Ukay-ukay

By Angelo Serrano
Essay

I was not spending more than P300 for a single pair of pants, so the obvious solution was to get one, and maybe a couple more, from ukay-ukay.

Now let’s be honest. You probably won’t find any Supreme or Gucci brands there, but if you’re just looking for something to wear casually, ukay-ukay will definitely not disappoint. It all comes down to luck really.

Now I haven’t traveled much in my short life, so I don’t know how it is for other places, but in Polomolok, my hometown, ukay-ukay covers one whole street every Sunday. The stalls have jackets, shirts, underwear, jewelry of doubtful quality, watches, bags, and, as the signs often point out, they are all bag-o bukas or newly opened.

When I went there, a large makeshift tent was draped over the entire street to keep the sun from giving everyone skin cancer. As a downside, the tent created a gargantuan oven, slowly cooking everyone within and drawing out the aromatic scent of sweat. One opening of the oven sold Vanss caps, G-Stock watches, and Roots (I haven’t heard of them either) bags. The other end sold Adidas shoes with Nike logos and cheap rings and necklaces that had marijuana logos on them.

A single long trail was flanked by piles upon piles of clothes on both sides. A mountain of shirts here, a small hill of blouses there, and a valley of seksi shorts every few feet. Above these fascinating landforms were their prices, usually in bright colors. Almost always below a hundred.

Finally, I reached a whole section dedicated to pants.

Ali na!” shouted a man. “Pantalon! Bag-o abri!”

His pile had a 75 sign hanging above it, which was definitely a good deal for a good pair of pants. I dug and rummaged through the pants, along with several other people, first looking if the color was nice, then if the material was comfortable, then if the size fits me by using the neck trick. In case you didn’t know, if you can wrap the width of the waist of your pants around your neck, then the pants will fit. The process made sorting through the pants easy for me, but I didn’t find one that I wanted to buy.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a dark-blue pant leg. I reached for it, and it felt soft, fine, and new. I pulled on it to release it from its burial ground of unwanted jeans, and held it up in all its glory. It wasn’t worn-out. Not faded, nor tattered. Just my type. I did the neck trick, and it was only slightly larger than my size, which was fine because I am quite the eater. For P75, it was perfect. I knew at that moment that it was what I needed.

I have no idea why, but I reburied the perfect pair under a mountain of jeans. I took a mental note of every aspect of it, down to the square that was on its button. I guess, in my mind, I was thinking, “I’d find a better, cheaper pair.”

I left it there—alone and awaiting my return.

I wandered around a bit. A few more sales chants boomed from the mouths of sellers from their stalls.

Bagong abre! Pantalon! Maong! Slacks! Singkwenta na lang!”

I looked around in the pile. Nothing of interest.

“Oh! Pantalon pantalon pantalon! Palit na mo!”

I found one that would’ve been perfect but was simply too big for me.

Bag-o ni abri, ma’am, sir! Palit na mo!”

This pile had a pair that was just the right style. If only it wasn’t too small.

Honestly, a good portion of my time was spent wondering whether or not the pants were for men or women. Luckily, my brain eventually said “Does it really matter? As long as it fits, and looks good on you, right?” and saved me a few minutes.

Pantalon! Slacks! Singkwenta na lang, one hundred tulo!” shouted a lady.

Now, three for P100 was definitely a good deal, so I dug my way through this mountain along with several others, pulling at legs buried under other pants and trying them on my neck. I found three that fit well and were of notable quality, but they didn’t even come close to the first one I had fallen in love with. So I left them there and went back to buy the perfect pair.

I shouldn’t have left.

For a solid thirty minutes, I scavenged for the perfect pair. I pushed all the other pants away, causing the pile to constantly shift, as if it was dunes in a desert. I denied to myself the crushing reality that the perfect pair had been bought by someone else.

Eventually, I grew angry with myself for not buying it the moment I found it. I even started to whisper prayers as I looked for it in the pile.

I was sad. I couldn’t imagine not having it. I couldn’t accept the thought that someone else was bringing it home, that someone else was putting it on. If only I had not been so greedy. If only I had been satisfied with what I had been given. If only I had not gone looking at other pants that obviously were subpar compared to the perfect pair.

If only I had not let her go.

 

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A Walk on the Ramp

By Mark Vincent M. Lao
Essay

The lights came flashing. It was my cue to walk on the ramp. I dared to join the beauty pageant because I had won two titles before. I believed that I had gone through so many challenges in my path and my experiences were enough for me to take home another title. But I was wrong.

The first time I joined was due to the exasperation of my ninth-grade classmate who was the president of our class that time. I was walking in the corridor and then up the stairs without any confidence. I went straight to our room. And there she was, her right hand placed on her worried face, which lightened up when she saw me. “Lao, ikaw na lang bi!” These were the words I remember all too well. “Ha?” I answered. “Sa ano?” She told me about the pageant and laid out the possibilities for me if I won. Only the positive ones. “Sige a,” I said. The answer was responsible for my fate in the next couple of years.

