Saturday, June 16, 2007

A PILGRIM IN A NOT-SO-STRANGE LAND

I am again revisiting an old entry, dated August 3, 2003. I partly speak about the infamous mutiny at Oakwood in the central business district of Makati, just a few days before I left for the US. I remember getting apprehensive about traveling then that I missed my appointment with the novices in Cebu, where I was scheduled to give a week-long formation seminar-workshop. It is ironic that one of the mutineers, after the recent national elections, will soon be included among the list of so-called “honorable” senators. So what else is new? I am, as my title puts it, a pilgrim in a not-so-strange land.



Grueling weeks and days trying to make the best of the little time available for two crash courses at the Don Bosco Center of Studies, prior to my departure for the U.S. ended July 30 with the submission of grades and the returning of my students’ papers (tests and research works) all the way up to the last hour of classes last Wednesday morning. As I gave back my students’ papers, I gave in to their clamor for me to say a few words of comment about the recent failed putsch (Oh no! Not again!). The last few weeks had indeed, been rather full. Another retreat-seminar occupied me till the last weekend of July. And the day before I left, I just had to finish all that needed to be finished, on top of everything I had to do to put a closure to some other stuff I was engaged in.

SEEING CALIFORNIA AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME

After two sleepless nights, I got to the posh and renovated SFO international airport about 40 minutes behind schedule, that is, at 9:40 a.m., the same day I left Manila, 31 July. The good thing about going transpacific from the so-called “far east” is that one gains a full day, arriving the same day one departs from Manila. The trip was uneventful. It was pretty obvious Northwest Airlines is cutting down on expenses. Food was not as plentiful as before. Portions are considerably smaller, and non-essential snacks were scrapped out. As usual, the waitresses from Manila to Tokyo were more personal and warm. Their rather older American counterparts from Tokyo to SFO, expectedly, were more rough and gruff.

California! The place used to be the epitome of the great American dream, part of the proverbial search for the wild, wild west, for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Alas, the great Silicon Valley bubble has burst a long time ago. Gone is the euphoria that was there ten years ago, when real estate and housing shot up in prices, when the great demand for more and more from upwardly mobile computer wizards and electronic gadget aficionados was the run of the day. What remain are signs of a once upbeat rush for “new developments” that carved out huge chunks of “prime” real estate on the balding and now yellowish hillsides of Northern California east of the San Francisco bay. Somehow, the city itself that was made popular by songs like “I left my heart in San Francisco” just does not anymore show the same luster and glitter that I thought it had just 19 years ago, when I first set foot on the famed cable car city of everyone’s dreams.

The quality of life is steadily going down in sunny California! Starbucks coffee shops dot the city slickers’ paradise. But one espies hobos and homeless people waiting for their better heeled counterparts go out of such enclaves of coffee-comfort, in order to grab the precious commodity called a Starbucks-emblazoned paper cup, empty it of the remaining contents, in order for them to go stealthily inside the milk, tea and coffee palaces, fill their cups with hot, nourishing milk from the spick and span canisters of delight, and then go out casually to drink their fill of milk, courtesy of the capitalist crowd, who would, of course, rather spend a couple of dollars for a fancy cup of coffee, rather than three scores of cents’ worth of watery café americano, found in just about any greasy spoon , hole -in-the-wall affair all across the continent.

It was all like seeing California again for the first time! Traffic builds up daily at 880 freeway, not the way things used to be in the state where freeways are the most extensive, the most complex in all of the United States. Hybrid cars now begin to see the light of day, their drivers and owners well aware that petrol is bound to become an expensive and scarce commodity in the coming years.

PINOY PA RIN, TALAGA!

Talking about greasy spoon places … well, we got into one for lunch Saturday noon, famished after an all-morning trip to the bookstore (and more, after lunch) - a Filipino restaurant. Nothing much has changed since I first set foot into one in Chicago. They are all the same. They will never, never become what the Thai (and even the Vietnamese) restaurants are by now all over the United States. They were, and still remain, no better than a “turo-turo” affair in Avenida or in Pasay City. Professionalism, or the utter lack of it, is their undoing, as far as I am concerned. Our order of grilled chicken came with - you guessed it right - sticky and greasy knives. The waiter who took our orders, appeared to have just gotten out of bed, unkempt, uncombed, unshaven - and uncouth! He turned out to be also the cook. He disappeared in an inner room that was full of background noise. Obviously, there was more than just a kid in there who kept all the adults in the small room occupied. The other waitress was busy preparing a table for a biggish group. They gave out our orders. They forgot to give our drinks, and proceeded to eat with what turned out to be a group of relatives who apparently go there regularly. In short, the cook, the waiter, and everyone who ran the restaurant left us their customers in the lurch, alone to munch forlornly our meals. We sort of hesitated to ask for something else. The whole staff was busy having their own merry lunch in a separate set of tables. We were quite mortified as we ate our salty fare, consoled only by the blaring sound of the KTV that doled out Tagalog songs of the late 70s and early 80s - the sort that would make the fans of Anthony Castelo blush, and pine for the lilting tunes of Rico Puno.

