Philippines: Fun and Beauty in Chaos
Being the largest Catholic Asian country and formerly under the Spanish, American and Japanese powers, the Philippines is surely a unique place to live and visit. One could identify within the country the similarities and strong contrast among the nation’s people, places and traditions. However, due to the innate variations, the question of the how one could define the true Filipino identity is difficult to answer. More complicated is to define a pattern, which truly describes and suits us Filipinos.
Many would mistakenly associate Filipinos to Chinese, other Southeast Asians, and even Latin or Arabian origins. The question remains there is no distinct Filipino appearance or physical characteristics. It is simply a complex genetic mixture of Western and oriental races, which makes no pattern in attributes. Moreover, the relative and accepted concept of beauty changes fast in the course of time. Before a fair-skinned Latin-like beauty seems to be the gold standard, reflecting the colonial influences of the Spanish and American regimes. Just few years ago, fair-skinned with expressive eyes, resembling Korean celebrities became a short-lived fad. However, it has only been in the recent years, when Filipinos embraced the Filipino bronze skin and exoticism of Filipinos as the new aesthetic benchmark.
Aside from the natural hereditary variations among Filipinos, there seems to be no pattern in the Filipino behavior. Filipinos are simply unpredictable. Many would describe Filipinos as shy, silent, timid and meek. Perhaps, this is the racist myopic association of a typical Asian. However, should one live in the Philippines for a longer period of time, one realizes that Filipinos simply do not fit in such associations. People are generally loud and fun to be with. There is simply no limitations in the way we socialize with others. Moreover, Filipinos have unique style of hospitality and family orientation. There is literally no concept of social distance in communication for we could be intimate with another, despite of knowing one in a very short time. However, we are overly-cautious, but emotionally-sensitive and overly jealous. Therefore, just like any other race, Filipinos differ from each other such that putting them into one category is impossible.
It is not unusual that Filipinos are asked by foreigners whether they all speak English or the Filipino national language. The answer is yes, but Filipinos are multi-linguistic. There are thirteen indigenous languages in the Philippines, including Filipino (commonly called Tagalog) and Cebuano, which is spoken as mother tongue by most Filipinos is the Central and Southern Philippines. People think these languages are simply dialects, but it is not the case. A person who speaks Tagalog may not entirely understand Cebuano, or those speaking Cebuano cannot understand those speaking the other languages spoken in the North. Another misconception is the general English proficiency of Filipinos. Filipinos understand and can speak Basic American English, but not all are good in using English language in speaking and writing, especially academically. Furthermore, the medium of instruction in schools is generally English, but explanations of the concepts are done in the mother tongue, not necessarily Tagalog. Hence, learning Tagalog or English does not guarantee one to be understood by all Filipinos at all times. There is simply no general rule. Perhaps, use gestures and actions more. That would be better and more useful.
On the other hand, there are two conflicting images of the Philippines. The prevalence of poverty in its metropolis and rural areas, and the beauty of its nature. Again, this association is simply not true. Filipinos would somehow consider themselves poor; but in reality, Filipinos are generally not as poor as one expects it to be. To qualify the degree of poverty Filipinos experience nowadays, one could describe it as a state wherein one could not meet all its basic need and simultaneously meeting its basic wants. However, the gap between the richest and poorest in the country is indeed widening, while the middle class is also ballooning as a result of improved access to higher education and continued rise in the employment abroad. In fact, the richest in the Philippines are even richer in the some of the richest in certain European and first-world countries. Due to this widening gap, it would be impossible to say Filipinos are comparable with other developing countries. Hence, the Filipino economic demography is unique with its youthfulness, international-orientation, growth in access to higher education, expanding middle class, increasing influence of oligarchs, and continued alleviation of poverty.
Furthermore, the Philippines is not just a tourist beach destination, or a country resembling other Asian countries with temples, churches and towering megastructures. The Philippines’ urban areas are simply chaotic with no patterns and general standard. It is a mixture of real estate properties, varying in ownership, utility, depreciation and appearance. One could simply build anywhere, anytime and anyhow. On the other hand, the suburban and rural areas are changing its landscape. Many of the agricultural and forest lands have been transformed into residential areas; destroying the traditional Filipino farm landscape. However, even though such changes have taken place in the recent years; the Philippines remains a beautiful country to travel and explore. Just one should not expect monotony and pattern in places where one will visit.
Lastly, the strength of the Philippines is its people. Our resilience is tested by time and challenges we face. World’s strongest typhoons hit us often and controversies plagued the country due to its weak political systems and structures. However, in spite of these, Filipinos stand and prove that the essence of failures is the actions that follow it to cope and withstand the difficulties. Perhaps, this is something similar Filipinos have amidst the differences and lack of patterns in people, places and traditions.