Sunday, April 02, 2006


MANILA, the city where Franz Kafka wears a smile. Kindly allow me to share the day I had last Monday, March 26, 2006. Some names, numbers and currencies in this article have been altered to maintain confidentiality.

Location: Malate
It's been a couple of days since the artist-in-residence, Antoni returned to Barcelona and I needed to change the Euros he sold me into pesos so that I could pay overdue bills for The Living Room. So like any other tourist in the Malate area, I walked over to the corner of San Andres Street and A. Mabini where all the money changers are located. After comparing exchange rates, I finally settled upon this shop pictured above: JF Money Changer (in green lettering). Not only because they offered a great rate (Php65.00 to 1.00Euro as opposed to the others who only offered Php60.00), but also because the middle aged lady behind the counter had a really great smile. So after counting the money twice, I put the money in my pocket and headed out towards my bank in Makati.

But first. A little window shopping at the ukay-ukay across the street, Marcia's Thrift Clothing. They have great prices - Php200.00 was the most expensive tag I saw. But as expected, the selections here wasn't as plentiful as nor as varied as it's counterparts in Baguio or Evangelista. Nevertheless, I managed to find a brown leather jacket ala Shaft but where could I possibly wear it in this country? Manila is just way too hot. There was also this groovy silk shirt for Php100.00 but it had a stain that looked a little too much like blood for me to feel comfortable about...

But wait. Hold on. I digress. Soooo...

Location: Makati
I finally arrived at my bank and this was when things got really mental. After filling out a deposit slip and counting the money one last time before sticking it into the envelope, I realized Php1,000.00 was missing. "Wha? How could that be?" I thought. I counted the money again. This time - and to my horror - Php3,000.00 was missing. I counted once more. Php5,000.00 missing. It seemed like the money was evaporating right before my eyes. I began to panic. After counting one last time and finding Php7,000.00 gone, I gave up. I handed the envelope over to the bank teller and asked her to count it for me. What she told me afterwards drained me of all color. I was missing Php10,000.00. Good god. I was hypnotized.

Yup. You read right. I was hypnotized into forgetting how to count. How did I realize this? Despite the aid of a pen and paper in my hand, I could not - for the life of me - do basic addition. I wrote down the numbers 1000.00 plus 500.00 and would you believe, I couldn't figure it out? My brain had regressed. I had the mathematical capacity of a pre-schooler. After realizing what had happened, it took me a few minutes to pull my senses together. Snapping out of hypnosis really has a physical feeling, like a warm breeze or tepid liquid being washed over your whole body. Upon reflection, it was the way that the lady handled the bills (all Php500.00's with the last thousand being in Php100.00's), along with little subtle details like adding an extra Php500.00 bill into the pile for me to return, and having an accomplice to distract me by handing her something over my head while she counted, which resulted in my complete and utter arithmetical breakdown.

I had to text Tesa about what had happened to me. But F***! I left my phone at home in Pasig. Soooo...

Location: Pasig
I drove through traffic-choked C-5 back to Pasig where my cellphone was still attached to it's charger. And in a rare moment of clarity, I texted, "I got hypnotized and robbed at a money changer in San Andres and Mabini. Do you know where should I go to report it?" and sent it to my wife,Tesa, my friend Jason, who works in Mayor Atienza's Office in City Hall, and just out of the blue, to my former neighbor, Kim "Steve Irwin of da Philippines" Atienza, the former councilman son of dear leader himself. Note: Mind you, even if I have their numbers on my phone, I take great pride in the fact that I never use them to get myself out of a fix, even in situations like being stopped for traffic violations. The following answers I received were: from my wife, "Are you kidding me?", from Jason, "Call Col. Pedrozo of Manila Zoo Police Detachment", and since I totally forgot that Kim doesn't work in City Hall anymore but at ABS-CBN, his answer was, "Hold on. TV Patrol will call you." Um. Ok. Cool. Soooo....

Location: Malate
While waiting for TV Patrol to arrive, I decided to return to the scene of the crime. It was a move later berated by the cops but I couldn't help myself. "Don't rattle suspected criminals." Said Col. Sanchez of Manila City Hall SOG, "You need the element of surprise when you arrest them". I wanted my revenge instantly and I wanted it done personally though. But more than anything else, those money changer stalls all look the same and I needed to confirm the exact one and find the exact lady in order to make a proper report. So I returned to JF, and just as I suspected, the middle aged lady was gone and in her place was some aging sex bomb dancer wannabe texting on a cellphone. I asked her, "Is this the place where the exchange rate is Php65.00 to the Euro?" She looked up and replied rather cockily, "Maybe. Why are you asking?" "Guilty bitch!" I thought to myself. All the other money changers on the block said "NO" point-blank when I asked this question and yours is the only place where the answer was different. "Because I was shortchanged by the clerk in charge this morning.", I shot back. "I know nothing of that", she said curtly before returning to her cellphone duties. (Remember this conversation is all being done in Filipino and rather badly in my case). After about fifteen minutes of yours truly griping and whining (another act that Col. Sanchez would berate), Pokpok Princess Cellphone realizes that I am not going to go away until one of us snaps a blood vessel. Suddenly, her tune changes. "Actually, I heard that there was Php6,000.00 left here on the counter this morning." "And just WHO told you that? The invisible person in the room sitting between us? Or are you communicating to your boss through a magic telephone inside your head?" Oooh. You lying little trollop, not only did your operation swindle me, but you are now trying to negotiate your way out of this? Swindle me out Php4,000.00 instead of Php10,000.00? Are you haggling like this is a kilo of fish?" And in a final dramatic gesture and in my most ominous voice, I said, "I know you aren't the same girl who swindled me, but your guilt is more than apparent, and with God and all the saints in heaven as my witness, You are going to burn, gurl. Buuuuurrrnnnn..." But considering my poor command of the Filipino language, it probably came out as "I know not same girls, but eye in sky say you are a root crop, you are a root croooop!"

Whatever. Bleep. bleep. A text. Finally. ABS-CBN's here.

To Be Continued. Next chapter: The Raid and Resolution

Above: Col. Sanchez of Manila Police (in brown shirt) finalizing details regarding the raid. While a rather ornery Sheila Dionisio looks on (below).