Four weeks ago I found myself in Tullamarine airport. It was 6 in the morning. It was a cold day, the usual winter 'feels' in Melbourne. I came back from a vacation in the Philippines. I was there for three weeks. Prior to that I stayed a couple of days in Brunei, a country where I spent more than four years of working in an advertising agency.
It took me more than four years to finally have a vacation in the Philippines. The past years had just been so challenging that I didn't have the 'privilege' to travel back home. Despite as such, I have been blessed with a supportive partner and friends in Melbourne. They have provided a 'home' and a 'family' for me. But more importantly, thanks to digital media, I remain connected to my loved ones in the Philippines.
It was a rejuvenating experience to be reunited with my family and friends. Hearing the wealth of stories while enjoying Filipino dishes was absolutely amazing. There was an instant connection. But of course before the left and right reunions, my mind was filled overflowing with anxiety. There were so many 'what ifs'. To be away from for long years wasn't easy. For sure, digital media provided the connection - on many levels. Facebook became the window to each other's lives. Short conversations over Skype and Facebook messenger were somehow helpful in fuelling intimate ties. But obviously there were bits and pieces that I couldn't just access and process though digital media use. So to deal with my anxiety at that time, I re-imagined the 'home' that I grew up with. There's that constant conversation with oneself. I was trying to locate myself in the landscape of change - big or small. But my feelings were just weak. Deep inside I wasn't sure on what might happen. And so I just let loose. I allowed myself to be moulded by every interactions and experiences back home.
I had mixed emotions.It was intense. For a moment, I was feeling excited. I couldn't wait to see my family and friends, once again, in flesh. But at the same time, as I mentioned earlier, there was that unsettling feeling.I was overthinking on how should I act, move and interact with others to ensure that I do not turn into a stranger in my home country. I was trying to picture myself in a familiar place and moment. But to reconnect is not as easy as being physically present and working one's way through re-staging old habits and gestures. Things change. Big changes happened. And so there's that unpredictability that could only be managed by 'being' in the actual situation. I had to find a way to work around with the situation. With my own mobility, I had to anchor myself to the familiar. Writing became the magic pill that allowed me to be understanding, patient, flexible, and fully aware of the unparalleled realities.
And so I thought of documenting my vacation in Brunei and in the Philippines. I started to work on my auto-ethnography or a research method wherein 'the self' is positioned at the core in addressing a particular social inquiry. The documentation, through diary writing, was not only deployed to curate my everyday and diverse movements. But such process was aimed at allowing myself to simply reflect on my own mobilities - physical and communicative. How do I experience movement? What makes me stop? What makes me move? How movements are shaped by my emotions? What is the role of infrastructures in enabling and undermining my mobilites? What are the meanings I ascribe to mobilities in my home country? So across the many pages of my notebook, I wrote my feelings towards my own movement, experience of space, interactions with my loved ones, engagement with technologies, and even a deep understanding of my identity.
The last time I was back home was in 2014. I was in the Philippines for the field work of my PhD thesis. I was there for three months. During those months, I maximised every moments with my family and friends. But the priority at that time was to gather data for my research. Catch ups were done at the latter part of my stay in the Philippines. I eventually went back to Melbourne to complete the remaining years of my PhD. Hard work and focus paid off. I finished my PhD.
But then again life can sometimes throw some tricks at you. I went through everyday challenges - of being a migrant looking for a spot in academia. Thankfully I have my partner in Melbourne and my friends who have helped me in getting through the most challenging part of my life/career. Great scholars also extended their generosity - they mentored me in many ways. They provided advice and words of encouragement. On a personal level, digital communication technologies also helped in enabling a sense of connection between me and my family and friends in the Philippines. Unfortunately, a very busy life can often deprive someone with intimate exchanges. So most of the time, I didn't have much 'energy' to speak with some of my family and friends back home. I just didn't have the 'right frame of mind' to converse. I was, at some point, exhausted. Conversations were then reduced to constant lurking online. Clicking likes and hearts became a way to enable co-presence. Somehow relationships were sustained. It's just that I also felt that I was missing so many things by simply perusing images, reading status updates and interacting through stickers and emoticons. In short, digital media use wasn't enough.
