Jumping Ship

As I countdown the days before my adventure of a lifetime (well, thus far, in my 30 years of existence, at least) comes to an end date calendarily (because I will forever cherish this chapter of my life for years beyond its terminal date of late March, 2015, so in that trippy “Cloud Atlas” sense, there is no true end), I find myself preparing for a transition between old and new.

Living, loving, struggling, growing, teaching, surviving, soaring, and falling flat on my face in Manila for the past two years has definitely changed me.

On a very deep level.

To my core.

Or, perhaps, it hasn’t changed me, necessarily, but just unearthed what was always within me but I kept hidden and dimmed for so long because, let’s face it, it’s scary to be authentically you.

Me.

Us.

It is petrifying to be 100% completely honest with ourselves and create, live, and lead the life we truly want for a multitude of reasons: Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of intimacy, fear of whatever.  Or, just plain laziness.  I know I get hella lazy, at times, so yeah, bro.  That happens.

Fear. Fear. Fear. with a hearty side of Complacency.

Well, fuck fear and complacency.

Fear is natural, but I’m ready to transcend it (and myself).

This experience has definitely been my “Wonderland”.

And, for that, I am thankful.  So eternally thankful.

It’s like I’m in-between the B.C. and A.D. chapters of my life.  (Don’t get it twisted, I’m not saying I’m Jesus, but in a sense, aren’t we all our own universe, and in that respect, aren’t we our own Savior and Creator and, also, Destruction?)  There’s a definite shift happening in my life and, for once, I’m allowing myself to embrace this uncertainty and vast openness with a smile and amusement rather than worry and dread.  I’m taking the reigns of the story of my life, giving myself permission to follow my bliss unapologetically, and leading the charge the fuck away from stagnancy and comfort to that of growth and expansion.

Folks who get it, cool.  Folks who don’t, that’s cool, too.

As I learn to listen to myself more, trust myself more, love myself more, I find that the world is just opening itself up to me and revealing more and more wonders and opportunities my way.

With each passing day, I realize more and more all the bullshit about not being enough in so many categories from my looks to my personality to my skills to my self-limiting and self-defeating notions of identity I believed that did nothing but stunt my growth, dim my shine, and subtly (and outright) taught me to hate myself on some level.

Essentially, killed my vibe, beeeeeeeeeeeyotch.

You know what's bananas? (B-A-N-A-N-A-S?) Shortchanging yourself.

You know what’s bananas? (B-A-N-A-N-A-S?) Shortchanging yourself. No one said you had to be perfect so get out there and do what you want..like me and painting! 🙂

Well, no more of that nonsense and poppycock.  I swear, turning 30 (and having Saturn leave or whatever) or just choosing to live a cat life and give less fucks, makes me feel empowered to go after what I want, do what I want, and cut out people I don’t want in my life.

It’s like I’m living a Cartman-type life aka “whateva, whateva, I do what I want”.  Only difference is I’m not an elementary school boy cartoon sociopath. Or…am I…?

I’m not only writing my life story, I’m also editing it to fit what I want.

I don’t know why, but it took me 30 years to realize I can like what I like, but more importantly, the converse, I’m allowed to NOT like things, as well.  And I don’t have to apologize for not liking certain things, or people, or treatment.

In the big picture, folks don’t die wishing they played it safer, do they?  People yearn, lust, ache to feel alive.  To feel and experience so deeply, so passionately, so fully that their life is nothing short of amazing.

Well, I’m awake now and, as I plan (“plan”?), my next career path, I’m not scared or feeling obligated to anything for the sake of being “polite” or “because it makes sense”, necessarily.

Happy to finally be more conscious and aware of me and what I want and simple, following my bliss.

After all, we’re never led astray if we truly heed what our spirit tells us.

Bon voyage, amiguitos.  I’m off!

Advertisements

Let’s Not Forget

With catchy slogans like #itsmorefuninthephilippines and the seemingly automatic default coping skill of the mass populace to rationalize, give it up to God (this one, in particular, being my most used strategy as of late), and/or find the silver lining in anything and everything, it can be easy to fall into the idea that life in Manila and the Philippines is a Cover Girl commercial. You know, easy, breezy, and beautiful.

Just like makeup, though, this mentality either enhances or conceals.

And, as for my experience, I’m having an R. Kelly reaction; my mind is basically telling my one thing, but my body…my body’s telling me another. My experience and understanding of the Philippines has been everything along the spectrum of dream-like to nightmare-inducing to a downright numbness possibly similar to sleepwalking.

Sure. With the power of the USD (or basically any other currency) within the reach of your hands, your wildest (and possibly, most illegal) dreams can come true. I mean, quite frankly, even your dog can have a yaya. Nevermind that the woman taking care of your dogs’ every beckon bark and call has her own kids she can barely even support or spend time with since she’s spending most of her day commuting to work and ensuring that Fido is taken care of.

Any thing you want, you got it, and I’m pretty sure the person serving it to you is smiling, nodding their head the entire time, being agreeable, avoiding conflict and confrontation at all costs. While some folks have found peace with the horrid imbalance of power in this society, I find myself riding the choppy waves of adjustment (and resistance) to the blatant, every day normalization of poverty.

While I have found many pockets of happiness in the land of my ancestors, I still find myself smacked in the face with so many conflicting ideals, feelings, emotions, thoughts, etc. that as many a suburban teenager says, “I can’t even.”

