I'll be home for Christ­mas

Sun.Star Baguio - - Opinion -

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.

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