just own the night.

"so, that's it, huh? you're quitting life," she said, "trading work for karaoke?"
"yeah," i said. "might as well."
"what are you gonna do when you get back?"
"i dunno," i said. "get a job at a supermarket or bookstore, if i'm lucky."
"nothing wrong with that," she said. "i was just talking about that today," she said, "how americans are so goddamn competitive."
"yeah," i said. "we're only fooling ourselves."

my aunt, she put out this full spread, crabs and coca-cola and squid and eggrolls, but none of us could eat a damn thing. it was for my dead grandparents and the other deceased. if there was an afterlife, i could picture my grandparents chilling on clouds, and laughing at us from above. jesus, they'd think, why didn't she spend that money on the living instead? i watched as she picked out hopia, chicharron, and other snacks from overcrowded tiny shops.

earlier this month, my cousins and i went to boracay for four days and three nights. every night, we drank san miguel light until our faces turned red and we no longer felt self-conscious about dancing to bad pop music. "firework," "the time (dirty bit)," "like a g6," "the club can't handle me," "i like the way you lie," "we r who we r," etc. we karaoked until our voices went out, and we swam in the ocean until our mouths filled with salt, and we tanned until our skin peeled. we drank shakes from jonah's and ate all the seafood we could handle. because that's how you fucking do boracay.

and then there are the go-go bars. miss universal, east asia, malizia-2, air force one, golden dove, club 9, so many go-go bars and nineteen year-old girls sitting in rooms that i don't know what to make of it. chloe, she sits on my lap and sings "a thousand miles." i know it, so i sing with her. i ask if she's in school. she says she dropped out. why, i ask. financial problems, she says. duh. why else would be she be here, sitting on your lap? i look to my left, and my buddy angelo is shirtless, smothering his chosen one.

sometimes, i stop. you have to stop sometimes. am i really doing this? did i really just drink every night this week and say what i said to that young girl? am i really dancing like a fool right now and finally, completely letting go? is there any love in this world, or is it all just lust and its consequences? maybe the purpose of life is to just take one amazingly long hot shower. what i wouldn't give for a hot shower right now.

but it's best to not overanalyze. don't think about things too much. just keep going at it hard, nonstop, 24/7, e'rry goddamn day until you die.
i see you colourful.

there's a little girl who sits outside shoemart at harrison plaza, and she looks at me. she wants money, that much is clear. i don't know what her story is. maybe she sleeps on the street, maybe she has some family, and they don't care where she is or what she's doing. i know enough tagalog to ask, where is your mother? but i don't ask. her clothes and hair are dirty, and she dances in front of the store window. the security guards try to shoo her away, but eventually, they resign - it is what it is - and she gets to loiter all she wants.

my cousin, jojo, he tells me that he's sick of living in vietnam, and he won't return there. instead, he'll break his contract, pay the $2,000 fee, and try his luck flying planes for another airline, zest air. he says that his previous employer, cebu air, had horrible working conditions, and they weren't worth his time. a small child peeks into his tinted window, and jojo knocks once, a signal for the child to get lost. jojo just keeps going on and on about how saigon is no place to live. it's a place only for tourists.

jamie, she works in the ktv cellar bar at our hotel. she says she's 21, single, lives in quezon city. she said she used to model, but not anymore. i asked her why, but she didn't have an answer for me. she rides the jeepney to work, where she entertains guests like me from 5 p.m. - 1 a.m. when there are no guests like me available, she just sits there with the other girls, and they talk about things. i don't know what it is they talk about. she said she liked the rhianna song, "i like the way you lie," and that her dream was to go to boracay. together, we sang journey's "open arms," and her voice was better than mine.

there's a guy who works at the small gym in the hotel. he was here last year, and probably the year before that. he says, "hello, sir," and once, he asked me if i was on vacation. i think he wants someone to talk to english, but when i run, all i want to do is listen to music. he tilts the tv monitor so it faces his small table, and usually, he watches game shows. if he has to use the bathroom, he tells me he'll be right back. once, i forgot my water bottle, and he called my room to tell me that i'd forgotten it. when i picked it up, i tipped him 40 pesos, about a dollar.

another guy, he drives a tricycle. he's wearing a basketball jersey, faded shorts, and dusty sandals. he's got a bandaid on his cheek, and he asks me where we want to go. i tell him, pancake house. i hear him ask another tricyclist in tagalog where pancake house is, and that person gives him directions. he struggles with the pedaling. he is, after all, trying to transport two well-fed americans, a good 350 pounds combined. all around us, cars, jeepneys, and motorcycles are whizzing by, honking and blasting black smoke into the air. the heat is thick and sticks to your skin. you can smell the sewage, the food, the piss, the kalesas, yourself. when the ride is over, i ask him how much? he says ten pesos, i give him twenty.

i'm walking around, and it's just a normal day, nothing special about it. i think about the lyric from jonsi's "animal arithmetic": everyday, everywhere, people are so alive. it's not like that where i'm from. where i'm from, it's not like that at all.
who was that girl?

a beautiful woman sat next to me on the plane from seattle to sacramento. she was a bit older, early thirties or so, and blonde. she flipped through the pages of a sacramento magazine. it was either talk to the beautiful blonde woman or listen to the jezabels on my iphone.

