Sunday, July 3, 2016

Living Leyte People Features: Irma M. Tan, a Taclobanon More Than Anything Else

“My roots helped shape the person that I am.”
                                            ~ Irma M. Tan

“My roots helped shape the person that I am.” These words still trail my auditory canals long after my interview with one of Tacloban’s soft spoken and loyal daughters named Irma M. Tan. As she celebrates her 50th year in life, Irma culminates the entry towards her golden years where she’s at home and where she belongs. Despite taking up residency in the United States for 26 years and working as a registered nurse in the same amount of time, one can truly feel up that Irma would rather be a Taclobanon more than anything else.

LL : What was it like when you were growing up here in Leyte?
IMT: Life was so simple then, we had a very carefree attitude, it’s just like living life; we enjoyed each day, napaka simple. But I am sure that nowadays, it’s different than when I was growing up. There are more people, streets are narrower, there are more cars definitely. You have to go out of your way to meet the people you grew up with. Everybody is busy, you have to make an appointment with them. When I come home I mostly meet up with my classmates from high school like Jo Marie, Aurorita, Gerema and some classmates from elementary and high school, cousins and family who reside locally.

LL: I remember when you were growing up in our school, you were our school’s version of Sharon Cuneta because you did resemble her.
IMT: Haha! Well that’s very flattering, I wish I had her financial success.
LL: Yeah, don’t we all?

LL: How has living in the United States change you as a person?
IMT: Oh yes, there’s the initial shock when you get there. There is the part where you adjust with the people. I have resided in the United States for the last 26 years and it may have changed me… in terms of how I deal with poor ethics and… you know, some other things, but, my heart will always be here. That’s something I can attest to. I may have a blue passport but…
LL: Your heart has a red passport?
IMT: No, I think it’s Burgundy now.
IMT: Well there’s no place like Tacloban and that’s the point I always like to explain to my two sons. Because they always ask me, “Mom,why do you have to go to the Philippines every year when you can vacation to Europe or the Caribbean? I explain to them that, it’s hard for them to understand the feeling, because they didn’t establish their roots here.
LL: How old are they?
IMT: My oldest some will be turning 23 in December and my youngest is 17.
LL: None of them are married?
IMT: No.  My son just graduated last May from New York University (NYU) for Bachelors of Science in Nursing.
LL: Why did he go to NYU?
IMT: Because that’s where he got accepted. He wanted to go to UCLA but UCLA turned him down.
LL: NYU is not bad, their roster of alumni include, Angelina Jolie, Spike Lee…
IMT: Alec Baldwin, Billy Crystal…
LL: See… And your youngest son?
IMT: My youngest son will be a 12th grader, he's going to be a senior in high school.

LL: Can you talk about age comfortably?
IMT: My age?
LL: Yes.
IMT: Oh yes, I am fifty, I am proud to be fifty, so blessed to reach this age, because I know people, acquaintances who were not lucky to have reached this age.
LL: That is true.
IMT: So, I have no problem disclosing my age. At work, they kinda find it hard to believe that I am fifty. One of the surgeons asked me for my ID because he didn’t believe it. so I showed it to him, even after I did so, he still didn’t believe it.
LL: Which department do you work in? Surgery?
IMT: I work in Trauma ICU.
LL: Wow! That’s impressive. Would you say you were a born nurse? Is it your vocation?
IMT: I think that to be a nurse you should have a level of calling early on and I believe I have that calling.
LL: Well if an occupation like nursing is a vocation, people do things that are beyond...
IMT: Yes, you do beyond that what is called for. It’s a tough job, it’s not for everybody but it’s a very fulfilling job, at the end of the day, you know you’ve made a difference in someone’s life, that’s the reward you get, knowing that you have made a difference in someone else’s life.
LL: Will you always be a nurse?
IMT: I have 15 more years to continue being a nurse. Hopefully, I will get to enjoy the rewards of my retirement.

LL: If you weren’t a nurse, what would you be doing?
IMT: I wanted to be stewardess when I was young. I love to fly and go places, that was one profession that I wanted to go to. But when I finished high school that was something that kinda drifted away.

LL: What place or destination would you like to go to which you haven’t gone to yet?
IMT: Travel destination?
LL: Yes.
IMT: I’d like to go to the Fiji Islands. That’s my dream designation.
LL: Are you going to buy a house in Fiji?
IMT: No, just vacation.
LL: It would be easy for you to go to Fiji, you’re in the west coast!
IMT: Not really, it will take probably 8 - 10 hours from L.A.
LL: When will you do that you think?
IMT: You never know, may be next year.
LL: I thought that for your fiftieth you would gift yourself that?
IMT: Well, it’s just a nice feeling coming home here, to celebrate my 50th birthday and it’s a milestone, I have always planned to celebrate it here. My birthday is actually in January but the whole of 2016 is a whole year for me to celebrate turning 50! I always wanted to celebrate it here with old friends… most of my family, because in the US I pretty much just celebrate it with my immediate family and maybe a few close friends.

