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.

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