Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

My heart in two places

Posted on December 08, 2007 by jimparedes

I believe places can speak to us and we have the equal ability to listen if we allow ourselves to. I have two homes where I live two lives. One, in the Philippines, and the other in Australia.

I was wondering when it would happen until it finally did. I’m talking about Australia speaking to me, not unlike the way my own country does. And the few times it did, I smiled to myself knowing that the process of my integration into Aussie life had begun.

Wherever we are, we engage life. New migrants, especially, have this ongoing conversation with the host country. It’s a constant dialogue, an assessing and reassessing of how one is faring in the new setting.

I do the same when I am in Aus. It’s my way of processing new experiences, and it is all part of my assimilation to life there. My life as a migrant in Australia is growing roots in all aspects.

We moved to Sydney almost a year and a half ago. Since then, we have settled quite well in our own home. We have performed all the requisites that go with being a permanent resident. We got our drivers’ licenses, opened bank accounts, met and nurtured new circles of friends. I have one daughter and a grand daughter who are still in Manila by choice, but who will move back to Sydney permanently in a few years. Another daughter is happily working in Sydney. My son has not only finished high school but has excelled enough to have his artworks handpicked for exhibition in an art museum.

Lydia has adapted to Sydney living quite well. She knows the roads and thoroughfares, where to go for this and that, like the palm of her hand. She is also an expert in running the house, keeping the place tidy, paying the bills, and doing what makes our life in Aus easier and more elegant.

Since I have been traveling in and out of Sydney and have not spent long stretches of time at home, my process has been slower. I still need to be reminded where certain places in the city and suburbs are, how things are done and even how things run around the house. But I eagerly and quite fearlessly do what needs to be done.

I must admit that though it is happening less often, once in a while, I still get that alien feeling when I go about doing ordinary things like shopping or even engaging in chitchat with strangers. For one, I still have trouble with the Australian accent. While I can understand newscasters and politicians who make it a point to speak extra clearly, I am befuddled by the average bloke (guy) or sheila (girl) who seem, to me at least, to be eating their words.

As if that wasn’t difficult enough, there is also the unique Aussie vocabulary that one must contend with. Their penchant for contracting words in their own way like “brekkie” for breakfast, “relo” for relatives is entertaining but it can be quite alienating. They also have their own words that sound alien to other English-speakers, like “arvo” (afternoon), and “spruiking” (to promote something). The list is endless.

The first time I felt a strong connection to Aus since we moved was during the Australia Day celebrations last January 26. Lydia and I attended this huge event at Darling Harbor, and I was quite surprised to catch myself entirely moved by the ceremonies, and impressed by the way the Aussies felt unabashed pride at being who they are.

There was a moment in the program when the big TV monitors showed migrants talking about how they have adopted Australia as their home and it was quite powerful. I felt a lump in my throat as I resonated with the testimonies of the fulfilled promises as expressed by fellow migrants from all over the world about their new home. At the same time, I was lost in ambivalence since the Pinoy in me was weeping for the failed promises of the two EDSAs we fought so hard for.

But the feelings of pride and belonging, as powerful as they are, were understandable. All the emotions created by the elaborate preparations for Australia day, not unlike the way, say, Disneyland can induce a thrill, was the effect the organizers were going for. While I was in awe of it, I still did not feel quite integrated into Aussie life.

But about four weeks ago, I was caught by surprise when something trivial triggered a strong emotional response in me. I was riveted by a commercial on TV that had a Christmas theme. It gave me an unexpected warm feeling. No, it did not bring up images of Christmas at home. Far from it. What it elicited was THE universal Christmas feeling, but rooted somewhat in the context of Aussie life and culture. It seemed to just creep up on me and I caught myself getting teary-eyed. I remember telling Lydia at that moment that I felt a connection to the ad somehow, in spite of the fact that the people in it were white and spoke in their strange accents.

Somehow, the ad had a universal appeal that made the “them versus us” feeling a migrant often gets, fade away — for that instant, at least. It spoke to me in an intimate way that transcended my being Filipino. I felt this wonderful comfort, a feeling of fraternity, brotherhood and belonging that was, strangely enough, brought about by an ad for a department store.

