Describing the Philippines through memories

What’s the Philippines like?

To describe it to most people unfamiliar with the place, it’s a tropical country full of wonderful beaches and amazing mountains. It’s an archipelago in the middle of Asia with a surprising number of people who speak English well.

I hate the Philippines so much.

Or rather, I love it so much.

It’s funny how the just literally being born in a country can make you love and hate it at the same time.

The Philippines is more than just beaches, mountains, and tropical fruits. It’s more than its violent history with Spain, the Americans, and the Japanese. Mostly, the Philippines is my life. It is my culture.

It’s not just the national costumes, the national anthem, or the national flower. It’s a way of life. Honestly, all of that is done just to unite the country, but what really unites us is our shared experiences. Let me tell you about a Filipino childhood.

Memories of riding the jeep with your mom and sitting on her lap because she didn’t pay for your seat (kids don’t take up much space). Being threatened with a tsinelas when you didn’t do your chores. The weird trinkets they sell at elementary school like the necklace with colored sand, blue ink that disappears after a few minutes on your clothes, or the random street vendor who sells i-scrambol that has that distinct purple (or sometimes pink) colored ice.

I recall my childhood full summers at the beach. Full days spent under the sun (even during noon hours), sunburnt skin at the end of the day. I have photos wherein you can distinctly see the difference of my skin color through the outline of my swimsuit. I recall making sand mounds (castle would be too much of a stretch, they never lasted too long) with cousins and friends.

I recall strict teachers and nice teachers. Classmates having their seventh birthday party at lunch time. After school activities included running around in just a sando and the school skirt (we were always sweaty and in the sun, looking and chasing for grasshoppers in the grass). After school activities included chasing after classmates, doing cartwheels in the carpeted hallways.

Going to Baguio as the top vacation site. It was, in our definition, pretty cold in Baguio. We would walk around with gloves on our hands, knitted hats, and jackets. It was a treat to ride the brightly colored horses. Film photography was expensive, unlike the millions of selfies we take now, taking photos back then was a cherished moment.

Storms were frequent too. Signal number 1 was a frequent category Zambales was placed in. School would often be canceled due to the freakish rain and thunder that visited this tropical country. Floods would occur. People would flee from their homes to evacuation centers in the baranggay. Donations are frequent. Losses were even more frequent.

There are so many more memories in my head about the Philippines. Just looking back at all these memories, it just occurs to me how much of a big part of my life this country has become. I love this country because this is where my life began. This is where my parents were born too. I may not know any cultural dances at heart but I can belt out to Aegis. I can’t understand Ilocano, but I eat like one (diningding, pinakbet, bagnet, you name it).

I don’t know. This whole this is just me rambling about my memories as a Filipina. I thoroughly enjoy living in the Philippines. Despite all the political issues, stressfully influential church over the government, and all the mishaps and tragedies that happened, a lot of good has happened here too. I just have to make sure to contribute to all the good that’s happening here.

 

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To my younger self,

Hi. You’re about to start high school. It’s a whole new school. Your best friend is going to a different high school. You’re about to be left behind. To be honest, you didn’t really think of it that way, did you? In your mind, you guys will always be best friends.

You’re only eleven, but you’ve been through a lot. To be honest, you’re kinda nerdy and you don’t take care of yourself. You’ve got internalized misogyny. You didn’t take care of yourself because natural beauty is better. You played video games. You saw yourself as one of the guys. You beat all the guys in your classroom in arm wrestling.

You hate yourself.

You’re asking for help. But you don’t know who to talk to.

I still remember that entry. In sixth grade, we were required to make daily logs in our journals. I still remember that vividly. You wrote in your diary terrible things.

You wrote about cutting yourself. You wrote about how the blade felt nice against your skin. It was better than what you were actually feeling. Being numb. Feeling empty. Scared of the future.

Every week, our teacher made us pass our diary. You passed that diary. Along with that journal entry. You were scared that our teacher would read it. Yet, you were also relieved. I guess somewhere deep in your mind, you thought that maybe he would help you out.

The weekend passed slowly. You were in agony waiting for that Monday morning. Would he call your parents? Would he talk to you about it? Would you get in trouble?

Monday morning came. You got to your seat. Our teacher started class. He called out for attendance. Made some morning announcements. The hum of the airconditioning filled the room.

“I’m giving back your diaries now.”

You could hear your heart beating through your ears. Palms sweaty, your knuckles almost white from your closed fists. Minutes felt like hours.

He calls your name.

You get up from your seat. You walk towards him, in the middle of the classroom. You grab your diary from his hand.

He barely looks at you. He calls out the next name. You turn around, you’re confused. You walk to your seat slowly.

There it is. Your diary. Your half-assed diary, to be honest. A cut out of Snow White (which you grabbed from an old kiddy magazine at the last minute) stuck to the cover page. Pages upon pages of entries filled half of the notebook. The first few entries were long. Covering one or two pages. As you flip page after page, the entries become shorter and shorter, to the point where an entry was just a sentence long.

I would know. I wrote all of that. I half-assed it after several months in school. There was nothing to write about. Or rather, I didn’t really feel the urge to write so much when we already had enough schoolwork.

And you finally get to the latest page.

“Dear Diary,

Today I cut myself. I was mad and upset. I grabbed scissors and just kept running them through my fingertips. It felt really good. I don’t know why. It made me feel better. It helped me stop being upset. Please don’t tell my mom!”

On top of the paragraph was a huge red check mark.

You let out a sigh of relief. Or was it disappointment? I’m not really too sure. It’s been eight years since I was last you. I can’t really remember.

I do remember though, what you did right after. You grabbed your correction tape and erased that whole entry. Instead, you placed a stupid wishy washy entry about doing homework, eating dinner, and playing computer games that night.


