Perspective

Two years ago, I was tired of my decade-long job. I was tired of horrible bosses and corporate bullshit. I was tired of spreadsheets and whiteboards and cubicles. And, I can probably admit this now, I felt I was also tired of teaching.

I just wanted to buy the next ticket out and go. Anywhere. It didn’t really matter. Anywhere but here.

I needed to walk aimlessly along alien streets and shady alleyways, shoulders and back sore from carrying an overstuffed backpack.

I needed to see life from dead temples, and love from spoils of war. Then climb a steep pagoda and watch the sunset, taking photos of people taking photos.

I needed to smell the ocean, or the dingy corners of an old war museum. And then be claustrophobic while exploring war tunnels and secret passageways.

I needed to offend my senses with overly-colorful plates, pungent aroma, and tongue-numbing spices of streetfood with questionable sanitary standards.

Two years ago, I was lost, yet I felt the need to be lost.

Because only in being lost will I be able to find myself again.

In this throwback photo, I challenged myself to change my perspective to see open doors. But I never imagined that that door was just right around the corner, and my life was about to change forever.

Sadness

The truth is, sometimes, we are sad.

We may fill the wall with the cheesiest love notes and open letters than can make you swoon and/or cringe. But in reality, love is not always enough. Screw The Eagles for making us believe that it can keep you alive.

We may write about how amazing autism is and how much we love our kids to bits, but there are times we wish they were regular, or did not exist at all. Sorry not sorry. They are a handful is an understatement. Parenting a child with autism is thankless, so just imagine having two.

We may proudly paint the ‘gram with photos of sumptuous and colorful dishes. But most days, we are sick of Southeast Asian food. And even if we cook for a living, we are oftentimes too drained to cook for ourselves and our kids, and we irresponsibly feed them with junk and drive thru.

The truth is, most of the time, we are sad.

That Facebook-perfect power couple that is BJ and JD, who is full of love and passion and determination, actually go through the loudest and longest fights, we probably can qualify for a world record. We are tired. And we’re sorry that we are not the same people you knew before we got together. We’re now one of those used-to-be-friends to our individual circles who got into a relationship and seemingly forgot about the rest of the gang.

We rarely join get-togethers and parties and most of you have stopped inviting us a long time ago. We understand. But it’s not because we are too busy in love. We are just tired. Too tired that even bathing and picking clothes for a gathering is hard labor. We’d rather sleep.

We don’t do birthday greetings even if you are a bestest best friend and the social media endlessly reminds us to ‘let you know we are thinking about you’ on your special day. We can’t join your kid’s birthday party too, because autism.

We have packed away our backpacks, inflatable U-pillows, and airline-approved toiletry bottles for good because we probably can no longer ride a plane and travel through the ends of the earth and be a free spirit anymore. Imagine the pain of a wanderlust who lost all hopes of travelling again. Because reality has already bitten off a mouthful from our hearts, and we bleed at the thought of not backpacking ever again, because we are only our true selves when we travel.

The truth is, we are sad.

We are not okay. But I also realize that it’s okay not to be.

We still hold on, much stronger than we ever did in eight years. And we hug or kids tighter and promise to never give up on them. And we keep going. You’d think we are crazy and we probably are, but no one is perfect. No couple is perfect. No family is perfect. And I know that we will get past this lingering sadness sooner or later.

Balang Araw

Balang araw, mauupo tayo sa buhangin ng sarili nating dagat. Sasalubungin natin ang bukangliwayway habang dinadampi ng hamog ang inaantok pa nating mga pisngi. Sasawayin pa rin natin ang dalawang batang hindi mapigilan magtampisaw sa tubig. At mahigpit pa rin ang kapit ng ating mga kamay.
Hindi man kasing lawak ng dalampasigan na ito, o kasing laki at ganda ng bahay na tinuluyan natin, basta tayo pa ring apat. Ikaw, ako, at ang dalawang batang habangbuhay na magiging bata, na habangbuhay din nating mamahalin ng buo at lubos.
Balang araw.

Nothing Special

Dear Sam and Jared,

I write to you with the undying hope that you will someday learn to read. This one’s for the two of you.

This morning, I was woken up with the smell of Tender Juicy hotdog, garlic rice, and the sweetest greeting from your mother: “Happy father’s day, babe!!!” As I opened up my eyes, I was greeted by your mom’s still amazing smile, and heart shaped hotdogs and rice (which your mom insisted I shouldn’t take a photo of). I was looking for you two, but you weren’t there.

You were downstairs, doing your usual routine. I gave both of you a kiss, but you did not kiss me back. You did not greet me. There were no surprise gifts, not even a Hallmark card. This was just another day, nothing special.

In fact, you two were just like that on mother’s day, Christmas, New Year, and pretty much any ‘special’ occasion, including your own birthdays. We greet you with a hug and kiss, bake you a cake, and let you blow the candles. We burst shot that very moment and pray for a decent capture of a smile, so we can convince Instagram and the rest of the internet that you are especially happy on that given day. But the reality is, at least for you, it was just another day, nothing special.

