Thursday, 25 October 2012

FEATURE: Come one, come all: The Internet Café beckons

 A typical Internet Cafe joint in Metro Manila frequented by students and professionals.


MAYBE it’s Jumong’s pounding on the keys when he used my computer to watch his favorite cartoon characters last time he came a-visiting. 
Or maybe it’s the attachments of countless emails that keep pouring in my inbox that let some uninvited guests into the system.   

Or maybe it’s just the hardware giving in to age. 

Or all of the above.

My ever-reliable, ever-giving sweetheart of a technology - my computer, just died on me. 

And so, while I wait for the life-giver (aka my brilliant computer technician, whom we call ang bumubuhay ng patay, off I went to my friendly neighborhood Internet café.  

I don’t know if it’s only in our shores that this business has thrived big time. 

On one block, I can count four of them catering to the information-hungry, game-and-Facebook addicted netizens who don’t own computers, or if they did, or could not wait for other members to finish using it, or just like me, who have computers still being resurrected, but need to finish some important work .

But my favorite shop/café was experiencing a brownout.
So off I went to another, which I have not visited yet, but had electricity all right. It was a much-smaller joint - a hole-in-the-wall and just eight computers working, and it had an all male scenario. 

Oh, but that did not intimidate me. I seated myself to an empty seat, and waved my hand to the shopkeeper/cum technician.  

So, while he was switching on the power switch, he turned his head to me and asked:  “Coke or pepsi?"
“Huh?” , I asked  not sure if I heard right. 

“Mani, or chicharon, meron din.”

“Huh?  Ano? Puwede kumain dito?”

“Oo naman, we serve snacks.”   

So, I went, “hindi na lang, salamat.”

He went away with a sour face.  While I was clicking the  
Mozilla Firefox icon, a guy seated himself next to me. He was smiling to everybody and to the shopkeeper, he seemed to be  a regular visitor. 

He waved his hand towards sour-puss, and the latter came running, all smiles this time, carrying a pack of cigarettes. 

Oh, I could tolerate somebody beside me crunching chicharon or mani, but cigarette smoke? 

Naah. So, I stood up and said I can’t work with cigarette smoke wafting in the air, and the guy next to just smirked, lighted a stick, and tapped on the keys as if he did not hear anything.  

Really, that joint reminded me of Las Vegas - you know, people in front of the one-armed bandit puffing away, drinking soda or beer, crunching peanuts, while glued on the screen waiting for 777 to come up.     

Anyway, Las Vegas or this hole-in-the-wall, both are “nyet” for me.

I went back to my favorite shop but the shopkeeper said it will still be a few minutes waiting, so I decided I would just snack at KFC, which was just a few steps away from the shop. 

I like dining at KFC because the line is not that long unlike at Jollibee where I have to fall in a long , snaking line before I can order. 

Well, food costs more at KFC, that’s because a portion goes to Colonel Sanders as royalty.  

And there’s a playroom for children at Jollibee. And they also serve breakfast of longsilog (longganisa at itlog), tapsilog (tapa ay itlog), bangulog (pritong bangus at itlog), chickalog (chicken sausage with itlog) and cornilog (corned beef with itlog) – all served with a cup of garlic rice.  

So, in the morning, you see seniors filling up the chairs, after their morning jog or after their morning meeting at Mother Butler’s or some other senior citizen’s groups.  

At noon and early afternoon,  when schools are out, schoolchildren swarm at the store, eating lunch or merienda, and playing at the playroom at the second floor. In the evening, families take their families for dinner  here. 

Wala, knockout talaga sina Ronald MacDonald and Colonel Sanders in the home grounds of Jollibee. 

Anyway, finally, the electricity was back and I could work on my stuff at my favorite shop.  

The shopkeepers in this shop are all female techies, friendly and accommodating. 

This is a big shop, almost 30 computers available, and it has other services such as printing, copying, laminating, fax.  
It is spacious and the chairs are comfortable, and the headsets are great.

Schoolchildren make their assignments here, with their parents hovering.  

