A Blip on the Radar (Part 29C) Hotel Excelsior
Posted on June 19, 2011
A Blip on the Radar
Part 29(C) “Hotel Excelsior ”
Hotel Excelsior, Manilla, Philippines
For once I was a passenger. Flying back to the Tuna Fields, via scheduled airline to Fiji and Papua New Guinea. With a layover for one night at Manilla.
On the approach, gazing down from my comfortable seat in the luxury airliner, sipping a cold beer, I was struck by the squalor of the massive, teeming shanty towns. It looked like thousands of chicken coops, crudely constructed of plywood, wire and corrugated iron metal, had been hastily thrown together. What was also striking, was the way they seemed to have been built slap-bang on top of each other. There were stacks of chicken coops. Mountains of chicken coops. Rolling hills of chicken coops.
And amongst this sprawling mass, this war zone, this hostile landscape of surreal human drama, you could see the combatants, moving about, slowly. You could see children playing, and bicycles weaving their way precariously around the gaping potholes. Cars, too, strained their way, slowly and with difficulty, through this obstacle course, never moving any faster than a snail could jog.
I wondered about this strange infrastructure. I wondered about the health care, sewage treatment, electric supply and education. I puzzled about the Quality of Life. But then I did that a lot anyway, even without such graphic images thrust in my face.
The cab driver was incredibly friendly, too friendly, and bowed and scraped and nodded his head the long way around to my hotel. I pretended not to notice, and tipped him handsomely anyway. His beaming face, and his implied promises of Eternal Friendship, left me wondering how many children he had fathered in this suffocating city. And what kind of father he was. What kind of coop he lived in.
The bellboy at the hotel, young, maybe sixteen, was dressed incredibly dapper in a real bellboy uniform. Like something you would have seen in an old Hollywood movie. With gleaming gold buttons, and white gloves. That he was incredibly proud of his station in Life was obvious, and he was full of boundless energy and limitless enthusiasm. His rapid progress up the stairs, effortlessly lugging my copious luggage, and his spirited chatter, amused me in a puzzled way. He seemed very anxious to know what he could possibly do for my entertainment that night. I was polite, but evasive, my mind elsewhere. I was thinking sadly of my own children, growing up without their Dad, victims of the ever common disease of Divorce.
Not ten minutes later, my door bell rang. I answered the door, puzzled. The bellboy was back, with a tiny girl. She looked twelve years old, but was probably older. Maybe fourteen, or fifteen.
“My sister!”, the bellboy announced, seemingly proudly and sincerely.
“You like her?”
I looked at the shy little girl, her eyes cast downwards. Carefully, she peeped up, and immediately lowered her gaze again. I noticed the attempt at make up, and the bright lip stick, too carefully applied on such a young girl. The thin dress, and the long, elegant, slender neck.
I felt sorry for her. A wave of sorrow.
“You like her?”, the bellboy repeated, briskly and businesslike. He seemed ready to negotiate terms. That this was a routine for him, and that he was adept at his profession, I never doubted.
I looked at her. And then to him. And I know I felt that strange helplessness. When you want to take a child in your arms, not to indulge in your sexual appetite, but to hug and comfort her, like a parent. Like I would have, with my own daughter.
I went to bed, very alone, and very lonely. I spent a long time, staring up at the ceiling fan. Turning, turning. I thought of the children of Manilla. The children of the world. My own children. And this crazy, crazy life, in which kindness, compassion and gentleness exist, side-by-side, with incredible exploitation, greed, cruelty, and bestiality.
* * * * * *
The Solomon Hotel, Honiara, Solomon Islands
We watched the procession through bleary, alcohol blurred eyes. Unbelievable. Was that guy ever going to stop? When is enough, simply, enough?
One of our Tuna Head colleagues had an arrangement going with the hotel porters. Every half an hour or so, sometimes every forty five minutes, they would present to him two to four local lasses. They would line up beside his table, or outside his hotel room, and silently stand under his scrutiny.
He would nod approvingly, or shake his head, and the chosen maidens would be escorted by a porter to his room. Our hero would down his current drink, and disappear upstairs to exercise Junior. After the required interlude, he would re-appear at the table, and order more drinks. He always appeared bushy tailed, cheerful, and obviously well satisfied. Everybody seemed well pleased with the arrangements. The porters, well tipped, so he told us, were all smiles. The bar staff, all smiles. The hotel manager, bowing and scraping, all smiles…
My room was right beside his. I couldn’t help but observe the ritual procedure myself, as handled on his door step. The porters would arrive at his door with three more candidates. They would knock on the door. He would open it, dressed in a flaming red bath towel. Two or three girls would file out past him, all smiles and clutching dollar bills. He would barely nod at them, more interested in the new comers. The selection made, he would disappear inside with the new comers.
In between the action, he would take a break, and re-join us for drinks.
I thought of the old sea captain, and his poem…
And I knew, I couldn’t do it.
Not for lack of lust, or libido, or hormones.
But for lack of coldness.
I guess I care too much…
* * * * * * *
Hotel Excelsior, Manilla, Philippines
Breakfast, the following morning…
And across from me sits a well dressed Westerner, French from his accent, in an expensive suit. He is some kind of engineer, it seems. He is meeting with a similarly dressed gentleman, and the two are engaged in a serious business conversation. Notes, computer print outs, and bright folders litter the table. When they order more coffee, or extra toast, their voices are loud and peremptory. The waiters rush to comply, fawning obsequiously. I imagine the Frenchman is a pillar in his community back home, and that his fine wife and his many children are very much in awe of him.
Beside him sits the bellboy’s little sister. She is quiet, and says little. Her face looks crumpled, and the lip stick looks smudged. Her face is pale. She has not slept much. I notice her dress seems torn.
From time to time, the Engineer looks down at her, in an irritated way, and asks if she wants more Coca- Cola. Shyly, she nods a yes, and sips carefully at the straw.
I feel sick, and I want to scream. I want to rush at the French Engineer, kick him in the nuts, and claw his bloody eyes out.
And I think of the wise old sea captain, and his poem…
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on July 27, 2012, 7:11 pm