Fleeting Conversations with Strangers

I remember this two-hour train ride somewhere abroad. I was talking to this guy about Philippine cacao beans and Van Gogh’s neurosis and weighted-average cost of capital, and there was a moment when he was looking at me with this silly expression of ‘this person is really cute’. I kept thinking about it because I wouldn’t understand how someone would look at me that way, because I just spilled coffee all over this stranger’s suit a few minutes ago; and more so because he was listening with great intensity as I was talking about something so mundane as corporate finance.

I collect stories of spontaneous encounters and treat them like fairy tales; Transient souls I would probably never encounter again; fleeting moments that would probably never happen in my lifetime again. It makes me feel more human; brief reminders that I will never be in complete control of life and fate.

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The Runaway Bride Stigma

‘If you’re so bold, jumping on cliffs without a flinch, why do you hesitate at love?’ 

That statement from a friend sounded more like a mocking dare. Like, ‘I bet you can’t do that!’ There’s nothing quite as painful as suppressing a much-needed eye roll. But I wanted to be more mature and philosophical, so I rebut:

‘Look at the household cat. By the look of his bored, pussycat face, he portrays to his human owner a life of monotony and routine; if not for the occasional betrayal of evidence in the form of mangled bodies of birds and mutilated rodents here and there that tells us of frequent, callous murders they commit in their daily lives. Your cat may lead a more interesting life than a Stepford wife.’

So that’s why you never want to get married.’

I realize that in my home base, I will always be that villain in their eyes. I’ll always have that ‘runaway bride stigma’ carried with me. A month before the wedding day with all the preparations set, I did a 360 and adamantly said I’m not walking down the aisle.

Maybe in my existential life this happened once. Or twice. Not my proudest moment. But my friends bring it up occasionally, just to make fun of me . I’ll always be that ‘girl who’s afraid of commitment’, ‘guarding her freedom like her life depended on it’. And then there’s this urban legend about me bringing ‘bad wedding luck’ to couples.

Hmm. maybe that’s why despite all the wedding photos posted on Facebook, I never get an invite.

I remember being 18, and being that manic pixie dream girl with the bangs and curls, and unavoidable paint splatters in her clothes. The type who sits in cafes and enjoys film photography. The type who would never hurt anyone. Used to poop fireworks and rainbows as well. Once upon a time I was that girl who was always in a relationship. Jumping from one long-term relationship to another; the kind that lasts for years and years that people start thinking we’re going to eventually end up together. And then I jump the gun and surprise everyone. At the last minute, I realize that it wasn’t really something I wanted. For some reason, when my relationships get close to marriage, I bail out. Queue in intense disappointment from family, friends and loved ones.

That’s the major caveat with labels and stigmas. Oh, she’s the straight-A’s stellar girl; that one’s the problem child and this one’s the alpha female. The problem with assigning people (or your own children) labels is that they will tend to live up to that label, until they fall short of your expectations and you assign them a new one.

And probably that’s also my issue with boyfriends and girlfriends: they assign you to their version of a ‘perfect mate’. But in the end, people don’t truly get to know their loved ones’ souls. They dream of ‘perfect’, but perfect is shallow. They have no interest in knowing your complexities, and they pay the price with heartache.

Look at Tom and Summer.

‘You overshadow me and don’t give me a chance at the spotlight‘, an ex said. What a big amount of bull. It’s been a recurring theme in my relationships, men make it out like it’s a sprint marathon; and their expectations are as lofty as their egos.

I remember being in a big argument with a guy because I won in an event and he congratulated me backstage with a big bouquet of flowers and surprises. He later on expressed his disappointment that I didn’t ‘thank him hard enough’. I think he wanted me to swoon and keel and maybe cry a little. Somehow, it still had to be about him. He assigned me his concept of what I should be–and frankly, I’m too selfish to be the supporting cast.

