August 17, 2007

The Philippines Fantasy Fallacy
Manila (Luzon), Philippines

Paradise, this country is not.

August found Tatiana and I smack in the middle of the typhoon season, and the weather has been anything but conducive towards a smile: Overcast, with occasional bouts of rain. Out of 19 days in the Philippines, only a few hours on two separate days where spent in the sun. I'm shaking my head at the thought of it, the cold ocean water, my untanned skin, and Super Typhoon Sepat (Egay), currently dumping showers as it spins on top of the island group.

I suppose I'm still fascinated with the sheer number of visiting Koreans found in the Philippines, something that the excessive number of store signs displayed in their language is indicative of. It isn't one particular age group either; it seems to be a holiday destination for all ages. This gets to me thinking that there might be very inexpensive flights to South Korea from Manila and back—a low cost path that I might be able to use for future travel.

Tatiana seems to recall fairly good English in this country, but I have a completely opposite opinion on the matter. I feel mislead by readings and murmurings that described how commonplace English is in the Philippines.

Yes, like in Thailand (and many other countries in the world), English proficiency seems to be connected directly with wealth, class standing, and tourism saturation. Speaking with the food vendors on the streets and the commoners on the rural buses, it's clear to me that even a basic understanding of English eludes the majority of the Filipino lower-class, regardless of its standing as one of the two official languages.

It doesn't help matters that Filipino (Tagalog), contains 11 different regional languages, 87 dialects, and sounds abrasive as all hell. Sitting in an Internet Café the other day, I was being driven up the wall by a group of teenage boys playing competitive multi-player games against each other. Their voices were cracking, squeaking, honking, and shrilling like a gaggle of drowning geese. Tagalog is plain ugly.

There is a noticeable Spanish influence in the Filipino vocabulary though. Remnants from the days of Magellan (ordered to sail around the world from Spain and claim anything worth claiming), the days of the week, some numbers, and words like banco (bank) and crudo (oil) are decisively Spanish. It's said that some of the older generation can speak Spanish, but none capable of such things were encountered on our travels.

On an interesting historical side note, the Philippines is actually a rather young country. With the help of the United States (at war with Spain over Cuba at the time), and an island group in revolution, American warships defeated the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in 1898. The first Philippine national government was formed in 1935, with full independence achieved 10 years later (after Americans sustained heavy casualties overcoming Japanese forces during the bloody WWII Battle for Manila in 1944).

Given the amount of influence the U.S. seems to have had over the independence of the Philippines, it's interesting to see how divergent and distinctly Filipino the culture of music, transport, and food is on the islands. And never before have I wished so hard that the situation was the opposite.

Karaoke

—it's inescapable. And not just karaoke, but bad karaoke. The sounds of singing, tone-deaf Filipinos echo throughout their beaches and cities. My guidebook says that "no matter how bad the singer [is], everyone gets respect." A nice sentiment, but this attitude sadly does absolutely nothing to encourage the improvement of the singer—either get better or get laughed off the stage. Life would be a lot better if people in this country would just ridicule bad karaoke singers a little more.

Tricycles

—I hate these things. Reminiscent of cramped a or a mutated WWII motorcycle with mounted sidecar, Filipino tricycles—and their drivers—are the mobile scourge of islands. The cultural acceptance and endorsement of this polluting, audibility obnoxious mode of transport (be it from the vehicle tailpipe or soliciting calls from the throat-hole of the driver) make it one of my least enjoyed aspects of island life in the Philippines.

Inedible Food

—from skewered chicken heads, feet, and unidentifiable animal innards, to horrendously bitter vegetables, to the ever-popular Adobo (which has consistently been strips of fatty meat sitting in a broth of the saltiest soy sauce I've ever encountered), the food in this country has been a disaster the likes of which I've never seen. Tatiana and I would get sad at the feeling of hunger, as it typically meant yet another search for an unfulfilling meal. I gave up on terrestrial-based meats altogether—there isn't even any sandwich meat in the supermarkets (in Bohol).

But if there's one thing the Philippines does right though, it's sweets. Sweet bread, cakes, and shakes—the bakery is a tempting alternative to the pitiful Filipino foodstuffs thought of as meals. This forced substitution has had a very poor result on my body, though: The psychological stress of Tatiana's revealed pregnancy coupled with the lackluster food options and a decrease in daily walking has found me loosing hair and putting on weight. I'm not happy.

