Bright Leaf Winners Tour Hanoi
February 22, 2016

It’s one instance where judges and winning contestants in a writing and photography contest get to indulge in special camaraderie every year. They travel together to a Southeast Asian destination as part of the prize for the major winners, with the judges from media serving as consorts, together with officers of the PMFTC, Inc. which has been sponsoring the laudable competition for nearly a decade now.

The winners of the 9th Bright Leaf Awards for Agriculture Journalism handed out last November have just enjoyed the bonus trip of four days and nights in historic Hanoi, capital of Vietnam — where it’s still winter, barely a fortnight past the start of the New Lunar Year of the Monkey.

That means thick-wear weather, averaging 14 to 17 degrees Celsius throughout the day — while marvelling at parks, lakes, lagoons and temple grounds redolent with flowering pink peach blossoms and golden kumquat highlighting potted trees with symbolic good fortune. Streetsides in Hanoi are spring-pretty with rows of pansies, asters, geraniums, marigolds and cosmos, while dark-red poinsettia are still in full bloom.

Landing at the Noi Bai International Airport past midnight last Wednesday, we managed to check in at Sofitel Metropole Hanoi in the old French Quarter in the wee hours. Reassembling for relatively late breakfast, it would be the only day — Day One — when our morning would start closer to noon, given our unearthly arrival time.

The next few days would have us gathering still sleepy-eyed for excellent French-pressed coffee and croissants for starters, then our individual choices from a variety of hearty brekky fare: not just the usual bacon, sausage, ham, smoked salmon, omelet or eggs done two-three ways, but also the Vietnamese pho or noodles and soup, two kinds of fried rice, dumplings, grilled fish, quiche Lorraine, all sorts of bread, et al.

Set on the tables are small jars of butter yet covered with paper, on which is printed: “Depuis 1901.” It doesn’t mean that the “beurre” is well over a century old and has miraculously escaped turning rancid. It’s the hotel building that’s that vintage — with art deco elements and stylish elegance permeating the entire environment.

Asking for a smoking room, we are rewarded with a first-floor (one up from the ground floor) bedroom from where one steps out into a common garden past individual balconies that feature heavy wrought-iron seats and a smoking (and writing or reading) table spelling Old World verdigris.

Colonialism certainly had its better attributes, although listening to our guide Hung Nguyen relate Hanoi’s and Ho Chi Minh’s history, one also can’t help but marvel at the can-do spirit of the Vietnamese, as manifested in their protracted battles for liberation from imperialist forces.

But for a motley group of Pinoy journalists out on a lark, historic gravitas naturally pales before the delights of touring, dining and shopping, even if the pitstops feature man’s resilience versus man’s inhumanity, and all the decades of struggle are telescoped into passing lore, or factoids that quickly give way to a continuous celebration of photo ops, selfies, duofies, groupies and Instagram squares as victors of the moment.

Ten of the 12 Bright Leaf awardees for 2015 are with us, most of them first-timers as Asian travelers. The two winning photographers, Frank Cimatu for Baguio Chronicle and Dave Leprozo Jr. for Manila Standard, are from Baguio, along with Hanna Lacsamana of Baguio Midland Courier, who won the award for Best Agricultural News Story, and photojournalist Mau Victa, who has won five Bright Leaf awards for photos and a journalistic feature to earn him Hall of Fame retirement from the contest as last year’s Oriental Leaf awardee.

Two other winners are from Luzon: Ian Ocampo Flora who won the Tobacco Story of the Year, which appeared in Sun Star Pampanga, and Manila Bulletin’s Rizaldy Comanda who won the Agriculture News Story of the Year.

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