Once a cure for cabin fever, video walks are now helping cure my homesickness
Leslieville is a nice little neighborhood in the East end of Toronto—or at least I presume it can be classified as “little.” I honestly haven’t been around this new city long enough to get a clear grasp of which neighborhoods can be considered large or little, and contrary to what my Health app tells me, I don’t believe I’ve done enough walking around to fully acquaint myself with the change in scenery as I continue to fight my homesickness.
On paper, Leslieville is all sorts of wonderful. There are at least three coffee shops and two thrift stores within a five-minute walk from our house. There’s a quaint bookstore down the main road, an actual park, and a grocery that doesn’t shut its doors once the clock strikes 9PM. All things considered, I love this place, and as I stroll through its streets, I consider staying even after I inevitably move out of my sister’s basement in two years.
But as great as Leslieville and its furniture stores and walking-distance brunch spots might be, to me, it’s Perfection Lite. It falls just short of faultless—not because of any wrongdoings on Leslieville’s part, but because of my inability to let go of the nostalgia that is home. Not home in East Toronto, but in a city some thirteen thousand kilometers away.
Hi, Manila. I miss you—how have you been?
I never thought I’d be homesick. Perhaps I owe it to my fervent if not obnoxious belief that I’m a “plant-me-anywhere-and-I’ll-thrive” type, but I somehow thought I was immune to the inevitability of homesickness. Above it, even. I’d lived away from the Philippines before, and I survived—another go can’t be that bad, can it?
It’s not terrible, or at least not yet. It’s only been six months, so I’m certain the worst of the homesickness is yet to come. As one user on Quora puts it, “You feel empty inside, like there is [a] hole inside of you and the air is going through it.” I’m glad (yet slightly apprehensive) to report that desolation hasn’t quite caught up with me yet. But there are moments when I almost feel it—an overlooked area of my resolve wearing thin, seams giving way to a micropuncture that a draft can float through.
It happens when I think too hard about Kodawari’s gyudon or Goto Tendon’s chili sauce or those rare evenings my mom would cook for the family. I think it happens when I catch up with news about the elections. And it most certainly comes, that feeling of almost-homesickness, when I walk along the snow-stacked streets of Leslieville. Charming, yes—but not quite like Manila.
Thankfully, I’ve found a few pockets of solace online. They’re called Tour From Home TV, Krypto Trekker and Slow Walks—a trifecta of YouTube channels dedicated to documenting their videowalks around Manila and beyond.
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Walking tour videos are not a novelty in 2022. Material of this sort has been on YouTube for years. Rambalac, whose channel currently has close to 500,000 subscribers, started earning views when their content transitioned from 30-second festival snippets to longer-form videowalks around the Tokyo metropolis. Their first videowalk, a 37-minute tour around the cities of Fuchu and Kawasaki, has over 23 thousand views. It’s a startling contrast to their previous uploads, most of which amassed less than a thousand views.
Rambalac is just one of the many vloggers dedicated to producing walking video tours. 4K Urban Life posts videowalks twice a week, while Prowalk Tours occasionally supplements their treks around Europe with virtual drone tours. Both channels have been consistently posting videowalks since 2017.
Despite occupying YouTube real estate for years, walking tour videos weren’t always this popular. The pandemic was a large contributor to the demand for these videos, what with the borders closing and lockdowns being enforced one country after the next. It didn’t take long for large businesses to turn videowalks and virtual tours into a golden opportunity. In 2020, Gucci hosted an online tour of their No Space, Just A Place exhibition with K-pop stars Kai and IU. In that same year, Amazon launched a virtual tour service, Amazon Explore.
At the time, virtual walking tours were a way to cope with the collective cabin fever that came with being stuck at home. I never expected that years later, videowalks would do the opposite for me: act as a salve for the occasional stroke of homesickness.
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Walking was a part of my day-to-day routine in pre-pandemic Manila. When I commuted to Ortigas from Laguna, I detested the 15-minute walk from Robinsons Galleria to my office. The evenings post-clockout were worse. From the office to Starmall, then from Ayala to the shuttle terminal. When budgets were especially tight, from the bus stop all the way home. In hindsight, it wasn’t all that bad. But when you grit your teeth through daily commutes, moody weather, and a disappointing salary. Things feel much worse than they actually are.
But there were walks that I loved, too. BGC, with its shade trees and mini parks, was always fun. The abundance of cafes was a welcome bonus, too. There were the walks in Makati, weaving above and below Ayala Avenue’s busy intersections to get from EDSA to the post office. Then there were the aimless walks. I’ll just take around malls when I killed time between pullouts. Sometimes I waited for my sister to get off work. I could navigate my way through Greenbelt, Landmark, Glorietta and SM Makati with my eyes closed—easy.
Video walks help me relive the experience. Seeing old storefronts and realizing that I still remember street names feels like a tender pat on the back. Walking down the paths I used to travel—albeit virtually now—resurfaces memories that time and distance had almost cemented over. The perpetual honking and engine whirring in Mandaluyong. The smell of the RICOA plant turning a stretch of EDSA air sweet. The warm weekend market my parents loved visiting in Makati. The dimly lit street corners where love bloomed. The familiarity helps.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver