There is a phrase in the Philippines that catapults an unsuspecting person to dizzying stardom in nano seconds if he or she becomes the “crush ng bayan”. The phrase roughly translates to “the current crush of a group of people”, and that group can be as small as a class or as a big an archipelago. The crush, a he or she, can be an overlooked geek or square peg of the class, an unknown singer – you name it, anyone that has caught the people’s attention for whatever reason can be the “crush ng bayan”.
In Indonesia, I stumbled upon a pleasant discovery of two of my classes’ “crush ng bayan” when we got to chit-chatting about the wonders of a Starbucks drink. Talk gravitated to the barista they found ensorcelling. For example, drinks served by fair Eva, the males’ “crush ng bayan”, was more than enough to banish the day’s mundanity. One of my students, G, always smiled whenever her name was mentioned or he said her name.
For several girls, it was this lanky barista sporting a hairstyle short of a military crew cut whose name tag against his black, long-sleeved shirt, which he wore with the sleeves folded up to the elbows, read Stephen. Unlike his male counterparts who are far more forthcoming, he comes across as aloof, but a polite aloofness only towards me that I surmised arose from a language barrier. I am not fluent in Indonesia and he barely speaks English except when he asks for the size of your drink and if you’d want it with whipped cream or not. A smile did tug at the corners of his lips once when our paths crossed – he was going to bus a table and I was about to sit at a table. He really wasn’t the effusive type. Even when he was on his fag break, I observed that he sat quietly on his own outside Starbucks while scrolling through his phone.
There is no, admittedly, frisson that goes up and down my spine, but a smile does always cross my face whenever the barista is around. After all, a trip to Starbucks was never always about the coffee.