I went to Hanmer Spring Thermal Pools the other day. I liked their sulphur pools which comes in three different temperatures. I alternated in the 40, 41 and 42 degree celsius pools.
But then on that day, I was particularly interested in the aquatherapy pool, the hot suplhur water was great, but I needed a good body massage.
There were Europeans (white people) and a Pacific Islander inside the inner tub. They were of course, talking to each other. People here love to talk. If I join the circle I will be the only Asian and I wish that I don’t catch their attention and that they would never talk to me.
I told myself I will never ever talk to anyone for reasons that I still have a hard time catching up with the Kiwi or Australian accent and even if they are not Kiwis, they’ll be speaking English and you know I still don’t feel very confident and I’m shy and I just don’t want to talk. Period.
I waited long enough for one to leave and went inside the circle. There was this white guy who helped me in by pushing me inside since the current from the water jet was too strong. I thanked him for helping me out and mumbled about my size versus the force of the water.
I took my space and turned my back against them pretending to close my eyes and look elsewhere.
But this man who helped me in and who stood like a guard in the pool suddenly asked me. “Where are you from?”
I knew at that tine I was already caught in the trap of a small talk that will become … big.
I wanted to bolt out but I replied, “Philippines.” I slightly turned away to avoid a conversation.
“I used to work in Indonesia and I met this American friend, who was Benigno Aquino’s adviser. He never listened so he went home and died.”
“Pardon me? You mean your friend is Benigno Aquino’s adviser?” This piqued my interest.
So we were talking to each other half-shouting because aside from our distance, we were on the opposite sides of the pool, the babbling of the water was drowning our voice.
He asked me about the Philippines and why I was here. He asked me about the traffic and the Muslim insurgency and the NPA. He talked about the ISIS and how it is slowly penetrating the country. He talked about the Malaysian interest on the Philippines, Marcos and the constitution.
We had a good exchange. This guy really caught me in a trap. I thought I was going to be alone to my thoughts. I was wrong.
So I moved close to him because aside from the babbling of water. I had a hard time ingesting because he spoke so fast with a very peculiar accent. I had “pardoned” many times and I was getting really embarrassed.
Our conversation moved into exploitation of Filipino dairy farmers which is of course in the news. He said he understands that Filipinos would rather work here and be “exploited” than work in the Philippines because at least here we can still send money back home to help relatives.
He said in his country their political figures also control the media. I was quite surprised with his story but I told him your country is not that bad. In the Philippines, the oligarchy controls the media and the mind of the Filipinos. I said, at least your country is very rich. He begged to disagree. They have poverty too he insisted. I did not argue besides he has never been to the Philippines and didn’t really see what poverty is like.
Then he talked about the state of the Australian economy. We both agreed however that the standard of living is much better there. They have higher salaries and food is cheaper.
Then he said, “Unfortunately my Australian friend who is an employer has a hard time getting workers because Australians are lazy.”
Out of the blue, one woman who I never noticed in the circle blurted.
“I beg to disagree!”
Everyone looked into her direction. I realized at that time that there was already plenty of us in the pool and everyone was listening to our conversation all this time.
The man I talked to was equally surprised but unperturbed. He asked her in a friendly way, the way he asked me “Where are you from?”
She said, “I’m from South Australia.”
Dumbfounded, we all looked at her, then the man.
The man, a social-expert like he was, then started to initiate a conversation with her.
“Don’t ruin my holiday. I’m in a holiday!”
She looked pissed and left the pool.
We all looked into each other and grinned sheepishly.
Another woman then tap the shoulder of the man and said. “That’s alright I knew what you meant. I’m from Australia too – Melbourne, in a sheepish grin.”
At that point I felt awkward and I was afraid to get drowned in a serious conversation with complete strangers and in speaking English. I left the circle and told them I have to go.
Man said, “I hope you enjoyed the conversation.”
“Thanks, I did.”
He stayed there for hours. I went up and back to the 41 degree sulphur pool.
In retrospect, I realized that I missed the information that the man would have or I would have generated from him. It would have been an important piece of information especially that I am interested in the role of the Cojaungco-Aquinos in Philippine history.
I just learned a very important lesson, that I should not be too reserved or introverted because I will never know who I will bump into next time.
When I was working out in a gym in Baguio City. There was this tall guy who was helping me out with the machine. It was a small gym and we have to take turns. He was extra kind and friendly in fact, he wanted to start a small talk but I never showed him I was interested in any. I planted my face straight into the mirror. After the work out the staff were giggling and asked me, “Do you know who you were talking to?”
I said, “No.”
“He is (I forgot the name) a famous PBA (basketball) star!”