WITH only a few months before I (hopefully) acquire dual citizenship (Filipino and senior), it’s no longer disconcerting to be addressed “tang” (old man), which is becoming more frequent. 

“Papanan yo, tang (Where are you going, old man)?” cabbies would ask. “Nya gatangen yo, tang (What will you buy, old man)?” women vendors would egg me on at the city market. 

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It’s especially amusing to be labeled as such by people who, however you underestimate their ages against all the tell-tale, visible signs of their own aging, are actually older than you. They still find it totally unacceptable to call you “manong” (elder brother). 

“Tang”, with its acerbic, pungent or bland taste, distances them from your age, making them feel much younger. 

Three years back (as I wrote earlier after the encounter), I asked a woman peddler the price of a bunch of her bitter gourd (ampalaya) leaves on a “bilao”.

“Sangapulo, tang (Ten pesos, old man),” she replied with genuine-sounding nonchalance, like the image of our great age divide she drew was gospel truth, like Moses’ parting of the sea.

 

My chin almost dropped and the green bunch in my hand almost fell back into her pile. 

With her flowing, more-salt-than-pepper hair and facial contours as extensive as the ancient rice terraces in Ifugao, I swear she was old enough to be my mother.

 

On occasions, the messages about living a life from “Desiderata”, Max Ehrmann’s poem in prose, would come to mind. In my youth (and even now), the favorite line was, “neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is perennial as the grass.”

That time at the market, I found refuge in “gracefully surrendering the things of youth” and “as far as possible, be on good terms with all persons…”

“Maysa man ngarud, nakkong (I’ll have one then, my child),” I gently replied, like I were her grandfather. 

That retort made her day. Well, almost. She brightened up with an almost toothless, sheepish grin over what we both knew. I handed my coin, took my bunch and walked away contented, fulfilled like a boy scout who had just done his good deed for the day. Her smile burned its mark on my brain like a hot branding iron.  

Other vendors and taxi drivers are more circumspect, cautious about exposing their own vanity at the expense of equally vain and age-conscious or unconscious aging passengers and buyers.

 

Instead of “tang”, which used to hurt me like a Manny Pacquiao punch, they address you “uncle”. It’s a euphemism but means the same thing – old man. It implies they’re young enough to be your children. 

For its shrewd subtlety aimed at making a sale without sounding offensive, “uncle” simply turns me off and away to the next vendor. It’s more rude than “tang” as it oozes with guile, even if a gun-runner prefers to be called an arms dealer, which is cloaked with a sense of legitimacy. 

That year I made that old woman vendor happy, I sat beside the jeepney driver on my way back to work from a basic journalism briefing for campus writers at Manong Jack’s Restaurant at Km. 4 in La Trinidad. As I don’t frequent the route, I asked him the fare rate.

He studied my face and answered: “No regular, siben pipty; no senior, six pisos.”

As I was then three years short of senior citizenship status, I handed him P7.50. From the corner of my left I, I saw him counting my fare with his eyes.

I knew he wanted to study my face again, but decided against it, sure I would notice. 

On the jeep ride for home, I asked a fellow passenger to pass on my P20 bill to the driver. While handing it over, he announced for everyone to hear what I never told him: “Maysa kano nga senior citizen!” (I find difficulty translating this – “One, reportedly a senior citizen”?)

Same year, I took the long morning queue outside the Equitable-PCI Bank (now BDO) along Session Rd. To make the long wait bearable, I opened a book, also to distract my mind from the lingering question why our banks refuse to add tellers the way MacDonald’s or Jollibee does during rush hours.

 

Fast-food servers sometimes make me cranky like any other old man. They take orders like robots programmed to blurt out with tremendous, breathless speed: “Dine in or check-out, sir?” “Can I eat at your table?,” I keep reminding myself to retort next time, to jar them back to sober, (breathful?) human conversation, but I keep on forgetting.

Back to that long line at the bank. I was already two customers away from the teller when a kind guard in uniform asked me to take my seat on a row of chairs intended for senior citizens. The guard apparently forgot me soon enough, as the one behind me on the line was already at the teller. I told him so and motioned me next. 

Without looking at me, the lady teller asked the guard to guide me back to the senior citizens’ cue, which was also long. “Sa senior citizens s’ya,” she directed him.

She almost got my goat. I explained to her I had three more years to go for official elderly status. I pushed my ID card for her to see my date of birth. She ignored the proof but began processing my withdrawal sheet. 

I calmed down and the transaction was finished in a jiffy. I stepped out with the amount sent from Kentucky by a lady years younger than me. “Use it for indigent patients, manong,” she had advised.

We graduated from the same school where it’s a time-honored practice to address those in the higher classes, including alumni, “manong” and “manang”.

So I find it awkward when students of the University of Baguio Science High - young enough to be my grandchildren - learn I came from their school. “You’re pala our manong, sir”. I grin, almost toothlessly, and bear it. It’s part of great tradition laid down by our teacher Emmett Brown Asuncion. 

(e-mail:mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments).