Save 20% off! Join our newsletter and get 20% off right away!
beer garden

Renato Perdon: My Crazy Younger Days

(By Renato Perdon, reprinted from his book “The Life and Times of Perdon Family”)

The dictum that ‘We count the days of our years only when the end is near’  currently preoccupied my waking times.

Anyone who looks back at his/her past would realise that during those younger days they have done, now in their prime age, something that they could clearly identify and recall.

In my case, being in control of my life progress from the time I left the province when I was a young man to follow my dreams in the city, I was always focused and in control on what I should do and not do.

Looking back, I realise that I had a crazy younger life too, although I must admit it was ‘tame’ compared with my other contemporaries and friends.

Change in my lifestyle started when I was promoted to a permanent job at the National Historical Commision of the Philippines (NHCP), with a higher take home pay. Since I was living alone in a 2-bedroom apartment in Cubao, it was a very desirable lifestyle change.

I started going out with few friends who, like me, were just starting in their career. Many of them worked at the office part of a big department store in Manila. We would start going out on Friday evening where we spent the night on a drinking beer marathon. But having strong self control, I limit myself to a few bottles of beers and bade them goodbye early when midnight strikes.

When Malacañang sent over Danny Florida, a journalist, to work with the NHCP as information officer, we became friends. One afternoon, he invited me to go with him that evening to a drinking session with known writers. One of them was the great Nick Joaquin, a famous Filipino writer in English, who also work as a journalist writing for national magazines.

BEING an admirer of Nick Joaquin since my high school days, I accepted the invitation and went with Dany Florida to one of the beer houses along M.H. del Pilar in Ermita.

I was introduced to the great Nick Joaquin who had already a couple of empty bottles of beer in front of him. I sat beside him and ordered my own drink. As the night went by and everyone becoming tipsy, Nick Joaquin continued asking me questions, mostly personal, as if I was being interviewed for a writing job.

It was during that encounter I realised that some of the rumours about Nick Joaquin was true. One of them was his being a legendary beer drinker, proof the number of empty bottles lined in front of him in a short period of time while some bottles had already been cleared previously. I became tipsy too and forgot how many beers I had consumed. I lost control of myself and got drunk. Soon I had to say goodbye to all and took a taxi to go home to my place in Cubao.

The following week, another invitation came from Nick Joaquin himself, through Danny Florida, who would like to invite me and have a drink or two again. But thinking that that nothing would happen in such drinking session that all we talk about are of no importance, I did not come.

IN MID 1970s, I was sent to Australia for a nine-month observation and study tour of museums, art galleries and archives to look into how they implement their cultural conservation program and at the same time learn some techniques which we could apply in the Philippines, specifically for historic sites and heroes memorabilia under the NHCP.

It was the period of Travolta’s ‘Saturday Night Fever’, ‘ABBA’ tunes, George Michael beats, and Olivia Newton-Johns ‘Physical.’ Disco places in Sydney were all over the place, free entrance, and many of them became popular to night younger persons who loved to dance.

I had a few friends, Filipinos of young mind set, and a couple of foreign students. We share the enjoyment brought to us by going to the free disco places during Friday evenings or weekends.

I learned to change my drinking habits favouring red and white sparkling wines which I get accustomed too. But later I was hooked on gin and tonic which I liked better, but I limited myself to two or three glasses.

Again I was still in control of my life, before I bade my friends goodbye to returned to the boarding house run by Catholic priest were I stayed. There were few stories how I sneaked out of the student dormitory and sneaked in at midnight but that was typical of those crazy days of younger people.

There was no problem for money for as student, I was able to work at the Sydney Fish Market during Saturdays and Sundays. We were paid cash or what they call then as ‘under that table’ payment [no tax] for work done cleaning fish for the customers, replace fish supply at the display area and finally cleaning the fish market floor to remove any trace of slimy things and smell.

FILIPINOS would always look for me for free fish heads which we keep for a catfood factory that collect them at the end of the day. For a student, $50 pay for an almost half a day work was a big bonanza for me, enough to buy a few glasses of gin and tonic in the evening when the disco time came, that is after I scrubbed myself thoroughly for the smell of fish lingers on if not properly scrubbed.

For a couple of times, I visit the Lady Jane beach, a nudist beach for people who ‘love nature’ or those who swim in their birthday suits. Reaching the beach was not easy, you need to walk a bush area, passing another forested place before reaching the beach. Looking back now, I could very well say that I did not enjoy mixing with naked men and women and swim with them on the usually cold Sydney water.

When the late Carol Afan, a close friend of mine from the National Library in the Philippines visited Sydney on a cultural grant, I dared her to go with me to the nudist beach and she accepted the challenge. But when we arrived at the site, I noticed she could not look down the ravine where naked bodies were sunbathing. We did not join the sunbathers. I was laughing at her on our return bus trip to the city.

The first time I was sent to Europe on official/attend a conference, I had an interesting crazy experience in Rome. An Italian man greeting me in Japanese thinking that I was a Japanese tourist. I found out later that he was one of the many pimps in Rome spotting foreigners, especially in the evening. Walking near the Rome Colesseum a man approached and befriended me. He invited me for a drink. That was a hospitable gesture, I thought, from a local offering me drinks to a nearby basement bar.

