Sunday, May 26, 2013

Stars and Skype

A long distance relationship is difficult, but nowadays, technology makes it somewhat bearable. Cellphones and computers allow friends, families or lovers to chat and see each other at any time of day or night, and in the privacy of their own rooms, or even cars (Just don’t drive and text).  And while we need to pay for Internet or cellphone service, connecting to another anywhere in the globe is actually free with Facetime, Viber, Hangout or Skype.

In the early 1970’s, when John was courting me (in those days, men courted women and we never said  “when WE were courting …”), John’s mother did not approve of me because I was encouraging him to work as a photographer, which meant that he was not paying attention to the family business. To separate us, she sent him off to Iloilo to stay with his sister. Now, in those days, there was no Internet, email or Skype, there were no cellphones or even pagers, and public coin-operated phones were just for local calls. Mailed letters took a long time, so any messages that needed to be rushed were sent by telegrams. 

My family was poor and we did not have a phone at home. If John wanted to call me, he would have to call my aunt’s house, which was next door, and wait for someone, usually my aunt’s maid or houseboy (then called servants) to call me and for me to rush to my aunt’s house. With cousins practically eavesdropping, there was no chance for John and I to say sweet nothings to each other. Besides, in those days, telephones had party-lines, meaning, two phone owners, usually neighbors, took turns in using one phone line. As a matter of phone courtesy, when one lifts the handset and hears someone talking, that person must put the phone down gently, and wait. If you’re the one using the phone, sometimes, it meant hearing that handset being lifted and put down over and over again, and when the other party becomes impatient, they say “Hello, party line, puede ba ako naman (may I have my turn?)  There was no way to stay on the phone a long time to make “telebabad” (staying too long on the phone).  

It was too embarrassing to use my aunt’s phone to call long distance, so for calls that I would have to initiate, I would have to go to the Philippine Long Distance Company office in Port Area, near the foot of Jones Bridge (two jeepney rides or approximately five kilometers from Paranaque, where I lived).  There were booths there, and callers were guaranteed not only soundproofed privacy, but also no party lines waiting on the wing for me to finish my call. But long distance calls were expensive, and I did not have the money to make such calls. 

Before he left for Iloilo, and anticipating the difficulty of keeping in touch given that I did not have a phone at home, John agreed to my romantic suggestion to connect somehow by agreeing to gaze at the sky, and look for Orion’s Belt (a row of three stars) at the same time every night at exactly 7:00PM. We synchronized our watches. There no cellphones or Internet, it is true, but what we had was a direct connection, soul-to-soul through the stars, it was private, and it was free. Who needs Skype?

John eventually came back to Manila. We set up Adphoto, got married, and raised three daughters.Today, we connect with our children, relatives, friends and each other through Skype, Google Hangout, Viber, Facebook or FaceTime and marvel at how technology keep us connected;  but once in a while, through the more than 40 years since the 1970’s, when John and I look up at darker provincial skies (disappointingly, Metro Manila’s pollution and bright city lights obscure views of Orion’s Belt), we give thanks that when we did not have Internet or Skype in the 1970's, we had the stars in the sky to give us direct connections and clear signals.  We’re still together, so obviously the stars worked.