Touts and Beggars

—aggressive street children and persistent pushers peddling everything from watches to women to weed are everywhere, especially on the streets of Manila and Cebu. Thankfully, after traveling though countries where aggressive beggars and scammers are a daily part of life, I have the ability to ignore and turn off my emotions and ears to such things (much better than many I've traveled with), although I'll scold their bad behavior as I would a stray dog if they break the rules and physically touch me. Tatiana, having lived with such things for most of her life, is far less forgiving with a much shorter fuse.

My buddy Andy touched on some of these problems in a pair of posts to his blog, entitled "Streets of Manila Photos" and "Why there are very few backpackers in Philippines." The comments on these blurbs offer a pretty good read, such as this one:

Take this from a Filipino, majority of beggars in the street in Manila are not into food. They are those who are employed by some syndicates ("sindikato") to "beg" for money. After the day most of the money that were given to these "beggars" will be given to the sindikato's pockets. It seems these "beggars" are just props.

Security Theater

—the time-consuming displays of security, and the false sense of safety it gives at both Filipino airports and ferry terminals. X-ray machines and metal detectors are present not only for airport screenings (sometimes doubled up for no good reason), but conducted before each large ferry trip. I was always successful in walking though the metal detector with a knife in my pants, and not once did anyone say anything as I pulled my backpack off the x-ray machine.

Tatiana likes to recall the female screener at a ferry terminal that "looked like she was about to give you a prostate exam." The woman quickly backed off and let me through the ineffective checkpoint shortly after Tatiana snapped in a raised voice towards the lady, excessively frisking my pants—"Not even I touch you like that."

Oh, the Philippines…

Comments:

Anonymous

September 28th, 2007

Man, I hear ya when it comes to Tagalog and the Filifino accent…living in a community with a large population of Filipinos has, unfortunately, caused me to become hyper-sensitive to the ugly language and the accent that taints their English. I really have nothing against the people - it's their language that really grates me! Oh - and their food - you're bang on with that one too. Greasy, deep-fried (but not the good, crispy kind of deep fried - the soggy, oily kind), and just generally yucky. There's a reason you don't see alot of Filipino restaurants outside of the Phillipines…

I'm definitely feelin' for ya.

Cambodia

Craig | travelvice.com

September 28th, 2007

Some may dislike the Philippines for the local IT student who invented and unleashed the 'I love you' virus back in 1999 (one of the first major e-mail viruses), but you can't knock the coordination of their prison population…

Check out this video, depicting over 1,500 inmates from the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center recreating Michael Jackson's Thriller video. Impressive.

Wade

September 29th, 2007

Hey Craig,

I follow your same logic with beggars completely. . . especially the little kids. What else can you do?

An ironic little tale:

I was walking down the street with a really sweet, genuinely nice Moroccan guy today, and as we went by a group of beggars he caught me off guard by saying something like, "These people are retard. They are just sitting around waiting to die. The goverment should do somthing about them, they should take them away." I was so surprised by this comment, which came from such a mild mannered and considerate man that I nearly bursted out laughing. I was not expecting such an extreme statement to come form this particular gentleman.

Well, just wanted to send my regards to you for having such a great travelogue.

Walk Slow,

Wade from
Song of the Open Road Travelogue

Andrin

February 22nd, 2008

I'm from the Philippines and also a Filipino. I read most of things you experienced here in our country. Some of these posts seem a bit offensive on our part. The place where you have been are where most crowded places of the Philippines. You haven't gone to beautiful places yet. Manila is not as good as it is described. I think, it would be better if you can see other interesting sitings all over the country.

Peru

Craig | travelvice.com

February 22nd, 2008

I agree Andrin. A different time of year and alternate locations are needed get a better perspective.

Suggestions that might change my mind?

