By Gemma Cruz Araneta
Once a week after a Pilate’s workout, I pamper myself with an early lunch in a favorite bistro on Rizal and 20th Avenue. The place pretends to be a library and brags that it has existed since 1889, that was probably why I was attracted to it. On ground level, enclosed in glass, it has a panoramic view of street life in what used to be Fort William McKinley, a most formidable military reservation in the early aughts of the last century. Today, the only traces that remain of the American war of conquest (ten years after the bistro was opened in Paris) are our incurable propensities to mimic the colonial master. We construct concrete forests, thick with towers of glass and steel, rooted around artificial clusters of bamboo and other tropical flora. I could imagine I was in New York or San Francisco.
There is cross ventilation at that particular corner, a hefty breeze named amihan at yearend, the same refreshing gust that blows through my flat when I leave the windows open. Because of a car park (temporary, I am sure) and a handkerchief-sized garden across the street, the midday sun penetrates with a lambent glow, bouncing off the steel and tempered glass of skyscrapers.
As I patiently waited to be noticed (service was down a few notches that morning), I gazed at the fascinating street life unfolding in that privileged corner of the ex-military fort. Who could these people be? I mused. They were neither extremely rich nor abysmally poor, a not-so-silent young majority who walked briskly, with confidence. Ladies were dressed in corporate fashion, the fashion code in their work place, and displayed office IDs like medals of honor. Curiously enough, none of them were coiffed, they had no “hairdo” (my age is showing!); they must have shampooed at the crack of dawn and let Nature dry their hair on the way to work. But, in the weekend perhaps, they do spend hours at the hairdresser not for coiffure but to have their thick manes tinted or streaked chaotically with a lighter color. I have never seen so many blonde Filipinas!
The young men, I am sorry to say, were not a sight to behold. Clothed in egalitarian, non-descript short-sleeved tees, they bantered, ambled and stumbled on the sidewalks. They did not pass muster, so un-poised compared to their female counterparts. A couple of guys in dark suits passed by,while I feasted on pasta with bolognaise sauce and a glass of wine. They were impaled with success, middle-aged managers, sartorially correct, with receding hairlines and Buddha bellies. In the fist of youth, they must have behaved and looked exactly like the tee shirt brigades.
So, to go back to my original question—who are they? The majority is young, in their late 20s, not more than 40. They must be working for BPOs, which abound in that ex-military reservation, now the most expensive bit of real estate in the island of Luzon. Since the past administrations, BPOs have absorbed thousands of college graduates; though career projection is somewhat stunted in those corporations, salary ranges are considered more than acceptable. It can be argued that the BPO workers are the incipient dynamic middle classes that our economy badly needs.
After that filling brunch, I paid my bill making sure the senior citizen discount was properly deducted. I called my driver to pick me up at the corner of Rizal and 26th; while waiting, a woman carrying a cellphone approached me. I had spotted her earlier standing in the shade, sending a chain of furtive SMS. She was dressed differently in faded jeans, a snug jersey, and rubber shoes, hair-cropped short. She mumbled something I could not understand so I begged her pardon. She asked, “ Are you working for a call center?” When I answered in the negative, she literally stood her ground but rudely turned her back at me to send what looked like a conspiratorial text message.