A traveller’s mindset

(Manila after dark, Luz Rimban)

For three days this week, I felt like a traveler again, despite having journeyed no farther than 12 kilometers from my home to a place so achingly familiar to me and some family members. 

The purpose of the trip was a face-to-face live-in workshop of the kind that had been part and parcel of my work pre-pandemic. After being cooped up at home for almost two years, seeing no one other than mostly relatives, and learning to regard physical contact with others as unhealthy, taking part in a once-normal workshop seemed like a novelty, a culture surprise (not shock). And because it meant checking into a hotel for two nights, I had to pack my bags and take on the role of traveler.

The traveler’s mindset allowed me to pass through familiar routes and landmarks as though seeing them for the first time, noting changes I hadn’t seen before. Roads under construction, a new Waze-recommended turn down an old road, the seemingly unnatural congestion of streets in a metropolis still supposedly on partial lockdown, and so on and so forth. 

At the hotel, I met old friends and new acquaintances under conditions of social distancing. After sessions, they took advantage of the downtime to walk by the bay or lounge near the pool, while I was still stuck in my room with numerous work-from-home commitments attending overlapping zoom meetings. I realized how handcuffed I still was to zoom meetings and almost hour by hour schedules they imposed on people who are not supposed to leave their seats at all. 

So I stayed in and savored what it was like to be on staycation. I got a glimpse of the city from out of my 11thfloor room and the room of one my fellow participants on the same floor. At night, the city takes on a sheen when viewed from high above ground level, even if one were seeing only a single frame from a window. In the harsh light of day, another view-from-above exposes overcrowded neighborhoods and the (dirty) laundry of nearby condominiums units. 

Manila has always been this way to me. It is the beating heart of the country, alive and noisy and grimy, the proverbial first stop and departure point, the place people start off from as they find their place in the world, where they come to find a living or to study. My family did just that and so I lived the first decade of my life in this city. Just down the street from my hotel is a relative’s condo unit, and further down is the university where relatives studied or taught. The hotel where we stayed in fact seemed familiar to me. It used to be a pre-war home and if memory serves, I and some young students once met a group of distinguished ladies in the living room that now serves as the hotel’s reception area. Some corporation probably bought the house, built 14 floors at the back and called it a boutique hotel. 

All too soon, I had to check out, feeling like a traveler saying farewell to a beloved city and promising to visit again soon. Perhaps I’ll return to the boutique hotel, spend time by the bay and watch the world-famous sunset when no more zoom meetings await.  ###

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