Minsan sa may Kalayaan tayo’y nagkatagpuan
May mga sariling gimik at kanya-kanyang hangad sa buhay
Sa ilalim ng iisang bubong
Mga sikretong ibinubulong
Kahit na anong mangyari
Kahit na saan ka man patungo
[Once, on a Philippine highway we bumped into each other
Each with their own ambitions in life
Under the same roof
Secrets were whispered
Whatever happens to us
Wherever you may go]
Harvard and MIT hold a math competition for high schoolers called HMMT. Princeton’s version of this is called PUMAC. HMMT sends a contingent of roughly twenty or so people to PUMAC every year as volunteers, which in practice, is an excuse for Harvard and MIT students to hang out with their friends in Princeton for a weekend while getting travel subsidized. For me, the big reason I wanted to go to PUMAC was to meet a bunch of my friends in high school who were coming to compete.
We meet at Kendall Station at around 1:15 PM that Friday, two weeks ago. I’m travelling light, carrying only a backpack with a single change of clothes; others are rolling around suitcases. We would be travelling to Princeton in two groups. Our group has twelve or so people, the other has eight-ish. After a couple of people grab lunch from Chipotle, we take the T to South Station before boarding our bus to New York.
The bus ride was long. It was supposed to be around four or five hours, but the traffic was bad enough that it became more like seven. I had prepared for this and brought some entertainment on my laptop, but my battery was going to die and I realized I didn’t bring my charger with me. This didn’t turn out to be that bad, since hanging out with the other people from HMMT was fun. I think a couple people tried to not Go Fish, but Canadian Fish, the superior card game on the bus. We talked about lots of random stuff. It was okay, except for the fact that, you know, our bus was delayed by two hours and I was getting hungry.
We arrive at New York, eat dinner, and take a train to Princeton. As we arrive at Princeton, one of my Princeton friends, Michael, greets me. He was my host for that weekend. Their quad, in fact, was hosting four people that weekend. After dropping things in his room, we head to a math lounge in one of their buildings that looks like the Green Building, and play Castlefall and some random bluffing card games.
We make it back to the dorm at two or so in the morning, and I collapse in a couch at a lounge. This was, in fact, how their quad managed to host four people: through couches in lounges. I wake up early the next morning to volunteer, and my duties are over by lunch. I use lunchtime to look for my friends.
Most of the high school friends I knew who were competing I met through AoPS. A bunch of people from our PROMYS squad were there too, and I was really excited to see them. We had such a great time last summer, and I hadn’t seen them in three months. And each person I met, we hugged, and we said hi.
But suddenly, it felt like we didn’t have anything to talk about anymore. What was I going to ask them? What was there to talk about with them? It’s not as if I wanted to talk about the competition, or college apps, or whatever. I asked how they were doing, and what was up, and it was the same old. And that felt weird. I knew we were very good friends in PROMYS. I knew we hung out a lot with each other that summer, and that we had a really good time, but now, now what?
With each person I met, I quickly ended conversation, and ran off to somewhere else.
Ngunit ngayon kay bilis maglaho ng kahapon
Sana’y huwag kalimutan ang ating mga pinagsamahan
[But now, oh, how quickly yesterday disappears
I hope our friendship isn’t forgotten]
The rest of the day, I buried myself with more volunteering, since I didn’t really have anything better to do. After the competition ended, I went out to dinner with friends from HMMT at PJ’s, but with none of the friends I had from PROMYS, none of the friends I had who were in high school. And then I hung out with them for the rest of the night at Frist, talking and doing psets.
I think one of the weird things about HMMT is that the students who staff it are typically people who know they’ll help HMMT when they get to college. So what happens is that a lot of the freshmen involved already know each other from high school, having met each other through math competitions. I’m in the weird situation where I just happen to know a lot of these people because of interacting with them online on AoPS, but I don’t really have the shared experiences of competing with them and stuff.
I guess I could feel that, somehow, when I was hanging out with people that night. Everyone felt like they were catching up, like they were updating each other on what was happening, but I felt like I barely knew anyone. I mean, sure, it was fun to hang out with them, and play games with them, and talk to them about random stuff, but every once in a while there’d be a conversation topic that I couldn’t really relate to, and it’d feel just like I’d be staring in from the outside.