In my 1.5 years of living here, outside of your typical expat condo lifestyle, I’ll go ahead and identify myself as an expert on telling Fil-Am’s the realness. (That last comment was sarcastic, but only about 45% so. I really do think there are a lot of things that can’t even be verbalized with living this experience, but all I gotta say is I do not want to see anyone hashtag “the struggle”, “hustle”, or “grit” without stepping foot outside the comfort bubbles of Makati, the Fort, or Ortigas.)

My thoughts aren’t fully formed or coherent even to myself as my posts and blog are very much written straight off the cuff, but what I guess I’m trying to get at is trying to make sense of something like poverty is so nonsensical that it’s almost not worth our energy to try.

It’s like looking for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.

While on the topic of clueless, I feel there are so many people left in the dark (both intentionally and unintentionally by their own ignorance or willful negligence) about the varying shades of poverty the majority of this country identifies as every day life. Amongst the clueless are those who are impoverished themselves.

Further drawing out the clueless reference (because, honestly, it’s one of my favorite movies), sometimes I feel like the Philippines is like a clueless girl mixing with all the wrong dudes. She doesn’t know her worth partly because she doesn’t know who she is and what she stands for. She let’s folks use her, manipulate her, take her riches, usurp her strengths and use them for their own gain, in exchange for some assurance of the mere potential of her worth. A vote of confidence to supplant the lack of self-respect and self-love deep within her. Sure, she has her reasons for the lack of self-worth–a bad past, a tough childhood…you know, colonization, imperialism, militarism, capitalism–but in the end, she and only she alone, can break the cycle of disrespect and abuse.

I can’t wait for the day when the Philippines finally has that one Beyoncé or Keyshia Cole or Erykah Badu lyric hit–just hit her square in the heart–and she comes into the awakening of her immense beauty, wisdom, and power. I cannot wait for that day to come.

You know, maybe that day is upon us. Maybe I’m writing smack in the middle of said day, but I’m still waiting for a beacon call of sorts to regale the start of a renaissance.

The start of a revolution.

Basically, I’m waiting for the spirit of Gabriela Silang herself to come charging by full-speed, weaving in and out of jeepney and tryke traffic, of course, bolo-wielding, spearheading and symbolizing the rise of Filipino consciousness of self-worth and consequent actions that support this new internal paradigm shift.

Actually, even in my fantasy, I just see a flustered Gabby sitting atop her horse, stuck in traffic, scattered horns honking, jeepney smoke puttering in her horse’s whinnying face, and vendors and barkers weaving their way around her, her bolo, and her steed. One vendor even motions to her to buy a pack of rags and she just sends them off with a resigned wave of her bolo. Oh, Gabby. Next time, take the MRT. Even with the crowds, at least you don’t get stuck in the traffic of EDSA below.

I’m always torn when I write posts like this because I think of all the incredibly intelligent, passionate, and proud people I know personally and am fearful of possibly offending anyone. Then again, writing that last sentence brings up another deeply-ingrained point of sacrificing honesty and authenticity for the convenience of others. Unlearning the learned in so many ways. If these Filipinos (no hyphen or discussion whether or not a hyphen is necessary), my new-found friends and confidantes, born-and-bred in the Philippines, are supposedly part of the phenomenon of the colonial mentality that I so detest, what exactly does that mean in terms of our relationship? By virtue of my blue passport, what does that mean in terms of power relations and dynamics? Then, on second thought, I, too, am a constant work in decolonizing my own thoughts and frameworks despite my American citizenship.

In re-aligning and re-positioning my center and understandings of life and the world not to the periphery, necessarily, but rather to an amorphous and ambiguous space that’s ripe for definition and significance. It is from this space that agency and authority to my individual authenticity and voice is given. (Oh…gotta love the passive tense for a sentence that has so much potential for power in it.)

Since minorities have always been on the margins of any significant societal powerhold in the U.S. (or any context for that matter) since, oh, the Puritans laid their weary, soulless-yet-super-fearful-of-losing-their-soul-to-the-devil, Bible-laden buckled boots on that land, I’m gonna stick to the good, ole American notion of pretty much “eff yo’ couch, I’mma get mine” hence why it’s MY voice and not OUR voice. (Btw, this individualistic mentality totally and utterly conflicts with the Philippines’ community-minded way of thinking, breathing, being, doing, living, dying.)

I do, hope, though, as any good Canadian does (I’m Canadian, too, eh), our collective individual voices while still retaining their individualism, can create a space where both our unity and uniqueness thrives and is celebrated.

Coming back to my point and focus and purpose is that making sense of life here is just like this post has hopefully been–there’s some flow, but it’s pretty much here, there, and everywhere (and with being in all these places, it’s eventually in the middle of nowhere, as well). This post was spurred on by a seemingly normal commute home…and what makes it unfortunately is that it is considered “normal”.

As Mariah puts it, “it’s like that y’all”.

Well, maybe I’m tired of that answer, but in the interest of self-preservation, reducing cortisol levels in my aging (okay…rapidly approaching 30 years old) body, and just finding peace in my life, I go with that answer. Just like the majority of people in this country and the world who have any exposure and awareness of poverty or violation of human rights.

Poverty is a violation of human rights. There’s no other way to put it.

