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  • By Diana G Mendoza

Mornings and rude awakenings

Manila – I live in a neighborhood of mixed commercial and residential structures. Next to the apartment where I'm staying is a 24-hour food arcade and round the corner is a smaller food plaza that has a couple of videoke joints. Across the street is a 24-hour gas station, and across from it, a restaurant with a band playing on Friday and Saturday gig nights.

Given this cast of characters alone, it can be noisy. Traffic often moves snail-like during certain parts of the day, as the neighborhood is now an area of many offices, particularly call centers. Call center agents on different work schedules have helped change the morning scene by drinking beer at 7 a.m.; a few hotels, a lot of restaurants, after-office dives, a few comedy bars and coffee shops complete this picture.

Basically, the place never sleeps. It may be a cliché, but I remember going out at 2 a.m. on a Thursday to take a break from writing, breathe some air, probably drink an unusually timed morning coffee and see what's going on outside.

Unsurprisingly, the streets were teeming with mostly young people promenading as if it was high noon. In the nearby Starbucks, there were only a few people inside because everyone was outside fusing smoking with coffee.

Sometimes, I wake up to the siren of a police car and people yelling. The corner food plaza allows its customers to drink alcohol, and often times, it's messy. There are brawls between both men and women and then the police car shows up. Then someone gets arrested.

One time I stepped out very early for an appointment. The barangay (village) volunteer police officers were breaking up a fight between two drunk women whose arms were entangled with each other's hair. And as expected, the wailing police siren could be heard approaching, again.

When I came back home from working abroad, I was in a hurry to look for a place to stay, and when I saw this neighborhood. It looked messy, dangerous and easy, and I was too lazy to look for other options. It's similar to Bangkok, where I lived for more than three years. There, I stayed along Sukhumvit Road, the city's main thoroughfare, and the neighborhood consisted of a primary school, a supermarket and old and new houses.

On mornings, I would wake up to schoolchildren singing the royal anthem and then probably the school hymn as I never got to understand and speak Thai beyond the basic exchange or conversations with a taxi or tuktuk driver or vendors.

But here in my neighborhood these days, there's the added sound of construction and carpentry that mixes with the honking of impatient motorists. Another apartment or condominium is being constructed.

On certain nights at the food arcade, I can hear customers clapping and yelling in unison when the wait staff accidentally drops and breaks some plates or glasses. I'm not sure why or if it's a custom to do that.

But I'm used to the neighborhood now. I like the quiet and subtlety beyond the noise. I like how the upheaval going on outside can co-exist with my own. The rudeness of the surroundings sometimes becomes a reminder that, if you can't drown out the noise, just savor it. And it doesn’t help to feel mad at its anarchy.

One morning, I woke up to a lone bird chirping. It was soothing. I closed my eyes and imagined that I was in a forest. But then the chirping stopped. I think the bird flew away. The silence was sudden. Then from the videoke joint, someone was blurting out, "Too much love will kill you." It was then that I realized that another morning had broken. And I believe it when people say each morning is indeed different. This one started sweet and rousing, until the crudeness destroyed it.

Diana Mendoza is a freelance journalist based in Manila.

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