We arrived in Angeles City just after lunch time after an hour and a half of fairly comfortable bus ride from Manila. From the bus station in Dau in Mabalacat, Pampanga, we took a tricycle to Angeles and got off on Malabanias Street, a narrow street traversing a quiet residential area, parallel Fields Avenue, the center of party life in the city.
The Australian researcher I am assisting, Paul, looked a bit surprised when I told him that the 10-minte ride from the bus terminal to Perimeter Avenue cost us 100 pesos. For a small city like Angeles, a hundred-peso tricycle ride was too much considering that a driver normally earns 300 in day less fuel and ‘boundary’, an amount the driver pays to the owner of the tricycle as a sort of a rent since most drivers do not own the tricycle they drive. I thought this amount was a hustler’s price, meaning we could have gotten a better deal after we get accustomed to the place, but it turned out that tourists were generally charged higher, and some of the locals we asked around told us that this was the regular fare going from one end of Fields Avenue to its other end. A conspiracy, I thought.
We found a cheap but nice inn on the junction of Perimeter Avenue and Malabanias Street called Charlie’s, but this was after haggling with three other hotels in the area, comparing their charges while we’re both carrying our luggage, both hungry, tired, and sweaty. Paul gave me 15 minutes to take a bath, freshen up, and change. When I was done, he invited me to have lunch in the diner downstairs; I was too hungry to discuss with him anything, and so we ate in silence.
In anthropological research, silence is as important as the actual process of interviewing. It is through silence that a researcher gets to reflect and digest what he has seen, observed, and understood after a tiring day of immersing himself in the lives of his subject. In a way, I was also trying to understand Paul and how he as a western anthropologist treats his subject. I knew I would have an ample time in the next few days to know him and make some generalizations about him.
Angeles City is like the sun-drenched Los Angeles only that this city roughly 85 kilometers away from Manila looks likes a retirement village for aging American GIs who cannot think of better way to spend their retirement pay but to dingy and seedy bars that line Fields Avenue. There were no stars disguised in their saucers-like sunglasses sipping coffee at Starbucks, and paparazzi were nowhere to be found either, just girls in their teens or late-20s coming out or going to work in their jeans or skirts, wearing high-heeled pumps and their faces blushing like cherries under the hot Kapampangan sun.
Around five that afternoon, we met the first girl, Chelsea and in the evening, Rose. They’re both freelance ACM (Asian Cam Model) girls or Cyber for the locals. They’ll be the subjects of our study for the next three days.