I miss myself. I miss who I was before I boarded that plane and flew thousands of miles away. I felt alone, surrounded by love, but alone. I hate feeling that loneliness, but in that moment I grew. In that moment I discovered truths.
The want to find ourselves, to actively seek our missing pieces will never end. At different points in our lives, our layers deepen and require more of us than what was needed before. 37 days gave me so much. New pieces were found in every moment that redefined my definition of what it means to actually live. But I don’t want to confuse the word “live” with “adventure seeking.” You don’t have to reach the peak of the highest mountain, because not everyone gains the same amount of satisfaction from any one thing. To actually live, can be as simple as being able to pray everyday, or finding time to call someone you miss even for just 30 seconds, no matter how awkward it could be, simply because, you miss them. Living is seeking your own risks, and your own truths.
Everytime I think about those 37 days, everytime I close my eyes and let the moments seep back into my heart, they bring me to a place I’m scared to unpack. Ironically, mentally unpacking is the complete contrary of actually packing and unpacking for a trip. It’s easier to pack into the heart, than it is to unpack the truths you find within it.
This is me unpacking 37 days, in the most honest way I possibly can. Instead of giving you a list of best places to spend the night at or critique all the restaurants I had eaten at, I’m giving you a piece of my heart through the moments that ignited it. This is my XO.
Layover – Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Manila.
As fate would have it, my trip to Bali included a layover in Manila, Philippines. A place I lived in for 6 years, with one of the most important people in my life living there, my Grandma Betty. It had been 5 years since I had last been able to hug this incredible woman. When we landed I thought i would get a few hours to share with her. Those few hours instead became only 5 minutes. What do you say in five minutes, that you’ve been wanting to say for five years? We stood at the terminal where she waited for me, and held each other for what felt like the longest time. With my grandma asking if I’m “hungry” really being the only bit of conversation we had. there were so many tears, and holding back of more. It’s true what they say, no amount of Skyping or Facetiming someone you love can compare to being in that same space with them. I consider it a blessing to begin my journey being enveloped in her energy. It set the course for the remainder of my summer away.
Bali. Singapore. Philippines.
25 hours, two layovers, and three flights later, we arrived. As memory serves, I remember sleeping through the first day. Jetlag is ruthless and I recommend getting that necessary rest to avoid feeling burnt out as you trek through in the days after. Evan and Ashley, two of my closest friends joined me on this experience. In my life, many things come in threes. From having 2 younger siblings to make 3 combined crazies, to the different roles I currently work in, to the number of people that went on this 37 day trip, and even to the countries I ended up traveling to: Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines (the latter of which was an unexpected turn of events). The number 3 carries a significance I hadn’t realized till this year. And during my trip, my learnings came in 3.
Courage. Compassion. and (unfortunately no, it’s not another C word) Grace.
I was standing at the Sekumpul Waterfalls, my feet slightly dipping into the surprisingly chilly water. 350 steps. 350 steps was what it took ranging from steep to largely gapped, with certain parts lacking railings as a guide to reach our destination. I remember how powerful the water was as it pounded. I was so scared to swim into the waterfall. A million reasons why I shouldn’t entertain the action ran through my head, and for a solid 10 minutes I stood there watching Ashley and Evan as they dove right under the waterfall and out, laughing and enjoying themselves. Was I actually comfortable just watching? I really didn’t think so. And when I finally decided to jump in. that moment was everything. it was cold. for a moment, but after that initial chill, i found it. A different type of pleasure. One that can’t be gained from just being an observer. It was one you find by jumping at a risk, and it was something I didn’t do enough.
