Going home

Davao has never succeeded in charming me. I left the city without any feeling of attachment to it. I’m now on a Yellow Bus to General Santos. Anyone who spent his growing up years in this part of the country will always have fond memories of this bus company. For us, these yellow buses are so much a part of our lives that we generically call all buses Yellow Bus.

The trip will take roughly three to four hours, depending on whom one asks. From there I will take another bus to Polomolok and then a bumpy tricycle ride from poblacion to our barangay, which I have not seen for more than two years. If I get lucky later, the tricycle driver may be a schoolmate in high school, or, if our memories will not betray us, in elementary school, and I will have my fare for free. Or if not, we can catch up on what has happened to each other in the past ten years, oblivious of the coughing noise coming from the engine of his tricycle.

Going home has always given me this odd feeling. I feel more like a visitor, a guest at my parents’ house rather than a homecoming son. I itch to fly back to Manila after spending a week home. Two weeks down my supposed vacation, I’m imagining going insane. The slowness of life in Cannery will drive anyone to the edge. It has never happened to my parents and some of my high school classmates who decided to stay, though. But I am sure it will to me. The longest time I spent home since leaving for college ten years ago was two weeks. It’s unimaginable staying longer.

But I’m thinking of doing it differently this time. I will wake up tomorrow to a breakfast of rice and fish I imagine my mother will cook for us. Then I will walk to the pineapple plantation of Dole Phils. nearby to have a good view of the beautiful Mt Matutum. And I’ll leaf through those dated volumes of New Standard Encyclopedia our parents bought twenty years ago and will reread those entries that comprised my early memories of reading.

I want to enjoy the days with my parents this Christmas. I miss them. I will give home another look, and perhaps doing this will let me reconsider staying longer next time. Or maybe, it will help me remember how nostalgia feels.

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34: Ruminating on death and true love on a Sunday noon

A human lifetime is 80 years long on average. A person imagines and organizes his life with that span in mind. What I have just said everyone knows, but only rarely do we realize that the number of years granted us is not merely a quantitative fact, an external feature (like nose length or eye color), but is part of the very definition of the human. A person who might live, with all his faculties, twice as long, say 160 years, would not belong to our species. Nothing about his life would be like ours–not love, or ambitions, or feelings, or nostalgia; nothing. If after 20 years abroad an emigre were to come back to his native land with another hundred years of life ahead of him, he would have little sense of a Great Return, for him it would probably not be a return at all, just one of many byways in the long journey of his life.

For the very notion of homeland, with all its emotional power, is bound up with the relative brevity of our life, which allows us too little time to become attached to some other country, to other countries, to other languages.

Sexual relations can take up the whole of adult life. But if life were a lot longer, might not staleness stifle the capacity for arousal well before one’s physical powers declined? For there is enormous difference between the first and the tenth, the hundredth, the thousandth, or the ten thousandth coitus. Where lies the boundary line beyond which repetition becomes stereotyped, if not comical or even impossible? and once that boundary is crossed, what would become of the erotic relationship between a man and a woman? Would it vanish? Or, on the contrary, would lovers consider the sexual phase of their lives to be the barbaric prehistory of real love? Answering these questions is as easy as imagining the psychology of the inhabitant of an unknown planet.

The notion of love (of great love, of one-and-only love) itself also derives, probably, from the narrow bounds of the time we are granted. If that time were boundless, would Josef be so attached to his deceased wife? We who must die so soon, we just don’t know.

Kundera, Milan. Ignorance. Linda Asher (trans). New York: Harper. 2000. 120-2.

Throwback Tuesdays

Because I don’t want this post to celebrate one of the most depressing days in a person’s life.

Perhaps the most rational reason people dig their trunks and the dark recesses of their computer memories to look for the most horrendous and dated artifacts of their pasts during Thursdays and have them posted on their virtual walls is because even though the past is ugly, sepia-ed, and moth-infested, it has never abandoned them. It is continually remembered with much fondness, like a 5-week old cereal-and-milk mixture sitting happily inside one’s refrigerator, forming crust on top of desiccated crusts, that can turn into either a sour-tasting granola or an organic charcoal–both wonderful byproducts.

Throwback Thursdays appeal the most to people in their 20s. That stage in one’s life when nothing’s uncertain, and the future looms devoid with kindness, when everyone seems to have moved on, but one still finds himself stuck in one place, silently crying for help, but not wanting to cry too hard lest his Facebook friends think he’s a whiner and a bitter participant in this party called life.

And so he quietly posts reminders of the kinder past, hoping, just hoping, the future will be much better, and for friends to drop him a like or two.

Don’t ask me about that giraffe and its various permutations.

What am I talking about? Today is just Monday.

