Some time ago I took a plane out to Dumaguete and stayed for about half a week. The reasons for the trip were unremarkable: I don’t get to take trips that often without my family; I wanted to go out of town for reasons unrelated to career advancement; I was just a little sick of seeing everybody except me getting ‘grammed near a body of saltwater.
I took this trip to find a place for all the things that I left floating in the air when I was still in Manila: the self, the future — concerns that have more room to breathe when evaluated far away from the smog of the big city. Sometimes reflection comes easier when you’re sufficiently distanced from various responsibilities and spending time with friends you have to fly to to see. At the same time, the answers don’t always come when you’re out of town, but come barrelling through the gates of your heart once you get to the NAIA terminal dragging your luggage behind you. And the answer that forced its way into me was this.
I need to get the hell out of here. Out of Manila, specifically.
It’s a typical compulsion for city kids, I guess, and that (Christ, I hate this word) ~wanderlust~ manifests in different ways. Look at the academics-in-the-making who’d rather take their masters anywhere but here. The Manileños who flock to LU every weekend. The twenty-somethings who drive to Tagaytay on a whim because that’s apparently a thing. Whatever the destination, it’s a love for escape that exists in relation to a clear hatred and contempt for Manila — the big city, the unjustly deemed center.
The first question to confront then is: What is it about Manila that makes its inhabitants want to leave? Obvious answers incoming: The crappy urban planning. The sheer concentration of big business. The pollution.
The desire to leave has been part of the cultural consciousness even before the political climate became what it is, but I also keep thinking about where the discourse went after the elections, when concerned citizens who saw the bloodbath coming were pleading through the digital void, get out now while you still can.
That’s leaving as necessity, but there’s also leaving as want. Leaving as an existential antidote. Why?
I don’t know how to diagnose this. We’re brought up on contradicting ideas of what it means to be a human being in relation to a given space. Bloom where you are planted, goes the old platitude. But also, living life overseas signifies success. You’re likely to hear both of these things coming out of your tito’s and tita’s mouths at the next family reunion. And I want to believe that being content shouldn’t have to be dependent on what your address happens to be but sometimes it is. Sometimes the idea of the grass being greener on the other side, tired as it is, is objectively true.
There is more to resenting a place than its physical and political realities, significant as they are. There’s also the everyday. Here’s what I’ve come up with. You live a good chunk of your life in a single place, and that place becomes a living, pulsing archive of all your sorrows, and every day spent in that place is a reminder of all your sorrows, as though it’s the big city’s fault when it’s just math, the statistical likelihood of encountering pain where you always spend your time. Then you go somewhere else specifically for recreation and make damn sure sorrow doesn’t touch that place and you think, well, maybe white sand and ocean waves do the trick.
So you try to escape the math of living. And maybe that works a little while after you move, at least until the volume of malaise between point A and point B comes up equal. Then you think about moving again.