By Jan J.I. Degeest
It is winter in Europe. Winter, that means it is very tugnaw, not like 21 degrees Celsius, what is tugnaw for you, but already quite init for us, but more like 0 degrees Celsius. Or less. It can be minus 10 in January. You have cold feet and hands, even when wearing gloves and thick shoes, your nose is red and frozen and your breath comes out your mouth turning into smoke.
The worst of all, however, is the lack of sun, the dark days. People are grumpy and depressed, the streets and bars are mostly empty on weekdays. If I tell this to my Pinoy friends, sitting together in our shorts and enjoying a cold San Mig’ or a Tanduay Ice, they look at me and laugh.
We would love to see and feel the snow, to experience winter and to be wrapped in the cold. You always exaggerate, we know you. Snow is like in the Christmas movies, a Disney experience, it is fun and cozy…. And I in my turn watch them, sitting in the shadow near the seaside, joking, eating and drinking.
How can I explain life in Belgium, the everyday work routine, the cold and the real Western world to them? And is it worth it? Maybe it is better to keep your dreams and expectations intact, who am I to shatter them? Belgium is a country near America, they joke. We know America, it is like in the movies and the telenovelas. And one day, we will go there.
On holiday and to work. Because working abroad is the Philippine American dream: earn enough money to help your family. Family, the most important issue. But not today, tomorrow maybe. Maňana, as the Spanish say.
First of all, let us eat some more Kinilaw, my favorite food… And the day passes in absolute luxury, we watch the sun going down and finally, there is always a jeepney of tricycle to bring us back home.
The night is still young, the streets are filled with people and joy. Bayad ko and I am safely home.
Friday evening. For almost a week, Jeana is preparing her night out with her friends. She made reservation in a design restaurant in the city center, just ten minutes away (on foot) from our house. First, they were three friends. Then five.
Finally reservation for eleven. Maybe fifteen in the restaurant. You never know. Because, a true Pinay, abroad or not, never misses a party. And that is the spirit! Make fun and work hard. Tomorrow is another day.
Suddenly, she calls me. What shall I wear, she says. We agreed we would put on fancy dresses, a bit special for this occasion. I know my wife, so I show her the green dress she was wearing two weeks ago at my parent’s place, considering that she will take the white, short one in response, which is the one I want her to wear. She puts on her make-up, I sing silently with Eric Clapton while I watch her in the bathroom, and then it is time for the most difficult ritual: the shoes. She has nothing to wear but tries several on.
Shall I wear high heels or boots, she asks, and after some discussion, we agree on boots with high heels, the best of two worlds for her and for me. A winter jacket and an umbrella, gloves and a scarf later, she is ready to leave.
I kiss her goodbye and escort her to the door, watching how she faints away in the dark medieval streets of Ghent.
Back in Davao, I see a woman coming out of a little corridor in between the houses. She wears a white short dress, her hair is bright and shiny, her make-up is brought on in a very careful way and putting the accent on her Asian beauty.
She wears boots with high heels, though it is more than 30 degrees Celsius outside. Maybe some things never change, and are we not so different after all. Salamat po!
Jan J.I. Degeest (°1970) is an Art Historian, novelist and Rotarian – incoming president of Gent-Prinsenhof. He worked for several Belgian Secretaries of State and is actually Director of Communications at the Institute of Frescography, official book reviewer for Medievalists.net and Secretary General of the Non Profit Organization of Belgian and Luxembourgian Rotary Clubs. He is married to Jeana (°1970) and has one son, Elias. They live in the heart of the historical city of Ghent, Belgium. Any comments on this column are welcome on [email protected]