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At Almost 33, Letting Go Becomes Easier, But It Still Stings

TRANG AN, NINH BINH—I missed someone. I don’t know who exactly. It can be T whom I shared my first visit here with. It can be D, whom I cut communications for the past weeks. Or it can be anyone, someone I’m connected to. I missed the feeling of having someone beside me, looking at the same view.

“Peaceful, isn’t it?”

“Yes, we are.”

These were actual words written in my diary, a pre-menstrual cycle feeling. It was an honest, raw feeling. I missed that feeling. I missed feeling that feeling. That feeling of nostalgia of looking at something achingly familiar but quite distant and seemingly unreachable. I don’t even think I’m making sense, at this very moment.  


Let’s go back to the raw truth, Jona: you missed the feeling of having someone beside you, looking at the same view. 

I was sitting on the restaurant balcony, overlooking the mirage of karst formations fencing the marshlands. Across the pond where carps and snakeheads swam languidly, a western couple had breakfast. Last May 2018, the homestay the couple stayed was nothing but bricks and pounding noises. Before that, it was a rice field.

Letting go has become easier for me. There are people I lost along the way, and those moments hurt the most. There are people I wittingly, consciously let go—fake friendship, half-assed romances. Click To Tweet

I kept on yawning, alternately looking at the couple, the pond, the fishes, the karsts, and my opened diary. I was waiting for my breakfast of thịt lợn xào ớt (fried pork with chilli), rau xào (stir-fried vegetables), Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, and cơm (rice). The old cook gave me a lesson on Vietnamese pronunciation on the food I ordered, which I had forgotten the moment he went back to the kitchen. My brain was dead. 

 This trip to Ninh Binh was a spur of the moment, a desire, a longing, a mere statement thrown between shuffling my cards. I was with April and Julius till four in the morning. We were at Julius’ place. 

“I feel like going to Ninh Binh,” I said, cards in my hand, cig between my lips. They thought I would not push through such plan. But when April dropped me off at my place, I cleaned my unit (because I love coming back to an organized and neat place, it is something I always look forward to), packed Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw(borrowed from Ivana’s friend), my diary, sketch pad, coloring pencils, intimates, two pairs of socks, two shirts and two shorts, my bathroom kit, a tripod, and a camera. Only to realize I lost the new camera I bought three months ago and the 300mm lens that had been to 17 countries for the past 4 years. 

While I mourned for the camera, what really saddened me was the photos and videos in the card. I’m greedy of memories frozen, collected, and eventually digitally archived. 

What else there is to do but consul the self what has been lost has been lost. 

I was at the bus station at 6 in the morning and slept all the way to Ninh Binh.

I have high respects for writers and the craft of writing, but the life and the place I grew up in—with its own truths, the semi-truths, and the upfront lies—do not value writers’ opinion, least know them, do not have time to read… Click To Tweet

With an anxious and overthinking mind, more often than not, nights deprive me of a good sleep. Back in Cebu, I took the bus if I can’t sleep. A year and a half in Ha Noi, I finally did it. This was the first time I came to Ninh Binh alone. This was the fourth visit, although it didn’t really matter. The second was with Larry and Adonis: we called the trip the layering of memories. To layer my memories with T with something else. The third was with Denver. They’re all gay writer friends from home. 

My tiny but well-loved one-bedroom apartment here in Ha Noi, Viet Nam. Replaced toxic people with plants.

And while looking at the egrets—those birds that look like sexy Msin the sky—flying in front of the karst hills—a realization hit me that this place can be home, not Cebu, not someone, not somewhere else.  

But it aches a little—this realization that it can be home, yet knowing it can’t be. 

I’m certainly in love with the life I made out for myself here. I certainly enjoy Ha Noi and the human connections I forged in the city of motorbikes. But there are places one can live without. Ha Noi is one of those. 

How to let go of places you learned to love?

Everything in Ha Noi is too concrete for a barrio lass. There are no rivers like Kawasan or beaches like Moalboal. No nephews and nieces to ask for super hugs. I terribly miss my cats. And the more I follow terrible news and activism on social media, the more eager I become  to make my activism breathing, palpable, and tangible. 

