Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Human Nature

Keywords : human nature, imagination, introspection, promise

There was a long queue at the Jeddah airport ticketing. The pakistani chap behind me said in his heavy Urdu-english tone : "These people are not learning. In fact, they are in reverse gear". He was referring to the poor state of the Arabian airport system. The queue was forming a longer and longer beeline and we were still advancing at a turtle's pace. Later, i found out we were going to be seatmates on our way to Dubai.

Saleem told me he is from Islamabad. He's in his early 60s. He was wearing a suit, smartly dressed and glasses. He told me he heads one of the freight forwarding company in Jeddah with operations in the Gulf countries. He has lived in Jeddah for 28 years.

His frustrations with the arabs are in many ways similar to my frustrations with people who like to borrow money. In my less than 2 months in Jeddah, i have been asked to lend money once and in another instance, a guy tried to swindle me. Later i found out the gay who tried to borrow money from me wanted money only to feed his vices. He pays boys to have 'fun with'. Luckily age has made me a little bit wiser and the years has made me immune and even averse to sweet talks.

You can tell the genuine people who needs money from those who are just out there to abuse your friendship or take advantage of you. The genuine ones will not borrow money at the drop of a hat. And usually they will be extremely cautious about promises. They will say: "i will try my best to repay you soonest". Exteriorly, this statement doesn’t sound very reassuring to most people than hearing someone say: "Don't worry one bit, i will pay you by month end. I feel so ashamed to borrow from you but don’t worry...etc". From my experience with people, you are more likely to see your money back from the first guy. The second guy with lots of reassuring words will have far more reassuring words by the end of the month, and the second month and so on.

People who tend to make promises loudly have already released their promises out of their mouth and into the air. People who do not utter any promise has already carved them in their hearts and not allowed it to escape.

This world is very mixed up --in any business dealings, the paradox of the day is this : "if someone promises you something with sweet words and a loud bang, you know he has already delivered his promise at that instant (with words, and not deeds)", Therefore, discount it and cancel the deal immediately. Reciprocate with equally loud and sweet words for an excuse to opt out. You will be glad you did". "If someone has no sweet words but only uncertainties for you to hear and he speaks softly, sign the contract immediately because since he has not delivered the words you like to hear, you know he will deliver the deeds".

I would like to think of the above thought as a derivative of Jesus' saying : "When you fast or give alms, do not be like the hypocrites who put on a face to show the world their virtue, i tell you solemnly, they have already received their rewards. But when you fast or give alms in secret, the Heavenly father who sees you in secret will reward you".

Saleem said that, like all things, there are of course exceptions to the rules. There are extremely good Arabians and likewise too, i can say that there are extemely good filipinos who do not fit the stereotypes.

We were offloaded by the bus at the tarmac to board the plane via a movable metal staircase. I always have this 'kiasu' habit of inspecting the exterior of the plane for surface cracks or any form of physical damage before boarding it. As i sat next to Saleem inside the plane, i asked" did you notice the flat tires on the left wheels of this plane?" Saleem laughed and looked at me nervously. We were flying Saudi Air after all. His nervousness was immediately placated by the cool German chap seated to my left who wittingly exclaimed: "Luckily we are flying and not driving".

Saleem explained to me the typical Saudi mentality. "except for the United States, they think they are superior to any other race and nationality". I guess you can ask any chinese, japanese or indonesian and they will say that their own is the best and most superior too. On the individual level, we oftentimes also harbour the same sentiments about ourselves. We are better than others. we often fail to see our own shortcomings - oftentimes through lack of introspection and also many times due to simple denial or sheer pride. We often deceive ourselves "to believe the fundamental reality of life is that which exists only in our own egocentric desires" [New Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton]. We overlook a lot of glaringly obvious facts and reality about ourselves to live our own imaginary world. In truth, all of us are made up of the same human nature-- Arabians, Filipinos, Chinese, Americans...We are human beings and share the same stuffs that make us very human.

