Snow in the Filipino psyche

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto - The Philippine Star

So when did I see my first snow? I was taking my MPhil in Publishing Studies at the University of Stirling in Scotland when I first experienced winter. I could have studied at King’s College at the University of London, but instead, I went to Scotland.

One night, I was listening to a rock band from Glasgow called Texas (yes) when I saw what looked like balls of cotton drifting down the sky. Down they fell, softly, silently, reminding me of James Joyce’s short story “The Dead.”

The morning after, the grass was gone, covered by an immense whiteness that hurt the eyes. Two Africans in our building ran out of their flats, with hands raised, looking at the gray sky. I pressed my face against the window and looked at them. One of them formed the word “snow” on his lips. They must have been so excited running down the hilly slope, such that one of them fell face down on the snow.

Then December, my sister who was working in Summit, New Jersey, wanted me to come over and visit her. It would be her first Christmas away, and she was homesick.  So I bought cheap return tickets, and on the plane, the pilot said we’d have a stopover in Gander.

“Where is that?” my Australian seatmate asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Then the pilot’s voice crackled again, and he said, “We’ll have a stopover in Newfoundland.”

And the Aussie again asked, “Where is that?”

“Canada,” I answered.

Over in Newfoundland, we were asked to disembark. When I looked outside, my jaw fell. There was nothing else in sight, except mile upon mile of snow. In the gloomy darkness, the airport lights looked like the points of pins. Wrapping my winter coat around me, I stood up and walked down the plane. The old couple beside me said, “Oh my, it’s so far away. We’re from Florida.” The couple on my left said, their nasal voices floating in the wind, said, “We’re from Texas.”

I couldn’t help it, so I butted in: “And I’m from the Philippines.” The old man from Texas said, “Oh, poor boy,” and then we all walked as briskly as we could.

At the airport I told the guard that I thought only penguins lived here. He said, “Aye, it’s cold, son, but this is only a mild winter.”

New York was worse. It was the coldest winter in 67 years. The Times said ten old people had already died in a home and, indeed, when my sister and I left Kennedy Airport, it was horrible. The wind-chill factor had made the temperature dip to below 45 degrees Centigrade. We ran and ran until we reached the car, but the Indian woman who was getting our parking ticket just smiled at us. Beneath her coat, her sari was resplendent.

A whirlwind trip it was. A week later, I was in Morgantown, West Virginia, to visit our other cousins. My aunt woke me up early on Christmas Day, dragged me to the living-room window, then said, “Look outside, Look! It’s a white Christmas.”

I remember all this because of the terrible winter that has gripped the American East Coast. I was last there in the year 2000, taking up graduate studies at Rutgers University on a Fulbright Fellowhip. When classes ended, I just flew straight home to Manila. I didn’t care if I had to disembark three or four times from New York to Manila, such were the cheap tickets I was able to find. But hey, I was home.

I also remember this because I saw again the film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York two weeks ago. The film is framed by a snowfall, within which was a film that ran the dangerous line between being cute and being violent.

When my students 20 years ago first told me about the ice skating rink in SM Megamall, I recalled the ice-skating rink in Stirling. I went there during my first week. The moment we entered the building, the “Third Worlders” among us just stood silently, letting the chilly air circulate in our lungs. Then we tried to skate. I’ve always been clumsy, and all I did was to fall. So I never went ice-falling again.

Thus, Mr. Henry Sy is only offering us a way to fulfill our colonial dreams. He only extends for us what some Filipinos have been doing all along: burdening our Christmas trees with snow dust, building houses in the Makati enclaves complete with a fireplace in the living room, walking around Baguio in their winter coats bought in thrift shops.

 Snow is beautiful and white, yes, but it is cold. I saw one old woman slip on a winding street in Stirling. We ran to her and she just lay there. Gingerly, we helped her to her feet. A Pinay doctor visiting us said the old woman must have been shocked, her mind fighting the fear that the fall must have broken her already-brittle bones.

Moreover, snow can be dirty, too, like the snow in D.C., the snow lying around the poor black people pitching makeshift tents in The Mall, warming their fingers with the heat coming from the grates of the many government buildings that surrounded them.

 Snow is beautiful but blinding. It can become a metaphor for the colonial condition: snow buries everything in its path, leaving in its wake desolation and death. We crave what we do not have; we turn something natural (snow) into something cultural (the ‘good life”/ the American Dream).

The 21st century will be seeing movements, migrations, exiles from the so-called outposts of civilization to its centers. But decolonization has debunked such a line of thinking. There is no center of civilization, just pockets. We should live our lives as stories that fuse past and present into a future that is ours, and nobody else’s.

Comments can be sent to [email protected] “Remoto Control” goes on air at Radyo 5 from 9-10:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, 92.3 News FM. Livestream at www.news5.com.ph


vuukle comment












  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with