Paradox

Today I resumed my sloth routine, being a couch potato and watching videos. However, instead of Netflix, I spent my day on YouTube, watching video clips of shows on The Filipino Channel. I have no way of satiating my Filipino show cravings in Boston, and finding episodes online are hard to come by so I settle for short bits I can find on the internet. Since coming to San Diego for break, I’ve seen a couple of episodes of the newest teleseryes, which are pretty impressive, but unfortunately I can’t get into them as they’re already in the thick of the plot, leaving me with a lot of ground to cover before I can fully understand what’s going on.

I pretty much watched clips of Pinoy Big Brother all day, one of my favorite reality TV shows. For some reason, the show doesn’t even air here in America like before. It seems that it’s solely shown in Filipino airwaves.

It’s not until after I watch Filipino shows and laugh along to their unique drama and humor that I realize how much I miss my Filipino channels afforded to me back home. Plus, I love hearing Tagalog spoken again, as I feel that my ability to comprehend it began to wane since I moved to Boston. Also, spotting familiar faces that I have not seen for so long conjures up a feeling similar to meeting an old friend. Watching these shows is a way for me to reintegrate myself to the Filipino culture, if you will. More than that, I’m able to glimpse what the Philippines is like even from oceans away–the political climate, social issues, and pop culture are almost always evident, and I find it not only refreshing but also insightful. I marvel at the irony of the situation: what gives me comfort from being so far from home also worsens my homesickness.

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A Trip to the Hardware Store

In an effort to get me out of my cave and put a pause on my holiday Netflix binge, my aunt took me with her to run some errands. Baiting me with the promise of stocking me up with goodies from the local Filipino grocery store to bring with me to Boston, she successfully persuaded me to join her.

Walking through the aisles of the store, I can’t help but feel a sense of familiarity of the place even if I’ve never been there before. Stacked on the shelves are snacks that I’ve eaten since I was a child but have not enjoyed in nearly two years (because closest Filipino store in Boston is a town over). Seasoning mixes for my favorite dishes tempt me to try my hand at cooking them, although I know I’d probably set my kitchen on fire. Everything there should have a place in my pantry. I mean, they did back home in Guam.

With the cart half-filled with pancit canton, packs of spaghetti sauce, and some light snacks, we made our way to the register then to the car for our next errand.

Aunt and I arrived at Lowe’s. I was there to look for shipping boxes and she storage containers to pack away holiday decorations for another year. If it’s been several months that I haven’t stepped foot in a Filipino grocery store, then it’s been longer that I’ve been to a hardware store such as the one I stood in. You know how big-chain stores like those are like. Huge. At the end of the building is an open section–the gardening center filled with colorful plants and sacks of soil whose stench you can smell several feet away and makes your nose itch. Inside the ceiling is high due to the towering shelves that holds every possible home-centric paraphernalia you can imagine. A gazebo is set up for display, as are patio tables and chairs. Grills that would inspire any barbecue enthusiast are lined up to impress.  Those are the first things you see.

As we roamed the store searching for what we needed, I couldn’t help but think to the time I was last in a place like this. It was definitely Home Depot in Guam. My mother and grandmother both had green thumbs, so visits to that gargantuan store were a frequent occurrence as they were always in need of fertilized soil, pots, or insect repellent. Occasionally, I’d stray away from the hot and humid outdoors and into the cool building. I’d roam. From there I would walk down the aisles, particularly the furnishing sections. There, I’d gaze at the beauty of the furniture, the color of the wood. Then it’s off to the paint section, where I’d collect color swatches and imagine my room in particular hues other than the white that coated it, even to this day. On display nearby are mock-kitchens and bathrooms. I loved the tiles. I’d get this modern refrigerator–the one made of steel with two doors and with the freezer on the bottom–as opposed to the traditional. My books would look good on this shelf.

On the ride home with pottery securely placed among the sacks of dirt in the trunk of the car, Mom would drive, and I’d look out the window pondering, imagining what my home would look like when I’m grown and settled with a job, imagining and pining for the day when the things I wanted in Home Depot–be it the paint, the bookshelf, or the washer and dryer combo–would be mine.

But today, I felt differently. As I browsed the aisles, I realized that the impulse that was in me years before is gone. No more did I yearn for glossy, wooden furniture nor the color of my room to be painted in a shade of dark blue. When I took a glance at the premises as I stood in line at the register with my aunt, I was overwhelmed by all the products. Do you really need that big of a grill? I see 100 ceiling fans and 20 of them look the same, but only slightly nuanced.

