Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Yesterday, May 23, was a momentous occasion–and not just because the unicameral Parliament of Finland gathered for its first plenary session on that date in 1907. For Laura and me, it meant only two months left in the Philippines! So often here on sweaty afternoons the time seems to move no more quickly than a stray dog lying in a patch of shade, and yet here we are, 83.3% done with this time that has changed us forever. Return tickets are bought, furniture is going to be sold, and on July 23, all we’ll be left with is an empty tile-floored apartment, six obese suitcases, and a raft of memories.

As any of you who have traveled much can relate, for even the minimally perceptive hominid, foreign countries prompt continual cultural comparison. On sabbaticals with my family as a kid, I’d noticed a few things; for example in Israel: “Wow, this random family’s doorstop is older and has more significance than anything in the entire US!” Or England: “This is the coldest I’ve ever been without snow, and they have black currant-flavored everything.” Figuring out life with a spouse, however (instead of depending on parents), and working with natives multiplied this process. As chronicled here, the observations piled up as we adjusted to a new culture, but with our departure looming, we finally wrote them all down. See if you notice an over-arching theme:

Won’t Miss

Will Miss

pollution Bae (the women at Samaritana)
lack of nature nearby stunning scuba diving
tiny biting ants and giant cockroaches everywhere $7 massages
roosters mangoes
distance from friends and family having lots of time together
“not available” at stores & restaurants Tagalog moments (i.e. when we get it)
Manila’s constant noise and crowds Manila’s energy
permanent daytime sweatiness warm nights
bad hair for Laura’s curls great pinoy hair
double ATM fees & budgeting with cash fewer worries about money in a simpler life
being a target preferential treatment because we’re white
being stared at Laura being told she’s beautiful frequently
few fresh vegetables in Filipino cuisine awesome & only-in-the-tropics fruits
bad “bahala na”–resignation about problems good “bahala na”–life’s too short to be anxious
sex tourists physical affection, especially between women
filtering water street food
deadlines not being very deadly not stressing about time
opening bags for security guards shockingly cute kids
rampant corruption emphasis on relationships
Filipino food Neighborhood balut guy (although not the balut)
running circles at UP, our only option for exercise feeling fast compared to local joggers
expensive local calls prepaid (cheap) cell phones
lack of independence no gas & car insurance payments
not being rooted at a church Samaritana community
dirty rainwater splashing on legs Epic thunderstorms
Absence of food & wine connections Fulbright connections
hitting my head on things feeling tall
tripping on uneven floors & sidewalks the way Life happens on the streets
everything being such a production having time be our own
dressing shabby $2 pedicures
concrete back “yard” not paying for home repairs
obnoxious DJ’s & sound effects everyone singing along
ubiquitous, competing pop music Joniver Robles playing the blues
no legal DVD’s or streaming tv shows cheap movies at the theater
books being expensive & plastic-wrapped being respected because we’re writers
dirty feet wearing flip-flops all the time
tough local meat & expensive, imported dairy the palengke’s scruffy charm
Rarely having hymns at church Paula & Brian, prayer partners & friends
deafening bus horns roller-coaster-esque “ordinary fare” buses
difficulty planning travel beauty of the provinces
benighted attitudes about birth control Four months of Christmas season
hanging out at malls Sebastian’s ice cream sandwiches
not being able to flush toilet paper living someplace tough and non-touristy
Pinoys’ obsession with being maputi (pale) beautiful kayumanggi (Filipino brown) skin
not having appliances having house helpers
neighbor’s yappy dog, who wakes us up nightly kasama (companion) culture
worrying about getting ripped off in cabs riding on the outside of jeeps and trikes
eternal traffic pinoys’ instinctive driving
difficulty communicating stretching our brains
feeling like we have little control enforced dependence on God

As the picture may have given away, what we gradually came to appreciate is that even in a crowded, dirty, noisy place like Manila, it is possible to be charmed. Would we want to stay here for the rest of our lives? We’re not sure–but as the list shows, it’s not as simple a question as one might think. Likewise, is our life “better” in the United States? Yes and no. But wherever we happen to be, I hope we can be a little more content–and a heartfelt thanks and borderline-alarming bearhug to all of you who made this possible.

— Nate

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We enjoyed some tolerable weather this April, the kind that cools off enough (at night) so that you can walk around comfortably without sweating–until this week.  As if on cue, knowing that we’d be living without our nightly bedroom air conditioning, summer descended, smothering plants, animals and people into stultifying submission.