Jhudee

June 20th, 2008

I am from the Philippines and I disgree with some comments about our country. I agree with Andrin about coming here at a different time and in a different place. Try the Philippines' summer season (March and April). It can be very hot, but try Baguio City for a few days. The climate here is cool even in the summer. There are so many places you can visit. Try searching on the internet.

delacruz

February 6th, 2009

Yes, Tagalog can sound abrasive. It has more of a "cut" to it compared to the sing-song style of American English. However, Tagalog is also one of the most respectful languages and by that I mean the combination of words automatically addresses others with the utmost respect. It's peppered with respectful words which you will find in many Asian countries. In fact, Vietnam actually has several levels of respectful speech depending on age, sex, status, etc. American English doesn't even have that level of complexity and beauty. You clearly don't speak Tagalog and you judge our language solely on how it sounds, disregarding all the other aspects. I find your comments ignorant as if your understanding and appreciation of cultures is so shallow. Even some of your observations and comments border on the juvenile. Having said all this, it's not my duty to explain my language nor should any other citizen of other nations you visit have to explain themselves, instead it should be your duty as the traveler to find and appreciate what you can of other countries. I've tried to keep an open mind but the more I read your entries the more you become the Ugly American. I wish you the best of luck.

Germany

Craig | travelvice.com

February 7th, 2009

You're clearly in love with a Filipino boy. I wish you luck with that.

Timothy

February 12th, 2009

I am an American ex-pat living in Manila for three years and I could write VOLUMES about this place. Not to offend Filipinos but Manila is mostly a dangerous dive, compared with many other Asian large cities. And yeah the Tagolog accent and English spoken with a Tagalog flair is hard to stomach - but it’s not just the accent it’s the VOLUME that most Filipinos use. It is LOUD. My first trip to McDonald's here for breakfast was memorable. At 7 am not only was the music blaring out of the speakers like it was a disco but everybody in the joint was laughing and yelling and the pitch of their combined voices was horrible. Similar experiences are a daily occurance. I have sense learned to shun large collections of Filipinos because of this behavior. Well I am moving to Hong Kong later this year - amen…

The United States

Randy

February 19th, 2010

Well I was station in PI for two years in 1974-1976 (departed) and I travel a lot to smaller towns and islands, and to use Manila as a guide to the Filipinos is like a Filipino comparing New York as the standard for all US cities, or Los Angeles gangs as the way all Americans act. I found while stationed in PI they are frendly and will try to learn about you and don't want to offend you, but would like some respect themselves although they are known for overlooking disrespect from you, if they believed it was not intentional. The Tagalog language if you would check has some aspects of Spanish mixed in. So before you start downing someone elses country try to see all the people and country not just one city. And I would like to let people know that PI and the American people has been interconnect countries since WWII, and was one of our major access ports for oversea home porting our Naval Ships Since WWII even though we pay them half of what we paid other countries for the same porting of our ships. And the filipinos tried to accommodate and adjust to the American needs even when it was offensive to their life style. Again try to see a country fully and completly and really you should not comdem a country if you don't like someones country,, then stay the hell out and go back to your own country. thank you

The Philippines

DeathReaper

April 26th, 2010

One of the main aspects of travelling is to appreciate the culture of the country you go to.

No one's forcing you to go to the Philippines so you did not have to go. Of course, you knew from the start that the Philippines is a third-world country so why go if you were not into weird stuff?

Greasy, oily food? Man, you obviously did not stay at the 5 star hotels and did not eat in good restos. If you had money to spend, there are a lot of good restos in the Philippines and if you're not into Filipino food, there are a lot of French, Italian, Japanese, etc restaurants that could cater to your needs. So why starve? Of course, what did you expect from places that serve cheap food? And come on, American food is also greasy, oily and atherosclerosis-inducing too.

The boys you met at the internet cafe? Of course they are meant to be loud and stupid-sounding. They are pubescent boys. And they are not repressed pubescent boys. You should have gone to an upscale internet cafe or made use of the hotel's wi-fi service if you wanted some peace.

About the number of Koreans: there are no cheap flights from South Korea to the Philippines. Koreans are in the Philippines to learn English. About the street vendors not knowing English, maybe it is because they can not understand your drawling or too fast words because English is the second language of the Filipinos and even uneducated people in the Philippines can at comprehend at least a bit of English.

Tagalog is plain ugly? I would say that of your language.

To Timothy, if you want some peaceful breakfast, go to a respectable restaurant not some cheap fastfood. Obviously, from your comments, you have not gone anywhere else but Manila.

To anonymous, move out of your current house. If you are really repelled by the awful sounding language and voices in your community, move out of that place, no one's forcing you to stay. Except maybe, you have no money to move to a better, all-American community. Hmmm?

