by Kiko Matsing
A Photo Essay
Parañaque City (2011)
In 2011, I came home to the Philippines for four months, while in between jobs, and had the chance to photograph our house that had burned down in 2004. It was the house where my siblings and I grew up in; the first house my parents bought when they moved out of my grandparent’s in Pasig City. It was then a new housing development for young families looking for a promising start in life, and aptly named Better Living Subdivision.
It was a quiet, tightly knit professional-class community. My sister and I, only a year and a half apart, hung out with the neighborhood kids, playing hide-and-seek in the still numerous vacant lots, until they were longer vacant. By the time I was in high school, and began hanging out with schoolmates instead, I hardly noticed there was one house after another on our street, and gates that used to be freely open were shut close.
My grandmother, escaping the bustle of the city, bought the property adjacent to us, where we could share a gate. My mother eventually bought the lot behind us, when my sister got married, and built her and her husband a two story house on it. It was while my sister’s house was being built that our old house burned down.
It started on the south side of the house, in the dirty kitchen, but quickly spread to the north end, where my room was. Once the fire reached the wood of the roof–the structure that connected all the rooms–the house was as good as gone. I was at work when it happened, so that even if my room was the one last hit by the flames, all my stuff was lost. No one in the mad dash thought to save–of all things–books.
When I came home seven years after the the house burned down, seven years after I had left for America, the house stood just as it was the day after the fire. After all the rubble was cleared, the walls had still smoldered with heat. It was noon. I was standing with my camera in the living room, shaded by those same charred walls from a November sun that shone bright after a week of torrential rain. I was trying to figure out where things were: where my room was, where the piano we never played once stood, where my father’s office was that provided us a livelihood. It was disorienting. The fire had changed what was once familiar to the strange. It was the same space, but also utterly different.
Mops; Cabinet Doors
Clothes Line #2
Scrap Metal and Glass
Jars and Bottles
Door Frame; Jalousies
AC Unit #2
Master Bedroom; Office
Hallway; Stack Chair
Seven years bad luck?
I think we are still reeling from the fire. It did not just raze our home, it also marked the dwindling of our family fortunes that took us time to recover from. We are still unable to raise something new from its ashes, let alone clear the ghostly space. But in the end, the fire only destroyed property. My parents moved in with my sister, in her house that they built, and slowly established a new means of living. It is now the home her own daughter knows.
Our house burned down just as I was leaving for America, that I came over almost literally with just the clothes on my back, and thus the move became for me a more profound break with my country and with my past. When I took these pictures, it was the first time I had really gone home since I left, and by then half my heart had already gone for good. I have lived in many places, but this house is where in my deepest memory I go home to. And now, it only abides in memory.