Some nights, I spend staring back at my reflection inside the train station and imagine myself just crashing at my house’s sofa and turning on the television watching some funny movie I’ve seen at least three times. Or sometimes, I would think about all the barkada dinners I missed out on in the 16 months that I spent away from home. Homesickness strikes at the most unexpected times, like, walking down a damp street with what remains of the rain gracefully falling from the small leaves that held it for a short while and cold still air that filled everywhere make it suddenly all too familiar. How many times have I woken up to mornings like this! I get nostalgic for a while and as I continue to walk – I remember.
I remember why I decided to stay.
It’s in the Indian man that circles a burning coconut husk around and above his head a few times while whispering a prayer before he smashes this at the floor with all his might, right before I enter my office gate. It’s in the irony of tasting the best pork I’ve had in my life in a country filled with halal restaurants. It’s in the ladies in the pantry who switch back and forth in Malay, Cantonese, English, before you can catch it, and in the movies that have at least 3 subtitles, and even in the press ads that had to be translated into 3 languages.
It’s in craving Nasi Lemak for breakfast when just months ago eating something this spicy in the morning was unimaginable. It’s in finally realising that teh tarik is not always good for you. It’s in noticing that I have started spelling realize as realise and not feel pretentious about it. It’s in not being able to find the equivalent of some local term in English or Filipino that sufficiently captures the essence of what I’m trying to say (e.g. kiasu). It’s in smiling when I realise that this doesn’t only happen with Tagalog.
It’s in the frustration from the absence of buttered popcorn in the cinemas or gravy in fast food chains and spotting “iced water” in my restaurant bill.
It’s in the slow and deep hum that you hear on the streets signalling it’s time to pray. It’s in seeing the beautiful, symmetrical, sharp-angled skyscrapers lit up at night like art pieces put on display in a museum. It’s in finding the need to look up for at least a minute to appreciate the thought put into these buildings. And it’s in the comfort of seeing the Petronas Towers when you feel like your Uber has taken the wrong turn in one of the long, winding and slinking roads of this city.
It’s in never getting used to the sun setting at 7pm.
It’s in having lunch with a Mongolian who tells me about their festival where kids ride horses or sharing a cab with a Kazakhstani who tells me about a time in her life where all her parents received for wages were caviar. It’s in having lived with Indonesians, Cambodians, Singaporeans – and getting used to seeing fresh fruits for offering beside our sofa – and eventually finding out that we are all going through the similar ups and downs in our twenty something lives and we’ve got a thing or two to learn from each other.
It’s in finally attending my very first wedding – an Islamic one where I was a bridesmaid yet my friend had to explain what the imam was saying just so I can try to understand! It’s in wearing cheongsam and handing out oranges in pairs (a must!) in a meeting, and searching for my Deepavali outfit among rows and rows of stalls selling it.
It’s in singing along to a Hindi song and falling in love with a Bollywood film with absolutely no subtitles.
It’s sitting across the man who taught me how to love fiercely, who doesn’t speak my native language or understand all of the Filipino ways and tricks and numerous telenovelas but accepts me for all of it. Someone who showed me the peculiarities of this country, explained to me the very interesting and complex history of his ancestry but can still school me on Philippine politics and Manny Pacquiao. A man who can make me tear up from laughing, believes in me and inspires me, and, best of all, the one who takes me to takes me to discover the best char kuey teow, the best buttered chicken (that I swear should come to Manila), and, the best siu yuk of my life.
I came to this city to learn and to grow and to marvel – constant goals of mine since I began to grasp the idea of the countries I read about in my books and see in my movies – and it has given me so much more than I can ever imagine.
The constancy of the everyday and the pull of home can make me for a second lose the wonder and the beauty in all of this, but, surprisingly it takes something as mundane as enjoying my breakfast inside a roadside restaurant covered with bathroom tiles, to prop my eyes wide open again.
Fifteen months and a hundred of crazy memories later, there is still so much to learn.
I am in a beautiful country. Though it is not my own, it is one that holds a lot of challenges, lessons, surprises, and, my own limited edition kind of romance. And it is worth it. Always.