Friday, January 27, 2017

The Poise and the Pageantry: The Miss Universe Preliminary Competition in Swimsuits, Long Gowns and National Costumes

The Miss Universe 2016 preliminary competition at the MOA Arena in Pasay City on January 26, 2017
Before, the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant opened with the Parade of Nations, where contestants in their national costumes came out, introduced themselves and their countries and sashayed in magnificent and intriguing costumes inspired by their cultures. It was an exhilarating and intoxicating spectacle that set the tone for the rest of the pageant, which is sadly not being done anymore. It was this portion that drew many to Miss Universe, including me as a child.  Now, it is part of the preliminary competition show.
The 65th Miss Universe preliminary competition was held on January 26, 2017, at the Mall of Asia Arena, where all the 86 candidates competed in the swimsuit and long gown portions.  They also appeared in their national costumes as finale, but this the most fun and entertaining segment is not part of the judging. This preliminary competition plus days of interviews will determine the semi-finalists during the coronation night, which will happen on January 30.
The hosts for the preliminary competition were actor Derek Ramsey and Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach. The judges were Miss Universe 1993 from Puerto Rico Dayanara Torres; Miss Universe 2007 from Japan Riyo Mori;  Cynthia Bailey of The Real Housewives of Atlanta; international marketing director Rob Goldstone; Fred Nelson, president and executive producer of the People's Choice Awards; and Francine LeFrak, activist and founder of Same Sky.
The competition started with the introductions and then the swimsuit segment, where the women wore Yamamay swimsuits. Next was the long gown segment. Expectedly, host country bet, Miss Philippines Maxine Medina, elicited the loudest cheers. Medina wore an emerald gown designed by Rhett Eala, which has a fringe skirt that bounced and danced as she walked.
Other candidates who received loud cheers were Miss Colombia Andrea Tovar, Miss Thailand Chalita Suansane and Miss Venezuela Mariam Habach, all top favorites.
For the national costume segment, Medina wore another Eala creation—a glimmering gold gown said to be inspired by Mindanao and the vinta sails of Zamboanga City. She was crowned with a headdress studded with South Sea pearls, the national gem, from Jewelmer, which reportedly is worth, together with the earrings, about P1 million.
While Medina generated cheers inside the arena, she also drew flak. During the show, a video was shown on their trip to Vigan, Ilocos Sur, and the terno fashion show. In the interview, Medina erroneously said that the terno was invented by former First Lady Imelda Marcos. While the terno with puffed or butterfly sleeves became a signature look for Marcos, the terno has long been worn by Filipinos as a formal version of the baro’t saya, and it was reinvented and brought to high fashion by National Artist for design Ramon Valera.  
Aside from Medina, the most applauded national costume was from Miss Myanmar, Htet Htet Htun, which depicted the traditional Burmese puppetry or marionette show called yoke the. She carried a whole stage, or at least a backdrop, on her back and simulated the movement of a puppet on strings.
        The national costumes ranged from the simple to the showy. Several simple-looking costumes must not be discounted because it also entailed hard work and reflects traditional culture such as the ones with handmade textiles and intricate beadworks which are not readily evident onstage. 
        Miss Barbados Shannon Harris appeared as a windsurfer, carrying a sail. Miss Austria Dajanic Dzinic’s costume was inspired The Sound of Music, as the setting of the movie is her hometown. Miss Indonesia Kezia Warouw’s costume depicted their mythical Garuda bird, while Miss Malaysia Kiran Jassal’s depicted their iconic Petronas Towers, the “towers” perched on her shoulders.  Miss Thailand’s costume was shimmering traditional Thai dress which was also reminiscent of its Buddhist temples. Miss Canada Siera Birchell wore a giant maple leaf, a national icon, in white. Miss Germany Johanna Arcs wore a headdress of castle and carried a book, meant to depict fairy tales, many of the world-famous ones coming from her country and written down by the Grimm brothers. Miss Vietnam Le Hang’s costume depicted her countries traditional crafts and livelihoods with as a three-dimensional back-piece made of baskets. There are many more worth mentioning, all giving us a colorful and enjoyable way to know a little of their countries and cultures and deserving more airtime that they were given.

