Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Things that Can be Taken as Granted and the Things that Cannot

All the sudden, everything on the floor came to a stop.  All the usual sounds of pop music blasting, packing materials screeching, and scanners beeping were suddenly cut out from the heavy dusty air of the overworked, sweat-filled warehouse.  The chain was broken and the process was paralyzed.  It was a blackout, a complete outage of power within the whole compound.  But it was more than just a realization of over-dependence on electricity that came about, it was fear and stress that the orders that need to be sent out, with all the items already in the building, had to be halted.

Yet, the initial reaction from the staff was not disbelief, shock, anger, or even irritation.  It was more or less a slight sense of dismay, brushed away with a shrug and a smile.  There was no sense of urgency, no sense of "we must do something to get these out or the bosses will scream at us" was a feeling of unusual relaxation, of "oh well," of "just let it be."  Frankly, it was embarrassing to see at first, especially considering that the factory next door quickly turned on its gigantic back-up generator into a full-blasted rhythmic hum and got back to work as normal.

After these past few months in the country, however, the author could not just go about commenting something negative about the stereotyped characters of Filipinos and just move on.  To be honest, there really was nothing one could have done in that situation.  One cannot rent a power pack in an instant at 5 o'clock in the afternoon.  And amid the pitch darkness and surreal silence of an environment normally filled with dust, smoke, heat, and noise, to stare at the clear night sky with stars in the distance was, sadly, the best one could have made of the situation.

The aftermath of the back-out, in a way, was a total illustration of what can be taken for granted and what cannot here in the Philippines.  Stable infrastructure, whether it be Internet connection, power supply, water supply, or easy-to-understand public transportation, are hard to find, and in some places, completely non-existent.  But on the flip side, that sort of relaxation in the face of difficulties, smiles and jokes to find something joyful when nothing is working properly, and almost complete rejection of direct pressure, especially related to work, can be taken as straightforward facts rather than unrealistically naive wishes.

In the economic centers of the world, whether it be East Asia, North America, or Western Europe, what the author witnessed there at the warehouse would not have been taken positively, at all.  The author himself was promptly scolded by higher management for not having a Plan B to keep operations alive without electricity.  Any passive relaxation in such time of urgency is for sure labelled as laziness, as irresponsibility, as lack of leadership, and as sheer stupidity and inability to do basic problem solving.  Well, if things don't work, at least feel sorry or be stressed about it.  That would be what they take for granted.

Thrown into the Filipino environment, these Asians, Americans, and Europeans will also have to change their concept of things to be taken for granted.  Issue an order, someone will say "Yes" and then not do it...order something, something different shows up, and there won't be apologies...implement a process into a routine, only to find out much later that everyone prefers a totally different way...these are only the beginning.  For the efficiency-concerned, these are already frustrating enough, and they end up devoting too much time to try changing what are already facts on the ground of Filipinos for generations and centuries.

They have ruthlessly called Filipinos bad names.  They blamed everything from inequality to poverty to pollution on laziness, on passiveness, on inaction.  They simply said that what the Filipinos take for granted is what makes Philippines so underdeveloped when she had so much potential to begin with.  And it is the people's continued taking of her less-than-rosy present reality that makes her effort to catch up with the developed world a slow and tedious one.  They say that only extreme poverty can make the Filipino work, and even then, not enough for them to step above the usual menial tasks that they take up in the West.

But funny enough, the same foreigners also took up the surprising peacefulness of the Philippines for granted.  There are no street protests, there are no open hostility against rich foreigners who set up condescendingly modern international enclaves and openly flaunt their Filipino girlfriends.  For sure, the Filipinos do not like such reality.  Yet, they took them with a smile and a shrug, along with all the inequality, poverty, corruption, and injustice, just like they took the blackout at the warehouse.  Bad facts are still facts, and some facts cannot be changed in an instant.  Better to just live with them.

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