The letters on the air-conditioned shop window,
where you find yourself staring at your reflection are—
Quiapo Free Font.* Souvenirs display a bahay kubo miniature
and assorted jeepney, die-cast with hand-painted side panels of
signages that say Zapote, Bacoor, Baclaran, Mall of Asia.
Behind you, a POGO** worker walks by, almost hollering
in Chinese into his cell phone, mask on. Then a mother-daughter
at a leisurely pace, carrying video games from Toy Kingdom. Face shields and masks
blurring their delight. Outside, pickpockets and beggars abound, along with the smell
of piss on the sidewalk. That much remains the same, at least.
Who would have thought that this was your homeland?
Having shopping malls and condominiums built for foreign
workers, and rent skyrocketing for its citizens. Who knew that
this would be the life of the average Pinay? Hearing foreign languages,
struggling even then, to figure out what it means to love your home
with your entire being. But seeing how your country’s leaders
are exploiting it, you almost want to flee and never come back. You go—to other cities,
visit different malls. All freshly-built. Primed for their new inhabitants. You see the
usual things but in foreign letters. You don’t even dare to enter. Clearly, these places
are not for you. You’re already an unwelcome outsider.
You spend so much time walking alone in unfamiliar city blocks.
Stop. Breathe. Take a moment. You’re getting lonelier out there.
Estranged from how you understand your hometown, your city,
your country. Your ignorance will save you, yet your love fuels you. You who
loved to look, failed to see what others already knew.
Now you think about debts, currencies, linguistic nationalism—
and how convoluted they are, as your reflection disappears, blurred
again from the shop window. Wanting distance exactly as much as
you want to remain close to the bahay kubo and jeepney displays.
Then shamelessly sitting down by the food court for free wi-fi to write this.
* Quiapo Free Font: creativemanila.com/quiapo-free-font-by-aaron-amar/
** POGO is an abbreviation for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators. More here: www.esquiremag.ph/money/industry/philippine-offshore-gaming-operators-what-you-need-to-know-a1926-20190719-lfrm
Neen Ramos is a Pinay (Filipina) who loves to devour pop culture and random stuff on the Internet. A lover of good books and a cup of coffee, this piece was inspired by window shopping around the malls in Pasay City, Manila. Her body of work speaks her truth about the Philippines, her homeland. It can be found at The Mark Literary Review, Sledgehammer Lit, Ghost Heart Literary Journal, Royal Rose Magazine, and Black Cat Magazine. You can find her aspirational Insta-poet alter ego (@whatneenwrites) on Twitter and Instagram.