It struck me today as I drove assertively through the wild traffic that characterizes our town during rush hour that I have changed. I am no longer tense about the traffic coming at me from all sides like wasps from a fallen hive. I am no longer angry at the idiots who cut in front of me; indeed, I have become expert at that, too, and I no longer see them as idiots. They are merely getting from A to B via the dance of the bumblebees . It no longer bothers me that tricycles and motorcads and jeepneys and buses stop smack dab in the middle of the highway with no signal whatsoever from their busted or non-existent lights. I just veer around them and force people out of my way, unless it is a truck coming at me, then I yield to the natural rule of power coming headlong at my little Honda Civic.
|The Real Joe Am?|
There is a sense to all this. A rhythm. And surprising graciousness amongst the pushiness as motorcycles edge to the very side of the road so I can squeeze between them and the tricycle I am passing. Or maybe it is not really graciousness. It is survival of the smallest when facing a bigger, faster vehicle. We all identify the power vehicles in the blink of an eye, and yield accordingly. That is one sign of being a real Filipino, ability to see who is in power in order to respond appropriately. Smugly or weasely.
Any way, with my now natural driving skills, I have officially completed another step in the process of acculturating Joe America.
I'll chalk that up as step five, following my completion of:
- Step 1: Appreciating Filipino foods. No problem with that. It took me about a month and I was eating anything placed before me, from the tentacles of fresh calamari hoisted from the Bay that morning, to the more traditional pancit, humba, barbeque pork, chicken adobo, or chop suey with pinarito saging for snacks. Rice morning, noon and night. Chooks to Go became the easy take-out meal. I'm eating healthier than I ever did in the US. Well, except for all that fat.
- Step 2: Public transportation. For two years, we did not have a car, so I learned to get around like a native, cramming my 6' 4" into Jeepneys with 13 other people and a chicken and the day's shopping bags. I only cracked my skull getting in twice. Some rides are friendly. Some cold or wary. And busing, boy can I bus. From Zambales to Manila on the Air Con Victory Liner. Olongapo to San Felipe on the rattletrap blue bus where the conductor would pour water over the engine to cool that baby as it careened at 100 per over narrow bridges and past slower Victory Liners. Open windows are wonderful for letting air in and putting trash out. Once the husband and wife behind us got into a fist fight. And another time I counted 70 people crammed in a vehicle made for 35. Evening rides would usually have a tuba drunk or 10. Busing is ALWAYS entertaining.
|The Real Joe Am?|
- Step 3: Enjoying the tuba table under the mango tree. Tuba is mellow and mild, with a wooziness that sneaks up on you like a storm in the night, no thunder. The chatter becomes liquefied and loosened and even language is no barrier to good fun. Indeed, the struggle to communicate is half the fun. It helps that I like my father-in-law, who sells tuba. He buys it in big barrels and parcels it out for the local sari sari stores.
- Step 4: Appreciating cock fights. Now when you are poor, you cannot afford a race horse or fast car. You can't spend $20 for entry to the rodeo or $10 for a movie. But you can raise a chicken. And you can bet. And there is something about the life and death of it that injects just the right spice of serious business through the tuba-stoked haze that drifts over the crowd, enveloping it in raucous good fun. I have fun watching the people have fun. I never bet as all chickens look alike to me.
- Step 5: Driving the wild ride, the dance of the bumblebees, the pinball on wheels, the death defying, herky jerky sprint from A to B. Its macho, man, to arrive alive.
Now there are some steps ahead I might struggle with, but it is my intent to persevere. I am tired of people looking at me as a tall rich white guy. I want to be appreciated as Filipino.
Here is my list of a few of my future achievements. They may not be accomplished in the order listed. But they will bring me to the day when I can brag, hey, I am as Filipino as the next guy.
- Language. My 200 words of Visayan are a good start. Now many Filipinos can't even understand each other, even when they speak the same dialect, so I am not so different already. I do what everyone does, mix a little English with a little Visayan and a Tagalog word that fits and then laugh at the confusion that emerges. Just like a Filipino. I need to pick up more words is all.
|The Real Joe Am?|
- Losing my Clock. After 30 years of corporate life living by the clock, I am obsessed with being on time. I don't fit in. I embarrass people by arriving on time, and therefore, early. As with driving, there is a rhythm to time here, the lateness and inconvenience that always seems to work itself out with no harm done, because no one expects anything else. Efficiency is forgone in favor of laid back . This will be hard, but it should be easy. After all, I am RETIRED. I have no need to be anywhere at any time.
- Fiesta Frenzy. This will take about two more years, when I estimate I will be totally deaf. We live one block from the gymnasium, which is the heart of the noise hereabouts. Concerts, school events, church events, basketball. All blasted at the top of the amplifier's lungs. Until three in the morning some nights. Fiesta week is loud, as if life's happiness can be found by adding a few more decibels. The only offset is the onset of deafness in my right ear. So I merely jam the good one into the pillow. I already enjoy the parades and the street dancers and even the endless march of civic staffers as they plod and sweat their dutiful three kilometers. And the shopping is a blast, some really useful cheap shit. This year we gave P500 and got a fancy personalized banner.
- Becoming Corrupt. I have more money than most in my neighborhood, but I think I don't use it properly. I give it away in bonuses to workers or gifts to friends and neighbors. Sponsoring the basketball team. Helping a neighbor with a medical emergency. But I don't ask anything in return. I figure my wife could be Barangay Captain if I played my cards better. Then Mayor. Etc. I have to think about this. It is a power society and I am way too generous. Filipinos interpret generosity as weakness. This will take some dedicated effort.
- Swapping the Books for Mindless TV. I fear this is the one thing that will stop me from being a tried and true Filipino. I try to fool people by checking in on Showtime now and then or looking over the little lady's shoulder as she watches a tear-jerker in the evening. That way I can offer up a comment once in a while that makes me appear cool. But I'd go nuts if I watched those shows for longer than half an hour, or I'd get diabetes or maybe high blood from frustration. My brain just can't stand concentrating so hard on . . . um . . . empty space. And our closet is too dark for reading there.
As I reflect on the whole of this, I guess I will never be a 100% Filipino. I suppose I need an index, like Transparency International on corruption. Measure how far I've gotten year to year.
Today, I'd say I am about 45% there.
I'll report next year to develop a trend line. Stay tuned . . .