466 days - including the weekends, holidays and times when I was absent (which was more often than allowed) – that I worked for one of the biggest banks in their regional office in Binondo. Yes, a pure blooded Filipino with not much of a background in Chinese culture other than having eaten hopia and siopao, was sent to deal with probably the most taxing clients in the heart of Chinese civilization in the Philippines
“So do you do the Marketing of the bank?” asked by one of my org-mates when I told him what my job was a few months ago. Well, not exactly. I don’t shoot the advertisements or create promotional strategies for the bank as I did back in college. I was included in the first batch of management trainees and a big part of our responsibilities revolved around promoting the services of the bank to our clients, mostly medium sized enterprises.
“You’re a sell out!” remarked by one of my college friends upon learning that I accepted a job in an industry that epitomizes corporate structures; banks fuel corporate machinery with the money they lend and I’m one of the officers who facilitate this trade. I want to slap my college friend back with the same statement since he’s also working as a management trainee for a giant real estate company. But I guess the gravity of being a “sell out” was more apt in my case after promoting “staying-true-to-your-passion” in our online magazine, manilakid.com.
Though it can get a bit boring and pointless most of the time, the experience of working in Binondo is really one of a kind - mainly because of its many peculiarities. For one, there are many commute routes going from my place near Shaw Blvd. to Binondo church. You can ride a jeepney, train, bus, tri-cycle (better with a friend less the risk of being held up) and even a kalesa with a parasol on your right hand while an abaniko on your left, fanning beyond the reach of men pulling their carts of goods (which I did only once).
There’s also an explosion of food choices – from your every day fast food joints like Jollibee and McDonald's to the more traditional Chinese restaurants such as Wa-Ying, Yin-Ying and Sincerity. It’s funny that I haven’t seen any Chow King around our area. What people refer to as food tripping in Binondo, we call lunch and done on a daily basis. Crispy frog legs, oyster cake, bull’s testicle soup and a pork chop bigger than your actual plate are just a stone’s throw away.
At first I thought that aside from the security guards, messengers and maintenance staff, I was the only Filipino in our office. It’s also not surprising to hear Fukien spoken from the telephone the moment you pick it up, no intiendes sir. Or it’s also not uncommon to see millionaires visit our office while wearing their pambahays, with a matching hole on the right sleeve of their shirt.
Of course one cannot describe any office experience if one excludes the bosses. Our unit head, the big boss, is a petite woman with an appetite and grace of a flamingo – cause my arms are as skinny as her legs. The moment we hear the tick-tack of her steel-heeled stilettos reverberating across the marble corridors, chills climb up my spine forcing me to maintain the perfect posture. I hide any food that’s on my table and (sometimes pretend to) become so immersed with the financial statements in front of me. When the glass door swings, I can’t even look directly in her eyes and say good morning because of the terror she brings - terror and beauty combined in that tres petite body But I never forget to take note of what she’s wearing. She enters the office in a snakeskin blazer and Hermes belt over an exceedingly short black dress while combing her golden hair with her left hand and a Chanel clutch on her right. Seconds after she passes, a huge uniformed driver (or more like a body guard) follows bringing with him the proposals which she reviewed the night after. She’s our own version of the cold Anna Wintour.
On the other hand, the boss who I’m directly under is approachable and warm. He’s more of a mentor than a boss - very hands on in teaching me what I needed to learn and guiding me to pass my revalida, an exam taken after our training. He would teach me everything he knew regarding the bank and values which might come in handy. The most memorable experience I had with him was during a client call. The driver who was supposed to pick me was more than an hour late that I was forced to commute. Instead of being angry to the driver (cause that’s what I’d do) he was very calm and composed in handling the situation, an exemplary display of kindness and pro-activeness that I will never forget.
I will miss seeing the Post Office along the crystal river as I pass over Jones Bridges every morning; eating cassava cake, egg fritters and cornik just outside our office; visiting God in Binondo church occasionally; watering the plants; walking to Intramuros to have lunch; waiting for a bus in the Manila City Hall while observing the perfect sunset. For that one year and exactly a hundred days, thank you BDO!