Here’s something I’ve learned while traveling: we delight ourselves in the unfamiliar so much so that we tend to believe that the familiar cannot find us in our state of indulgence at all.
It was in December 2017 when my uncle and his family tagged me along to their week-long Las Vegas trip. His wife and son stayed with him in the other room, but he paid for a separate suite for me despite my protests.
Treat yourself, said my uncle, handing me the key.
You deserve it.
So I did. Not wanting to waste the moment, I had Jacuzzi every night in the tub inside my room. I requested for lavender oils and rose petals from the housekeeper. In the mornings, I sunbathed in the outdoor pool with my shades on. On the 7th floor landing, I pulled back the window curtains and watched people grill barbecue down below for hours. When I felt like sleeping, I fought the urge and instead streamed a Filipino-Norwegian film about a distraught mail-order bride (played by no other than Mercedes Cabral, my favorite actress). When I couldn’t sleep, I wrote about things I miss back home. To avoid boredom, I wrote some more.
I got bored way faster even.
Believing I could act carelessly in the absence of familiar faces, I started sneaking out in the evenings. There was nothing I knew about casino slot machines or of the different streets that map out the entirety of Las Vegas. Walking around, I saw women in jumpsuits and high heels and men ogling at these women, hooting and whistling, not bothering to look at where they were going. I saw women (who I think were not women but men with huge wigs and red lips) dressed in mini skirts and fishnet stockings. More tourists came around, taking photos of them before the bouncer could tell them off.
The sights I saw made me wonder what it would be like to be the center of attention. I also wondered what it would be like to stay for long in Las Vegas, to live like a local in a city made for the getaways. But watching the fountains of Bellagio or staring at the aquarium at Silverton seemed pointless. I looked at the waterfalls at Wynn and thought about how superficial things can be in the moment of satisfaction. Nothing taught me what to say about the unfamiliar as much as sitting down on a bench and writing about my experiences did.
Even in the presence of a large Filipino community, I learned that I am easily disillusioned by reality. I spent Christmas morning at a family friend whose husband happened to be American. He loved Filipino-American dishes that were half-familiar, half-unfamiliar to me, but I had no time to be disrespectful to comment on fusion cuisines. In the evenings, I saw Filipino food stops while walking around. My uncle brought me to Chow King, to Seafood Island, to Goldilocks, even to the famous Jollibee—all in hopes that I would appease myself of the loneliness away from home. I heard the tone of Tagalog way too often on the streets and when I turned my head, I realized I did not know who these people are. I caught the eye of several strangers, believing they knew me in and out.
In the end, all I knew was that I felt very lonely in Vegas on a chilly Christmas day.
I read more of Joan Didion’s essays on Sacramento, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and New York, and told myself I’d have seen enough to decide where to live. I wouldn’t choose to stay in New York (too much chaos for me) or in California (too many highways), but I would never want to come back to Las Vegas; it had the very temptation to indulge myself in the superficial that made me want to visit once more. This was an unprescribed cure to my homesickness, I told myself. At least I could say that 2017 was painful and yet liberating, full of first times as well as goodbyes. Perhaps in five, ten years’ time, I’d tell myself I had fun memories in Vegas and then forget all about it and move on with life, wherever that may be.