“Decisions, Decisions”: A True Love Travelogue Series – Part 1

24 November 2012

I woke up a few minutes after 5 o’clock in the morning, as usual; save that there was nothing usual at all about that day. It was the day that would change my life forever.

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I felt really tired, and my back muscles ached from staying up late the previous night. I got up from my bed feeling dreamy, as if what transpired the night before was indeed just a dream.

It was his call over Skype that had awoken me, and while I knew he was telling me something important, I found it difficult to shake my sleepiness off. Less than five minutes into the video-call, my eyes had begun to droop again and his words were only a mumble-jumble to me.

“So I cut my hair”, I very faintly heard him say.

“You what??” I jolted.

“I asked my mom to cut my hair, see?”

“Why?!”, I exclaimed in panic.

“Because you wanted me to.”

“No!!!!”

“Cecille”, I could hear desperation in his voice. “I thought you said I will attract unwanted attention over there and you don’t want that”.

Now I do remember telling him that. “I don’t know…I don’t know…I liked your long hair. I’m not used to seeing you like that!”…I seemed almost a child, unreasonable. I honestly didn’t know what I wanted anymore. Confused, tears started rolling down my cheeks.

“Oh, Cecille, please don’t cry.” He was almost pleading. “I have to go now, okay? My parents are taking me to the airport. It will grow back soon, anyway”.

It felt really weird for him to be consoling me then. He was the one who had one foot of his hair cut off and yet he was the one who was trying to make me feel better. I know he was kind of “attached” to his hair. He’s had it long since he was 11 years old. Looking back to it now, I thought it was frivolous for me to even mention the haircut. Of course, I tell him I never forced him, I was  just…sayin’.

When we first started talking online, I didn’t really care about his hair. I thought it was hot and I was attracted to that mysterious side of him. As the day to our meeting drew closer, I became concerned. I think it must have been my conservative influence. Men with long hair are sometimes stereotyped as bad boys: wild and probably addicted to dangerous drugs! How ignorant does that sound?

Not all long-haired men are like that of course, but it was all about the image of it. I knew my family was going to meet him and I just wanted him to make a good first impression. I was like, “Who knows? We could end up getting married!” 😉 Little did I know, he was going to impress them anyway with his charms, his very polite demeanor and, as my father said, his outstanding table manners. But more on that later.

After sleeping a while longer, I got up to check my messages. I wondered if he’d left me anything before he boarded the plane. Boy, did he!

airchinanotification

“Great! That’s all we need”, I muttered.  A glitch right in the beginning of the two-week itinerary that we’ve been planning for months is a downer, I thought. My nerves were already wracked at the thought of seeing him, finally in the flesh, after four months of relentless correspondence. I was on the cusp of being stressed.

I waited until 8am for business hours to begin so I that I could speak with the hotel personnel regarding his reservation. He was supposed to arrive at 11 o’clock that night so I called the hotel to let them know that he would be arriving the next day instead. The unexpected detour in Alaska was going to delay his flight for 3 hours. This also meant that he was going to miss his Beijing to Bangkok flight, the last flight for the day. He was going to sleep in a hotel in China, alone, and catch another flight to Thailand on the following day. I could imagine how anxious he must be, travelling halfway across the globe for the first time, to places where he doesn’t speak the language, while encountering these mishaps at the same time. The horror!

I smile at the thought of him making that gesture to see me. I’ve got to admire him for being so determined. I was actually sad that I had to cancel the chauffeur service I had previously booked  to pick him up. I wanted him to at least be comfortable when he arrived, after all the stress of intercontinental flight. I asked the lady if they could move the booking for the following day but she said they were fully-booked. Oh well! I tried.

I decided to let the stress of the rescheduled arrival go. There was really nothing we could have done about it. I thought: it’s only one night. I was going to see him tomorrow. At 1pm, I went about with my other scheduled appointments: Last minute girly preps that, without getting into much detail, included a nail spa. I would later reap the fruits of my tortured labor when he says the very first words that came out of his mouth upon seeing me. 😉

It took me several hours to finish and when I was finally settled in the couch, checked my messages again. Lo and behold! He was online and was typing to me, possibly as fast as he could!

“I’m in China. We did not stop in Anchorage”

“What?!?”

“Will you be able to pick me up?”

