Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Our Persian Friends

A stone thrown at the right time is better than gold given at the wrong time. - Persian Proverb

With more than 50 students from Iran enrolled this school year, they seem to have overshadowed our Korean friends who have been dominating the foreign students population in the City. Many of us are wondering what could be behind this “invasion.”
This is actually not the first time the University Town is host to these students from the old Persia. It was in the late 1960s when Persian students discovered Dumaguete as an excellent education center. Generations of them were here until the 1980’s. If you recall, they stopped coming when their country went through a crisis, and a lot of them were recalled back for military service.
After the 9/11 tragedy four years ago, the global paranoia over Arabic-looking people has actually led this new generation of Persians to our Dumaguete shores.
My Persian friends told me that applications for student visas either for the US or England were denied –especially when one looked Arabic.
While on a business trip to the US recently, my brother, who has an Arabo profile like I do, had to suffer from the humiliation of all interrogations and strict luggage inspections from one point of entry to the next. His advice to me: travel light so they don’t doubt what we could be carrying with us.
They’re not only paranoid with our Arabic-Mediterranean looks (on account of my genetic lineage which stems back to a Spanish friar), they’re also paranoid with our family name which starts with the letters A-T and E. If you remember, two of the 9/11 bombers had family names that started with A-T and E.
Sadly, our Persian brothers and sisters right here in the University Town have somehow suffered some kind of prejudice and discrimination. Some of our fellow Pinoys have in fact verified with me if some of these students from Iran have terrorist connections. I understand that even our local Immigration and Deportation office has not accorded these Persian students the same fairness and respect due to all human individuals.
To overcome these wrong notions, it is high time we understand the reasons why these students from Iran, whose number is simply growing, continue to come to our beautiful City.
Francis George, a Mechanical Engineering student, it was his father Emil who successfully campaigned for Iranian students to come over to study in Dumaguete. Emil found an entrepreneurial opportunity be serving as Philippine university placement agent. Supporting the business are his three other sons: Zodiac Bar owner Patrick and the two Information Technology students at Silliman, Christopher and Edward.
Aside from the fact that student visas for the US or the UK are now hard to come by, the Philippines, or Dumaguete in particular, was the logical choice because for one, only a limited number of students are qualified to go college in Iran.
Another reason is that these Iranian students badly want to learn good English. Still another reason is the much cheaper tuition of Philippine schools.
Yet another reason, there is an active Silliman alumni group in Iran who only speak well of the quality education they received here. Some of these Iranian students here now are actually second generation Sillimanians – beautiful sons and daughters of former SU foreign students, or children of Iranian parents whose friends are Sillimanians.
IT student Sirvan Ghosiri said he is happy to discover the “very open and healthy interaction” between men and women in the Philippines. Filipino girls, he said, are very good conversationalists. Of course, in the predominantly Muslim nation of Iran, people are more conservative in that regard.
Mostaffa Ahmadi, better known in the University Town as “that one with the Harry Potter cuteness,” is thankful for Dumaguete being “true to its fame as a place of gentle people.” He said he has found the people to be very friendly.
Business Management student Mohammad Ali Hosseini, “crush ng bayan” for some student nurses, also noticed how the warmth of the Dumaguete community is very much like the love among the Filipino circle in Iran.
Ali’s positive regard is echoed by campus heartthrob Farzad Pakdamanian, a Computer Engineering student. Farzad was studying in Manila until he discovered as a better place to live in because of its peace and serenity. He found Dumaguete residents “very kind.”
Then we have noted that the Persian lady students go around the University Town in two groups, the totally clothed and the fashionistas in short shorts.
Artin Khachatoorian, a Christian, explained that it is only here in Dumaguete where the Iranian women seem to have the freedom to be less covered up.
Student nurse Mohaddeseh Faghani stressed that she goes to school covered up for in respect to her religious tradition, and in obedience to God. When asked how she must feel with her full garb in our humid climate, Mohaddeseh reminded me with a smile: It must be hotter in hell.
The campus ladies and gays are close to being star-struck not just with the “Harry Potter” in Dumaguete, but also with the one who looks like Keanu Reeves, or the other one who’s an Antonio Banderas look-alike even the smell that is too exotic to take, and the one who looks like Joko Diaz : Seyed Hamid Reza Seyed Salehi.
There are winsome characters like “Mr. Congeniality” Nezamloo Mahmoud, the playful Ehsan Yaeghoobi who insists you pronounce his name well.
Meanwhile, the campus guys are desperately hoping there will be no more language barriers between and the beautiful ladies from Iran like Anna, Sona, Neda Montazeri, Sarah Aghaberarian, Bernadette and Maria George.
These friends of ours from Iran love jamming with Filipinos at StEd’s Silliman, hanging out with their newfound friends at Zodiac Bar, or dining, with them at Persian Palate. And at El Camino Blanco, it’s the Filipino friends’ turn to usher them to experience that Pinoy clean fun party spirit.
With their warm and sincere friendship and positive spirit, it is indeed a big blessing to have our Persian friends over in this University Town. There is much we can learn from them. Consider, this harvest of Persian proverbs:

He who want a rose must respect the thorn.

