A British journalist breezed into Manila with an assignment to write about ‘the essential Filipino’. He smiled confidently over his easy assignment relishing the free tour as complementary reward.
For three days, he ran around searching. He rejected the business district of Makati which reminded him of cold and calculating London. He went to historical places in Intramuros but saw only a glimpse of the past not the present. Next he tried the native cuisine at Market Market, delicious yes, but nothing on the essential Filipino.
He was getting not only tired but also nervous that he had not found his ‘easy’ story yet. Time was running out, he had to go back in two days.
He wasted the next day on inconsequential probes into malls, churches, monuments. On his last day, he wrote his editor saying that no one can possibly write about the essential Filipino in so short a time. He asked for an extension, expecting a week. The editor was kind but he was given only one lousy day extension.
In desperation and panic, on his last day he took a wild stab at marketplaces in Singalong. He sat on a curb too tired to think.
Then he realized his mistake; he was looking for places not people. The thought hit him like a terrorist’s bomb! The essential Filipino was a person not a place. How stupid could he be, he thought.
Sitting on the curb in exasperation, he began looking at faces that passed by. He noticed a boy selling fishballs from a rolling cart; he had a torn shirt and was barefoot . What attracted him was not the fishballs. The boy gyrated like Michael Jackson unmindful of the noisy crowd around him. The journalist approached him. Noticing the earphones he wore, he instantly realized it was loud music… music that drowned the noise and transported the boy into his inner garden.
The journalist had to scream in order to bring him back into the real world. The boy removed the earphones.
JOURNALIST: Hey, what are you doing?
BOY: Fishballs, sir, wanna buy?
JOURNALIST: Nice earphones, huh?
The boy gives the earphones to the journalist, who puts them on. He instantly removes them, almost falling from the deafening rock music. The boy smiles and puts them back on.
JOURNALIST : Hey, wait, we’re talking.
The boy removes the earphones and hands him the tiny mp3 player from his pocket. The journalist examines it.
JOURNALIST: Where did you get this? This is an expensive, first-class mp3 player with first-class earphones. They don’t match your air-conditioned shirt.
He flicks the hole in the boy’s shirt.
BOY: I saved income from selling fishballs for one whole year just to buy that. Nice, huh?
JOURNALIST: Why don’t you buy a new shirt and shoes?
BOY: No need. Not important. Waste of hard earned money. Clothes don’t make me happy, only music.
JOURNALIST: You kill yourself selling fishballs the whole day for a year just to buy those?
BOY: Why not? What would you buy? What is your dream? Me, this is my dream, but it is no longer a dream. It’s real now. I don’t need shirts and shoes, just a dream of dancing to music. What is your dream anyway?
At first, the journalist was at a loss for words because he really had no ‘dream’ in mind, or perhaps his dream was to file a story, that is all. But then he realized that that is not really a ‘dream’. A dream must be spiritual and forever, as implied in the boy’s words.
JOURNALIST: I guess I have no dream. Or, yes, I have a dream but it is not a good dream.
BOY: Too bad. You must be very sad. Buy yourself an mp3.
JOURNALIST: But that is not my dream.
BOY: So what is your real dream? There must be something you really, really like.
JOURNALIST: I have been working so hard to survive that I forget what I really, really like. My life is work work work.
BOY: But I also work work work. You must find your true dream and go for it.
And so the British journalist began to discern the essential Filipino. He was amazed how in his dire poverty the boy rejected the very materialism that was gradually destroying affluent society. The essential Filipino was a free spirit who was poor and happy all at once. Perhaps it came from his insular environment, or from his distant past, his Austronesian roots of nomads in tiny boats roaming the vast seas.
The journalist took out a notebook and started writing frantically. The boy peered into his writing, trying to read, and said aloud ‘essential Filipino … free spirit … spiritual dreams … nomadic boat people …’
BOY: (Grabbing the notebook) I know this is your dream. You just don’t know it. What you write here is your dream.
JOURNALIST: (Stunned at the boy’s perception.) I … I … I guess so.
BOY: It is not a guess. You know it. Once you know your dream, you must go for it, or else you will be very sad and soon you will die because you know you have no more reason to live for. You must go for a dream or die. You cannot live just to live, can you?
JOURNALIST: Guess not. Thank you for telling me my dream.
Almost in tears, the journalist hugs the boy and gives him a hundred peso bill. The boy is stunned.
BOY: What for?
JOURNALIST: Because you helped me find my dream that was right in front of my nose all this while.
BOY: Yes, you cannot see things that are too near. You have to move back to see.
JOURNALIST: Go, buy yourself more music.
It took thirty minutes for the journalist to write his story at his hotel. In ten electronic milliseconds the story was at the editor’s desk. The editor replied, “This is the best story yet for a long time. Our staff writers write about absurd things. What you wrote is an important wisdom for the affluent world from the impoverished world. Stay there for a month and write me more.”
The journalist had a field day. His dream, like that of the boy, was now a reality. He would hang around with street vendors; later, he moved to the countryside and wrote about the wisdom of farmers and fishermen. He immersed himself in the essential Filipino – poor, happy, equipped with a different kind of wisdom unknown in the affluent world. He married a kalinga native and wrote a book, a best seller entitled ‘Discovering Dreams’.
It was a poorlittlerichboy selling sticks of fishballs for six US cents each which had ignited his soul. The essential Filipino for him turned out to be a poorlittlerichboy whose ancient wisdom was hard to find in civilized places he knew.
Contributed by Bobby de la Paz, BCBP Alabang.