Friday night I was trying to make my way out to a co-worker’s house. I had to take a bus route that I had not yet taken, and was diligently paying attention to the road signs and passing stores, watching for my landmark. Across the aisle from me, two women sat chatting away in another language. I strained my ear toward them, to see if I could catch what language they were speaking. To my great surprise, I heard them speaking Tagalog – the Philippine language. Excited that I could recognize what language they were speaking, I started paying more attention to the two women than to my approaching landmark. I could pick out parts of their conversation. The older woman’s concern for her son. The second woman complaining about her long work hours. I wanted to talk to these women. To greet them in Tagalog. But I was scared, and I let my fear keep me from speaking to these strangers with the familiar language. As they got off the bus, I found myself a little sad and disappointed in myself for not speaking to them. I also found myself a little lost.
In paying attention to the women rather than the road, I had missed my stop by a good ten minutes. I moved towards the front and the bus driver confirmed that I had indeed missed my stop. “Not to worry though. We are about to loop around, and you will be back again in about 20 minutes.” I called Rachel to let her know what happened, and settled in for the rest of the journey. There were only three people remaining on the bus at this time, the bus driver and myself up front, and an older gentleman towards the back, sound asleep. Earlier, when the Filipino women had gotten off the bus, I had heard them speaking to the bus driving in Tagalog as well. So I pushed myself to ask the bus driver, “Are you Filipino?” She was. I was so excited. I began sharing with her about how I had been to the Philippines, and had worked in Hong Kong with Filipino domestic workers. I asked about her, where she from in the Philippines, what brought her to America.
She came from Pangasinan, and was impressed that I knew where that even was. The youngest of 11 children, she has been in the States for 30 years. She has 2 sisters working as domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, 3 in Hong Kong, and one in Canada. Her parents were farmers who left their land looking for work in Manila. The story of so many in the Philippines. When her father couldn’t find work, the family moved back to the farm, where her parents still remain. It has been over 10 years since she has been home.
When we had reached my stop (again), I got off the bus, thanking my new friend in Tagalog. “Salamat!” And felt a twinge of homesickness for Hong Kong.
Sunday afternoon, my landlord Barbara and I spent most of the day volunteering at the set up of a new apartment building for homeless and mentally ill men and women. We took a break for lunch and walked across the street to a small local diner. When we walked inside, I noticed everywhere signs of the Philippines. Straw mats, Philippine Idol playing on the T.V., a bamboo flute with Baguio City painted on it. A Philippine restaurant in South Seattle! I was so excited. As our young waiter handed us our menus, I went over all the best items with Barbara, recommending my favorites. She ended up going with Pansit – egg noodles with soy sauce and chopped veggies. I got one of my all time favorite Philippine dishes, Chicken Adobo with a glass of fresh calamansi juice. I was in heaven.
There were times working with nearly all Filipinios, and after spending a full month of eating nothing but Filipino food while visiting the Philippines, that I did get tired of their national dishes. (as one would with anything they eat too much of) But after nearly 3 months of being away, I had never been so excited to have Filipino food for lunch!!
I love being here in Seattle. And I am so thankful to be in a place that is closer to home and my loved ones. But I miss Hong Kong (well, the people there, not the city itself.) I miss working at the Mission and the Bethune House. I miss my wonderful Filipino and Indonesian co-workers. I miss their beautiful culture lived out in music, dance, language and food.
This weekend, I had two chance encounters with a culture I adore. It made me realized how incredibly lucky I am to have had the experiences I did in Hong Kong. Now if only I can find a place that serves dunaguan. 🙂