A lot of people use Skype to talk to their children in the provinces or abroad. 

Aye, and there’s the rub (or fun). Like last time, a guy just suddenly shouted, in horror:  “Wag, wag anak, baka ka mabalian!”

I asked Gina the shopkeeper what was the problem and she said the guy was watching his children on the screen jumping on the bed, using it as trampoline, and one just barely missed the bed and could have landed on the floor, head first.   

Another time, the words of one homesick mom and  her children just kept sneeking between the words of arrhythmia and syncope from the journal I was reading : “Pa, kelan ka uwi? Miss na miss ka na namin!  Yung mga bata tanong nang tanong kelan ka nga uuwi? “(all right, ma’m, I can read the subtext:  OK lang matagalan basta on time ang dollars, ha?).  

And there was  this lady, respectable-looking  (with a blazer, coiffed, dyed hair, gold-rimmed spectacles), talking to a man she kept on referring as Reverend, and they were exchanging  words about doing God’s work here on earth, helping those in need, interspersed with mundane stuff like when the money would be sent here, and to what bank she would withdraw it. 

At the end of the conversation, she said her goodbye : “God Bless you Reverend, and may we both continue with our sacred mission.”

After that, she got up and approached Gina, the shopkeeper, and asked: “Magkano? “ 

And Gina replied: 150 lang, Ate. And the lady went ballistic:  “Pu……….na, ang mahal!”

Well, so much for the sacred mission.  

But nothing can beat this scenario when it comes to being just plain hilarious: the  guy (gal?) was talking to his  partner via Skype, and was going: “Mahal, galing lang ako sa ospital, na-emergency ako, I could not breathe and I was having chest pains. Nagalit kasi ako sa isang empleyado. The doctor told me I had angina.  Yes, mahal, angina …. Hindi, v…ina, mahal, angina.”

I was staring at the journal I was reading, but the words kept appearing on the script - angina..v..ina.  I  was holding back my laugh, and it was choking me. I looked at the others, and most of the guys were stifling a smile, and I could  see some with their eyes crinkling. 

But nobody was laughing aloud, yet. 

Then the guy/gal continued, unaware of what he/she was doing to us:  V..ina ka nang .v…ina, e sinabing angina. Hay, mahal ... matagal ko na talagang gustong magkaroon niyan, eh. Alam mo yan!”

The laughter that was being stifled by us eavesdroppers could not be held no longer, and in unison, we just let it all out: bwah, ha,ha,ha,ha.  

I really like this shop, for showing me a microcosm of the emerging global village in my community : expat Americans talking to their folks back home via Skype, with their slang making the college girls snicker;  the Indian  expats in my neighborhood (“Bombays”) who frequent this shop and are on teasing terms with the shopkeepers:  “Ang mahal ninyong sumingil!  

With the shopkeepers‘ stinging retort : “Mas mahal ang 5-6 niyo!”

Uniformed schoolchildren from a private religious school nearby sitting next to scruffy, gusgusin streetchildren - both making their assignments (these streetchildren also go to school - public school, but they don’t have homes),  the latter occasionally asking some questions from the former, with the washed gamely giving out the answers to the unwashed.   

Young, old, rich, poor, Filipino, Indian, American, boisterous, refined, sane, insane, the courteous and the profane.  

They are all here, welcomed, accommodated. The ambiance speaks:  we are family!   

My computer has been brought back to life, reformatted, cleaned, no more sticky keys and unwanted characters appearing on the screen.  

I can work now till the wee hours of the morning, as I am wont to do, eat my favorite snack, answer phones in between Facebook, Yahoo and Medscape
I don’t envision any problems cropping up with this sweetheart for the next few months, as long as I update my Kaspersky and  prevent Jumong from using his elbows on the keyboard.
But I am not worried if one day, it will die on me again. 
There’s this little corner of my world where, I can do my work, be myself, enjoy the  company, and see the world.  

And all for 20 pesos. 
Can anything get better than this? The Internet Café beckons!   

 The author's favorite meal-place - KFC.

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