“Uhhh…I changed my plans for the day. I’m here at my mother’s place”. Yeah, I forgot to mention that!

“……….” Nothing from him. It said he was typing.

“Oh!” He finally replied. Goodness! What was I doing?!? I must be freaking him out!

“Of course, I’ll pick you up!” I typed in haste. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to do it in my condition.

“Okay. Boarding now. I’ll turn this off”, he said.

I sent a quick goodbye then his little green circle was gone. I exhaled in desperation.

Now what? Decisions, decisions.

I jumped up from the couch, picked up my backpack from the floor, and began packing haphazardly.

“Where are you going?”, my mom wondered.

Silence. You can almost hear the wheels turning.

“I have to go, Mom”, almost a whisper.

“Go where?”

“Back to my place”,

“But your foot!” Right! I forgot to mention that too. I had stepped on something earlier. I needed minor surgical intervention and my two feet were bandaged. Did I mention it was painful?  I’d been downing pain killers the whole day.

“I’m okay Mom, I’ll be fine”. She was observing me as I was cross-checking my stuff with my list in  hand.

“I thought you’re staying here tonight.” I didn’t respond.

“Just tell me what is it, okay? So I’d know.”, she prodded…I was worrying her.

“It’s Ian.  He’s arriving tonight.”

What ensued was an exchange between a worried mother and a stubborn daughter who will do what she wants, even against advice.

“Will you at least let your brother take you to the airport?”

……

……

……

For all of my life, my family and friends were always there to support me. I’ve always had people to consult with for all of the major decisions I’ve made. But as I said, it was not an ordinary day.

“No. I’m doing this on my own”.

I’d made up my mind.

TO BE CONCLUDED

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TEN FLEETING DAYS and My After-Musings Part 4: Melancholic Reveries

 

February 25, 2013, 9:30 pm. I was back at the same exact station, but this time I was waiting for the train alone.

It felt like only just a few hours ago when the love of my life and I took the same railway going to the city proper.
Ian arrived to visit me again here in Thailand in the evening of February 15th. I met him at Arrivals and led him to the Airport rail link that took us to Ratchaprarop Station, approximately a 7-minute walk from Baiyoke Tower, where we were booked for the night.

As the passengers filled the car, Ian and I were all smiles, chuckling to ourselves in disbelief. We were in each other’s arms again! Our small corner inside the train echoed with our happy and excited chatter and my insistent inquiries about how his flight went. We were both grappling/vying for air time and oblivious to the world.

*******

Ten days later, as I sat solitary on one of the station benches, there was only silence and the hushed rolling and clicking of my 7-11-bought pen as my companion.

Imagining what I will return to, I was not looking forward to seeing the receptionist’s grouchy face in the hotel which had been our love nest for the past few days. His face could have been in a constant frown but it would definitely look happier than mine.

The PA announced the arriving train in two languages and I stood up to fall in line. As I took a seat, I looked back to our final minutes.

********

I went with him to the airport to send him off. Outside the Passport Control (where only passengers can enter), we were saying our difficult goodbyes, exchanging promises and hastily uttered reminders (mine to Ian consisting mostly of repetitions to Take Care, Drive Safely Every day and Keep in touch). Right on cue, just like in the movies, an airline employee cuts in on our desperate last moments with a hand signal pointing to the clock/wrist watch as if to say “It’s time”.

Great! Make it easier for us.

Either he was just doing his job, or grossed out, or jealous of our blatant public display of affection. I was never big on PDA but with Ian and especially right at that very moment, the world around us had ceased to exist and I was shameless.
It was just he and I in our own perfect little world.

*********
I let go of Ian and he stepped onto the elevator that took him to the final security checkpoint and immigration. He never looked away from me-we kept mouthing our I LOVE YOUs until he was out of my sight.

Wow! So that’s it? Lea, Ian’s sister, was right. Those 10 days flew by so quickly. Of course, we both knew his visit was going to end but it didn’t change anything: the pain of separation is always the same. It’s as if the heart was torn from the chest because it follows the one you love, as Ellena, my future mother-in-law, had put it.
No matter how many times I said goodbye to Ian, I never got used to it. This feeling is only relieved when I see him again.

