A Filipino from Saudi Arabia meets a mensch from Boston.

Dreaming in Filipino

The jeepney

Jeepneys, our most popular form of public transportation, were made from U.S. jeeps after WWII.

My parents own a condo in a gated community with an amoeba-shaped pool, but they rent it out now. They moved back to what we tongue-in-cheek call the ancestral home in Fort Bonifacio,  a town formerly known as Fort McKinley. My late grandfather, a soldier, built a house on the former American army base back in the late ‘50’s. This area rarely, if ever, floods. The American army chose this location because from this high ground, they could look out on the rest of Makati. Now, it’s a depressed town that is right next door to the appropriately named Forbes Park and ritzy Global City. It’s not the most photogenic of places and, in fact, I have not yet taken J. to it. The last time we were in the Philippines together, it was relatively early in our relationship and, to put it frankly, I wasn’t ready.

I hear my father’s voice. Papa? I look at the clock. It is almost five. My sisters and mother are still asleep. I feel like a little girl again, back when I would wake my father at six in the morning so we could go the Surf House in Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia, for waffles.

I’m outside, he says. K., there’s a lot here for you to write about. Even though I am a teacher, he takes my writing seriously and asks often whether I make time for it. I sit outside with him on the swing  that has been around since my uncles were in college. The swing has a gash in the middle and the back of my leg catches on it.

Two young boys pushing a wagon of glass jars and bottles walk by and ask if we have any botes. They will take them to a recycling plant for money. Then a man, who looks as if he is about my age, cycles past us in a pedicab in which he balances a box of fish. It’s all fresh, he tells my father.

Maybe tomorrow, my father says. I don’t think we’re having fish today. It is not even six in the morning and I have seen more than a dozen street vendors. There is a chill in the air.

Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila

Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila

For years, a woman named U. would call out to my dad. Kamusta? Ang laki na ng anak mo. How are you? Your children have grown up so much. She would always ask me if I recognized her, but of course I do. Every morning, she would play ABBA and Chicago’s Greatest Hits, which I later learned were the only cassette tapes she owned. When I was a child, I used to buy “plastic balloons” from her. (Banned in the US, it was discovered that this gook children put in their mouths was made of rubber cement.) I know her voice well. It is as much a part of the landscape as the laundry she hangs every other day.

She passed away this summer and I attended her wake. Her grandchildren offered me Boy Bawang and popsicles, while a cat pressed itself against my leg. After 34 years of knowing her, I learned only a few months ago what her real name was. Claudia. For a week, from the second floor of my home, I would watch as friends and family played Bingo and Poker in front of her home, the Philippine version of a wake. Even when it rained, they stayed. I was sad when the noise below stopped.

I used to hate the noise. I used to hate our annual vacations in the Philippines. I’d dot my legs with Calamine lotion and complain about how it was so much better in Saudi Arabia where there were no mosquitoes and everyone understood my English. The only bright lights of those month-long vacations were the friends we made: the siblings whose names all began with an R., L. who is now a transgender queen, and the sweet boy named A. who is the same age as my younger sister L. and who, at eight years old, had a scotch-on-the-rocks voice.

My ate (pronounced “Ah-teh,” it means “older woman/sister”) R., only four years older than me, died this summer from complications giving birth to her twins. I  loved her, how she cross-stitched designs into my tee-shirts and played Hopscotch with me, even though it must have bored her. At her funeral, I shook with grief, watching as my childhood playmate was gently lowered into the ground.



Those days of boredom in Fort Bonifacio and the Philippines feel so far away now. There are many days and many more nights when I ache for the Philippines. It’s the ache of an old song on the radio; the mistake of confusing a stranger’s laugh for someone you once knew; the melancholy of packing a suitcase to leave; and the pain of the “Departure” sign at the airport.  I feel it most acutely during an embrace, the brief limbo between contact and release.   It’s yearning that anticipates absence.  Basho writes, Even in Kyoto, when I hear the cuckoo cry, I long for Kyoto. Nostalgia in its most potent form, it’s missing a landscape while you’re still with it. After a while, you get used to always carrying that amorphous ache inside you. But it fades for a little bit when you return.