Sleep comes slowly and leaves quickly.  Without the double-strength white noise of the aircon and the fan, we hear every dog’s yap, cat’s yowl, and neighbor’s cackle–and rooster’s crow from the dozen next door, especially from 3-6 a.m.  We knew this week would be a sacrifice of food, but didn’t realize it would be a sacrifice of sleep, too.  Some nights we can’t wait until morning . . . but the day only brings a longer, hotter version of the night.  Before this week, I longed for even one day to do nothing but rest; now I find myself wondering where all this time came from.

Nate noted this morning that we probably go more places in a normal week (Samaritana, church, IJM, various grocery stores, the mall, a restaurant or two, perhaps even a weekend trip) than most of the $2/day crowd would in an entire year.  Sure, we could’ve spent 64 pesos (1/3 our budget) to go to the mall and escape the heat, but why bother?  We’ll be less hungry if we stay home and do . . . nothing.

One of our remaining pastimes is figuring out our next meal, a topic that occupies at least a half hour each night while we wait to fall asleep.  We discuss the merits of lumpia (greasier) vs. peanuts (more protein), other possible protein sources besides eggs, which cheap foods have the most calories per peso, and whether the pleasure of bread for breakfast outweighs the savings from eating rice.  We speculate about store closures Easter weekend; as of yesterday, all of our regular street vendors have disappeared, the bakeries are closed, and Quezon City feels like a ghost town (which is rather shocking for a place that normally makes New York look sleepy).  So today we bought half our groceries–but no vegetables–at 7-11.

But that still leaves at least 16 hours to fill. We hand wash laundry.  We wash the rice cooker again.  We pick up the house.  We debate whether or not it’s okay to read books since books are expensive here, and eventually decide to read. Purchasing, cooking, and eating food turn out to be the main events of the day.  If we feel full when our plates are empty, we’ve succeeded.  If the food actually tasted good? Double happiness! All the while, the sun bakes our concrete building, and we feel less and less able to do anything.

At some point every afternoon, I find myself on the couch, dozing off until laughter from a neighbor’s gathering wakes me.  Two thoughts cross my mind: 1) here we are, in this country where relationships are king, and we are alone, and 2) I now  understand a little better why there are so many sleeping men all over this city (though you almost never see a napping woman).

The latter is something I’ve taken a bit personally.  Almost every one of the women at Samaritana has a story about an un- or under-employed dad/husband/boyfriend who drinks away the family’s much-needed income (often earned by a woman).  Every day when I look out the window at Samaritana into a neighbor’s yard I see one of these types snoozing in the yard; he never even seems to feed the roosters.  I’ll confess I’ve I felt unsympathetic to these men; their wives are industrious, self-sacrificing mothers, and yet all they do is roll over and take another sip of booze.

But lying on our couch today feeling hungry, sweaty, and brain-dead, I wasn’t even motivated enough to get up and walk across the room to get a glass of water–let alone face anything as daunting as looking for a job.  Suddenly it made sense: it won’t feed your kids or get your wife to stop nagging you, but for only P40 you can get yourself a bottle of Ginebra to take the edge off for most of the day.  And when you’re this hot, hungry, and bored, you’ll do anything to quicken the slow drip of time.  (This may also help explain the Philippines’ exploding population; birth control is all but outlawed, but sex is one of the few free ways to have fun and not pay for it–yet.) These men aren’t justified in their irresponsibility (their women endure!), but today, for the first time ever, I could relate.

The neighbors’ karaoke rouses me, and the thought floats into my sluggish brain that our impoverished Filipino friends have something we Westerners don’t: community. It’s a rare Sunday when our next door neighbors don’t have a dozen or so family members in their home sharing food, conversation, and their TV.  Walk down the street to the line of tricycle drivers waiting for customers, and even they are sitting around watching a game show on the tiny TV at the trike stand, or playing checkers with bottle caps on a board scratched into the sidewalk.  In the street or at home, Filipinos share life together: if you don’t own a TV, you go to a neighbor’s house; rather than eat alone, you pool resources and gather with family and friends.  They don’t always have enough, but what they do have is someone to share it with.


