A response from the future

Hello there my invisible comrades, dear friends who have some glimpses to my thoughts. I have been quiet for two years and a blog reminder message in your email may come as a surprise or perhaps it will go directly to your social emails in newly organised email. No worries, messages from me are meant to be quiet celebrations or simple questions that need no audience. It is a blog to the void and I am happy that it remains as such – a sort of poetic gesture cast out to an ocean of advertisements, updates, and spam mail. I wanted to write today, as I felt the need to reevaluate my own feelings from when I last wrote.

My last blog had a sense of gloom, a sense of fear of the unknown and I was trying to talk to a future self, which by now, has aptly become me.  I, the future self read the thoughts of my old self and had to react to what he (the former) wanted to say. In a way, my mind is travelling in time and resolving personal issues that I had before in order for me to move forward again like how Spock advised Spock in many occasions.

For the last two years, I have made a personal resolution to strive and link both my landscape architecture skills to my knowledge on heritage. I have published articles for a journal, collaborated with other colleagues to write about urbanisation and heritage issues, engaged young people in the Philippines for the importance of valuing heritage, and presented in some international conferences that combine my interests. At the same time, I went back to designing landscapes in Singapore while trying to put my creations in the greater context of the city, embedded with deeper cultural interpretations. Eventually, I crafted a new order in my brain. I no longer felt that I had to choose between the knowledge streams I have acquired. Designing landscapes and understanding heritage values are all part of my work. They are part and parcel of my own world views.

My own failures and disappointments in the past have made me pursue my passions further and I am confident that I no longer have to debate to myself  of the value of my master’s degree. I know now that my knowledge matters and that my master’s degree is an asset to my own personal development and my understanding of space.

Coming back to Singapore was both challenging and rewarding as I had to find my own path of solving my  personal issues of meaning. I no longer had the backing of a great community of heritage practitioners in Germany that saw that protecting heritage is a mission to all people, and to be honest, there is only a small part of the general population who believes that. I have accepted that now. My reintroduction to Asia allowed me to distill what is really important in my own context while I carefully keep intact the knowledge that I have harnessed  so that I can use them in opportunities where it matters.

Tomorrow is a starting point of a new chapter of my life. This new chapter will allow me to use the different knowledge streams I have gathered and distill from it strategies which I can use for managing a designed landscape situated in a natural heritage site. It will become my new testing ground for using both learnings from heritage protection and landscape architecture and apply them in different ways . It will require me to develop new skills and probably make mistakes along the way. As I move on to a new role, beyond what I have been used to, I speak to you again dear self to guide me for the correct actions to take. What will our conversation be like in the next time you write?

You will have to keep me updated soon, dear self. I am very excited to hear from you.

A Letter To My Future Self

Trust your Struggle

My dear future self,

This evening, I am writing  in typical fashion a blog of life lessons. I have purposely stopped myself from writing for the last few weeks because I felt that I might end up regretting what I write because at a certain point, you, my future self will look back and say, “Wow, that was really a difficult moment, huh.” But anyway, another voice in my head has won and now I am here, typing away some blah blah blahs to provide self-therapy. The thing is, I have somehow officially graduated from my masters degree. “Hooray, hooray…” True to form, I have done my masters degree some justice and I am graduating with grades that I never thought was possible. If I were doing it in UP, my final graded average will be considered “summa cum laude”. I have also become president of the World Heritage Studies Student Council, leading around 130 people for their social, academic and cultural integration to Cottbus and the World Heritage Studies Programme. I have also been involved in many heritage conferences and activities that my brain is saturated with knowledge, like a sponge almost leaking with mental juices because it can no longer contain any more liquid. My mind is at its saturation point and I believe that I am able to see heritage connections to everything, like Neo in the Matrix.

At some point in the beginning of 2014, I embarked on a journey of looking for the possibilities of the future. It is something that I usually do, as you may know and I currently call it, “The Six-Month Rule.” This rule possesses me to turn psychic and see where I will be six months after, and in a sci-fi kind of sense, I project myself there forcefully, and in the next six months, voila, I am there. There has always been a certain sense of security in my life, a sense of confidence and a sense of understanding where I am and where I should be going. For the last few months, I have tried to find jobs that I believed would be the next logical steps. However, as I now found out, the world is telling me that this ‘Six Month Rule’ needs to be shattered. I have come to a point that I no longer see the future, and that tomorrow is a day that may bring about new changes in my life in which I will be catapulted to places I do not know.

