Dealing with day to day life as a foreigner in the Philippines isn’t always easy. In fact, at times it can be downright onerous if not infuriating. Mindless bureaucracy, widespread corruption, lagging infrastructure and chronic inefficiency all combine into a virulent morass that tends to boggle the minds of First World visitors. Add to that mix some very real cultural differences (amor propio, hiya, utang na loob, balat sibuyas, crab mentality, mañana, bahala na, tampo, and all the rest – foreign terms explained below) and some days I find myself being “done” with the Philippines early in the day and heading home to hide in my dark, air conditioned bedroom curled up and weeping shamelessly into my pillow.
Yeah, even after three years of living in the Philippines, I still have trouble dealing with all of the things that transpire in our tropical little paradise. I’ve gotten better – but I still ain’t no Wizard of Well Adjustment.
With that and mind, let’s talk about something that happened to me last week while Michell and I were meandering around the island of Siquijor, just off the coast of our home island, Negros Oriental.
First off, let me say once again that we had an absolute blast there. Everything played out, we didn’t get lost (much), the temperature was very tolerable and nothing untoward jumped out of the jungle to take us out of our happy space.
That said, realize that the interior roads of Siquijor are in pretty bad shape, pitted and pocked with wide and deep potholes. The coastal road is very nice, but once you head inland, things get fairly bad, fairly quickly. In order to survive, the driver basically has to look about 15 feet ahead of the bikes front tire while the rear (pillion) rider looks further ahead to warn his or her companion of trucks and cars barreling around blind corners.
Here’s a few photos of the interior roads:
Now, at one point, as we were carefully traversing the islands midsection between the spooky shaman-town of San Antonio and the butterfly garden intersection near Cang-Apa, my slow mind suddenly realized something. That revelation was: The pitted interior roads of Siquijor provide a great analogy for a foreigner living in the Philippines. This came to me after an hour or so (I told ya my mind is slow), and for some reason I thought the analogy was pretty good. So, in our continuing mission to share our life experiences in the Philippines, I feel I gotta share it with our readers.
Put simply, the pitted, pock-marked road is the Philippines. The scooter is the foreigner. How the two interact is the sum total of how well one can adjust to long-term life in the Philippines. The potholes are all of the causes of foreigner woe in the Philippines: That hole is a burning trash pile. That one is a driver with no lights on. The big one after that is a maddening (and unsuccessful) shopping misadventure. Next to it is a pile of garbage. That one is karaoke blasting at 3 AM. And nestled nearby is one filled with yes-meaning-no’s. If the scooter attempts to speed its way down the rough road, bad things are going to happen.
These potholes are treacherous. Hitting one head-on can bend a rim. Deeper ones can blow out a tire or shock. Gun the throttle on that pitted road and you just might find the little scooter skipping out from beneath you, the scooter going one way while you take a long, painful slide across the asphalt, leaving bits of skin and flesh behind.
As foreigners, we cannot change the roads. We can bitch about them and ridicule them, but we can’t smooth them out. Similarly, we can’t change the Philippines. The sole power for real change lies in the nation itself – in the Philippine people. Realizing this and accepting it – I believe – is the key to long-term happiness here. For if we as foreigners don’t consciously slow ourselves down and surrender to the realities of life outside our home nations, we are only hurting ourselves through increased stress levels. And don’t forget: For many “First Worlders,” stress is the number one killer. Beyond that, being constantly stressed out and frustrated can make for some truly dark days.
So, as we expatriates continue along the road less traveled, make sure to slow down, taking the time to maneuver around various road hazards. Keep yourself safe – keep yourself well. Take breaks along the way. Pull over and have yourself a nice cold C2 apple tea at a roadside sari-sari. Mop the sweat off your brow and talk to people. Smile and breathe. Then smile again. Live life consciously.
Cuz when all is said and done, it really is more fun in the Philippines.
What have your experiences been like dealing with the day to day in the Philippines? Have experiences to share? Leave a comment!!
Amor propio: Love of self (Pinoy pride)
Utang na loob: Debt of gratitude.
Balat Sibuyas: Onion skin. Filipino sensitivity.
Bahala na: Resignation. It’s in God’s hands.|
Crab Mentality: Pull other people down.
Tampo: Pouting/Upset/Silent treatment.