My dad moved from Spain to the Philippines in 1974 with my mom. The first job he landed in the Philippines was as the general manager of Pines Hotel in Baguio, so a year after I was born, we moved up to Baguio and lived there for about five years. I was always at the hotel all day, every day; riding the coaster bus from the hotel to the airport to pick up guests. I’d hold up the sign saying: Pines Hotel.
I think I have a picture from my ninth birthday, holding a birthday cake surrounded by Playboy Bunnies. Those were the days of the Stargazer Disco, the Playboy Club, the wild Manila of the ‘80s. (I was too young though, so I missed the fun part.) We lived at the Silahis International Hotel, an important hotel along Roxas Boulevard at the time. This was around the time of the EDSA Revolution; I remember seeing gunships circling the US Embassy, and that in the lobby of the Silahis were members of the press—it was the first time I became aware of photojournalists. Years later, one of the photographers I was mentoring under told me he had been at the Silahis Hotel during the EDSA Revolution, at the same time I was there as a 10-year-old. He remembers the hotel well—he remembers the Playboy Club, specifically.
My memories of home are more closely linked to the cities I have lived in; in the familiarity of the streets, the food, the sounds.
Being the child of the general manager at a hotel, you have special rules to follow: You can’t go down to have breakfast in shorts and slippers. You always have to be dressed well and live up to the standards of the hotel when you leave the room. Your home is only that residence. We were brought up to always remember that we were an extension of the GM. There’s nothing worse than a guest complaining, ‘Hey, who’s this ten-year-old boy running around the pool and shouting with a beer in his hand?’ and them finding out that’s the GM’s son or daughter. You had to be extra behaved.
I remember being about 14 or 15, and coming home in a cab after spending a night with friends. The next morning, my dad would sit down and open the night manager’s log—everything in a hotel is logged, all the movements of everybody. He’d open the log and say, “Hey, I saw you came home at 3am in taxi plate xx. You took elevator 5 to our floor, and your friends stayed until 5am before taking taxi xx home.” You can’t really get away with anything.
It didn’t frustrate me at the time, it was just the way it is. I know families where it was the complete opposite: The kids—my friends—had a hard time moving around and dealing with the lack of a home, or missing home, wherever that may be. But for us, moving around wasn’t particularly stressful. It had less to do with me and more with my parents, because my mom and dad always presented it as a new adventure. Yes you lose friends, and yes you break up with your girlfriend, and that sucks, but we were included in a lot of the decisions. They’d say, ‘Hey, what do you think of this house? Where do you want to go to school? What do you think of this school?’ It was always an exploration for us.
We became very good at packing. There was a time when we were moving every year or two, so sometimes stuff just never left the box. One of the first things my parents would do when we moved to a new neighborhood, before the boxes arrived, would be to find the best local street food nearby, whether it was Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore (Singapore was easy). That’s how we’d explore the city. There’s a Sunday ritual that my dad would always do: we’d all have breakfast together, and it would have to be at a street food place.
And, because he’s in the business of running hotels, lunch would be at one of the five star hotels in the area, as part of his sort of market research to figure out what the restaurants are like. He always presented it that way, like food was a gateway into a culture. Your attitude to food is linked with your attitude to culture in general, and so we always had to try everything once. We also tried not to compare places, because when you hold a new city to the standards of the last one, the new one will always be disappointing.
So I don’t have [the typical] memories of home. We don’t have a home that we go back to; hotel rooms would kinda meld into one room. That’s always been the way it is. As a hotelier, you don’t get days off on the holiday—obviously—so our Christmases and New Years were always spent in a hotel lobby, at a hotel restaurant, with my dad who was working. My dad was friends with other GMs who had kids, and we’d hang out with them. In one day, we’d be hanging out at the Marco Polo with one friend, have dinner, go for a swim, and the next day be at the Shangri-la with another friend—it sounds really posh, but it’s our version of going to a friend’s house. We didn’t have anywhere else to go.
While the space feels familiar, it’s not like visiting your Lola’s house, where things stay the same.
We really enjoyed it when friends would invite us to their homes and have a home-cooked meal. The menus in hotels are designed for about a two-week shelf life. After two weeks, the buffet repeats, and after two weeks you’ve eaten everything on the restaurant menu, really. So the food gets pretty boring. That’s also why we ate out pretty often.
A lot of the properties we lived in no longer exist: the Pines Hotel in Baguio is now an SM. The Silahis on Roxas Blvd sits abandoned. Batulao in Tagaytay is a golf club. It’s always a disorienting experience, revisiting some of the hotels I lived in, because [most of] these hotels have undergone a renovation or the staff have rotated out. So while the space feels familiar, it’s not like visiting your Lola’s house, where things stay the same.
If anything, it emphasizes how temporal the idea of home can be: Some people’s memories of home are tied to a street, a structure, a friend, a neighbor. But as a third culture kid who grew up in other areas, you feel a different sense of home in different places. When I moved back to Bangkok for a year, I felt at home, but in a different way. Same goes for KL and London. The memories of home, or the idea of home, aren’t locked into one physical place or multiple physical places for me. It’s more a specific confluence of time and space, and once those elements have changed, the feeling of a place being home changes.
More than the hotels themselves, I suspect my memories of home are more closely linked to the cities I have lived in; in the familiarity of the streets, the food, the sounds. Traveling for a living was a natural evolution, really. You get hooked on the idea of being a stranger in a strange place; that you’re lost and you don’t know anybody. The anonymity and sense of unknown is enjoyable. You don’t know what’s around the corner, or what you’re gonna do tomorrow.
This story was originally published in GRID Vol. 01.