Friday, April 18, 2008

Still More Quick Takes On This Slow Journey

A People Pure or Compromised?

More random musings from an ex-pat long gone from the old hometown, and earnestly trying to rediscover it but necessarily using a different analytical prism, and with changed attitudes and perceptions acquired form living too long in a first-world country.

But this early on I admit that had I been earnest enough I should have been forewarned and alerted. Forewarned and alerted by the different ways that home-grown compatriots reveal themselves in the ways they write, expressed their attitudes and values, as revealed for the world in the Internet through blogs and etc.

No sooner after deplaning does one get assaulted with the unique ways things are done in the old homeland. Low-level bureaucrats of either the airline or airport expect extra compensation for simply doing what is listed in their already short list of duties, at most times with hand and palm up ready to be greased. What for? – so your transfer luggage which is anyway tagged to your final destination can be cleared for loading to a domestic connecting flight. And while being manually frisked as a security measure upon entering the domestic airport, your searcher cannot help throw around blatant suggestions for some pasalubong, or snack money, or something because he welcomes you back. And do the restroom watchers/cleaners qualify as low-level bureaucrats? One asks because they appear to also be riding the gravy train, asking something in return for handing over to you a few pieces of toilet paper for your after use.

But once in the provinces, things change dramatically. Services are rendered without any perceptible traces of a string attached. Everybody addresses you with a disarming smile and a Sir or a Ma’am, and the addresser may be a professional, a professor, or your ubiquitous domestic helper, or your low-level bureaucrats in city or provincial governments. Decent tipping or gratuity in most eating places is almost a non-practice, regardless of the services rendered. Surprisingly, the waiters expect no more or less.

And yet in most instances, poverty stares at you uglier than you can find within a certain radius of the nice places in Makati and other upscale areas. Beggars and mendicants of all sorts abound in the provinces – in public places, along heavily-trafficked main streets, near stores, even in your own residences when itinerant ones travel their routes. Traffic stops are littered with them, some without limbs crawling about risking life and limb (oops, sorry) daily for a few tingling pesos, and oh I refuse to forget, under the blistering sun made worse with the hot emanations coming from concrete roads. Idle kids will pool around you, looking for something to do for you in exchange for a few coins. Anything at all. Dispose of your garbage, push your car, clean your car, your shoes, etc.

But amidst all these, many still cling to their innate dignity and earned self-esteem, and thus, will no doubt resort to instead begging you to give him or her work to earn their keep. And they do very good work, maybe not even compensated properly, fairly, or justly. Just as along as there is gainful work to be done, regardless of how thankless, hazardous, or risky. Or how unjust the work environment may be. Whether they are carpenters, masons, plumbers, electricians, and many of them anyway, have all of these skills rolled into one person.

Extreme penury also does some strange things to people. Some would gladly go through your dirtiest garbage to scrounge or fish for whatever value can be mined from it – any steel material, copper, any recyclable, magazines, anything at all, including but not limited to rotted wood or lumber, or any used household item.

But the resultant dark and rarely-discussed underbellies of such a deprived society show themselves in more subtle though visually arresting manners – like most houses are built like fortresses or prisons to preclude unwanted intrusions. All because petty thievery and/or porch climbing is as common as people taking a breezy stroll along quiet neighborhoods scouring around precisely with such a nefarious design in mind. Outside electric and water meters are not only bolted down but caged in iron bars. It is not enough to have high concrete fences topped with iron grilles and embedded broken glass, barbed wire has to be added on top of all these. I often wonder what the population of dogs is in the old hometown, and I do mean watchdogs, and not lapdogs or pet dogs. Dogs to bark and hopefully bite when intruders come and the owners are asleep or away.

And of course, corruption in government is so endemic and known it is taken for granted, so SOP that it is actually called SOP. Thus, you pay SOP to get normal business done, or to get scores settled or clandestinely ignored.

I once dropped a cheap plastic pedometer clipped to my shorts when I was jogging with scores of other, both young and senior, physical exercise enthusiasts. Jogging breathlessly around the dusty public oval I noticed the loss almost immediately upon checking my progress, so continued around the oval hoping to spot the contraption where it fell. It was completely gone from sight within a minute. Waited and looked still more, no results, no signs of it, completely vanished. A very common expected occurrence. Finders keepers practiced to the utmost degree. So I mischievously smirked and went my way. Another time, I had somebody removed a rusted angular-steel frame that once held a business signage of an old tenant in the building we owned. Laid it at the back of the pick-up truck and drove home. The truck was parked outside the fence while I went inside for lunch. Going back to the truck after lunch, the frame was gone, the perpetrator leaving little scratches on the truck bed as telltale signs of the deed. Another common expected occurrence. Another previous time, the items purloined were flattened cartons tied together and some old newspapers. Even the tin cans temporarily used as planters among hedges were gone, the soil with the tender plants emptied to the ground. All in a day’s work and experience.

Are these agonized perception of twisted aberrations or simply stark
versions of reality brought upon by harsh conditions?

Come to think about it, the poor cannot really be faulted or condemned for corruption, because after all they wield no power, whether real or imagined. It has to be those who wield some power, however, minute who will milk that power to derive the most good for themselves. Quite a simple equation really. Using greed, subterfuge, and whatever else necessary to survive and decently prosper in an environment where only the moneyed and rich appear to progress and thrive.

Nothing more than just an honest rendition of some laudable or ugly segments of everyday reality in Philippine society. Maybe the same is true in any comparable society.