Archive for March, 2010

The 60th wedding anniversary of the US$4.2-billion man

Posted in miscellaneous on March 31, 2010 by gohelpyourself

The singers for Henry Sy's wedding anniversary take a break after the ceremonies. From left: Allan Asor, Arnel Mariano, Allan Puno, Pepe de Leon, Audrey Cabalfin, my wife Em, and me.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

It’s not often that you get to sing for the richest man in the country. And a 60th wedding anniversary is even rarer. That’s why singing for the renewal of vows of this man tops the rarity chart for me.

My wife and I, together with five other members of the music ministry of the Shrine of Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life, were lucky in this regard. Henry Sy, according to Forbes magazine, has a net worth of US$4.2 billion. He’s rank 201 among the world’s billionaires. That’s number 201 out of the world’s population of 6.8 billion as of end 2009.

That means he’s at the 99.999997 percentile in terms of economic status. His printing business is definitely doing good… printing money, that is. Lots of it.

And yet, he remains a frugal and humble man. Not much fanfare at the Shrine, which is near the SM Mall of Asia and SMX at the Reclamation Area in Pasay. There were probably less than 200 people in the church. You would think it was just another wedding at the Shrine.

Well, not until you see the two long lines of priests getting ready for the procession. There was Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal B. Rosales, and there was Bishop Teddy Bacani. And there was a long retinue of other bishops and priests, including our rector, Monsignor Bobby Canlas.

Only a few guests attend Henry Sy's renewal of vows at the Shrine of Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Then I saw Philamlife President and CEO Jose Cuisia, Jr., too. There were probably a few other well-known businessmen that I didn’t recognize from the choir loft. As volunteers, we were there to take part in the celebration, to thank the man who built the beautiful Shrine that we loved. Long before SM Mall of Asia and the SMX Convention Center were built, there was the Shrine. For years, it was the only structure in the area.

From nothingness, the Shrine rose and, through the dedication and discipline of Monsignor Bobby, the Shrine community grew. Now, with the SM Mall of Asia nearby, more people hear Mass at the Shrine.

Henry Sy and his family made this possible. And it was just proper to celebrate his renewal of vows to his wife and to the Lord at the Shrine he built. He looked happy, despite having to use the wheelchair and depending on other people. His wife Felicidad beamed with joy beside him.

A well-wisher shakes Mr. Sy's hand after the ceremonies.

It was a joy to watch them together with family and friends to celebrate. It was a joy to sing for them, too. We sang the usual Mass songs. Our fellow volunteer Allan Puno sang a heartfelt “Our Father” by Malotte. My wife and I sang “The Prayer” during the communion.

We never got to talk to Mr. Sy or shake his hand. But I guess we said enough with our singing.

And it’s nice to see a billionaire continue to make our country a better place.



Sky Experience Adventure: Definitely not for acrophobes

Posted in travel on March 25, 2010 by gohelpyourself

For a few seconds, I forgot my panic.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

“You just push this switch up if you want to get it back to normal position,” said the guide. He was referring to the switch at the middle of the handle that secured me to the seat of the Edge Coaster.

After almost a decade when I last tried to cure my acrophobia, I thought now would be a good time to make another attempt. The last one was at the Ferris wheel in Enchanted Kingdom in Laguna. I hugged the center pole of the Ferris wheel car during the whole ride. I remembered praying. But the saints were having a break. I consoled myself thinking that maybe many others were praying, too.

This time around I just had to try this Sky Experience Adventure at the Crown Regency Hotel and Towers in Cebu. I’ve heard about it last year. Judging from the faces of the people in the photos I’ve seen, it looked exciting.

At the 38th floor of the hotel was a coaster ride that the hotel management said was the first in the world. They call it the Edge Coaster, a deceptively harmless name, I should say. It was a stripped down roller coaster seat, that is, without the enclosure of the usual roller coaster car. It’s just a seat or, in this case, two seats per coaster.

The Edge Coaster just goes around the edge of the building so you can enjoy the beautiful panoramic view of the city. But there’s a twist. The Edge Coaster is tilted 53 degrees so you can also get a good view of death 38 stories below.

The guide was telling me and my companion, Jude–no, not that “companion”–that we can control the tilting by pressing the button at the handle that secured us to our seats. Jude and I were in Cebu to conduct a writing workshop for some PLDT Group employees. We had nothing else to do that night so we decided to have a little adventure.

Anyway, I wasn’t paying much attention to the guide. It was around 7pm and I was enjoying the colorful lights of the city.

Before I could clarify what the guide was telling us, our coaster started to move. Too late.

Seconds later, our coaster was tilting. As we reached the edge, our coaster was already 53 degrees tilting toward the ground. The sudden view of the concrete down below hit my amygdala, that seat of emotion in the brain, like a left hook from Manny Pacquiao. I saw the death incarnate right before me.

It was pure panic. I couldn’t scream. Then there was a burst of expletives. I was talking to Jude. He told me to shut up. He was panicking too.

I was trying to recall what the guide said. “Push the button to control the tilt.” I pushed it twice. Nothing happened. I was already looking up at the sky because I couldn’t bear to look down or even at the horizon.

As fear started to build up, a photographer called our attention so he could take our pics. I was distracted. And, like Piolo Pascual in a photo shoot, I smiled for the camera. For a few seconds, my panic disappeared.

After we made another turn, however, the dread started to build up again. I pushed the button. But this time, I steadily held it in the up position. Our coaster started to tilt back. Thank God, my brain worked this time.

Finally our coaster was back at the level position. Jude asked me if I was the one who pushed the switch. I said yes. “Can we just tilt it a little?”

“No way!” I protested. Good thing he never insisted or tried to push the button himself. I could have delivered a nasty back fist strike.

After 2 or 3 minutes, no more than that, we got back to the starting point. But it seemed like forever. I was so relieved.

I let out a few more expletives and got out of the coaster.

“I won’t do this ever again,” I told the guide.

When we got back to the reception area and got back our things, a lady asked us if we wanted to have our picture. I asked how much. She said P230.

Wow, I told myself. These people know how to make money. Whoever thought of having this Edge Coaster to attract tourists is a genius.

What the heck. I might as well have a souvenir from this experience, even if it almost killed me. The picture showed us on the fully-tilted coaster smiling. What a lie. I don’t know what would’ve happened if the photographer didn’t distract me for that shot.

There was also a free Edge Coaster certificate that we can show to people who may think that we just made this up.

I have proof.

It was now time to eat. The P600 we paid earlier was for the Edge Coaster ride and a buffet dinner. So we proceeded to the Sparkz Restobar at the 37th floor to celebrate our triumph over death, repent for our sins and reform our lives.

But first we had to savor and stuff ourselves with delectable Filipino, Chinese, Italian and Japanese food.

Earlier we thought of trying out the Sky Walk, where people get to walk around the edge of the building with a harness. But one ride was enough for me.

For some, the Edge Coaster was 53 degrees of bliss. But for me, it was 53 degrees of terror, and it should be called Terror Coaster instead. I’m not complaining, though. A little excitement, after all, was what I was looking for. That night I felt alive and I’m glad I still am.