The inevitable arrived. The day unfolded when souls whom I’ve had met, spent a fairly good time with whilst growing up during the childhood and youth of not-so-long-ago, reunited after three decades. A high school reunion. An alumni homecoming.
A good friend of mine who was part of the homecoming committee mentioned that the whole program of activities (parties, food, costumes, medical mission, culmination event, etc. etc.) cost a staggering two million pesos. It wasn’t a mystery so difficult to understand. Most of my batch mates were Tsinoys (Chinese-Pinoy descendants whose grandparents settled in Pinas). And like many Chinese families they abide by tradition, that is, they marry (arranged or not) within their own ‘Chinese circle’. As a result, a few of my female Chinese classmates ended up with rather funny-sounding last names when seen in the context of the Bisaya vernacular, for example, Mrs. To Go, or Mrs. Uy Yap (“Shrimp Paste”), Mrs. Lim Tan (“Forgotten”), and Mrs. Kho Yap (“Faint”). The list continues.
The event reunited alumni who graduated from 1955 onwards, so one can imagine how many from the local business sector were present and wondered how all 700 plus individuals were accommodated into one function hall. Grandparents, fathers, mothers, cousins, siblings, and children. The host quipped, “If you’re all here, who’s left tending your stores?” There was some hidden truth behind the question and a clue to answer the question of the two million peso budget. My batch mates inherited the businesses their grandparents or fathers founded, including the ‘public relations or connections’ attached to those businesses as well. It took two years of fund raising events, endless meetings, projects, and solicitations. The outcome was grand, loud, and extravagant.
As I listened to a 90’s acoustic hit whilst simultaneously browsing teaser fotos of the homecoming event on the web page, I was taken on a spin, a sentimental cyclone. A cycle recurring in every generation, a ritual acknowledging a passage. The Present cherishing the Past, reliving it and holding on to it. The Future standing by, learning from it and witnessing.
I have been working for the Austrian Federal Railways and every day I meet lots of people – Europeans, Asians, Africans, Latins etc. Sometimes I get a passing chance for small talk as I issue a ticket or when I check passengers on board. However they never become part of my past. Every ride is too fast for a quick ‘How do you do?’ It’s all over in five minutes. Auf Wiedersehen.
Watching the live show via Net got hold of me and thrusted me down memory lane. About thirty years ago, I wrote the Epilogue section of our high school yearbook starting with the line – ” I do not know where I shall go “… The answer came flashing as I strolled down the lane, now with the ‘Wiedersehen’ or my past of rubbing elbows with the affluent kids once again before my eyes.
It was also at this point that I fully appreciated the reality of what I had observed early on as a schoolboy. I grew up not suspecting that there was too much inequality and disparity between the rich and the poor. As a child, my parents taught me that we were all equal in God’s eyes. Real life however, spelled it out differently for me.
One elementary teacher most unkindly used to label as pangit (ugly) whoever she judged ‘not up to her standard’ and pobre (poor), those financially deprived kids like me whenever she disapproved of what we were saying or doing. The reality was that Filipinos stratify society into rigid groups that separate the haves from the have-nots. In spite of this ‘caste system’, we managed to find our own circle of close friends at school and bonded together. Most of the fair-skinned kids became the ‘elite’ Intsik (Bisaya word for Chinese), the pobre Budlat (‘Big Eyes’) clustered together, and the darker-skinned unfortunates were relegated to some distance further away.
I wasn’t given a chance to attend the grandiose event. Frankly, I wasn’t really keen on it either. My best buddies were surely not going to attend. Two have been quite busy as physicians in some acclaimed hospitals in Pinas. They have become doctors and I, a train attendant (or in Pinoy, kon-doktor) in Eastern Austria with jobs demanding more of our lives. I had also turned skeptical after awkward and uneven experiences which happened in the Past. Interactions between groups were very limited and I observed these social divisions. This ‘gap’ had to be accepted as the Way Things Are.
The affair streamed live online showed me how the way things ‘are’ completely changed to ‘were’. There were familiar faces though I was struggling to recognize some of those who have amassed physical weight throughout the decades. Still a few were very quaint, especially those with no more hair. I had to tilt my head, squint my eyes, and ask myself- ‘Who is this?’
Renowed as The Rebel Class – the batch was notorious for some ‘unthinkable’ instances which agitated the school faculty thus the name. Protesting against and kicking out ‘unwanted’ teachers took everyone by surprise then. The spirit of the 1986 EDSA Revolution spilled down on us and those ideas whirled around inside our heads. Everyone expressed opinions whenever they saw injustices being committed and denounced the unrighteousness.
The culmination night of the homecoming showcased talents and honored former teachers with prizes amounting to thousands of pesos. Our batch shone. They were unashamedly proud of introducing many firsts during the occasion. Pictures and poses, laughter and reconciliation. Actions spoke louder than words. Technology played a big role and brought them nearer.
Still I harbored a doubt. I was left asking, how was this possible. There are no snobs observed nor arrogance felt. No nasty comments online. Everyone on the same even playing field. A little bird whispered that there were catalysts (I called them Miracle Workers) responsible for closing the gap between the Budlats and the Intsiks.
I sent one of them Miracle Workers a few text messages and she replied confessing that it took a painstaking long time to heal old wounds, clear up grudges, and wipe off negative feelings from either clique. To reunite. To pave the way for harmony and unity. To be strong. To come of age. And she cried a lot more.
I strongly agree with her. It becomes sweetly melancholic when oneness is achieved. And time does heal all wounds. The stigma of the Budlats and the Intsiks disappeared. Breaking social disparity in Pinoy communities is not easy.
More dinners and more intimate get-togethers were held after the main event. It was entertaining to observe that even the seating positions didn’t really matter at all. Psychology used to dictate hierarchy to divide individuals, reflected on how groups sit together. It was then.
Watching from afar I only saw grown up individuals enjoying life to their fullest and savouring victorious moments.
A delightful time travel back onto those silly childhood days. To fondle at the idea that somehow we can be children again, as equal human beings treating each other with just respect, able to play the whole day, and our hearts leap to rejoice at this very thought. It makes us smile. Reunions remind us about the wonderful past (should we learn from it). The past completes us and make us wiser for the coming future.