Somehow, the Filipino professionalism - or the patent lack of it - has invaded American shores!

Incidentally, Thai restaurants have enjoyed quite a following and clientele from Americans and other expats. The Filipino restaurant somehow has not gone beyond being a “mom and pop” affair, capable of attracting only a handful of Filipino habitués, who go there, probably, just to get away from the usual fast-food fare or the “heat-it-up-in-the-microwave-see-you-again” fare that is the hallmark of every harried and hurried job holder in this fast-paced society that values a good credit line and equates a person’s dignity with a good credit record.

Yesterday, admiration turned to envy when passing through the small, cute and tightly packed downtown strip of Palo Alto, just outside of the famous Stanford University campus (again, I sighed and pined for what ordinarily could not be seen back home in the Philippines), I espied three Thai restaurants and some four Italian restaurants in a strip that was not more than a mile long, spick and span, proud of their heritage, which obviously offered more than just food to customers. Again, I felt sorry for those “hole-in-the-wall” affairs that passed for an Asian restaurant that attracted only sloppily dressed and noisy customers whose main aim is to beat the nostalgia out of their minds by belting out songs of artists whom my young students now back home would not know anymore from Adam!

STORIES THAT SHAKE; STORIES THAT SOOTHE THE SOUL

I left the day Italian Job was supposed to be showing in theaters in Manila. I had been waiting for it for long. I was lucky to catch up with it over at Century Theaters at Union City. It was a story to shake the soul and once more situate it in the context of a sinful, scheming world, with little or no redeeming values to put one back on one’s spiritual track. It was as entertaining as it was draining. Its only redeeming value - the superb acting skills of favorites like Edward Norton and some others.

But the other movie, “Seabiscuit” gave me the needed lift to save me from a growing despondency. I confess I shed a few tears as I felt so involved in the lengthy film. It was all about three individuals who needed healing, three people who needed to find meaning in their lives for one reason or another. They all found it through a horse who itself needed healing, a horse that attracted no buyer as it was slightly deformed. It was a horse that did not at all look like a thoroughbred. But it found a very good trainer, a very good jockey, and very good manager-owner, who had a passion for lost causes. All three were wounded people who had the right attitude. All three were winners at the end. All three came out victorious and vibrant despite all the odds. For they had synergy. They had flow. They had what it took to become winners!

STILL A PILGRIM

I am back in a land that is at once strange and not so strange to me. Part of me belonged here. Part of me told me I am not in the right place. But this is the land where a limping old horse probably could find the right people, the right conditions, the right frame of mind for him to become whole and help others find wholeness. Here is a pilgrim who continues to be in search, a wayfarer who still goes on dreaming to become one who would make a difference in people’s lives. Far from the people who I usually minister to, I still feel ministered to by friends and fellow pilgrims whose only wish and dream is to see me grow and glow and become the best I could be. Near the people I usually do not minister to, I feel the pull of growth and the search for depth that is the hallmark of handicapped “horses” out to win the race of a lifetime who only wants to be the instrument of others’ total healing and growth.

It was obviously a healing journey also for Tobey Maguire who played the jockey. His life trajectory is reflected in the story. He identified himself with the real Red Pollard who healed the horse and was healed by the horse, even as the two of them healed the manager-owner and the trainer.

We are all deeply interconnected. Our lives - our past, present and future - are all intertwined. As Thompson puts it: Each of us, to each other linked are, that never does a leaf fall, without troubling a star!”

Come join me in my dream. It is no longer about horses. But it is all about our intertwined lives in which horses, cabbages and kings - and yes - even eggshell pieces - broken eggshell pieces like those of Humpty Dumpty - could make or break us!

1 comment:

Carlo said...

Hi, interesting article, you might want to visit my father's website: www.pinoypilgrim.org. Somehow related to what you wrote. Thanks.
Carlo de Leon