Tag Archives: adulthood

Finding The Bright Side to My Four Hour Commute

Commuting to New York is the bane of my existence, as I imagine it would be for anyone who similarly suffers the mind-numbing isolation of sitting pretty on a train for hours at a time. My twice daily trek between the Jersey Shore & Manhattan is an arduous one; I spend nearly four hours getting to and from New York. When you add it all up, that’s 22.5 hours per week, 90 hours per month, and 1,080 hours per year. As much as I cherish my proximity to the sea, commuting from where I live is not a breeze.

My commute is an earthly hell that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Yet despite the cold resentment it’s brewed in me, it can be a slight meditative experience at times. At times, we pass through layers of leaves which rapidly blur into a woodland menagerie. Walls of green encapsulate us in a vision streaming forth. Trees and vines enshroud the shores that lead to the sea and alluring possibilities of escape. In some moments, phones are put down while curious eyes peer out to the horizon, longing for freedom from the stationary. In the morning, sunlight touches our skin and kisses our eyelids— a teasable return to consciousness. In the evening, dreamlike sunsets tell me I’ll be home soon.

The way we rush past scenery in nature whilst on a train mirrors the way our commute forces us to rush past the scenery in our natural lives. At home with family and friends. But beneath our grievances is a slightly soothing truth: I’m not the only one who sacrifices precious time and money to travel day in, day out. It’s calming to know that I share my commute with others.

Our collective nature to commiserate is in some ways a blessing. When I step onto the train early in the morning and see rough and familiar faces, my aching body exhales a sigh of relief that I’m not alone. It’s more than a gesture of coffee and pastries. Something in the morning air unites our consciousness, allowing sparkles of comfort to proliferate our daily travels.

Though no one speaks, I’ve grown somewhat attached to my company. I wonder what everyone does for a living, how long they’ve been commuting for, and if they ever think about me. When I notice someone is missing in the morning or heading home, I wonder what might have happened. Perhaps they missed their train, or were working late. Or maybe they quit their job or got a new one. Better yet, perhaps they saved enough money or received a promotion that allowed them to move closer to their work.

By the end of the day, it’s painful knowing we share more time with each other riding a train than we do with our loved ones. It’s unfathomable that some people have been doing this for years. But there’s still something delicate about sharing an experience that requires us to relinquish much control of our lives. For as long as I must bare NJ transit, I’m thankful for the people who make the trek just a bit more comfortable.

Featured image by Jörg Schubert.

The Only Place For Me

I haven’t unpacked my things and I almost don’t want to. At least not yet. My clothes still carry the smell of the room we stayed in in my lola’s (grandmother’s) home. I know my memories will fade, as certainly as I know, the smell of my clothes will one day fade until next time. The truth is, I don’t want to be away from them. We say goodbye, we think see you later, then they’re on my Facebook timeline and in the back of my mind until one day out of the unpredictable blue my mom asks me if I want to go the Philippines. Could my answer ever be “No”? I wish we could go every year. My heart goes out to immigrants everywhere that wish to be with their families but cannot for whatever reason.

Smell is the closest sense tied to memory. I hope the day never comes that I would ever forget the smell of the Philippines, the different scents of my home and the air. We returned five days ago and my luggage still houses my clothes and keeps the familiar scents embedded in them and I am lovelorn. My wishes are pearls and my tears are crystals that I drop whilst praying for the safety, health, and happiness of us all. I wish I had dollars- mountains of dollars that I could share with everyone so that we would never worry. And dollars that I would keep so I could always visit. Dollars for the things we really need and some for the things we want. I’m always praying- just like Lola every morning. I don’t know what she prays for, but I hope she says some for me. And I’ll say some for her.

There is no full happiness and appreciation for life and beauty without them. I will always pray for us and I will always fight for all of their love, big or small, smothering or invisible, distant or close, silent or loud. My eyes are tired from all the water that’s poured out. We all make mistakes. Lord forgive me for the ones I’ve made, including not knowing how quickly everything would come and pass. Life was dandy when I was 5. But what was it like for everyone else? The adults in my family and the ones to be. Did they also have a candy view of life? We were all much closer when we were younger. Has the fact that we’re not as close or as young changed the way we feel? Or is this how getting older makes all adults feel, that responsibilities that come with age make life less sweet?

