Thursday, July 17, 2003

1 year olds and disco lights

That evening, we're invited by former Kambayoka member living in Surigao to their daughter's 1 year birthday party. Jun goes off to attend to his student's rehearsals. Their big performance tomorrow morning. Sunnie introduces me to many former members of the theater group.

Of course, the food is fabulous! Baptisms and 1-year old parties rank high on the big party list, thus the food tends to be good and plentiful. Dinuguan, pancit, fish, etc. Then there are the desserts: cake, Filipino fruit salad (with the creamy sweet dressing and coconut), bibingka.

While Sunnie and the former members talk about the old days, I move inside and watch them sing karaoke. It feels just like home. Tons of food, chatter in languages I don't understand, and karoke singing. There are some aspects of Filipino that don't change much no matter what side of the ocean you are on.

I watch some of the children playing volleyball with one of the balloons. Though I understand and speak some Tagalog, Visayan is a whole other language. After the children play I strike up a conversation with one of the little girls. She asks me questions in Visayan that I don't understand. I tell her in English and Tagalog that I don't understand Visayan, so in a very proper English she translates.

"[phrase in Visayan] means "where do you live?"
"[phrase in Visayan] means "how old are you?"

She runs back and forth to another child outdoors. She is obviously the courageous messenger willing to pass along the questions of her inquisitive counterpart outside. I hear Visayan is relatively easier to learn than Tagalog. Plus it's spoken by over half of the population, just about everywhere south of Luzon.

We head back to the hotel we're staying at. I'm staying in the Red Room. It's very girly with the red frilly curtains that open to a brick wall. At least the curtains are pretty and they have a shower with built in water heater for hot showers. I rarely take hot showers and prefer the cold ones. Besides electrical equipment near water is kind of scary.

Loud bass eminates from the top floor of the hotel. There's a club there, free to hotel residents. I head up there to check out the party scene. I probably should have changed into the standard jeans and t-shirt clothes. Everyone dances in groups, never alone. After sitting around for a bit, I decide to dance...alone. Apparently, this is not really done. As I turn around, a lot of people are looking at me. Someone asks me if I'm with this other woman, I think she's referring to the other tall Filipina on the dance floor. I tell her no. And decide to take a seat.

Frankly, I've never been too comfortable in most disco dance clubs. I spent most of my college years going house parties rather than SF night clubs. That along with my apparent gigantic size increases my self-consciousness. A friend txts me to say I should go dance! Even though the fear pools in my belly. I'm not really having fun. Unlike in US clubs where dancing alone is a regular thing, we're so big on individuality. Here I'm just crazy.

Not that this is not the first time I've taken on what's normally expected of me in this country. I played a pick-up basketball game with some Philippine Marines in Manila once. But when you're tall on a basketball court, they have to give you some respect. Here, on the dark intimate packed dancefloor, I become keenly aware of the circles and dance groups. Plus staring in the Philippines is not necessarily as taboo as for Americans. I take the dance floor again and just close my eyes trying to escape the fishbowl in my own darkness trying to fall into the music. I think to myself, "why do I care? It's not like I know any of these people, and I probably will never see them ever again."

But deep down inside, I do care. I do care that I'm sticking out even more than a sore thumb. It's a matter of fitting in. Each time I come back to the Philippines, despite my Americaness I'd like to fit in or at least not create the kind of commotion the ilicits children screaming and pointing at the "kano." Growing up in the U.S. it was my Oriental eyes and mathematical wizardry. Here it's my accent and height. I am a non-standard Pinay in many ways which I have taken great pride in at times, yet there are some days, I wish I was the standard stereotypical Pinay. Like right now.

Intellectualizing all of this, I know this is crazy talk. That there is no "standard," and these stereotypes are ridiculous to compare myself too. blah blah blah... But there's nothing that can negate the feeling at this moment: the weight of the eyes, the wanting to shrink into nothing, the nervousness churning in my stomach. I wish I was 5'2".

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