Heads up, Pinoys

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Thursday, June 26, 2014


THIS is a friendly memorandum to long-absent Filipino immigrants in the West. If you are thinking of coming home, let me remind you that your visit is a destined culture shock. It's a turbulent mix of apprehension and amusement reminiscent of days long gone. If you have now become a creature of order and regulation, re-entry suggests an abrupt exposure to social codes impervious to your elevated standards of comfort and privacy.

It begins soon after you deplane to confront a numbing impasse at Customs, where lines are either ignored or non-existent. If you manage this labyrinth with your self-importance intact, you might meet a bevy of friendly characters eager to offer you a ride. The price seems reasonable by dollar standards--that is, until you reach your local destination, where a savvy denizen is likely to jog your brain on the rules of street tourism. (In my case, it's usually a host relative who laments my perceived generosity and scolds me for my bargaining ineptitude.)

Once you leave the airport premises, note the jarring reminder that you're no longer in mythical Kansas: third-world traffic. Manila thoroughfares are a dynamic bedlam certain to delay reprieve from jet lag. It's not that the drivers are bad; they're exceptionally skilled motorists, navigating an urban jungle with "optional" traffic rules.

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Welcome to memory lane, where some things don't change. Many roads are still open to every mode of transportation, a prospect that requires a good sense of humor to appreciate. Become a child again and re-imagine the scene as a simulated theme park while you weave through the maze of cabs, jeepneys, tricycles, and fruit carts (with random feral cats and mindless pedestrians for obstacle interest). You get extra credit for buying a flower necklace from a crossing child vendor.

Tongue in cheek, indeed. But I am serious about keeping your sense of humor. In my last two homecomings, I've been privy to a huge mouthful of complaints by homesick individuals suddenly disappointed to discover their Native Homeland incapable of providing the luxury to which they've grown accustomed. I wonder what else they expected.

Sample audio? Let me press play.

"These streets smell awful, it makes me sick."
"Traffic is so uncivilized."
"Internet is way faster in the States."
"You really expect me to drink instant coffee?"
"And where the hell is the toilet paper?"

And while there's plenty of audio left, I'd rather we call to mind that old maxim about being and acting in Rome. No one cares about the hard-earned money spent on your plane fare. You want irony? Turns out real foreigners behave with so much more tact and gratitude.

It behooves to check the ego with the shoes. Better yet, let's all remember where we came from and allow the environment to teach us how to adapt. If we do that, we see how much more there is to enjoy, which is what we fly halfway across the globe to do in the first place.

*****

(The writer is a spoiled balikbayan from Arizona, where he sings, teaches theatre, directs a choir, and raises chickens)

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 27, 2014.

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