I drag things out to the very end. I don’t unpack. I don’t clean. I pack until the last minute. I hope my future partner will forgive me these things. If something impacts me, I’ll hold onto it and I don’t let myself forget about it. My family is irreplaceable. We’re unforgettable. We’re a force for good. You’ll never forget us. You’ll always remember. The silver stars will twinkle and the dogs will always roam. The hearts that I’m surrounded with will always be my home. With you, I could never be angry, I could never be hurt. My spirit wrapped in your tenderness all the times you washed my shirt. Pink sorbet New Jersey skies are pleasant and bring me to the present. They make me miss where I belong. Memories pure in soft rock songs, bouncing from the radio. I wish we didn’t have to go, that instead I’d say “See you tomorrow.”

The night we arrived in the Philippines I knew it would crush me to say goodbye. Out of all the times I’ve ever visited, this time hit me the hardest. I first visited when I was infant, around age one, then when I was five, when I was 10, when I was 13, 15, 21, and now. That place has got a big piece of my heart. I’m not the best that I could be, but I’m trying to be. You deserve it all and I honestly don’t deserve all the love you’ve given me. But thank you for loving us anyway. You’ve all inspired me to love the same.

Love always,
Me.

Gallivanting The Green Menagerie

Yesterday was probably my favorite day so far here in the Philippines. My mom, and sister and I went with our two cousins from my dad’s side to Danasan Eco Adventure Park in Danao City. It was literally our first time spending time with them and having actual conversations. We’re all in our 20’s and never connected until now because we were always shy when we were younger. Now that we’re more mature, it’s easier to let go of that and simply be real and connect. As I get older, I look to remove old layers of myself and my shyness that have prohibited me from growing and expanding my relationships with people and my place in this world. At times I forget that I am in control of my life. But then I have those periodic moments of soul rejuvenation where I realize I am in control of my destiny and that I have agency over how I want my life to pan out when given opportunities. When I’m at a celebratory family dinner and my relatives are in front of me whom I haven’t spoken to in a while, I realize I have the ability to speak and breathe life into those connections. I have a voice, I have a charm, I have a personality, as well as my family in front of me. We don’t have to stay mum and sit idly as time passes us by. We have a choice to make the most out of each day and every moment.

According to the Danasan Park website, it “boasts of 133 hectares of beautiful outdoors. The Park has three (3) caves, a waterfall with three (3) astounding drops, several fresh water springs, and a man-made lake. It also has a wide range of eco-friendly activities that will surely satisfy one’s thirst for adventure. All Park facilities are fully environment-friendly and were carefully planned so as not to cause any harm to the natural beauty of the environment. The Park leverages on nature’s splendor after all.” The activities offered include zip lining, wake boarding, caving, trekking, rappelling, tyrolean, ATV riding, horseback riding, 8×8 off road trailing, and you can also rent a bike, camp, and swim in their infinity pool. There was also a new activity called the SkyDrop, which was basically a launch swing where you’re hoisted high up in the air. I would have done it, but we didn’t have enough time. We arrived at the park at 1 pm, and had lunch at a cute and slightly fancy eatery within the park. We finished lunch at 2 and since the park closes at 5, we only had time to do the ATV trail and the joint activity of zip lining and horseback riding. It was a wild day of many firsts, including hanging with my cousins! It was my first time riding an ATV and my first time riding horseback! Unfortunately, my guide kept smacking my horse in the face with a branch of leaves, albeit lightly. My horse seemed tired and kept lagging off to the side of the path. I wish I knew how to say “Please stop hitting the horse.” [I think I could have said “Ayaw pak-pak si ya.”]

