As if taunting me that my days here are numbered, I find myself alone on the train today, for the first time since I got to Holland last year. My sister never lets me “go astray” at any time during my stay here, maybe trying to be the mother bear that she is.
This entire European adventure, if I may say, has been one of domestication, wonderment, and introspection.
I arrived here in November 2012 at 28 years, too young to be an executive back home, too old to be irresponsible. I took a quasi-hiatus from my job in Manila as an executive director of a large non-profit trade organisation after several years of working non-stop, all my heart put into it as I have always done with anything I set my mind to, and at some point something snapped.
Just like that. I realised, we only need enough passion to fuel us lest it burns us.
So I went to Europe. To babysit.
I have babysat my few-days-short-of-one-year-old nephew, baby J, for two months. There have been days when I wondered what I was doing home alone and attending to a baby when I’m in, of all places, Europe!
I have been home at my sister’s house, most days, and that means weekdays, and weekdays are Monday to Friday, and that totals five days. Five. Long. Days. At home. I couldn’t have emphasised my boredom more!
That was in my first few days, my completely yaya days when, at anytime, I could go gaga.
Imagine coming from a routine of 8-5 everyday, oftentimes 8-8, managing large events and assignments and meeting important people in the local IT industry, with barely 10 other people to help me run it all. I have become this check-email-in-bed-in-the-morning-and-at-night person.
Suddenly, I needed to stop my productivity urges and follow the schedule of a baby who sleeps on me, and wakes up on me, and cries on me, and basically needs looking after 24/7. I was used to setting my own schedule and even getting other people to follow it. Now, a baby dictates what I do with my day!
On this trip, I did some things for the first time in my life, like spend Christmas and New Year outside my beloved country.
Let me say that again: I spent Christmas outside my beloved Philippines.
Do you know what that means? That’s the only place in the world where the Christmas season runs for three months. That’s how much festivities I’m missing out!
I also wiped sh#t from my nephew’s ass.
But the alone time, the time spent away from the world, from the noises of the world, from the heat of the sun, from the home country I’ve known all my life, from the urges of doing something exciting and new or writing that extra email at work, that was what was hard.
The mundanity, the banality was so thick it suffocated me! I felt like water being boiled, and all the uneasiness in my heart could only subside as soon as the flame is turned off. I needed to turn my tendencies off, tame the corporate creature I have become, silence my inner noises to be able to hear the breathing of the sleeping baby in my arms.
I was being domesticated and resisting it.
But if to be domesticated is to be tamed, then the latter did me good. It settled my stubborn emotions without settling for what is.
It wasn’t all hard though. I also marvelled at the efficiency of Holland, specifically how the trains are connected between cities and across countries. How cheap it is, relatively, to travel to another country on a road trip. How all the train schedules are updated real-time online and it is necessary to check this before heading out of your house for the day. How it makes everyone plan ahead, but makes them tolerant and understanding as well in events of train disturbance and you can’t go make it on time for a business meeting.
I marvelled at all these European cities — Cologne, Nuremberg, Munich, Salzburg, Lucerne, Grindelwald, Geneva, Paris, and Brugge — in that order through a ten-day European road trip where I saw history and the future.
I saw people’s different motivations to travel, the younger ones being the most engrossed with it, of not being here and of being somewhere else as if they’re always looking for themselves.
I wanted to collect souvenirs as I passed by these cities but changed my mind shortly after. I gave up, just after acquiring my first piece, from Rome, my snowball collection. First it was expensive, then it was heavy, and then I just thought, it does not make sense to spend time collecting material things if it means taking away time from collecting experiences.
Living in a place other than your country makes you live life more excitedly. You’re inclined to put more life in to your everyday, knowing somehow that these are temporary, that you are not staying in this foreign land all the days of your life.
I also met Filipino families living in these foreign lands and realised that, wherever you are in the world, you’re kind of inclined to go back to who you are, and you try to find who you are in wherever you are. That is why, people of the same cultures tend to gather and make time to see each other, because then they get a feel of being home.
I saw Paris for the first time, and for some reason, I felt lonelier than I already was. It was so beautiful and romantic it’s not for going solo.
I heard Silent Night sung in its original version in Salzburg, went on a DIY Sound of Music tour, and somehow it compensated for the type of Christmas celebration I was missing out on back home.
I walked inside the walls of the old Roman Empire and just idled on the steps of the Pantheon as if, and frankly quite realistically, an unemployed Roman. I marvelled at these grand European cities and how far away they are to the third world where I came from. Through my lenses, I wrote down my daily musings — 68 days in all — in a blog called reflectionsofanearly30.blogspot.com
Above all, I learned to slow down and let things happen just as babies eat and live without knowing how. I learned to appreciate the life that my parents gave me and honestly wondered if they had the same issues as I have now.
The sun’s rays go frantic on the window of the train, shimmering, frolicking. You can stare straight at the sun, it’s not so cruel, appearing and hiding, playing with the clouds. It was just a mild type of sun, where you can stare at it, in fact you can see it perfectly round so clearly. And in your gaze, without flinching, without awareness of where you are or whether you are at all in the right train or going the right direction, just without blinking, you experience eternity. This is eternity. When time seems to stop, you’re hypnotised, and you are not in control, dazed, almost trance-like. It’s the fact that you’re unaware of yourself, of what’s happening, that you feel like time does not exist. And when you snap out and become aware of your current situation, of your existence, of the fact you’re sitting in that train, then that moment of eternity vanishes.
I am going back home to Manila soon.
But did I get the answers I set out to find on this trip? Did I even have questions in my head in the first place?
I had this feeling, this tiny itch in my heart, this unexplainable unnameable feeling, that I needed this trip, not because of the glamour Europe would provide in my life, but…to eat, to pray, to love, to experience these very basic longings of my soul as Elizabeth Gilbert had. As I neared 30, I needed a trip to nourish my soul, to reflect, to see things from a different point of view and to see family life through the perspective of my sister, her husband and my nephew.
I wanted to know if this family life was what I wanted for myself. I am weak, like every else, when I hear stories of my batch mates getting married and posting pictures of their kids, and I melt in my heart and secretly long and wish for the time it would be my turn. And admitting that is hard enough. I needed and wanted to find the answers for myself: Do you want to have a family? If so, start now. Do you want to stay career-focused? Move on now.
I am going back home to Manila, probably still having the same questions I had in the first place. But I know some have been answered. I cannot articulate what or which or how, but I know some things have cleared up. I knew it was time to take the next step, even if that means a leap of faith.
As this hiatus began with a decision, so must I come back to my homeland and make a decision — a choice to steer myself to more creative things in life, to keep on traveling and writing, to stay true to myself, to prepare me for the imminent decade of the 30s. It’s still a process, and forever will be a process. But I know I am farther from the place where I was two months ago. If anything, I have renewed something within, something that makes me excited now to go back home. To see home. To feel home. To experience home. Anew.
*This is part of a 68-Day Travel Diary called Reflections of a Nearly Thirty. Read the full Reflections Series here.