It’s almost ironic that children who are stereotypically labelled as ‘special’ can’t even distinguish a ‘special’ occasion. No matter how much you adorn the house with garlands and colors, no matter how spectacular the fireworks, no matter how tall the Christmas tree, how big the cake, how much hotdogs there is to the sweet spaghetti, it’s just another day, nothing special.

Some people might see you two as hard to please, unhappy even, on ‘special’ days when you just seem indifferent.

If only they can see your faces during bath time. All it takes is a timely-paid water bill, a huge container like a vat or a cooler, and a water hose. Your smile would be wider than a that of a kid who got all the presents he wanted on Christmas morning.

If only they can see you, Jared, watching your mom intently as she flattens that roti dough, cooks it in a little butter until slightly crispy, and serving it on your favorite plate. Then you carefully hold two ends of the plate with your two hands, and touch the flat bread with your thumb every five seconds to see if it’s still hot. And when it’s ready, every bite is pure joy.

If only they can see you, Sam, running towards the kitchen counter the moment you hear the sound of a spoon swirling around on the inside of a pitcher, mixing instant iced tea. You eagerly get your glass and sip and giggle. Then you sip and giggle some more until I tell you not to play with your food and drink it all the way (yeah, dad is a kill joy at times).

You see, today was nothing special. Because it’s not just all about the third Sunday of June and the breakfast in bed, the redundant greetings, and the stereotypical surprise gift of a necktie which I will probably never use. It’s those everyday small things. Those simple things that make our mundane everyday better than any special day. 

Because you two are the only reason why I’m included in father’s day. More importantly, you two are the only reason why it’s a HAPPY father’s day.

Love,

Dad

One


In light of recent events in our country, I share this throwback of an instant favorite from the Banana Pancake Trail: Melaka, Malaysia.

Where you will find Catholic church ruins, Ramadan-observing Chinese merchants, Fookien-speaking Indians, a mix of Malay and Chinese cuisine called Nonya/Peranakan, Hainanese chicken, Indian curry, Indonesian Satay, a Portuguese settlement, a Dutch square, Hindu temples, mosques, a long list of noodle dishes, Taiwanese fried chicken, Portuguese egg tarts, Chinese popiah, and cendol and ice kacang, which is probably one of the roots of Filipino halo-halo.

And those are just the locals.

Now I’m no political nor historical expert, and I’m sure Malaysia has it’s own skeletons in its closet, and they probably have cases of regionalism and intolerance. But compared to them, we have a long way to go.

Unfortunately, we’re not culturally diverse, only culturally divided. And our country being an archipelago didn’t help.

We are crabs. We diss anything that’s not ‘ours’. We laugh at ‘weird’ bisaya accents but praise the Brit and Cali schwa, not realizing that all micro-cultures have accents and nuances of their own. We make fun of dialects, because the Visayan househelp said ‘libog’. And speaking of househelp, us Cebuanos can never hire a Manileña maid, because maids only come from the island provinces. And we won’t trust anyone from Mindanao, because they’re all terrorists. 

We look down on food that we don’t understand, like how they beat up a chicken in North Luzon to the point of hemorrhage and call it Pinikpikan. Bicol? Puro maanghang. Ilocano? Puro pinakbet. Cebu? Patis ang tawag nila sa toyo tapos pochero ang tawag nila sa bulalo. Davao? Eew, durian. You Instagram that fancy ‘authentic’ satay you’re devouring in that artisan food market, clueless that it’s typical barbecue in some parts of Mindanao. Satti, look it up. Look up kulma and pianggang while you’re at it, and realize that a version of Beef Rendang and Ayam Panggang is actually a daily carinderia item in Mindanao. And that Mindanao cuisine actually have more dimension, and have a better chance at going global, because Adobo is just salty and Kare-kare is bland.

And then we raise our placards saying we are one with (insert city here). Well bad news, we are not. We haven’t been ‘one’ in a long time and it’s sad. We are lost. Very lost. And days like these sometimes make me feel we are beyond repair. 

We can never be one with all this imperialsm. We can never be one if we think our region is better than the next. We can never be one with all the intolerance and stereotyping. We can never be one until we see each other as equals. 

We have a long way to go.

Eighth


Eight seconds, more or less – from the moment I saw you at that almost too familiar office floor, wearing that bright yellow shirt, and an even brighter smile, on the other side of the country. That’s how long it took for my breath to be taken away. Your stoic, cynical self back then would have smirked at the idea, but it was love at first sight. They say that when you finally find the love of your life, your entire timeline becomes simplified into two parts: before you met him/her and after. And on that very moment, I knew I was finally at after.

Eight days later, I was in cloud nine, in case it wasn’t obvious yet. It’s either Othello’s principle or what they show in those sappy rom-coms was true. After the falling-in-love scene, everything around me seemed to agree to what I felt. The FM radio on my morning drive and my favorite hopeless-romantic officemate played the same song you sang a few nights ago. I realized that Ayala Avenue actually had a few trees and other colors, after years of working there and only seeing white and grey monoliths. And food, even the cheap pares in JolliJeep and the squid balls outside the office building, was more flavorful.

