by Carmelita Cochingco Ballesteros.
April 17, 2011
Eating alone was what I did 99% of the time during the 10 years that I was away working as an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Taiwan and Singapore. Since coming home for good on December 19, 2010, I’ve been having meals, even snacks, with extended family members.
Suddenly, eating breakfast alone last Wednesday, April 6, 2011 became such a luxurious treat!
I had a 9:00 a.m. appointment with the President of St. Paul University Manila. To beat the traffic, I left my home in Cavite at 6:20 a.m. Surprisingly, the trip from my Cavite suburb to Manila which usually takes two hours, more or less, took only 40 minutes. I got off the bus on Pedro Gil Street at seven o’clock flat.
Looking around, I decided to have breakfast at Chow King Restaurant, a fastfood chain. I ordered a meal which consisted of brewed coffee, garlic rice, sunny side up fried egg, and two pieces of native sausage (longanisa). After paying for my order at the counter, I was given a free copy of the Manila Bulletin.
As I sat down, I savored the aroma of my delectable and lovely morning. For the price of Php79.00 or less than two USD, I felt as if I were an empress. My tiny table for two felt like an empire, I sat on my throne, and I ruled my little world. Ah, independence! Freedom from family, if only for a few hours.
Nobody knew me at the restaurant. Nobody called out to me saying, “Grandma, look!” Nobody spoke to me except for transactional exchanges with a food attendant :
“No, I didn’t order pineapple juice. I ordered brewed coffee.”
“ Can I have brown sugar, please?”
“Is this catsup?”
Many things impressed me at this Pedro Gil branch of Chow King Restaurant. The first thing, of course, was the competitive price of the breakfast meal and the “free” copy of the Manila Bulletin.
It felt like an extravagant welcome for me.
Second, it has given up the use of styrofoam mealboxes and plastic tableware. All the utensils – plate, spoon, fork, mug, saucer – were real and re-usable. The only plastic object on the table was the thin and short stick which served as the ‘teaspoon’ for stirring the coffee.
It felt like a stately welcome for me.
Third, the lone food attendant taking care of early morning diners was polite, efficient, and customer-focused. When I refused the pineapple juice, he replaced it with coffee without a fuss. When I asked if the content of a red, plastic bottle was catsup, he told me it was gravy for the siopao, then volunteered to get some catsup for me.
It felt like a grand welcome for me.
Fourth, the meal itself was tasty and satisfying. I sipped my coffee while inhaling deeply and relishing its aroma as I scanned and skimmed the morning paper. The garlic rice competed for attention, begging to be eaten. My sunny side up fried egg and longanisa looked as commonplace as could be, but they tasted like the most extraordinary feast one could ever imagine.
It felt like a splendid welcome for me.
Fifth, the comfort room was clean and lived up to its name. It was a bit cramped with two cubicles and a sink, but it had everything I needed to make myself presentable to the very important person I was scheduled to meet at 9:00 a.m. I reminded myself that I was getting all of these services for the princely price of Php 79.00!
It felt like a marvelous welcome for me.
Finally, the whole experience of having breakfast with myself, being alone with my thoughts, using my senses to appreciate simple things, and looking forward to a new chapter in my life energized my morning. I don’t know where my post-OFW journey will take me. I used to have a job and a paycheck, an office and a desk, technical and library support staff to take care of my needs, and an identity as an academic. Right now, I am in the middle of nowhere with a vague sense of direction.
Thank God for a Php 79.00 breakfast experience, I felt assured that my post-OFW journey will be a magnificent exploration and discovery of “fields of green grass and quiet pools of fresh water (Psalm 23).”