The Unfamiliars of Las Vegas

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.

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Some days I do miss home

There are times when I cannot help but count my losses once again. Mama tells me not to, says I should be enjoying my time in the States, says I should be happy. It does not help my homesickness at all. She keeps on sending me photos of their trip to Baguio or of their visit to Lingayen Beach. What did you go their for? I ask her. She does not answer, instead posts more photos on our family Facebook chat. My guess is either for prayer intentions or devotional offerings. We are miles apart, a twelve-hour difference between Boston and Manila. And all my Mama can do is tell me to look at photos.

To let you remember, she finally replies.

I think about it. But to remember what?

Perhaps to remember what it’s like to have been gone for quite some time.

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This is a photo from the top of the hill in the province of Rizal. I have lived with a family here for a couple of days.  The father is a fisherman, the mother a housewife who tends to her only child while she puts bait on the hooks of her husband’s net. I still remember sitting on the floor made of bamboo slats. My foot has gone through it several times; I am still apologetic as of now. I still remember the chickens clucking underneath our feet.

I look at this place like a lover who has come to realize he can never have his beloved, can only watch her from afar. But the form of a city changes faster, alas, than the human heart. The city still pulls me to it, makes me stay through the years. I remember: seas, blue skies, traditions of the past the city has no regard for. Somewhere else, the absence of: the water, the silted water, the still life.

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My mother’s place at daybreak is breathtaking. In this country far from home where there are neither fresh coconuts nor mangoes, I try to find time to talk to my family. Mama asks me to message her more often, to send updates of my life. She does not understand that their dusk is my dawn. There is no need to tell me that I have been missing out on a lot of things, including my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary, my sister’s awarding ceremony, the new construction site’s inauguration, so on and so forth. The family I live with tunes in to The Filipino Channel. I watch Ang Probinsyano with them. Cardo is a policeman who became a vigilante. Sometimes I wonder what else I’ve been missing out on back in my country and the more I read today’s news in politics and in government the more I am told that I should be thankful that I am not back home.

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Here is Santo Domingo, Albay. Somebody once told me we find comfort in the familiar. You have to learn how to look, just look, that person said to me. To look and perhaps think. This is far different from the city where I have lived for several years. A city is built with language, a person with words. Counting minutes, estimating heights with the length of fingers, predicting possibilities. I think to myself, I essay not to narrate but to restore. When I say that the essay is formidable, I mean that it deserves the right to defend itself by doubting what seems to be. 

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In Quiapo, Manila, we squeeze inside the train, watch cities pass by, our reflection imposed on them, faces on night-covered buildings, imprints and impressions left and right. You can tell so much of it by the lights you see in the dark. This is where you trace it: from its sound to its movements. Take me back to a walk-through of my city. It will take time to respond. We build our city with numbers, plaster up facts and history with structures ever so changing. Paint drips from the skies to the buildings, to the cable lines and lampposts.  I can take you to the place where intersections blur, when language becomes indistinct. Watch our reflection on the train. Train stations are like a web that grows over the city, catching stories that fall apart in between the lives of people, most of them slipping away in between my fingers.

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I had been once told that Manila seemed like a city that never wanted to happen. We squeeze so many moments in it in a span of a year, recount days as if they were fragments of a story that fails to be whole. I fell in love with the description of the city and took it to heart. Here was the history we longed to recreate, only to be covered in debris made by the years to come. Some friends and I were passing by that street when I happened to take a picture of an old building. Why that building? They asked me. I have no idea. My reflection was imposed in the photograph. I was inside a car when I took it. There must be something beautiful and painful about moving on.

Notes on the feminine memory

They say that a child can already recognize certain intonations before they are born. I wonder if the first experience of fear propels her to listen: frail thrumming against the walls, walls that protect her from what is still unknown. Hands and ears of people planted gently on the belly that contain her for months, an unintentional threat, it seems, are the same hands and ears that are once awed and startled at the response of small kicks done blindly.

