I've always missed my family and friends. I long for each encounters, whether its at home or at some places in the busy streets or malls of Metro Manila. I yearn laughing and eating out with them. It is their stories that embrace me the most. As they narrate stories that I may somehow miss because of my busy life, I am rejuvenated in so many ways. Stress is trashed. I am, as always, ready to face life's battles.
The last time I was in Manila, it was quite different. When I used to work in Brunei, I envisioned Manila as a paradise, a bountiful feast, or a decadent dessert. It's a luxurious creation that I craved for. It is a place that I want to experience to bits. Of course, such attitude towards Manila's granduer was ensued by what Brunei can only offer. Brunei is a small country, and also an Islamic one. If you are big on shopping big brands, perhaps Brunei is not a place to visit. However, if you are into rich culture and traditions, paired with a knack on hiking, Brunei is definitely a place to explore. Although as a migrant worker I was privileged to enjoy Brunei's bountry, still, there's always a spot in myself that seems lacking. I was in limbo. It was not home. It was transient and fleeting. So each chance to be in Manila is more than a golden ticket that affords reconnection and "good times" with family and friends.
Brunei has become a second home to me. I lived there for more than four years. I worked in advertising agency. I did events management as well. In those years, the Abode of Peace transformed me. How can I forget the day I almost puked when I drank a color pink drink. An officemate asked me to try it. Eventually, I never expected that I will be a milk tea lover. My taste buds also fell in love with some of my faves in Brunei: buttered prawns, butter milk chicken, beef rendang, kolo mee, and a lot more. On top of these gustatory adventures, I became more sensitive to cultural differences, especially in acknowledging national and religious practices. Although I was an outsider in Brunei in the sense that I'm on working visa, I eventually felt that I've been integrated in the community.
Brunei became home because of friends and families that I met along my "Bruneiyuki" journey. Just recently, I was welcomed by my friends on a one-day stop over in the Abode of Peace. I stayed in the Curaming's "mansion" and was served with seven-star assistance. Sir Rommel, one of my idols why I pursue doing my PhD here in Melbourne, picked me up in the newly-renovated Brunei International Airport. A walk to memory lane took place as I quietly (in awe) sat in the car. My eyes were glued on familiar roads. I recalled the days and nights of solitude. But as warm and fresh air touched my skin, I removed my jacket and put on something more special, a big smile.
|With Sir Rommel and Ms. Lea!|
|"Family" in Brunei|
I arrived in Manila after a day of stay in Brunei. Coming from Melbourne, I held a different feeling towards home. I was excited. I'm sure I was. I was bound to not miss one of brother's special day, his wedding. But at the back of my mind, all I wanted was, to have a rest. In a year of stay in Melbourne, of finding a sanctuary and adjusting with different people, I longed for serenity at home, to simple be with my family. I didn't even plan any itineraries. I wanted to be spontaneous. I wanted more time for myself. To break free is what's at the core of visit in Manila.
Despite years of living away from my family, I've always felt that Manila is a perfect setting to either mend entangled feelings. Manila's imperfections are utterly captivating: the noise, the dirt, and the unsafe feeling that thrives as I settle back. This backdrop of locality complements the emancipation of imprisoned or unsettled emotions. These emotions are the feeling of "being here", to be reconnected with loved ones, and to experience copresence in a similar time frame. I gazed around and checked on faces that threads personalised history. They become old. Some have fled. Some have stayed. Some move on with their lives, in the city that they either love or hate. As I navigate my way through my senses, I am brought to familiar places that are changed by time and opportunities. Each gaze to streets, establishments and public transportation is a constant reminder of a life once lived in Manila, and perhaps reunification in the future. The transient feeling is experienced differently in Manila. The distress in adjusting is the comfort one can enjoy. And at the intersection of memory making is the bittersweet reality, to question, am I really home?
Home is experienced not only with places but with whom we're with. Our humble abode in Quezon city, two hours away from NAIA, is where I built my notion and experience of home. My identity is sculpted according to family values, religion, social influences, and the list goes on.
On the day I arrived in Manila, my dad and my brother picked up in the airport. Despite nursing a headache, I wore the biggest smile in the world. It was automatic. How would I not do that? Seeing my dad and my brother was glorious. When my dad embraced me, it's as if, all of the anxieties and homesickness were swept away. I said, "Mabuti naman po." With a few words to say, I knew, deep in my heart, I was screaming, "Sobrang saya ko po kasi magkasama na naman tayo." These words in my mind walk in the silences of conversations. Real thoughts rolled out behind the back seat.
My brother's wedding took place few days after my arrival in Manila. I was not supposed to be home. But God is good. My confirmation for my PhD went on an earlier date and so my supervisor allowed me to go on an annual leave. Such blessing to me was an even greater joy for my brother. A few months before his wedding, I knew, he was upset that I couldn't make it to his wedding. Opportunities knocked. I had some guilt feeling. I got some extra dollars to cover the airfare. My dad was supportive. So in October, I was away from my workstation and I was on stage, hosting my brother's wedding. I was delighted to see my brother tie the knot.
I am the middle child in the family. I have two siblings. I have one elder brother and one younger. We are all boys. The eldest is married. The youngest recently tied the knot. With these realiries, questions like "when will you get married?" seems inevitable. Truth is, I shrugged off any suggestive rhetorics.
A few days after the wedding, I met some of my friends. Despite updates in social media, in reality, some stories are better said via face-to-face. It is through this that I spent several hours talking to my friends. We talked from the banal up to political matters. There was also something different in what I spoke about to my friends. Along each words, the language of acceptance and support was what I brought home with me. I loved them for that. As I set out words over coffee or dinner, they made me feel comfortable of who I really am. I hugged them. It was not sympathy, yes, emphatic, that's the right word.
I spent most my time catching up with my family. Each nights were set to be on horror movie marathons. They got the chips. I got the movies to watch. We all had our loudest scream to ease out fears. Then there's fear. It is lurking not at home, it's within. For me, it's personal. However, in my recent vacation, that discomfort was somehow collapsed. It was the love of my family and friends that paved the way for genuine happiness.
I never had this kind of connection to my family and friends. The moment I throw my assumptions and wear only the "real me", that's the time I've become comfortable about myself. As I continue my transient journey, home is lived within. Home is not only about the relationships and ties to family and friends. It is not only about awakening one's senses in exploring environments or settling in to the unknown. Home is a personal lived experience that is nestled in the comfort of one's dreams, desires and authenticity that is enriched by boundless and "real" connections. While you may think that there's than "individualized" notion of home, I quite look at it as still grounded and connected to relationship that matters the most, such as a world built on family and friends. Nevertheless, in this world that opens opportunities and do-it-yourself realities, to be discerning is a virtue to master.
I am back in Melbourne. I am here. I am there. I am in-between. Despite these, I am home. I am myself.