A lot of people in Indonesia have been asking me whether I’m just pretending to be Filipino. Some people think I’m Indonesian, or Thai, while others, because of this yellow star I bring wherever I go, think I’m Vietnamese.
The privilege of becoming a journalist (not that I’m glamorising this profession) is that you get to meet people from many parts of the globe. One morning in 2012 at a Vera Files training at Ateneo, Kristianne, my college friend and former colleague at Mindanao Times, introduced me to lady who wore thick black-rimmed glasses who easily appeared to be a foreigner because she had this short bob many of my female friends wouldn’t dare to sport (except for Lorie, perhaps). Mick, this is Phuong, our intern from Vietnam, she says. But before that, Phuong was grilling a multimedia report my team mates did. The pictures seemed dull and don’t seem to jive with what the VO talks about, she said. Later, I learned that she has worked for a state-owned television network in Hanoi before she flew to Bangkok, and then Davao.
In the same year, and since Davao is a small world (despite being known as one of the huge cities in the world), I often get to meet Phuong at press conferences. All those times, I wondered how does she get to understand these boring talking heads who speak in Cebuano while they answer questions thrown by reporters? Does Kristianne translate it for her? That was four years ago — and today I see myself in the shoes of my Indonesian friends who ask me how I manage to engage in class discussions with Bahasa Indonesia as the sole medium of instruction. Four years ago, it was a guilty pleasure to catch Phuong ask a jeepney driver in Davao to drop her right after Ecoland Terminal, where she lives nearby with Amy, my stage mother and former editor at Times.
Sometimes, I would invite her to go around Davao. After all, this is my hometown, and wanted to show her the places I think many tourists miss going to. One time, I took her to Bankerohan market to see how a new city ordinance that banned plastic bags work on the ground. Well, the idea to see the market was her idea. At the time, I was working on a project for a course at the Asian Centre for Journalism in Manila.
(Oh, dear Phuong, who would ever forget the times you invited us to Amy’s house to try those Vietnamese dishes? And of course, those times you would visit my class to see how I teach. People call you sir??? You are too young to be a university lecturer!!!)
A year later, she returned to Vietnam, and flew to another country again. This time, in Finland, where she pursued a masters in a particular field in social sciences (what was it again, Phuong?). But before she left, she gave me this keychain which bore a yellow star with crimson red in its background.
At first, I didn’t know where this thing should go. All my bags don’t seem to have a zipper that could hold this yellow star. It was only when I moved to Indonesia where it found a perfect match: my motorbike key.
It is said that the Vietnamese flag is designed with a five-point star to represent the farmers, workers, youth, intellectuals, and soliders of Vietnam. Personally, this yellow star reminds me of my friend Phuong. While she’s faraway (and I wonder, when do I see you again, Phuong?), the yellow star follows me, it follows me everywhere I go.
(By the way, Phuong blogs here.)