Tuesday, February 10, 2004

On Love

I have come full circle it seems. Faced with the question "Do you have any plans of immigrating?" my answer has remained the same faced with this question almost seven years ago. No. At least, not yet.

This summer I am spending a few weeks in that country which is consistently among the Best Countries to Live in Ever. It is a huge territory of only 30+ million inhabitants. It is a country with a GDP of $27,000 per capita (as compared to the Philippines' measly and highly distorted $3,800--owing to the huge gap in income distribution). It has an excellent social welfare program. It is paradise to Filipinos wanting to immigrate. It is perfection incarnate. I could move to this country. It speaks both foreign languages I speak. I have tons of family there. I could easily fit in. I could marry me one of them citizens and live happily ever after. Which is really a wonder why I, usually a rational being, would automatically respond to the question above with such an irrational, highly idealistic "No, I have no plans of immigrating as of the moment. I don't think my conscience will let me leave this country."

And so I am faced with a familiar demon tempting me to make a non-issue of immigration. Most Filipinos would not agonize over it. Most Filipinos would take it for granted. For some, it is an ulitmate goal. I'm afraid it isn't as simple for me.

Seven years ago, as a fresh high school graduate, I was mainly excited to finally board a plane and fly thousands of miles above the stratosphere. I had no expectations, no notions of what a foreign land would look like. I was excited to see long-gone uncles, aunts and cousins, not-yet-seen new cousins and cousins' off-spring. I wanted to see snow.

And so I did all of the above. I saw how well people lived in some places on the planet. I saw how "beggars" there could be dressed up so properly, clutching a musical instrument of choice, looking extremely well-fed. I saw how owning a car could be such nuisance because mass transportation could get you places as easily, as efficiently, if not more so. I lived in chilly perfection for a while. I breathed the unpolluted air and drank the sweet flouride-laden water. I ate the abnormally shiny fruits and grotesquely proportioned meats. I luxuriated in the vast unspoilt spaces, the uncrowded streets, the prettified sights. Everyone was so incredibly polite and friendly. It was heaven indeed.

A few weeks after I returned home. The humid June air greeted me good evening and I was transported back to earth. The noise, the smells, the congestion welcomed me back with such gusto I felt disoriented for a while. Looking out the car window I took in the familiar sights of Metro Manila. Except this time, what had been normal to me for 17 years looked different. Everything looked dirty. Everyone looked dirty. I felt grimy in my turtle-neck top. People were exceedlingly rude. No artificial smiles here. I was happy to be home.

That trip started it all. Seven years ago almost. Some weeks inhaling European air a few years later only magnified the puzzle forming in my head. It ignited queries my youthful mind was eager to answer. It made me ask why is it that way over there, and this way over here? Why is it "this" way over so many places across this planet and "that" way over so few?

Hunting for the Holy Grail is what its like. Looking for my answers. Piecing together the pictures in my head. Searching for "because." In the meanwhile, standing in booth 14 being interviewed by the nice man behind the shiny glass window for my tourist visa, I tell him him why my conscience won't let me leave this country. He stares back at me careful to leave his face blank and then types a little something in his keyboard. I am to come back at 2 o'clock to pick up my passport. I will miss this hellhole.

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