Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Friend zone

MY classmate Eseng and I were waiting for our rides at the corner of
the University Avenue when we overheard a group of high school friends
argue over which jeepney to take to a nearby mall.

As a freshman at the Diliman campus of the University of the
Philippines (UP), I sympathized.

To survive registration alone in this sprawling campus, mastery of
the secrets of transport ranks high in the skills list. Once I
confused the Ikot and the Toki jeepneys, and paid with my first case
of campus vertigo.

These high school kids, we learned, are seniors at a local public
high school. They’re a few of the thousands that will be taking the UP
College Admission Test (Upcat). By next school year, the passers can
enroll in any campus of the premier state university.

Eseng was quick to deduce this. He saw the colored maps of the
university that the students were attempting to read. He guessed their
dilemma even before they blurted out their distress.

And just as he taught me, he pointed out to these kids how to read
destinations by the jeepney’s roof color: yellow for the Ikots and
Tokis, green for Philcoa, Pantranco, MRT and the nearby mall, and red for Katipunan.

From transport adviser, Eseng shifted to coaching the students on how
to prepare for the Upcat. A major in film studies, Eseng’s day job is
teaching in a Makati public high school. He dreams of defending his
thesis, and applying to teach in college. Flexible hours make college
better than high school, Eseng believes.

He may soon be academically qualified for college but I think my
classmate is in his rightful place, mentoring high school students.

College professors may enjoy some perks, but a special grace is
reserved for those who weather the turbulent years of early
adolescence. Who doesn’t have a favorite teacher in high school? Or
friends that date way back?

Many look back at high school as the Golden Age, when students loved
teachers as unconditionally as their mentors loved back.

Reviewing our reactions to the confused teens gave me a clue why. An
undergraduate instructor, I listened and observed how the high school
students resolved their problem. Eseng offered to help, easily
crossing over from onlooker to guide and big brother.

Eseng coached the “barkada” as a team. I was curious if one or two
would break away, and decide that chancing a ride on his or her own
might be better than waiting for an empty jeepney to materialize at
the height of rush hour. Impatient, I pointed out this option. Why
wasn’t I surprised when the whole group chose to move to a different
spot rather than break up?

Schools are for socialization. Yet, our system also dissociates. The
more advanced the pursuit of learning, the greater reserves of
independence required—for thinking, for decision-making, for

What does youth need more: solitude or friendship?

Last summer, my own teenagers introduced me to “friend zone”. It’s
not a social network. It’s the “special relations” reserved for those
who quite didn’t make it yet as romantic partners but are also
regarded as several degrees warmer than platonic pals.

To be in the “friend zone” is torture for Juan, who thinks it’s a
second-place finish. My Carlos thinks friends have it even better. You
can be a friend forever. An ex-steady can never enter the “friend
zone”—never ever, my teens assured me.

Will youths outgrow this desire to merge and move with all the
complexity and unpredictability of a single-minded amoeba-like entity?

As the green-roofed jeepney bore the group away, still chattering, I
hope that young people don’t rush to fill the vacuum left by high
school with the first surrogate they meet in college: lovers,
fraternities, causes or ideologies.

Eseng taught me how to read jeepney roofs. College chum Ibiang
completed an MRT loop with me. My former student and now classmate,
Omar, explained the counterclockwise Ikot and the clockwise Toki.

My mistakes, though, made me lose the path and find it back again.

(mayette.tabada@gmail.com/ mayettetabada.blogspot.com/ 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 17, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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