AS we left for Manila, the news was not good. The stadiums were not ready, the organisers were ill-prepared, food was going to be a problem – it was worse for Muslims who needed halal food – and the accommodation and facilities for athletes and the media were well below par.
There was more. You could get mugged, “white powder” would be placed in your bag, people would racially taunt you, they will mistake you for an Arab and extort money from you, said some friends.
So much for Manila, the so-called “Capital of Fun, ” I thought.
But my parents have always given me sage advice: “In life, never expect anything to be a bed of roses. Always tone down your expectations, and work in any condition without complaints.”
Dad’s a former Air Force personnel and mum’s a teacher. They say stuff like that.
It was with these thoughts that I walked out of our Malaysia Airlines flight and into the Ninoy Aquino Airport.
I’m not a religious person but I was singing hymns and reciting prayers in my head when a lady came up to me. “Are you here for the SEA Games?” she asked. “Yes, maam, ” I said.
“Welcome to Manila, sir” and a few men and women clad in sombreros started singing traditional Filipino songs, and, in a flip of a coin, things changed.
“This could be fun!” I told myself. And it has been, since that warm welcome. Manila has been a joy so far.
The warm smiles from the people here have eased my fear and fatigue. The people stop to ask if the Games have been good to us so far. I tell them it has been decent even though some things can be improved.
Cab driver Gilbert told me that the ill-preparation of the Games was due to the country’s fad of doing things at the last-minute.
He said he was not surprised to see the unflattering reports and even apologised for the poor conditions. He needn’t have. Gilbert is not involved in the Games, but because it is his country, he felt compelled to do so.
Just like my own feelings, Gilbert’s impressions would have changed post-Nov 30.
I am sure he felt proud of the opening ceremony. At the media centre in the World Trade Centre, local reporters shed tears, and one even shouted: “We have redeemed ourselves!”
These were the same reporters who had constantly berated the organisers and even urged president Rodrigo Duterte to step in.
I had goosebumps watching those reactions, and was upset at not being able to go to the Philippine Arena in Bulacan for the opening. Malaysian media were only given 10 passes for the night.
Still, the performances were electric, the people were charged up and it was fun.
The weeks of griping were forgotten in the two-hour show that united the nation. Five days into the Games, I find nothing to fret about. Even in cases where media faced problems such as entrance and equipment, it was resolved by the organisers.
The only peeve we have is the traffic. Imagine a seven-kilometre journey taking more than an hour. The Kuala Lumpur rush hour almost feels like the autobahn.
As a Malaysian, I am loving my first big Games experience. Being able to sing the Negaraku once with ice skating sensation Julian Yee at the SM Mall Ice Skating Rink in Mandaluyong was the kind of feeling you yearn for.
It’s unforgettable, not just for me but for the whole Malaysia media fraternity.
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