By Katrina Tiu. Illustration by Armaine Yapyuco
I was almost two years old and the world was just beginning to form in front of my very eyes. Colors, shapes, and patterns were new and I couldn’t let go of anything I came to grasp. It was around this time that a Jollibee branch had opened up on our street—one of the first in my entire province. The red and white colored sign lit up the grays around it, and like moths to a flame, people swarmed to it.
I got my first taste of Chickenjoy before I even knew what exactly chicken was. After that, my parents were convinced of my future as a bird after I digested chicken after chicken.
I was six and in my first year of grade school. I was an unhealthy kid, always sleeping and claiming a spot in front of the television like a true couch potato. It was then when the now infamous commercial depicting first love aired over local news channels. It was also then when I realized I had to work in advertising and/or film. I had a connection with the product after years of almost daily Jollibee visits and here they were, stirring up emotions tied together with my favorite Chickenjoy. It was how they branded the feeling of going to the beloved fast food chain that made me want to do the same with everything else in the world.
I suddenly turned 16 and high school graduation was just around the corner. We were all young, naïve, and ready to take on the world.
Well, kind of.
It was around this time that an episode of Glee showed a scene where the main cast danced to a cover of “Safety Dance” (originally by Men in Hats) in a mall wherein our resident Filipino fastfood giant made a cameo in the background.
Social media and news outlets poured out over our homegrown outlet’s appearance in a world-renowned television show. Amazing as it was, a little sense of pride bubbled inside of me when I saw something that began as a simple burger stand transition into a multi-national corporation, breaking out on a global scale. It made branching out of my hometown and going all the way to Manila a little less scary.
If Jollibee can do it, I can do it.
I was 18 and my broke AF self was at that stage where subsisting on cheap meals and fastfood was the norm. Tired, almost expired, and near zombie-like, there was one place that became my safe haven when everything else proved too much.
I’d just gotten out of a final exam for a major class and I was busy trying to calculate how much I needed to survive this term. It dawned onto me that I had too much to worry about but not enough time; there were job applications, the remainder of my final requirements—plus I still hadn’t found a purpose in life. Before I collapsed out of exhaustion right there, I stopped by the nearest branch to fill my stomach so at least not all of me would remain empty and hopeless.
[pull_quote]I was bawling so much that the mascot, whoever the kind soul was behind it, took notice, came over, and gave me a hug. I’d been too busy to notice that I forgot how it felt to be young, innocent, and unburdened. And there it was, a small part of that time in my young life holding on to me and telling me it’ll be alright.[/pull_quote]
A children’s party had just finished when I pushed through the double glass doors. The iconic bee came strolling down the stairs. I hadn’t slept for days, so I was too cranky to care, pushing my way through all the children who came to greet him.
He was dancing the way a Jollibee mascot always seemed to do—a la Miley Cyrus twerking his way to freedom—to the overhead music while every child was going along with it. I have no idea why but at that point, the future started overwhelming me right then and there. I started tearing up. Apparently, I was bawling so much that the mascot, whoever the kind soul was behind it, took notice, came over, and gave me a hug. I’d been too busy to notice that I forgot how it felt to be young, innocent, and unburdened. And there it was, a small part of that time in my young life holding on to me and telling me it’ll be alright.
Jollibee, due to its prime location near my university, became a meeting place of sorts—for emergency org meetings, block lunches, and the occasional after-walwal stopover. It was here where we gushed over every crush, cried about losing said crush, and laughed over how ridiculous it was that we even gave a damn. The same booth at the branch where multiple papers were furiously crammed became the same booth where we took refuge as our school went through yet another bomb threat evacuation.
I turn 20 in a few months. It’s been about four years since I left my hometown for (not much) greener pastures. As clichéd as it may sound, I didn’t bring much with me aside from the clothes on my back and the will to live. The Bee was constant, however, through thick and thin.
But it’s enough, more than enough. Because no matter how old I get, I could still have something to hold on to wherever I go.
It’s the little things that make a home out of anything you want. It’s the temporary escape from work, the little part of your childhood that you allow to resurface every once in a while. It’s the people you’re with and the laughter you bring with them. It’s the memories, good or bad, that stick along with the crusted gravy that the busboys still haven’t wiped off the table.
I’ll be graduating in less than a year and it scares the wits out of me. But I’m ready. I’m ready to go at it, and I’m ready to be anything I can be.