Monday, July 31, 2006

Living Scared

Don't ask me why, but chatting with Tara, we somehow began talking about fear. Actually, I brought it up, telling her how it would be so easy, after moving to a foreign country, to just give in to the fear of all those things unknown, let yourself be paralyzed by alienation, and end up doing nothing with your days save nervously figuring out what maybe you could be doing with your life if only you weren't here.

I felt it strongly the first six months of living here. There it was in how I would tell myself in the supermarket to hurry, hurry, hurry, pack those groceries into those plastic bags quick, you don't want to annoy the other people waiting in line behind you, make them think you're an inefficient foreigner, because you can't explain that back in the Philippines where labor is cheap, young men hired by the store and called baggers would do this for you, so you never had to think before of such things as, do the canned vegetables go on top of the bags of fruits or below them?

There it was, too, in how, even if in my head I knew the foreign words, I could open my mouth but wouldn't let them escape past my lips. Pieces of uncertainty choking me: I'm not sure it's the correct conjugation. I wouldn't be able to pronounce the Rs the properly. Do I use vous or tu? Wanting to get it all exactly right, not wanting to sound stupid, I ended up sounding nothing at all.

Fear invaded my home, made me too demanding. Can you fill up these papers for me, Pierre? Can you make a phone call? Too clingy. What time are you coming home from work tonight? What time exactly? It also isolated me. I'm sorry, but I don't want to go to that party, it's going to be filled with, well, French people.

Now I'm afraid that this is going to start sounding like a "Go, Girl" kind of piece. Empowering, enlightening, oh-so-fit for Cosmopolitan Philippines. It can't be helped.

I don't know how it happened, but it did. I got tired of my own timidity. As I told Kala and Makis the day we met in Arles and they were surprised that I was haggling at the market when they don't think it's acceptable practice over here, I don't look French anyway, so why should I insist too hard on acting like one. I'll be a Pinay, who happens to be living in France, take my time packing my groceries, roll my Rs, give my husband space but still insist he opens doors and pulls chairs out for me. And, yep, continue making tawad at the markets too.

P.S. If any of you reading this happen to work for Cosmopolitan Philippines, please remind Ianne Evangelista to send me a jpeg file of the article I actually wrote for the magazine. I e-mailed her twice, but it's bouncing back, so help, please. Merci!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tip for Travellers

In case you're visiting France and for a taste of home refuse to go as far as friends of my parents, they who packed into their suitcase a sack of rice and a little rice cooker, then if you're attacked by homesickness maybe you can go to the nearest Mcdonald's. No, if you're thinking you can order a homesickness-killing Chickenjoy, you can't settle for second best and instead eat a Chicken Mcdo with rice. It's not on the menu. For consolation, get yourself a drink. After you've sipped a little of that Coke, study your paper cup. If you've got the right one, you should be staring at an Asian mother-daughter pair with pleasantly surprised looks on their faces. Floating near their heads is a bubble filled with red letters. The biggest sentence reads "C'est tout ce que j'aime." Somewhere in there, too, are "I'm loving it" and "Ich liebe es." There are some Chinese and Arabic characters. Unless you're very good at languages, leave them alone. Squint your eyes, and search somewhere at the bottom. There, you'll see it. Teeny, tiny, but an echo from home: "LOVE KO 'TO!" You can almost forget that when you entered, no one yelled you're a hermaphrodite with, "Good morning, Ser-Mam!"

P.S. If you've really got homesickness bad, try to find playing near you a homegown talent who's now big in France. Just last week I picked up the program for the international photography festival Les Rencontres d'Arles, and there on the last fold where they listed down all the events happening this summer in Arles, capital of the Camargue, I was informed that on the 17th of July, at the Théâtre Antique, performing would be Billy Crawford, formerly known as That's Entertainment wunderkind Billy Joe. It's the 20th. I missed it. Sigh.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Why I Think I'm Still in the Philippines #4

8. Remember the comedian who was famous both for his ludicrous wig and the mother-in-law jokes? Well, the hours I spent watching Pepe Pimentel on TV is exerting their influence. Not that I've taken to combing my hair into a mini-pompadour, but of dear Jeanette, whose only son I happened to marry, I can tell you a hundred and one stories, many of them amusing, a few not so.

My own mother warned me against living with my in-laws. She herself had been coerced into it when, early into her marriage, although she and my dad lived a city away, my paternal grandmother would find an excuse to hound them almost every day, the most famous incident having her arrive with a broken flat iron that she said my father must fix that very hour. The old woman soon wore them down and they lived a not very happy few years with her.

Jeanette has it better that we are just a hundred meters away. In the beginning of our marriage she would walk over once a day bringing usually groceries and cooked food, but sometimes linen and other house stuff. We were fine with that, and she sensed it, so she started visiting more often, at her peak coming five times a day (yes, we counted). I knew that we had to put our foot down the day she came bringing us a flat iron. My mother's voice telling her own Pepe Pimentel stories was echoing in my ears.

So we sat down down with Jeanette and said, "Imagine that your son and his wife were still living in the Philippines, and you need a special visa to go there. The end of the row of grapes is the border to their country, and we're giving you a visa but it's only good for entering their Philippines once a week." Nowadays she mostly adheres to the immigration laws. The few times we caught the Frenchwoman being an illegal alien, she was promptly deported.

[CLICK HERE! Why I Think I'm Still in the Philippines #1, #2, and #3.]