My wants, evidently, have changed over the years. I no longer want that house. But why? I thought. My mind raced to a couple of possibilities. Too much room? Clutter? The fact that houses or any other living spaces nowadays are not cheap? Maybe it’s because I’m indecisive. The idea of settle down makes me anxious, as if I’ll be missing out if I had myself a large home with a mortgage to pay off. I thought about myself, how I’m always on the go and how I aspire to travel for the first couple of years after college. I’m not ready to drop the anchor just yet. I don’t want to settle soon.

With the storage containers stowed neatly in the back, my aunt began the drive home. And, just like old times, I’d gaze outside the window, watching cars zoom by and observing the homes in the distance, only to feel nothing. Instead, I thought about where I was this exact time three years ago, marvel at the places I’ve seen and adventures I’ve had since then, and wonder where I’d be a year from now and ten years on.

Moving on

Well, I think I’m past my days of binge-watching Gilmore Girls. Time to move on and make room for the new.

Today I resumed Mad Men. I tried to watch the show a year ago but couldn’t get into it. Now I’m starting over and am currently on the fifth episode of the first season. Although the plot is moving slowly, details about the characters and the problems they face are carved and fleshed out potently. I can’t tell who I like and hate so far but I know that I’d be able to distinguish them soon enough.

I have to say, I’m loving the attention to detail and the accuracy of the period the characters live in. They don’t exist in a vacuum, unlike other shows I’ve seen. Can’t wait to see how the series pans out.

Binging on an old favorite

Gilmore Girls remains one of the best series I’ve seen. I didn’t grow up with my eyes peeled to the television and on my toes waiting for the newest episode when it was on the air, but it was something that I’d watch whenever it was on air. To me, it was just another drama. It wasn’t until my high school years when I was watching reruns that I finally got wind of the basic premise of the show: Rory’s quest to get into the college of her dreams–Harvard. Obviously, Rory getting into this top-notch school isn’t what the renowned series revolves around. It includes her close relationship with her mother, and her grandparents who pay for her tuition at a prestigious high school: Chilton. The story continues well past high school and follows Rory into her college years. Rory served as an inspiration during my senior year of high school–I did not settle for anything less in my college application journey.

To my own dismay, I’m shocked I haven’t seen every single episode of its seven seasons. Thankfully, a couple of months ago, Netflix offered every episode for streaming. As much as I wanted to get into it, I was in the throes of one of the busiest semesters yet, and I had to put binging on hold. But now that I’m on vacation, I’m treating myself. I’ve done nothing but eat and watch Gilmore Girls the whole day. A glorious way to spend break. Definitely recommend.

Here’s Emily Gilmore, one of the most vibrant characters in the show:

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Coincidences in Los Angeles

The trip to Universal went pretty well. I went free of any expectations. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what I’d be doing there. Rides? Encounter famed stars of my generation? While I failed to run into any celebrities, I did sit in on a few rides offered by the crowded theme park, which is made more congested by ongoing construction, limiting the space visitors can roam freely. Thanks to the 40-degree weather, the park was fairly empty this morning, which made waiting in line bearable. I’m glad the attractions were tame, at least to my taste. I’d have thrown up if they were any more intense.

Once we’ve had our fill of adrenaline-filled, 3-D rides, and with the sun beating down upon us and all the other visitors, we left to explore the rest of the city. My aunt suggested we visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A great idea, agreed by all of us. Uncle mentioned to me in passing that he’s been to LA before but has never seen the Hollywood sign, even from at a distance. We drove past it, I told him. I saw it on our way here.

After settling on an affordable parking spot downtown, we began our stroll. I was too preoccupied with observing my surroundings that I didn’t realize I was walking on the stars we came here to see and felt overwhelmed. There are thousands of these stars scattered over the city. Whose do I want to visit? I consider myself very knowledgable of the entertainment world, but my mind was blank. I couldn’t think of anyone. Ugh.

But as soon as I thought that, I spotted a name I knew too well: James Dean. One of my favorite actors! It’s moments like these that make your day. What a happy coincidence that I’d come across his star when I believed I wouldn’t be able to find a star I knew. In awe, I quickly grabbed a snapshot as my family were already way ahead of me and I didn’t want to be left behind.

As we walked a couple more blocks, I began to recognize the names on the ground: Lassie, Bryan Cranston, Ronald Reagan, Neil Patrick Harris, Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland, and Wally Cox to name a few. We hit up a souvenir shop before we decided to return to the car as the sun was beginning to set. We were at an intersection waiting for the cross walk to let us pass when, as if I were in Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” music video, I looked to my left and I saw it: the Hollywood Sign (except in the song she looks to her right, but whatever). I pointed it out to my uncle, his first time seeing the landmark in person. Things like these are beautiful, even if you are looking at them from a distance at a busy intersection with tons of cars and people buzzing by you. This is the city, Los Angeles.

