Although 2013 was, let us say, a bit of a mess —
… it wasn’t all bad. One of the most positive things of that year was my correspondence with Carmen.
I’d been emailing her for months before we’d even made any plans to meet. She was a longtime penpal, someone I could share the updates of my life with, someone who would tell me of her challenges and experiences. Time permitting, I like having penpals and someone to write long letters to.
I first met her on OKCupid. For some reason, I thought she was in Shenzhen and her profile stood out to me. She’s not Chinese, I thought. Yes! The algorithms led me to her, led me to Manila…
We wrote long emails about mermaids and books and music and movies. We graduated to gmail and talked about our personal lives. It was nice; talking about my issues of the day and sharing and going over my various fandoms. It was so refreshing that she got the pop cultural stuff, that she was from a culture so relatable to my own. I must say, I would come to appreciate the American/Western influence on the Philippines.
Now, I’ve mentioned before how OkCupid never seemed to work for me. My theory is that the format of the profiles results in too much detail, and extensive lists of similar hobbies makes for more platonic friends rather than romantic attraction. The air of mystery from the vague profiles of that other sites always worked much better for me.
Carmen was the one and only ‘success’ story I’d ever made on OkCupid. I eventually deleted my profile there, and she will forever remain my OKC one and only.
Besides being fluent in English and familiar with my general music and tv shows, she was quite international. She’d been to America, even California specifically, and regularly goes to Hong Kong.
Beautiful exotic face. Tall, elegant. Literary. Worldly. Cool indie style as well. A bit Catholic, a bit family-oriented and relatively conservative compared to my mainland China scene these days, but that’s okay. All in all she seemed perfect.
And, get this, she worked as a journalist. A professional writer. A humble newspaper tagger, but she did often travel to foreign countries on writing assignments. How amazingly cool is that?!
One time I mailed her a fun gift: I was uprgrading iPod nanos and thought about what to do with my perfectly-good old generation made. So I decided to share all my favorite songs and made some customized playlists, and I mailed it to her. Although a sort of hand-me-down, I think that was about my greatest gift idea ever.
Finally, May Day holiday was was approaching and I decided to try to be serious serious and we planned a vacation. I bought a plane ticket to Manila. She helped set up everything else, and an itinerary was formed.
It was the first time I’d ever traveled so far to meet someone online, let alone going to another country to meet. The first time I was ever in Philippines, unless you count the airport transfer in my 2010 trip. Honestly, I was never particularly interested in the country. Sure I had some Filipino friends in California, I was aware of Jollibee. I’m a big fan of Neal Stephenson’s historical novel Cryptonomicon. Beyond that, it wasn’t high on my list of Southeast Asia travel destinations. Yet destiny sent me there and I went for it with all my heart.
It’s always nervous to meet someone for the first time, and this was exacerbated by the pressures of travel and planning. I asked an old friend for advice; he had met a girl like this in Australia before. He gave me some solid talking to, and said not to force anything.
I packed. I prepared. I flew. Jetlagged, she we met for the first time outsideNinoy airport. It was somewhat weird. It was mostly chill. Ears popped, hearing all distorted, and one already feels surreal after landing. I do think it went well.
We took a taxi to the hotel. She had an American accent. It was pleasant, and felt natural, and we talked and talked and got to know each other better. We ate my favored Mexican food that evening. She even took me to comic shops! (I’m very impressed by Manila’s many English bookstores and comic shops, even better than Hong Kong. Not only that, but this perfect trip overlapped with freakin’ Free Comic Book Day.) What a keeper. I enjoyed Manila, the upper-class part anyway, because it was basically like America. That may be shallow of me but that’s the truth. The thing about the Philippines is that it is a mixed culture with a varied history of colonialism, and the influence today is clear.
She lived with her family, as Catholic family-oriented Filipinas tend to do, and bounced back and forth from the hotel to her place. It felt natural to kiss for the first time, and then to become more intimate as the night progressed.
Next up we went to Batangas, at a resort paradise. It was a bit of an adventure getting there. I was determined not to fly, which is how you get to most various resort paradise islands in the Philippines. Bus rides transferring to crowded jeepneys and negotiating with motorbikers. Then days of swimming, lazing about on the beach, pristine blue waters. Soon back to Manila, and finally we went northwards to the lovely high-altitude cool town of Baguio and went clubbing up there.