LL: If you could change something about your life what would it be?
IMT: Let me think…
IMT: I would say I wish I would have more time to spend here in Tacloban, because when you come back here, usually, your time is limited to 2 weeks. I wish I had more time to do things that allow me to give back to the Tacloban community. Although, by being active in our association, the Association of Taclobanons in Southern California, you know, I think that’s the closest that I can give back.
LL: Yes, it is a big help, for instance this Medical Mission next week on Monday and Tuesday.
IMT: Yes, this is the closest thing to giving back to the community that we can do. It’s a big legacy which the Taclobanons have created, I hope to be able to continue that legacy… Going back to the question, I always think that when I take a trip coming here, it’s not enough time and I have to pinch myself and ask, “Was I really here in Tacloban? or was it only a dream?” When you are here, the days go by so fast.
LL: What’s your average vacation time, like 2 weeks each time?
IMT: Yes, 2 weeks, there are so many places I’d like to go to like Palawan, Ilocos but I have no time. Maybe I can do that when I retire?
LL: You don’t think that from between now and when you retire you can’t take say, 6 months off?
IMT: No, that’s impossible. I will lose my job.
LL: But there are other jobs? Although if you’ve been there for long now, you have good tenure and benefits. How long have you been in this hospital?
IMT: I have been in this one health system for the last 26 years. I already have up to 4 weeks per year of vacation but because I work in a unionized hospital I cannot take all the vacation time off for one month during the season. Perhaps on a month like October where it’s not busy, maybe I can take all the 4 weeks then.
LL: Then you can have 4 days of that whole month where you don’t do anything. Just stare at the beach..
IMT: Yes, no cell phone, just take nature in.

LL: OK, this is the last question I have. Who is the person history that you’d like to meet and talk to whether living or deceased?
LL: I know who it is, Michael Jackson?
IMT: Let me think… I would pick JFK (President John Fitzgerald Kennedy).
LL: JFK, that’s a good choice. Why JFK?
IMT: Because he is an iconic president and it’s so sad that his life was cut short at the time when the situation of the world’s peace was in a balance. He continues to amaze me. Whenever I get a chance, they show documentaries about him, I make it a point to watch, he’s been dead about 53 years now. 
LL: Yes, in 1963. Who do you think killed him?
IMT: There are a lot of theories, as a matter of fact, my son who loves to discuss about JFK with me, told me that in 2018, all the classified records will be disclosed about his death.  They already revealed some with the Warren Commission.
LL: I can see the fascination because his death remains unsolved, here he is, a president of the United States yet the reason behind his assassination is still a mystery.
IMT: And Lyndon Johnson taking oath in the place right away, that’s kinda fishy to me.  
LL: Where did you get this information that said records will be disclosed?
IMT: There was an official statement. It’s a mystery because many people who were alive during that time were killed or are dead already. It’s like a mystery movie. I am also a fan of Matt Damon you see, Jason Bourne. I like movies like that.
LL: I personally think that it’s not just one organization that did him in because the decisions that he was making during that time would have changed the landscape of the entire world.
IMT: Yes, and it would have an effect on all the future generations.

LL: Is there anything you think I forgot to ask you?
IMT: It’s always good to be here, to come back. Each and every time I come home, I feel like it’s the first time. I come home every year, it’s always the same feeling when you come down the plane on the tarmac, it always feels good to me when my feet touches the ground of Tacloban soil. When the pilot announces that final descent, it’s exciting. Last year when I came home, it was the first time I’ve been back since Yolanda, I videoed it in my phone - that descent (to Tacloban), and when I get home sick I play it on my phone. I have heard some people say, “Oh, there’s nothing new there (in Tacloban), but for me, I feel like it’s always my first time every time I come home.”
LL: Wow. You really are a true daughter of Tacloban, of Leyte.
IMT, Yes. Even if we don’t have a house here anymore, I still feel this is my home. I have taught my children to “mag a-amin,” they call older people “tito,” “tita.” They know a lot of Filipino values. My roots helped shape the person that I am.

When I met up with Irma at Rosevenil’s restaurant in Burgos St. during breakfast I saw a familiar face that put a smile to my face. Admittedly, she is no stranger to me as she is a very close friend of my sister. While I have always found her to be genial, our conversation during the interview revealed more than just the good friend my sister has; this time, I found this woman stripped of the frivolities of life, filled with insight and quite the woman in full who is the very definition of a beautiful Leyteña inside and out. 

Don't forget to check out 10 Questions W/ Irma at You tube! 



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