My years of living on the road taught me to live a minimal lifestyle and own fewer things. I never had to declutter unless it’s underwear that I have to constantly replace. If you look at most of my backpacking pictures, all my clothes are the same. I never had the urge to watch Tidying Up With Marie Kondo because it was irrelevant to me. I also heard she has a translator who’s always following her and I really hate watching two people talking to each other in different languages. So I unlisted this on Netflix.
But I constantly hear the phrase, “does it spark joy?” from friends and family. And it made a lot of sense. It’s a simple question that has no other meaning but that. Does it spark joy? On one of her books, Marie stated, “discarding is not the point. What matters is keeping those things that bring you joy.” This doesn’t have any other meaning because you only need to look at what makes you happy. You don’t have to put meaning or dwell on the opposite like most of us humans do. We can choose to live each day by choosing joy. It’s that simple.
Since it was easy for me to get rid of stuff (I swear, for me, if it’s a no, then it’s a no. I don’t cling to anything material), I have used this reference to nearly anything and nearly everything. Moroccan teacups, Indian carpets, everything had to go not just because I packed my house in the Philippines to move to Mexico but because they already served their purpose in this chapter of my life. Before packing up, this “spark” extended way beyond material things: My gardener doesn’t spark joy, he gets fired the next day. A gorgeous crawling plant slowly invading my window sill, I gave it away the same hour I felt it didn’t spark joy. Carwash service, dry cleaning, service of a certain restaurant I frequently go to, keto diet, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, Manila, living in the Philippines — when you come to think of it, objects are not the only things you can discard but also your way of life.
It’s funny, isn’t it? When Israel kicked me out because of my unjewishness, the Philippines, the country I was trying to avoid all my formative years was the first place I booked a ticket to. When I left 10 years ago, I swore with all my heart that the Philippines is not the place I will choose to live in. Ever. If you read the linked post above, you will understand that Israel only gave me 10 days to pack my life in Tel Aviv. 10 days to decide where to go next. 10 days to think about the next big move.
I realized that we will always be connected to where we are from and when we come across circumstances like this, we will always turn to our “home.” It’s convenient. It’s easy. We will always be accepted no matter what as opposed to going to some strange country we really love where we need to do a lot of paperwork. 10 days doesn’t even cover the number of documents you will have to process. But I did it. I went to a place I didn’t like because it was an “emergency.”
I lived in the Philippines of the year and each month of that year, I was out of the country. I spent 14 days in Vietnam in January. The next month, I was in Bangkok. The following month, I went to Taiwan. If you check my 2018 highlights on Instagram, through the reposted videos with timestamps, you will see that I barely enjoyed the home I was renting including the car that I bought. You will never see anything about my life at home, how I designed my house, things I do at home – in one full year, that home hardly sparked joy. As soon as I come to that “home,” I am opening my computer and booking a ticket to the next destination. I feel like my partner and I rented the house for our dog.
Foreigners who plan to live in the Philippines will somehow get this post from their Google radar so let me make this clear: I am a Filipino who lived in the Philippines until I was 21 so circumstances are different for you and me. Imagine yourself in your home country, what do you see? That’s the only question you need to answer. If you are happy, then I am happy for you. If you’re not, well, I guess we’re on the same boat.
I once had this conversation with an Australian friend who was very confused about why I didn’t like living in the Philippines. I threw the same statement back: “to be fair, I never really heard you say good things about Melbourne. You always wanted to get out, that’s why you’re here in the Philippines.” I emphasized “living” but I never said it was ugly or I hated it. For me, travel-wise, the Philippines is the most delightful country to travel to (not even one of but only) because of its incomparable beauty. I have been to a lot of countries but nothing’s like the Philippines. There is not a doubt in my head about that.
But living is way too different.
I left the Philippines a few years ago because I couldn’t deal with our impermissive society. I couldn’t go out without a bra even if it was the most comfortable thing in the world for me. I needed to transform into a well-behaved person when my mom’s friends are around. I need to be good in academics because, at that age, it was your only weapon for respect, not for you, but for the people who raised you. There was an unspoken rule that I needed to conform to the general public. I had a career that the people around me would praise me for, not because I was a great human being. I might have been a pain-in-the-a$s teenage girl but I followed the unuttered mandate because my friends were also doing the same. I can never say no because growing up, I was given everything and anything. I can never complain about how I was raised because it was a happy childhood.