Maybe in the end all this mental winding and grinding leads to nothing but awareness with a slim chance of change. Or a fresh harvesting of anger. Or sadness. Or feelings of helplessness. Or pretty much some uncomfortable and unresolved feeling that usually sparks people to write an indignant Facebook update (or blog post like me).

Either that or just apathy and disconnect.

Whichever, bro. Bruh. Broday.

All the finnicking and panicking and impassioned pleas to save the (fill-in-the-blank-of-the-most-pressing-need) or support the fight against (fill-in-the-most-pressing-enemy) just get me in a headspin, then have me throw my hands up (literally, I just dropped my phone mid-sentence only to pick it up again to not leave this blog post unresolved), then finally give it up to God and the universe and have faith in the absurd and things that make absolutely no sense.

I mean, in the end, there is no resolution in anything so maybe it’s about time we get comfortable with discomfort as discomfort means change, growth, and progress. Even if it’s coming at an EDSA-like
pace.

IMG_0210-0.JPG

IMG_0207-0.JPG

Marina

Today, I realized I have 6 months left teaching and living in the Philippines.

And, my heart feels torn.

Sad because after a year and a half, I FINALLY “get” life here.  I’ve adjusted. Not fully, but, quite frankly, I don’t want to fully adjust.  I feel like with full adjustment, I’ll lose my sense of judgment a bit and will stop being able to “see the water”.  You know, the whole “the fish doesn’t see the water” bit?  Yeah, I don’t wanna be a fish.  (I’m a person, damn it!).

While experiencing tinges of sadness and a ton of sentimentality, I’m also very happy.  And proud.  I mean, last year at this time, I was crying the hallway at school.  Literally.  My co-teacher reminded me of that as we were reminiscing about last year’s Teacher’s Day Ceremony.  She was like, “Oh yeah…weren’t you crying in the hallway?”  Haha.  Talk about imbalance.  But, in all fairness, I had a fever, body aches, basically the flu, and was still teaching wearing a freakin’ tracksuit jacket to keep warm (not that you’d think you’d need to keep warm in the Philippines).  On top of that, I was still in the throws of a turbulent bout of culture shock, personal healing from “life experiences in the love department” (side note: I’m over that shit so maybe that’s why I’m feeling so light and free!), and was having a HORRIBLE hair day.  Ugh.

Anyways, 6 months left so let’s do this.

I look back at where I’ve squandered the 1.5 years here and most of it was stressing about stuff that never came to pass or missing home and a sense of normalcy and familiarity.  Well, not most, but a good chunk.  Despite the social awkwardness and feelings of desolation, desperation, and downright depression, I do see how all that built me to be who I am today.  And I’m pretty hella down with who this person is now so, in simple terms, bitch don’t kill my vibe.  (Nah…it’s cool.  I know you wouldn’t.  I just like that saying even though I can imagine 17-year-olds wearing acid-wash cut-off jean shorts and mid-drift tank tops saying that ish…and I don’t quite know how I feel about using the same vernacular as that demographic.)

This evening I’m cooped up in a coffee shop post-Skype session because silly me forgot my umbrella and it’s raining outside.  While YouTubing songs, I happened upon an oldie, but a goodie.  The verifiable soundtrack of my summer abroad in Mexico, junior year: Rebelde (RBD).

Ahhh…gotta love Mexican pop music.  Or, not.  Whatever.

Anyways, listening to RBD again after so many years away from those memories of life abroad in Mexico and my first foray into the unknown waters of internationalism and “cultural immersion” (damn, this terms sound so…I don’t know…bookish?  Detached?  A neat way to categorize an experience that is often not very cleanly compartmentalized into consciousness?), I look back fondly, but I also look back with a bit of sadness.

Clearly, my heart is torn, but not in a way that’s jarring or disabling.  Moreso, in a reflective, thankful way that makes me realize how beautiful and blessed my life is…even though many times prior I was hella hating it and just angry at the world.  I let go of that anger and release it to the universe where it will be re-purposed into constructive energy. (And…affirmation out).

So, back to RBD.  The fall when I returned to Gainesville after Mexico, I was hella missing life abroad so would listen to the RBD album like it was my job.  Or, maybe a more precise description would be I listened to it like I spent time with my boyfriend because, let’s be honest, it was senior year in college, ain’t no work was getting done.  My sister, ever the angel on earth, was volunteering at the hospital during this time, spending her free time with cancer patients and the likes while I got drunk on cheap afternoon beers and played flag football in the evenings.  Man, college was sure like summer camp in some respects…minus the beer…unless you went to a cool summer camp, I guess?  Anyways, she kept telling me about one of her patients, a young girl names Marina, who spoke only Spanish.  Seeing that I would drop Rebelde lyrics like it was a normal thing, my sister kept insisting I go visit Marina with her.

Finally, on the afternoon of the Tennesee football game, before we would go tailgating and get obliterated as is the Gator Way on Game Day, my big sis and I rode our bikes down the hill to Shands to visit Marina.  I still remember being scared out of my wits zooming down the hill to Shands.  On a 10-speed bike when you have no idea how to shift gears or whatever the fancy bikers and hipsters do, I felt like I was going to fly off the handles and land in a pile of asphalt before I even got to the hospital.  Plus, I may have had one beer to warm-up for the day so the hill was even more of a feat.