And I kept it from that point forward. Saying yes to riding on the back of a motorbike with a handsome stranger I’ll never meet again after an unforgettable night exploring the humming streets of Ubud’s quieter nightlife. Rafting bravely through Bali’s wonderfully preserved Ayung River. There were moments where we had to lay backwards matrix style to avoid long branches that could knock you off the raft, followed by a doozy vertical drop where my organs were left midair. Or Exploring Sentosa at its highest peak (note my fear of heights), a man made recreational center in Singapore complete with amusement park rides, interactive games, and its own lake under the incredible Singapore heat. Even strolling through the busy Ubud and Seminyak market shops in Bali, where I bartered for the lowest prices (because sellers will definitely try and upsell you!) on my own. I found the courage to explore, even if it meant not enjoying something or becoming frustrated. I am surrounded by peers who have formed so many opinions on topics and subjects they openly choose not to experience. It’s easy to conform to this, but I realized that it’s better to fully experience something to know whether you like it or not. As simple as that sounds, it’s not as common a habit as you’d think.
Courage came in the form of allowing my heart to feel romance again, this time, uninhibited. I am the patron of never making the first move, or following a guideline of three months and then this needs to happen, etc. This unrealistic idea trapped in my head about how love should be. How every connection needs to be permanent, when the simple truth in life, is that there will be connections that will serve as temporary vessels, meant to challenge the traditional ideals of romance you thought you knew.
Running around in the Philippines, reaching Maginhawa Avenue and trying a genius take on the traditional Filipino breakfast of “Spam and Rice” to traveling on the LRT (Philippine version of our subways), Jeepneys, and Tricycles for the first time to get to our destinations. Making it to Rizal Park watching dancing fire, seeing Makati skyscrapers, and standing in the middle of the Divisoria, the Philippines largest market (bartering central). Moving from place to place in the rain, clothes were drenched but none of it regrettable and sharing a kiss in the middle of an overpass bridge, as Mother Nature poured over us. (yeah, sometimes I felt the need to be pinched).
He, a student like me, was as hungry for an adventure as I was. And he opened my eyes to making the most of a day, from the sun rising till it sets.
Walking along Kuta Beach, Bali at midnight listening to the waves, side by side with the ocean and having conversations with a gentleman who’d accomplished so much in his life thus far. To spending a whole day with him, laying out on Batu Belig Beach (an LGBT friendly beach scene), to exploring all the souvenir and trinket shops sprawled across the sunlit streets of Seminyak. Long life conversations on “where do we go next?’ over earl gray tea and pie. We talked about how different our lives were. He helmed a successful business brand in India that he built from the ground up while I was studying just about to fulfill my dreams. I remember how amazed he was at how I had been budgeting out in Bali, and I told him the trick was not to eat at all the typical “tourist” hotspots, as many of them are overpriced and overhyped. I told him some of the best traditional Indonesian dishes I’ve tasted were at local Warungs (small restaurants) that didn’t cater to tourists. So we had lunch at this bourgie italian restaurant he took me to, and we had dinner at a warung I took him to. We ended the night dancing at the strip of LGBTQIA+ Bars, followed by sitting a bit too drunk near a convenience store having ramen and life talks till 3 AM.
Cinderella only had till midnight. And that’s okay. When she returned from the ball, she wasn’t bitter about wanting more, suffice it to say she was too busy being satisfied about having the opportunity to dance and love. I’m not saying it’s ever or always good to settle. But sometimes in life you are only given moments. A moment that could be 3 days, 3 weeks, or even just 3 hours. Make the most of it. I wasn’t thinking about whether or not this guy can be my future partner, or where I’d like the night to go for once in my overly critical head. And I appreciated that mindset. Because now everytime I look back, I have all these wonderful memories of moments where I felt alive.
And the most important commonality in all these moments, was that I existed in them.
I’ve been so hard on myself these last few years. It’s true what they say, you can be your own worst enemy. And even if you try and put your best foot forward, you can be the first person ready to lend a foot to trip you on your way to happiness. The world needs more compassion for one another, but equally as important, is the compassion we need to give to ourselves.
I came from such a broken part of my life. Amidst all the success I was so thankful for, I was broken on the inside. So many years of pain I’ve yet to talk about I carried with me as I trekked through temple after temple searching for the spirituality others say they’ve found there, and the endless lush rice fields that encompassed the majority of agricultural life out in Bali. There was a moment during our countryside trek out in Mayong Village, where a friendly local climbed the top of a coconut tree to pick fresh coconuts for our group. He allowed us into his home where his wife and granddaughter were waiting, fed us freshly made banana chips and coconut juice (3 different types, with flavors ranging from fizzy to sweet depending on the age), and although we weren’t able to communicate due to the language barrier, their kindness was something that resonated beyond our typical use of words.
