It was not exactly a year ago that I left my home in San Pedro, Laguna to start my masters here in the EU. Although I started my masters in September, I mark my first mental-physical departure in May 2022, when I was invited to fly all the way to Stuttgart to participate in an art festival interestingly titled “Fragile Solidarity/Fragile Connections.” Ever since that month, I’ve been flying almost every month to a new country or city, which I would always say is an expected result of all the work I put in after, despite of, and in the process of many failures: the militarized pandemic in the Philippines and Zoom, broken laptop and meager income while on a shitty self-designed graduate program in UP, and the institutionalization of my artistic pursuits since 2020.
Failure is good, I always tell myself. It’s an opportunity to learn from and confront the extents of a life opposed to survival: the limits of the body, borders (psychic and otherwise), financial incapabilities, as well as incapacities under networked-capitalist living. Failure is a privilege I regrettably enjoy whenever there are moments of encounter, which many Astrology scholars might attribute to my sun sign’s stubborn nature and desire for a good challenge. However, this is not to say that I haven’t faced some worsts: for example, dropping my EU residence card and having to cross borders from Germany to Austria, paying for rent + deposit + buying groceries in my first week in Denmark, flying a 300EUR flight to Sarajevo (in a country I only discovered that day!) to do a 10-minute biometrics procedure for an Australian visa application deadline, self-doubt, and losing many long-time friendships.
Although it’s been a year and not exactly, I still struggle, and it’s difficult for me to admit. People often tell me, “I don’t know how you do it!” whenever they hear about my life as an Erasmus student, moving every semester, and even doing a million other things on the side to sustain survivability and some level of enjoyment. I never gave myself many chances to process and recover from exhaustion but I also need to accept eventually that this is precisely the nature of a life I never really chose. Of course, I bear the many responsibilities of my decisions, but I want to resist the temptation of defining the reasons why I ended up here. It’s a question of struggle. Wasn’t it Winnie the Pooh or Mark Fisher who said the famous line, “You’re exactly where you need to be”? I could be wrong.
As I write this while in transit on a Flixbus from Prague to Berlin, I wonder how helpful it is to recite some of my fondest memories?
In Bosnia and Herzegovina at an airbnb, I met a migrant Filipina who cooked fried dumplings with chili oil, perhaps the best food I ate during my first month in Europe. In San Francisco at a lunch, I sat next to a Nobel Prize Laureate who would eventually speak that there is a “lifting of fear” under the Marcos administration. I spent many days in Chicago just eating gummies with two special dads. I met two of my favorite theorists in New York, one showed me a park, and one practically crawled with me to the subway while drunk on champagne. My last day in Sydney, I met a friend from the Philippines coming for a wedding, and they gave me a brownie I would end up bringing all the way to Aalborg through Qatar and Amsterdam airport.
My trip to Melbourne, despite it being winter, was special because I met the most tender Vietnamese friends. I spent almost every night eating sashimi at a tasty Japanese restaurant in Chinatown where they actually make the Asian food right (side-eyeing Austria and Germany). I visited beautiful botanical gardens in Adelaide and Brisbane, where a college friend flew all the way from Perth to see me; and the latter with my college thesis adviser who in collaboration with me made my delayed uni life hell. In between, I attended a yoga class led by one of the members of the artist group that coined the term cyberfeminism.
I fell in love with São Paulo (and its people) immediately when I arrived, and witnessing samba moved me to tears. They have the best serviced massage ever, and going to Bangkok a month later made me greedy to get bookings three nights in a row; a painful regret. In Prague, I saw Ana Roxanne perform live inside a beautiful church—she didn’t sound too different, but I had the best banh mi after that concert. Amsterdam and Madrid had really nice parks in the spring, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur gave me the sunlight of home, and the capital of Costa Rica gave me everything about home: terrible traffic, endless rain, and remnants of Spanish colonization.
The morning after the midnight I arrived home in the Philippines last January, my grandfather died. My mom didn’t even bother to wake me up. At 2PM I ran as fast as I could to the crematorium, and my request to my mother that she not tell anyone that I was back was denied; we were, after all, complete during an important family event: photos will be uploaded on Facebook immediately. Those weeks I spent in the Philippines wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped, and me leaving with this set of feelings (read: disappointment, grief, exhaustion) was what inspired me to come back to Europe with more determination that I will like it and I will do my best to not look back as I try to finish the remaining of my 2-year program.
For the first time a few weeks ago on a Tuesday night, I felt the restful feeling that was missing in the past months of my climate-changing, airport-hopping, diasporic-ass life. Ever since I moved to Austria for my first semester, I’d always been in a fight-or-flight-or-freeze mode to the point of stoic dissociation: there’s this feeling of unwelcome, whether because of language, or racism, or social insecurity, an itch in your brain telling you you can’t afford to relax. I was in Munich for a week when this feeling made its apparition: at a lover’s childhood home with beautiful cats and growing tomatoes and a big backyard. We spent a lot of time together, meeting lovely people, and more importantly, eating consistently good breakfast! I don’t know if it was because it was nearing my moving out anniversary that I finally felt that feeling, or because I was so well taken care of, or many other emotions that decided to culminate in one decisive blow.
I don’t know when this feeling will last. Although I am always confident about where I will head next and how I will face it (in terms of work, studies, career, whatever word is more appropriate), I’m considering whether this confidence and approach I’ve built is compatible with a mode of life that will actually bring me more of these restful feelings. I’ve met so many people, gained so much experience (shitty flatmates, for example), and got into many of my dream opportunities at the famous intersection of art and tech—but how come I still crave failure? Another significant question to ask, why am I even using this vocabulary? Perhaps my ultimate desire is the breaking down of a certain set of logics that I’ve been conditioned to adapt. An exacting logic, derived from twisted notions of value.
What would the world be if I saw it in musical terms? In an earlier blogpost, I wrote about the writer’s block as a first line of defense. Defense to what, I’m not sure; maybe the failure of language is a needed respite for other possibilities of thinking. In music, a phrase is not a bunch of words but instead a substantial musical thought. Musical phrasing can apply to relationships, especially to my current one and all its imperfections, in the way that it’s able to help me shape time, listen to my own tempo, and find beauty and meaning even in the most senseless rhythms. It is here that I suspect I may be able to find the restfulness that I need.
I don’t know what I will end up doing next year—should I live in Vienna, this humble and quaint city that has goulash and some of my most amazing friends? Do I live somewhere in Germany, where I’m close to many people, opportunities, and places like Berlin's Viktoria Park and Nusantara Restaurant? Can I go to Amsterdam where grass and mushrooms are legal but I risk of getting run over by a speeding bike? Maybe I go to a different city like Lisbon, London, São Paulo, or Barcelona? This blogpost was supposed to be a reflection with the intent of celebration, I’m glad I ended up here.
17 Sep 2023