Time To Finally Grow Up
This article by Michael O’Riordan was first published in the Dumaguete Metropost on the 24th of December, 2017 in his column Outside Looking In
She didn’t spit at me, but her contemptuous look reduced me to a puddle on the floor. I’d been caught red-handed. In a restrained, almost inaudible voice, one long-nailed finger was dramatically pointed to the FIVE ITEMS ONLY sign. “Sir, you have six items!”
Moments before, I’d carefully sized her up. She seemed a lovely young lady, smiling at customers while asking if they had a Robinson’s card. Easy schmeasy, I incorrectly calculated. She had no mercy for this foreigner. I’d broken the cardinal rule by exceeding the item limit. Three Filipinos standing in line watched with unbridled delight as the drama unfolded. I was going to argue that the PWD/Pregnant/Seniors Line was routinely full of young people, but the angry look on this young lady’s face prohibited any rebuttal. Embarrassed, like a thief in the night, I slunk off to stand in line at the PWD/Pregnant/Seniors line that, yes, apart from me, had only young people with baskets overflowing, happily chatting on their phones.
I first saw Maria on Rizal Blvd. while heading to Sans Rival to meet a colleague for lunch. I’m hopeless at guessing ages but estimated she was 19. She claimed to be from the province and was hungry. I’ve known hunger, and have been homeless on the streets. That probably makes me an easy mark for beggars.
My friend phoned to say he couldn’t make it, so I invited the girl to join me for lunch. She spoke little English, and I spoke none of whatever was her dialect. We got strange looks from several of the tastefully-dressed patrons at Sans Rival. Since my motives were clean, I didn’t care what they thought. Maria vigorously devoured her meal but before leaving, asked me for P300. so, she could return home to the province. Why not, since she needed to go home?
A month later, I saw her again on Rizal Blvd., and on several occasions since then. She approached me, explained she was hungry, could I help her get some rice and money to return home to the provinces. She didn’t recognize me from before. Perhaps I was mean-spirited. I walked away without giving her any more money.
It’s finally the last of the-bers! Christmas Day is thankfully almost here. I had hoped to be on a flight to India on the 25th but have been unable so far to get my visa processed due to technological and bureaucratic issues.
Regardless, I’m faced with the task of buying “little gifts” to give to those good people who have “little gifts” for me. I have an irrational neurosis to any form of shopping. It takes all my energy to simply walk through the doors of any establishment. Once in, I invariably buy the first item offered. In order to show Vhie how efficiently men shop, last year we went into Robinsons and within three minutes, I’d purchased pants I badly needed. Walking out, I arrogantly told her that was the way men do it. Unfortunately, when I got home, I realized the pants ended several inches above my ankles and looked ridiculous. Vhie disappeared into another room where I heard her roar with delighted laughter.
Dumaguete City drivers must be among the best and most patient drivers in the world. After a year here, I’m constantly amazed by the insanity of driving conditions.
Yesterday, I imagined I was driving, and guessed when I should proceed through any stopped traffic. From 10 choices, I wasn’t close even once! Clogged traffic, no traffic lights, pedestrian crossings that are always ignored, vast numbers of tricycles, scooters, cars, and people, should logically mean mass carnage on a daily basis. But not in Dumaguete.
Also, in what is another positive reflection on Filipino society, everybody is remarkably good-humored when accidents occur. Instead of violence, there is laughter, an exchange of pleasantries, and even occasional high fives.
The day before I left California, two drivers were driving erratically and had come close to hitting me. I beeped my car horn to warn them of the danger. Their response to me helping them avoid physical injury and expensive repairs was a torrent of abuse, the always ridiculous giving of “the finger,” and curses questioning my parentage.
It’s Friday evening, Dec. 17. I’m at the Dumaguete airport, and close to qualifying for squatters’ rights. I got here at 4:15 pm for a 5:40 pm flight to Cebu where I was supposed to meet Vhie for a romantic weekend. It’s now 8:30 pm. Boarding was supposed to be at 5:10 pm. No word was offered from Cebu Pacific staff about what was happening or when our plane might arrive.
After finding a manager, I was advised they had no idea when the plane would come. Initially, there would be a two- hour delay. Then it became three hours. Nobody knows what the eventual departure time might be. The latest update is the plane may arrive in Cebu by 9 pm – but we are in Dumaguete.
Although I’ve improved somewhat over the year, my reaction to these situations remains unreasonable and embarrassingly childish. My poor attitude has no upside. I sent an ignorant text to the undeserving Vhie.
All this, while around me, Filipinos were laughing and effortlessly taking the inconvenience in stride.
This was yet another valuable life lesson for this foreigner from the highly-evolved consciousness evidenced in the Filipino spirit. Suddenly, I felt a sense of calm settle over me. I found myself laughing in communion with the others waiting in the terminal. Tomorrow the sun will, as always, rise in the east, and set in the west. I will be one day older, and one day closer to my exit from this brief dance through time. I got up, and sincerely apologized to the Cebu Pacific clerk I’d been rude to, then texted an apology to Vhie.
Fast approaching age 70, I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion it’s time for me to finally grow up. Ouch!
Author’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org