Which I guess wasn’t something I felt only with them. Pretty much the whole afternoon, when I kept on trying and trying to talk to my friends who were in high school, felt like that. They were there with their classmates, they were there with people whom they arranged to meet up with weeks before, whom they talk to every day, and all we had was two months together over summer. The feeling of hanging out with people who are closer to each other than they are to you isn’t new, not at all.
That night, I sleep in my host’s sleeping bag instead of the couch, since the lounge was occupied. The morning after, we board a train back to New York, eat lunch, and then take a bus ride back to Boston. The whole HMMT group occupied the entire back of a Greyhound bus, and the bus ride back was fun. Fun, too, in some sense.
Fun, but with reservations, because I had come to hang out with one set of friends, only to find out that we didn’t have that connection anymore. PUMAC was fun. It really was. Just not in the way I wanted it to be.
At kung sakaling gipitin ay laging iisipin na
Minsan tayo ay naging tunay na magkaibigan
[And if ever I’m in trouble, I’ll always think that
Once, we were truly friends]
One of my high school classmates sent me a message recently. He wanted to do a video call with me, so we did. We talked about what we were up to now, and about college. He asks me if I still keep up with our other classmates. I tell him that I don’t, not any more. That even during my gap year, it felt as if I couldn’t hang out with my classmates any more, because they were all in college. How every time I hung out with them, I felt isolated, in a sense, from not having the shared experience of being in college with them.
He tells me that I’m overthinking, and that I should just talk to people more. And he ended the call with wag mo kaming kalimutan.
Maybe it’s a Filipino thing, but there’s this cultural mores, this social convention, embodied in the sentence wag mo kaming kalimutan. It translates to don’t forget about us. It’s the kind of thing parents tell their kids, or the kind of thing teachers tell their students. It’s the kind of thing you tell someone who’s going abroad to work, or someone who’s going far away.
Always along the lines of, when you become successful, wag mo kaming kalimutan, ha? Or, when you become famous, wag mo kaming kalimutan, ha? Or when you become rich, or when you make it big, or when you’re in colege, or, when you’re far away. Wag mo kaming kalimutan. As if the action of being forgotten by your friends has happened so often to the Filipino that we feel the urge to say this.
Maybe it’s a Filipino thing to say that, but the underlying feelings feel very human. We don’t want to be forgotten by our friends. At the same time, I feel the inverse feeling too, all too strongly. I don’t want to forget about my friends either.
Sure, it’s not as if you forget that people exist. It’s not as if you forget who someone is. It might take a couple seconds before you can place a name to a face, but so? I can tell you stories about my friends, and all the memories I have with them. But that’s not what’s meant by wag mo kaming kalimutan, isn’t it? It’s more like a wish for a friendship to last, that you don’t grow more distant, that whatever relationship you have right now stays frozen in time, forever.
But when people are brought together through circumstance, and those circumstances change, then what?
Minsan ay parang wala nang bukas sa buhay natin
Inuman sa magdamag na para bang tayo’y mauubusan
Sa ilalim ng bilog na buwan
Mga tiyan nati’y walang laman
Ngunit kahit na walang pera
Ang bawat gabi’y anong saya
[Sometimes it feels that our lives have no tomorrow
Drinking all night as if we’d run out
Underneath the round moon
Our stomachs are empty
But even if we’re broke
Each night was filled with joy]
It makes me sad that in every stage of my life I’ve switched to completely different sets of friends. Through elementary, I had two really good friends, and we were so close we said we would be best friends forever. But we never talked after moving to middle school. From seventh through twelfth grade, I made a lot of friends at school and through math competitions in the Philippines. But now that I’m in college, the only one of these friends I talk to regularly is someone who studies in Harvard.
It feels weird when I talk to people and they mention their best friends, because a lot of people have that one friend that they’ve had for ten years or since childhood or for forever. I don’t. And sure, I know, the length of a relationship isn’t an indication of closeness, because you can be very close to people even after only being friends for a short term, but it’s definitely a factor, isn’t it? It’s definitely a factor if you could pull out a childhood memory with them when hanging out in a group.
A year ago, when I expressed these feelings to one of my friends, he told me that college is different. Because college is the place where people usually find the friends where they keep for the rest of their lives, he says. But it doesn’t make my fears go away. I’m scared that the friends I made here will only be friends here, and I think now I can explain why.
