Day 287 - Esmeraldo (3rd person I approached)
October 14, 2014 - Esmeraldo was sitting by himself, reading a community newspaper, in a dimly lit corner of a local food court. When I approached him, he listened without saying anything as I told him what my project is about.
“You want to talk with me?” he asked.
“What will the questions be? What kind of things do you want to know?” he said, looking a little puzzled. I showed him my blog, and explained that my project is about talking to people. Getting to know about their life and writing a story about our conversation. He chuckled as he told me,
”Sure, okay then. Where will we do this?” I sat down at the table next to him.
Esmeraldo has a lovely, almost musical lilt to his accent. It is just strong enough to have me straining to understand his words. His tone is deep, and his delivery is slow and measured. I had to ask his name three times, and then asked him to spell it for me. I realized he was telling me his first initial and last name. He then spelled his first name for me.
“It’s a boy's name. If it were a girl name, it would end in ‘D A’ but it is a boy name so it ends in ‘D O.’ My friends call me Es-b (’s-bee’ - a play in his initials).” He was born in the municipality of Pililla, southeast of Manila, on the northern coast of Laguna de Bay, in the Philippines.
“I grew up in Manila. I have one sister but she is dead now. My mother is dead. My father is dead. I am just me,” he said, in a matter-of-fact tone.
“I was the youngest of two children. My sister was good to me. She took good care of me when she had to,” said Esmeraldo.
In school, his favourite subject was Filipino.
“I like the language. I like to talk. Do you speak Filipino?” I said no and he asked
“Why not? It is a beautiful language of my beautiful country. Have you been to the Philippines? You must go. Why don’t you go there? People are so happy.” There was such pride in his voice and a smile of reminiscence.
“We learned English in school. All of school, but if you don’t practise it, it’s hard to remember it all. I’m sure you speak more English than I do. Because you used it more,” he said, with his entire face smiling. He was teasing me. After finishing school, Esmeraldo took a vocational course.
“I am a certified Electrician. I did the course and I did some work as an Electrician,” he said.
“I registered to do the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corp, a part of the National Service Training Program). After I completed my ROTC, I was then called to active duty and served in the military for one year. We marched a lot. I never saw active duty. Just marching,” he told me. Esmeraldo married his wife, Aurora in 1961. He was twenty-four. They have five children, and have been married for fifty-one years.
“I got a job as a Jeepney cab,” he said. This took me some time to understand. Not only because of his accent but I didn’t have a clue what a Jeepney is, nor could I figure out how to say or spell it. I asked if it was like the TukTuk’s in Vietnam.
“No, it has four wheels and is safer. You can go faster and get through the traffic easier,” he said, making a snake-like movement with his hand to demonstrate weaving in and out of traffic. We managed to reach a level of understanding. I knew Esmeraldo was driving a cab, but I couldn’t figure out the name he had told me, several times. Google yielded no satisfying results for me either. I sent a message to a Filipino friend of mine who casually slipped the work Jeepney into the conversation - YES I exclaimed! My friend, Grace, told me that they ‘are a hybrid vehicle from World War II; a jeep with an extended cab on it.’
Esmeraldo drove his Jeepney cab for fifty one years.
“I liked driving. I got up at six a.m. everyday, went to work and came home at midnight. I got to talk to many people, and I drove the Jeepney all day,” he said. The route a Jeepney cab takes is painted on the window and the sides of the vehicle. In some cases, the route is represented by the colour of the Jeepney. Each colour represents a specific route, similar to that of a bus. (*Fact Check - see link below.)
Aurora, Esmeraldo’s wife, worked at a market stall they owned, selling chicken and pork.
“People in the Philippines are so happy. There is always a smile on the faces of the people,” he said.
“Now my wife works at (a grocery retailer). We have been in Vancouver for just two years now. Our daughter lives here. She has two children. My granddaughters are eight and nine. My job now is to take them to school in the morning and then collect then after school,” he said. The children speak both Filipino and English.
“We speak in both languages. I speak Filipino until they tell me they don't understand me and then we speak English,” he says, smiling fondly. “Canada is a great country. It is good to make living here. Easier than in the Philippines.”
“Are you married?” he asked me. I said no, I’m not.
“You should be married. And you could have children as well. They will be there for you to play with, when you come from work,” advised Esmeraldo. I smiled, and said I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen.
“You should go to the Philippines. You’ll find a pretty Filipino woman who would be happy to marry you. If you go, I hope you’ll go my beautiful home in Manila. Friendly people and so happy,” he said. I thought I might get an offer of accommodations from him, he was sweetly trying to get me to agree to visit his homeland.
I took his photograph, and showed it to him. Esmeraldo asked me where I would put his photograph. I promised not to poster it all over the food court. He had a good, hearty laugh at that. As I shook his hand, he thanked me for talking with him. I stood up to walk away, and he gestured toward his fruit juice on the table.
“Would you like a drink? How about a cracker? I have some crackers here,” he said reaching for his bag. I told him no thank you.