This Side of Paradise

Like a little package from the sky, you are ribboned onto a paraglider, with half a kilometer of space before you hit the earth's surface. Up here, your view is dominated by a pair of legs, attached to a pair of shoes, blocking a faraway scenery of a tropical island, ringed with white sand and then the cobalt blue sea. For all you know you are a child in an incredibly high chair, your feet dangling in mid-air.

Of course, you don't fly alone. Behind you is Matte, an Ati pilot with kinky hair and skin as black as earth. When you turn your head around, all you can see are the white of his eyes and the white squares of his teeth. Matte doesn't smile, no. He grins, his lips stretching as wide as his face. "Boracay is different from this side up, yes?" he says. His English is sensible, butchered with the thick accent of Inati.

As the wind picks up at 25 km per hour, your tandem glider hovers over a kilometer of deep blue sea, separating Boracay Island from the larger island of Panay. Pumpboats ferry tourists across that strait below. Scattered around are tiny fishing boats shaped like rice grains. Matte snaps a finger at the islets on this strait, saying, "Those are Laurel Islands. The collective name of Crystal Cove Island and Crocodile Island. One is a stone-age park, the other a dive site." The islets look like jagged rocks hurled by a giant into the sea. "Have you tried diving here?" says Matte. You say, "No." "You know the movie Nemo? Lots of Nemo fish here, and sea snakes and sea urchins. Delicious!"

As you enter Boracay's territory, two cream-white beaches are fringed with coconut trees and flecked with more pumpboats. "Those are the jetty ports of Cagban and Tambisaan," he says. "Tambisaan is where we unload cargoes of vegetables and fish and shrimps and crabs from all over the Visayan Islands." Straight ahead, Boracay covers a little over a thousand hectares of land, shaped like a dog bone. Both ends are wide, hilly, and green. The island slopes down to a flat narrow center. Brown huts and low-lying houses with iron roofs pepper along the roads.

Matte points at a road thick with passenger motorcycles and tricycles. "That's the main road," he says. The main road loops around the island like a go-cart racetrack, interconnecting the island's three barangays. "Below is Barangay Manoc-Manoc," he says. "That's Barangay Balabag in the center, and Barangay Yapak up north." From the center of the island, either end is just 3.5 kilometers long and a fifteen-minute tricycle ride away.

Your pilot tugs a riser line and you drift across the commercial center of the island. Vegetation thins out down this neck. Coconut trees and tropical palms are pushed out to both sides of the island. "This here is D'Mall," Matte says. Moving under your feet are matchboxes of different sizes and colors, making up most of the 200 establishments, restaurants, bars, hotels, and resorts. A number of them have little blue puddles of water--swimming pools--with tiny people sunning beside them. Meanwhile, greenish murky water makes up the mangrove swamps at the east. "That's the Dead Forest," he says. "Salt water leaked from the sea and killed the trees." The swamps come together to a channel whose mouth opens into the Sibuyan Sea.

As you float over this neck of the island, you see the infamous four-kilometer stretch of talcum powder-white sand at the west. "Look, White Beach!" Matte pipes, but you know that already. The beach is sprinkled with ant-like humans, and dotted with shops, restaurants, and bars facing the Sulu Sea. Farther out, motorboats tug along, through an invisible string, tiny multicolored umbrellas--parasails--up in the air.

"Back when Boracay was our ancestral land," Matte says, "my grandmother used to tell me that a pirate ship heavy with gold and gems would dock over there." Through the thick sound of wind Matte says, "Girls as beautiful as Anne Curtis would step down from the ship and sing melodies that made fishermen crazy." Today, there is no pirate ship on the beach. The myth of the pirate ship died when the island became popular in the 70's. Instead of ships, White Beach is now littered with triangular sails puffy with the wind. "We call them 'paraw'," your guide says. "They're native to the Visayan Islands."

Opposite White Beach, on the other side of the island, lies a 2.5-kilometer strip of coarser white sand. "That's Bulabog," Matte says, "otherwise called 'the back beach'." While this side is often grim with seaweeds and docked with fishing boats, Bulabog is popular to itinerant adrenaline junkies, the seasonal kiteboarders and windsurfers. White Beach and Bulabog Beach are just two of the 14 beaches on the island. Clockwise from White Beach, Matte names the rest of the beaches: Diniwid, Balinghai, Punta Bunga, Bunyugan, Puka, Ilig-iligan, Lapus-lapus, Lugutan, Tulubhan, Tambisaan, Manoc-Manoc, and Cagban Beach.