See him again… I had no idea when the next time would be and that made it all the more depressing for me. But before I could break down for a crying spree, a thought struck me:

Isn’t the Immigration Services right behind the glass wall in front of me? I remember from my recent Singapore trip that the Passport Control Section in Suvarnabhumi Airport was renovated in such a way that passengers have to take the escalator going up to some sort of boarding pass check, and then take an escalator down to appear before the Immigration officer.

*******
I rushed to see if I could get lucky and actually get a glimpse of Ian. My mind was racing, heart pounding, desperate for that one last goodbye. I positioned myself where there was a good view of the escalator and of the passengers going down. I didn’t want to miss him. Just moments later, he came through- in a hurry and with no time to look around him. He had a mission, to catch his plane. He didn’t bother to explore his surroundings. I was so desperate to catch his attention that I began tapping on the glass walls almost futilely. Then, with a bit of luck, a seemingly cordial middle-aged man behind him saw me and so I signaled to him to call Ian’s attention. He was kind enough to oblige and said something to Ian that made him turn his direction towards me. Seeing me unexpectedly lit his face up and my heart leapt for joy. Ian politely thanked the man and again started whispering his muted I love yous. I silently whispered back. Ian placed his hand on the left side of his chest. It is his way of telling me “Cecille, you’re in my heart”.

I know I am. It makes it seem all the more wrong for me to be sitting on a train back to a hotel room while Ian was set to fly thousands of feet above the ground. Moments ago, I was a woman loved and cherished by my man who was beside me. As I head back to Central Bangkok on my own, all of a sudden, I became a little girl again, caught in my melancholic reveries,and the city felt far too big for me.

******

I was now a station away, and as I readied my train pass, I caught sight of the ring on my finger; now, Ian’s words echoed in my brain… “Whenever you feel sad and lonely, look to this ring and know I am always with you. We will be truly together soon, I promise”.
I desperately tried to suppress my sobs until I unlocked what used to be OUR room. As I pushed open the door, the scents of our frolicking filled my nose-remnants of Ian’s loving, comforting and reassuring presence not too long ago. Oh, dear God, I miss him already.

And that’s when the dam broke.

TEN FLEETING DAYS and My After-Musings Part 2: Mothers, Lovers, and A Daughter’s Prayer for Peace

16th February 2013, Saturday, 11:30am. Ian and I returned to our Baiyoke Tower suite 30 minutes before check-out time. We had just gotten engaged on the top of Thailand’s Tallest Tower and what we really wanted to do was to turn off our phones, no internet and stay cooped up in our room until who knows when, if you know what I mean. But hotels here in Bangkok are particularly strict about check-out time because of the tourist traffic. Besides, we had obligations to fulfill such as Ian’s courtesy call to my family upon arrival and some more errands to do such as changing hotel rooms, getting ready for our engagement dinner on the following day, etc. So we scrambled to gather all of our things, pack our luggage and head to the hotel lobby for check-out…

It took some time for us to get settled into our new hotel room. Also, we had to travel to the suburbs where our previously chosen accommodation is located. My family lives in the area so in the interest of accessibility and convenience, we chose both this hotel and the restaurant for our engagement dinner to be in that vicinity.

We had plans to meet my mom and my brother in the afternoon to help Ian and I find clothes and accessories for our engagement dinner and pre-wedding photo-shoot. I had done my personal shopping with my stylist-cousins beforehand so technically this shopping trip was for Ian. I really appreciate my mom for agreeing to do this with us. I would say I am fashion-savvy; When it comes to men’s clothes, I may be able tell if it looks nice but I’m not an expert. My mom has three men/boys in the family and over the years she has gotten really good at shopping for males. So I intended to rely on her expertise. Besides, I thought it would be a good bonding opportunity for her and Ian (including my brother of course) because they had the chance to talk/get to know each other on only a few occasions before.

Admittedly, in the beginning of my relationship with Ian, it might have seemed difficult for my mother to process what was happening. To her, Ian could be just another “farang” (Thai term for foreigners particularly Westerners) with “yellow fever”. My mom was brought up a conservative and is very prudent in romantic relationships. She advocates a long courtship more than anything else and prefers two families of the couple to also know each other well before venturing into a “merger”.  As you know, it’s not very easy in our situation because our families are separated by miles, mountains and seas. As my mother, it’s understandable for her to have some qualms and hesitations about my impending marriage to a Cano (Filipino slang term for American man as in AmeriCANO) I have known for 7 months.

