[travelogue] Coming Out of My Cage (And It Feels Just Fine)

A/N: Submitted this as an entry to World Nomads’ travel scholarship competition. I didn’t win, but it felt like a piece of travel writing worth sharing.


It’s June.  The night is humid, glowing amber in the lights of Armenian Street.  I’m twenty-three, and girls much younger than me have done this before—wandered off at night in search of adventure—but I’d always been the “tame” one.  At home, they call me tita (aunty), lola (grandma). The girl whose idea of partying is having tea in bed after work.

Certainly not the girl who’d be rounding the corner of a graffiti-covered alley at half-ten at night, the remnants of a sangria buzzing in her blood.  But it was my last day in Singapore, and I’d found myself wanting to live a little.

Emphasis on a little.  There would be no shared drinks with strangers.  Instead, I was looking for new music, and Timbre at The Substation was supposedly the best place to find it.

Back home in Manila, I balanced a responsible, serious job as an agency strat planner with a self-proclaimed “career”—profitability be hanged—as a singer/songwriter for a rock band.  When my bandmates heard I was traveling to Singapore, they’d filled my head with stories of underground gigs with inspiring acts.  It was this promise that got me to wander a foreign city at the oddest hours of night.  I’d tried to find it in Clarke Quay, but the bands there sounded professional when I was looking for raw.  A quick Google search for “indie music gigs Singapore” pointed me in the direction of Timbre.  


Several attempts at a cab ride later, I’m elbowing my way into the dark, open-air club, dodging a bunch of finance-looking bros nursing beers.  I grab a stool near the bar and, just as I catch my balance, there’s that familiar screech of an electric guitar being sound-checked.  Then, the mics crackle to life as a raspy mezzo-soprano (just like me) launches into the familiar first line of The Killers’ hit, Mr. Brightside.

Soon, it’s midnight. Though the sangria’s worn off, I might as well be drunk. I’m dancing in my seat, shout-singing along with those finance bros through a series of pop-rock hits. Later, I’ll notice my phone battery is dead.  Later, I’ll catch my first ever bus.  Later, I’ll huddle, scared, at a deserted taxi stand in a different part of town (How did I get here?!) until an off-duty cab takes pity on me and brings me back to my hotel.  

Later, I’ll wonder what possessed me to wander around at night, in an unfamiliar city. But, with rock music blasting from crackling amplifiers, later hardly matters.

For the first time, I’m coming out of my cage, and right now, it feels fine.



Roaming In Place

In a few months or so, it’ll be my one-year work anniversary–one year as a member of the productive work force.  When I realized September was nearly over, I had to stop and wonder: how did I get here?

A year ago–well, over a year ago–I had come home from Brazil ready for the next trip.  I’d made plans to skip town as soon as I was able, longer-term this time: whether on an AIESEC GIP or a foreign scholarship or simply taking the plunge, pulling up my roots, and applying in parts unknown.  I’d even started uprooting, had begun a transition where the friends I had pre-Brazil were not necessarily the friends I had after it.  I’d been loosening (if not cutting) some ties I felt were holding me down rather than holding me steady.

One year later, some of my AIESEC friends are traveling the world or planning to again.  (My Brazil-blogging “rival,” the much-fêted Ciarán, has moved to Melbourne.)  Some of my MScM classmates are packing up and trying to move on–to South America (c/o Coca-Cola) or else the United States.  And I, I’m still here.  By choice.

If you’d told me a year ago this was the choice I’d make, I wouldn’t have believed you.  I had bought fully into the millenial cult of finding yourself by losing yourself–solo traveling, backpacking, booking piso fares and plane tickets to anywhere anywhere anywhere.  I believed my destiny was wrapped up in a maxed-out passport and a beat-up suitcase full of old clothes.  And I have to admit that, sometimes, reading the travelogues of my contemporaries, the wander-blogs of my wandering generation, I wonder why I chose to stay.

But it doesn’t change the fact I chose to stay.  And it doesn’t change the fact that as much as I talk about heading out on another grand adventure, given the option of packing my bags right now I’d probably say no.

On one of those long days we would laze about Maringá, Ciarán once told me about a friend he’d never agreed with–C wanted to travel the world; the friend wanted to stay home and pursue an art form.  At the time, I’d agreed wholeheartedly with Ciarán.  Why stay homestuck when the world was out there?  But one year later, I find myself understanding that unknown-and-unnamed friend.  I’m happy for my friends who get to travel.  I think what they do–the courage it requires and inspires–is amazing.  But I don’t feel the need to go do it myself, not right now.

People say it’s because I’ve found a reason to stay, but I find that hard to believe.  I move around; I’m a fidget by nature.  I have so much difficulty finishing what I start, or keeping things going (*coughLost In Thoughtcough*) without help.  I need to be constantly in transit, need to feel a degree of freedom of movement, so much so that I have difficulty committing to dates and invitations that are more than a week away (and when I do I look upon the commitments with mounting dread).  I don’t think I’ve stopped being a “roaming” Tsinay.

Instead, I think I’m roaming in place.

In one year I’ve found so much I’ve yet to do and try and wander around in here, where I least expected to find it.  When I got on that plane to Brazil, I could think of nothing but walking away from a life I (at that point) couldn’t stand, with attendant emotions it felt so good to leave in Manila.  But after two months I picked up that life again, a little different than when I left it, as if it, too, had been adventuring while I’d been away.  It is that life, now, that has taken me on tangents–Virus, Stories Told, #DesignHerStory, Lost In Thought–that I never imagined I would take, while leaving behind things–theater, radio–that I once felt I could never give up.

I still feel like I’m in motion.  I don’t feel like I’m rooted to anything.  In fact, there are moments I feel the same way I felt in Brazil–wide-eyed, uncertain, both exhausted and excited by the adrenalin rush.  And, the same way it was in Brazil, there are times of profound loneliness, when it’s like I’m drowning in a sea of strangers, lost on a journey whose destination is one big question mark.

It’s those feelings that tell me I’m wandering at home.  I’m roaming in place.  And for now, that’s okay.  For now, that’s enough.  Maybe a year from now, I’ll have different answers.  But right now, so much is happening that home doesn’t feel boring at all.  Sometimes it feels terrible.  Some times it feels amazing.  But mostly, it feels like another adventure, which, all things considered, isn’t a bad place to be.