Matte pulls the control lines and your glider swings over to the quiet northern hills of the island. Your eyes take in the cool shades of green: the lush vegetation of shrubs, wild vines, and trees. Your pilot pulls another handle, and you swerve to the northeast, almost kissing the highest point of the island. "It's a small zoo and a view deck," Matte says. "At 100 meters, Mt. Luho is really just a hill, not a mountain." After Mt. Luho are pretty manicured hills that comprise a 180-hectare 18 hole par 72 championship golf course.

As you near the northern end of Boracay, there lies the provincial idyll. Nipa huts peek out from the sprawling forest, whose ground reeks heavily of guano. Bat caves hide beneath a thick tangle of vines and trees at the northeastern part of the island. "The caves are the roosting ground of three species of bats in Boracay," he says. "The one that looks like a flying vampire dog, the endangered Golden-Crowned Flying Fox, is endemic to the Philippines." Later he adds, "Best meat on the island, this flying fox."

You reach the northernmost tip of island, where dreamy shores glimmer at you with a melancholic goodbye. "We are at the end of the trip!" the pilot says. "This is where we land, on Puka Beach." Waves roll on the beach and slam against limestone walls. As Matte tugs the brake lines and your glider swoops towards land, you hear the waves, you hear the water crashing, you hear the spray. Landing here, you hear the pulse of the island. Before you know it, you and Matte are running on the beach, the glider wing falling behind you like a giant jellyfish.

"You will fly again, yes?" Matte says. As he stuffs the deflated glider into a backpack, it strikes you how short he is. He could be under five feet. You remove your helmet and emergency parachute and say, "If you give me a discount maybe I will fly again." "Why don't you buy one of our gliders? It's used but cheap. Very sturdy!" "Oh I don't know if I can operate that in Sweden," you say. "I don't even know if I can operate it by myself!" "It's easy," Matte says. "I can teach you in three hours." "I'll think about it," you say. "If you leave me your address maybe I'll come visit you tomorrow." "About that," Matte says, zipping the backpack. "I don't have one. I rent a small room in an old red boat. Everything in this place has been sold to outsiders." "Tell me where it is anyway," you say. "I would like to visit an old red boat."

Instead, he hands you his calling card, with three mobile numbers, each under a different phone carrier. "I don't have a house. But I have three phones." He grins. All you see are the white of his eyes and the white squares of his teeth. "Text me," he says, "I'll teach you to fly. If you're tired of the beach, you can have Boracay sky." "Oh, I will, I will," you say. You tuck the card into your back pocket. "I would like to have a piece of this Boracay sky."

Later in the hotel shower, you catch yourself singing 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds', humming and whistling along lines that escape your memory.

// 06 Oct 2014

Black Hole in My Bellybutton

Finger exercise, born from a fourteen-year-old boy who dared me to write a short story with that title.

One morning, I woke up and found my bellybutton transformed into a black hole. For months I had felt the black hole inside my belly and thought I was just imagining it. It was a black hole of no return: everything that I tasted, sniffed, heard, read, watched, felt, all of them were vacuumed into a chasm. I felt nothing. Inside my skin there was nobody. I was empty.

It came as a relief that my intuition was right. There was nothing wrong with feeling empty; I was empty and continuously emptying. I'd always wake up with a hunger to consume, to swallow my meals whole, drink liquids and poisons in gulps, listen to music in blasts and orchestras, sniff every scent until drugged, read books in astronomic speeds, watch street and movie scenes until my eyes expire, masturbate myself nutty. The urge to consume gnawed at my very being. I was insatiable.

That morning, I found myself shirtless in bed. What was I wearing the previous night? It was a red shirt with a tribal art of a Tausug at the back. I woke with the cold from a downpour--the wet season had begun in the Philippines--and felt my belly instead of my shirt. When the downpour subsided, there remained a whooshing sound. In the beginning I thought it was the wind howling outside. Everywhere I took to hearing it, from the windows, the doors, the drain, the toilet, every hole in the house, I leaned my ear over and found the sound constant. It was everywhere. Even in the mop room, the doorless and windowless claustrophobia of the mop room, the sound was there. I bent over only to find out that the sound was coming from my belly. The sound was coming from my bellybutton.

