It’s a Wednesday today and I'm not on duty. I look at the time on my phone and notice I wake no later than eight in the morning, even on my days off. I get up, get ready, and step outside. The sun has caught up to me, but it’s still forgiving and the morning breeze balances out the heat that blankets my skin. The air I’m breathing as I pedal on my bike fills my lungs. I decide it’s going to be a good day, because, firstly, I have all this time–the rest of the day–to live my life not stuck in traffic. I can find a sweet spot to read a book, or paddle out to the sea, and later on maybe grab dinner at the San Fernando night market. And I’m thankful for the sun as it never tires of kissing me in the morning, up until it sets.
Often I am asked for my reasons of moving to La Union that I’ve come up with a spiel perfected over the number of times it was repeated. Although, it never occurred to me that I would have to unfold a deeper story that seeps through the cracks. I never thought I would write it all down someday, until now.
I was born and raised soaked in the gritty, noisy, and busy Manila. I was confident walking under city lights of Makati and being confined in tall, air-conditioned buildings. But the comfort I’ve nestled into potentially left me in danger of settling for a sheltered life. My own privilege terrified me, that with it I wouldn’t dream bigger; that I would be stunted by the appeal of security. It worried me to grow in the same direction as everyone else I knew, and to give into the pressure of society’s standards and measures of happiness or success.
Coming to La Union meant building a life in my own terms and beginning a journey while I’m still young. When the opportunity presented itself to me, I couldn’t think of a good enough reason to turn it down or delay it. I was itching to achieve exponential growth, so here I am now. After all, this surf town is located in the province–gentrified through the years, but still, a probinsya. Turns out to dream is easy, but to achieve what you seek is a different ball game.
When I began writing this piece, I recounted my Day One up to the nine months it has been. I compared the life I had in Manila to my life today in La Union. Pointlessly. It didn’t make sense to list down the stark and obvious differences. Instead I looked at my tan skin in awe, seeing it as a physical manifestation of my holistic growth over time.
What has remained untold ‘til now is the lifestyle shift. Or how the privilege on my back cracked and unraveled itself. The humps along the road were long time coming yet I was unprepared. The fact that so many others before me have “made the move” was encouraging, it didn’t make the adjustments any less strenuous. Wise advice comes freely amongst us here, but nobody mentioned to me that unpacking all my bags also meant unpacking myself.
In unpacking myself, I’ve had to lay out all the contents of my baggage in front of me. It was a struggle to pick apart through the mess of what I need and what I don’t need, both literally and figuratively. Abandoning my “old self” in an effort to unlearn a thing or five about the world was a part of it. In exchange for fresher air and the saltiness of the beach, my social adaptability was challenged.
To be honest, I didn’t think I lived a life of luxury in Manila up until I moved here where simplicity is the primary way of living. Our day-to-day in La Union does not always mirror a vacation. And, simple doesn’t mean easy. Having a clear understanding of this is a big part of embedding myself in our small community. Being an adult and working smart to sustain a life of “living with less” is a different hustle which involves the upkeep of climbing down from what I was used to and molding myself in a community where we are all equals with basic necessities.
There are other costs I’ve paid for pursuing this lifestyle at a young age. It wasn’t just about trading my boots for cheap flip-flops, trading my favorite trousers for denim shorts and bikinis, or the comforts of riding a Grab Car for bicycling on a national highway, and a home built of cement to a home built of bamboo. The other side of the coin is me trading my full-time writing for a job in the f&b world, sacrificing quality time with family and friends, risking a budding relationship, and so on.
But what was once a “dream” still is, despite the numerous tough breaks, and I’m living every second of it by choice.
Any city girl can exist in a provincial town by thriving in its environment–taking on the role of a shapeshifter, but only if she believes she really can. If she allows herself. I’ve adapted a life of being open to changes and getting used to my bubble bursting. “Making the move” has chipped away at the walls of my comfort zone slowly, and it’s only a matter of time until they’re completely torn down.
My inner voice calls La Union “home” even if she pushes me beyond my boundaries. Every now and then when I slip, I’m transformed instead. This is the environment I choose to be shaped by because here I am able to become more human, more conscious of my surroundings and the different characters of people.
I have to check myself sometimes to see if I’m even a different person now or just the same girl only much, much more morena. Because, there are parts of me that remain unchanged. Naturally, I’ll always be a Manila girl by heart, and still, La Union gave me a good six months to make my way around; for her to reveal to me the things I must know first, before the rest can follow. I’m learning little by little. And in turn La Union is earning me little by little. Through time, we have exposed and seen one another at our raw states.
I thank La Union for giving me a chance to love her even on her slowest and most uneventful days, wherein the daily life of this province’s locals come in sharper focus. She sees me too in my most simplified form and integrates me in the little community she created. In this kind of peace, I find solitude; and sometimes even paradise. The space I find myself enveloped in today is what I can truly call home.