I always wanted to leave so at 20, I pushed myself to study in Italy. My mom was very supportive of this but when I lived a different culture, I suddenly didn’t want to study. I unexpectedly realized it was a social currency for me. I instantly connected with people who didn’t have much but are going after something they want to do. Their opinions about studying were not at all, strange for me, considering I grew up in a culture that highlights the importance of a University degree. All those things came rolling when I left the Philippines. The week I arrived in Italy, I miraculously changed all my opinions about my life – it was that fast. My mother was very unhappy about me leaving school to travel the world but what I will always remember is that I was raised by a woman who lived in her own terms. And I did just that. I left. She cut my financial support because there is no way she’s going to pay for my world travels. And it will always be vivid to me that she did not stop me from leaving nor verbally supported it. I knew she will be okay with my “poor” decisions at one point. I went away, off the radar for a few years because my chosen destination had a 14-hour difference from the Philippines. And believe me, that mattered a lot. The disconnection was so helpful in making me explore the many different versions of myself. Without judgment. Without fear.
I once wrote about why we always like to talk about other people instead of us. I don’t know where you are from but where I am from, you will be greeted with, “you know what happened to ano,” (“ano” is “what” and often our go-to word or filler).
“Did you hear about the ano?”
“Diba the neighbour got ano?” (Diba is “is it not” in English. We like to speak in Taglish.)
There will be so many anos and dibas on the dinner table and since I did not live in the Philippines for a long time, I don’t even know these people they are talking about. It was so easy to ignore it at first until the story becomes a face. It then transforms to “she’s the ano I was telling you about! But keep quiet lang ha, you don’t know anything kunyari. It’s between you and me lang.” Okay, that was too much Taglish but the point is, it’s always going to be “between you and me.” I have always been caught in a situation where I needed to keep quiet when meeting a person even though I know most of the details of his/her life.
The Filipino culture is also very particular about weight, be it men or women. Women get the weight greeting the most but men were not excused. There was this one time that one irrelevant ex-colleague told me, “ang taba mo,” (“you are fat!”).
I looked at her with dismay and told her, “this is what you call fat? I mean look at me!” I don’t feel fat. I am okay with my body. I weigh 118 lbs and that is fat in the Philippines??!!! I am sorry if I don’t meet your standards because I know I am not required to but seriously, look at me: I am what we call fat in the Philippines?!
Weight is an issue anywhere in the world (I guess not in Europe) but let’s look at social media: those who are super skinny are the ones who get millions of followers, hence, the world’s definition of beautiful is skinny. And fat people are not in that equation. But in the Philippines, it is more prevalent. Instead of “hello,” “you are fat” is the normal greeting. I think we are the only culture who blatantly says it in public like it’s a big deal. It’s not even coming from being concerned about the health of the “fat” person but it’s more of a physical shaming.
I look around me and there is no one in the room who practices what they preach. The hypocrisy in my country is so prevailing. We like to do long sermons but in reality, we never religiously follow it. You can’t do that, you can’t do this, it’s bad to do that but man, I witnessed many people express their moral standards publicly but their behavior never conform. This false virtue is coming from one of the good traits of our culture, respect for the elders. This phrase is repeatedly tackled every school year no matter what grade you are in: respect your elders. Respect your elders. Respect your elders. I think we were even asked to write it 100 times on a legal pad!
We’ve been raised to never reason to people who are older than us because, in this culture, older people are always right because of their experiences. Even people who are 40+ years old cannot answer to their sister who is 43 years old. There is always a hierarchy in the culture of the Filipino family. Oh no, we never looked at it as “expressing one’s self” when we answer back. No matter what we say or do, no matter if we are wrong or right, as long as you answered back to someone older to you, that is already considered disrespect. Even if you say it in the most respectful way. God, now that I am writing this, I can’t find reason in that!