In Search of the Greatest Treasure of the Philippines

Note: This was written for a school paper wherein we were tasked to incorporate fiction with non-fiction. Almost all story elements are fictitious; but all sentiments are, for the record, ingrained in my 21-year old memory.

I cover 56 kilometres every day from home to school, and from school to home. I hate the nauseous, nerve-wracking feeling of waiting in line and of waiting for more passengers to ride. I hate that I have to use two hours of my time in the morning for travelling instead of catching up for a recitation that day; and two hours again in the afternoon instead of studying for an exam the next day.

I hate it most especially when I have to bite my lips to patiently wait until I come home to pee, having no freedom to make the driver stop because of the other passengers I’m with. The insolent, insensitive strangers, with their boisterous laughter and their endless gossips about their neighbours; with the high school students’ cheesy updates with their boyfriends on the mobile phone; and the cautionary tale of an upbeat guy singing his favourite song out loud. These are the kind of people I have to deal with.

Travelling to and from school with the infamous Filipino innovation
This is how it is for two years now, and I cannot help but constantly remind myself to stay strong for two more college years. Anyway, we are but strangers waiting to reach our own respective destinations. I have to go to school; that irritating girl has to go to another school; that insensitive guy has to go to work. Pay the driver. Bye-bye.

Yesterday, I had to deal with these all-too-unpredictable menstrual cramps. I shouldn’t have come to school, but I had to push myself because of an exam. Feeling moody, downright weak and dizzy, I forced, with every best way I can, to ride the jeepney and to take the two-hour ride to my school—bumps, ramps and all. It was then that I wondered how things would be like if only I had my own car and my own driver. The idea of never complaining of these same things; of being able to sleep, to listen to music, or to study my lessons, and still arriving in school safe, sound and still shower fresh. These things seemed too wonderful for me to even dream about.

Taking public transport makes you deal with a great diversity of individuals

Then without warning, a surge of the worst cramps I ever had since 12 took over. I felt cold, I looked pale, and I twisted and turned to make the hurt go away. Feeling alone, I tried to grab my phone to call my friend; but to no avail. I could hardly move. Then a girl about my age told the driver to stop the jeepney. She put out her fan and shoved it left and right towards my face. An old woman grabbed her purse and pulled out an aspirin, and a young guy gave his water for me to drink. People on my row stood outside and let me lie down on that long chair. People left behind pulled out their fans and directed them toward me.

One woman had a meeting to attend. A bunch of girls and boys were late for school. Many were late for work—but no one was complaining. I, a mere obnoxious undergraduate student, who always complained about their laughter, their singing, their gossiping… Here I am now, a stranger, being cared for, patiently, by these same people. I couldn’t help but cry, not for the pain of cramps, but for my selfish self. People around me looked anxious while I was crying, but I tried my best to stay up, and hug each of them who cared for me. I didn’t care anymore whether he was this sweaty guy I almost sat next to, or whether she was this irritating girl who couldn’t control her laughter. I felt in one with them that very moment, and I felt, above all, loved.

The very next day, things didn’t look the same way again. I greeted the new morning through Mang Danny’s honk, bringing our family’s favourite pandesal; and then by Mang Eddie, the village’s wheeler driver, who brought me to the jeepney station.

Riding a pedicab instead of walking: much convenience for a student who always wakes up late

 

Along the expressway, I noticed the small, old car with a flat tire on the roadside, with a young man helping out the old woman change her tires. Then along the way something suddenly struck so striking: the many yellow ribbons stuck on cars, buses, trucks, even after more than a month since the elections.

Transcendental symbol of Filipino solidarity

When I arrived in the university, I was greeted by the guard who checked my bag and my ID, “for safety purposes” he would always say. I remember how irritated I always was whenever he did just that. Then I came to my first and favourite class for the semester, taught by a brilliant yet underpaid professor. I wonder what keeps him going on, despite the meagre salary he takes, and despite the fact that numerous promises of a higher salary and better benefits are continuously offered by international universities.

Arriving at Palma Hall
After class when I came to get my readings from Ate Mimi, our photocopy assistant, I couldn’t help but wonder how she feels, being exposed to radiation all day long, being bombarded by professors and students for more and more copies of readings and all. Before going home, I headed to Manang, my constant ally for an affordable lunch. On the sidewalk, we would share stories, usually of urban legends and current events, which I’ve always believed to be the best desserts ever.

Better than any fancy dessert
Now, traversing yet another 56 kilometres, though tired from school work and club commitments, I feel content and fulfilled which I cannot figure out why. I am now beside a college student who chants a poem he made. I commend him not realizing I just sparked a conversation between bookworms. On my right is a middle-aged shopping mall employee, who cannot hide the excitement of being home again in the arms of her children, with a dozen of doughnuts in her arm. I now decide to open the window for some air, yet I am surprised to see the blue sky with the increments of a red tomorrow, the lush and bountiful fields hard-earned by hardworking farmers, the Eurasian Tree Sparrows roving around electric lines and the fields, trying to make sense of the rich earth of the country they’ve been blest with—all of these, against the majestic Mt. Arayat, a reminder of the past, of tectonic plates, and of legends that shall forever be ingrained in our cultural memories.

The epic-filled Mount Arayat in Pampanga: such a site on a long, winding road

People say that the Filipino identity is not yet found, and that the Filipino spirit is now lost. What then shall I call the epics, legends, rituals, tradition, culture and history that lie beneath our Philippine soil—that are forever immortalized in the palms of our hands? Everywhere I look, I can’t help but see the Filipino spirit: I see it in Mang Danny and Mang Eddie who make my morning more alive, in the passengers who treated me as a part of their own families, in our school guard and in Ate Mimi who help make my life more comfortable, in my underpaid professor who selflessly offers himself for the Future, in Manang who makes me feel special and in tune with the world, in that college student who makes me feel connected and unique, and in that employee who makes me appreciate the googolplex value of the family in this country.

We always dream of travelling around the world—in the ancient ruins of Egypt, in the cosmopolitan New York, in the romantic Venice and Paris—yet we fail to recognize the greatest treasure that can only be found in this country. Apart from our country’s biodiversity and the many endemic species we should be proud of, deconstructions of every day life can ultimately lead us to the very treasure that can never be found in any part of the world. A stranger helping you find your way. A relative sharing a personal recipe. A neighbour helping you out in times of distress. Yellow ribbons as symbols of solidarity.

We do not have to look very far. We may not have the highest GDP in the world, but we certainly have the greatest treasure of all—each other.
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