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The Philippines Through the Eyes of a Local: Flawed but Beautiful
Nobody told me that moving abroad will make me see my country, the Philippines, in a different light. It is like looking through a huge telescope and staring at my country from afar. Now, I have a broader perspective.
Whenever I was dragged into small talks and whenever I introduce myself as a Filipino, all the attention would focus on me and people will ask me about my beautiful country. Not all good questions though. You see, Philippines for foreigners, is not just a country with beautiful beaches and friendly people. With all the predicaments plaguing the country nowadays, the foreigners now, think of the Philippines as a scary place to visit. Whenever the name Philippines is mentioned, people automatically link it to Duterte and his anti-drug campaigns resulting in deaths. Suddenly, for these foreigners in front of me, the Philippines is no longer a picture of beautiful beaches but of streets full of blood and poverty. How do I respond? How do I make them realize that despite what they see on the news, the Philippines is still a safe and a very welcoming country? How do I keep the beautiful image of the country in their heads despite of war in the South and blood shed? How can I open their eyes and let them see that the country is a place like no other?
Let me make one thing clear, I am not all praises for the Philippines. I know that the Philippines is flawed in many aspects. But no matter how flawed it is, there is no place like it in the world. Sometimes, to create a beautiful thing, it has to undergo a rigorous and rigid process. The Philippines is now in a state of a difficult change but a much needed change nonetheless. In the long run, I believe this change will benefit the Filipino people and those who wish to visit this paradise.
So, looking through the eyes of a foreigner, I can see the Philippines in a different perspective. It is flawed but beautiful. It is chaotic but vibrant, crazy and mesmerizingly wild. But foreigners can only see so much. They can only see what is laid in front of them. In order to really see something, one has to immerse himself into the core of the society and experience what it really means to be in the Philippines. For foreigners out there, let me show you the real picture and the real beauty of the Philippines no matter how flawed it is.
Filipino Hospitality starts at home...
The best place where you can experience real Filipino hospitality is not in hotels or chic apartments but inside a Filipino home. Filipinos have a weird and unreasonably high regards for foreigners. Whenever there is a foreigner visiting a Filipino family, the best room in the house will be given to the foreigner (even if it means the other family members will sleep on the floor or on the couch). The best food will be prepared even if it means borrowing money just to give the foreigner a decent meal. Foreigners will be considered VIP (very important persons) in every Filipino gathering. Foreigners who have been invited to a Filipino home can certainly attest to this. It may not be the most comfortable bed or a big house but the real warmth of Filipino hospitality is there.
Filipino English: Taglish
Filipinos are not really very conversant in English. Don’t get me wrong. Compared to most Asian nations, Filipinos speak better English. English is widely used in the country especially in the cities. However, when you talk to an ordinary Filipino in the province in English, they will not be able to really converse completely in English. Those who can speak fluent English are mostly the educated ones or the ones from fortunate families. Nevertheless, Philippines is ranked on top of countries with the best business English. It is the main language used in the call centers, in all legal and important documents, commercial and public signs, print advertisements, billboards, directions, maps, restaurant menus, flight details and many more.
Filipino English is distinct. Mostly, Filipinos will mix English and Tagalog (main dialect) in a conversation giving way to the term "tag-lish". It all started with the adoption of bilingual policies in school and at home. Since English is the second languge, it is now naturally incorporated in every conversation together with the main Filipino (Tagalog) language. Unfortunately, nowadays, English has become a measure of intelligence in the Philippines. If you are good in English, people would think you are very intelligent. And if you are a professional and cannot speak English fluently, people will not be impressed.
Catholicism and democracy
Philippines is predominantly Catholic. As a Christian nation, foreign tourists find it easier to travel in the Philippines because the country is not strictly conservative in many areas of the faith.On the other hand, one can also marvel at the endless lists of Filipino superstitions. Foreign tourists find it weird and funny but a lot of locals do follow their superstitious beliefs. I will not enumerate all of them here as i think it would be nice to write about them separately.
It is also a democratic country so you are free to be carefree. There is no dress code, no restrictions to enter public places, and there is freedom to do and say what you want in public. You can curse at the politicians and nobody will arrest you. In Thailand, if you curse at the royalty especially the King, you will be in trouble. It is also not allowed to touch someone’s head in Thailand as it is seen as a huge disrespect. In Philippines, however, there are not a lot of restrictions. You can eat what you want, drink to your heart's content and party all night. You can talk to the girls and befriend the gay community and nobody will judge you. As long as you do not violate anything or anyone, you are safe.
Safety in the Philippines
Despite the chaos in some parts of Mindanao, the Philippines is still a safe country. More than 80% of the country is considered generally safe. It is important to be aware of the threats but it is not justifiable to label the entire country dangerous just because one small part is dangerous. It is important (especially for foreigners) to refrain from going out on the streets at night especially in places where it is not so busy. Nightlife in Makati is never a problem but going to places where there are so many alleyways, one really needs to be very careful even the locals. Filipinos are generally more friendly and tolerant towards foreign tourists than fellow Filipinos but still it is better to avoid risky places especially when alone. It is also advisable to avoid going to war-torn areas in Mindanao. Some parts of Mindanao are not safe for everyone at the moment especially for foreigners. Areas of concern are Basilan, Tawi-tawi, Zamboanga Peninsula, Marawi, Sulu archipelago and the slums in Metro Manila.
One of the things I miss now that I am abroad is the rugged landscape of the Philippines. I miss the beautiful mountains and hills, the raging waterfalls, the green and peaceful lakes, the white sandy beaches, and the numerous caves i once visited. You can easily enjoy all these spots in one place. It is not difficult to fall in love with the country's rugged charm. In the Philippines, you can go anywhere and you will find something that will not fail to amaze you. You can ditch Boracay or Palawan and still see equally stunning places without the huge crowd in front of you. You can go as far north or dive in the deepest seas and you will surely be fascinated. Tourists can see more if they venture away from the crowd. It is nice to go to popular places but the memories you will never forget as a traveler will always be the ones you had with the locals.
Aside from abundant nature in the country, the Philippines best selling point is its people. The Filipinos are hard-workers. They will go to great lengths for their families even if it means going abroad and become someone else's cleaning lady or nanny. All for their loved ones back home. The Filipinos are world-class. They can do anything and can be anyone. They are loud and happy. They always smile despite of all the difficulties. They are religious. They love to serve thus, they are one of the best in the service industry. The Filipinos are everywhere. But wherever they are, they still go back to where they come from. They never forget their roots and although sometimes, they tend to forget who they are or become ashamed of who they are, they will eventually go back and embrace.
In my opinion, foreign travelers keep coming back to the Philippines not just because of the beauty of the place but because of the Filipino people. The people whose home they offer to foreigners with open arms...the home they call their own...
Whenever I hear some negative comments about the country, I can't help but feel the need to defend it. But now, I realized that there is no need for me to justify. My opinion will always be different because I see things differently. The Philippines is flawed, Yes, but it is so beautiful. There is nothing like it...because there is no place like home.