Going back to the home of my ancestors was now or never. The Philippines, my parents said, was Third World: No paved roads, No streetlights, No running water, Sweat, and Mosquitos. In other words, it was not my typical vacation. No Brandenburg Gate. No Louvre. Would the Philippines have anything interesting? The world citizen in me was dying to find out.
When we flew into Manila, it was little better than I pictured. True, it was urban and not rural. There were even modern skyscrapers in the distance. Driving down the EDSA highway, I saw no one in sight for miles, just smoggy air filled with gasoline. But that was 5:30 am. When we drove out again later, I realized just how wrong I was.
HONK! Motorcycles were weaving between jeepneys, overflowing with bodies. BEEP! Children running barefoot down the streets with a flat soccer ball. Vendors with peanuts were walking between lanes on the EDSA. There were schoolchildren, squatters, security guards, white collars, speaking Tagalog, English – diversity everywhere. Each of Paris’ boulevards is supposed to be unique. Well, Manila’s streets are universes in themselves. Down a side street on Tandang Sora is the gated community of my relatives (where we stayed), a security guard at the entrance. Just outside is a makeshift shack with dirty wooden floors and spider webs on the walls, where two children wait for their next customer.
It had been my dream to travel across Europe. I’d learn Spanish and French and German, communicating with the locals and soaking in the grandeur of Paris, Madrid, and London. But Manila isn’t so bad. It may not be as old as Rome, but it has its own story to tell. Asia in my mind was dirty and crowded. Its languages were impossible to learn and the food was bound to make one sick. How ignorant of me! I could never be a true citizen of the world if I saw merely the West as impressive. Asia’s just as interesting as Europe. Their culture and daily lives are so different from ours.
I sure do miss that place: Waking up each morning from the casita, guard dogs lying on the steps as I climb up to the kitchen, clothes drying on the line, maids Tata and Liza in the kitchen making breakfast, passing by Lolo Sitong and his newspaper, eating rice, Eggs, Tocino meat, and pomelo fruit, sitting in the sala with a good book, climbing into the backseat of the van then driver Ric dodging tricycles and jeepneys, Tita Trina’s “That’s normal” at every idiosyncrasy we point to on the side, Tito Louie’s “It’s good” when describing food, and finally Sam’s willingness to relate her life in the Philippines.
It was the longest I’d ever been on vacation, yet I’d hardly call it one. There was so much to learn and experience. This trip opened up a whole new hemisphere for me to explore. However, I doubt I’ll go back to Manila anytime soon. I still have to go to Europe – China and Japan and South America, too. Nevertheless, as General MacArthur promised the Filipino people, “I shall return.”
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