Before we migrated, I asked my family over dinner to name at least 10 famous Aussies. Sadly, aside from ex-PM John Howard, we could only name Nicole Kidman and a few other actors and musicians. I imagined then it would be a long way before Aus would feel like home.

But I am becoming more and more comfortable with my life is Aus. I am beginning to trust my instincts as I feel more “in” on the different aspects of Aussie life. I successfully predicted the outcome of the last elections. I somehow caught the political zeitgeist that many of my friends missed even if they had been living there longer. I have more confidence now in the decisions I make since I am beginning to get the pattern of how things work in this orderly society.

When a migrant listens and understands and gets to know the host country more, his previously held, mostly inherited notions of the country and its people melt away, and newer, more personal, real impressions take their place. One moves out of stereotypical thinking and experiences things in a fresh way. Other people are no longer caricatures. They become flesh and blood.

We know we’ve transcended our biases when we get over our fixed and rigid notions and give something that used to threaten our equanimity a chance. This new take on things could only happen when I accepted where I live. When I am in Sydney, I tell myself that this is my here and now. While earlier, it used to take an effort to do that since I was always comparing my life there to my previous life in the Philippines; lately, I have begun to do so without resistance.

Now I am back in Manila for a few weeks. I have been applying this fresh stance at everything I have seen since I arrived a few days ago, especially since that recent silly coup attempt that has once again made us look bad to the world, and even to ourselves.

My being a resident of both Manila and Sydney is like having two girlfriends. Both of them can be fun, yet moody and even downright depressing at times. But they have their individual charms as well. While Manila may be melodramatic and tragic more often because of its hosts of problems, it IS still home with its warmth and exploding gaiety, especially at Christmas time. Sydney may be dazzlingly beautiful and orderly, but it can leave me cold at times because all that order can feel so alien to my Pinoy soul.

But I am glad that neither of them is asking just yet for exclusivity. And that’s just the way I like it.

15 to “My heart in two places”

  1. mari says:

    hello jim,

    your post struck a chord. the difficulty understanding the aussie accent, i can attest to that. i worked for the aussies for 5 years and i tell you, it really is challenging to train one’s ear to the accent. and the vocabulary got to me, too! i have to look up the internet for the meaning when i was too embarrased to ask them upfront.

    i’m also looking forward to starting anew in australia.

  2. dagsperez says:

    Great great great great entry! (did i say that it was great?)

    I could relate to every word. My family just recently migrated here in the US too not too long ago, just around the same time that you and your family did, and it was a tough thing for my pinoy heart to bear, too.

    But hey, such is life. You get ripped-off (or at least feel that way) one day and then you get compensated on another. You have to take the good with the bad, always.

    Its tough to know how to speak their language (well, at least for me…no shortened versions here, just “ghettofied”) and yet dont understand exactly what they mean.

    Home is where the heart is, and I, knew my heart to always be home to the good ‘ol islands but is starting to open up more to what the states could offer. We’ll see!

    Thanks for wording out most of what im feeling and experiencing.

    Mabuhay po kayo!

  3. jimparedes says:

    Sometimes, I feel that the destiny nof the Filipino is to be a foreigner!

    I am amazed at the reaction I get from you readers. And I am grateful you resonate with what I write. Thank you for rreading.

  4. Marts says:

    Hello Jim,

    Do you think that it will come to a time when you have to choose between your two ‘girlfriends’?

    My family and I will start our Oz ‘adventure’ in a few weeks time. Not only are my wife and I packing our things, we are packing also our hopes and prayers for a brighter future for our two young kids. We are giving up largely successful careers here and the comfortable life.

  5. jimparedes says:


    I know I will come back. My leaving was for my kids primarily. Though they are grown up, I wanted to give them options to live in another part of the world. Another reason was for myself. I’ve always wanted to live abroad even for awhile and I thought that this was my last chance to do it. I am past 50. I also felt that much of my life in Manila was a ‘been-there’done-that kind of thing.

