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It’s like driving along a highway peppered with exit points all leading back to the point of entry. Travel as far as you must, still you’ll come back to it either for a permanent rest or a transitory pit stop.

Some people manage to change the rules, but for most of us, exit point equals entry point.

It was a pit stop and I thought I was simply there for a perfunctory mental respite. This is my third time to come back since I left the country five and a half years ago. I don’t have any problems with coming and leaving because it isn’t in my nature to get too attached to people or things. However…

It didn’t take long for me to get used to sumptuous home-cooked meals, clothes magically washed and pressed, and most especially, mornings spent leisurely stretching in bed.

Going home is like coming up for air. Good for the health (or so I thought…)

It was either something spoiled or germ-ridden that I ate in a particularly well-known restaurant that caused the trouble. As a result, I had to spend the last three days of my vacation confined to the hospital — not exactly part of the plan.

Getting admitted to the hospital dropped me right into the heart of harsh Philippine medical reality. It was as precarious a healthcare system as you can get. I was rushed into the E.R. but had to wait for three agonizing hours before getting attended to by a doctor and moved into my own room. The entire time I was more worried about catching other viruses than I was about the revolution taking place inside my intestines.

I have seen firsthand that our medical system is tethering erratically towards collapse. Lack of doctors due to their transfiguration into nurses abroad. Majority of the high school students planning to become nurses so they can leave the country. Hats off to those who stayed behind by choice. I owe my current state of well-being to you.

Not that I blame those who left the country for better opportunities. I myself did the same thing. If only it were possible to stay close to home and not have to worry about earning enough to survive. I don’t think this many people would choose to fly off to unfamiliar lands in the first place if that was a probability.

“Why Japan?”…. a boyfriend of a close relative who shall remain unnamed here asked me pointedly, with barely concealed malicious undercurrents, several years ago. My blood boiled at the implication so much so that it took a long deep breath and mantras about tolerance towards the mentally impaired before I got over the urge to gouge his eyes out with a fork. I decided to be magnanimous and turned the tables at him with a — “And why not Japan?”.

Japan is the place to be if you intend to work in the technical field. Research and development here is done at breakneck speed. I just don’t understand why people don’t see that and immediately assume that for a Filipina to work here is to automatically engage in shady activities. And to think that such sentiments come from your own countrymen (men literally) who have long been used to intellectual and capable women in the society. I guess that guy was raised by a pack of wolves (which explains his lack of social decency).

It used to bother me. Getting stopped by idiots at the Philippine immigration and asked for my “pink slip” without even bothering to look at the profession clearly printed out on my visa. Hell, it used to bother me a LOT. But now, after years of staying here, I simply stopped caring. Partly because the employment field is now changing (more and more Filipinos coming in or switching to technical jobs) and mostly because I take humongous pride in what I do. I am here to do a job so stressful and mentally-wrecking that most women in this country quit in tears or opt not to get into it at all (proof of which is the fact that I am the only woman in my team).

It was luck that brought me here and was the reason why I am still here. It is just fair that I should in turn not pack up my bags and leave on account of silly statements made by people who don’t know any better. After all, they’re not the ones responsible for my salary and making sure that I secure my future.

Who would have thought that our futures would turn out like this? It felt good catching up with high school and college friends whom I haven’t seen for quite some time. Some are already married, while others (yours truly included) are still furiously guarding the freedom and independence of the single lifestyle.

One thing I have learned from all of this: People mature quickly once they enter the professional world. Who would have though that I would be talking about grown-up concerns with my friends over dinner and later on, coffee? The conversation mellowed by the years and the subjects more serious. It used to be just about school, friends and guys — now it was about work, money and that elusive tomorrow.

Regardless of how much have changed, one thing remained the same — seeing old friends help you keep a good grip on the ideals and dreams that you have always held close since you were young.

A storm and several stomachaches later, I am back in Japan buying bento (packed meals) from the store in front of my apartment, vacuuming my room, carrying heavy groceries, scheduling when to do my laundry, and shivering in the cold while rushing after the morning trains.

Luck is indeed a perplexing thing. It can turn against you in a minute and then go your way the next. The gods took pity on me and upgraded my flight to business class on my trip back. It was torture forcing myself to pull luggage and go through airport searches a day after I got released from the hospital, but thank God for occasional flight upgrades. It made my trip a lot more bearable.

Going home reminded me of how much I love both sides of my life. My years in Japan taught me about independence big time. It satisfied my appetites for travel and enriched me with its complex yet fascinating society. Philippines, on the other hand, reminds me that I will always have a home to go to — one that will warmly welcome me should I grow tired of my wanderings. All I have to do is keep remembering who I am and how to find my way home.