Manila will never be my place. I have an apartment, my (few) friends, and a history but it will never be a home to me.
Every time I come here, there is a constant reminder of whom I was (or whom people thought I was) back in HIGH SCHOOL. That’s over 12 years ago, but they are still dismissing me as “too weird” and “not cool” or whatever nonsense that comes out of the hollow void where their maturity and intelligence should have been.
This is a conversation I keep having with one of my close friends here, about how those who stay or come back to Manila judge us for whom we were in high school rather than giving us a chance to be who we have become and strive to be. That level of familiarity is unhealthy because it doesn’t allow us to decide who we are and what we’re going to be, others have decided for us already and argue that “they know us well because of how long ago that they have known us from before.”
My recent disillusionment with the Manila crowd I have been passing through started when a boy I knew since I was an infant began belittling me the moment I walked over to the dinner table where I was to join him and his friend. He refused to call me Johnny, told me that I was “too sensitive” and that it was okay for him to ridicule me because it’s “just a joke and we have known each other for years” (forgetting the fact he owes me money, that we have not seen each other for almost ten years, and has no idea about what I have been doing with my life the past few years). His companion’s first words to me when he said “This is John, we went to Brent together” was “Oh, you’re one of THOSE kids.” She continued to say her rudeness was cultural, stating “I’m British, I just say things as they are.” No British friend I have is as rude or insensitive as she is, so I don’t know how well she knows her so-called culture, considering it’s only half of her ethnic heritage.
Throughout the past couple months, before and after my Russian expedition, I’ve had to be asked to find something else or someone else to hang out with since my cousin and close friend was asked by his friends to not bring me along because I “weird them out”. Why do I “weird them out”? Because in high school (the most recent time that they have seen me), I was “weird” to them.
We went to watch Pacific Rim the week I arrived, and when it was announced that I was joining, one person (who happened to be an ex-flame) said it was not cool that I was coming, so I was asked to “make myself scarce to not freak her out” that night. I had to text where I was sitting, where I was hanging out before the movie, and potentially find my own way back since I wasn’t allowed to hang with my friend on account of one person who also shared the same distaste for me. When one person is judgmental, you can usually give the benefit of a doubt to the person being criticized since it’s an opinion that may be biased. When it’s many people, there is an element of truth. My friend Erin then countered that even if it has an element of truth when many people have something against me, the truth there may be that they’re all assholes: their lives are living in a privileged fishbowl, a toilet bowl, even, because it’s stagnant and unchanging. A good example: if a large group of people who think there’s something wrong with you happen to be the Westboro Baptist Church or Ku Klux Klan, then the element of truth there isn’t that there’s something wrong with you, but that there is something wrong with their criteria for what’s wrong and right.
I am Johnny C, not John C*******. I don’t need to be judged for whomever I was in high school, by where I went to school, whose son I am, my family name, or any of that useless criteria. I am who I have made myself to be now, not the sum of all countries I’ve lived in or my social class. They have all played a role in helping me become who I am, but it’s where I am going that matters. I reinforce the negative opinion of these people because I’m not going to be nice in public to them when they are this way to me, as I don’t throw pearls to swine. I could be Machiavellian and use them in the future, but what use do I have for people whose wealth, status, and professional accomplishments came not from their effort, but their parents? They all still live with their parents or have inherited their family business. I may be a vagabond, but I have been slowly and surely building my own life, with help from friends who do value me for who I aspire to be and know that I have been there for them in the past, and will continue to be that way forever as long as we are friends.
How I think of myself now is Shrek.
He’s an ogre, he lives in a swamp, and he’s generally ostracized, because he’s an ogre. It works well for him, since he just wants to be left alone. Why does he want to be left alone? Because people judge him the moment they see him, and when they judge him, he becomes a grouch and his reaction validates their judgment of him. A lot like Grendel and Frankenstein’s Monster. Therefore, he feels that nobody will ever change, and it’s a waste trying to prove to people who don’t want to give him a chance to show they aren’t being fair to him, so the best thing for him to do is to go away and forget about others. It’s a fine line to walk between martyr and messiah complex.
So what do I do? I hang out with the few friends I do have, and do what I want, because ultimately, this is just a small corner of the entity that is Manila, and Manila is just a town in the Philippines, which itself is just a country in Southeast Asia, and just a part of the world, and the world is a tiny entity in the cosmos. Doing what I want is staying at home, reading, writing, jamming on the guitar, or getting out and traveling to meet people who take me as I am now. It’s not who I was before or where I came from, it’s where I’m going that matters. Where are the sheeple from high school and “high society” in Manila going? Swimming around in circles in this fishbowl, this toilet bowl, they call “home” which is not my place. Not that I need this encouragement, but it definitely compels me to push out further to explore this planet instead of being stuck here, and proud that I am self-made, when these kids are enjoying the privilege of their parents’ money. I won’t adapt myself to these people, because I ultimately have nothing to gain from them, and over ten years of banging my head against the wall has proven that even with Machiavelli and Dale Carnegie in mind when it comes to human relationships, it’s not worth it here.
Hunter S. Thompson once described the field of journalism as being “overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity.” The same could be said about Manila, Jakarta, Asian America, Los Angeles, most colleges and workplaces throughout America, and CouchSurfing.org.
Point being, Manila sucks, and I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Ignore the fact I’m a foreigner or some might argue “privileged” because even locals think this, if you will read this missive: https://hechoayer.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/the-death-of-metro-manila/
A friend once joked that if I am indeed Shrek, we need to find me a Fiona. But that’s a whole other topic, which will follow after this one.
Wreck-it-Ralph had a good line with a similar character who had the same problems: a nice guy who was misunderstood because his role in life wasn’t the most appealing one–being a bad guy. The oath went like this:
I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be but me.