    At my age, I felt a growth spurt when we moved. New challenges, surroundings, millieu stimulated me to try new stuff. Nakakabata!

    YOU will be fine. Once you get over the initial loneliness, and allow the quiet lifestyle of Aus to charm you, you will love it. The kids will be too stimulated with new things–school, house, new places, new friends, to even feel sad.

    While Sydney is expensive, it does not take too long to afford things once you get a job.

    Keep in touch. Maybe we can get together there.

  6. Marts says:

    Actually, the relatively quiet life is what I am after. The daily grind of living in a congested city has taken its toll.

    I also long to get a taste of living in the 1st world where things actually work and people follow rules. While I have gone to many places abroad, these were only on short business trips (plus a few personal ones).

    I have been blessed to have a job even before we land in Oz knowing that (1) it was very impractical to apply for a job in Oz from Manila; and (2) I just turned 40 and I felt that the window of opportunity was closing fast. In this case, life will begin at 40. 🙂

    My family and I will be based in Melbourne but my job will entail a lot of travel. Besides, my employer’s HQ is in Sydney so I hope we can get together there since I will be at the HQ often.


  7. ann says:

    Hi Jim,

    Sydney is one of top 5 most liveable cities in the world based on the latest UN survey) so i’m sure you’ve done the right thing. It is very family friendly! It had been my window to the world – meeting different people and learning about different cultures. Best thing that ever happened to me! leaving the Phil, that is!


  8. KSJ says:

    I so love this piece. I always have Chrissie blues everytime I mail heaps of Christmas cards to the entire clan back in Manila. I have accepted living here in Sydney but Christmas to me is always the endless gatherings and get-togethers of relatives and friends. I miss them so much.

  9. LA says:

    hi jim,

    I do enjoy just listening to my kids talk in the Aussie accent specially when they try to talk Filo with an aussie accent.

    The otherside of migrating here is that you are here and the rest of your life and family is back in Manila. Hence people really have to open up and make more friends specially during christmas. Otherwise it will be a lonely holidays alone with your family at home.



  10. Ellyn says:

    Hi Sir Jim,

    I’ve been living here in Sydney for 8 months already (and counting…) and everyday I battle with the urge to pack my bags and go home. There are days that desire to come home is not that intense.. but it never really leaves you. I felt that I can never belong here. But recently, I went on to watch a music festival all by myself (something I never did in the past, especially in manila, because I was always surrounded by friends). I’ve come to realize a few things. I left the gig feeling that Sydney isn’t that bad. I just need to allow myself to love Sydney, whilst not forgetting the place that I call home. Reading your post just affirms… it gives me hope that things will be alright.

    – ellyn

  11. JIM:very interesting read.You forgot to mention your third place:right here in cyberworld.you have created such an impact on me that I feel you are almost a next door friendly neighbor
    through your website.More power!

  12. jimparedes says:

    Equalizer– ha ha. Good point

    Ellyn– My kids went through the same thing but now they are so loving it and do not even wish to come home just now. YOu will be fine once you establish a set of friends. Ala loves the barkada she has here.

    KSJ- Am so lucky to have found friends who will be spending Christmas at my home. Parang manila!

    Ann– Yes, Sydney and Melbourne always manage to be on the list. They’re both great cities.

    LA– The Aussie accent is quaint and cute once you get to understand it. ha ha

  13. Lou says:

    Well done, excellent, fantastic! Some ordinary English praises which I have learned to use only in Oz. I love their penchant for praising even the simplest thing. While we Pinoys seem to enjoy criticising more.

    This is an excellent piece, so inspired. Yeah, you’ve also capture what I’ve been feeling but haven’t found time to blog about them yet. Dami trabaho bago Pumasko!

    Happy Holidays! Kaninong piling ka nga pala magpapasko? ;->

  14. jimparedes says:

    Hi lou,

    Thanks a lot for the compliments. Don’t work too hard and make sure you go on a holiday this Christmas season.


  15. Marts says:

    I just found out that I will be in Sydney on the week of 14-18 January so I hope we can make meet up. 🙂 My family is arriving when I go back to Melbourne on the 19th.

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