Sunday, May 13, 2007

Trisha's Take: What "basaang gilagid" means to me

The first time I heard the phrase basaang gilagid was from my dad, right after I went to the Philippines for the very first time. This was in the year 1992, when I was a freshman in high school and my older sister was a senior. We were going back for my grandparents' 50th anniversary, and I was going to meet my numerous Filipino cousins for the very first time.

When I was growing up, I was raised to be American first and Filipino after. My parents didn't teach me Tagalog because they wanted me to be proficient in English so I could do well in school. Their plan worked, because I was in all the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) classes in elementary school, all the honors classes in middle school (and I think I even got to skip a lot of 8th grade English class), and I had tested into all of the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes in high school, the same as my sister. I was even already in my second year of French class, and one of the top students. With Tagalog, though, I was at a loss.

Imagine, then, a young girl getting out of a plane in a sweltering airport. She has just come from Seoul, South Korea, where she and her family were put up in a 5-star hotel because a baggage handler's strike forced Northwest Airlines to cancel the previous day's flight. She is nervous, she is excited. This is the end destination of the very first plane trip she has ever undertaken.

She exits the customs area where the balikbayan boxes her family has stuffed full of T-shirts and shorts purchased from the Kmart where her father works were opened in search of possible contraband. She leaves the safety of the airport, and is greeted by her oldest male cousin, perhaps an uncle or two. Her mother and father are talking with them excitedly.

She doesn't understand a single word they're saying.

The entire trip was filled with a lot of silence and hard listening on my end because while my parents were busy chattering away with first his relatives, then hers, my sister and I were lost until someone spoke to us in English. Luckily, many of my cousins wanted to teach me Tagalog, so many long car trips were turned into impromptu Tagalog lessons. (However, the only sentence I seem to have retained other than "Mahal kita" is "Ako ay kenegut ng lamok." Make of that what you will.)

Despite their good intentions, though, I still felt out of place. Until I went over there, it had never really struck me how conservative and religious the entire country is. I wasn't used to the extreme humidity like my cousins were, so we got to sleep in the only air-conditioned room in my grandparents' old house. Also, they kept making jokes that only my sister and I kept getting eaten alive by the mosquitos because our American blood was spicier. Add those factors to the language barrier, and you get one confused girl who is trying to keep up with everyone else the best she can.

There was one night, however, where I didn't have to keep up with anyone. We had journeyed by jeepney to the parish where my dad's oldest brother works as a priest. Actually, I take that back. I tried to journey by jeepney, but I was too tired to hold on, and instead was ferried along in a car with one of my then-youngest cousins (who I think vomited on the floor). When we got there, I don't even remember what time it was, but I do remember nodding off in church during the Easter vigil and having some of my hair burnt off by a candle's flame. I passed out on a couch somewhere, and woke some time later to laughter.

Wandering outside, I found my dad and all of his siblings drinking beer on the verandah. Some of my cousins were there, too, and my dad and I proceeded to go into our "Casablanca" medley, where you start by singing "As Time Goes By" but immediately switch over to "The Christmas Song" after the second verse. Everyone cheered, and then I sang something from either Les Miserables or The Phantom of the Opera and everyone cheered again.

That night was described to me as what basaang gilagid is. It's singing songs or dancing in public with your dad. It's sneaking cigarettes from my aunts to hide them from my mom at my cousin's wedding in Canada. When my male cousins and I discussed the relative merits of various wines, whenever I see my brother-in-law who teases me about my behavior at my sister's wedding. It's whenever family or friends get together and you share your lives.

It's time to basaang gilagid, my new Internet friends.

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