Mr. Congeniality

I often receive invitations from various ethnic communities to attend events. I am honored to receive those, and my wife and I try to attend as many as possible, as they are usually fundraisers for great causes, scholarships and charities. Sometimes they are cultural, and I often find those to be the most fun. Recently, my wife and I were invited to attend the Terno Ball put on by Hawaii Filipino Women’s Club. A terno is a Philippine traditional women’s formal evening gown. You’d probably recognize it by the butterfly sleeves.

While the Terno Ball has awards recognizing outstanding Filipino women, there is also a contest for the best terno gown. Of slightly less importance is a contest for men, on who is wearing the best barong tagalog, which is a traditional formal-wear Philippine men’s shirt.

A few years ago, a great Filipino friend of mine had two barongs custom-made for me. She spared no expense, and they were quite extravagant. I wore my best one that evening. Needless to say, I was pressed into entering the “Mr. Barong” contest. The competition looked stiff, and this being an election year, politicians were out in full force – one of whom was Mayor Kirk Caldwell, a past barong contest winner.

But I was getting great feedback from everyone who saw my barong. It was made of shiny gold material with elaborate embroidery design and crystal buttons. No disrespect to the tradition, but it looked like it could have been one of Liberace’s pajama tops. I was feeling very encouraged by everyone saying I would win and the flashing of the “thumbs up” sign. Contestants each were assigned a number by which we would line up and parade in front of the judges and the audience.

I was right behind Mayor Caldwell. My confidence was boosted as even the other contestants told me that I would win. As we walked in line and approached the judges, the mayor stepped out of line and picked up entertainer Kristian Lei’s adorable baby girl, who was clothed in a mini terno outfit. My chances were suddenly dashed, as no way could anyone not vote for the baby and the guy holding her.

Sure enough, Mayor Caldwell won Mr. Barong. I was first runner-up. Oh well. “Always the bridesmaid and never the bride,” I always say.