03 January 2012

Back from Mars

On my last day home, I took a walk around Kalsangi by myself.

I ended up somewhere on the golf course between the 9th and 2nd fairways, and as I looked at all the trees and the space and listened to the birds and insects, I was overwhelmed with heartache and loneliness.

Dramatic, maybe, but those are still the best words for the feeling.

I kept thinking of the Martian Manhunter.

Image source: Comics Alliance

I haven't read any of the comics he's appeared in, but in the cartoons, J'onn J'onzz is the last surviving member of his race and now lives on Earth as a superhero.

"Kind of like Superman?" you might ask. Well, yes, and no.

Superman was sent to Earth as a child and grew up more or less an American boy. While he has his own angsty, "I'm too different; no one understands me," moments, to me, they're kind of on the level of the identity crises every young adult goes through.

Martian Manhunter, on the other hand, escaped a horrible plague as an adult. Upon his arrival on Earth, his Martian identity was more or less fully formed.

That's why I think he feels the loss of Mars more keenly than Clark/Kal-El would for a Krypton escaped in infancy, and the alienation, no pun intended, that J'onn experiences among his adopted people must also be much, much higher than Clark's. More than any other superhero, Martian Manhunter is separate from the people he has chosen to live with and protect.

I hope this explains why, as I stood where I took the 360-degree panorama below, three thoughts kept repeating themselves in succession:

1. the magical, fearful, reverent, "I am in a place that is unique in all the world."
2. the slightly more self-centered, "Because I grew up in this place, I am also unique in all the world."
3. the similar, "No matter how long or far I live away from this place, I'll always be like Martian Manhunter."

Click to enlarge.

Hear me out. I know I'm not the only person who grew up in Kalsangi nor the only person who had an idyllic childhood. I'm also deeply aware of the other truths about Kalsangi: it's a middle-upper-middle-class village for a multinational company's senior management, and it has all the comforts of a Manila executive's provincial summer home, year-round. The only thing I really lacked was consistent and prolonged exposure to the larger world outside.

But, that's precisely the reason I'm writing this now, and why I wrote this post last year. That's why I feel like J'onn J'onzz or John (the) Savage, even if on a much smaller scale. No matter how easily I've come to function outside of Kalsangi, I've never felt like "one of the people." I may be thriving and even happy in Metro Manila, but it never feels like home.

Maybe the best way to explain the feeling is not to see myself as a born Martian, like J'onn J'onzz, but a made Martian, like the children of "The Million Year Picnic."

Imagine that Martian Manhunter helped a bunch of Earth scientists set up a colony on his wasted home planet. That environment would be both manmade and wild, reachable and isolated, comfortable and spare—all the things I knew Kalsangi to be, at least before Internet access, better cable TV, and Gensan's current economic boom. Imagine that human families had children and raised them in that colony. Barring books and a few field trips every now and then, that would be all the world to those children.

Then, imagine that some of those children were told to leave, to go "home" to Earth and make a new life for themselves there. Imagine the taunts and the funny looks they'd get because of their diction, their cultural clumsiness, and their general lack of fashion sense. They would be expected to do and talk and live as their fellow Earthlings—it should be easy, as Earthlings!

Except, inside, they would also be Martians, always and forever.

I can see my house from here.