The trip couldn’t have went better. There’s not much to write about because it was too good. No drama at all, no conflict. Just happy times. Boring, right?
I quite liked Carmen. I always pictured myself with someone like her.
The following month she came to visit me in Shenzhen. It was her first trip to mainland China. That one turned out to a bit more stressful.
We did get along well in the intervening month. One good thing about a long-distance relationship is how much time you can have to yourself when not on a big holiday. One bad thing about a long-distance relationship is how much pressure there is to organize a perfect trip.
And what a trip it was. Epic Cantonese. Started with: Hong Kong, wild cows and Big Buddha and vegetarian restaurant on Launtau Island, and then bought her the aforementioned Cryptonomicon novel at a Page One. The banned bookstore in Causeway Bay was particularly awesome. Although, she had been to HK already so nothing that new yet.
Late into the night we crossed over into Shenzhen, and she immediately didn’t like the mainland. Fair enough; sketchy Huang’gang border in the wee hours gives no one a good impression.
Still, I was happy to show her my apartment. There were a few sights to see in Shenzhen, such as kite-flying at Lianhua Hill, but the next leg of our trip focused on that original centerpiece of the Cantonese culture: Guangzhou. That leg was a successful enough trip, but it started out very wrong.
We were waiting in the North Shenzhen Train Station when I told her about the Stalker, whom I was currently worrying about at the time after a disappearance. That turned out to completely be a mistake to share, and it haunted over us like a specter for the rest of our time together. I constantly seem to get myself into trouble by being too honest. Why did she need to know that? Was it cruel to share? Do I subconsciously seek conflict and drama, something like that? Indeed, in any case, sometimes the best policy is not really the best policy.
Well then, we took the train to Guangzhou and stayed in a hotel near my old stomping grounds of Panyu and it was serenely nostalgic for me. We went to a party and oddly I ran across more familiar faces in GZ than I did at the bars in Shenzhen. Good to keep in touch. On the weekend we went to the museum and Yuexiu Park and pricey Canton Tower and took many pictures. (At the risk of coming across as cheap, may I express that it bothers me that Canton Tower tickets are more expensive than Tokyo Tower??) I got came down with a cold. “You’re contagious,” she said. It rained and we watched Man of Steel. The best day was a Monday, when we the big Chimelong theme park – so planned on a weekday to avoid long lines of kids. Lotsa fun.
The trip came and went. Back to Shenzhen, back to Hong Kong, and she flew home. It wasn’t perfect but it was pretty nice I think. We thought about making the time to go to Beijing and see all those essential classic spots. Or going to various islands in the Philippines, or meeting at a third country. At the least we could easily meet at Hong Kong Disneyland or a place like that the next time she was around. We never did meet.
We simply weren’t meant to be. The fact that she didn’t like mainland China – and greatly prefers sterilized places like Singapore for example – says a lot. I’m working on myself, yet I am still very flawed and fucked up and I fit in places that reflect such. She wanted something classier, out of life and out of locales and maybe even out of me. It would have been a problem for our future.
And though she was mostly Americanized, at the same time she was rather socially conservative. I can’t help feeling that if she ever discovered this blog she would harshly judge me over all the old stories.
Carmen was certainly one of the better girls I was ever with, and she could have been the best. She eventually faded away, not the type to keep in touch when a relationship ends.
I texted her high on MDMA once, announcing my state of mind all the while. I tried for a positive loving moment, but she got angry with me. I went home and found she deleted our Facebook friendship. Is it sad or convenient that our modern digital relationships can have such obvious points of demarcation? Road signs on the pathway, nothing subtle to interpret, it means what it means and you all know it.
It didn’t go far enough that I was terribly heartbroken by the end. We had nice experiences. Saw new places. That’s something to be grateful for.
Of course, there was more to come for me. Online dating did continue, I moved, ever more Clusterfuckery dark drama, and the climactic endpoint of the year that would leave me utterly wrecked.
But before that, a few more trite dates.