FEELING GRINCH-Y

It is such an oxymoron considering it is the season to be merry, loving and forgiving. But I can’t help but feel the opposite despite the well-wishes I read on Facebook statues and well-meaning greetings received on FB messenger and Viber. The feelings of joy and merriment are fleeting, leaving me wondering how I turned into a Grinch in a span of a week after landing in Manila. Don’t get me wrong. I was teeming with Christmas spirit even before I boarded a Philippine Airline flight, which wasn’t late thus heralding an auspicious start to my Christmas break. Days before my flight I had my gal-pal accompany me to the malls for my last-minute Christmas shopping.  Waking up earlier than usual on a Saturday, we were out of the flat before the cats could come for their post-breakfast Friskas. We decided to venture out from the usual haunt of the almost-rustic Metropolitan Mall and its younger twin, the urbane and hip Grand Metropolitan to another new mall that was a little further from the house. Up the Helix-like bridge of Singapore and the taxi neatly deposited us at the lobby of yet another new mall in Bekasi, Summarecon Bekasi. It boasts an al-fresco food lane and a stage at the centre that comes to life shortly after six to musicians and chanteuses serenading the crowd shooting the breeze after a hard day at work.

An attack of rhinitis the moment I sat in the car in Manila didn’t dampen the Christmas mood either. The Grinch-y feeling sank its teeth in the jugular when news of a Binay emphasising his power over his compatriots by virtue of his political title exploded on page one of Philippine Daily Inquirer and after watching the 15-minute video that accompanied it. Add in the interview with Binay’s spokesperson, Salgado, who defended his client with eyebrow-raising tenacity, and the poison of the Grinch slowly worked its dreaded magic. Despondency and cynicism replaced merriment and joy. It’s simple, really – what happened to following rules? Common people are instructed to follow the rules by the higher ups and yet the leaders make a mockery of rules that they are reminding people to be obedient of.  Adding insult to the mockery is, as a teacher always talking about the need to follow the rules specially if you’re a person of authority to my students, it is galling to have watched the video and listened to the spokesperson reduce every thinking Filipino (including myself) to a nitwit. I saw the video, which despite the absence of audio, blatantly showed someone in power muscle his way and, like a petulant child, refused to follow the rules of the residential area.

I felt like a grouchy deflated balloon. Listening to a cretin arguing the merits of breaking the rules is very taxing. My thoughts turned grim. The tourism tagline “It’s more fun in the Philippine”, for example, suddenly took on a sardonic shade. I had quietly reworked it to “It’s more fun to get away with something in the Philippines”.  Where is the “fun” in the Philippines, I asked myself, when people in power overstep their limits, which is saying the least, and then expect understanding and compassion from those they undermined and belittled?

The Binay episode is but a fraction of the holiday-zapping elements. Macet (pronounced ma-chet) further amplifies the Grinch-y mode. The word is Indonesian in origin and means traffic jam. That Christmas ushers in madness as people spill out into the streets to get their Christmas shopping done or to simply enjoy the sights and sounds is understandable to a certain degree. I have no quibble with the holiday makers and shoppers. In fact, I believe and follow the unofficial Christmas law, “If you can’t handle the crowd then don’t step out of your house.” What I find completely unsettling are two things against the macet backdrop – whiny taxi drivers and insolent security guards.

Taxi drivers turn logic on its head. They grumble about the lack of passengers, but when there is a massive crowd of passengers, they suddenly become choosy. A news feature on a local TV channel on why taxi drivers refuse to take passengers put it down to drivers wanting to cut down on their losses. The driver interviewed pointed out that if he takes one passenger to a far place such as Fairview there is no guarantee on having passengers on the way back from the journey thus he loses out on earnings. Another reason is the cost of fuel – he’s just wasting money if he doesn’t get a passenger and just drives around. I don’t have much sympathy for taxi drivers and taxi company owners these days. As a taxi driver, he has to take passengers to their destinations; as for taxi company owners, they have to look into the plight of their taxi drivers given the madness during Christmas and New Year. Why should the consumers suffer? Now, taxi drivers who to take passengers but gripe about the traffic jam as if it’s your fault is equally exasperating. Why blame the consumers for the traffic snarls? We both are stuck in traffic and he is getting paid at the end of the journey.

Then there are taxi drivers who ignore the taxi queue set up in designated areas of, say, malls. It is vexing enough that they deliberately avoid the taxi queue despite the meandering line of people needing a cab (think people with children, people with their groceries, and senior citizens or even ordinary people who want to ride a cab) for some outrageous reason. But what is more maddening is when they stop a few meters away from the taxi queue and pick up equally infuriating passengers who disregard the taxi queue. There is simply no respect for rules and the funny thing (a bad funny thing) is the one demanding a respect for the rules is deemed stupid.

Aggravating the situation of taxi drivers who don’t observe the taxi queue line are the blasé security guards of the mall. Take SM Cubao and its taxi queue at the entrance/exit facing the old Fiesta Carnival building, which was teeming with people 7ish in the evening two days before Christmas. Traffic was really bad but people were lining up decently. Some taxi drivers blatantly ignored the taxi queue and got passengers not in the queue.  Following my dad to the two police officers stationed at the front of the entrance/exit of SM Cubao, we asked for help, pointing out the unfairness of the situation, They politely replied that the problem wasn’t within their jurisdiction and politely referred us to the mall’s security guards. We then turned to the security guard (male) who was inspecting the bags of the people entering SM. He civilly said he had a different duty, which was to inspect bag for weapons and bombs, but he still assisted us a little bit. He went up to this man in white barong tagalog, who I learned later was also a security guard after my mother went up to him and asked for his name minutes after our altercation, to refer the problem. Earlier on we, me and security-guard-in-barong-tagalog, had a bristly exchange about the lack of assistance from the guards about the taxi queue. Security guard-in-barong-tagalog was downright condescending from the get-go. He reasoned out in a tone that smacked of flippancy and arrogance that there was nothing to be done, which he punctuated with a supercilious laughter that raised my hackles, and cranking up the arrogance, turned his back on me and proceeded to examine a lighted advertisement of the mall. The police officer on duty interjected nicely that we’d eventually get a ride home. Practicing control, I answered as politely as I could that we understand the situation about the traffic, but not the errant taxi drivers and passengers, and the irresponsible attitude of the security guard-in-barong-tagalog to look into upholding the taxi queue service. I was livid because it simply wasn’t fair that others not lining up were getting cabs while those dutifully lining up were not, and the security guard- in-a-barong-tagalog was utterly inept. My anger was mitigated by the first security guard who apologetically said, “Pabayaan ninyo na ho siya (Please ignore him)”.

How can one not turn into a Grinch? Or not have murderous thoughts and forget about the reason for the season? Here you are, a dutiful citizen of your struggling country following the rules as expected then you meet someone who should be able to provide service given his position or at least a decent, intelligible answer, but isn’t able to do it. Instead, he meets your formal request with unwarranted derision and impertinence. I can only surmise that he has a puny brain, if it’s not already fossilised.

Christmas is not to be blamed. It’s an expected yearly madness – the rush to the mall, the jostling in the malls, the traffic jams and what not – prompted by excitement, joy, love and all the good feelings. What is unacceptable and lamentable, which seems to be a growing trend, is the breakdown in order in the simplest level of civilised living. Why has the holiday season become a reason to descend into idiocy?

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