In my recent vacation in the Philippines, I reflected upon and wrote on my own experiences. I thought of rethinking 'home' through the lens of a migrant. I am a migrant, and I will always be a migrant. Down the track I could be getting a PR or citizenship in this country. But this doesn't mean that I could simply erase my past. I am marked by my own mobility - moving from one country to another. To be a migrant is to embody and negotiate that constant feeling of finding one sense of belongingness. This could be hard work. There's always that push to determine one's position in our society, which processes often come with ambivalent experiences. And there's just that constant 'monitoring' of one's personal mobilities to feel part of a familiar environment. That feeling of permanent temporariness will never vanish.
So as I moved from airports, continents, public spaces, and even taking a ride through a car or a crowded public transport, I felt that one big wave of realisation. I was, at some point, just became so fascinated with how changes within myself and my environment could create such intense hunger for re-connection. I moved back home for a visit because I had to find a piece of myself. It's home. I want the imperfect. I wanted to experience the humidity. I was craving for that world that I used to embody. At the end of the day, I couldn't just move without anchoring myself to what will set as a foundation of my present and an understanding of my future. Everything is, and should be, connected. Movements will only work if there's that links or interconnections.
More than forging connections back home I was moved by what I saw, experienced and grappled with. As a migration scholar, I see movement as asymmetrical and even discursive. One's access to resources would definitely matter in the construction of journeys - on a physical and digital context. For some, spatial mobility could be deployed to achieve social mobility. But not all stories could contain sweet and mouth-watering endings. In the context of Philippine migration, spatial mobility among other migrants could also mean opening oneself to abuse and exploitation. Thanks to our government who has been serving the capitalists and local elites.
With reflexive thinking, I acknowledge my privilege position in our society. But I do not on allow myself to thrive on such terrain. There's always a sense of awakening triggered by what I see, hear and feel. In my recent vacation in my home country, social inequalities are performed and experienced in the streets. I saw the result of the asymmetrical access of the Filipinos to infrastructures. Everyday struggles were a staple for the majority. More than this, such unevenness in accessing and using infrastructures shapes the quality of movements - painful, forced, constrained, and even hellish. This made me think the stratification of mobilities. And I documented such realities in my diary.
I aim to write a journal article based on my auto-ethnography. Perhaps a conference paper can be developed too. In my work, diary writing was paired with visual methods. I was capturing moments. I was photographing objects. I was curating my own experiences while on the move - across spaces, I must say. It was hard work. I had to constantly reflect, in a very critical manner. Thinking about my experiences of home, identity formation, micro-mobilities, and many other themes warranted the management of feelings. And at some point, re-reading the entries and looking at my photos have been an emotional activity. I am moved by the memories. But at the same time, conflicting feelings disrupt everyday movements. One has to re-learn the familiar movements that have been set aside for quite sometime to accommodate routines and practices back home. Indeed, coping with homesickness also takes time.
I embody a mobile life. I moved from one country to another. I utilise digital communication technologies to sustain long distance relationships. My everyday life involves commuting, using digital media, walking, and all sorts of movements. They shape my identity, social mobility, and all other aspects of my life. But having a mobile life is resource-based. To ensure relationships work, so much time, energy and effort are needed. Indeed, a mobile life can also be filled with challenges. Conflicting feelings linger. One has to find a way to address such emotional ruptures. In a paradoxical world, I constantly juggle the incongruities of my choices in life.
Here are some of the titles of the entries that I wrote in my diary as part of my auto-ethnography.
(1) 4 years
(2) Sensing the familiar and unfamiliar
(4) Unexpected proximity
(6) Disruptive home-making
(8) Unstable identities
(10) On Philanthropy
(11) The sound of home
(13) On an express lane
(14) Driver's seat: sensing and experiencing
(15) Two and a heavy downpour
(16) Mediated travel
(18) Slow mobility
(19) Services and uneven infrastructures
(20) On partial im/mobility
(21) The sermon
(22) Food parks and consumption
(23) Road travel
(24) Mobile domesticity
(25) The neighborhood
(26) Street stories
(27) The visit
(30) Remote shopping
(31) The airport
(32) Familiar movements
(33) Residue of home
(34) An old territory, a new university
(35) Work on the move
Baby steps, I will work on my book project based on my PhD. It's a move that attempts to contribute in shaping conversations around 'stepping back', 'doing the work' and not just 'moving on' in the context of global migration. These movements generate different outcomes. More than this, one must not fear slowness and immobility for these moments allow critical reflections.
I am Dr Earvin Charles Cabalquinto. My research interests lie in the intersections of digital media, mobilities and migration.