Their Playgrounds Are Better Than Mine

Saturday, June 10, 2017

angono wawa

Our core is created in childhood. Our foundation is a careful curation of events when we were young, of things and memories and places and sounds. As we go through life, the core expands. Layers pile on as our experiences accumulate. Still, in times of distress, we peel away the layers and look to the very center for a response. We are guided by whatever's in there. Is there fire to consume? Are there embers to warm?

My childhood was far from perfect. Despite this, I believe, with all my heart, that I was given exactly what I need. I grew up in a town where art is celebrated. Creativity is commonplace. Novelty is nurtured. At a young age, I was able to understand the beautiful and vast possibilities borne by imagination.  On top of that, my family, imperfect as they may be, had always supported my whimsy.

Angono, my hometown, is a limbo. Most of the time, I mean that as a compliment. You would, too, if you come here and see. Here, you could say, we have balance. We have access to all the comforts of the modern world, but, through it all, we'd somehow retained everything unique and familiar about our identity. I once wrote that Angono is the Goldilocks of town – malleable enough for progress to happen; stubborn enough not to change so much. That still holds true to this day. 
angono wawa

There’s only one thing I don’t like about Angono. It lacks a certain kind of “wildness”. I wish my landscapes had been more rugged. These days, I find myself frustrated knowing I didn't grow up in wild places, that I don't have a "rawness" in my core of cores. How wonderful it must have been to have acres of meadow for running. How delightful to have all the trees you could climb.

See, even as a child, I was drawn to the trees. Trees, in fact, always featured in my most poignant childhood memories.

One particularly hot afternoon, I sneaked out from home to climb a mango tree. The tree was right across our house, on a vacant lot with soil of reddish loam. Low rusty corrugated GI sheets bordered most of the land. A space, big enough for three people, was left un-fenced, a way to get in and out. I ran to this entrance, heart pounding. I wanted to climb the tree purely out of defiance. My mother didn't allow me to play outside because it was "too hot" – I didn’t see the point. I went higher and higher. I was exhilarated. I settled on a branch halfway up the tree, my legs swinging. If I extended them a bit, I could touch the rusty fence and I did just that for the heck of it. I held my fist against the patch of sun among the screen of summer green, watching my skin turn incandescent. I smirked. I was quite pleased with myself. To celebrate my triumph, I pulled a stick of Choco-choco from the back pocket of my shorts – this was that point in my life when I never left the house without one. I happily sipped and sucked, the chocolate tasting as wonderful as my freedom. I wiggled my feet. Then, one of my slippers slid out of my foot. I watched it tumble down the branches, Choco-choco halfway to my agape mouth. The slipper – it was red – got caught in one of the grooves of the fence. I scrambled down the mango tree and attempted to reach my slipper with my foot. That was a mistake. I aimed to hook the strap with my big toe. Instead, I lost balance and almost fell. I managed to grab hold of the trunk but my big toe got a nasty cut from the GI sheet. It bled and bled and bled. Bear in mind that I was six or seven at the time, and all I could think of was I didn't want to give Mama another reason to not let me play outside. I held my tears, and, still numbed from adrenaline, I retrieved my slipper, placed my mangled foot on it, slunk down the tree, and ran back home. I was relieved that nobody seemed to notice I’d sneaked out. I moved as quietly as possible. Seeing the light-green tiles that make up the flooring of our porch, I pulled my bleeding feet up in my arms and hopped my way to the front door. I tried not to leave a trail of blood; that would only lead to an interrogation. Once inside, I wiped the blood with my hands and dashed to my bedroom. I doused the wound in isopropyl alcohol, using tons of cotton balls to stop the bleeding. When it finally did, I strategically placed the band-aid where it wouldn't be noticeable and tried my hardest to walk normally the next few days. Until today, no one knew about that little adventure.  

I wanted more forays like that. Imagine all the adventures I could've taken if I grew up near the woods or in the mountains, the secret scars I could've gotten from sojourns into the wild. Even with just that one tree-climbing incident, I'd gleaned a surprising amount of personal values: resilience and persistence among others. Imagine the character development that could've transpired. The life skills I could've learned. 