Still shirtless, I groped for the bottom of that hole. There was none. My finger disappeared inside it. I consulted a mirror, and there before my eyes was a pitch-black hole, a speck of the universe that had always mystified me. Pretty soon, I was amused of putting things at the rim of my buttonhole. I watched in astonishment how paperclips lined up, as if by magnets, and disappeared inside. I lost all my pens and pencils to my bellybutton. Now my car keys disappeared too, and so did my house keys, my wallet, my IDs and ATMs and credit cards. Now I no longer had a spoon to eat with, a remote control to turn on the TV with, a zippo to light my cigarettes with, and shoes to walk on. It was incredible at first, and then I was furious. Everything that I possessed, eventually, my bellybutton sucked them all like spaghetti.

Cold and confused, I staggered outside, naked as the sun was naked on my skin. Everybody gawked at me. I tried to hail a cab but every driver wouldn't stop and just passed me by. So I did the remaining thing I was capable of doing. I ran. The soles of my feet hurt in the asphalt. I ran on the pedestrian lane when there was a pedestrian lane. I ran on the grass when there was grass. I ran on dirt when there was dirt. I ran along the road when there was nothing else to run on. People stared, hooted, honked, cursed. They called me names, they cursed my mother, my father, my past, my future, my imagined life inside and outside my skin. I reached the hospital in about an hour. My feet hurt, but were not bruised. I looked like I emerged from the rain, covered in sweat and pollution stains, my heart a shamanistic pulse inside my chest.

In the emergency room, I was a spectacle. Everybody's head turned to me and stared and laughed. There was a commotion. "I need to see a doctor," I told the very first nurse that walked by. "What seems to be the problem?" she said. "Seems?" I said. "Isn't it enough that I am naked in front of all these people without a choice?" She took a step back, almost frightened. Everyone was watching, anticipating the next words. "But why are you naked?" she said. "Is there any problem?" "Yes," I said, "I'm sorry I startled you. But it seems that I have a hole in my bellybutton." The noise in the room intensified. The nursed glanced at my bellybutton, at my face, and then at my bellybutton. "I'll just call a doctor," she said, bewildered, seemingly not knowing what to do.

Behind white curtains an ER doctor examined me. He was a large-eyed and large-lipped young man, chinless and double-chinned. "The nurse told me you have a hole in your bellybutton?" he began. "It isn't just any hole, doctor," I said. "It's a black hole that sucks things in." The doctor bent over and peered at my bellybutton. "Why don't I get you something to wear?" he said, disappeared, and came back with a hospital gown. I crawled into it. The doctor continued with a series of questions whose answers were already narrated above. Curious questions he had: "How do you feel?" "What's left of you?" "Why do you think it's [the black hole] there?" At the end of the examination, he was about to poke his finger into my bellybutton when I yelled, "Don't! Don't do it, doc. You will disappear and won't be able to come back!" The doctor referred me to a psychologist on the fourth floor.

"You might think I'm nuts," I told the psychologist before she had the chance to say anything, "but my bellybutton is a black hole." She smiled calmly and told me to take a seat. For the second time, I narrated the events that led to my running naked to the hospital. She chuckled and listened with rapt attention. "That's one hell of a story!" she said. "I thought so too," I said. She let me remove my hospital gown and lie on a couch. She bent over and looked into the black eye of my belly. "Looks fine to me," she said. I was confused. "Don't touch it, okay?" I said. She took a pen out from her breast pocket and poked my bellybutton. Before I knew it, the pen was gone and so was she. Sucked in like spaghetti. God, what have I done? I thought. Did I kill her? I felt like I had an incredible power to undo everything that God created.

