In all my 20 years of living, I never understood myself more than I do now.

It was about 8 a.m. when I finally landed in Manila, Philippines and, after that 16-hour flight, all I could think about was how hot it was: “I’m hot, it’s hot, why is it so hot.” But later on I learned there was so much more than the humidity.

In the Philippines, there’s little-to-no such thing as a traffic light or crosswalk, motorcyclists do whatever it takes to swivel in-and-out of lanes (there’s really no such thing as lanes), you’re either sweating or freezing, there’s food everywhere, and water and pamaypays (fans) are essential.

Yet the agonizing humidity, bumper-to-bumper traffic, freezing air-conditioned mega malls and lack of toilet paper wasn’t enough to drive me away, and that’s because I felt like I was home.

Not that I was -- because that was the first time I had ever been there -- but everyone made it feel like I was home.

Honestly, it made me feel like Amanda Bynes in “What A Girl A Wants,” which is a movie about a teenager girl traveling from New York to London in hope to meet her dad for the first time in her life. Only for me, I was meeting the other side of my family and family friends for the first time in my life -- oh, and we didn’t necessarily speak the same language (I understand it, but can’t speak it well).

There was a lot of awkward silences, broken English and broken Tagalog, but we made it work.


Aking barkada sa Pilipinas. My group from the Philippines. 

I’d play some of my music -- A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti to be exact -- while aking barkada doon (my group of friends over there) countered with theirs -- Bugoy Na Koykoy and This Band. There was what felt like endless nights of karaoke and arguments over Uno. I’d listen to them talk about anything and everything until 4 a.m., only chiming in with short phrases I knew in Tagalog.

It was so weird speaking in english and not a single soul knew what I meant. I would do hand gestures, hoping it would be easier to understand me, but everyone would just lift their brow at me. They’d laugh and I’d laugh, somehow still managing to connect with them and the whole culture around me.

Of course, I did the whole tourist thing; go to Baguio City, the summer capital, walked up the steepest road in Tagaytay and take a dip in Olongapo. But the areas that tourists flocked to the most felt the fakest to me.

It was in Panducot, Calumpit -- where the chickens cluck from 3 a.m. to 12 p.m., motors ride up-and-down the road honking their horns for pandesal (bread), the very streets where my dad, aunt and uncle grew up, and grandma worked as a teacher -- that I found myself.

Learn to love your ethnicity. Go to your native land. Try your cultural foods and traditions. That’s who you are and where your family comes from kasi hindi iyong pwede palitan. I promise you it’ll open your eyes to bigger things.

P.S., sa aking barkada doon, umuwi ako next next year, ha! Maraming nakatambay tayo, promise. Sana hintayin mo ako. (Yes, google translate is your best bet. No, I’m not sure if it’s entirely correct).

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