I open the fridge door; and facing it, I sit on the floor like Buddha.
It is 1:11 in the morning.
I stare at the cartons of juices and milk and bottles of beer and rotting blueberries and persimmons and different treats from different people who traveled places around the world. The truth is, my eyes aren’t moving at all, but that does not discount the fact that I am actually seeing these goods in front of me. I should say, however, that I am really not staring at any of these goods or surveying which ones look well and which ones are taken for granted, if that is at all the intention: I am staring blankly into the layers of spaces confronting me rather peacefully – either at the foreground of my trail of sight or at the depth of the background appearances illuminated by the faint light of this cold, big metal box.
The cold air running from the inside is slowly freed and no sooner have I felt it than realizing that my mind is not functioning as how it is supposed to: like my brain sending my body some signals, telling me I’m hungry or thirsty given that I have not yet eaten anything at all. (But it is not surprising, since my daily waking life revolves around irregular eating habits. My mind, though, is always quick to respond to tell me I am fine, that this is just another ordinary day, another passing time. My tummy does not ramble; ergo, I am not hungry. And I believe in my mind, because how could your mind lie to you?) The cold air, like December breeze, soothes me with indescribable comfort, to the effect that I feel like being summoned to stay absolutely still – just with the dim light, the coldness at this past midnight, and both the real and surreal spaces that disconnect me at times – like this very moment – from the objects of my reality.
“I miss you.”
She is looking at me while hearing me saying those words and then immediately puts her attention to the old couple at the park just outside the window where we are seated. I don’t know if she is happy to hear it, or if she feels annoyed, or if she just dismisses it like there’s nothing to it. For a very long time, I haven’t told her how I miss her that is why I have no clue how she takes my words. I also don’t understand myself why I suddenly miss her, which makes me question my very expression and how it registers to her. I’m afraid I’m confusing her – and myself, but that is the truth: I miss you, —.
I’m not sure. I have to assess myself where I’m coming from, where this feeling is coming from. Am I tired or stressed out (oh boy, yes!)? And could it be the reason? Are we not having some quality time lately – just the two of us? Do I like to start to have a family with you, raise kids and all that (somehow, I have entertained this idea seeing my friends having taken this next stage already)?
She always only carries a cheerful face with smiling eyes. That is the only emotion she wants the world to see. I seldom see her sad, lonely, sick, whatever. She is beautiful in and out and it makes me happy. Whenever I see her, I feel like I’m a stronger man. But, somehow, it concerns me, too. It concerns me because I want to see her pain if she is in pain or I want to see her struggling when she is struggling. I want her to know that I am here to carry some weight of the bad things she is going through. That is a necessary condition to reinforce my feelings for her and reveal and express my very nature as a man.
“I love you.”
Then she reaches my right hand with her left, opens it a finger at a time and then zips it close with her left hand.
My faith is neither based upon the allegiance to authority nor upon conformity to established belief systems. My faith is based upon my own experiences, the knowledge and wisdom I have gained over the years of my existence. For this reason, who will question my faith that is borne out of my own free will and independent consciousness? My faith follows the realities of freedom, justice, and love. My faith is alive like the beatings of my heart. It does not ask me to believe; it leads me to know. It is discerning and intuitive and, most of all, intelligent.
When I was turning 27, I felt like dying.
Kurt Cobain made absolute sense.
I wandered in the beautiful philosophy of death.
Every night as I turned off the lights,
approaching the eve of my new age,
I was setting off into trance of pitch black sight.
I was alone at the center of that dark universe.
It gave me chills and urge of lust and there’s just no word
that would exactly describe the feeling.
The flesh of my physical existence
bloomed like eternal sunshine.
Nobody would understand Kurt.
He killed himself, but it wasn’t suicide –
it was freedom.
He was not a sick and depressed junkie;
he was an eclectic geek
who happened to tap his highest level of consciousness
that drove him into the wilderness of paradise.
He sided with the point of view of the few.
I understood Kurt with absolute certainty,
and I felt like he left with me a part of his soul
which was pulling me into his reality.
He whispered in my ears,
*And I’m not scared / Light my candles,
in a daze / ‘Cause I’ve found god.
