Saturday, December 24, 2005

And, Away to the Barrio We Go

I just read a friend's blog which talked about her day at their local beach in the province.

While most of our provinces are not barrios anymore with Universities, SM Malls, McDonalds, Starbucks and the usual 20th century establishments now found there, it is still entirely different from Manila. That bustling metropolis that I have known and loved since birth.

I have visited a rural province back when I was about 5 or 6. It was a barrio, really, complete with nipa huts, the batalan, the trees at the backyard and a few steps walk to the beach. It was beautiful really and it was nice for a few days.

Then came college fieldwork where we were made to stay in a barrio in Antique. That was for a month and a half and it was there I realized that rural living is definitely not for me.

There was electricity and running water (thank God!) because we stayed in a school dorm. The electricity was fine and which we're grateful for mainly because of the fluorescent light and the electric fan that struggled vainly to give us air in the intense heat of the place (it was the el nino season then. Talk about timing, right?) but the running water was the here today, gone tomorrow type that forced us to pump water via the poso. That was fine really, until we found out that the cloth that acts as a filter to the pump was, gasp!, a man's briefs whose origins and history were quite unknown to us. And we took such enjoyment from the cool, refreshing drink from the cafeteria that came from it...

The place was really beautiful, though. The towering mountains and trees on one side and the great blue waters on the other. Stars were a nighttime affair with us and we must have spent a million hours just staring up at them. We really couldn't believe that the sky could hold that much stars.

The people, too, were nice. They were all helpful and welcoming. We even had someone takes us in to their beachside nipa house when a sudden rainstorm left us stranded for an hour on the beach. They didn't know us from Adam and they let us into their home and even gave us some fruit. That is, of course, an impossibility here in Manila. No one would dare let a complete stranger into their home with the fear that said stranger will walk off, at the very least, with the furniture.

There were no TV, no radio station hosted by a fairly comprehensible deejay (he spoke in the local dialect and played the same music), no phone nor cell site (we had to travel to the provincial capitol just to let our families know that yes, we're living fine among the cows and the gecko, or tuko, that littered the place), no mall (the department store consisted of a two-story building that offered meats and eggs right beside the pail, dipper and other plastic furniture), and no convenience store (we had to make do with a very small sari-sari store that has a cooler for a fridge and where if you're lucky enough, you can get a snack of Chippy that hasn't lost its crispness. It was tended by a very nice old lady, though), and lastly, no decent transportation to speak of! (we mostly rode the tricycle whose every bump and jar and rattle we felt in the most uncomfortable parts of our body).

So, you may well understand my wariness since I remember most vividly how, after just a few weeks of rural isolation, we almost turned into some sort of half maniacs whenever we came in sight of a TV or a phone or an aircon. That's how much we missed those 20th century conveniences we, city people, take very much for granted.

Inspite of the fresh wind, the beauty of the place, the really nice people, and the total casualness they regard time schedules (the hectic pace of the metropolis and the frantic working hours are totally lost there), I felt constricted and so hastened to come back to Manila.

There's a different energy here in the city. It entices me, that energy that eats you up and spews you out but which you can never get enough of. Along with the traffic, the pollution, the beautiful yet at times, corrupted people, I welcome with as much open arms as the pleasure that I get from living in the city. It is here where I feel I can, at least, conquer my part of the world.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Travails of Travelling

My eyes scanned the horizon. In the cold, early hours of the morning, there were only a few people out on the road.

So far so good. I wait for that twentieth century four-wheeled beast that was to take me to work, the jeepney. And, believe me, beast is describing it kindly. In the tradition of the wartime vehicle from whence it originally came, one screeched to a halt in front of me in all its silver, hulking body. Well, it might have been silver in color but with all the dust, grime and touch repainting it's undergone, one cannot honestly tell.

I grabbed hold of the handrails to hoist myself up, which to my not quite 5 feet, is a bit high. Really, the inventor of this vehicle should have been more considerate of the natives. Filipinos are generally medium in height, right? So why make it in the original design of American soldiers about to leap off for war? The modifications should have been more Filipino height friendly by now.

