Manila airport arrivals, Doña Victorinas, the ‘box out’ strategy

Patricio N. Abinales

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Manila airport arrivals, Doña Victorinas, the ‘box out’ strategy
I always find myself snickering as I watch OFWs smirk at the grandstanding of modern-day Doña Victorinas
Try to step back when you fly in from abroad and join a line at the immigration section. The look on the faces of fellow passengers is either that of debility or impatience – a natural outcome of long travels – and oddly, even short flights. The sentiment behind the look is a strong desire to get out of the airport.

But as the lines move forward, you also notice an easing up of dispositions and postures. One is, after all, back home. But that is not all. Despite the weariness, you start seeing a smile, followed by a slide back to the impish Pinoy. (READ: How airports are the saddest and happiest places on earth)

You suddenly find yourself listening to that vaunted wit that we, as a people, have become known for. You hear Pinoys poking fun at themselves – Heto, namumulot ng mga dumi ng taga-barko sa Florida (here, picking up the dirt of those in Florida ships).

At their work – “Saan kang parte ng Japan nanggaling, Ate?” “Eh, saan pa di sa club, kuya, nangongolekta ng lapad sa mga supot! At hindi yong pambalot ha!” (“Where from Japan did you come from, sister?” “Where else, but the club, brother, collecting money from the uncircumsized, not the brown bags, okay?”)

And even the slow pace at the immigration line – Hay naku, aabutin tayo ng Pasko nito! or Dalian niyo mamang immigration, jingle na jingle na ako! (Oh dear, Christmas will come before we’re done here! Or, faster Mr immigration, I need to run to the toilet!)

Now back home, OFWs also can confidently turn their mischief on others. One of the usual topics of chitchat is about foreigners’ body odor. “Bakit ka nakasimangot, Ate?” “Eh, ‘yung katabi ko mula Bangkok, ang baho-baho eh!” (“Why are you frowning, sister?” “The one beside you from Bangkok is smelly!”)

The revulsion is not only an olfactory issue. It is about asserting one’s cultural distinctiveness, a quiet warning to a smelly visitor that here, we care about body aroma. So if you want to enjoy our welcome, take a damn bath!

But the choice targets are Filipinos who flaunt their change in citizenship by waving their American passports, one of them talking loudly in a Midwestern accent that can never hide his local beginnings. I always find myself snickering as I watch OFWs smirk at the grandstanding of these modern-day Doña Victorinas, and often cannot avoid laughing when I listen to an OFW’s reply to their former kababayan’s Americanese queries in the language they both grew up with.

For a couple of minutes it is Ilocano going back and forth with the phony Midwesterner. Eventually, however, the Americano gives up and readily admits that he did, indeed, grow up in Sarrat.

Such prank could also be about diskarte – that nuanced maneuvering we often employ to get out of tight situations, to get things done with the minimum of effort, and to achieve goals with the least time and energy spent.

The New Yorker Rafe Bartholomew discerned all these when he first arrived in the country to research on Pinoy basketball. He writes that at the baggage claim area, “weary travelers jostled for the best positions. There was something oddly familiar about their movements. When a tall American woman tried to squeeze into a gap no more than a few inches wide between the two people in front of her, one of the guys with inside position bent his knees, spread his legs, pushed his butt out and made it impossible for her to get around. She backed off and began maneuvering through the tangle to find another sliver of open space. Again she was denied.”

Suddenly, despite his jet lag, Bartholomew remembered his days as a high school basketball player when his father would shout at him to “crouch and stay balanced while pushing [a] heavier [opponent] away from the [basketball ring]” during a game. He continued: “I looked again at the airline passengers using their bodies to seal off space in front of the conveyor, performing the same rugged waltz, sliding from one side to shuffling backward. No way, I thought. It can’t be.”

The next lines are precious: “It was,” Bartholomew exclaims!

“The Filipino passengers were boxing out for position in front of the baggage carousel. I kept waiting for the American woman to execute a spin move around one of the guy’s backs to steal his position, but it never happened….When it dawned on the woman that her attempts to worm her way to the front stood little chance against the other passengers’ exquisite defensive positioning, she rolled her eyes in frustration and settled into the second row. I, on the other hand, was all smiles. This was an auspicious sign. I’d been in the Philippines less than an hour and already I’d found what I was looking for.”

These lines introduced Bartholomew’s Pacific Rims: Beermen Ballin’ in Flip Flops and the Philippines’ Unlikely Love Affair with Basketball (2011), a wonderful book about how we play the game.

Since then, this kid who grew up in basketball crazy Ohio, has become a huge fan of the way we conduct our everyday affairs. –

Patricio N. Abinales works in the middle of nowhere to help defray family expenses in Ozamis City.

Baggage claim belt area in NAIA image via Shutterstock


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