aaaahhh motherland!

(If you don’t know what the title refers to, please see this Flash animation.)

I haven’t been to the Philippines in well over ten years. The last time I lived there, I was in kindergarten and Czechoslovakia was still one country. The last time I visited, my now smoking-hot seventeen-year-old cousin Jessa had just started grammar school. A lot has changed since then, and a lot about living in the Philippines has been lost to my memory. Not that that’s bad– I sort of like my childhood memories in their hazy, pristine state. If I’d known then what I know now, I would probably have never enjoyed my five-year-old self. Anyway…

One of the advantages of being a hyphenated American is that you can always get free food and lodging in at least one other country in the world– in Manila, I stayed partly with my cousins and partly with some family friends. One disadvantage (for me) is that it’s reaaaallllly hard to bring stuff up in conversation ‘coz I never know when my liberalness might push a few conservative relatives’ buttons. I’ve ended up with a couple of “Hail Mary”s being said for me when I accidentally told my uncle that I’m agnostic. -_-;

Plus, my sister and I have been so Americanized that we’ve had to re-learn our Filipino-ness— how to mano, how to eat the middle part of a mango with a spoon and fork, even how to speak Tagalog (everyone speaks Taglish anyway, but Tagalog’s useful for bargaining). As such, it’s really nerve-wracking for me to do anything in the presence of anyone except my sister and our cousins, whom we grew up with. (It’s probably even worse for my sister– at least I have her to get cues from!)

The worst part is being vegetarian in a meat-loving country. (I don’t know how an island country’s cuisine can be primarily meat-based. A century of Spanish rule, I guess?) My cousins were really considerate about it, but some other households had more of a “You’re in our country, deal with it” kind of vibe. Sometimes I feel really bad if someone panics over the issue, but I usually deal if they don’t. Vegetarianism for me isn’t a food preference, it’s more like a belief, so I think it’s only as imposing or rude as eating kosher or halal. If they have it, great; if not, whatev.

Speaking of beliefs: Unless you’re Catholic, don’t talk about your religion in the Philippines unless you want to get into hot water. (For extra points, try to stay out of conversations about other countries in general, except maybe the U.S.) The “The family that prays together stays together” billboards kind of speak for themselves. One of the first conversations I got into here was about Thailand, since my sister and I just came from there; I nearly choked on my food when someone mentioned that Thais were a bunch of Godless savages who worshipped animals. The whole table agreed.

I’ve gotten some negative reactions when I say that I’m definitely more American than Filipino, but the above reasons are why. I’m still quite Filipina at heart, and this trip has only made me more so, but being here sometimes makes me appreciate how vegetarian-friendly California is– and how tolerant the U.S. is in general.

The Philippines has its good side, though— the weather is great, the people are usually really accomodating, whatever food I *can* eat (ube ice cream, choc-nut, meatless sinigang) is totally delish, and everything’s sooo cheap. And I actually like the traffic. It gives me and my sister more time to talk to the other people in the car.

Oh, and don’t forget all the maids, cooks, drivers and security detail. Once upon a time in the Philippines, my sister and cousins and I all had nannies and maids and stuff– labor here is cheap if you’re earning in American dollars. Unfortunately, our financial situation drastically changed when I was still little so I don’t remember any of that, and thus a few days ago I was freaking out (“Jesus H. Christ, we were THIS RICH?!?!”). And the family friend we stayed with is actually kind of a powerful diplomat, so they’ve also got a police siren on their unmarked white van. O_O


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This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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