By Diana G Mendoza
All that noise
Manila—The jarring rumble of jeepneys, the ground-shaking drill of jackhammers of builders working on a road project and someone blurting out a song from a videoke joint all made me realize one morning that the hum of humanity was back.
On second thought, it wasn’t a hum. The relaxing of restrictions after a long, drawn-out lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic brought back a reverberation that, to most humans, is the comforting return of noise, the echo of happiness.
During the lockdown in 2020 and until late 2021, the stillness in my country was my rhapsody. The sounds that frightened me were the blare of sirens from ambulances as they tore through the streets day and night, to save the lives of people who were probably infected.
The sounds that worried me a bit, but I was thankful that I got to hear them, were the chatter and laughter of children in the neighborhood who played at night because they were not allowed to go out during the day.
When everything paused, I took solace in the music of the morning birds that were amplified because of the absence of the roar of traffic. The only other sound that permeated was the noise of the internet.
When the government allowed the gradual reopening of activities, I welcomed the familiar, neighborly call-outs of the taho (beancurd pudding), balut (boiled duck embryo) and mais (boiled corn) peddlers who were back on the streets. I was comfortable with the ambient noise mixed with the orchestra of nature and the return of mobility.
I read somewhere that biologists and engineers around the world recorded a tremendous drop in noise from human activity when much of the world was brought to a halt. As I enjoyed reading what the scientists found out, I went back a bit into the now-fading memories of the upsides that I miss from the lockdown-induced months of quiet.
Those who live outside of urban areas may not have the same experience since they are lucky to always savor the daily sound of birdsong and the rustle of leaves. It’s no wonder many people left the metropolis to live in the countryside or wherever it is they need to find quiet, whether temporarily or for good.
There may have been some good things, but the absence of economic din was not normal to most of us who found it difficult and unsettling. Science tells us that we humans need noise to feel alive or to work better.
I live in a country with musically-inclined people who can live with the chaos of noise. And now that it’s Christmastime, the reopening that made people come out in droves from their social distancing and stay-at-home situations even intensified the bustle. The Christmas commotion here in my corner of the universe is back to vibrant. I expect the decibels to increase to seismic levels during New Year’s Eve festivities.
But some days and nights, I’m disturbed by all that noise. I don’t like that it came back so abruptly. It’s the kind of normal that the world left prior to the pandemic. I’m having a hard time learning to live with it again. I feel like it’s telling me to welcome it back -- my routine background musical score, my everyday soundscape. But I don’t know what to do with it.
Diana G. Mendoza is a veteran journalist based in Manila. Send feedback to email@example.com