I always thought my eyes looked strange on my face.
Nothing else about me appears characteristically Asian; my thin brown hair, my Mediterranean nose and my olive skin tone could fool anyone into thinking I am some form of Southern European.
The building stood, as it had for over two centuries, on Isla de Convalecencia, a small island within the Pasig River on the eastern edge of the city.
Down a shaded path of malaanonan trees, I arrived at a large brick archway where a small woman waited for me.
Every summer vacation, my parents and I go to visit my grandmother. She not only showed me my father’s pictures when he was young but also narrated many funny incidents about my father and his friends.
Her house is very beautiful and it is located in the middle of the town. This time when we went to meet her, I found her lovely garden full of beautiful flowers. We stayed with her for a week, and each day she cooked something special for us. At night I slept in my grandmother’s room, and she told me lovely stories. But although she lost family, friends, her country and her home, my grandmother survived.After the war, she left the Philippines and never returned. I found myself wondering more about her, her parents, the nuns and her siblings. I traveled to Manila for the first time last year, during the summer after my sophomore year of college.I thought about immigration, about assimilation, and how they require sacrificing certain aspects of heritage in order to embrace the customs of a new and different home.But it is not easy to forget roots that have been planted in faraway places.This was all I had of my grandmother — vague memories and pieces of her life strung together in a fairy tale narrative that could no longer discern between fact and fiction. I stayed with my cousins, the children and grandchildren of my grandmother’s siblings, who, like my grandmother, had passed away years before.Manila looked different than the way my father’s stories had described it. The Japanese had burned nearly everything during the war, and most of the city’s historical monuments, old churches and Spanish buildings were gone, their remains buried beneath paved concrete roads. On a day when the monsoons did not swallow Manila’s streets, I went to El Hospicio de San Jose, the orphanage where my grandmother once lived.I could almost feel the dust multiplying around me, collecting on old books, photographs and chipped statues of patron saints, the way winter’s first snow blankets the grass.In the far corner of the room stood something that looked like a round mailbox with a doll inside. “Where mothers would leave their children for us.” To the right was a stack of papers filled with scribbled writing.I opened the book and flipped to C, hoping to find her there, Belén Calma De la Rosa. It was naïve to think I could find any remnants of my grandmother here; history had been turned to ashes by Japanese flames long ago. All my life I thought my grandmother was orphaned at the age of 8.But as I ran my finger across the pages of the index, the faded parchment smooth beneath my skin, I realized the entries were organized by first name. This was the first anyone in my family had heard of her being in the orphanage before then. I stared at it and thought about the last time she was here.