STUCK in Cebu traffic in a cab one morning, I gazed out the window and watched a scene unfold. A young woman in a nurse’s uniform turned into a narrow alley. I saw her head down a row of shanties and almost bump into a rumpled young man walking out, stroking a fat rooster tucked under his arm.
Two young Pinoys crossing paths—the woman may have just wound up her night shift in a Cebu City hospital, while the relaxed fellow was headed for the Sunday sabungan (cockpit).
That brief scene brought an old song to mind—Frankie Lane’s “That Lucky Old Sun”:
“Up in the morning/out on the job/work like the devil for my pay,
But that lucky old sun/has nothing to do/but roll around heaven all day.
Fuss with my (husband)/toil for my kids/sweat till I’m wrinkled and gray,
While that lucky old sun/ has nothing to do/but roll around heaven all day.”
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Am I biased in thinking that the average Filipino woman is more industrious and intrepid than her male counterpart? Industrious because many women work at menial soul-destroying jobs, and intrepid because they slave away in countries in the Middle East notorious for maltreating women.
Average Filipino men, on the other hand, who can’t find work abroad as seamen or construction laborers, tend to stagnate and hang around billiard halls or cockpits or drive tricycles to earn cigarette and beer money, apparently unwilling or unable to work in agriculture or the trades. Is that an unfair, hackneyed view of Pinoy men from someone like me, a longtime Hong Kong resident who’s watched the growth and decline in the territory of female OFWs (now overtaken by Indonesians)?
* * *
Waiting to be fetched by my niece at the lobby of a small hotel during my Cebu visit, I saw a stream of disreputable-looking Western men with young local lasses in tow. I watched with distaste as a burly fellow with a light shoulder bag strode out of the elevator followed by a small Pinay pulling a heavy suitcase all the way out to a taxi.
Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” came to mind then:
“Love for sale/appetizing young love for sale,
Love that’s fresh and still unspoiled/love that’s only slightly soiled/love for sale.
Who will buy/who would like to sample my supply?
If you want to buy my wares/follow me and climb the stairs,
Be prepared to pay the price/for a trip to paradise/love for sale!”
Is commercial love (or bluntly, sex) really just a matter of supply and demand? In some Cebu taxis, bags hang behind the drivers’ seats with leaflets showing photos of older Western men embracing smiling Pinay girls in wedding dresses. The text in one leaflet reads: “Fiancee*Spousal*Tourist Visas. Don’t worry! Everything can now be done ONLINE!”
At the pier to catch the ferry to Negros Oriental, I found on the ticket counter similar leaflets also offering “fiancée and spousal” visas. This time the picture was of a Westerner kissing (presumably) a Pinay on the cheek.
* * *
I wish I had a camera when I strolled one day around the plaza of the Dumaguete suburb of Valencia. A young woman in shorts was pushing a wheelchair bearing an elderly Westerner. Stopping by a parked van, she opened the sliding door, went to the back of the vehicle from which she extracted a wooden plank, wheeled the man over it and deposited him on the back seat. Removing the plank, she put it away, went around to the driver’s seat and drove away.
Two men watching the scene kept up a running commentary. “Ka luoy giud” (how pitiful), they remarked about the cripple, saying he was lucky to have a fine caregiver and wondering if she was his wife or yaya (nanny).
On a beach at Dumaguete’s Dauin district, an elderly Westerner hobbled along with a cane on one side and a well-tanned young Pinay with gold-streaked locks on the other. I remembered the loud foreigner telling his companions at a restaurant earlier that Dumaguete was “paradise.” Of course he meant for men; one wondered if he thought it idyllic for local women too.
* * * * *
Thanks to China’s booming factories, one sees whole families piled on motorbikes all over Dumaguete (as elsewhere throughout the archipelago, no doubt). Driving south with friends one day, a motorbike zoomed past us driven by a red-haired Westerner. Pressed close behind him was a cute Pinay who had her arms around his middle while a second man behind had his arms around her. They looked for all the world like a human white-bread-with-roast-beef sandwich!
* * *
Judging by the number of Cebu airport arrivals, the ban imposed by the Hong Kong Government on their citizens (as a result of the Luneta hostage-taking incident) is obviously being flouted. Visitors keep coming, including many Westerners who seem to have found retirement “paradise” in the Visayas.
So reading about local government efforts to improve the lives of ordinary citizens was a nice change. A monthly tabloid apparently devoted to providing maximum coverage for every move made by Cebu Mayor Gwen Garcia also publicized Youth Development, Hospital Commissions, Women and Family Affairs projects, Bantay Dagat, Solid Waste Management, etc.
One in particular, the Anti-Mendicacy Task Force, claims to conduct “daily and nightly roving and rescue operations of mendicants, providing intervention services, organizing barangay anti-mendicancy task forces, and providing Balik-Probinsya assistance.”
One recalls the former First Lady and her project of erecting wooden walls to shield Baclaran esteros (creeks) and slums from arriving dignitaries’ eyes. The Cebu program likewise seems aimed at sweeping away beggars for “beautification” purposes.
Whether progress reports on these local government projects are positive is moot, in the face of the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots in Cebu and the rest of the Visayas. Yet ironically enough, people look cheerful amidst the poverty.
* * *
It was heartening to read, on returning to Hong Kong and its stolid unsmiling natives, a blog by a British friend (who once told me that the best Filipino man is a woman):
“Happily, Hong Kong is peopled by thousands of what are tactfully called Domestic Helpers, without which life in this former colony would be unendurable. They’re unfailingly cheerful and hard-working. Chinese and Expatriate families have no idea how their lives would come apart if the army of Filipinas ever decided to work to rule.”
One wonders if Pinays will ever sing “Happy Days are Here Again.”