Like most teenagers, we all misbehaved. In Manila there was a lot of drinking, although it wasn’t illegal. (The taste of gin & tonic always takes me back). There were a lot of drugs, from marijuana to heroin, and everything in between. I heard stories about people smuggling drugs in boxes of tampons. (No self-respecting customs agent would want to paw through a box of Tampax!) We used to sneak out of the house for midnight rendezvous in parks and bars. For a short period of time I hung out with a girl who, shall we say, lived on the wild side. She and I went to a department store and shoplifted some shirts. (Truth be told, one of the shirts became one of my favorites, and my parents have a portrait of me wearing it). Lord knows what would have happened if we had been caught.
There were stories of foreigners who had been out after curfew, and taken to the infamous prison “Camp Crame,” the name of which would strike fear in anyone. I never saw them myself, but it is said that these westerners, in their party finery from the night before, were seen early in the morning picking up trash on E. de los Santos Avenue.
If we had grown up in Small Town, USA, the sheriff would have known us since we were born, and either looked the other way or called our parents to come haul our naughty selves home. In Manila, however, we were strikingly anonymous. Even though we stood out because our western appearance, the Filipinos tended to be complicit in our misbehavior. We usually kept a peso note folded up in our wallets and if there was ever any trouble with the police, well, I don’t want to use the word “bribe” …
The story of Michael Fay, a student at Singapore American School, hit a little close to home. He was arrested in 1994 for spray painting cars with a gang of vandals. He claims he only stole street signs, but confessed to the painting after being threatened during interrogation. His punishment was 12 lashes of the cane, later reduced to four. President Clinton got involved, as did members of the World Trade Organization. The story became front-page news and there was a huge outcry from the American public. He ultimately took his blows and went back to the states to live with his dad.
I agree it seems a little barbaric to cane someone for painting graffiti on cars, when the cars can be easily repainted. But Singapore has a no-tolerance policy on a lot of issues. When we first landed at Changi Airport, I noticed signs in the airport with pictures of boys with different lengths of hair. Anyone entering the country with their hair too long was taken into a room and summarily given a haircut. Even in the line at the drivers’ license bureau, men with long hair were served last. Spitting on the sidewalk or dropping a cigarette butt on a street was illegal (probably still is), and a hefty fine was imposed.
|You thought I was making this stuff up?|
I will fess up now to the most serious crime I committed in the Philippines. I’m sure the statute of limitations has run out. I had spent a weekend at Subic Bay with a girlfriend (whose father was military), and been introduced to the shangri-la of American food, American candy and American sailors. We had a weekend of eating ice cream and hamburgers, bowling and dancing at the Officers’ Club. The song “Afternoon Delight” seemed to be playing on every juke box. We left the base that night and went clubbing in Olongapo, the city that abuts the base. Crossing the river from the base to the city was a bridge over the fetid brown water. Below the bridge were several men on small boats, who cried out, “You want a virgin? I have sister! She only thirteen!” The main drag was a bustling cacophony of thumping music, sweaty bodies and alcoholic haze. The smell of old beer was insidious, strangely combined with wafts of tropical flowers. Tall, white uniformed and armed MP’s strolled amongst the crowd. Heavily made up, stiletto-heeled prostitutes sat outside their brothels, shouting out to all who passed. It was surreal, like I was watching a movie. We drank too much, danced and reveled in our youth.
A few weekends later, my friend and I found out the I.S. soccer team was going to play Dewey High School at Subic. We signed on as “spectators” to accompany the team. Of course, once we got there, we ditched the game and headed off into the Subic paradise. We took the tender over to Grande Island, for more music and drinking. We had no intention of returning to the school. We made up a story about “getting lost” on the base, and planned to take the public bus back to Manila later that night.
Being the “goody two shoes” that I was, I whined and worried and kvetched all day, until my friend and our sailor dates yelled at me to just shut the heck up. I wasn’t used to a life of crime, and my conscience was going crazy. We arrived home, exhausted, after midnight, and our parents bought our story.
However, the school did not. The next week my friend and I were hauled before the athletic director and we were read the riot act. The school had been responsible for getting us back home, and they had waited nearly three hours for us before returning to Manila. There were a lot of angry people, and our irresponsibility was reprehensible. I don’t remember any other punishment, but for me, the dressing-down was enough. I was humiliated and ashamed.
I know, fairly innocuous by most standards. Many other kids did far worse things, and I don’t know how many people who quietly moved back to the states had been forced out due to their kids’ bad behavior. We heard rumors, but none of them were ever confirmed. The fact is that adolescent antics in our foreign homes had far graver consequences than they would have had at home; deportation, the loss of their father’s job or worse. We may not have recognized it at the time, but in retrospect we lived on the edge of danger. We laugh about our crazy selves now, and what we got away with, but I’ll bet Michael Fay has a different point of view.