|the best, the rest, and the last of 2015
||[Jan. 1st, 2016 | 06:07 pm]
|||||David Usher - Devil By My Side||]|
you opened me wide
'cause it's cold in here and it's warm outside
(There's this thing I do every January 1st: I reach out and try to feel the air in front of me, to see if it's any different from last year's. I could never tell. This ritual is mysteriously unhelpful.)
Memories are difficult things. I don't know why they keep changing, unless I keep revisiting the same ones with changing eyes.
It's probably that, because pictures have a habit of staying still. I just don't like the idea of changing.
Change is how my family got here, many decades ago. My grandmother occasionally reminisces about how they fled Japanese troops sometimes just one village behind them. They learned that rumours were best believed, just in case they were true. "All we ate was kamote," she says with a smile that softens her eyes.
Last August, the woman who helped my grandmother's family escape passed away. The Chinese are very specific with names. Names place us in families, by birth, by marriage, by generation. We called her Sa-i-ma, she was our third eldest great aunt from my grandmother's side. I didn't know what she did until that day.
In many ways, every wake and every funeral is the same if you are family. I want to tell you how it feels, to hear strangers calling you your father's son, and how you at once belong just because they believe you do.
Family is just people believing they are, and there are times when I doubt, and times when I believe.
This is my grandmother. She wears shades when it's especially bright, or when she's especially sad.
She cries quietly and quickly. Then something comes over her, and she stops.
I never knew Sa-i-ma, actually. She was the kind of distant relative you only see at weddings, or funerals. I think she beat me to it.
All I know is she helped us leave, and that she's the reason my grandmother doesn't just eat kamote anymore.
It felt strange to say hello while everyone said goodbye, but it was enough time.
It's nice seeing people reunited.
They have places to go, and so much to catch up on.
My own grandfather's parents were nearby, so we paid them a visit.
I have the haziest memories of my great grandmother. We visited her on Sundays when she was alive, and I remember the enormous wooden stairway to her room. She aways wore blue, or lavender. She passed away when I was three. It's all I remember.
Suddenly, it was September, and time for Rain to leave. We always knew the date he'd move. That night, I found out how something you're expecting can still surprise you.
We spent the night doing everything we always do. There's a 7-Eleven in QC we particularly like, so we stayed there all night, and we talked, and forgot Rain was leaving.
We remembered just in time. Then we hugged, said goodbye, and he left.
The past three years have taught me that people enter and leave, and some of them stay. But there are those who disappear, and then visit unannounced.
Raymond is many things to many people I know and work with. To me, he's a friend.
One afternoon, he surprised me by inviting me to lunch (he didn't eat anything).
(He didn't eat anything.)(That bitch.)
Sometimes I think we're in a casual game of sabotage. But food is good, and food with a friend is better.
There's this window of incredible afternoon light that lasts about fifteen minutes, shifting from 3pm to about 5, depending on the time of year.
I call it Nice Hour. Because right after it is Golden Hour, also known in the tropics as Golden Five Minutes.
You should know this about my friends and I: there is breakfast, and brunch, and lunch, and second lunch, and merienda, then coffee, and then dinner, with optional second dinner. Raymond and I had second lunch.
Places don't just gentrify on their own, so we did what we could.
Gentrification means good, expensive, unevenly hyped restaurants, coffee shops with lots of exposed wood, and more cars with drivers in them than parking space. Raymond and I may or may not condone this. I'm sorry.
For the record though, I drive. Manual.
Another thing you should know: time goes the exact opposite speed you wish for. Suddenly it was dark, and we went back to our generally separate, parallel lives. It's what I like about the new kind of friendship filtering into my days. I used to think friends talked everyday, saw each other constantly, liked the same things. This kind of friendship is built on insults and weeks of silence, interrupted by sudden, impenetrable hours of company.
Many boundaries, both real and imagined, divide Manila. Some are real- Manila can flatten out into Quezon City almost instantly, within the space of two sidewalks. Others are more tenuous, anchored by landmarks; Guadalupe Bridge will tell you if you live in the North, or the South. What Guadalupe Bridge won't tell you is that you'll never cross it unless it's for work, and other irritating commitments.
One day, I crossed Guadalupe Bridge into the South. It was awful.
South and North people will find it hard to explain. Manila is a conurbation of cities and municipalities, the Devil's jigsaw puzzle. But some pieces are just too damn far. QC and Makati know this well.
An architecture lesson, or maybe I have stories to tell: clinging to the northern edge of Manila is the Chinese Cemetery. My grandfather's grandparents are buried here, resting in a mausoleum tucked into one of the cemetery's infinite corners. It's inaccurate to say that cemeteries never change. Cemeteries fill up with the past, and every new arrival pulls them nearly into the present. Every mausoleum is a moment in time- the oldest ones are humble and foreign, refusing to assimilate. Next are the ones built during the Glory Days, whenever they were (it changes depending on who you ask) (especially if they're dead). They are large, ornate statements of family pride in the face of death. Then comes everything else; these ones are modern and awful. Some have air conditioning.
This means I'm not quite sure when our family mausoleum was built.
We visit a week before All Saint's Day, when the cemetery is quiet- one week before we all remember the dead, and then go back to living. This is my grandfather. Every year he shrinks, but sharpens.
My grandfather chose my grandmother because she was the prettiest one in the village. She chose him because even though he was short, he worked hard, and treated her like everything.
Then, we went through Manila, through Quezon City, and skirted Makati, onto SLEX, and into Mordor, where my great-grandparents were. (Contrary to the stories from your childhood, there are places south of Makati. The misconception is that people live here. That is incorrect. People build houses here, and sleep here. Then, they flee at sunrise to live elsewhere.) (This is only an opinion.) (But I stand by it.)
