It’s been pretty exciting but nothing says bigger, bolder, and brighter as the holiday season and the end of another year draw near. At the beginning of 2022, I thought it was just the long break that made everything seem exhilarating. After all, you tend to see the same faces at diplomatic functions and event formats lean on certain similarities. As the year progressed and events got more regular, it became apparent that the long break was a time of reflection and planning. Noticeably, diplomacy nowadays has become more inclusive to the general public with diplomats now more accessible and their work, more visible.
UNCLOS @ 40
Indeed, 2022 was one for the milestones. Aside from celebrations that put culture and bilateral relationships in focus, there’s also a lot going on in matters of state. Just yesterday, Dec. 9, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) commemorated the 40th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea’s (UNCLOS) opening for signature.
It’s the legal instrument that served as the basis for the 2016 Arbitral Award that affirmed the Philippines’ maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea. To commemorate this, the DFA’s maritime and ocean affairs office hosted a forum that brought together maritime experts, academics, and the diplomatic corps to discuss the Philippines’ invaluable contribution to the development of UNCLOS, and the convention’s important role in world affairs.
Just in time for sending out holiday cards, they also launched a commemorative stamp that features Senator Arturo M. Tolentino flanked by diplomats at the Third UN Conference of the Law of the Sea. Time to send your Christmas cards with a touch of patriotism.
National days and holiday cheer
The pressure is on for countries hosting national day events this time of year but each one shined in their own right. The Finnish brought their A-game by turning their national day venue into a winter wonderland. Blue and white lights flooded the venue with snowflakes projected throughout the evening, giving everyone a taste of what nights in Helsinki and Rovaniemi can look like. Renowned Finnish photographer Ritva Kovalainen also shared a moment of calm with her video The Flowing Forest, a meditative voyage into the depths of primeval forests. Finnish Ambassador Juha Pyykkö earlier shared that spending time in nature is one of the many secrets to the Finns’ five-year streak of being the happiest people on earth.
The United Arab Emirates held a glittering affair at the Shangri-La at the Fort but it wasn’t just about socials that evening. At the beginning of the program, Ambassador Mohamed Obaid Alqataam Alzaabi led an honorary tribute for Filipina nurse Lezly Orine Ocampo who died in the line of duty. She was serving as a nurse in Abu Dhabi at the height of the pandemic. Upon her death in May 2020, UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan personally conveyed his sympathies to her family.
The Thais also celebrated theirs this week and it was a spectacular display of culture and economic presence here in the Philippines. From being treated to the elegance of Thai dances to Thai food favorites and updates from Ambassador Tull Traisorat on bilateral relations, it was an evening that also brought more awareness to Thai businesses that Filipinos will love. Thai milk tea brand ChaTraMue, which recently opened at Mall of Asia, coffee chain Cafe Amazon, and even food conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF) all added snacks and drinks to the Dusit Thani spread. It was a sight to see Thai milk tea drunk from cups and straws among the wine glasses.
The French Embassy opened Marché de Noël, a Christmas market at Ayala Triangle that runs until the end of the year. Ambassador Michelle Boccoz who wanted to bring French tradition nearer to Filipinos picked the perfect venue as the annual Festival of Lights is also happening at the park. Les Grande Personnes, French giant puppets reminiscent of the Higantes of Rizal, graced the event along with award-winning Parisian children’s choir, Les Petits Chanteurs à la Croix de Bois. It may not be snowing but vin chaud from the market is always a good idea.
All year, I feel like I’ve been talking about how things have come back with a vengeance in the world of diplomacy. Leaders and diplomats are traveling again, Thailand hosted APEC, and we’ve seen some pretty high-level visits on our shores as well.
Turning Japanese in BGC
Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, was recently highlighted at SM Aura during the ruby anniversary of the Ikenobo Ikebana Society of the Philippines. Japanese Ambassador Kazuhiro Koshikawa and his wife Madame Yuko, who practices the art herself, were in attendance. Ambassador Koshikawa found the event an interesting fusion of cultures with some of the arrangements featuring the nativity scene, a very Filipino touch to an art form from a mainly Buddhist country.
Proof that a strong culture works wonders for business is the opening of Japanese department store Mitsukoshi in BGC and its instant popularity. In it, the third branch of lash and nail salon Tokyo Glam PH also opened its doors to customers. Entrepreneur Michelle Takijima, who loved such salons in Japan, decided to bring the concept to the Philippines along with Japanese lash and nail experts training her Filipino staff. It’s a perfect addition to Mitsukoshi’s growing list of stores, making the department store the new hotspot for high-standards products and services.
One of the many layers of diplomacy include being a tool that brings different countries and people together. For so long, however, it’s been seen as an exclusive, unapproachable profession. That has changed so much, especially in the last two years. Thankfully, people are now more privy to how the work of diplomats affect not just state policy but even the everyday lives of us regular citizens.