Dear 25-Year Old BJ,

I am writing to you from 9 years in the future.

My name is 31-Year Old JD. We haven’t personally seen each other yet, but we have had a few email exchanges back in September and November 2008 for schedule swaps. We have only seen each other’s mug shots from that special access folder, and you have immediately assumed from my gelled up hair, shy smile, and overly-tight shirt that I am undeniably gay. I’m afraid to inform you that, unfortunately, I am your future husband.

I write to you to give you a heads up. About a month from now, you and 23-year old me will finally meet. You will immediately have a crush on me, no matter how much you still deny it up to now, while I will fall in love at first sight, no matter how much you still don’t believe it.

You were quite a catch in 2009. Beautiful, independent, smart, and a relatively free spirit. And you have a fair share of travel and backpacking stories. I, on the other hand, was a little awkward, always under-dressed, and ready to take your breath away with monologues about my adventures in SM Megamall.

Needless to say, we were a perfect match.

But I am not writing today to tell you our love story (I’ll leave that for you to discover). Instead, I write to you today to apologize.

In the next few months, I will sweep you off your feet. I will take you to dinner and movie dates, bring you flowers, and surprise you with sweet nothings. But I would like you to know that years later, I will change. That hopeless romantic that you will meet next month will just be hopeless, and I’m sorry.

I will make you feel butterflies. I will love your daughter with all my heart and in a few years, she will legally and wholeheartedly become mine too. But I would like you to know that some years later, I will sometimes lose my patience with her. And there will be times that I almost would give up on her, and I’m sorry.

And indeed, I will take your breath away. We will begin to travel the world. We will bask in powdery white sand beaches, crawl through steep ancient temples, and explore noisy streets of foreign cities. We will have a streetfood buffet wherever we go, and we will share a passion for cooking along the way. But I would like you to know that some years later, I will lose passion. I will be lazy. I will be difficult. I will be annoying and unbearable. And I’m sorry.

We will have thousands of fights, and we will sometimes have loud arguments in public. And I’m sorry.

I will be suffocating at times, and become what Thought Catalog would call a toxic partner. And I’m sorry.

You see, that guy you will meet next month will make you fall in love. But I would like you to know that that guy will not always be the same guy. He will change. I have changed. And so have you in my present time.

And by now you may have already decided that you shouldn’t meet 23-year old me anymore, and have that coffee that he joked about. I would totally understand.

But if you still do fall when you see him next month, and we end up as we have ended up right this moment, I would like you to know one thing that is absolute. He will love you always. For everything you were. For everything you are. For everything you will be.

With love from all timelines, JD

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Dear 30-Year Old JD

I write to you from one year in the future.
This year, yes, we had a tree. Yes, we used different-sized nonlas, and we even threw in sakkats and sombreros. We hand painted them green and stacked them high like a Christmas tree. We adorned them with red and yellow Christmas “balls” made of burlap and twine, and topped it with a star made of bamboo. You said we should never lose our spirit. Well, it wasn’t as easy as we imagined it to be, but let me tell you this – it was indeed a standout!
This year, yes, we can travel again. And by that I mean that we CAN, but we choose not to. We have realized that there are things that can wait and the wait is worthwhile. You said we should never lose our passion and wanderlust. Well I believe it’s just a matter of time before our backpacks will be worn again. And in case you really need to know, we still adore streetfood. Hashtag streetfood is life.
This year, yes, we finally opened our restaurant. Yes, we used monobloc chairs like the hawkers in Malaysia. Yellow and black. Yes, we used stainless tables like Hanoi. We haven’t decided yet where to put the old burlap banner; but instead we wrote our story on the wall. We still use the same woks, and our little BPT family has now grown to a dozen. And surprisingly for both of us, BJ allowed me to adorn the walls with our old travel photos, chubby cheeks and all. You said we should never lose hope. Well honestly there were more than a dozen times that I wanted to give up. But I’m glad I held on.
This year, yes, the kids are doing better. Sam has matured a bit and has less meltdowns compared to previous years. Or maybe I was the one who matured a lot and stopped having meltdowns. Jared can say and spell more words, and can now converse in his own make-up dialect. You said we should never lose patience. Well this year the kids also learned to be patient with us.
This year, yes, BJ and I are still together. Nope, were not back to being single. Yet. We still fight over breakfast meals, argue over decoration ideas, and backseat-drive each other’s driving styles. But you said we should never never stop loving each other. Well we never never did.
I’m not saying that it’s already a happy ending at this point. You see – what’s that they say again? – we’ve only just begun. I still have a lot of questions like you did and I will never get answers unless 35-year old JD decides to write us back and tell us about Gaudi and the Sagrada Familia. We have to wait for 38-year old JD to confirm if we have already opened our humble hostel. We have to wait for 47-year old JD to tell us about Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. And only 75-year old JD can confirm if there is indeed a forever when he writes about our golden wedding anniversary.
Right now, I can only do what we have always done best: keep going. Time will answer the rest of our questions.
With much more hope from the future,
JD

