Let me tell a story of one of my early encounters in Manila. I’ve had plenty, trust me, but this one, simple as it is, made me think about what I was doing with my life.
It happened when my “academic life” was falling apart. I was losing my edge in school, maybe because I was new to the city or to the people. Whatever it was, I was more than decided to go home to the province and continue my studies there. I was ready to risk the chance of studying in my dream school. I was homesick, and it seemed like going home was the only cure.
When it happened, I realized how selfish and stupid I was being.
Recto is a place where you buy used books. Some books look brand-new, some a little disfigured, but one thing is sure: It’s the street for people who look for cheap prices.
I had never gone there alone. I usually went with my mom, who gets her certificates framed there. But for the first time, I was by my lonesome. I needed to buy books to replace the ones I had lost. Normally, my textbooks are available in school or are given to us by our professors. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a copy of a particular book before our next class. That’s how I ended up on Recto.
The place was unfamiliar to me. I didn’t like buying second-hand books unless they’re antiques, or really rare novels. I didn’t want to buy my books there because I had no idea how those books got there. Rumor has it that most books there were stolen.
So I was in a store browsing for a copy of my missing textbook. I was getting frustrated because I couldn’t find a decent copy. It was already 7 p.m. and raining hard. Finally I found a copy, grabbed it, and headed to the counter.
While in line, I heard a man behind me negotiating the price of a book. He was obviously friends with the store owner. I eavesdropped on the conversation.
Speaking in Filipino, the man asked how much the book cost. The owner said P200. The man asked, jokingly, if there was no discount. “It’s for my kid,” he said. The owner said: “Sige, P150 na.”
I turned around and looked at the book. It was a really old, musty dictionary that had obviously been lunch for rats. The cover, including perhaps the first 30 pages, had been eaten off.
I couldn’t help but think: “Ano ba yan?! Why not buy a new one when it’s for school?”
Smiling, the man told the owner that he had no money and that he’d buy a new one when his kid got to college: “Thank you, ha! OK na to. Pagka-college na lang niya ako bibili ng bago. Walang pera, eh.”
And then he left, pleased with the book he was bringing home to his child.
* * *
Education comes with a great price. This is something that I’ve always believed in. Our parents would always tell us that they’d strive to buy anything if we needed it in school, no matter the cost.
Not only my family but also my clan (on both sides) value education. They monitor our progress, especially those of us in college. It has become my state of mind that not excelling in my studies is like bringing shame to my family. Sort of how Mulan felt on failing to impress the matchmaker.
If education is the reason, then go for it!
I guess that explains my reaction to the man buying the old dictionary. It’s for school, why limit your budget? In the end, wouldn’t it be worth it? It didn’t occur to me right away that the man bought, not the cheapest, but the best his money could buy.
I felt guilty at judging him too soon.
I’m taking a premed course at a well-known and respected university. Getting in wasn’t easy, but sometimes I forget what a rare gift it is for some to study at all. It’s something I’m ashamed of.
I’m grateful and lucky to have the means to study and to receive knowledge that will help me in my life. But I also feel guilty that I take opportunities like this for granted.
I imagine the face of the kid who got the tattered dictionary. He must’ve been so happy that his papa got him a book. Now he can study, get good grades, and go on to college, and his papa will get him a brand-new dictionary.
I’ve realized that the true price of education is not the money you spend for tuition, books, materials, gadgets, etc. It’s the persistence, the will, and the time you give.
Sure, it’s difficult. I may miss out on some things, or experience things that make me want to give up. Now and then I may say, “Why am I even here?!” Nobody said it’d be easy.
One day I’ll be in my clinic, wearing my lab gown with the letters MD at the end of my name. I’ll look back at this moment and say, “Worth every penny.”
Maritz Libatique Lubo, 17, is a medical technology freshman at the University of Santo Tomas.