By Kaitlyn Cheung
A week has gone by in the blink of an eye. The time that passes by is like water trickling down a drain—aware of its presence, its passage, yet unable to really grasp onto how much of it is gone. Yet, every passive, fleeting second is not wasted; here in Guimaras there is always something to do, something to think.
I joke to Amy that I will return to Hong Kong as zen as the Buddha himself.
Scrunched up on a full size mattress, our sleep-ridden eyes reluctantly open up to the insistent crow of a rooster, caroling away as if its life depended on it. At five in the morning, the sun has already pushed its way through the low thick clouds, its gentle glow seeping in through the metal frames of the window.
In a flurry of hurried events (one of which involved frantically running around the Iloilo mall attempting to find wifi strong enough to upload my blog post, oops) I missed my motorcycle back to San Lorenzo. Temporarily stranded miles away from my homestay with a storm brewing in the background, I was saved from homelessness by Amy’s suggestion that I crash at hers in Jordan. That’s how I ended up at the home of Mario and his daughter Angel.
The night before, Amy works away at her laundry in the sink while Mario flips through a photo album showing me pictures of his family. He comes across a family portrait of three.
“My wife, you see, passed away last year…” He puts a hand over his heart, his twinkling eyes become solemn.
His eyes light up again as he remembers something he has stashed away in his room. When he returns, he bears a scroll-like canvas and unrolls it, revealing an intricate, massive map of Hong Kong.
I show him where Amy and I live, a tiny dot on the relatively small green patch that represents Hong Kong Island. I promise that if he comes to Hong Kong we will show him all the good places to eat.
“Maybe one day, if we have enough money,” he shrugs and laughs, as if laughing at his own joke. I notice again the modesty of the house interior, automatically comparing it to my homestay’s. But I realized shortly that Mario graciously showed me the map he had in his possession not to appeal to my guilty conscious but out of a genuine desire to connect with me as a person who came from Hong Kong, a simple gesture to find something in common despite cultural differences.
Music blares from across the street as muffled chatter and laughter tries to force its way through the already barred wooden door. “Party?” I ask.
“Yes,” he answers with a grin, “My second cousin’s birthday tonight.”
I tilt my head in confusion, the question probably written all over my face, for he continues, “I drank with them earlier. But my daughter, she gets angry at me. Always saying eat less, eat less, drink less.”
Across the table Angel gives him a reproaching look, says something in Tagalog, and smiles timidly as she catches my gaze. The two bicker for a while, then Mario sighs and admits, “I have diabetes so my daughter…” He continues on but my thoughts are elsewhere, remembering how Amy told me she woke on night to the sound of Angel knocking on her bedroom door asking for medicine for her father’s stomach ache. Some types of love are unspoken, unprofessed, but omnipresent in the little things—like a daughter’s nagging or a father’s protective authority. Although he has never said it, I sense a hint of pride in Mario’s voice whenever he speaks of Angel, only thirteen but carrying double the responsibilities on her shoulders. There really couldn’t be a more fitting name. Always brimming with a smile that stretches from one ear to another she politely smiles at us later after she catches us simultaneously dodging and trying to kill a flying cockroach before bed time. We sheepishly smile back.
Before I leave, I take one last look at the pictures on the cement wall. The one that catches my eye is a picture of a woman, which words embroidered on the side which read, “Mother, as sweet as her name, for no one can replace my dear mother.” Two generations of family portraits hang around it, albeit in a seemingly arbitrary pattern, bringing color and life onto the bleak cement walls. Mario and Angel may not have a big, rowdy family of six under their roof, but the absence of liveliness is never the absence of love. Thank you Mario and Angel for your hospitality and reminding me that love takes many forms. Love can be found in the boisterous laughter of friends and family but also the simplicity of a mother tucking her child away to bed. The Rizales household may have lost a beautiful wife and mother but she will live forever in their memories and loving hearts.
At nine, Mario says he will take us in his tricycle to eat batchoy—Angel’s favorite food—just as he promised the night before. Amy and I give each other a semi-puzzled look, mistaking the local dish for the Chinese word for cabbage (bok choy 白菜).
I’d say it was a worthwhile slumber party.
Lounging on the porch of our house back in Cabanos, Velina and I crack up as Mike and Horace recount the story of a giant lizard falling from the ceiling on their dinner table. DJ Bebe headlines the show as she blasts Usher from her newest mixtape on the giant speaker. She even turns off the lights for us and pulls out her crafty rainbow light toy. I’m not kidding when I say our living room just turned into the hottest nightclub in San Lorenzo:
In my last blog post, I said I wanted to get to know the people of Guimaras and their stories. I hope I’m getting there.