His warm personality can be infectious and Isabelito Aspa Jr. has used it to his advantage.
The 20-year old who loves to put a pink cotton ball on his wrist is a tour guide at the Yamang Bukid Farm (YBF) in the outlying village of Bacungan.
Wearing a pair of rain boots, pants and a blue shirt emblazoned with block letters proclaiming Yamang Bukid Farm as an agri-tourism site, Aspa was now meeting a group of local tourists who were stepping off a van and are lining up to avail of free taste of turmeric 10-in-1 tea at the farm entrance.
“Welcome to Yamang Bukid Farm, ma’am, sir. Hope you enjoy your stay here. Free taste,” Aspa, known to friends and colleagues as Sab or Sabie, says as he hands a cup of Yamang Bukid Healthy Products’ turmeric 10-in-1 tea to each of the new visitors.
“I like it here, you can meet new people every day,” Sabie says, ringing the pink feathery trinket around his right wrist.
A resident of Puerto Princesa’s Cabayugan village, Sabie is from a fairly large family where tolerance has been the norm as it is love.
His father is a farmer and his mother is an enterprising housewife who hawks everything, from cosmetics to homemade delicacies.
“I used to join my mother in selling polvoron (a powdery sweetened confectionary), carioca (a type of Palawan delicacy) and Avon products near the entrance of the (Puerto Princesa) Underground River in Sabang,” the youngest of nine siblings recall. “She is not a spendthrift. She is frugal.”
During his elementary days, Sabie found his hobby of designing clothes, particularly gowns. He practiced it well until his classmates noticed his talent and asked him to design their toga during their high school graduation.
After secondary school, Sabie took up a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management in one of the tertiary schools in Palawan where he met and became friends with Professor Melissa Olit, a consultant for Yamang Bukid Farm.
Professor Olit hired him and several other students to help at the farm’s restaurant part-time. Into his third year in college, Sabie was offered by the farm management a scholarship until he got his degree.
As a way of paying it back, Sabie decided to apply for a full-time job at the farm.
He says his work entails meeting people and attending to their needs while guiding them in their tour around the sprawling agri-tourism destination.
“You should give the guests full service. You attend to them in a cheerful, friendly manner. That’s my mantra in my job here.” Sabie says, adding his crackling laugh is also an additional asset.
“Sometimes guests would also join in my laughter. I hope they won’t get irritated, but that’s just the way how I laugh,” he said.
The farm tour guide, who openly admits being gay, says he gets respect and acceptance from fellow workers like that of his family’s.
“They love me even if I’m Sabie,” he says, once again letting loose his infectious guffaws. He first learned liking girl stuff when he was still in kindergarten. But despite being effeminate, Sabie says his family accepted him whole-heartedly. He never heard being mocked upon, much less condemned, in their home. He was allowed to freely express himself.
He says he is grateful Yamang Bukid Farm is not only a place that values its employees by giving them competitive pay and its customers by extending them excellent service. The upland paradise has become a place of tolerance for him and other members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
The farm does not discriminate against workers just because of gender or sexual preferences. It supports that diversity, instead. The most striking feature of the farm related to this is its multi-gender washroom or toilet, in which it built four separate toilets for male, female, gay and lesbian guests.