I understand why my parents chose to return to my father’s childhood home, instead of staying at their cushy condo with the koi fish in an artificial pond. Fort Bonifacio has a pulse. It is his lifeblood. The houses so close together, the streets I find claustrophobic, he is comfortable in this world. Carol Shields writes in “Dressing Up for the Carnival,” To live frictionlessly in this world is to understand the real grief of empty space. In Fort Bonifacio, everything rubs against each other: the buildings, the people standing in the open-air market, the commuters sitting skin to skin in the jeeps, the cars stuck in traffic, families who don’t like each other, but cannot stay away, fathers, mothers and daughters in the same room, pasts, presents and futures colliding and melting into each other. It is a kind of contact and pressure that I think exists only in places where people are constantly aware of loss. I become acutely aware of evanescence when I am here. Buildings. Bodies. People. Time. Here I remember they all disappear but I must love them still. My father understands this well, but he does not know he knows.




I haven’t stopped thinking about the Visayas, the Philippines, this entire weekend. Typhoon Haiyan is the most powerful typhoon to make landfall and, just this morning, I read that there was another earthquake. My family lives in Metro Manila, Luzon, which was unaffected by the typhoon, but I cannot look through photos and scan my Facebook mini-feeds without feeling nauseated. These are my countrymen and I love them. I’ve known since I was a young child that the Philippines is in the Ring of Fire with its volcanoes, earthquakes, typhoons, floods. I think about this every day when I am in the States but the moment I land in the Philippines, whatever anxiety I had is replaced by an intense, stupidly giddy joy.

From the plane, I can see the rice paddies and the shimmer of Manila’s lights. On the ground, there is always music. On-key karaoke. Bawdy jokes. Melodic prayer. Laughter full, so full.

It is so heartbreakingly beautiful that it is easy to forget how much pain trembles just beneath the surface .

 ** To help Typhoon Haiyan survivors, please click here for more information. 

Tagged as:

Categorised in: Parents, Saudi Arabia, Sisters, the Philippines, Typhoon Haiyan, WPrightnow

112 Responses »

  1. Thank you for writing this.

  2. What a wonderful blog. I hope this helps you reach your goal of getting people to contribution to this cause!

  3. Reblogged this on GogobismackBlog.

  4. beautiful memories and a sadness well expressed

  5. Reblogged this on A late Blooming Artist's Blog and commented:
    A beautifully written piece to share.

  6. I don’t know what to say really; I could cry reading this. It was beautiful to read.

  7. This was beautifully written. You are very talented.

  8. Beautiful. Thank you for writing this. God bless!

  9. Philippines most beautiful country in the world! The people of the Philippines have to keep it that way!

  10. What a beautifully written post. I’ve never been to the PI yet, but your description in your post helped me see what it’s like over there, full of life, prayer, family, and love. =)

    • You should visit the Philippines! I haven’t seen much of it myself, but I’ve always enjoyed the energy of Manila, a kind of bursting-at-the-seams delight. Thanks for reading it!

  11. OHH YES, Life is indeed beautiful we just have to find ways to enjoy no matter what regardless of where we are

  12. Thank you, all, for reading it, and I hope you visit the Philippines some day.

  13. Great post and wonderful images. Thanks for sharing and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  14. Very powerful indeed. My family immigrated from the Philippines back in the 60s but we have distant relatives living near Manila–my heart still feels a helplessness.

  15. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Well deserved for this post!

  16. I am a Filipino at heart. I love a nation whose ego took a hit many times but these people are strong, full of life and take little for granted. I worry about my friends there but I do know, that my real friends love me too.
    My heart is there and will always be.

  17. A wonderfully written, flowing, bursting with emotion piece about what the Philippines means to the author. Please read and enjoy.

  18. My family’s in Metro Manila as well. Been a few years since I went home, and it’s not just the food and jeepneys I miss but the whole “we’ll get through this” culture that pervades the country. Thanks for writing this!

    • Yeah, I admire the Philippines’ grit and generosity, too. I return for about 10 weeks every summer and I’m blown away by both every time. Salamat for reading it!

  19. What a tenderly written piece that brings to life a place that is clearly a part of your heart.

  20. Your writing is so achingly beautiful. Thank you. I was just remembering those ‘plastic balloons’ and goodness, I never knew they were rubber cement till now!

  21. What a beautiful post!

  22. Awesome jeep! I know where to ride one. Guadalupe going to Market! Market! :-)

  23. dreaming in kenya !lol! if dreams were real, people dreaming being eaten by zombies would me know more, fake millionaires would be everywhere, the world would be over and more people would burn in hell fire as oppossed to thos rejoicing in heavenly glory.