I put the white gown back on and ran out the hospital building. I had no money, no possessions, no place to go. It was exhilarating to have nothing and yet be alive. Does my house still exist? I thought. It was a twenty-minute jeepney ride away, on the hilly outskirts of Davao City. I missed my house and the comforts of consumption. Then the hunger came back to me. I was starving. I went to the nearest possible place to eat, a buy-one-take-one burger joint. I ordered two cheesy mushroom burgers, two chili hotdogs with pickle relish, two chicken sandwiches, two large french fries, and a bottle of coke to wash them all down. "That will be P196," the attendant said, who secretly eyed me during the entire wolfing down ordeal. I flashed my naked belly at him and said, "Touch my bellybutton and see if my stomach is hard enough. If it's not, I'll eat some more." He poked it with a finger, and then he was gone. Sucked in like spaghetti like the psychiatrist several minutes before. I stepped inside the burger stand and raided the fridge. I could've fried myself in the tropical heat while cooking dozens of burgers and fries and kikiam and fishballs and squidballs and chickenballs. After the heavy meal, I closed down the stall and slept on the cramped floor. It was a sleep that gave me visions of marvelous futures. I didn't want to wake up.

The following day, I was awoken by a loud rap on the door. My eyelids flew open. It took me a split second to figure out where I was. I opened the door. It was a uniformed young girl with a sun visor and a bright purplish pink lipstick. By the casting of the shadows, it was probably noon. "Where is Naldo?" she demanded. "Who are you?" she said. Behind her were three brown boxes that had pictures of buns of bread. "I'm David," I said. "I'm afraid your friend is inside my belly." "You ate him?" she said. "No," I said. "He was sucked into my bellybutton." She laughed hysterically. She had one missing tooth at the back of her mouth. When her laughter died down, she slowly stepped away, eyeing my hospital gown. "Don't go," I said and then whispered, "Naldo is hiding behind the fridge." She tiptoed inside, towards the back of the humming machine, and frowned. When she looked at me I was already naked. I lunged at her and embraced her to my belly. She yelped and thrashed in my arms and was gone. Now I had three boxes of bread that could last me three nights and three days. My miserable existence continued as such. The only difference was that before, I only consumed things. Now I also consumed people. What difference does it make? I thought. People are made of things, aren't they?

Two weeks in, I began to stink. Inside my filthy hospital gown, my body reeked as far as I could be heard. I headed to Bankerohan River one late afternoon to wash myself and my dirty clothes, and maybe steal something to wear from someone's clothesline. The river was wide and brown from the silt that was washed down from the mountains. Farther off, its mouth disgorged its brown water into the blue ocean. I took my clothes off and jumped in the river. I was rubbing my skin with a smooth black stone when I noticed the water receding. The moment it reached my waist, the water surface was spiraling into a vortex before my eyes. My bellybutton was feeding on the brown river and its fish and garbage, a maelstrom that began to pull in the blue waters of the ocean. Frantically, I swam to the riverbank, crawled back into my soiled clothes, and ran away to anywhere, away from the river.

In one of my aimless prowls in the city, I heard the news from a TV in a Muslim eatery. The news spoke of persons missing tracelessly in Davao. The toll now hiked up to 62, mostly from small-time restaurants, cafeterias, dingy bars, convenience stores, and poverty-stricken households. Families disappeared overnight, and so did several of their belongings. Is this a mass exodus to the unknown? Is there an alien spaceship hovering in the sky? Is this God's way of punishing us? We'll be back for more after this commercial break. "Hey you," a busgirl said to me. "Get away from here." "Can you give me food?" I said. Slowly, her eyes began to glow with horror. She too disappeared that night.

In the weeks that followed, I grew restless and weary. Restaurants and eateries began to close down, and so did my sources of food. I became more creative, stealing nicer clothes from laundry shops, and raiding pawnshops and jewelry stores. People began to be alarmed of the escalating disappearances, which now raked up to 312. Residents started to ransack grocery stores, shut themselves in their homes, and waited for the evening news. "What is the sense to all this kidnapping spree?" one commentator said in a midnight TV discussion. "Whatever group is behind this, it made a mistake of taking those two Europeans." The news rippled in a shock wave around the globe, of the missing hundreds of Filipinos and of the missing two white men. Embassies published red alert warnings against traveling to Mindanao. Philippine soil gained the reputation of creeping with discord, violence, mass murders, and unbridled corruption. God, what have I done? I thought. Not only do I consume people. I alter the destinies of nations.

