Displacement Theory

A puzzled dog inside Oma, a restaurant in Brussels where I ate one of the best vegan buffets I’ve had in my life

Lately I’ve been feeling a sense of displacement. It usually strikes me every time I come back from a long trip, as if I’m straddling between two worlds, one that is familiar and one where I am invisible, where I only exist as a random face, a stranger.

I know that home is a wonderful place to be in. I honestly don’t have the right to be dissatisfied. I enjoy a lot of things here that many people don’t. I don’t mean to say that with a smug sense of satisfaction, but to acknowledge that I’m lucky. (Maybe to say one is lucky repeatedly can be some way of humble-bragging as well, but…shrugs.)

Whenever I feel like grumbling about certain things in life I try to put things into perspective: I get to enjoy good food, I have a decent home right in the middle of the city, I have awesome people around me who love me. My work is both challenging and satisfying.

Had I been in “The Fault in Our Stars”, Augustus Waters would probably tell me: “It’s a good life, Evan.” Of course in the actual story he was pertaining to his life, rather than Hazel Grace’s. But that’s really beside the point.

(Anyway: yes, I saw the movie again recently on the Cathay Pacific flight from Amsterdam to Hong Kong, because I’m cheesy like that and I wanted to see which locations in Amsterdam they shot at. I also couldn’t remember if they were able to go up the attic at the Anne Frank House, which the re-watching confirmed–yes, they were able to go up. It was already shut to the public when we went, sadly.

Speaking of films I saw during the 10-hour flight, I also caught “Comrades: Almost a Love Story”, starring Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai. I was looking for a Wong-Kar Wai film when the movie caught my eye, and it was interesting how the Mainlanders were depicted in the movie as being aware that the more sophisticated people in Hong Kong looked down upon them–considering that a lot of people here feel the same way about the sudden deluge of Chinese workers in Manila.

I dove right after into “Werk Ohne Autor”, a beautiful film nominated at the Venice International Film Festival. At first I hesitated since it was a three-hour long movie, but the story about the protagonist Kurt Barnert finding his artistic voice around wartime Germany was engrossing. After two weeks of museum-hopping and looking through various eras in art history–which I survived without foaming in the mouth because of Stendhal Syndrome, I thought that watching a movie about art was the perfect culmination to this trip.

But I digress.)

When you get stuck in something—even when it’s something good—long enough, you eventually start craving for something different. It’s human nature to constantly seek what’s new. We get bored easily. No wonder people in “developed” countries (I find the word “developed” contentious because it often is focused on consumption and production rather than sustainability and well-being, but that’s another discussion altogether) experience an existential crisis–and very often look into “less developed” countries for meaning.

(That is also problematic because it often leads to the romanticization of poverty by these people–and the assumption that just because people appear happy, they generally do not deserve the basic necessities that any dignified person should have.)

Earlier, while in a meeting, I smelled bread being baked in the coffee shop we were in, and I imagined myself in Amsterdam again, walking the streets around Jordaan. Why does Europe smell of bread and coffee, anyway? Do people think the Philippines smells like suka and bagoong?

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