Maybe there will come a time when we meet that person who doesn’t make it like a competition. A being that is ‘strange and familiar all at once; with enough change to quicken my mind, and enough steadiness to give sanctuary to my heart’ (Iyer). A soul who feels like home and adventure all at once. Someone who gets your impulsiveness and fosters your curious spirit; a partner-in-crime with the same brand of crazy.

Until then, the world has enough curiosities to keep me fascinated and I’m perfectly fine responding to ‘When are you getting married?’ tita questions with ‘When are you planning to lose weight?’ questions.

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And Humanity’s Worst Invention Is…

My feet are getting finicky.

I’ve been having dreams of getting away again, somewhere far from pavement and pollution. Maybe somewhere with saline waters.

I wish I could go on a trip–however, business school is taking up 6 days a week, clocking at 30 hours of work a day. (Not exaggerating. I didn’t know this was possible, until AIM).

And… my passport is currently held on bond by the parents. #trustissues

I don’t have much of a choice, but to take my studies seriously.

So I peruse some requisite brain food on my bedside—Scharmer, Picketty, among other economists—not exactly easy, bedtime readings… unless your end-goal is to fall fast asleep.

One common thread of thought today put a brunt of the blame of today’s current problems and negative externalities on the Industrial Revolution and Modern Capitalism… which I agree to a certain extent; but with reservation.

Instead I have anti-progressivist views and leans towards this proposition: that mankind’s worst ‘mistake’ was agriculture.

Man: Slave to Wheat

This synthesis sounds somehow anti-progressivist. The Agricultural Revolution is touted as the ‘greatest leap forward’ for humanity. Now we have less time thinking about our survival and can finally produce sustenance at our will. Now we have more time to devote to other things—art, culture, commerce, and coitus (explaining the massive human population explosion).

Diamond and Harari pointed otherwise. Agriculture left farmers with life more miserable and less satisfying than hunter-gatherers, in fact. Agriculture led to greed; and lust for the greener grass on the other side.

But it was wheat that domesticated humans, and not the other way around. During our hunter-gatherer times, humans had a more well-balanced diet. Wheat was only a marginal part of the nomad’s diet, they relied on a hundred variety of foods. The farmer’s diet is poor in minerals and vitamins (and bad for your oral health).

The heavy calorie reliance on wheat comes at a price. We have grazed forests to make way for wheat crops. Wheat demanded a lot of our time—and humans had to permanently settle next to the wheat fields. As human bodies were built to climb trees and run after deer, farming led to arthritis, hernia, and other problems to our spine, neck and knees.

It’s difficult to materialize the concept especially as we now enjoy the affluence built on the foundations of the Agricultural Revolution.

Were We Really Happier than Before?

 Another era of humankind arose: emergence of social classes, wealth inequality, obsession to gold, violent wars, cities and eventual empires that led to another problem: overpopulation and disease-ridden settlements.

This relationship between man and wheat is classic Faust: hardship in pursuit for an easier life, when we gave up that easy life in the first place.

During our nomadic lifestyle days, we lived on the road in constant search for food and security from predators and natural calamities. The prehistoric caveman is typically stereotyped as a grunting imbecile, but they were actually smarter than we think—from navigating through the stars to creating weapons from flint. They have a deeper knowledge and connection with the surroundings. Most modern men may know calculus, analytics and IT infrastructures, but leave them stranded in nature and they would not know batshit on how to survive.

We have Google. The cavemen didn’t.

The hunter-gatherers had an ideal, nutritious diet—archaeological evidence show that they were less likely to suffer from malnutrition, starvation. A lot of infectious diseases came from the Agricultural Revolution, due to crowded settlements and unhygienic situations.

In fact, skeletons show that the prehistoric nomads were taller and healthier than their farming descendants. The average height of ancient hunter-gatherers was at 6-ft.—but dramatically decreased to 5’2 ft. when farming began. It is only in the last century that the average height has returned similar to that of the ancient foragers’ time.