I won my first time. The pageant helped me gain confidence to stand and face people.

My second time was with the Special Program for the Employment of Students (SPES), but it didn’t happen right away. SPES is conducted every summer, and a part of the program is a province-wide beauty pageant. I first joined the program in 2015, and I had a chance that year to represent Tacurong, my home city, in the pageant. But I let the chance pass, thinking that things that come along always come along. The next year, I wanted to join the pageant more than anything, but I wasn’t the only one who wanted it. The opportunity was given to someone else. I didn’t let it pass; it passed me. It was only in 2017 when my dream became a reality. I was chosen. It must be the right time because my experience was fantastic. Everything went well, and I won the title—my second.

It took me a walk in the corridor and three summers to be a candidate in the annual beauty pageant of my school. A screening was held for interested high school students, and I didn’t pass up the opportunity or let it pass me. Not anymore. Others knew my burning passion and love for the ramp so well that no one went against me. I was chosen as the representative of the high school department, and I had to compete with college students. It was on cloud nine.

The practice for the production number was done in a hurry. We started just three or four days before the pageant. It was quite a challenge for me. But it was nothing compared to what I might win and gain. Every time I walk on the ramp, my dreams come true, even just for a minute. While hearing a lot of cheers and screams, my dreams come true.

I thought my experiences were enough for me to take home my third title. I was wrong. I was proclaimed first runner-up. My family, my friends, and the people who had been there for me from the start witnessed it. They were all surprised and wanted me to go back to the line at the back when I was called, saying I deserved to win.

But I was able to do what others could not in front of a crowd. I did the best I could. I won against myself. I won the hearts of people who believed in me. I did not lose. I might not have taken home a title, but I won. I won my third walk on the ramp.

The Confrontation

By Andrea D. Lim
Essay

I am enrolled in one of the private schools in General Santos City, a Protestant Chinese school in Barangay City Heights where more drivers and less parents send their children to school and pick them up when classes end. I contest to this generalization although I know it is true.

That is why I was not surprised with that frantic look my classmates and I shared when Ma’am Villa, our guidance counselor who I consider as my only true friend back in high school, announced to the graduating class a while ago that there will be a Father-Child Night next Saturday. We have dads who work seven days a week; even those who acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being still spend Sundays for money-making. If God can be placed in a lower rank He does not deserve in schedules and priority lists, how much more a daughter like me who is not able to inherit both Math and business skills of my father, an industrial engineer and a businessman?

Ma’am Villa gave us copies of the letter of invitation we have to hand to our dads ourselves. There’s no harm in trying, I assured myself. The next morning, I placed the letter beside the Bible Papa always reads every morning—the book he also used to propose to Mama—with a cup of coffee or tea at his side. I also told Mama nonchalantly that the event’s main objective is for our fathers to have an intimate moment before we graduate, knowing that momentous encounters with them seldom happen.

Mama knows how to listen to what my silence cannot help but say. I heard her reading the letter to my father thru the phone while I was studying in my room. She would make sure she called his office every afternoon so that Papa will remember the upcoming school event.

Final exams and requirements for graduating students made time seem quicker to pass by, and the next thing we know, it was already Saturday. I still have not heard from Papa if he can make it to the event or not. I am already fifteen, I reminded myself while preparing for the event. You should know by now that pain chooses no age. Get used to it.

And I was not alone in the struggle of begging for our father’s time. I forgot to observe the look of our teachers’ faces—the ones who helped in conceptualizing and organizing this event with objectives they feel strongly about—but not the statistics of attendees, specifically the fathers. Out of sixty-four dads who were expected to come to the school’s audiovisual room, only twenty-one came. Half of them were also late. Those students who have their fathers with them were sitting on the front chairs. The rest of the “fatherless” bunch like me were at the back.

It was not a pity party for us, though. We were not sure if numbness is also a feeling, but we were pretty sure Mano Po movies depicting the “Filipino-Chinese children’s plights” are overrated. We just mocked the whole event as too sentimental or imagined ourselves as parents of our future children. Will we also decide that our homes and businesses be established in one building? Will we impose Ephesians 6:1–3 all the time and not bother ourselves with Ephesians 6:4? Will we be able to identify more with the nature of a system where wealth comes from than our future children’s identities?

Papa came roughly ten minutes before the event ended. He was only able to attend the last part of the program titled as “The Confrontation.” An ample amount of time was allotted for the student and his or her father to find a spot anywhere around the campus where a deep talk can happen.

“I know the perfect spot where we can talk,” Papa whispered to me.

He chose a bench under the tallest tree in school: a pine tree that’s higher than the campus buildings painted in white. I called that tree as the heart of the campus on one of my diary entries last year.

“I’m sorry…”

These are the only words he said. I always view Papa as a man of few words that have always been not enough. I never thought it only takes two words for a warrior to remove an armor and look at crumbled walls as beautiful ruins.

