Just a Memory

Arito, Near to Bayombong, Luzon Philippines

The first time we left Manila at around 5 am. I don’t remember eating anything, just crawling out out of bed In the Manila guest house and loading into a big white van full of supplies. Most of it wasn’t ours. The air was thick with humidity, smog, and the smell of cooking fish. The concrete was still warm from the day before. I managed to stuff myself in a back seat surrounded by bags and a blanket.
We drove for hours. Not the nice driving most people imagine where you cruise down a highway listening to some music. But a mad stop and go with swerving and honking and huge potholes and jars that often sent my head into the roof above me. We went hours without stopping. When we did stop it was to get gas and some snack food. I ate an ice-cream. Not mango ice-cream though, a plain nestle cone with vanilla and chocolate. Of course it wasn’t real ice-cream. I doubted if there was even dairy in it. Mostly likely it was just gelatin and whipped something with some chocolate on top. It was cold though, and it tasted alright. We all felt sick. It was hard not to when you were on a rollercoaster for five hours without stopping. We all begrudgingly got back in the van and started driving again.
This was before the days of GPS, and there were no real road signs the Philippines, and the maps were all out of date. I don’t know how dad managed his way from one little road to the next through the mountains and through tiny towns. But he did, and we drove onto the Arito grounds sometime in the afternoon.
Arito was a huge dead missionary school base. full of cute little non filipino houses made of boards and covered in oil to chase away the termites. The whole place was built on a hill, and covered in huge trees and buffalo grass. The hanger was on the top of the hill, and the school at the bottom. Between the Pilot house and Mechanics house there was a huge rope swing and a trampoline.
This was the kind of place MK’s are made for. In my mind I imagined strong barefoot boys swinging from the highest branches of the tree and running shirtless down the runway after some lizard. I could see soccer matches played on the semi flat field between the supply buyer’s house and the pilot house.
I never even thought of putting my flip flops on. I was right away out the door and letting the mud squish between my toes. The place smelled so fresh and and clean compared to Manila. I started to run, but remembered I needed to help unpack the van first. I dropped three boxes on my toes, and stepped on a thorn of some kind, but refused to wear shoes.
It didn’t take long for mom to get stuff unpacked and begin to cook. The hunger hit as soon as I smelled the chicken cooking. The sun went down just as we began to eat. It all felt very exciting. Eating in a new house, and eating chicken tacos none the less, with semi real cheese from Manila. The musty smell of old houses, and being on real wood floors. No more bare concrete or bamboo slats. These were real wood floors. Looking back they were full of holes, and not even close to smooth, but at the time I thought they were the real thing. Outside I could hear bugs buzzing and birds and other animals. It’s strange, because though Lada was in the middle of nowhere we really didn’t get much wildlife. Stray dogs maybe, snakes of course, and lizards, but nothing else. It was really exciting.
I slept that night without the sounds of traffic or horns and nothing but dogs and chickens and the wind to play into my dreams. For the first time since I could remember it actually cooled off slightly and I found myself chilly underneath the sheets.
Arito was the greatest adventure for me. I have written about it before, and I recognize all the terrible conflict that happened during our time there. The consequences of those conflicts came up later when were were back in Manila, or Palawan, or Mindanao, but not while were actually in Arito. At least for me. Arito was filled with old books from the library, bb guns, climbing trees, doing footwork in the grass, hitting a shuttlecock against the brick wall at the supply buyer house, and working in the shop with Dad.
I read a few books there that really impacted me. The first was “The Book Of Three” and the rest of the series by Lloyd Alexander, and the second was a book on big game hunting. The book on big game hunting really gave me motivation to perfect my skills at whatever I did because it taught decision making and the art of doing something so many times that you become a master. Lloyd somehow had a way of changing the atmosphere of my whole day with his books, and to this day that sticks with me. A nobody boy who goes on a grand adventure only to learn that it is better to be a grower of turnips than a great war hero.
I read a few other things as well that impacted me but, but have yet to change the fate of my life. I read books upon books about flying and instruments, techniques, weather, and finding your way using a map and time and and heading. I would often try these techniques on the ground, traveling from tree to tree with my eyes covered with my cap except one little piece that could look down and see my compass. I never got particularly good- I once ran straight into the tree. Apparently my step size varied.
I also learned to whittle fishhooks. This skill never got fully tested till we reached Mindanao, but I did perfect my technique in Arito. I tried to make snares and traps outsides of the mowed area of the base. The only thing I caught was a chicken, which I freed as quickly as I could because I assumed it belonged to somebody.
There were various trips to Arito. Each one blurred in the with others for some reason. No matter what was going on in Manila, or wherever we were, it all got left behind when we got to Arito. It was like I could pick up the book again and continue the story I had been reading.
My best memories are exhausting myself training, or working, or doing whatever I did outside, and coming to the porch in the afternoon tired and sweaty just as it began to rain. I would pick up a book and lay in the hammock and for the first five minutes I wouldn’t read a thing, I would just sit there and listen to the rain on the tin roof. Then with my muddy feet sticking out of the hammock I would start to read. Every ten minutes or so I would stop reading and look out into the rain and imagine that we got to live in this house for the rest of our time, and I could build a tree house to study in, maybe learn to fly, and help dad rebuild the 180. Then I would laugh at myself and start to read again. The sound of the rain seemed to drown out my doubts. When I finally went inside to help mom cook or clean I did so with a hop in my step. I put some punk rock on the little speaker and sped around the kitchen inhaling the sweet smell of real food. We would eat under dim white florescent lights, and by seven pm it felt late and I would already want to go to bed. We had hot showers if I remember correctly, and the mud from the day always washed off too easily.

