I laughed, because she's spent the past few weeks telling me horror stories of how incredibly boring it is in Guam - it has two diners and one bar, and everybody thinks that ordering a Vodka Cruiser is hardcore. You should just stay in Manila, I told her. Where better to do cultural immersion than in the country where the culture originates?
It's funny, how we became friends. We met for the very first time in the holding room for the oral examinations - not exactly the ideal time to meet someone. I heard her talking, and knew immediately that I had to get to know her. She sounded vaguely American - not a strange thing per se, but right then, while I was in the process of taking a government exam, it definitely meant she had a life story I wanted to hear. I managed to exchange names with her and chat briefly, but that was it; soon after we started talking, the proctor came in and her face was so stern that we all meekly shut up and straightened in our seats. During the entire examination, S and I were given separate schedules, so we barely saw each other. At the final step of the process, we were seated at tables halfway across the room from one another.
That's it, I thought, resigned. I guess I'll just have to hope we both pass so that I can get a chance to make friends with her while we're in DFA.
(This is, incidentally, how I meet many of my friends. I see them and think Hey, I want to get to know that person!, or vice versa, and as soon as we get to talking, we find out that we do indeed have things in common. Makes you kind of think love at first sight is possible, doesn't it?)
At one point during the last examination, we were all required to stand up and make a few remarks to our fellow examinees and the board of examiners. S stood up and told us about the Filipino Club in her college in Boston; when it was my turn, I explained that I had learned the Philippine anthem in a cultural class in the Philippine Embassy in Bangkok. After the examinations were all over, S made a beeline for me: We have to talk! she exclaimed. Your speech made me want to cry - and the examiner at my table told me that you'd grown up outside of the Philippines, too!
Unfortunately, we didn't get to talk then either; everyone was heading home and S's parents were on their way to pick her up. Give me your cellphone number, she said, as we headed out of the examination area.
I groaned; I had lost my cellphone a month ago and hadn't gotten around to replacing it yet. I don't have a cellphone, I admitted, and our faces fell. Wait, I said, desperately. Take down my e-mail address!
Then we parted, and that was the last we heard or saw of each other for several weeks. In February, LJ - another batchmate of mine - sent me an e-mail message: S, rei ... we all passed. They'll notify us of our psych exam schedules soon. The e-mail was cc'ed to S; I copied down her e-mail address and e-mailed everyone back with the news that I had a new cellphone number.
A week after that, S e-mailed me. I nearly cried when I heard your speech about learning the anthem in an embassy, she said in her e-mail. The same thing happened to me! S - just as I'd suspected - had an interesting background, which she told me about in subsequent e-mails. The daughter of two diplomats, she spent her life moving around the world: born in London, elementary school in Manila, high school in Mexico, college and her first job in the US, then a brief stint in Israel before her family moved to Guam.
We started chatting soon after that, and quickly moved on from exchanging life stories to plotting future mischief in the DFA. We met up for the first time a little over a week ago, and had massive amounts of fun exchanging stories of the road. A week later we met up again, at the same spot. S introduced me to her friend JP (who reminds me of Bethany Joy Lenz, for some reason), another Filipino girl who grew up outside the Philippines. It's so much fun being here, JP said, laughing, as we sat and pigged out on reinterpreted Thai food. I've never seen so many Filipinos together at one time! I just wanna get up and yell hi to all my Filipino brethren!
At some point during the dinner, JP leaned toward me. What I really want to know, she said, is this: how do you define yourself?
S rolled her eyes; apparently this was a conversation they'd had before. I told you, JP, she inserted, It's no use trying to define ourselves. You'll only get messed up.
I smiled. I'm Filipino, I answered. That's what it says on my passport, and that's what my ethnicity is. Part of my heart is Filipino, and that will never change. Besides, S and I kind of HAVE to be Filipino - we're going to be representing the Philippines, after all.
But? she prodded, as I trailed off.
But there's also a part of me that isn't Filipino, I admitted. There are parts that are permanently stuck elsewhere, like Bangkok and KL and Singapore and various cities in the US. Beside me, S had a half-smile on her face; we'd talked about things like this before. It doesn't make me any less or any more Filipino, I explained. I am what I am.
I was echoing what S had said earlier, when we had first met up. I've stopped defining myself, she sighed, leaning back. I'll be different no matter where I am, so what's the point?
The point, I guess, is that in a way we'll always be searching. S and I - and all others of our ilk - are Third Culture Kids, whose passports say one thing and whose behavior and culture say another. It's not a bad thing to be - it's an interesting life, although very fragmented - but it does tend to confuse you about what you are. I suppose S and I will spend the next couple of years exploring our Filipino selves together - and then fragmenting it all again once we get thrown into the wilds of the Overseas.
In the meantime, we're thinking about starting up an association for TCKs in Manila. I'm not sure exactly how that's going to happen, or if it'll happen, but I suppose it's one way of dealing with the identity crisis.