Faraway, So Close!

Faraway

I feel a bit weird today. I can’t really put a finger on how I feel, but it’s a mixture of exhausted and deflated, that slightly empty feeling that comes when some intense and prolonged group activity (eg, a school camp) comes to an end, and you all part ways and go on with your separate lives.

I’m feeling that gloom because I arrived back in Melbourne at 7.45am this morning after a week away in the Philippines for my brother’s wedding. Traveling overseas to attend a wedding is a privilege, I know, and it’s because of the cost involved that my partner and daughter did not attend with me. Instead, I travelled with my father, who is 78 years old, and met my sister, who travelled to the Philippines from Dublin via Seoul. We were met and looked after there by my youngest brother, who is Melbourne-based, but works in the Philippines, and his wife-to-be, who is a Filipino woman. Add another two visitors to the country, friends of my brother, who joined us on Friday night, and that made up the wacky little gang of friends and family that I’ve been with over the past few days.

Where did the week go? Dad and I checked into Melbourne airport on a cold, grey, rainy Wednesday morning one week ago at 7am, and this morning at about 8.25am we stepped back out of the doors of Terminal 2 and onto a footpath bathed in glorious Autumn sunlight.

As always seems to happen on a trip like this, the time in between those two Wednesday mornings seems to have simultaneously stretched and contracted.

Time seems to become pliable when you are away on a trip. As the days unfolded, there were some lovely trips in the country, and time spent chatting around a few drinks, but there were also moments when I felt tired of all the time spent waiting for transport or sitting on transport, irritated by the lack of privacy, worn out from the constant need to socialise and interact with others, or just plain exhausted, and at those times, I felt as though I had a long week stretched ahead of me. On Wednesday morning as my dad and I sat on a plane heading to Manilla, and again on Wednesday evening as we sat in a 12-seater van in Manilla traffic for about 4 hours on our way out of the city and into the country, when I thought of Saturday – the day of the wedding – it seemed a long way off.

But Saturday morning arrived, and once it did, it seemed as if time sped up. The day itself was very full and a lot of fun, and then suddenly at about 10.30pm everything was over. Sunday we went for a day-trip with the new bride and groom and some new friends, and out to a dinner hosted by a local, then, barely before I’d had time to blink, it was Monday and we were leaving the province where we’d been staying, and driving back into Manilla for our last night in the Philippines. Already! Tuesday – just yesterday – was spent trying to fit in shopping, around making huge allowances for Manilla traffic when we planned the timing of taxis to take us to and from the shopping centre, which resulted in more time spent sitting around and waiting.

I can hardly believe that just this time 24 hours ago, I was attempting to cross a 4 lane intersection in Manilla with my sister and my brother’s intrepid friends, on our way to find somewhere good to eat dinner.

The whole thing already seems like a blur. Especially last night. And no, it’s not because I drank too much to celebrate our last night there! It’s because every day, every hour, every minute there were so many new things to see and experience, and take in and think about.

I’ve never visited a developing country before, but in many ways the Philippines was exactly as I had imagined it. Perhaps my brother’s very eloquent and descriptive emails painted an accurate picture in my mind, or perhaps it was a conglomeration of images I’ve seen of lots of different developing countries, on TV in documentaries and news stories. In any case, although it was the first time I’d been confronted with such sights, I was not surprised by the long narrow streets in Manilla, packed with tiny houses and shops that looked poorly made and maintained, or the long stretch of slums on the outskirts of the city that we passed around sunset, where we spotted almost as many stray dogs wandering listlessly around as there were people sitting outside structures that pass for homes.

As we drove outside of Manilla the houses continued. It was not until the very last part of our journey, where there was forest on each side, that we saw any stretch of road that did not have houses lined along it. Every house was different to the one next to it, and every now and then, right in amongst the decaying houses, shacks made of pieces of rusted tin and slums we would see a large, though usually still run-down looking house, suggestive of a wealthier population in the past, or of wealthier residents willing to live right in amongst the abjectly poor, something I generally don’t see evidence of in my own country.

