At the risk of getting my Filipino card revoked, I will confess that I haven’t eaten rice for weeks now. I can’t remember when I last ate it. It must’ve been before my trip to Edinburgh: I vaguely remember cooking rice for lunch one afternoon. (That I vaguely remember means that I haven’t been eating rice as much as I used to when I was in the Philippines.)
My vegan friends and I used to meet regularly for sleepovers and picnics, but when the pandemic brought the lockdowns, we adjusted to the situation just like everybody else. We created a Signal chat group where we updated each other with random news and new discoveries. These broke the monotony of my life being cooped in my studio, especially during the start when people were barely allowed to come out.
Last Friday, we went out to see Amélie the Musical at the Criterion Theater. My partner chose it because he loves the film a lot: it was one of the movies we watched during the height of the pandemic last year. (We played the movie in sync while on a Google Meet call, which is pretty much how we survived the long-distance relationship.)
It was surreal to get back inside the theater for the first time since COVID started, and seeing the West End bustling with so much life made me miss watching plays and movies in Manila. (Wicked has started showing again, while The Book of Mormon has been bombarding me with reminders that it will resume this November.)
Do you ever think about dying? I mean, genuinely think about not existing anymore: not breathing, living in the past tense forever—a nothing?
Autumn is coming. It’s not here yet, but I can already feel the weather getting colder. The weather here has been generally chilly, but I think it’s because I’m used to the tropical heat in Manila (not to say that I liked Manila weather, but I’ve grown accustomed to the oppressive and humid climate to know how to work around it, such as: never to wear anything colored, unless I wanted sweat spots all over my shirt.
That reminds me of this one time in Singapore on my way to a meeting when I messed up with Google Maps’s directions, and I was left dripping in my own sweat—but I’ll save that for another story.)
“A good place to retire,” my fiancé said that afternoon as he pointed at a “For Lease” sign on one of the charming whitewashed houses here in Perast, a small village facing the Bay of Kotor, in Montenegro.
Although we were decades away from quitting our jobs, I imagined living in this town: half-naked under the sun, lazily reading by the lake, the crystal waters stretching for miles that made you believe it was the sea.
It was appealing, I thought, the idea of a never-ending vacation—but I also told myself that was probably because I still found all of this new and wonderful after being cooped up for months inside my studio in Makati.
“Yes,” I said, “But what will we eat?”
On my second day in gloomy London, I found myself making my version of adobo. I threw the thinly-chopped garlic in the pan of cubed tofu, adding the bay leaves after and letting the ingredients simmer in cider vinegar (it was either that or the balsamic in the pantry—I would’ve preferred cane vinegar, but that meant a trip to the Asian store in Stratford, a few kilometers away.)
If there was any doubt that there was a Filipino inside this house, that doubt would’ve been certainly overpowered by the strong smell that had enveloped the whole kitchen and now started to waft outside.
But is my vegan adobo truly adobo? Maybe not for the Philippine government, who has proposed to standardize the dish for international taste. It was a move that was unsurprisingly met with much chagrin. Why are we after all mandating that only one adobo recipe is valid?
Once in a while, I would remember this painting I saw at the Rijksmuseum during my trip to Amsterdam in 2019.
There’s nothing remarkable about this painting. By that I mean, it hasn’t achieved the same level of fame as Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” or Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring”. You could argue that the painter, Jan Adam Krusemann, was somewhat popular for his portraits, but in the pantheon of artists, he doesn’t have that name recall as Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens, Frida Kahlo, or Artemisia Gentileschi. And when you Google the subject, Alida Christina Assink, you would barely find any information about her.
That drab October afternoon though, I listened to the audio guide as I stared at the portrait of Alida’s face intently, longer than at any other artwork inside that museum.
“And if it is love, it is a curiously inefficient force, urge and halt, both at the same time. I want, but nothing I can propose would satisfy this wanting. I can’t say what it is I want, not anything much…Simply I want. Earnestly, most hurriedly, wretchedly want.”– “At Swim, Two Boys”, Jamie O’Neill
I’m typing this at a food court in Dubai Airport Terminal 3 while waiting for my flight to Clark. There’s a three-hour layover and I’m eating the vegan falafel sandwich my boyfriend lovingly prepared before I left the UK, which he handed to me just as he was sending me off in Heathrow.
It’s midnight, I’ve almost finished the sandwich, and I’m still hungry, but I’m not sure if the eggplant tofu dish being served at the Panda Express behind me is even vegan. So this will have to do (not that I’m settling in any sense—it is delicious falafel.)
After one and a half months staying in London, I’m now trying to figure out what I feel about going back to Manila.
I love the Philippines, no doubt about it, and I’ve often said that I couldn’t imagine myself living elsewhere. But relationships have a way of making people reconsider things, such as—what exactly should we give up for the people we love?
I’ve been thinking about the end of this year and I imagine curtains closing—the velvet drapes sweeping to meet in the middle as it hides away the stage. But instead of the end of a play, it is the turn of the magician’s trick—the second act following the pledge, when the magician makes a promise. As the lights dim and the audience holds its breath, the magician prepares the next act, this third and final act, the reveal that upturns the spectators’ assumptions.
What the trick is, I don’t know. We started 2020 hoping that we will have a better year, the bookend to a decade that was in many ways crazy and exciting and sad: the rise of social media platforms such as Instagram and Tiktok (which was—perhaps—the death knell for bloggers-as-opinion leaders, to be replaced by social media influencers); the explosion of the #MeToo movement and “Black Lives Matter”, putting front and center social inequalities, except unlike before when we only had mainstream media to spotlight these issues, now everyone who had a mobile phone could easily pitch in the conversation; the age of disinformation ushered by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which also leads us to ask: are we actually free, or are we just biological switchboards that can easily be manipulated by pushing a few buttons here and there?