Daily Tab:

3 eggs-16 pesos
rice (leftover from yesterday)

Lunch & dinner
1/2 kilo of rice-15 pesos
3 eggs-16 pesos
1 head of garlic and 1 small onion-15 pesos
1 can of tuna-37 pesos
1 bag of peanuts-26 pesos
2 small packages of ramen-14.50 pesos
Tax from 7-11-8 pesos

1 small mango-9.50 pesos

internet–20 pesos

2 green mangos from the tree in front of our apartment, which Nate climbed
a handful of grape-like mystery fruits that a guy on the street gave us when we saw him gathering them from the ground

Total: 177 pesos

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A few days ago, while at a friend’s presentation on the historic Edsa 1 People Power Revolution, I saw an interview clip of someone surnamed Nathanielsz, and wondered why my parents didn’t go for that instead. It was the latest of many ways that the collision of two languages and cultures has entertained us since we arrived in Manila last July.  Whether it’s extra letters (Dhon the plumber? Margareth the councilwoman?), hilarious Taglish grammar, or unintentional sexual innuendoes, we wanted to share in this photo gallery some of our favorite examples of creative uses of English.

But we also wanted to comment on the broadening experience it’s been tackling a foreign language ourselves. Based on multiple conversations with polyglots, we think learning Filipino* (which shares our alphabet and only has a few sounds English doesn’t) is harder for English speakers than Romance or Germanic languages, but easier than Mandarin or Arabic.

As this fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal points out, language influences how we see the world–and thus learning a new language is to learn a new worldview. Over the past six months learning Filipino, we’ve seen multiple examples of this:

“Ngayon” means both “now” and “today.” If you inferred from this that Filipino culture is not very time-oriented, you’d be correct. (Conversely, fellow Americans, have you realized how many sayings and expressions we have that implicitly value time and direct communication? Straight shooter, get to the point, spit it out, stop beating around the bush, means what she says and says what she means, and more.)

In the Philippines, everyone’s part of the family: they use the terms twofold affectionate/respectful terms “kuya” (older brother), and “ate” (older sister) not only with family members, but with strangers, because everything in the Philippines is about relationships. Unlike western countries, you rarely have an interaction here that is completely anonymous or transactional.

Age- and status-consciousness is built right into Filipino speech: anyone who’s being polite will add the marker “po” to a sentence any time they’re addressing someone older or in a position of authority, or in business settings. (E.g. I’d say thanks “salamat” to a younger person, but “salamat po” to an older one.) Unlike the U.S., where everyone tries to pretend they’re equal, in the Philippines there’s always hierarchy and respect–which in relation to America’s obsession with youth, seems healthy. (“Po” also produces some hilarity in hybrid Taglish common in the Manila area; we’ve heard everything from “hello po” to “scuse me po” to “God bless you po.”)

Finally, passive verbs are more commonly spoken than active ones: in the U.S. we’d say “What are you doing?” but in the Philippines they’d say “What is being done by you?” Unlike me-first Americans, they place the emphasis on the activity, because actions and groups are more important. Sadly, passive verbs are twice as complicated and three times as long as active ones (e.g. “salita” is speak, but “nakakapagsalita” is “able to be spoken”), so at this point, according to our tutor, we sound like six-year-olds with our active verbs. But we’re trying . . . or as Filipinos would say, it’s being tried by us: sinusubukan namin.

— Nate

* Tagalog is the original name of the language, based in Luzon, that along with English is one of the national languages here. It is officially referred to as Filipino in an attempt to be more inclusive of the other regions; unlike many linguistically and geographically monolithic countries, the Philippines (with around 90 million people) has twelve languages with over a million speakers, so the choice of Tagalog as the national language is a sore subject with Cebuano speakers, which are almost equal in number to native Tagalog speakers.

The Crazy Lady

Posted: January 27, 2011 in Life in the Philippines
Tags: , , ,

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Manila is like a crazy lady,” one of our new friends said to us our first month here, and then quickly added, “but eventually you learn to love her.”

With its mishmash of Spanish, American, and Asian cultural influences (the product of centuries of colonial rule), its two extreme seasons (hot and wet; hot and dry), and its stark contrast of glitzy shopping malls next to sprawling squatter communities, Manila often feels schizophrenic, or at least manic depressive.

Early on we learned about the phases of culture shock: stage one, the honeymoon phase; stage two, the I-hate-everything-about-this-place stage; and finally, stage three, where you come back to earth, accept the tough stuff, and are finally useful in the midst of the struggle. The stages never quite fit for us, both because we’d done enough research to feel somewhat prepared, and because we were thrown into negative aspects of our new home too quickly to experience anything like a honeymoon. We’ve decided that “culture fatigue” more accurately describes our adjustment to life here.