Nausea fell over me. I began to get sick in the stomach. Clutching my belly, I teetered my way to Bankerohan River, where moonshine glimmered in the blackness of the water surface. There I disgorged torrents of water, fish, garbage, more garbage and things, and then hundreds of bodies. The water whooshed, spiraling outward in a maelstrom as it had once been sucked in. Surprised by their sudden gushing out of my belly, my victims flailed and screamed and tried to keep afloat among the discarded things that bobbed on the water surface. Some managed to swim to the riverbank, while some drifted helplessly to the bottom of the water. In the midst of it all I waited for the survivors to pounce on me, to flog me with smooth black stones and reduce me to pulp. Instead, they walked off in glimmering wet clothes, leaving drips of water towards the many places where I had once found them and consumed them. Without waiting for them to find me, I jumped in the river, almost expecting the water to recede. It didn't. I swam on my back and closed my eyes, trying to wipe away memories of my bellybutton and the black hole from my life. When I opened my eyes, there was the view of the night sky, the full moon shining perfectly round and perfectly bright. I still had no money, no possession, no place to go. But I was alive, and that made all the difference.

// 15 Jun 2014

My Love Affair with a Monster

I am in love with a monster and his name is Manila. When you first see him from the airport window, don't judge him by his bad posture, his bad manners, his ugly tattoo. Don't judge him by his round potbelly, the dirty fingernails, the grimy hair brushed back into a ponytail. Don't judge the monster by the way he looks. Beneath his filth and stink he never fails to crack me a smile.

The monster is a chain-smoker, sucking on diesel, and belching pollution. Every morning, a thick blanket of smog rises among his skyscrapers of glass and concrete, shielding the metropolis in a drowsy gray haze. Congested with 12 million people, Manila wakes up early in this kind of morning, demanding buttered pandesal, instant coffee, and Fortune cigarettes.

Without brushing his teeth, his tongue is a thick carpet of the unthinkable. Animal innards find their way in iffy food stalls among the mouths of his city streets. Grilled pig intestines, pig's blood, chicken heads, chicken feet, fried chicks, boiled duck eggs with dead embryos--they make me cringe but not as much as want for more: I crave them.

But when he begins talking, his American English is almost perfect, his native tongue colored with Spanish profanity. Puñeta. His struggles with his American father may have brought him pots of gold: the legions of call centers rising on top of the global wi-jacking industry. But his battles with his Spanish mother carved him the scars of bitter history: the 400-year-old ruins in Intramuros, the bomb craters in the ghost town of Corregidor.

Down his throat and into his potbelly is the weight of decades-worth of beer drinking. Drugged with cheap liquor, cheap cigarettes, and cheap prostitutes, this monster is chasing after diseases. But the beer: they come in different flavors, with varying shades of malt, always ice cold, always satiating my thirst against the dizzying spells of the tropical heat. He knows my weakness is in a bottle of beer on nights I can't sleep.

Tattooed on his left arm is a bad needleprint of the thorned Jesus. His idolatry for Christianity sends him into an annual frenzy of 10 million souls grappling for a touch, a brush, of the Black Nazarene. His churches are immortal, rebuilt over and over after wars, earthquakes, floods. They never fail to rise again. One of them, the gothic San Sebastian Church, is built entirely of steel. If only he could show me the same devotion, I wouldn't have to leave him again.

I always leave him, I never fail to leave him. Because he reeks. It's a disgrace that his armpits are bridled with 42 truckloads of garbage every day. They are jammed with plastic bags, polystyrene, cigarette butts, soiled diapers, unpaired shoes, food wastes of comparative woozy smells you can taste them in your teeth. Take a hike to the shady wastelands of Tondo, Payatas, or Navotas. See for yourself.

But the horror lies not in his garbage dumps. The horror lies in the monsoon rains, when his canals are choked with junk, he drowns in his own flood at least two-floors deep. I saw Manila for what he really is, this naked Manila. With your eyes shut tight, just the smell would send you packing and leaving and never looking back. But I come back, I always come back. I always come back to this monster.

Every time I do, he licks his lips and combs his gray-white hair into the roots of his ponytail. He could be getting old. His legions of aging, ponytailed men in Chinatown and Divisoria scuttle with corrugated boxes on their shoulders, heavy with China-made wares, fabrics, dried fruits, dried fish, faux branded clothing, and disposable gadgetry that will soon swamp city markets in a breeze. I hate the monstrosity of his China-driven economy, but I like the new Blackberry.