If the teacher be corrupt, the world will be corrupt.

If one has to jump a stream and knows how wide it is, he will not jump. If he does not know how wide it is, he will jump, and six times out of ten he will make it.

No lamp burns till morning.

You can't please everyone.

You can't put new wine in old bottles.

Go as far as you can see, and when you get there you'll see further.

I hope this column makes a beautiful splash, and create big wave circles of understanding.

Monday, July 11, 2005


Supermodel Linda Evangelista once said, “ people think modeling's mindless, that you just stand there and pose, but it doesn't have to be that way. I like to have a lot of input, I know how to wear a dress, whether it should be shot with me standing up or sitting down. And I'm not scared to say what I think.”
We could have the same regard for beauty pageants - totally “mindless.” Much more if it’s a male beauty pageant. We think of it as mere display of the male body form.
But the 2005 Hari ng Negros pageant mounted last week in Canlaon, Philippines to celebrate the mountain city’s 44th charter day proved to be a battle of brains particularly when it reached the Top 5 level.
A lady doctor in the audience who is from Bacolod shared her observations on all pageants that she witnessed. She noticed that when it comes to the interview portion, the bets from Oriental Negros would always shine with their wit and flawless command of the English language.
This she shared after she heard Jericho Arnaiz, a senior Political Science student of Silliman University who represented Pamplona, spoke about the role of the youth of today when asked by the host about his exposure as the SK (Sanguniang Kabataan) Chairman of his municipality. He garnered the Best Speaker award on the first set. This male pageant had four interview portions.

The men from Negros Occidental dominated the first set of awards with Mr. Bacolod Joey Cioson, a student nurse from the University of St. La Salle, winning the Best Smile award. Auric Claridad of Binalbagan was Mr. Photogenic while Richard Javier of Pulupandan was Best in Formal Attire.
Bais City’s Nepthali Badilla Jr. of Negros Oriental State University was awarded Best Body Shot.
As expected, Joey who has the boy-next-door innocence led the Occidental bets that dominated the Top 10 slots. Jericho made an impact for he turned out to be the best dancer in the Street Jam portion.

The interview portion showed the three bets in the Top 10 from Oriental Negros outshining the rest.
Joining Joey and Jericho in the final 5 were Mr. Dumaguete Paul Brett Orozco of St. Paul University, Mr. Bayawan Siegfred Schmidt, a Tourism student from USJR Cebu; and the exotic looking Mr. La Carlota Mark Anthony Rapas, an AMA Computer student. Each of them was asked to make a question for their fellow finalist. A very impressive question came from Mr. Dumaguete who asked Mr. Pamplona if the “country will have another president within the year?” and Jericho got the applause of the audience when he answered “I don’t think we will have a new president for I am sure that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will give her best to evidently show that the projects she will do will make the economy to sour high.” Mr. Bayawan also clinched a top slot with his answer to the question from Mr. La Carlota on how he would “promote Canlaon and what would be his first project if ever he wins?” He said, “volcanoes! But my priority would be the importance of education for it is the only way to move forward….” Mr. La Carlota failed to make a clear answer when asked by Mr. Pamplona about “what new revolution would he want if given the opportunity to lead one.” When asked by Mr. Dumaguete what could be another reason for holding the Hari ng Negros pageant, Mr. Bacolod made a simple but a very cool answer, “to give happiness to the people of Canlaon for this is an entertainment for them.” He received a thunderous applause from the audience. Mr. Bayawan asked Mr. Dumaguete about the personal characteristics that would be beneficial to his family and the crowd favorite answered “being honest, God-fearing and to value close family ties.”
On the Top 3 level, Oriental Negros bets were the eventual lords of the pageant. Mr. Bayawan, Mr. Dumaguete and Mr. Pamplona were in for the final battle for the grand titles. The final question was quite close to the question for Margie Moran in the 1973 Miss Universe. Her question was, if you had one million dollars what would you do with it? Inspired by the Love and Peace cry of streets that decade she said, "I would buy a big house where I can live with all the people I love". Her answer gave the Philippines the second Miss Universe title. For the Hari ng Negros pageant the question was “…what will you do with the prize money?” All three gave similar answers that the money would go to their families. Siegfred who was beating-around-the-bush as he tried to expound was awarded the second runner-up title. Jericho who gave a smooth answer got the First Runner-up title. And Paul who looks like the actor Diether Ocampo gave glory to Dumaguete when he answered with tears that the money will go to his family. But the 23-year old computer programmer actually made a difference when he honestly shared that his family is having financial difficulty and that, he hopes to make use of the prize for his sister’s education.
The pageant successfully captured the majestic splendor and true wisdom of the city in the sky. With Kanlaon, the highest mountain of Negros, as the “royal” inspiration; indeed Canlaon City was the perfect venue to crown the truly deserving Hari ng Negros.
It was a great evening for on stage and in the audience was the spirit of unity of the two provinces.