        The national costume provided a thrilling conclusion to the preliminary competition and an exciting prelude to the coronation night of the 65th Miss Universe Pageant.

Miss Philippines Maxine Medina in a gown by Rhett Eala
Miss Argentina
Miss Ausria
Miss Aruba
Miss Belize
Miss Canada
Miss Colombia
Miss Barbados
Miss Georgia
Miss Georgia
Miss Great Britain
Miss Guam
Miss Iceland
Miss India 
Miss Indonesia
Miss Korea
Miss Myanmar

Miss Philippines
Miss Singapore
Miss Sweden
Miss Thailand
Miss Venezuela
Miss Vietnam

Miss Bolivia
Miss Dominican Republic
Miss Ecuador
Miss Guyana 

Miss Hungary
Miss Nicaragua 
Miss Panama

Miss Uruguay
Miss USA 
Miss US Virgin Islands

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Charms of a Southern Cebu Town: Whale Sharks, Old Forts, Waterfalls and Bluewater Sumilon Island Resort

The port of Sibulan, the town next to Dumaguete City, is just fifteen minutes from the airport of the province of Negros Oriental. Here, ferries regularly cross the Tañon Strait from Sibulan to Santander at the southern tip of the island province of Cebu, and vice versa. The trip takes about thirty to forty-five minutes for P65. People from Santander and neighboring towns such as Samboan, Moalboal and Oslob go to Sibulan and Dumaguete to buy supplies instead of Cebu City, which is a four-hour drive away.
            The water of Tañon Strait near Cebu is lucent, and dolphins, whales and sharks are regularly sighted here. By the shore of Oslob, fishermen have been interacting with whale sharks, tuki in Cebuano, feeding them krill like they are pets.
The southern part of Cebu is sleepy and rustic, in contrast to the province’s capital, Cebu City, about 125 kilometers away, which with the adjacent cities is the Philippines’ second largest urban area. Tourism has been sporadic save for Moalboal, which is known for its dive sites. Recently, Oslob has seen rapid development and vibrant tourist influx after travelers discovered the whale sharks that frequent its waters.
            In the country, the town of Donsol in Sorsogon has been long popular for whale shark watching and interaction. Now, Oslob is suddenly in the limelight, offering a surer and closer sighting and interaction. Although guidelines have been set, the way they conduct the interaction has also often drawn criticism, particularly the fishermen’s feeding of the sharks to bring them closer to the tourists. The impact on the sea creatures still cannot be ascertained and is being studied. One thing is sure though: Oslob has experienced a boom. The barangay of Tanawan, where the whale shark tourism is concentrated, has been bustling with visitors and has seen several constructions of resorts and other kinds of accommodations. The whale shark tourism also affected other areas as tourists began to discover and visit other sites in southern Cebu.
            The whale shark tourism started at around 2012, surmised EJ Barretto, resident manager of Bluewater Sumilon Island Resort. He said it has drawn attention to other tourist attractions that have been unnoticed before.
            “The start of the tourism on whale shark watching changed the resort, as well as the town of Oslob and the province of Cebu,” he said.
            Located on the coralline island of Sumilon, part of the barangay of Bancogon, Bluewater Sumilon Island Resort is most likely the only luxurious and well-appointed resort in southern Cebu. It occupies about seventeen hectare and developed about eight hectares of the 24-hectare island just off the shore of southeastern Cebu. The area was the first marine protected area in the Philippines and was made a fish sanctuary in 1974 under the guidance of Silliman University Marine Reserve.
            Charming villas nestled along the rocky shore, which contain modern amenities and sport a lovely contemporary design infused with Filipino sensibilities and details, which can be also be found in other Bluewater resorts owned by the Alegrado family of Cebu and Bohol.
            The Alegrados started in the hospitality industry with opening of the Almont Hotel in Butuan City in Agusan del Norte in 1983. In 1989, the family established Maribago Bluewater Beach Resort in the sitio of Buyong, Maribago, Lapu-Lapu City, on Mactan Island, Cebu. Bluewater Sumilon Beach Resort opened in 2005, furthering the Bluewater brand of which the resort in Panglao, Bohol, is the latest property.
