THERE IS a delicate dance between neighbors that seems awkward at first but later becomes second nature on both sides of the fence.
You want to ask about the goings-on of your next-door bestie, but you don’t want to be perceived as too nosy lest they think you’re a busybody (actually you are), so you strike a balance.
You want to drop in or at least make an appearance every weekend so you don’t come across as suplado (haughty), but you don’t want to be too visible cuz your neighbor might think you’ve got too much time on your hands, so you’re both ever-present and invisible, if that can be possible.
You want your neighbor to know enough about you so that they can convince themselves you’re normal, but you don’t want too much of yourself exposed because that’s when your weirdness starts to show, inaykupo.
I know I’m beginning to sound OCD-paranoid, but such has been the reality of living as a neighbor in highly urbanized New Zealand, at least for as long as I’ve been a migrant.
Mahal and I have been lucky in our present incarnation as laid-back, Asian and eager-to-please semi-detached neighbors. We have equally laid-back and almost eager to please semi-detached neighbors, just that they are not Asian, and obviously aware of our migrant status or at least not being here for too long, have been quite welcoming of us both as neighbors and as New Zealanders.
Not only did we exchange the obligatory hellos and wassups whenever we chanced across each other on the driveway, but we also inquired about our weekends, our jobs, and what we did with our vacation leaves (they went to the Gold Coast, while we slept through our long weekends), what we did on our respective holidays (they went to Auckland, while we stayed at home pretending we were back in the Philippines celebrating a Pinoy Christmas), and our respective hobbies (the guy is a rugby fan, what a big surprise, while I usually sleep weekend afternoons or play Candy Crush Saga). Before long, we acted like tight buddies (put your index and middle fingers together) and it was just a matter of time before we invited each other to dinners at our respective home.
Our other next-door was an Eastern European migrant married to an Korean, what a match right? Turned out they, having been relatively newer to the compound than the rest of us, were ultrafriendly and invited us over every chance they got. So it would’ve been poor form not to reciprocate and invite them ourselves. (Plus, they had gorgeous Eurasian kids that inherited only their best features, think straight noses, high cheekbones and chinito / chinita eyes.)
Except that by the time we were able to invite both couples to our munting dampa, the first couple was already moving out, to a bigger home and obviously with a view to enlarging their brood. We had only one chance to invite them to dinner as neighbors, and that was two Wednesdays ago.
Mahal made exceptional use of the occasion, selecting three classic Pinoy dishes that (she thought) would bring out the best of our salty-sour-sweet cuisine : adobo, kaldereta and pancit bihon, which the guests surprisingly took second and third servings. (She was also going to be able to show off her new warmer-server she bought for a song at a K-Mart sale, which you might be able to spot if there’s a photo above… yes, there it is. 🙂 )
During and after the repast, a funny thing happened : Chris and Lauren (the Kiwi couple) and Mahal and I knew each other a bit longer, so we expected to bond and chat a bit more freely, but it was our Eastern European neighbor Mielko who would be more gregarious and easy with conversation, stealing the show from right under our noses.
Maybe it was the libation he brought but while we were careful about tripping over our newly-minted Kiwi English accent, and the Kiwis were thinking of anecdotes to show how they loved their Asian friends and Asian takeaway (as if naman Pinoys invented takeaway), Mielko was regaling us with his day motoring his passengers around town in his Japanese hybrid. A taxicab driver, he says, meets all sorts of people, but sadly the fares he remembers best are the drunks, the quarrelsome and those who refuse to pay. Of course, we were transfixed by his vignettes on the seediest examples of everyday human behavior.
Before long, as with all dinners where participants come from different cultures, we had run out of things to talk about. Truthfully, our only common denominator was that we had once upon a time shared a driveway and parking area, and that we had the same rubbish collection day and perhaps the same lawn mower. But because we made the effort to become sometime friends, it made our little corner of the world a better place to live in. And long after we’re no longer neighbors, at least there’s still Facebook! Mabuhay to friendly neighbors and thanks for reading!