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.

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.

India’s

taj mahal

What a foreigner will first see upon disembarking from his plane is the hugeness of India whose obviousness is rivaled only by its ubiquitous poverty. It’s not part of my countries-to-visit list. It’s in my sister’s, though. Had I been given a chance to give it to her as my Christmas gift, I would gladly let her take my place.

But, I cannot be more grateful. I got smitten by incredible India. Almost.

Half-smiles

I know. I know. This world is a sad one and my being sad now will not make it a little less sad. A sad company is still a sad company. It was raining today.

I went to school, did my perfunctory role as a student, listened attentively, and sometimes gave my opinions on matters that for me were not as pressing as, say, the current problems of the world such as hunger, wars, diseases, or the impeachment of the chief justice of my country. The pretentiousness of academic discourse. Everything after all is artificiality that mocks us in our face. This paragraph and the rest. All these are mirages.

I got out of the car and transferred to the seat in front. I forced myself to ask the priest some questions so he would not think I was some dumb Filipino who had no package of smart generalizations his kind usually carry around with them. I listened to his response to my inquisitiveness. It was one way. He never bothered to ask about me, what I like, what are my hobbies, what I think of him. I half expected it. I hate sounding like a child by asking stupid questions. Language has had endured too many brutalities and using it in order to drown silence was the basest insult one could hurl at it. It was still raining outside when he pulled over in front of the house I am staying. “Thank you, father, and you have a great afternoon,” I said to him with a forced smile.

From the side of my left eye I saw him returning the smile as forced as the one I gave.

I am thousand miles away from home, but it seems like I have not left. Travel has lost its appeal in me a long time ago since Google stripped the world off of all its mysteries.

Slow

Today was cold. We lunched on reheated food from dishes of two nights ago. Lunch reminded me of those lunches I had back in the Philippines when I never really had to enjoy food, as the sole object of the act of eating is satiation of hunger. I didn’t feel like laughing at what would have been funny jokes. This was a slow day.

Visita iglesia

I asked a Mexican student here how the letter ‘s’ in words like ‘iglesia’ is enunciated. Is it like how my History teacher in college would as in /iglethia/ which I still find funny? Or the more phonetic /iglesya/? I breathed a sigh of relief when he said the latter. I could not bring myself to say /inthithuthion/ or /tholuthion/! But he warned me it’s Español de Mexico and not Español de España. This I shall not forget.

I will not be prejudiced against how the letter s is enunciated by the Spaniards. We all got options, and it’s all a matter of preference. I’m for the sibilant, or however you call it, /s/.

And so a couple of friends, B, and I went for a visita iglesia on Holy Thursday. It was my first. The idea is for one to visit as many Roman Catholic churches as he can and to pray the fourteen Stations of the Cross, ideally a station for each church. Doing so was a tall order so we settled only for eight churches. Still a feat considering the traffic, long ride, heat and humidity, and the crowd of Catholics who were to express their faith by doing their own visita iglesia. We went around Bulacan, a province north of Manila.

The altar of the Diocesan Shrine of Mary, Mother of Eucharist and Grace in Barangay San Vicente, Sta Maria, Bulacan. It has this other-worldly feel because the image of the Virgin is outside the church which can be seen from the inside through a clear glass panel.

Bas reliefs of angels found in a church museum beside the Diocesan Shrine of Mary, Mother of Eucharist and Grace. One would also find relics of saints and other icons in the museum, which despite the limited space was able to enthrall (this word sounds awkward here) me with the sculptures and paintings that were,  more than being religious, curious.

The belfry and facade of Inmaculada Concepcion parish church in Sta Maria, Bulacan. Outside, while waiting for the mass to finish, we ate fish balls and boiled corn. I may be mistaken, but one of our friends mentioned that beside it is a shrine for a saint whom people who are unable to walk pray. Those who were able to walk again offered their crutches to the saint.

Interior of Sta Rita de Cascia parish church in Guiguinto, Bulacan. This year’s Holy Thursday was unusually solemn because according to that same friend of ours in the previous years there were children hoisted a la Cirque du Soleil on the ceiling of the church portraying different scenes in the Christ’s Passion.

There was power black-out when we reached this church of Santissima Trinidad in Malolos, Bulacan. I found this the most modern-looking among the churches we visited. I failed to comprehend, however, the symbolism behind the glass stained eye-in-a-triangle (Eye of Providence) image.

Among the churches we visited, the Barasoain church or the parish of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is the most historic. It was found on the 10-peso note that is now out of circulation.

The cat was nowhere to be found.

The National Shrine of St. Anne found in Hagonoy, Bulacan. There’s a waterfall inside!

The Santa Isabel church in Malolos, Bulacan is nothing short of spectacular. But after having gone through six churches, it seemed quotidian although it truly was not. This was where I prayed the 9th Station, stuttering.

And finally, the Immaculate Conception (Major Seminary). Our last stop. The seminarians prepared well the three churches in the area for the visiting faithfuls — the paths were lighted, there were priests ready to hear confessions, and seminarians guided people around.

The exercise showed us one of the many things Filipinos would do to express their faith, the beauty of Philippine churches, patience, valuing the company of friends, and for me, the importance of taking part in this communal Catholic exercise once in a while.

I look forward to the next visita iglesia or iglesya (but definitely not /iglethia/).