What life was like in ‘Pinas when ‘Friends’ ruled TV 2
Culture

90s nostalgia: What life was like in ‘Pinas when ‘Friends’ ruled TV

When meeting up for coffee happened in hotels, when the Internet was for a privileged few, and when Paco Arespacochaga was a thing
Evelyn O. Katigbak | Sep 27 2021

For the most enduring and loyal fans of Friends, September is a foremost time to reminisce and reconnect with fellow fans. 

Friends was a hit American situational comedy (sitcom) that aired for 10 seasons beginning September 1994 to May 2004. As a result of its popularity, the sitcom was syndicated across many countries during the period of its airing. The syndication then further boosted its popularity. Twenty-seven years after it first aired, the show remains popular; its global re-runs and streaming continue to be in demand.

The much publicized reunion of its cast in May this year further enlarged the circle of Friends. The publicity drew much attention, especially on social media, and the sitcom effectively recruited new fans not only from today’s young people, but also from those who did not care about the show in the ‘90s.

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For both the die-hard fans and the new recruits, celebrating Friends’ anniversary is bringing back to life not only the New York days of Chandler, Joey, Phoebe, Ross, Monica, and Rachel in the ‘90s and early 2000s, but also a river of memories for those old enough to remember “wazz up” here in the Philippines during the same period.

 

Rock and rawr

At the time when both Phoebe’s “expertise” in guitar and Ross’s instant know-how of the bagpipes were repelling their listeners (but throwing Friends viewers into wild guffaws), various rock bands in the Philippines were charming fans not only by their distinctly relatable music, but also by their instrumentalists. While fans identified themselves as avid followers of a certain band, they further tagged themselves as fans of a band’s drummer, guitarist, or keyboardist. In today’s lingo, fans rawr-ed at them.

The mid-‘90s saw the phenomenal popularity of Eraserheads and their songs – which are, by now, considered classics. Among these were “Huwag Mo Nang Itanong” and “Huling El Bimbo.” Then and now, in the mind of many fans, Eraserheads is almost synonymous with Ely Buendia, the band’s lead vocalist and guitar player.

IntroVoys
IntroVoys. Photo from the band's Instagram account

It was also a time of the immense popularity of the IntroVoys. While the band’s love songs, such as “More Than a Friend,” became instant favorites, there came a point when Paco Arespacochaga, the IntroVoys’ drummer, became even more popular than the songs they recorded.

Rivermaya was also a blockbuster band. Their songs “214,” “Himala,” and “Hinahanap-Hanap Kita” was part not only of the weekly and monthly music charts then, but also of many successful and failed (for some, wretched) love stories. Rico Blanco, the band’s keyboardist and a “crush ng bayan” at that time, added a very huge following to the band.

Rivermaya
Rivermaya in the 90s. Photo by Eddie Boy Escudero

What WENUS?

Chandler, the tech-iest among the Friends, boasted about having a new laptop with “12 megabyte of RAM, 500 megabyte hard drive, built-in spreadsheet capabilities, and a modem that transmits it over 28,000 bps.” He also had a job that no one among his friends understood: statistical analysis and data reconfiguration. When Chandler was promoted to become a Processing Supervisor, he quit his job because he did not want to be “one of those guys that’s still in his office until 12 o’clock at night worrying about the WENUS (Weekly Estimated Net Usage System).

Around that time, majority of Filipinos did not even know what “internet” was. The Philippines got connected to the internet only in March 1994, a milestone culmination of years of collaboration among experts from the government through the Department of Science and Technology, experts from universities, and experts from the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. Even with the passage of the Public Telecommunications Act (Republic Act 7925) in 1995 – a crucial law for the ICT sector as it sought to ensure the development of telecommunications infrastructure – areas outside the National Capital Region had little or no access at all to the internet. ICT tools, such as desktop computers, and especially laptop units, were way too expensive even for those who had regular or stable income.

Yes, there was a time like that in the Philippines! An era which is too difficult to imagine at this time when most of the people in our personal networks are so immersed in using the internet. In the latest annual ereport of We Are Social (“Digital 2020 Global Overview Report”), the Philippines is still the country leader in terms of time per day spent using the internet at 9 hours and 45 minutes. We Are Social data at the onset of 2021 recorded 73.91 million internet users in the Philippines.

Today, especially with online gaming and streaming gaining unprecedented popularity across sectors, a high-tech laptop like that of Chandler’s in his time, has become relatively affordable.

Starbucks 6750
The first Starbucks branch in the Philippines was in Ayala Avenue’s 6750. Photo from Starbucks.ph

Coffee chit-chat

The coffee shop, Central Perk, hosted many of the memorable scenes in the sitcom. The friends enjoyed a good time hanging out after work and cheering – or ranting – about how the day went.

In the late ‘90s, hanging out in specialty coffee shops also became a thing for many young professionals in Metro Manila. But, mainly, it was because the famous US specialty coffee shop, Starbucks, opened its stores in the Philippines. The first Starbucks in the country opened in Makati in 1997.

Pre-Starbucks, drinking coffee in the ‘90s was generally part of the household morning ritual. Breakfast before going to work was with coffee – the powdered or granuled one, which was then dissolved in a cup of hot water, with sugar and, sometimes, milk added. Coffee had to be prepared this way because the instant “three-in-one” coffee we know today – the ones packed in sachets – were not yet popular in the market.

Chit-chats among professional colleagues happened during breaktime at the office’s pantry or canteen. More formal meetings were over coffee in a hotel lobby.

While hanging out in specialty coffee shops today have been a routine for friends, professionals, students, and even individuals who find some peace and quiet in cafés, it was certainly a fad and an experience to brag about in the late ‘90s. Naks, there was a thrill to have ordered a cappuccino or a macchiato for the first time!

The nostalgia makes us feel old. But it also awakens in us the attributes of our youth: we were big dreamers; we pursued love; we braved “the real world” of adulting even if – in the words of Monica – it sucks!

Author Graham Swift once said, “How quick and rushing life can sometimes seem, when at the same time it’s so slow and sweet and everlasting?”

Could this be any more nostalgic? (Did you hear yourself enunciating ala-Chandler?)

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Evelyn O. Katigbak is a PhD in Communication hopeful. Meantime, she writes and edits materials on Philippine culture and cultural diplomacy, as well as popular media on the side.