(Editors’ note: The Midland Courier is reprinting the columns of the late Atty. Benedicto T. Carantes as a tribute to one of its long-time columnists. This piece was published on Oct. 04, 2009.)
What does one write about in the face of tragedy?
The loss of life and property? The heroism of those who perished trying to save the lives of others?
The many volunteers lending time and effort to help the distressed? The incompetence of government in dealing with calamities? The perfect storm?
I have always known that millions of our countrymen lead impoverished lives, but to actually view on live television the plight of our poor during moments of disaster somehow makes us realize that we are more blessed than we actually are.
How does one feel about the anger in their voices, the smiles and display of humor even in the most trying times, the anguish on their faces grieving over loved ones drowned in the floodwaters?
Who is to blame for all the pain and suffering? God Himself, or ourselves? Us Catholics here, the Muslims in Indonesia? I have no answer.
Long before Starbucks and Seattle’s Best came to this country, Dainty Restaurant on Session Road was the mecca of coffee lovers, from jeepney and taxi drivers to lawyers and other professionals, all came to the restaurant for their morning or afternoon coffee, and twice a day for many.
Other than ambiance, the Filipino penchant for being seen in recreational beverage or food joints that cater mostly to the rich and famous, there is no special quality attributed to Starbucks coffee, although loyal customers talk about the aroma and taste exclusively Starbucks, not to mention the rather stiff price.
I am reminded of an article about a well-known Japanese restaurant where customers gathered not to dine, but to drink coffee.
With a bright idea that came to him one day, the proprietor decided to jack up the price of his coffee to thirty five dollars per cup, the better to turn away the coffee drinkers and provide more room for customers who preferred to dine than sip Arabica all day long.
The instincts of the owner proved wrong, much to his eventual delight, however.
Everyday for weeks and months to come that extended into years, the restaurant was always full of customers – not to dine, but to sip coffee.
In the end, the proprietor was forced to convert his restaurant into a coffee shop.
This phenomenon also worked for Dainty Restaurant. To be sure, customers also came to eat pancit, lumi, pork chop, and other Chinese cuisine, but the bulk of the customers were coffee drinkers.
Not only was the restaurant doing well – at 3,000 cups of coffee sold a day, Ah Kong, the amiable owner, was raking it in, even if the waiters were cutting in on the payments for food, oftentimes pocketing a bigger share than the restaurant itself by skimming off the top.
Ah Kong knew what was happening, but simply closed his eyes to the anomalous practice, as long as he didn’t catch any of his employees red-handed.
This of course, did not sit well with Ah Kong’s family, and after his death, swiftly transformed Dainty Restaurant into an ice cream parlor cum restaurant that served coffee only on the side.
And so the demise of Dainty Restaurant marked the end of a Baguio landmark.
Dainty table number 1, where the problems of the city and that of the country were often solved by the usual Baguio analysts and geniuses after a round of coffee, found itself stored in a warehouse and later used as firewood, torched to a cinder, together with the solutions to all our ills, painstakingly discussed and resolved over the years by politicians, current or has been, by lawyers worth or not worth their salt.
Throw in the undying Session Road leeches who never worked a single day in their entire lives, but dared lecture like sages upon the politicians, lawyers, and businessmen, yet had not enough money to pay for their own coffee, and presto, everything was going well for good old Philippines.
Philosophers of life all, bankrupt or otherwise.
But Dainty Restaurant was a sanctuary for everyone, rich and poor alike, blissful or stupid, titled or illiterate – they all partook of Ah Kong’s coffee, which had that distinctive flavor and taste after Ah Kong’s smelly sock was dumped into the percolator.
But Ah Kong was as much a character like his own Dainty Restaurant. Customers who failed to settle their signed chits over a period had their names printed over the “He no pay” list, prominently displayed at the door window.
At another time, when the government’s bank account was retransferred to Philippine National Bank, all government checks were naturally dishonored by former government bank Far East, and holding a bundle of paychecks that city and provincial prosecutors had earlier changed to cash, the poor Chinaman went around screaming that the government had finally had gone bankrupt.
When Dainty Restaurant was about to fold up, I called up Marcela, the restaurant cashier, and asked her to please tear up all my signed chits (actually my two boys and their friends and classmates, c/o yours truly) as she had done for other favored customers.
“I can’t,” Marcela lamented.
“Why not,” I barked, “am I not Ah Kong’s friend?”
“You are,” Marcela replied, “but I can’t tear your signed chits because it’s too bulky, I will burn them if you like.”
I love that Marcela. Not only did she ever send me demand or collect letters, she also had a great sense of humor. Dainty is now gone, and the long line of coffee drinkers has been replaced by a queue of ice cream addicts.
“So what’s so special about Session Delight’s ice cream?” I query.
The reply. It’s the cone, sweet and brittle, like the Ah Kong we used to know.