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Life in Suburbia

SYDNEY, Australia — Living in the suburbs of a foreign country, the Philippines feels like a distant planet in a galaxy far, far away. Here in suburbia, we are practically living in a bubble — a very large and pleasant one — where the scenery is unchanging, the air is clean, the skies are the clearest and bluest in the world, people live in well-ordered homes, with neat front yards decorated by hedges and flower boxes overflowing with colorful blooms. It is a picture-perfect existence, at least from the outside looking in.

This is a place where everything is in place and everything works. The churches and schools are nearby, as with the malls, supermarkets, movie theaters, parks, and fast-food outlets.  The bus schedules are strictly met and the trains run on time.  The garbage is picked up regularly — a different truck for the large red, yellow, and green bins. 

So orderly is suburban life here that it is entirely predictable. I know that if I leave the house at 7:30 a.m. to catch the 7:43 bus to the train station, I will be able to take the express train to the city at 8:24 and arrive at my destination at 9:41, in time for my appointment at 10 a.m. It takes two hours to get from here to there, not because of traffic but because the distances here are great.

So you are probably starting to understand why Manila feels like an insignificant planet light years away from where I am.

However, there is enough Filipino life in this country for Pinoys to feel at home.  Friends and families get together often; their children are friends in school, in sports, in choir and other church activities. Last week, we partook of a boodle fight where adults and kids sat together eating with our hands scooping up the rice, adobo, fried chicken, barbecue, green mangoes, tomatoes, itlog na maalat, and bagoong arranged in the middle of a long table.  The dessert was halo-halo. It was truly a taste of home.

The elders chat in Tagalog but the children, who were born and bred in Australia, speak with the Aussie twang. But they understand what their parents and grandparents are saying, even just from the tones of our voices.

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Last week, I was interviewed on the government network, SBS Radio, by a Filipino host, in Taglish.  Apparently, it has a following among the Filo community here.  And there are several newspapers that cater to the Filipino community.

It can feel just like home here, but during a more innocent and ideal time, when we lived in tightly knit communities and family units with our neighbors, friends and cousins, before the leadership by disunity of the current administration took over our lives.  Although the politics at home has begun to cleave and divide the Filipino community here as well, most Fil-Aussies I have met are more concerned with their lives here than the situation at home.  If they are — and the EJKs are a big source of worry — they don’t allow it to get in the way of their relationships.

It is a much more pleasant way to exist.  When I bring up political matters, there are not many who care to be engaged.

So, the only place for a political fix is Facebook. But lately, I find that most people at home are also similarly disengaged, posting instead about the usual toxic insults and sarcasm, pictures of their children and grandchildren, of families sending positive messages at Christmas and enjoying the holidays.  I’ve never seen so many family pictures on Facebook as there are this year. It seems that people have made it a point not to allow the sordid national situation and the usual “grinches” in government get in the way of their enjoyment of Christmas and New Year.

With so much joy on FB, I find myself glossing over the toxic stuff, such as the drama of ex-future Vice Mayor Paulo Duterte and his daughter Isabelle, the insensitivity of Bato de la Rosa, the agaw-eksena by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, Sandra Cam and Dante Jimenez; and anything President Duterte has uttered during the holidays, including his official Christmas message. 

I guess this means I am truly on vacation. I am not only physically away from all that, I am emotionally and spiritually on hiatus from the negativism that has marked the last year and a half of my life. I am doing nothing more than being with my family, away from the aggravations at home, and it is exhilarating.

Can I do this forever? I hope I don’t have to.  There is much work to be done in my country. But right now, I truly appreciate having Sydney to return to when things get difficult at home.

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