Monday, September 11, 2006

Brooding in Bangkok

Friendly warning: In this blog post, I will make several allusions to my favorite Greek guy again, launch into yet another existentialist angst-ridden reflection, and bitch about my latest trip to Bangkok once more. Proceed at your own peril.

In Homer's classic Odyssey, Odysseus is a battle-weary man who yearns to reach the shores of his beloved Ithaca, where his faithful wife and stalwart son await his home-coming. This was the Odysseus I introduced to my students in my 2 years of teaching English, the Odysseus I came to know, admire and love. In Kazantzakis' modern sequel, Odysseus is a restless, ruthless warrior whose wanderlust drives him to heed the call of the sea, and the endless possibilities that lie beyond. This is the Odysseus I am getting to know, an Odysseus I am beginning to loathe, yet still regard with the same fascination. And this is also an Odysseus I can relate to, indeed perhaps more so than his former noble self.

In one of my more intellectual (read: nerdy) discussions with Maddy, I once surmised that my affinity with (and abnormal affection for) Homer's hero is rooted in my being Atenean. After all, Odysseus does fit the profile of your typical annoyingly cocky, fiercely loyal, my-Trojan-Horse-is-bigger-than-your-Trojan-Horse Atenean, and I can certainly relate (and be attracted) to that. But I didn't think I would be able to relate to the other Odysseus-- Kazantzakis' Odysseus-- until last week, while I was in Bangkok on another excruciating, grueling business trip. On September 7, ICA was celebrating Teachers Day, and I was several thousand miles away, suffering in Bangkok, bearing up under my mom's incessant nitpicking and deathly dull meetings with suppliers. To offset my negative energy, I splurged on international roaming charges by texting all the ICA teachers in my phone book to greet them (Fara called me "crazy" for doing so, but hey, it's the time-- and money-- you waste on your roses, right?). To my surprise, I received SMS greetings of my own from 3 former students (Tiff Hong, Kri and Cla: love and hugs!), wishing me a happy Teachers Day even if I'm no longer one officially, and thanking me for having been theirs.

The timing couldn't have been better... or worse, depending on how you look at it. I had been having a stressful time in Bangkok (I swear I can never fully enjoy the city ever again for as long as I live, work has totally ruined it for me), so stressful that for the very first time in the year and a half I've been helping with the family business, I seriously considered quitting (at one point, when I really felt like I was going to scream from sheer frustration, I even texted my dad that I wanted to resign). I was that tired, and that drained, and that sick of dealing with countless forms of mental, physical and psychological torture my job has been inflicting on me the past few weeks. So in that moment after I received the first text from Tiff, I felt my first real, so-real-you-can-almost-touch-it, pang of-- not regret, I sincerely do not regret making the decision to help my parents-- my first real pang of longing, longing for what I had left behind: being a teacher, living out my Personal Legend. And in that same moment, I suddenly understood with painful clarity why they call it a "calling"-- it's something that summons you so strongly, so insistently, that it's almost audible. In my case, I had already answered that summons, then chose to leave it and move on elsewhere, and I thought that had been enough. But that day in Bangkok-- ICA Teachers Day in Manila-- I heard the call again, crystal clear, tugging irresistibly at my heart.

Whenever people ask me why I stopped teaching, they usually follow the question with automatic assumptions of "Hirap no?" "The students were a pain in the neck, huh?" "The pay was too low, wasn't it?" And I always wish I had enough time to explain to them that no, I didn't care about the lousy salary because the rewards were unquantifiable, and far more valuable than money. And that no, my students were wonderful and sweet and smart and funny and I adored them. And that no, it wasn't difficult because I loved teaching, loved it more than anything I have ever done in my life, more than anything I will ever do in my life. I quit teaching for the only reason I would ever leave something-- or someone-- I love: my family. And that has always been a sufficient answer for me, even up to now, even as I am still hearing the bittersweet echoes of my true calling.