I have this very specific picture in my mind. I graduate from MIT. I go off to work somewhere, into software or finance or whatever random high-paying field that MIT graduates do. In my workplace, there are maybe two, three people I know from college. But we’re in different departments or something, so I barely see them. I live in an apartment with two or three roommates, and they’re cool, but we don’t really talk.
Then I move to a different job, because [insert high-paying job] doesn’t feel like the right fit. I make friends in my new job, and we eat out sometimes and play bowling sometimes. I have enough saved up that I have a small room to myself in some megacity. It’s not big, but I never liked having big rooms.
I’m in, say, a board game group that meets up regularly, but that’s all we do—board games every Tuesday night. I meet up with my friends from MIT every once in a while, and the sentiment is always I wish we had more time to hang out, but we’re on opposite sides of the country or we’re on opposite sides of the world or we’re too busy with work. I’m in a relationship with a great guy. Most nights, I spend alone, or with my boyfriend, cuddling on the couch while watching Netflix.
And it’ll be satisfying, sure. It’ll be satisfying, but all of my friend groups are suddenly smaller. It wouldn’t be like MIT, where I live in a floor with forty other people, where if I wanted to hang out with someone all I needed to do is sit in the lounge and wait, where I could play board games any time I wanted, where I was involved in three different clubs, where I spent evenings crying in front of people.
The circles become smaller, and smaller, until they disappear.
Minsan ay hindi ko na alam ang nangyayari
Kahit na anong gawin
Lahat ng bagay ay mayroong hangganan
Dahil ngayon tayo ay nilimot ng kahapon
Di na mapipilitang buhayin ang ating pinagsamahan
[Sometimes, I don’t know what’s happening
No matter what I do
Everything has an end
Because now, we’ve been forgotten by yesterday
Can’t force our friendship back to life]
I spent all of last weekend helping out for two thousand high school students come to MIT’s campus to take classes, mostly taught by MIT students, about literally anything—from astronomy to ancient art to abstract algebra which is a whole blog post in itself. Last Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, our floor had a Thanksgiving potluck. A friend and I cooked some deep-fried Filipino spring rolls The kitchen was filled with people that afternoon, all making something for dinner. It took us around three hours to fry all the lumpia, because we made a lot.
We pushed the tables in the lounge next to the kitchen together. I shouted across the floor that dinner as being served. We grab food. People compliment our cooking, which was surprising, given how sketchily we cooked. Three people, who used to live on our hall, were visiting, and ate dinner with us too.
We talked. One argument I remember was whether Komala, the Pokémon, was the koala or the log. After dinner, I was chatting with three other people: someone who grew up in the Philippines and California, whom I called ate, big sister; someone else from Singapore, and someone from Taiwan. We talked about life in the Philippines, jeepneys, mangoes, a vegetable, common in Southeast Asian cuisine, also known as water spinach and how shameful it was that I forgot what kangkong was called.
On Thanksgiving, a friend from Harvard and someone else I knew from PROMYS ate lunch with me at a Japanese barbecue place My friend had accumulated enough points on Gyu-Kaku that we got $25 off our meal, so we decided to splurge and do the eat-all-you-can. We were there for ninety minutes, gorging ourselves on barbecued beef and pork, talking about food, and the spring, and summer, and internships.
The same friend from Harvard hung out with me all afternoon in my room. He took me as a plus one to a Thanksgiving party with a few HMMT people. The host made us turkey and scallion pancakes and got us pumpkin pie. We played Codenames and Sleep Sort and BS Poker and Overcooked. We spent seven hours at his place before finally going home that night.
And I was tired. And I lie down. And as I fall asleep, I felt happy, thinking to myself, wow.
It feels good to have friends.
- a Philippine highway back to text ↑
- not Go Fish, but Canadian Fish, the superior card game back to text ↑
- two thousand high school students come to MIT’s campus to take classes, mostly taught by MIT students, about literally anything—from astronomy to ancient art to abstract algebra back to text ↑
- deep-fried Filipino spring rolls back to text ↑
- a vegetable, common in Southeast Asian cuisine, also known as water spinach back to text ↑
- a Japanese barbecue place back to text ↑