pop goes the world: psst! hey, taxi! v. 2

I’ve been inundated with work the past couple of weeks and am struggling to surface from the depths, swimming upwards to the light and air while fending off sharks, straining seawater through my teeth to obtain plankton for nourishment, and beating deadlines.

For last week’s “Pop Goes the World” column (August 12), I revived an earlier blog post and added social commentary and analysis, as the earlier essay was merely descriptive.

Click here to read the piece at Manila Standard-Today Online.

I had this interesting conversation, apropos of nothing, with an assistant general manager at work yesterday. What makes it special is that I just met her last week:

AGM: “I liked your ‘Psst!”

Me: “Excuse me, whaaat?!”

AGM: (takes my hands) “Psssst!”

Me: (totally clueless) “Sorry, Ma’am, I don’t know what you mean.”

AGM: “Your ‘Psst! Taxi.”

Me: (bright light dawns) “Oh. You read my column? Thanks, that makes two of us!”

AGM: (smiles) “Oo naman.”

I love you, ma’am. <3

UPDATE, 7 Apr 2012: MST recently revamped their website and the link is lost. Here’s the column as it appeared in full in print:

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 12 August 2010, Thursday

Psst! Hey, Taxi!

Cabs are everywhere in Manila, except, of course, when you need them most—when you’re in a hurry, and when it’s raining.

Let’s say you find one. Slipping into it, you expect a swift, safe ride to your destination in air-conditioned comfort. But have you reckoned with your taxi driver? Over years of riding cabs, I’ve observed there are two kinds: the silent and the not.

A quiet cabbie is restful, soothing. You tell him where you want to be taken. “Escolta?” He nods, puts the car in gear, and drives. He knows the fastest and easiest way to get to your destination. The entire trip, not a word escapes his lips. You lean back on the seat, perhaps shut your eyes to rest them. You listen to the radio if it’s on. The silent types usually don’t have it on; if they do, it’s tuned to a soothing station that plays pop or ballads, the volume at a discreet level.

But what if you end up with the just-won’t-shut-up type? This is the kind I get 90 percent of the time. It seems I have the kind of face that cabbies like to talk to.

In my experience, loquacious cab taxi drivers fall into the following categories:

The Political Pundit—His radio is nailed to a talk show where the host spends hours swearing at corrupt politicians. The Political Pundit is well-informed on current events and discusses issues such as the global recession and the fuel price hikes, usually from his own point of view as a cabbie.“Those @##$ raised the price of gas, but not the taxi flagdown rate!”

The Missionary—His radio is tuned to a religious station with a preacher interpreting a Bible chapter in an excited tone, or he plays gospel music on his stereo. At first he is quiet, gauging you. Then he strikes. “Are you a Christian, sister? Are you saved?” He goes on to lecture his viewpoint while refusing to acknowledge your own. Debating is futile and only leads to a pounding headache.

The Lonely One Looking for Someone to Talk To—This one usually is heartbroken over a woman—could be girlfriend, wife, or mistress. Knowing he will most likely never see you again and that you’re a captive audience, he pours his heart out, venting his ire about the woman who has done him wrong, or to whom he has done wrong, and so is suffering a (momentary) twinge of remorse about.

The Guy Who Loves to Hear the Sound of His Own Voice—He will talk about anything with hardly a pause for breath. The weather, his oras ng garahe, the weather… At some point, to escape the endless and boring flow of words, you seriously contemplate jumping out of the cab, committing suicide, or strangling the driver.

The Sage—This is a philosopher who delivers words of wisdom, sometimes cryptic, sometimes straightforward. One told me, “Filipinos are hard-headed. Ayaw nating nadi-disiplina. Gusto natin tayo ang nasusunod.” He then outlined a plan to pen jaywalkers in a shed at road corners or dividers for a couple of hours “to teach them a lesson”.

The Man of the World—Over the years, he’s observed trends in human behavior and shifts in societal mores. One early morning, my cabbie pointed to a young woman in sunglasses, tank top, and miniskirt: “She’s a bar girl, on her way home from work. I’ve had a lot of them in my cab, often with their unemployed younger lovers. It’s a growing trend among women who work. Even professionals.” I asked him to tell me more about kept men. “I started noticing it in the ‘90s,” he said. “For men nowadays, ‘money talks’ na. Wala nang delicadeza.”

The Flirt—His spiel goes something like this: “How old are you, ma’am? You don’t look your age. You’re very beautiful. You have kids? You must have married young. How’s your husband doing? Oh, you’re hiwalay? May I have your cell phone number, then?” All this delivered with a cheesy grin and the honorific po liberally sprinkled like glitter, so as not to offend.

As an acculturated Filipino, in all cases my response is a stock repertoire of noncommittal phrases—“Uh huh.” “Ay, talaga po?” “Ganoon po ba?” “Kawawa naman.” “Tsk, tsk.” Friends of Western mentality scold me: “Say it’s none of their business! Or tell them you’re busy and you want to rest.”

So why do I even bother to reply? In Philippine culture, to ignore someone who has begun a conversation is rude. A person who does so would be deemed hindi marunong makipag-kapwa. Even a perfunctory response is expected as the minimum.

For the Filipino, the other’s—the kapwa’s—business is also their own. Kapwa has been translated as “togetherness”, a concept tied to a Filipino’s sense of self. To be inconsiderate to the kapwa who is hindi ibang tao is more than the height of discourtesy; it puts society itself in jeopardy. Early tribes needed to cooperate to survive; this holds true today. In the overseas Filipino workers experience, the first thing most Filipinos do when arriving in a foreign country is seek out kababayans to help with settling down and fitting in.

Whether you get a silent or a talkative cab driver, you get taken to where you want to go. Getting the gabby ones are a plus: annoying, maybe; irritating, perhaps; yet always interesting. You get off at your destination having learned something more about current events, Filipino culture, and—only if you are discerning and willing to learn from everyone you meet—the human condition.   *** 

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