Every time I come from a trip to the Philippines I always feel refreshed. But for this recent trip, it was more revelations than rejuvenation. My mistake is always forgetting to write down my observations and feelings after every trip. There is a kind of intensity about life in the Philippines that makes it almost impossible to reflect if one doesn’t make an effort to do so. This is why I’m taking advantage of the quietness back here in Canada, before I dive into my ordinary life and forget about these thoughts.
- Corona, an observation – Almost every establishment back in the Philippines had a fever gun. But aside from that, locals were pretty much oblivious to the scare. There wasn’t a lot of news about it, and everywhere you went shopping malls were still filled with people. Businesses went on as usual, people still ate out, went drinking and partied. Meanwhile, back here there are no fever guns pointed at you from every corner but there’s not a lot of people in public spaces, people are not shopping and are opting to stay home. There are fewer people here compared to a Mega city like Manila, so I guess the change is more visible. (This was between February 8-21)
- A mirror– Travelling with Arvin has been the most fun and natural affair. Our patience for each other far extends the usual, and our minds just sync. We’ll give each other a quick glance to confirm our mutual thoughts and smirk. This was a far cry from the almost breakdown of our friendship 7 years back when we still masked our insecurities and pretensions.
But what I really got from this trip is how Arvin also serves as my mirror. Him knowing me for more than a decade and seeing me up close – I could see my flaws reflected. Like, how petty I am and how I love to subtweet and how I’m always contradicting myself, like saying “I’m not a Tinola person” and then chowing down the tinola he just ordered. I also realize my selfishness, compared to his giving nature. I take graciously but very rarely give and when I do, sometimes I do so out of guilt. A gift, in exchange for my time. A gift because I do not know how to be a better friend.
There is also that side of me that only he can draw from. The high dose of goofiness, mixed in with sassy and snarky remarks. These parts of me that don’t always make it to the surface unless one belongs to my inner circle. I’ve always been regarded as a “sweetheart” in Canada and I always felt that makes for such a bland identity but I guess, noone has ever gotten as close to me as Arvin has.
- On grief– My cousin passed away while I was visiting. We were not particularly close, him being a decade younger. I don’t share many memories with him save for Sunday lunches and holiday get togethers. So I sometimes do not understand the grief that comes over me. Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed and start crying. I think I grieve for my cousin’s young life, because I know that a huge part of it is our failure to rise from intergenerational trauma. When we hurt and refuse to heal, we think we only hurt ourselves but that pain passes on to our children and our children’s children.
- The Filipino Vocabulary etc.– There are a couple of words and phrases I kept hearing throughout my Philippine trip. One is “kagaw” which translates to germs. I kept hearing it on the A.M news whenever I took a cab. Another is the Visayan phrase “humok ug ilong” which literally translates to soft nose but is an idiom for someone who is gullible or easily fooled, it could also translate to the Tagalog word “marupok.” Marupok means brittle but the word has been colloquially used in the context of love and relationships. To be marupok is to be someone who easily falls into love, or easily swayed by attraction, by physical appearances, or acts of devotion. The word “fragile” has also been coopted, used as the English version of the colloquial marupok. Arvin and I have been throwing the phrase humok ug ilong to each other throughout the trip due to a “haunting.” It is now a running joke wherein he usually warns me about my nose falling off and sending me Voldemort gifs and memes (because at one point this “ghost” refused to call me by my name.) We joke about my “nose job” and how badly it’s been done.
- On Middle Class arrogance- The irony is not lost on me that I work in the luxury industry selling non-essential items so I can continue to afford basic needs like rent, food, and transportation. My work involves selling luxury items, which in the grander scheme of things, and most glaringly, in the time of Covid-19, is something that noone needs. I had mentioned to a family member how less than three months into my job, I was encouraged to apply for a higher position. Just as I was being recognized for my competence and ability and had the opportunity to grow, the whole system erupted in utter chaos.
A family member said something in the lines of “Well, maybe you should look for a more important job.” God, that stung. My family and friends in the Philippines are all middle to upper class professionals. I don’t think any one of them has ever worked blue collar jobs. And so, I always find it a bit disturbing when they talk about wanting to help the masses and yet spew out statements like these once in awhile. I always wonder how they would fare if they migrated. Could they handle the “step-down”? I know it did a lot of damage to my ego when we moved and I’ve been trying to overcome these damaging belief systems created by migration.
I don’t know how to express this eloquently, but my god I am sick of self-righteous people in development jobs or in whatever upper class professions talking about their platforms to help the working class and yet, still look down on our work. We operate in a capitalist society, does the burden of a “more meaningful” employment fall on an individual? I know I was born with an inherent privilege too and sometimes I say things that go unchecked.
Personally, I know I have a choice and I know I can move on to something else. But I also know that I am happy where I am right now. A very far cry from the dread, anxiety and disrespect I felt with my more “prestigious” previous job. I do have plans and goals, and they will unfold as we go. I’m going through my life at my own pace.