The ATV was our first activity and definitely the most adventurous. I’ve always wanted to ride one and own one myself, but during my first couple moments of riding it, I was scared I would be thrown off. The path was super rocky and seemingly unsafe, but thank God I never fell. We faced a few metaphoric bumps in the road: my mom initially tried riding with us, but after bumbling to the side only a few meters ahead and being stuck on a rock, she decided not to move forward. At one point, my vehicle uncontrollably veered to the right and I almost crashed into a fully grown albino horse that was eating. It jumped to the side in fear and I thought I would hit and that it would trample me, but I was able to swerve away and back onto the path. We all eventually got a better hang of our vehicles and were able to tear through the edgy terrain in amusement.

Although the park was fun and wonderful, the real adventure was getting there…
From Cebu, there are four ways of getting to Danasan Eco Adventure Park.
1. You can call the park and have them shuttle you directly.
2. You can drive all the way there.
3. Take a bus from the North Terminal to Danao and then walk 25 km to the park.
or 4. Do what we did and once you arrive in Danao, habal-habal, or ride with random dudes on motorbikes and pay them to take you to the park, which is the way most people go that don’t schedule a shuttle.

Riding on a motorcycle was another first. In Israel, many dudes have these cute little moped like bikes, but in the Philippines, we have actual motorbikes that many people buy because they’re cheaper than cars. Once we were in Danao and got off our little van, we walked in the direction of a sign that read “This way to Danasan Eco Adventure Park” and went to a sari-sari store, which is a mini convenient street store that sells packaged goods, foods, and hygiene sachets, owned by many families as a main source of income; you can see hundreds of them in cities here. The woman who owned the store told us that the park was far and that the only way to get there was to “habal-habal” and find guys who would be willing to take us there for a price. Soon enough, a couple guys rode up to us and asked where we were going. “Danasan Park” we said. One of them went off to find a third guy to take us and once they found him, we started to negotiate. It was a very interesting process because it seemed like the men were total strangers who banded together for this job. They said it would be a 2 hour ride to the park, which at first sounded so unthinkable to ride on the back of these bikes for that long, but it was our only option because there is no other transportation to this park. We finally agreed that we would pay 550 pesos per bike for round trip and that the three of them would wait for us at the park until we were finished.

After we did a quick gas fill up with gasoline that amazingly looked like red soda, we were off! I had no idea what to do with my hands when I hopped onto the bike except grab onto his shoulders, because that’s what I always see on screen of people being romantic and in love, but then he motioned for me to put my hands on his waist instead. I was initially scared I would get hit by a car and thrown off the bike because the way people drive in the Philippines looks so reckless and lawless, but there really is a method to it. On a more personal note, my cousin’s father died after crashing into a tree while riding his bike. In a strange way, it felt like all of us riding on the backs of these bikes was a weird step into adulthood and coming to terms with who we were all becoming, especially since we were traveling together.

We traveled winding roads with the island wind blowing in our faces. We ascended and descended upon mountain slopes with the sunlight beaming overhead. My eyes were transfixed upon the picturesque revealed in front of me. I was right in the thickness and glorious beauty of the Philippines. When I turned my head left, I saw elevated fields of green, hillside rice paddies, banana tree farms and young green coconuts crowning palm trees. When I turned my head right, I saw slender trees that stood tall and straight with loose vines that dangled down above the heads of children and delicate wooden bridges drenched with a provocative musk of rustic adventure I so desperately wanted to explore. I wanted to ask my biker to stop so I could walk along and take photos and touch and live inside the scenes I was viewing. The artful tropical landscapes set off fireworks in my mind and left me breathless. I couldn’t believe this was the adventure I was living. From being in the Middle East one year ago, and now returned to my motherland of the Philippines, riding on a mountain on the back of this dude’s bike, holding onto him and passing by the people on the street, life couldn’t be sweeter and I couldn’t have asked for more. My sister sat behind me, my mother rode with my cousin Clifford, and his brother Shane rode alone with his biker. Our biker was the best. He was always first and was certainly the fastest, although he never made it a show to be. He led without trying to lead, and the majority of our ride there and back, we were so far ahead of the others that they weren’t in sight behind us, so we pulled to the side a few times throughout and waited for them and let them pass us until we caught up and led once again.

