Banana Pancake Trail pt. 6

Dear BJ,

There are many parts of our trips that I don’t remember clearly. A collective haze of sleeping through overnight bus rides, walking through nameless streets, and travelling back in history. But some moments, a few minutes or hours out of two-week trips, stand out quite vividly.

This one in particular has been playing back in my head for the last couple of weeks.

We woke up before dawn on that day. I can still feel the back and butt pains from the previous day’s six-hour bumpy journey from Mandalay. It didn’t help that we had a few bottles of Myanmar beer the night before. It didn’t help that we were not used to waking up early because of our late night jobs. It didn’t help that we were no longer in our twenties and, let’s be honest, we are getting too old for backpacking.

So there we were, sleepless, groggy, and hungry, driving on a single motorcycle through the cold, dark, unpaved roads of Bagan. We only had very little sense of balance, sheer overconfidence in our navigation skills, and an offline Google map.

We missed a turn, got lost in Nyaung U, found our way back, and got lost again. The cold morning breeze was almost unbearable in the open vehicle, and there was no one to ask directions from. The town was practically deserted. I could imagine all of that happening at home and we would end up arguing and/or fighting. But at that time, we laughed it off and moved on.

Minutes later, we were (illegally) climbing an unguarded pagoda, and finding the best spot at the top for a glimpse of sunrise.

I still remember the exact moment when I looked to my left, as the earliest rays from the sun started kissing the spires of the tallest stupas, and embracing the greenery below. I remember the silence. The serenity. I remember taking a few photos, and then keeping the phone and camera away with the realization that we cannot digitally capture every moment.

More importantly, I remember looking to my right. And seeing you smile again.

You see, there’s Mommy BJ and Daddy me. And we try to be those most days of the year. On other days we’re business partners. On other days we’re sous chefs of each other’s kitchen.

But on days we travel, we go back to being us. The shy and awkward boy and the incredibly smart and independent woman that met and fell in love ten years ago.

One thing I learned through the years is that things don’t stay the same. Life will happen, and the weekend dates and flowers and cuddle times will have to step aside. And that’s when most marriages start to fall apart.

But what I also learned is that marriage is a journey, similar to our vacations. Not everything is a highlight. Not everything is memorable. Some days we stand in line at the grocery store much like standing in line at immigration. There are entire days we spend stuck on traffic, just like those 12-hour train rides. We clean our house and do the dishes and work on graphics and recipes and spreadsheets. We don’t make memories on a daily basis. And it’s alright to have mundane days.

Because every once in a while, we find ourselves sitting on top of a temple, in complete stillness, watching the sunrise, smiling. And those are the moments we live for.

Happy Valentines,

JD

Regret No. 1 (Banana Pancake Trail Pt. 5)

Droves of locals wearing colorful longyis are crossing the bridge to get home, while unintentionally disrespectful tank-top clad tourists wearing all sorts of hats and sunglasses cross the bridge to get pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.

The late sunset of Amarapura was hot and humid. The centuries-old, narrow teakwood bridge had no arm rails or barricades that you can very much easily fall down the muddy shallow waters below.

It was chaos. It was beautiful

She wanted to go all the way. She wanted to take more pictures. She wanted to catch up with the old lady with the bicycle and find out what she was selling.

But I rained on her parade and convinced her that we should just head back. I said I was tired and the end of the bridge was a long way to go. But the truth was I was scared of the eventuality of me losing balance and showing up at the next viral tourist mishap video.

So many anecdotes have been quipped about regret. They all pretty much say that you should live life without.

But I regret not trying that ice cream cone.

All My Life

Twenty years ago, that one hit wonder by KC and Jojo played relentlessly in every radio station. It was a song about praying for and finally finding the love of your life. Cheesy, sexy, and romantic much like most 90’s R&B love songs. Unfortunately for me, that song was traumatic.

He used to sing it loudly while walking proudly along our school halls. His uniform untidy, his hair unkept, and his eyes searching for his next victim. His name was TJ. And that song was his boisterous announcement: “I am coming.”. And the moment I hear his voice, I tremble where I sit or stand, and pray to God that TJ sees someone else to pick on that day. Because I was stuck in the supposed security of the four walls of our school, and there was nowhere to run or hide.

I was perpetually scared. One day, I was excitedly stepping out of class for lunch break, looking forward to some cheap siopao and soda from the school cafeteria, when TJ pulled my uniform collar from behind and dragged me inside the male restroom, asking for my lunch money. I gave him what I can give. But he asked for more, demanding that I take off my pants and underwear so he can inspect my genitals for hidden money.

I tried to be tough, I tried to stand up against him and told him fiercely that there was nothing left. And he responded, “Bakit ayaw mong maghubad? Supot ka pa no?” (“Why don’t you want to strip off? Are you uncircumcised?”) And there I was, cornered in the bathroom, forced to choose between getting beat up or losing my dignity or both.

I don’t usually care about viral videos. But when I saw that video of a twelve-year old boy getting beaten up inside an Ateneo boys’ toilet, it hit me quite hard in a wound that was quite deep. That scene was all too familiar.

