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Get Up! Get Up!

The following story may strike you as something that I made up completely just to drive home a point. It is not. I swear this incident really happened.

The story occurred when I was still in college; and as with everything else, many of the details have become hazy with time. I remember enough of the incident – anyway – to be able to tell the story here.

As any probinsiyano who goes to the Big City for college knows, the sultry nights can be unbearable if one is stuck inside the boarding house with no money and nothing to do. It is tantamount to being in prison, sans the metal bars.

In the probinsiya, one simply crosses over to the neighbour for some evening huntahan. Or, alternatively, one asks friends to join him on a quick sortie to the nearest lomihan or gotohan.

In is never that simple in the Big City if one has no money. In my case, I had to be ever so careful with what I had to make sure there was enough left for the weekend bus ride home.

Quad – as the Glorietta was known then – was fine; and so was Harrison Plaza. But there was limited entertainment in window shopping for things I could not buy, anyway…

Once in a while, I would take a bus ride to spend a couple of hours at the Luneta. True, the place was as bakyâ as a place could possibly get. For the younger readers, allow me just a moment to educate you on seventies jargon.

The slang bakyâ referred to the masa. It is the ancestor of the word baduy, which is more contemporary and should be more familiar to the younger readers. It is the anti-thesis of the term burgis; or what people now say is soci or sosyal.

I suppose the Luneta’s bakyâ reputation was because one found all sorts strolling aimlessly down its wide pebbled walks. It was free; and at night – whatever unkind things people said about it – with the lights on and the fountains dancing, the place was really pretty.

I could indulge for a couple of hours in my favourite pastime of just simply watching park-goers stroll. It was immeasurably better than staring at the four walls of the boarding house.

If I got hungry, I could grab a hotdog sandwich at this al fresco joint staffed completely by the hearing-impaired. And it was at this joint where my story happened…

There was a good mix of locals and foreigners seated around the neatly laid out tables of the restaurant, each enjoying light meals and ice-cold drinks. I had bought myself a hotdog sandwich and preferred to eat standing up.

There were young kids running to and fro just outside the low metal fencing around the joint. A young Asian kid – no more than three – lost his balance and fell on his face on the pebbled walk. Naturally he started to bawl his heart out.

I’m sure it must have hurt; but the boy did not even have gashes. Before long, from out of the restaurant came sprinting a Filipino couple. The mother picked the toddler up in her arms and started to rock and comfort the boy until his bawling subsided into muffled sobs.

Now, this is where you will start to think I am making things up! In just a few minutes, a young Caucasian boy of probably the same age did the exact same thing – fall flat on his face. Naturally, as toddlers do, the boy also started to bawl his heart out.

I was expecting a Caucasian couple to come running out of the restaurant as well to rescue the poor boy. Instead, one American woman – I could tell from her accent when she spoke – in a party of four seated around one table saw what happened to the boy and did not even look in the least disturbed.

She took time from sipping at the straw of her Coke bottle to instruct the toddler, “Get up! Get up!” It was trite; but the tone was encouraging.

The boy, seeing that he would get no more in the way of sympathy, got up slowly, dusted himself up and by the time he had run to the woman to wrap his arms around her leg, he had stopped crying. It was then that I was sure that the woman was his mother.

I remember that incident to this day as a powerful insight into two different cultures; and, of course, I am oversimplifying things. I will write no judgements here and leave this for you, the readers, to do.

Being Filipino, I know the Filipino couple’s reaction to the child falling was instinctive and typical of other Filipino parents. I have not lived in the States; so will not be able to say if the American couple’s reaction was typical of other Americans.

If it was – or is – then the contrast was stark and remarkable.

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