Today (November 7) marks exactly 3 months since I arrived in the Philippines, and what a ride it’s been! Although my primary reason for being here is for study, I’m definitely trying to make the most of my stay here (3 years). Here are some of my thoughts and observations of life here so far.
1. There are people…everywhere!
I knew from my research before coming here that it is a country with a population of over 100 million people. Reading about that statistic is one thing, experiencing it is another, especially coming from a country (Zimbabwe) of less than 14 million people…and LOTS of space. My connecting flight to Manila was in Abu Dhabi. On arrival in Abu Dhabi, I had to really check and make sure I wasn’t already in the Philippines. Why? Because there were Filipinos everywhere! The desk clerks, cleaners, store operators, and even McDonalds staff, were all Filipino. So you can imagine why I was second guessing myself.
On arrival in Manila, I got the shock of my life just exiting the airport looking for friends who came to pick me up. Again, people everywhere! On the short walk across the road to where my friends were waiting, I think about 30 people must have offered me a taxi or transport service. It was only on the drive from the airport to the varsity that I truly realized how empty Zimbabwe is. It was almost midnight and the streets were packed with cars, jeepneys, bikes, buses, and pedestrians, none of whom had any regard for the traffic laws or self-preservation for that matter.
My first impression of the Filipino people is that generally they are really friendly and very respectful. They are also very relaxed. For a country that is really poor, they are very rich in happiness and joy. Life is what it is and despite the hardship a smile is not hard to find. The Filipino family unit is very close, much closer than western families and is reflected in their culture.
An interesting observation I’ve made since being here is that not once have I left campus and returned without me seeing at least one pregnant woman/girl. Because of the dominant Catholic culture and value system, birth control is widely discouraged. Although, there has been a shift lately and now birth control and family planning is now being taught and encouraged.
Filipinos LOVE their food! Who doesn’t?! About 60% of the shops at the malls are eating establishments. A lot of them being American fast food restaurants. My first time experiencing Burger King, Krispy Kreme, and Cold Stone was here in the Philippines. The local food is generally very sweet, they put sugar in everything! Other than that, I’m enjoying the experience of learning how to prepare some of the local vegetables foreign to me, one of my favourites is a green leaf called “kangkong”. Being a tropical country there is a wide variety of fruit, but they come in season. Haven’t tried Durian…yet. They say it smells like hell and tastes like heaven. Can’t wait!
3. Filipinos are obsessed with American culture
You see this everywhere, from the way they speak English (with an American accent) to the amount of American channels on tv. I was surprised to learn that the national sport here is basketball. Strange for a people whose average height is way below 6 feet. However, I must say that they are really good at it. The level they play at here on campus is really good.
“Whiteness” seems to be an obsession here. When walking around the malls, you’ll notice that all of the advertising models look oddly…white. Not only that, skin whitening cream and skin whitening products are a big seller here. I’ll never forget my first visit to he bank. All the tellers and consultants looked like “ghosts’…plastered with makeup, to make them look white. It was quite a sight.
4. The weather and elements
The first thing that hit me after exiting the air conditioned airport was the insane humidity. No doubt the leather jacket I had been travelling with came off very fast. It is very humid. I’ve had to hang some of my clothes outside occasionally because of the moisture in the closet. Food items and spices need to be vacuum sealed to keep the moisture out. You can imagine the fun and games I’ve been having just trying to keep my salt dry. It’s been 3 months and I’m still trying to adjust to the high humidity. I take two to three showers a day depending on how humid it is. Most nights I sleep with the overhead fan on.
I arrived here in the middle of the typhoon season. And whoa, I’ve never experienced so much rain in my life. I love thunder storms, but sometimes the rain is just too much. Since being here, I’ve experienced two typhoons and one earthquake. Yup, “it’s more fun in the Philippines”!!
Other than that, it’s a very beautiful place. The sunsets on campus are amazing!
Generally speaking, it is pretty cheap to get around here. Transport is reliable and you have a variety of choices depending on your preference: jeepney, bus, or tricycle. Most of the buses are air-conditioned so you can guess my preference;) I’ve just been to the beach once so far, during the semester break. However, I’d like to get around and travel more to some of the other islands in the near future–budget permitting!
Overall it’s been a good three months and I’ve enjoyed my stay here so far. Let’s see what the coming days, weeks, and months have in store. One thing is for sure, though…”it’s more fun in the Philippines!”