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Of Life Lessons, Spilt Wine, and Fuel Pumps

Manic in Manila

Given the month, I wanted to write about something “Valentine-sy” – not that I am a big believer in the red-and-pink heart-bedecked commercial craze it has become; it just felt like the “expected” thing to do.

But instead, I chose to share an experience I had in January; one which I posted about on social media, on which the story was warmly received. It was an account of The Fake White Chick in the City – my alter- ego as a foreigner, born-and-raised on Philippine soil. I figured, while the story is not in any way Valentine’s related, it will do your heart a load of good. And what could be better than a happy heart?

Don’t cry over spilt wine

One January morning, bright and early, I boarded the FX van (onboard which I had been many times before) intent on sleeping throughout the ride to Makati from McKinley Hill. It had been a l-o-n-g, stressful night; one which involved a lot of hassles and three quarters a glass of red wine spilling unceremoniously all over my laptop’s keypad. Laptop went on the fritz and so did I. Woke up to a new day, but in the same old funk from the night before.

So, the extra nearly one-hour snooze I could’ve gotten in the van while it inched along in rush-hour traffic was a respite I was rather looking forward to.

But, five minutes into the ride, it became rather evident that I was not going to get any shut-eye. The van driver’s phone kept ringing, and each time it rang, he would pick up with exasperation and worry in his voice. After the fourth or fifth call, he glanced briefly at me and said with a deep sigh: “Ma’am, ang hirap talaga kapag buong pamilya, umaasa sa iyo. (Ma’am, it is truly so difficult when the entire family is reliant on you.)”

Kuya Driver, as we shall call him, for privacy’s sake, had sent a fuel injection pump to his brother in the province, and the package was nowhere to be found. It had cost him PhP34,000 for the piece of machinery, and the concern he felt at the prospect of it being lost was palpable.

In that moment, I found my mind off my wine-drenched laptop and on Kuya Driver’s dilemma. I found myself hoping that the package had not been lost in transit.

Never surrender: a driver’s backstory

Kuya Driver went on to recount how, at the age of 17, he ran away from his home in a mountain village in Davao, on account of an abusive father, a military man. Kuya Driver spent his first few years on the streets of Manila, sleeping on sidewalks with no more than a piece of corrugated cardboard and the clothes on his back to his name. It’s a familiar plot to the drama of life, one we see acted out every day, in these parts of the world stage.

“Pero, Ma’am, hindi po ako sumuko. (But Ma’am, I did not give up.)” He took odd jobs, here and there, and worked his way to becoming a driver – first of a jeepney, then for a married couple, then of the passenger van. His reason? He had dreams yet to fulfill in his life, and he owed it to himself and his future family to solider on.

A case of crabbiness

Fast forward: his son, a smart young fellow, landed a spot in the University of the Philippines, from which he eventually graduated with a degree in Engineering. Kuya Driver’s family became fodder for gossip, having earned the ire of jealous neighbors.

“Ma’am, ewan ko po sa lahi ninyo, pero dito, ang mga Pilipino, grabe po ang inggitan. Yung ‘crab mentality’ nga na tinatawag.” (Ma’am, I do not know what it’s like with your race, but here, with the Filipinos, envy is intense. ‘Crab mentality,’ as it is called.)

The family neverminded the gossip and the hurtful words of neighbors, and encouraged their son to keep on keeping on – it all paid off in the end, as his son recently landed a good job. Still, the bad mouthing continues, Kuya shared, and it is absurd bordering on atrocious.

The takeaway

Throughout the ride, I weighed in, whenever I could, with words of sympathy, empathy, and encouragement. But mostly, I listened, nodded, and made other small gestures in reaction to Kuya Driver’s accounts.

We arrived at our destination shortly thereafter – I never did find out about the package. I assumed it was still unaccounted for, at the time of my departure, and Kuya Driver mentioned that he would have to cut his ferrying of passengers short to go home and search for the parcel’s tracking number. I opened the door and proceeded to hop off the van.

“Ma’am sorry po sa abala, at SALAMAT PO ng malaki sa pagkinig.” (Ma’am, sorry to have bothered you, and THANK YOU for listening.)

“Walang anuman, Kuya; salamat din po sa inyo!” (No problem, Kuya; and thank you, as well!)

The takeaway from this lengthy story from The Fake White Chick in the City?

1. When you get out of your own headspace, when you give of yourself, your time, your listening ear to others, you find that your problems diminish. Try it some time.

2. Enough of the comparison, envy, and crab mentality already – it’s so not cool. No matter your “lahi” or race.

3. Treat those around you with decency and respect. Regardless of “stature in life.” They are not “just” drivers, or servers, or security guards, or salespeople, or garbage collectors who exist to “wait on you.” They are people with hopes and hardships, dreams and desperation, aspirations and anguish, doing their best to make it in life, one day at a time. Just like you and I are.

Oh! And lastly, don’t go spilling wine on your gadgets! Your Valentine’s date will enjoy the vino more than your electronics will!