On average, a typical Filipino employee works 48-60 hours a week to survive, but we find that hunter-gatherer tribes living in the same prehistoric fashion work as little as 35 hours a week, hunt 3 days a week. They have no chores, errands or bills to pay. The rest of the time they are free to spend socializing with the tribe in dance, music and storytelling.

Homo sapiens would never have championed if it weren’t for the Agricultural Revolution. Were humans designed to be confined in a four-corner room to sit and work in a desk? E.g., to manage shareholders’ equities in crisp Armani business suits? To work long hours in your cubicle, and see your children grow up not knowing you anymore?

Cases of wanderlust not unfounded—they are screams calling out for our hunter-gatherer spirit. The claustrophobic urban jungle can do funny things to the human psyche—the plethora of mental conditions and psychosis weren’t present 12,000 years ago. Cavemen certainly didn’t have to go to a shrink back then.

I grew up in a beautiful island, left for the big city to pursue my dreams, to work my ass off for several years, save enough money so I can retire and move to some recluse island and spend the rest of my life in paradise.

Oh. How ironic.

Typing this frantically from a corner cubicle, maybe we all still dream of open fields and stalking around with a spear on hand.

Love and Dating in the Tinder Era

I caught up with a previous guy I dated before. Amazingly, this guy still chose to be friends with me– I’m not friends with majority of my exes.

I met this guy in Paris, and dated briefly until I realize that you’re different when you’re on holiday and when you’re home; and that means you would not date some people otherwise if you were on real-life mode. A few months later and 10,000km apart, I’m now giving this guy dating and relationship advice.

Sure, he would still give his usual spiel that I should come and live in Paris instead (he has 200 different ways and reasons, none of which were thoroughly convincing), and then he would confide how it’s difficult to find a real relationship nowadays–despite his numerous matches and options at hand nowadays. This is coming from someone who’s a 6 ft tall doctor with washboard abs and a jawline that can cut things. and French.

But after coming from two half-decade relationships with no breathing time in between, and then being suddenly single; I don’t know how to navigate the ‘modern dating scene’ anymore (hence, I’m really not the best person to ask for love and relationship advice).

It seems that love in the modern era is trickier, muddier. Online dating has made the dating game a numbers game. Tinder is supposed to make things easier, but harder at the same time. Everyone’s suddenly commitment-phobic, hooking up is normal, and everything is all about instant gratification. There are now several relationship statuses created by millennial dating; a spectrum of greys that were once just black-and-white: Casual dating, ‘just hanging out’, laissez-faire, FWBs, Cuddle Buddies, Hotline Blings, one-sided relationships, on-again, off-again couples… a lot of these definitely didn’t exist the last time I was last single.

And yet, people still yearn for that real connection. You can tell by the hugot lines shared on your news feed and the number of ThoughtCatalog articles complaining about the same thing. We all want the same, real thing. Everyone just pretends to not give a damn.

Modern dating is just like Game of Thrones. There’s just too many characters to keep track of, and you seriously can’t get attached to any of them, because you know nothing so good would last too long. Love in the time of tinder is a lot like love in the time of cholera.

I’m not saying finding love on Tinder or online dating websites is not possible. Some people swear by it. It was an easy choice to disconnect for me. I needed that spur-of-the-moment, unpremeditated element. That real and rare connection. I need to see the madness in your eyes. I just need to know if we’re the same brand of crazy.

 

To That Boy Across The Street

I first saw him from across the streets somewhere in Pyramides, Paris. He already stood out with his tall frame, moreover that he was looking at me with a big, boyish grin on his face, which made me blush and pretend I was preoccupied with staring at my shoes. When the green light flashed, I crossed the street–he didn’t. Instead he waited for me on the other end.

I would like to advice other girls, ‘don’t talk to strangers’, even if they were pretty cute… but I’d be a hypocrite if I told you that. The best and craziest people I know are those I met sporadically, the types of stories I would enjoy telling my son in the future.

