Few months ago I tapped into my picture file to gather some pictures that I often look at, pictures that contain details that say everything about the Filipino mentality and what being married to a Filipina may entail.
In this article I am putting together four articles I wrote about four “metaphors” of the Filipino mentality that I noticed while going through my picture file.
The karatula or billboard I saw on a white-sandy beach in One Hundred Islands, Pangasinan, represents for me how wanton consumption and the shopping mall and fast food culture edge the exotic scenarios out of the mind of many Filipinos who seem to care very little about the natural beauty they are surrounded by.
The alambre na nakabitin or the messy wires that hang overhead and the jumpers who tap into the electric grid without paying the electric bill, remind me of the Filipino mentality of relying on others for support.
The bus with pundido or blown out headlights in the night represents how cheap life can be for Filipinos and how they cut back on health and safety.
And Baguio City in the Cordillera Mountains represents, in my opinion, how Filipinos have a hard time creating “added value”.
Let me explain what I mean:
Baguio City was designed by Americans who envisioned some sort of garden-city and under many aspects it is a garden-city.
It’s cool climate and the many parks and gardens give a tourist the impression that Baguio has very little to do with the rest of the Philippines.
However, if you look at the pictures above, you can’t help but notice the sharp contrast between the orderliness of Wright Park (and several other green areas in town) and the Quiapo-like environment of many back streets (the one in the picture is only a couple of blocks away from Burnham Park, another neat green area of Baguio situated in the downtown area).
The people of Baguio were offered the possibility to live in an orderly city but the Filipino mentality turned order into chaos and much of the city, outside the beaten tourist track, is quite messy.
My trip to Baguio (that I made after having already experienced a few years of being in a relationship with a Filipina) strengthened my mental picture of Filipinos as people who complicate their lives unnecessarily even when they are offered the possibility to live a more straightforward and easy life on a golden plate.
Some Filipinos here in my country have employers who esteem them and pay them well and yet, as I said many times, too many Pinoy here end up broke and the possibilities they are offered to live a more “orderly” life with savings to tap into when life gets tough go down the drain and they find themselves living messy lives.
Obviously generalizations are never in order and I know a few Filipinos who bought a house here and do have savings but most don’t and I am talking about people who have been working here for 20-30 years and who came here when the economy was still thriving.
In much the same way as the inhabitants of Baguio City mismanaged their city, and instead of improving on the foundation that had been laid by the Americans who designed the city, turned many parts of it into something that is very far from being a garden-city, many (not all of course) expatriate Filipinos who have had all the possibilities in the world to improve their socio-economic condition have made no progress whatsoever.
Filipinos are, by and large, not masters at creating added value, at least socio-economically.
If you marry a Filipina there is a chance that your financial house will end up like Baguio City. On the flip side other qualities of your Filipino spouse can make you a better man: their way of taking care of their families, their gregarious way of life, their hospitality and their sense of laughing away at tragedies could create added value in your level of humanity.
It is a matter of deciding what matters the most in your life.
What about the bus with pundido headlights in the night?
I spent few days in Damortis, La Union, Northern Philippines, to visit some Filipinos who live in Rome and who were born and raised in La Union.
Because Damortis is quite close to Baguio City, the Summer Capital of the Philippines, I seized the opportunity to get there by bus.
On the way back it was dark and it was foggy but we made it back to Damortis without a hitch.
When I got off the bus I noticed an interesting detail: the headlights were blown out or pundido.
Not only that: on the winding road that connects Baguio to the coastal plains I saw buses overtaking other cars and even buses in various curves. I’ve seen that happening many times.
Why am I bringing this up?
Well, I am bringing this up for various reasons.
One has to do with practical aspects: If you are married to a Filipina and visit the country, you might want to do what couples often do while on holiday, namely rent a car and go on some kind of road trip with your Filipino wife.
Theoretically the Philippines is a paradise for lovers of road trips and roads are improving, more and more expressways are being built (for example nowadays it is possible to drive from Manila all the way to Pangasinan on a new stretch of expressway that, the last time I visited the Philippines, only linked Manila to Dau) and most national roads such as the Mc Arthur Highway or the Maharlikang Daan are quite well paved.
The real challenge involves safety and the picture above I shot in Damortis, La Union is very telling: if you drive in the Philippines you might share the road with cars or buses with blown out headlights, cars with worn out brakes or overly vulcanized tires.
In addition, you might bump into a bus that is overtaking a car or a bus in a curve and have to be clever enough to avoid a collision.
I come from Southern Italy and Southern Italy is widely known for its unruly drivers, yet, although I have learned how to drive here and I am used to drivers who turn without signaling, drivers who double park, drivers who cut you off or tailgate I got scared of driving in the Philippines.
I tried it twice and then I gave up.
Talking more in general I believe that the bus with blown out headlights is one of those symbols or metaphors that well describe the character of Filipinos
The Philippines is one of those nations where life is cheap. Filipinos cut back on safety measures as much as they cut back on taking care of their health.
