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Publication Date: April 2004
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Before she became the uber-successful creator of the Wander Girl Guidebooks, a series of travel books made especially for Pinays, Hilda Gallares was a self-declared loser. Fresh from the clutches of college, she couldn't wait to take wing and discover the world—see the sights and savor the scents of all things strange and foreign. But her plan to become a flight attendant and travel the world for free hit a major dead-end early in the game: the unfortunate height requirement. It was a slight snag in her globetrotting dreams that nevertheless unraveled her.
Since no self-respecting girl should let any setback stop her from following her heart, Hilda sets off on a journey that takes her through days of pining for the perfect job, over rough seas of heartbreak and disappointment (not to mention bad sex), and even into foreign territory: passionate Frenchmen, earnest New Zealanders, witty Brits. Armed only with an honest map to her own heart, it's a journey that eventually leads her to her true calling, her true self, and true love.
Say you're a woman shopping for ripe mangoes, the sort of woman who likes to buy her fruits in the neighborhood grocery store instead of an outdoor fruit stand. So today you are at a grocery store shopping for ripe mangoes.
"You want some, Hil?" my mom asked, holding the bottom slice of a mango out to me.
I shook my head. "No, thanks."
Let's assume you're a woman of normal/average intelligence; you know what ripe mangoes looked like. You pick what looks to you to be the best ones - smooth, firm, yellow - and expect them to be juicy and delicious.
I watched my mom spoon the fleshy yellow fruit.
Then you go home and slice one only to find a good part of the insides rotten. But since you are a patient woman, you think, that's fine, you can just eat the good parts, suffer the bad parts a little and the next day get better ones - at the same store because look, it's so near where you live. How convenient is that?
"Are you sure you don't want?" she asked me, offering her spoon.
"I'm sure, mom," I said patiently.
The next day you try having a good mix of smooth and a-bit-bruised mangoes just to make sure. But this yields the same results - there's always something wrong with them.
"Are you, OK, Hil?" my mom asked, concerned.
"I'm fine," I said, reassuring her with a smile.
They are not the mangoes that you want. So far, since going to that grocery, you still haven't sat down to enjoy ripe, juicy, delicious mangoes.
"Hmm! Sarap!" That was my mom.
What do you do?
A) Go back to the same grocery, buy the mangoes hoping against hope that they be good this time, and when they aren't, complain and bitch about it to friends as you eat them anyway (telling yourself that, at least, you have mangoes; 'yung iba nga dyan wala, eh).
B) Tell the grocer that you will no longer buy mangoes from his store unless he enforces strict quality control and sells only the best.
C) Look for the best mangoes, even if it means driving past the nearby grocery and traveling all the way across town to get to them.
I could hear my mom start her daily lamentation about my dad. But by now I was already half-deaf to her. This was a very recent self-preservation strategy I had developed to keep from snapping under the combined weight of my angst and my mom's anxiety.
Pinoy men are like mangoes in a grocery store with low quality control standards, and where the shoppers are happy to take just take any mango. The rotten product is not one person's fault - it's a conspiracy, a joint effort of both grocer and shopper.
We Pinays are shoppers in that grocery store. We are dissatisfied with our mangoes and yet we bite into one, swallow a chunk with a grimace, and then go back for more. We complain about the sub-standard men in our lives - how they womanize, gamble, drink too much, abuse us both physically and verbally, disrespect us - and yet we're still with them. We don't go up the grocer and say, "Sir, the mangoes in your store are rotten. Tomorrow, when I buy your mangoes - despite the two occasions they have disappointed me - I want them to be juicy and delicious. Otherwise, I will look elsewhere and never set foot on this store again," and then make good our word... .
Pinoy men, I concluded as I rose from my chair, are emotional underachievers because we don't exact high standards from them. They are brats because we spoil them. They give so little and take a lot because we give a lot and take so little.
I kicked the door of my room open.
They are weak mama's boys who drink all night with their buddies and won't speak to you when they're having a bad day because we wait with hot coffee, ready to remove their shoes, when they come home drunk.
I growled as I removed my clothes and threw them down on the floor.
They are disrespectful pricks who raise their voices at us in public because we just stand there and take it.
I turned on the shower and cooled my head. Aaaahhhh....
Why not, as an experiment, try barring the door and changing the lock? (Or better yet, shove an application for annulment form under the door, highlighting the reasons your relationship qualifies for one?) Why not, when he ups his voice level just a notch above normal, scurry towards the nearest security guard and tell him that the man yelling from the opposite end of the street was trying to extort money from you. Finish with a nervous, "Taga-Mental yata, boss."
The question was, I thought as I toweled off, why even suffer all that aggravation for a Noyps? Why even try to make him better? Why not, I thought as I vigorously brushed my teeth, just walk into the grocery, dump your bag of uneaten mangoes on the counter and give the owner the finger before you walk out, without a word. In fact, I thought, slipping into my jeans, why show up there at all? Why not just march straight to the other side of town, where the mangoes have been getting rave reviews?
I pulled on a gray cotton top, slipped my feet into my kitten heels and slammed my bedroom door as I went out.
by Maan Geronimo
Because the best thing about wandering off, I found out, is coming home...
Have you ever been lost literally and figuratively? Tweet Sering takes you to a breathtaking journey about finding the way back home. Let Hilda's colorful story weave its magic and discover how vibrant and beautiful life really is.
Hop on to Wander Girl and it will take you on the ride of your life!
Please give us a background of Wander Girl.
A successful young publisher of guide books looks back on her tumultuous 20s and recalls her arduous - yet colorful--journey from angst-ridden, insecure girl to fulfilled, self-possessed young woman.
Is Hilda based on your own character?
