Unlearning Lessons

I used to think that once you learned a lesson and have mastered it, that will be the end of it. I believed that learning a lesson will either be a result of an error, or of pure hard work and dedication. I obviously never realized that it can also be as gradual as the growth of your hair, where motions are necessarily not sensed. It never occurred to me that lessons were continuously evolving along with the changes that were happening around me. As I travelled to places I dreamed of discovering since I was 5, I learned to unlearn lessons that always seemed to leave people at the bottom of the heap; and by unlearning them, I have somehow embraced a different kind of lesson much worthier to carry around in my backpack.

Here are three of them.

1. I learned that no country is above another, despite the usual claims made.

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When I was in Bahrain, I had a conversation with a Thai waitress who was working in the La Fontaine Restaurant. We were sharing information about our own countries and were having quite a good time until the topic about the strength (or lack thereof) of our currencies was debated on. She said that the Thai baht was stronger than the Philippine peso and of course, I disagreed. I disagreed not because I knew the conversions but because I believed that the Philippines was more economically stable than Thailand. I honestly could not remember the basis of my claim. I just decided that this was fact and I carried it with me for years. The mantra was – the Philippines was richer, the Filipinos were friendlier, and that we were more progressive. Six years after, I was proven otherwise and was dumbfounded to discover that I was stupendously wrong when I decided to visit Thailand with friends.

Thailand was aggressively paving its way to progress  and the megastructures surrounding its capital is just one of the proofs of the competitive strides it was making. Its economy was booming alongside the rich culture that it was known for. As I ogled at the infrastructures and the uniqueness of its conventions, I slipped around the blaring truth at first. My admittance was not immediate but I finally shamefully reprimanded myself for being ignorant after months of residing in Bangkok. I judged too quickly, and if I was given a chance to talk to that waitress again, I will definitely apologize for my crassness and will (with no shame) announce that I was glad to be proven wrong.

The point is, most of us are quick to sum everything up after reading a few books or hearing a couple of stories. I was guilty of this, take note: WAS. Past tense. Sadly, although I have unlearned what I previously knew, there are still some people out there who think the same way I used to. Let’s take Bridgette as a more recent example. I am not going to mention which country she comes from (CLUE: First World) but I will, in a gist, share a portion of our conversation which infuriated me.

Bridgette: So, you’re from the Philippines. I thought you were from the US because of your accent.

Den: Most people in the Philippines talk like this.

Bridgette: Philippines…hmmm, aren’t people in your country generally poor?

Den: That depends on how you define poor.

Bridgette: I mean, common people -the poor- can’t afford to travel in your country, right?

Den: Not really. If one saves enough money, I’m sure-regardless of the social status-he or she can travel; which is what I usually do.

Bridgette: Yeah but I’m certain that you belong to the upper middle class.

Den: (I swear if Jean-Michel was not nearby, I would have pushed her down the flights of stairs we hiked) Nah, I’m common – as common as common can be.

After that, I was glad she left me alone and bugged my friend instead. I guess the whole experience felt like ‘karma-six-years-in-the-making’ biting me in the ass; but I hope this Bridgette and all other Bridgettes out there will unlearn the lesson like I did.

2. I learned that being alone does not correspond to loneliness.

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Growing up, I was made to believe that doing things alone meant that you are lonely; thus the necessity of finding a companion before getting a task done became adamant. There were even specific activities that this ridiculous notion was especially applied to, like going to the cinema or a concert, eating at a restaurant, and travelling. I witnessed acquaintances poking fun and jumping into conclusions every time a person is caught doing the abovementioned activities without a friend in sight. Such a person was always laughed at and because this was the trend, I too avoided doing things alone for fear that other people will make me a laughing stock.

Like the first lesson, I didn’t unlearn this immediately. It took me years and it took a lot of courage I might add. I never understood what was wrong with doing all those activities on your own. For instance, when I go to the cinema, I prefer to keep mum while the movie is running and would appreciate not to be asked questions or talked to. If this was my preference, I actually do not see the need to be with another person unless I would like to talk about the movie afterwards or play hooky inside (which I never did by the way).

Bottom line is that most of the time we give too much importance to what other people think. It’s right to consider other people’s perspective because that is the responsible thing to do, but we have to draw the line somewhere and decide for ourselves which is which. Doing things alone does not mean that you have taken the forlorn path of life. It just means that you are capable of achieving that sense of contentment on your own, without anybody’s assistance. So you watched the lousy 300: Rise of an Empire alone, big deal. I see nothing wrong with that. I did too so you see, technically, you were not really alone in doing it in the same manner.

3. I learned that you don’t need much to be happy.

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I used to be a packrat. I like to hoard things and buy  needless items. Labeled material things were supposedly emblems of stature (says the superficial citizens of society) and for many, many years I rode on the same bandwagon until I hopped off somewhere and spat at the banality of the idea. Yes, there was a period in my life when I gave in to peer pressure. It was the most agonizing period but I’m glad that I surpassed it.

These days, all I have are the things I need. Will you believe me if I tell you that it has been a year since I came back from India and I still have not bought a fridge, a fan, or a TV? I was fine with drinking normal temp water, the corner location of my pad allowed the wind to freely ventilate my space, and buying a TV would only be redundant since I can watch shows online with my laptop anyway. Also, a friend who visited Bangkok was even shocked to see the limited content of my wardrobe. She added that I have to buy new clothes because the ones I have were out of season. I just laughed. I was fine with my clothes. They were practical, comfortable, and still useable. I didn’t see the need to waste my money to replace things that need not to be replaced.

Usually, the simple things in life are the ones that bring true joy into our lives – a street cart nearby that sells the best noodle cuisine, your pet wagging her tail, hot chocolate on a cold day, kindergarten students laughing their asses off, a walk in the park, second-hand books, full moons, kisses, dog-eared but clean sheets amongst others are Christmas presents given all year round. Other than you can always carry them everywhere you go, they also never go out of season (nor depreciate).

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