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Moving

Minutes drift into hours, and hours into… I guess days just flew by, just like the wind when it took all my aspirations of having a home. The little room up in 7A, with its one little window and bed that was too short almost felt like home. I had a little rack I made out of cardboard, broken poles, and badminton string. I kept all my clothes, and an assortment of Oreo cookies there, along with my drying towel. I had my suitcase on my bed, the only place it would fit, coving a huge black spot of mould. It wasn’t home in the traditional sense, I hadn’t been there long, nor did I have family or friends there. In fact I lived with two guys I didn’t know from Adam. It was home I guess because I put my things there, right where I wanted, and I decided it would be home.  Minutes and days sped by though, and I found that it was time to go. After that first week when I made my room my own, the room had not changed. It felt the same amount home at the moment of leaving as it did in the moment when I stuffed my backpack in the corner and my suitcase on my bed. 

 The days always drift by. That is the scary part of staying in one place too long. Time goes by without anything to mark it. Days can slip into years before you know it and nothing has changed. Home does not become more home, it only become a place to sleep and eat. 

 When you pack up and move a place every choice is layed before you to be evaluated and judged. Why did I buy three of same tshirt? Did I really spend that much time eating at that one noodle place? Why didn’t I work harder to learn the language, I can barely tell my neighbours I miss them. Why didn’t I ever fix that leak? I have four hams left, I kept saving them for a special occasion, and now there are none left. You cannot stay the same and move. You cannot remain the same person and say goodbye. 

 I am packing up again, and I am not the same as I was before. This move brought things I didn’t imagine. In this little room full of other people’s things I saw the power of prayer, and the felt the depths of loneliness. I worked at learning a foreign language and questioned my own. Now I look back and wonder why I didn’t study harder, pray more, read more, listen better, and why didn’t I spend more time out of that little room? I will not do the same things this next week, and I can thank moving for that. 

Contrasting

 The wind rushes under the door in warm puffs pushing the dry air conditioned air out through the cracks in the wall. I keep my eyes shut, trying to lay still and let the contrasting smells and air caress my nose. The laundry drips around me, and the rank smell of sweat comes up from my multiple shoes below. Even after brushing my teeth three times my mouth still tastes of fish and and some numbingly hot pepper. 

 Downstairs I can hear the children playing and their mother scolding their every move. Outside my window skyscrapers rise above the jungle and red dirt river beds carving their way out of the wild in random clusters. Everywhere there are cameras. The moment I step outside of my room there are cameras keeping watch of me. 

