I probably haven’t told you yet. This was one of my favorite moments in the Banana Pancake Trail. We were too touristy in Malaysia, we were too drunk in Cambodia, and we were too tired by the time we reached Thailand.
But on this particular Vietnam night, after a long day exploring war tunnels, noisy markets, and eating our way through the alleys of Saigon, we decided to skip the rowdy Pham Ngu Lao and the Crazy Buffalo. We bought a pair of local beer at the Circle K downstairs and sat down at the porch of that cheap quaint hotel.
With our heart filled with love and endorphins, and our spirits tipsy with wanderlust, we spent a quiet hour at the gutters of sleepy Ho Tung Mao. We talked about the beginnings of our trip, our plans of travelling the world, our hopes of travelling with the kids and, most importantly, we talked about our lifelong journey – you and me.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
I think the problem was you were very close to Kuya Potch; and I was very close to him too. But the two of us had many question marks and exclamation points in between. To make things more interesting, I was born in the 80’s and You were a 90’s baby. And that mini generation gap meant I was almost ending my love for video games at the time of Ragnarok while you were just beginning yours.
You needed to move to Cebu because you were lost. You needed to find yourself. Guess what? I realized a part of me was lost too. Seven years of living away from you made me lose the brother and friend that I was to you and Potch. But now, I have found that person in me again. Thanks to you. And I know you found yourself too.
I am sad that you had to leave. Especially when I think of how great our last few nights of cooking side by side was. But I know you have your reasons.
If there was any time that I made you feel like I was disappointed at you, know this: I am ALWAYS proud of you and I have never and will never give up on you.
I am sorry for those times that I was expecting too much from you, it was only because I was impatient. Atat. Nagmamadali. Excited. Because I know you can handle it and I know you can do so much more. You can BE so much more. My only mistake was I did not allow you to do it at your own timing.
But I have seen you step up in the past few weeks. From where I stand, you have indeed found yourself and your passion in Cebu. And if you follow your heart, you will not be an engineer or an electrician the next time we see each other. You will be a chef.
Now, that may change and I respect that. But if it doesn’t (and I surely wish it doesn’t) and somehow you find yourself wearing a toque and holding a wok the next time we meet, then you’re on for a cook off. And may the best Pad Thai win.
I cannot wait to cook side by side you again. In the meantime, I would like to share with you one important tip:
Whether it’s Pad Thai, Beef Wellington, instant Pancit Canton, or a fried egg. There is only one secret ingredient to all dishes: LOVE.