A few months ago I had a day that brought me to the depths of culture fatigue. I spent four hours traveling to and from an airline ticket office to try to (unsuccessfully) change tickets I’d purchased for my parents’ upcoming visit. It began to rain—hard—and for the first time, I had forgotten my umbrella. Tired of waiting, I ran out into sheets of rain, my clothes immediately soaked. I rushed to an already packed MRT train, and then, seeing that there was just enough room for me to fit onto the last car, ran toward it before the doors closed. In the seconds before they did, my foot slipped between the train and the cement platform, and my entire body dropped until I felt splintering pain where my upper thigh finally stopped my fall. There were gasps around the train, but I hobbled to my feet and squeezed inside.

I watched a huge squatter community whiz by out the window, stood with six passengers pressed up against me on all sides with my hand on my wallet (I was pick-pocketed in a similar situation just a few weeks before), and then limped to a jeepney. Most jeepney drivers remind me of an impatient sixteen-year-old boy learning stick-shift for the first time—which is not so bad once you get used to it. But on this particular day, the tires squealed as we raced around buses three times our size, and the engine roared as the driver jammed the gas pedal to the floor. When I called out “para po!” (please stop) he slammed on the brakes, paused long enough for me to start walking hunched over toward the open back of the jeep, and then gunned it before I could step off, sending me flying and, unfortunately, clocking an innocent passenger in the face with my flailing hand.

As I got off the jeepney, I mused that so far, the crazy lady had mostly just driven me crazy. But every now and then, I understand. Manila may be a dirty, sweaty, chaotic place, but it’s also the kind of place where things happen—things so special that you would never dream of them on your own.

A few weeks after we arrived we found ourselves listening to Joniver Robles, a local blues artist, on a rainy night when most Filipinos didn’t venture out. Joniver sounds an awful lot like John Mayer, Johnny Lang, or Stevie Ray Vaughan, depending on the song (he covers all three artists), and can rip up guitar solos almost as well. We chatted between sets, and when I mentioned my singing background, he invited me to join him on stage. I crooned my way through a Norah Jones song, and then he asked me to do some blues improv. Being the blues junkie that I am, I knew the consistent themes (I’m so lonesome I could die, my baby left me, why you gotta treat me so bad, etc.), and so I got to live out a lifelong dream of belting the blues.

Or there was the seemingly ordinary Tuesday when I suddenly had a handful of texts from friends urging me to look at the Philippine Star, one of the major newspapers here. The previous weekend I’d had the good fortune of winning a trail running race, and there I was, right on the front of the sports section, looking a little too giddy as I crossed the finish line. I can count on one hand the number of times the local paper published my picture in high school even though I won far more races back then than I do these days . . . never once did I make it into a major city paper. But in Manila, these things happen.

There have been other, daily “good crazy” moments: flying seatbeltless down a darkened street perched on the back of a “tricycle” (a motorcycle with a sidecar); finally getting to ride on the back of a jeep (not usually something women get to do); admiring plastic soda bottle sculptures carved by a woman with a face as ancient as time; watching kids gleefully play basketball in flip flops in the middle of the street; having an hour-long conversation with a new woman friend at the bars during outreach (all in Tagalog!); tasting a mango, and realizing that nothing I’d tasted back in the States deserved that name.

Without a doubt, the best sides of the crazy lady’s personality are Filipinos themselves. It’s Hazel, our teacher friend, showing us true Filipino hospitality in a delectable dinner even though she just met us. It’s one of the Samaritana women worriedly sending another volunteer after me so I wouldn’t have to make the walk to the jeepney without a kasama (Tagalog for “companion”). It’s the way the Samaritana women tell me I’m beautiful and give me hugs for no reason almost every day. Filipinos are pretty amazing people. They’re the reason we came, and the reason why even on the hard days, we’re not ready to go home.

The crazy lady still drives us crazy. But slowly, we’re learning to love her too.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After four months of Christmas carols, malls decked out in boughs of holly, and every kid in our neighborhood ringing our doorbell and “caroling” (the trick-or-treating of Christmas, where kids ask for presents or money), you’d think we’d be more than ready for the big day.  But you’d be wrong.

Perhaps it’s just our wintry, northern childhoods that conditioned us to associate Christmas with pine trees, mittens, and of course snow.  No matter that the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the weather was likely much more like Manila than Minneapolis or Boston. It wasn’t until this week at the Samaritana staff retreat that the Christmas spirit swept me up.