“Today, I woke up bothered by my inability to correctly spell out the word ‘announcement’. I scrabbled at the edges of my mind, grappled with the word that suddenly became so inconveniently unfamiliar, and fumbled on the letters whether it had double ‘n’ somewhere or where should I place the ‘e’ or something. Then, my mind was giving up on me when a thought of having sex with Gael Garcia Bernal struck me with a kind of feeling I had never felt before. A very strange one as if, when I was struggling with the alphabet, I accidentally dug the thought out somewhere in the spread of my subconscious. It’s like a mix of fear and pleasure and comfort and discomfort that ransacked all that I knew as my ‘self’. I hate it. I hate having emotions I cannot explain. Perhaps, it’s like that day – your birthday last year – when you stood at the edge on top of a 28th storey building and all you got were numbing chills and the frightening sense that your balls would break apart any minute if you didn’t pull over.”
“No, I guess, it’s different. And, please, let’s not talk about my balls at 5 in the morning.”
“Okay. It’s an odd day for me at the very least. You see, I woke up from a dream around 1 A.M. and never had the chance to go back to sleep. Sorry, I had to call you. I can’t forgive myself I had to cheat and see the auto-suggest. Am I 90 years old already suffering from Alzheimer’s?! It’s crazy, right? And, hell, I still have to witness before my eyes the end of the world this December!”
“Alright, alright. Don’t panic. What was your dream about? Do you remember?”
“I wrote it down. Wait, I’ll get my journal. Give me a sec.”
From nowhere, the cool breeze bangs into the door screen and gushes inside my bedroom like a horde of racing horses in the wilderness. “How many times now have I forgotten closing the balcony door?”, I ask myself. Then, I remember I was patiently waiting to see the blue moon last night. My head held up, I surveyed the skies many times but not even a single star offered a glitter of hope. On this side of the planet, the night was dreadful. The heavens were covered by nimbus clouds. It rained hard thereafter. Then, a 7-point-something quake hit a region in the Visayas. Not to mention that a few days ago, a high-ranking government official died from a plane crash. Four men drowned in a septic tank. A woman committed suicide by jumping into a railway. And now, here’s G who can’t spell a word in the middle of the night, having sex fantasies with a Mexican icon.
“Sorry, it took me a while. By the way, didn’t it dawn on you that we had no luck into seeing the blue moon last night?”
“I waited for it. Nothing really special though.”
“Me, too. Until I got tired and just slept. Well, I think I had a nightmare.”
“Okay, tell me.”
“I dreamed of butterflies.”
“Wait, can you turn off your music first? I love it but I will really have a hard time following you if Deftones is screaming out Root in the background.”
“Okay, turning it off.”
“So, I dreamed of butterflies. I was home in the province, one afternoon. Our house there was still unfinished – floors had no tiles, ceilings half-done, walls unpainted. I was with my family, all the 4 of us.
“There were jumps or cuts in between…”
“No worries, just go on.”
“I suddenly saw myself roaming around. Then, I stopped and stood at the main door. From afar, I saw a huge brown butterfly – a size of an adult human head – hanging on a branch of lanzones tree, flipping its wings sporadically. I saw another one, a yellow one. It was flying aimlessly, moving up and down and sideways and back and forth until it rested by flopping on the ground. I went outside and examined the yellow butterfly. No, it’s not examined but just to see it closer. Its color was not ordinary, as I supposed. It was like a firefly emitting some static glowing light. I was so attracted that I offered my hand and teased it to move and touch me. Indeed, it maneuvered its wings like a plane taking off and, without a doubt, lied on the back of my left palm. It didn’t hang on me that long as it went off quickly following the trail of the low-lying river. Somehow, without anything to do next, I wanted to see our backyard. I hopped on the sparse bricks a little drenched in mud. And like in a movie, my point of view panned into left and the place that was revealed to me was nothing less than a paradise. It blew me away my jaw literally dropped. There were hundreds of butterflies of different shapes and sizes and colors. There were blue ones and purple. Some had two colors, the others got more. There was this kind which was the loveliest of all. This butterfly had wings with pink color, but mostly translucent. The translucent area had lines like a fabric of a leaf, radiating faint neon lights. The pink color was glowing at the sides.
“I noticed it was dark already. And so the radiant butterflies became all the more revealing. After my last look of this magnificent view, I decided to go home. I was about to turn my back away when the pink butterfly innocently glided in the air and sat on my head like a crown. As if it was a sign, all the rest of the butterflies clung onto me. I indulged without fear and, slowly, I felt being lifted.
“In the air, about 20 feet high, I was floating, slightly slanted. Gazing into the moon, kissed by the butterflies, in that moment, I found peace.”
There are times that solitude
invites you to wander around
many different places and dreams.
It could take you to a journey of awakening
and a search for boundless bliss.
there are times that it catches you by surprise,
like the occurrence of summer rains.
You dance with it without rules or reason.
You find yourself in awe.
There is this sound of countless tiny droplets
piercing through your fragile skin,
gushing through the breathing ground,
creating a kind of scent of the earth
forgotten long ago.
With the passage of time,
oblivious and surreal,
in nakedness and innocence,
one with nature –
the afternoon sky that weeps and smiles,
This is where love begins.
That Sunday afternoon is no different from today: beautiful and melancholic and I wish you were here, my K.
“What’s your favorite Eheads’ song?” She asks while her arms are extended into the air, seemingly drawing indistinct lines and random images.
“Um, that’s tough. I’ve got like more than a dozen to pick.” Not sure if she heard me clearly as I talked after dipping my face into the center of the pillow. Besides, I feel too lazy – perhaps, just perfectly relaxed – to even utter a word. There is much delight in this afternoon; and fragile in a sense. Like I’m happy holding a precious stone but afraid at the same time to move an inch for I might lose my grip and drop the stone and break it into pieces. I spoke very faintly and slowly and I could imagine someone curling up her eyebrows after hearing me murmuring, evidently muffled, as if an astronaut in the outer space spoke with his voice trapped in his cosmic helmet.
“Sure thing. Give me all you got, beybeh!”
I am so amazed she heard me right. That leaves me with no excuse but pay attention. I turn to her and then seize her with a dashing kiss.
“I love you, K. I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you. Baby, I love you 10 times 988 raise to a billion power.”
And she grins.
And it is so sweet seeing her like that – her rounded eyes getting chinky at the sides, parts of her untidy hair cutting through her forehead, and the shape of her lips resembling that of Zooey Deschanel.
We stare at each other, looking through each of us. Half-parts of our faces are both sank in an undressed pillow, its case was probably thrown out by our making of love before dawn.
“Baby, did you read what I was writing?”
“I’m actually wondering what that was. I thought you’re practicing for your class tomorrow.”
She laughs. “We don’t have art classes tomorrow. My instructor is attending a paint exhibit. He’s out killing ambitions of some wannabes. Such a terror.”
“Good for you. Okay, what did you write then?”
“Wait. I’ll tell you but you have to give me your list of Eraserheads’ first. I know you like everything. You’re a superfan –”
“– Shallow Breathing, Lightyears, Over 18, With A Smile, Palamig, Tama Ka, Balikbayan Box, Spolarium, Filler, Hard To Believe, Wala, Saturn Return. That’s my dozen.” Then I snap her out with a kiss and hug her tight like sealing a bottle with its cap. “Come here, beybeh!”, I tease her like a growling lion. “Tell me what you wrote.” She resists and bursts out laughing as she gets tickles all over.
She begs me to stop while cursing like crazy, confused if she will say a word or laugh it all out. Then, oblivious with the passing of time, the afternoon waves goodbye with shallow breathings.
I woke up kissing the moon
We were facing the north of Jupiter…
And Coldplay was singing Yellow
I grinned at the thought
Of Summer and Zooey Deschanel
And found myself alone
At the foot of Mt. Vesuvius
I learned to fly and hummed
The tune of a favorite
Foo Fighters song which invited
The angels who brought me
To the wonderland
Of meaningless dirty yellow
And the gibberish of the night
It was where melancholy attacked
The weak and love spoke
Words of wisdom like
The evil triumphs
When the good accepts defeat
I wake up and kiss the sun
Another day has come
Now I am falling asleep
And from here at the edge
of my bed beside a million
whispers and tears
I sincerely wish you a lovely
The night is losing itself. It is unlike the other nights that you have known for many, many years. This time, the night spins off time in parallel with history, letting you see yourself sitting beside you at the Sunken Garden field nine years ago, while the moon was shining blue and your heart desired an anonymous girl wearing a Pink Floyd white shirt and a purple skirt an inch above her knees. You remember this night as if it was not the night that you met her; that is, the girl appears not coming from a distant memory, but from an event that is just about to take place.