Like for example, how can the Saudis think their system is the best when the Jeddah Int'l. Airport is so poorly managed? The weighing scale was not working, the screen monitors were dysfunctional, the ticketing officer can even ask me: "what is your nationality?" after scrutinizing my passport in his hands for a full 1 minute. We dont see our own faults. But from a 3rd person looking at the world objectively, things can be as clear as daylight. The Jeddah airport is years behind the Manila airport. The manila airport is years behind the Dubai airport which is in turn light-years behind Changi Singapore airport. Crystal clear.

2nd paradox of the day : "A person who thinks he is the greatest is oftentimes the worst of all". The reverse is equally true.

For employers who are interviewing potential candidates for a job, or damsels considering potential suitors, listen to the above advise and you will not regret it.

It was late in the evening and i walked out of the apartment to explore the surrounding streets of Dubai. I headed straight with no clear direction except to follow where the most people are gathering. After a few hours of wandering aimlessly, i felt tired and hungry. i decided to walk into the only place where i can find food and a seat- the Royal Ascott Hotel. Inside the lobby, i was drawn to the beautiful sounds of soft classical music at the background. Instinctively i followed the music and was lead to the entrance to a bar. It has a nice English Victorian interior decoration and even a simulation of a nice fireplace. It was dark and cozy and the music theme song from the movie " The Godfather" was playing.

I took a seat near to the stage and was immediately served by a Bulgarian waitress. We chatted a bit. Her bulgarian-english reminded me of the funny "Ken Lee" song from the bulgarian idol show patterned after the American idol.
I was sitting just 1 table away from the 2 lovely ladies on the front stage. They were in high heels and black formal ladies' gown with a silky shawl hanging over their bare shoulders. One was playing the piano, the other the violin. I surveyed the place and saw a group of elderly arabs at the far end corner of the bar chit-chatting and probably deal-making. A few tables away from me sat a fully bearded middle-aged arab who is probably of local dubaian origin. He was alone, relaxed and sipping baileys while reading a pocketbook while also munching peanuts every now and then. He seemed engrossed in his book.

I seemed the only one who has nothing to do and so i sat there sipping my apple juice and munching my usual sandwich. The bulgarian waitress told me the 2 ladies at the stage are russians. They were smiling at each other in between each piece of music to decide what music to play next. I just sat there enjoying the music and watched them. I especially like watching the lady play her violin with so much ease and grace. It seemed they were not used to the attention i was giving them. They smiled at me shyly as i smiled back and clapped softly after every piece. Later when they finished to take a break, they sat at one of the corner table to sip orange juice.

I was very tempted to join them at their table. i felt fascination and intrigue to hear their stories. I imagine they will tell me stories about their life back in Russia and perhaps to hear them tell their stories about how their parents sent them to Moscow's School of the Arts to learn music. how they probably struggled through the cold winter and the poverty and finally how they managed to come into Dubai to earn a decent living playing exotic classical music in this oil-rich emirate. There are a lot of migrant eastern europeans in Dubai in the same fashion there are southeast asian migrants in Singapore.

I said hello and asked if i can join them: "your music was lovely!" i said. The 2 girls smiled a little bit more and said: "Thank you". . i have to try something else to impress them more : "i enjoyed the Chaikovsky's Symphony no. 5 very much and Mozart's one too. When i was listening to the 2 of you play Mozart, i felt like i was falling in love!" their eyes sparkled and they both laughed. Natasha quickly followed by : "With who?" i replied by : "if i had a girlfriend, it would be her, but since i dont...."

Everyone has a story to tell. That was my excuse to myself to talk to the girls and that was how i imagined our opening conversation will start. but sorry to disappoint, it happened only my imagination. In the end i decided i should not approach them. The devil in me knew if i talk to the 2 lovely russians, i was'nt just out there to hear or listen to a story.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope that it's not the way that people think of Bulgaria and people here. This song is not determinative for us... And it is not "the bulgarian idol" to know for a certainty.