Tense sea row can’t spoil OFWs’ ‘harana’ in China
SANYA, China—Despite the difficulties brought about by the tensions between the Philippines and China, Filipino singers are making their mark in this seaside city, regaling guests of hotels and resorts with their style of entertaining they call harana.
Cherry Navajas, 33, and Percival Golla, 39, have been working as entertainers in China for more than a decade.
“We entered China on a tourist visa, which was later converted to a working visa. It was easier back then,” said Navajas, who first arrived in Beijing in 2003. “Today, it’s a bit more difficult to get a working visa,” she said.
According to Golla, the killing of Hong Kong tourists during the Quirino Grandstand hostage-taking incident in August 2010 and the disputes over territories in the South China Sea may have somewhat contributed to this difficulty.
“Sometimes, we also encounter guests who associate us with these issues because we’re Filipinos,” he said.
“People here are really updated with the news abroad,” Navajas said, recounting an experience she had with one of the guards at a resort. “He told me, ‘You Filipinos better stop claiming our islands!’” she recalled, laughing. “I stood my ground and said I had nothing to do with the issue,” she said.
“Some Chinese employees also defended me and asked him to stop harassing me,” she said.
Navajas, who graduated with a degree in tourism from Lyceum of the Philippines University, originally wanted to be a flight attendant. She applied to join an airline after graduation but was told it would take time before she could be hired. “Some friends asked me if I wanted to tag along with them to sing in Beijing. I have been in China ever since.”
“My uncles invited me to work here because the pay and benefits are good,” said Golla, a father of two from Baras town, Rizal province.
Performers like Navajas and Golla can earn anywhere from P50,000 to P90,000 in a month. With other hotel employees, they are housed in a dormitory 30 minutes away from the hotel. “Everything is provided for. We spend only if we want to cook something other than what is served in the canteen,” Navajas said.
Though they have been friends for years, Golla and Navajas are a fairly new musical team. Navajas’ original guitarist was her longtime partner Alan, who died of a brain tumor earlier this year.
“He was a good man. Today is actually his birthday, that’s why we are wearing green, his favorite color,” Navajas said. Alan’s brain tumor was diagnosed just last year. “He just stopped playing in the middle of our set,” Navajas said. “I asked him what was wrong, but he couldn’t answer me. He just blanked out. He couldn’t move his hands.”
She took him back to the Philippines, where he underwent an operation to remove the tumor. By December 2013, he was back playing in Sanya.
“It was a busy season. It must have tired him out,” Navajas said. A few months later, Alan had a seizure. By March, he was dead.
“It was a difficult time,” said Navajas. “I thought I was going crazy with sadness.” She took three months off work. Golla filled in for the couple, performing for the hotel guests.
By last June, Navajas was back at work, with Golla by her side. “The Chinese guests really like Filipino singers because we are good at singing foreign language songs,” he explained. “We’re really good at studying accents.”
They call their style of entertaining and singing harana, after the traditional Filipino lyrical song often used in courtship rituals.
Today, there may be an estimated 100 Filipinos working on Hainan Island, of which Sanya is one of the major cities. “Almost all the hotels here have Filipinos on their staff,” Navajas said.
To those who want to work as entertainers in China, she has only one tip: “Just have patience. Lots and lots of patience.”
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