He started to cry. That was the first time I saw him cry like a fifteen-year-old boy. I did too. There are still no words, even if the thing that has to happen is already happening.

After the closing prayer, we immediately went to the car and headed home. I sat in the backseat; front seats are for mothers who endure seeing their children receive tough love from their fathers. All I can do is watch him drive. Growing up, I was never sure if I own a forgiving heart. All I know is I carry a heavy one. But at that moment, I was certain I do, because all I can give to Papa is unconditional love all along.

Water and Glass

By Johanna Michelle Lim
Essay

Labindalawang kabayo,” my skylab driver assesses.

This was the value in livestock, the Tboli’s accepted currency, if he bought me as wife. I would be his sixth, the latest in a collection that he hopes will equal that of his father’s, who had thirty-nine.

As a joke, I demand the herd to be all white—pure, ethereal bodies that cross between dream and wake, the line of which dims with the fog surrounding Sbu, where a man could accumulate six life partners in the same time frame that I have accumulated none.

Walang problema!” he replies, and proceeds to tally every white stallion we pass in the next days.

Mark nudges to a concrete house where several studs are grazing in overgrown grass. A sign. The more horses a man has in his front yard, the more wives.

Pero sa linya ko, una ka na hindi tagadito,” he says in seriousness. A foreigner, and college graduate at that. More expensive than his other wives, whom he bought for only six horses, but well worth it.

Stumped, I ask him why.

Kasi puwede mo ako dalhin sa labas.”

*

A week ago, I choose Mark from the mass of motorcycle drivers in Seloton’s market. He boasts he is the favorite among foreigners.

Mark talks about the “outside” as if it might as well have been an alternate universe, a glass house to be broken into, even while it is a mere ride away.

All of what I describe to him of my every-days in Cebu—the coffee shops, grocery shopping, yoga sessions—seem like a drunkard’s rant. And whatever details that support them—the traffic, the lack of time, of sleep—I find myself exaggerating, describing a world bolder, or more chaotic, than what it actually is.

In the end, he clarifies, did everyone look like the characters from On The Wings of Love like you described, or prettier?

For him, the outside meant he didn’t have the load of fifteen mouths to feed. No sacks of rice to portion. No wives to rotate his weekends around. No squabbles to moderate among his constituents in Sitio Laodanay, Bakdulong.

Like his fellow skylab drivers, Mark entertains the notion of a foreigner whisking him away to the better side.

*

Mark has hazel brown eyes speckled with gold, and framed with the blackest of lashes that stand out from his bearded face. Between us, he looks like the foreign one. A full Tboli.

I make the mistake of telling him how striking they are. Deep-set and defined. Enough to draw a woman’s envy. It was a flippant comment. An accidental flirtation.

“Alam n’yo ba ano’ng ibig sabihin ng skylab?” Mark asks with a voice that has teased and taunted since then.

What?I answer as we approach a waterfront bungalow in wooden stilts. The element in the lake, the same Dwata that shows herself in a weaver’s dream, has already taken me.

I cup a water lily in my palm, purposely detaching, half listening. But Mark insists on delivering the punchline.

Skylab. Short for sakay na, lab.”

*

The motorcycle is Mark’s steed, and stage.

He sings every chance he gets, timing the highs and lows of his lines to match the Cotabato landscape. He sings to congratulate himself for conquering an incline in Traan Kini Springs. He sings when we pass through the rice fields of Hasiman, his baritone cutting through the strain of cicadas carried by wind.

Iyan, Tboli ‘yan.” Mark points a man going out of a general merchandise store. And him, and him.

The full breeds, and half-breeds. The ones from datu ancestry, and the nouveau riche. He lets go of the accelerator in order to point out to them.

He corrects my pronunciation of his tribe’s name as if to not know is a rub on their status as minority. Tboli, he repeats, is said with a soft roll on the second syllable.

How powerful it would be, I prod, to have his voice as medium for a chant, an oral story of mountain and light. Sometimes I catch myself wanting Mark to fulfill the caricature of the Tboli in my mind. The one I came to South Cotabato for, to find whatever answer lies in their simplicity.

Is that what he is afraid of? His Tboli identity oversimplified, or used as entertainment? My inquiries to him come out as judgment. He lets it go by singing the first lines of Journey’s “Faithfully.”

*

We make a game out of spotting full-blooded Tboli, his guesses strategic, mine trivial, relying on the color of skin, the only common denominator I spot in all his targets.

Iyan Ilonggo.” He points to a chink-eyed, fair man just off the sidewalk.

The Ilonggos are overtaking Sbu, he says with a grimace. The population is now seventy residents for every thirty immigrants. The rich Ilonggos open stores, and buy land in Poblacion. They bring with them skinny jeans, batchoy, and a dangerous dilution to a people that have too many issues with modernization as is. Adding a different culture, religion, and language to the mix seems like a step closer to extinction.

Mark shrugs it off though. They have also brought with them his prized videoke set. P5 a song. P5 for temporary release.

