The case of the insulting pan de sal

First published in Tulay Monthly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 1, no. 2 (July 1988): 4, 5.

To get only two pan de sal when others get three is bad enough; to be told that is so “kasi babae ka” is a bit too much.

My “cause” for this month has nothing to do with my being Chinese; rather, it has to do with another aspect of my being: womanhood.

The incident in question happened some time ago, when four friends (three men and a woman) and I had dinner at a cozy little restaurant in Manila, one of those charming places, where the food is good, where you don’t get stared at if you share food as in a Chinese meal and where the waiters could break out in song (to accompany the resident trio) while ladling your soup. Perhaps that was why I felt free to argue my point, with the waiter about my missing pan de sal.

One of my friends volunteered the explanation that it was purely a matter of economics, of being practical, that women receive two pan de sal and men three. Women eat less, so wouldn’t it be a waste, in the face of hunger in Ethiopia and elsewhere, to give them more than they could eat?

The answer to that was unquestionably on our bread plates: among the five of us, two of the men had two pan de sal each left untouched on their plates; the third man had one-and-a-half left; our woman companion had one-half left (out of the two she was given) and I, out of a mixture of hunger and spite, had a clean bread plate before the waiter came around anew with his bread basket.

If it’s economics, I say give everybody one and let each ask for more according to his/her own stomach. My co-discriminate thought it was a compliment that the waiter did not consider us gluttonous slobs. Which made me feel a bit better for about three seconds. Because that just wasn’t the point.

It took me a while to figure out exactly what the point was: that again I was being presumed to be something because of my gender. “Kasi babae ka,” you eat less than men. Kasi babae ka…should get less.”

I could of course bring up a tedious set of platitudes about discrimination and equal rights and liberation and all that. But that would only make a silly situation ludicrous and make a fool out of me.

One’s gender, or race, should not be the distinguishing feature in matters that do not bear directly on it. Nor should gender or race immediately conjure up spectacles and generalizations. And to extend the thought to what we at Tulay are concerned about: not all Chinese are businessmen, not all Chinese take short-cuts or the back door, not all Chinese are good at math. To round up my story on the insulting pan de sal.

My little “tirade” did not, after all, miss its point. For when the waiter came around with his bread basket to serve guests at the next table, everyone got two pan desal each, and nobody complained.