Sharing to you one of the very few blogposts that are closest to my heart from Ala’s Dos:
I own about 1/5th the amount of clothing I used to own when I lived there. Even now, it’s much more than I actually need. Comparing the actual number of garments I wear on a weekly basis to the number of clothes that I own the former barely makes a dent on the latter. I have no reason to wear most of my clothes. On most days, I wear clothes to get dirty in.
What can I say, Manila. It’s been humbling. Let me tell you more about my life.
I wipe tables for a living. I clean toilets, mop floors, deal with condescending people, even though my college degree came with the promise that I would never have to do that sort of menial labour. No. When we graduated, we were under the impression that we were too good for that. And besides, didn’t my parents try and give me every possible head-start, every possible opportunity in life?
At the end of my week, I’m lucky if I have a 5th of my pay left over to put into savings. If I live on mainly tuna for that week, I’ll maybe have a 4th. (“Tuna weeks” happen when I’m saving up for something.) A large chunk of what I earn goes into rent, for the share-house I currently live in with 3 other people.
What can I say, Manila, it’s been humbling.
I can afford to eat out once a week, sometimes two. I don’t eat out on the week that my internet bill comes in. I don’t shop, not really. Maybe once a month, if there’s something I really want.
But I find that there’s not much that I want. I mean sure, I wish I had my own house, and I wish I had a food processor, and new sneakers, and a new bed. But what I have is alright, really. There’s is no material object that I want so badly that it will break my heart if I never obtain it.
With my current lifestyle, I have no need of a car, and I can walk to most places I need to be in. It’s helped me to know my city intimately. I buy just enough food for the week, and I prioritize nutrition over taste. I need to energy to get through my day. More importantly, I need to stay healthy, and care for my body, because I can’t afford to have sick days.
I can see the tops of the trees swaying in the wind from my bedroom window. In the afternoon, at that point in time when the light turns golden, the sun comes in at precisely the right angle to cast what Neruda once described as “thinking, tangling shadows”. I live on the 4th floor. I have my own bathroom, and two skylights, which means I can always see the sky.
I live in a neighborhood that is alive, colourful, bustling, and abundant with art, culture, and music. I am never bored.
My closest friends all live within a 5 km radius from me. I am never lonely.
I have a positive workplace where I feel accepted, and respected, and where I work with people I admire and learn from on a daily basis. I feel that it’s teaching me to be a better person.
I have time to make art. I work to live, not the other way around.
Oh, Manila, it’s been 6 years. Six years since I took those tentative first steps out out of Sydney International Airport on a rainy Autumn day, fresh off the plane from Manila, and asking myself, “What the hell am I doing here?”.
I’m here to learn about life, and love, and money, and people. (But isn’t that what everyone is here for?)
I’ll never know what my life could have turned out to be if I had stayed in Manila. There’s no space for regret anymore.
But, in this country I have found myself. Would I have found myself in Manila, too? Eventually, maybe. I believe life evens out in the end, no matter which path you take.
But there are people I have learned to love here that I would not give up for anything in the world, people I never would have met had I taken the other path. Who are the people I would have loved in the alternate universe, the one I didn’t choose? No matter now.
I will never know the answers to those questions, but after 6 years of being away, what I have to say to you is… I no longer belong to you, Manila. Always, I will honor you as the cradle of my origins, but I belong to a different tribe now.
After 6 years, I have finally learned to embrace this city with all my heart. I no longer have sentimentality nipping at my heels as I try to move forward, no longer have patriotic guilt twisting at my heart strings as I allow my present surroundings to shape me, to mold me. I belong to the present, not the past.
I’ll be seeing you around, Manila, but my face has changed. You might not recognize me, anymore.
It’s been humbling, Manila. It’s been humbling.