My memories of Pangasinan are not the fondest. It starts with clambering up a branch of a chico tree that swings inward to a window of a wooden two-storey house.
That sprite and warm afternoon of chico picking quickly descends to a somber night when I, along with my sister, sat outside a building in Dagupan filled with politicians, the elite, and an archbishop, mingling with ghouls – a woman beater-boyfriend of an aunt and his league of male cons.
(I learned quite early that evil tends to associate with politics and organized religion – at least in this country).
One of them, a native Pangasinense, carved quite a dent that forever changed my history.
That story ends in one riveting day when my mother, my sister and I, all out of breath, chased one bus after another for dear life in a thriller movie-esque escape attempt. I remember sitting by the bus’ window, frightened at every stop it made, searching the streets for familiar faces that I don’t want to see. That fear pounded on my chest for hours. Only when we reached Manila did I feel safe.
So when my boss required me to go to Alaminos for a three-day training slash Christmas party, I was less than thrilled. Pangasinan, as you can see, is a ghost-filled province for me.
We arrived over an hour before noon to sunny office mates who I saw for the first time. For the past two months, I have been working remotely as their writer, and that kind of seclusion, that independence, was something I’ve gotten so used to as a full-time freelancer that being in an office and all that comes with it – the morning routine, decent clothes, co-workers – all felt a bit foreign to me.
But for three days, I have rediscovered the province in a different light through its people, its heavenly bangus and its remaining territories. A lot has changed in the 20 years I haven’t gone there. Wrongs have been rectified by karma itself (that guy, for instance, went totally blind).
As someone who’s had fairly extensive experience in women’s right violations, I’ve had to battle so many ghosts for decades. There were times they got the best of me, when wounds that I thought were scars, gaped. The years taught me that ghosts exist everywhere, and it’s up to you if you allow them haunt you and disrupt your life, or if you’ll learn to live with them while you enjoy the ride.
After years of tiring ghost chases, I chose the second one.
Ghosts are things of the past. They exist in this realm, but aren’t exactly of this realm. This, the Now I have, this is what’s real. This is the existence that matters.
It was that thought that led me to see that Pangasinan has morphed into a place that’s safer and more metropolitan. A place brimming with beautiful islets, salt flats, mangroves, sunsets, and modest tricycle drivers that undercharge when you don’t have change.
It’s a place that cradles super fun and hip colleagues, and an awesome boss who allowed my daughter to play with his while I worked, and who tells me to “pack it in at 5:30pm” – an hour and a half short of working hours so I could go out and see town. See it for what it is, not what it was; see that it is now ghost-free.