[ belated happy birthday to classmate and friend Allan Refuerzo, Imee Sy and Rory Reyes! ]
ADJUSTMENT IS a well-worn, familiar route on the migrant GPS. All kinds of adjustment occupy the migrant mind : adjustment to climate, adjustment to ways of doing things, and adjustment to language are just some of the constants we live with as settlers on foreign lands. You might survive without swift adjustment, but embracing it will make your life a whole lot easier.
You’re able to get along with more locals faster, you’re understood more readily, you don’t stand out or attract too much unwanted attention, you discover faster ways of doing things, and ultimately you get more things done. You reach short-term goals faster, which helps you get to long-term goals faster.
What doesn’t always get mentioned in the migrant, balikbayan or OFW discussion, a lot of which certainly gets heard both at home and abroad, is the adjustment the Pinoy makes or has to make whenever he/she (for brevity, he na lang) returns home, either for vacation or for good. Part of the law of the universe states that what goes up must comes down, for every action is an opposite reaction, and balancing the positive force is, necessarily, the negative counterpart.
It’s not as difficult as returning toothpaste to the proverbial tube, reversing the downflow of a river or stream (it’s impossible, actually) or unmaking a hurtful comment, but it’s somewhere in the neighborhood. Even though you seek to undo a lifetime of habits, beliefs and culture, it’s doable because you have no other choice (you’re already overseas), economics coerce you to (you have a family to feed) and pride is a great, awesome motivator (you can’t go home and face everyone who’s never stopped encouraging you, as well as those who can’t wait to see you fall flat on your face).
But is it as practical to unlearn your new accent, start driving on the right side of the road again, pick up typical Pinoy ways of doing things like chismis, kaplastikan and sipsipan and socialize with all sorts of people like you never left home?
[ Please don’t misunderstand. The shadier side of being Pinoy is done just as often in my temporary adopted land, by both the locals and Pinoys like me. It’s just that well, it is so acceptable and traditional the way we do it back home, and people where I am still pretend they don’t do it as well, or at least don’t mention it in polite conversation. I’m not being a hypocrite, or at least I hope I don’t sound like one. 😉 ]
But back to readjustment. My last trip home, I probably had the hardest time to adjust, because I was coming from very cold weather, had very little time to prepare for a homecoming (there was a death in the family), and I was coming home to the hottest weather in the Philippines, April-May scorchers.
I think I mentioned in a previous blog that (1) just standing in place made me sweat buckets, and (2) the heat waves were coming from both the atmosphere and the white-hot concrete, how could I cope? Additionally the humidity and muggy air were not helping any; I could almost slice the air with a knife, and I could likewise imagine the insides of my nostrils sweating from the hot, hot air. The immediate and obvious question is, without the aid of an air-conditioner or an unexpected shower, how do you adjust to hot weather after half a decade away?
The short answer is you don’t, not unless you have the time, patience and forbearance to bear it and realize that everyone else is enduring this three-quarters of the year, why can’t you? Mind over matter, sensible dressing and knowing when to cool down are just a few ways to acclimatize (pun intended) yourself to the weather that’s been part of your DNA and that of your forbears.
Another readjustment Mahal and I have found challenging is to get used to people eating out or planning to eat out at the drop of a pin. Because eating places are accessible and plentiful, public transport is universal and nearly 24/7 and Pinoys are naturally apt to get together and celebrate via lunch or dinner, it’s quite normal to just call or SMS the members of your barkada, posse or extended family and meet at the mall. Anything goes from there, but for sure you will select a place to share a meal and just watch the masses of Pinoy mallgoers like yourself pass you by.
We literally ate out every night our short stay back home, not just to meet friends and contemporaries but because it was the easiest and most convenient way to catch up with people that we had to meet by necessity. Not only did we not have a proper meeting place, we needed to meet someplace halfway close to where all parties came from. And no other place was more equidistant than a mall, and where in the mall was it more conducive to meet than a restaurant or fast food place?
And because we met for dinner just as often as we met for lunch, this brings us to another quirk we had to get used to all over again : our kabayan back at home stay up late as often as they want, and we seriously had an issue with this. In Wellington, almost every weekday we are tucked in by around 9.30 just to be able to get up by around 5.30, enjoy hearty breakfast, bike to work and report for duty by 7.00 am.
In contrast, nobody in Manila seems to be ready to call it a day until around midnight, everyone starts howling at the moon by around 7.30 pm, sits down for dinner after traffic and their favorite telenovela around 9.00 pm, finishes social obligations including Facebook and e-mails 11-ish, sips barako coffee and enjoys late night news half past, and finally catch zzzz’s at the stroke of 12.
If this sounds familiar to you, so many people we’ve met do this regularly, which was why they didn’t think twice about meeting us at ungodly hours of the night. Just to be able to readjust to these three areas made our recent visit more interesting, and although life would’ve been easier without the readjustment, we would not exchange it for anything else. As the Chinese proverb goes, may you live in interesting times. And living it adjusting, readjusting, and readjusting yet again.
Thanks for reading!