The three of us initially planned to go food tripping in UP Diliman for our cultural immersion since it was one of the most accessible places near Ateneo and frankly, we wanted to satiate ourselves with Rodick’s famous (and extremely affordable) tapsilog. However, due to unavoidable circumstances, things did not go as planned. Never have we imagined that we would end up ordering drinks in a small and dimly-lit bar situated far from the busy streets of the city.
Earlier that night, the three of us met up at David’s house in Vista Verde, a village near Cainta. We still haven’t decided where we could go for our SA cultural immersion, so we just went for a short drive around the area until we could find an interesting place. We were already beside the the service road of Imelda, which is about 15 minutes away from David’s home, when he suddenly slowed down and pointed at a slightly decrepit building with a sign that reads “NICRIS” displayed by blinding neon lights. Perhaps it was fate that brought us upon this shady looking beerhouse, or was it a sudden onset of teenage capriciousness that gave us the urge to do something bold and reckless? Either way, we attempted to set aside thoughts of any unpleasant outcomes that may result to entering an obviously “adult-themed” bar and walked confidently to the entrance. Before going inside the beerhouse itself, instead of frisky bouncers we were nervously anticipating, two ladies welcomed us with wide toothy grins. Their clothes, (or lack thereof) unsurprisingly revealed a lot of skin in rather distracting areas. One of them wore a ridiculously tight orange tank top paired with the shortest short shorts we’ve ever seen.
“Aba, fresh faces! Saan kayo nag-aaral?” said the woman sporting a black razor back. One of us told them that we were from Ateneo, upon hearing this, she exclaimed, “Arrneyoo? Taray ni ate! Sige come in, come in, enjoy the show!” After hearing this, all three of us suddenly had cold feet (although I’m not sure if I could say the same for our male group mate, who was probably secretly looking forward to it). We were not exactly sure what kind of “show” they had in store for us, but we figured it involved voluptuous women and middle aged men whistling.We didn’t want to admit it at the time, but as soon as the girls in the flimsiest of clothes approached us, thoughts of backing out entered our minds. Then we realized that in order to come up with a great story, we needed to experience something new. And so, despite the second thoughts and the suspicious looking door, we flashed our nervous smiles and braced ourselves for what was about to come next.
When we finally went inside, the smell of alcohol and cigarettes and more women sporting ill-fitted clothes and heavy make-up welcomed the three of us. Loud dance music was vibrating throughout the whole bar.The inside actually looked bigger than it did from the outside. The whole room was almost pitch black, save for a few spots such as the small platform stage the long counter where the drinks are served, and of course the videoke area (which seems to be an indispensable need for all Filipino bars).We were escorted by a woman who introduced herself as Rica to a booth right beside the stage where a band is setting up their equipment. It was the perfect spot to do people watching. Rica, who looked about our age, was actually really nice and even gave us a free beer on the house since we were obviously first-timers. We weaved our way through the crowd, which mostly consisted of middle aged men heartily drinking Red Horses and San Miguel beers. It wasn’t exactly a full house yet, since the night was far from happy hour, but the place was significantly packed enough for us to make observations on the customers. Needless to say, we felt incredibly out of place amidst men drowning themselves in booze and scantily dressed women dancing and singing on stage.
Rica asked us if we wanted to know about the “services” NICRIS Bar offered and she was even going to give us a discount. Unfortunately, getting lap dances weren’t on our agenda for the night so we kindly told her we weren’t interested. We ordered some food, and okay, a little bit of alcohol, instead and told her she will be the first on our list if we needed anything else for the night.
The bar wasn’t too big but it was spacious enough for a few people to be dancing and mingling below the stage. It was filled with what we could only guess as regulars who looked oddly enough, really comfortable in their places. It wasn’t surprising that most of the customers were 30-40 year old men who seemed to be having a really good time. It was like a scene from an old movie: women in provocative dresses were lined up with drinks in their hands waiting to be called by a customer, bottles of beer being downed all around and and upbeat music to keep the place alive. It was exactly what we expected but yet we were still surprised by the whole scenario.