When we approached Vine Street, where we parked and where I stumbled upon James Dean’s star, I asked my aunt to take a picture of me with his star. (Of course, when we finally got home, I went on a James Dean research binge. I found out that a motor shop on Vine Street was one of the last places Dean visited the same day he tragically lost his life in a collision. I’m still unsure if his star’s dedication on that street was intentional. If it isn’t, it’s a pretty neat coincidence.)

When we reached the parking lot, my aunt suggested that she and I walk further down the street just to see which stars are commemorated there while my uncle and cousins settle in the car. I was exhausted at this point and didn’t want to go any further, but decided to follow her regardless. Along the way, we ran into Marlon Brando’s star, another actor I admire, and couldn’t resist taking a picture with it.

As we got into the car, my aunt commented that LA is different in person than the city we see in the movies, and I agreed with her. It’s a different experience for anyone that walks down these streets and it’s something that cameras held by the world’s greatest filmmakers can portray and translate into film. I was just happy to be in the city I’ve heard and read about, and seen in picture for so long and have the opportunity to appreciate it firsthand, to be able to smell the cool air and walk among the stars as the setting sun illuminates them for a final moment until it rises again.

Bonus: Here’s James Dean and Marlon Brando going about their lives with cats:

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Adventures on the West Coast

I’m enjoying my stay in California.

I have to give it to my family here, who have gone out of their way to make sure I am comfortable and occupied. Whether it be a short drive down to the city to show me the sights or a short trip to Las Vegas so that I can walk down the busy strip and watch the fountains of the Bellagio spring alive to Andrea Bocelli, or buying me my first bowl of pho to treating me to my longed-for Filipino dishes that I can’t get in Boston, they never fail to ensure that not a single day goes by that I don’t try or see anything new. Missing them immensely is guaranteed when my time here is up.

I can recount what I’ve done every day since I landed in San Diego and look back with a smile at what I’ve experienced so far. Tomorrow we head north to Los Angeles so we can visit Universal Studios. Needless to say, I’m pumped for tomorrow and shamelessly cannot sleep because I am way too excited. Let’s hope I get enough rest for what will be a draining experience.

I didn’t expect such a fulfilling winter break and I’m only at the midpoint. Less than two weeks until I head back to Boston.

Pacifier

Usually with the turn of the new year, my family and I spend it celebrating at home or with friends elsewhere. It would be a small, but nevertheless fun occasion with food and company.

This is the third year in a row that I spent the holiday season away from my immediate family. The past two I celebrated with extended family in Florida. This time, I’m in California with another branch.

Today was a bit different. While we did stuff ourselves with food and conversation until the dawn of 2015, we went out to town this afternoon. I’ve had my first bite of In-N-Out; explored an old landmark, Mission San Luis Rey; and visited my a military base where my uncle works. The day went by fairly quickly. I sometimes forget that days are shorter in the winter, but the sun setting at four in the afternoon reminded me of that.

And so, with the sun sinking on the horizon, my uncle and aunt drove my two cousins and me to the best possible location to view the sunset: the beach.

Since flying back to Boston from Guam in August 2013, I have not gone further west from the east coast than New York, which isn’t even very far. This would be my first time seeing the Pacific in nearly a year in a half.

When my uncle pulled the brakes on the car on the sandy lot, the sun was already halfway down, and I only had about a minute or two to book it to the shore. Thankfully I wore my running shoes today.

To describe how I felt as I waded in the water, smelled the brine, and touched the icy waves as they foamed ashore is difficult. I couldn’t help but feel a bit of sentimentality towards the ocean and the sun it was engulfing. Back home, I took scenes like these for granted and so I rarely ever paid much attention to them. I can’t remember the last time I saw the sun set in Guam and watched the day become night.

Perhaps my homesickness has reached its peak. Or perhaps I got all emotional because for years I’ve always considered the Pacific an obstacle, a vast boundary that kept me away from the rest of the world, kept me a boy on the island with dreams of bigger lands. But now that I’m on the other side and know firsthand what lay beyond it, I now long for home, for the island I considered my cage, my platform. Ironically, what used to instill me with such despair I now consider soothing.

The salty breeze. The sand in my shoes. The spray of the water on my face. The crashing of the waves. The Pacific.

Maybe we’re not fragmented by oceans at all, but bound by them instead.

Monet’s Berm

“It never occurred to me that I had brought him here not just to show him my little world, but to ask my little world to let him in, so that the place where I came to be alone on summer afternoons would get to know him, judge him, see if he fitted in, take him in, so that I might come back here and remember. Here I would come to escape the known world and seek another of my own invention; I was basically introducing him to my launchpad. All I had to do was list the works I’d read here and he’d know all the places I’d traveled to.”

–Elio, Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman