Transients, Pilgrims, Seekers (17)


This could be an attempt at an ethnography of our blighted lives. 

I have done this several times following an anthropologist who stood at a street corner and documented the lives of people in that portion of a blighted city. 

My training in anthropology was by way of Dr Prospero Covar and Dr Felicidad, both of the University of the Philippines' Department of Anthropology in the early days of EDSA People Power I. 

In that batch of Filipinologists, I now have successful academics for company, one a vice president of his university, and another a former governor of her province somewhere in the Central Luzon area. 

But our student days were different, majority of us impoverished academics from some boondocks. One of our classmates finished his degree after several disastrous defense, and then he died. One was a professional historian in love with historiography, another was a medical doctor, and some others were involved in activist causes. That was a batch in those days! 

But one classmate who died right after graduating after years and years of terror and horror ended his academic career just like that. I did not know he had died, and one time, I had the good fortune of taking part in a conference in his city in Palawan, and I went to his university to look for him. When I asked to see him, two staff of the information office just looked at, and for a few moments, were simply dumbfounded. 

From these classes in theory and methods, I learned of the possibility of  'street corner society', a reality that would excite me no end as I plotted what to do with my research work. 

And so today, I retraced that academic interest: I stood at the corner of Avenida and Recto, and there tried to understand what is happening in this street corner of a famous city made infamous by extravagance of those in power. 

Add to this the filth and squalor of this city, the estilo de vida of those who are trying hard to make it in life. 

A B-actor has promised to clean up the city. 

In the meantime, Canal de la Reina, a famous canal in old Tondo, is no longer a canal but a passageway of dirt and mulct and garbage. Even these have filled up every space of the canal and what you have is water that is as stagnant as the statue of Bonifacio just close by, by the Tutuban area, a statue easily overshadowed by shopping malls where Class A things could be bought for a pittance. 

Class A, of course, means that you are buying a fake object, one that imitates closely--as closely as possible--the real McCoy. 

Now, in search of Class things, I stand here, in this corner of Avenida and Recto. 

I stand here under the heat of a 3:00 sun, and am sweating. 

Metal and flesh crisscross as if there is but one direction they are taking--all to making the city bigger, more expensive to live on, and less and less people who can afford to live in its bowels. 

At my back is smallist women with a dirty lady-guard uniform of blue and white, perched on an Orocan white stool so she could see what is happening inside her store. 

On the side of the street are vendors of the tingi-tingi variety: one piece of Cloret, one piece of Marlborro, one piece of Philipp Morris, or those other things that you can chew on to assuage any feeling of hunger, or even rage. 

I linger--and I linger longer. 

A smallish woman asks a man in his 40s, duffel bag on his back, if he wanted service. 

The man just whizzed by, rushing to where the train station is at the Isetann area. 

I linger--and I linger longer. 

A man unwraps his bag, puts a piece of canvass on the cement floor, and spreads our all kinds of cellphones imaginable. 

Some people gather around the man, ask for the prices of those modern gadgets of contemporary Filipino, the extension of their sense of language, self, and person. 

From afar, I scrutinize what kinds of cellphones are these. 

Another man does the same thing: spreads out a piece of dark clothing on the pavement, and one by one, removes the contents of his canvass bag a la Houdini. 

Two pre-owned cellphone vendors, at 3:30 PM, on Recto! 

A policeman passes by. 

He does not mind the cellphone vendors. 

One young man, in marine student uniform, tells another, also in that uniform: "These have been snatched from some other people. Or stolen. Or the result of hold-up." 

--Manila, Las Islas Filipinas, July 5, 2013

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