I have undergone so many different permutations of almost solid directions / opportunities but it seems that at the last moment, these options become meaningless words. I have almost gotten three jobs, and have been considered in several more but there always seem to be something that goes off tangent, like those photon torpedoes missing the targets. Piccard will be very disappointed.

Here are some basic concepts I have learned recently:

1. There are global policies that define who should be prioritised in employment. Here in Europe, its the Europeans first, and in specific countries like the UK and Switzerland, its the British / Swiss first, then the Europeans and then others. I have a proper name here, “third-country national”, sounding more like a third class citizen and probably that is how I am perceived. The world that we live in is unjust and it is not just about talents or desires but we are defined by our ethnicities, our nationalities and perhaps our identities and this is written in our faces at every moment of our lives. We think that we live an a just society when in fact, the society discriminates from those who fit the mould and those who are at the outskirts. Hegemonic culture dictates that there are those who will be meant to be minority, because they are not part of the greater definition of society.

2. More choices do not necessarily lead to better life satisfaction. We have often been told that anything is possible and that the world is our oyster. It was engrained to us when we were kids that if we work hard enough, then the things that we wish for will happen. To be honest, when I first had my classes for my masters, I thought that I will carry with me the knowledge that historic places are important, we should appreciate the past that we have and we have to protect it for the future generation. What our younger, 2012 version realised is that this also implied that there are deeper meanings that needs to be discussed about historic places, like the rights of local people and minorities, politics of heritage and identity formation, management realities and so on and this dramatically expounded the knowledge that I wanted to get. Indeed, knowledge itself is good to acquire but this new knowledge has also made me see the world with multiple facets, where there are so much more connections than I ever though possible. For example, the english language that I normally use for the last 8 years away from my country, this has been a tool of oppression for my real language and it has in some way, diminished my own national identity. It has on the one hand allowed me to communicate with my colleagues here, and them thinking  it is my native language,  but on the other hand, I realise that Filipinos are not internationally considered as native speakers. We are treated as second class english speakers. Why is that?

This new knowledge of my self, my identity, and the possibilities of my own career has allowed me to see that there are so much more that I can do. However, it also has disabled me, wherein I no longer  feel satisfied to just do my landscape architecture career. I now believe I am so much more than a landscape architect. There is so much a part of me that is not defined by my profession, my race and my background. I want to believe that I can be the best human being that I can possibly be, just like what Oprah has mentioned but by removing myself from my own niche profession and perhaps plunging myself to the realities of the world, I feel that I could do so much more. I now do not know what kind job will fulfil my own personal longing.

In looking at heritage, I have come to the chasm that I can see into my own culture, my personal experiences, and the places I have lived and I am left wondering what kind of future I can help shape. It seems like this dilemma is also seen in my own convictions and CV that possible employers no longer know where to place me in their traditional structures. I am a Filipino landscape architect, who practiced primarily in Singapore, was involved in one of the biggest urban development projects in Asia, studied culture and heritage in Germany, lived in different parts of Europe and would like to find a job in a possible field that I can be useful and personally satisfying. There you go. In the pursuit of knowledge, I have broken free of the chains of my own background but  I no longer know where I fit. I have strengthened my voice but I don’t know who will listen.

That is the reason why I write here today. I have gone beyond my own expectations and yet, I have a feeling that the world will be the same place where I left it. I am going to be defined by the same rules as before and I can only laugh or get depressed by it. What is out there dear future self? Because for the moment, I really do no know. Perhaps one day, you can tell me. Let’s exchange notes at some point.

 

Regards,

Gabriel of the present time, as of November 2014

The world needs people who have come alive

After sending emails to relevant individuals before I plunge into an intense 10-day UNESCO conference, I again felt the need to to sit down and be in my paradise zone. Today is another last day in Singapore. Like many other last days before taking a plunge for adventure, I am in deep thought, being fully aware of my emotions, hoping to decipher the meaning of these few seconds. I again will embark on a journey, or rather continue one as I see the fulfilment of a dream.