Hills aside, we made it to Marina’s room.  I must’ve been 20? (Or 21 for legal drinking reasons).  Once we got to her hospital room, the cheers and chants of the Gator Nation faded in the background as the beeps and mechanical whirrings of her machines took the lead of the background music.  I don’t want to say that the atmosphere was insta-somber, but it was a bit sobering (literally and figuratively).  Seeing this girl, maybe 14-16 years old, laying in bed, in her hospital gown with a shaved head, was surreal then and is surreal now.  In my head, I was in my own world, coming off a summer of a lifetime, amped for game day again those silly Volunteers, and now, I’m finding myself volunteering a mere 20 minutes of my life to this girl.

We spoke in Spanish, exchanging pleasantries as if the fact that we were surrounded by these machines monitoring her vitals didn’t denote the impending death she would face.  I brought my RBD album with me as that was the connector; my sister said she loved their music and she told Marina of her younger sister who studied in Mexico and spoke Spanish fluently.  I gave her the album and have never seen it since. Nor do I want to.

I remember saying an “hasta luego” instead of “adios”.  A “see you later” felt more kind to say than a “good-bye”.  I nodded my respects to her parents and siblings and snapped back into the orange-and-blue craziness that is Gainesville during football season.   Haven’t really thought about Marina since then until now.

How is it that almost 10 years after this exchange with Marina that YouTubing songs can bring such strong memories back of this unfortunate yet very real facet of life?  Death. The end.

Maybe the finality, the “light at the end of the tunnel” of my 2 year stint in the Philippines has me thinking how everything really does meet its’ end eventually so the best thing we can do is just smile at the madness and enjoy the ride because once it’s over, it’s over?

Either way, I’m about to leave this coffee shop as I see a pocket in the rainfall.  Still thinking of Marina, but more so knowing that everything really is okay in the end.  And, lucky, blessed me.  I still have time before my end so I’m ready (finally) to not just make the most of my 6 months here, but the most of my days in my life.

Admittedly so, the past 2 years or so have been my valley.  They’ve been the hardest times I’ve had to face thus far.  And, now that I can say I made it over the hump, through the rain, past the tough part, I’m coasting now.  Muthaeffin’ coasting…with a bit of worry if things pop up again, but even if they do, I am armed with the confidence of experience knowing that I can handle this…and this time around, with a lot more grace and poise than previously done.

How beautifully ironic that the uplifting, saccharine sounds of pop music line my very morbid yet real memory of Marina.  I’m sad, but I’m also not, because that’s life.  And rather than “quedarme en silencio”, I’m choosing to sing my song rather than lead a life of quiet desperation, dying with my song in my heart.  I hope you willing to do so, too.

“No Dating Until College”

I wish I could share one solid piece of advice my father would give…you know, something that’s a life truth neatly packaged into one or two sentences. Kinda like Lieutenant Dan’s advice to Forrest (Forrest) Gump and Bubba of always keeping your feet dry. But, I can’t because I don’t have that one special saying from my dad.

Instead, I have a whole mess of memories of him, the most influential man in my life, and you can’t neatly place these experiences in a simple quotation.

Today is an emotional day for me. Remembering him and feeling so grateful for September 13 because today is his birthday so as far as I’m concerned everyone and their mama better recognize. What a special day today is because it’s the day the universe picked for him to come into the world.

He would’ve been 65 today.

I wish you were here to see how Eileen and I’ve grown. I wish you would’ve been here to see me graduate high school, be Prom Queen (wait, what? I know, right?), then college, then turn down law school to be a Kindergarten teacher (a great one, at that), then go back to school, graduate with my Master’s, direct a university office (the first of its kind at an institution of higher education in the entire southeastern region of the U.S., mind you), then eventually let all that go to return to the motherland, the country you left in your youth, to teach third graders in the public school system.

To converse with me in Tagalog, to hear how I navigate around Metro Manila in jeeps and trykes and buses, to listen to my stories of haggling at the palengke, my love for street food, and tales of sorrow with figuring out a way to make sense and peace with the daily injustices I see and experience from poverty to corruption to some people just straight-up being douches.

Not to sound too “resume-y” (though I already do), but yeah, Dad, I know you’d be so proud of my accomplishments. And even though in damned-near to being an adult (or maybe I’m just an adult in denial), I still want to hear your praise and approval…some sign of your vibing on my ish. I mean, after learning the hard way how to know my worth and recognize my own power and not let anyone ever take that away from me again, I celebrate these accomplishments even more, and not just for myself, but for the service I know they gave others. (Steps off soap box).

I wish we could still have our talks about nothing and everything. About life, Jeopardy, and Eileen’s sloth-like lifestyle (which, OMG, has totally changed. She’s super efficient now, Dad. Like, when did that happen?!) About dealing with tough people and basic bitches, basically. I’m fairly certain you would use that term, too.

I would like to think that if you were here, we would talk about the men in my life (though right now, we wouldn’t have many…or any…to talk about).

Come to think of it, maybe this is your parting words of advice–“NO DATING UNTIL COLLEGE.”

I’d like to think since I did make it to college and graduated not once but twice, you’d be okay with me dating, but who knows? I remember how you smoked not one, but two cigarettes when Eileen told you a boy asked her out.