But the second question people usually ask, would I ever go back to teaching, that seems much more complicated to answer now. I know that for all my mom's aggravating tirades and ceaseless disparagement, what I am doing for our family business does not go by unappreciated. I also know that my dad is confident that I have what it takes to survive in this industry and run our business. But I just do not see myself doing this for the rest of my life. My mom herself said that I am not cut out to be an entrepreneur, I'm too much of an intellectual. And I suspect she more than anyone realizes that I gave up the one thing I am truly meant to be doing. The question remains, do I return to what I am meant to be doing, or do I give it up for good, ignoring the plaintive call that will always resound in my soul?

I probably won't quit tomorrow, nor next week (even if 2 of our brand managers will be on leave for several weeks, which means my workload will triple over the month), nor even next year. I may be AVP of our company for the next 2, 5, 10 years. My siblings may join me and reinforce our ranks, or they may stay out of the business, partially or completely. But one thing is for certain: regardless of how long I stay, regardless of how long I'll be doing this job I alternately enjoy and detest, someday I will return to where I really belong, living out my life's dream, fulfilling my purpose in this world, answering my true calling.

It's no wonder Odysseus headed back out to sea. And I won't stay anchored in Ithaca forever either.


At Tuesday, September 12, 2006, Blogger Sean said...

Funny thing... I was doing a bit of reading on a little science-fiction Japanese-French cartoon series loosely based on The Odyssey a while ago. It's not quite a classic, but more of an affectation from childhood...

Out of curiosity, what does your company do? What are your tasks as AVP?

At Tuesday, September 12, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

We're in garment retail (Arrow is one of our 6 brands). My parents started the company from the ground up, with no partners, so they're still very hands-on even as the business expands. Hence my tasks as AVP (heavy on the A, I always say :p) range from handling overseas correspondence to choosing fabrics to monitoring sales to conducting store visits to overseeing HR to dealing with mall administrators/department store managers. It's fast-paced, detail-oriented, exhausting stuff. I can't believe my parents have been doing this for 28 years and they're still pushing on (the thought of me doing this for the next 28 years is Barry-Manilow terrifying).

At Tuesday, September 12, 2006, Anonymous rachel said...

aww, too bad i wont be there when you return to teaching. i'll be glad to hear about it when you do though :)

At Tuesday, September 12, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Who knows, we may end up as colleagues if you decide to pursue teaching as well. :)

At Wednesday, September 13, 2006, Anonymous Achi Fan said...

I am proud of you for having made your true response to such a deeply rooted (and dare I say, "irresistible") calling.

Yan talaga ang paghihirap ng pagiging isang dugong-Tsino. Nauunawaan ko ang pinagdadaan mo. Ano ba ang mahalaga? Magsilbi sa iyong pamilya, o panindigan ang iyong mga pinaniniwalaan at pinanghahawakan sa buhay? Hindi ba dapat hindi ito magiging taliwas sa isa't isa? Ngunit, sadyang yan ang pagsubok sa ating mga dugong-Tsino.

Shifting back into English now... hehe pardon the Tagalog shift, there are some things I express better in Tagalog, strangely. Must be due to all the Pinoy-Philo classes in college haha!

I guess that will be the perennial struggle of Fil-Chi people of our generation - it's the Asian-Western struggle - group-centric (family) or independence (individuality)? And it is part of our day to day existence, something we grapple with, wrestle with, and through this process, we hope to come out stronger, wiser, hopefully more true to our innermost beings.

I definitely agree that the rewards of teaching is unquantifiable, immeasurable.

And I hope that one day, when time and circumstances permits, you will be able to make that same passionate, generous response to the call once again :)

Take care, Ailee!

At Wednesday, September 13, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Let me guess, you aced all your Philo classes no? :p

Thanks so much for the reassuring and encouraging words, Atsi Fan. I look forward to the day I'll be able to return to teaching, in the hopefully-not-so-distant-future (sana naman I'm not as old as Mrs.Ho by the time I make my comeback, diba? :p).