  24. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. You describe the Philippines so beautifully. Your blog bridges some of my worlds – we’ve lived in the Philippines for most of the past 30 years, and my sister moved to Saudi this past August.

    • Salamat! Ask your sister about “broasted chicken” and their garlic sauce. I’m still looking for garlic aioli that tastes as good as fast-food garlic sauce.

  25. Reblogged this on FashioN HuB SpotS and commented:
    It’s very heart warming! Thanks! :)

  26. I cried while I was reading this. I feel the same way. Although I live in the Philippines, just this weekend I went home to my province in Pangasinan and I realized how much I missed it after 2 months of not visiting it. It felt years.

  27. Reblogged this on Passion & Perseverance and commented:
    Really spoke to me

  28. I enjoyed reading your beautifully written story. My brother and sister-in-law live in Makati City, and have made the Philippines their home, so this country and people hold a special place in my heart. I have made one trip and loved seeing pictures and hear of your memories of places I have seen. I plan to return in May and will continue working with a medical team that I have met there. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • That’s so lovely that your brother and sister-in-law made Makati City their home. I love Makati. I (embarrassingly) don’t spend much time outside Makati when I’m home, though being with J. makes me more curious about venturing to other parts of the Philippines. Thanks for helping out in May. I hope you enjoy your trip.

  29. heart warming post. congrats po ate on being freshly pressed. =)

  30. Reblogged this on The Inner Monologues of the Struggle and commented:
    A beautiful snapshot of Filipino Culture and how loss promotes a sense of community.

  31. This is beautiful. It makes me remember growing up in the provinces of Luzon. My cousins and I would play taguan as the sun set and one of us would always end up running home scared. I miss running barefoot in the dirt.

    • Thank you. Some of my favorite memories include playing until the sunset, after which my mom/aunt/older cousin/yaya would rub our arms with a facecloth and say, “Ah, libag!”

  32. it was a pleasant read, thank you for sharing a part of who you are with us … a poignant slice of being Pinoy at heart, maraming salamat po — April

  33. This was seriously beautiful! Thanks!

  34. Going to Manila Monday for work. This is my second time and I’m excited to visit with my team and go to the beach. I’m quickly falling in love with the Philippines.

  35. Reblogged this on wearashirt and commented:
    A Gabriel Garcia Marquez-ish blog about the Philippines.

  36. Maganda at mahusay. This should get on Rappler too!

  37. We can’t deny that we Filipinos, despite of having good qualities.. we also have our negative attributes. But, after reading this.. you made me proud to say I am Filipino. Thank you for writing this. :)

  38. Reblogged this on Spherilion's Domain and commented:
    You are not alone. Philippines.

  39. I really enjoyed reading your blog and I think the quotes were well chosen :)

  40. This is one place I want to visit soon. I have a lot of Pinoy friends here, but I want to see the place, the beaches and the wonderful people.

  41. Reblogged this on Floyd, Times Are Changin and commented:
    My heart goes out to you all. God bless you and us!

  42. Reblogged this on Foriegn Land and commented:

  43. I love this post about the Philippines.
    I have two Pinoy blogs you might want to check out – http://pinoysoftheworld.wordpress.com and http://heroesofyolanda.wordpress.com

  44. Reblogged this on MikeSight and commented:
    My car

  45. I am talking to my Filipino g/f right now.. looking amazing as always.

  46. Beautiful piece. I live overseas off and on but what keeps me coming back are the beautiful sunsets (I have several posts about them), our natural surroundings, the rural way of life and the ability to find humour in whatever circumstance we are in.

    I’m curious how your parents think now of the rapid change around Fort Bonifacio.

    • I’ll ask them. For my part, I enjoy most of the recent developments, though the new mall Aurea is a superfluous eyesore. That said, however, it frustrates me that there doesn’t seem to be any change in the lives of the poor. I’m thrilled that college grads can find employment at, say, call centers (not great but better than unemployment) but those without the connections or the education are in stasis.

  47. This article is so good, I like this blog, Thank you very much for sharing

  48. I miss the place, I save just to come home more often.

  49. Reblogged this on HereComesLaPinay and commented:
    This hit me


  1. Dreaming in Filipino | Floyd, Times Are Changin
  2. What The Voice – Kids Taught Me About Becoming Filipino | Kosher Adobo
  3. Why I Write | Kosher Adobo

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