As of today, I will have been back in North America for 23 days–nearly two years of being being in an alternate universe known as Cambodia (or rather, a few different universes, considering it’s been many, many countries in the developing world since I disappeared in 2012). I could handle the malaria and dengue, the landmines and gunshots, the muggings and chaos on the streets, because it gave life meaning as I was there to directly experience the impact I made in the work I’ve done helping others. But the biggest challenge is finding that place I belong when in civilian life, where the world I come from is practically science fiction or a Hollywood movie, and people trivialize my life by whatever stereotypes they see on television and make funny assumptions.
There’s a trope in video games where all the fun of being a one-man army is ruined by needing to protect someone. Video games, an escapist form of entertainment by and large, usually have an archetypal male who has martial arts skills, an arsenal of guns, athletic build, and sheer determination to rise up to overcome impossible odds, being the hero we fantasize about being. Then the trope comes: the princess is no longer the one we are trying to save at the very end of the quest from the dragon, but instead is the president’s daughter whom we find near the halfway point of the game plot. She is vulnerable, a pain in the ass, argumentative, bossy, and now the freedom to handle anything with reckless abandon is now turned to babysitting a brat while surrounded by zombies. This is known as the escort mission trope, and that is how I have come to view what being in a relationship is like after my personal experiences and the fact I live a vagabond’s life, adventuring through dangerous spots.
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.
I’ve been back in the Philippines for two weeks now after my stint in Bangkok. A conversation this weekend that I had with a friend I last saw five years ago happened to be about one of my blog articles, or rather, the content in one that struck a chord with her: about being a failed Filipino. Arguably, her situation might be worse than mine, seeing she grew up in a Filipino family most of her life in the Philippines, and I spent but five years in Manila, in the international school bubble, speaking English, after having lived in America and Hong Kong.
[When I started writing this post, it will have been] less than two weeks before the third anniversary of my father’s death. It’s been an interesting ride, for those who have been following, especially those who saw posts of that time disappear upon eventual realization that there are some things better unsaid for others to judge and misconstrue. But with or without them, I have had the time to really see my own growth, and that’s the beauty of self-honest and blogging: I see it, and those who follow me do too.
Lionheart. A pendant I started wearing after I got off the streets in 2010 when it caught my eye in a Los Angeles mall, just after dad died and everything that had gone to hell was beginning to balance itself back. It comes from a video game, and to me, aside from looking cool, I think more of Richard the Lionheart from the Crusades, and Lionheart is synonymous with exceptional courage and bravery, due to his valor in battle, making it a very high praise. For me, it is a constant reminder to never give up, never back down, never give anything less than 100% of my best effort. Even before I started wearing it, that was the philosophy that got me through the trouble on the streets of New York and New England after dad died and everyone abandoned me, and I had no money.
My pendant Lionheart has always been a topic of conversation for people who notice it, from video game lovers to people who just think it looks cool and enjoy the symbolism behind it when I share it with them. Over the past three years, Lionheart really represents me and is almost an inseparable part of who I am. I am an intense person, there’s no doubt about that, but in being my authentic, true self, it allows me to filter out those who do not appreciate that and let those who do feel special around me, for they enjoy the genuine love I share with them since I appreciate them too. It is easier to point and laugh at someone who bares his heart to others and lets them decide if they want to treat it well or stab it, but very few people have the courage to expose themselves constantly. I have learned the rewards are much greater than the risks, which is why every action I make and every person I meet is a gamble for me, but I would always prefer to be me. Every criticism I get, especially writing here, is more than countered by the friends I have met who started following me because they fell in love with my writing.