His magnum opus, “Kahit Isang Saglit,” becomes the soundtrack to tilapia and Tanduay meals. It will be his winning number in Tawag ng Tanghalan, the record of his escape, one that will take him out of this place if his wheels cannot.

Tagalog, a language we both do not own, is the language we slip into as common ground to each other’s novelty. It is new land. With it, we are both outsiders.

“Kahit sandali/Kahit isang saglit/Mayakap ka . . .” he sings at Aguilar’s, a restaurant specializing in—what else—tilapia, for what seemed like the twentieth time. The owner lets him be. He is good for business.

He takes my hand as he holds on to the last line. I don’t have the heart to tell him his masterpiece reminds me not of romance but of funerals.

*

What I want to tell Mark is that I understand his urgency, the need to be anywhere other than there. Away. Away from the pressures of carrying a whole people’s identity. It is this sentiment that landed me in Sbu in the first place.

There is a certain kind of tourist that comes to these parts. They thrive on the underdeveloped, hoping the place remains in a standstill like carefully preserved specimen.

This is the part of the narrative I guiltily leave out. Whereas Mark longs for escape, his cage is built by the economic enablement of tourists like myself who push him back, and make him stay.

Ancestry. Lineage. Obligation. Such impediments. He seems to hate it all.

The Border Express

By Mikhael M. Labrador
Essay

The train parked at the Aranyaphratet station looked more like a novelty. I was curious to see how it would run. The exterior was dignified, the paint on it polished, but it was one of those old trains, quite unlike the ones I had been on before. I must say that, aside from practical considerations, this was the reason why I wanted to go on it. With my girlfriend, Rose, I had just visited Vietnam and Cambodia and was bound for Thailand to complete the last leg of our itinerary. To save $10 or about P500 each on fare money, we decided to take the train from the border town of Aranyaprathet to the country’s capital of Bangkok. I had learned about it beforehand as part of my research for our trip. I was glad to know that Rose was up for it as well, perhaps more so than myself. She too romanticized the notion of a long, albeit arduous, travel by train.

A handful of people were already in line when we arrived, but the ticket booth was still closed. Before falling in line ourselves, we decided to have a quick lunch outside the station, at what would be the Thai equivalent of the Filipino karinderya. The food was more than enough to make us hopeful for the rest of our trip. When we returned inside the terminal, the line had grown by just about a few more people, us included. Locals made up most of it. Some of them were monks in their traditional orange garb. There were a few other tourists, and a hardy looking bunch we made. I wondered if we shared the same reasons for being there.

The low number of people made boarding smooth, and we got settled in no time. Not long after, I felt the engine come alive, and without a whistle, a bell, or some sort of signal that I had expected, the train chugged away slow and sturdy. “Larga na ta,” I told Rose. “Unsa na oras?” she asked. I checked the time and answered her. We were reasonably within schedule. “Piktyuri ko bi,” I sheepishly requested. Rose took a picture of me holding up my ticket, and upon reviewing what she had taken, she quipped, “Daw missing person ka.” We both laughed at my picture and took a few more before surrendering our attentions to the view outside our window.

The train had not gotten far yet, and I was just starting my slow drift into reflection and daydream as I looked outside. I watched as the sights unravelled before me. Green fields that stretched out for kilometers in every direction accounted for most of it. It was rice country. Much of my childhood was set in a similar backdrop, so the landscape and the frames of life in it felt familiar but beautiful all the same. Here and there, Buddhist temples, rural Thai architecture, and local presence served as quaint reminders to me of where I was. All of which happily broke my nostalgic state. Taking a break from her own private thoughts, Rose roused me for a conversation. “Ma-remind ko sa katong ‘Town of Cats’ ni Murakami,” she said. No doubt because of the train part in that story. The one that we were on rumbled from the rushing wind, but Rose’s enthusiasm pierced through as we talked about the story and other things for a while. Soon, our topic drifted to our current endeavor. Kiddingly I told her, “Kabayo na lang kuwang, kumpleto na ta para sa biyahe nga ni. Nag-plane na ta, bus, motor, barko, bike, ug train na pud ron.” She told me how excited she’d been about this part of our journey. Our window gazing resumed. We were sitting in front of each other, looking out from opposite directions. On my side, Cambodia gradually became farther, while on hers, Bangkok drew closer.

Every now and then the train would stop at minor stations along the way. For the first few, it seemed like no one hopped off, or at least nobody from our section. The train was well on its way. The engine, I imagined, was hot and its gears were nimble in their movements. We picked up speed as we moved further into the interior of the country, and the distance between the terminals became farther, or so it felt. Up to that point, we had not shared our seats with anyone, and there were plenty of vacant ones left. Eventually, the train filled up with people. I looked out for the food vendors I had read about and seen in videos during my research for our trip. No luck just yet. I wasn’t hungry anyway. During one of the stops—and I can’t, for the life of me, remember which one as there were so many—a man came over to where I was and proceeded to put his belongings in the overhead compartment above us. I scooted inside my seat to make room for him. Just then, he handed me his water bottle and what I could only describe as a towel rolled into a log. I was not familiar with the general etiquette of train riding, so this act caught me by surprise. I received his things, still somewhat bashful towards what was happening, but the man had a cordial way about him that made it easy for me to oblige. He had a fixed smile on his face that I was quick to return.