It doesn’t help that she hears horror stories from friends and colleagues about Filipina/Asian women who were into terrible circumstances while being involved with a white guy. I couldn’t blame her. Unlike me, she didn’t have the chance to interact with Ian on a regular basis. But I know that when she gets the opportunity, Ian’s charm, innate kindness, intelligence and obvious sincerity has the power to possibly win her over – as he did with me – and make her an instant convert.

My mother has been the primary constant in my life, good times or bad. I always treasure my fondest memories of my mother and I, such as her combing my hair and doing my hairstyle (I think she does the best braids and pontytails), putting night creams on my face and lotion on my skin while I’m sleeping because I’m too lazy to do it myself and I hate the sticky feeling. I seek her advice about even the simplest of things such as clothing and food options. To this day, she still calls me when she sees a lovely dress in the mall and thinks it would look nice on me. She would ask me if I’d like for her to get it for me.  My mom is my valiant protector; when I am hurt, she hurts more. When I had my heart broken in the past, it seemed to pain her more so than it did me.

I know that she wants the best for me.

So, in the cab on the way to the shopping center, I was crossing my fingers for good luck. Ian asked if I’m okay and I knew he could tell I’m a bit anxious.   I relied heavily on this shopping date for Ian and my mom to establish better ties.  Needless to say, my mom’s acceptance of my future husband matters to me. More so, I thought it would be great if the two people I love the most actually get along. At that point, I prayed to Mother Mary to intercede for me. Maybe she can warm my own mother’s  heart.

So we arrived at the mall and my mom was just finishing her grocery shopping. As I approached her, she asked me if Ian would like some pasta. My brother has perfected his version of spaghetti since we demand for his cooking every weekend. Apparently, she has been bugging Karl to cook so we’ll have something on the table when entertaining Ian.  I smiled secretly. Not a bad start.

To keep the friendly mood, I asked if anybody would like to eat. Everyone agreed that they were hungry so we headed over to one of the Thai restaurants for merienda (afternoon snack time) which was actually a late lunch for Ian and I. Over Pad Thai (stir-fried Pho noodles), spring rolls, chicken wings, Khao Pad Moo (pork fried rice), etc., my mother asked about Ian’s flight, his parents and sister which launched them to the eventual conversation about Ian’s family tree. Ian’s missionary aunt who was in Asia (particularly in the Philippines and China) for several years was mentioned and this captured my mom’s attention. My mother, who was raised a Catholic by her devoted aunts and was sent to Catholic schools from kindergarten to college pleasantly welcomed stories about Ian’s relatives who went into priesthood and nunhood. Ian’s maternal grandmother is Scottish Catholic. Many of his grandmother’s siblings lived as nuns, priests, missionaries and monks…. I interjected in the middle of their exciting convent-sation that my mother always wanted one of her sons and daughters to “respond to the calling” which ultimately lead to the mention of my brother Karl, who was enjoying the last piece of chicken wing, being a seminarian back in college. He finished Philosophy and just like Ian, he loves the big talks relating to theology, existentialism, physics and the purpose of life. Besides that, my brother plays the guitar and is into metal. Additionally, he very well liked Ian’s present during his last visit: a New York Yankees baseball cap. That being said, I don’t have any worries about my brother and his future brother-in-law getting along.  And the way the conservation between my mom and husband-to-be was going, it seemed I would have one less worry too…very soon. I prayed for my mother’s saints to watch over my cause. I could only hope they weren’t sleeping.

001

Two brothers and a mom

002 

My Men. Enjoying Häagen-Dazs chocolate truffle ice cream for dessert

Someone mentioned that it was getting late, so we picked up the bill and started heading down to the department stores. Did I mention we were in Thailand? So that meant endless choices at ridiculously cheap prices for good quality garments. Evidently, my mother and my brother had already started scouring the mall for shops on sale before we got here so as to save time once we finally arrived. So in a systematic fashion – carefully supervised by my shopping expert mother –  Ian started his “ordeal” of trying on shirts, blazers, suits, etc., beginning with the brand Pierre Cardin which thankfully was at 50-70% off! (Oh Ian, aren’t you glad you’re marrying me?!) Halfway through the marathon, sweat began trickling down Ian’s forehead and my mother promptly motioned to me to wipe my darling fiancé’s forehead. At the fourth long-sleeved shirt, I couldn’t hide my frustration for the lack of available sizes for Ian. In Thailand, when you say large, it means American small or something. No kidding!  I am convinced it’s another one of the government’s grand schemes of regulating this aesthetically-motivated and figure-conscious country’s citizen’s weight.  As soon as I started with my tsk-tsks, my mother started with her disapproving stares: “Don’t be like that. Be patient”. Those were her words of wisdom followed by orders of “Wait for him outside the dressing room”, “Don’t leave him” and more. My mother was barking like the How- to- be –a- Good -Wife -101 professor.  After 25 years of marriage, I guess my mother has earned for herself a master’s degree in Wifehood.