He said he thought I was really cute. So our first meeting led to a date, to which I told my friends to call me every thirty minutes to check up on me if I’m still alive, and he had to endure constant interruptions from well-meaning girlfriends. Despite the language barrier, we talked for hours on end. Several Google Translate searches later, the initial two-hour date turned to coffee in the morning.

Most of the guys I’ve known are world-class travelers, adventurers, thrill-seekers, with amazing stories of Nepal, Mongolia, Siberia or Afghanistan–incredible stories on how they quit their jobs to embark on their dreams to travel the world… this guy was nothing like that. He was ‘different’ than what I’m accustomed to–a small-town French boy who has never been anywhere. He dreams of traveling but doesn’t even have a passport, and the closest thing for him is to hear my stories of far-off lands. He talks affectionately about his job, maintains a humble and private practice independently, a sportsman, and a homebody.

Basically, everything that I’m not.

He was stable as a rock, as I am as impulsive and slippery. He was as humble as much as I loved humblebragging…

Most of all, I admired his honesty. He didn’t say anything remarkable to try to impress me. He doesn’t hide the fact that he’s a geek and so much un-cooler than me (haha). For the rest of the holiday we were smitten like high school sweethearts.

But distance kills, particularly a 10,000 km one. It was no longer enough to meet each other on the other side of the road. The pressures of my impending GMAT and the future of business school told me that it was time to move on.

As little as you want to write when you’re happy, that’s how much you write when you’re broken. Doomed romances maketh a writer. We live for the misery.

I still sometimes wished I missed that flight, but I knew I would ruin it if I did. Better to part with a beautiful, somewhat bittersweet memory than to push something prematurely. We can’t lose the magic of a perfect, ‘could’ve-been’ story. The stuff made for the movies.

‘It’s My French Right To Complain’

 

During a conversation in a bar with friends in Paris, we casually pointed out that French like to complain a lot. Rather than getting insulted, all the French in the group agreed.

“Of course. It feels good to complain,” one of them proclaimed.

In the third world perspective, we didn’t quite understand what it meant about ‘feeling good when complaining’. Growing up, we were told to ‘stop complaining and shut up or else…’—‘or else’ can mean either of the following: getting whipped, being refused dinner, getting pinched in the ear, or, being kicked out of the car and left stranded on the road. That’s how it was in the ‘hood. Swallow the bitter medicine and grin, bitch.

The whole ‘complaining is fun!’ shenanigan sounded absurd to me, if not a little funny. The French were in fact the very first to complain. They make it a sport even. Every day, I come across at least 4 rallies happening around the city.

While walking in Place de la République I received one such pamphlet stating what the rallyists demand from the government: 25-hour a week workload only, higher salary, more vacation leaves, etc., etc., etc., demands that were all ridiculous and absurd to me. They are basically demanding more and more in order to do less and less.

‘J’ai le droit’, a French expression that means ‘it is my right’, and they try to inject it in any conversation as possible.

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We see an interesting contrast between Western and Asian culture. Westerners see Asians as overly shy, passive and obedient, while Asians see westerners as overly confident, obnoxious and selfish. But when we try to understand each culture, we understand why.

Westerners value individual human rights more than anything else. The Judeo-Christian belief that every person has an ‘innate soul’, confirms that every person are equal, and bestowed with equal rights to live.

Even at a young age, western children are already given the right of self-expression by being provided with the privacy of their own room, where they can decorate it according to their own will, and parents have to knock on their door before being allowed in.

Asians value family, community and hierarchy more than anything else. Hence we have sibling nomenclature in terms of the hierarchy in the family (such as in Filipino-Chinese communities: achi, diche, ahia, shobe, etc.)

Asians would rather give up a personal right to contribute to a more effective community. For example, Asians would willingly give up the right to eat and drink inside public transport systems because it will make it more convenient for everyone; while Westerners would lobby all they can to keep the same right in theirs.

Neither is more ‘right’ or ‘correct’ than the other, by the way.

