This article from Michael O’Riordans column Outside Looking In was originally published on the 11th of February 2018 in the Dumaguete Metropost


I explained that I do write books, but was, at present, working on a newspaper column. The stranger then began moaning about Filipino society. He said he knew “a whole lot about Filipinos” because he’s a pastor, and that most of those in his congregation are Filipinos.

He then lamented that in social events, Filipinos tend to stay with their own class. “They juz don’t mix well. When ah have a gatherin at ma home, ah insist they all git togeda, but they always break up into separate groups.”

“Well, of course, they do,” I responded. That’s the way it is here, and in most countries.

“But it’s incumbent on us te show ’em how te break down social barriers.”

I couldn’t restrain myself. “Sir, you’re a classic example of colonial arrogance. It’s your self-righteous, foreigner sense of superiority that insists you know best for other cultures. What precisely gives you that right?”

The pastor was temporarily shocked but undeterred, he energetically returned to his belief for the need to show Filipinos what’s best for them. I explained the need to focus on my article, which he subsequently became a part of. Fortunately, his Filipina wife soon arrived, and he got up to leave.*”Nice talking te ya,”* he claimed.

“I doubt it,” was my uncharitable but more honest response.

Since I arrived in Dumaguete, I’ve been terrified about driving conditions here. I routinely close my eyes when traveling as a passenger on either a pedicab or a scooter.

But because I don’t like waiting for a driver to collect me, I finally decided to stop being a wimp and bought a Honda 125. Upon leaving the dealership, I prayed for the first time in half a century, then sailed off into the daunting Dumaguete traffic. Soon, hemmed in by hundreds of pedicabs, motorbikes, scooters, cars, trucks, and people bravely trying to survive a street crossing, I was sweating profusely while cursing stupidly. Like my last marriage, buying the scooter had seemed a good idea at the time, but was subsequently proven to be the height of folly.

Barely an hour later, I was effortlessly moving higher up the mountainside above Valencia. The wind blew freely through my hair, the sun smiled warmly on my face, and I delighted in my wisdom.

He walked into Naspri restaurant in Valencia proper, then sat down, before quickly standing up, and walking over to where staff members were busily chatting. “Are ya workin’ here?” he demanded. His lack of subtlety was missed by the staff who cheerfully responded “Yes.” Then they politely asked what he needed.

He went to the outer area for smokers and puffed heavily while engaging in an animated and angry phone session. I felt a sudden, intense dislike for this man. But why? I’d never spoken to him. He’d never done anything to offend me. What was going on with me?

The man’s telephone conservation got worse. He started shouting at his phone. “God damn it!” spewed from his, by now, beet-red face. I wondered if he’d have a heart attack. Fortunately, or perhaps, unfortunately, he didn’t. He abruptly ended the conversation and left Naspri with steam blowing from both ears.

Moments later, I found myself suddenly laughing loudly. I realized I’d been observing the old me. This was an uncomfortable reminder of the unhappy person I used to be. I still have many shortcomings, especially with a lack of patience, but I’m distancing myself from that ugly previous persona.

Life experiences have helped me, but being in Negros Oriental has been the most compelling factor. Now that I’m living where people truly are gentle, generous, and good to me, who take life not only one day at a time, but often one second at a time, how stupid it would be of me not to embrace their wisdom, to realize it’s a form of madness to get upset over anything!

I occasionally become disheartened by the state of the world. There are few heroes anymore. I no longer trust political or religious institutions. Sports figures are no better. I used to greatly admire seven-time Tour de France drug-cheater Lance Armstrong.

Now, when feeling disenchanted, I find refuge in nature, in beautiful music, some works of visual art, in my writing, and also in the magic of other authors’ language. I read John Le Carre mainly because of the music of his prose. I’ve only partially understood any of his ingenious plots, but that doesn’t matter when I’m transcending on the power of his lyrical imagination.

I also find consolation in the joy, unlimited, and innocence of children. The following is one example of that. I recently flew to Cebu to spend the day with Vhie’s beautiful daughter, Jermaigne Leonisse. We met in the lobby of the Parklane Hotel. Vhie is at present in Europe so JL was accompanied by family members Hannah and Aiza. She ran towards me with trusting arms outstretched, her magnificent smile lighting up the lobby. That’s why I call her Sunshine. Her smile is sufficiently powerful to light up a small city.

We hugged and kissed, then walked over to Ayala Mall. Soon after, we were playing upstairs at the Kids Paradise. JL insisted I follow her through every part of the seemingly endless play areas. Being the only man in the facility created some strange looks especially when I came shouting down a slide then proceeded to throw plastic balls at JL who, in turn, happily threw even more back at me. I chased her throughout the complex, threatening to tickle her when I caught her. Screams of her pretended terror, but actual delight reverberated everywhere. I felt immense joy observing JL’s laughing face and delighted in her happiness achieved by the simple act of us playing together.

After leaving Ayala, we went for a large buffet lunch at the Mandarin Plaza, then went swimming at the Parklane Hotel. Young people really do have amazing appetites. Although we’d barely finished lunch, Hannah asked if they could order some food. Soon, large plates of French fries and a halo-halo were being hungrily devoured. Later on, before they got on the V-Hire to return to Balamban, the inevitable visit to Jollibee also happened.

Jermaigne Leonisse began crying when we came close to the departure terminal. Her tiny hand clutched mine tighter, and her tears flowed. I held her close and kissed away many of those tears while promising to see her again soon. And I will.

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