Private members' club

The "third space" refers to a place outside of home and work where one usually spends a lot of time in. In the case of Manila, it almost always is a coffee shop. I mean, parks? We have parks? But that's another essay I probably won't write.

On Sunday night Shalla and I decided to just spend some time at a coffee shop. Schedule changes meant we haven't had Tim Hortons in a while, and we had an unspoken craving for their donuts. So, off to our usual branch we went, and on that night there was only one table available. All the rest was filled with people with earphones plugged in, and laptops in front of them.

Well, one was reading a book. She had one of those book stands, the ones you buy if you foresee that you'll spend a lot of your time in coffee shops and you'd rather not hold the book in your hand as you read it.

"Law students," I said. This isn't unusual. For as long as there are coffee shops there are law students looking to catch up on their studies, reading case files or whatever it is they read in school. (I don't know. I haven't asked the people I know who are lawyers now, not even my cousin.) One imagines it's just more conducive to study in a place that's not at home, which means, unless you live in one of the nearby condominiums you'd either be taking a taxi, or a Grab, or driving yourself to this spot right here. Imagine, spending all that money to study in peace.

"I can't believe they actually study seriously here," Shalla said, at least twice.

Well, one of them wasn't. One was working. She - another she - had on her laptop, I noticed, storyboards. Or maybe she is studying. Maybe she is an advertising student. I don't know. I haven't asked the people I know who work in ad agencies now, none of which is a relative.

It's not like I haven't worked in a coffee shop. Just a couple of days later I found myself doing just that. I had to check emails and I had two hours to kill before my next event, so off to another coffee shop I went, thankfully one with a plug, because my laptop's battery is due a replacement and is dying a slow death right now. It's not that Tim Hortons I frequent, though; rather, I was at M Bakery - yes, that one. I only had a non-coffee drink, not that I couldn't afford it, but even if I was wearing a full-on business outfit I felt I didn't fit in compared to everybody else coming in and out of the store, who look like they walked off a magazine page, either a fashion one or a society one. Or both.

I'm used to working in coffee shops, and I'm used to having to wrestle for a good position with these law students who buy just one coffee and sit there for eight hours studying. (At least buy a whole pot of French press, like this one guy I saw did at the Starbucks my sister used to write in.) I'm not used to being the only guy who's not doing any work. Well, it's a Sunday night, so we're supposed to make the most of what's left of our rest period, and we were surrounded by people on their laptops doing stuff that isn't browsing YouTube. I felt like we had to make conversation just to make the place feel livelier.

"Masyadong malakas na naman boses mo," Shalla reminded me a few minutes in.

Well, there are other places you can talk in, but this being Manila, sometimes it feels you have to pay you way into a place where you can talk. Well, you also pay for the company you keep, and the conversations you have. You pay to be surrounded by like-minded people, and you make the most of is even if you're secretly awkward, damn it.

With those two hours killed, I was off to a private members' club. Manila House is so exclusive you have to be invited to get in, and you have to be invited to become a member, and you can't really take photographs of the place. (Well, technically, you have to be mindful that you don't take photos of other members by accident, but still, it's essentially no photos.) I don't know if I should be writing about that place either. Maybe I'll be banned now I've finished writing this paragraph. But, well, it's essentially a third space for those deemed worthy of being inside: ornately decorated, intensely discreet, and with the right magazines in the right place. Have you ever been to a bar that stocks a copy of Monocle, and not an old one clearly bought from a second-hand bookstore?

Admittedly I accepted the invitation only because the place is exclusive, so exclusive I only really heard about it a week before, from a colleague who was invited to a lunch meeting there. And, well, it was all right. You'd expect exclusivity to mean really good everything, but then I guess I have eaten in many places in my almost thirty years of existence. The food was alright. The gin and tonic was good. I only had one and I think I felt a slight buzz. Or maybe it's the mushroom-heavy menu. Nothing says "luxurious" in your tongue like the flavor of mushrooms.

The conversations were decidedly tita, however. I knew it was a long shot before I'd be back, if I'd ever be back, but then, I think I prefer cheap-ish coffee and good donuts. At certain times of the day, that is. I cannot have coffee after two in the afternoon, or else I'd be awake the whole night. Sunday night, Shalla and I both had hot chocolate. I miss their double double, but I can't risk it. And besides, it's good. Comforting. Exactly what you pay for: the ambiance, that feeling.

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