When Another Country Slaps You In The Face
Being a child to two parents from the Philippines is very interesting, especially when you grow up with those same parents in the United States. We are taught the customs and culture at a young age. Now I have never been to the Philippines until I was the age of 16. But leading up to that, growing up in California where things are much better in terms of lifestyle and privilege. We are warned not to judge too much about what we might encounter and experience when we first arrive. It was sort of my parents way of saying you are kind of spoiled compared to what these kids grow up back home, as they call it. But I still took it with a grain of salt. I had no idea just what I would encounter for my three week stay.
We were going for the Christmas and New Year’s holiday. So me being a Junior in high school was just excited to get finals over with and get school done with for a month. As soon as the final bell whistled I remember driving home with my siblings. We were all so excited because we did not know what to expect and were pretty ecstatic because all 3 of us have never been to the parents homeland yet. We arrived home and were told to finish up packing up what we needed so we could embark on our drive to the Airport.
Fast forward a bit to the airport. I prepared myself for a grueling 15 hour flight with tons of CDS and batteries for my CD player. I got the window seated next to my sisters and my parents had the seats in front of us. The window seat was neat. Got to take in the clouds, sunset and sunrise.It was a sight to behold. I occupied myself with the view, listening to music and even watched a movie that was shown to everyone on the flight.
15 hours or so later we finally arrived at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, The capital city of the Philippines. We proceeded to go through the treacherous Customs and TSA check. Once that was completed we retrieved our luggage and started to make our way outside where my uncle and aunt were picking us up. Now this is the part where I was warned by my parents. It is the middle of December, but the weather is severely humid, it’s a tropical country, so 90 percent humidity is very common no matter the time of year.
Those automatic double doors at the airport swung open and that immense Heat hit me like a ton of bricks my goodness. I was prepared though, wore a t-shirt, shorts and slip on shoes. My uncle and aunt found us and helped us out with bags and proceeded to heads towards their van. But you could already see just how different this country was. Along the sidewalk of the airport there were street vendors selling food, toys, clothes and all sorts of different items. It wasn’t an official market just people trying to make money. They would kind of annoy after a while so my mom gave them money and they went a different way.
The house we were going to stay at for 3 weeks was my grandma’s house in a province called Tarlac, Bamban. This small town was 1 hour away from Manila. The official language for the country is called Tagalog, but there are hundreds of different dialects scattered throughout the countries islands. My mom spoke kapangpangan and dad spoke Illocano. But both communicated with tagalog. I understand bits of pieces of all 3. But definitely not enough to get through a whole conversation.
On this hour long drive through to the country, it is something to behold. Tons of traffic, huge freeways and tons of cars. But what really caught my eye was the miles and miles of fields and sugar cane. It was everywhere. As we finally got to Tarlac and arrived at my grandmothers house. Which was the biggest house in the town according to my parents, She wasn’t rich by any means but having 8 kids live in the states and put money together to build her a nice house was their goal as her children. They all grew up in a 2 bedroom and squeezed together when they were still younger.
After putting our stuff away in our rooms, my cousin decided he would take the kids out around the town market to experience the Philippine markets and get some food. He told us to wear basketball shorts and older T shirts because we may be spotted and messed with. They told my cousin to watch us closely. “Don’t let them out of your sight romel” I remember someone yelling out to him. It’s just how things are in a foreign country. First thing we went to was the fish market to get some fresh fish for dinner. This was the smelliest, most rotten smell I have ever endured. It was in the cleaning process so it was raw and disgusting to me. The biggest difference was that everything pricewise was open for bargaining. If you got the skill talk a price down, you do it. My cousin got 6 fresh fish for 25 pesos. The Philippines Currency, 25 was so cheap compared to the US dollar. Less than a penny he said.
We continued our way throughout the market and on the streets you see transportation such as tricycles and motorcycles that you could pay someone to take you around. Sort of a cheaper taxi I guess you could say. At the market they sold bbq, pigs feet, local favorites like Lumpia (Egg Rolls). It was very different from what we are used to and although the humidity was unbearable everyone had a job to do. Some people make this their living selling stuff to support their families.
When Christmas arrived we were told of a custom they have in the city that kids would go around houses and ask for my money. Not a lot, maybe a couple pesos. My grandma’s house was surrounded with kids. Everyone was passed as much money as we could, eventually we would have turn some away. It was something special to see the looks on the kids faces as you know you made their night even with the smallest amount of money for Americans.
This trip was one of the greatest things to happen to me. I learned so much about Culture because everything about the Philippines was a shock to me. It makes me realize just how different things are in other places. We grow up being taught how things are done due to our surroundings and local culture that other times you don’t realize how less fortunate and different other parts of the world. That is something that is crazy to me and has taught me and helped to remain humble about how lucky I am. Other people could probably take solace in the fact that from reading this that not everything is the same. So when you are going to another country keep an open mind, explore, learn and be open to the culture and compare to what you have back home. It’s so amazing to see what is out there. You might learn a thing or two that you could take with you in life.