On seeing her

I have some vivid mental images of her. We were in second grade. It was a humid June morning; my section felt uneasy in our seats confronted by a foreign being that didn’t look like most of us. Our grade two teacher, Ma’am Ureta, was staring at her while her mother was explaining to our class adviser why her daughter missed the enrollment. After roughly 15 minutes, she was asked by my teacher to say good bye to her mother and to occupy the empty seat three desks from where I was seated. She was wearing a lavender shirt, a pencil cut skirt, and a backpack made from woven rattan strips. She looked so different from your usual public central school kid. Her skin was a lot fairer, her face radiant unlike most of us then who looked sullen if not hungry having missed breakfast or were too poor to afford it. She looked well-fed. I, in particular, was a few strands away from looking malnourished. I am not sure if we instantly clicked, but our friendship spanned nineteen years. In a year’s time she looked like most of us, public school kids. Playing under the midday sun with us charred her skin, the sweat left her hair sticking and reeking in that quintessential odor of kids unaffected by life’s many hardships that luckily only the adults worry about.

Today, I saw her again. This time, her face looked even more, I am not sure, luminescent, I suppose. She looked happy and content. Tired, yes, after having gone through the rigors of med board reviews, but there’s something that seemed to well up from within her.

And I love what I saw. I am very happy for her. I envy her in fact. She has within her the best gift a woman can ever have.

Here’s to the five years of blogging

I began blogging exactly five years ago. That night of 8 June 2008 when this blog debuted was like tonight; it was raining hard. Traffic of motorbikes scurrying to reach their destinations halted outside because the downpour was just too much to bear for the antiquated drainage system of that old district of Hanoi. The woman selling pho outside our compound was still there, seated in her red kiddie plastic chair serving bowls of steaming rice noodles submerged in that divine broth to stranded motorists who did not bother taking off their colorful raincoats and equally multi-colored helmets.

That night I was suffering from a level of boredom too extreme and painful it was one of those rare times I can recall I cried. I cried a lot. I missed home so badly. I felt invisible because I was indeed living invisibly. For the woman selling pho outside I was just “that” strange ngoui nuoc ngoai, for the rest I was a nonentity.

Writing down about those gamut of feelings  I knew I would never fully capture in writing, I thought, would be the best way for me to at least have some semblance of order during those months when nothing seemed to make sense. (It’s not as if things make more sense now. (Often they still don’t make sense, though I never stopped attempting to understand them.) I was twenty-two then. I could feel I was poised to realize whatever it was I was dreaming of. I have completely  convinced myself then that whatever inconvenience it was that I was going through in that foreign country was a way of gaining a foothold to something bigger. I didn’t know what that something was then, and I can never be less sure now.

I didn’t care that “Going Against the Current” was too corny a title. But it was the first thing that occurred to me. I subtitled it ‘thoughts of a twenty-something.’ I wasn’t aware then that I was having my share of quarter life crises. I didn’t know the term existed. But I knew there was something odd about that whole set-up. Living and studying in Vietnam was not part of my plan then. I only wanted to escape from the banality of my existence right after graduating from college that I was willing to be hurled anywhere, only to find myself hurled nastily in that blah. I was living by myself in that shoebox of a rented place on Tran Hung Dao Street in the old district of Hanoi, which only exacerbated what then was a terminal case of ennui. At that time, it was the aptest title I could think of for a personal blog.

I wrote this to console myself:

“On Being an Exile”

I have been reading a short essay written by Jorge Luis Borges, and he talked about how being an “exile” brings out parts of our personalities that is unknown to us, and will forever be unknown to us, unless we allow ourselves to be exiled or for us to be exiled by force (which can be in any form such as that of the state, an organization, or the bigger society).

Here, I shall be talking about throwing one’s self away, figuratively, that is, one chooses to embark on the feat of a self-exile. Consciously choosing to leave, and here it means physically deserting anything that has to do with a secure life, and living in a place that is foreign, a place where doing something for comfort will prove burdensome. Barriers will include inability to communicate one’s self, lack of cultural knowledge, ethnocentricity, etc.

Just like all ethnographic researches, the researcher, or as in our case the exiled, faces several stages of coming to terms with himself in relation to his environment and its actors. Roughly, there will be a period of much patronizing and romanticizing, that is, the exiled will think that everything around him is better than what he has left behind. It will be followed a realization that things around him are different and therefore will tax his understanding of all the cultural truths as well as subtleties in his new environment. This will awaken the hidden ethnocentric (and xenophobic) character of our subject which lead to a gap and further distancing from everything around him and creating a world of his own making. Although this may sound pessimistic, this is necessary for the subject to create a giant leap towards understanding and eventually living in harmony with the foreign people surrounding him.

The third period, which I will refer from hereon as ‘distancing’, is a very crucial step because this is where the hidden and repressed selves of our subject surface and thereby allowing different personae to make themselves known to him. Here, creativity, appreciation of one’s former society, and objective probing of the world in general are strengthened and are highlighted.

