I was woken up by something I’ve never heard before. Chanting or singing – I couldn’t quite decide which. Was I dreaming? I focused my gaze up and could just make out the timber ceiling beams in the grey morning light. Nope, I could still hear it. Spellbound and intrigued, I jumped out of bed and rushed downstairs to capture the moment. What you are listening to now is the audio-minus-video of the morning prayer of (mostly) elderly women chanting-singing before the body of my late grandfather.
One little quirk I noticed and can admit about myself is that ‘people watching’ amidst the buzz of daily life interests me. But much more interesting is that I am more interested in watching people in my country, the Philippines, more so than watching people here in Australia. In fact, I don’t watch people in Australia.
Even if they are Filipinos.
What is it about watching my people I find captivating? I have asked myself that question before and tried to be honest towards myself. I tend to give more of my attention to people near my age: students scattered about the streets during lunch, brief glances from inside the jeepney at other boys and girls in the other jeepney, them loitering at plazas, malls and public spaces, them playing at basketball courts, arcades and parks, a group of them huddled around a table by a restaurant, and I got an eye for them when they are working in the shops.
I’m still looking for a clear answer. Because I lived most of my life outside my country, only spending my first 6 years in the Philippines, I thought maybe I was just piecing up together a life of could-or-would-have-been. You know, sometimes I picture myself walking among those group of students in their uniforms, laughing and talking fluently in a language I’m still trying to pick up again. Or maybe it is just a mere fascination of a different lifestyle and culture, one I was born from but since forgotten. Or was it the feeling of fitting in with a group of people who share the same blood, skin colour and facial features? Or was it a desire to feel that I can fit back in, after what feels like being pulled out or deprived of that place? Was it an appreciation for the privilege of being pulled out from their poverty because of my parents’ efforts? But they look happy and content, despite being poor. I’m yearning for something that they have that I don’t have. Acceptance? Connection? Identity?
Once someone asked me what kind of girlfriend I’ll want to have as a dare question. So I said that she has to be humble, passionate, et cetera… That sort of thing.
She said, “No, no! I mean, would you like to have a Filipina or an Australian girlfriend.”
“Any, really. Depends. I don’t mind.”
“But between the two, which one do you think…”
She trails off.
It was fiesta night, with dance music playing from the disco at the basketball court. I was walking in the dark to JV’s house with him and a mutual friend after getting his unanticipated invitation to see his house. JV has visited me in my grandfather’s house, where I stayed for the time being, quite a number of times already and I felt that it was my turn to see his house. I did wait in front of his house once while he ran in to get some stuff, but I never got the chance to go in. So, I was very excited to see how it was like inside.
We stop by a house along the way and JV called out for someone inside. Two girls came out to meet and talk with him for a while and I took a few steps back to give them their own space.
Before we continued our way to his house, JV asked me teasingly,
“Do you think she’s pretty?”
“Her”, while nudging his head back to the house.
As usual, trying to avoid hurting anyone and questions like this, I raised my shoulder slowly while frowning my face as if to say “Maaaayyybbbeeee?”
This wasn’t the first time he asked me this. Neither was he the only person who bothered me with these questions! I swear everyone is trying to hook me up with someone while I was there, but that is understandable since a 20-something who never had a girlfriend is quite perplexing.
I’ve got less than a week before I fly back to Australia.
I’ve spent most of my summer break here in the Philippines to escape the stinging, arid heat of Perth. Despite having flown back home to my birthplace countless of times and initially having plans to visit multiple tourist destinations, this is probably the most memorable time I had in the Philippines despite not seeing any resorts, beaches and other typical tourist attractions. During the past eight weeks, I experienced my first door-to-door Christmas carols with a group of youths from a local parish, run for a cause, participated and won a local Sayawit (dance-and-sing) competition with the same group of friends, greeted the new year the Filipino-way, celebrated my sister’s grand and extravagant birthday début, visited my cousin in prison, watched my first Mr. Gay, all while witnessing my grandfather’s health deteriorate.
With experiences like these, I’d be lying if I said I learned nothing significant. In all honesty, I felt a continuing urge to share my thoughts and feelings during these past eight weeks. Being an inexperienced writer, I’ve gone through frustration after frustration, confusion after confusion, attempting to write down my tangled thoughts and feelings from this wired mess in my head.
I’m still keen though; I still feel the need to share the same thoughts and feelings as strongly as before. I believe that writing them down will help me understand myself better. You know what they say: writing, in itself, is an act of exploration and discovery. Now that I’ve fully immersed myself in the experience and my break is coming to a close, I’ll have many opportunities to put words to my thoughts. It’ll be my pleasure to share what I’ve learned.