At Wednesday, September 13, 2006, Anonymous Laura said...

Miss Lim, if ever I get a side job, I have a feeling I'll be teaching. Maybe we'll be colleagues!

Early during this first semester, I felt the strangest temptation to become a C.L.E. teacher in ICA. I never knew Theology could be so--nerdy and fun. (I have a feeling I'm one of the few who got a good teacher in Theo121.)

At Thursday, September 14, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

It would be a privilege to teach alongside another Cabochan. :)

Interesting choice of subject though. Can I brainwash you into changing your mind? I think you'd make a fantastic English teacher, especially with your background in theater arts. Ms. Sia would be thrilled to have another Cabochan in her area. ;)

At Sunday, September 24, 2006, Blogger Elyse said...

Hey Ailee! How are you??? Nakakinis ka naman! Just when I am on mental block while working, I pause to check blogs...and nakakainis ka kasi needless to say, you can imagine too how I implatiently long to return where we belong, very often. I acknowledge that business is a practical need...There are times when I feel like a walking zombie...not as alive as when I'm allows me to breathe in the truest sense...I always feel I'm at my best kahit sa pag run lang ng reco sa ICA or while guiding sa CLC. and I often hate this country for not making it easy for teachers to survive!

Anyways, I think choosing to forever denounce one's calling will never do justice to our existence and why we were born...

Sino kaya sa atin una mag come back?:) Maybe a year from now, I plan to give back to my university first, tapos sa Ateneo...plan ko tlga mabalikan mga alma matter...then when i choose to really pursue the will be in my second home and wehre I grew ICA na yun :) That's my long term goal...

See you when I see you! Will officially launch the Language center on OCTOBER 14! Sana makapunta ka! pwede na ba? Btw, kung mga kai siaw pwede ka na ba? I'll see you sa Varie!

Take Care!

At Sunday, September 24, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

I don't know when I will be able to return to teaching, but when I do, I don't know if it will be at ICA again. You know how, um, restricted I felt there when it came to certain aspects of my teaching. But for now, it's too soon to tell. I'm just determined to keep my eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel, and hope that I reach it soon. :)

Congratulations in advanced on the opening of your language center! Unfortunately, I'm attending a student's 18th birthday dinner party that night... and that answers your question about whether I can attend social functions already. And yep, that includes blind dates, so kaisiao away! ;p

At Tuesday, September 26, 2006, Anonymous shirley said...

ailee! tinumbok mo mare ko! (pardon the jologs language! :) ) i felt quite nostalgic reading your blog coz i've been there. 12 years of being in business was enough for me to see that i wasn't meant for it. i survived those 12 years coz i pursued higher studies in between! that actually kept my sanity and gave me hope that i will have my "prison break" day! haha!

then i just had to tell my parents that i needed to pursue what i truly loved. to their disappointment, i wasn't referring to a man! :)

i am certain God will lead you to your true calling...and also open your family's heart to allow you, and even encourage you, to pursue your true mission!

God bless you, my dear Ailee!

At Wednesday, September 27, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

"then i just had to tell my parents that i needed to pursue what i truly loved. to their disappointment, i wasn't referring to a man!" -This cracked me up. Miss na kita Shirl. :)

Thanks a lot for the words of encouragement. I really appreciate everyone's support. The funny thing is, I brought this upon myself. I voluntarily resigned from teaching, thinking I could live out the rest of my life content with the knowledge that I had lived out my life's dream. I suppose it's not enough to have just done it for a while. If it's your mission on this earth, then it's something you're meant to be doing forever. I hope my return to teaching won't be after 12 years pa (I think I might go insane if I wait that long), and I also hope I'll get a chance to work under you, Ms. APFSA. ;) Just don't assign me to Culture Shack again, please! Gimme an English club naman! :p


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