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.