I have this problem. I am obsessed with punctuality. And I am a Filipino.
I blame it on my father.
I remember my father would always brainwash me with words of wisdom that went: it is better to wait for someone than have someone do the waiting for you. Worse, he would insist that tardiness is downright rudeness --- that time is precious and to waste somebody else's minutes is to show utmost disrespect. He would go so far as saying that the best way to measure a man's discipline and integrity is by his ability to comply with his requirements without excuses and delay.
Yes, I learned a lot of things from my father. Some of them may have been outmoded by the ever-changing values that shift with generations and time. But once something has been so embedded in your system, there is absolutely no way you can purge this with sheer determination alone. Somehow I know that in so many ways I have become like my Dad.
But how can I possibly tell my father that during his time, there was no traffic in Manila? How can I clarify with him that during his generation, Filipino males went around Escolta wearing white de hilo suits with immaculate two-tone wing tip shoes and not t-shirts and jeans or shorts matched by Banana Peel flip-flops? Or how can I even convince my father, if he were alive today, that punctuality --- together with precious delicadeza or even amor propio have become as useful as manual typewriters and Pocketbell pagers?
I still try to imagine how my father would have reacted if he was still around to see the Senate investigations...or the mudslinging that has become regular fare in Philippine politics. I am not even sure if he could have handled it ... or simply said that indeed we are waltzing our way to some national apocalypse.
I am not even sure if my father would have appreciated Facebook since he would have considered hours spent on social networking as a distraction to getting things done ... not unless befriending the universe is part of one's chosen trade.
But then we don't have to go that far to see just how the Filipinos have changed so much since the good old days that my father always used to refer to as Peace Time.
Peace time should cover the years after the Americans came over until the Second World War. There was something idyllic and genteel about the country as my elders would reminisce. It was not much about the gentrification of Manila ... but the sense of respect and decorum that was appropriated by one human being for one another.
If I remember those long monologues my father would render about Manila society during that time, I could now surmise that those days were characterized by the importance of propriety conditioned by Spanish manners matched by the newfound urbanity introduced by the Americans.
When we get a chance to see vintage newsreels of Manila before its devastation in the hands of the Japanese Imperial forces, we see a world completely different not only because of the distance of time ... but as if another species of Filipinos populated the streets and characterized that sense of nationhood. Life then was so much simpler. I mean how simple could simple get? There were trees that used to line Taft Avenue. There was the trambiya or cable car that bisected Escolta.
Life was slower. People could afford to be gentler. Politeness was a pre-requisite for decency. Not power. Not a craving for popularity. Not a distasteful display of wealth. People still believed in the importance of self-respect and decency. Not everything was measured by money or political clout. There was sensitivity as well as sensibility.
And Filipinos of that time were indeed Filipinos. Now we have become...uhm, Pinoys. Even the terminology says it all.
And I can summarize all that with the simple virtue of punctuality that was meant to be a feather to my proverbial cap but has become a bane to my existence. Because of what I merely consider as polite and civilized behavior, I feel that I belong to an extinct phylum no longer recognized as an operational specimen on the face of the PNoy republic.
Following what I believe is part of the dogma of good conduct and right manners, I am now deemed as interesting as a dinosaur.
I try hard to understand why this is so: am I always early or Filipinos are conditioned to be naturally late? Have I turned into an Obsessive-Compulsive creature who really needs a shrink or even a good dosage of prescribed Prozac in order to deal with this ... or is it because we have reached that point in our racial evolution that we don't give a hoot about the time our watches announce to us if ever we look at them at all?
I cannot understand why I come on time but always appear to be earlier than everybody else.
I cannot understand why Filipinos come in late and do not even have the graciousness to apologize for making somebody wait and instead throws a very casual, "Kanina ka pa ba?" as if being late for almost thirty minutes is the most natural thing to do. What is worse is when they throw lines, "Bakit ang aga mo?" attesting to the fact that all timepieces in Manila are there for purely decorative purposes and not to remind Pinoys that, yes ... the rumors are true: the earth rotates on its axis as it revolves around the sun --- thus we have nights and days.
Of course we can go completely academic about all this and start blaming the Kastilaloys for this natural love for procrastination. Oh, we can point to the manana attitude, the need for siestas and all that ... but,uhm, please. Despite the four hundred years of acquired taste for morcon and pastillas, I think there are limitations on how much we can blame Padre Damaso and his ilk for some screw-ups we have now.
The bottom line is that punctuality has ceased to be an issue. Filipinos have accepted the fact that being late is no big deal because it is a part of our culture. Now being punctual ...or arriving early ... is something you do at your own risk but you shouldn't take that against the Pinoy if he takes his sweet time and makes you marinate on your own juices while waiting for him. That sort of insensitivity has become a norm.
Maybe just like corruption. Because everybody else does it, then it has ceased from being a big deal. It has become a fact. And if you are dealing with Filipinos ... you just deal with that too.
I think about it and ask myself, am I being such a fool being so time-conscious and almost neurotic about punctuality? Then I remember my father. And I remember what he said about the importance of one's sense of self which has got nothing to do with others but everything to do with your respect for the rights of your fellow men.
I think of how other nationalities and races regard punctuality and I assure myself that this national quirk of ours ceases to be cute and will soon graduate from irritating to fatal some time or another. Try being late with the Germans. Or the Japanese. Or even the much maligned Americans who believe that every hour of the day is important to keep up with a frenetic lifestyle. The Pinoy will certainly realize that his lack of regard for the time of others is anything but a norm but a racial aberration.
And I choose to be this O-C neurotic punctuality freak all over again. I just choose to bring a book and my iPod to deal with the Filipinos' inability to acknowledge that there is indeed a price to pay in the waste of time.
Yes, stupid me. I would rather be early than be late. And it has got nothing to do with catching worms. It has everything to do with my idea of being a polite, decent human being that my father can be proud of claiming as the product of proper upbringing.