the persistent & recurring bilocation of the migrant mind


Paco Park, near where I grew up.

Paco Park, near where I grew up.

[ Note : Pardon me for the very senti post today, just that the wet days and windy nights reminded me of typhoons and monsoon seasons so many years ago, when we couldn’t wait for school to be cancelled so we could play all day.  Old houses, asphalt roads, faces resembling faces we hadn’t beheld for years all brought to this blogger the realization that you can take Noel out of Manila, but you can never take Manila out of Noel.  Thanks for reading! ]

IN A very real sense, my mind is frequently in two places and never sitting still.  This pertains to important as well as trivial things.  I bike home on empty streets and imagine the choked, bumper-to-bumper traffic on EDSA.  Mahal prepares dinner in the kitchenette and wonders how it would taste with local ingredients in relentless sunshine back home.  You read the community newspaper and wonder if tabloids in Manila are still as sensational.

We pick out flats to rent but subconsciously we transfer the same houses to tropical backdrops.  Visit malls with scores of window shoppers but daydream of rubbing shoulders with thousands in Robinsons and Megamall.  Nod and smile at strangers on deserted avenues and recall drowning in anonymity in Makati or Pasig City.

For kabayan who’ve arrived in their adopted lands early in life with parents, it might not be such an issue, but for migrants like me who’ve spent half their lives back home, the dilemma is quite real.  You shed the skin of a previous complacent life and jump into a totally unfamiliar new one, all in hopes of something as abstract as a better life overseas for you and family.  In the meantime, part of you will always remain at home.

St Jude Catholic School, where I went to primary and middle school.

St Jude Catholic School, where I went to primary and middle school. It looks a lot better now. 🙂

Part of the reason is that no matter how clean your cut is with your old milieu, there are things you can never truly leave behind.  The barangay you lived in will revisit you regularly in your dreams, the barkada you never stop saying goodbye to (though they themselves will ultimately leave your old haunts as well) will keep coming back, even if each reunion will make you more and more distant from them, and your old loves will keep giving you the familiar aches in your innermost parts especially when you return home.

Every now and then you see a place that reminds of you home, and it’s like opening a floodgate of memories that brings you back.  A block of old houses that resemble the old neighborhood, a corridor of mall stores (they all look similar anyway) that bring you back to your first or second date with a half-forgotten girlfriend, or a dish cooked exactly the same way you tasted it, comfort food that looks, tastes and smells the way it did when you were a teenager.  Sometimes a sliver of memory is all that it takes to bring you back, and you are transported again.  Like it always does every now and then.  So in some ways you are living your everyday life in New York, Vancouver, Sydney or Auckland, but in other, more mysterious ways it is like you never left.  You may find this extra-odd, but for me it’s like living in an MRT station for the purpose of being accessible to places you will frequent, but will never live in permanently.

A call center similar to the one where I used to work.

A call center similar to the one where I used to work. During the shift, it’s crazy-noisy! 😉

Another issue is guilt.  Just as often as not, you aborted a career midstream to bite the bullet and go for a less risky, albeit less paying job overseas.  The well-meaning persistence of relatives, the economic uncertainty and the bright lights of the First World were enough to break the camel’s back and stop you from the (apparent) nonsense of pursuing a middling profession that never seemed to take you over the hump.  Besides, when was family going to receive its rightful priority in the hierarchy of needs fulfillment?  All these questions would be answered decisively by just filing those papers, grab the first letter resembling a job offer and book that flight to the land of dollars, nose jobs and silicone boobs (sorry).

The flip side of course is seeing your colleagues taking the promotions you worked hard for,  receive the recognitions you deserved, knowing that the siblings in Manila are the ones who get to spend all the quality time with the olds, and knowing that those who never left home get to see all your contemporaries any time you want and have a blast any time they want, minus you of course, cuz you’re still toiling in a strange workplace far, far away from home.

In exchange, the air is a little purer, the water’s a little cleaner, you’re able to set aside a little more for your twilight years (which aren’t that far away anymore, hmm?) and maybe, just maybe you can get to finally do that trip you’ve been saving for…

A trip back home, so that you don’t have to divide your heart and mind all the time.

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