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The way we recall or don’t recall things say something about us, reveals a bit of our identity more than it does on the things that we are adhering to. Some thoughts to be interrogated: is this what I mean? What am I trying to figure out? Why must this be written now? Is this what needs to be written?

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The eyes, perhaps shut tight like her fists tucked within the space in front of the knees curved into a ball. And then, the body, fragile and untouched, yet suddenly disturbed by more buzzing – unable to pinpoint the source of sound, the sense of sight not having been fully developed yet.

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The veracity of the memory is not as an important as a deeper honesty that we should seek from the essay. The memory no longer matters once you decide to write about it.

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The woundedness does not come from the woman’s passivity but rather from her attempt (and inevitable failure) to piece things together.

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The essay as a performance of the essayist engaged with the need to be implicated, to create a a sense of logic–a system–out of the illogical narratives and utterances. This is why we reason out, create juxtapositions, posit metaphors and analogies and such. We are trying to prove the effectiveness of a self-made system that inhabits our minds.

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Mother tells me she is growing out her hair, says she’s offering it to the Virgin Mary of our town in Bicol. Nuestra Senora de Santa Misericordia, hear our prayer. I see her combing it through my computer screen in the morning–evening, in the Philippines.

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“To say I love you is to say you shall never die.” – Gabriel Marcel, from a Sketch of Phenomenology and Metaphysics of Hope)

There must be something beautiful in the hurting.


Finally found a way to sync my OneNote from my previous phone. Decluttering some things I wrote down months ago, perhaps a year or two even. I think they were all random notes from my classes at the university (hello, Philo) if not excerpts that did not make it to my nonfiction thesis.

On the Humanities

March 4th, 2017

Good morning, parents and incoming students of the Ateneo.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Martin Villanueva, the Fine Arts Director and my Nonfiction mentor, invited a graduating student on behalf of Ma’am Benilda Santos, the Dean of the School of Humanities, to say some inspirational words to those who would be present today in this hall.

I pray that Martin chose well.

I’m not sure of what I’m supposed to say, if what I’m supposed to say is what you want to hear, or if it is actually what you need to hear. Maybe I should say, “Turn around and go back!” Or: “Don’t waste your time in the Humanities!”

However, there’s a part in me that wants to say, “Go ahead.”

Just go ahead.

Go further and do what you feel like doing–not because you don’t like courses in Science or Management, but because there is something in the Humanities you want to pursue that matters to yourself the most. If you are able to say yes when I ask if you are ready for this, for whatever it is when I mean to say this, then by all means, the Ateneo will be more than willing to assist you.

There’s only a month left for me before I head out to the gates of this university. I doubt you’ll remember me even after this speech. But I have some few words of advice that could possibly help you as a Humanities major:

1. Schedule consultations and feedback from professors.

You have a long way to go before senior year, but I guess it’s best to be prepared. Be open to hearing feedback from your professors as early as freshman year. By the time you get to your senior year, thesis revisions will take you no less than five drafts each time you submit it. It’s a mental drill, so to say, but it’s also cultivates a sense of discipline: every time you work on it, you will be able to improve more on your craft.

2. Balance acads, orgs, and even leisure time.

I was humbled to be a Filipino editor of a literary publication for the school year. It’s a combination of all sorts of stress that I never expected. Very challenging but also fun. Talking and facilitating discussion with the staff, learning new things each day, and being more open to a wider set of art will allow you to grow as a Humanities major.

3. Enjoy the Humanities classes.

That’s EnLit, Fil, Theo, Philo (if you still don’t know what those are, better start reading up on them). I didn’t memorize every single author or article, but I do have a few favorites. Whichever it may be for you, I hope the readings would help you in a lot of ways as much as they did to me. In that way you’ll be able to pursue a continuous engagement with theories, ideas, and concepts that you hopefully will use in life.

4. Have a habit of inquiry.

Question yourself. Lots of people do not question themselves nowadays for fear of being in the wrong. But being aware of where you are in life, even if it is admitting that you are lost, is way better than assuming you were right all along. Question what it means to be in a place where your responsibilities as a student will meet the demands of being a son or a daughter, a Filipino citizen, and even a hope for the world.

