December – 2013 This is one page per month devoted to the more personal experiences related to my life in the Philippines. I’ll toss in some photos & video links as needed for emphasis so.. no telling what you’ll encounter here.
— Henry ‘Reekay’ V.
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[12/26/2013] — You wouldn’t think that something as simple as moving from one side of the earth to the other would play games on your mind, but it does. Now that I’ve been back in Southern California for about 6 weeks to enjoy the holidays and time with my Mom and my sons, it has come with some bitter-sweet realizations in the process.
One thing that I anticipated before I even left for the Philippines was that I knew every time I returned to California, ‘home’ and the people I knew would be just a bit different than from when I left. Time waits for no one and so as expected, my Mom is older upon my return and my children’s lives have progressed forward during my absence. As anticipated, this is exactly what I encountered upon my arrival. It’s been a very sobering reality. Nothing can be done about it so, as the old adage goes; “Where there is no solution, there is no problem.” My desire and resolve is to keep the Philippines as my new home. The plan remains the same. I just have to accept and make the best of each re-visit the States.
I’ve discussed already some of the strangeness to be experienced upon my return here after 16 months in the Philippines. I have heard of other expats describing what they loosely called a ‘repat depression’ upon returning to their home country after being abroad for a long period. Here I can only share my own experience. I wouldn’t really describe it so much as a ‘depression’.. but more like an overwhelming sense of detachment. This became especially and most strongly felt by myself today when I decided to spend some time alone at a mall in nearby Temecula, California to catch a movie and get some dinner.
Up until today I’ve spent most of my time either at home or visiting with friends over lunch. That along with Thanksgiving and shopping for gifts kept me pretty busy and local to my area. However today was totally different as I went to the mall that I’ve been to so many times over the last 15 years or so in Temecula.
I’ve been to that mall countless times over the years. For 20 years I worked just across the street from that location. So today I arrived there and all was fine until I was inside the mall. Then, like a ton of bricks I was thrown into the strangest, most surreal of situations that it had me walking around in a dreamlike daze for over an hour. As I walked into the mall, immediately I knew something was different.. not with the mall, but with me.
I knew my way around, that was no problem. Even about 90% of the businesses were in the same location as I expected. The mall itself looked as it always has apart from the usual Christmas decorations. But at first I was totally disoriented. Not with navigation, but with how out of place I was there. And then, as I walked about, I started to panic because no matter where I went into the mall.. I couldn’t remember anything. No matter where I walked, I had no memories attached to any of the places. Normally, as I go about town places remind me of years ago and events that occurred there. Dates I took to certain restaurants. Places I took my kids. Parks I spent time reading, that sort of thing. But today, I tried very hard to remember ANY event that had occurred in the past in that mall and I was drawing a complete blank! It was like I had amnesia. In all effect.. I did experience a limited form of amnesia.
The first 20 minutes I kept telling myself, “I’ll remember something.. maybe from this place or that store or the food court..”. But I couldn’t remember even the faintest memory of walking there before or being there with anyone despite over a decade of visiting there with countless people over the years. After a half hour I was really starting to panic and was staring at EVERYTHING around me to try and jog my memory to come up with something. But it was like my memory had been erased. I was truly walking around in a surreal fog. I noticed I was being a bit obvious, like a person lost in an airport, to those around me but that was the least of my concerns. Maybe I was paranoid but a security person followed me halfway across the mall staying about 20 feet behind me because I wasn’t walking in any particular direction. I was looking for anything to jog any memory and nothing came. It was really starting to freak me out.
I finally had one faint memory sort of come to mind, like a dream. I hoped that would open the floodgates and the rest of the memories would all rush back but.. nothing. At some points I thought I was in a different mall, over in Riverside, and had to correct myself.
The odd thing is that once I exited the mall, that feeling went away. I still couldn’t bring up any past memories but at least I knew where I was.
In general, as I mentioned, the word that best describes my overall reaction to being back is that of ‘detachment’. There is nothing in the stores that I want, only a few items that maybe I’d need. There is no system or plans going on that I care to be a part of. It’s been a very strange experience so far and hasn’t changed much these six weeks.
On the more positive end of things, it has been good to re-touch base with my family and friends. Time is a very fleeting commodity and even more so knowing that my time here is limited. Several of my extended family members have passed away since I left and others are likewise facing a terminal situation even now. My dog, who remained with my ex-wife, even he is now 13 years old.. blind and deaf and he took a while before he recognized me. Everything is moving forward during my absence, both good and not so good. My children are doing very well in their ambitions with family, school and business. For that I am very thankful.
I heard a song a few days ago that I’d not heard since I left the Philippines titled; ‘Photograph’. It very succinctly expressed a portion of what I’ve been experiencing during my stay here. No matter where you live, every moment is ‘magic’ in its own way. It is fleeting, like a small gust of wind and then it’s gone.. existing only as a memory after that. The places we go, the people we meet, the loves we’ve lost, the pains we’ve known, the joys we’ve exalted in.. all of it, it is Life and is more precious than we realize at the present moment.
In my own case, this whole experience has only strengthened my desire to return to the Philippines. I suppose I could relate what I feel in this manner; it is like turning a corner in the grocery store and running into an ex-girlfriend from 20 years ago. You’ve each moved on. There is no anger or love anymore.. just an awkward, melancholy memory that demands no solution or response. That is how I feel geographically with the places I spent my whole life growing up and living in. The only elements of value are the people that I care about. Only they motivate me enough to travel across the ocean to be physically back in the States. But the objects, the places and inanimate ‘things’.. they have no claim on me anymore. It’s not a sad thing or a tragedy that needs fixing in any way. It simply is what it is. Like the ex-girlfriend who you speak with only long enough to find out she’s re-married, has a few new kids and a new job. After a few gentle pleasantries.. you wish each other well and part ways once again.
What I gain from this whole experience is that it’s all about the people in our lives. That is what matters. That is where life happens. Good or bad, life is about relationships. Places and things just sort of pale by comparison.
Author: Reekay V.
Since 2012 I’ve been traveling through various islands of the Philippines as a full-time Expat and spent 1999 living in Vietnam.
Share with me my ongoing adventures of life in the Philippines. Hopefully you find my observations helpful in your own adventures.