One Year

Soon as I stepped foot inside my apartment, I felt all the remaining energy drained out of me. It was a complete mess. I remember leaving in a rush, too excited for my Pinas vacation to care about a pile of clothes left on the bed.

As I begin to take on the discarded boxes, used clothes piled high on the clothes basket, plastic and paper bags littered on the floor, and fallen hair entangled with dust rolling on the vinyl beneath my feet, a powerful force of obssessive compulsive behavior took over my being. I must clean my room. I must forego all plans of recovering from an almost no-sleep-at-all flight until the room looks like a room instead of a junk shop.

And clean it I did. I reserved some space for a future mini kitchen. I cleaned off the accumulated ecosystem of dust and cobwebs, moved my bed and bedside cabinet, stacked more bins for used clothes, did some laundry, rearranged more stuff, and finally put up a 2014 calendar on the wall. The room finally looks like someone lives in it instead of merely hauling things inside it for use later. Or to kilo later, soon as the items have been segregated accordingly.

Finally, my bike was parked once more outside my room. My bed is now safe from its looming mud and dirt-kissed wheels.

It took me 48 hours to reach a state of satisfaction, stopping only when I know I can no longer do anything much until I buy a stove and some kitchen utensils. I have also bought a tabo and timba combo, refilled my fabric conditioner, decided to get back to using Tide, and bought a hanger with plenty of hooks to support reusables such as pants/belts/scarves.

Then it hit me, in the middle of drinking yogurt and contemplating if I should have bananas or sandwich for dinner, that I have been living by myself abroad for a year already. In that one year, I managed to change addresses twice. I miss my own washing machine in my old apartment but I wouldn’t trade that for the current proximity of my address with Taipei’s bike paths. I also wouldn’t trade it for the current size of my room, allowing me to bounce happily on an orange MnM inflatable sofa.

I have no idea that this dream will come true. I used to tell myself, well actually the ceiling of my room back in Pinas, that someday I will be able to live abroad all by myself and experience total independence. It’s not that I lack it back in Pinas, it’s just that I wanted to know how’s it like to live on your own. To not have family and friends nearby. To have no family to come home to while surrounded with people that do not speak your own language. I discovered that it’s only frightening to think about but in reality, it’s doable. In reality, it’s more tiring because you get to do all manual labor. It’s an experience that I think every person must experience at one point in their lives. It makes you realize how things will never be able to replace people.

As I look at my food stash of crackers, bottled water, and Lily’s peanut butter wrapped in a clear plastic bag, I sigh with relief thinking at the binge-eating I did while on vacation. I have happily tried two of the most talked about lechons in Cebu. I ordered all the crispy sisig I can order. I rekindled my love for Death by Tablea cake. I squinted my eyes satisfyingly in between sips of fresh green mango shake. I overloaded my plate with garlic rice. I have welcomed with open mouth the peanut buttery goodness of kare-kare blended with salty bagoong. I relived my childhood days of eagerly letting my tastebuds enjoy the familiar deliciousness of my grandmother’s cooking. I have eaten all that I wanted that the discovery of an expired Fita biscuit cannot paint a gloomy picture to my return to unflavorful diet.

I am back in Taipei. Back to the grind of a job that requires more than eight hours five times a week, sometimes six, and on rare occasions (dapat lang!) seven. I am back to the fast-paced yet mannered way of riding the MRT. I can bike again at 7PM and decide whether it’s to Yuanshan or Xindian. I can watch movies again with popcorn and drinks for around 300 pesos. I can use Wi-Fi anywhere again for free as long as there’s a hotspot nearby. I can continue taking those awesome landscape photos and cross-out items off my bucket list. I can live again the way I want to so that I can find out more about myself and what makes me unique.

There are pros and cons to this life that I chose. There are days when it gets too unbearable that packing my bags for good seemed like the best idea. But then there are days too, when the sun is out and a cool breeze blows a silent salute for this decision, that make me realize why all of these are actually a gift. I made the right choice. I am happy I am here. I am glad to have known what it’s like to be a “foreigner.” It’s a humbling experience, especially when you start talking to other foreigners and realize how race and skin color are suddenly irrelevant.

It’s only when you see the world truly and fully outside of your comfort zone that you realize who you really are and what is essential to you.

I thank God for this opportunity. He aligned my lucky stars just when I finally embraced the possibility of having this experience. He gave this to me so that I can understand what I’m made of and the many possibilities that fulfilling “What if…”, “I wonder how…”, and “Someday I will…” can do to one’s life.

As I type this, it hits me that Taipei is now my second home. Whether that stays for another year or so is no longer an issue. It is my second home. It made me independent and strong in ways the Philippines would not be able to. When you cannot help a lost old person because you don’t know how to talk to them, when you get approached by a police officer for chewing gum, when you look at the words “Alien Resident” while filling up a legal form, when you see how friendliness can turn to coldness at the mention of “I’m from the Philippines” then you will understand.

To my first anniversary of living solo abroad, I tip my water bottle in cheers. I have made it this far. I have made it alive, 8 trips to and from the MRT station just to move to this second apartment. I got back my first solo rent’s deposit in full. I was mistaken for a Taiwanese by my fellow foreigner neighbor.

Another item accomplished on my bucket list. Congrats, Tel. 🙂

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