Eight weeks from then, on a warm summer midnight at an old taxi stand, my stomach full of popcorn and nachos and butterflies, you kissed me and said ‘I love you too’.

Eight months was Manila. We spent our first new year together. Our love was burning bright like fireworks on new year’s eve; and we were cheesier than the hallmark cards we gave each other on our first Christmas. The travel bug has bitten us and we had plans almost every week, from quick joyrides within the confines of Cebu, to flights and boat rides conquering the rest of the country. We have also began our fascination of backpacking outside the country (and we will in the following year), not realizing that it would, much later on, be the foundation of our dream restaurant. Yes, we also shared a deep passion for food. I knew right then that I wanted to marry you.

Eight years together, six years married. We work together at this year-long baby step to that still unaccomplished restaurant, and there are times that we absolutely hate working together. The FM radio and now Spotify mostly plays sad tearjerkers, and the colorful food market that we now call our office is occasionally monochromatic. Our stomachs are sometimes only full with coffee and regret, and our fights are sometimes loud like fireworks. Our backpacking trail is on a long, indefinite break and with our kids now in the picture, we probably can only continue the rest of the journey through Food Network and travel shows.

Life is painfully hard and, at times, miserable. We lose patience at the smallest of things. We argue over reality and ideals. In eight years, we have grown both better and worse in many different aspects. We have changed. You and I are no longer you and I eight years ago. And the sadness sometimes blinds us and we search for rainbows and silver linings, not realizing that sooner or later, they will come. Because eight years ago, you were a lost soul and I was a lonely nerd, yet we found a silver lining in each other.

How I Met My…

It was twelve years ago; on a cold, windy night similar to this; on a ship bound to Cebu.  I was a nerdy college boy with braces, carrying a guitar, trying to remember the chords and the lines of a Spongecola song, with a bunch of flowers hidden in my back pocket, looking at the door. She would open it soon, and I will begin strumming and nervously singing. The nerves got the best of me, and things didn’t exactly pan out as planned. But on that night, I finally expressed my true feelings for a best friend; my first love.

 

A montage of fastfood dates, movies, and jeepney rides later, I found myself crying in the cold breeze of Tagaytay. Don’t judge me. I was young and juvenile, and I thought it was the end of the world. If you know me well today, you’d think I would have done a “nagmahal, nasaktan, nag-travel”. But that JD twelve years ago was practically a travel virgin. I was actually a little scared of travelling, more so travelling alone. So I did what I thought at that time was the best thing to do – get a job.

 

My first job was perfect. BPO. Travel. If you’re from the industry you would know. It paid pretty decently. I met a lot of new people, and even dated once in a while. Although I was initially doing it out of bitterness and heartbreak, I soon fell in love with that job. And I learned so much about travel while I was at it.

 

The next three years meant I was single for three Valentines days. Honestly though, I vaguely remember how I spent them.

 

I may have spent them with friends, most probably drinking at the balcony of a cheap apartment somewhere in J.P. Rizal.

 

I may have spent them with family. Typical mall dinner, pretending to be stoic about every bug-bitten couple, holding hands, flowers, chocolates, movies, and every cliché in between.

 

Or I most probably may have been alone, flicking the remote to Cinema One to find out if John Lloyd and Bea was playing, and immediately flicking to Jack TV, settling for South Park, pretending to cringe at the sight of Popoy and Basha making juvenile promises at the UST school grounds in the rain.

 

I may have had friends and family and TV, but the reality was I was alone, like all single people feel during the love month. But what I didn’t know is that 2009 is the last year I would be alone, and not just on Valentines.

 

I remember how excited I was around this time that year because in less than two weeks, I would ride the airplane for the first time in my life and, coincidentally, it was a trip to Cebu. I vividly remember the first time I stepped on the sands of Bantayan; my first sniff and bite of ngohiong (which I would discover later on that wasn’t the best yet); colourful jeepneys with route codes unlike in Manila; and walking inside our Cebu office for the first time (it was partly a business trip).

 

The office almost looked exactly the same. The same computers, the same phones, similar carpets. And then I saw her. She was wearing jeans and a white shirt. She had long black hair, and her eyes looked at me cheerfully. Then she smiled at me as if we have been friends forever.

 

I instantly forgot about my ‘best friend’ and how I cried on the phone when she got married a year ago; I instantly forgot about getting wasted every night for two weeks before deciding to move on and get a job; I instantly forgot about the jeepney rides to Project 8, the night classes at PUP main, and the 15-peso lugaw dates; I instantly forgot being the newbie shy nerd in the office trying to improve himself, not just to fit in but also to bitterly show a better face should I get the chance to meet her again; I instantly forgot about me ugly-crying at a chilly roadside, waiting for the bus home, contemplating whether I should ride it or stand in front of it to die. That moment, all the pain and bitterness was gone.

 

What I didn’t realize is that the pieces of my heart were no longer scattered around Tagaytay, Sta. Mesa, and Quezon City. I found it whole in Cebu, carefully held by this woman smiling at me. I fell in love again.