while working for my design company in dubai, i recall one of the highlights of my tenure there was when my arab bosses graciously hired an image consultancy firm to give us all a make-over. it basically composed of sessions on how to dress and how to groom ourselves so that we would look presentable to our clients, and thereby, more credible when "selling" ourselves and our designs to them. the culminating activity was to go on a "hypothetical" shopping spree with the consultants and put together a new ensemble, taking into consideration all the tips and tricks we learned from the sessions. i say hypothetical, since we never really got to buy any of the items we picked (our bosses were not THAT gracious) but simply tried on the clothes in the fitting rooms, much to the dismay of the sales clerks who probably thought they hit the jackpot with us since we were lugging around so many as if the store was on sale!
in the end, we were assessed on how much we had improved and were given recommendations as to how we could further embetter ourselves in order to "survive" in the very tough and judgemental world of design! needless to say, though some fared better than others, yours truly did only what was expected of him from the start... i was FABULOUS! hahahahaha... like i really needed to know what to wear. pish posh! i could have worn bjork's swan dress better than BJORK! (joke, not even a swan would be caught dead in that) anyway.
what probably struck me the most during that entire session was how these people stressed how important it was to present yourself properly. though this was something i already inherently understood, i still appreciated it that the issue was brought out to the surface for truly in this cut-throat (and very cynical) world of ours, we are all subject to a judgemental and discriminating eye. take into full knowledge that despite how good we are as a person, our first impressions is, most often than not, all people need as a basis to whether or not to trust you. sight is our most used sense and though certainly we are more than what we behold and would definitely like others to know us more than just a "book with a nice cover", how do we even get there when we have already failed in convincing them that we are books worth reading at first glance?
* * * * *
i remember a conversation i had with a friend, actually, two very similar conversations with two different friends, about how frustrated they get whenever they go to the mall. they complain that they never really get the service they deserve, more so, they even feel like they get discriminated against for looking "poor", and thereby, get followed around by sales people who look like they were preparing for a grab-&-tackle the moment my friends would even suggest pilferage, not that my friends would actually do any such deed (o yan po!!! bibili na PO!!!).
though part of me could understand their agitation for who really wants to get identified that way, i wondered what was it that made these clerks think of them as possible thieves in the first place? was it really because they looked "poor" for i doubt anybody really would go out and try to look impoverished? or was it because they went out and presented themselves poorly, i.e., unkempt or, for lack of a better word, "sabog"? i recall one time while driving into an exclusive village to see my client, dressed in my usual collared shirt and jeans and driving old faithful, my trusty FX, i was asked to surrender my ID at the gate and was made to wait until my client gave word to let me in. i didn't really think anything out of the ordinary was happening for this was standard for most villages. it was when my partner and i met up inside that made me realize that i have just been "judged". she wondered why she was not asked for her ID. she being her kikay self, was dressed to a tee, bejeweled, and aboard her swanky new CRV. though i would not consider my experience to be as grave as my friends', it still drove in the point on how image plays a lot on how people perceive us to be, more so, our intentions.
another pertinent instance was during my super late site visits, the one's wherein i would go to trinoma mall at 11pm or even past midnight to check on work being done. now you would expect that security would question what i was doing there at such an unholy hour but of the many times i have gone, i was only asked once. the reason? my client said "face value". was it the way i dressed? walked? carried myself like i owned the world? winked at the guard? i don't really know. all i really cared about was that i get to my site with the least hassle as possible. maybe they thought i was korean and was craving for starbucks... but at 2am!?? didn't he find it strange?
which now leads me to another question about how we judge. what if it's not all about how we package ourselves? what if it's just who we are?
* * * * *
dabo wrote a post about stereotyping and discrimination in the workplace not so long ago. though the comment i left was written in a rather humerus tone, it did still however stir something in me. there is no doubt that we are often judged based on how we look and present ourselves as i have already pointed out, but we too are also judged based on our identity as a person. we are discerned based on our color, height, weight, beliefs and orientation... almost like picking fruit from a fruit stand. and when it comes to discerning (be it fruit or whatever), with my background, i can vouch how important these seemingly insignificant characteristics can play in the aspects of one's social and personal life.
being chinese, i will be the first to affirm that many of us are ethnocentric and have long believed in our superiority above other races, and though you do not see this being practiced as strictly as how it was before, it is still very much there and still very palpable. we are proud, too proud sometimes and too quick often to dismiss the myriad of other races in our midst, just because of reasons such as "cultural inferiority". but to those who judge, you will be judged the same is all i say, for this prejudice many of us exercise have also become something we often become the victims of. just recall the kidnapping spree way back when and you would get my idea.
"ho? chinese po kayo? e ba't kayo nandi'to?" (you're chinese? why are you here then?)
this was the remark of one pinoy clerk i was talking to while i was in dubai. amazed as to how an oriental looking guy can speak tagalog so fluently, i told her i was tsinoy, that is, i was filipino-chinese. her reaction almost made me ask her if it was wrong that i too was an OFW? that maybe i too wanted to try my luck elsewhere and consider helping out my family back home? but i never bothered to continue the topic. she had other things to attend to and i decided this was not the proper avenue for me to voice my opinions.
i am chinese. i have paler skin, chinkier eyes, speak a different language and probably, share my family name with another billion. it however does not mean that i eat noodles everyday, that i know kung-fu, that you need subtitles to understand what i say, that i am spectacular at arithmetic, good in business, or that i am rich. since i was raised with migrant, christian, middle class family values, i was raised to value money and learn how to save. i was taught how hard work pays. i grew up in a strict patriarchal family system where the words of elders are likened to the law. i was taught of how it is to be discreet and endure long suffering so as to keep ones honor and to learn how to respect others, even above oneself. i learned of a different kind of pride, one that is not boastful but keeps its integrity in secret and in silence.
it is unfortunate however that a lot of people do not see past my oriental exterior and the reputation my exterior represents. no matter really as i have long accepted, like how people are, that there are some things you can not change, like people's opinions, unless they themselves chose to change it. all i can do is change myself. stick to defying the norm, the stereotypes. not limit myself to labels and people's expectations but instead, follow my own convictions. i look the way i look, dress the way i dress, walk the way i walk, i talk the way i talk, i laugh the way i laugh, i feel the way i feel, i pray the way i pray, i believe the way i believe, because this is who i am and nothing more. it really should be enough.