Is one of very few people whose existence on earth has practically stopped my husband Robert from running all the way back to the Philippines after almost a year of living in Canada.
Living in a new country hasn’t been easy, and continues to be an emotional challenge for myself, and even more so for the hubby, who enjoyed great prestige and status back home, as well as the warm company of like-minded Filipino friends.
So making like-minded friends hasn’t been easy around here.
For many weeks after he started working at a large retail chain over here, he couldn’t say enough good things about Sky. “Sky helped me with the till.” “We get along so well.” “Sky is also into photography and watches.” “The managers wanted to separate us but we. just.couldn’t. stop. talking.”
At first, I was happy that he’d found a kindred spirit. After a while, though, I started seething with jealousy. Who the hell was this woman? What did she even look like?
So one morning, I woke up and gave my husband the cold treatment. Scratching his head, he asked what was wrong. Tearfully, I gave him a piece of my mind.
He started laughing. “Lalaki ‘yun uy!”
A few days later, I came home from work to find a long-haired Chinese guy in black sitting in our dining room, having drinks and food that Robert had prepared. He had tattoos on his arms and legs, conveying a strength that complemented his otherwise delicate features. He conversed with Robert so easily and casually, as though they’d known each other for decades. (Well, it also helps that Robert is a wonderful conversationalist and makes everyone feel instantly at ease).
“So you’re the one my husband is having a ‘bromance’ with!” I exclaimed. In hindsight, I believe I may have shocked him a little bit. Imagine meeting some crazy woman for the first time and hearing those words!
Sky then gave me a shy smile and quickly invited us to his house to meet his wife and two kids, which we promptly did about a week later. Our creative lives are almost parallel: his wife is an illustrator but creates her art only for herself and her family, so we are very lucky to have seen it for ourselves. They have two kids – lovely daughters who look like twins but were in fact born 16 months apart and quickly turning out to be as astute and creative as their talented parents. In other aspects, Sky’s family has been blessed with certain other advantages, but when you live in a socialist society, what you are matter so much more than what you have.
I was so happy to experience a new culture so casually and so pleasantly: over food. No one in Binondo, Chinatown ever told me about the quiguo ji chicken cooked in a Yunnan steampot; and nobody in China ever told Sky about our adobong manok, whose ingredients are surprisingly easy to source here (there is, in fact, a Filipino section at Walmart, and a chain of Filipino restaurants serving Pampanga cuisine two train stations away). Nobody told us how good everything tasted when washed down with either a couple of Canadian-brewed beers or Chinese black tea.
Sky is proud of his slow-cooked chicken, the flavors that emanate from the very thing itself, with no help from any other ingredient except the steam from a meaningful clay pot. Robert is proud of his adobo, cooked very fast and keeping a long time even without refrigeration in a warm place. Meanwhile, I am just proud to be there on an empty stomach, happily eating away at their offerings.
Next come the fine details: the strict residency requirements in China that forbid a couple from one province to have their babies in another; the fact that there are also dog-eaters in the Philippines; that Seiko watches are cool; and that a Filipino and a Chinese can be brothers to each other if they really want to.
There are three popular currencies in the world: money, prestige, and kindness. Among the three, kindness is actually NOT the easiest thing to give. True kindness requires sustained attention, which in turn requires a lot of time and energy to give. Let me just say that Sky is very kind – the kind of man that stays.
Some nights ago, Robert had him over, and they had some drinks at our balcony. As I served the boys some pica-pica (read: the day’s leftovers re-heated and plated nicely for presentation haha), Sky stood up to make room for me, insisting that I join them. I was then able to look at him more closely: hair tied loosely in a bun, a silver-gelded black earring on one ear, wearing an all-black ensemble that set off the yellow-tinged paleness of his skin, making his tattoos stand out. He is East and West all at once.
As the night unfolded, I learned a little more about our new friend’s worldview, how he’d rather think about framing a shot first than just shooting without thinking like many photographers are doing these days. He has studied his art very deeply, even going so far as to study in New York, become a member of an edgy street photography club, and turn photography into both his living and vocation. Occasionally, he gives Robert some of his photos, and Robert does the same (the photo you see on this post is from Sky; it hangs on an easel in our living room).
Sky has chosen to care about every single detail than leave anything to chance. I emphasize the word “chosen” because caring for anyone or anything is also a choice. Caring can actually bring you to places you never imagined existed. He chose to care about a colleague, and as a result, acquired a great friendship. Such a powerful currency he uses! Because what is kindness but simply an attention paid to some neglected detail? The thoughtful compliment – the words carefully arranged on a page – a photograph with elements staged to elicit a certain emotion: these are the things that make you go: oh, this person noticed something different. This person is going after a certain effect. This person is paying attention.
This person is being terribly kind.
Such a great blessing for us to have a new friend named after something so timeless and omnipresent.
Happy to meet you, Sky.