|35 The Edge of
The proliferation of private Saudi school licenses over the past year, in a
pleasant relief to the herculean one-city/one-school policy of the turbulent period, has
brought forth the establishment of other Saudi-sponsored private schools that seek to
attract the Filipino students.
As of this writing in early February 1999,
the New International Philippine School in Jeddah is calmer, albeit with a longer label.
The annual tuition fee remains under control from the hefty SR 6K of the monopoly years to
somewhere in the lower, still hefty SR 4K. The oldnew, bittersweet school, for now,
remains ensconced in the wide Ghornatah campus with the circular road within. The chicken
barricades are happily gone. Parents still complain about teaching quality and high
tuition fees. The school board, still represented from the ranks of parents, had since
decreed some monetary allowances for its members.
I still drive my metallic light-blue
Cressida XL that I bought with a company loan in 1992, fully paid for by now. Everyday, I
race it against the Mercedes Benzes and BMWs and Volvos on the roads of Jeddah.
I remember reading, not too long ago,
about Nur Misuari, 1970s MNLF revolutionary chairman turned 1990s governor of Muslim
Mindanao, having dreamt loudly for the day when each and every Joloano will be driving his
own Mercedes Benz. To date, I heard that he has succeeded in acquiring his own Mercedes
Benz. I still do not have mine, and neither do any of the Joloanos that I know of, so
Misuari must not have dreamt hard enough for the dawning of such day.
In any case, I am happily content with my
Cressida XL. At any given stop light, I could often count at least three other Cressida
cars around. Sometimes, all the cars are Cressida. And although most of them are being
operated as taxis, and the model itself had been discontinued by Toyota a long time ago, I
am still strongly proud of it. I ardently hope that, like my 15" Toshiba TV and my
deep-mahogany guitar, this car will survive all the mothers and fathers of all wars of the
Behind its steering wheel, I always felt
that I can drive it all day long without worrying, for one single moment, about parking
spaces or the price of gasoline.
You see, in the Philippines, while healthy
water costs as high as petrol, and parking spaces are as rare as lotto winnings; in Saudi
Arabia, petrol is cheaper than water, and parking areas are a desert dune a dime and at
least four lanes of an eight-lane road (of course, I am exaggerating, but conditions here
are pretty darn close to being good as these for Jeddah motorists).
There were a few times, on my way back
from the office in the early calm evening, I had harrowing experience being suddenly
caught up in vicious sand storms that would reduce road visibility down to only a few
meters. Even when billboard panes were being torn off from the roadside under the ghastly
light of street lamps and were sent flying to the air, I felt very much secure inside my
Aside from immensely enjoying with my
family the sights of Ramadan lights hanging on the facade of street buildings and shopping
malls while joy-riding around the city, I believe that a lot of nice really nice
thoughts cross my mind when I drive in my car over the lengthy flyovers and wide
highways of Jeddah.
Of course, I have always been careful not
to let the nice thoughts about my quality time with my son riding the bump cars of the
Jamjoom play center creep in during these times.
But kidding aside, I get very clear, lucid
ideas and thoughts about a lot of things while driving to the office early in the morning.
Then I feel the strong urge to write them down, but could not. By the time I enter the
office building entrance, the thoughts would have floated out into the air, mixing with
the chemical discharges of the Jeddah Industrial Estate. At the end of the office day, on
my way to the car park, I would search the evening air but would not find those ideas
Several times, I tried bringing in a
portable cassette recorder into the car to record my thoughts. When I reached the office
and replayed the recording, my voice invariably would not be there or would sound very
I always had problems with my voice. If
you heard of that Transylvanian vampire whose reflection would not appear on the bedroom
mirror, I have a voice that does not register on recording tapes. Unless I use a public
address system. Of course, on the streets of Jeddah, one is not allowed to hook up a PA
system to his vehicle, unlike in Philippine barrios during the electioneering period.
There were times when I ardently wished
that some garage scientist or Wall Street financier would be able to bring into consumer
use - meaning cheap and a-plenty like Tamagochis or wrist watches - a device that will
allow me to write down my thoughts by simply thinking about what I am going to write.
Bill Gates would vaguely refer to this as
doing things at the speed of thought. I suspect there would still be a slight problem with
that if I were to use that in my car, but it should be a lot better than hanging a
cellular phone in front of my mouth and dictating things to my wife in her kitchen.
This mind gizmo is a techno-wish that goes
high up in my list, competing with the ideas about a car urinal for the pressed driver, a
crab-meat extractor or a sea-urchin peeler, and a soft-touch, round-edged CD case (nothing
sharp to scratch my compact discs).