KOROR, PALAU - How do you find Palau?
That was the question that had been thrown to me many times during encounters with Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in Palau who had worked here for years upon learning that I am new to the country.
The question would often be followed by comforting words such as “simple lang ang buhay dito (life here is simple)” as if I needed some comforting. I can pick up some vibes that they expected me to dislike the place and get homesick very quick.
“Sana magustuhan mo dito sa Palau 'no? (I hope you will like it here in Palau),” some would even add. Many times, I felt like giving them an assurance that I like the place and that I am alright with my experiences here so far. Funny how I said that as if they needed some assurance too.
The good thing was that I come here not for work but experience – and that means cultural immersion. When I was directly hired to work as a journalist at a newspaper company in Palau, I packed my bags in the Philippines with cultural immersion as one of my top agenda in mind. So the moment the plane landed at the Palau International Airport, I had tried my best to observe everything. I had already prepared questions such as “how would the Palau air feel like in my cheeks? Is it as humid as the Philippines? Are Palauans hospitable? Friendly? What are their customs and traditions? How shall I act properly to be culturally sensitive? And which places shall I visit to get the most of the Palauan culture?”
With this mindset, I have gathered ready honest answers to these repetitive questions that were hurled to me. So how do I find Palau in barely a week or so since I have been here? As a journalist having the work privilege to travel and explore my motherland, I could say that I can closely associate Palau, especially the Koror State, to that of the Philippines’ Subic Freeport Zone. I had only been to Subic once and had only stayed there for a few days but it must be the peace that it emitted that gave Palau the same impression to me.
Everything I had experienced so far did not come as a surprise as I did my research about the country when I was still in the Philippines. Some of the words associated by travel bloggers to Palau are “laidback” and “simple,” among others. I had also remembered scanning through google images about Palau and looked for videos in Youtube, hoping some vloggers (video bloggers) had documented something about its people.
What I found in my research left me in awe. Wow, the beaches, the color of the oceans, the green snapshots of the islands at bird’s eye view, the divers enjoying photo opportunities with stingless jellyfishes and other sea creatures – they’re like the combination of the Philippines’ Dahican beach, Coron, Palawan’s island hopping, and the like.
Why isn’t there a single Palauan shown in these gorgeous photos and videos? It struck me that so much had been talked about the beauty of the Palau Islands but only a dearth about its people. So I promised myself that when I get to the place, I should provide as much information as I can get and write about Palauans. I had even come to an extent of imagining myself producing a video documentation about the people of Palau. But a few months after that research, I learned that the famous Filipino Canadian vlogger, Mikey Bustos, had visited Palau and so I checked his Youtube channel. I was happy at the overwhelming hospitality that Palauans had shown during his visit as depicted in his vlogs. Finally, there’s something in the internet that highlights the Palauans. But even after watching that, I still feel the need to see and know more.
Now that I am already here, I admire how Palauans can easily flash their friendly smile even at a stranger like me – everyone seems to know everybody. While driving along the way, you can see someone waving a hand to a friend. The motorists here are also peaceful and respectable, always giving way for a pedestrians who cross the street first just like in Freeport Subic. When you park your car at spaces, you do not worry that someone might break into it and take your valuables. You can always leave and get back to your car with peace. When you pick up the local newspaper, you will not see local reports about terrorism, guerillas, vigilantes and factions with different political ideologies.
So this is Palau, I told myself.
Amid all the things that was said to me about Palau and how one could easily feel lonesome in this place especially when you are not used to a laidback kind of lifestyle, then this is what I had to say about that: one should not mistake peace for loneliness.
Rhea is a former editor of Sun.Star Davao who decided to become a journalist in Palau.