I recently spent eight days in the Philippines. That’s eight days out of 64 years of my life. I’ve made a list of over a dozen topics I want to write about. Is it arrogantly absurd that the topics number more than the days I was there? How do I swoop in and out of a country and expect anything I write to have depth or meaning? Will I conjure things that don’t exist? Will my desire for connection slurry into wishful thinking?
Will I simplify? Objectify? Distort? Will my privilege cause me to sentimentalize or condescend? Will my memories fade over time or will they concretize into a stilted moment without context?
At night I lie awake, brain waves spiking with thoughts of how oceans separate families, how war and economic oppression drive migration, how colonization obliterates, enriches, and confounds cultures. How a Spanish galleon connected the two lands of my heritage – the Philippines and Mexico. How that most succulent and luscious of fruits – the mango – made its way from Manila to Acapulco and when I slide its sweet pulp in my mouth, slurp its juices off the pit and pull its threads from my teeth and swallow, I am eating my own history.
How social media can make an ocean a little less wide and deep, and a history more accessible. How it enabled members of a family to reconnect after years of being lost to each other.
This summer I’m going to one of my favorite places – the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference. I’ve signed up for a workshop on writing flash non-fiction – the perfect fit for my flash Philippines sojourn. I will write myriad little flashes from my blink-of-an-eye experience.
In the meantime, here are some photos – static moments of being that hold glimmers of stories that I will someday write.
Here’s the sign that greeted me at the Manila airport. I apologized inwardly for having taken so long to get there.
Here are day and night time views of Manila from the condo we rented for a few days in Malate. We looked out the balcony first thing each morning and last thing at night. We could hear the traffic of this pulsing, nerve-wracking, electrifying, and fascinating city all the way from the 50th floor.
Here I am with my daughter Natalie, an excellent travel companion. I’ve already posted elsewhere the good pictures of us together, so here’s one on the volcano island in the middle of Taal Lake. A goat appears to be coming out of my ass. I am a mythical creature in a spirit land.
Here’s the precious gift my sweet cousin Malou gave me. This pen belonged to her mother, my father’s sister, the sibling who survived the longest of the children of my Filipino grandparents, Rosendo Miscolta and Donata Tiongkiao. I never got to meet Tita Melia. She passed away a month before my visit. Malou had my name engraved on the pen and now a triangle is etched on my heart. My father did crossword puzzles. I learned that Melia did too, maybe with this pen. And guess who does the NYT crossword every day? Hint: Me.
Here’s me riding in a jeepney in Las Piñas as James Lazarra, a proud Las Piñero, tells me about the history of his (and my father’s) hometown.
Tionquiao, also spelled Tiongkiao, is a common name in Las Piñas. On my father’s side, I am a Miscolta and a Tiongkiao. If you’re a Tiongkiao, your origins lie in Las Piñas, James Lazarra says.
Here’s me on what seems to be a duck ramp. I scooted down to scoop some seawater into a small vial. The next time I’m in San Diego, CA, I will sprinkle Las Piñas water on my father’s grave. I also scraped some soil from the plant bed at the entrance to the jeepney company. I will sprinkle this Philippine soil on his grave as well.
These are views from James Lazarra’s office just above Plaza Quezon and Padre Diego Cera Street in Las Piñas. My father and grandfather walked these streets.
And here I am gazing at the street below. Thanks to Natalie for capturing this moment — more than a glimmer, more than a flash. On the brink of forever.