I have been blessed with a fantastic opportunity to visit the Philippine Islands for one whole week. The itinerary was Makati Manila for two days, and the rest in Boracay. Manila reminded me a lot of Mexico City (of course, I compare every place with Mexico City for some reason. The first day I arrived in Seoul, I thought it reminded me of DF simply because it was overcast, hot, and the architecture was similar – tall steel box shaped buildings. In hindsight, Seoul and DF are nothing alike. Manila, however, is very similar). Driving from the airport to Makati you see the dilapidated buildings, small retail businesses lining the streets, children walking around barefoot, mothers watching over groups of kids while bolstering a toddler over her hip. You smell the exhaust of the city, hear the occasional car horns, and listen to whatever English music your taxi driver is playing for you as you gaze past the rosary hanging over the rearview, through the front windshield. One taxi we sat in, although “marked” and felt safe, was likely a stolen vehicle as the ignition was taped up with duct tape and a makeshift ignition was put in place about 7 inches under the original. When you get in a taxi, sometimes there are no meters so the driver will ask you “how much?” At that point, the negotiation begins.
The first day we did not leave Makati. We shopped like the Makatians do… or rather, the tourists of Makati. Makati – well, Ayala center, has a ton of malls which are connected to one another. So you don’t have to walk outside if you don’t want to. Each entrance has a set of security guards that utter “hi maum (maam)” as they poke a stick through your open purse to check for weapons. We didn’t buy anything really. The thing that we were most excited about was the fruit. Mangos in the PI are like drops of heaven. We spent the equivalent of $1.40 for a carton of mangos, watermelons, pineapples, honeydew, and pear. It is about the same price for 3 fresh mango, pre-cut. In Seoul, it is easily 4x that price. It made me sick to think how much money I’ve spent on fruit in the past three months. So needless to say, I ate fruit for breakfast, with lunch, and with dinner and for snacks in between. Then there was the Filipino food. It is officially my favorite: sinigang, chicken adobo, enseymada, pancit bijon, inasal, the fresh buko (coconut) juice, ube ice cream with halo halo… perfection.
Okay moving on. The similarity to DF was also reflected in the interactions with locals. Having traveled Asia just a bit this summer, I have noticed a qualitative difference between countries influenced by a more conservative, private way of being and those that value expression and affection. An example – in the Philippines (as well in Mexico, India, and Italy in my experiences) it is not uncommon to find locals singing full out while walking down the street. They hear a song they know (playing on the stereo or in their minds), and they sing. In Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, you will not see that as often (I am being careful not to over-generalize while also sharing my true experience). In these countries where the people sing, my experience is that their interactions are more warm (?), affectionate, and open. For instance, generally speaking, in Taiwan you will rarely hug. You hardly hug people regardless of whether you know them or not. My family members don’t hug one another. They will hug me because I greet them that way but not without a comment (in Mandarin) to whoever is around (or maybe to themselves as they rationalize why they are hugging me) “she’s doing it American style.” My mom used to say to me “we’re Chinese, we don’t hug.” I take that to mean that some Chinese people don’t hug. But I mean, what is that? Seriously, what is that? Then in the Philippines, I went to get a massage and when I returned to the same lady and asked her lightheartedly, “do you remember me?” She laughed and through her huge smile said, “yes yes” and reached out to grab my arms and pull me to her. It was a hug of sorts – at the very least, it was a gesture of affection. This is a woman who I met just once before. My impressions are that the cultures with people who sing are more playful – they joke with you, they laugh, they make fun of you, of themselves, they smile, they hug… I’ve had similar experiences in Mexico with people I don’t know well being affectionate with me. I like it. I know it’s stating the obvious to say that in different places, people are different. But what I’m trying to understand is why. How did it become like this? I know that in certain areas of the world, Filipinos are considered Asian (e.g. Canada), while in other parts of the world they are considered Pacific Islanders (e.g. US). But if the people of the PI are part of the Asian domain, what makes the culture so different from East Asian? Is it the Latin (Spanish) influence? Does their 3rd world status have something to do with it? Is it like this in Thailand? Cambodia?
One thing I learned about myself in the PI is exactly how much I enjoy cultures where there is more affection and expression. I tend to feel less comfortable in more conservative cultures. I’ve observed mySelf-in-context (please refer to Schachter) and see that I become much more introverted in conservative cultures and extroverted in countries where the people sing out loud. And let me just clearly state – there is no right or wrong in my mind – there is just my preference for one over the other.
Being in the PI has educated me – it has given me one more piece to negotiation as an Antevasin. The old for me was my value of expression, affectionate interaction. The new for me living in SK this summer was the value of privacy and conservative interaction. In this regard, I prefer the old.