“No, this is not a time-travel stuff that you read in books”, she kind of reminded me.
“Don’t prejudge me”, I looked into her eyes and quickly responded in seriously modulated tone.
She easily loses momentum and I hated stopping her. She must have felt I was disinterested; and I was sorry deep inside, even though I was honestly listening closely. She didn’t move an inch and paused for a second.
“Go ahead”, I said quite convincingly.
“Have you ever wondered why?” She seemed to be changing the topic.
“Like why do we exist?”
“I do. Awfully lot.”
She looked at the night sky and was probably reciting in mind some of her favorite constellations and star formations.
“What happened to the girl?” I attempted to get her back to her story.
What separates human beings from the rest of species in the animal kingdom is their ability to think. This is not to say that animals don’t think. Of course, they do, right? Any creatures who use their brain think. Those neurons and synapses and signals and stuff make any creatures think.
“Agree.”, I uttered.
Obviously, she was ignoring me and now wanted to talk about something else.
There are generally only two things that animals are concerned about their existence. One is their appetite to live; the other is their appetite to procreate. Humans, on the other hand, have endless needs and wants driven by their creative thinking abilities to question and wonder. A mother bird will never transform her nest into a cemented one to make it safer for her babies against snakes or other predators. Birds and animals will always depend on their native thinking process. Humans, on the contrary, have continued to innovate to protect their existence. They initially invented incubators and now explore the areas of artificial insemination, in vitro-fertilization, stem cells, AI, and so on. Animals will not question why they exist and whether there is life after death. Humans question God, conquer the universe, and think they are the most important beings in this world.
“Do you believe in Darwin’s?” I asked.
“It was just a theory and I could create my own.” She replied with a sense of authority, as if I slightly offended her by my question.
“I am interested to hear your own theory of life – why do we exist.” She rarely smiles and her eyes just did. I must be the only person who could look into her eyes and know exactly what she is feeling.
She pulled her phone from the front pocket of her handbag and then played the Slow Club’s “I Was Unconscious, It Was A Dream.”
Many Filipinos do not consider Iran as a travel destination (and, perhaps, the same is true for many nationalities). It may be because of how the country is perceived as a “rouge” state, an alleged producer of “terrorism”. Its closed proximity in the war-torn region of the Middle East (bordering with Iraq, Afghanistan, and the likes) is an obvious discouragement. Being an Islamic republic is enough to create an image of radicalism, suppressed freedom, and threats and insecurities in the minds of people.
I have had a long fascination though about the history, heritage, and culture of Iran (Persia as we knew in our school textbooks). I would always recall my history teachers discussing Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great, Persepolis, and the ziggurats – all existed thousands of years ago. By all accounts, Iran is considered one of the oldest and richest civilizations.
It was by accident when I knew that AirAsia was already offering flights from the Philippines to Tehran, the capital of Iran. I was checking on the AirAsia app for my next travel destination when Tehran popped up on the list of countries I could select a flight to. It is important to note that I had a bit of hesitation at first in booking this flight because of all the news and stories and travel advisories we hear these days concerning the country and the Middle East. But my passion to explore the unexplored and my thirst for adventure overcame my hesitation and fear. So, in June of this year, I hit the booking button and scheduled a two-week solo-backpacking tour of Iran which concluded this October.
Writing this story now, I could never be prouder and grateful that I made such decision. I consider my travel to Iran as one of the most fulfilling and beautiful trips I have had and will ever experience. In fact, I cannot wait to go back and I am already checking the flights again if there is a promo fare for next year!
Here’s what I did:
Iran permits Filipinos to apply for the visa-on-arrival. With just my ticket I booked through AirAsia, passport, and backpack, I hopped on the plane and arrived in Imam Khomeini International Airport, the main airport of Iran in the capital city of Tehran. It would have a transit to Kuala Lumpur’s Low-Cost Carrier Terminal in Malaysia.