I still remember the time a boy called for me at home and you answered the phone. I was so scared you’d get mad at me but instead you took me to get lo mein from Panda Express (again, you and the cheap Chinese food) and just asked me twice or three times why a boy would be calling me. I was in 8th or 9th grade and I knew you weren’t mad, but just horribly uncomfortable. And worried. You looked and sounded mad worried.

I guess you just hated the idea of your “little princesses” growing up.

Well, we’re grown up, Dad, and your little one is missing you terribly on your birthday. But, I’ve dried my tears that just flow from me now (I’m thinking there’s some magical spiritual effect being in the Philippines has on me or maybe all the tears I didn’t cry for the past 12 years are now just making their way to the surface) and I’m choosing to celebrate your birthday instead of mourn it.

The best way I can honor you is not by following your one quotable quote but rather, by doing what I learned from you: living life.

Cheers, Dad. Happy birthday.

My First Tattoo: That Time I Fell in Love in Seattle

In a moment of lucid foresight (a rare event in my mid-20’s), I decided to take a two week vacation to explore the rugged terrain of lands unknown to me: the majestic Southwest and the punk/hipster-fied Pacific Northwest. I was applying for a new job and figured if I got this job, I would likely not be able to take a vacation anytime soon. Ever the pragmatist, I also rationalized that if I didn’t get this job (eyes rolling back, mental “whatev, bro”), at least I could say I had a bomb end-of-summer, pre-return-to-the-marathon-of-grad-school vacay. With the blessings of maybe my coolest boss (definitely the most considerate) boss to-date, I found myself embarking on my very own “Fievel Goes West” adventure of a lifetimeeeeeee!!!! (Or, at least of my mid-20’s!!!!)

The southwest was uncomfortably too dry, brown, orange, rust, and short for my liking. Don’t get me wrong. It was beautiful. Absolutely stunningly beautiful. But between being fearful of rattlesnakes falling from cliffs above or being asked for my documents by white police below and bumping my head on nearly-every doorway because at 5’6″, I am an Amazonian ’round these parts, I enjoyed the southwest at a very-generous “7” on the scale of 1-10. “1” being as fun as a cavity-filling by a dentist with “crazy eyes” and a shaky hand and “10” being the embodiment of whatever Belinda Carlisle’s singing about in “Heaven is a Place on Earth”.

Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Taos, and somewhere in Arizona where Humphrey’s Peak is, you get a “7” because of my friends who lived there and graciously hosted me, the wit and deliciousness of the “Christmas tree salsa-ing” of all my food (which, let’s be real, was mostly tacos and burritos but you couldn’t tell the difference under all that salsa), my first foray into chocolate red wine (de-freakin’-liciousness), hiking the tallest (echo) peak (echo) in (echo) Arizona (echo) with some of my guy friends and inadvertently peeing on my hiking boot due to a steep mountain angle and what I’m convinced to be a crooked urethra, coincidentally meeting fellow Gators at the top of said peak and white water rafting with a precocious, extremely-cultured pair of 4th graders and their New York Times journalist mother. I mean, the kids said I looked like I could be famous (because EVERYONE knows big silver hoop earrings, black bitch shades, and a bandanna holding back my hair is appropriate rafting and hiking gear) so I’ll let my slight intimidation of their superior worldliness by the age of 10 slide and include them on the list. Jesus. They’ve probably already partied with Bey and J at St. Tropez.

Anyways, leaving the dry heat and arroyos of the Southwest behind, I took my flight and landed smack in the middle of Starbucks land and maybe, just maybe, one of the plaidest and whitest places I’ve ever been in my life: Seattle. I can just feel the crisp air now.

One of my favoritest cousins and her then-boyfriend, now-husband and their cutie-patootie puppy-son were living in Seattle at that time so we both figured, “Why not go visit?!”

Seeing that my story is already far longer than I intended, I’ll give the short story of my time in Seattle:

*Fun times with cousin and her boo. Lots of beer. Lots. Of. Beer.

*Quick solo day-trip via train to Portland to meet a kind-hearted and quirky photographer friend and explore the “place where 20-somethings go to retire”.

*In Portland, was able to score a free box of delicious Voodoo donuts. Didn’t have to wait in line or pay nada. Said friend had a friend who worked there and just gave me a big ole box as a present. The kindness of strangers and bad-ass folks who do the damn thing. I mean, this chick was punk by all means necessary–piercings, tattoos, shaved head, attitude–yet also a die-hard cheerleading fanatic. I appreciate the way she made me re-think certain stereotypes.

*Random encounter while walking off of train and arriving in Seattle with a handsome stranger predicated upon a comment about my big pink box (of Voodoo donuts). They are that big a deal, apparently.

*Random encounter coupled with my near-dead cell phone battery led to a flirtation of sorts that wasn’t even intentional (on my end, atleast).

*Said encounter and borrowing of cell phone to call my cousin led to a day-date which further led to a week-long hangouttage with said handsome stranger, having fun, laughing, and enjoying the sights of Seattle.

*One night post-druken hangouttage, our gang of merry revelers find ourselves at the tattoo parlor and the rest is history.

Not really, but you know.