But Manila isn't entirely a monster. Look at his hands and you will see the hands of an artist. His hands are vampire-white, clammy with sweat, and green with thick veins. Not only are his hands good at touching shadows, he's good at driving my hunger for art. Libraries, galleries, and museums are tucked in his nape, behind his ears, on the folds of his knees, in between his toes. You may not find them, but they're there.

His hands are the force behind the brush strokes in the National Museum's Spoliarium by Juan Luna, the hand-carved dolls in Ayala Museum's Dioramas, the polished ivory of the Metropolitan Museum's Sleeping Santo Niño, and the naked Cordillera idols in Marikina's Ethnology Museum. I feel his hands in the scene cuts of the yearly Cinemalaya's indie films; in the gestures of dance performers at the Cultural Center of the Philippines; in the pained strums of the guitar among short-lived Filipino bands; in the line breaks of manilacentric poets writ and abandoned in moldy libraries' anthologies; in the spontaneous spraypaints of graffiti worms boring through the cracked walls of broken-down buildings; in the abortive MMDA street murals; in cagey pedestrian fences, the hypercolored metal overpasses, the quivering a cappella of blind children in a Quiapo underpass. Quite impossibly, I cannot appreciate his beauty if it not for his beastly deformities.

Beyond his hands, his athletic feet are avatars of strength and courage. When I see the monster dressed in traffic jams, slum networks, beggardry, and long lines of garbage trucks, I also see the knight leading the Philippine Revolution against the tyranny of Mother Spain. I see him carved in stone in Luneta, the sprawling urban park dedicated to that amateur novelist and national hero, Jose Rizal.

It is this intellectual, Rizal, that lights up the fire in my monster's eyes and strikes me with some sense of intimacy. Manila's freedom began with a writer. And like The Oblation throwing himself naked to his country, Rizal welcomed Spain's gunshot behind his head. With his death, he sealed his destiny as a pop culture icon. Exploring Manila without seeing Rizal is not the same.

But I am not in love with a hero. I am in love with a monster. He is a monster with an orange cyclops eye sinking in the horizon of Manila Bay, watching me, one among his 12 million love affairs in the city. Perhaps if I leave him again, I will leave him for good. After all, he is my springboard to other love affairs in the Philippines--its lonesome islands, its hostile ridges, its ghostly Hispanic fortresses. When I leave him, I might as well love again with abandon. But if this monster ever dares to claim me back, he can call on me, his libertine mistress, his monstrous monstress.

// 26 Apr 2014

Her Bones, Marvelously White

Slides 1 to 3: Skull X-Rays

Here, this is her skull, collapsed in one cheek, bridged with cold gray metal. Examine the large forehead, the hollowed eyes, the clenched teeth. On top of the cranium, almost imperceptible, are markings of self-inflicted stab wounds. This skull belongs to a girl who tried to escape the limitations of her body.

Slides 4 to 6: Chest X-Rays

This is her rib cage, enclosing the apparitions of her heart and lungs. No broken bones here, except for other stab marks on the heart area. The ribs blocked the blows to the heart during a time when the girl wanted to empty the blood from her body. Heart normal, lungs normal, besides a few tar masses from a decade and a half of cigarette smoking.

Slides 7 to 9: Pelvis X-Rays

This is her hip bone, protecting the ghostly ventricles of her ovaries. The pelvis has slightly widened, after a miscarriage from an unwanted pregnancy. No child has been formed since. Prior that, infertility, hormonal imbalance, chemical imbalance. Girl has been prescribed with various sorts of drugs since 12 years old.

Slides 10 to 12: Legs and Feet X-Rays

Tears on the cartilage from running and mountain climbing. Girl experimented with the limits of space, pushing to the farthest and the highest peak the body could go. The experiment failed, however. The body, she says, isn't mobile enough a vessel for travel. She adds, The body is incapable of flight, except through imagination.

Slides 13 to 15: Notable Scars and Tattoos

Scar tissues from self-burning, three tattoos from adolescence, other scar tissues due to absentmindedness. Girl continues to collide with her surroundings. No body, no collision, she says. One day, she promises, one day she will rip herself out her body and spend an eternity marveling at everyone else's marvelous bones.

// 20 Jul 2013

The Big Blank House

Our vision is concrete: it begins with a house.