This letter is never going to reach you, younger me. It’s not possible. Several years later, you would have a conversation with that teacher (he was, after all, one of the very best ones you’ve ever had). He would confess that your handwriting was so bad that he didn’t read your diary logs at all. He would also confess that he thoroughly read through your classmates’ entries though, because their handwriting capabilities were better.

You laugh with him. You try to defend yourself by joking around. It’s all a secret.


To my younger self,

I honestly don’t know what to say to you. You’re eleven years old. You think about death often. You cry a lot. Your best friend is leaving for another faraway school. High school is going to suck. But honestly, you’re just excited about school. You’re excited about studying and making new friends and having fun.

You’ve got a long way to go before you become me. You’ll be spending majority of the next few years hating on your parents, hating on your life, but clinging on to it because of your friends. I still remember you.

If I have to tell you something positive, it’s this. Things get better. Things get tougher. But they get better. You will face hardships you wouldn’t have known possible. You will cry a lot. You’ll be awkward. But it’s okay.

Because you’ll have a support system with you. Your parents are your biggest supporters. You just don’t see it because you’re blaming them for a lot of things.

To my younger self,

Because no one told me this when I was you.

I see you. I know what you’re going through. I’m sorry this is happening. You will be your own person, not the worst case scenario you’re thinking you will become.

To my younger self,

You are important. Isn’t it amazing that out of all the stars, the mountains, the rivers, and the people of the earth, the universe decided it needed you too?

You will do great things some day. I know it.

To my younger self,

I love you.

The disconnect between the people and the academe

Recently, there’s this new movie by M. Night Shyamalan called Split (2017). You can check out the trailer here. The antagonist is basically a guy who has many personalities or in more clinical terms, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) or as it was previously known, Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD).

Judging from the trailer, the guy who kidnapped them has 23 whopping personalities. A woman who has a masters degree in psychology even vouches that this is something extraordinary indeed. This man terrorizes the three girls.

Being a psychology major, most of my Facebook newsfeed was dominated by my fellow psych majors arguing adamantly as to why the premise of this movie is misleading and also harmful to those who have DID. They all had good points.

The movie is categorized into horror. Mental illness is a terrible thing to experience (see my depression post here) and depicting it in an even more negative light in media will make it harder for those who experience it everyday to actually be more open about their illness. Why is it that mental illnesses are shown as “scary” where as more physical illnesses are depicted as tragic?

However, while I agreed with my friends’ arguments, they started talking about how they wished people would read up more on mental illnesses. Look at diagnostic tools, read books about it, etc.

See, this is where the disconnect between the people and the academe occur. Whereas, the academe’s number one priority is learning, studying, and researching the world around us, the people’s number one priority is to keep on.

In the academe’s perspective, everyone has the resources to learn more. Everyone has the time to learn something new. When you’re in a university, you’re easily informed of new things, new perspectives, and new issues that come up every now and then. When you’re in the office five days a week, doing chores, paying bills, struggling through traffic, making sure ends meet, and focusing on your own realities and issues, it’s kind of hard to look study something that you’re pretty sure isn’t going to affect you.

Is it apathy? It’s easy to mistake it as that but it’s not. I don’t think it is. I think it’s simply people trying to look out for themselves. It’s funny. Politics divides people. Families with huge generation gaps fight over Trump, Duterte, or gay rights. Before I went to college, before I was aware of any issues that the government needed to address, we didn’t fight about it.

It’s just that when I was introduced to the academe, I was introduced to the reality of studying everything and learning so much about what’s wrong with the universe and how little the amount of good that comes out. My reality changed but my conservative relatives’ reality didn’t change at all.

They still had to deal with the horrible traffic, dangerous streets, high taxes, constant flooding problem, or even making ends meet. I still argued that they should listen to me and understand why LGBT rights is important or why drug addicts shouldn’t be killed.

Of course, they all take it with a grain of salt. Why should they listen to me? I didn’t even hold a proper job yet. I didn’t understand how the world works. I knew of their struggles but I didn’t have to deal with it. For a few moments, I hated going to family meetings only to be tuned out.

However, nothing changed. Literally no one changed except me. I just became more aware, I just learned about these issues. Everyone was still nice, everyone still cared for each other. If someone in the family fell ill, everyone pitches in to help. My titas and titos would be right there if I needed anything.

It wasn’t that they were apathetic. It just wasn’t part of their reality. But if it were part of their reality, they would surely make time for it and learn more about it.

See, the disconnect between the academe and the people isn’t simply miscommunication. It’s that the academe is so disconnected from the people to the point that they are kind of outsiders to the reality that people live in. That’s why the academe can point out all the flaws and errors of the world.

It’s like when you’re watching an old video of yourself. You don’t recall having so much hand movement. You can point out your errors. It’s because it’s not you.

The best solution is to honestly find a way to get the people to learn about issues in an easier manner.

No one is going to read thick and heavy books about capitalism when children need feeding. No one is going to be browsing through an academic journal about the economy when a paywall of $32 is required to see the data.

Studies show that only those heavily involved in the academic world actually read the journals. So meaning those with masters degrees and PhDs. That’s a very small percentage. Here’s a link on a news article saying that 50% of the published articles are only read by the editor, peer review, and the authors themselves.

It’s interesting. I talked to my GrabCar driver today and I asked him if he’s satisfied with Duterte. He was very proud to say that Duterte was his president even before he won. He told me about how he knew so many people who were drug addicts but now were laying low. I listened to him talk about his perspective and he listened to me discuss mine too.

That’s the thing. People are willing to listen. They’re smart. They can think for themselves. All we have to do is find the right medium to deliver the message.