We finally agreed on a light blue striped long-sleeved shirt for Anderson Lake (The Wind-up Girl),  a gray suit with matching skinny tie for Paul Varjak (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and a black suit and white long sleeved shirt for our engagement dinner. Phew! Done at last! Male shopping is definitely not my favorite sport. After a tiring three hours or so, we called it a day. My mom thought Ian looked really tired so she ordered us back to our hotel to get some rest in preparation for the dinner the following day. Riding the cab on the way back, I was in lost in my silent reverie. Generally, I was happy with the outcome of that day: My mom was gracious and I knew she was making her best effort to show that she is reaching out. Although with my mom, it is not very difficult for her to appear welcoming because she is naturally a thoughtful person-she genuinely cares about and is very mindful of people’s needs. I was really hoping that Ian felt welcomed because I knew in my heart that if I were in his situation, my mother would also like me to be welcomed by my in-laws to be. This memory brought me back to our non-traditional Skype “pamamanhikan” two months back:

Our families were scheduled to teleconference at 8 o’clock breakfast time in Bangkok. Meanwhile, in Katonah, New York, Bob and Ellena – Ian’s parents – had just finished their dinner at home. At one point in the conversation, my mother expressed her apprehensions about my move to America:  She was telling Ian’s parents that she is very worried because I don’t have aunts or uncles or any close relatives in the US and so she wouldn’t know where to refer me to in case something happens to me. In response, Ellena recounted her own experience back in 1974 when she was only 20 years old. (Ian has told me that she came to the States with nothing but the clothes on her back). Coming to America for the first time, Ian’s mom said the only person she knew in all 50 states was her husband, Bob.  But Regina, Bob’s mother (and the original owner of my engagement ring) welcomed her with open arms and let her into their family and hearts like a true daughter.

“Juvy, that I will do for Cecille, too”.

Observing this genuine and poignant exchange between two mothers sent a shiver down my spine. I swear I saw my mother become teary-eyed. Thousands and thousands of miles away, Ellena was able to project through an LCD screen connected to various wires and microchips powered by technology, a sentiment as old as time—human empathy, loosely defined as “caring for other people and having a desire to help them, to experiencing emotions that match another person’s emotions, to knowing what the other person is thinking or feeling, to blurring the line between self and other”.

To me, it translates as “Juvy, I feel you. I am a mother too”.

Thousands and thousands of miles away, Ellena struck me in the heart and in that instant I believed that everything is going to be okay. I will be okay in a foreign land away from home because I will have a second family. Across all of these thousands of miles, I felt a sentiment so much older than me but  so rarely experienced by many these day:  Faith in humanity.

I know I was supposed to tell our story, mine and Ian’s. Yet it is said that a good story is one that tells another story within. This story is not solely mine but also that of my mother, Ian’s mother, and of all the mothers, parents and families who are taking a gamble at letting a “stranger” claim their children as being theirs too (“stranger”: referring to fiancés or fiancées). Isn’t this difficult for parents to do? They are supposed to welcome into their homes and into their hearts the person who is about to take their child away from them and claim to have responsibility over them from then on. As parents who cared for their children from the time they were fragile babies, to naughty children, to troubled teens, and finally to present day adults, it is almost impossible to believe that yet another person could possibly care for their respective little prince or princess better than they have.  Again, faith in humanity –  so mainstream, but also so scarce. It is a tragedy of life that these days it is a stretch for a person to bring himself to put his trust into the hands of another man. That is why it is unavoidable for parents to quiz the future new family member about his background, circumstance, upbringing, viewpoint and opinion on things that they think matter. They want to know whether their future son or daughter- in- law can protect their interest.

