TOURIST AT LARGE

MANILA, December 2009 – – Nothing replaces renewing ties with family including estranged relatives. It was a process of relearning the family old routines and quirks of for me for my brief homecoming. Fortunately, mealtimes were not a solo affair anymore especially dinners, which were a little more varied than my perennial couscous and vegetables in my other homes.  Going out was family time. Logging onto the Internet was kept to a minimum because there was someone to talk to and the fact that it was cumbersome to head down to the nearby Internet café.  Quite frankly, it felt good to disengage from the ether world and interact with people face-to-face.

I talked the ears off my family, catching up on goings-on (who’s pregnant, who’s working and who’s not – the usual), the political situation (who filed their candidacy for president), the entertainment (why does Manny Pacquaio have a movie) and eating places. Amici is the current favorite for aglio olio pasta, vegetariana and marghuerita pizzas, and choco sans rival gelato cake. Congo Grill is a great place for Filipino food while Reyes Barbecue at Gateway is a good choice for grilled squid, milkfish and chicken.

Chatting with old high school and college friends energized my soul and re-introduced me to the me that I had forgotten about. It was down memory lane, at first, with M and J, my high school barkada. Then onto adventures in parenthood-ville, as both are mothers – M is a mother of a brood of four lovely children while J is mum to two gorgeous boys.  I filed away one telling note in case I ended up as their neighbor – “Have intelligent conversation to balance against 24-7 baby talk.”

Books were – and still are – a big part of our lives, and, without fail, we’d update each other books to read whenever we could.

“Ah, that’s the Rhissa I know,” said M with a smile when I took out a note pad and pen to jot down the books she recommended, The Shack and Wellness on the Islands.

Next topic was a grand reunion of the whole gang – all six of us – who are scattered all over the globe. A, S and J reside in the United States; J is in Canada; M and E are in the Philippines while I shuttle around Southeast Asia.

“Some of us have turned 40 and some will be turning 40, and since life begins at 40 I thought it’d be a good idea to meet up somewhere. What do you think?” asked J.

“I’m in!” Melie and I exclaimed at the same time, both grinning from ear-to-ear. Fingers crossed, we’ll be reunited in 11 months somewhere in California.

Catching up with Patricia over delicious food at Amici in the Philippines. Here we are enjoying the desserts.

With college friend, P, we talked about culture, religion, education and a possible trip to Bali next year and I, finally, met C, her nice French husband. Over pasta and pizza at Amici, C and I waxed lyrical about the beauty of Bali particularly the rustic appeal of Ubud and the warmth of the Indonesian. He added a story about a conversation he had with a young brawny man who accosted him at a beach in Bali one day.

“I have no problems with homosexuals, but I’m not that kind of man,” he said digging into his minestrone soup.

Talk shifted to education. Teachers in France, in general, are in dire straits inside the classroom contrasted against their Asian counterparts, I was made to understand.  Teachers are victims of bullying by students who do not have an iota of respect or regard for teachers.  The conventional power struggle between teacher and student in class ends theoretically in three months after rules and boundaries have been established. But it’s a power struggle that continues until someone bows out, and judging from the explanation of C, both parties stay locked in until the semester is over. Teachers in Indonesia go through a baptism of fire, but they do not spar with culturally dislocated students trying to assimilate in a society that is not receptive towards them.

Religion was next. We respect people who find solace in their Gods. Our collective problem is when people utter smugly, “It’s part of my religion” as an explanation of their beliefs.

Through all these renewal of ties, I found myself sifting through my memory archive. Like a tourist, I started from scratch to build memories, and, at times, have the old-new ones rearranged by my mum or sister. SM North Edsa, which is near my old high school, has changed completely. The landscape is now with a sky garden and jeepney berths that transformed the open parking space into a dark and walled in area. Inside, every walkway is filled with a kiosk selling aromatherapy oils, organic supplements, lotto tickets, brownies, cookies and what have you. The overfilled spaces were familiar, reminding me of the overly decorated old jeepneys that had passengers fearing for the driver’s visibility. Art critics explained this filling up of space with the Filipinos’ horror vacui or fear of space hence the tendency to over decorate. This time, however, I doubted if it had anything to do with decoration and horror vacui.

I was looking at an old map of Quezon Avenue in my mind, which looked half abandoned. Numerous buildings were deserted and the ones that were operational showed wear-and-tear. The Jollibee outlet opposite McDonald’s was gone.  Red Ribbon was occupying the spot. McDonald’s was still there but it looked different. National Bookstore was no longer only a bookstore. It had turned into half a bookstore (with a confusing lay out) and half a department store. Tropical Hut needed a facade clean-up and renovation as well as the old Mercury Drug store

Archived memories had me looking for kith and kin. One afternoon I asked about Uncle Pete. I remembered him as this thin man whose wit was unparalleled. He owned an antique shop and my mum was a regular patron. But he had crossed over a few years ago. I also remembered my wonderful Grandaunt Auring whose cut-and-dry characterizations of people were hilarious. To settle a debate on an uncle’s sexuality, my grandaunt said he’s not gay if he was married and vice-versa. To settle a debate on whether a person was a drug addict, my grandaunt said red eyes were spot on and vice-versa.  She was the aunt who accepted me (and my sister) wholeheartedly. But she had crossed over too together with her equally wonderful husband, Granduncle Islao.

One might ask, “What is she thinking?” People change, things change. People age, old businesses fold up and new ones take their places. I know change takes place – pardon the cliché, it’s the only constant element in everyone’s life. Someone might follow up with question, “So what’s with the astonishment with the changes?”  Some people take to changes as quickly as the rising and the setting of the sun while others, like me, need to have a major shifting of the tectonic plates to accept change. Thus the map of yesteryears is the still the map I use as a guide that’s carefully archived in my mind. Like a tourist clinging to an old edition of Lonely Planet, I don’t have the updated version. Let me rephrase that – I’m reluctant to look at the updated version.

Without a doubt, I love to travel and love being a tourist. But I’m more of a tourist at large caught between the past, present and future. I prefer it that way for the moment until the universe gives me a nudge, jolting me out of my habit of freezing people, things and events in time.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by dennis on December 30, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    I’m so green with envy! Wish I could go back home and visit (soon). It’s been a long 4 years.

    As for your paragraph about religion, I came across this quote that you (or your mom) might find interesting:

    “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” – Stephen Roberts

    Reply

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