With whatever funding we will generate, we will build a house. This is not just an ordinary house. This is a special one. It's called The Big Blank House. It is a house that will provide free accommodation to traveling writers, artists, and photographers. It is a house that, in the beginning, will be blank and white as a sheet of paper and bare as a canvas, save for a few furniture. It will be pure and innocent as a newborn child. That is, in the beginning.

Each traveler staying here will leave behind a travel-inspired piece of art. It may be a short story, a painting, a poem, a sculpture, or a photograph. It may be something as simple and useful as a blanket or a pillow. It may be something as big, heavy, and intricately designed as a bookshelf. It can be anything, anything at all, as long as it's crafted with the traveler's own hands.

Scribbled somewhere on that piece of art is the traveler's name and country, the date it was made, and the place that inspired it. The traveler may also choose to leave it blank and anonymous. The anonymous object may bear no name and date, but it will flood a handful of other travelers with memories about the person who made it.

The traveler will create it with passion, and may carry the thing with him wherever he goes as a work in progress. The finished product will be a physical evidence that others can see, smell, and touch. By the end of his stay, he will leave it on a wall, on a table, on the floor, or stick it to the ceiling. It will be a physical evidence that the traveler was there once, so briefly, but now no more. His last day will be as sad as a funeral, and all the travelers currently staying in the house will witness it, remember the object and the memories associated with it, and grieve.

With each traveler and each piece of art installed, the house will grow, evolve, and transform into something else: the house will become a home. A warm one, with many cozy rooms, cozy beds, cozy couches, and a nice, cozy living room. "Cozy" will be written all over it. And it's the only word that will strike you on your first visit.

During the day, the house will have wide open windows, overlooking an impossibly blue sea. At night, it will have the lingering smell of freshly brewed coffee. It will have homemade beer, the good company of artists, and a small organic garden, which the travelers will tend to in the morning to soothe another terrible hangover. The walls of the house will listen to these strangers' endless adventures and misadventures, and even the dull stories in between. The walls will listen to every word, every whisper, every idle moment, every ticking silence, and they will listen quietly.

With all the stories stored in its walls, this home will become a character itself, suffused with the celebration of freedom, creativity, life. Like the pure and innocent newborn, we'll nurture this house and dress it with hand-knit clothes. We'll watch it grow and take its first few steps into becoming a living museum. It will keep on growing. It will keep on changing. Changing into something better, something more beautiful with each passing day, that, in due time, no amount of money can ever buy. When once it was a Big Blank House, in the future it will be the complete opposite. Everybody else will wonder why it's called that way, and the house will tell its own story. It will tell its story of how it was built. It will tell its story with every little object and scribble inside it.

Above all, it will be a home that will cleave an impression on every visitor, that will shake you, that will move you, that will make you cry, that will make you bleed, that will make you want to die, because you will believe that life is short; it will pass and you'll be gone. That, like traveling to this house, you will be here once, so briefly and traceless as the flight of a bird, and then, in one blink, you will be no more. And yet short as life is, you can turn it into one colossal adventure if you only go, create, and inspire.

This piece is just a short story. It's a very, very short story that you can finish reading while drinking a cup of coffee. It's a story of imagination and a story of creation. Soon, it will be a story that will inspire like a wildfire; just like the wildfire that we witnessed in one of the deadliest mountains in the country, Mt. Sicapoo: a bright orange glow in the middle of a mountain range's silhouette, against a starry, starry night.

For now, this remains a vision, a promise, something you can keep in a corner of your heart. And then one day, we will start this fire, you and I. It will kindle this vision and piece together the wide, empty lot, the blocks of concrete, the planks of wood, people flying in to build and help. Soon, oh so soon, so soon it's just right there when you wake up: tomorrow, this story will be The Big Blank House, text morphed into form, a real house that you can enter and run around in and live in and be happy.

But you say, Oh, this is just a daydream. Oh, what a fantasy. But when one day you come around a bend, find this curious museum barely remembering its name, and you encounter this text on a wall, you will say, Now I remember. I have read this when it was just a dream. You will walk around the house and say, This feels so real I thought that dream was mine. And it is yours. It has always been yours as it has always been mine. Pure potential, indestructible, a fire that we are starting together as you read this and dream of growing. A fire that will start other fires. It begins with our vision: it begins with our house.

// 23 Mar 2013