Well then, I got a lot of exploring to do!
I was riding my trusty and prized children’s trisikad in random loops, turning right and left on the whim. Did I ignore my mother’s instructions or was she not there, I can’t remember. All I remember was that it must have been during siesta or nearing dusk as I was alone in the stretched concrete courtyard.
The courtyard was only about five meters wide, but to my little child’s eyes, it was as vast as a basketball court. I didn’t care if there were hidden eyes looking down at me in any of the terrace houses that line the edges of the courtyard. The endless possibilities of fun and discovery of a vast, empty space excited me. No one was here. Nothing was here. It’s all mine!
Something must have caught my attention. I wasn’t on my trisikad anymore. All I remember was that a cool breeze was blowing from and the sky has turned grey at one end of the courtyard. I must have been mesmerized by it all, because before I knew it, I was playing Chasey with the rain.
It was both intimidating and exhilarating! Unlike my neighbors who I play with nearly every day, here was something that I’m not sure of. I don’t know how fast it can run or the possibility of it outrunning me. The sound it made as it hit the concrete floor, drawing ever closer, was not as familiar as the shouts and laughter of my peers. But here it was, chasing after me. At that instant, it became a friend.
The sky must have gradually taken on a grey as it raced towards the other end of the courtyard, consuming the brightness of a fine day along its path, attempting to also consume me with its shower. But I didn’t look up. My eyes were set on my house. Like most boys at my age, I was determined to beat it.
Before finding shelter under the eaves of my house, I took a quick glance behind me to see how much I’ve outran it. The courtyard was nearly covered by the curtain of rain that was still drawing closer and it has inked most of the concrete floor in dark-bluish grey. Catching my breathe whilst enjoying my victory, I watched it run past my house and envelope the entire scene.
Not long after, aside from the sense of pride I got from ‘outrunning’ the rain, I was rewarded with at least two full arcs of rainbows in the sky when I went out to check if it was dry enough to play again.
So I stood there for a few minutes, watching rainbows… Just mesmerized.
This is my response to this Daily Prompt:
What is your earliest memory? Describe it in detail, and tell us why you think that experience was the one to stick with you.
I’ve been brought up by three traditions as I’ve migrated twice. In Australian, Western tradition (the tradition I’m currently surrounded by), while older family members are addressed by their titles such as “mom”, “dad”, “pop” or “nan”, excluding older siblings; it is acceptable to address people outside of their family network by their first names, regardless of age. However, in the Asian tradition I was born into, it is customary to address older people by their titles, regardless if they are a family member or not. For example, I attach the title “older brother” (or “kuya” in my language) to the names of any men who are older than me by a few years. Any older than that, I attach the title “uncle” (or “tito” in my language). It is very similar with the other Asian tradition that I grew up with. You can imagine how fast time flies when little kids pop out out of nowhere calling you “tito”.
Great, you learned something! But hold on! That was merely a brief background knowledge you needed to know.
While keeping grounded in this topic of titles, I know people who were brought up in both Western and Asian traditions or influences (especially, yours truly), and got mixed up with both. I believe there are two kinds of confused personalities. 1) The individual who achieved a realization and transitions from one influence to another, and 2) the individual who is in denial and chooses one influence over the other.
Confused yourself? Let me explain each in detail.
1) Once upon a time, this boy have been calling me by my first name. Today, he is calling me by the title that I have always been entitled to – “kuya”. Which makes me wonder what caused the change. Do I suddenly look old enough? Do I sound more wiser? Did I do something that resulted in me unknowingly excluding myself from his age and social circle from then on? And get this! The decision to address someone by their title lies in their personal perception of age. There is no set rule as to when to call someone “kuya” or “tito”. So I was left wondering why this boy is still calling another boy by his first name who happens to be only a year younger than me!
2) This applies to the “kuyas” and “ates” (older sisters), and unfortunately at some occasions, me. We believe that it is acceptable to label others with their titles, but God forbid if you label us back! When you call me “kuya”, I feel deprived of that elixir of youth and innocence and recklessness and zero obligations that is hard to find in the world of adult responsibilities and sensibilities. When you call me “kuya”, I feel the heavy weight of the real world imposed on me. What happened to just caring about Runescape and Pokemon? It doesn’t help when “kuyas” and “ates” also call you “kuya” or “ate”. It’s a double-edged sword! Suddenly, I feel like a measuring stick for wisdom and knowledge. Please, I’ll rather be called by my first name than feel my skin wrinkle at the sound of that word.
Well, there you have it. Just something I’ve been pondering for a while and inviting everyone, especially my fellow “kuyas” and “ates” to do the same.