 The sunlight strokes the recently rain soaked plants of the common area. Little electric bikes with brightly coloured umbrellas wiz past on the brick walk ways, then rattling their way over the little wooden bridges. All along the side are little shops, usually with red signs and bold white or black Chinese writing. Little tents are set up randomly amidst the sidewalk with anything from fruit to whole pigs being sold underneath. The block is gated in, and there guards sit a little hut and let people through to the next block, or on the north side into the streets beyond. 

 Everywhere people walk with their slow methodical steps, chatting or texting. Inside they sit around small tables reaching in front of one another to grab a bite of some entree with chopsticks, or to pour someone a small cup of tea in peaceful show of respect. 

 Outside the gates of community is a mad rush. Four lane roads are over taken by small motorcycles and tricycles going the wrong way through traffic in a haphazard fashion, daring death to dart between cars and weave to narrowly miss buses. The cameras above the streets flash constantly. Pedestrians walk through traffic as calmly as some circus show. Children play on the side of the road, darting through cars and motorcycles to retrieve a ball. Somehow the relaxed communal living melds seamlessly with the hectic death-wish reality outside. It appears to be a paradox, a terrifying contrast. The same way the skyscrapers look both at home and as strangers rising like strict overgrown brothers of the jungle around them, always attempting to grow as tall as the mountains the loom overhead but instead look like nothing but naked and artless spines amidst nature. 

 I assume that is how I stand out here. A tall, white stranger who walks too fast, or walks too slow, never understanding, and always attempting a dumb smile in response to questions. A awkward tower among the masses, standing stiffly, eyes glazed over, frantically waving his arms while gibberish comes out of his mouth. But I guess if a skyscraper can survive among the jungles and mountains, and even make them look better, then I can learn to fit in here too. 

Exams- Repost

I wrote this last year for finals, and since finals are approachingagain I thought I would repost because I still get a kick out of exam time. 

It is exam time. That means milkshakes and coffee, pajama clothed students wandering the halls with bloodshot eyes and bed heads. The aesthetic of professionalism, of higher learning, is replaced by an over all negligence of personal hygiene and common self care. Students who have spent the semester in hightop shoes, skinny jeans and slicked back hair are suddenly seen walking aimlessly in socks and sandals, and any semblance of what used to be a nice hairdo are long gone, only the leftover caked gel in their hair shows that they ever cared. The library, formerly full of diligent students poring over books and writing careful notes, is now full of the zombie population of the campus. Empty coffee cups, energy drinks, and scattered notes clutter the tables, while students lay snoring on the couches. 
Why? Because, acedemics are graded by this one final exam that you prepare for all semester. An exam that once it approaches you feel totally unprepared for. Your value as a human falls to a simple three hour section where you are crammed in a white walled room with three hundred other students with a few sheets of paper and a couple hundred questions. It’s the one place in the world where everyone’s worth is decided by questions that one man or woman find relevant. 
When you walk out your door and see a hapless student wandering with bags under their eyes, a half open backpack, and holding a half eaten snickers bar, don’t judge. This student is about to face a gavel that no human is ever prepared for. Finals. 

Walking Into A Sketch

I remember the first time I  touched snow and looked at the great pine trees towering above me cloaked in a glittering blanket of diamond cut ice and snow. “It looks just like the pictures, just like all the books said it would,” I gasped, “All the fairy stories are true,” Everything I read and looked at in sketches and pictures came alive before my eyes, more real and more bright than anything I had imagined. It was as if Aragon was taking the Fellowship right up the mountain and I was there too. It took the words I had read on a page and pasted them all around the world around me.

This morning I drove through a small neighborhood in eastern Washington full of swooping purple and pink blooming trees and pine trees and the sun floating through the limbs. The dew on the grass bounced light straight up to the pink and purple flowers that fell lightly from the trees in the morning breeze. It was just like a sketch I had seen when I was younger.  A path cut its way through blooming trees. The artist sketched the flowers with sharp magical strokes that blended into one mix of lines that left me feeling mesmerized by the peace of the moment. The tree trunks were bold black and the sunlight was the warm off  white of paper slicing through blurred pencil strokes and smudges. I left the picture imagining the peace of an early morning with nothing going on besides perhaps an errand that didn’t weigh too much on the heart. I could see a gentleman in work boot taking his time walking down the road to pick up a tool or off to fix the fence. No rush except the bright sun and the cool air.