In a private booth by the wall, a man who looked to be about in his late forties, had his arms around Rica and another girl. The other girl, let’s call her Gina, was playfully whispering something to his ear while she gently stroked his hair. On the other end of the room, was a metal door where some people seemed to be disappearing to. We were intrigued so we called Rica who seemed to have left her customer with Gina who looked more interested in him than she was. Apparently, this was the private lounge for customers who paid a little extra money to have some alone time with the ladies of their choosing. Despite the circumstances, we felt comfortable talking to Rica. (After all, she was a guest relations officer.) There was even a very personal moment between the four of us. We asked her why she chose this line of work and why she wasn’t at school. “ Mabalis pera eh. Saka san pa ba ako pupunta? Di na ako kayang pag-aralin ni `Nay. Ako na nga nagpapakain sa kanila eh.”
That was the harsh reality that we believed most of them faced. Sometimes we tend to forget that these people do have lives outside their jobs. Perhaps we have been too blinded by media and other outside social forces that causes us to have this preconceived notion that people who work in beerhouses, especially women, are “lesser” human beings than those who have “normal” careers. Society labels these people by what they do for a living, rather than who they really are as individuals. Since their work generally involves entertaining men, these women are often viewed as undignified, filthy, sexually aggressive people. We can’t deny that we had similar impressions; they may not be as hostile, but we obviously were not comfortable with the idea of staying late in a beerhouse. However after meeting Ate Rica, we realized that it was wrong to quickly pass judgments on people we barely know. Because they, like most people, are only working to help their families. It is only due to inevitable circumstances that they were forced to work as GROs.
As we drank our last bottles of beer, we decided to head home since the clock was about to strike twelve. Rica persuaded us to stay and have a few more drinks, but David was about to reach his limit and we needed a safe ride home. One of the girls even approached David, offering him a “good time”, but he politely refused. Rica pried the girl off of his shoulder and told him, “Next time na lang siguro.” She smiled sweetly and bid us goodbye. We felt like we’ve seen a different world in a new light as we left NICRIS.
Going to a beer house was one of the more eccentric but very interesting things we’ve experienced. It was a very different kind of culture as to what we experience everyday. You may say that it was a bit of a culture shock for us but we actually do have some basic knowledge on places such as beer houses based on what we see on the television. There was talking, dancing, flirting, and definitely touching and some other things we don’t normally witness everyday.
Everyone came to NICRIS to have a good time and most probably found that “panandaliang ligaya” they were looking for. We saw young girls that are probably our age as well that were doing things that they weren’t supposed to do. They can also be women who are just there because they grew accustomed to that kind of lifestyle and they stayed their because of the extra money it offer aside from their day job. They’re probably high school girls working to for money to go to college or just to eat. These young girls are supposed to be at home studying, instead they’re at the beer house working for money by ways that are very intimate. They were there at the beer house working their ass off (figuratively and literally) and it’s not even their fault. They were born into this kind of world. In all likelihood it’s because of their parents who don’t work and are stubborn to work that they’re in their situation right now. Most of them were products of poverty. Some were there because they were not in good terms with their parents. That’s the reality, they’re living that kind of life because of many reasons. Underneath all of those smiles in their faces at the beer houses you can come to think that when they go home to their homes, it’s a sad reality that they have to face. That’s their culture and that’s their way of surviving in this world. It’s a sad reality but that’s the way it is in the world we live in today. Personally, if i were in charge I’d take these young girls out of the streets and find sponsors to sponsor them in their studies. This culture exists and has been since ancient times though today, the reasons are far different and more depressing. Realities in this world inevitably shape many of people’s lives today, and you can see one of the best examples in our experience in a beer house.
– Lagos, Luna, Salvosa