The Chinese honour the dead by lighting incense, then wafting it four times.
Then, they kneel and bow four times as well.
We do it according to our age. I never knew why.
But that's what family is.
My uncle rests a short walk down the road. He lived one day. We call him Di-pe, second-eldest.
I know they're resting. And I hope they are happy.
Myself, I am either at the brink of death, or life, or both. Happiness is not what I feel when I go out. I feel relief.
We still go to Future, the only place in the entire world where I can dance.
Future my other friend. People come and go, but they always meet here. In some strange way, Future has been the litmus test of all my friendships. If you dance here, then you can be my friend. If you don't, then you can go to Makati.
Jamie and a friend.
A new friend.
I think Cubao is the functioning heart of the city, drawing people in, and sending them out to where they're really headed. Almost nobody lives here, but everyone passes through.
I can't imagine Future anywhere more perfect.
That night, Regina and David were spinning, and I took my place in front, where Regina usually is, and danced.
Outside, Santi and Mike. I love them both.
David has a boy. The boy is named Taja. I hope they love each other forever, the way love is supposed to be.
I love cold nights.
Austin. He runs Future with his siblings, and destroys it just right.
Mersi and Kristian. We dated, and he was kind, but I was not.
You never feel midnight come. But Mikee and Julianna feel it in their bones, and we leave Future for Molave.
The walls have heard everything, and I pray they never learn to speak.
Sometimes, rarely, I am awake in the morning. On this day, I went to Roy's place along Roxas Boulevard. It was grey, and in between taking some photos for him (I'm a photographer) (I'm good at it), we watched rain sweep over Manila Bay, then change its mind and do it again.
This is Christina. Some call her Badkiss. This is her son. I call him Spiderman.
Manila is full of lies, depending on where you look. This residential tower was built behind an old historical hotel. The hotel was demolished, so an identical residential tower could rise in its place. Sometimes, I hate this city.
You may have heard of the sunsets at Manila Bay.
It's a fucking sunset. Get a grip.
I prefer what the sunsets give way to. We were on the helipad of Roy's condo. We watched another sunset. It was beautiful, just like the one tomorrow, and the day after. Then, night came, and we followed.
Dusk has a color. I don't know what it's called, but I know what it feels like.
Then, the streetlights went orange, and the streets filled with red.
Some people wake up to sunrise. I think I wake up 12 hours later, just after sunset.
We walked through Malate to have dinner at Suzhou, this Chinese restaurant that finally became so successful, it moved across the street, from a row of girly bars... and into the ground floor of a motel. Progress.
We ate rolled up, boiled, sliced pig ears.
And one of the last good mabo tofu dishes in the city. If you find good mabo tofu, please tell me. The last good one I had was in the 90s, in Ramen Tei, on Pasay Road. Nothing compares. Thankfully, I sometimes settle for less.
This is what we didn't order.
That funny thing happened again, where we talked for hours as things closed around us.
But Malate is Malate, and she keeps her own time.
City lights tint the temperature of a city. Tungsten lights make a city warm. Fluorescent lights turn a city cold. Tokyo is cold. Los Angeles is warm, but new lights are cooling it bit by bit. Manila- Manila doesn't do that. Manila changes at every other corner. Half of the lights don't work.
But that's why you walk together.
9.8 billion pesos were spent for when Manila hosted the 2015 APEC summit. I don't see any of it anywhere.
Slowly, you learn to go blind.
You learn that home is where you can open your eyes.
Home is where everyone's feet smells nice, even though they don't.
Home is home.
I don't want to talk about Christmas.
But I hope yours was everything you hoped for.
Yesterday, it was 2015.
We huddled in Cubao Z, at Bobby's, and bid many things goodbye.
We did it surrounded by good furniture.
Things get hazy after that.
Bobby in his well curated bathroom.
And then, it was time to leave.
It was time to go to Future.
You may have your ideas about people who wear black. We're actually just lazy.
Miguel, who visited from his real life in the States, to return to his real love, his old life here.
He would leave in a few hours, at 8 am, to go back. I miss him already.
Mei and Timmy. Sisters of questionable misters.
Remember. The test is simple. Dance in Future.
Dance with us.
That night, I heard Carly Rae Jepsen, and techno. I wouldn't have had it any other way.
RJ, Herminio, Chris, Remus, Mikes, and Kim.
I was gone for awhile, spending nights and weekends with fewer people, in quieter places. I guess I've been changing, but Future doesn't, and it's very patient.
Sam, and the boys.
Sam and Leah. I believe in them.
WAITING FOR TONIGHT BY JENNIFER LOPEZ. DO NOT EVEN DENY.
A shard of Regina.
The dancefloor of Future is a kind of no man's land, filling and emptying and filling again. The thing about places like this is you fill it yourself. So we did.
Outside, one of the last nights of 2015.
I hope 2015 never comes back. I hope it gets lost on the way to history and dies.
But before that, Rj, Rj, and Ziggy.
Ruther and Paulo.
Miguel took me aside, and did a cleansing for me. Palo santo is wood, related to frankincense and myrrh. He drew my outline in its smoke.
I don't know if I felt nothing.
New and old friends. Francis in the middle. Dino to his right.
Charles, beside Mikes.
Everyone. Smokes. Cigarettes.
Alice and Dino.
I believe in them too.
Julianna. A rock and a pillar, pretending to be less. I love her.
Everyone. Smokes. You get it.
We were mostly silent as the night went on.
Bobby was spinning techno inside.
Julianna, Donesa, Rj, Karla, and Mikee.
The greatest people you will ever meet. And also the worst.
Take your things. And never come back.
Some faces become friends, and some friends become names. This is what makes forgetfulness so hard to describe. But it is one of the things I am best at.