Naglakbay nAPO ako
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated December 27, 2009 12:00 AM
The year 2009 has been a long one, especially if you live in the Philippines. It feels like an exceptionally long one because of the many things – both good and bad — that have transpired. To enumerate a few events quickly, this was the year of the ZTE, Jocjoc Bolante scandals, the death of Cory Aquino, the rise of her son Noynoy, the deadly Ondoy and Pepeng typhoons, Manny Pacquiao’s spectacular fights, Efren Penaflorida’s glorious win, rising election fever, the Ampatuan carnage, and the eruption of Mayon Volcano. Quite a plateful.
While we all went through these events collectively, I am not about to go back to them. Instead, I want to leave them with some finality. In place of a retrospective look at 2009, I prefer to review another series of events, that I experienced in the past 12 months — my sojourns abroad and my thoughts about Filipinos as a world-traveling people.
This has been quite a traveling year for me. The APO had a short concert tour in the United States and Canada. We did five concerts in five cities in one month. I went back and forth to Sydney from Manila about four or five times in between work. I also went to Korea and Bangkok for writing assignments, and around the Philippines to do more shows.
At age 58, I find that travel is beginning to lose its attraction in the sense that it has become physically tiring. I used to love the frenzied craziness of a tour schedule. The idea of being in a new town, a new hotel room, a new concert venue every few days would get my adrenalin going. While I can still do it, I prefer a slower pace. Instead of collecting postcards, souvenirs and cramming experiences in tight memory banks, I want a less stressful pace with time to smell the flowers, so to speak.
When I was a young man in my 20s, my greatest wish was to see the world. Perhaps the sheer act of wishing it as often as I was awake made travel happen for me in great abundance. The Universe must have heard my desire and deemed it worthy to grant my wishes. I have crisscrossed many parts of the world, seen many wondrous things, and met many, many people.
Travel is one of those ingredients in my life that has opened me up intellectually, philosophically, even artistically, and pretty much shaped a big part of what I am today. The world is a big place and when one meanders in it, one can grow exponentially. I often return from travels writing a lot of songs, or just glorying in some kind of growth spurt.
I have often wondered what it was like for people like Rizal, Lopez Jaena, the Luna brothers and other expatriates who experienced a pre-jet age Europe that was not yet familiar with Asians, much less Filipinos. The Europeans must have found their height, complexion and accents strange, quaint and perhaps funny. Maybe, some even found them charming. The romantic exploits of the Pinoy ilustrados in Europe, as told by our historians, suggest a lot of success in cross-cultural love and sex. Those encounters must have been quite an experience for our young countrymen then.
I don’t know if anyone has written an in-depth analysis of how Filipinos have reacted to migration all these years. In my limited observation, Filipinos generally react two ways to travel and migrating. One is to completely absorb and be absorbed by the experiences, sometimes enough to lose and even consciously obliterate much of their Filipino-ness in their attempt to assimilate to the new culture. The other way is to absorb, learn, objectify and get the best of what a foreign sojourn presents and integrate what they learn with their being Filipino.
In the case of the some of our 19th-century Pinoy expats, the physical, psychological and cultural differences they encountered must have challenged and even strengthened their own identity as Filipinos then. It is amazing that while Rizal learned practically all the science, art and general knowledge he knew through a foreign language and its attendant cultural prism, he never lost his love for his homeland. In fact, he often thought of the Philippines, and while he heavily criticized it in his books, he showed a love and compassion for the suffering it was going through, and a belief in its promise.
During my last trips the past few years, I met many Filipinos who left home many years ago but now, in their advancing age are pining for life back home. These were the same people who were dynamic angry young men and women who left for greener pastures because they were disillusioned with their country. They were not about to waste their lives in a place that could not bankroll their dreams then or give them a chance to have a good future.
But now, even as some of them have attained material and professional success in foreign lands, they are toying with the idea of leaving everything again and going back home. They are genuinely curious about what is happening in the Philippines and welcome every random hopeful sign that they see in the hope perhaps that things are getting better, or at least enough to make a decision to return home a viable one.
Is it age that is making them do this? Has the excitement of constantly adjusting to a new culture finally tired them out? Or is it because one realizes sooner or later that no one can completely leave home no matter how hard one has tried?
The yen to travel and experience the unknown has always been a human yearning. The grass has always appeared greener on the other side. The rest of the world outside one’s hometown has always been too attractive not to explore and maybe even plant oneself in.
I am a migrant to Australia. Among my family, though, I have stayed away from Oz the longest and have lived here in Manila more than Sydney since we left. I am still psychologically and emotionally tethered to the Philippines, and held spellbound by the unraveling of its national life. Perhaps I always will be.
I must admit there is something to love in both places. Both have a feeling of home for me. Maybe it’s because I just have the ability to be present wherever I am. With every wind blown in my direction, every pothole, every smiling face, cheery laughter and every tacky billboard, Manila speaks to me, and tells me its many stories. Sydney does the same albeit in a different accent. There are many things we Filipinos can teach Sydneysiders about our love for life and our “chaos,” just as there are many things we can learn from them about order, greater egalitarianism and civics.
I once wondered whether our karmic destiny as a people was to be foreigners owing to the number of people leaving for other shores. And yet, the more we become “other people,” the more we learn about who we are. James Joyce (who wrote and lived much of his life far from his native Dublin) once wrote, “Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.”
I remember the smell of pakbet wafting in the air in a small restaurant in California in the ‘80s. I thought then that this was proof that we can make any place home. But Henry Miller also said that, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
With all this traveling Filipinos are doing, something in us as a people is changing us and I am betting that, in the end, it will be good.