Golden times in Brunei

It has been three years since the Aquinas University of Legazpi Dance Troupe participated in an international event. As a new batch of performers, performing in a foreign crowd is such a big dream. Just a week before August, we were informed that the Philippine Embassy has invited our troupe to perform and represent our country in the celebration of ASEAN 50th Anniversary in the known Abode of Peace, Brunei. Everyone leaped for joy and excitement since it was going to be our first international performance, as well as an outside-the-country experience.

On August 9, 2017, we had a connecting flight from Bicol to Manila via Cebu Pacific Airlines and Manila to Brunei via Royal Brunei. For some, it was their first time riding a plane. Loaded with bamboos and heavy crates which contained our props and costumes, we had a hard time moving from one place to another. Minutes before our boarding time for our flight to Brunei, we were stranded in a long line of passengers who were filling the immigration area. It was almost boarding time and we were still stuck in line. But thanks to Fr. Lao’s persuasive skills, we were able to pass through the immigration and boarded successfully. This was just the start, and we haven’t even landed yet!

At around 11:30 in the evening, the view of Brunei’s city lights from the plane window welcomed us. Upon arriving, funny to say but the first thing we did was check their walls if they were really paved with gold–rumors we heard when we were children– but found out it wasn’t. Divided into four groups, we were sent to our foster Filipino families with whom we will be staying with for three days.

During the day of our show, excitement and pressure filled our hearts. The fact that we were representing not just our university but the country as well, several thoughts kept coming with regards to what might happen during our performance. But we were always comforted by the words of our director, Madam Berdin and our choreographer, Sir Ronnie, that we only needed to have fun, put on our best smiles, and make our country proud in the process.

We danced and gave it our all.

As we took our final bow, we received a resounding and warm applause from the crowd–a hundred fifty people which included Brunei’s officials, Diplomats, Aquinas University’s officials, and some members of the Filipino community. The following day, we were featured on the front page of a Borneo Newspaper issue. All our faces lit and we felt that all the pressure, stress, and draining days of practice were all worth it.

Memorable experiences included a seminar on Philippine folk dances with our Muslim brothers and sisters and Filipino teachers, which was spearheaded by our director at the Philippine Embassy grounds. We taught them to dance “Lapay,” a bird dance which originated from Masbate. And what would be more touching than to visit a country where your mother works? To our co-dancer, Kuya Amiel, there’s nothing else that comes close. He stayed at his mother’s place who’s been working in Brunei for 11 years and it was a heart-melting scene when we saw them hug each other. We also had one of our co-dancers celebrate his birthday in Brunei! We had a double celebration at the Philippine Ambassador’s residence for our troupe’s success and Justin’s birthday, as well as a thanksgiving mass at St. George Catholic Church with our dear fathers.

In a short span of time, we were able to appreciate Brunei’s culture. We loved the feeling of excitement every day as we left our respective homes, never knowing what surprises awaited for all of us. It was a whole new astonishing experience seeing wild monkeys freely playing in the woods, gold-plated mosques; forests enveloping the wonderful city, traffic-free roads, stunning architectural masterpieces, charming city lights and quiet streets at day, as well as during the night. Looking through the car’s window witnessing such picturesque sights was like watching a movie –everything felt amazingly different.

The strict and conservative country made us appreciate more of what we have back home: women there are not allowed to expose any part of their body except their hands and face, skirts and shorts should not be worn at public places; parties should be done privately, and of course, to our dismay as Filipinos – pork is ‘haram’ or forbidden because they consider it impure and unhealthy. Aside from these restrictions, there are still more on the list.

At the end of our four-day journey in Brunei, a part of us felt like we wanted to extend our stay even just for another day – just one more day to thank our foster families, and the Philippine Embassy officers and workers who took good care of us, and of course the Bruneians for wholeheartedly welcoming us. Brunei has a special place in our hearts now, and we are looking forward to returning in the future if conditions are favorable. First-time experiences always remain unforgettable and every moment spent in our journey will be forever written in our hearts.

Kudos to our dearest Rector, Rev. Fr. Ernesto M. Arceo, O.P.; Vice President for Religious Affairs, Rev. Fr. Felix C. Legaspi III, O.P.; Vice President of Administration and Finance, Rev. Fr. Edwin A. Lao, O.P.; Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Susana A. Cabredo, EdD;our choreographer, Sir Ronnie Mirabuena; and to our ever supportive and hard-working Director, Marie Veronique Berdin, who supported us all the way through and made this wonderful journey unforgettable. We owe you a lot.

Posted on: 09.05.2017