker in Ashburton, an IT website developer in Auckland or a caregiver in Christchurch. But living in NZ’s capital city (where the world’s embassies hold office) has its advantages, and we were lucky enough to be a flagbearer during the Pasko sa Welly entry of colors parade, and the Ambassador, who never forgets a face, sought us out to be a lucky guest that evening.
During her very informal remarks, Her Excellency noted that while clear gains had been made back home since the start of the Noynoy administration, such success could not have been possible without the contribution, via both consumer activity and foreign exchange remittances of countrymen abroad, not the least of which was the Pinoy community in New Zealand. It warmed our hearts to hear from her that the recent presidential state visit and one-on-one with NZ Prime Minister John Key was a resounding success, producing immigration and trade agreements, that, although in the preliminary stages, were going to be fruitful in improving Philippine-New Zealand relations.
As if reminding herself to avoid further use of officialese (if only for that evening 🙂 ), Ambassador Benavidez went ahead and thanked each and every person invited first for honoring her invitation and then for his or her personal contribution to improving friendships with and bonding regularly with Pinoys in Aotearoa. Even Mahal and Bunso, from their little corner in Lower Hutt and Vogeltown, got their own mention !
The menu for the evening was Pinoy through and through : Pancit canton, nilagang baka, sisig and other classic Filipino dishes. The dessert was eclectic, but no one could resist the taho and sago, which reminded us all of home.
Returning to the Filipiniana theme of the Ambassador’s residence, we were regaled by first, the beautiful paintings of the Philippine countryside and bukid scenes.
True enough, the paintings were done by famed artists Jose Joya, Malang, Paco Gorospe, H.R. Ocampo, Rodel Caparas, and Martin Manero, a favorite of the Ambassador. Most of the collection would be strictly guarded in any museum back home, and yet here we were breaking bread (and eating rice) right below such treasures!
Yet another remarkable eye candy that most of us couldn’t take our eyes off was the personal miniature Christmas village collection accumulated over the years by Her Excellency, lovingly and almost-professionally displayed in the foyer area of the residence.
The food must have been well-received, with rave reviews represented by the empty plates and bare buffet table, the paintings were oohed and aaahed, the lively conversations took place in a beautiful house we were lucky enough to visit, hopefully not for the last time.
Though we were thousands and thousands of miles away from the Philippines, at the Ambassador’s cozy nook in Wellington each Pinoy felt right at home.
Certainly not a bad way to spend a December Friday night.
To the overachieving Ambassador, Mr Pio Benavidez and family, her staff and friends, maraming salamat and maligayang Pasko from this humble blog and the Wellington Pinoy community!
Thanks for reading!
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