The Most Glamorous Philippines Homecoming, Ever!
Home, they say, is where the heart is.
But what if the heart is lost?
What if it is broken into a hundred million fractured pieces?
Confused. Conflicted. Afflicted.
With pain and turmoil; with Western burden.
Home, true home, heals.
It welcomes those who have strayed.
Prodigal sons and daughters return
With neither explanation, nor reason needed.
No expectations or demands;
But with boundless love, true home welcomes.
And with never-ending openness.
161201 | Sacramento, California
From My Second Home
_ _ _
It took me over two decades to return to the Philippines, and this was how I envisioned my homecoming flight to the Philippines would be: On election night, I will be stylishly, yet comfortably dressed, calmly sitting on my window seat, smiling as I watch other passengers board the plane; and I shall sip on sparkling wine before the flight even takes off to celebrate Hilary Clinton’s election as the first female president of the United States of America.
That scenario, as you know, did not play out, and instead, on election night, I boarded Philippine Airlines at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) just when the polls had closed and Donald Trump was identified the presumptive winner of the 2016 Presidential Race. My stomach was upset from a mixture of trip anxiety and being unable to eat the whole day because I was busy running errands. The election results made my stomach even more upset. This made a 15-hour flight to the Philippines even more glorious1: I was seated on a claustrophobic windowless window seat2 next to two individuals who could not get up to let me through. I tried my best to refrain from constantly leaving my seat to visit the restroom, but I desperately needed to do so – three excruciating times. Flatulence3 pestered me the entire flight, and all the glamour, elegance, and etiquette I have learned the past 20 years have disappeared, as one disgusting burst of gas after another left my system. I had hoped that the omnipresent buzz within the plane would mute the sound, and I had a sinister hope that the immutable sounds and smell would be attributed to the Senior Citizens that sat adjacent to me. This was the prelude to my homecoming after over 20 years of absence from the Motherland. I am returning with class and glamour at its finest.
Despite a tummy in turmoil, I still ate all three meals – dinner, snack, and breakfast served on flight. This was a bad move, as all three meals lead to the box. I wanted to dine in style, but no matter how much you attempt to glamorize your Economy Class dining experience with your own wine glass and table cover, you are still left with Economy Class food – the rice is soggy, the meat is sweaty, and although the entree is actually not-so-deplorable in flavor, it still epitomizes classic airline food no one dreams of. Redemption comes with the availability of complimentary wine – a French Syrah and a California Chardonnay. I chose the Syrah and thought it was decent. It wasn’t spectacular, but versatile and palatable enough to pair with dinner. The cute flight attendant, amused that I brought my own wine glass, generously filled and re-filled my glass. She probably would not have been as generous had she known about the gas. The bottomless pours of wine were great moments, especially since it is against airline regulations to BYOB4. How I wish I could fly Business Class to experience the wider diversity in food and drink menu. I have only flown First Class three times in my life – once through United Airlines and the other two with US Airways. All three were complimentary upgrades; and I wish for more. I belong in First Class, although my wallet says otherwise. My wallet could only afford a discounted airfare, which I bought around late summer, when Philippine Airlines had a sale. It was a long-delayed return to the Motherland, and a much needed time to visit Auntie5 and escort her back to permanently move to the United States. Moving Auntie was the primary reason for the trip, and secondarily, a vacation to marvelous places my sisters and I have not seen.
I witnessed Auntie gasp when she saw me descend from the arrival slope of Ninoy Aquino International Airport. There I was in the flesh – much fatter from the last time she saw me and already glistening in sweat; but devilishly handsome, still. She probably felt my energy – more confident and self-assured, yet still fractured as before. She probably sensed the almost instantaneous emotional torrent that tried to escape me as a river of tears. She gasped, and it made perfect sense.
All of a sudden, I wasn’t gassy anymore.
From the airport, Tito6 Jessie, Auntie’s cousin, drove the car that picked me up from the airport, and he maneuvered through heart attack-inducing driving conditions in Manila. Apparently, it was early enough (a little before 6:00 AM) and the traffic wasn’t too crazy yet although it already seemed crazy to me. We made it to Malolos7 in one piece and with no heart attack. Having survived, it was time to eat. We went to my Tita8 Mila’s9 Turo-Turo10 and had authentic home cooked comfort Filipino food – Lugaw, Tokwa Baboy, Pancit Palabok, and two different Kalamay. At Brunch, I surrendered my six pack abs in exchange for an authentic, delicious, and glutonous vacation.