On that note, I thought I’d share some of my favorite Christmas moments here in the Philippines–some humorous, some poignant–leading right up to this week, when I was finally ready to let it snow . . . or something:

  • I’m walking through the grocery store, buying mangoes and powdered milk, when I hear Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.”  We hear her almost daily (I recently had a whole night of dreams where “Bad Romance” was the soundtrack–not fair).  But this time something remarkable happened.  The song morphed, ever so casually, into a techno-version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”  Clever, I thought.  But then the song switched into K$sha’s “Tick Tock,” and then into “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and then–just when I was sure there was nowhere else to go–Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.”  Naturally.  No one around me seemed to think anything of the Sexy Pop/Christmas medley.
  • One evening we stopped off at the University of the Philippines for the annual lantern parade.  When I recall the days and weeks leading up to Christmas in college, all I can remember is the stress of impending finals and being incredibly anxious to go home for winter break.  The U.P. campus put my faded memories to shame.  Each department on campus created an elaborate, ingenious float, often from nothing more than plastic cups and empty soda bottles, all of them lit up by portable generators.  The result was magical: jellyfish, sharks, dragons, and mermaids, each one more impressive and intricate than the last.
  • Last week about fifteen of the Samaritana women came to our apartment and caroled.  As they crowded into our little living/dining room, we fed them spaghetti and Filipino sweets.  They came all the way from Samaritana (about a 30-40-minute jeepney ride each way) just to sing for us.  We’re hoping to return the favor on the 26th, when we’ll host for dinner all of the women who couldn’t get home to their families in the provinces and had to spend Christmas alone.
  • Last Friday Samaritana hosted its annual Christmas party. Some of the women we’ve met at the bars also came, including a few bar owners and pimps (over time the Samaritana staff have realized that these women are the gatekeepers to the women Samaritana helps, and often need help themselves.  They also see Samaritana as a place where they can send the women when they are “used up” or too old). It was a 2 p.m. party, there were no alcoholic beverages, and the ages of the women ranged from 20 to 40-something–but Filipinos know how to party.  There was singing, dancing, food, and the best game of musical chairs I’ve ever seen (it ended in a tie because the last two women standing wrestled each other for their seat).  Samaritana gave out raffle items, and every woman went home with a basket full of groceries and a ham.  Ham is the meat of choice on Christmas here, and many of the women, teary-eyed, said that it was their first ham ever.
  • This past Sunday night, Samaritana partnered with World Vision and some local churches to host a Christmas party for the prostituted women in one of our outreach areas. (In recent years, it’s been a sad irony that the World Vision parking lot has been a frequent hangout for prostitutes, so we’re very excited about this new partnership with World Vision.) It’s been a tough area for Samaritana to reach, and for 18 years, Samaritana has been praying that local churches and NGOs would partner with them.  One of Samaritana’s  leaders told her story, how fourteen years ago she was just like them, working in the bars and not believing that there was any hope for another life.  She was in and out of Samaritana for years, but thanks to Samaritana’s persistence, she eventually stayed and became a leader.  Many of the women cried and said that no one had ever made them feel valued or thrown them a party.  Two woman pimps came to the event, and one of them said through tears that she wondered if God could ever forgive her for what she’s doing.  Each of the women, including several 14 and 15-year old girls, left with a lovely basket of gift-wrapped groceries.  One of the women said to a Samaritana leader, “is Samaritana a church?  How can I attend?”  These outcast, hungry for fellowship, were blown away that anyone would think they deserved a party.
As for our own Christmas (which included–Filipino style–midnight mass, dinner with a Filipino friend’s family until 2 a.m., 5 hours of sleep, and two more Christmas dinners today!) comes to a close, we are thinking a lot about all of you back home.  We miss you most this time of year.  Thank you for supporting the work we’re doing here, for vicariously loving these amazing women through us, and for encouraging us every step of the way.

Maligayang Pasko, at Manigong Bagong Taon! (Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!)

No matter where you go, you can't escape the music. (Bonus points if you can ID all seven recording "artists.")

