For Pearl

May 8, 2007 – I was anxiously waiting. Restless. Fidgety. It was one of the longest nine hours I spent on my old desk job and the two hour commute going home was twice the agony. I can’t wait to go home, and when I finally did, I had to wait a. Few. More. Hours.
And then she came knocking on the door.
The humble one liter engine hummed lightly as she approached the gates, with crystal clear eyes beaming through the garage, and cute little tires making a soft rumbling sound in the pavement. And then I finally saw her in full glory, flaunting her shiny new ebony black paint.
I dubbed her Black Pearl.
Yes, based on the movie. I was a big fan of Captain Jack Sparrow and his misadventures, and in the next decade we would have our own stories and adventures to brag about.
I still clearly remember how I was still learning to drive and maneuver, and immediately putting myself on the spot, braving the streets of Makati. Her miniature size was amazing at cutting through traffic. And she sipped gas like a fine lady.
But she can be badass when she had to. Like when we ran 160 at SCTEX and lived to tell the tale. Some people still don’t believe it, but at that time she was brand new and I was irresponsible, and possibilities were endless.
We had impulsive quick drives to Tanay and Pililla, racing hopelessly with ‘patok’ jeepneys for a hot bowl of Lomi Batangas. We had drunk, early morning runs to Tagaytay, just for a photo in the Taal sunrise. We had sleepy moments in NLEX, conquering the old streets of Vigan and the windmills in Bangui, and the hundred islands later on with my greatest love. And to the south we went as far as the shores of Puerto Galera.
So many women have taken her passenger seats. Like all those times I drove my mom to her meetings, or my aunts for kidney checkups, and Nanay Puring to Ever Gotesco for her weekly bingo fix. Yeah, it took a while before I actually got to have Pearl drive me on a date. But when that happened a year later, we were picking up a girl who flew all the way from Cebu.
I never expected that I was going to move there soon. And I had to leave Pearl when she turned two. I spent a year without her, while getting to know Cebu, 17B, 12L and ngohiong. In 2010, three years young and still so full of energy, I had her shipped in, because I knew I was going to stay here for good.
She avoided Typhoon Ondoy by a hairline, and began circling the island, having more adventures and misadventures as Captain Jack preferred. She had a record-breaking eight passenger long drive to the beaches of Alcoy (yes, eight adult passengers), she survived the zigzags of Barili and the Transcentral Highway, she took us to Bantayan, Malapascua, Camotes, and to all the nooks and crannies of Cebu.
She’s a seasoned fighter in the traffic jams of IT Park and CBP, and later on Carbon and Colon. And when I left my office job, she became the official wheels of BPT. She serviced LPG tanks, tables, coolers, oil, sauces, noodles, and our hopes and dreams. In hindsight, BPT might not have made it without her.
She drove us to dates, wedding preparations, pre-natal checkups, hospital visits, school trips, and she was a witness to all the loudest fights and biggest make-up kisses that no movie will ever give justice to. Pearl has seen me laugh, cry, have my heart broken, and fall in love.
She has been a crucial part of the last eleven years of my life, and it’s hard to imagine one without her.
But I have to let go.
For many reasons that do and don’t make sense, I have to let you go.
Thank you for all the wonderful stories. I wish you continue making them for your next owner.
I hope you continue be a trusty companion to your next owner. Haul their families, their pets, their groceries. Be there for them in times of need. Do not let them down on emergencies like hospital visits or midnight cravings. Give them power naps on long working hours. Bring them to places that put smiles on their faces. Bring them happiness like how you have brought mine.
It has been an extraordinary journey.
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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

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

That Night in Saigon

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.

The 80/20


Some relationships are not just picture-perfect, some are actually perfect. Eighty percent of the time they are that couple that makes you hard press the like button, because they deserve that big heart emoji. Eighty percent of the time they are genuinely happy and in love and faithful and just plain amazing they could cure cancer, achieve world peace, and make you swoon and vomit in your mouth at the same time.

Yes, they fight. And the fights are cute. And it only happens two tenths of the time.

However others are not as fortunate. For some, when we lay out all the cards, there would be eighty fights out of a hundred moments. There would be eighty dissapointments. Eighty mistakes. Eighty long nights of mud-slinging and past-digging.

Mind you, their Instagram only shows their inspiring travel throwbacks, and it will make you think that they are couple number one. But what you see in all those social gatherings and dinners and 24-hour IG stories are just a mere twenty percent of what they actually go through. The truth is, eighty percent of the time they are sleeping with an extra large hotdog pillow between their backs.

Some might say that you should leave that kind of relationship because it’s toxic. Some say you should take some time off. Some say this, some say that. But the reality is there’s no same formula for everyone.

True, you may need to give yourself good riddance most especially if so much red flags has been raised. But there is no universal solution. Not everyone is a Popoy and Basha nor Betchay and Mike. Some relationships are worth another chance. And some even another another.

Because one day, you will find someone who is worth that eighty percent. Someone who is worth fighting a measly twenty percent for. Because at the end of the day, love is not 80/20 or 70/30 or 50/50. It’s 100%.

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.