So, yeah, I got my first tattoo in Seattle on a druken night with my ever-loyal cousin Chelsey holding my hand as I hear the buzzing and feel the needles pierce my flesh. My tattoo artist was some newbie from Utah or Idaho or some random state, but he was nice. Not too saccharine-nice where you fear for their safety because they’re just that nice and probably have no street-smarts whatsoever. He was nice in the way you’d want your first tattoo artist to be: someone who listens, draws well, tattoos even better, and doesn’t make lotuses look like artichokes (but that’s another story).

Anyways, first tattoo story and recollection aside and fast forward to today, as I fat-cattedly lay in bed, indulging myself in sour patch kids, listening to the pounding rain flooding my neighborhood and first-floor of our house. I got sick with the flu earlier this week and mistakenly thought I was better until I woke up this morning, all snot-filled and body-woozy.

I was a verifiable sipon monster.

Anyways, I’m the type of friend you want. Honestly, I know one of my strengths is being a good friend. I’m loyal, honest, and will tell off anyone who hurts you or so much as looks at you the wrong way. In the past, I might have even punched them for you, but now that I’m older, classier, and just don’t want to deal with the hassle of assault and battery, I’ll use my words and resting (and active) bitch face to defend your honor.

I’m the type of friend who sends you random “thinking of you” texts or Facebook messages, will fly across the world to eat chicken wings with you on your couch (okay…maybe this is more for me than you, but still…points for traveling), would pick out your earring from the toilet in the Bahamas one Spring Break when it fell in. Ugh.

I’m the friend who prays for happiness and peace and success and firmer waistlines and no stress wrinkles or blemishes for my friends. The friend who would give you the last of my eyeliner so you could look impeccably put-together as I somehow try to pull-off a rough-and-tumbling, free-spirited look that’s really just a nice way to package the fact that I’m nearly 30 and have no idea how to apply make-up or manage my fickle hair.

I’m the friend who, even if sick, will still try my best to commit to plans we made.

I am, by all extensive purposes, a good friend.

And for this reason, I am blessed with many good friends.

Keep this mentioning of my good friend-ness and loyalty in mind as I go back to the tattoo.

So, yeah, the tattoo.

My first tattoo was not something cool like a tribute to the Looney Tunes or a Mount Rushmore of rap legends gone too soon.

It is a simple script word on my left rib. Placed there during a time in my life where I could feel the weight of expectation and time invested gnawing at my insides. I felt trapped in a relationship that was both nurturing and nagging.

I was leading a life of quiet desperation but I knew deep down my spirit had to be free.

This man I was with during the time is by all standards, a good man. I mean, he hasn’t killed anyone (to my knowledge), pays his taxes on-time, is financially responsible, polite, and impeccably-dressed. And, he flosses daily. I should know. We lived together for 2-3 years, was it? Anyways, while I am thankful for the lessons learned during our relationship and our time together, I am more thankful for our time apart and our eventual parting of ways.

Sometimes, the decisions we make in life feel like the wrong ones because they’re tough and inevitably lead to pain, but usually, it’s those tough decisions that are, indeed, the right ones as they lead to a more authentically-led life. After all, the path to consciousness usually involves pain on some level.

I refuse to settle for a safer, comfortable, sham of a life, but I was one ring away from having just that.

(Focus, Leah, focus. The tattoo. Tell them about the tattoo.)

Well, in a way to commemorate my new-found independencisch (prior to this trip, I had “broken up/not broken up” with my former/not-former boyfriend), I chose to jump in and just do it and get a tattoo finally, after, you know, a good two minutes of debating.

My first tattoo is a shoutout to myself to remember to keep faith in life especially in terms of having a suitable partner (hence the biblical placement on my rib because ladies, we are nothing but ribs…absolutely nothing but a rib) and an homage to my mother, Fe Maria. Plus, saying I got a tattoo for my mom (“Fe” is “faith” is Spanish) was a good excuse in case she’d get pissed about it, but props, yo, because my mom’s rarely ever disapproved or gotten upset about any decision I’ve made in my life (except my lip piercing which she said was “classless” only to hang up on me then call me back within five minutes, apologizing, and saying it’s probably cute on me–which, it was). That, and she doesn’t know I have one nor does she read my blog because it’s too damn long. (True…and yeah, that’s what she said. God, you’re so funny.)

Anyways, FAITH (like my tattoo reads back to me).

And friendship.

And how I said I’m loyal.

And that awesome trip when I got my first tattoo, fell in love (or deep infatuation) over donuts which I took as the sign to break up and leave a relationship that was more safe than satisfying.

All this mumbo jumbo about donuts and tattoos connects to today because I had plans to hang with family and friends and attend an awards ceremony. But, when I woke up, the flu I was battling with came back. Even with feeling bad, I was still gonna tough through and commute across town to the awards ceremony for a good friend and co-worker. I canceled on the family party because as a teacher and a decent human being, I was not going to expose my little nephews to my flu germs. Hells no.

As fate would have it, though, I got a slight migraine at breakfast which forced me to nap. I napped and woke up to heavy heavy heavy rains. The hardest I’ve ever experienced in the Philippines yet. And all the while, with the rain and lightning and dogs barking because of the rain and lightning, I lay in bed, smiling to myself, thinking how life is a bitch with one hell-of-a-sense of humor.

