Networking night

"I'm not feeling lucky today," I tell the woman beside me, as the host announces that she'll be giving away the grand prize to the night's raffle.

It is a round trip ticket, on a pretty posh airline, to any European destination. Economy seats, sure, but still, it's one of those very posh airlines. I watched a promo video of theirs earlier and I swear their seats pretty much resemble those capsule hotels in Tokyo that fascinated me as a kid.

People always say I am lucky when it comes to draws, but if that was the case, I should be winning everything. I did win a phone, only to lose it after four months. The last thing I won was a few months ago, when I got the grand prize in a raffle, in another one of these events I have to attend. What do I do with this? I thought as I looked at the new Apple TV I just won. The following day, I was attempting to watch True Detective again with it.

The woman beside me, I've met her before, in yet another one of these events I have to attend. She's the smallest in her family, she says, but she's roughly six feet tall. I should be excited that I can finally talk to a woman and look at her straight, eye to eye. but then again, you know the things we grow up with. You're used to looking down to a woman - and it's not an attempt at social commentary; I don't want to attempt that now, not at all. She's from Poland. Her younger sister is taller by four inches, she says. I do look down and notice that she isn't wearing heels.

"I like to walk from work," she says, and at the start it makes sense, seeing that she works in Makati and she lives in Makati. But she works at Salcedo Village and lives somewhere along Dela Rosa. Makati used to be marshland, and by that logic, as well as the knowledge that floods along Dela Rosa reach up the second floors of buildings in the worst cases, you can deduce that Dela Rosa was definitely marshland. And this woman has to walk from there, to her office, every day, and walk to there, from her office, every night. Or, when it rains, walk those foot bridges, or ride those makeshift boats.

"It's bad that there's no good transit system here," she tells me, after we had a chuckle about how these instant businesses sprout up during rainy season.

"Don't get me started," I answer, just as the host played up the grand prize again. A round trip ticket, economy seats, from Manila to any European destination, via this really posh airline. Sure, you will still need to pay for your hotel and have some pocket money and have your visas on tow. And, chances are, the ticket you'll win will only be valid for half a year.

"But I don't know where to go to yet," I say.

"I know where I will go," she says.

But, still, a free ticket to, maybe, London. Oh, London. To breathe the same air as a bunch of English people. If I'm not going to win this, then who will?

There's this guy I always see in these events. He runs this training company, I think. He seems like a nice guy. We have good conversations, as if you look for conversations in these events. This is networking night. You don't come in to just say hello. You come in to make business. Sometimes it works - and I find that it works best when you do not try hard to sell yourself, or whatever you're selling. So, you know, you just let things flow. You don't talk about business. You talk about other things, and maybe hope that the cards you exchange make an imprint or something.

"This is my fourth beer now," he says, but I am not going to say he's a drunk. He seems fine. People can drink four beers without getting tipsy. I am, I must say, one of those guys. I just choose not to drink four tall glasses of semi-premium German beer, despite the fact that it is semi-premium German beer, because, well, who knows what might happen? I've only had two beers (and some smoked salmon) and already I'm hooting like an idiot, when one of the winners of the minor prizes - gift certificates to this very posh fashion place - goes up the stage.

But at least I'm not like those two guys who are clearly here for the free food and beer. They don't even look like they're here for business. Sure, they work for an ad agency or something - perhaps one of those lower level workers - but still, you can wear a buttoned shirt instead of just a collared shirt, right? Especially when you're surrounded by men in suits and ties? I really should follow my own advice. This is perhaps why nobody talks to me.

There's this guy who approaches me nonetheless, just after I took that second beer. He seems fine, too - perhaps a little sweaty - until he gives me his business card, and I realize that he's here to sell me health supplements. Crap. No. Not more of this multi-level marketing bullshit. That morning a friend I haven't heard from in a while sent me a message on Facebook. "Hi," it said, but I did not reply because I just knew I'd be given a sales pitch, about how I can earn dollars and how I can be financially independent and how I can finally have the time to be a writer, all while living comfortably. Lofty, but my alarms are beeping, even if it might all be true. And now, I'm talking, in person, to one of those guys, and he's making the sales pitch.

"Our supplements are medical grade," he says.

"What do you mean 'medical grade?'" I ask.

You do have to be interested, but at the same time you also hope that he doesn't call you in the middle of a meeting, inviting you to another networking night, inevitably playing up the free food and overflowing beer. Just imagine drinking your fifth beer just as some foreign doctor tells you about preventing hepatitis.

There's this other guy, older than you, obviously. "I've been in the construction business for 25 years," he says. He talks about how he split up from his wife and took off with a much younger woman. Why is he talking about this here? I wonder, but here I am, in a conversation I sort of ended up in, listening to this old but good-looking guy talk about how fun his life is now. I get uncomfortable and, as I find the toilets, I pretend to receive a phone call.

As a 25-year-old, you're hard-pressed to find someone who's roughly your age. All you see are businessmen firmly entrenched in their ways, there to meet up with old pals and, maybe, possibly, exchange sordid stories about board room adventures and whatnot. And when you do meet someone roughly your age, they're very much on a business state of mind. Maybe it's just me, but I feel so small. But then I try to keep up anyway.

"I'm in my late 20s," she says.

"Let's keep it at that," I answer. I'm not really bent on knowing how old she is anyway. I'm just relieved she's in the same decade as I am.

"I'm in my late 20s," she repeats. "I won't tell you how old I really am."

She's... French, I think? Half-French, as it turns out. A quarter Filipina, a quarter Japanese. I wouldn't have figured it out. She says her eyes give away her Oriental roots, and I give up, admitting that I thought it suggested a completely different thing altogether. Or, I wasn't making eye contact, because I was calculating ages in my head while trying to scoop up what's left of my smoked salmon with a fork. Clearly, a violation of the rules of networking night.

Her story was, she worked in Singapore before, but only returned here because of her boyfriend. Well, that sounds romantic. More so if you factor in her boyfriend being Danish - that fact triggering all the things I read about the concept of jantelov, of how you can't be more beautiful than another, how you can't be more successful than another, unless, of course, you're waving the flag for everyone, in which case, go on, be as out of reach as you can be. Do what you want, but give us glory.

"And the winner," the host says, "of the round trip ticket," pause, "to any European destination," pause, "is..."

They call her name. She and her boyfriend, they can go to Denmark and say hi to his parents.

And your responses...

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