Every time Dad visits a country, something unexpected happens. So far, he’s encountered military coups in Manila, street warfare and airport closures in Bangkok, UN Peacekeeper roadblocks in Port-Au-Prince, and student unrest in Tehran. He had stayed in both the Oberoi and the Taj hotels in Mumbai before they were attacked.
Last April, he was in Europe, having taken my brother David from Bangkok to Brussels, Bastogne and Berlin as a graduation gift. Guess what? Street protests in Bangkok and a volcano in Iceland erupted in the same week! Dad was cool, though – he’s seen it all by now.
Six months after the big flood destroyed our house, we all visited Dad in Bangkok, to recuperate. Before the malls closed, I bought a whopping number of books — four bags’ worth! — from Kinokuniya. I can’t remember the last time I was so excited about any shopping. This will help rebuild the family library, a thousand books reduced to pulp and memory by typhoon Ketsana/Ondoy.
Only a handful of books survived that catastrophe. The graphic novel V For Vendetta was on loan to one of my students. A children’s book was printed on flexible, waterproof plastic. A handful were on my desk at work, including a collection of Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction short stories that Dad sent in a care package once upon a fever.
Among the books destroyed was a Moby Books children’s version of Jack London’s Call of the Wild. It was the first book of any real length that I ever read, and had a place of honor on my shelf.
Another victim, a slim volume on Saint Thomas Aquinas, came from Grandma’s house. On its cracked and yellowing pages, half a century old, were musings and margin notes by the Grandfather I never met. I was not able to read them closely, and now I never will.
Another book was a gift from my closest friend in high school, a teacher who inspired me to myself become a teacher. It hid a heartwarming note written on a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s If. It’s gone.
Another book was a love story, a birthday present from the first woman who ever told me that she loved me. Now it’s just a memory.
The books that I’ve owned did not merely tell me stories, but told my story as well. Some, like Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot and Hilton’s Lost Horizon, were valuable because of what I learned from them as a child. Others, like The Little Prince and Julius Caesar, were taught in class with such passion that I can quote whole passages years after graduation. And many were valuable not because they changed my life, but because the persons who gave them changed my life.
Other treasures were destroyed as well. The photo albums, letters, birthday cards, trip souvenirs, childhood toys, and the dedications on the lost books are not replaceable by any most well-stocked mall.
Counting my blessings, however, reveals many bright spots. My school medals survived intact, along with nearly all my favorite clothes, my pets, and most importantly, my family.
A month later, after we’d moved to a rented place and gotten the sick smell of the floodwater out of everything, I sat down and made a bullet list of all my possessions. It’s rather liberating to have a list that short.
In the meantime, the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta was a huge success, David has graduated, friends who gave me the books are all on Facebook, and I have four bags’ worth of books to fit into my luggage now. And I’m writing on Flying in Crosswinds again.
Shortly after I bought my new books, the Bangkok malls closed due to the street protests, giving me the perfect excuse to shut myself up in Dad’s apartment, catch up on my sleep, learn to cook, write some blog articles, and finally get started on To Kill a Mockingbird.
This year will be a year of renewal. It will see my return to the Ateneo (for a master’s degree and teaching), a reunion with my college friends, and a lot more flying. It will be a year to learn new things and keep old promises.
In the photo above, Carlo doesn’t look like he had just lost all his possessions.
Written April, 2010 in Bangkok
Posted from Bangkok, August 12, 2010
Our aerial pictures of the big flood that submerged Manila, here.