Nighthawks and the Death of a Hipster

nighthawks by edward hopper

This is ‘Nighthawks‘ by Edward Hopper, a 1942 American realist painting, oil in canvas. ‘Nighthawks’ is constantly referenced in pop culture, from The Simpsons to Blade Runner. It is also one of my favorite paintings of all time.

The painting shows four figures in a downtown diner at the dead of the night. Neither of the figures seem to be talking to another. The scene looks straight out of a classic film noir scene.

What drew me into the painting is the unsettling stillness. The nonchalance of the figures, together with the eery atmosphere–it portrays exactly the overtones following a wild night of partying, a few moments before the break of dawn. Most of Hopper’s paintings convey a sense of urban isolation and detachment.

Isn’t it ironic, how urban cities feel so crowded and lonely at the same time? We all sit cramped elbow-to-elbow in jeepneys, but no one is talking to anyone. Contrary to the province, everyone knows who’s sleeping with whom.

Poor, unfortunate souls lingering after dark. They spend the night in pubs or clubs; to forget, to numb the heart a little, to drown in EDM. As the night progresses, people get friendlier; and ‘one drink’ became five. A classic film noir hero: flawed and tragic.

At 4 in the morning, the lost ones are ready to retire their day; while others are just waking up to start theirs. You conclude the night starving and smelling of smoke.

For this particular night, the recovery food of choice was pochero.

The pocherohan’s background music undid me. It was the XX’s Coexist album. Orgy for your ears.

I had tried to forget, but before all this I used to be an artist and hipster.

But damn this pocherohan and their awesome playlist. Now I remember the things I used to love: watercolors, oxford shoes, film, florals, polaroids, vinyl, vintage tattoos and indie music. I fiddled in the dark room with chemicals (and no, it’s not to make meth). Holga and Diana were not just names of girls. Hiromi Uehara and Portishead were the coolest, ever.

I ate whatever I wanted; bless my prepartum metabolism. I am reminded of the time when I didn’t own a hairbrush or I couldn’t care less about makeup. What a time to be alive!

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My current wardrobe is mostly blacks and whites–like I’ve been mourning for the death of my right brain— she just couldn’t fit in the real world.

My friends had finished their beef stew, and are now bantering at each other loudly. I look at my friend across me. She’s a lovely transgender, more beautiful than me or of my female friends combined.

I wonder if she’s willing to pose nude for a portrait. Maybe it’s time to pick up my brushes again.

 

Rachel the Chameleon

There is always that close friend whom you don’t need to see often to maintain that closeness. That friend knows everything happening in your life, despite the circumstances of missed time. In my case, my friend lives far away and thus we only get to meet once every two years. For the convenience of readers, let’s call him L.

We met in Starbucks. He orders his usual americano, and my usual green tea soy latte. I was ready to find a table outside for the convenience of my friend, but he shook his head. He said he had already quit smoking. That’s new, as I saw him take out a pretentious vape from his pocket.

He knew me when I got engaged, and then as a cafe owner, and then a university professor, and then a mom, and then a travel blogger, and now–a bum-by-choice.

Every time L saw me, he said, I was always different and he was always the same. He whines about working for the same corporation since graduation, but not the fact that he now has a high position and earns a monthly six-digit figure.

A few weeks from now, I will be unemployed. 8 full semesters, 2 summer semesters and 3,000 students. I have learned so much from my students. I will miss the loud laughter from the faculty office, and the green jokes of my colleagues. It really didn’t feel like work at all. Nor did it feel like four years.

Officially, I will be on ‘study leave’. But I’m not even sure if I wanted to finish masters, to finally start on my book or to climb Mt. Everest. So, I pooled whatever I had and booked myself to a Euro trip adventure of a lifetime. In my head, it sounded like a rather logical decision to do (at that time…) 

Kinda like my habit of tipping buskers the last of my pocket change and cheerfully hoping they don’t spend it on some meth.