I've been to and stayed in a lot of third-world countries and encountered a lot of weird food and cultures and during my travels and I learned to respect that it is a part of their culture.

In the end, all I can say is:

At least the Philippines have much much less psycho killers. :)

The Philippines

Allen Moxley

September 10th, 2010

I'm an American living in the Philippines and loving it. Everybody needs to relax. Regarding the sound of filipino Tagalog, (or other Pinoy dialects) that's the way it is. The Pilipino sound is brusque and a little ugly sounding to Americans, but it's just a sound. I had a girlfriend from Malaysia and her accent speaking either her language or English sounded so beautiful to me. French sounds elegent to me. It's just a matter of taste. Most Filipinos like bulad, most foreigners don't (mao gyud na) That's just how it is. There are no good guys and no bad guys. Just us so we can get along. As for the food, I like some Pinoy food but much more prefer American or European. And I can find restaurants that have the food I like so I'm not going to bitch about Filipino food. You like what you like, and I like what I like. Viva la difference! Amen

The Philippines

Kitten

September 22nd, 2010

The next time you come here to the Philippines, DO NOT GO TO "TOURIST ATTRACTIONS/ SPOTS". If you really want to, it's better to be there off-season or right before peaks start to avoid the crowd.

If you know some locals, it's better to ask them.

The Philippines

A Peruvian's girl

October 20th, 2011

hahahaha you were really in a hell of a bad mood when you traveled here in the Philippines. But I won't argue with you, it's your opinion. All countries have their high and low points. I like your blog though, especially about Peru. Very informative. :-)

The United States

lol

December 23rd, 2011

delacruz, don't you even COMPARE your filthy country with Viet Nam. Your language sounds like a bunch of baboons talking. Cho de.

The United States

lol2

February 9th, 2012

lol, do not COMPARE the Vietnamese language with Filipino, your language sounds like a cat being tortured to death. Vietnam is a ridiculously filthy country, where huge rats ran all over even in so-called modern areas. Be careful next time you have your coffee at the airport in Hanoi. I saw one huge rat running in front of the waitress and she dint even flinch.

Btw, there's water shortage in Hanoi at the moment with 40,000 households WITHOUT water for 6 days running. That sort of thing doesn't happen in Manila. Who's filthy and backwards now. Go away and pick your nose- that seems to be your national pastime.

The Philippines

sands

April 28th, 2012

I am a Filipino and I agree that it is a filthy country. Most Filipinos are stupid, ignorant and have not been to any other country that is why they always find their country to be alright, even great…when really it is not. Look at the traffic! and oh look at the hygiene! When it rains, the streets flood! Good thing, I don't look like a Filipino. I swear, I feel embarrassed everytime I flash my Philippine passport at the immigration.

Most filipinos think primitively shallow, you can compare their intelligence to a monkey.

The Philippines

Juan

January 10th, 2013

It can be very trying. The country is in transition from it's more relaxed old-world attitude to the busy fast-paced opportunistic society that is difficult to absorb even for us locals.

Spending time in the outskirts and away from the city is preferable, people are friendly and hardly anyone cheats you for extra cash for the service. There's a reason why they placed tourist spots there, not that I mind you preferring the city to the expense of you not enjoying your stay.

As a Filipino I admit this country needs to be criticized internally and externally and it's always refreshing to hear the truth. We Filipinos are a proud people and we lack and shun self-criticism despite being aware of our shortcomings preferring the "bahala na" attitude (what will be will be) and yet for some reason easily get offended when foreigners speak their mind about some issue we might not like that is right in front of our noses.

Thank you for that.

Now for the two things I don't agree on this post.

1) Tricycles are a reality in the Philippines. Let's just say if you live here you'll be glad these things even exists.

2) Food. Even that picture you put up looks nasty. Anyway this country is home to a variety of dishes and you might even discover something that could be your favorite, of this I'm sure. I'm a picky person myself and I haven't eaten balut, chickenheads in my entire life although I learned to love the chicken feet but these things are too extreme and no one even considers them an appropriate meal hence them being labelled as "street food". At least here you will not find bugs and geckos as dish. If someone forces you to eat those you're being made fun of. That's an advice.

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