Friday, October 08, 2004

12 & 35

a finer world

Each time I visit America I am struck by certain things that become more obvious as I grow older.

Discounting the time I spent in childhood in Hollywood with my then-together parents, the first real visit I recall was early in the 80's, just after Mt. St. Helen's blew up for the first time (it is a-rumbling now).

Thin as a walking stick, I was sent to visit my Dad in Washington State. I took a flight to Seattle and immediately felt the bone-chilling wind outside the airport. My father took pity on me and immediately bought me a garish windbreaker. It protected my torso but kept my arms exposed so I was still miserable, but I didn't tell him that - what was important was that he cared.

I was terrified of meeting my American step-family for the first time. On the long drive to Tacoma,he told me how great everyone was. When we got to his house, my first honest thought was how small it looked. This is because back in Manila, I was used to the sprawling houses and mansions of the exclusive villages like Greenhills. As a 12-year old senorito, used to having a batallion of maids to carry out the most banal tasks like fetching water to drink from the ref, I was in shock.

I remember being insecure about my English, despite the fact that I knew I spoke it better than a lot of people. I was afraid of what my accent would sound like, if I was so obviously from the boondocks. Speaking very little, I met my father's new wife and their 3 kids, all rowdy, healthy, white and beautiful. It made me want to shrink into my brown skin. They all had to run off somewhere but left me dinner: a huge pile of the biggest drumsticks I've ever seen. When I bit into one, I couldn't understand why the texture felt so odd, so difficult to chew. Later, I realized that each one was covered in some sort of plastic. I broke down into tears because I felt so stupid not knowing about it.

The first thing America shows you is how powerful it is. How big, how broad, how completely out of the reach of your third-world experiences. It redefines the notion of cities and provinces, being a place where cities are just places people drive to, and the suburbs existing as isolated homesteads, broken only by the occasional strip mall.

America exudes an orgulous dynamic, stretching its fatty arms to encompass all potential, all possibilities. In America, you can find anything you want if you want it hard enough and work hard enough.

Walking through the devastation of the erupted volcano, I found the land beautiful and boring, broad and ill-defined, brimming with sound and fury and (sometimes) with relative meaning, a place where big is always better and where everywhere is cold and colder.

I hated my stay - the only spark of brilliance was a gigantic comic book store and the missing pieces of the Dark Phoenix Saga - and realized that I was damn happy to be thin, brown and to live in a place where a city was a city, and where English was just another language to choose to speak.

As a boy of twelve, I realized that "a finer world" was purely subjective. In the next 23 years of going back and forth on business or pleasure, it would not change.

There is happiness to be found here by those who choose to quest here. But my heart belongs to the loud, traffic-infested, terrifying, polluted, corrupt and vibrant, wonderful and incomparable Manila.

driving to daytona

Along the long coastal road, hundreds of homes, inns, motels, hotels, restos, and sundry beach-related stores, stood like denizens of a haunted land. The last couple of hurricanes threw water and sand into the air, pushed the shoreline up and over buildings, blew away roofs and scattered broken windows. The various locales were already in the process of recovering their waterlogged lives, but all I could see was the grey-green ocean to my left, churning white foam endlessly (Nikki observed that our ocean, the Pacific, is more aptly named).

Very little traffic meant that our hour-and-a-half long drive was pure distance (unlike Manila, where it is time that is truly consumed), my restlessness relieved only by a lunch of Maine lobsters (grilled, salad-ed, sandwich-ed, caked) at a resto where Sage fell in love with a vomiting shark (plastic, hollow, filled with grenadine syrup, tilted excitingly into a glass of Sprite, for a Shirley Temple with a bite). Again, I was upset by the jumbo portions, and fought my Filipino nature ("sayang naman"), ate what I could and refused to think of starving children on Nikki's favorite Hunger Site (and the cost - Ultimate Lobster Lunch = $20).

We were looking for a place that had dresses for Sage (because ever since we got her the extravagantly-winged fairy Halloween costume, she refuses to wear anything but that or a dress), as well as a Borders or a B&N, so seeing that mammoth racetrack at Daytona meant as much to me as seeing an anthill. An offer to take a tour inside was met with polite but forceful negatives from Nikki and myself because of zero interest. Same with the poor Greyhounds racing around their racetrack (when they are retired, it is said that they make excellent pets).

Everything is so spread out, so homogenously flat and of limited color palettes - Daytona is afraid of the sky.

In the mall, I gave in to the temptation of shopping (Perry Ellis leather belt, originally $50, now only $9.99; Tommy H. slacks, orginally $120, now only $24.99) betrayed by my Pinoy nature that needs to spot a bargain and consummate it.

I was too tired to really look at the Toys 'R Us, and though Sage pushed and pulled me through the aisles, nothing registered. Maybe its because I was with my energetic daughter, lugging her bag, but all I wanted to do was get her whatever she wanted (a Barbie make-up book) and go home.

Along the way, we spotted a B&N and resigned ourselves to bookhunting in our fatigued states. I got the last two copies they had of the anthology and almost nothing else. Nikki and I were too brain-dead to perform our usual meticulous search for fantastic fiction.

The only establishments I will never bitch about in America are its bookstores and media retail spaces. These are never big enough, and excess is king, because where words come into play, we want the universe to explore.


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