I am proud of my Ian. I think I couldn’t have chosen a better man. Had I been an FBI agent’s daughter, my father would be disappointed to see Ian’s dossier to be so clean that he doesn’t have a bone to pick with him.  He would even be more disappointed to find that my Ian is a man about it: he looks forward to the interrogation with cool, respectful, confidence. He is not arrogant but he is also not intimidated.

The logical next step is then for my FBI agent father to take is to assume I am crazy, and that I do not know what I am doing getting married so soon. Surely, he knows me better than I know myself. Surprise, surprise!

It is very common to hear from parents the words: “No one else knows you better than us”. Maybe they do. But also, maybe they don’t anymore. With all due respect:

This is the sad truth for our dear Parents. Yes, once your children were little kids running around freely without any sense of direction other than what you had set for them. However, children grow to become adults just like you with jobs, responsibilities, and plans. Children, too, eventually mature to build a life and family of their own.

I do not mean for this to come across as being negative. Rather, I would like to bridge the gap there is between future in-laws from both sides (although this may not be applicable to everybody). Maybe, the marriage of your son and daughter must not be seen as another person taking your child away from you, but instead as one more person loving and caring for your child as much as you do. Maybe having a son or daughter in-law is not a burden, but instead a happy addition to your growing family, regardless of said son or daughter in-law’s color, race or creed. Maybe negative perceptions must be changed.   Perhaps the strict concept of exclusivity must be loosened a little bit.

The family is the basic unit of society. And wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if in our society there is harmony amidst diversity?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all just get along, despite our differences? This should apply especially when different parties have a common stake: to secure the lifetime happiness of the one they claim to love. Case in point: Me.

That is my opinion.  My parents, just like any other parents, also wanted to air a piece of their minds. Ian and I promised they will have a chance at the engagement dinner. That was only 12 hours later after we said our goodbyes in front of Central Chaengwattana mall.

As we bade each other farewell, my mother gave my darling Ian a “beso-beso”. I prayed to God it wasn’t a Judas kiss. Maybe this time God listened.

To be continued…

PAUNANG SALITA (Foreword)

We often hear our fellow Pinoys say things like “Uy, alam mo ba ang balita? Ang kumare nati’ng si Shirley ay American citizen na” (Hey, did you hear about our friend, Shirley? She’s already an American citizen!)” Most often, this news is either squealed in delight or excitement as if it’s that huge a deal or disclosed in hushed tones as if there’s intrigue attached to it.  Sometimes, depending on the tone of voice of the news source, you could tell whether she’s genuinely happy for the person or jealous of her new status. I say sometimes, because people are not really transparent all of the time. They could say one thing but mean another. I don’t have a problem with that. That’s their opinion. What would not escape my scrutiny though is the usual end-phrase “Buti pa siya” (Oh, she’s better off!) as if being a citizen of another country (in this case, let’s say, the United States of America) is an upgrade for a Filipino citizen. I find it heartbreaking how some of our kababayans can take more pride in carrying the name of another country than our own Motherland. Sure, there are so many ways that we can complain about Pilipinas, but is that reason enough for one to actually write “American, Canadian, British, etc.” in the space provided for Nationality in their information sheets? A Filipino can acquire citizenship from various countries (and hell he can write whatever he wants in the citizenship section) but can never change his nationality. Is it then a sheer ignorance in identifying the difference between Nationality and Citizenship? Well, one can Wiki everything these days!

Maybe I am being too emotional. Maybe my patriotism is frivolous and getting in the way of logical reasoning. Maybe I have to be more forgiving to people who have less than excellent vocabulary.  I can’t help it. It has been deeply ingrained in me since I was a developing fetus. I floated in my mother’s womb to the tune of 70’s and 80’s socio-political tracks  from Asin, Noel Cabangon and Freddie Aguilar. The first full-length song I learned at the age of three (3) is Ako ay Pilipino by Kuh Ledesma.

Ako ay Pilipino
Ang dugo’y maharlika
Likas sa aking puso
Adhikaing kay ganda
Sa Pilipinas na aking bayan
Lantay na Perlas ng Silanganan
Wari’y natipon ang kayamanan ng Maykapal

Bigay sa ‘king talino
Sa mabuti lang laan
Sa aki’y katutubo
Ang maging mapagmahal

CHORUS:
Ako ay Pilipino,
Ako ay Pilipino
Isang bansa isang diwa
Ang minimithi ko
Sa Bayan ko’t Bandila
Laan Buhay ko’t Diwa
Ako ay Pilipino,
Pilipinong totoo
Ako ay Pilipino,
Ako ay Pilipino
Taas noo kahit kanino
Ang Pilipino ay Ako!

