This serious business of being alone
Today starts my second week in Bangkok, Thailand. Here, I feel like I’m just in Manila (cleaner version) so homesickness has no place in my mind, not even in my dreams. The Thais look like Filipinos, and I was always mistaken as a Thai. I’ve met solo backpackers from Korea and the Netherlands–young ladies who weren’t restrained by differences in language and ways of doing things. The Korean student is one to be admired for she speaks very little English (I was weaving her one or two words into sentences, then she’d laugh and say yes! yes!)–and yet she’s brave enough to travel alone to Thailand then to Hanoi, Vietnam. She reminds me of the anecdote that my relatives would always tell me during reunions:
I was three. My aunts, having nothing else to do I suppose, taunted me, telling me they don’t want me anymore in Mindoro where I was on vacation, and that I should go away. They said they took out my bags from their house and brought me near the road, the national highway. The funny part of their story is, according to them, I didn’t cry nor protest; I just took my bags and waited for vehicles by the road and hailed them (in response to their, pumara ka na ng bus! [go hail a bus]). I couldn’t remember this anymore, but, I found my 3-year old self weird.
Then there was the first real time I went on a long solo trip to a far place. I was in college, a teenager, and didn’t want to go home for the Christmas break because my father hadn’t allowed me to attend a national youth conference sponsored by the leading newspaper in Manila. The only way for you to get into that event is by writing a short essay, and I got in. At the University, I packed my bags, charged my cellphone, secured my ATM card (got money from an aunt) and rode a bus in Cubao going to the northern province of Isabela, where my roommate in the dormitory lives. Before the bus left, my cellphone ran out of battery, but it was a good thing that I texted my roommate to pick me up at the bus terminal early in the morning. Everybody seemed to be in Cubao that time, and almost everyone was carrying tons of bags to be brought home to their provinces for the long break. I seemed to be the only one carrying a school bag.
The freezing bus travel from Manila to Isabela took about ten hours, and since it was holiday, I was a chance passenger sitting on the auxilliary seat beside the driver. One unforgettable experience during the night trip was when a motorcycle rider in Tarlac hurled a rock towards the windshield. I froze. If you were standing in front of our bus, the spiderweb-crack falls right on my face. So for the rest of the ride, I was wide awake, chilling, hugging my backpack. I remained still especially when we were passing by Nueva Vizcaya’s slopes and cliffs in the dead of the night. I was praying that manong driver wouldn’t fall asleep because one single mistake and down to the rock bottom abyss we meet our deaths.
My roommate didn’t tell her family that I ran away. It was the first time (and so far, the only time) I didn’t spend Christmas with my family, and I felt both disconnected and happy about this new-found freedom that I declared upon myself.
After Christmas, I received cash gifts from my roommates’ parents, so after a week of staying there, I travelled back to Manila, slept over at a friend’s house in Quezon City, rode a bus to Batangas port, then a ship (more like a ferry boat) to Mindoro, to my relatives’ place. After several days of staying there, I felt changed. I couldn’t be bothered by trivial things anymore, thought my haughty self; I wanted to take a chance on everything, free-spirited part of me thought. It’s true that you don’t come back from a far place as the same person, especially if getting there (and back) was not easy. Perhaps one’s open-mindedness becomes as vast as the distance one has covered especially after witnessing how different people style their short, monotonous life.
After that, taking risks became my pasttime, and one of those is my solitary trips.
Sometimes I imagine flakes of ugly thoughts scraping off my mind whenever I walk or travel, just as how millions of dead skin cells fall off our skin when walking. And when done alone, traveling or walking could be at its best because you can gauge your strengths and weaknesses without both the restrictions and aid of others. Defamiliarization of oneself can perhaps cure bad habits, encourage self-forgiveness, and inspire self-improvement.
This serious business of being alone–it could’ve started when I was a three-year old who must’ve thought that it’s the most logical thing to do when roads are just a few steps away and the world is calling.
Siam, Bangkok, Thailand (Summer 2012)