5. Entertain numerous opportunities.

In Ateneo, I hope you’ll find something that lets you take risks. Join writing workshops, be an org officer, engage in debates and discussions, go on JTA, take on a minor course or even a double major even if it is a thousand courses away from the Humanities. The list goes on. If it matters enough for you to think what college life without taking it, then it’s enough for you to pursue it.

6. Have more numerous attempts.

I cannot promise you that you will be successful in all of your endeavors. It took me several tries to get an essay or a poem published and it took me a lot more feedback from different people in order to get my works out in the open. I owe a lot to all the rejections in the past that made me who I am today. This I can promise you: your very own failures will teach you how to grow.

7. Learn from others.

This includes non-SOH majors and subjects. Understand what it means to see Science or Economics and how it affects our way of living. As Martin has mentioned in the introduction, I also double-majored in Applied Mathematics. Being a Math major allowed me to see the different permutations of life, and how my way of perception affects my relationships with others.

8. Learn from yourself.

Being a Humanities major is a double challenge in of itself. You need to understand other situations, people, and cultures as much as you need to understand yourself. Maybe it will take a long time to convince people why you need to be a Humanities major, maybe it will be fast. Whichever way it is, the challenge I give to you is this: convince yourself everyday why the Humanities for you and then maybe you’ll find yourself along the way.

Welcome to the Ateneo, parents and students.


Just a short speech I addressed to the incoming Humanities majors during the School of Humanities Open House of SY 2017-2018. I still remember it was on my sister’s 18th birthday, March 4th. For some reason, it’s still in my draft. I was a graduating (super)senior in Ateneo back then, totally enjoying the moment of writing and feeling as if the world was perfect enough to say such idealistic things.

Very Jesuit, isn’t it?

 

Too many things we often want

…are also the ones we often do not get.

Some out-of-the-ordinary newsflash:

It’s been two days since I got released from the hospital post-op. Had gall bladder surgery after rushing to the ER last Thursday morning because of abdominal pain. I went alone on an Uber (in case I was just exaggerating and had to be sent home at the end of the day), and the next thing I knew, I already had an IV strapped to my vein.

The doctors said they found gallstones in the ultrasound. I was scared because I didn’t know anything about laparoscopic cholecystitis.

Dad wanted to have the operation in the Philippines, but the doctor insisted it had to be done right away. Thank God for health insurance in the U.S.

Tita left her work as soon as she found out from Tito who found out from his daughter Allysa after I messaged her that I got confined at the hospital. All my gratitude belongs to them.

It took eight tries to get the IV in me again after I accidentally pulled it out when I went to the bathroom. It was 11:30 pm.

I don’t remember anything about the surgery, only that I felt as if I did 1,000 crunches in one day with the post-op pain. Coughing, sneezing, and yawning hurt. No swimming, no beaches, said the doctor. I’m not sure which one is more painful.

Mama keeps on messaging me everyday, insisting more video calls instead of the usual chat we have on Facebook. She cried on the first video call since my surgery, said that she wants to be beside me but can’t ’cause we’re miles apart. I tell her it’s okay, I’m doing fine, I’m staying strong.

My boss at work is very understanding of my situation and I’m thankful for that. I hope to be back in the office within the week.

Tita helps me do my laundry as I am unable to lift anything heavy post-op. I can’t work out either, but I can take short walks outside. Tito sets up the air-conditioning in my room to make me feel at home. I turn it off during the day upon waking up.

Never have I enjoyed sewing and altering my clothes for an hour. I’m tired of watching shows on Netflix. There isn’t much to do at home while recuperating. I feel useless.

Some stuff I gathered from a book I’m reading (hello, Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson): The world is not in love with certainty, only of possibilities. Also this, “A city without desire is a city without imagination.”

And something else: I’m writing again. It’s not much, but it’s definitely something.

