Saturday, April 03, 2010
A strange, queasy feeling suddenly descended on me yesterday when I was going about my way in the city paying the horrendously astronomical bills needed to make my life livable and functional—electricity, water, the cable television, the Internet, the credit card, and all that jazz. Growing up is all about these little receipts.
It felt like a mild form of horrible.
My friend, the eternally nonplussed Ren, merrily texted me back when I complained to him about the amount and the perplexities of adult responsibilities: “It’s masakit
, right? Then again, life is boring without bills!” Give it to Renair Dy, Mr. Optimist in the Rainbow of His Days, to find gold in a room full of horse shit. (Whether he will enter that room at all, given his O.C.-ness, is another story.)
Ah, the problems and challenges of middle class living in the Philippines. Being bourgeois is affordable comfort for most of us lucky enough to thrive in this part of the social divide—but there’s also an unstable quality to this; how we desperately invest in sweat (or back pains, from stress), for example, just to get it. I once gloriously pronounced to my literature class, while dissecting Emmanuel Lacaba’s proletariat-in-the-ideological-journey-of-his-life poem “Open Letter to Filipino Artist,” that we were all comfortably burgis
, conditioned to the core, that no other kind of life would seem feasible or right for us. “Can you do an Emman Lacaba and go to the mountains for a social belief?” No one raised his or her hand.
Of course, it’s infinitely better than out-and-out poverty, but it’s getting harder these days—so it seems—to stay comfortably middle class, and be sane at the same time. And the burdens on this class! Any economist worth his salt will tell you that one simple way of measuring the fiscal health of a nation is to measure the size of its middle class. Is it growing? Is it even existent?
Which makes me think: is there a Filipino middle-class ba
? I once read somewhere that the problem with the Philippines, at least in terms of its struggle with economic potential, is that its middle-class largely lives abroad, leaving behind only the very elite and the very poor scrambling and in constant war for power, like cockroaches in a dung heap. Ay naku
, if that theory holds water, will there be any solution at all to our problems?
I thought of this while lining up in the bank (in what was positively the slowest line in the history of world), while waiting for my turn in NORECO, while shivering from the blast of air-conditioning in Globelines, while….
I paid my bills, and reflected on the world. It was one of those lovely summer mornings in Dumaguete, those rare days when the sun shines with a mild generosity—a bright day that does not bear down on you with a relentlessness of heat. I was attuned, you could say, to the stirrings of the world outside. It was easy enough to believe that all was well with the world. Through the open doors or the open windows of whatever cramped space I was in, I could look into the bright summer blue, and thought how great a day this could be.
On days such as this, if there wasn’t the fact of bills-paying to focus on, one could easily forget all his troubles, and it would become easy enough to disbelieve that there was a cancer growing out there in the world. But—people were dying, you knew
, people were bombing each other in no-longer-so-obscure places in the world in the name of God and freedom. There were earthquakes and other natural disasters everywhere. And now, in the Philippines, there were people going about in sorties, in battle-ready composure, campaigning for their political survival, disrupting our existence with stupid jingles, with clichéd TV and radio ads trumpeting a showbiz-influenced kind of sensibility, with practiced smiles, and with even more practiced (and ingratiating) command of the local language. Such scrambling!
I thought, Such hideous and naked ambitions for power!
It gives you pause sometimes, how people could will themselves to become the worst versions of themselves—corrupt and corrupting—just to secure a position in office in this, our glorious Republic of Shit. Politics must be so lucrative to the bottom line. This month and next month, I bet our very air will be polluted with the promises of politicians promising you the moon just for our vote. And everybody’s jumping into the circus, of course, quarreling with each other in Facebook, over dinner tables, and everywhere else over the intricacies of their political bets’ qualifications for office. I refuse to be ensnared so far into the debate, although I know the debate is necessary. It’s just that—I feel we’ve been through this circus so many times before, and yet nothing much has changed. What makes me angrier is that these people get into office with our supposed consent, and then get rich courtesy of our taxes. And yet, and yet…
Oh, what a circus. There’s a word for all of these: kakistocracy. This is government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens. Add that to your vocabulary, and draw the Filipino.
I remember filing my income tax return the other year. I remember how the taxable amount glared at me like a wart on paper. And I remember thinking to myself: I pay the government this much every year? It was highway robbery.
I wanted a street named after me! I remember I was so riled up that I needed some cooling down after that. And so Mark took me out to squander the day away. We were doing our bit of leisurely strolling, something we used to do often before but didn’t do for the longest time... (I remember that I was busy salvaging stories and preparing for summer term that time, and he had been busy graduating from college and shooting TV shows. It was remarkable how so much clutter disguised as responsibilities made up our lives, we forget sometimes to actually live.)
In Lee Super Plaza, we did our regular route of browsing the second-hand books and magazines at the mezzanine, eating siomai
(and sometimes the tacos) at the Food Court, then going on to the kitsch on display at the third floor knick-knacks department: all those figurines and picture frames and candles and lamps and fake flowers of astonishing bad taste, I wondered who would actually buy these things. We became more excited when we got to the kitchenware section, and the furniture section, and we wondered out loud: Why was that so? Had we become too domesticated together? Have we become the perfect picture of burgis
At the toy section, we suddenly reverted to being children. Suddenly, there were all these Spongebob stuffed toys, and toy cars, and funny dolls, and teddy bears, and mechanical snakes to occupy our fancy! Then I saw some board games with familiar names, the kind I used to play with as a kid, games that use to bring families and friends together in an increasingly rare social interaction: Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, Bingo, Monopoly, Snake and Ladders, Clue… It struck me suddenly: I didn’t know anybody—kids or adults—who play board games these days.
That and taxes and bills, I decided, have made the world become all so much sadder. But that’s just how it is.
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
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