We don’t do this enough to ourselves. We don’t try and break our own barriers within, enough to know who we truly are.
I experienced Vinyasa Flow at the Yoga Barn in Ubud, and accessed spirituality in a way I never had before. In America, Yoga was quickly becoming a fad, and from it came things like Hot Yoga, or Spin Yoga. In Bali, faith and spirituality lives within each movement, and in turn is passed on to the person. I splurged on Singaporean food, from 8 different types of cooked crab to trying sting ray for the first time, especially at its Chinatown where the fusion of foods was worth every bite.
I know that when I indulge, I typically like to shop as it makes me feel as though the things I am spending my money on are worth it because I can use it multiple times, but very rarely do I spend for the moment. (This trip being an exception). How valuable physical presence is I realized. how valuable our feelings are, and the ability to just be present without allowing the thoughts and criticisms of the outside world affect your internal peace. Finding that peace involves being kinder to ourselves.
And being kinder to yourself means being stronger from within, as it can lead to challenges brought by outside energies. I experienced a form of hate harassment during my night out in Sky Garden, a nightclub 7 stories high out in Legian, Bali. A Russian man approached me as I was grabbing drinks. He put his arms around my shoulders, and I immediately realized he was drunk. He asked about my ring (which in his mind gave away my sexuality) and began to whisper to his friend, constantly bringing up the word “Suka” (which in Russian means “Bitch”). He asked if I was gay to which I replied a resounding, “yes.” He simply smiled, still holding me and said, “That’s fine, you’re entitled to live your life, just don’t come to Russia or I’ll kill you myself.” I was shaken of course, I remember not being able to hold my glass of vodka well as I walked to the balcony, being so far away I thought I had a moment of freedom from this type of harassment. But this is reality. To be kind to myself meant allowing to give myself the ability to express who I was, wherever that may be. I value the comfort I have in doing that now more than ever, because the struggle to self express can be dangerous in other places of the world just as it can be in America. But I don’t want to be any other version of myself. As far as I’m concened, kindness can be a powerful thing when you give yourself a bit of it.
Batik. The word batik originates from the Javanese tik and means to dot. You use wax and dye to bring your art to life on cloth. My session was lengthy, from 10AM to around 5PM, but the process was enduringly beautiful. I enjoyed sketching what I envisioned on the cloth, which ended up being a mermaid (as my fascination with them continues). And I became more enthused to actually blend the watercolors and crack the wax, seeing my work placed into a pot to boil and lastly, dyed in blue. This was a quieter moment during my trip and you had to be patient with yourself. One wrong judgment of arm positioning could lead to wax dripping onto your batik in a place you didn’t intend. (but in my mind, that’s one of the best parts of art, the beautiful mess.) I think what I loved most about this process was when you were finally able to “crackle” your cloth, so that after it’s been dyed and dried, you’ll see lined cracks all over the piece, giving it the signature batik look.
The process to finish was long for a tourist like me, and I can only imagine what it’s like for an actual batik designer, but it served as a reminder that in life. it’s important to find moments of stillness. Patience is, a difficult skill to sharpen and utilize.
And Patience would be a reoccurring theme throughout my adventure.
When I landed in Singapore, I didn’t realize that one of the highlights of my trip would be a miracle gift. My godmother decided that I would accompany her to see her Gynecologist because she was going in for a checkup. Little old me didn’t put two and two together, till after the checkup when she handed me an ultrasound picture of my soon to be baby nephew. (Who we referred to as “Baby Starshine” for the remainder of my Singapore stay). After years of unsuccessful attempts and difficult times, Starshine was finally here. And I think what I admire most, is how graceful my Godmother has been through all these years of trials. I knew in that moment that this baby was going to be in the best hands, one of the most patient of hands. and that he’ll be surrounded by love to infinity and back.
