So yesterday I turned 23. Which felt a bit strange because there's not even a Taylor Swift song for me anymore. On paper, my age places me well and truly in the 'adult' category- which is a terrifying reality I am not ready to accept. I want to always have a child-like enthusiasm for life, taking on each day with a fun, free and fearless attitude. Some people say that adults are just children who have learnt how to behave. But maybe adults are just children who have forgotten how to love life. Like a baby exploring the world for the first time, I am finding my feet in Cabiao: I am learning the basics from eating with my hands to using a bucket shower. But I am also learning how to communicate in another language and integrate with a different culture. Living in another country has sparked the life back into my inner child....and I have never felt so curious to learn! Knowledge has become a bare necessity and I crave it like a Filipino craves rice- testament to why this blog has been so easy to write. Everything I encounter creates some sort of reaction in me, so that I am constantly excited, inspired, frustrated, confused - but never bored- by the world around me.
My birthday was no exception.
After a month of simple living in the small town of Cabiao, the prospect of a trip to the mall excited me as much as Disneyland. It is home to all the Western luxuries I have been missing- notably proper coffee and frozen yoghurt. But the Filipino mall is much more than a shopping centre with some restaurants- it is an entertainment park. I couldn't stop grinning as I ran around the arcade playing on all the games, high on pick and mix (and life!) The basketball shoot-out was definitely a favourite, but I was shamefully useless and was beaten by a 7 year old! Another attraction was the motorized furry animals that you could ride around the mall. Technically the animal 'cars' were meant to stay in the enclosed area, but I just went ahead and drove my zebra straight into the bakery to buy cake. I was laughing so much I was crying- who knew causing havoc at the mall would be so much fun!
The food was another delicious highlight and I unashamedly spent my pessos at all the big-name corporations (so Starbucks, Burger King etc...) You aren't allowed to judge me because I've been contributing almost exclusively to local business for the last 4 weeks, so if anything I'd earned my right to buy a frappucino (coffee light of course :p) However, I quickly realised that the mall is a rich man's domain: my medium frappucino was 160 pessos (which is cheaper than the UK price at just under £2). But in Cabiao I can buy 4 large coffee shakes for the same price. The mall was also abundant in designer stores which were very expensive (even for a Westerner!) and all I ended up buying was a 'birthday' bum bag to replace my broken one. But if the mall is pricey to me, then it must seem ludicrous to the 20% of Filipino's who live below the poverty line. The huge divide between the rich and the poor in this country became strikingly obvious in this setting: beggars outside the mall are asking for your spare 5 pesso coins (barely 8 pence) but inside the mall a shop was charging 6000 pessos for swim shorts (almost £100!)The pay gap here is huge.
But as I keep on saying: money can't by happiness. Or love. And the best gift I received on my birthday was a video from all my family and friends wishing me a "happy birthday"! My boyfriend asked all the special people in my life to film an inventive birthday message (so there are raps, cakes, songs and more!) l could really feel the love even though I am 7000 miles away from home! It was a touching and beautiful 'money can't buy' gift that made my day :)
...And as for my host-family, my home away from home. Well, their warmth, generosity and kindness was truly unexpected. And I no longer feel like a guest in their home, but a part of the family- which is a wonderful feeling. I even received a surprise gift- a beautiful evening top- and was spoilt with lots of food, cake and singing!
So thank you to everyone (all over the globe) who made my birthday such a special day! :)