Burning the Midnight Oil Via Both Ends of Your Candle : Feeling Wasted / Then And Now

[ Note pls : The term wasted as used here is limited to one’s physical state after puyat and disrupting the body’s normal craving for sleep, and NOT anything else ha Thanks for reading, pasensya na po medyo mahaba ! ]

Dear batchmates and friends :

A JAGGED FRAGMENT of an urban legend persists in both Kiwiland and Perlas ng Silanganan, we recently learned. Don’t know if you’ve heard of it but owing to thousands of years of survivalist evolution, our unfailing circadian rhythm and our irreversible and inalterable body clocks, the human body’s efficiency is at its lowest ebb somewhere between midnight and break of dawn, specifically half past three in the morning.

At this time one is neither fully rested nor dead-tired, muscles tensed to the point of near-fatigue but not yet ready for the free-fall of gravity, either. You’re on the verge of pondering the majesty of the cosmos yet the reason for your staying awake at this time (whatever that may be) keeps all your senses alert for a jillion and one things every multi-tasking moment.

You can’t blame yourself for drifting between extremely focused and partially distracted, at a time when ordinarily it’s too late to turn in but too early to rise, and if any time of the day was an invitation to get depressed, this (3.30 am) was probably it.

You are sorely tempted, at an hour when even moomoo think twice before challenging the dark (darkest before dawn, remember?), to plumb the deepest, darkest recesses of your soul, all because you are by yourself and everyone else has turned in.

** ** ** ** **

Hard to believe though but there were/are certain periods in our life when THIS time of the day was our lunchtime, when we were just in the middle of our to-do list, inching our way toward our daily quota, or scurrying towards the next task in our program of duties as First World Slave.

We burned the midnite oil, not entirely by choice, sometimes for survival, but ultimately gaining much more than just the sweldo earned at the end of the workday (or worknight). Though it’s true that how rested you are depends on the so-called quality of sleep you get, sleep is still sleep in any language, meaning for most of us proletarians, we grab sleep whenever and wherever it’s available.

If you need proof, just look at the teenager, maybe your teenager who makes up for his/her all-nighter by sleeping the majority of the next day. Does it look like it matters to him/her if he sleeps by day or otherwise?

Siesta, power naps, forty winks, shuteye are just some of the terms of affection for the slices of sleep that have become so important to us in our present multi-tasking day and age. It works for some people, for others not, but in a culture where most human activities are carried on based almost purely on how well we make tagpi-tagpi, band-aid management and making do, can we be blamed for getting zzz’s on the wing, on the run and in bits and pieces?

At the call center we worked 3 summers ago, our last local gig, we stood out immediately, because just by looking at the amount of excess hair, hip-hop pants and haywire hormones in the air (PDA*, HHWW* and making out in the bathroom), we could instinctively tell we weren’t in our age group. more than three-quarters of our co-workers were below 25, and all-nighters, working 12 hour shifts and binge drinking afterwards (for this particular reason, drinking places in Ortigas Center catered to the early morning crowd) were 2nd nature to them.

(We almost cringe when saying this, but the blessed souls in our own team affectionately called us Dad, Tito and Tatay NOel, and the monickers kinda grew on us, being the unofficial senior citizen of the group.)

Each room in the call center was devoted to a set of callers devoted a particular product / service, were committed to a focused goal (particular number of units sold, clients served) and were supervised by a team leader or manager who had the power of life and death over such team.

Given this backdrop, we at many times recalled the classroom / Hogwarts setting, especially since besides stragglers like us, most of the inhabitants therein were kids hardly out of school or had just graduated.

Added to that the perpetual air-conditioned, frigid environment, the tense but cordial atmosphere and the constant, intermittent reminder to stick to performance goals (if you hadn’t passed the half your calls-made, products-sold milestone by lunchtime, you were in deep kimchi with the team leader) and the unending cigarette breaks (it seemed everyone smoked, coffee just didn’t completely hit the spot; the tobacco became part of the work culture) and you get more or less an accurate perspective of why day extended into night, and night extended into day, without pause or serious reflection in our call center. Not even time to ask ourselves what the heck am I doing here with kids half my age?

By the time the sun peeked through the temperature controlled window, we were either groaning at the prospect of not yet meeting the daily goal, or smiling with contentment of having bagged your quota and the respect of much younger peers. Fatigue and the shift- long drop of energy from staying wired for 8 hours would not set in until we dropped off to listless, often dreamless sleep, only to repeat the exact same process 16 hours later.

** ** ** **

THESE DAYS, ostensibly the air is a bit more relaxed, with us relying on the famous laid – back Kiwi temperament and the fact that we are there to just get the shift over with as quickly, clinically and as painlessly as possible.

It’s not known as Windy Wellington for nothing. Sudden temperature drops, wind chill factor, and the occasional glacial winds from the South Pole all contribute to sometimes transform an initially muggy summer night into an early autumn ordeal. The mill we work in is wedged somewhere between the seashore and the Hutt Valley, and extremes in climate are known to visit this place within the span of one short day.

Bisor and we are well aware of that, and between monitoring of machines, testings of wheat moisture and flour protein content, cleaning our assigned floors and checking for makulet na bird and pest colonies, our plates our full. Constant coffee breaks (we gave up smoking two-and-a-half years ago), license to take five whenever our attention span wanders and a short walk outside for fresh (but chilly) air are our timeless weapons against sleeplessness and weariness.

Professional courtesy prevents our bisor from formally inspecting our work or checking up on us, but technically since any boo-boo on our part reflects on his shift, he often takes a cursory peek at our production log, joins us on the control platform every time a bin fills up and makes it a point to pass by the floor we clean, just in case we may have missed a spot. We always take criticism constructively, positively, especially since on the red-eye shift, there are only two workers, he and we, and so we have no choice but to be joined at the hip, and rely on each other’s instincts, for the rest of the graveyard shift.

The tasks are largely a solitary adventure, broken only by the sad wail of the sensor alarms on wheat bins filling up and the same containers emptying, their contents eventually turning up as final product in the flour silos. Birds of all sorts swoop down every now and then, escaping the cold, chancing a few patches of stray wheat grains we haven’t spotted and cleaned, even a rare penguin losing its way from the nearby sea to stray into the mill. But usually, pigeons, seagulls, even sturgeons, finches and terns seek shelter from the many structures in the compound.

By the time colleagues log in to take over from us at daybreak and we head home for much needed tulog, we are so adrenalin – filled and hyper from the many challenges met and hurdled, that we need time to decompress and wind down.

We know we can’t do this forever, a job that every three weeks demands that we turn our sleep cycle inside out. But we would be less than true to ourselves and the armies of hardy, do-everything, can-do and overachieving expat compatriots who never say no and always find a way to distinguish themselves from the rest of their workmates.

At the back of our mind, we know it’s a blessing that the night shift exists, because hardly anyone else wants it, always finds a way to avoid it, and unlike most of the staff, it always gives us an incentive to keep the celfone without voicemail in case Boss should call when someone calls in sick, usually those na nakatoka sa night shift.

It is both cynical and challenging, but you are only as good as your last shift.

We sometimes find comfort in it, does Kuya Germs still shout his favorite catchphrase before patalastas time back home : Walaaang tulugan ?

Mabuhay ang uring manggagawa, saan man tayo sa mundo.

Thanks for reading !





* PDA – Public display of affection. HHWW – Holding hands while