Musings of a Visitor

If you are to sum up the Philippines in one phrase, the best one would be “a place of contradictions”.

In Canada, we seem to wear our ‘Filipino-ness’ like a shirt. We have the luxury of taking it off and putting it on, depending on where we are or who we are with. That’s not an option here in the Philippines. For a Canadian-born Filipino like me, the stone-cold reality is that the Philippines is a place that I’ll never truly be a part of.

Upon arrival at NAIA, there was a choice of three lines to fall into: Filipino, Balikbayan or Visitor. I was told that I qualified as #3 – and not #1 or even #2. Visitor.

Driving along Buendia, I saw a lineup of people waiting to buy NFA government-subsidized rice – while Mang Inasal, the chicken restaurant at the Mall of Asia currently advertised a promo that gives you ‘Unlimited Rice’ with your combo meal.

My cousin tells me that she has completed the caregiver certification course in order to be able to work abroad, because that provides the best opportunity – and I can’t think of any good reason why she shouldn’t go ahead and do that.

I can’t open the window and give change to every child that knocks on my window selling sampaguitas, but shouldn’t I? If I gave them 10 pesos, that’s like a quarter in Canadian.

On Wowowee, kids as young as 5 years old are encouraged to pelvic-thrust and gyrate like Beyonce for a few American bucks and later on in the show, stay tuned as a Mother of 5 must answer trivia questions correctly to win a prize. The prize? A plot of land and a house to go along with it.

On Pinoy Idol, the contestants that sang traditional Tagalog songs got told by Ogie Alcasid that their style was “medyo old-school” before getting kicked off and eventually losing to the contestants who were doing horrible Christina Aguilera impersonations.

Filipinos here also watch American Idol and love those blond chicks and that wussbag David Archuleta but not so much Ramiele Malubay because she was “too dark” or “too short”.

The cockfight arena is the biggest sausage party of the face of the earth. Pure guys.

An old man that I talked to here in Laguna province said that while they want GMA out, the Philippines needs a President who is going to be tough — like Ferdinand Marcos. Then another guy chimed in and added that things would have been better if Fernando Poe Jr. was elected. Fernando Poe Jr. was a star of action movies.

I saw a T-Shirt at Greenhills with a caption that read: “I AM THE IMELDA OF BAGS”.

Today, EDSA Shrine is just where people sit down to eat their lunch or smoke on their break from their job at the mall across the street.

No one takes pictures with the Ninoy Aquino memorial at the airport (it’s a recreation of the chalk outline of his dead body on the tarmac), but there’s a huge Kris Aquino billboard along EDSA and she’s all sweaty wearing some whorey outfit.

The entire town of Alaminos, Laguna came out to walk my Lola’s coffin to the cemetery. Everyone from the ‘mayaman’ cousins who drove in from Muntinlupa, to the wealthy townsfolk that have owned land here since the turn of the century just like my Lolo Leonardo, to the coconut, mango and pineapple farmers who till the soil on our ancestral lands, to the families that live ‘along the riles’ that sometimes ask for short-term work and are now extended members of the family, to the squatters who live on my Lolo’s property and were allowed to stay.

I guess its true — we have no control over the card we are dealt. People here sit on all sides of life from poverty to privilege and I guess its not so much about what you’ve got, but what you do with what you’ve got. (I know, easy for me to say.)

… and me, who delivered the eulogy for my Lola in busted Taglish, while doing my best.

After it was all done, someone told me that I made a good speech, but they couldn’t understand me.

Line #3. Visitor.


~ by Leonard on May 7, 2008.

8 Responses to “Musings of a Visitor”

  1. wow man.

    first, great piece, really.

    I can’t believe you got line #3. Were you born in the Phils? Even if you weren’t don’t you qualify as a balikbayan (being born of Fil parents)? I’ve always just stood in line #2, no probs (but I was born there so my Cdn passport reads Birthplace: Manila, PHL).

    That said I can still identify with the fact that having been raised here I don’t 100% fit in to Fil life. It’s an odd thing for me, that feeling of belonging and not belonging. I hate being called ‘Canadian’ while there, it’s sounds like an insult (but that just goes to show my mindspace more than anything else).

    “A place of contriditions.” Yup, it definately is. I always find it to be a place of unintentional comedy (often of the depressing sort). Eg. the gov wants to reduce poverty, so they reduce the poverty line (ha!). They want to improve employment numbers, so they massage the data by redefining ’employment’ (ha!).


    My condolences again for your loss, I hope you had a good trip considering the circumstances. See you when you get back.

  2. I was born in the Philippines and then moved here to Toronto. So I had the priviledge of having lived half my life there and half here in Canada.

    I went back in 2002 for the first time in 15 years. Funny thing is that the moment I got off the plane, it felt like I never left and was just coming back from vacation. I immediately felt a sense of belonging. I had no problem blending in partly because I’m fluent in tagalog, but largely due to the fact that the three friends (from Toronto) who made the trip with me just stuck out like a soar thumb. I was their translator and tsuper (driver, which seems to be case here in T.O. or when I go with friends anywhere in the world). Hence next to them, I seemed as local as one could be.

    The one difference I did notice when I was there was the sense of hope among the people. Growing up, I remember that no matter how dispiriting and depressing things were, people always seemed to have this hope that things could get better. Basta kayod lang ng kayod at konting tyaga. However, when I went back in ’02, that same sense of hope has been largely deflated.

    Like your cousin, more and more people are trying to work abroad so they can provide for their families. It is sad that the situation seems to have caused a lot of people to lose hope and to want to leave their beloved country. I can emphatize since my parents did the same thing.

    The ironic thing is that it is likely that half of the population there (or probably more) rely on OFW money. As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” Funny thing is that Filipinos know how to fish (methaphorically and literally); but if the reliance on OFW money goes unchecked, they will forget how to fish and complete apathy sets in.

  3. I meant “sore thumb”. doesn’t this thing have spellcheck? hahaha

  4. i need to go back
    condolences for your lola

  5. amazing post len. i would love to hear more about your observations there. it saddens me that our homeland is so rife with either helplessness or indifference. it’s a lot to think about. are there solutions? or is this just reality that they just face. and i only say they because even though i feel for the filipino people, to them i’ll always just be a canadian-born.

  6. What a great descriptive piece Len! Here are my 2 cents, of course, always serious and political. Hehe. It’s sad when a country exports 10% of its population (mostly highly skilled & educated) every year so that its nurses, teachers and engineers (etc.) are forced to work abroad to make a decent income. The exportation of its own labour generates approx. $12.8 billion per year to the PHIL economy in OFW remittances. PHIL govt needs to focus on developing and growing a sustainable domestic economy. Otherwise the brain drain will continue and govt will continue to rely on OFW remittances instead of making effective policy reforms.

  7. And as a true poet im having great expectations of new work. I heard someone has contacted you about a tentative open mic night. (not me)

  8. I completely relate, keep up the good work

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