 

When I’m gone and all they remember is this

Mama knows I like green tea, says the jar in the kitchen is always 80% tea bags, 15% cocoa packs, and 5% coffee beans. My siblings love cocoa; I take some from the jar too once in a while lest they notice. They’re fine with it as long as I give them something else in return. Hot chocolate smells good in the mornings. Papa prefers the smell of roast beans for breakfast. Coffee makes him alive, but he is frustrated whenever I argue with him on politics and finances. “Way too early in the morning for this,” he mutters, “Way too early to be thinking about life.” I hate the taste of coffee but I can handle the smell of it. No milk, no sugar, just plain black. I lived with a family of fishermen once. The mother would always prepare me a cup of coffee for breakfast. My back hurt from sleeping on the bamboo slat floor. The strong smell always woke me up. The mother was only 22, just two years older than I was. I call her Ate Cel. A village favorite in her youth and laughter. I couldn’t say no, not when the only thing she has to offer is coffee. And freshly-baked bread rolls in a brown paper bag. Her son’s favorite. Dendoy was 5 then. Got bitter that I was leaving them. Not for another family, but for another country. Wouldn’t talk to me, wouldn’t say hi on my last visit. Not even when I left him some toys from my other brother. I wouldn’t call this ingratitude, only an acknowledgment of a privilege he would never have. My real brother is fine with it; he just needs an entire box of hot chocolate mix in exchange. Sometimes I think there are too many things in this world that we can choose from. Too many things to regret but only a few we can forget once we know what we want. Sometimes I try to imagine what life would be if I chose not to return. If I never had to make my favorite tea, or steal a cocoa mix, or endure the smell of coffee once again. When I leave, I want to remember only things that make people smile. I want the bitterness to fade.

How International Students can take advantage of internships

How International Students can take advantage of internships
So you’ve received an internship offer. Congrats, but what now?

 

Being an international student looking for an internship in the U.S. may be challenging. Needless to say, the competition is tough–you’re one among the many in addition to the U.S.-citizens themselves. Plus, networking is a go-big-or-go-home scenario; you tend to grab every opportunity to attend an event without the promise of a possible referral. But it only gets better. Once you get an offer after several weeks (or months) of sending out resumes or asking for recommendation letters, here’s how to make the most out of your internship:

  1. Don’t treat your internship as just another line on your resume. LinkedIn has this unique way of using data analytics wherein you can figure out the keywords often searched for by recruiters and employers. It’s also not a bad thing to try out the Premium account that allows you to see the people who visits your page–you never know, this person might be looking for the skills that you have!
  2. Develop a strong professional relationship with your boss. This also goes for with your other senior colleagues. They can be great mentors in the long run whom you can ask questions about potential career paths in your field. Go out with them for a coffee break and talk about anything other the sun. They might even be able to provide you a strong recommendation in the future.
  3. Communicate. Interpersonal relationship skills are not something you usually learn in the classroom. These are something you foster in a work environment. Learn and ask questions. Show that you are deeply interested, but at the same time, understand that you may not know everything about this at all–which is why, above all else, pay attention to the small things at work that would help you grow as an intern.
  4. Connect the things in the classroom with things at work. Hopefully your internship is related to your field of interest. I went straight for a Master’s program at Hult after graduating from my Applied Mathematics undergraduate degree in the university. Which means to say that I do not have enough background for a private equity firm but I am all the more interested to learn about it. My advice for those who do not have much work experience when doing an internship is this: see how the textbook concepts apply to real work situations. My boss asked me the definition of “capital structure” and while I gave a textbook definition (“the relation of debt to equity”), he taught me that there’s more to it than that in reality.
  5. Enjoy yourself. Commit to the desire of growing as a professional, but at the same time, have fun with colleagues. Have a picnic in the park when time permits, or grab a drink on a Friday night. Keep in touch with them after the internship. Did you know that a fellow Global Ambassador helped me secure my internship? He gave me an overview of how the company operates and what the workload of an intern is like.

Whether you’re a full-time or part-time intern, have some meaning towards the end of it. Aim for another skill to be learned or a company goal to be achieved with the help of you and your team. The sky is the limit and the opportunities for an international student are boundless; you just have to make the most out of your experience.


Katie Reynolds of the Hult News alerted me of its posting on the website.