1. I'm in Los Angeles for a week, foregoing all the touristy things such as hitting up the Hollywood sign, going down Rodeo Drive, et al.
2. But my friend Alex asks, "You've been to Jollibee though, right?"
3. I screech loudly.
4. After looking it up on Google, I make plans to feast at the branch on Beverly and Vermont.
5. I chuckle to myself that a Filipino fast food restaurant is on a road named after a state in New England that probably has very few Filipinos.
6. Then I remember that I might have extended family in Bennington, so my previous point is moot.
7. So I wait.
8. And I starve.
9. The afternoon oozes by, like the Jollibee gravy I dream of drizzling over hills and hills of white rice.
10. At the office, I attempt to quell my stomach with Milanos, Goldfish, and coffee.
11. I cannot be satiated.
12. I am insatiable.
13. I chew on the cords of my headphones.
14. I begin to hallucinate.
15. I start to smell the greasy limpish fries, the steam wafting off the rice, the crispy skin of Chickenjoy meals that await.
16. I nearly lose it.
17. I manage to keep it together.
18. But not without whispering-cum-chanting to myself, in a trance-like state, as my ancestors have done before me: Isa pa. Isa pa. Isa pang Chickenjoy.
19. The clock strikes six.
20. IT'S TIME.
21. I make the pilgrimage down Beverly Boulevard by car.
22. But the traffic is terrible.
23. And it's been a while since I've been in an automobile.
24. I get a little carsick at the stop-and-go nature of LA roads.
25. My head gets woozy.
26. My stomach turns.
27. I get nauseous.
28. Therefore, I panic.
29. Fearing that my weak constitution might hinder my attempt to gorge myself on chicken and gravy and rice.
30. So I concentrate on the task at hand.
31. I imagine the warm and tender drumsticks that await on Vermont and Beverly.
32. The salty goodness of the Filipino french fries.
33. And the sweet and cold halo-halo.
34. Success. My mind is focused, my intentions clear.
35. As I approach my intended destination, I learn I'm actually in LA's Koreatown.
36. But between all the Korean signage, I spot a hair salon with a sign in Tagalog.
37. It says, "Pamilya tayo dito."
38. Though I know what it means, I say it aloud in English anyway. "We're family here."
39. In the front window of the Filipino hair salon is a poster of Filipino actor and model Diether Ocampo.
40. I rediscover a different hunger altogether.
41. But I step out of the car and onto the parking lot.
42. And I spot another familiar face, an old friend.
43. We hug.
44. I am near tears.
45. We take a selfie.
46. I step into the Jollibee and my olfactory hallucinations become reality at last.
47. I meet smiling faces — brown-eyed, black-haired, tan-skinned faces like mine — that greet me, "Welcome to Jollibee!"
48. My heart swells.
49. And I see the whole place is full of families that look like mine.
50. So I text my mother that I'm at Jollibee.
51. She responds immediately. It's 6:30 p.m. in LA, 9:30 a.m. in Manila.
52. "Enjoy!" she says. "Pabili ng pancakes hehehe."
53. As I wait in line to order, tweens run around the joint, chasing each other, their voices ringing with delight, in both Tagalog and English.
54. Their laughter blends with the orders being called out and the chatter of the diners.
55. It's as though I'm twelve and with my cousins and happy at home.
56. When it's my turn to order, I do so in Tagalog.
57. The cashier is pleasantly surprised.
58. I ask for a two-piece Chickenjoy meal with two helpings of white rice and extra gravy.
59. She laughs. The unabashed desire in my voice is painfully obvious.
60. Once I get my food, I completely lose my shit.
61. I portion a bite with the perfect ratio of rice to chicken to gravy — 2 : 1 : 2.
62. I take a spoonful into my mouth.
63. Flavor explodes on my tongue.
64. Nostalgia floods my mind.
65. The connection is Pavlovian.
66. So I fondly reminisce about meals at Jollibee with my mother before shopping.
67. With my father on road trips.
68. With them both — but separately — after their divorce.
69. Here were memories of good times, of good food.
70. I restrain myself from funneling the whole plate down my esophagus.
71. I fail.
72. Simultaneously, I succeed.
73. I sip on the rest of my Pepsi, watching the families at the tables around me.
74. They're having spaghetti meals, Chickenjoys, burger steaks, halo-halos.
75. There are mothers with children, wives with husbands, cousins and siblings and friends and lovers.
76. I close my eyes.
77. I only hear Tagalog and English, running into each other, strings of laughter and gossip and love falling from lips.
78. I pretend that these voices are my family's.
79. But of course, "Pamilya tayo dito."
80. So I let myself believe that I'm in the Philippines.
81. And, for a moment, I am.