Along the first quarter of the way, we passed under grey clouds and looked to the rain in the distance. Soon enough, we felt droplets of rain and I imagined we would continue traveling like this: swiftly darting in between the raindrops as the air cooled our skin, our senses delighted in the ever changing atmosphere as I pondered my life and how my cousins felt about our bike ride. But we took cover under a wooden shelter because our bikers sensed greater rains ahead. Then the rain really began to pour and the air cooled down and I was grateful for this shelter and for our bikers and their nuanced senses of travel and the weather. There was a house and sari sari store across the narrow road that housed whom I imagined built this protective space. Residing in the shelter beside us was a slender and playful goat that Micah fed with grass; it kept jumping above the wooden bench and crawling underneath it to come closer. We snacked on syrup encrusted banana chips and spicy chicharon [pork rinds] while we waited and drank water and apple juice wondering when the rain would end. It calmed me to watch the heavy rains pour on the greenery below. The rainfall was so thick, it looked as if massive nets of glimmering water were lashing in the air, pounding the trees and spreading across the fields. For a moment, I was worried that this was what our ultimate hangout with our cousins was going to be, sitting and watching the rain, asking each other questions and exchanging friendly, curious glances with our bikers. But thankfully, rain storms in the Philippines, despite being heavy, are relatively brief, comparable to thunder storms in New Jersey minus the thunder.

Eventually the rain softened and we hopped back onto our wet bikes. We raced through the light rain, as the water pressed against our bodies and into our eyes, momentarily blurring our vision, but never dampening the inescapable air of romance and adventure that soaked into this incredible sensory experience. The rain cleared and the sun was out again with skies of blue as we raced through barangays, or small towns, upwards into the mountains and towards this uniquely remote and isolated park with the weirdest and most unbelievable road leading to it. I felt like a high fashion model beyond the realm of Chanel, working an extremely extended, once in a lifetime, otherworldly photoshoot for Vogue or similarly exclusive ad campaign, proud to model in a stunning location in the Philippines; I wished Mario Testino was there to capture the whole thing. Only those who have habal-habaled to this park know what this was like. I knew once I hopped onto the back of the bike and saw the fields of green, that this was going to be one of the days I always remember. The entire journey was visually and physically stunning, and simultaneously tinged with an extremely personal and intimate layer of what it means to be family. Riding with my cousins on the very cause of their father’s death, truly being with them for the first time, witnessing the irreplaceable land of my roots and the pearls of my heritage, feeling like a world class model, latching onto to the back of a stranger, being physically close as he seamlessly guides us on an enchanting yet obscure road, cutting through rain and mud and mosquitoes flying into my eyes and me blinking them to their deaths, as my eyes lock with the dozens of residents throughout the barangays, wondering about their lives and who they are, them wondering about me and who I am. Yesterday was a blessed adventure I never knew I would have as well as a physical demonstration that life and living is about the journey, not the destination.

Header photo credits: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonicdao/

Good news! I’m STD Free!

Yesterday I faced one of the most nerve-wracking moments one could endure. I received my STD and HIV test results at a local clinic. I tested negative for everything, thank God, and thank you to everyone that sent me love and prayers during that whole process. Every time I find myself in that position of getting checked and being worried, I turn to my friends for support. The last time I was tested was August 2014 and I only had one partner between then and now. Nonetheless, I was still terrified about the possibility of contracting something, HIV in particular. As a member of the gay community, I still have that underlying fear towards AIDS. I’ve noticed that the LGBT community is more pro-active about sexual health and getting tested. Many of my LGBT friends have been tested before. But shockingly, many of my straight friends have never been tested even once. What I want to know is why isn’t there a larger discussion about getting tested? And why aren’t straight people as wholly pro-active?

For weeks on end, I developed an obsessive superstition to the numbers 2 and 11. When you take a rapid HIV finger prick test, if the result shows one line, you are negative for HIV. If the test shows two lines, you are positive for HIV. Thus I became heavily wary of those numbers and any sign of doubling. When I looked at a clock and there was a 2, I would keep looking back at the clock until it was no longer there. Whenever I did my Insanity workout, I wouldn’t look at the screen if I knew there were two seconds left. If the time displayed double digits like 7:44, I looked away as quickly as I could. Looking at the pause button worried me. Ironically, when I stepped into the room where I was tested, the person who tested me noticed an extra chair in the room. “Why do I have two chairs in here?” he wondered. After taking one of them to the side, he said “I have two garbage cans too.” Two, two, two, I thought.

