#30DayWritingChallenge: A friend.

Day Twelve: A friend.

Some of the fondest memories I have of Mumbai were of going out of the office at two in the morning to get a small cup of chai from a street vendor from across the street. Harry was pleased to learn that the Filipino trainer sent to their team liked tea.

And beer. Indians and Filipinos would get along fine as long as there is beer. It helps that the local beer in Mumbai is good and that we have similar habits when it comes to drinking: Drinking is best shared with friends. Drinking is a time to unwind and bond. Food and beer go well together.

Tea breaks and after-work drinking were times for talking about things outside work. And Harry has a lot of stories to share. Life while growing up. Family and children. Music listened to. Fishing. Many of the things I learned about India, I learned from Harry.

Harry Singh

Harry left Sitel on the day I left Mumbai to return to Manila. Like him, I was also about to leave Sitel a few weeks after that training. We were both old timers among the outsourced employees of our account, lasting longer than many of the in-house employees, and many of the managers were reluctant to see us go.

It wasn’t strange that we got along quite well. But it was lucky that I met and worked with him when I did.

Bored because no travel selfies from me.

“Jade, are you okay?” my friend asked me while we were touring the BenCab Museum. “You’re not taking photos. Are you bored?”

I assured him I was not. And I really wasn’t.

From the BenCab Museum.

It was the first time I traveled with these particular friends. It’s said that you learn a lot from each other by traveling together, and I think I learned more about them during the few days we stayed in Baguio. I think we’ve become better friends because of it.

But it is interesting how incessant photography has become so ingrained in our experience that not taking travel photos can be seen as an oddity, a sign of boredom.

There were several reasons why I opt not to take a lot of photos while in the museum. The first one being I’ve already been there before. I had already taken some photos from that place previously and that the first view exhibits we saw were exhibits I had seen before.

The second time seeing them gave me the opportunity to appreciate the art works without the need to immediately document them. I could stand and look at the Cordilleran statuettes, see their texture and the shadows, feel the craftsmanship in a way that I cannot experience when looking at the flat images.

From the BenCab Museum. From the BenCab Museum. From the BenCab Museum.

And that was my second reason: In our hurry to photograph everything (or ourselves next to everything), we probably don’t take enough time to appreciate what we are looking at. It is a little ironic how we are quick to share what we see to our friends and to the world but we hardly take time to even look at these things as more than subjects of our photos.

There was a time when I, too, would quickly draw my phone to take photos whenever I go to a new place. I still do that sometimes. But then, I thought about why I travel and why I take those photos. It’s about the experience, my experience, and how I would like to share that to others. Simply pointing my camera and firing away does not allow me to experience anything and when I look back at those photos, I could not connect to them anymore.

The last reason why I wasn’t taking photos in the BenCab Museum was because I was remembering the last time I was there, and who I was with. I was withdrawn and quiet, and my friend thought I was bored. Baguio in general, and that museum in particular, holds a lot of fond memories for me. I was a little sad.

From the BenCab Museum.

Taxing taxi rides.

Anj, a friend of mine, frequently tweets about the often amusing experiences she has with Metro Manila cab drivers. A recent set of tweets was about a driver who kept on speaking in English for the first few minutes of the cab ride because the driver thought she does not speak Tagalog.

Bubblegummy

I don’t mind not having heartwarming cab stories of my own, despite being a frequent cab passenger myself. I’ll be content with a quiet driver taking me from point A to point B with no to minimal fuss. I will even tolerate listening to Love Radio and Papa Jack’s radio show. But a peaceful cab ride doesn’t always gravitate towards me.

Last week, I was already running late for work so hailed a cab at the intersection where I usually take an FX shuttle for Ortigas. That intersection usually has a bum who hails cabs for passengers; the “taga-para” then asks for some money from the cab driver for “giving” them a passenger. It’s an informal arrangement in many places in Manila, and a way from many otherwise-jobless people earn some money. Do I sound condescending? Because I am.

Philcoa street theater.

I normally dislike this arrangement because I am perfectly capable of hailing a cab myself. It doesn’t really add much efficiency in how passengers board a cab. Sometimes, the presence of multiple “taga-para” in an area even adds more chaos to the already chaotic Manila commuting experience. And most of them do not even hail cabs; they will just approach the driver to collect their “fees”. Still, I tolerate them, most of the time.

The “taga-para” and I saw the cab at the same time. I already hailed the cab when the “taga-para” also started hailing the cab for me. When the cab driver stopped; the “taga-para” tried to open the cab’s door like a valet to let me in. I didn’t let him and climbed into the cab myself.

The “taga-para” approached the driver to collect money, but the driver refused. The “taga-para” then hit his fist against the cab’s body, causing the cab driver to go out in a temper and shouted at the other man. It quickly devolved into a pissing contest, the driver threatening the other guy with bodily harm if only he didn’t have a passenger. Oh great, so I was robbing him of the satisfaction of hitting someone.

While the two men were puffing their skinny chests at each other, the traffic light changed color and I tried to call the driver back and drive. Still stoke, he didn’t hear me and got back in just after the light changed to red again.