Here I was bound and determined (as I usually am) to go through with my plans and all these “obstacles” that I thought were just ways to stop me from doing what I was supposed to–attend an awards ceremony–were probably all in my favor, anyway. The roads were flooded, traffic’s already horrible, etc. I probably would’ve been stranded somewhere, feeling sick and frustrated at the inclemate weather…maybe as riled up as all those Gators at the Swamp yesterday for the rainy weather against Idaho. (Go Gators)

Well, the point is, even in the throws of these tumultuous 20’s and my transition to turning 30, spotted with moments spent mourning a youth unacknowledged, unappreciated, and underutilized, I get funny little reminders that maybe, just maybe, I am on my right path and I am being guided, even if it’s through dead-ends and broken paths and wrong turns.

The way I see it, this “faith” tattoo (and even the artichoke-looking lotus one) are with me for good so it’s about time I start living by them and keep my faith in life, God, the universe, Ellie Goulding and all that is good, and most importantly, myself.

That, and never underestimate the power of a donut.

Rice Soldiers

10:30am-11:00am Saturday morning, Sikatuna Village, Quezon City, Philippines

Anonas Extension across from Savemore.

After grocery shopping this morning, I go to a local carinderia to eat lugaw (hot chicken rice porridge).  Because that’s the thing to do after you buy groceries…buy food to eat instantaneously.  

Anyways, as I’m ordering, a feel a slight tug on my bag and look to my side and see a boy, roughly around 8-13 years old.  Quite frankly, he’s malnourished so though his body looks like that of an 8 year old, he can very well be in his teens.  This is the case for some of my students.  Their bodies look small but their faces and eyes carry the weight and heaviness of experience.  He mumbles something to me and I assume it’s him asking for me to buy him food.  I ignore him and carry on with my ordering since living in Metro Manila, it’s an unspoken norm to have children beg you for food or money, them holding out their hand as you walk by, walking along side you, repeating over and over in a low, sing-song tone for you to give to them.  Sometimes, their words sound even chant-like.  However, I’ll stop myself there before I further wax poetic about poverty.

I figure this boy would just walk away, unabashed, as so many of these kids do, seemingly unscathed by the constant rejection of humanitarian assistance they encounter on the daily (Yet again, another irony.  Here I am wanting to work with an international humanitarian org yet I am unwilling to consistently give aid on the ground level?  Long story short.  If you choose to give to a child, the expectation may be that you always give.  Further, if you give to one child, why won’t you give to another, etc., so on and so forth.  Some days, I give.  Some days, I don’t.  And I never give money.  NEVER.  I guess I’m going to have to leave it at that rather than further defend my point of being an inconsistent giver because basically, if you knew where I’m coming from, you wouldn’t need an explanation because you, actually, (gasp) get it.)

I notice the Ate working the carinderia is dishing up a big plate of rice and sauce.  Since I’m the only customer, I figure she’s going to give it to the boy.  In a matter of 2 minutes, the boy who was previously begging (or, for those who prefer more flowerly language, “emphatically encouraging”) me to give him food, was now sitting as a customer would (albeit at the table closest to the exit–far away as possible from the disapproving eyes of the other carinderia workers), awaiting his feast of a mountain of hot steamed white rice drenched in adobo sauce.  His meal of simple carbs that many of my friends (myself, included) would cringe at the thought of eating because it would just, like totally, add to the fat around my stomach–white rice, white starch, white anything–(intentional, quick, superficial commentary on race relations in the U.S. because it’s not about white versus all people of color, it’s a perpetuated system of privilege and power in which those with positions of power and influence are blind to and/or unwilling to recognize certain advantages that are afforded them by virtue of their race, ethnicity, gender, class, religion, dominant language, etc.) are just a big no-no for my physical and spiritual nourishment.  I mean, isn’t there a brown or whole grain alternative? (head tilt)

As I sit alone at my table, the sounds of the electric fan whirring, car horns and trykes, and that oh-so-loveable and condoned woman beater Chris Brown’s (“I don’t judge the man.  I judge the music.” said maybe every person who’s never experienced abuse.) “Forever” cacophoning in the background, relishing my hot bowl of soup because no matter how hot it is, I will never turn down a bowl of hot soup, I do my best to not stare at the little boy as he thoroughly enjoys his meal with a new buddy that’s appeared by his side.  His companion is a bit healthier, but still malnourished.  He has smudges on his face that make the teacher in me want to lick my thumb and wipe them off only to follow-up with giving him and myself a healthy heaping of hand sanitzer (and a lesson in reading and hygiene)!  His hair is slightly bleached at the ends and he carries himself the way I imagine a young Jay-Z on the streets of Brooklyn (pre-hipster era of NYC, of course, you know, “the glory days” when you could do a line of coke then your partner at Studio 54 (or maybe both at the same time) and call it a good day…or so I’m told by my adventurous NYC-living parents in the 70’s.  Oh wait.  You can still do that just not at Studio 54 but at the local Shake Shack? Oh…got it.)  Anyways, as the first boy eats, I notice that the half of his face I saw previously while we were standing side-by-side is drastically different from the other half that I now see, as I sit facing him, and he perpendicular to me.