My mind had been plaguing itself since my hookup in December. Underneath everything I was experiencing, Christmas, New Year’s, my birthday, looking back at the semester, re-igniting my love for the Walking Dead and catching up on Glee, my fear of HIV lingered. I never had a completely free moment because underneath it all was this possibility that I had something. Although I was sure my one night stand was protected, not all parts of it were and I could never be sure of my partner’s true status. It gave me comfort to know that he had gotten out of a 6 year relationship (I stalked his Instagram to confirm) and that he was just as paranoid as I was about getting sick– he asked me nearly 6 times if I had anything and I assured him I hadn’t.

Being a gay man, I worry that the idea of HIV will always haunt my sex life; paranoia will never cease weaving in and out of my sexual experiences. HIV/AIDS has become so synonymous with my identity as a gay person, that once I let that fear creep in, once I start getting paranoid about having something, or questioning if the condom remained intact, it permeates throughout my conscious being. No matter how many times my friends tell me that I’m fine and have nothing to worry about, I still submit to the fear produced under the connection between HIV/AIDS and being gay. If I was straight and didn’t have sex with men, I would feel much more confident about not having contracted something. If I was a woman that practiced safe sex, I wouldn’t feel half as fearful as I usually do even though the intercourse I had was protected. I don’t know if gay men are statistically more promiscuous than straight men or women, but I know that as long as a vaccine or cure has not been developed for HIV, it will remain a problem that the gay community will feel uniquely tied to.

I think I have to accept that for the rest of my life, I will always be scared of contracting HIV; that taking an HIV test will never not be a source of anxiety. Being a part of such a sexually charged community only exacerbates the dichotomy of being sexualized and living by flesh and sparkling vanity, and the fact that we are more susceptible than any other population (besides the transgender community) to be infected with HIV. The gay community worships SEX. We worship feeling worshipped. We treasure feeling beautiful. We treasure the beauty of gay sex. But at the same time, we must also treasure our sexual health. We must treasure feeling sexually empowered and sexually responsible. Because of this intense focus on sex, I oftentimes feel alienated from the gay community. On some level, it reflects some part of me, but I also experience contradictory dissonance. I desire to feel desired, but I also revel in the remaining fragments of my innocence– the pieces that make me unique. What I’m hoping for is that no matter how much our society likes to shove sex down our throats, we remember to always play safe.

HIV Does Not Discriminate

Whoever you are reading this, if you are sexually active, you have a responsibility to yourself and to your partners to know your status. Taking the test takes real courage, but if you have been stressing out over getting tested, you owe yourself peace of mind. Plenty of universities have free rapid HIV testing events. Go to them! Bring your friends or your partner(s) and take the test together. I remember when President Obama and his wife got publicly tested for HIV in an effort to reduce the stigma of getting tested. Although we may be afraid of taking the test because we fear the unknown, it’s important to develop support systems among friends to make something as formidable as being tested into an action that promotes love and taking care.

Top photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/london/75148497

Love in the Laundry

There is unconditional love in the folding of clothes. Sometime last week I did laundry in a batch mixed with my own, my mother’s, and my father’s. As I was folding my laundry to my Beyonce soundtrack, I was ready to just return the laundry basket to their room unfolded because they’re clean anyhow and they can fold it themselves. But when I picked up my last piece of clothing from the basket, I realized something quite startling: my mom would have never done that. Whenever she gets her hands on my laundry, she folds and irons everything; it doesn’t matter whose it is. Sometimes there are certain shirts I’ll ask her to iron because I’m too lazy to do so, but she always folds my clothes the neatest way I’ve ever seen. I’m grateful for that. I realized that this is one way she gives me and my sister unconditional love. I started to cry in this moment. It’s after midnight as Beyonce continues to play from my Mac downstairs and I look into the basket at my parents’ clothes and hesitating no further, I fold them; mind you it wasn’t a full basket to begin with so there wasn’t much to fold. The realization just kept repeating in my mind: this is unconditional love, this is unconditional love. She treats our clothes with care without being asked to do so because she is our mother, we are her children, she loves us, and that’s the role she wants to play as a mother, a mother that wants to take care of her kids.