I looked over at Rose, and she too was smiling, amused by what was happening. The man asked for his things back from me. He placed the towel last along with his luggage and kept his water bottle in hand. As expected, he sat beside me. He held his thumb up at my direction and said, “OK!” He made the same gesture to Rose, and we both nodded back at him. Like any agreeable tourist, I welcomed any chance for interaction with the locals, so I decided to start a conversation with my new seatmate. Bangkok was still hours away after all, and it would help to pass the time. But it did not take long before I learned that his English vocabulary was limited to “OK” and “Where you from?” I could not hold it against him, being aware of my own shortcoming for not knowing his language. I told him that we were from the Philippines, to which he replied, “Ohhh, Philippines!” The conversation that would follow seemed hopeless. In my head I wished for him to utter “Manny Pacquiao,” like they did in Cambodia when I told them where we were from. That would have bought us a good few more seconds. Unfortunately, this never happened, and if he had dropped the whole thing right then, I would not have objected. But he was friendly to a fault. He had an earnest look on his face as he somewhat expected for the conversation to continue. The discussion became a rough version of sign language. Lucky for me, my landlord of eight years is legally deaf, and I had practice with this sort of exchange. It was all small talk and formalities, but each sentence was hard-fought. Rose also held her own, and I was convinced that she was enjoying herself. Clearly she too had had some practice. She certainly made good use of our makeshift interactions with the other locals over our past few weeks abroad.

There was a brief intermission that followed our initial chitchat. Sometime within the pause, my seatmate stood up, reached for his belongings, and took out what I had perceived earlier to be a rolled-up towel. He hung it up on his sleeves and looked like someone who was about to take a bath. Looking at my direction, he pointed his finger to his chest and uttered, “Islam.” The inside of the train being noisy, and my attention not yet complete, I responded by stating my name. I thought he had introduced himself at last, so I proceeded by doing the same thing. He swayed his head in disagreement and reiterated himself: “Islam.” I did not bother to respond any further realizing the blunder of my first one. Instead, I put on an awkward smile to affirm my understanding. He went to the back of our car and stopped at one of the few empty seats left. He covered its surface with his sheets and knelt down on it. It was a time of the day for him to pray. I caught Rose chuckling away at my mistake. “Religion na diay imong pangalan,” she teased me. I stated my excuse, laughing at my own slip. “Grabe, may religion siya nga iyaha ba!” Rose egged on. I waited for the man to come back and to try and correct myself. But by the time he did, I saw no point to it anymore and just made room for him just as I had done previously. When he was getting ready to sit back down, he told me for the last time and for safe measure: “Islam.” I nodded back at him as Rose kept a cheeky grin.

I called my seatmate’s attention to ask him about his tattoos, which he had a few of spread throughout his arms and some on his face and neck. They looked rustic and were not immediately noticeable. We dove right back into the same way that we had been carrying out our previous conversations. In his efforts to explain, he fixed his hands together like someone holding a hammer and chisel. I knew that in the context of our conversation, he was referring to the manner in which his tattoos were made—the old way—a painful process that was proven by his facial expression as he described it to me. He also tried to explain the meaning of each one, but I was not sure if I had translated it correctly in my head. I understood enough that they were all imposed on him by ritual. He looked proud of his markings, and he showed them off like they were trophies or medals. At one point, he directed my focus to a specific location below his pelvic regions. Next, he put two fingers together to mimic the needles that were used, went back to a hammer-and-chisel motion, and put on what was the grimmest face I’d seen him make. Apparently, and perhaps the information could have been spared from me, he also had a tattoo somewhere in the genital area. Needless to say, that was one mark he didn’t bother to show, but it made for an entertaining topic nonetheless.

A couple of times or more, I snuck out to the back and had a cigarette or two. I peeked, with half of my body hanging from the side of the train, to catch a windy glimpse of the places we passed by. In one case, I just stood there looking at the draw bars that linked our section to the next one, and I watched as the clamps pushed and pulled on each other, locked in their hypnotic dance.

My girlfriend stayed in her seat and had succumbed to napping. It was late afternoon when she woke up, just in time for us to buy snacks from the food vendors that had already been making their rounds by then. We bought a light starchy snack that helped to elevate our moods. The lady that was sitting across from us offered us some of her food, which we timidly declined. However, to return the courtesy, we gave her and my seatmate some dried lotus seeds that we had brought with us from Cambodia. It was eventually passed around to the other commuters within close proximity. It was great how food spoke for us in our attempts at being friendly. It added to the peacefulness in the late afternoon ambience.

