"Where are you from?" This is a question that I always have a hard time answering, and I secretly envy people who have strong bonds with their hometown. I was born in Pampanga and spent my toddler years there. We moved to Makati when I turned seven, then moved to Lipa six years later. After graduating from high school, I moved back to the city and have been condo-hopping since. I didn't know where I belonged, so I stayed where it's always most convenient. Where I worked, there I lived.
I stayed in QC, Mandaluyong, and then Makati. I enjoyed the fast-paced life, independence, and convenience of living in the city. Instead of finding home in one place, I kept moving and searching for pieces of that feeling of home in travel and adventure. I had plans for when my Makati lease expires—quit my job, go on a road trip around the country, a 10-day hike in Europe, ultra trail races in faraway places. I had saved up for all of these. I was finally going to live the life of adventure I dreamed of.
My parents' house was going to be a place to stay in while I ride out the pandemic and make plans for the next move. What I didn't expect was falling in love and finding peace in growing roots in one place.
Then the pandemic happened and I was forced to stay in one place. The lockdowns forced me to leave my Makati condo and go home to my parents' house in Lipa, thinking of it as a two-week vacation. As with all the moves I made before, I believed this is short term—temporary. My parents' house was going to be a place to stay in while I ride out the pandemic and make plans for the next move. What I didn't expect was falling in love and finding peace in growing roots in one place. I kept my job. I started a garden. I took in some stray kittens. I let go of my Makati condo and hauled all my stuff back to Batangas. I'm staying here for a while.
What I love about probinsya life in Batangas
The things I used to dislike in probinsya life, I started embracing. The slow pace made me anxious at first, as if so much time was being wasted. But one day at a time, I learned to appreciate the art of slow living. Instead of waking up at the last minute and skipping breakfast to make it to work, I now wake up early and cuddle with my cats before I get out of bed. Instead of getting a cup of coffee to-go, I brew my own cup and sip it as I check on my plants. On extra slow mornings, I can even squeeze in a short yoga session. I put on my favorite morning playlist and I eat breakfast slowly, mindfully. By the time I clock in for work, I have actually accomplished so much more than when I was still in the metro.
I still have the same job as a copywriter in a PR agency, so I still experience the fast-paced and demanding workload pre-pandemic, except now my cats are my officemates. I never really planned on getting pets during the pandemic. I had a cat before that I had to give away because my lifestyle didn't allow me to be a good pet parent. I was always at work or traveling. Now that I slowed down, pet parenthood caught up with me. I found a pregnant stray cat that I named Carrot and started feeding her, thinking that maybe I can adopt one of her kittens. I didn't realize that taking care of her and her babies would give me so much purpose.
The world outside may be falling apart, but at the moment I need to keep it together because this mama cat needs me. It has been a year since Carrot died, but she left behind five feisty felines who filled our probinsya quarantine life with love and excitement. The boys, Kimchi and Kili, went with my parents who had to eventually relocate to Zambales, while the girls, Banana, Ramen, and Peanut, are now my housemates-officemates-playmates-daily reminders of how wonderful life can still be despite all that's happening. Banana loves to be carried as she watches birds from our big window. Ramen likes to cozy up to my feet just before I get up in the morning. Peanut ignores me the whole day, but will come close when it's time for meals. If I hadn't decided on moving to the province, I would not have discovered this side of life.
In our neighborhood, everyone knows everyone. This used to make me feel uncomfortable, which is why I like living in places where no one knows me—places where I'm just another face and not someone's daughter, classmate, cousin, friend, friend of a friend, or ex.
In our neighborhood, everyone knows everyone. This used to make me feel uncomfortable, which is why I like living in places where no one knows me—places where I'm just another face and not someone's daughter, classmate, cousin, friend, friend of a friend, or ex. Now I appreciate the support from a community who cares. If we run out of eggs at home, we can ask our neighbor to pasabuy for us. When I needed to get a blood test done, I just had to walk a couple of houses down the street to our medtech neighbor to get my blood extracted. Then there's the exchange of goods from our gardens: avocado, santol, bananas, tomatoes, okra, papaya, buko, herbs, dragonfruit, and rambutan. Social distancing is not a problem, my neighbors would chat with each other from inside their own gates. This was something that would probably annoy my pre-pandemic self, but now it actually gives me good vibes.
On weekends, my boyfriend and I ride out on our bikes and explore sides of Batangas I have never seen before. We used to spend all our weekends going on long road trips—leaving Manila on a Friday night, spending the night on a bus, climbing and camping in the Cordilleras, and making our way back to the city by Monday dawn. Since quarantine protocols discourage inter-province travel unless absolutely necessary, we started exploring in our own backyard. Places that I thought were far, are actually accessible via bike. We went to Taal heritage town and biked around coastal villages (keeping our distance from the locals, of course). We discovered a pop-up coffee shop with scenic views of the Malarayat mountain range. We biked around small towns along Taal lake and ate taho on a nice boardwalk in the quaint town of Balete. We even have a go-to place that serves yummy liempo and gotong Batangas (not lugaw, but a kind of soup dish you eat with rice).
Another thing that kept me sane is my plants. I never understood why my mom loves gardening so much, until I actually took the time to get a few plants for myself and keep them alive. I have killed a number of succulents during my condo-living days, so I always believed that I didn't inherit my mom's green thumb. I was wrong—not about inheriting my mom's green thumb, but about the thought that you either have a green thumb or you don't.
I learned that growing plants is not about having an innate talent. It's about paying attention. It's about understanding your plant's needs and doing your best to give them all that. I started with one prayer plant and a few cuttings from my mom's plants, and fell in love with the process. It takes a lot of trial and error (and dead plants) to figure out watering schedules, the right amount of sunshine and fertilizer, the kind of soil, and the right environment for plants to thrive. When a plant is happy where it is, it grows strong roots and rewards you with beautiful leaves and flowers. I'm not a plant, but sometimes I feel like one making the most of where I am at now. I learned to adapt and be more accepting of where I am. This newfound passion even led me to start a small online business curating pots and plants. I guess this is what it's like to grow roots in one place, to "bloom where you are planted."
I'm not a plant, but sometimes I feel like one making the most of where I am at now. I learned to adapt and be more accepting of where I am.
Initially, I thought slowing down meant being unproductive, becoming stagnant, and not growing. I was so wrong. Slowing down allowed me to create space in my life for what really matters: people I love, pets, and hobbies that I am passionate about. My life doesn't revolve around my career or the next adventure goal anymore. It is now about being present every day to enjoy the little things—my cat Ramen waking me up, watering my plants and seeing a new leaf unfurl, finding weird creatures in my garden, discovering a new cafe in a random street corner, enjoying a big meal after a long bike ride, and all the other in-between moments I used to just rush through. All of this, I get to enjoy because I went home to Lipa.
Now when someone asks me where I'm from, this is my answer: My hometown is not the place I grew up in or the place I spent the most time in. It is where I feel at peace, a place where I can grow. And right now that is here in Lipa, Batangas.
As of this writing, I am preparing to move once again. Not back to Metro Manila, but to a house two streets away from my parents' house. I enjoyed the life and the home I discovered here so much that I have decided that I do want to stay here a little bit longer. This time, it's going to be my own space, but I won't be alone. My boyfriend who has lived in Metro Manila all his life is now moving to the province with me.
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