Thursday, October 7, 2010

Three train rides to return to a comfort zone I left five months ago

Photo take here.
Coming from Shaw Boulevard station, I took the train to Cubao, and then another to Recto, and from Doroteo Jose, another to UN Avenue. Whew! Three trains. Lots of walking and people bumping and grinding and pushing in between rides. From my current office in Ortigas, I was headed to my previous one in Manila.

In that train ride going to Cubao, I was wedged in the middle of three people and the conversation they were having.
"Oo, dapat wala kang 'p and f' syndrome pag nag-aaply ka dun (Yes, you shouldn't interchange p and f in your speech when you apply there)," Lady 1 said.

"Tama, sosyal kasi yung companyang yun! Kelangan slang ka! (That's true! It's because that company is fancy! You need to have an American twang!)" Lady 2 said. By this time, I inferred that they were talking about a call center company with American clients. "Kaya nga di ako nakapasa sa kanila eh. (And that's why I didn't pass their standards.)" The Boy started speaking in English sentences with an American accent. Though he can speak better English than the two ladies he was with, if the twang is a requirement, let's just say that I doubt if he'll be luckier.

A pause.

"Ate, kayo po ba ba dati, nung nagde-date ba kayo nung asawa niyo, madalas kayo magkita? (When you and your husband were still dating, did you see each other often?)" Boy asked Lady 1.

"Di masyado, mga 2-3 times a week lang. Lam mo naman, di kami kayamanan kaya di masyado makalabas-labas (Not so much, around 2-3 times a week only. You know what it's like, because we didn't have much money, we didn't get to go on dates as often)," she chuckled.

Photo taken here.
"Ako simpleng buhay lang talaga gusto ko (I only want a simple life)," he said, his voice pensive amid the sound of the train and the announcements blasting from the speakers. "Pinalaki kami ng mga magulang ko sa simpleng buhay at ang maka-graduate kaming magkakapatid, yan lang ang pangarap ng mga magulang ko, at ang mabuhay ng simple, yan din ang pangarap ko. Isang simpleng buhay na merong sapat lang para mabuhay ng maayos (My parents raised us in a simple life. Their only ambition was for my siblings and I graduate from college and to continue living a simple life, that is my dream as well. A simple life with just the right resources to live right)."

The train stopped in Cubao, and like beads falling from a jar, the people swarmed out of the exit and headed to the escalator where I also headed. A simple life, huh? I wonder what's that like. Not that my life ain't simple, in fact, I think it is. But more simple, I think mine's rather more quiet, routinal to a fault even. I'm not complaining.

Photo taken here.
And then from Recto station, there's that long stretch of overpass leading to Doroteo Jose station, overseeing shanty houses of rotting wood, rusty metal, and worn out tires where clothes hung on a metal string. My heart never fails to go out to those who live this way. I think that having received my education in the Ateneo for 17 years (that's more than half of my life!) really inculcated a heightened awareness of poverty in me. This is why it kills me to be powerless at the face of a child looking up, hand cupped, asking for alms. I wonder what President Noynoy, an Atenean and in the position of power, will do about this.

In that stretch, I bumped into Kenneth. He was one of IT guys who serviced our computers when they wonked out. I was one of his frequent clients what with my luck in technology (I unintentionally put to retirement two computers in the office, but to be fair, these were ancient computers passed down to me by my predecessors)!

After sharing a few stories and some updates on each others' lives, I asked if he'll still be staying in the company.
"Maybe a year more," he said. "I don't know, it's just difficult starting from scratch you know? Friends-wise, I mean, and that is something I'm not sure I can trade for a higher pay elsewhere."

Ah, the gravity of the comfort zone. But I understood him though. Having been in my current office for five months already, I'm ashamed to say that I've yet to make a lot of friends which makes life a little more dull and work, a little more difficult just because I'm in the business of internal communications. Besides the stuff I receive from contributors, the hunt for stories is a pain and unlike in my old office where I also handled marketing communications (besides corporate communications), opportunities to make friends were everywhere because I had busienss with practically every department. Now, things are different. Work is more serious. The office is a couple of notches more corporate. No regrets though. Come to think of it, I was in the old office for a year and a half before I was able to get to know a good number of my colleagues.

Finally I was in Manila. I headed to our Human Resources and department, and finally, I got my final salary. It's a modest figure, to be honest, but for my first employment, it's adequate. I also got to see friends in HR. I was surprised that two have returned. One resigned in late Decemeber last year, and the other, hmm... I think she resigned in late April or early May. I remember her telling me that she was already in between applications.

Photo taken here.
Vicky said that she returned because of the people. "I like the people here," she said, gesturing the circle with her finger (perhaps referring only to the people in HR?). Yes the pay in a multinational company is more or less double and the benefits are awesome, but the culture? Cutthroat cold. "They're something else, I tell you," she said to me. "I was just really lucky that my post was still vacant and that my boss still let me back." Wasn't she the same woman who called it quits because of this same boss? I wonder how worse it was where she found herself in and how better it actually is in the company many of my then colleagues described as a career (and salary) limbo. Maybe they stayed for the people and are staying for the people just like Kenneth is. The lure of the comfort zone sure is irresistible.

Coming back to my old office feels like a homecoming. More than an office, now, it seems to level with the feelings I get when I visit my old school. The nostalgia and all. The familiarity of the walls in the HR office, the dimly lit hallways, the smell of the air inside of the elevator, the piles of files on the carpeted floor, the cramped office quarters, the dingy computers, the low ceiling. I know that I describe the old office like a hell-ish place to work in, but there is warmth there. If you allow yourself to get close enough with the right people, you develop a kinship and you build a home with them. The latter is something I look forward to having in my current office. Like everything else, the time will come.

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