Why Ryan Songalia’s heart belongs in the PhilippinesBy Ryan Songalia
Admittedly, I’d rather be writing this essay from the warm, tropical surroundings of Manila than the arctic environs of New York City in February. Since my first trip to “the Motherland” in December of 2010, my heart has been torn between my native New Jersey and the Philippines. As time has gone on, the balance has swayed more and more in the favor of the Philippines.
Maybe it’s the fact that smiling is far more common in the Philippines than it is here. My younger sister Sheryl, upon returning to the Northeast after living in Florida for the past decade, kept noting how rare of a sight smiles were here in New York. Indeed, whenever I ask friends how they’re doing, they usually respond that they’re “back on the grind” or “on the hustle,” as if to say that life is all about the struggle.
But is it?
I spent November 2011 to October 2012 living primarily in the Fort Bonifacio neighborhood of Taguig in Metro Manila. But aside from making ‘tambay’ at Market Market and High Street, I was taking day trips to enjoy cappuccinos at Bo’s Coffee overlooking Taal Volcano in Tagaytay. Or, on an adventurous day, I would jump on a jeepney heading anywhere, with my only means of communicating with the driver are the phrases ‘magkano po?’ and ‘para.’ I was able to figure out how to commute to Alabang Town Center using just those two phrases.
I’ve enjoyed staring out into the water from the beach in Panglao, knowing that I’m so many miles away from the stresses of “the grind.” I’ve enjoyed surveying the world below me while a mile above the sea in Baguio. In these moments I remembered that life was as much about discovery as it was productivity.
As a journalist working for boxing publication The Ring magazine as well as GMA News, the bigger stories take place in the United States. Yet as I’ve come to appreciate, the biggest stories aren’t always the best stories.
While living in the Philippines, I’ve had the chance to witness flyweight champion Brian Viloria, a FilAm like myself, rejuvenate his career to become one of the best fighters in the world. I’ve met Genesis Servania, an upstart prospect who is fighting to raise bail money for his brother he believes was wrongly accused of murder in Bacolod City. Or the rise of obscure journeyman Sonny Boy Jaro, who was fighting to make money to buy a tricycle and went on to become a world champion.
I ask myself, how many untold stories are there like these to uncover?
I’ve enjoyed covering smaller boxing events in the Philippines — from Cebu to Las Pinas — with the same zeal that I’ve covered major boxing events in Las Vegas. I’ve learned just as much about Filipino culture from interviewing Filipino boxers as I have from getting lost on jeepneys.
The Philippines holds so much for me to learn, and in turn so much for me to teach about what I’ve learned from here in America. Growing up in America has afforded me many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if my father had stayed in his native Leyte and I was born there instead. Well, since my mother is Italian-American, I suppose I wouldn’t have been born at all.
That aside, my time in the Philippines has helped me understand humanity in a way that I would never have the chance to. As I prepare to return to the Philippines in the next few months, I do so without a return ticket. What’s the sense of returning when I’m already heading home?
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at email@example.com. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.
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