I was electrocuted by the warm hug from my sister who was there the moment I landed Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines on a rainy day on October 17, 2015. She did not change much and I was overwhelmed when she was there holding a banner with my name (+ blog name), jumping up and down. “I can’t believe you’re here!!!” She was almost crying but I avoided to do the same because I felt light. I did not feel like I was gone for a long time.
The airport frightened me already — it’s a completely different place. Traffic in the capital is ten times worse. It took us three hours to get to Quezon City from the airport which normally takes just an hour or 45 minutes, based on distance. Billboards are bigger and there are new celebrities in the ads that I don’t recognise. The transportation system is still disorganised from when I left but this doesn’t bother me much. I believe this is the unique image of my country’s capital and makes an outsider’s experience different. It is still very comfortable — chilly comfortable.
Despite the comfort and the familiarity, there was a whirlwind of emotions involved. I’m so excited to see my parents! I want to hug my mom so badly! What if my friends and I don’t find an appealing subject to talk about? I mean something interesting to all of us? Wait, what do I want for lunch? Flaming Wings? Mister Kebab? Ababu? Or maybe Jollibee? I was thinking of a lot of things — from choosing where to eat to what to say to my parents once I arrive home. Will a simple “hi” suffice? Is “hello” enough? Maybe a very tight hug will be okay? Should I even say something? I was surrounded by love, excitement and contentment that it made me feel paralysed.
My first conversation was with my sister, followed by our best friends and relatives who surprised me with a lunch/dinner. It was a day-long affair of food, conversations and drinks. They were not interested to hear every detail of my traveling life but that’s okay — my life is already public because of this blog. So I listened to their life updates mixed with things that have changed in TV, celebrities and of course, gossip — a part of my culture that is very hard to eradicate.
I felt my stomach turning upside down for every gossip that was thrown at me. I felt like my spirit was being shaken by a strong quake. I tried to change the topic every now and then but I am not coming out clean — I was also having fun because it felt like ‘the old times’. Though I didn’t want to admit it, it was like gossiping is the only way I can re-connect to my family and friends again. It drained the hell out of me but I carried on.
I wanted to know about their lives. Not about other people’s. Why is it easier for the majority of us to talk about other people’s lives than ours?
The #AlDub fever was easy to digest. It’s about a couple who is currently making the whole country feel an inexplicable joy because of their public romance on the longest running noon time show in the Philippines. To date, I believe they have already broken the record of 26 million daily Filipino viewers because their show is a total hit. I do not have anything against that because I also grew up with variety shows and the so called jologs (tacky) television show culture. I am not sure if I am going to follow #AlDub though. Ever since I travelled Latin America, I learned how to live a life without a television because of the different lifestyle on that side of the world.
I sat down, amidst the people chattering around me. I felt like I was wool gathering and my mind was flying somewhere else. At that moment, I asked myself: “What’s on your mind?” I am a completely different person. I used to do this. I used to be one of the people who start the chismisan (gossiping) because it was a part of our everyday life. Did I do this in Latin America? No, I didn’t. It was also the type of culture that LatAm has however, I was surrounded by people from all parts of the world that’s why we made our own culture — a culture that is shared and is mixed from each of our own’s; a culture that only us can understand.
“Ang payat mo!” (You are so thin!) was the famous line. I never heard the words ‘healthy’ or ‘good’, which I believe are most important. That sentence can also be seen in all my Facebook/Instagram photos and most of my foreigner friends ask “why do I keep seeing the word payat in all the comments?” I explained to them it’s the Filipino word for thin. “And so? You eat like a horse! You even eat more than the rest of us here! You are fine! Don’t listen to them,” they said.
I am totally fine — I am 118 lbs, have not eaten any fast food (aka garbage) for the past three years because I cooked my own food when I was traveling. It was cheaper and healthier. Plus, I couldn’t afford to go to restaurants — it is too expensive to eat out. This also led me to learn how to cook. Believe me, I didn’t know how to cook and my mother was really shocked when I did it last weekend. Before I left, I couldn’t imagine myself not eating McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks or Jollibee but I survived 3 years of life without it.
Of course, I don’t need to explain that to every person who said I am thin because it will take me forever. With this, I want to take this opportunity to tell everyone who thinks I am starving myself just to be thin: Stop eating junk, exercise daily and cook your own food. Those are the keys toward a healthy lifestyle. And also drinking wine everyday — I’m not kidding.
When I’ve had enough of the weight remarks, I told my Aunt Ameth it’s sad that our society’s image of being beautiful is being thin. A lot of my countrymen admire people who are thin which leads many young people to have eating disorders, like that of the United States. Aunt Ameth said it is a part of our culture so I just have to deal with it. I thought she was right for a second. But for another second, I also thought that this imagery of beauty should change.
I felt a feeling of hollowness — everything is the way it is as I left it. Nothing has changed. I was frightened ten times more: What would my life be if I did not leave? Nothing crossed my mind but what I thought about was the reason why I left.
I feel unchallenged. I feel like I have to move again. I feel like I won’t have the opportunity to grow here.
My aunt Kaye said as we grow older, we will also outgrow people and will eventually erase them in our lives. I received messages from people whom I haven’t seen for almost 10 years who still wanted to go out and have a drink, including those people who wronged me. Are we suddenly friends again? I said to myself. You hurt me, I left the country, picked myself up, became successful with what I am doing and now we are friends again? I have already forgiven these people and I don’t have anything against them but you can’t just waltz in and out of people’s lives when you want to. Now I understood what Aunt Kaye said about outgrowing people, even if they were your best friends since kindergarten. It’s funny that it’s only now that I learned who my real friends are because when I got home, I didn’t feel the connection to some people anymore. I don’t want to oblige myself to have coffee or go out just because I want to be polite. I want to be honest and I will never again force myself in a circle where I am not accepted for who I am; where I am just trying to fit in just because I want shitloads of sets of friends.
Everyone I love is here and I know they will never ever judge me for being different. I am a very vocal person — always writing raw and honest thoughts but I am frightened I won’t be able to connect 100% because of what changed in me. “Maybe they won’t like me because I am only hitch hiking on their gossiping affairs and not driving the wheel anymore?” I thought. However, I don’t care about that. I am really happy to see everyone most especially my family. The energy of my aunts gave me a quick jumpstart! They are really funny and I think you should meet them.
I am here because I need to recharge and reboot. I need to be surrounded by family. I need to be in my hometown and feel how it’s like to be a child again; to remember how it was when I first started dreaming of traveling the world.
All of the times I am on the road, my mind was set that staying is the coward option and leaving is the brave one. Though I have the urge to run away again because I feel like I don’t belong, I will fight this battle without compromising who I am now. People change and while I accepted how others did, I believe I have the right to be my new self and I will never adjust to make other people comfortable with who I am. I will be me no matter what it takes. And I will be here.
Leaving is actually the easiest thing in the world. The hard part is wanting to stay.
Are you also a traveller who went away for a long time? How does it feel when you came back home?