Saturday, September 05, 2009


He looked pretty much like what every taxi driver in Manila looks like on a Tuesday morning. Pushing sixty. Tired. Haggard. Simultaneously frazzled and bored. Waiting for ten, twelve hours of screeching jeepneys and homeless kids knocking on the windows to sell cigarettes and rich kids coming back from the mall climbing into his cab to spill lattes on the already stained and split seats. Sweating already. No tolerance for chit-chat with the foreigner in the back. Getting by.

Five, six channels on the radio flipped by before he settled on the one with the Christmas tunes. Have yourself a merry little Christmas in stinking, putrid Manila. The steady rise of the gleaming skyscrapers matched in their off-kilter garishness only by the slums that lined the streets two and three blocks over. So why not add some Christmas tunes to add to the strangeness?

Only I forgot, for a moment, where I was. In Manila. In the Philippines. Where, if the month ends in a 'ber, then it's Christmas time. And this was September 1st. And so obviously some Christmas music was in order. Nothing was strange at all about this scenario. Except me, and what I thought about it. The air was hot and the pavement was sizzling but Rudolph with his nose so bright was on his way. It made me feel somewhat happy. Ashamed at inwardly mocking Christmas carols in late summer.

Why shouldn't the taxi driver be listening to yuletide songs in September? He looked old and craggy and waiting patiently for his next heart attack, and he had probably come to Manila ten, twenty, thirty years ago from one of the provinces, Benguet or Tarlac or even the Mountain Province (which I had been surprised to hear was actually the name of the one of the mountain provinces), and he would die in Manila, after spending his life sitting in a taxi twelve hours a day driving people like me around.

He didn't look like the type that would want Christmas music at six in the morning on September 1st, but it's lonely inside those doors, all day, cigarettes and a bottle to piss in so you don't have to stop the car being your only buddies. Kind of deflating, without Bing Crosby for company.