Last Sunday a friend and I were walking through the mass crowds that are the modern heroes of the Philippines (*cough* = overseas workers). When nature called us, we headed to the most likely of places on earth to look for comfort – a McDonald’s. The place was packed, overflowing with Filipinos, Indonesians, Sri Lankans, and Nepalese… all enjoying their one day off a week. I stood on line for the ladies room, which was a good twenty people deep, and quietly waited for my turn while picking up random bits of conversation here and there.
An elderly woman walked past, looking apologetically and pointing to her hip, she limps past the single file line and speaking in Chinese, says something I cannot comprehend but I assume to mean ‘I’m old, I have a bad hip, sorry but I must go first’. Now, no one cared, and because of her seemingly pleasant nature neither did I really, but I honestly wonder what she was actually saying.
A good forty-five minutes later I’m only three people away from the stall and a large woman with a red tee shirt and 1980’s hair paraded down past everyone and literally cut every single one of us ladies who were patiently waiting to use the ‘loo. I turned to the woman in front of me and asked her if that lady just cut. The woman was a full head shorter than me and said ‘It’s ok, she just went ahead’. Just went ahead? What? I was furious that this woman found the nerve to cut the line – hello, in what body-language does the representation of a line not mean the same thing? One after the other. I’m pretty sure that needs no translation. The woman walked out of the stall, and you know, in my timid American ways I turned to her and said “that was incredibly rude.” She smiles, sort of…and I continue. “Do you speak English” to which she smiles and shakes her head no (apparently the shaking of the head is one body-language expression that crosses all language barriers). I continue “It was incredibly rude that you cut this line, it’s too bad you don’t speak English and I don’t speak your language to tell you so.”
Yesterday was a ladies’ outing to Victoria Peak. The setting: the ladies’ room. As I’m just about to leave the stall I hear a big commotion outside coming from the direction of the very same stall my friend was in. I hear some clamor, some audible frustration, and I could swear someone cry out “you stay here!” I walk out and finally meet up with my friend Teresa who thankfully was still in one piece. As we elbow our way through the suddenly bustling bathroom she fills me in on the commotion. She had just witnessed a woman who too had cut the line, and agreed with how disconcerting it all seemed. What we couldn’t understand was why these women were so obsessed with line-cutting? I had told a local about the McDonald’s event, and he said that the woman was probably not from Hong Kong, but from mainland China, and was probably not line-cutting because of class. So are we to assume that this woman at Victoria Peak suffered the same ailment? That to be from mainland China is to ignore order and the art of waiting one’s turn?
And for the third and final event (for now) that has happened in the ladies’ room…I made new friends today with some Filipino domestic workers who are all part of an organization can FILWOM. As I was hanging out with my newfound friends all day, there came a point where alas, I had to use the “Comfort Room” (as we say in the motherland). So there we were, in some swanky hotel because the regular bathroom was being serviced, and I was washing my hands while my two new friends were simply waiting for me. Now, before you go all ‘why would you go into a hotel that you aren’t a client of’ let me explain that this was the closest bathroom that was available, and not for anything, but this was still in the lobby-ish area. Had I been in the same situation in Miami or New York, you better believe that I would have crashed that hotel and done the same thing. It’s a restroom. Get over it.
So. Anyway. I round the corner past the stalls and start to wash my hands. A bathroom attendant takes the hair brush and perfume tray from next to me and offers it to the better-dressed (and non-sweaty) trendy looking twenty-somethings at the powder mirror. As I watch in the mirror another attendant, obviously a higher position as this woman was dressed in a suit and had an earpiece (and yes, I did catch the original bathroom attendant make the call for her superior as we walked in) walks over to my newfound friends and makes up some lame excuse as to why they should leave the restroom. Mal, not wanting to cause a ruckus, calls over her shoulder and says “we’ll just wait for you outside”. Curiously I stay in front of the mirror; I pull my hair out from its college-bound ponytail and reveal its length and life. In my sweat and fatigue, if nothing else looked good on me that day, I knew my luxurious hair would never fail me. The woman turns to look at me and I think, almost considers asking me to leave as well. I stand up straight and toss my hair back, as if positioning it into the perfect style. With my back straight and my arms in the air twirling my hair around, I am probably a good head-and-a-half taller than the offender. She thinks better of saying anything to me, or perhaps, just finishes sizing me up and realizes that I’m not a domestic worker, and walks out of the restroom without a word. “Take that, bitch” I think. Sadly, I instantly realize no one has won this battle, actually, it emphasizes a sadder point.
Part of me wishes she had told me to leave, which would mean that I would be able to run off my tongue in my perfect English (because let’s face it, what else do I speak?) and summon her superior to complain that I would never stay at their racist hotel in my wildest dreams. But the reality is that she didn’t say anything to me which proves even a deeper point that I’ve already realized: class is on the forefront. I knew that my newfound friends were sized up to be domestic workers and she figured I was not. So to them, she quickly swept them away and asked them (albeit in a very ‘nice’ way) to leave and make room for their other patrons and to me, she turned her head and let me be. To stand a head-and-a-half taller than she, in my American brand clothing and sneakers that have seen better days, to look in the mirror as I apply lip gloss and stare through my perfectly tanned Filipino face and look at myself and wonder, “how the hell can she tell the difference?”