Everybody inside the train had assumed a more relaxed state. The images outside looked more delicate. Large water birds glided in the cooler breeze, and the colour of everything softened under the semi-shade. I shifted my focus to the opposite side of where we were, and I noticed a beautiful sunset had taken shape. I called for Rose to take a look, but she had already been doing so. She pulled out her camera and hurriedly took some pictures hoping not to miss the opportunity. I also took a few myself. However, upon examining the pictures we had taken, it was made clear to us how much they failed to capture what was before our eyes. We stowed back the camera and instead just enjoyed the scenery. “Nindot no? Murag best sunset ko ni so far,” Rose gushed. There was no need for me to add to her already apt description, so I remained silent. People’s attentions gravitated toward the spectacle, locals and us foreigners alike. Little children pointed to it with glee, which only made the draw even more irresistible. It was a welcomed while before the lovely ball of orange in the sky disappeared into the horizon. After which, the train lights came on, and it was finally evening. The hour indicated that we were way past our halfway mark, and our journey continued with no delays.

The stops that followed took on a different vibe, and the distance between each one became shorter once again. The stations looked more up to date and busier. The closer we got to the city, the more the English translations became present at every sign. The exchange of passengers also became more hectic. People left, and even more boarded to take their place. We hit our first highway after hours of nothing but farmlands. Not very far in the distance lay the illuminated facade of a metropolis. I checked the time again as Rose showed me our Google map location on her phone. My seatmate, figuring out what we were doing, held his hand up, pinching together his thumb and pinkie finger. I knew he meant to say that we were close. I imitated his actions to let him know that I understood. It did not take long before the view from outside our window had drastically changed as we passed by sections of the city, one neighborhood after another.

Some houses were so close to the railway that I caught faint smells of incense and overheard muffled conversations in Thai. We often had to stop to make way for traffic on the road and for other trains that were either going in our direction or against. “Mura pud og Pilipinas,” Rose mutters. I agreed, but as we observed further, the differences were far too many and far too distinct that our first impressions were quickly overridden. We were both in agreement when it came to this and with our wide-eyed demeanor for simply being there. Rose’s face lit up as we reviewed our plans for the coming week. In that moment, we became oblivious to our tiredness. All we knew was that we had practically arrived in Bangkok, and our legs, numb as they were from hours of sitting, were ready to wander.

The sign said hua lamphong station, and a dark, abysmal tunnel was our entrance to it. We passed by a glass elevator that gave us a good idea of just how far down it went. The last few nudges toward our final stop were slow. My excitement verged on impatience, enough for me to stick my head out of the window to try and investigate the delay. Rose urged me to settle down and to get our bags. I stood up to take our luggage down from the overhead compartment. My seatmate already carried his own on his lap, as was the case with everyone else around us. The train went inside and down the tunnel only to emerge back up and out of the other end. We had stopped for good, and everybody hopped off. There was a long walk between us and the exit. Rose and I followed the crowd of people that headed for it. The inside of the terminal was grand. There were old and modern models of trains that juxtaposed each other as they parked in their individual lanes. I figured that my seatmate went ahead until we saw him waiting for us by the gates. He kindly gave us directions to the taxi pickup area, but we had plans to take the metro bus instead. We made our way out together and said our goodbyes before we parted ways.

Outside Hua Lamphong, the evening made for a quieter scene. But in the morning, and I was sure of this, people would come once more as they always had, and the train would run again; whether heading back or moving forward is all up to perspective. The old train, the one I made out to be a heap, would always be loyal to its tracks for however long it could be made to endure. As we moved on into the city and toward the bright lights where other unknown things awaited us, I thought how good a metaphor that was for all of our boneheaded adventures.

Riding a Tricycle

By Noel Pingoy
Essay

Ten years ago

Sometimes the very things that we loathe strengthen the life in us. As with most of my patients, loss, crisis, and even conflict goad the will to live in ways that are previously deemed unthinkable. People who used to think they aren’t good enough may even astonish themselves with random acts of benevolence and audacity. When it happens, people grow bigger than the impediments that box them, surprisingly too large enough to liberate them from issues that constantly nag and haunt, and consequently live beyond these limitations.

I learned a lot of lessons when I decided to become a commuter six months ago as part of austere lifestyle changes that I believed would define a simple life. In May I gave up my cable TV subscription. A few weeks later I had my DSL disconnected after reaching the minimum period of subscription. Would I say that my life had been more difficult, less exciting, even boring? Au contraire il est difficile de concevoir quelque chose de plus satisfaisant. Instead of spending countless hours in front of the idiot box munching insalubrious junk that augments avoirdupois as much as it encourages ennui, I buried myself in pages of printed wisdom, sweated a little of the excess pounds in the gym, or simply allowed my OC self more hours of sleep and rest that I initially thought were outrageous. I also brushed up on my French, which I had forgotten while attempting to build up the fortitude to remember that the u in gozaimasu and desu is usually not voiced (rather unsuccessfully but I ain’t giving up anyway). The amount that I used to spend for cable TV and internet surfing are instead diverted to the funds of the family council, thus giving some measure to the things that could be easily given up in favor of certain meaningful pursuits that shape and strengthen relationships.

