By David Casuco

Balita Media News Service

The hotel wakeup call came almost simultaneous with the yapping of my cell phone. It was my second day in mysteriously hot Manila, and I was expecting a lot of calls that day from people – family, friends, relatives. I grabbed the hotel phone first to acknowledge the service. “Sir, this is your wakeup call. It is now seven-thirty in the morning,” the hotel’s front desk clerk told me in perfect English. I sheepishly thanked him and hang up the phone.

My cell phone beeped again. I reached for it and, “Merciful Lord – a litany of text messages! How on earth am I going to deal with this?” I whispered a scream to myself.

The first one read, Gud am. How ru? We r down here w8in 4u. “This must be Ducky,” I thought. I agreed to hook up with him at the hotel lounge for breakfast today. “Wait a minute, holy text! What was he saying?”

I then went on to the next message, this time from my wired-up sixteen-year old niece: Muzta poh ku, d2me mlpt, pnta medyn. Ok c u l8r. I sat down and tried to figure out the equivalent translation in human words. After repeatedly playing the text message by ear, I finally understood what the message was trying to convey. The rest of the messages were just as cryptic and baffling as the first two. I would have spent the whole morning trying to figure out each message, a luxury I simply did not have. What I did was call back and chastised each of them for destroying modern civilization. Then I realized I am in Manila, a city Filipinos love to call the “text capital of the world.”

At the breakfast table, I was complaining to my friend, Ducky, about this texting phenomenon that is happening in the Philippines.

“Let’s just say we mastered it out of necessity,” he said. “Text messaging (a cell phone feature that is largely ignored everywhere else) costs a lot cheaper than regular phone calls.”

“Makes sense,” I said. “But for people like me this is just too much, we have no way in coping with it. This is like communicating in an unknown weird language.”

“Don’t worry, you will get the hang of it sooner than you expect,” he assured me.

And he was right. After two-and-a-half weeks in Manila and an average of about 18 text messages daily later, I somehow mastered the “art of text messaging.” When my friend sent me a text message saying that he will take me to the airport but is expecting traffic delay, I quickly sent my text message back, “Gotcha!” for “I got you.” And when he “texted” back asking if I was not running late, I answered: Tk ur tym buddy. The plane’s ntguna lyv w8ut me.

When my friend finally showed up at the hotel parking lot to pick me up, he was wearing an impish grin, amused at my quick conversion to the text culture of the Philippines. He gave me a pat on the back saying, “Well done, brother. In three weeks you have metamorphosed into a new member of Generation TXT.

Some sixteen hours later, I was back in Los Angeles. My friends and relatives had this one obvious question, “How is Manila?”

“Irresistibly beautiful,” I told them.

They have misgivings. Sure, they do not think that my seventeen-day escape to Manila gave me enough time to experience the hellish things that the self-respecting balikbayans usually complain about.

“You must have landed somewhere in Atlantis, not in Manila,” my friend wryly surmised. He then asked me if I stayed long enough under the torrid summer sun, sniffed the thick polluted air, seen the crazy street traffic, and the ubiquitous city squalor.

Fine, I agree, Manila is not exactly a paradise. However, to me, it is home, the only place where my body and soul go in perfect sync. That is why, I find it downright hypocritical when balikbayans go home to the Philippines and look at everything with their whine-colored glasses. The homeland does not offer the convenience of a secure albeit high-strung California lifestlye. What the Philippines offers is the beauty of a simple life, the warmth of family love, and the endearing traditional Filipino values that bring into focus the real purpose of life and living. (