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.

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.

Dear 40-Year Old JD,

I write to you from ten years in the past.

It’s almost Christmas. Did you decorate the house this year? I sure hope you did, and that you have done so for the past few years. Did you finally make that Christmas tree using different-sized nonlas, or have you outgrown Southeast Asia? How tall is the tree? How much gifts are underneath? However it was done, I’m sure BJ took care of all the details. I bet it’s a standout!

Have you travelled the world? Do you still eat on the streets? I hope we did not become too good for streetfood and only eat fancy. How were the brownies in Amsterdam? Did you climb the Andes and see Machu Picchu? Have you proven the existence of the fountain of youth in Okinawa? Did you follow the Gringo Trail, the Silk Road, Route 66 and, ultimately, have you finished off the cities in the Banana Pancake Trail?

Speaking of the trail, did the restaurant make it? Is it restaurants now? Did you use monobloc stools and stainless tables like the ones in Hanoi? Did you remember to enclose the original burlap banner in glass and place it at the wall of the dining area? Are we still using the same decade-seasoned woks? Did BJ finally agree to use our old travel pictures to decorate, disregarding how chubby we were on our temple selfies?

Or did we not make it at all? Did you go back to teaching? Did you start a different business?

How is Sam and Jared? How is BJ? Is the relationship still going strong or have you two already divorced (assuming that’s already legal in our country at your time)?

I’m sorry for bombarding you with questions. I guess that’s all I have right now. I’m sure 40-year old us would have bigger problems and you’d probably have questions that I can never answer in return. But I write to you to remind you of how we were in 2016, in the hopes that you can pick up something from it.

If the Christmas decor is not as great as you wanted it to be, I hope you look back at 2016 when we didn’t decorate our house. In fact, we have not done Christmas decorations since 2014. In my time, life was faster than us, and we can barely catch up. But we never lose our spirit.

If you missed a few trips in the past decade, I hope you remember how we cannot even afford a nearby vacation, moreso a plane ticket to Yangon. And even if we did, we wouldn’t have any funds for food and accommodation. But we never lose our passion and wanderlust.

If the restaurant is not doing well or worse, failed, do not forget how much sleepless food bazaar nights we had to endure; how this particular December drained all our physical, mental, and emotional strength; how breaking even does not compensate; and how much pride we had to swallow. We did all that just to keep it running. We never lose hope.

If Sam still eats with one foot atop the dining chair, think of the time when Sam can hardly feed herself without supervision. If Jared still cannot express himself in ‘regular’ language, remember the time when he cannot utter anything at all, word or non-word. We should relentlessly help them improve. We never lose patience.

And if you and BJ are falling, or have fallen apart, do not forget how we almost fought everyday in 2016; how we had extended arguments in the car over driving routes and where to have breakfast; how we hurt each other. But most importantly, how we win each other back. Every. Single. Time. Because we never, never stop loving each other.

You see, if you think things are not going well, don’t forget to do what we do best: keep going. When things go wrong, remember 2016. When we learned that Christmas is ‘truly in our hearts‘. When we learned to travel without leaving home. When we learned how to start a business. When we learned to be a better parent. When we learned to forgive. Because we never stop learning.

With hope from the past,

JD

P.S. It’s her birthday again. I hope you have been doing better at her birthdays the past decade. We always forget the cake in my time.