What's autobiographical about the story is the fact that the heroine survives her 20s and comes out of it wiser, as I have. But I wouldn't say Hilda is based on my character. Nor is she based on any one person I know. Rather, she's an amalgam of many different women and (men) that I know. There are some values and quirks of mine that I threw in there as well as some of my sisters', my girlfriends', my brother's, so that she's a separate person - a character who exists on her own, with her own unique complications.
How about Hannah and Helen? Are they based on the characters of your sisters as well?
As with Hilda, Helen and Hannah are scrambled-up versions of my sisters and me. So they're not merely alter egos or differently-named characters of us, but really Helen and Hannah Gallares.
What made you write Wander Girl?
I am thirty years old, and I never thought I'd be thirty years old. It struck me that, although I may not dress or act it (I do feel stuck at 12), I am now the wiser older person; the dark years of not knowing who I was and what I was supposed to do with my life are over. I am onto my next journey. But since I have younger sisters and cousins who are going through what I have gone through, I thought it'd be nice to make the way a little less traumatic for them. Para saan pa ako naging Ate if I can't do that, right? I now have things to say, and I can say them with conviction because I've been there.
Which character in the story do you identify yourself?
I identified with all of them, even the guys. There was a part of me in everyone; these were aspects of myself that I wanted to explore.
What made you think of mangoes as the perfect examples for Pinoy men?
It's just this fruit that we enjoy without thinking because it's so ubiquitous. They're grown here, and we take it for granted that everyone loves mangoes - it's a homegrown taste, we think. But I've always lived in the Philippines, and I'm not a mango person. In the same way that we think that just because we're Filipina, we all have this natural taste for Filipino men.
What would you change about Pinoy men?
I'm more interested in Pinays changing. I wish more of us would try to be wiser, more discriminating with our taste, and not put up with all the shit men give. Fussing over unworthy men really holds us back; there's so much more we can be besides somebody's girlfriend or wife. It's true that it takes two to tango - if you're being treated badly, it's because you allow yourself to be treated badly; if there are bullies, it's only because there are doormats. I understand being wiser and stronger is a difficult process, but I wish more Pinays would try. Not only will we attract men worthy of our fabulousness, but we will be much happier, much more fulfilled individuals.
What do you love most about Pinoy men?
I can only speak about the Pinoy men that I love - and I don't know if the thing that I love about them is a function of their being Pinoy. It could be, I guess. But I see men as individuals, regardless of their race or nationality. The Pinoy men I love value family and value women as sisters, friends, mothers, wives, girlfriends, and as real partners. They are in awe of the strength of a woman, and I just love that about them.
Are the men in Wander Girl based from your past?
Not really. As with the women, the men in the book are all amalgams of men I know--as friends, former boyfriends, colleagues, lovers of friends of mine, boyfriends of my sisters, the men in my own family. The good and bad attributes of these real people are evenly distributed among the made-up ones.
What can we learn from Wander Girl?
A lot of things, I hope. My sisters and brother took different things from it. I hope it is the same way for other readers - they take the lessons that apply to them at this point in their lives.
Is writing a passion for you?
Yes, writing is a passion for me. I mean, ask anyone who has to sit at a desk in front of a computer or typewriter or writing pad for hours and hours without human contact and they'll tell you it can't be anything but a passion. For me, anyone can write, or draw or paint or make music; it's the degree of obsession and love for the craft that differentiates the writers and other artists from everyone else born with the same capacity and promise.
What are you reading now? Who are your literary influences?
Presently, I'm reading books lent by friends--Nothing To Declare: Memoirs of A Woman Travelling Alone by Mary Morris and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. As for my literary influences, I love the American fictionists J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, Anne Tyler, Edith Wharton, Sandra Cisneros. I think they're amazing. Their work is that wonderful mix of being funny (except for Edith Wharton, who is not funny at all), poignant, wise. And Pico Iyer! What I would give to be able to write like him. His prose is just luminous and so wise. Oh, and E.M. Forster! And I love all the travel writers! If one's work is truly the "trail of one's own evolution" then these writers are (were, in the case of Salinger, Lee, Wharton, Forster) highly evolved human beings.
How do you see yourself carving a niche in Philippine Literature?
I don't know about the "carving" part - that sounds rather heavy. Very Nick Joaquin J. I just want to produce the kind of reading material I didn't have while growing up. All I read then were the American teen romances, so I knew more about places like Long Beach and Venice Beach, California and than Boracay or La Union or Daet. The cool kids to me were blonde and cracked very American jokes. They were like none of the people I actually knew. The people I found cool and funny in real life weren't blonde at all and had Bisaya accents. I want our own experiences reflected in our books, our short stories, our theatre. And it doesn't always have to be oh-so serious - I guess that was the turn-off for me before; plus, most Filipino books had such ugly covers, ayaw mo'ng ilagay sa bookshelf.
As a people we're hilarious, we love to laugh. We have this knack for finding the humor in even the darkest situation. Unfortunately, very little of that finds its way into our literature. I want some of that nature reflected in what we read, and not just in what we see on TV (Michael V is doing a great job of that - to me, he's the funniest in local showbiz after Nova Villa). And I just want to put characters out there whose experiences my siblings, cousins and friends can relate to. If the rest of the country finds affinity in those characters, then the better.
What would you advice aspiring writers?
As with any art form, pay close attention to life. Be sensitive. Have something to say. Get out there and have a life - otherwise, what will you write about?
Don't be afraid to have your work critiqued. Have people whose opinion you value take a look at your work. At the same time, be brave and discerning enough to take only what you think you need, and stand by what you think is the truth in your work. Don't allow other people - no matter how great you think they are - to define what you want to say. You have your own story to tell, so tell it the way you would tell it.