they never should've left.


just yesterday, it occurred to me that i'm turning twenty-seven, and i'm on vacation with my parents. well, maybe it wasn't just yesterday. i thought about it in boracay. before i left for the philippines, my co-workers asked what my holiday plans were. i told stacey about going to boracay, and she said she had heard about boracay. apparently, it's a well-known resort. anyway, while i was walking around boracay, i thought about how stacey would probably enjoy going to a resort like boracay with her husband. it's a place for couples, a romantic getaway. hell, even a place for kids in their twenties to party it up with other kids in their twenties, and not, you know, their parents.

i don't know why it didn't occur to me sooner. i figured, hey, a discounted trip is a discounted trip. and most of my meals are paid for. and i get to do something other than rot in my apartment where i'm too cheap to turn on the heat. i get to get away from the cold. in manila, it's sunny everyday and it's always in the seventies or eighties. it's rained one day in the two weeks that we've been here, and my cousin aileen said, "this is rare. rain in december?" i get to forget about my job, forget about the cold, forget about how i'm not living the life that i want.

i met with my nieces and nephews last night. we did the same thing we did last year. drinks and karaoke and trying to break across the language barrier. darlene asked me if i was still working on the short story i sent her. j.r. asked if i had a girlfriend in the states. jam asked if i watched new moon. it was the same thing we did last year, but it didn't feel the same. something has felt a little off the whole time i've been here. mom keeps saying it doesn't feel like christmas. yesterday, she asked me, "does it feel like christmas to you?" i said, "no, it hasn't felt like christmas since i was about 8."

i guess this is the part where it just starts to feel sad. last time was all culture shock, and now i just feel bad for this place. the way my nephew, milo, orders his maid to turn on the air-conditioner. the way my cousin, jun-jun, demands a refill for his water. the way little dark children come up to the window and sing a little song, and ate ging knocks three times to make them go away. the way we drive and drive and there's nothing but squatters, whole villages of sheet metal and trash and dirty clothes hanging from wires. these are fucking human beings we're talking about. how can they live there? how can we live the way we do, knowing others have to live like that?

my dad loves it here, but my mom always jokes about wanting to go home right away. i see my dad sitting with his brothers and uncles and they're drinking beer and eating shrimp chips and talking about the good old days and they're really laughing it up. i don't think i've ever heard my dad laugh that hard. and then i think about him in sacramento, lying down on the couch, watching the gma network. i tell my mom that his side of the family never should have left manila. "yeah," she said, "they never should've left."

my mom describes how things used to be. her alma mater, university of santo tomas, used to be beautiful. she said it used to be clean. the japanese used it (and other universities all over the city) as a prisoner camp for the americans in world war II, and it got the shit bombed out of it. manila was the second most destroyed city in that war after warsaw. my mom took me to see her elementary school, san augustine, and she said it didn't used to be like that. it didn't used to be all gated and ugly. the traffic wasn't so close to the school, and the light rail, courtesy of imelda marcos, didn't used to be there. poverty shit on everything and made it poorer. "ma hirap pa sa daga," my mom likes to say, meaning, "poorer than a rat."

another year over, and what have i done?

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