Tuesday, July 21, 2009

25 Years Ago in Moscow, USSR

July 20, 1984
Moscow, USSR

Twenty five years ago today, the world celebrated the 15th anniversary of man's landing on the moon, and Miss Gloria Diaz's crowning as the first Filipina to win the Miss Universe crown. There was no such celebration much more euphoria that day when we arrived in Moscow from Zaporozhye (Ukraine). It was after all, the age of space race, and this time around, Russia lost to America in their race to put man in the moon. We were homeward bound, after 4 months of in-plant training in Zaporohztal Works and other big steel plants all over USSR. By the graciousness of our hosts, (UNDP, Moscow), they book us last to leave, a good one week stay at Rossia Hotel with nothing to do but count the days and explore the city.

Moscow was all white when we came in March, the minus 10 degree C considered already as spring time, not winter time. Now the city is in bright summer, the boats merrily cruising along Moscow River, passing the walls of the Kremlin. This is the sight we always watched every afternoon.

Moscow is big and beautiful, rightfully the capital of the mighty Soviet Empire. Here lies the greatest symbols of its power; the Kremlin and Red Square, and the famous Lenin Mausoleum, where its top leaders stand and view the greatest parade they perform every year, in celebration of the Great October Revolution, marking the communist rise to power from the czars. Red Square, ancient as it is and deriving its name from the Russian word, "grazeba", meaning beautiful, is the mother of all squares in this world's largest country. It continued to amaze us, enclosed by St. Basil's cathedral at the south end ( this cathedral is itself a beautiful work of art and architecture), the Kremlin and the seat of power at the westside, the GUM shopping mall ( Russia's largest) in the east, and the north entrance where downtown Moscow starts. From the restaurants in Rossia Hotel, we would view its splendor in the night, with another famous attraction, the changing of the Red Guards at Lenin's tomb.

Everyday then, we would accompany our co-trainees to the airport for their flight home, to Brazil, India, Peru, Yugoslavia, Pakistan, Mozambique, Laos, Egypt, etc. When it was our turn, there was nobody left to bid us goodbye.

We left Moscow on a bright summer afternoon on July 26, 1984 for our trip back home via Bombay (India) and Singapore. I was at the window seat, the sight of the city from above I kept on staring. Images of our 4 month stay keep on flashing; predicting that in the near future at the turn of the century, something big which will rock the country and the world will happen. Finally, just as our Aerofloat plane was about to be lost in the clouds, I muttered in silence, "Dosbedanya, Russia. Spaseeba, Spaseeba Bolshoi." (Goodbye, Russia. Thank You. Thank You Very Much)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tennis in my Steel Life

Tennis was and still is an important part of my steel life. And this holds true also to many of my former steel colleagues who also got hooked in this beautiful game.

Tennis was introduced to us at National Steel Corporation (Iligan City, Philippines) sometime in the early 1980's by the then newly appointed NSC President, Jose Ben R. Laraya, JBL to us. Many of us, men and ladies, instantly got hooked that the first tennis court built was just not enough to accommodate these budding and aspiring tennis players.

It's funny to recall that we would quarrel, argue, or what not on the time slot, pairings, etc. On Saturdays, some would camped out overnight just so they would have the first crack of slot the next day. Then, another court was added. Still it wasn't enough. By then, tournaments were held on different class levels. We were then in awe and got inspired by the first class players every time they played. Bettings, in kind or cash, was not unusual.

Everytime JBL would come to Iligan, tennis in the evenings was a required schedule. Meetings were adjourned at 6pm and would resume after he would finish playing. At first, he played against the other managers and executives. But as a serious competitor himself, he could not somehow get satisfaction from these officers with their limited skills to match his and his passion to a good, real tennis game. In due time, he chose the first-class players as his partners and opponents where he could really enjoy the game. That time, too, tennis, together with other sports, like NBA, would be our language, in and out of work.

On rainy days, JBL and us got disappointed. So he approved the construction of a roof where we could play anytime and uninterrupted, come rain or shine. We were proud to say then that our shell clay court was the best tennis court in Mindanao. Then a third court was added.

Around Iligan, tennis also flourished. Big games were held in Bacayo Courts in Rosario Heights, in Benitez courts in Palao, In mSU-IIT, in Sanitarium hospital, in Tubod, etc. Camoy Palahang, who later became a stand out in the Philippine team was just then a promising young boy. Many outstanding players were noticed. Surprisingly, they came from towns in Linamon, Tubod, Bacolod, Kapatagan, and even across Misamis Oriental.

It was the era of Borg and McEnroe, then Lendl and Wilander, Becker. Until Agassi and Sampras came. For women, there was Navratilova, Austin, Seles and my favorite, Steffi Graf. Now it's Federer, Nadal, Murray, and company. In the women's draw, the Williams sisters, Henin, Cljisters, Sharapova, Ivanovic, Safina, Dementieva and other Russian ladies.

Tennis is indeed royalty. I do not play it anymore, though I hope I could in the near future. There is a tennis court near our neighborhood and it's just a matter of going back to it. Meantime, I do not miss the games on TV especially the Grand slam events. I grew up with it as I grew up in my world of steel.