But nothing has taught me more about the wholeness of life than taking the public transport daily to and from work. I am probably the only doctor in General Santos City who is fully dependent on tricycles and habal-habal (motorcycles that ply certain routes in the city, often using the back roads to elude the LTO cops) as I move from one hospital to another. When my driver left without notice at the start of the year, I relied on my brother who lives just a few meters away for my daily rounds until he had to beg off to attend to more pressing concerns. However things are perceived now, I will always remember with deep appreciation and fondness the times together. Since I don’t drive a car, I planned of getting a motorcycle myself to which most of the family and friends disapproved considering the incidence of accidents involving two-wheels in the city. Too unsafe, some said.

It was difficult at first, but in time I discovered what matters and the value of a spartan life. In due time the daily tricycle rides to work became my prayer-in-motion, even a sanctuary from everything that is not genuine in me and in the culture that I grew up to. Where was it written that doctors should drive the latest car models? That doctors who take public transport are kawawa or katawa-tawa? But some people I know believe that to be so. Sitting in a cramped sidecar, stooping so low that I fear my chin would brush my knees anytime the tricycle navigates a hump, I was simply Noel, neither the hematologist nor the medical oncologist, far from the image I have learned to imagine about myself. Inside that vehicle, I often start my day taking my masks off and let go of my self-expectations (even self-importance). Some people I know have dismissed this as something that I don’t have another choice anyway, and it’s true initially. But later I realized that however one goes to work does not really matter at all. I grew up in a society where image and extensions of it in the form of material possessions are valued highly. Sometimes over relationships. People struggle for self-sufficiency, abundance, or mastery and, in holding close these qualities, become blinkered to deeper human truths like humility, respect, and compassion, even contemptuous of anything in themselves and in other people.

This capacity to suffer and accept weakness is a virtue that I have long struggled to overcome. Acknowledging my vulnerability allowed me to connect to other people who too embrace their own vulnerabilities. When I stop pretending to be strong and independent, I draw out the instinctive kindness in other people. By showing this soft side, people tend to be more helpful, more generous, and even more appreciative of what they have. Simple endorphin rush! They feel good about themselves in a noble, unselfish way just being able to hold on a door for someone to pass through it. I live in a village that’s a bit far from the city, so I try to avoid staying out late. Looking back at those six months, I realized how dear friends are, colleagues who are otherwise tired from their busy practice but take the extra pains to bring me home and see me step into the gate safely. In medicine, it is often taught that part of being a professional is to allow for some space, even distance, to be objective. I learned from my colleagues one truth: to truly serve others, one must do it not only with the hands and eyes but with the heart and soul as well.

There is more to learn from life’s precarious edges than being in the safe comfortable middle. Taking the public transport for the past six months has definitely shuffled my belief systems like a deck of cards. While others might see this as something sad or pathetic, there is much wisdom about a card that had been at the bottom of the deck for most of my conscious adult life suddenly turning up the top card, the one that really mattered at the end of the day. My patients with cancer, and now the tricycle and habal-habal drivers, have enriched my life with their example: that no matter how carefully they sort their cards and repeatedly shift through their hands in the presence of death or material inadequacies, the top card is rarely possession or superiority or control. Some people call it respect or goodwill. Doctors who honor the Hippocratic Oath call it harmlessness. Others view theirs as integrity. I call mine love.

First Aid

By Mariz Leona
Essay

I woke up early. “Wow, himala!” one of my friends said. “Aga pa nagbugtaw ang iban dira.” My friends knew how late I usually woke up. I didn’t say a word and headed to the shore. As I watched the sun rose to its glorious throne, I could still hear the laughter of my friends, but my whole being was soon absorbed in the magnificent view in front of me, blended with the sea breeze and the sounds of calming waves. What a wonderful way to start a day, I thought. The past few days, I’d been broke—financially, mentally, and spiritually. That’s why I decided to spend a night with my friends in a beach in General Santos City, just twenty-five pesos away from our boarding house. I inhaled deeply, calming myself. After about ten seconds, I exhaled. I exhaled all my frustrations and despairs.

I looked at my toenails, and I felt like crying again because I had broken one of them the night before. The nail was separated from the flesh. We had been happily playing in the water when I stubbed my foot on a rock. At first I didn’t feel anything, but when we decided to return to our rented cottage, there I immediately felt something weird. When I looked at my feet, I burst out crying. One of my toenails was bleeding. My friends gathered around me, and when they found out why I was crying, they all laughed. I was dismayed by their reactions. My toe seriously hurt. They helped me nevertheless. They asked me to sit down and gave me a nail cutter to remove the nail, but I couldn’t do it myself. I was scared. So one of them did the job while I was whimpering like a pig being killed, and I cried aloud when someone poured alcohol on my toe. I thanked God for giving me friends who knew what to do in that kind of situation, even if they laughed at me.

