With thanks to DW Moore
During the weeks that I have lived here, I have observed innumerable differences between life in the Philippines and life in the United States. This is my compilation of the heartening, amusing, and downright absurd observations I have made while living Philippines, alphabetically arranged.
(Warning: An excessive amount of this post will be about food.)
Are You Afraid?
I was introduced to many Filipino coworkers during my first week of work at FNRI. They were all welcoming and kind. They were also very inquisitive. Unused to the rapid fire questions but prepared from orientation, I took everything in stride.
“What is your course?”
“How old are you?”
“Do you like it here in the Philippines?”
“Of course. It’s a beautiful country.”
“What Filipino food have you eaten?”
“Chicken adobo, pancit bihon, ube lumpia, halo-halo.”
“What Tagalog do you know?”
“Umm. Magandang umaga. Salamat, po”
Relief always spread through me that I survived the intense questioning. However, in at least five conversations, there was another question snuck in at the end, casually asked and exceptionally weighted.
“Are you afraid to be here?”
The surprise never quite wore off, even after the first few times I was asked. And I could not help but wonder why so many people were asking me the same ominous question.
Ball Is Life
Cringy statement back home, slight reality here. Golden State Warriors t-shirts are abundant, and every neighborhood has a basketball court somewhere in it. People switch the TV models in stores to sports channels and crowd around to watch games in the middle of the day. Food establishments are even named after popular NBA players.
Eighty-six percent of Filipinos are Catholic. Though the US is a fairly religious country, I’m not used to how often I see Jesus tattooed on men’s forearms and references to religion in advertisements. My personal favorite is a hundred foot black billboard printed with “‘Do you know where you are going?’ -God.” printed on in bold white letters.
Rodrigo Duterte is, from a foreigner’s perspective, a problematic figure to have as president. With a track record of allowing extra-judicial killings and admitting to murder himself, he is certainly controversial. And yet, he has approval ratings that any US president would kill for. One of our guides heard mention of his name and exclaimed, “Duterte is a badass.” Silence fell over the table.
It is uncomfortable asserting foreign opinions when so thoroughly uninformed about a country’s problems and political climate. In spite of this, it is difficult not to pass judgment.
The Philippines is the third-largest English-speaking country in the world. What a relief, because I am not a quick study of linguistics.
The mantra of the country is always “it’s more fun in the Philippines!” I am inclined to agree at many points. However, it is impossible to ignore how much this country has suffered. From widespread poverty and malnutrition to natural disasters, the Filipino people have endured many hardships.
Get More Food!
A common command at work. I am too often spoiled with delicious local foods and produce: lumpia (spring rolls); puto and kutsinta (glutinous rice balls with cheese), squash leche flan, Choc Nut, dragonfruit, santol, and more. I think I like it here!
Every night when I am in the lounge of my condo accessing the free wifi, I hear the local kids rapping to Kendrick Lamar’s song Humble. The song is every bit as popular here as it is in the US. However, the gaggle of swaggering ten-year-olds knows no other lyrics than select parts of the chorus and one verse. So, for the hour or so I spend time on the internet, I will hear unexpected shouts of “My left stroke just went viral!” and “Sit down bitch! Stay humble!”
Over seven thousand in total in the Philippines, all with different dialects, cuisines, lifestyles.
The most popular form of public transportation here in the Philippines, these odd-looking automobiles are actually US military jeeps left over from WWII and revamped to serve as very cramped but inexpensive transportation. A jeepney ride generally costs around 10 pesos (20 cents) for a 5 kilometer ride.
The Tagalog word for “friend.” Unfortunately, improper pronunciation changes the literal meaning of the word from “friend” to “lover.” I imagine that this unfortunate similarity has made for some awkward introductions….
An apparent obsession here, and the sappier the better. “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston and “I Wanna Know What Love Is” by Foreigner are popular picks. Unfortunately, I have heard “Careless Whisper” from start to finish at least six times on the radio. I die a little more every time I hear the opening bars of the saxophone.
“If you contribute enough money to the company raffle for the cake,” proclaimed my boss, “FNRI-DOST will send you on a paid vacation to Marawi!” Filipinos have a killer sense of humor.
A religious experience in a joyfully large bowl. Aromatic broth complemented by green onions, thinly cut pork shoulder, and soft ramen noodles. Heavenly.
The Philippines is no stranger to being occupied by other countries. The Spanish had their turn controlling the island country for nearly four hundred years. The Americans ousted the Spanish and took control for fifty years from 1898 until 1946. The Japanese also occupied Manila for three years during the second World War. Hints of occupation are littered everywhere from the architecture–many barrack ruins remain on the island of Corregidor in Manila Bay–to the food to the language.
Perhaps the most beloved Filipino ever, this boxer and senator (???)
is considered to be on of the greatest boxers alive. Understandably, torrential rains flooded Metro Manila the day he lost a big fight against Floyd Mayweather in early July.
On the fourth of July, the FNRI interns went to lunch at an American restaurant called Burgoo. The name should have been a red flag, but we were intoxicated by the prospect of nutritionless food from the homeland. A few of us decided to order quesadillas. The dish brought to us was tortilla stuffed with pungent and salty semi-soft spreadable cheese. Additionally, the sour cream was plain yogurt and the salsa was spaghetti sauce. Needless to say, it was a tragic experience in which my trust was broken.
I got rick rolled at work the other day. Between “Never Gonna Give You Up” and “Careless Whisper,” I’m beginning to think this is retribution for some past wrong I have committed.
I don’t think I have ever seen so many stray cats and dogs in my life. I want to adopt them all, but I don’t think I can afford that much pet food. *sniffles*
A mind-bending language to listen to consisting of gallons of vowels and various English and Spanish words scattered throughout. I’ve picked up on some simple words and phrases, but I don’t see myself pronouncing words like nakakapagpabagabag (worrisome) anytime soon.
Equally so, some Filipino words are lovely, as demonstrated in this article:
Bet you didn’t know that yams could be fun. These purple root vegetables are a delicious addition to many Filipino desserts—from ice cream to cake to hopia–and one of my favorite food discoveries since moving here.
Whether in a bar or a grocery store, videoke (in essence, karaoke) is unavoidable. People in the Philippines have an uncanny ability to sing amazingly in any place. If the Voice is seeking new candidates, they need only come to my local grocery store, where many Filipinos casually belt out pop songs and romantic ballads while buying fruit and granola bars. The IWU interns didn’t sound quite so fantastic at the videoke bar, but we tried.
Hard to find, harder to live without. The phrase, “Oh my God! There’s free WIFI here!” has been uttered in this country fewer times than I’d like and has inspired a more excited reaction than I care to admit. What can I say, I’m a millennial.
A big X will be drawn through the box next to the event “Trying Balut.” No matter how common a snack nor how delicious local people find fertilized duck egg, I don’t think I can bring myself to try it. Just google a picture; I think you might feel the same.
My response every time someone asks to take a picture with me. Which is a lot. At the last business fair I went to, my coworkers started to call me a celebrity because of the number of pictures strangers asked to take with me. In the words of my coworker, Bok: “You are a celebrity! Like Celine Dion. Charge five pesos per picture from now on.”
Cursed dance that it is, Filipinos seem to universally adore Zumba. I am keeping my distance after the Zumba work incident.