Just like the morning in Lovina, which is a beach city out in Indonesia, when Ashley, Evan and I traveled out to spot Dolphins on their morning swim. A lot of it was waiting. Waiting out in the middle of the ocean. Sometimes they’d poke out their tails or upper body, other times no sight of them. You can easily grow impatient if you don’t spot a dolphin right away, but I enjoyed the warmth of the sun. The breeze as the boat sped over to any location at any possible hint of a dolphin spotting. And most especially, the woman from France who I ended up having a wonderful conversation with about her travel out to various areas, even remote parts of Indonesia trekking from place to place on her own in search of herself.
There was a moment when we visited this Buddhist Temple where I was so taken away by its beauty. I sat and stared at it. You wonder how long it took to look the way it did, how has it been tended to all these years, and why do these temples of prayer feel so familiar. This was also the first temple where it felt quiet, as so many of the other ones we visited were crawling with tourists, many of which simply took selfies, not really understanding the significance of where they stood. That’s when I knew that from this point forward, I need to live with intention.
And intention is NOT easy.
I spoke to a healer in Bali, and the conversation was lengthy, lasted at least an hour. Being in his home with his family, felt sacred. Many of the healers out in Bali became commercialized because of the success of the movie Eat, Pray, Love, so we visited someone who actually no longer practiced reading people. As we conversed I learned how to make the offerings that Balinese folx gave to the Gods and spirits. Among the wealth of information and advice he gave me, he told me to face those fears I’ve had in the back of my mind, and to change those habits that I know are holding me back from happiness. Embrace the bad and the good, because they both exist in this world. It is what we make of it that defines how it affects our world. He said I will one day gain success I never thought I’d attain through continuous hard work, but it would involve living with intent.
And that is where grace comes in. refinement. the chance to grow exists within all of us, but we need to put in the effort to take action within ourselves. It doesn’t have to be impulsive, and you need to be patient with yourself. It involves unlearning what we see flooded in so many articles that pop up on our feeds now, because becoming a happier and stronger you doesn’t take 10 minutes or seven steps. It is defined simply by you at your own pace.
On the last day of my experience. I rode on a tricycle to spend a quiet morning with my Grandma and Grandpa in the Philippines. Every Sunday morning after mass, Lolo Mike would take my Lola Betty on a date to the same place, Tropical Hut. I felt humbled to be invited on such an exclusive occasion, but to see them together, and still “dating” after so many years filled my soul to the brim. They weren’t loud, or talked a lot, they were very comfortable just sitting there next to one another.
I wanted that, but not with someone else. I wanted to sit in silence, with myself.
It’s okay to be broken. It’s okay to have your heart taped, glued, and tied back together. Before I left, I didn’t quite understand how much damage I had done to my own heart.
But it took having my heart broken into hundreds of pieces and being a thousand miles away from everything I knew to discover that each piece pulsed on its own. We often talk about how we need to take care of our hearts, but that doesn’t quite explain what it is we are taking care of, and how we take care of the contents found in every piece of it that beats.
Lastly, it’s easy to lose all that you learned when traveling. Sometimes it’s hard to apply the knowledge you’ve gained into your reality, especially when time moves at a lightning speed. I had difficulty with this. There were times when my actions conflicted with my learnings, but you have to remember that we will forever be learning. It’s never going to stop and you’ll make an abundance of mistakes. The important thing is this:
What you experienced, all that you are and all that you’ll be, lives through your soul. You and only you have access to what you felt, touched, or remember. So you’ll know how to apply those learnings more than anyone else. Don’t be afraid of it. There isn’t a formula for it, because if there was, I’d buy the bottle.
This won’t be the last time I’ll bring memories and moments from this chapter in my life. And for the record, I no longer miss who I was before I left for Bali. Because I found that thing again. Whatever that “thing” is for you, I wish you many blessings as you search for it.
I’m excited to see how 2016 brings us all together, and hopefully brings me closer to all of you.
Miguel Raphael Bagsit.