I always looked up my hometown in Google Maps, counting the days till I went back.
In my hometown, Ok-Gwa, a small river flowed south and to the nearby mountain ranges; behind it loomed a hill. In spring, fragrant of wild chrysanthemums and dandelions, my friends and I would go to the nearby hill to harvest mugwort, shepherd’s purse, and other natural herbs that could be used for stew or mixed in a salad; by drying and brewing them, they served as alternative medicine. The entire day we spent harvesting these herbs, the birds and mountain rabbits seemed to hide, scared off by our loud laughter. We endlessly exchanged stories about our family, friends, the townspeople, and even celebrities. For the summer break, my cousins from the city would visit us and we packed watermelons and some refreshments and went to the river for a swim and to fish. In fall, we picked the prettiest leaves out of all the yellow and orange leaves that littered the streets and made bookmarks out of them. And in winter, when our nose and hands turned pink in freezing cold, my friends and I would go up the mountains to ski and sleigh until we got frostbites.
The idea of having left all these and moving into a foreign country, whose language and people I barely understood made me beg my parents every summer to take me back to Korea. Although Philippines is nevertheless beautiful, I always compared its beauty to Ok-Gwa, despite the years I had spent here.
In 2011, I finally had the chance to visit my hometown. I stopped school and worked for a year to save up. But Ok-Gwa wasn’t as welcoming anymore as it always was in my dreams. I got lost in the newly constructed buildings. The small mom and pops stores that I used to buy candies from had already closed down. When I went to visit my grandparents’ graves, the mountains had fewer trees and the fruit trees that used to welcome us were now fenced in with a signage they had owners now. A bridge was built over the river and the stones that used to be our footbridge were nowhere to be found. The small school where I studied was replaced with a bigger one and I couldn’t recognize the classrooms and playground anymore. As I wandered through the streets, I realized that everything I missed about my town was now gone. Gone not only the landmarks but also the people; my friends had got taller and talked about topics that I could no longer relate to. The town elders who would call me and ask about my grandmother and father were silent in their graves.
A few days back into my hometown, I was missing Davao City—its warmth, the beautiful meeting of sky and beaches, and the people (all these I remained ungrateful for till then, the same way I saw only now what I had taken for granted in Ok-Gwa).
I had another hometown, I realized. The city where I felt estranged at first had grown on me. The culture, food, language, and weather might be different, but as I got along and became part of the lives of the locals, I had become a native of the place. I regretted failing to open my heart and accept Davao City earlier. Otherwise, I could have felt more at home and be happier.
Although it’s inevitable to long the most for the place where I was born, being a traveler with an open heart would open me to more opportunities of finding other hometowns. Each place had its own beauty.
After a month, I came back to the Philippines. All the disappointments and sadness I experienced in Ok-Gwa had given me fresh insights. I stopped complaining and appreciated Davao more. I was—and still am–convinced that when I moved out, I would miss the stuffing heat, the harsh emissions of jeepneys, and the kids walking barefooted asking for piso while taunting me intsik.
These hometowns, which might grow in number, gave me a place where I could sleep peacefully. And I wake to each morning excited to know them some more without having to look up in Google.
Ye Jin Kim is an AB English student at Ateneo de Davao University. Born in South Korea, she has lived in Davao City since 2004.