There are two things you can’t escape in Manila: heat and pop music. Like the heat, pop is the Snuggie you can’t take off, the constant, stultifying presence defeating any attempts at resistance or cogitation. Malls, restaurants, hotel patios, jeepneys, even trikes–anywhere it’s possible to pipe a radio signal, mp3, or CD (and with Filipino ingenuity, that really does mean anywhere). The chorus to this ditty is that if you are in public, you will be hearing pop music. And probably 80’s. (As a sort of sidenote [if you will], what’s also interesting here are the typical volumes that all and sundry are subjected to: we’re not talking about background music, but foreground music–which is odd because in conversation, Filipinos are generally much more soft-spoken than Westerners.)

Of course while (as noted previously) the 80’s are a dominant presence, a cultural touchstone (or cultural cheeseblock, depending on your proclivities), current top-40 hits stretch their tendrils of inanity throughout life here as well. I’ve had Justin Bieber serenade me while buying mangoes on the street, tried to keep a Poker Face while inhaling diesel exhaust on a jeepney, TIK TOKed with cab drivers, and of course partied in the U.S.A. . . . in Manila.

Now don’t get me wrong: I like lip-syncing to Mariah Carey as much as the next guy. I forget the verses and belt out the chorus to “Don’t Stop Believing” just like you do. But with the constant hum in a city that is already noisy, I sometimes yearn for silence, the impossible dream. Even in our relatively quiet apartment, there are still the backup vocals of the neighbor’s  roosters, the heartfelt yearnings from a nearby karaoke bar, and random firecrackers from festive Filipinos. So every now and then I put on my own Clair de Lune, Kind of Blue, or Bach Prelude and add our songs to the Manila mix tape.


We’ve only been in Manila 9 days, but it feels like much longer since we’re taking in so many new impressions and experiences every day—many of which will merit future posts.  In the meantime, we’ve made a list of five things that have struck us as new, interesting, or just plain hilarious:

1. That’s ok; we weren’t planning on breathing: after Shanghai, Mexico City, and New Delhi, what city has the fourth-dirtiest air in the world? You guessed it! The exhaust is as visible as San Francisco fog . . . except for that it’s right in your face, and it smells.  The “Manila smell” is a mix of exhaust, grease (as in deep fried food grease), and rotting vegetation.  The Manila smell hits you the minute you leave any air-conditioned building, and has penetrated our dirty laundry.  There is a general impression of everything being covered in a soot-like grime—including us.

One of many ads encouraging brown people to be white

2. Brown people want to be white: every day we see about a dozen ads for cosmetic products that promise to make your skin paler/fairer/whiter, featuring either white models, or Filipinas who have fair skin and Western features (our Filipino hosts informed us that some women here even get plastic surgery to look more Western).  I’d swap my easily-sunburned northern-European skin in a heartbeat, but I suppose we all want what we don’t have, no matter what culture we claim.

Siblings, right?

3. All white people look the same if you’re brown. During our first day here, we were told on three different occasions that we looked like brother and sister.  No matter that Nate’s eyes are blue, mine are brown; Nate has the flattened quarter-Chinese nose while mine is decidedly pointy and Roman; I have freckles and fair skin, while Nate tans easily, and so on—we look the same to them!  Much-needed chuckles all around for that one.


An amusing vehicular rhetorical question

4. . . . but all Filipinos really do drive the same: crazy.

It only took about 10 minutes in our first cab ride to find the humor in the “How’s my driving?” painted on almost every bus, jeepney, or trike. Unlike in the US, for example, lanes are open to interpretation, public transport vehicles of all sizes and speeds will cut across any amount of road to stop and pick up a new passenger, and most busy intersections between multi-lane roads have no stop signs, let alone traffic lights. As one Filipino explained to us, instead of following traffic laws, Filipinos’ driving is directed by feeling or instinct–so what this leads to is a level of organic, exuberant chaos that is hard for the Western-trained driver’s mind to even comprehend. (However, we should note that this astoundingly intricate dance of hurtling humans means that Filipino drivers are amazingly alert, a lesson that we iPod-tuning, text-messaging, spacing-out American drivers could learn from.)


For some good laughs, check out the "Next Time I Fall" video on YouTube with Amy Grant.


5. The 80’s never died in Manila. (Jen Sheedy & Jennifer Burden, are you listening?) We’d heard before we came here that Filipinos love their karaoke, but as it turns out, they love 80’s music as well.  We’ve heard Journey, REO Speedwagon, Peter Cetera, and other cheezball classics pumped through the speakers of taxis (often accompanied by a singing driver), the hallways of the many malls here, and over the yards and shanties in our new neighborhood.  And really, why not?  In the Philippines, it’s always a good time to be livin’ on a prayer or to bust a move!