WHAT could be worse than a foreigner nitpicking about his host country, from the state of its “loos” down to the way its citizens speak English? A born and bred native, who, after having worked abroad for seven short years, now feels “dazed, confused and terrified” after being assigned by his Singapore-based company back to the land of his birth.
And the irony of it all is the fellow was never really away. Apart from the proximity between his new place of work and his native country, he himself admitted that he goes home regularly “to break the monotony, enjoy the place, even when I suspected I was being had.”
(Well, if you allow yourself to be had, you need not go back to Manila to experience it. People’s penchant to put one over another is universal and as old as time itself. Cain slew an unsuspecting Abel, and Jacob tricked Esau into giving up his birthright for a measly bowl of porridge.)
I’m sure many of you have read Filipino journalist Raul Dancel’s piece on his “homecoming” in The Straits Times after he was assigned as its Philippine correspondent a month or so ago. Based alone on my Facebook status about the subject, reactions have been varied, some bordering on the violent.
A handful felt that he was just saying the truth about how unsafe and inefficient Metro Manila has become compared to Singapore. But a great deal, including myself, found the piece incredible, even offensive. Why? We’ll get to that briefly.
Although I can’t say I know the guy well, I find him to be a pleasant, smiley-faced chap (is that a British word?) during the years we worked together in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. There’s no bad blood between us for the simple reason that we hardly interacted.
(But I’m pretty sure we both know what a true picture of chaos is all about, as we’re both products of Manila’s so-called University Belt. In short, the chap or dude or what have you used to pound chaotic streets such as Recto, Morayta, Quezon Boulevard and Lerma as yours truly once did.)
He toiled in PDI’s business section, while I hardly ventured out of the lifestyle section. While I stayed with the paper, he was allegedly let go of for reasons known only to him, his editor and their gods.
(Here’s the link to his story: http://www.stasiareport.com/the-big-story/asia-report/philippines/story/back-home-manila-and-feeling-out-place-20140323 )
That he soon found work as a publicist for one of the Philippines’ biggest food conglomerates, and later as a journalist for one of the region’s leading newspapers prove that the guy is bright, talented, “world-class” and most likely street-smart.
Or so I thought. He may be a good journalist with a firm command of British English (you have to marvel at how he was able to rewire his brain after being exposed all his life to American and Filipino English) and the chutzpah to insist that “take away” is far better than “take out,” when all he wanted was to leave KFC, go home and eat two miserable pieces of fried chicken and rice in peace, but he still comes off, as far as I’m concerned, as trying to put on airs.
He didn’t insist on “take away” once, but thrice. As the Brits would say, he’s bloody mental! Only after the Filipino food server gave him what probably amounted to the evil eye (okay ka lang?) did he cease and desist from his misplaced and utterly ridiculous Singaporean ways.
What’s the matter with you, la? You got your chicken na!
For here or to go?
I wonder how Dancel would have reacted when faced with a sassy food server at an In-N-Out burger joint should he by any chance travel to America and get the opportunity, too, to savor the presumably “sweet water” of LA.
Food server: “How are you doing today? For here or to go?”
Dancel: “Take away!”
Food server: “Oh, you want me to take away the mayo? Sure thing, honey. I’m trying to lose weight myself.”
Dancel: “No, take away!”
Food server: “Okay, I get it. Sorry, our coat-check girl called in sick today. No need to worry. Here, hand me that, sweetie. I’ll be happy to take care of your coat for yah.”
Dancel: “No, no, no, no! Take away, la, take away!”
Food server: “Ah…oh, you want to bring the burger home with you. You should have said so earlier, dearie. A nice dude before yah, about your height and skin tone, wanted his to go, too. The minute he said take out with matching pursed lips, as if pointing to some far-off direction, I knew immediately what he meant. Those pursed lips made all the difference (lol). Here you go, buddy. Tank-yah! Enjoy…la!”
Dancel: “Thank you, la!”
Food server (seconds after Dancel drives off): “Ugh…crazy Singaporean!”
No Malou Fernandez moment
Although it was no Malou Fernandez moment for Dancel, what he wrote still betrayed his narrow-mindedness and condescension with regards to Manila, where “I spent more than three-fourth of my 40-odd years.” Ganun naman pala, eh!
What’s more, he claims to “know Manila, and I speak the language,” including presumably the way Filipinos speak English. Unless the guy is autistic (my apologies to autistics), he knows fully well the nuances that go with our use of both Filipino and English.
Knowledge of a language, after all, isn’t confined to a series of words and rules, but also includes an understanding of nuances, usages, idiomatic expressions and even accents. In short, being a Filipino himself, he knows where Filipinos are coming from.
That’s why it boggles my mind, as to why Dancel experiences “mild culture shock” at seemingly benign terms like take out, elevator, heading home and even comfort room when the real essence behind these words was hardwired in his brain since birth.
Pati ba naman si Angkol?
And a few words on the use of “uncle:” you don’t have to be covering showbiz or lifestyle to know that Filipinos don’t limit such terms as uncle and auntie to people they’re related to.
What’s with Dancel? As a sign of respect, a good number of Filipinos call older people and those in positions of authority (even if they’re a million times removed from them) as “tita” (auntie), “tito” (uncle), “kuya, manong, bro or brod” (brother) and “a-te, teh, ka, manay or sis” (sister). In fact, Filipinos go beyond calling an old person uncle or auntie. It’s not uncommon for us to call an old woman Inay or Nanay (mother) and an old man Tatay (father).
He even went on to write: “But I still ask for the ‘toilet’ or ‘loo’ whereas people here say ‘restroom’ or ‘comfort room.’ The euphemism, though, is misplaced because over here, these rooms rarely offer either ‘rest’ or ‘comfort.’”
Excuse me! If there’s any term in the English language that best describes a toilet, loo, restroom, john or water closet, it’s comfort room—a homegrown Filipino invention. No matter how smart, educated or fashionable you fancy yourself to be, once nature calls, you’re helpless. Your first impulse is to run to the nearest bathroom.
And what do you experience soon after relieving yourself? Rest doesn’t even come quite close to it. You feel pure, unadulterated comfort, as you step out of the comfort room and continue with the matter at hand in your quest to change the world.
As for most comfort rooms in the Philippines not having such essentials as toilet paper, liquid soap and, gasp, sometimes even water, I agree. That’s why as a human being, and a supposedly world-class and well traveled journalist at that, Dancel should learn to adapt. And that includes going to the right places to use their toilets.
Of trains, roads and taxi drivers
Granted that trains in Metro Manila don’t arrive on time (and even if they do, they’re packed like sardines), some taxi drivers moonlight as con artists, and roads, bridges and flyovers double as obstacle courses and NASA simulators for a future drive on the moon, upping up, working abroad, complaining condescendingly and contrasting your native country to a puny, artificial, antiseptic and Big Brother-controlled city state like Singapore won’t change or solve anything.
If you want to see real and long-lasting changes, you stay put, pay your taxes here and demand the hell out of Philippine government and elected officials to shape up or ship out.
Otherwise, you leave (it’s a choice, not a sin), be a slave elsewhere, drown yourself from all that greenery and sweet water, and put up and shut up should that overseas company you’re now connected with assign you to the supposed hellhole you came from.