A Failed Career on an Overhyped Bug

It was late February or early March in 1999, I can’t remember the exact date. But thanks to my old reliable buddy Ronald Celestial, I get to post one of the memorable past as a jobhunter. It was the time when I also got the chance to travel far from home (the farthest yet at that time).

I wanted to be independent and challenged myself to be one.  Freshly removed from college, I must be prepared for it. (Listens to the song “Paalam: ..biente dos años na ako, kaya ko na mamuhay ng solo“). After all, what can a 29-year-old do that a 21-year-old can’t. At UIC’s Computer Center office, I received an e-mail from Harry Quiambao asking me to come to SVI’s Clark Office for a personal interview.

With Toto’s invitation, I was ready to go to Central Luzon’s Angeles City, a place whose physical structures still bring memories of the American servicemen’s heyday in the ’80s.

I took an Air Philippines flight for Manila with just my brother’s small backpack and wild imaginations in my mind. Knowing Manila’s chaotic, frenetic pace, I must be in for some adventure.

I was partial to being an adventurist, as some would-be thrill-seekers had experienced: getting robbed, had pockets picked or were duped. Home to many rude taxi drivers and inconsiderate citizens, a less witty visitor can often find himself duped, misled or worse, robbed. On contrary, Davao’s taxi drivers are mostly courteous that I can’t imagine how others still end up killed by robbers.

But to be fair with the other side of Manila, the place is a haven for many things: a variety of food, thrill rides, bargains, almost endless gigs in the metropolis and beautiful people.

Fellow college batchmate Raul Ramirez has been working with BIR and later SUN Microsystems is often the caretaker of his “provincemate” visitors. I was amazed at how he handles things in this city where traffic is a menace, tap water is rarely safe for drinking (when available from the faucet) and typhoons are never experienced in Davao. He manages to stay on the road late at night and wakes up early in the morning to beat the morning rush hour.

It was my first stay in Manila since our university field trip — one of the happiest days of my life. Being a newcomer once more, I get to see many things I only see on television: the MRT, jeepneys plying to places already familiar in the silver screen: Cubao, Quiapo, Kalentong and University Belt, people speaking the natural Tagalog accent; Davao’s coños still sound too crude when speaking the National Language.

Raul’s staff house is a microcosm of modern Manila’s yuppy lifestyle: a housemate stuck on the phone, managing to wave hi to us; another one was in front of the television while poring over the latest tech gadget. There are clothes beside the refrigerator and the kitchen’s little table was neatly divided into sections where each of the occupants places his proprietory bread, strawberry jam, cans of corned beef and a few Pringles tubes. They sleep late and wake up early on weekdays and I guess they stay in bed until 11 am or later on Saturdays.

The next day I will be in Angeles aboard Victory Liner in which I will make a stop in Dau and take a jeepney to Clark Gate. After I woke up early in his beeper’s ring, Raul and I did not spend an hour before going out of the house before 7 am. I felt awkward as I am not used to skipping breakfast.

After Raul wished me well for the trip and interview, I was mixed with nostalgia and nervousness inside the bus. It was just three years ago when I was with the noisy college friends who couldn’t care what the world would say as long as we have fun on this very road. I was anxious about getting the job and giving myself a break to the real world of labourers, where mornings are more challenging than singing the same alma mater song I first sang some seven years ago.

The road was smooth and the ride was comfortable. When I reached the mouth of the wide CDC compound, I had no idea how I can come in as the guards required company ideas of tenant companies. I pretended to be one and got away. The bus ride featured a rather patriotic song by Gary Valenciano about Pampanga.

When I was inside the wide sprawling green landscape, I always come to think America is such a rich country that even in territories it can’t call its own, the facilities are above par. Surely, there are areas in the United States that are less appealing than Clark Development. I can see the greeneries of Mimosa Estates where VIPs play their leisurely game of golf. On the far end is an airstrip (or was it the Diosdado Macapagal Airport?)

Finally, I came to the described place by Toto, and in less than two minutes, he emerged from somewhere and for the first time since graduation, I met my friend. As the interview will happen in the afternoon, we had time to reminisce our days in college with so much fun: being chased by drunken retards at a hangout near the campus. My relentless pursuit of a classmate whom Toto served as a part-time “bridge”. Our days programming Assembly Language and welding components from dusk till dawn. (How I wish I get to talk to many of my high school, grade school and college friends at least once a month and have a hearty conversation than be on my own most of the time in Hong Kong.)

Toto lives in a staff house, a neat housing provided by the company to programmers and developers mostly from Manila and other provinces. In contrast to the crowded and chaotic Manila, Clark is where minds of geeks sensitive to noise would probably work best. Even much better than my workplace at the time (I was employed at a University located next to Davao City’s biggest wet market). There is a place for basketball, table tennis, plenty of space for football, test driving and anything that requires ample workspace.

While looking at the place, assuming I got the offer and took the job, I imagined how quickly will I be able to adjust to working away from my family for the first time. First I would have the freedom to build me some life skills. Do the cooking, budget my salary, manage my time, and so on. I would have to travel by plane for an hour and a half plus three-hour bus ride instead of having to ride an hour’s worth of jeepney trip from UIC to home.

I’d guess that’s not as bad as those who work in the middle of the desert, separated not just hundreds or thousands of miles away but also four timezones away. Those who come home to their families once every three years. It must have driven me insane.

I should not backtrack. After all, before I took the flight I kinda thought I should pursue this, Clark or Singapore.

It’s noontime and I am hungry; the early meal I had in Dau did not help much. I am still wary of eating on roadside canteens. It’s not mainly on sanitation, it’s more on my sensitive stomach. Toto was still at work; he must have taken an hour off to meet and talk to me.

The working period is based on honesty. You come on time and you leave on time. No bells to signify it’s time to get your share of the meal at the school canteen, nor be reminded that recess is only for grade school and high school students.

A little later, I was called for the interview.

After looking around, I told myself I was more interested in living here, not working. I’d still feel more like a worker if I join the labour masses waiting in queue for a ride to the “sweat shops” and hang out for a drink on Friday nights.

Don’t get me wrong, but entertainment-wise, there’s a plethora of drinking pubs in the vicinity. However, as I am not too passionate about going out on Friday nights, the facility does not mean too much.

Harry Quiambao was in the office when I came in. I did not look like an interviewee with my casual outfit, but he did not mind it. We talked more about psychologically challenging topics rather than skill measurement. It was because I would be talking to the project managers in a panel discussion.

There were three people asking a variety of technical questions from a keen interest in the web to the upcoming Millenium Bug problem. I told them I want to be part of history as an aspiring Cobol programmer trying to code as time shrinks to the last 8 months or so before Y2K was thought to jam air traffic, disrupt banking systems, and render remote controls useless.

It was rhetoric I used to jokingly impress them which I thought I never succeeded; I was told two months later that hiring has frozen because the company never got the deal with a big government project.

I returned to Davao with no regrets. I was back in my class discussing how the millennium bug turned out to be a big dud; life went on without a hitch, at least from the supposed impact of the Millenium Bug.

Looking back, 20 years later, it was a period of life that I thought was a realization of a dystopian novel. It did not happen, but during these years, what used to be sci-fi stories are now slowly creeping towards the reality that only needed the media, and much of viral impact on social media to hype them up.

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