The side of his face I see explains why he has the fine motor skills of a 3 year old or eats as any red-blooded drunk-as-a-skunk frat bro would post-Beat-the-Clock…almost like a puppet whose strings controlling his arms are being yanked erratically by a mischievous puppet master.  Half his mouth looks like it’s pulled taut by an invisible fishing line, his right arm juts out as if he’s doing a permanent robot pose, elbow raised first.  He eats with his left hand, his hand holding the spoon as Beast did pre-Belle in “Beauty and the Beast”.  Not the most sensitive way to describe a boy eating, but his mangled fingers grasp the spoon and shovel rice-filled heap after rice-filled heap into his smiling, muttering mouth.  Now, I realize he was mumbling to me earlier because he can’t fully open his mouth what with his muscles pulling half of it upwards like he’s the Joker or just has perma-smirk.

He and his friend chat excitably about who knows what.  Toys? Girls? The latest crisis in Syria?  One minute they’re laughing and just like that, mid-conversation, his friend runs out into the street, beelines to a van stopped due to traffic, hand out, expectant, but not overly because he knows he’ll probably be ignored or minimized or rationalized away just like any problem in this country.  After the van shows no acknowledgement of his little self, he runs around it to the other side of the vehicle to help guide a different car out of the parking lot, again, right hand in the air, waving the “okay” to keep backing up, and left hand, lowered, straight out, palm up, awaiting the change from the driver.  After this quick hustle, his friend’s back just in time for the first boy to finish his meal of a mountain of rice.  They both walk out, with the first boy, doing a half-hail/half-wave back at the Ate who gave them food.

As the Ate cleaned up his plate, I stopped her as she walked by my table.  I asked her if she knew those boys (knowing full well she didn’t, but then again, I don’t want to assume).  As our conversation wholly in Tagalog goes (Why, yes, what do you know?  Living here and being thrust into quotidian life here has equipped me with some language skills, after all.  The pedagogy basically akin to teaching a kid to swim by throwing them head-first into the ocean.  While effective in its approach of acquiring a skill, this sink-or-swim technique is both terrifying and insensitive to the recipient of said knowledge, but I suppose that’s life. Wipes hand clean of any personal responsibility.), she basically says she gives them food (particularly those two boys who are regulars on our block) because they don’t have food.  She doesn’t give all the time, but sometimes.  She then asks if I’m from another country.  I say yes.  She says, “You may not be Filipino, but you have the heart of one.”.  I then tell her that my parents are Filipino, but I was born elsewhere, but irregardless, my being born in Canada and being raised in the States has given me a different understanding of life…a certain understanding that is constantly being questioned and challenged and having to be resorted and re-centered with every passing day here.  We leave our girl talk at that and carry on with our days, both giving a knowing smile of a connection made though it was through mutual pity/resignation to how life is for these young boys. 

I named this entry “Rice Soldiers” both as an allusion to this one nameless boy who made an impression on my spirit today and to the movie “Sundalong Kanin” that I saw last week as part of the Cinemalaya Movie Festival.  Long story short, the movie is disturbing, but sometimes, we need to be shaken up to come face-to-face to the many harsh, complex realities of life.  Sometimes, the most inhumane actions actually reveal more about humanity than any half-life spent in comfortable, ignorant bliss could ever afford a person.  Not condoning violence as a means to an end, but just saying, it’s about time this world wakes up from this slumber we’re in.

Summertime in Barcelona

Once upon a time, I went for a jog in Barcelona.

I was amped on my superb natural directional skills, love for a good cardio workout with a view, and fluency in Spanish (okay, fine, they speak Catalán in Barcelona…whatev). After being in Germany, though, then making it to a more familiar climate and culture that Spain offered, I felt invincible and unstoppable. This is pretty much how Beyoncé must feel on the daily, I suppose.

Well, as it turned out, I must’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere because my hour jog turned into an uphill two-hour escapade around the streets of Barcelona. Whenever I asked people for directions, they’d laugh and say a rough equivalent of “Girl, you are so damn far from where you wanna be.”

After lots of hills and turns and stops for directions along the way, I eventually made it back to the loft to my travel companion, all snug and comfy in bed still while I had already gotten in more than both her and my daily exercise allotment.

Fast forward 8 years, and I feel like I’m going for a similar type of run; the type of run with one intent at the onset just to find myself amidst a different journey while in the process of running. Just replace Barcelona and a summer European vacation with Metro Manila and a willful two-year commitment and it’s basically the same thing, right?

Sometimes I just get so tired and drained but just like that fateful run so many summers ago, I know I will look back at this stint in the motherland with appreciation because, as the wise and rhythmic Daddy Yankee says, “Lo que pasó, pasó.” (Side note: Whatever happened to Daddy Yankee?)

Well, frankly, sometimes a run is just a run and a day is just a day. Maybe so. Or maybe all the mind.body.green. I read is right and my chakras and spirit are being impounded and confounded by blockages in my chi and life force and we all need to collectively meditate for peace for this world to be lifted up out of the trenches it’s dug itself into.

Pwede rin.

Well, despite the chakra blockages and need for chi realignment, I somehow manage (not always gracefully but always authentically) to keep faith that every step I take is leading me eventually to where I’m supposed to be…wherever that may be. If you have any insight or recommendations, feel free to holler because I’m definitely open to directions just like I was that sunny day in Barcelona a seemingly lifetime ago.

Until my life’s purpose becomes clear as day to me and until I magically hit that moment of adulthood when I a) realize I am, indeed, an adult and b) decide and then take actions to own my adulthood and c) experience the instantaneous “got-it-togetherness” that of course comes with one reaching “adulthood”, I’ll just keep my pace and keep running.