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.
—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.
—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.
—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.
—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…