Iran requires a travel insurance for individuals visiting the country. I did not have one so I proceeded to the travel insurance counter in the airport and paid it for 14 euros. I suggest getting the insurance in Tehran airport rather than buying somewhere else since Iran may not consider it.
I then went straight to the visa processing counter (the counters are just steps-near each other – no one will get lost here!). The immigration officer handed off to me a visa form with standard questions about traveler’s full name, birthdate, etc. It also asked for an address and telephone number in Iran. It was a good thing I had these details with me before going to Iran. In August to September, I was already checking on things-to-do, to-go-to places, and made friends with very active Couchsurfing Iranians. There was a Chinese national who had no Iranian address and he was told he would get deported if he would not have the information. I shared my address with him and he was let through as well.
With the visa form with me, I stepped into the next counter to pay for the fees. I paid 55 euros. The Chinese national, who eventually became my travel buddy as we would later discover that we had the same flight details, paid 130 euros!
After the payment, I went back to the visa counter and submitted the visa form, the payment receipt, and my passport (they did not even ask for a photo). I waited for 15 minutes and they gave me back my receipt and passport with the Iranian visa. They allowed me with a single entry, 30-day stay.
The immigration officer did not ask me of any questions. It was very smooth and easy. On my way out to the airport with Chao, my Chinese buddy, we dropped by the money exchange counter (100,000 rials for 3 USD) and also bought an Iranian SIM card with 1GB data (200,000 rials or 6 USD). We got on a cab and paid 700,000 rials (350,000 rials each). The airport is about an hour away from the city center.
I booked in advance a night stay in Seven Hostel in Tehran (website: sevenhostels.com; address: No. 5 Dideh Baan Alley, Fakhr-e-Razi St., Enghelab St., Enghelab Square, Tehran; telephone: +982166960192).
I did not have problems with pursuing the rest of my plans. Iranians are the most hospitable people of this planet! They would offer help even if it is hard to communicate since many everyday Iranians do not speak the English language (of course, be always street-smart as there will always be a bad tomato somewhere). The Tehran subway and metro buses will bring you to many places in the city and surrounding villages. I paid for a daily ticket which cost 70,000 rials (about 100 pesos) and it allowed me to use it for about 7 stops a day. The ticket can be used for both the subway and the buses (which is very efficient and I wish we have the same in the Philippines).
Facebook, Twitter, Google, and many other sites are blocked in Iran. I downloaded the VPN Master app and it allowed me to access the sites without problems. Wifi is not prevalent in the country but are usually available in hotels and restaurants.
Appropriate clothing is enforced country-wide for all, for both local and foreigners. Women need to wear hijab in public all the time. Typical to Muslim countries, sleeveless shirts and shorts are not allowed. Though some women (especially the youth) remove their hijabs at home, in their private spaces. Men do not wear shorts and sleeveless shirts, too. I have not seen anyone on slippers on the streets! Everyone wears casual clothing all the time.
Money matter is tricky. While their official currency is rials, people use tomans. 1000 rials is equivalent to 100 tomans. They are using this for practicality reason since the value of their currency is low and it is a challenge to compute with long numerical value for transactions (1 USD is about 30,000 rials; imagine if you are paying for a 200 USD-worth of item).
It is easy to do personal and DIY tours given the subway, metro buses, and provincial bus terminals. Tickets, including local plane tickets, can also be booked online. Just go to irantts.com and ask your guy from the hotel’s reception or any local Iranian to help you out. The online booking only allows Iranian credit cards so you will have to pay the person who booked it for you in cash. Better yet, go to travel agencies which are scattered in every street.
It is necessary to always carry the hotel/host’s address in Farsi (Persian writing); so, ask your hotel receptionist to translate their address to Farsi for you (usually, they have the hotel business card in Farsi and in English and that should be enough). Taxi drivers easily read the Persian address.
I was able to visit many interesting places in Iran even if I just had a total of 9 full days of stay. I saw a total of 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Iran.
More than the places, I had the opportunity to know a lot of Iranian people and made friends with several of them.
