07 April 2011

Out of the Lion City, or Acceptance

I know I shouldn't let a week go by without saying something here about Singapore, although Tumblr followers will probably want me to get over it by now. Aside from a complete list of public links to my Facebook albums of the 4.5-day trip, I've got a queue of 120 favorite photos unloading at a rate of four photos a day. That means Tumblr will suffer just under a month more of my Singapore phase.

If even I sound tired of it, I think it's because I thought I'd be over it by now. Early on, the trip had presented itself to me as an exercise in acceptance.

I had to accept that I would not have enough time to see and do everything--not the zoo, not all the lovely buildings, not all the museums and temples and parks and townships to be seen. I had to accept that I would have to leave. I had to accept that the life that awaited me back in the Philippines would not be as efficient, glittering, clean, or sunny. I had to accept that I had already chosen to stay home, and changing my mind just to indulge my not-so-sci-fi fantasies (I'll get to that later) would only lead me away from my path.

(Sorry for that last bit of vagueness. This is the same thing I've been unable to talk about on this blog and on Xanga for the past two years now. It should actually be pretty obvious for those who know me well enough, but until I make any kind of official-sounding announcement, I won't talk about it, no matter how much I'd like to.)

I hadn't realized that there was a difference between knowing you had to accept something and actually accepting it. Telling myself to just have a good time while I could, and actually having it, hasn't stopped me from still feeling all this regret one week later.

People who know me, or at least are familiar with my blog, know that I have a love-mostly-hate relationship with Metro Manila. It has its charms, and I can identify certain pockets in which I would happily settle down. But I still hold some doubt that I would be truly content, and some part of me is always longing for the simplicity of my hometown. Singapore was a dream come true; it showed me that cities could, in fact, have the hometown feel that I crave. I never thought I'd ever say any city was my kind of city--I thought I didn't have a kind of city--until I'd been to Singapore.

The regret comes, then, from feeling robbed. Until I'd been there, places like Singapore existed only in works of fiction, especially science fiction. Even when I read about such places at work and saw the words, "Such-and-such place has such-and-such amenities and systems in place, making it the most awesomest place evar 'cause you can totally ride your bike everywhere," they weren't real to me. Even now that I've been to Singapore, Vancouver and Auckland aren't real to me.

And so whenever I encountered something both wonderful and everyday in Singapore--a student sitting in an open-air campus cafeteria by the roadside, working with no regard for noise or pollution because there was none; gorgeous historical buildings standing strong and side-by-side with gleaming modern skyscrapers; art in various forms proudly and tastefully displayed in MRT stations and other public spaces; people of different races, cultures, and backgrounds sharing the same spaces without getting stares; etc.--the feeling of awe was followed by a quiet kind of anger. Oh, God, it is possible. Then, Why the hell haven't we done it, too? Which was really just, Why can't I have this for myself?

Adding to this odd sense of injustice--that it could be done but stupidly hadn't been--was the general feeling that I hadn't traveled to another country at all. The climate, vegetation, and general look of the population had me under the illusion that I could still be in the Philippines. It helped that we met Filipinos everywhere we went. I even entertained myself with the idea that I'd traveled through time instead, to perhaps Davao or even General Santos in the not-so-faraway future.

I think if I hadn't made this mistake, it would be easier for me to accept that Singapore and the Philippines are, in fact, different countries, with different histories that have ultimately led to different presents--and I that live in this one, not theirs. (What if we'd had Raffles instead of Magellan?)

But instead, I find myself thinking back to the morning of our fourth day, while on the train to Jurong East. I looked out the window at one of many green-and-yellow apartment buildings and saw a bald, middle-aged man step out of his flat with his samoyed on a leash. For some reason, that image, more than any other, convinced me that I could live in a place like that--that I practically had a right to a life in a place like that. And that's why I've peeked at job listings in Singapore, or possible graduate degrees I might like to take up there, and then raged internally at my stubborn adherence to my prior personal commitments.

I can guess what you're going to say now.

"But, Kat. You're the one who made those commitments (whatever they are, you nerd. Pa-cryptic-cryptic ka pa diyan). You can break them off and do whatever you want. Why deny yourself the chance to make a fantasy real if it's not so far out of reach? It's not like you're asking to fly to Pluto tomorrow; all you have to do is send out a couple of resumes."

As sound--seductive, anyway--as this argument seems, I want to keep my word. This probably borders on the masochistic, but I suppose that's what happens when you make this kind of promise to yourself: I will stay where I am because this is where it will begin, "it" being the mysterious thing I can't talk about.

Of course, I'll then come up against my mother's line of reasoning: "That's ridiculous. If it's meant to be, then it's going to happen even if you move to Antarctica. Go see the polar bears while you're still young and they're still around."

(This is a metaphor; my mom did not actually say this. If I were my mom, though, I would probably say this.)

So then I have to write it all down and/or go over it in my head over and over again, just so I can return to the same conclusion:

This is what I've decided for myself. If I want it as much as I claim to, then I'm not going to change my mind.

And then my life, the way it is now, yet on the way to what I want more than anything else, more than a dog on a leash, a pretty apartment, and my own RFID train pass in a fantastic city, somehow becomes easier to accept.

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