            Among their resorts, Bluewater Sumilon resort has been the most private and serene, being the only property in an uninhabited island of a languid town. The attractions of the resort include a white-sand beach and another one at another part of the island, which changes shape and location. There is a mangrove-fringed lagoon within the resort where one can go kayaking and fishing.
            One can also go trekking through the forest of the island and espying on birds. At the southern part, trekkers will discover a lighthouse inside a protected tree park and a 19th-century watchtower or baluarte, used to look out for slavers and marauders.
            The resort also offers tours around the area, visiting waterfalls, heritage sites and other attractions. Tourists can also watch dolphins in Tañon Strait. Other water activities are boating, snorkeling and diving.
            The rooms are one of the best parts of Bluewater Sumilon. Starting with fourteen villas, it now has twenty-nine rooms—fourteen deluxe villas, twelve premiere, two one-bedroom and one two-bedroom. Additionally, if one desires to rough it out but without the usual inconveniences, the resort offers a chic kind of camping—glamping. One area has pre-pitched tents with electricity and accessibility.
            The Pavilion is the largest structure in resort, an octagonal hut with thatched grass roofing. It houses the restaurant that serves of local and international cuisines with a panoramic view of the swimming pool and the luminous sea. Notable are their seafood dishes and their innovative takes on local dishes such as the adobo rice served inside a bamboo cylinder, lamb shank caldereta and the suman panna cotta. The resort also regularly prepares buffet feasts on the beach and occasionally a lovely private dinner at the sandbar. One feasts on grilled squid and prawns with lamps dangling from a bamboo pole over the table and swaying in the sea wind, surrounded by the sand, the sea, the darkness perforated by distant lights and the sound of waves.
            Diving has been the main activity before the whale shark interaction, said Barretto. Also, the occupancy was middling. Now, it dramatically increased that they are almost always full. Day tours have also dramatically increased, and usually these are the whale tourists. Because of the increase in clients, the resort is now expanding to add more rooms. Filipinos still comprise the biggest slice of the market with about more than half, followed by the Chinese, a recent development.
            Aside from the resort and the whale sharks, many of these tourists explore other sites in the area. The most popular is the town proper, especially for heritage lovers. The town proper has retained the old provincial air with church and its environs forming the most important heritage zone of Oslob. Facing the sea, this area was also developed into a tourist complex, with the preservation of the old structures and the building of a small museum. At its heart is the 19th-century buttressed Church of the Immaculate Conception, constructed of limestone and coral stone, as with most churches in Cebu and many parts of the Visayas.
            Just across it is the Cuartel, also made of coral stone. The building was erected in late 19th century as a barracks for Spanish soldiers, but was not finished until Spanish occupation ended in 1898. Also in the area are the ruins of a watchtower, built in 1788. It is part of the series of old Spanish-era watchtowers along the shores of southern Cebu to look out for marauding pirates and invaders. Also, the church stone walls or fences are still largely intact.
            On the other hand, the museum contains pieces of furniture, utensils, daily implements, etc., giving visitors glimpses of life in the olden days.
            Aside from the town proper and Tumalog Falls within Oslob, tourists explore as far as Samboan for the Aguinid Falls. The falls has several levels, and the adventurous challenge themselves to climb the higher levels with guides and ropes already in place. Here, Bluewater Sumilon can arrange a Boodle Fight-style lunch to complete a nature adventure experience.

             With Bluewater Sumilon Island Resort as base, the offerings of southern Cebu are opened up for the tourists with a range of experiences that can be exhilarating.