Finding Nemo

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Forgotten Ones

Beijing Airport, smog thick enough to cut with a knife
Next to me on the plane ride from Boracay to Manila a well-fed black man from Louisiana sat cheerfully.  He was traveling back to his home in the Philippines, worked on a military base at Yokohama, and had a Filipina wife on Cebu Island.  It is such a nice surprise to hear an American voice when you are far from home, and we exchanged earthquake and radiation stories, we agreed that the Chinese staff at Beijing Capitol Airport were shockingly rude compared to the Japanese.  I asked him why he moved here of all places.

"You kidding?  I got the run of the place.  Back home in the states, I'd just be another regular Joe.  But here, I live like a king.  Got a pretty girl, real nice house, a maid.  Its good livin'."

I told him my sister was an ex-pat and loved the lifestyle.  We talked about Manila a bit.

"You're staying in Malate?  Hoo boy, you betta be careful son.  Last time I was there, I was outta the cab for no more-in 2 seconds before a bunch of those little street kids come up.  Before I knew what was goin on, he reach up and pap! grabbed my sunglasses right off my face.  I tackled him but he tossed 'em over to his friend and that was that.  I coulda pounded the little kid, but I heard that them Filipino boys would get you back.  You'd just be walking home and then *crrrrit*."  He made a motion like being stabbed in the lower back from behind and a gurgling sound to go with it.  "They were expensive sunglasses too.  Sumvabitch."

A Very Hard Life
With this warning floating in my head, I left the airport and took an annoyingly overpriced "special airport taxi" to my hostel.  I got out, and there they were.  The dusty urchins, looking at me and my backpacks like a haunch of freshly roasting pig.  I quickly went into the hostel.  My $7 dorm was up 4 flights of stairs, my torn foot and still swollen knee gulped in distress.  When I opened the door I noticed a few little Asian men sleeping in their not-so-tidy whities.  Then that familiar smell came... that dorm smell you get when you find a cheap place in a big dirty city.  Sweat, filthy socks, damp used towels, body odor, bad cologne, and a few other spicy unpleasantries were being pushed around the room by a barely working fan.  Outside, a jackhammer broke rock on a new high-rise foundation and Britney Spears thumped from a cheap restaurant.  I was dripping with sweat and my achilles was on fire again.  It would be one of those nights.

Later one of the perpetual day-sleepers finally awoke.  He was from China and was trying to get into Manila real-estate.  I asked him why he was in such a dingy place like this if he was a businessman.  He said the business was just getting started, but soon he would be rich.  I looked at his ragged clothes and broken glasses.  He wore a gold watch that told the same time all day.  A young woman in the bunk next to me whispered to me that her brother had just died.  She had a tube in her heart and needed surgery but couldn't afford it.  I hadn't even said hello to her.  It occurred to me how traveling opens people up in a way that would never happen back home.  The knowledge that you will never meet their friends or family, and that they will never see you again brings a certain freedom and intimacy to a traveler's conversation.  I looked sadly at her, the pain in my now chronically sprained achilles tendon was suddenly not such a heavy burden.

That night at a club I ran into a few pretty local women.  They said "Come on back to our place."  My brain went on high alert, and so of course I said, "Ummm... sure."  Not sure how it had happened, I found myself in a cab hurtling in the dark towards an unknown fate.  The prettiest one took me to her room and we fooled around for a bit.  I looked up and noticed that all of the other girls were watching.  "You very handsome!!" said one, and she moved forward with her mouth open.  I bolted upright and got myself together.  "I should probably go, I ... um... uh ... I have a flight to catch."

"No no stay!  We want play with you."  Another came up and said, "I show you surprise.  Feel these."  She grabbed my hands and put them on her ample breasts.  They were entirely made of padding.  "I Lady-Boy!"  My eyes re-focused and adrenalin shot into my brain, breaking me out of the night's fog.  "Want see my pee-pee?" she, or rather he, offered.  I declined but he dropped his shorts anyway.  A large bush with something that may or may not have been a very small penis appeared.

The tiny cute one in the corner that I was absolutely certain was a girl came up and said "I lady-boy too!  I like in the butt.  Want try?"  She/he was so tiny that I couldn't believe it was a man.  He bent over and began dropping his skirt as I said firmly "No!!" and crossed my arms in an X.

Girlie review... or more correctly lady-boy review
I wished I had asked them some questions, like if they were gay or not, or if they were doing it only for the money.  What drove so many to become lady-boys?  I had been accosted almost every night going home in Boracay, jumping out from dark bushes or alleys, all promising a suck and dropping their pants even as you averted your eyes and ran away.  These poor creatures were lost, damned to a hell that I could not imagine in my darkest nightmare.  But instead I ran outside and got a taxi.

The next day, on my way to the airport, we got caught for a moment in the traffic.  I noticed a beggar coming our way.  She had a kind face, wild white hair, dirty rags for clothes.  Her face was very old and weary, perhaps in her 80's.  But then I realized that maybe time lied on the homeless, perhaps she was only 50 or 60.  Where was her family?  Why was this grandmother, at the end of her days, forced to beg scraps from passing cars in the street?  I wondered what she was like as a little girl, perhaps laughing, full of promise.  I reached in my pocket to get some pesos, but before I could get anything the traffic opened up and we drove past. For a moment, our eyes met and we looked at each other, her eyes pierced my soul with guilt.  Guilt for my life, for my luck to be born where I was.

The images swam in my brain.  The ragged filthy street kids, roaming the streets like a pack of starving dogs.  Where were their parents?  The Asian entrepreneur without enough to afford decent clothes or a proper hotel room.  The young woman who might soon die of heart failure, crying into her pillow at night.  The desperate lady-boys who did the unthinkable for a few pesos.  The old grandmother, ending her days as a street beggar, fate laughing cruelly.  I thought back on the Untouchables in India, sleeping, without shelter or even clothes sometimes, one after another in the open streets among the sewage and garbage.  The street urchins who in India were missing hands or eyes, the better to bring pity and money from the heart-broken foreigner.

They were all the Forgotten Ones.  Tragic doomed souls that God, after making them in His image, had abandoned.  These were the vast hoards Buddha spoke of when he said that Life is Suffering.  The next day I went to the doctor in Makati and he confirmed that I would have to cancel my Nepal trek.  He gave me some "special European anti-inflammatories, better than Celebrex!" and said I should find someplace nice to rest up.  And I knew that no matter how bad a turn my trip had taken, or how long I would be trapped here in the Philippines with my injuries, that I lived a truly blessed life.

No comments:

Post a Comment