Now it was my turn to get angry.

“Bakit mo kasi inaway?” I shouted at him. “Tinatawag kita, hindi ka nakikinig. Late na ko dahil sa’yo.”

The driver went back in, shrugged, and said I didn’t tell him I was in a hurry. It infuriated me further but I did not speak much during the rest of the ride to Ortigas.

The night before that was worse.

C5 corner Kalayaan.

It started benignly enough: The ride was uneventful until we reached the Kalayaan-JP Rizal Extension intersection where we should have made a left to C5. As soon as the light changed, the cab suddenly surged forward instead of turning.

“Saan ka pupunta?” I asked the driver incredulously. “Dapat sa C5 tayo dumaan.” But we couldn’t make a u-turn anymore because of the build-up in the opposite lanes stretches several streets and will delay us further.

The driver explained that traffic was heavy in C5 and he planned to go through EDSA. In my experience, there is absolutely no reason why EDSA would be preferrable to C5 when going to Ortigas. The route is much longer and the traffic is almost always heavier. I was pissed and I made sure the driver knew it.

I shouldn’t have trusted a cab named “Saddam”.

When we approached Shaw Boulevard, the driver attempted another delaying maneouver: he tried to swing to the Shaw underpass, but I caught him in time.

“Bakit mo idadaan d’yan?” I shouted. “Ikanan mo!”

I watched him closely as we entered Greenfield and went for San Miguel Avenue. The sneaky bastard is tried to get me through a longer route.

When we finally reached Emerald Avenue, he messed our route yet a final time by missing the u-turn slot so we can switch to the opposite lanes. This, despite my instructions.

I immediately told him to stop, paid my fare, got out, and started walking to my building. A pair of Koreans hailed the cab and wanted to get in. I half-thought of warning them not to take that cab, but decided not to. I was already several minutes late, and counting.

After Art in the Park.

The cab was waiting there, outside Salcedo park. I hailed it and quickly got in. The driver was waiting for other people to get it, but it seemed they changed their mind. Lucky for me.

The driver asked what was happening in the park, if there was some party going on. I told him about Art in the Park. He said he wished he could’ve brought his son with him.

His son drew well. He proudly stated how his son did henna tattoos and often covered his room with drawings.

The driver couldn’t draw, himself, but he encouraged his son with his talent, buying henna or paint, if the son asked for some. There was pride there, the way he told me their story. His neighbors sometimes asked him why he and his wife let their son do whatever he pleased but the father told them that is talent there and he and his wife wanted their son to use it.

I told him his son was very lucky to have a father like him.

During the drive, we talked about his work and his family. How he often sleeps in his cab because he only gets to go home on weekends; his family lives outside Manila. How his other child cooks well, better than him, and that was the other child’s talent.

He got me to work on time, despite leaving Salcedo later than I planned to. I gave him a tip on top of what the meter said.

In hindsight, I may have given him too much. I think I gave him 1000 pesos which I mistook as 100.

I feel bad losing that much money, but at the same time I hope I did give him that bill instead of losing it elsewhere.

I should start spending less from today until payday.

On speed.

The cab driver seemed a little nervous, a little on the edge. Normally, I enjoy speedy cars but the way he swerved around other vehicles in moderately heavy traffic made me pull the safety belt and lock myself into the seat.

He was bragging how his car might be old, but it’s used to passengers telling him to speed up because they are running late.

“I’m already late as it it,” I told him. “I don’t really care about getting there quickly anymore.”

He was a chatty person. I was in a chatty mood so I didn’t mind it. He told of frequent passengers, one of which also worked in a BPO. He said BPO workers eventually grow skinny from working at nights.

I told him, not really. Many BPO workers gain more weight. Eating can sometimes be a way of dealing with the lack of sleep. I know this from experience.

For one thing or another, our conversation ended up on taking meth. Maybe it was the talk of how to lose weight and him saying that he used to be heavier. He lost weight when he started using meth to keep himself awake so he can drive for more hours.

“You earn little outside the ‘boundary’,” he said. “So in this job, you sacrifice sleep.”

Dusk, Bonifacio Global City

My view on recreational drug use has softened as I grew older. I’m fine with weed, but I wouldn’t personally try harder stuff. I know people who can handle their drugs; I know people who couldn’t. It’s like people and alcohol, which, when you think about it, is just another recreational drug.

Still, I was not sure if I was comfortable with being driven by someone who seemed to have admitted that he’s on meth. The driver joked maybe I should give meth a try.

“People have different trips,” he expounded, “some are in it for increased libido, some crave for food, some look for trouble. I only do it when I’m working, otherwise I don’t.”

He was proud of being able to keep a family and raise his kids, unlike other cab drivers who had left their spouses and hooked up with other partners, presumably because of meth use.

I was relieved to finally reach my destination and get out of the cab. I added a little extra to the cab fair because he took me away from the usual route I take, which had unusually heavy traffic that night.

For a moment, I thought about telling him to be careful in choosing to whom he will be confiding with about his meth use, but the moment passed and I didn’t. I was already an hour late.