Manny Pacquiao smiled his way through hundreds of fans at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. It was nearly midnight in the middle of October and Pacman just arrived in Manila from his home in General Santos City. Security around him was tight, but he made sure to stop when other passengers and airport employees requested selfies. When he finally got on the plane, he was so exhausted that he slept almost the entire flight.
These days, airports are probably Pacquiao’s second home. And every city he visits, he is welcomed as no less than an A-list celebrity. New York City was no exception.
When we got to the JFK Airport, everybody wanted a piece of the eight-division world champion. He can’t even go to the washroom without being followed by fans asking for autographs and pictures.
As part of Pacquiao’s entourage, I had exclusive access to his interviews with international media networks such as MSNBC and Bloomberg.
He talked about his plans to retire from boxing and to focus on his political career. The news anchors in the US were curious why he wanted a seat in Senate when he already had a comfortable life. He said it all started with his desire to help his mother. He was a kid who knew nothing about the big city, but everything about hunger, poverty and hardship. Now that he has more than enough for himself, he wants to share it to fellow Filipinos who are experiencing poverty like he did.
In between appointments, Manny liked playing chess at the hotel lounge. He played for hours on end, only stopping at times to eat and attend to fans.
The highlight of the trip was Pacquiao’s recognition as the 2015 Asia Game Changer of the Year from the group Asia Society. This prestigious award is for Asians who excel in various fields such as sports, politics, business, charity and others. Last year, the recipient was Alibaba founder Jack Ma.
The other awardees this year were LED light inventor Dr. Shuji Nakamura, and electronics company founder Lei Jun who is known as “the Steve Jobs of China.” In an event with some of the wealthiest, most popular and most accomplished people in the world, everyone wanted a few seconds of Manny Pacquiao’s time (and maybe a snapshot or two).
I realized how lucky I was to consider Kuya Manny a good friend. As a sports reporter, I get to cover his training camps and know who he truly is behind all the cameras and fanfare.
Concrete Jungle of Dreams
New York is twelve hours behind so I had to file my reports at dawn. After that, I had a few hours before another coverage day begins. Because it was my first time in the city, I barely slept so I can go sightseeing.
I went to Central Park to watch the sunrise, drank my favorite coffee outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, asked a stranger to take my photo along 5th Avenue, visited Grand Central Terminal, strolled along Times Square (and wished I had time to watch a Broadway play), and took photos with the NYPD.
It has also been my personal routine to try McDonald’s in every new place I visit. At 2am, I was walking the chilly streets with Team Pacquiao and looking for burgers.
After 52 hours in New York, I learned it’s impossible to get lost in New York, what with all the street signs. Second, Pacquiao really liked chess. And third, the celebrity of Pacquiao spans across all nations, ages, and social class.
The flight home was no different from the rest of the trip: people lining up to see Pacman, and me getting amazed at how he can keep smiling despite the jet lag and sleeplessness. He really is the People’s Champ.
[Entry 105, The SubSelfie Blog]
Editor’s Note: Mav Gonzales had the chance to visit New York City for the very first time back in October to cover Manny Pacquiao. This January, she returned to the Big Apple to document his promotional tours for his bout with Timothy Bradley Jr. — supposedly the last fight of Pacman’s storied boxing career. (But it isn’t the end yet for the Fighting Senator).
About the Author:
Mav Gonzales is a sports reporter and news correspondent for GMA News. She says she can recite the alphabet backwards and that she won’t eat the birdling in balut. She also loves to sing and is a member of the seasonal rock band of GMA reporters dubbed News Maryosep.