Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Communal Nature of a Filipino All-Nighter

The so-called "villa" did not look like much from the outside.  The big sign "Villa Constantino Spa & Resort" had a big red arrow pointing down to a narrow, dark dirt road seemingly leading to a rather normal bedroom community of dense, one-story family houses.  But as so many other places in the Philippines, once inside, a whole new world opened up: three large pools and a children's pool were surrounded by a series of gazebos, open-door karaoke booths, and well-decorated two story buildings full of rented bedrooms.

On a Saturday night of a three-day vacation due to the upcoming elections on Monday, the place was filled with brink with campers.  By the author's own account, there were at least 15 groups of vacationers occupying the various outdoor sitting areas and booths available, each ranging from a modest 5-6 friends on outing to much more formidable 10-15 family-oriented groups with mutiple generations in tow.  At the author's arrival around 8pm, most were busy eating, drinking, and of course, singing away.  Youngsters were already splashing around in the densely populated pools.

Like the others already there, the author's group of coworkers, spontaneously organized throughout the last two weeks or so, were prepared to be there for the whole night.  Entrance tickets to the resort are sold at a price per head, all inclusive of hours between 8pm and 5am in the next morning.  Karaoke machine, our own outdoor dining table by the pool, plus a little room with its own bed, shower, and toilet, are all rented for the entirety of the night, in some sort of preconceived package.  Food and drinks, swimwear and towels are BYO, but everything seems to be pretty much taken care of.

As food, brandy, and the microphone are passed around, the author was suddenly reminded of his time back in Korea, when semi-compulsory all-night karaoke and drinking sessions, sometimes on weekdays, were something of a corporate norm.  But aside from the fact that joining this one was completely a voluntary choice of the author, the difference of this session compared to the ones in Korea and Japan are not just about moving it to an outdoor setting by the poolside and under the palm trees.  That very physical difference conveys a much less institutional and communal feel.

The very fact that the "resort" is situated in a residential community and is designed to sort of look like a upscale one probably helped much.  Unlike your standard in-door karaoke box, with blinding strobe lights, boomboxes blaring unnatural base beats, and headache-inducing bright red hues, outdoor karaoke felt very much like a tropical house party.  The moist air is filled with sounds of children laughing as they splashed around in pools, the not-so-distant echos of trains chugging along, and the wind hitting on the palm leaves.  There was nothing unnatural or man-made aside from the machine.

As people left the karaoke area to jump into the pool for a quick dip, come back again to sing a couple of songs and have a shot of brandy and a couple of lumpias, and then go back in for a swim, it felt like this session was not really about swimming, singing, or eating.  It was a holistic experience of just one big family going out another nightly entertainment session.  Each enjoys the time as s/he please, in whatever distinctive way s/he pleases...not influence or coercion from others to behave a certain way at a certain time.

And that very mix of activities perhaps made the night go faster than one could ever do with just anyone of those.  No one can last a healthy 9-hour marathon of just swimming, drinking, or singing without dozing off at some point.  But put them all together and somehow the time flies by.  Feeling sleepy?  Just jump in the pool and cool your head.  Feeling tired from singing?  Sit down and have a plate of rice with pork adobo to re-energize yourself.  Well, if you cannot really last, then there is a bed you can share with others to catch a quick two hour nap before going back to singing and swimming.

All in all, even an all-nighter says much about the Filipino communal spirit.  It is unlike the East Asian way of shit-facing at a table the whole night or bouncing to loud music in the classic Western European manner.  Over here, relaxing is meant to be done in a familial way, and in the absence of the genetic family, a corporate family will be treated as the surrogate, with the intimacy and openness not any inferior to the real family.  Barriers and inhibitions among coworkers are quickly broken down, or perhaps, they were never created or present in the first place.  It is certainly worthy of admiration.

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