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.
“Hey,” she said softly, “you’re not used to answering questions. Why?”
“Scared!” someone offered, but she was not quick enough to see who it was.
“Scared of what?”
“Of being wrong!”
While reading the book Rice Bowl by Suchen Christine Lim, I came to realize that I haven’t written anything about my upbringing in Singapore which took the most significant part of my life. In fact, I lived in Singapore longer than in the Philippines or in Australia where I currently reside. I bought this book in an op shop whilst trying my luck in finding popular books such as The Alchemist at a ridiculously low price (no luck!). The book’s cover and the statement that includes both the words ‘Singapore’ and ‘Philippine’ caught my attention. But a quick read of the blurb sold it!
Although I only finished Secondary One (or First Year high school) in Singapore and continued my studies here in Australia, I could relate to the Pre-University (I’m assuming that’s Fourth Year high school?) students in the novel. I remember the feelings of fear and respect for the teachers. I felt like an empty vessel, only there to be filled up by the teachers. I expected the teachers to provide both the questions and the answers, and unless the question have never been asked before, we’re expected to answer it correctly. I was one of the three senior prefect leaders in our school and vice-class leader in some of my classes, so there were big expectations of being a role model to my peers. You may see that as significant accomplishments but I feel like those came about due to my passive obedience to authority and their system. Like, you know, just drifting along.
Our curriculum was structured in a way where there were no real discussions, answers were either black or white and how well you did were solely determined by the letters you receive in your end-of-term report card. The questions the teachers ask had predetermined answers – I don’t remember a teacher ever asking for our opinions on a matter. Mistakes and wrong answers were to be avoided. Students were sorted into classes according to how many correct answers they’ve made and those who did really well were over-glorified. I remember the feeling of disappointment and discouragement when I found out the following year that I’ve dropped from class A to class B. I wasn’t terrified of making wrong answers. But I was scared, scared that if I make too much, the consequences could become severe. I didn’t want my mistakes to be the reason of being held back, especially in Singapore where education and order is top priority.
I don’t know – I was very young and naive back then, and maybe the only way to survive in Singapore and get an education is obedience to the system. It may also be because since it was just a primary school, everyone is taught to focus on a standard set of lessons to gain knowledge that will help us develop into better inquirers. It probably was too early to start rebelling or thinking bigger. Maybe the questioning and the exploring starts in high school where I only spent a year in. Also, the story is set in the 1960s, the time when Singapore gained its independence from British rule and much would have changed in the system. But one thing for sure, we weren’t given opportunities to think about bigger, more universal questions like ‘What is the meaning of life?’ and answer it elegantly and confidently, without any hint of fear of being wrong, and with a profound analogy, like the kid below.
PS: I’m not posting as much as I would have liked to! Also, I haven’t posted that many about my holidays in the Philippines. It’s taking longer than I expected! I hope, eventually, I get better in managing and organizing my time so that I can blog more often.
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.
At the moment I’m writing this sentence, I have exactly 3.5 hours before I’ll find myself up in the sky, buckled up and bound for Kuala Lumpur.
I’m going back to our rural home in the Philippines because my grandfather, who I mentioned in my previous post, just passed away. Despite having attended a funeral in my early childhood years, I cannot remember a single fragment of it. This will be my first ever memory of attending a funeral in full awareness of a mind obsessed with remembering.
In the past few weeks, I’ve learned the importance and fragility of family bonds and relationships. I’ve witnessed how people can change and draw themselves closer when someone in their family is gravely ill or, in my case, is welcoming death. I’ve witnessed also how people can be stubborn and resist the opportunity for change, forgiveness and reconciliation.
I’ve been going back and forth between my home in the city and my grandfather’s home in the rural town. This will be my fourth time going back. Other than seeing my grandfather one last time, I don’t know what else is in store for me. My extended vacation has been full of unexpected circumstances and surprises, not always pleasant.
May God bless him and grant his soul eternal peace.
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!
The sounds are familiar, tucked deep in the recesses of my mind. Memories of long passed childhood, creeping to the surface.
From inside my house, different coloured lights flash through my window curtains and heard a discord of sounds coming from outside. Fireworks going off simultaneously or all at once, whistling, crackling, popping, engines roaring; karaoke blasting; children and adults shouting and party blowers tooting. Lured by all the sounds and lights, I dashed out to see the commotion. And true enough, gathered within the narrow strip of road, everyone was making as much noise as possible. My mind was overstimulated by the sights around me! Cars and motorcycles are revved up, children with sparklers are running all over the place, and fireworks exploded in the sky and sprayed in the streets. A little girl tugged at my shirt and pointed at the sky beyond the rooftop, “Kuya! Look!” I looked up and saw two lonely lanterns floating higher into the sky.
Only three hundred and sixty six days ago, I was in a different world. A word in where you watch fireworks on the television or from a designated spectator’s area. The streets are quiet and deserted, save for a few houses where parties are being held. Even so, noise is controlled for fear of complaints from the neighbors and the police.
In this world, at least for me, New Year’s Eve is more of a quite contemplation of what’s passed and what’s been done. However in this other world of sounds and lights, New Year is not just welcomed with wide open arms, but also with loud, pompous, shameless and uninhibited greeting. This year, New Year felt strangely familiar, like a long lost and almost forgotten childhood friend than an aquaintance who’s just passing by. I like this loud New Year. It’s been a long time since I’ve last seen him.
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.