Living with a family and working for the past two weeks in Tacloban (which gets very few visitors besides volunteers), I’ve seen a bit of daily life in the Philippines that I didn’t see so much up north when I was staying in hostels and meeting mostly other travelers. It’s been really interesting, and I’m going to try and explain what it’s like. So, since I gotta start somewhere, here is my commentary about a couple of Things About The Philippines. Possibly fair and balanced and possibly not.
1. Foreigners stand out.
The good: People are constantly talking to you, and you get a lot of attention. It’s awesome! The Philippines is famous for its hospitality. People here will constantly say hi, ask what your name is and where you’re from and where you’re going. They invite you to things. There’s a little grocery store near where I’m staying, and the people working there always wave and yell “HI CALLIE!” whenever I pass by. If they’re eating or drinking something, they’ll share with you. One guy bought me fried bananas on the street for no reason. Making fifty new friends in a single day would not be hard if you reply to everyone who talks to you.
The bad: People are constantly talking to you, and you get a lot of attention. Everyone stares at you all day long, and we’re not talking about sneaky corner-of-the-eye staring. Sometimes you don’t want to explain where you’re from for the fortieth time in a given day or tell random strangers where you’re going (to be honest, I don’t understand why they ask). And if you want to, say, discreetly scratch an unfortunately placed mosquito bite while nobody’s looking, you’ll never get the chance – someone’s always looking.
2. The music, the dancing and the karaoke.
The good: I love music and dancing! There’s a lot to be said for a country in which everyone does karaoke without shame, regardless of skill level. I went to a despedida (going-away party) for one of the other volunteers last week, and the whole family sang, even the grandmother – and then the host sister and her friends showed us a number their dance team had been learning. Even I sang karaoke! And that’s saying something – I never had the nerve before getting here.
The bad: Some (well, ok, a lot) of the music needs some work! It tends to be either the sappiest, drippiest romantic drivel you’ve ever heard, or it’s crazy-ass techno/house/electro noise pollution that absolutely does your head in, or it’s (god forbid) a crazy-ass techno/house/electro remix of a sappy song (One Direction, I’m looking at you!).
3. The food.
The good: A lot of it is delicious. I’m hooked on adobo, sinigang is wonderful, the street barbecue is amazing, and the mangoes are worth writing home about. I could eat pancit (rice noodles with meat and veggies in some sort of amazing salty soy-type sauce) all day long. And mango float, a layered and frozen dessert made with mangoes, condensed milk, cream and graham crackers, is my new obsession.
The bad: So much of it is unhealthy! The Filipino approach to food seems to be: 1) fry the shit out of it and 2) dump in a kilo of sugar (or salt, or both, depending on the dish). I kinda like how salty the food is, actually, and I think I get a pass on that because I end up sweating all day, but the hidden sugar is just weird. A lot of meat is fried with some sort of sugar syrup and tomato sauce is sweeter than it is savory. Even pasta is cooked in sugar water! I joined the Tacloban gym out of necessity. And coffee? Forget about it. Instant is where it’s at. Even the fancy coffee shops here that have brewed coffee serve it with powdered creamer. There are things I miss about Seattle, and that’s one of them.
4. There are children everywhere.
The good: This, I believe, is the most child-friendly country on earth. Family is incredibly important here, and most people want big families (this is a Catholic country). The kids here are, on the whole, pretty well-behaved. I’ve seen fewer meltdowns and public temper tantrums in a month in the Philippines than I have on a single ten-minute trip to Wal-Mart in the U.S. They wait in line and sit on buses and stand on jeepneys (with no entertainment or snacks) for hours without crying or bothering anyone. They’re also outgoing and very cute. I am actually starting to like children now, and to be honest, I didn’t before. Filipino kids FTW!
The bad: A lot of people have kids they can’t afford. On the volunteer projects I’ve been visiting, there have been a lot of kids who grow up with almost no money and barely enough food. The organization I’m volunteering with now has a program to rehabilitate kids who have to scavenge at the garbage dump collecting recyclables to sell for a couple bucks a day. There are families who can’t afford to let their kids go to school, which is sad to see, and some of the street kids in Manila will break your heart. And for what? I think some of the time people have kids in order to have more hands to help out, but it also happens because of poor education and the fact that everybody else does it. Reproductive health/family planning is not up to par, and a lot of people don’t use condoms because ‘only prostitutes need to.’ Really? Come on. This is 2013.
Anyone been to the Philippines? What did I miss? What do you think?