As if my self-made narrative surrounding my heritage couldn’t come full circle enough, my sister and I went back home this past summer and haven’t been able to write since then. I mean, really. It’s mid-October and this morning I watched my parents and brothers back out the driveway with nothing but excitement and pasalubongs in those nearly overweight luggages. My chest felt like it was being stepped on, realizing I couldn’t go with them – and I guess maybe it was heartbreak that I felt this morning, maybe even heartbreak that I refused to acknowledge since July.
That’s a really dramatic way to put it but here are the last entries I wrote before I knew I couldn’t write anymore. A few things: first, I call my aunt ‘Ayey’. Second, when you read these, know that they’re coming from a place of privilege – one that entails a house with personal drivers and nannies and financial allowance, one that I had nothing to do with but lucky enough to be born into. So when I talk about poverty or have the room to compare between the pros and cons between a third-world country and the land of dreams called America, I’m sorry that I end up sounding spoiled and naive. Nonetheless, these entries are as authentic as they could be and I kind of like reading back through them. I’ve missed my voice.
‘The Color of Leaving’ [7/14/19]
with threads of lavender
soft periwinkle blankets shrink-wrapped with a plea:
PLEASE DO NOT TAKE OFF THE PLANE
so here we are in Row 70 seats E & F, sandwiched between two of the quietest, most pleasurable seat mates – a tita on one side and a soccer player from UCSB to my right. They shut the window shades a while a go and even though I can still see the sun wanting to play outside, being plunged in this blue makes you believe it’s definitely night time. Amazing things this aircraft can do. A Boeing 777 (“triple 7” they called it). Carrying so many of us.
Sam is sleeping on her tray table and I’m struggling to describe why I feel the need to cry every few hours.
To come back no different.
To come home without anything to offer: no promise of a future, not a doctor or a lawyer to be.
To be up in the air – literally and figuratively – I’m scared will no longer be acceptable.
‘On a Mattress in Ayey’s Room’ [7/17/19]
Air con is a very powerful thing over here. You really feel a physical barricade at the threshold of Ayey’s air conditioned room and the thick humidity of the hallway.
Grandma’s house smells like a dog. Not even sure how to elaborate except it’s literally just like holding a dog who hasn’t showered for days up to your nose.
The whole Philippines in general feels like an incubated bathroom perpetually moist because someone just showered and didn’t crack open a window.
Paint color choices are interesting (our guest room is slime green).
Sometimes I don’t know how we get from one place to another. We get in the car, we jolt bumper to bumper until my head lulls itself to sleep and then I wake up and boom we’re here.
It’s now 4:16am and I hear the rain and the rooster outside (!!!)
‘May ipis dito sa coron’ [7/18/19] 2:38am
Translation: ‘There’s a cockroach here in Coron’
I’m laying my head on a fluffy hotel pillow – softer than the clouds, the only type that doesn’t hurt my shoulders as I sink into it. Very different from all the instances of discomfort I faced each hour today: from the two-seater Boeing jet hovering in the air, making two (three?) trips around the island, which made my stomach lurch every which way (but we’re lucky apparently bc all the flights before us were cancelled and if they couldn’t land the third time we would’ve gone back to Manila), to stepping into a hot spring and feeling my bottoms balloon outward for all sorts of dirt to bypass my crotch, to sitting through dinner in an itchy bikini top, to covering my food when the rain spat at us, and constantly CONSTANTLY being squeezed by humidity then shooting straight into an air conditioned room so all that sweat on top of your oily skin instantly freezes into another saran-wrap-like layer over you.
On the bus ride to the airport, I sat next to a girl preoccupied with her phone game. While she yelled into her headphones, I looked out the window and saw the thing that always puts me at peace: stretches of open greenery beyond our lovely little congested little Manila. Apparently we passed by Apalit (grandpa’s farm) through that road trip.
Kai-kai is our childhood friend and she’s on this trip and I am just in complete respect and awe of her. No exclusivity, no condescending, no uplifting herself even though she just graduated with a medtech degree and is the only one manning her household at the moment bc of her newborn baby sister. Only complete peace, I’ll-get-out-of-the-car-to-get-you-snacks helpfulness, offering up information without the subjectivity when it comes to school and careers, she’s so easy and chill and it’s great. What a great person.
Also I saw two cockroaches in this room so hopefully none of them go into the blanket with me or my luggage idk
‘Low Tide’ [7/19/19 6:07am]
I didn’t get to write yesterday bc I actually fell asleep the whole night! But we rode a boat to an empty beach and then rode it back to the main island only to get stuck because of the extremely low tide. Nature’s crazy man who knew it could do all that ?! One hour the dock is filled to the brim with water and the next it’s up to our ankles. So we had to get out and walk the rest of the way to the pier.
Yesterday was also the day when we all sat around our hotel room table with all these foods and snacks telling stories, listening to Ayey tell stories, listening to Tito Melvin tell stories, and laughing nonstop
Oh my word I almost forgot but I saw giraffes and zebras!!! Honestly such beautiful majestic creatures I loved watching them walk so leisurely like their movements are adjusted to be half the speed of ours, a forever slow-mo picture.
You know what else is interesting?? We always leave an hour late and no one gets mad. Everything is so chill when it comes to punctuality, at least on this Coron trip. (The reason we got stuck in low tide is bc we were late)
Something else is that there’s a foggy film over my phone screen as I’m writing this. Imagine what my glasses are like – I tried wearing them today bc were going swimming the whole day but I couldn’t do it. It was just way too suffocating on my face.
