Tuesday, September 05, 2006

[Essay] Clockwork


I’m not a person who’s fond of watches, or rather, of wearing them. It doesn’t matter if it’s leather or plastic or metal. For one thing, me being skinny as I am, watches are seldom a perfect fit. But the real reason why I don’t like wearing watches is because it irritates my skin. I’ve received many watches over the years, but all of them gets lost from disuse. The only watch I remember wearing for any long duration was one of those gimmick watches that would speak out loud and tell you the time at the press of a button. Unfortunately, it got broken quickly, and I’ve never worn a watch ever since grade school.

Yet for someone who isn’t fond of watches, I’m someone who pays close attention to time. I’m the person who arrives at a meeting on the agreed upon time, if not earlier. During a long pictorial in the middle of the evening, someone asked the time and I predicted it within one or two minutes, and I didn’t even bother looking at a clock. Traveling around the metro, I can give an accurate estimate on what time I’ll arrive at the destination, factoring in the weather and traffic. Perhaps one of the stranger habits of mine is that whatever time I’d set my alarm clock on, I’d always (short of being extremely fatigued) wake up one minute before the alarm rings. There was even this weird phenomenon with one friend that whenever I’d sleepover (a sleepover wherein there’s actually some sleep going on) at his house, no matter what time we went to bed, we’d always wake up at 8 am.

It all began with my childhood. School has this uniform rigidness that when you look at it, is strangely militaristic. As anyone who’s been a student will tell you, everyone looks forward to the school bell signaling the end of a class. It could be they’re looking forward to recess, or perhaps right now it’s simply a boring subject, but everyone is unconsciously counting how long it’ll be before the lecture is over. Every subject, however, has the same duration: one hour. As a student, I had to go through one hour of English, one hour of Science, one hour of Math every single day. 60 minutes, no more, no less. In the beginning, keeping track of time was difficult, especially since I didn’t bring a watch. Instead, I mastered a technique which would later hone my stalking skills: I learned how to spy upon other people’s watches. It’s that moment where to others, you’re not looking at anyone in particular. In fact, it seems as if you’re paying attention to the teacher. But what is actually happening is that my gaze is upon a classmate’s wrist where his watch is wrapped around. Normally, it’s in reverse, and I have to flip the image in my mind. Sometimes, the classmate is farther off, either two desks in front of me, or two desks away from my side. But eventually, I would master the technique of telling time accurately with no watch of my own, thanks to my finely-honed spying skills.

Eventually, however, that wouldn’t be needed. Classes being uniform and spaced out evenly, it would soon be easy to tell the time based on feeling alone. Usually, the bell would ring an hour before the class would end, and I could sense when that moment was near. The teacher would see me packing my things early, and then the bell would suddenly ring, signaling the end of the session. Another sad fact is that school always started on the same time, namely seven thirty a.m., that I’d always wake up at six in order to get ready for school. Eventually, waking up at six was an unconscious habit, unless I had slept really really late the day before.

But perhaps what would hone my time-sense to a whole new level was traveling. In truth, I didn’t really go out much, but there were always distanced to be traversed, even if it was as simple as getting home from school. The moment I’d get into the car, I’d pay close attention to the time as minutes trickle away, either from getting stuck in traffic or waiting for my sister to get out of class. I was always in such a hurry because the best cartoons were usually aired just right after school. I’d make a mad dash for home so that I wouldn’t miss my favorite shows. However, various other activities would try to steal this time slot away from me: clubs, dentist appointments, group projects. And so my obsession with time began once more, honing it to a level that seems like clockwork.

These days, I tell time via my mobile phone. However, even then, I keep track of the variations. Time at my alma matter, for example, runs ten minutes faster than the time followed by TV stations. Time at work also runs ten minutes ahead, which makes it a pain to wake up early in the morning, but a joy to get out of work earlier than most people. I don’t travel much, so airport time is still a foreign thing to me, but I can easily estimate how long it’ll take to reach a certain area depending on the traffic and the distance. Perhaps what even disturbs the accountants at work is how I always leave the office at exactly six pm, thanks to the marks in my time card.