Thursday, May 19, 2011

Conversations with Bill 1

Part One: the Meeting

Bill is a middle aged white man I met during one of my usual visits to the Central Library. He is a bit on the heavy side and sports a healthy crop of blonde moustache and beard. He has the blue eyes common to his race and has an intense gaze that can wilt anyone, except that when you get to know him, you realize that it is a fa├žade that hides a mild exterior that borders on the insecure. He is a construction worker – foreman, one of the white blue collar workers who ply their trade beneath the usual plateau of careers we immigrants usually associate them with. And like some of the members of the blue collar social class, he is well educated and is a lover of books which runs in contradiction with what he does (at least as far as immigrants perceptions go, which I will address one of these days).

Our meeting was rather unexpected. There is an undercurrent of racism in day to day interactions here. A Rogers clerk’s haughty disposition when you pay your bills, the condescending tone of young execs and of course, the total upfront side comments from blue collar guys and drunks when you ride the train (particularly when there are Sikhs around). The trend is usually apparent in the lower strata of society, adolescents and young adults. Most adults and professionals are accommodating which reflects the basic truth that education and age are the best teachers for opening up the mind. It is much like in Philippine society: for example, you find the vilest humans in the lower classes who spew profanities and biases like it is a creed (and they believe it). Similarly, in western society, you find most of the bigots and racists in the fringes of society.

So I was rather apprehensive when this large white male sat across my table with the telltale signs of him being (at least on the physical aspect) part of that minority. I debated whether to leave or not but my thoughts were a bit calmed down when I stole a glance at the titles of his choice of books which he placed on the table.  More Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics’ by Steven Landsburg was the most prominent. Now I don’t know about you but someone who reads economics books cannot be racist. I found myself intrigued by the contradiction he posed: on one hand he is a peon, a job class usually found down the social rung and on the other hand, he reads economics which implied a broad educated mind. I decided to stay put and likewise buried myself in my book: the Idiots Guide to Photoshop (which pales in comparison to his).

“Where are you from?” The question came out of the blue. I blinked twice and for a moment I wondered if it was directed at me. He had a brusque voice, a little bit guttural but otherwise non – menacing. I looked at him and dropped my gaze at his own.

I smiled noncommittally. I was a bit uncomfortable at the suddenness of his question and the motive behind it.

“From Asia” I said, keeping my answer vague to decipher his intent.

He smiled, a sheepish grin. And this time, I gave a chuckle. There is a moment you know when you realize that the person in front of you is sincere and fully deserving of your trust. You just know. It’s human nature, a basic instinct that everyone possesses.

“Bill.” He extended his hand. 

“John” I grabbed his in a firm handshake. (Of course, Bill is not his real name. There are certain things that are inviolable if you are a writer, privacy being the foremost).

“You been here long?” 

“Two months, actually”

He looked at me incredulously. 

“Just arrived last February…” I struggled for the exact date. “…middle of February, you?”

“B.C. But I’ve been up here for a couple of years now…”

One thing you must understand is that in terms of employment opportunities, Alberta is the hottest province right now so many people from other provinces have flocked to Calgary following the oil and gas boom. 

“Computers?” He gestured at my book.

“No.” I wished I had changed majors to computers instead of engineering back on the day but it is past me now. “A hobby.” 

Which is true. I’ve recently decided to be serious with photography and one of the skills you have to learn when you fancy yourself a photographer is the ability to use photo editing software and the most important is Adobe Photoshop.

He nodded. 

“I’m from the Philippines.” I volunteered remembering his initial question. It would be rude not to have answered it.

He beamed. As to why, I have no idea. The discomfort returned.

“Great country, my girlfriend is from there.” His words were tinged with a sense of jubilation. Which is rather expected, I guess. He’s got a Filipina girlfriend and the implications of that admission means a lot of things.

“Good for you…” I smiled back.

A brief spell of silence settled between us. I sensed that there was something he wanted to talk about and if my instincts were right, which they often are, it probably has something to do with his last statement and the fact that his first question to me was about my origins. 

I waited for it. Although, I understood his apprehension. He had just met me and the question is probably personal. I wouldn’t fault him if he did not push through with whatever he wanted to ask about.

After a long drawn out moment, he leaned over.

“Can I ask you something?” he looked uncomfortable.

I kept myself from laughing and nodded.

“I just met her, you know” he looked embarrassed and I know the reason. I read between the unspoken words. 

The government of Canada had recently changed the guidelines for contract workers working in the country. They have four years max to work then after their contract ends, they are required to go back to the Philippines for six years before they can reapply again (or is it six-four combination). This has resulted in some problems with those who are trying to get permanent immigrant status. Rather than waiting for sponsorship from their employers (which is getting harder and harder every day), they improvise. I am not blaming them. Life is harsh and you have to make your own way on this world, on your own most of the time.

And the best way to attain citizenship is to marry another citizen. And the most prized mate for a Filipina is a white male. Aside from the sure citizenship due to marriage, the chance of mothering a meztisa provides a more secure future for the offspring from their union. And most Filipino or former Filipino who are now Canadians are married males in their forties or fifties with the singles mostly in their teens or early twenties who have assimilated Canadian culture and now look down on home grown pinays. Chinese and Koreans prefer their own kind and marrying a Sikh or an Indian is not that palatable so there is no other choice than to find a lonely white male who is open to an interracial relationship. And most pinays look down on Filipino males, for good reason.

“You just met her?” I didn’t mean to pry but you had to ask it.

He nodded, a bit embarrassed. He has a head on his shoulders alright, and not just another white guy reveling in a new found lover/girlfriend.

“A week ago…” his voice was almost a whisper.

Another awkward silence fell between us. I don’t know what to say and he also seemed unable to voice out his concern. But as I’ve said, you can read between the lines.

“You have a family?” he asked.

I shook my head.

“Girlfriend?” 

I smiled. Never had one. I shook my head.

“She’s twenty five.” 

“Ah” Now I see a bit of the dilemma. Judging from his outward appearance, Bill should be in his early forties at the most or his late thirties at the least. I suspect the former. And his new girlfriend is young by western standards, at least with respect to his own. 

Despite the preconception that western society doesn’t really look at age as a factor in relationships, it is a universal truth when you look at relationships objectively. As the older man, you always question when a young thing expresses interest in you. If you are sensible, you question it. Some are legit, you know but the greater majority are rooted on other reasons. 


To be continued….

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