Some say the coffee isn’t the real deal especially if you’re a hard core coffee drinker. Others say it’s quite expensive for just a Frappuccino or hot latte. A handful find it a convenient spot for meeting up and there are those who find it a great place to work. Case in point is my gal-pal – we go way back in high school – Melie when we caught up with each other one weekend. She was working in Starbucks Greenbelt while waiting for me. Apparently, she learnt and revealed to me that one is more productive while working in a café. Working or meeting up with someone, hard core coffee drinker or not, Starbucks is my happy place.
It all goes back to when I found myself living in a new country and walloped severely by homesickness, cultural isolation, and discrimination. It was my first time to be living apart from my family and the whole routine of being on my own was both exhilarating and unnerving, to say the least. On top of homesickness, I was culturally isolated – being a self-absorbed careerist wasn’t how I was raised to be. I didn’t believe in going up the ladder of success by stepping on others which put me greatly at odds with a whole lot of people. Then there’s my nationality that triggered my first experience of discrimination. The preconceived notion that Filipinos were only meant to be domestic helpers had preceded me unknowingly as well as all the stereotypes of being a woman that I thought had been deconstructed.
Starbucks, on hindsight, was the one place that I could piece back my fragmented self together quietly. Every single day was a battle against homesickness that left me weary and which was compounded by being treated as the peculiar one in the group to put it mildly. The Starbucks near my workplace then was a serendipitous find. There were no weird glances from the baristas to make you feel that you shouldn’t be in their country or any put-upon behaviour to take my order. It was just simple human decency: a simple warm greeting of “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” and what I would like to drink or eat that day. I didn’t have to constantly fear that someone was hatching a nefarious plan to make me the scape goat for their failure or put up with hypocrisy – you know when they smile at you and then stab you at the back minutes later. My visits to this Starbucks reached a point when I just showed up at the counter, exchanged pleasantries with the baristas which eventually became longer chit-chat that did wonders for my soul, and head to a table with my caramel macchiato. I didn’t need to say my name or my order anymore. A smile particularly one that goes beyond the lips and crinkles the eyes does have this energising effect on a person.
I’ve since relocated to another country where I’ve learnt to let my guard down and view humanity in a less jaded way. I still frequent Starbucks because it still remains my happy place; the baristas, store manager, and even the security guard still exude that affability which is more than welcomes. At Starbucks, I sew clumsily my tattered soul, chase away the negative thoughts gnawing on my thoughts, and glue back my shattered heart. It is also where I do most of my work, thinking of which stories to assign, new topics to write on, and new punishments for my students. Lastly, it is where I catch my breath after a tongue-on-the-floor workout with Pak Agus. I have a cup of no-sugar cappuccino or caramel macchiato with non-fat milk or soya when I remember to say it to the genial Starbucks barista.