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The Philippines - Through the Eyes of a Foreigner
The Philippines is a country located in Southeast Asia with a population around 92 million with an additional 11 million offshore workers (known as Offshore Filipino Workers or OFWs). The nation contains over 7,000 islands put into 3 regions (Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao). The main economic zone lies within Metro Manila which has a population of 20 million people, and Filipino (a variation of Tagalog) and English are the two main languages spoken.
I've been staying in the Philippines since January 2011 and have begun to understand the many cultural aspects of the country as well as other differences between the Philippines and the United States, my home country.
Filipinos Speak English
But not all
One of the many reasons the Philippines has become a massive tourist destination (other than its beautiful scenery) is because of how popular English has become. Nonetheless, not everyone speaks English, and, at least in my experience, English is mostly a business only language. You'll encounter English by workers at the mall, police officers, and most restaurants.
In the sense that English is a business language, Tagalog or one of the other dialects are spoken in most day-to-day activities. Many older generations, rural provincial residents, and public transportation drivers do not speak English, at least, not very well. If you plan on travelling to any non-tourist destination or outside of Metro Manila, be sure to learn some basic Tagalog words.
Learn to Speak Tagalog - from Amazon
The Philippines isn't known for their train service, because it is almost non-existent, but they do have many other choices. There are pedicabs (rickshaws), tricycles (motorbikes with sidecars), jeepnies (these are US military jeeps transformed into something like a bus and generally travel from city to city), buses (in which there are at least 3 different types of which I know--the everyday bus, a bus which goes to a different city, and a bus which travels a long distance), taxicabs, and of course, you can always hire a driver for roughly 300 pesos for a few hours if you are lucky enough to find one.
If you are a man of average height in the United States, chances are that you will have problems with some of the public transportation. I'm close to 5'8, but have my knees crammed against the seat in front of me on the bus and hit my head on most tricycles and sidecars. However, this isn't always the case. Tricycles and sidecars come in all different shapes and sizes, so some are more comfortable than others.
Image source: Wikipedia Commons
Staring, questions, and other attention
If you come to the Philippines as a non-Filipino, chances are you will get more attention than you deserve. There are some areas with a large foreigner population, but many areas are still Filipino-only or, at most, Filipino-Chinese only.
You will likely receive attention by being stared at, asked questions, and of course, being talked about. This isn't because Filipinos are necessarily racist, but they are curious.
Questions I've been asked:
- Where are you from?
- What job do you have?
- Have you tried our food?
- What food is your favorite?
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Get friends to help when shopping
In the Philippines, like many other Eastern countries, small businesses and shops tend to charge extra for their goods and services to foreigners. Luckily, this has only happened to me a few times. Being educated about where to shop and who to trust is a big help in this department; however, the best help to be had is from a local Filipino. The locals know the costs of general services and at least have an idea of what the costs should be when it comes to products.
If you don't know a local, there are still ways around this Kano tax--Kano is short for Americano. However, anyone white is generally referred to as Kano, no matter where they are from.
- Shop at the SM mall for your products and groceries. Pretty much everything can be found at SM. Groceries, department store, restaurants, toy shops, game shops, and other stores are found in SM nation-wide.
- If you can't get what you need at SM, shop somewhere with written prices. In the Philippines, there are small businesses on every corner. However, many of them don't always have the prices written, at least not all the products. Nonetheless, even if you do find a place with written prices, chances are that you are still being overcharged. Haggling is a common practice in the Philippines, but as a foreigner it is frowned upon to attempt. Still, the written prices will likely be cheaper than a non-written price somewhere else.
- Look online! You can always find a rough price estimate by searching "sulit" or one of the other websites. For example, if you are looking for a wedding photographer in Bacolod, you might want to check out that website.
Food in the Philippines
As stated above, one of the questions I've been asked most by Filipinos is "Have you tried our food?" And the answer is, "YES! I love it."
Filipinos have every right to ask this question, because 1) Their food is delicious. And 2) Their food is delicious. And oh, did I mention that it is delicious?
Here's what you absolutely have to try:
- Sisig (Don't ask what it is until after you eat it)
- Sio Pao (Steamed dough with chicken or pork inside)
- Sio Mai (Steamed wrapper with pork inside in a spicy soy sauce)
- Halo-Halo (Means mix-mix. Milk, ice, lots of fruit, sweet beans, and sometimes served with Ube ice cream)
- Kare-Kare (Oxtail, banana heart, and other meat and veggies served in a peanut sauce)
One Filipino food which you'll be asked to try by Filipinos is balut. I haven't tried it, and probably won't, but it is a boiled duck egg in which the duck isn't a yolk any longer.
Image source: Wikipedia Commons
What is Your Favorite Thing About the Philippines?
American Products and Goods
My experience with American products and goods in the Philippines is an interesting one. There are American products sold in the Philippines which aren't especially popular in the United States. These products are generally cheap and sold as "American made", supposedly making it sound of quality. They aren't. My advice to you, fellow Americans, is if you see a product sold as "American made" and you haven't heard of it, do not buy it!
As for American food sold in the Philippines, it is also different. McDonald's is different, Wendy's is different, KFC is even different. McDonald's serves spaghetti and their burgers don't have the pickle taste you have grown to love (or hate). Wendy's hamburgers taste nothing like the Wendy's burgers in the US and more like a burger you'd find in a local cafe, and KFC serves rice instead of mashed potatoes and their biscuits I have yet to find.
Pizza Hut's pizza tastes exactly the same, but the menu is slightly different. They offer different pasta and different toppings than in the USA.
Celebrations in the Philippines are nothing short of magnificent. Singing and dancing (both a large part of Filipino culture) play a role in many celebrations. Food is also an important part with fried chicken and either spaghetti or pancit canton offered for children's birthdays, and for adults, lechon.
Lechon is a pig roasted over fire. It is then taken and sliced into various portions and offered to the guests or made into several different dishes.
Filipino television is much like American television--there are free channels, cable channels, dramas, comedies, movies, sports, and anything else your heart desires. Many Filipino stations also show American programs, both popular and of niche variety. Korean and Japanese series are also shown at a high frequency.
Why I Love It
The Philippines is an amazing country. The food is terrific, the celebrations amazing, the people friendly, and the ease of shopping admirable. There is something for everyone. Even if you dislike the hot air, you can head up to Baguio and enjoy a nice 24 Celsius (75 Farenheit) day.