I’ll admit I wasn’t very kind in reviewing Journey to the East Banquet during my last visit. Back then although this ‘celebration of Asian culture’ was still in its toddler years, the overwhelming covers of Top-40 pop songs didn’t allow me to view ‘cultural performances’ as the event boldly proclaimed.
Fast forward to last weekend—the University of South Florida was hosting its 7th annual Journey to the East Banquet. As a USF Asian organization alumni (specifically from the Association of Filipino Students) I felt compelled to show some support. This Banquet was the final celebration to a week full of JE events celebrating Asian culture.
And now I’ll admit—I was blown away. Dare I say jealous too? The theme this year revolved around Elements and Change. Although there were still hints of the old JE, all elements had evolved. We could only dream of something this grand when I was still a USF student helping to organize events.
The lights within the Student Center’s Ballroom were dimmed allowing the flickering from tea candles (battery powered to avoid the school’s fire hazards) to cast shadows around the tea pots serving as centerpieces. Rather than the Ballroom’s cluster of wall lights projecting distracting glare, a very large poster was placed over the lights with the words “Journey to the East” in cut out. The result served as a background for many group photos while being both artistic and imposing.
As with other JE events, free admission and food were a draw. Instead of the pasts’ stampede to the buffet line, volunteer student servers dropped both drinks and food to each table. I nibbled on the lukewarm Fried Rice and Lo Mein while wondering out loud the discipline of these servers. During my USF years as soon as the performances began the volunteers would mysteriously disappear—but these guys were professional throughout.
Ah yes—the talent is what makes the Banquet. Among the variety of entertainment celebrating Asian culture were brightly colored Filipino Folk dancers waving their flower arcs, a Lion Dance that weaved its way around the room before settling on stage, Judo demonstrations, and even a rap in the Chinese language. Scattered between performances were entertaining videos strong audio following the inception of Journey to the East and all the organizations involved.
Although a handful of performances weren’t explicitly cultural (does having Asian performers count?) I’ll give them passes. The two dance groups kept up high-energy moves while the singer Sabrina Santos belted out powerful vocals. Out of all the performances perhaps the only questionable one was the ending headliner, a budding singer named Albert Posis. Although talented in vocals and guitar he was just a stranger wooing a crowd full of students who were more excited at seeing their friends perform.
I’ll admit my expectations going in were rather low but that’s not why I was greatly impressed and entertained the whole time. This Banquet was better planned than other events I’ve attended organized by older adults. Perhaps next time I’d just suggest more interactive elements—who wants their name written in Chinese Calligraphy? Or their photo next to costumed entertainers?—but nahhh this is a free event after all totally run by volunteers and donations. I’m proud of the current leaders of the USF Asian organization and (in some way) I’m also wishful this JE event became this good because of the bases left by my generation.