This morning I drove down the reality of that path letting the cool breeze stroke my hair as I drove unhurriedly to an appointment I would be early to. I knew I was driving through someone elses piece of art. I hadn’t been here before and getting here just reminded me that I wanted to be here almost as much as I wanted this to be home.  That is what traveling is all about isn’t it? Finding home wherever you, finding the familiar in the fantasy. Walking into the story books you read and finding them as real as the mundane life you have back home. You find that the fantasy of the bizarre in that moment is just as mundane as your reality, and back home the mundane reality is as much a fantasy as the world you explored.  Because when you get back home you realize someone from a far off place drew a sketch of that place too, and there is some story about the beaches you walk and they are peaceful to walk as the forests on the other side of the world.

If Only Originality

You would think atmosphere would breed creativity. It breeds thought after all. Or at the very least the strong emotion of feeling like you are thinking deeply. Perhaps it does. I can feel a story sticking to my tongue, right between the bitter aftertaste of black coffee and the tangy taste of cooped up hotel room air. There is the looming approach of change and deadlines hanging over my head, and that always feels somewhat like inspiration. But alas, none of these are truly creativity or originality leaking through the hotel room atmosphere. 

Unfortunately for me the buzz of the AC, no matter how soothing hasn’t given me enough inspiration to write any of the three papers that are due this week. Instead it has instilled in me the greatest desire to nap. The greatest work I feel currently ready to accomplish is that of rising to make another cup of coffee. 

One more cup of coffee it is, and then off to bed to let this cold air drag me into the depths of sleep. Creativity will come tomorrow, after another hard day of work and stress. Originality never comes without a little dying first anyway, and atmosphere alone won’t take me there. 

One Day At A Time

People always ask the same question. It doesn’t matter if I  walk into a new bar, or a new church service, when people see how different I talk and dress they all want to know where I am from.

I wish I knew where I was from. I wish that I could explain that rain reminds me that I am a jungle boy raises in the rainforests of the tropics. The oceans brings back the soaring salt water waves of my youth, and how I rode waves and sank to rip tides. The sunshine glimmers of my childhood in the cowboy country with a BB gun and a sling shot and too much time on my hands. I end up saying something like “I grew up overseas. We travelled a lot when I was a kid.” It sounds so empty, and rings of falsehood. I didn’t travel, I moved. I didn’t grow up overseas. I grew up in countries that became as much mine as the last one I lived in. This Noth America was overseas for me, as much as any country was. I didn’t grow up in a strange world, I grew up in something perfectly normal for me. Yes, when I was five I went snake hunting with a machette and a crowd of fearless boys and girls. I always thought chicken tasted like mountain lion, not the other way around. And yes, everything tastes like chicken, it’s all about how you cook it. If your chicken tastes like curry, so will your monkey or frog legs.  I didn’t grow up a stranger, I didn’t even grow up an insider. I grew up just like every other kid – one day at a time. 

The next question always bites a little too. They want to know what I am doing after college. What about the things I am doing while in college? I can’t live like my future career is more important than what I am doing right now. Maybe life starts now, and maybe I will do many different things after college, and maybe I won’t live past college, and maybe I will be stuck paying school bills the rest of my life. But all of those things depend on the now. Some things that I can change and some things that are out of my control. I respond with something like “Every day is a journey. I want to change the world, just like everyone else wants to,” the fact is, just like every human has since the dawning of time, I am stuck living life just one day at time.

Spring

The sky outside is purple and black. The wind has the scent of spring. There is the unmistakeable cool breeze that has the tinge of warmth to it keeps rustling through the pines with the faint whisper of the coming summer. I always feel nostalgic in spring. Spring is new birth, but more than that it represents new life to me in a very real way. Spring is the strangest thing that I have ever experienced in my twenty some years on earth. Growing up in the tropics meant that I never got to see the extreme season changes that Canada has. Winter was a shock to be sure, but an expected one. It shoved me out of my comfort zone and slapped me in the face with all the newness and foreign experiences. No more shorts, no more flip flops, no more running outside barefoot. Hello frozen car engines and twelve layers of clothing, hello frostbite and burning breaths, hello sunshine that was colder than any cold pack I had experinced. Hello new world. 

