Fog descended on the city this evening. I lost myself. It was my intention to get lost. So I got lost.
I ventured into the heart of Chinatown. I ventured into Polk where the first theater to offer "live" shows in America continues to do good business after arguing several times in so many years that it has the right to show flesh.
I saw transvestites, gays, lesbians, prostitutes. I passed by the Hustler Club and tried to peek behind the doors of girlie bars to no avail. I saw a lot of massage parlors but I dared not enter, not because I did not want to but because I don't know how much a massage and an "extra service" cost.
Alan said prostitution is illegal here but people offer "escort" services on the streets and "extra services" in massage parlors. It is not prostitution because they are not offering sex, he said.
Words, words, words. They really make the world go round, flat and sometimes oblong. It's fun to be in the business of writing. One can open minds, close eyes and even change the world for better or for worse.
I had a good time exchanging ideas with the International Diplomacy Council here this evening. They invited me to speak about the Abu Sayyaf. I talked about life.
I visited the office of the Center for Investigative Reporting and met with Mark Schapiro. He said only the United States and the Philippines have an investigative center for journalism. He was referring to the PCIJ. He said people in his center admire what PCIJ does in the Philippines and hope that it will continue with its mission.
The other day I visited the journalism department of San Francisco State University. I was impressed by their online journalism course. I hope we can do it in the Philippines too. What is more impressive is a Filipino professor teaches the subject. Our loss, America's gain. That's life.
I went to City Lights again and drowned my imagination with the books on the shelves. I discovered another bookshop in front of City Lights, beside a "topless" bar. I would have entered the bar but I decided against it. A bottle of beer costs the same as one good book. I did not buy a book. I also decided to forego the beer and the sight of naked caucasians dancing. Instead, I bought a bottle of orange juice, a pack of licorice-flavored Jelly Belly, a banana muffin and a bottle of ginger ale. Simple living. Simple desires. Actually, I really don't have the money to spend on more earthly pleasures.
Last night Alan and I went into this Irish bar after the movies. People sang, dance and embrace each other. At least those with partners. I was wondering whether they were already drunk or what. They were just holding their glasses of beer and were not drinking. So unlike us, Filipinos. Most of the time we get drunk first before we sing and dance. I finished three glasses of beer and Alan was just surprised that I did not get drunk. He said with two glasses he could not just walk straight. I said Filipinos don't count how many bottles we drink. We drink until there's nothing more to drink or if we run out of money to buy a drink.
Most Americans I met during my trip have a lot of good things to say about Filipinos. They admire our many talents, our English, our friendship, etc. They just wonder why we can't change our corrupt system of government. I said it's because we are a happy people and happy people don't see corruption as corruption but as an adventure. We look at revolution as a game that sometimes we want to bet on and sometimes we just ignore.
So, what would happen to the Philippines? they asked. Nothing, I said. Why are you doing what you are doing? I said I am not doing anything. Why are activists doing what they are doing? I said because they just want to do it. Why do journalists continue to be journalists in the Philippines when many of their colleagues are being killed? Because they are not yet killed. How do you look at the Philippines five years from now? The same. Are we going to see you five years from now and listen to the same stories you told us? I said yes if they will give me a round-trip ticket to America.
An American in his 60s approached me after my talk and shook my hand. He said he met a lot of Filipinos, even Filipino officials, but it was only I who helped him understand why the Philippines continues to be what it is. He said foreigners look at the Philippines from a foreigner's point of view. Filipinos who live abroad sell the country to other people by describing the best of the Philippines. Activists describe the worst.
"You did not do anything," he said. "You amused us with your stories. You made us cry. You made us laugh. You are a storyteller," he said.
I am trying to be one, I said.