British Manila

I have been listening to a lot of foreign radio these past few months - these past few years, really - but for some reason I haven't really noticed how these stations approach the pandemic.

Granted, it's because I mostly listen to non-English stations. I'd pick out reports about new COVID-19 cases in the hourly news bulletins, the way "coronavirus" is said in French or Dutch or German never ceasing to be a bit of a novelty. When I do listen to the BBC, you don't hear that many mentions about what you should do, although I'll concede I'm either listening to the wrong stations or was listening in the wrong month.

The Americans, well, we now have confirmation (as if we needed it) that the last federal government barely had a plan to combat the pandemic in place, so it was all up to the states. That meant the advice was dispensed differently depending on where you are, or in my case, which station you're listening to. I'll also concede that I really have no idea, since I don't listen to the commercial American stations. My dislike for tight rotations aside, for the most part you are not allowed to listen to them, with access to their online streams restricted to within the United States alone. I did hear some ads about how businesses are adjusting to restrictions. On the non-comms, you have the presenters being sober about what to do, but again, I must be listening to the wrong stations, because I don't hear much about it outside of news bulletins and talk of how live music has been in the clamps for the past few heaven-knows-what.

So it's been a surprise to hear how Hong Kong does it. Yes, the one radio station from the city that I listen to does carry a lot of public service announcements, considering it's a government-run station and that's the closest they'll have to ad breaks. I guess that means it shouldn't be a surprise. That, and the fact that Hong Kong is no stranger to pandemics in the past few decades alone. (Just ask Shalla.) When COVID-19 came knocking they had a bit of an idea of what to do. That, and wearing masks comes naturally to them.

For some reason, the PSA I heard on Hong Kong radio hit me differently over the weekend. It was a different version of the same one I have heard a few months ago. It's the basics, really: wear a mask, keep your distance - if I was a bit more presumptuous I'd say they had that copy ready from previous pandemics. It even had that bit in the end about how we'll get past this pandemic if we just work at it. But at that moment, as I took a shopping cart and fumbled with my fucking face shield, it struck me. This announcement was clear, practical, and devoid of, dare I say it, propaganda.

Of course, this is Hong Kong. This is no utopia. People are still struggling over there, whether for democratic ideals, or for just the ability to live a comfortable life. As I write this, the government had just lifted its first ever lockdown on the city, specifically on four city blocks in Yau Ma Tei that my sister and I have incidentally been to a few years ago. It's one of those blocks with old residential buildings where units are very likely split up into really small units. Social distancing is a dream there, I imagine.

But then, Hong Kong still seems to have had a better response mechanism that, well, us here in the Philippines. Yes, yes, they have experience, but they also have the systems in place. Arguably they spent their money wisely on that one. And, as we settle down to the eleventh month of our own restrictions, anything good that happens outside of these shores just makes me want to cry a little inside.

Often I wonder what would have happened if the British managed to keep a hold of Manila. They did take over the capital, as well as Cavite, from 1762 to 1764. The Spanish put up a fight, but it was ultimately bureaucracy, and events from elsewhere around the world, that brought us back to their control. (You know, the same way we became an American colony because of two New York newspapers hyping up a warship being sunk off Cuba.) For one, we would probably have better radio stations. Or maybe I just prefer the European style of broadcasting, which puts a greater emphasis on content, over the low-effort in-your-face American style we adopted.

That aside, though, if the British kept Manila, would we be like Hong Kong or Singapore? (Incidentally, I have mostly avoided Singaporean radio because I just know I'd really cry inside when I hear their PSAs about the pandemic. I have friends who live in Singapore and it's as if nothing's happened to them. Frankly, I'm fucking jealous.) This city would be an entrepot, although perhaps a less valuable one considering our geographical location. (Okay, so maybe we'd be like Kuala Lumpur.) What institutions would endure? What preferences would stick around? What values would be passed down to us and define us?

Yes, this is a problematic way to read things. This assumes the natives of these islands we live in are uncivilized savages that needed to be saved by Western civilizations, and that's far from the truth. This also assumes that Filipino society is what it is today solely because we embraced the Spanish maƱana habit and the American sense of entitlement and love of profit over everything else. Heck, anybody who's watched a series with an element of time travel - and specifically, changing it - would tell you that everything will change when you change one thing. If the British kept Manila, I most likely would not be writing this. I probably would not have been born. At the very least, I wouldn't be this mess that I am today, the whole nature-versus-nurture thing having a completely different set of variables to play with.

But anyone who's also watched those sci-fi shows with an element of alternate universe world-building - hello, Fringe - would tell you that it is fun to imagine living in a world that's just slightly different from where we really are. Imagine Manila as a less prosperous Hong Kong. We'd not have a lot of shiny buildings, but we'd have mail boxes and double-decker buses. We'd have a working bus system. A working public transport system, or at least one where jeepneys adhere to a system. Better radio stations. (Not at the expense of masa stations, for they are still objectively much better than today's best music, but imagine their programming with a bit of European values to it. Like hourly news bulletins, and not completely isolated from what's going on.) Better hospitals. Better public hospitals. A better public health system, Better public everything. I don't have to be filthy rich and privileged to know the right information about this pandemic, rather than rely on social media and its hyperbole and disinformation. I don't have to be filthy rich and privileged to be cured from whatever it is I'm afflicted with. 

I'm sorry. I got lost in my own thoughts there. I just needed to write something, anything. I have been too distracted with my intensified thoughts of death and dying and nothingness these past few weeks. Instead, I rambled, as I always do.

And your responses...

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