After Brunch, I desperately needed coffee to stay awake and a shower to wash off the sweat and stickiness11 Fortunately, there is a Starbucks12 in town at the closest mall, so we hopped on the tricycle to go to the mall. At the Robinson’s Mall Starbucks, you feel like royalty: A security guard opens the door for you, the baristas are super nice, and they even insist on finding you a seat in a crowded shop, cleaning your table, and putting your trash away.
After my caffeine fix and after getting a SIM card for a mobile hotspot Tita Nona13 loaned me, Auntie and I returned home, so I could shower. In continuation of my glamorous homecoming, we realized upon returning home that there was no running water. I teased Auntie of not paying her water bill. She contacted the water company and found out that there was a city-wide issue with the pump thing (Don’t ask me to elaborate) and that water was expected to be restored late that afternoon. Tita Nona, hearing of such misfortune, decided to pick me up so I could shower at her place. I quickly showered and changed, and then we were off to my High School Alma Mater for my appearance. I was returning so much fatter than before, so I at least wanted to come back smelling good and with fresh and nicely-pressed clothes.
We visited the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, the place where lots of my youthful sins were confessed; where my mornings would start when I was not running late for school. This is also the place where my high school graduation mass and ceremonies where held, my debut as an official lyricist14. Here’s a clip of one of the graduating classes singing Prelude to Leaving. It’s the clearest sound I could find. Let’s see if I could write it from memory:
Crossroads opened up to us four years ago,
As we explored an opportunity to grow.
Our minds were keen and sharp for further things to know,
A youthful shining vibrance really did show.
We were young, but now we’ve grown to be young men;
Molded in this school we freely chose to be in.
Talents we possessed awakened now and then,
The good inside us pulled out from within.
We’re bound to leave in search of new horizons.
For a whole new world with colorful dimensions.
Our dreams will now take flight, for soon we realize:
We soar the greatest heights; beyond imaginations we will fly!
We will internalize our holiness in wisdom,
As we cut off our strings and exercise our freedom.
Victorious we shall be ‘midst phantoms all around,
Never will you find us looking down.
Oh Alma Mater we give thanks to you indeed.
We simply can’t express the gratefulness we feel.
No treasure in this world could ever quite compare
With the laughter and the tears together we’ve shared.
My old school, unfortunately, burned about two years ago, and although the current structure preserves the look of the original facade, the interior is not the same anymore. The halls where my silent mischief and tempered flamboyance no longer exists.
Although my usual everyday life normally obsesses on a pursuit of elegance, the hours leading to my homecoming made me realize that when you return home, you could be fat, imperfect, and gassy; and you would still be welcomed and embraced in a loving way. You don’t even have to bring wine… well, you do, but it will be ok if you don’t.
- This is, sarcasm.
- Airlines should specifically identify window seats that actually do not have windows and provide the following warning: This seat is maddening.
- Gross, I know.
- Yes, I am fond of bringing my own bottle
- My Grand Aunt who raised my sisters and me and is the reason for why we are they way we are.
- Tito, tio, or tiong (pronounced “tea-yohng”) is the Filipino word for “uncle.”
- My hometown and hometown of National Poets and Heroes of the past and present. Malolos, as I proudly always state, is the birthplace of the Philippine revolution; and the cradle of the Philippine Republic.
- Tita Mila is Tito Percy’s wife. Tito Percy is my mom’s first cousin.
- This literally translates to “point-point” and is traditionally what semi and permanent “pop-up” food vendor stalls are called in the Philippines.
- Add to this the insecurity that I believe I smell like gas.
- You will not find a Starbucks in every corner, just like we have them here in the States.
- Tita Nona is Tito Jessie’s wife, and is the mom of Nina, my cousin and favorite New Yorker.
- I wrote the words to my school’s official graduation song, a song each graduating class still sings.