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This thing called ‘Laboracay’

Everything turned golden as the retreating fireball that is the sun poured blankets of gold over a rapturous crowd. The powdery sand found its way between my toes and tickled my feet. The air was sticky, and so was the heat. Evening loomed. It was immaculate, it was extreme. It can only be “Laboracay.”

As certain as the deadline of the filing of tax returns every April 15 is this event just around the corner, held on the weekend closest to Labor Day. It is dubbed the “spring break of the Philippines,” and people flock to the pristine blue waters and stretching shoreline, and the sleepless clubs and hotels. Of course, it draws the young crowd; its marketing niche is peopled by young urban professionals with restless souls and money to burn.

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Tired of the mind-numbing traffic and unforgiving city heat, we all came to Boracay so we could eat at McDonalds clad only in our swim shorts, or nibble on breakfast croissants at Starbucks at 3 p.m.

You’d think there’s a national convention of yuppies during this strange weekend. Among the places to celebrate overtime pay and midyear bonus, it has to be Boracay, which was recently crowned one of the Top 10 Best Islands in Asia in TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards for 2016.

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Is it any wonder why many choose to mark turning points here? Laboracay is that bridge between college naivete and young professionalism. You remember your own reckless Batch Bora when you just graduated high school, and awkwardly rocked your Loco Frio tumblers in the air with your batch. There is no more dazzling a sight: revellers rushing to meet deadlines and working on their MacBooks along the shoreline during the day, and then turning into party animals as darkness falls.

This is the landscape of Filipino millennials immersed in the working life even if most, if not all, are not even a decade deep into their working years. Still our contribution to the labor force is not insignificant. As statistics will show, the Philippine population is one of the youngest in the world, with a median age of 23. This means that half of the population are above 23 years old and the other half are below it. It can be inferred from this number alone that the age of the country is absolutely fertile, and that members of the younger population are joining the labor force in droves, or preparing to.

While many of its neighbors are aging, the Philippines is relatively young and will stay that way for some time.

This young work force is indeed very fortunate. Coddled by devoted parents and fueled by vast opportunities brought by modern times, we were raised to be at the receiving end of good education and technological advancement. We earned our academic degrees relatively easier than did previous generations, whose primary motivation was to provide this generation—their children—with the chances that they didn’t have. The result: a highly educated and skilled group of millennials whose technological fearlessness is feeding the growing industries and whose newfound financial independence is reshaping consumer behavior and the economy. It’s not surprising for the business sector and government officials to be waxing poetic about this advantageous demographic.

But alas, this is how we have chosen to celebrate—a weekend of revelry in a faraway island, in the company of strangers turned into friends, snaking our way through Epic, Guilly’s, Paraw and Sur. Had many of us young people been born in a different generation, our life stories and Snapchat stories would definitely not be filled with scenes of reckless abandon on some gorgeous beach.

This hedonistic lifestyle, though only for a weekend, has annoyed, even angered, many observers. Young people lying unconscious on the sand, bottles of Jägermeister littering the beach, and a packed crowd of topless crossfit boys and dieting girls have never failed to raise eyebrows higher than their raised selfie sticks and GoPros. That they partied so hard they pushed themselves to oblivion in the course of satisfying their shallow ideas of happiness is the common criticism. And what about the wreckage left behind for the locals to clean up, as everyone groggily headed back to air-conditioned condos and offices in the city?

Perhaps this educated and skilled young workforce is too cosmopolitan and sophisticated for its own good. In a country with a 5.8 percent unemployment rate (as of last January) and an educational system with tremendous room for improvement, we are lucky indeed. But if we are not discerning enough, we will soon find that some of our bad decisions are not like the trash we can leave behind for others to pick up. That this annual Laboracay is a method of escape—from the harsh city struggle, or our flaky friends, or a nonsensical series of events aligning in our lives—is true. In this weekend escape, there is nothing but fun without prejudice, love without condition. But when our bags are packed and we look forward to resuming our regular eating habits, we face the challenge that the only reason we are so advantaged today is so that we can create more advantages for the next generation.

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I remember the previous year’s Laboracay, when we reveled unabashedly in the waters in the night with a giant beach ball. When it was starting to get light, we got ourselves some grilled food that was being offered by a stall open at that ungodly hour. We ate the charred chicken parts along the shore while it rained, and watched our fellow party people trudge back to their hotel rooms. When I made it to mine, the hot shower was stinging and the bed sheets delicately pressed. The sun was rising behind the thin curtains.

What an incredible noisy night it had been. And what a beautiful, silent morning. Everything was golden.

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TAGS: Boracay, employment, Holiday, Labor Day, Laboracay, summer
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