Everyone has since been asking me about my 2-week holiday to London. And everytime, I mumble a 2 word response because I can’t quite describe it in a quick chit chat.
The closest I came was when my friend Gayna asked me to describe it in 7 words. I told her it was “An old but definitely brand new experience.” I’ve been there 5 times, it doesn’t almost merit an anecdote. It’s bound to be the same. Just some few edits: nicer weather, perfect football timing aka Euro 2012 and… that’s it actually.
Except that compared to the past trips, this one offered a more relevant perspective. I set out to produce stories while there, and that required me to travel places we don’t normally go. And because nobody was willing to be my assistant nor spend for train money that won’t be reimbursed, I had to go alone.
The longest ride was the coast to coast train to Birmingham that took 5 hours, and a confused transfer route from stations in London that I was hearing for the first time. But the most fun were both times I went around London, figuring out the Underground, and making the most out of my all day travel card, hopping in and out of stations. Partly because I wanted to take some shots. But mostly because I wanted to feel a slice of what it would be like living there.
And how fun it would be. No traffic, better transport system. I would get my dream New York scenario. The trench coats, scarves, boots, the bagels in the morning. There’s something about it too. When you’re out, your mind is clear. Like everything seems to suddenly inspire you. The air whispers poetry into your ear and lamp posts transfigure into metaphors. And even against the buzz of city walkers, you hear The Cure in the background, and you feel like the lead in an indie flick and you’re under obligation to act cool and be profound, all the time. And all these, just inside your head.
I think it’s something to do with the convenience of it all. When you’re in Manila, you cannot be formulating thoughts when the heat and fear of being mugged is all you can think about. There, you have the liberty to let your mind fly free.
There’s this Gwyneth Paltrow movie called Sliding Doors. It’s a story about alternate endings that’s based on whether she made the closing door of a train or missed it. And it’s exactly like that: possibilities, like every second offers a brand new alternative.
In Manila, it takes me an hour to get from my house to the office. And in that hour, I can’t do anything, it feels as If I’m stuck against my will. It’s not that I hate long rides because I do, it feels to me as if being given the free pass out of life, like being allowed to be totally disconnected to everything, and that it won’t be at my expense.
But that goes only for special trips. You can’t have that everyday, traffic everyday feels like being cheated of time. Time you’ll never get back. In London, there’s lots of time. You wake up at 6am, be at the train station by 6:30 and start your day at 7. Your lunch comes 5 mins after you order, and the counter for soda gets to you in seconds. I felt almost disarmed. I didn’t know what I was gonna do with my time, when here I’m almost always running out of it.
There, there are always answers. Which route to take? What time does the next bus arrive? Is it gonna rain today? Will I be able to get a table in 5 mins? And they answer accurately too. So you can plan, and stick with it, and still be able to go home at 4:45 pm before the pizza place closes so you can get your dinner.
So what if I just move there and have all that at my disposal? It would be so much easier. I could get a job and be able to pay rent, get a new phone off of credits, be hit by a car because my insurance will take care of me.
In Manila, it’s hard times. Everything requires effort. You have to tune out the dreadful traffic to write into the air a script that’s already past deadline. You can’t have pizza every night because it doesn’t cost you coins here, it takes away elusive paper bills.
It answers the more crucial questions, too. When will I be able to pay my debt? How long will it take me to pay for a car? Can I get job security? There are answers from friendly voices over the operator or faces behind the counter. All you need is to fill up some easy paper work.
Londoners love this thrill. They thrive on their iPhones and Blackberries; in their Nissans and Toyotas; in their flats in Central London, with their cubicles overlooking the London freaking bridge. And as I watched this, I think that maybe I can have this.
And that’s when it hit me. I was looking at London in a good way for the first time because it doesn’t threaten me anymore. I was excited to be there because I was also excited to leave for Manila. For the first time, I was going to London assured that when I go home, i’ll be going home to something.
In the past 4 times I’ve gone there, I always leave with a heavy heart because there’s something in me that says maybe coming home was a mistake. That maybe I should listen to 3/4 of everyone I know who tell me, London is the right choice. And so everytime I go there, I pick on it, find flaws and figure out a way to hate being there. But this time, I saw it for the beauty it was, because I was finally sure that no matter how beautiful, Manila would always be the better choice.
There aren’t easy answers here. Right now, as I write this, there are hard questions hovering over my head and I know there won’t be easy answers. But is it home? Yes, definitely. And that is the easiest answer.
I could credit it to a job I love. I could credit it to friends. I could credit it to the fact that it’s been witness to my tumultuous coming of age.
I went here alone, lived here alone, and the quirks of it that remain confusing – I’m figuring out alone. I went out here at 15, got a job at 19 and moved out at 21 — I spent the decisive years of my life here and that weighs a million more than easy, convenient answers.
It’s the city I can call mine. Our relationship got difficult at times, but we come through.
I still have fantasies of maybe living a while in London or maybe some other place else — but Manila? It’s home. The answers don’t come easy but they always come out right.