Spring was different though. Spring tempted me with familair feelings, but just as quickly ripped them away. The breeze had a touch of warmth to it, but if I stepped outside barefoot the frozen earth would bite and snap at my feet. Things began to get green, but there was no painfree swimming in the lakes. I could almost pretend when I looked outside that I was home, the trees began to bud and the grass began to grow, but when I stepped outside the air was full of strange smells and the air still stung going down my throat.  Spring was a change and a whirlwind I could not adapt to. Winter stayed the same, day after day, month after month. I could count on its harshness. Spring was a daily change. You would think that growing up between thirty some houses would have prepared me for the swift deterioration of the world around me. It didn’t. I woke up every morning feeling like a stranger in a new country. Every time I inhaled I was suprised by some new smell or texture in the air. 

This is my third or fourth spring to live through. But it catches me off guard still. The memories of those first days where I feared to open my eyes for all the uncontrollable change around me still flood through my mind when the spring air hits my lungs. I still fight back panic at the seeming crisis the world around me goes into. The snow melting away, plants fighting for life in the still cold air. 

I live with abandon and without control. I live in a world I cannot understand and cannot predict. I prefer knowing when change is coming, I like predicting that when the plane lands I will be in a new country with a new climate and new people. My heart races when I open my window of the same house only to find the world around me has run away with itself and is changing. That is change I cannot predict or control. I like living freely, it scares me when the world lives with abandon. 

The Ghost 

 There is a shadow across her face from the little rain cloud above her head. She says it’s the rain drops that are falling down her face but we all know it’s tears. She says goodbye as much as she says hello, but more often than not she walks by without saying a word. Her brown hair keeps her eyes hidden from view, it drapes around her face just like the cloak of hipster clothing she wears. Brown and black and gray are her colours and she prefers to use them as camouflage. She smiles softly and winces inwardly. No one knows her name, and fewer have seen her face. Her voice is quiet, and you wouldn’t know what was happening inside her head, even if you asked.  Everyone pretends she doesn’t exist, and even she likes to shrink away into the shadows of her own mind. Maybe it’s her eyes, or maybe we just don’t know. I get the feeling no one asked. It’s the way she looks into the eyes of a little boy who is crying that tells us all she is human. But the only one who heard her smile were the people too far away to voice the truth. 

 There is a little shadow that flits down the hallway on summer evenings. I think I saw her ghost yesterday running through the empty rooms of this place. I would have waved, had I been sure. Instead I just whispered a soulful prayer hoping her voice gets heard before it’s too late for the next. 

The Moon

The moon outside is crystal clear. At least as clear as it can be shooting its way through the clouds and fighting for attention with all the white and yellow streetlights and flashing coloured signs. Honestly the red Prospectors sign is brighter than the moon, and the big white streetlight in the parklot seems to hide the moon completely. But the moon is there, humbly enough, making the black night glow with a kind of silver light. You can’t see it much for all city light, but I know it’s there. I like the moon. The way it is the only companion on late night drives through the Rockies. The way it sends light to land softly on my shoulders when the cold night air is wiping away the last tears of goodbye.

I like the moon. But it carries with it a certain fear too. The kind of unknown that lurks in the dark when you are parked on the side of some lonely road in the mountains trying to take a nap after driving for sixteen hours. It hides things, and creates shapes and shadows of the dark. The moon reflects light but it makes does so in my dark. It won’t make things seen, it just morphs trees into the goblins and clouds into the castles. It changes cool wind to whispering and the road into a river of glass. The moon is no revealer of reality, it is a maker of fantasy. A giver of nightmares and dreams both in equal proportion.  

Sometimes I swear my life is guided by a moon. Fantasy caricatures arise and dreams are born, but I do know know where I am going. I cannot see what comes ahead, I can only read between the shadows and hope the reflections off the road are not the trickery of some laughing moon.