Anyway, I sat on the right part of the bench running the jeepney. It's good if it's not full then you can sit to your heart's content. Space and comfort would be of no account here and you can even enjoy the soft breeze ruffling your hair (laden though it is with carbon monoxide) and relax during the ride.

Now, there are different types of seatmates in commuter transport and you can only hope to get the best. One is the forever leaning, I-haven't-had-a-wink-of-sleep-last-night, type. He sees you as a soft pillow and your only defense are the sharp bones in your shoulder to jut him with should he get much too comfortable and heaven forbid, salivate on you!

The second one would be the ramrod-straight, don't-you-dare-get-into-my-personal-space, type. He sees the enforced physical contact as burdensome and is actually counting the minutes as to the time he'll get off. Personally, I prefer this type since we only have to endure each other as far as our destination is.

There is also the eternally curious, let-me-look-at-your-face-and-hair-and-dress-and-body, type. The subtle ones will throw occasional glances at you while the bold ones will really stare at you. You can, of course, meet their eyes and hope that they get the hint (that you really do not enoy being made to feel like a bacteria under a microscope).

Of course, we can't forget the incessant talker, I-just-have-to-chat-or-make-this-call, type. If they have a companion, you'll be sure that their voices will rise above the noise of the motor while people around them try to pretend that they're not hearing that Mr so and so is having a torrid affair with a Ms such and such. Same thing if the person is talking on and on and on while brandishing a cellphone.

Lastly, (and this is limited to female co-passengers), is the shampoo model feel-alike with her long dark hair streaming behind her. Only problem is, it plasters the face of the person right behind her. Now, we don't know for sure if she washed her hair (we could try to smell it of course but we're already irritated at this point, remember?), or if she has dandruff or even (yikes!) lice? We, of course, would not want to be showered with any nasty stuff.

Every commuter trip is an adventure. It might be good or bad so you'd do well to start it off with a prayer.

Please, let my passenger seatmate be ok at least...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Love, Seriously

It may be a hangover from being educated in an all-girl Catholic school but I tend to think of love and marriage the old fashioned, till-death-do-us-part, way. Now, before I get rained on with barbed, feminist defense about liberal women having equal rights, let me just say that my firm belief for love and loyalty applies to both parties. And that, it is my ideal which means that I don't discount the fact that there are wrong marriages and abusive partners and other gray areas which might lead to a dissolution of a union.

It's just that I get sad whenever I hear of married couple's separating for reasons that are mostly just an excuse for their own inability to hold true to their vows. Especially if it has to do with third parties and there are children who gets hurt in the process. The choice, when a person marries, has been made. It is there for you to take the utmost care. And, when there are children, it is definitely not just about you and your partner anymore. Someone's security and happiness depends on you both. That is both a privilege and a great responsibility.

Sure, married people are human and they don't walk around with their eyes closed to the beautiful, attractive, or exciting people that they might meet, but that does not mean they should act on it to the detriment of their marriage. Temptations are dangerously sweet and its best to just avoid them. If one cannot, then a married person should close their minds entirely to even the slightest possibility of an affair. Flirtations are a no no. One can't have too much willpower and self-restraint in the face of an exciting fire play so don't even trust yourself about it. Like the plague, or AIDS, or SARS, its best to put oneself as far away from it as possible.

I'm thankful that we don't have divorce here since I see it just as a quick, conveniently legal way for people to change partners at a drop of a hat. It gives them reason not to give their all in marriage. Just look at Hollywood's couples, or rather, uncouples, and you'd know that divorce is actually the rule and not the exception for countries that have it.

Filipinos are generally old-fashioned when it comes to love and marriage. We tend to believe that marriage is a gift and must be hold dear. Children are raised to believe in its sanctity and the wholeness of a family. Separations and annulment are still frowned upon by society.

They say that each person is entitled to be happy. And, that if a person is not happy in marriage anymore, that it's well within their right to get out of it. But, the choice to marry in the first place was made by you. The decision to take on another person as a partner in life has been made by you in full knowledge that it will not always be in happy and perfect times. And that once you bring a child into this world in marriage, it is your sacred duty to safeguard his or her happiness. After all, as you yourself would say, we all are entitled to it.