|Photo from here.|
The day I stopped being Che
Thirteen months ago. It was an 8-hour flight. Hated it. The small space, nothing to do but watch a movie, read or sleep. But I survived! It was by far the longest flight I’ve taken. I was dehydrated, sleepy when I went through immigration. Easy breezy. No questions.
As soon as I had to take the connecting flight to another state, I knew I was out of my comfort zone. I spoke English but they can’t understand what I was saying. I either got a this-is-an-Asian-who-can’t-speak-English-look or a ‘can you say that again.’ I was an excellent English speaker back home. But I realised, I knew Filipino English, not British English. After that, I thought I only had to work on my accent. As it turns out, I had to alter my name too.
I was Che all my life. A very common name back home that people actually remember. But not here. I introduce myself and tell them they can call me ‘Che.” After a couple of hours, I suddenly became Cheryl, Cherry, Cher and Chey. It is difficult for most of the people I meet to say Che` (may impit sa dulo).
As the days went along, I realised that people can’t say correctly, much less remember, my name. It’s very tiring to keep on saying and spelling it. Imagine me saying this line over and over again: 'My name is Cherrilyn, but you can call me Che. You know, like Che Guevara.' Then one smart man advised me, ‘Why don’t you change your name to something easier to remember?' That was the day I became a fruit, err, Cherry.
For some this may seem very trivial, but ever since I can remember, I am Che. I can’t describe it but it was hard for me to give up this nickname. I have several Filipino friends here who still call me this, with the proper intonation. It’s just that with a new job, this new nick would make my life easier and for those who are around me. Which leads me to another not-so-related topic.
I’ve been driving back home for more than a decade. My Dad taught my sister and I at an early legal age because he wanted to be free from driving us to and from places in late high school and college. Upon arriving here, I applied for a driver’s license.
It was no surprise that I had to start from scratch. After all, they drive on opposite side of the road (right-hand drive). I thought I could nail the driving test, but I was so wrong. Everything I can possibly do wrong, I did. As a basic lesson, my driving instructor told me, 'Do not forget, MSH.' M stands for mirrors, S for signal and H for headcheck.
Headcheck what? What in the world is a headcheck? Well, it is (literally) turning your head over your shoulders, just for a second, to look in the direction of your turn or lane change. This is to cover the blind spots in driving. When I was learning to drive, my Dad would slap my hand when I do this. He always said, ‘Use your mirrors.' I believe it is safe to say the NO ONE headchecks in the Philippines.
So imagine my exasperation when mirrors are not enough but I had to do headchecks too. I can only sigh. So I go to bed at night dreading my second driving test and dreaming about MSH.
My old confident, self-driving Che is suddenly replaced by Cherry, an anxious student driver having to think about mirrors, signals, headcheck and speed limits. My Dad would flip out when he sees how I drive here.
Starting a new life in foreign land isn’t easy. But I found it easier when you adapt, little by little, without losing who you really are. I mean, changing my nickname is something that I won't lose a sleep over. I don’t mind since it is just another derivative of my full name. But the accent, I am not ready yet. Because I am afraid that once I start changing my accent, people will stop asking where I am from. I don’t want that to happen because I want them to ask where I am from. Then, I'd be proud in answering that I am from the Philippines and I am a Filipino.