Sunday, August 31, 2008

Human Encounters 101: Foreigners in the Philippines

Aug 29, 2008(Friday)- It was quite an encounter. I was just about to leave the office to meet my friends in Robinson Manila when I received a call on my mobile phone. It was Roel Hoang Manipon, my journalist friend, and fellow lover of life and knowledge. He said he met two foreigners (one German guy and one Spanish woman) by the gate of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila in Intramuros. He asked if I could bring them along with me since I was just about to have dinner and the couple were looking for a place where they could eat. I obliged and relented eventually (perhaps for having nothing better to do, hehe, telling myself that this was something new). I met them and, after a brief introduction of sorts, Roel left them to my care just like that.

David is a teacher from south of Germany (i still couldn't get the exact name of his town to this day) and Nai is a marketing person from Madrid. I took them to Robinson's Manila where we met the rest of my friends (Jenny, Myra, Nydia, and Rene). We decided to take them to this strip of grill "houses" along malate, in front of Tia Maria's. They ordered mostly veggie barbecues (tofu, eggplant, tomatoes) while we had "sisig". They initially begged off when we told them that "sisig" was the meat and skin off a pig's head, but they got curious and eventually tasted it and found it delicious. Afterwards, we headed for the videoke bar Synder's in Nakpil where I sang Freddie Aguilar's "Anak" for them (they heard it back in Coron, Palawan, where they also met the legend himself, Pepe Smith). Nai graciously relented to our request and sang The Police's "Roxanne" and Shakira's "Te Dejo Madrid." Later, they left ahead and met a friend in Penguin's Cafe while we stayed on singing to our heart's content.

The next day, we (Nydia and I) met them by lunch time at Quiapo church. I told them about what little I know of the Black Nazarene and the annual procession every January. David was amazed to find Jollibee beside the church itself (commerce & religion do mix). Outside, Nai bought the seven colored candle (at P20). Randomly, she handed out candles to us: green candle (money & good fortune) to Nydia; red candle (good health & for family) to me; and orange candle (career & success) to David. Afterwards, they both bought the pirated CD of Freddie Aguilar at the Carriedo street. Then I bought unripe mango along the way and they were surprised by its sourness. I also had them taste the "panutsa" with peanuts. Then, we walked over to the Ongpin street (the Sta.Cruz side) and met Myra. We had a very late lunch at Chuankee restaurant or the Fireman's Cafe beside the Binondo church in Ongpin still. David tried the beef noodle while Nai ordered for lumpia and fried tofu. I got the kiampong and shared some siomai with Myra. They insisted on paying the bill. Afterwards, they asked if we know how to get to Makati for a cockfight derby. We asked them for the exact address in their Lonely Planet guide. We squeezed ourselves inside a cab going to Tambo, ParaƱaque but there wasn't any cockfight scheduled for that day. We were told that we could catch one in Zapote, Alabang, so off we zoomed. Myra had to ask the lady at the entrance if we could get in for free as we were only there to see the show and not to gamble. We were allowed free entrance and we got seats in the balcony section (second floor) where we got a good view of the fight. The crowd expectedly were men and they were curious at first with our presence but then went back immediately to placing their bets when the cocks appeared inside the ring. David had a grand time catching some of it on his digicam. Fifteen minutes later and we were all a bit disoriented with our first cockfight, specially after seeing blood squirting from at least 6 pairs of fighting cocks lacerated as they were by the "tarik" or blade in their feet. Then you had the whole buzz of the "kristos" dealing out fast hand signals to bettors left and right. "Shocked" was the word I had when David asked me how I felt. We took the bus out of there. I fell asleep in mid travel and when I woke up, we were already in Buendia. We then transfered to a bus going to Ayala because they said they wanted to see Makati. They were amused to see this side of the country. Passing through Landmark, David bought a pair of brown DupƩ slippers, immediately throwing the Thai flip flop he had. We settled into eating dinner at Fuzion where they had this bed set up outside. David & Nai only had salad as they were still full from the Binondo lunch. The Filipino that I am, I ordered the rice meal arroz ala cubana. :) Nai amused us when she went around barefoot while waiting for our food to arrive. She came back asking us about the salary that the lowest paid and the highest paid Filipino worker were getting in the country. We told her at least P300 a day for a minimum wage earner. She made some calculations in her head and told us that the amount was just the price of 6 or 7 magazines in the nearby stall. They told us that they were surprised to encounter the two faces of the Philippines: the one earlier in Quiapo and that of Makati. David said that in Germany, one would not see that much disparity in terms of lifestyle among his people. We then left to catch the MRT because they said they wanted to experience it for themselves, so we walked to the Ayala MRT station. We all got off at Taft avenue and got a cab. Nai immediately asked the cab driver to load the Freddie Aguilar cd onto the player. We dropped off David in his hotel in Heritage, and (how amusing that) with Freddie Aguilar singing in the background, the mood became a bit sad. Nai exchanged email addresses with David. They were not even a couple. They just met in Palawan. They had a handshake as a last parting act. On the way, Nai said that, previously, when she emailed her friends about her visits in other countries prior to the Philippines, she wrote them 6 pages of writing, but with her Philippine visit, she said she would perhaps just manage to write them a paragraph (because she couldn't tell them exactly about her good experience here, and she wouldn't know where to start). She gave each of us a tight hug, and when we last saw her entering the gate, she saw a familiar face outside and talked with the person awhile. We sped off into the night, very much thankful for the encounter.

Looking back, I thought, in whatever skin we are in, we are still, after all, residents of this planet, a planet that is at once really really big, and really really small. And each encounter with another human being, no matter how far removed from us, is but an occassion at becoming more human.

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