Life skills considering, it would've been great if I learned how to swim when I was younger. While I can swim, the water scares me. I maintain that had I been introduced to swimming early on, I could've been a great swimmer. When my brother-in-law came to our lives, I was even more sure this was the case. He grew up by the ocean and credits this fact with why he's excellent with both paddle and arm-stroke. Asked what made him an athlete – a champion swimmer no less – he points to many a day spent entirely at sea. He'd been in the water so much that navigating it became easy. It was second nature. Yet each time I express my envy at his childhood, he chides me. He said he fended for himself, had to learn how to toil to make it through. It hadn't been all water fun and games. 

Of course, I knew how fortunate I am to grow up in relative comfort. I had the privilege of being a child, of growing up slowly. I risk sounding like an ungrateful little prick when I say this, I know, but I couldn't deny that this secured childhood turned out to be a source of adult insecurity. 

In Catanduanes, in the town of Pandan, I met kids who had an entire promontory to frolic on. It included a lagoon, to get to which required a precarious journey, but these children maneuvered each step with nimbleness and utter certainty. They seemed unfazed by the roiling waves and jagged rocks. There was also an expansive meadow to run around. There were herds of cattle to play with. The day I visited, I spotted one boy hopping on the back of a cow to another. God knows I could've stayed longer on the mango tree had I have that kind of motor control. 
tuwadtuwadan lagoon

On the island of Biri, one of my best friends and I got to hang out with a trio of children. Wouldn’t you know, I brought Choco-choco and lollipops on that trip and I got to share it with them. In return, they delighted us with stories of how they spend most of their afternoons in the natural pools, how that day was just another round of playtime for them. It wasn't just past time, they said. It was a routine. It had been summer when I met them and school was out, but come June, they assured us, they would still head straight to here after class. Sometimes, they added, like that particular summer afternoon, they come with their fathers who spear-fish, their dinner consisting of the day's catch. No wonder they all looked so healthy and energetic. I knew I could've benefited from more sun and sea. 
biri rock formations

In Viga, another town in Catanduanes, my fiancé and I had been searching for a waterfall. On the barrio where it was supposedly located, the residents proffered a group of boys to take us there. They lead us across a thick forest, through a gurgling waterway overgrown with shrubs and vines. It was a place I've dreamt of venturing into as a child. These boys are lucky, I remember thinking. When they admitted they often bathe in the lagoon beneath the cascades, regularly jump off of the boulders along its periphery, a bubble of envy popped and filled my lungs. The stories I could've told with such an otherworldly setting!
jardin falls catanduanes

jardin falls

I’m left to do that now, going to places. Wild, remote places surrounded by rawness and an irresistible fierceness of character. I see these natural landscapes and find myself wondering how it must be to grow up here, to live here and have these places shape my core. Perhaps I would've grown to be less lazy and more self-sufficient, physically stronger and spry. My imagination could have stemmed from all senses instead of just from books. Not that there's anything wrong with books – they're great and I owe them much – but there's something about the real thing that elevates experiences.

Don't get me wrong, I still look back to my childhood with fondness. In spite of wanting more and wanting something else, I still believe everything I needed to go through life has been generously provided during those formative years. I realized, too, that the things that were missing then had shaped my core as much as the things that were present. After all, we don't want what we already have. Our greatest aspirations are birthed from absence.

To live long enough to know our truths, and to grow up slowly to be able to live by them – this is the lesson of childhood. It's true that our core is formed when we are young, but our definition comes later when we accumulate enough experience. All things considering, do we look back in bitterness? Do we see our past for what it lacks? Do we remember with anger? Or do we take life as an endless adventure that comes with the usual highs and lows?

Indeed, how glorious it would be to call a paradise home, but home is wherever you make it anyway. Yes, I will forever be envious of children whose playground is the wild and I probably wouldn't stop wishing for a more exciting childhood. Yet to see the places of my dreams with my current set of eyes, through lenses polished with reverence for natural landscapes, is something I was glad I had the patience to wait for. Now, every mountain is a kingdom. The ocean is another world. Each tree a sentinel.

The way I see it, I get to properly live out my childhood. Life is generous enough for more than one, I find. After all, why dwell in the past when there's so much beauty to live for?

Storytime is a series of  stories about my most memorable travel experiences. Read more here.

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