homesick: chapter 2

I’ve decided to pull together any of the posts to come in these next 3 months under the series title, “homesick.” While the first post was a more typical blog post, meant to be read more casually, I’m hoping, in these next three months, to process everything I’m feeling (believe me, it’s a lot) while I’m away from home in formal segments. This is Chapter 2 of homesick. I hope you enjoy.


the house is silent. the air smells faintly of fresh, morning, farmland. my stomach is full of rice and sinigang, while i can feel the ring of german, tagalog, and unsteady english in my head.

leg #2 of this whole adventure takes place at my aunt’s house (whom I’ve met for the first time upon flying into zürich), in switzerland, where i stay with family, yet still feel incredibly far away when it comes time to lay down for bed.

there are three stages to this trip. i didn’t necessarily plan it to be this way but it so happened to fall into place like this.

leg #1, flying into paris alone, gave me shellshock like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. as i wrote about in the first chapter, sending myself away from home for the first time, all by myself, shocked me into seeing what it means (to me) to have a home and what it means (to me) to feel at home. comfortable. safe. seen.

leg #1 gifted me 12-hour days of wandering by myself. agendas and itineraries built day-by-day, hour-by-hour. silent observations of groups of friends, families, other people on their way to work or on their way home. silent days spent thinking and walking and seeing. sleeps in twin-sized beds without someone to even consider muttering goodnight to, despite just tiptoeing through a pitch-black abyss of 9 sleeping strangers. freedom and potential-drenched mornings, where the day could be spent doing anything i want in the world, except… being at home.

“i fell more in love with the impending reality that i am going to build a home out of it in just over a week.”

upon packing my bag 10 minutes before check-out at st. christopher’s inn at gare du nord, i was beyond excited to get out of that hostel and onto a plane. i fell in love with paris, but i fell more in love with the impending reality that i am going to build a home out of it in just over a week. since writing that first blogpost, i have been excited to get myself back into a home. surrounded with family and surrounded by people i can talk to. a private room, a private bathroom. unpacked without living out of a locker. two small children and a tito, tita, and lola. a family. a home.

essentially, i forgot how long it has been since i have lived in a family unit. especially, a filipino family unit. being home for holidays is different because my brother and i are old and hardly ever in the house at the same time and, in addition to that, i spend over 9 months a year surrounded by goofy 20-somethings that make my childhood feel like an ancient relic.

the memories of being a child– with my chubby cheeks, my strawberry red birthmark, and my painfully annoying older brother– are as faint as that birthmark is today. like the forgotten bedtime story about some anthropomorphic stars at a birthday party that i once heard dad tell me before bed.

“i spend over 9 months a year surrounded by goofy 20-somethings that make my childhood feel like an ancient relic.”

after throwing myself into a massive foreign city alone, i threw myself into a situation that is objectively far more comfortable than previous accommodations, yet happened to be even more poignant and moving than i thought it would be.

i found myself, not even two hours after landing in zürich, playing with two little kids in the living room. we were throwing balloons and shooting imaginary laser guns at each other. just like my brother used to do with our little cousins when we were younger.

i, wearing an iron man mask and gloves, falling to the ground and coming back to life every 10 seconds.

julia, 2.5 years old, baby-babbling things in german to me from across the room as she chases after balloons i toss.

paolo, 6 years old, collecting balloons and chucking them like grenades from behind the glass coffee table.

picture this: an almost-three-year-old girl with a six-year-old brother. filipino, so she yells “kuya!” (meaning big brother) every time he pushes her or does something she doesn’t like. filipino, so he responds, “nooooo,” every time his mom says, “tulog, na!” (basically meaning, “time to go to sleep.”) we cut our food with spoons (no knives), put our food family-style in the middle of the table for us to help ourselves, tagalog (one of the languages of the philippines) dances around my ears:

“ah, makulit!” “tulog, ikaw?” “anong oras na?” “ay, malamig.” “sige, sige” “ate izzy?”

(ate, meaning “big sister.”)

i don’t speak tagalog. i never learned it growing up. and now, i am spending 4 nights with a family that only speaks german and tagalog to each other (and english to me). i haven’t heard these words sung which such a familial flair in such a long time. it falls around me, warm, like sunlight.

i thought i felt far away from home while sitting in the hostel bar, crying. then, i suddenly started leaking, trying and failing with all the power in me to hold the tears in, on the train home from luzern. i know i am far away now from home, by metrics of space or distance. however, i was slapped in the face by the fact that i am far away from my childhood concepts of home by metric of time.

it washed over me in the form of awe when i watched my tita and my lola navigate a total of about ten transfers to various forms of public transportation with two little kids and a stroller, as i ran after them on train platforms. tita is pushing the stroller to the nearest elevator, julia onboard, with the baby bag swinging about on one side. lola is running down the stairs in front of me with paolo in her right hand, just making it to the next transfer.

“i was slapped in the face by the fact that i am far away from my childhood concepts of home by metrics of time.”

it washed over me in the form of amusement as i sat across from paolo on the train as he taught me how to say the parts of the body and how to count to 10 in german. when he’d dance around, kinda slap his butt, and pose like a power ranger, just like my brother used to when he was six (at least that’s what i’ve seen from pictures).

it hit me like a train, as julia, with her massive eyes and chubby cheeks, held her kuya’s hand and offered all four of us a single potato chip from her bag. as she gently cuddled to her mother’s chest and took a nap while we waited in line for the cable car down the mountain. every time she cried for her big brother to stop and then quickly forgot she was hurt and started giggling as if they were best friends again. or when she left her chair on the train to crawl into her mom’s lap. or when she speaks german-tagalog and i have absolutely no clue what she’s saying, except when she says, “komm,” to show me her stuffed animals that are “playing babies” with her and paolo. or when she says, “am-am!” (which is not german or tagalog, it’s just her way of saying eat) as she offers me a red plastic spoon and a plastic frying pan with velcro broccoli and a green wooden block in it for me to eat. or when she treats all of her stuffed animals like her babies.

she reminds me of a version of myself, my childhood, my home that i am on the brink of forgetting and are only preserved through photographs and memories from my parents.

the home that feeds me rice three meals a day and interjects things in tagalog. the home that has me acting mad at my kuya even though he is so amused with himself that it would be way more fun to just continue playing along with him. the home that builds worlds, or in my case, the Neighborhood, out of all of my stuffed animals. the home where my dad holds out his hand in the form of a karate-chop-to-the-air when we’re in a parking lot or crossing the street, so that i don’t forget to hold it when we’re in a dangerous place. the home where my mom cuts up my food and blows on it so that it’s not too hot for me to eat. the home where my brother and i make an entire society out of stuffed animals, legos, game board pieces, and action figures in my parents’ closet and bathroom.

i’m now 19 years old and alone in europe. i won’t be home until christmas. i haven’t even started my study abroad program and i miss home. i have grown and learned so, so much in the past week about myself, concepts of home, concepts of family without even searching for it. i am thrusted into retrospect by hastily and dramatically leaving a lot of things behind.

i am so privileged to have a home to return to.

i am so grateful to have a home to return to. i am excited to build one in paris, and i am excited to continue building the one i’m working on at stanford. however, i am beyond thrilled to return to the one in which i’ve spent over 19 years existing and growing.

to more learning and to more growth.

with love always.

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