In 2012, I decided to take a journey to quit my job and fulfil a long time yearning for a masters degree and with that decision came the embrace of new ideas, experiences and seeing life in a different perspective. I initially felt scared leaving my comfort zone to decipher who I want to become. However after sometime, these emotions settled down and I became comfortable again with my own skin and I moved forward the connecting with people who are just like myself, passionate about the cultures of the world. Along the way, I have gathered new skills, for example, reading dense books on culture and sociology, discussing how local people adjust with challenges of the modern world, academically debating with international students from parts of the world I can’t even pinpoint in a map, learning to research more scientifically and lastly, becoming comfortable living in places where English was not the native language.

I spent almost two months here in Singapore at our lovely home with my partner and our two dogs, with my days filled with readings on cultural, historical and landscape matters for my final academic work. Hours pass with me huddled in a corner and all that I exercise is my brain and my fingers, churning up data on possible strategies to make historic places more relevant to people. You might think, that is such a boring life! but you know what, I feel that learning about heritage and culture actually makes me sharper, makes me look under the surface and it makes me connect far better with the people around me. I now see that everything has a certain meaning, our buildings, our traditions, our clothing, our language, our politics and all that we see are linked to something intangible. I feel more mesmerised with the world than ever before.

By tomorrow I will be in the middle east, in a dessert city I have only visited in transit to Europe. I will be going to a political and cultural conference on heritage, the biggest and most important one there is, and I will be part of a delegation advocating the conservation of nature. I would never have dreamed being in such a situation before my World Heritage Studies. It seems to me that the world has revealed something that I have never admitted, the world chooses where one should go. I try my best in what I do but it is fate that moves me forward and my life, dreams and future are dependent on so much more forces than myself. I am happy to now believe in such philosophy. The last few months have been such as a blessing to me and I am honest enough to say that I don’t know where life will take me. My task for the moment is to do “my job” everyday, maximising the capacity of  fate to pick the best choice.

As Oprah Winfrey rightfully said to the graduating students of Harvard University in 2013, “You will find true success and happiness if you only have one goal, and that is this, to fulfil the highest, most truthful expression of yourself as a human being.” She yearns students  to maximise their humanity by using their energy to lift themselves up and the people around. She also quoted the theologian Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive then go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

I believe that this masters has made me feel more alive.

A Question of Choices

For the last few days I have been spending time with Jose in London and days before that we were in Greece to celebrate Chinese New Year.   It has been a couple of months since we last saw each other and I am very happy that we had the time to relax and see a new city which we both haven’t been before. It has been a wonderful 10 days but of course, if I could make it longer, I would like to do so. When you have shared your life with a person for a couple of years, it seems alien if they are not there with you.  Right now I am in London in his family home and I will spend a month here. I am waiting for Jose to come back from a visit to a family friend and after that, me and his sister will send him off to the airport for his travel back to Singapore.

Now that I have a bit of time to think, I thought of doing a blog to clear my head. For the last few months I have been contemplating on my life as a student, as a professional and as a person who has somehow taken the big plunge of rebooting his life. I now know that this masters degree will change my life – that I will be doing something I have never imagined I will do and that it is providing me with skills I never thought I would acquire. I am in that period of uncertainty, some sort of an intellectual crisis. Where will my life lead me?

Before coming to Germany, I had a clear vision in my mind of what my skill sets were and what I am happy doing. From my previous blog I had a certainty in my writing, a certain stance but now that stance is wobbly. I am somehow unclear with my vision of the future for the first time in my life. With new knowledge comes new avenues of growth, new possibilities, new means of working and my own definitions of how my life is be suddenly opening up. It is as if I was looking at  a certain tunnel where there was a clear but unchanging view and now, I have come to the end of that tunnel and I realized that the scenery is much richer and the roads diverge in different locations. Life choices and career choices are not linearly constructed and I have to sort out which one I will need to take. Life isn’t as simple as I thought it was.

However, after traveling in Athens and meeting people from different backgrounds in Germany and here in London, I also realized that this thinking process is a privilege. Many people have no luxury of choice and that the world sweeps them in its mighty current. For example, Greece is a beautiful country but so much of its people are in poverty now and many people of my age do not have jobs. I don’t have a job now but I can live because I chose this path to become a student and saved my money to achieve it.  I am opening my options and of course that means that I will have a choice. I have put myself in this position of limitless choices but it scares me too.

The real question now is that is it better to have limited choices or having more choices in life? Is a straight path better than a convoluted path in life? I’m not really sure. I am now here in this point and I am trying to create a straight path but I do know in my heart that it won’t be that simple anymore.