Have pen, will travel: journalists living out of suitcase, roaming the world

(Editor’s Note: This article which I wrote  first came out on Claire Delfin Online Magazine. All photographs by EKU.)

“Have Pen, Will Travel” is a mantra for journalists for they roam the world in search of stories. All kinds of stories, from the mundane to the earth-shaking developments.

It’s their job and a way of life.

One of the world's best preserved emi-circle Roman Theater in Sabratha, Libya, 2008A semi-circle Roman Theater in Sabratha, Libya, one of the world’s best preserved Roman theater ruins. The Roman Empire once had an Africa-born emperor.

But, at the same time, a journalist also become what is described as “accidental tourist” or tourist by chance during their assignments, which take them in all and every corner of the world.

Having bundles of money gets one to travel and see every nook and cranny of the world. It’s the surest way.

But not the only way. Surely, there are other ways to get a chance to travel.

One, being a journalist! For journalists, too, by the nature of their job, roam the world; the warriors armed with the pen. And in the Internet era, with a smartphone, a notebook, a laptop . But the pen will be there. Always.

It comes with the job, journalists traveling often, that is. Journalists are accidental tourists.

An enchanting beach in Honolulu, HawaiiOne of the lovely beaches in a resort in Honolulu, Hawaii, United States.

Practically they live out of a suitcase.

Particularly pen-pushers who cover the Sports Beat; they get to see the world during international sporting events. Also journalists who cover the Presidential/ Malacañang Beat .

Journalists in Entertainment Beat also go on junkets for a movie launch; still others are foreign correspondents posted abroad.

Surely, other beats offer travel opportunities ;  like rain in summer, though .

In my case, I covered Muslim Affairs Beat, Manila Bulletin’s pioneering reportage for many years, and  then the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) Beat, Technical Education and Skills and Development Authority (TESDA), and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and its 18 attached agencies, or the Science Beat.

Manila Bulletin sent me abroad 38 times from 1994 to  January 2016. One, two, three, or four times a year, sometimes.

Merlion Park at Marina Bay in Singapore
At Merlion Park, Marina Bay, across the world-famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore.

Now that I am no longer with Manila Bulletin, I am still into Science Beat, and also IT (Information Technology) Beat as well as Current Events as a freelance journalist.

Science Beat brought me to Tsukuba City, Japan, on January 11-14, 2016, for the handover of Diwata-1 microsatellite to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The IT or Cyberpress Beat through Newsbytes.ph let me travel four times to Singapore, Macau, Singapore, and through Rappler to Taiwan in 2016-2017. Lucky me!

But traveling as journalist entails a lot of work; you are expected to write articles/stories about the coverage. Work and pleasure, with emphasis on work.

I’ve seen the world, or at least parts of it, only because I am a journalist. Never would have I made the foreign trips through my own pocket, which usually holds only loose change !

All of my travels abroad were on official business: all-expense-paid trips, either by the host or local sponsor. Free hotel accommodation and all, and many times with a chauffeured Limousine. Shuttle transfer from airport-hotel-airport, too.

Inside is the imposing statue of US President Abraham Lincoln, Washington DC.In Washington, D.C., United States. Inside the building is the imposing Abe Lincoln statue.

Visit to historic and other tourist spots is part of the package. You feel like a king, sometimes.

Some of my trips were coverage for events such as sessions of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), mainly because of the Philippine government and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace process brokered by the OIC; educational tours; journalism seminars;  three-time Mecca pilgrimage and coverage , etc.

My first trip abroad was to Saudi Arabia on invitation of the Ministry of Information, along with over 200 journalists from around the world. It was to cover and perform the Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.

Then Saudi Ambassador Fuad Hassan Faki sent me to Mecca through the endorsement of Prof. Ibrahim Mama-o, then the Saudi Embassy’s able and erudite Political and Economic Analyst.

Scouring for souvenirs in a souk (market), Sana'a, Yemen, 2008Scouring for souvenirs in one of the street shops in Sana’a, Yemen.

That 1994 Saudi Arabia trip was the gate that opened the world to me. It paved the way for yearly foreign trips that was unbroken until 2012. I declined an invitation from the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in 2013, and recommended someone else.

Manila Bulletin sent me to Bangkok, Thailand, in 2014; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in 2015; and Tokyo, Japan, in 2016; Newsbytes in Singapore and Macau, SAR, in 2016; Rappler in Taipei, Taiwan, and Newsbytes in Singapore in 2017. Lovely, indeed, the life of a journalist.

Thus, I walked hollowed and historic grounds in many countries, such as in 2010 — Libya and Indonesia; 2009 — Libya; 2008 — United States and Libya; 2007 — Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Pakistan; 2006 — Thailand; 2005 — Indonesia and Yemen; 2004 — Indonesia and Turkey; 2003 — Iran, Malaysia, Libya, and Saudi Arabia; 2002 — South Korea; 2001 — Libya; 2000 — Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Libya; 1999 — Iran and Saudi Arabia; 1998 — Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Libya; 1997 — Iran; 1996 — Kuwait; 1995 — United Arab Emirates; and 1994 — Saudi Arabia.

Not even in my wildest imagination did I ever dream of visiting all these countries. So, if I would have to choose again for the next 30 years, then I would surely choose to be a journalist again. It’s a no-brainer!

tent-city-for-pilgrims-mina-saudi-arabia-2009.pngThe Tent City in Mina, one of the sites of the Mecca pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia.

My first published article was on the Argentine-British Falklands Island War in the defunct Evening Post in 1982. Then on June 12, 1982, a Sunday, I transferred to the then Bulletin Today, later renamed Manila Bulletin.

Later on, I moonlighted as a correspondent for the paper and its sister tabloid papers, Tempo and Balita covering the Police Beat at the Western Police District Command. I also wrote for two Saudi Arabian newspapers, such as Saudi Gazette and Riyadh Daily, and  Qatar’s The Peninsula as their Manila-based correspondent.

Many, many years after, I still enjoy seeing my by-line with my articles.

Little joys, but another cure for stress from chasing and beating deadlines after deadlines after deadlines! (EKU)

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