Posts Tagged ‘pinoy’

It’s everywhere. Walk to your local palengke (wet-dry market), and vendors and shoppers alike are singing along to Journey’s “Faithfully” playing overhead. Try to cross the street and the traffic cop dances to his own, impressive groove, stopping traffic. Hop in a cab and the driver and his radio are unabashedly belting out REO Speedwagon. Go to your local department or electronics store, and if there is a karaoke machine for sale, you can bet your life that at one of the employees will be testing it out. Go grocery shopping, and suddenly the employees break out into a choreographed dance routine. In Manila, life is a musical with a cast of 17,000,000.

Musicals were the stuff I was raised on, so I feel right at home. In an attempt to shelter us from objectionable movies, my parents slyly gave us Hitchcock, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn–and musicals. Lots of musicals. While my friends were having nightmares over Freddy Krueger, I was learning the entire score of West Side Story by heart. My on-screen heroes were Debbie Reynolds, Judy Garland, and Julie Andrews. Since I grew up in a musical household, it seemed natural for Gene Kelly to suddenly break into song as he danced his way through a rain storm, appropriate that Audrey Hepburn’s language lessons with Henry Higgins should take place via song. It was only when I met my husband and his largely musical-free childhood that I realized anyone might find it odd (or cheesy) to sing your way through every fifteen minutes or so of life.

What better way to pass the work day?

The delightful fact of the matter is that Pinoy men and women alike just don’t seem to worry about what others think of them when it comes to song and dance. Put another way, everyone here has stage presence. Finding a Filipino who doesn’t sing is like finding a meal without rice: it’s possible, but rare.

While Pinoys do seem to have more than their fair share of musical talent, lack of talent is not a deterrent. Walk through any busy neighborhood after 10 p.m. and you’re sure to hear at least one off-key karaoke singer doing a unique rendition of a song you thought you knew. It’s one of the more charming characteristics of the Philippines for me, and something I’ll miss when we return to the quiet, self-conscious States. I may take home the habit of singing along in public, because I’ve learned here that whatever your situation, it’s almost always better with a song.

— Laura

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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.

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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!)
-Laura