But it aches a little—this realization that it can be home, yet knowing it can’t be. Click To Tweet

I have a high regard for writers and the craft of writing, but the life and the place I grew up in—with its own truths, semi-truths, and upfront lies—do not value writers’ opinion, least know them. Most of us do not have time to read and reflect on life. We don’t care if you have been published in New York Times or adorned with accolades. This so-called “art makes us better humans” is inapplicable, doesn’t matter to the people at the bottom of the pyramid.

And while reading has inadvertently changed the course of my life and my views, this self-indulgent and selfish habit is not readily made available to many. And if it does, why would my neighbors spend time reading, when they have more urgent matters at hand: to feed the many mouths living in a shack. 

And while my family crawled out from that shitty situation, one alarming character I’ve noticed among my nephews and nieces (don’t worry, they read, I imposed it): it seems like they don’t have the same affinity to the earth their grandfather and I have. I don’t even know if they know the names of the vegetables and fruits growing around them. I don’t even know if they know how to cook rice and other simple dishes and do their own laundry that we learned, albeit begrudgingly, by the age of 9. Channeling Barbara Kingsolver, this is deeply alarming. 

Our generation can tell the plants apart from the mere shape and smell of their leaves.

The farming culture in my own tiny village is dying. With the state of our country and the rest of the world, there is a need for us to make farming cool once again. Dedicating my life to writing and reading is not enough. Sure, I’ll be happy to impact a reader or two. But call me ambitious, I want to see changes in my own tiny village. 

I always think that veganism is not the answer for climate change. Sustainable farming is. Anthony Bourdain argued that cooking should be a virtue everyone should have, and I have to add, so is gardening. 

And while I still entertain the idea there is someone out there for me, I’m pretty much sold out with the life I’m living now and the lives I have yet to live. I’m pretty much sold out with the occasional short-lived affairs I have. Click To Tweet

And that’s the main reason I’m coming back to the place I dreamed of leaving when I was a teenager: to continue the legacy of my father (no matter how contradicting our personality is), to teach kids how to grow their own okra, eggplant, kamunggay, to teach them to love vegetables, to teach them the science and art of growing our own food.  

With all these goals and plans to move back to my hometown, where is the page for love, for romance?

I told T the older I get, the more I realized relationships are not for me. Yes, I missed having someone beside me, looking at the same view. But it can be my cats, my future dogs, my nephews and nieces, my family. Love has different shapes and ways. 

When they said cats can easily forget you, yet here is Hip-hip, an hour after I arrived at my parents’ place, after being away for two years.

And while I still entertain the idea there is someone out there for me, I’m pretty much sold out with the life I’m living now and the lives I have yet to live. I’m pretty much sold out with the occasional short-lived affairs I have with men I found interesting one way or another. But the older I get, the pickier I become. I can’t stand toxicity in any forms. Sex is easy to find, real connection isn’t.

I’ll be 33 in three weeks’ time. At almost 33, letting go has become easier for me. There are people I lost along the way, and those moments hurt the most. There are people I wittingly, consciously let go—fake friendship, half-assed romances.

I keep my circle small, tight, and positive. 

These days, letting go has become easier. I let go of the wishful thinking I simply misplaced my new camera. I let go of insincerities, others’ and mine. And while it is easier, it still hurts.

But what has to be done has to be done. It’s part of growing.

Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona! I’m in my early 30s and is currently based in Ha Noi, Vietnam.I primarily write poetry and short stories in Cebuano and lengthy travel essays in English. Blogging has become an outlet to think out loud. I live the life I set for myself. I try to live an unapologetic life. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at backpackingwithabook@gmail.com. Find me somewhere else!

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2 Comments

  1. Mai Valdez says:

    Beautifully written as always.

    In my hometown I noticed the rise of subsidivisions, of farm land sold into small residential lots.

    I kept telling my friends that after 10 years, farm land will be one of the most valuable asset as it becomes scarce with time.

    When I began to embrace plant based lifestyle, I forced myself to learning the art of cooking using veggies.

    This lifestyle developed my sense of appreciation in farming and a dream of growing my own food – a dream that never crossed my mind in the last 20 years of my life.

    But now, I am saving up to own a tiny house and a farmland.

    I think this comes with age too. Maturity as they say.

    • Jona | Backpacking with a Book says:

      Hi there, Miles! I’m not vegan, though most of the time I prepare plant-based recipes. If you want to trade recipes let me know! Growing one’s food has always been my ultimate dream. 🙂

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