This week, I was supposed to be volunteering at a farm in North Luzon where the gorgeous rice terraces are, but the recent typhoon made it impossible to work on any farm in the area. I hadn’t counted on paying for another week’s worth of hostel and meals (which would have been given to me for free in return of my volunteer work in North Luzon), so during my last night in Manila, I had no idea what I was going to do with myself. After I sent out a mass last-minute request on Couchsurfing, I went to a reggae party where there were a few cool vendors selling comic books and such. One immediately caught my eye, and the more I turned the pages, the deeper I divulged my attention to it. It was about a 20-something guy in Manila who was going on a trip to Baguio and, in a series of misfortunes, questioned everything from the potential break-up with his girlfriend to the existence of God. At some point I must have gasped out loud. The main character’s thoughts resonated a little too well with me, and I was going through almost exactly the same thing as he was. The author/illustrator knew my life.
“I must have this comic book,” I thought to myself. “I was supposed to find this, and it is supposed to exist in my life.”
I bought the book for only 100 pesos and stuffed it in my purse. I then proceeded to spent the next couple of hours dancing, sometimes in the rain, before I hit a post-party. It was 5 AM by the time I was ready to go. Exiting, I found a flood waiting for me outside the house. Holy– this typhoon wasn’t kidding.
I thought I could just hail a taxi, but nope. Not one pulled over, despite my clutched, pleading hands. Let me tell you one thing I’ve learned while traveling: taxi drivers are some of the lowest scum on Earth. But don’t let me get started. All you need to know is that it was past 7 AM by the time I got back to my hostel, but at least I found a piece of shiny, good news for me there. One Couchsurfer had accepted my request.
And this Couchsurfer lived in Baguio.
It seemed to me that things were falling in place after all. I responded excitedly, with three ‘yes’es in a row. I crawled in bed and let myself drift to sleep with a content smile on my face.
After that very long nap, I said my farewells to the new friends I had made at my hostel and hopped on a bus to Baguio. Six hours later, I arrived with a cold that developed from waddling knee-deep in the flood and rain and intensified from the constant blast of chilly air in the air-conditioned bus. Joanna, the Couchsurfer, welcomed me and let me in my room where a nice, warm bed was perfectly made. I spent my first day in Baguio mostly sleeping, sipping hot tea, and reading.
The second morning, I awoke feeling refreshed and fairly mucus-free. I stepped outside, inhaled deeply (it’s a good thing I was high up on a hill, because it’s quite smoggy down on ground level), and took in the view. Brightly-colored houses resided on the hills, greeting me with a new day. I liked Baguio already.
Filipinio hospitality has been ever-present over the past two weeks that I’ve traveled in the Philippines, and Baguio was certainly no exception. A group of locals saw me reading by myself in a coffee shop, sent over a plate of dessert, and then invited me over to their table. Names were introduced, pleasantries were exchanged, beers and cigarettes were refilled. The minutes rolled on, and when I asked about the sights around here, it seemed only natural to accept one of them’s offer to take me to the top of Mount Data for a stunning view. (I had second thoughts, but decided to go with my gut, which said that the trip would not involve any form of raping or kidnapping).
At 9 AM the next day, Joey’s truck pulled up at Cuevas Bread, near Joanna’s place. Neither of us speaking the same language, aside from written English, I knew it was going to be a quiet trip, but I didn’t have a problem with that. When I’m with my thoughts, I feel very much in company.
And thoughts I did have. As we ascended higher and higher up, a sign would distract me from the gorgeous view of terraced farms and tropic life every now and then. On the back of a jeepney that passed by, the words The joy of the Lord is my strength were painted on. A road sign read: “Closer to nature, Closer to God”. I normally never give religious talk a second glance, but I mulled over these. What is the joy of the Lord that would serve as a person’s strength? Wouldn’t it be places of natural beauty, such as where I was at the moment? What else would it be? When people are with nature, they often feel close to God, the Universe, Mother Nature, their own spirituality, or whatever it is that they believe.
There I was, without planning or intending it but nonetheless finding myself on the highest point of Baguio, thinking back on the chain of events that led me to this very moment. Everything did fall perfectly in place. Was that not an act of God?
And of course, when I say ‘God’ I don’t mean the same white-haired dude that the Bible painted for us. I mean the divine entity that surrounds us and connects us all– the same being that sends us signs and answers prayers. In another word, energy. And I believe that the source of that energy does come from within. Are we then, our own gods? Or is it every single molecule in this universe all at once?
“How can we resent a life we created ourselves? Who’s to blame…” We were going too fast for me to finish reading that sign, but it seemed almost to be a response to what I had been pondering moments earlier. I was observing the juxtaposition of nature’s awesome beauty and the ugly black smoke that was being emitted from manmade vehicles sputtering up the mountain I was on. Long ago, we transported ourselves to the top of heights using mules. And then human wondered, “How can I get up even faster and easier?”
Humans are always striving to be better, to improve. Alas, with newer technology came unforeseen repercussions. But how can we expect to go back now? To go back to mules when we have invented cars is to advance and then retreat. “How can we resent a life we created ourselves? Who’s to blame…” but ourselves? To resent a life we created is to hate humankind.
These thoughts took me all the way back to the bottom, where I thanked Joey for his kindness and went to Joanna’s for the rest of the evening. She cooked dinner for me and her friends, and then I parked myself on her couch where I read The Blindfold Test by Barry Schechter– a story about a man who keeps expecting the worst to happen, and they do– until my eyelids became too heavy.
When I woke up this morning, I knew it was my last day in Baguio, and in the Philippines. At some point today, I’d need to catch a bus back to Manila and then get on my plane to Bangkok. I began to pack up all my stuff when I noticed something very, very, very wrong. The glass container where I kept my hearing aid and memory cards in was not in its usual spot inside my daypack. I had my hearing aid, because I had taken it out to listen to the music in Joey’s truck and continued to wear it until I went to bed, but where did I put the container? Fuck if I knew.
Only two days ago, the memory card that I had been using for most of this trip had filled up, so I replaced it with an empty one that is now safely, snugly inserted inside my camera. The worst thing? Only yesterday– I swear to you– I was seriously thinking about mailing the memory card to the states because I was afraid of losing it on this trip. Like the protagnotist in Blindfold Test, the worst thing I could have imagined DID happen. Hundreds of photos I took, hours of footage– gone. I immediately checked with Joey, but it wasn’t to be found in his truck. I felt lightheaded as I let it sink in, slowly and painfully, that my precious glass container was probably somewhere on top of the highest point in Baguio. Without a name or address to it. Just…. an anonymous jar and two unidentifiable memory cards inside.
What is the meaning of this, God-slash-Universe-slash-energy-slash-myself!? I thought that I was meant to find that comic book at that reggae party and that I was meant to, like the character in it, go on a trip to Baguio and that I was meant to go on a ride with a stranger to the top of a mountain and to ponder the existence of God (again, like the character in the comic book)! Was I meant to lose nearly all the documented memories of my trip up until now, too? Is this supposed to teach me some kind of lesson? Don’t accept rides from strangers? Well fuck you, no raping or kidnapping took place! And it was a stunning view. After offering me possible solutions and consultantion, Joanna was left with a sympathetic shrug and: “Sayan”, which is a Filipinio saying that means something along the lines of, “Oh well, what can you do?”
What can I do? Blame nobody but myself, because trying to find meaning in everything– especially this– will be the death of me. And so, I choose to say: Sayan.
Sayan. Sayan. Sayan.
(Give me a little time before I actually mean it. Say, a year or two.)