unpacking 2: directionally challenged

I am learning to live with the unfortunate (and sometimes embarrassing) fact that I am directionally challenged. For some reason, I can’t seem to orient myself in space very well. Lest you think I’m hopelessly disoriented, let me be quick to add that most times I have no problem with Left and Right, Up and Down. It’s North, South, East, West—and all the degrees in between—that make this head spin.

As a freshman at UP Diliman, it took me a total of five trips to SM North EDSA before I could comfortably locate National Book Store. If I need to commute to a new place, I require a detailed vicinity sketch with as many landmarks as possible. When a taxi driver asks me which route I’d like to take, chances are I’d be clueless and just resort to saying, “EDSA na lang, manong.” LRT? Please tell me exactly how many stations I would pass before my stop.

But given time—don’t ask exactly how long—the direction wheels in my head do turn for the better, and an accurate mental map is eventually drawn.

Then came the opportunity to travel to the US. Now this directionally-challenged creature who has barely managed to survive the labyrinth of Metro Manila thoroughfares (after living here for ten years ) would have to take on foreign space. Quite a stretch for my obtuse internal compass. Gulp.

But I was off to a good start. Preparing for the trip, I had successfully oriented myself with basic US mainland geography—with surprising ease, I am proud to add. East Coast, Mid-West, West Coast… chicken feed. In just half-a-day of scrutinizing a photocopied map and after several Google searches, I could readily pinpoint the cities included in my itinerary. Bravo!

The next challenge: airports! I had been forewarned by officemates who had traveled abroad before that the airports in the States are huge compared to the domestic ones I’m used to. Hearing this created a knot in my stomach. I suddenly felt the urge to run to my computer and frantically download the maps (preferrably color-coded) of the more than ten airports in my itinerary. But I never got to downloading the maps—whether because of bold faith, habitual procrastination, or sheer time constraint, I’m not sure. So how did I survive the airports? Thankfully, I can read signs and am able to accurately follow arrows. Oh, I have never been more thankful for arrows! I breezed through the airport walkways, my confidence being built each time I readily located my concourse and departure gate. This must be how Dorothy et al felt skipping and singing while following the yellow brick road to Oz!

I could only wish there were more arrows outside the aiports. Fast forward to the last stop of my US trip: The Big Apple. Always too sheepish and cautious to brandish a map in the open, I rely heavily on signage and my meager sense of direction. But then again, even with a map and detailed directions, I still manage to get lost or make wrong turns. It’s almost a talent. So it was nothing short of genius when I decided to not even attempt following the phoned-in instructions of my NY hosts Gelo and Cathy to take a certain-numbered bus at some corner and get off at so-and-so avenue; that was supposed to bring me to their lab at NYU, where they both work as researchers. I muttered yeses and okays on the cellphone, but I internally labored to process the information. In the end though, after a few hours of roaming Manhattan on foot (which was absolutely fun), I found myself in the NY Public Library making a phone call to Gelo and Cathy, “pleading” to be fetchedsomewhere close by instead of me taking the subway or bus…

(Been staring at cursor way too long, typing some and then holding down backspace key… Writing about having a warped sense of direction has somehow affected the direction of this piece. I have lost my train of thought! so I’ll pause for now to gather my bearings and then close this piece neatly soon. Sorry.)

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