Filipinos, they say, are all around the world. They say we thrive and survive wherever we go. True to my experience, I have former classmates who are now working as nurses in Dubai. I have college buddies and university colleagues who are now studying and working in Korea, Italy, the United States, and in Great Britain. I have friends who have migrated with their families to Canada and Australia. I have professors who have taught in Singapore and Hong Kong. I even have a blogger friend who worked as an engineer in Iceland. No matter where we go, though, we never really leave behind our being Filipino.
In a few weeks, I’ll be leaving my country to start a new adventure and a new life in Japan. Despite my natural affinity to the land of the rising sun (I lived there for six months in 2010-2011) and my relentless ability to adapt to a new culture, I will miss certain things from my country. Below is a list (which is definitely not complete!) of some of the things that I’ve come to love and appreciate about the Philippines.
1. Pristine beaches
The Philippines is an archipelago, and that means more than 90% of the population grew up with a beach or the sea in sight. When I was a kid, my dad used to take me and the other kids in our neighborhood to the beach for an afternoon swim/wade (I never really learned how to swim properly; I swam backwards for some reason!). And because I had asthma, I was required to have breathing exercises, taking in the cool, crisp and salt-filled air. Until now, whenever I’m back in my hometown, the breeze still smells of salt, and in my head, I would feel the beach calling out to me. I would imagine waves crashing against the rocks, the powdery sand on my feet, and the sea shells, corals, sand dollars, and scuttling hermit crabs all scattered on the gray shore. I think the beaches in the Philippines aren’t only naturally and physically beautiful but they are also silent spectators of our fondest memories. That’s what makes them very dear to me.
2. The consistently tropical climate
The Philippines is so near the equator that we get a consistently warm weather. When I went to Corregidor, just off the coast of Manila, a few years ago, the tour guide went as far as to say that the island only had two types of weather: warm and warmer. And I guess that’s actually true for the entire country. I only realized just how much I loved heat and warmth when I first experienced winter in Japan. I mean, I literally got drawn to the heated chairs of trains, hot coffee from vending machines, hokkairos or hand-warmers, mufflers, beanies, boots, down jackets, Uniqlo’s Heat Tech innerwear, and any type of clothing that kept me warm. I’m a jeans-shirt-shoes kind of girl and I never would’ve thought I’d be wearing all these layers of clothing! And I never would’ve thought I’d miss all those hot and humid summers which in my country which I used to despise. Well, I’m gonna miss them now that I’m moving to a country with a temperate sub-tropical climate.
3. The generally democratic culture
I teach at the University of the Philippines, and I’m lucky to have been exposed to the democratic atmosphere that the university has. Here, there is a certain degree of freedom in speech, in gender choices, and in political and religious affiliations. We never really have to worry about sticking out like a sore thumb or being hammered into conformity. In fact, we like standing out most times! But of course, this democracy isn’t perfect. The Catholic church still holds a huge political influence over the country, when supposedly, the church and the state have separated. (Perhaps we haven’t really internalized the Enlightenment here). Censorship is also a big issue in the country; it’s a potent tool that the government uses in maintaining the status quo. At times, I feel like the media has dumbed us down because censorship has either sensationalized the mundane or covered up the harsh realities that we actually need to see. But these are just two things that make democracy here (for lack of a better term) unique. (‘Schizophrenic’ was my next option.) I do not condone these social ills, but nevertheless, I am thankful that I can say things like this in this country.
4. Quaint little coffee shops
As much as I like the huge all-encompassing things here, I also like the small everyday things. And by that I mean, the coffee shops! I’m not talking Starbucks or Coffee Bean or Seattle’s Best, although I go to these places too. I’m referring to the cafes that have sprouted along semi-residential areas like in Teacher’s Village. I love these coffee/tea houses for three things: (1) they are themed, (2) the prices are cheap, and (3) the food and the beverages are innovative. One of the tea places I used to frequent is called Pan+Tea, and their theme is, well, underwear! It might seem weirdly provocative at first (haha!), but it’s actually cute! Their rock salt and cheese wintermelon tea is called Victoria’s Secret. (Who wouldn’t want something like that, right?) There’s another place that I recently got interested in — a music-themed cafe called Forte. It’s a coffee shop that doubles as a concert venue for local artists. I’ve only been there once, but next time I go, I’ll try their dessert called Mozartkugeln (Mozart chocolate ball). I’ve spent most of my academic life in these coffee houses, not only because they’re cheap but also because I’ve become good friends with some of their baristas. They’ve already come to know the food and drink I like (I tend to order the same thing every time), and I’ve already shared good stories with them, too.
5. Quality time with my best friends
Yes, there is Skype. Yes, there is Facebook. And yes, technology has made us closer and our world smaller than ever before. But nothing really beats actually being there. I only have a few close friends in the Philippines, but I dare say they’re the truest friends in my entire universe. We’ve shared so many good and bad times together that it’s quite difficult thinking about a life without them. However, my best friends and I have actually agreed that it’s not our constant meetings that have kept our bond stronger. It’s also the absences in between. True friends understand that. Soon, one or two of my best friends will also head out to another country. And I feel really happy and hopeful for them! I’m excited about the prospect of visiting them and traveling to where they are, wherever they might be in the future. Good times!
6. My family and my hometown
I recently went on a trip back to my hometown, San Fernando. It has actually become a city since the year 2000. But it still has that provincial charm that you can only find in small towns. (Well, the plaza still has ‘Town’ in it, instead of city, haha!) I lived in San Fernando until I was 16. It was in this place where I first learned how to write, where I took my first few photographs (I even bought my first camera here!) and where I first fell in love… well, sort of. But more importantly, this is where my family is. Although my family is not typical and my childhood was definitely not a Seventh Heaven episode, I love my family very much. I feel like I’ll be leaving a huge part of myself because my family is here. Despite that, I know that in order for me to become the person that I want to be and in order to achieve happiness and fulfillment, selfish as this may sound, I know that I have to leave, just like how I left 10 years ago when I went to college. Life’s like that. We always have to keep moving forward.
Anyway, these are just six things I’ll miss in the Philippines. There are more! Like the cheap food (if you know where to look), the long walks around my uni, the looooonng Christmas season, etc. These small facets of my life here in this country will forever be cherished and treasured. But now, they are to be stored in a box labeled “The Past” as I move on to bigger and better things. That’s not saying, though, that I won’t be back in the Philippines. I’ll still come visit some time in the future.
But for now, hello, new exciting life with my sun and stars! Hello again, Nihon! I’ve missed you too. Hisashiburi x