In distancing, the mind of the subject shifts from a passive, non-observer of events, objects, cultural truths and subtleties, and idiosyncracies into a more active, peering, and critical entity. Interestingly, this also leads to a blossoming of the artistic mind, scientific inquisitiveness, and more understanding of the inner self as well as the emotion. Distancing allows the exiled to have a hold of his world and shape it in a way that can be radical, sometimes, but most of the times more reformative, and in general beneficial. It can be in a form of literary works such as Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain or Tolstoi’s novels War and Peace and Annakarenina, or Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

It is, therefore, necessary, especially for the young people, to travel and to detach themselves from the mundane and the usual and immerse themselves in a world devoid of comfort and security.

No amount of feigned cockiness could hide the insecurity of my twenty-two-year-old self, of my inability to know where exactly I was heading. Still I treaded on because doing the most difficult was the easiest thing to do. And I never regretted having gone on with the journey. The ride has been exciting and I look forward to more years of blogging. I just hope that when another five years is done, I’d be a lot better.

Why Manny Pacquiao’s defeat wasn’t that painful

For a nation obsessively in need of a hero, Manny’s defeat yesterday, had it occurred two or three years ago would have been catastrophic and irreversibly traumatic for us whose national psyche is too fragile it rests on one man’s ability to throw punches and draw blood from an opponent whose background is as sorry as ours.

The fewer number of Facebook status expressing dismay, hopelessness, and bitterness due to Manny’s loss to Bradley (at least on my page), compared to what I imagined it would be, had been glaring (at least for me). Have we become less sore of a loser? I have proofs to say that as a nation we still are.

Have the Filipinos become less interested in the legend of Manny? Have the Filipinos thought Manny has already become too moneyed they failed to see their hungry faces reflected in his?

Has his story gone too magically realistic it was rendered unbelievable and felt too scripted in a country were people  eat magic realism for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Have we as a nation shifted our search for a hero to something else? Or have we realized we did not need a hero after all?

Have we thought maybe Manny is just too much of an outlier he can’t be a Filipino? Or has his career like the careers of our many local movie stars’, after having burst into a bright supernova, is now on a road to becoming nothing but a black hole, the star a has-been?

We seem to have cared less now because we realized it is not wise to gamble our national sanity on a champion who, vicissitude they call, will sooner or later face defeat, and that it is far wiser to gamble on our institutions, on our future together as one nation, on a shared belief that this nation is on its road to greatness.

Maybe having a hero was important. But as in all epics, it’s the members of the army who carry out and win the war.

Para sa’yo na nag-enroll sa akin

Babe,

Ang hirap magpasalamat sa iyo gamit ang Skype na sobrang unpredictable ang connection. Magkikita din naman tayo six days from now. Magsusulat na lang muna ako.

Magsisimula ako by saying ‘Thank you’ dahil nag-leave ka pa para lang pumunta ng UP at i-enroll ako. Salamat at sorry, dahil kahit hindi ko sinasagot ang tawag mo, ala-tres ng hapon diyan, alas-tres ng madaling araw rito, naipasok mo pa rin ako sa mga courses na pinri-enlist ko.

Kahit na sabi ng isang Chinese-looking prof sa iyo e hindi ako pwedeng hindi kumuha ng isang core course in a semester, nagawan mo pa rin ng paraang kausapin ang isang old-looking prof para mapirmahan lang ang Form 5a ko. Alam kong napaka-charming mo, pero hindi ko alam na ganun katindi ang charm mo.

Source: http://soloflighted.com

Salamat sa pagbyahe mo galing Makati papuntang Diliman, Babe, sa kabila ng init at siksikang MRT at nakakatakot na jeepney-ride from Quezon Ave papuntang Campus, di baleng magkawala-wala ka. Di baleng maluma kaagad ang bago mong sapatos. Nakaka-touch isiping nakayanan mong gawin yon, ayaw  na ayaw mo pa namang naglalakad ng mahaba at madali kang napapagod.

Salamat sa paghahanap ng Vinson para i-register ang iskolaship ko (at makakatipid ako ng kaunti ngayong sem), sa paghahanap ng OUR na nasa kabilang ibayo pa. Kahit na sumakay ka ng TOKI instead of IKOT, at pagsakay mo ng IKOT instead of TOKI. Ngumingiti ako kapag naiisip ito. Ngayo’y alam mo na kung bakit ako mukhang haggard kapag umuuwi ako galing UP. Naaalala mo pa ba nung sumama ka sa akin before? Dahil kasama kita, biglang ang ganda ng UP at biglang ang dali ng class? Ganun ata katindi ang ng epekto mo sa lahat, sa akin, Babe.

Salamat dahil kahit pagod na pagod ka na sa pag-i-enroll mo sa akin ay nag-sorry ka pa dahil muntikan nang hindi mo ako ma-enroll sa mga gusto kong subjects. Ayokong pumasok ng Sabado, gusto ko magkasama tayo ng buong Sabado. At ito’y mangyayari. Yehey!

Salamat dahil sabi nila iba raw ang pakiramdam ng mayroong kaibigang nag-eenroll sa iyo, ngayo’y naranasan ko na rin ito. Sa wakas. At di lang basta kaibigan.

Babe, miss na miss na kita. Tuloy, di na ako makapag-antay na umuwi.