It’s been 20 years. I was twelve back then, and I remember being utterly scared of going inside the school toilet. I remember trying my best to hold it until I get home. I remember not drinking too much water at school to avoid even feeling the tiniest urge to pee.

I remember learning that being punched in the throat was worse than being punched in the face.

I remember learning that there were teachers that you should not ask questions to, because they will tell TJ to beat you up for asking too many questions.

I remember learning that there are people who will call themselves your ‘friends’ yet immediately turn against you when you’re against TJ, because he is stronger.

I remember learning about taking the life of oneself, in order to escape all the pain. I learned it was called suicide.

I wish I can forget those details. I wish I can forget his face. Or at least his name. I wish I can forget all the small details of every bullying incident that I had to live through. But here I am, 32 years old, writing so vividly as if it only happened yesterday.

Banana Pancake Trail pt. 4

Six years ago we began our journey.

Three years ago we had to pause.

We packed away our backpacks, took out the camera batteries, threw away the worn out walking shoes.

Life happens. Life happened. And we had to embrace reality.

We were left with endless retellings of the same old stories of busy markets, majestic temples, and spectacular streetfood.

And in the absence of plane tickets and passports and sabbatical leaves, we paid tribute to the genuine happiness we only find in globetrotting through the same recipes that brought us back to those places.

But oh what irony, after three long years of rambling about wanderlust and spices and love, that we found ourselves with a longing feeling of fernweh.

We are tired. And our spirits are hungry for a break.

We need to go back to where we started.

We need to revisit our love for travel and food.

We need to remember our love for each other.

We need another bite of that sandwich and another slurp of those noodles.

To be continued…

The Banana Pancake Trail pt. 3

Six years ago we began our journey.

We wanted to see Angkor Wat.
Walk in its halls and courtyards;
Marvel in its monuments and spires;
Bask in its opulence.

We saw it from above.
Aboard a bucket listed balloon;
Embraced by a chilly sunset.
Indeed it was beautiful.

But the next morning,
When we saw it from the ground
And entered its passageways,
Reality loomed before us.

A colorful history
Of love and war; of success and failure
Of pain and suffering; we realized,
It was no different from our relationship.

It was just a pile of old bricks.
But love in its many forms
Keeps it alive.
Just like the ruins that stood before us.

To be continued…

The Banana Pancake Trail pt. 2

 

Six years ago we began our journey.

We were hungry for food that we haven’t tasted yet, made with ingredients that at the time did not make sense to us, and spices that punched us in our faces.

We wanted to taste authentic Banh Mi and Pho in Vietnam. We were curious to find out what Lok Lak and Amok is in Cambodia. We indulged in the best Mexican food we’ve had so far in Siem Reap, of all places.

And when we crossed the border to Thailand, the first thing we ate was Pad Thai.

We had Pad Thai at a roadside stopover.

We had Pad Thai in a fancy restaurant.

We had Pad Thai in the rowdy streets of Bangkok.

And as if that was not enough, we had Pad Thai that we learned to cook ourselves in a quaint little apartment in Silom.

We were hungry. And it wasn’t just our stomachs.

I guess you’ll never really realize the truth behind the cliche ‘soul searching’ unless yours actually becomes lost.

At the time, we’ve been together for three years, we just had our second child, and we were exhausted. I was struggling to get a promotion at work and she was fighting for a better life for our children. Sleep became a stranger, and love was often lost. We made the same mistakes over and over again and the fights were getting out of control.

No one ever said that building a family was easy. But no one also said it would be that hard.

We were tired. And our spirits were hungry for a break.

We needed to go back to where we started.

We needed to revisit our love for travel and food.

We needed to remember our love for each other.

We needed another bite of that sandwich and another slurp of those noodles.

Because in all those plates and bowls of unusual food, we didn’t just answer to the grumbles of our stomachs.

We also found something we have lost.

Inspiration.

To be continued…

The Banana Pancake Trail

Six years ago we began our journey. This was the very first photo I took.

We arrived late at this sleepy airport in Saigon and immediately looked for a Vinasun cab to take us to Ho Tung Mau and crash at our cheap hotel. It was half past two and I was sleepy but I can barely keep my eyes shut. I was childishly gazing at strange letters on unfamiliar street signs, billboards of the same Maggi and Enfapro back home but with tag lines that I cannot understand, the late night crowd comfortably seated at low stools, ordering food from a quaint little push cart, motorcycles and rickshaws and bicycles driven by elder ladies wearing ‘ao dais’ carrying baskets of what we would later find out to be balut.

I wanted to take it all in.

My wife told me about the trail two years before. And after seeing the Angkor Wat on TV and finding out that the cheapest way to go to Cambodia (at that time) was to travel by land from a more accessible neighboring country, I closed my eyes and booked us open tickets to our biggest adventure.

It was the long overdue honeymoon that we talked about endlessly.

It was a break from my toxic job.

It was the remedy to her post partum blues.

It was the beginning of my lifelong wanderlust.

As my cold feet stepped on the early morning sidewalk of District 1 I told myself, ‘Welcome to the Banana Pancake Trail.’

To be continued…