laundry

Most of my mom’s laundry was her underwear. I am usually averse to touching any of my family members’ underwear because they’re soiled, but that never stopped my mom from washing all of our clothes. So I folded my parents’ underwear from the light in my room while my dad slept with his door open, light splashing onto his tired face, and I did it happily. “XO” by Beyonce came on as I finished up, and when I had one foot into my parents’ room to place their clothes on the bench, Beyonce sang out the second verse, “We don’t have forever. Ooh, baby daylight’s wasting. You better kiss me, before our time has run out.” I quickly took a step back into the lit hallway and gasped at the intensity of which that verse hit me and sobbed as quietly as I could without waking my dad. This song especially makes me feel the shortness of time and when I heard that second verse, I thought of the distance between my parents and me and I didn’t want it there anymore. I want them to kiss me before our time is run out. We have our problems just like any other family, but being back at home has made me realize and see things I never did before. A new intimacy lingers in the solitude. Coming back from study abroad and completing my college career has made the opaque a little clearer. I feel more connected, or at least I want to, and wanting that means so much to me.

Now I know: there is unconditional love in folded laundry.

*First photo by Charlottine
*Second photo by Fins

Echoes

What will be the echoes of my life? The fragments that for some reason I was meant to remember. I pride myself on having a great memory, remembering the small things that people forget or overlook. I  treasure the details. But will it be enough as my life expands? How will I remember everything that mattered? Everyone that mattered? Must I journal all the events of my life? At the end of it, I want to be able to say I lived a long life and loved many. I forever want to live sharp and innumerable slices of life and be a slice of life myself. I want to live so fiercely and strikingly unique that everyone remembers me. At the edge of 22, it already feels like I’ve lived an entire lifetime and I’m surprised and a little tired to find out that it’s not over. I still have more people to meet, friends to make, trinkets of family to be found. There are still more languages to learn, food to eat, places to see, men to date, clothes to wear, music to cry and die over or dance to. I still have words to write, thoughts to share, art to create. I am blessed with the wisdom that life is longer, that life is gigantic, swift, and unpredictable. I am blessed with the wisdom to envision a bigger picture.

I am no longer a child, so comes the death of my childhood dreams. Adulthood is sprouting like seeds in my limbs, the current of my blood. But the bones of my childhood remain. I never gave much thought to the idea of growing up. When I was 14, I thought my 20’s would be my golden age. I imagined I would be this mature sexual being with the full right to party, going to every club and dancing with the rest. But I never considered the reality to this fantasy. Alas, I am not this sexual being, but a romantic one. An epic dreamer and designer of grandeur scenarios and serendipitous happenings. Hopeful for the enchanted touch of an angelic boy. A bright eyed wanderer wading through teeming seas of the vicious and the delicate. Vulnerable. Innocent. Prudent. A conjurer of the fantastic and best that life has to offer. These are my childhood bones that map out the man I’m supposed to be.

What intimidates and thrills me is coming alive into the feeling that the future is now. I think deeply about what I’m supposed to be doing with my life and how much it matters to me in the moment, tomorrow, and for the span of my entire life. I want to whirl myself in the directions that stimulate me and make me come alive. All my life, I’ve been preparing myself to reach out for what is beyond. Studying abroad in Jerusalem was the first thing that ever brought me outside of who I thought I was. Choosing that journey was the first cracked step that allowed me to walk past the life I knew; the only life I thought possible for myself. For once I reached beyond the distance afforded me by my childhood bones into a sphere of adult possibilities where I realized that life is infinitely cyclical. I don’t want to be a permanent echo, but a resounding wave of love and happiness, swirling freely through time.