I was not able to take photos of the houses I saw on these trips because we were always in the van and moving when I saw them.* We drove everywhere for a few reasons. Firstly, for most of the week we were based, as organised by my brother and his wife, in a resort-style hotel situated about 20 minutes drive out past a town called Tanay, and there was nowhere else to go that was within walking distance. Secondly, we had our 78-year old father with us, and he joined in most of our outings. Thirdly, a van and driver had been loaned to my brother and his wife for the week for the precise purpose of driving us around, and finally, once in the city of Manilla (without the van and driver), anywhere we wanted to go seemed to far for Dad to walk and we couldn’t expect a 78-year old to cross roads in the city by marching rapidly through lanes of oncoming traffic as locals do.

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Manilla public transport – a jeepney

For me, this trip was a mixture of observing and learning about a culture I’ve never visited before, meeting and getting to know new people – my brother’s wife, her three children, and two of his Australian friends I’d never met before – and spending an unusual amount of quality time with my brother, my father and two of my siblings. I always value time with my sister, since she’s my only sister, the sibling closest to me in age, and we get along well together, but don’t see her often as she lives a 24 hour flight away from me, in Dublin.

The most unusual aspect of this holiday, as far as the family side of it goes, was spending so much time hanging out with my father.  I’m pleased to say that he constantly surprised me. I did not anticipate that he would be so willing to “go with the flow,” and join in whatever plans we made, nor did I think he’d be willing to try any drink or food item that was recommended to him, and usually like it.

So what is affecting me the most today is that the time spent with family, particularly my sister, has come to an end.

Of course, the ending came gradually. The time spent with my brother ended on Monday night when he accompanied us to Manilla and then headed back to Tanay. The time with my sister, whose flight back to Ireland left much later than ours, ended abruptly when our taxi for the airport arrived at the hotel. After that it was back to the old team – just Dad and I – and all the tedious parts of international travel: the queuing, the waiting, and the sitting. We sat together for 3 hours at the airport (because the taxi had, after all, ended up getting us there faster than predicted), we sat together on the 8 hour flight, queued up together to get through passport control, baggage collection and customs. I walked him to his bus (back to the country town where he lives) and we said goodbye, and then it was just me.

But even as I finish writing this post, 13 hours later, my sister is still flying. According to flight tracking, her flight from Korea is about 26 minutes away from landing in Paris, but she still needs to connect with her flight to Dublin. So the trip is not quite over yet in my head, because one of the gang is still travelling. It never fails to bend my mind, when she flies home from Australia – or in this case, the Philippines – to witness how my life goes on while she is stuck in the twilight zone of a long-haul flight.

Time is a tricky beast. 24 hours is not very long: I just said goodbye to her at 5pm last night, hardly any time ago at all. But when someone is flying away from you, it’s far too long: she’s a whole day’s travel away from us now.

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*

*I’m not sure that I could have taken photos of the houses anyway as I would have felt like I was treating people’s homes as if they are novelties to post pictures of on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 Comments

  1. I know that deflating feeling. Sometimes an event looms so large in your life that it’s hard to move past it.

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  2. weebluebirdie

     /  April 15, 2016

    I can relate to this post particularly well today – just back from our first Family Holiday Abroad. It wasn’t exotic, and although friends were envious of the location – Paris – they didn’t get why it was such a big deal for us. It was the first plane trip for the Kid, Himself and I were tense about how-to-travel-by-plane-metro-and-with-each-other. I’ve got as far as doing a bit of photo editing. Reading other blogs to catch up and to get my brain exercised for Word Mode. That post will come!

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    • I hope you had a great time & I’m sorry that you’ve now got to suffer the post-holiday Blues.

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      • weebluebirdie

         /  April 15, 2016

        Oh, we did. Not much time for holiday blues – moving house in a couple of weeks! All very fast and unexpected; so much clutter, so many sentimental memories.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow – that is full on! I’ve done those things close together too, although the other way around, about 16 years ago – moved houses – a big move psychologically – across town and into the first house we were not renting – and within 3 months we used the rest of our savings to take our first trip overseas – fearing that otherwise we’d never go! Good luck with moving – the packing is the hardest!!

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  3. Some experiences are like that: they lift you out of the known and place you in a context where everything is strange. It’s like waking up and finding yourself accompanying Alice through the byways of Wonderland. It is exhilarating but also tiring and bewildering. Even the people we know take on a tinge of strangeness.

    Your father made the trip too. Good for him. Let’s hope it is not too long before you get another chance to meet up with your far-flung relatives.

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  1. NaPoWriMo – Day 6 – “Nobody Dances Sober For Long” by David Ellis | toofulltowrite (I've started so I'll finish)

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