The first stanza alone is enough to stir waves of emotions in me. So yes, maybe I don’t have an unbiased perspective on this. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against other countries. I’m not even saying that I don’t want to go and live outside of the Philippines. I love travelling and I certainly dream of a European vacation one day. Besides, right now I am working abroad. I will continue living abroad if and when I have to. Six months ago, I had to leave the Philippines. I had my heart broken, and instead of bringing it with me and attempting to mend it, I left it there. No use in carrying extra baggage. What would I need it for anyway? I was determined to set aside matters of the heart. I would focus on myself and get my ducks in a row: Job, career, graduate school. True, the recent events have caused some setbacks in my timeline but I promised I would get it back in order very soon.

A few days before my flight, my friend Myrell told me over lunch: “Don’t worry. There are so many fishes in the sea. And in a very lively city like Bangkok, who knows? You might even meet a foreign guy and marry him some day!”  I remember laughing it off with her but at the back of my mind I really just dismissed it: “I will not go looking for love in Thailand. But if love finds me there, I will welcome it with open arms”, I replied with conviction. Back then, I honestly paid her no mind. With hindsight, wow, was she prophetic!

I met my now fiancé Ian exactly one month after I arrived in Thailand. Six months later, Ian petitioned his government so that he can marry me and be with me forever. Six months from now, I would hopefully be on my way to my future new home-The Land of Milk and Honey, The Land of the Free-The United States of America!

Wow! Younger Cecille would definitely be kicking me in the butt now. A heated confrontation would ensue:

13C (13-year old Cecille): Whoa dude, hold up! What about the things you said in your 9/11 editorial? What about your conspiracy theory?

AC (Adult Cecille): Sure! I still believe that.

18C (Placard-donning, sun-baked, street protesting 18-year old Cecille):  “Itigil ang pagtataksil sa sambayanang Pilipino at pagkapapet sa imperyalistang Amerikano!  (End the betrayal of the Filipino people and the country’s puppet days from the American imperialist!)

AC: Hmmm…maybe we should leave the politics out of this?!

3C (3-year old tiny songstress Cecille):  Ako ay Pilipino, Ako ay Pilipino, Ako Ay Pilipino, Taas-noo kahit kanino, Ang Pilipino ay Ako!  (I am a Filipino, I am a Filipino, I am a Filipino. Head held up high for everyone to see. The Filipino is me)

AC: Of course, I’m a Filipino through and through!

I am tormented by my nationalist conscience. My British colleague Joanna’s voice is ringing loudly in my ears. “How can you say you’re patriotic when you are marrying an American—he who hails from the land of your colonizer!”

And in what could have been my speechless, most shameful moment, I found my voice and managed a reply: “That’s exactly what Ian and I talked about. We don’t see each other as foreigners.  I don’t see him as American and he doesn’t see me mainly as Filipina. Those are just names, labels to promulgate division among the human race. We both wish that there weren’t any countries.  Right now, this BS bureaucracy is what’s stopping me and Ian from being together.  Without it, we would all be free to love whoever we want to love”.

I’m sure I did not say it as eloquently as that. But you see my point and I just want to stress it again: Leaving for the US doesn’t mean I am betraying my country. I promised myself that wherever I may be, I will never lose my identity and strive hard to raise my country’s banner.

Besides, at this point, it doesn’t seem like I have a choice. As I said earlier, when I left for Thailand, I left my heart in the Philippines. Then, Ian came to Thailand to give his heart to me. Now we share one heart. So, I have to be where he is and he has to be where I am.  For just as Siamese twins live with one heart, neither of us can survive without the other.

Let me tell you now: This blog is really a chronicle of love. But, it also tells the story of the Filipina woman—her passion, her hunger, her strengths, her weaknesses, her dreams and her heart. Each entry will be filled with her adventures and adversities, her travels and trials, her journey to conquer the world. We will watch her stand up after every fall, and recover from each little stumble: for she is of the noble blood of her ancestors. Dugong Maharlika. She is the Global Filipina. And she is You and Me.