I will always remember Michael from Tehran who was my seatmate on the bus to Shiraz. He was an English major so we were comfortably discussing. Like everyone else, he was curious how I viewed Iran. He joked if I was one of the many tourists who had a preconceived notion that Iranians were terrorists. I said yes and he laughed so loud that everyone on the bus gave him a stare. He was full of character. He was an Iranian Jew and argued against the theocratic form of their government. He argued about the oppression of the gays and women in their society. He wanted his daughter to live a life with as much freedom as men.
Mohamad and his family in Kashan were generous enough to let me and Chao stay at their home for 3 days for a decent fee. We also hired Mohamad and his car to show us around Kashan. Their family was a little bit traditional. Women in their family did not join us during our meals. They were the ones serving us food and they always wore hijabs.
I met Mehran through Couchsurfing and he became my tour guide in Shushtar and Shush. He was a bit modern in his sense of fashion. He said, in Iran, men need to look good to attract good women. Despite that, he was quite passionate about his religious beliefs and patriotic about Iranian government policies.
How can I forget my favorite Fariba and her family in Shiraz?! They were like guardian angels to me. I had a hard time finding a hotel in Shiraz since I did not have access to the internet at that time of my travel and that day was a big Iranian holiday which meant most establishments were practically closed. Fariba was a university mining engineering student and could speak English. She was returning home for the Muharram holidays. Fariba called her parents up and they offered their home for my stay for 2 days. We talked a lot of things during our long commute. Fariba easily got loose on me and shared her fascination of the Western pop culture (which appears to be the trend for Iranian youth). We listened to the songs of Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and Shawn Mendes through her mobile phone. She also watched Hollywood movies. She wanted to work abroad because in Iran, women do not get a good job, especially in her field of study. She wanted to do field work in mining but she knew she would not land there and would be constrained to do office job.
I don’t usually write about my travel experiences. My Iran experience is kind of exceptional that it would be disservice to the beautiful country not to let the world know how generous the Iranian people are and how practically easy to go there for Filipinos and other nationalities (with the exception, of course, of the United States, Israel, and other Western countries the Iranian government has political troubles with). I learned that all my biases against this country were unfounded – and just like what I had learned in many of my travels, the news are not really news. There is always a bit of exaggeration and what I felt in Iran is a feeling that it is one of the safest places to go to.
People have different reasons why they travel. I go to places not to escape reality or have some fun. I have been traveling for many years now and I always make it a point that I schedule one or two every year. Traveling is meditation to me. It refreshes my soul and enriches my heart. I don’t know how to explain it better but just to say that it gives me meaning to life. Knowing another person from another country with another tradition provides me some form of happiness.
I have long realized that at the end of the day, however different we may think about ourselves from the others, the only thing each person wants is to live a happy life. We are all the same. And we don’t need to be bad and suspicious to be happy. I have traveled alone so many times and I have witnessed firsthand that true kindness exists in this world. Those who travel alone understand this because each encounter with people you don’t know, with the language you don’t understand, is a test of trust and kindness.
There are moments though that traveling makes me cry. Realizations are heavy stuff to contain. In fact, in every country I have gone to, I have offered each some drops of my tears. It is not metaphorical tears, it is literal cry baby’s tears. I cannot help but release some kind of sadness that I feel for so many people who suffer. And I wonder and I question why they experience intolerable pains in this life. It’s a heavy feeling why – especially the innocent and the young and the old – need to go through such kinds of suffering. It contradicts what I have seen firsthand about the people of different races and cultures. The feeling of helplessness makes me really sad. So I try my best that every opportunity of interaction is a pleasant one.
I’m sure that the people of the ethnic minorities of Myanmar or the untouchables of India are as kind and honest as the people of Laos or Taiwan. I’m sure the people of Syria or Afghanistan are as peaceloving as the people of the Nordic region. I’m sure the people of Cuba or Africa are as hospitable as the people of Iran.
Here in Iran, I spoke to a vendor who was selling carpets in the bazaar of Naqsh-e Jahan in Isfahan. He said, “I love all the people who visit our country. They are kind and respectful and some are funny and impatient and are just being true as humans. I love all of them. It’s how the world is governed that I don’t like.”