There’s the rub

I would say the Conde Nast Traveler citation was not at all undeserved.

I have not read the citation itself, but I figure that if Cebu was chosen one of the ten best destinations in Asia, it had to be because of our malls.

It doesn’t matter which one. Either of the two major ones will prove the point. You feel it at once: this friendliness; this feeling of being welcome, the moment you walk in.

Actually, just before.

“Good morning, Ma’am/Sir,” the security guard sings. (I guess in these days of blurring genders, it has become necessary to say both “Ma’am” and “Sir” in the same breath. Mercifully, they still omit pronouncing the “slash”.)

How nice. But then security guards hardly stop at obligatory pleasantries. It isn’t enough to welcome you. They feel it their duty to make you feel at home.

And so – words not being enough – they proceed to stretch out their arms, as if to say “Hey, it’s good to have you back”, encircling the middle region of your body, both palms inching closer until they rest on the sometimes non-existent boundary between your hips and your waist.

“Welcome to Ayala Center,” the man in blue says, rubbing your sides to make sure you fully appreciate this supreme gesture of intimacy.

And so awed are you that, if it weren’t for the long queue of people pushing you beyond this zone of friendship, past that table of understanding on which rest handheld radio transceivers and log books, you might have stopped to reciprocate, if only to say: “I’m not sure I got your first name, but say hello to the wife and kids.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve walked into a mall with my head turned back to the security guard, trying to recall that forgotten place and time when he and I became brothers.

I’ve been telling my friends about this wonderful experience at the malls and I’ve been struck by the cynicism that usually greets me. “That’s for security,” they invariably say. They say this with an incredulous look on their faces. “They’re checking if you have a gun tucked to your side.”

How cynical. How sadly it trivializes the tremendous significance of the hip rub.

And it’s not that believable either. I figure if it were for security, how easy it would be – in those few moments it takes for the security guard to stretch out his arms and rest both his palms on your hips – to grab the gun holstered to his own hip. Faster than he could say, “Welcome to SM City Cebu”.

So let’s not be cynical. Let’s take hip rub for what it is, and return the warm and friendly gesture.

I do. These days, when I walk into a mall and the security guard does his thing, I throw my arms up and say: “I know, I’ve grown maybe one or two inches since the last time.” You never call me. Let’s do lunch.

SunStar Cebu
27 January 2005

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