"is this your first time visiting sacramento?"
"no, i'm from there."

we had this in a common, a similar hometown. what did she do? she traveled around here and there. her husband was a helicopter pilot, and they were last stationed in louisiana, and before that, germany. she had a daughter, and the kid was with her dad in olympia. what did i do? i just quit my job, working in an office. i was waiting to hear from the peace corps, but i didn't know where i'd end up yet, or when i would be going. so until then, i was just going to go to sacramento and then to manila, and then who knows what?

she told me that taking the trains around in europe was easy. she said she'd never been to the philippines, but that she would like to visit it eventually. we never even introduced ourselves. we spent the whole flight talking, and i didn't get her name. there was no mention of facebook or email or anything like that because there wasn't a point to it. she was a married woman, and that was that. why bother? it was nice, though, the conversation. we just talked and talked and the flight didn't seem that long.

we got off the plane, and she said something about how she loved coming into sacramento's airport. i had nothing to say about that. i was too busy thinking about how my dad was gonna ask, who is that girl? and i'd have to explain that she was just someone i met on the plane, and she was married, so what did it matter? she said something else, and i was just like, uh huh. i was thinking about that moment when i'd see my parents, and i'd feel like a child again, like some dumb kid who didn't know anything, and that whole grown-up conversation i had just had with the blonde woman would have become nullified.

her father and what looked to be her brother met her first. her father hugged her and she laughed and looked so happy to see him. i hesitated for a second, but then i said, fuck it. why would i introduce myself to this married girl's family? i looked for my parents, ready to play the part of the child who failed at life, the one who couldn't make it in america on his own. my dad and i waited at the carousel, and we barely talked.

we were the last ones there, standing at the carousel. i was worried they'd lost my guitar, but later i discovered they already had it waiting for me in a small office. the blonde showed up. "it was nice talking to you," she said. she shook my hand. "have fun in the philippines!" and that was that. just one more person i talked to for a little while, and who i will probably never see again for the rest of my life.

why wasn't that my life yet? flying helicopters, being well-traveled, married to a gorgeous, intelligent woman? why was i the kid again who loved useless things like writing and playing the guitar? was i ever going to get to be an adult?

"who was that girl?"
i knew you were gonna ask that. i fucking knew it.
at least he looks happy.

well, i'm about to turn 28, and i'm spending my third birthday in a row in manila. i haven't taken any pictures. i'd only be taking shots of things i've seen. but there i was, two, three months ago, walking to work on a cold morning, and i said to myself, i need a drastic change. i was ready for traveling and being on my own then. maybe it was a little bird who kept telling me, you've got nothing to lose! and she was right. what is there to lose? when you are single, and have no personal or financial obligations, why wouldn't you try to shake things up a little?

the cereal prawns were new. there was a new line of restaurants in makati, and i ate cereal prawns, and they were amazing. but to think of food now only disgusts me. when visiting manila, there are only two things i can feel: full and sick. i saw my pamangkins, and that was nice. they called me uncle and laughed because i still couldn't fluently speak tagalog. they said, do you have a girlfriend, and i said no, and they said, but you are dating, and i said no. and so they are trying to set me up with a girl named april. and they aren't the only matchmakers. my aunt said, how old will you be tomorrow? and i said, 28, and she said, it's time to get married.

and then we were at miss universe, a shady little spot only a few blocks from the hotel. there were girls there, and i was ready to pay for them, but i couldn't bring myself to do it. there was place after place of this, thousands of young women looking to get paid, and thousands of lonely men willing to pay any price just to feel something, some great release from the banality of shopping, of working, of paying taxes, of feeling anxious, of living. there are shots of coffins on the local news, some hit and run, some landslide, some massacre, some fools lighting off fireworks.

my uncle now lives in a different area, ever since he pissed off my aunt, his sister. they still don't talk. christmas came and went, they didn't say a word to one another. new years came and went, and still, nothing. he's 52, though years of drinking and smoking make him look much, much older, and he knocked up a 21 year old girl. my mom said to me, his place is sad, isn't it? i didn't answer her, but i didn't want to use his bathroom, either. there was a cockroach in it. my cousin looked at pictures of him and his girl, and he said to me, at least he looks happy.

i have friends back in the states, and they're mostly white. they are thinking about their careers and advanced degrees, and making a life and having a nice home. they are worried about finding jobs and holding onto love and pursuing their dreams. and here in manila, there are men who just sit on crates. they are dark skinned, and they wear dirty tanktops, and they've got a towel resting on one shoulder. i don't know what they are waiting for. i don't know if they just sit there and hold those towels all day long or what.

my mom still says, it didn't use to be like this. my cousin says, why is it so goddamn dirty everywhere? he also says, i'm sick of malls. my dad, he doesn't say anything. he just feels at home, and i can tell by the look on his face. we still talk about what needs to be done to make this city great, or at least livable. we still talk about the dangers of riding a cab, and watching out for pickpockets. we still eat more than we should, and swim, and shop, and live like kings.

but i'm still walking down that cobblestone path at seattle university, the one that runs down between lemieux library and bannan, and i'm still thinking to myself, i need a drastic change.