I'll be home for Christmas
IT MAY be January now, but the Christmas sentiment still has not faded. Here in the Phil ippines, we used to have what was called the “World's Longest Christmas” – meaning that our holiday season would begin September 1 and last all the way up to January 31. The serious Catholics among us would remember without fail that on the sixth of this month falls the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings' Day, and I've been told that this used to be an excuse for people not yet weary with recent festivities to get together for one more hurrah. And then February rolls up with Chinese New Year and then Valentine's Day. But year after year, I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that Philippine Christmases get shorter and shorter, quieter and quieter, because economic concerns have gained enough momentum to overshadow our world-famous festive spirit.
“You Filipinos are a really strange people,” said my new expat friend over beer and French fries last Sunday. “You like to fill up your calendar with all these celebrations and other reasons to take days off.”
“This is our country, for better or for worse,” I replied as I took a swig of beer. “All you need is the slightest excuse for people to get together for eating, drinking, and making merry. Well, those are already good reasons in and of themselves, but people here just need that one little nudge to push them to go all the way, you know what I'm saying?”
Come to think of it, perhaps people here would not even think of taking days off and celebrating in good conscience if they weren't given permission to do so. Two kinds of people I can think of are college students who are always anxious to get good grades and not miss a single day of class, and young professionals who put up with the hurly-burly of the working life so that they can take it easy later in life.
To illustrate, I would like to introduce two of my dearest friends. Tatiana and Ryan, please stand up and be recognized by the good readers of SunStar CDO.
Tatiana's from Bukidnon, and she used to attend senior high here in Cagayan de Oro before matriculating at the Ateneo de Manila University as a freshman communication major. If you're familiar with the concept of “magis” thanks to our very own Xavier University, it must be said that in Ateneo de Manila that drive to push yourself to accomplish more and more is, well, more intense. Cagayan de Oro magis is like San Miguel Apple, while Manila magis is like Red Horse Beer. Or as Dean Martin would sing, “Ain't that a kick in the head!”
College life over there isn't easy, so imagine how much more difficult that would be if you're not from there and feel homesick every now and then in spite of everything. “I guess because aside from adjusting to college life, I had to overcome the culture shock. Manila has an entirely different culture. Sometimes it feels like you’re the only person wired the way you are, like everyone would never understand you,” Tatiana says.
It would be a great relief to get to come home every once in a while, then. But then again, there are others like her who are desperate to make the same trip home to be with family and old friends again, so I can only imagine all the hassle it must take to book a trip home before the airline and ferry companies run out of slots, making the long and arduous trip to the airport or the pier, having to wait in line with people just as irritated as you if not more, and then finally catching some shuteye while sitting or lying down in barely tolerable conditions.
Imagine the relief you would feel once you reach home!
As for Ryan, I have been chatting with him on and off, and while he hasn't told me everything about his situation, I know enough to understand and make some pretty safe assumptions. You see, Ryan's been working in Singapore as a tech professional for the longest time now, and over there he and his wife call home a rented house he shares with other yuppies from the Philippines. While we all know that Singapore is one big machine that's very clean and very efficient, it's not the best place for homesick and overworked people to spend Christmas even with all its bright lights, clean streets, and colorful shops hawking merchandise you could not get even in the trendiest shopping districts of Manila and Cebu.
While Tatiana did make it home in time to spend Christmas Eve with her loved ones, Ryan didn't make it home in time for Christmas. Since he didn't tell me, I suspect it had something to do with work: while I'm not at liberty to say what line of work he's in, I know that the nature of his work requires a lot of concentration and presence, so much so that he had to take it home with him last Christmas. I saw all the real-time graphs on his laptop monitor, as well as all the stacks of paper he had to keep lugging with him even as we went around the city to say hi to friends and to stop by for some beer every now and then.
And even though he says he does not mind because he is used to it by now, I still find it sad that this time of year every year, he and his wife couldn't come home together. Either he goes first, or she follows after he flies back to Singapore, or the other way around. It's only rarely that one of them catches up with the other just in time to spend a day or two together here in their hometown before work calls them back to the Lion City yet again.
Even though I have been stuck here in this city for the longest time, thinking about Tatiana and Ryan and how they must have been feeling makes me more grateful to be stranded here in the city I was born and raised.