I understand now why the porter at the hotel lobby reacted vehemently to my question over the phone when I called from my room: “Bonjour, Monsieur. Est-ce que l’eau ici est potable?” (Good morning sir, is the water here in the hotel potable?) He said, “Mais, bien sûr, Monsieur!” (But of course, Sir!)

Later I told my host about it and he laughed when I asked him if the porter had taken offense at my question. He said, “Of course. It’s one of the few things Switzerland is proud of, and also the only thing you can get for free.” I told him I noticed that the tap water actually tasted better and more refreshing than bottled water. He seemed satisfied with my remark.

In the city of Berne, while marvelling at the crystal clear water of the river that flowed around the valley that surrounded the city like a moat, another host told me the people of the city love to welcome visitors by drawing a glass of water straight from the river and giving it to guests to drink. He swore it was as potable as the water that flowed from old fountains around the city.

Yesterday, passing through one of the towns near the Lake Léman, I immediately recognized the town’s name as soon as my host mentioned it—Evian. “Like the brand of bottled water?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, “But the fresh water from the tap is better than the bottled water.” This remark was fast becoming a redundancy. I also noted the unveiled pride with which he had said it.

When I was in elementary, I remember my mother reading a letter from my Kuya Randy, describing what life was like in Manchester, England, where my brother was doing his graduate studies in sociology. In his letter, my brother said there was hardly anything that was for free where he was; in fact, he said even drinking water had to be bought from the supermarkets in bottles. Back then I found the idea ridiculous. I remember asking my mother to ask my brother in her reply to him, if they also sold bottled air in England. I am not sure if my mother took me seriously.

Now we’ve exchanged situations; they have kept their water sources in Switzerland while we have polluted ours in the Philippines. Now even the poorest people in the slums of Manila buy bottled water for drinking. Will we ever be able to rehabilitate our water sources in the Philippines in the future so that, like the Swiss people, we can also draw water again, straight from our rivers and springs, and offer it to our guests for drinking? It’s never too late for that, is it?

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