One of our neighbors works abroad as a seaman, and we always know when he's in town. He throws a big party, an all-night celebration featuring lots of food, lots of guests and lots and lots and lots and lots of noise.
Did I say "lots of noise"? Kindly excuse the weakness of my descriptive powers. What I meant was "mind shattering explosive bursts of hideous sound strong enough to split boulders and cause the resulting pebbles to bleed."
The highlight of the celebration (and if you're a true Filipino you'll have guessed it by now) is a karaoke sing-along, where guests of various ages, genders and states of inebriation take turns belting out what I suspect to be music. I'm pretty sure they think they're carrying a tune, although from where I am it sounds like two drunken steel factories mating.
I think my neighbors wire large speakers atop each tree, and bury a subwoofer the size of a living room in their garden. Anyway, the output can make the trees dance – in fact the trees would probably want to run away, if they weren't weighed down by speakers.
My neighbors are just being Filipino. This, after all, is the Republic of Noise, where every citizen is duty bound to make a constant racket. Noise wakes you up in the morning, follows you in your commute, surrounds you in your office, in the malls, in the gym, escorts you home and tucks you in at night. After that you can look forward to some restful quiet until such time (2 am) as you are blown off your bed by a passing jeep playing music loud enough to wake the dead.
Speaking of the deceased, they shouldn't expect to rest in too much peace either. Anyone who went to the cemetery this month during All Saint's Day will have seen the touching Filipino tradition of showing reverence for our dead by bringing offerings such as food, memorabilia, mahjong sets and of course boom boxes, sound systems and the ever popular Magic Sing microphone pre-loaded with hundreds of karaoke tunes. No wonder we have so many stories involving vengeful ghosts.
I've read that any sound above 75 decibels is supposed to pose health risks. One study puts the average noise level in Quezon City at 90 decibels – in Q.C.'s district 2, it's 110 decibels (district 2's motto is "WHAT DID YOU SAY?") A tricycle's engine registers at 80 decibels. I've heard --get it? oh, never mind -- the drivers actually remove mufflers because they want their machines noisy. I can picture the scene at the terminal, one macho driver holding forth, "Wala yan, konting ingay lang yan" while his pals nod and laugh uproariously though the truth is they can't hear what he's saying because they're all stone deaf.
A friend, Sheila Coronel, offers this explanation why Filipinos say they love noise: "masaya kasi." Here's how I see it: constant noise prevents any deep thought and reflection. The minute Filipinos are compelled to be quiet they'll be forced to start thinking about serious stuff like our political leaders and their bank accounts. And then there'll be real trouble.
So, next time you ask me to contemplate the age old conundrum of the sound of one hand clapping, here's what I'll say: you bring your hand. I'll bring the Magic Sing. It will be a perfect match.