Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Kid stuff

This is my column today.

I received a number of e-mail messages in response to my column last Monday, which ended with a true story involving my friend and a street child. Three were particularly instructive so I decided to discuss them in today’s column.

For those who missed my column last Monday as well as for those who need reminding, the story was about this street child who chastised a driver for pointedly ignoring her. In so many words, she reminded the driver that it was okay not to give alms, or to refuse to help. What was not okay was ignoring people such as beggars, pretending they do not exist. Since then, my friends and I have made it a point to acknowledge beggars politely when they come knocking instead of pretending we can’t hear them or simply dismissing them by knocking back on the window.
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This practice of knocking on windows as a way of turning away beggars is based on a huge urban myth that continues to be perpetuated today. I first heard about the myth in 1988. I remember the year because that was when I moved to Manila from the province. A friend told me that knocking on one’s car window was the secret code among those part of the syndicate that supposedly controls the ring of streetchildren and beggars that ply the streets of Metro Manila.

I doubt if there really is a syndicate that controls the streetchildren and beggars roaming around. I am sure there are people out there who offer protection and get some commission from the beggars’ earnings, but I doubt if the setup works in the same way as that portrayed in the movie Oliver. Come to think of it, I think that’s where they got the idea.

But we are suckers for urban myths.

One myth that’s been going around for years and which surprisingly got resurrected recently is that one about some cars running around Metro Manila at night with their headlights off (some versions say that these cars run around with their headlights at high beam). One is not supposed to flash one’s headlights at these cars as that’s supposed to be the signal they wait for. It’s supposed to be an initiation rite for some violent fraternity. They are supposed to run down the first car they encounter who flashes its headlights at them. This is a myth which started in the United States and got played up in many television shows.

But to go back to the e-mail about children, a friend reminded me about an incident at Malate a couple of years back involving another street child, this time a flower vendor. I remember the incident clearly because what the child said brimmed with wisdom beyond her age.

We were in this bar in Malate. The place was packed. I don’t know if there are still flower vendors in Malate today, but several years ago, they were a constant fixture. These kids were easily identifiable because they wore colorful dresses as uniform. We noted one particular child because she was quite precocious. She chatted up foreigners and although her English was quite fractured, it was quite charming.

Anyway. She entered the bar and started selling flowers to the guys at the table beside ours. Obviously the guys weren’t interested in buying flowers, but they engaged the child in what they thought were cute attempts at humor. In short, they were patronizing her. It’s a very common thing that adults do when they encounter precocious kids.

After about a few minutes, it became obvious that the guys were just taking her along for the ride. The child made one last sales pitch by asking the guys to buy flowers to give to their girlfriends. One guy said they don’t have girlfriends yet because they haven’t found anyone pretty enough to qualify. The child looked at the guy straight in the eye and said out loud for everyone in the bar to hear: “Eh kasi wag tumingin sa ganda lang, tumingin sa ugali!” And she marched out of the bar.

Yes, kids do say the darndest things. Unfortunately, we don’t often see them as capable of some thinking processes, we prefer to think of them as people with feeble brains. Like I said, we do tend to patronize them. And if a kid happens to say something that hits us bulls eye, we dismiss the child as pilosopo or having disrespect for the old. And this was essentially the message of the other e-mail I received.

One reader noted how television shows have started to focus on children as participants, which he thinks is another ingenious way to lengthen the programming period for children on television. Because these shows feature children as participants or as audience, other children are drawn in to watch these shows as well. He was not referring to Saturday morning cartoons, or all right, early evening fantaseryes. He was referring to primetime television shows that feature children.

Apparently there is now a local version of the popular quiz show in the United States entitled Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? The local version, which is supposedly hosted by Janno Gibbs is entitled “Kakasa Ka Ba Sa Grade 5?” Last I looked kakasa was often used in a derogatory context, like when you challenge someone to a fisticuff.

I have already written about ABS-CBN’s Saturday evening game show entitled One versus One Hundred. Up until last weekend, the show’s “mob”—the term they use to refer to the 100 members of the audience that a celebrity contestant picks a fight with—were still composed of children. Yes, the show so far has been about celebrity contestant literally picking a fight with children, including making faces at them. The questions they ask in the show are no-brainers.

The kids no longer chant “Ba-la-to!” But they are still encouraged to taunt, scream, heckle, even insult the celebrity contestants. These are the same kids who are referred to when Edu Manzano shouts “is it the money or the mob?” Kids referred to and act like members of a mob, now there’s a really interesting picture.

The third e-mail was from someone who shared his thoughts on the issue of whether it hurts kids when we give alms to streetchildren. I must admit that my personal position on the matter is rather ambivalent.

I recognize that giving alms to streetchildren conditions them into thinking that begging is a viable livelihood. I know it impacts on their self-esteem as well. However, when one comes face to face with a street child who is grimacing in pain because he has not had anything to eat since he woke up, one cannot help but throw away strategic thinking and rational reasoning.

An officemate of mine, however, has come up with a brilliant idea which I intend to duplicate. He carries around with him in his car packs of biscuits and cookies. These are what he gives away to beggars and street children who come knocking. One gets to feed the hungry without having to worry about whether the alms you give them goes to gambling or the purchase of drugs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of pop psychology about children. As with most pop psychology, they're mostly if not flat-out wrong.

Kids may be innocent, but they're not stupid.