Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Random moments of culture


Filipinos are known as the friendliest and most hospitable people in the world. Part of where this notion comes from is their openness of talking and getting to know strangers. This is often referred to as "bonding-bonding." The other day, I was heading into the city to purchase some supplies for our upcoming environment youth camp. As I was waiting for the boat to fill up (it’s a 15-20 minute boat ride from my island to Iloilo City), an elderly couple sat down next to me. Like many times before, part from curiosity about what I am doing here and part wanting to practice her English, the woman started asking me questions: where are you from? How long have you been here? What are you doing here?....  Like many conversations I have with people here, there is no such thing as “personal information”. I learned about her husband’s illnesses and her daughter’s failing marriage. Then she asked me the usually questions, how old am I, am I married, why am I not married, and what religion I am (which is always a tricky one to answer). In the course of our 15 minute boat ride we got to know each other quite well! Then as we arrived to the city, she said the typical parting phrase halong which means “take care” and we went our separate ways….

“I guess that wasn’t an important part”

It is a Monday morning and, as I do every Monday, I leave for work early to be there by eight for the flag ceremony. I am waiting by the road for a salakian or "ride". A trike pulls up with two women in the front seat of the sidecar. I take my place in the back seat. We drive a little further and pick up another woman who hops on behind the driver. We drive a bit further when suddenly there is an awful sound like the scrapping and moving of metal. I think we have run over some object in the road. We slow to a stop and the driver pokes around the motorcycle. Finally he pulls a large metal piece that resembles a brake pad (though I can’t be sure since I know nothing about motorcycle parts). He then places the dirty part on the floor in the front of the sidecar. The two women sitting in front look at each other, and then at me. I say “I hope that part isn’t important.” They smile and chuckle, and the driver cranks up the bike, and we continue on our way.

"The coconut nut is not a nut"

Once or twice a week, my Filipina friends, Cindy or Yet-Yet, will text me to hang out. A typical evening starts out at RJ’s, a local restobar where they serve arrozcaldo and batchoy daily. Arrozcaldo is a Spanish influenced rice soup containing boiled egg or chicken. Batchoy is a very Ilonggo (the region where I live) dish. It is basically ramen-type noodles in a broth with pork. Usually I will have a big bowl of arrozcaldo and Cindy will have batchoy. After eating we head to another restobar where we can sing videoke. It's 5 pesos a song and sometimes we rack up quite a bill! I never used to sing in the States. I explained to Cindy that in the States you usually don’t sing karaoke unless you are a really good singer or just very entertaining. Since I consider myself neither I usually refrain… but in the U.S. we love to dance! At clubs and concerts everyone is dancing! In the Philippines it’s the opposite. Filipino people love music and often have bands performing during town fiestas, but everyone stands around the stage watching the band play. Some might be dancing but you can assume only after they have had a lot of drinks (about the same time Americans might start singing karaoke). But videoke bars are everywhere in the Philippines and EVERYONE sings. Love ballads and classic rock is usually the genre of choice. Older men can be heard singing Taylor Swift’s “Love Story”, Air Supply or Whitney Houston’s “ I will always love you”. But my favorite is when Cindy sings the coconut song, or “Da Coconut Song” as it is titled. It’s a fun song singing about all the different ways a coconut tree can be used J

“The Chicken’s Last Ride”

It’s a Tuesday evening and I am returning from work. They always want me to sit in the front of the tricycle sidecar so I get in first. A couple gets in the back and two young girls hop on the back of the motorbike. An elderly lady has just purchased what is probably her dinner for the evening: a bag of vegetables and herbs, and a very live chicken tied only at the feet. I am handed her bag of greens to hold and she sits next to me. But where to put the chicken? The driver nonchalantly takes the chicken by its tied up feet and places it at the bottom of the sidecar, at my feet. So I ride home with greens in my lap and a chicken at my feet. The chicken lets me know she’s still alive at every big bump in the road as she clucks and moves around..

One of the many times squeezing my giant American-self into a tricycle sidecar.

Using my cellphone flashlight to find my next videoke song!

The pumpboats going from the city to Guimaras. You can see my island home in the background!

I love it in the Philippines!

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