Beauty from a Greek POV
A few hours ago at Starbucks Mall of
“Thank you sir, that was very generous,” I said in a cheery tone, without undue sarcasm, of course. He enumerated the places he had been to.
“Cebu is beautiful, Bohol is beautiful, Boracay is beautiful. All of the Philippines is beautiful and you are very lucky. I was at Boracay yesterday, and I just arrived from there.” He offered me his doughnut. “Would you like some? Just a piece? Don’t be shy.” I fondly declined his offer not out of sheer inhibition but I fear that I might consume his doughnut whole, leaving him with nothing to eat which might spoil his last few hours of stay in the Philippines.
I tried to be friendly by asking a few questions. “So, are you with someone else here or are you alone?”
“I never travel with someone else, but I’m not alone. I’m now here surrounded by 80, 90 million Filipinos, how can I be alone? Are you getting it?”
“I travel by myself all the time and I feel great. You see, traveling will help you broaden your horizon by meeting new people, new acquaintances, new friends. You learn new things like that (points at my neck), what is it?” He riveted his hued pupils on my rice god necklace which I got from my trip to Sagada.
“It’s a rice god.”
“God of rice? See, I didn’t know there is a god of rice. Now you know what I’m talking about.”
While he was munching on his chocolate doughnut, I was finishing off my cigarette. My Java Chip Frappuccino was close to nonexistence so there’s nothing to wash down the tar and nicotine from my mouth, even if I was using a cigarette filter.
“They have nice coffee here, don’t you think?” he inquired.
“Yes, they do, but some people don’t like the coffee here. They say it has a burnt taste or something.”
“I take coffee with cigarette. Do you smoke a lot?”
“Not at all. I only smoke when I feel like it.” He peeks at my ashtray and pointedly shook his head. “Tsk, tsk, that’s bad. You know Marlboro Lights and Menthol Lights cigarettes are more harmful than the Reds. They have additional chemicals and Menthol is I think worse than Lights. But it has a cool effect.”
“That’s the reason why I smoke Menthol. Aside from you, somebody else had pointed out that both [Lights and Menthol Lights] are actually worse than Reds, but the mere act of smoking is bad in itself.”
We talked about a few other stuff like casinos, Filipino women in general, his being a civil engineer and my being a broadcasting major, Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos in Dubai and Athens, mathematics – just about a hodgepodge of anything and everything under the sun. Then I brought out the most inevitable and most controversial topic of all.
“What do you think of the Philippines as, well as surveys proclaim, a corrupt country? Any views about it?
“You know, the Philippines has nothing to do with corruption. Nigeria is not corrupt. Your country is innocent of it. Look at the people. Do you see corruption in their faces? The most corrupt are not in this mall, they’re in Makati.”
“And in Manila,” I retorted. He laughed so profoundly while biting off a doughnut, and I worried about him getting choked.
“Also in Athens, there is corruption. Corruption is all over the world. You just can’t see them because they stay in a special place. They’re not here in malls. God knows what shit they do.” I was about to ask if he thinks this is a product of globalization, but my tact proved unnecessary.
“Globalization has promoted corruption and we can’t do anything about it. It will be an on-going process. It’s fucking to think of it, but that’s that.” A few seconds’ silence then he segued to throw questions at me.
“I see a lot of Filipinos wearing clothes with fake brand names like Ralph Lauren.”
“And Louis Vuitton and Lacoste. They wear those because they can’t afford to buy the original ones. Those brands are expensive here.”
“Well, yes they really are, but in Athens you can see people wearing originals. Which would you prefer, something that is not really popular but authentic or something that has a label but fake? Do you think luxury is quality or quality is luxury?”
“To answer your first question, I’d rather have the authentic. The hell with popularity – what if it’s fake? You’d become instant celebrity because you’re wearing imitation brands. [He laughs again] And as for the second question, I think a thing that is of quality is luxurious in itself, and if you’re capable of buying it, it is luxury at its most.”
“[Nods] That’s great. You know, we from Athens philosophize everything. If you don’t philosophize you won’t get an answer. Try it, it’s helpful.”
“But I think the answer depends on your perspective on specific situations.”
“And your experiences with it. People nowadays, in general, just absorb what they think is real. They don’t analyze, and I believe you know that. You’re in broadcasting.”
“Yes sir, I do. That’s media in its awful sense because it’s profit-driven. It’s all about business.”
“And even if people are bombarded with a lot of things, they’ll just keep on absorbing them. Even if it’s all shit.”
“They pay for shit.”
“Egg-xactly. Which would you prefer, to believe in something that can only be heard or to believe in what you can only see?”
“Sir, for me they go hand-in-hand. It would be difficult for me to function without the other. And I think it would be more believable if you have technically utilized all your senses with it.”
I never imagined myself meeting people like him. He is so witty he has actually given me inferiority complex. Based on my personal experiences he can make people feel extremely stupid and at the same time extremely intellectual for his no-nonsense questions are relatively answerable depending on which school of thought you advocate. I suppose the Greeks are naturally contemplative given the number of Greek philosophers glorified in world history, and they don’t box their ideas to themselves; rather, they share their thoughts to others. This guy whom I accidentally met believes and is a staunch promoter of freedom. He was probably the most enlightening person I’ve had close encounters with, and the possibilities of rustling up nifty adages of practical use are astonishing. His last pieces of advice wedged in my head so deeply I couldn’t be so forgetful about it.
“You know metaphors? [I nodded] Okay, imagine a diamond that is dropped into a shit hole. You get it, you wash it, and what you have is still a diamond even if it smells like shit. Education and learning is different. Education is what you do in school, what I did in my school. Learning is outside school – this conversation is learning. You must not limit yourself to what you just know. Widen your horizon. Meet new people. In your group of friends there is someone who you don’t really like, and you mingle with him just because he belongs to your circle of friends, right? Don’t ignore him for it would be certain that one day he will tell you something that you could have use for. This would most likely change your perspectives. A lot of people claim they’re human beings, but they’re just beings not humans. Being human is doing something for humanity. Something inspirational, something that could help others. Always widen your horizon.”
It was getting late. I bade him farewell and a safe trip back to Greece. He wished me “great luck with my life,” and promised to return to the Philippines.