21 September 2014


Three years ago, I looked out of an MRT window, saw a huge public library building, and was filled with the hunger to live in a place where public libraries were a thing, where they were as much a part of the people's lives as places of worship, shopping malls, and schools. My family and I were just heading home from a day at the Science Centre, and I was already awed at the fact of the Science Centre, the fact that people lived, worked, and played in a place with such a Science Centre, and the fact of the public transport one could ride to and from it, when that building came into my field of view.

It rose over the pale grass on that hot day. There was construction on one side and nothing remarkable on all the other sides, but it was there. Here we were on the less developed, more industrial, and possibly poorer side of the country, and it had one of the biggest public library buildings I'd ever seen.

I loved the public library system in our short years in the US, and I've been extremely lucky to have gone to Philippine schools with good libraries. But back home, once school was over, my life with libraries was over.

I saw that building and remembered, realized everything I was missing. The day I saw that building was the day I realized that people didn't have to live the way I was living. Public libraries were definitely a thing. They were in people's lives. People could live around them. I wanted to live around them. I wanted it so bad, and that want was a pit that buried itself inside me, took root, and started giving me ideas about the future — ideas that led me here.

Today, I finally got to walk into that building for the first time. I stayed for nearly five hours, working on a project, and I didn't realize how long I'd been there until I got up to go. On the surface, there wasn't anything wondrous about my going there; I was just another student at the local library, going about my business and then going home. And that, the very ordinariness of it, was what made it special. I was there, in the library, like all the other people there. Maybe it was even the first time I felt I might belong here, if I'd like to.

It smelled like peaches.

P.S. – I also found the place where my family and I got lost on our way to the train station. We had to walk through apartment blocks, a hawker center, and a small tiangge. There are malls and corporate centers now, but the hawker center and tiangge are still there. Passing through that same corridor was like time travel. I'd never expected to be back there or to even be able to recognize it, and then suddenly, there I was. Maybe the fact that we were lost there made it stand out to me.

I miss everyone.

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