L teases me about my transient drifter phase, because he said I was supposed to be the smarter one.

“You are like a chameleon.” L said.

“That’s an ironic way to describe me. Lizards are the only thing I am deathly afraid of.”

When Travel Compulsion is Bad For You

I have a compulsion for travel.

Rachel Arendelle Postcardpretty

No surprise revelation there.

My friends know it, everyone knows it. Why would I start a travel blog in the first place anyway?

I’m the one who compulsively checks at various travel web sites for flight deals. I’m the one who constantly bugs friends to come with me to travel. I’m the one who lies awake at night, staring at the ceiling,wondering where my next destination will be. Travel compulsion is a horrible, obsessive thing.

Travel is like crack cocaine, you see. The more you do it, the more you yearn for it. The sound of foreign tongues, the alien-like characters on their newspapers, the feeling of getting lost, the sight of unusual food and smells–you get hooked to it.

And yet, I am not as rich as the bank. No let me rephrase that–I’m broke. My mind and wallet’s relationship are currently strained, like alienated parents too religious to divorce.

My mantra towards money is that, ‘when you need it, it will come.’ And it always does. Somehow, I find myself chancing upon opportunities or help that provide me with enough money to get where I’m supposed to go.

Relationships can take a toll on constant travel, too. Sure, you meet a lot of friends from around the world. But what about your friends at home? Do they mind that you disappear from their lives every few months?

Your ideals on love morph–to become more fluid, idealistic, quixotic. I guess it happens when you started falling in love with places and not people. You will never look at love the same way again. There’s a bit of irony there–the more you go out and see what the world can offer, the harder it is to find your soulmate. Is there even such a thing?

My previous partners could never control me because I’ll always be outgoing and spontaneous. I don’t want you to spoil me with gifts, I want you to keep up with me. Give me freedom and I will love you forever.

That, or I’m just a selfish bitch with a passport.

Why Do We Travel?

I had lunch alone again.

I was sat in a little Vietnamese restaurant in Paris, staring at my pho and contemplating why I keep on doing this. Why I continue to put myself into uncomfortable situations.

Coming from a country with strong social ties, traveling is done with family or friends. Traveling alone is unheard of–especially for a (gasp) young female on a quarter-life crisis.

Who’s going to eat lunch with you? Who’s going to make sure you won’t get lost? Who’s going to take your pictures?!?!?!

It all felt liberating, to be able to do everything on my own. Eating alone and mastering selfies were the easy part of the equation. But having the patience of a small bladder, I found bearing through long queues alone the hardest. To occupy my time, I often engage in idle chitchat with other tourists in the queue. I’m usually lucky enough to have an American in front or behind me, as they are usually the most talkative and do not hesitate in telling me their life story a few minutes later.

So, really, why do you travel?

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I am chasing my dreams, pursuing my happiness, I tell myself. Traveling will enlighten me. Traveling will make me happy. I do not need superficial and material possessions to validate my being.

And yet I know this is not totally truthful. I, just like most travelers, am sold to the myths of travel. No studies prove that traveling makes any of us happier. Our desires are shaped by romantic consumerism–they are neither personal nor natural, but ideas shaped by modern Western thought on humanist, capitalist and romantic myths.

Some people point out that traveling is the new vanity. Traveling entails cost, and thus, it is a commodity–the hottest in the market of beard-growing hipsters today.

If I was Lisa del Giocondo, wife of a rich Italian merchant, in the 14th century– which will make me adore my husband more– a trans-Atlantic cruise or my oil portrait painted by one of Italy’s greatest masters? Similarly, an Egyptian royal would never think of going on a holiday to satisfy his desires. He would rather dedicate his life to building himself a pyramid.

We are all in the bandwagon of experience-based consumerism and it’s so hard to get out of the fluff. The tourism industry ought to thank our new freethinking philosophy. The capitalists we hate so much are earning so much from us, as well.

After engaging in a ten-minute monologue, I am brought back to reality with my piss cold pho.