Returning to the sun was not all sunshine and warmth. It seems transitioning is not a sudden turn but a gradual bend in current realities. I may have been regaining my mental health, and feeling energy returning, but many questions remained about what my new reality was. Emily was receding into my past, though still much in my thoughts, Carmen had occupied a growing presence in my life though doubt remained, but my mind was on the pamangkin. I was still living with my hair on fire it seemed, and I was okay with that. Really?
Carmen survived her solo trip to Osaka and after a tense hour we found each other in Kansai International Airport, or perhaps more accurately, she found me. She surprised herself that she could negotiate her own way through Immigration and the baggage hall – she and the Japanese staff had enough English between them that she got through to the exit and found me looking for her. Genevieve had been right. And Carmen was self-rewarded when she found herself guiding an octogenarian Filipino couple who only spoke Tagalog.
We had five days to see Osaka and around, and yet visit with the pamangkin as well; she had sent me many internet links to possible sights; one of those things was to visit the ancient Royal City of Kyoto, just a short train trip from Osaka, complete with samurai and geisha. Apparently robed Geishas serving high tea in Kyoto was a must. I was excited with her imagination as a tour guide. My mind wondered. Carmen had no particular interest in the sights; I think she just wanted to see her pamangkin and then get to Canada, the biggest adventure of all.
Genevieve was not able to meet us at the airport as I had hoped; we were on our own that first evening. We had no trouble finding a taxi and giving instructions to the driver to the Monterey Hotel, an hour’s drive into the city. The Monterey is an upscale hotel, a classic European style building even though located in the historic part of Osaka, almost opposite the famous 16thcentury Osaka Castle. I had asked Genevieve to pick a hotel close to where she lived but she recommended this one, familiar to her because it is very close to the Philippines embassy, though she may have had other reasons.
We checked in and asked whether there was a restaurant nearby, given the lateness of the hour, around 10:00. We found a traditional Japanese pub just around the corner. What was fascinating to me about it was the busy nearby table with about a dozen office workers living it up, the flamboyant boss leading the parade of mostly younger colleagues, surprisingly, some of whom were women. I wondered what their respective spouses thought of these late office hours. Karoshi indeed.
Genevieve arrived at our hotel the next day, about three hours later than we expected. It seems she lives a long way from our hotel and she traveled by train carrying two heavy bags filled with clothes for Carmen. I told her next time to take a taxi, I would pay. But taxis are expensive in Osaka, as is almost everything else; I struggled to make a quick calculation converting Japanese yen to Canadian dollars: the taxi cost 14000 Yen, about $170 CDN!.
Despite months of email correspondence Genevieve was still largely a woman of mystery. I had discovered in earlier email that she currently had limited income, living in a small apartment with her 18-year old son, many years separated from her Japanese husband. I wasn’t able to establish how she had managed to support herself in her years on her own, and still send significant monthly allowances home to The Philippines, the classic pattern of every Filipina working overseas. She said she used to run a piano bar in Osaka. Until a year ago she had had an Australian boyfriend for a number of years, had even lived in an upscale suites hotel in Manila for two and a half years, but something had changed and she was now on her own. She was going to need me to cover her expenses if we were to see much of her in Osaka. Seeing the pamangkinwas going to cost me a lot of money. And, maybe a lot more than that.
She is beautiful, at least as beautiful as her pictures, and looking much younger than her 49 years. She had long flowing bronzy brown hair with golden highlights, not the usual straight black of everyday Filipinos. Her eyes are large and round, her cheeks are raised and her nose is straight, not the tiny nose and flat face of a typical Filipina. And her smile was dazzling. She is short and her figure was lost in a big flowing jacket and scarf. But she wore very tight white pants with a prominent bum displayed. I knew at once she was wearing falsies and wondered why she felt the need to display herself this way.
Despite our resolve to hide the relationship that had developed between us in our months of pen-palling, the chemistry seemed obvious to me. It seemed obvious to Carmen too.
We had lunch at the upscale French restaurant in The Monterey, Genevieve was completely at home. We went shopping at the nearby mall, mostly looking for supplies to replenish Carmen’s small business stock of beauty products and diet supplements. I smiled at the interaction between the tita and the pamangkin, Genebebe, (Carmen’s endearing mispronunciation of Genevieve’s name); they were clearly used to this sort of collaboration. Friday saw Carmen and I touring Osaka on our own in an open-roof tour bus, struggling a bit to communicate with each other, and with our many Japanese helpers. I found myself looking forward to seeing Genebebe, and not just for her Japanese skills. Even so, confusing thoughts filled my mind.
The next day Genevieve arrived with yet another couple of big bags of clothes and baubles for her Tita, including a ¾ length mink coat! I exclaimed that we would never be able to take all these things back to Canada with us. And why the mink coat? ‘Tita will need something warm to wear in Canada,’ she said her eyes sparkling. ‘But this coat is expensive, Genevieve!’ ‘No problem,’ she said, ‘I have four more just like it,’ she said matter-of-factly. My face must have had questions all over it. She replied, ‘they are from my fans.’ We bought another suitcase.
Genevieve had brought son Yu along and we four explored the 16thcentury Osaka Castlewith its imposing walls and moat. We finished the day with a multi-course meal at the Chinese restaurant in the Monterey Hotel. Yu, like most eighteen year-old males I suppose, was a bottomless pit, but I wondered vaguely at the silent mother as the bill got steeper and steeper. Carmen grew quieter as the day came to an end and we put Genevieve and Yu in a cab for home with another 15000 Yen.
Sunday was our last day in Osaka and it was now apparent that we were not going to make the trip to sacred Kyoto. Instead we three found ourselves atop the Osaka Horukas tower 60th floor observation deck. The views were thrilling and the conviviality was soul satisfying. I found myself thinking of the journey I had been on, was still on, and could hardly believe it had brought me to this. I wondered if Marlene would approve. But I knew I was living life so much more vigourously than only six long months previously. I found myself holding Carmen’s hand in gratitude, and not to leave her out, I also grasped the pamangkin’s hand. Carmen withdrew hers.
We were flying to frosty Toronto the next day but the frost was already here in Osaka. I thought of what Carmen and I would face in the next six months. But I was also struggling to reconcile my feelings for Genevieve, and even to reconcile my feelings of cognitive dissonance.
Genevieve had been living yet another version of the Filipina OFW story. She was not a trained nurse now working in a Texas hospital. She was not an accountant now working as a nanny or housecleaner in Canada. She was not a Domestic Worker indentured in some 37thstory apartment in Hong Kong. She was a ‘nightclub performer’ in Japan, and she certainly had the looks of one who must be highly successful. Everybody in the Philippines knows what that means, though Carmen seemed oblivious, as did Genevieve’s family back in Cavite who benefited monthly from her Western Union transfers. This had included the increasingly desperate Tita Carmen. But all that had stopped.
Something must have happened last fall. The monthly transfers stopped coming. But as is so typical of the Philippines, the real story was never told. As I pieced together bits of what Genebebe had told me in the previous months, it seemed very doubtful to me that her Australian boyfriend being hospitalized with a heart condition was the whole story.
And, she gradually revealed to me, she had a mysterious illness. What would happen next for them all?
Life’s harsh realities hit me hard. I was forced to confront my own values as I recalibrated my view of this beautiful young woman.
Carmen was recalibrating her relationship with her favourite pamangkintoo, but in her case, it was pure jealousy and cold rivalry. I had known I was likely to stir up problems in my life’s detour through Osaka but I had not expected this.