It is true that health care in the Philippines is largely private but prevention is cheap. Driving slower, respecting the signs or waiting that the road gets straight before overtaking does not cost money. Abstaining from excessive alcohol consumption doesn’t cost money. Eating less white rice and more vegetables is not that expensive, especially for Filipinos who live abroad and earn enough money to buy a nice car or the latest i-phone.
Yes, way too many Filipinos neglect health and safety and take unnecessary risks and being married to a Filipina may entail being in a relationship with a person who is, metaphorically speaking, like the bus with blown out headlights in the middle of the night.
Another one of my “metaphors” about the Philippines is the alambre na nakabitin:
Here in Italy, as well as in the rest of Europe, electrical cables are situated underground.
If you visit the Philippines you cannot help but notice spaghetti-like wires that they have in their electric/phone posts within the cities and towns. More so in the busy and main streets of each town.
Messy overhead cables sometimes situated slightly above one’s head are everywhere and they cause frequent blackouts, in fact I remember blackouts occurring at least once a week while in the Philippines, and I also remember being out of electricity for 3 days and not being able to recharge my phone.
Maybe the reason why they don’t do the underground wiring is that floods and typhoons occur several times a year in the Philippines but wires could at least be arranged in a more orderly fashion.
Hanging wires make it much easier for people to illegally tap into the public grid.
In much the same way as many Filipinos tap into the money of hard-working expatriate Filipinos or many expatriates, in Italy at least, know very well how to tap into social welfare and all kinds of government handouts available in my country, many Filipinos in the Philippines tap into somebody else’s electricity.
It seems that one of the characteristics of Filipinos is the tap into mindset, eternally relying on others for support.
Being married to a Filipina may entail being in the position of dealing with countless people who rely on you.
As I keep saying in my posts it is a matter of understanding who truly needs help, how extended is the extended family and the difference between needs and wants.
The final “metaphor” is the karatula on the white-sandy beach:
Back in June 2008, during my first trip to the Philippines, I visited the One Hundred Islands National Park in Pangasinan.
That trip was a dream come true.
I had been dreaming to visit the tropics since I was a child. I remember going every year with my parents to our summer-house in Southern Italy, a place where water is crystal clear and that, under certain aspects, resembles the tropics, even though corals are almost non-existent there and the sea fauna is not anywhere near what I used to see in documentaries about the tropics. So, whenever my parents took me there, I pretended that I was in some exotic island and, therefore, I grew up with a burning desire to see the tropics.
But it was not until I married my wife that my dream came true.
The paradox is that my visit to the One Hundred Island was the only day I saw the sea during my first trip to the Philippines (the second time, having learned the lesson, I planned things a lot differently and I spent 10 days by the sea).
During my first visit of the Philippines, in order to get my wife to go to the sea I really had to struggle and wrestle.
One reason is that she had not gone home to see the sea, rather, like most expatriate Filipinos, the purpose of her travel was to be with her family.
Another reason is that, like most Filipinos, my wife’s idea of relaxation is going to the shopping mall, eating out at some fast-food chain, watching TV, partying and so on. I realized just how little most Filipinos care about their coral reefs and white sandy beaches.
The landscape of the country is more about giant karatulas or billboards, shopping malls and fast-food chains than about beaches and the exotic scenarios are somewhere in the background, light years away from the minds and hearts of most Filipinos.
The country is so obsessed with the American culture that for many locals the ocean hardly exists.
The island where the bankero or boatman dropped us and where I had my first opportunity ever to snorkel in tropical waters and admire multi-colored corals and giant clams, was Lopez Island, one of the small coral islets of the One Hundred Islands archipelago
But while getting out of the boat and onto the beach, an unlikely sight took me aback: a huge karatula or billboard advertising a popular Filipino brand of hot dogs was dominating the landscape of that amazing island with an unbelievable white-sandy beach and an incredible underwater world!
To this day I keep staring at the picture I took on that day of June 2008, a picture that is a metaphor of a culture where the pristine beauty of the country arouses so little interest among most Filipinos who, evidently, prefer hot dogs, burgers, fried chicken and window shopping at the shopping mall to the sheer beauty of their country.
If you marry a Filipina you will highly likely bump into one who is not that enthusiastic about corals, dolphins, giant clams and who probably can’t even swim.
The karatula I saw in Lopez Island has become a symbol of what my relationship with my Filipino wife is like and of what the culture shock with a Filipina is like.
For decades I had been dreaming of marrying an exotic woman whom I could bliss out on an exotic island with. Both dreams have come true.
I have married an exotic woman and I have been with her on an exotic island, but while my spirit was more in sync with the underwater world, my wife’s spirit was more attuned with the karatula and what it symbolizes: one of the most beautiful (if not the most beautiful) tropical countries in the world in which the exotic beauty is largely overwhelmed by karatulas, mega malls and fast-food chains.