Then a couple of hostesses joined us and started ordering their drinks too. I was not worried being only an invited guest. But when the waiter showed me the bill, I was surprised and told the man that I only had Philippine peso with me. When the argument about the bill became heated, I found an opportunity to grab my backpack and run out of the basement club. Same experienced I had in Germany but I just ignored the German pimp.

WHILE TRAVELLING, Germany, I was planning to visit Heidelberg where Rizal studied briefly. I have to wait at the Frankfurt train station for the next train going to that part of Germany. It was midnight and I noticed a number of African gypsy were roaming around the train station watching at sleeping tourists whom they could victimised by stealing their valuables while in slumber.

I had to move around inside the station and decided not to sleep while waiting for my train. I carried my luggage around the waiting area.

It was at this stage that I decided to take a different train on my way to Conpenhagen, Denmark. I decided instead to go to Conpenhagen where I read many tantilizing stories, especially its night life and its red light district..

I was on a train cubicle with a Malaysian student on our way to Copenhagen. At the border between Germany and Denmark, immigration officers boarded the train and asked the passports of passengers. I showed mine and when checking of all passengers done, I was asked to take my luggage with me and follow the immigration officer.

I followed him and went down the train. When I was down on the train station, the train left and I was left behind at the train station. It turned out that since I was holding a Philippine passport, I need a visa and told to go back to Germany and get a visa.

I thought the Eurorail trip covers everyting. It was around three in the morning, dark and I was the only person left on the station.

At around five am, a bus stopped at the train station. I boarded without knowing where it was heading only to realise it was travelling into the interior of Germany far away from Eurail lines.

I became worried because no one speaks English on the bus. Luckily, a young girl who was a studying in Rome could speak English and suggested that I should disembark at the next bus stop where I could catch a train. From there, I took the next train and went to Switzerland instead, where people seems to be welcoming foreigners.

IN THE LATE  1980s, after a successful project that I supervised for the Goethe Institut, I was given a free travel to West Berlin for three months to study and learn the German language. Despite my unwillingness to go because I know I would not be able to use the German language in my work.

I was prevailed by my boss to go and spent interesting time in West Berlin, including a visit to the site where Rizal stayed briefly which is then on the other side which was East Berlin.

Christmas celebration in West Berin began early in November, a similar to the crowd that were seen during the recent bombing in Berlin. At night people would go out into the designated area where rows and rows of stalls where Christmas decors and items for sale to the general public are found. It was there that I became a victim of German racist attack.

While busy window shopping and taking my time enjoyng the night, an old German male was shouting angrily at me. He was agitated and cursing me. I noticed I was the only Asian enjoying the Christmas display window. He grabbed me and punched me.

Good, I was only slightly hurt. I run for my life against the incoming traffic. It was good the traffic was slow because of the magnitude of people overflowing into the street. I quickly evaded him and decided to return to my boarding house.

Back in the Philippines.

After I returned from a three-year study in Australia, I undertook changes in my division, particularly in its conservation program by establishing a conservation laboratory and a national register of historic buildings. I was given the authority to hire young architectural and chemisty graduates. It was a change of atmosphere working with idealistic young people and their energy was amazing.

A survey of Taal, Batangas and Biñan, Laguna where many historic buildings were still existing, particulry the old house where Rizal stayed during his study in Biñan was among the initial projects.

The Materials Conservation Laboratory was organised, by appropriating first the janitor’s room where oil painting cleaning were started; then a small area, next to the medical clinic of the National Library building was assigned to us. Soon, a place behind the National Archives, same building, was assigned to the  chemists, restorers and conservators.

II BECAME the official NHCP conservation laboratory which housed expensive Japanese grant laboratory equipment needed in conservation laboratory operation. It was the same place we hold a paper conservation seminar undertaken by Helmut Bansa from Germany.

One December, as I have been recommending changes in the way the NHCP hold a year-end Christmas program for its employees had taken place. The young architects, chemist and draftsmen prepared a special program as our division’s contribution to the year-end event.

They prepared a number that I, as their supervisor, was obliged to contribute by giving a musical number. I never ventured into singing but I was the role assigned to me to pretend I was playing a guitar, just a prop, while they were singing a popular local ditty at that time, ‘Tatanda ka rin’.

I was placed at the centre of the room and co-operated believably as if I was playing a guitar and singing with them. That was the craziest thing I ever done at the point of my life.

Then dancing and merriment followed, many just joined the crowd on the dancing floor cleared of office tables and did their own version of ‘maski pops’ steps.

The entire employees stayed put and enjoyed the night dancing participated in by the old and young employees of the NHCP. That was the most memorable Christmas party we ever had.

But for me it was the beginning and the end. Eight years after my return to the Philippines, and having accomplished the introduction of changes in my division, I have to say goodbye to my entire staff. I told them I was migrating to Australia making the West Berlin trip as my last official travel for the NHCP.

Soon after arrival from West Berlin, a notice from the Australian Embassy was waiting for me. It was for my migration interview. It was the time to leave all the young and hardworking people working under me, their dreams and ambition behind. I hope I made an impact in their lives.