Touchdown: 3 July in Sri Lanka. I arrive near midnight in Colombo, and get into a Kangaroo taxi to go to my hotel. Not even 5 minutes on the road, the driver looks back at me and says:
Driver: Madam, ah… what are you?
Me: (goes into immediate existentialist crisis) Uh, um… what am I?
Driver: (smiling indulgently) I mean, you are Japanese? Malaysian? Chinese? What are you?
Me: (relieved, whew!) Oh no no no to all that. I’m Filipino.
Driver: I see, from Philippines.
Me: Yes. Don’t I look Filipino?
Driver: Look Japanese.
At home this weekend, the heat of a city summer burns and burns. There is no escape from it. Well, perhaps if you choose to descend with the rest of the horde into the great big maw of the mall, then there is some succor. I’ve never been much enamored by malls, so it’s home for me. A few months back, I suddenly decided I wanted plants to figure in my life, so I hauled off a few pots from the gardening store—mostly flowers and small shrubs—and set about making things grow.
I let the patch of grass cross our little lawn and moved stepping stones aside to make room for more green, less parched earth. Flower pots dangled by the window, a trio of shrubs lined one wall. I re-potted and fertilized, weeded and watered. And what do you know, it is indeed relaxing to putter around and manhandle dirt. It’s not much of a garden yet, but it’s there. It’s a start.
Sometimes my boys run on the grass, wallop the hanging pots, pinch off a leaf or two. But I don’t mind, I let them frolic about like the little wildlings I imagine them to be. I wish we had more space for them to run around in, more grassy lawn to trample underfoot.
I think at heart, I am a girl who loves green. Not for me the claustrophobia of concrete and asphalt, the hard, brittle quality of things man-made. Constantly, I miss seeing lush, broccoli-shaped trees spread out against a blue sky, unfettered by wires. I like to see vast tracts of land rolling out into the horizon, with no building in sight. One could miss experiencing these things: clouds kissing grass, the sound of water flowing, the texture and smell of wet soil.
Going into the place where my office building is located, I pass by a very short avenue lined by trees, and this is the only part of my commute that I enjoy, secretly, and all too brief. I keep my enjoyment of trees to myself. Folks here seem to frown upon a liking for trees, and greenery, and nature. I’ve heard some say the office location is a drawback, that it is so secluded, so far from civilization.
As though the mass of steel, glass, and grayness just a few minutes away is less of a jungle, and more of home.
It’s a Friday here and the office folks are antsy. Most are eager to get the workday over with and begin the weekend in earnest. Except me, the one drone that got in late today. Traffic has been terrible on the skyway, turning my less than an hour commute (one way, sigh) into a monster two hour crawl! I work late so that I can come in late, but this getting to work late business is bordering on the ridiculous. It’s a demotivator, it makes me want to chuck in the rest of the workday and just go malling.
And god, the heat is not helping. Outside, everywhere you go that’s not blessed by airconditioning is like swimming in simmering, sticky soup. Argh. This reminds me that summer is not really my favorite season—save for the beach opportunities it does present. Meanwhile, this awful heat, this heat that carries with it wafts of eau de commuter, is a real killer.
Just as I closed the taxi door and settled in for the ride, the taxi driver asked me, “Weren’t you afraid, being the only girl waiting there in the long line of men?” I was taken aback, a little, by the question. I did notice that I was the only XX chromosome in the rather dark waiting area, but I didn’t think much about it, and didn’t feel even just a little bit scared.
I mumbled something about, “Oh, they were mostly construction crew from my building…” and the driver nodded, but felt impelled to add, “You can never be too careful, these days.”
Come to think of it, was I ever careless? I pondered that for a while. Despite all that’s happened to me in the past few years, the dire circumstances that have shaped life as I know it now, I still do not fear men. I had to Google that—androphobia—the fear of men. In my former job all my bosses were male, I worked with mostly male counterparts, would walk into a meeting with a roomful of men as the only female, and I liked it when they all scrambled to give me a chair. Men are often intimidated by me, as I am not a fragile looking woman, nor am I in any way, reticent. I have a marked tendency to say what’s on my mind, gender be damned. I’ve had relationships where men resented me because I was “bossy.” Or, my personal favorite, “too strong.”
I have male friends that I’ve known for years who treat me not as one of the guys, but as a girl, who is a friend. There are men I admire and would like to emulate, men who amuse me, men who I can be frank with, flirt openly with, or just quietly sit and have a beer with. They’re males of all kinds—old and young, single, married, or in some sort of relationship, old friends and newer ones—who treat me with respect, and I dare say, some measure of fondness. So, no, I am not afraid of men in general.
But hey wait, should I be?
While racing to catch my bus tonight, I pass by this man on the sidewalk. He is eating fish balls. I make a slight swerve in a vain attempt to avoid the smell of sweat and soy sauce.
By angling left, I glimpse his profile. I see that he has a defective left eye, the eyeball protruding lopsidedly from its socket. I can see the white arc of it palely glistening— lachrymose. The man scoops up a fish ball and tosses it skillfully towards his chewing mouth. The two orbs in close proximity stun me. It looks as though he is devouring eyeballs as fast as he’s popping them out. Bon appetit.
My stomach flip-flops, and I quicken my steps to escape. It’s only 9PM on a Friday night, and already, this city’s strange creatures are out in the streets.
Well, I am here. Been here for a little over two months now. I have set up house, learned the killer commute, brought the kids over, put them in school, met some old friends, made new ones, bought tons of stuff, and—oh yes—haha, settled into my new job. All this seemed to have happened very quickly.
But that’s not why I haven’t plopped an entry in here for what feels like the longest time ever.
Sometimes, at the end of a typical day here, I’m so exhausted that I just fall into a stupor, only to wake up and repeat the daily routine like a zombie. I take my place acquiescingly in the mass of humanity that streams out onto the streets daily, earning our living on weekdays, spending it on the weekends. You can say I have assimilated pretty well.
Sometimes the urge to blog strikes me at the most unlikely moments, or in the most unlikely places. These urges don’t usually happen when I am anywhere near a computer, though, so I have blog thoughts that are posted in oblivion.
That photo is my view when I go home most end-of-days from work at around 6:30-7:00 PM. If I’m lucky. Some days I go home much, much later. The curious thing about this phenomenon is if I venture out just 30 minutes later, this glittering block of cars will have thinned out. All those cars, gone. Where do they all go?
No matter. I am still here. Stuck in traffic most of the time, but still here.