‘Makinig Ka’ [7/20/19 7:33am]
Translation: ‘Pay Attention’
Yesterday we went island hopping it was extremely extremely exhausting but BEAUTIFULLLLL. For future reference, don’t wear contacts or jewelry or pimple patches in the sea. Do wear goggles.
One thing I’ve been observing is how Filipinos really try to make what they want happen. There’s virtually no limitations – if you want something, say “Kuya, baka pwuede naman …” [“Kuya, maybe we can…”] And they’ll bend over backwards for you just to fulfill your request. Customer service is nuts here!! Top level shit.
For lunch, we docked at a bare island with nothing but a bunch of wooden tables on stilts. The waves were crashing into the rocks and shore pretty hard and to get there we had to dip ourselves at least chest deep in water to walk over. We feasted on food that the captain and boatman cooked! Isn’t that crazy?! They can steer a boat and cook for a party all in one. Mangoes and bananas and pampano (fish) and pusit (squid) and shrimp and eggplant and rice. It was kamayan style (eating by hand), except I didn’t comply because I came from the bathroom. That was an interesting, rocky trip in itself – around the island, trying to maneuver through debris and gravel barefoot; the stall didn’t have a sink or a lock…I’m not even sure I shot my pee in the bowl bc I was too busy squatting and holding the door with my other hand, but I mean, no complaints – it served its purpose.
Another thing is….everyone’s a philosopher here. It’s a WILD contrast from how we’re treated back home. I thought my dad was bossy but it’s nowhere near what parents are like here. Ayey for one loves to just tell us ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ or ‘don’t do that’ before we have a chance to learn why not. Everyone is always extra precautious – that’s the word. PRECAUTION. Doing everything the right way before it can go wrong as opposed to learning as you go. I used to be like that; I don’t remember when in my life I realized that I can’t control every unforeseeable outcome but it’s definitely interesting to see the difference in mindsets. Maybe there’s just more to lose when you make a mistake over here.
‘A Shift in the Air’ [7/20/19 11:22pm]
Only bc there was a literal shift in the weather today: I saw the sun in Coron and when I entered Grandma’s house I didn’t feel like I was trudging through sticky hallways. There’s definitely less humidity today. It’s great.
Things I’m learning from Kai-Kai:
– just to do things asked of you without complaining, whether it’s a cup of water, to pick up something from the store, to take the siblings to school, to make sure you’re focusing on school, etc.
-to respect your mom. And Ayey. And all the elders. A rule I’ve forgotten and let go of a looong time ago. To be polite even without an audience. (‘Eto po Ayey?’ ‘Yes po’ ‘meron na po’ etc etc)
-to listen and sit and just BE without thinking, without trying to be big, without trying to have a presence in the room – just be present.
-to respect yourself doesn’t mean you have to be a fighter all the time. It can mean you do what you have to do, you stay quiet when people berate you, you show what you got through kindness and respect for others even if they don’t deserve it in your eyes
What I’m learning from Tito Melvin & Tita Iga:
-getting along with kids isn’t supposed to be a chore
-laugh a lot
-be firm in what you want
-stay loyal to your group
I’m exercising that weak Tagalog part of my favorite way of connecting with people – through language and stories and it’s the most fulfilling feeling.
‘Connections are Everything’ [7/22/19 12am]
I’ve been wondering why my memories of the Philippines are always so blurry. Even when it’s from yesterday my memory is literally hiding behind a cloud and I don’t understand why I can’t vividly envision what I did. And for the first time, these human interactions have grounded me and showed me what’s worthwhile – anytime, anywhere around the world, connections are everything.
‘Tips for the Philippines Airport’ [7/26/19]
-do online check in. Your line is way waaay shorter for baggages. Have that confirmation ready to show
-put on padlocks at the check-in counter bc they do bag inspections before then
-all electronics in carryon, including power banks
-it goes: security, bag inspection, check in, immigration, security, document check, security, boarding…did I mention security?
‘Things I want to remember when I’m back in America’ [7/29/19]
-the Philippines is all about community. People are EVERYWHERE. Babysitters and drivers and cooks and helpers and mall employees – you’re surrounded by noise all the time, but the kind that reminds you that your head isn’t the only thing ruling your life. America is a lonely mothrfckin place for a reason. It’s a rat race where you can’t be happy for someone else’s success unless you’re admitting that you can’t reach the same level. All man for themselves up there, the definition of selflessness is tainted with anticipation of rewards in the future too.
-The poverty is a constant reminder of what you fear and what you are grateful for. Selflessness and motivation and gratefulness – pillars against angst – are more readily available because the homeless, the pollution, the litter, the helpless, etc. on the streets prove that the world doesn’t revolve around you. And in many ways, that’s very comforting.
-distilled water always
-the malls are amazing. Their theaters offer flavored popcorn.
-aircon is a measure of power
-traffic is insane
-makeup is an inconvenience here, no matter how fun it is
-the entertainment industry is still pretty subpar. Artists have an aura of superiority, don’t fall into the trap of feeling small just for a picture
-OPM is on the rise and it makes me suuuuper happy
-Grandma’s kitchen smells really bad. A mix of vinegar and Patis
(fish sauce) and dog
-humidity is a BITCH
-drivers are always there when you need them. Literally!!