“Mars, puli na ta,” one of my friends shouted at me. I blew a heavy sigh and said, “So this is the end of happy hour. Back to reality na naman.

“Asa mo, ga?” asked a tricycle driver outside the resort. “Uhaw mi, ’ya,” we answered, referring to the village where our boarding houses were located. My friends negotiated the fare with the driver. I didn’t join the discussion. I sat on the front seat of the tricycle. I liked it there. Every one of us liked it there because it was the most comfortable seat. That’s why I went in first and secured the spot for myself. When my friends and the driver had agreed on the fare, we started the journey.

Yes, it was a journey for me. Somehow I regretted sitting at the front because of the cold wind, but I was consoled by the nice view of the road. Watching the road was relaxing, until we came upon a vehicular accident. “Sus, kaaga pa disgrasya na,” the driver said as he slowed down. My friends made comments on the scene before us. I couldn’t understand them clearly because my heart was beating so hard. I didn’t like that kind of situation, especially in front of my eyes. The bus, probably owned by a private company, was in the inner lane of its opposite direction; the accident must have been its fault. The motorcycle that collided with it was outside the cemented part of the road.

I saw the conductor rush out of the bus, followed by a lady, maybe to check what had happened. The tricycle we were riding stopped beside the driver of the motorcycle. He was prone on the ground. We got out of the tricycle immediately. “Kuya, dal-on ta sa ospital,” I told our driver. He seemed oblivious of what I said, so I said it again to my friends. “Gasyung,” one of them answered me. “Indi na pwede tandugon sa amo na nga posisyon.”

I looked at the driver of the motorcycle, which I immediately regretted. He was catching his breath. He inhaled, and it took about thirty seconds before he exhaled. “Oh, Jesus!” was the only thing I said.

I stepped away from the scene as more people gathered around. They were from their vehicles too and happened to see the commotion. There were no houses in the area. I silently prayed for the safety of the injured man. I was trembling. I felt like crying. “Tabangi ninyo!” a woman shouted. “Nagtawag na kog ambulance,” answered the woman who had come out of the bus earlier. I could tell from her clothes that she was working for a canning company nearby, so I was confused why she couldn’t give the man first aid. I had read that companies required their employees to be trained in first aid. It occurred to me that maybe the training wasn’t required in her company, but I thought her co-workers and she needed the training more than most employees because they were working in a high-risk environment.

Nobody was touching the body. No one was knowledgeable of first aid.

“Sakay na mo, ga,” I heard our driver say. With a heavy heart, I rode the tricycle again. “Pag di pa mag-abot ang ambulance in twenty minutes, mapatay to ba,” one of my friends said. “Ginalagas na gud niya iyang ginhawa.” The driver joined the conversation: “Dili man gud to pwede isakay sa tricycle kay nakahapa. Basi ako pay makasala ato.” One of my friends at the back said, “If ako maging presidente, himuon ko jud batas na dapat tanang tao sa Pilipinas kabalo og first aid.” I thought so too.

I remembered that I had once attended a first-aid seminar organized by Philippine Red Cross. I was still in high school then. Many of the participants were not interested, including me. The only lesson that I could remember was that you had to put pressure on the wound if there was a lot of bleeding. The driver of the motorcycle was bleeding on the head earlier, and I knew I should have put pressure on his wound. But I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it because I forgot.

The driver of the tricycle drove slower. He must have been shaken by the accident too. “Wala pa lagi may nag-agi na ambulance?” I asked my friends. They were talking about other things, and nobody seemed to hear me. I watched every vehicle on the other side of the road, hoping to see an ambulance. We reached the part where the tricycle had to leave the national highway to proceed to Ohaw. “Wala pa jud ambulance na nag-agi ba,” I commented again. “Basi city pa to gikan,” one of my friends answered me. “Wala ba diay ambulance ang mga barangay na lapit diri?” I asked. “Wala siguro e,” was the answer.

That night in my boarding house, I remembered when I accidently poured boiling water on my legs at home. I shouted for help, and my mother came to the rescue. But she didn’t know what to do, so she shouted for help to no one in particular. Some of our neighbors came, and each of them had an idea what should be done. “May petroleum jelly kamo?” “Butangi sang langgaw!” “Kamatis. Effective ang kamatis.” Though I was hurt and crying, I couldn’t help but note that some of the suggestions were ridiculous. Were they planning to cook adobo or paksiw? Who in her right mind would put vinegar on her burnt flesh? If everyone around had known how to give first aid, the suggestions would have been the same and logical.

Lying in bed, I kept on thinking about the bleeding man on the road. I was still disturbed that I had not seen an ambulance or even just heard a siren. Maybe no rescue arrived. “Pag ako naging presidente, tanang tao dapat hawod sa first aid,” I found myself blurting out.