Occupation: Freelance writer
How did you find about the Philippines?
You could say itís in my blood. I was born in Quezon City, to Filipino parents, and raised in ParaŮaque.
What Philippine locations have you visited?
Various areas in Metro Manila (of course!), Boracay, Baguio, Zambales, Pangasinan, Tagaytay and Anilao in Batangas, Cavite, Subic Bay (Olongapo), Angeles City (and other parts of Pampanga), Guimaras, Iloilo City, Laguna, Quezon Province, Tarlac, Cebu, Bohol, Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Camiguin, and Daet, Naga, Donsol, Legaspi (Bicol Region). The number of local places Iíve visited locally is pathetic, considering we have more than 7,000 islands.
What are your opinions on the following things about the Philippines?
I probably need to visit more places to give this question a good enough answer. Metro Manila is convenient in terms of accessibility to entertainment and items one needs on a daily basis (there are malls, sari-sari stores, and bars everywhere!). Many of the restaurants, pubs, movie theaters, hotels, and retail stores that you see in the West are present here. But give the local establishments a try if you can Ė open yourself up to new experiences.
Areas in the provinces that arenít overrun with tourists as yet are breathtaking and delightful pockets of paradise on Earth. Traveling to these places can be inconvenient (think a plane ride and/or several hours in a crowded bus) but a lot of them are worth the transportation trouble. If youíre the type of person who canít live without malls or a lively nightlife in a bar then you probably wonít have a rip-roaring time in places like Sagada.
Iím not a big fan of ultra-spicy food, so I tend to forgo dishes like Bicol Express. Neither do I like much of the street food, so count me out when things like isaw, balut, adidas, and betamax are on the menu.
On the other hand, I love seafood, and thank goodness thereís no shortage of that here so far. There are dishes like grilled squid stuffed with tomatoes and onions, humungous prawns sautťed in butter or stewed in tamarind sauce, stuffed milkfish, kinilaw na tuna (something like tuna sushi). Meatlovers like myself can also take comfort in dishes like bulalo (a kind of beef stew), chicken or pork adobo (meat cooked in vinegar, soy sauce and pepper),pochero (pork, beef or chicken stewed with vegetables in tomato sauce), etc.
And of course, there are rice dishes in various incarnations. Rice with toppings of beef, pork, chicken, or seafood, yang chow fried rice, nasi goreng, and so on.
Then thereís my favorite green mango salad, too! Diced Indian mango with onions, tomatoes, and bagoong (a kind of pungent fish paste).Dee-lish. Plus, thereís also dried fish or dried squid dipped in vinegar. Not the most aromatic of dishes, but delectable, in my opinion. Especially when accompanied by steaming-hot, freshly cooked rice, or fried rice, to be eaten with oneís fingers. Mmmmmm.
Friendliness or hospitality or pakikisama is one of the many characteristics of Filipino culture. Especially when it comes to fiestas in the provinces! I was with friends in Guimaras during a fiesta sometime ago, and everyone was expected to visit each and every house and partake of the food laid out. After visiting just three houses, my tummy was full to bursting. But we were told we had to go visit lots of other houses too Ė and eat part of their spread! Ė or else those homeowners would take offense. I wished for a replaceable stomach that time.
Then thereís karaoke or videoke. Everyone sings, even those who canít. But if you donít sing Ė or donít want to Ė itís ok. You can cheer, clap or laugh, at least. Everybody sings, everybody dances. Even those who donít show a noticeable ability to do either. Doesnít matter if one canít sing or dance to save his or her life. As long as one is having harmless fun (or showing appreciation of those locals who CAN sing and dance) then all is well.
Filipinos, like many other people the world over, love their alcohol. If a local you donít know calls out to you ďTagay!Ē it means he or she is inviting you to drink whatever it is they are drinking. Just remember that at some point, youíre expected to order more drinks and pay for those, though no mention is made about such things.
In non-touristy areas in the provinces, hospitality to visitors is a given. So itís not an uncommon occurrence to be invited for lunch, coffee, dinner, or a snack by total strangers who will take offense if you offer to pay them for the refreshments they had laid out for you. But as in all other places, there are locals who wonít hesitate to take advantage of tourists. So itís a good idea to find out beforehand about how much things cost so you donít get taken in for a ride. If youíre aware of things like the cost of a tricycle ride from the main road on Station 3 in Boracay to the Jetty Port, then you know that youíll only have to pay 20 pesos, and not the 200 or so pesos that some tricycle drivers try to charge otherwise.
Holy Week is a big thing, especially in the provinces. Good Friday is an official holiday, with most of the offices and commercial establishments closed for the day. In some areas outside Manila, re-enactments of Christís flogging and crucifixion are performed. Not a sight for the faint-hearted!
Smiling, friendly, accommodating, polite (in most cases). Shyness is sometimes mistaken for aloofness. But once you get past the initial awkwardness then everything will tend to go smooth as silk. Lots of Filipinos are gabby by nature. Sometimes one wishes for them to just shut up! But we are good storytellers as a whole, and who can resist telling a good story, even to a complete stranger?
English is widely spoken and understood in the Philippines. Even the lowliest street person, though far from being fluent in the language, is able to understand and converse with English speakers. Sometimes people in the street speak in pidgin English with lots of hems and haws and hand gestures, but more often than not, English speakers need not fear a language barrier.
Like everywhere else, though, there are locals who will take advantage of foreigners as much as they can. Scammers, swindlers, pickpockets, thieves, fraudsters, we have them, sure. They come in all sizes and forms: as taxi drivers (not all), money changers (not all), policemen (not all), and the doves who fly low (a euphemism for prostitutes). They give the country and other Filipinos a bad name, but I believe that the good done to visitors by my countrymen outweigh the bad. Itís just that the good isnít given as much publicity.
We are unfailingly polite most of the time. A lot of visitors get a kick out of being addressed as ďMaíamĒ or ďSirĒ in restaurants and other commercial establishments by the service staff, even if the guest in question is just ten years old.
What do you dislike about the Philippines?
Mind-numbing bureaucracy in some governmental agencies (not all). Insane politics. Traffic. Poverty. Summer humidity. Terminal tax at the airports. Damn mosquitoes. People who take advantage of other people, even fellow Filipinos.
What do you like about the Philippines?
The sheer vastness of potential experiences here. The variety of cultures in the islands. The helpfulness and courtesy of my fellow Filipinos. Iíve encountered so many who work in resorts, restaurants, hotels, etc., who have been willing to go beyond what their job description entails just to help. And no, they didnít ask for a handout for such unexpected friendliness and service.
The laughter that pervades almost every crevice of society. No matter what the tragedy, Filipinos will find a way to lift everyoneís spirits through humor.
The beaches. Lots and lots and lots of beaches.
And of course, how can I forget San Miguel Pale Pilsen?
Your favorite place/s in the Philippines.
L-R: 1) The Boracay sunset pic: Breathtaking Boracay sunset, enjoyed with a terrific friend, 2) Atop a rock formation in Rumagangrang in Guimaras, 3) On gorgeous, isolated Yato Island in Guimaras, 4) A lovely Manila Bay sunset, 5) The fountains at one of the numerous malls in Metro Manila
* Click photo to enlarge
Do you have a website or blog?
Website: Expat Interviews. A site I was given the honor by an über-cool person to participate in. It features interviews with expats all over the world who share their insights about what it's like to live and work in another country. We have an Expats in the Philippines section, check it out!
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