In the past few months I’ve 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.
One of the photo albums that I often look at is the one that contains the pictures of my trip to Baguio City.
Baguio is a medium-sized city situated in the northern part of the island of Luzon, the northernmost island of the archipelago, in the province of Benguet.
There are several things that make Baguio a unique place:
BAGUIO’S UNIQUE CLIMATE
The city was developed as the American colonial summer capital, according to a plan composed in 1905 by the American architect-planner, Daniel Burnham.
The reason why the area where Baguio is situated was chosen to build the “summer capital” is because of its cool climate, as the city is situated about 1,470 meters above sea level and, because it has a particular microclimate that makes it conducive for the growth of its signature symbol: the pine tree (or what I call the Filipine tree…) which is a rather unique thing for a tropical country.
THE “GARDEN-CITY” OF THE PHILIPPINES
The area surrounding Burnham Park, a vast green area situated in the very middle of the city, really resembles a garden-city.
Burnham Park is not the only park in downtown Baguio: there is also Wright Park and quite a few others that really give the central area of the city a garden-city vibe.
A FITTING METAPHOR OF THE PINOY MENTALITY
Yes, Baguio is way different from the rest of the country, because it is much greener and because it offers the opportunity to find some concealment from the unbeareably hot tropical climate of the coast and, unlike most cities and towns in the Philippines, Baguio has a measure of urban planning because it was intentionally designed to become what it partly still is, namely some sort of garden-city.
Unfortunately, at least from my standpoint as a Western tourist, Baguio looks like a city that, because of the “Pinoy mentality” has largely missed the opportunity to become the garden-city that was supposed to have become, and, most of it, looks pretty much similar to the rest of the Philippines.
Here are few examples:
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.
If you marry a Filipina changes are that, in addition to being your wife, she is also her siblings’ ate or older sister.
As I have already mentioned in my blog, when you marry a Filipina you basically (and actually literally) marry the entire family and, therefore, it is very important to understand the role your Filipina plays in the larger context of the intricate family relationships that are very strong in the Philippines and even among Filipinos abroad.
The “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces says the following about the role of the ate: “Sisters play a very important role in Philippine families, especially older sisters. An older sister is called Ate by her siblings. Ate is responsible for the younger children and she may bathe, dress and feed them. This is necessary in large families where the mother cannot look after all the children. Older children are taught early that it is their duty to help take care of younger brothers and sisters. This provides them with training and experience in housewifely and motherly duties. The oldest girl assumes this role as soon as the second or third child comes along and not necessarily when she reaches a certain age. It is not uncommon to see a small child carrying a younger brother or sister who is more than half her size”.
My wife was 10 years old when her father died and her mother moved to Saudi Arabia to work and she basically was the one who raised her younger brother.
Like my mother-in-law, many Filipinos move abroad and are forced to leave their children in the Philippines and often the ate takes up the role of the mother.
And even among Filipinos abroad who have managed to petition their children the ate often plays a major role because, more often than not, both parents work full-time, and even much more than full-time, and they have very limited time and energy to raise their children.
Here in Italy many Filipinos work live-in, meaning that they sleep in the house of their employers and, sometimes, there are employers who are not mabait (kind) enough to provide accomodation for the whole family of their Pinoy katulong (domestic helper).
I know a Filipino couple who had to rent an apartment for their children. The couple used to live in the house of their employer, as they were live-in katulong, while the kids used to live in another apartment and, sure enough, their older daughter raised her younger sister.
The special relationship between the ate and her siblings doesn’t end when the siblings grow up: my wife, for example, went to great lengths to look for an employer for my bayaw (my wife’s brother) and get him here and to this very day she gives him all the practical help he needs.
So, yes, a Westerner who wants to marry a Filipina has to take into account that the husband is not the only one a Filipina takes care of.
Many Filipinas have a lot of responsibilities toward a lot of people: they may have to pay back their utang na loob (debt of gratitude) to their old parents, and maybe to their uncles and other relatives as well, and they may have their younger siblings who show up every now and then when they need help (even if they are 40 or 50 years old…)
So, if you are thinking about marrying a Filipina, you’d better open your mind.
As I have abundantly mentioned in my blog, one of the keys to an amazing intimate relationship in general, and with a Filipina in particular, is letting go of resistance and practicing acceptance.
If you erect barriers and shields and behave like what the “Culture Shock Philippines” calls the Westerner who is “bashing the environment he himself has chosen to inhabit” your relationship won’t go very far.
Because another major key to an amazing relationship is appreciation you need to learn to view the Filipino kin-group culture as an asset rather than a threat to your intimacy with your Filipina.
One of the hallmark characteristics of Filipinos that I keep mentioning in this blog is the desire to always be on a high and to have some form of libangan or distraction.
Filipinos are not masaya unless there is pagkain, pelikula, internet, pakikisama, social media, salu-salo or any other form of distraction.
Many Filipinos, whom I know and interact with, seem to have an underlying feeling of restlessness that constantly pushes them to look for occasions to get some form of stimulation and libangan.
Where does the need for constant libangan ultimately stem from?
There is an interesting quote from Blaise Pascal: Blaise Pascal said that most of our problems stem from lack of the ability to sit alone and quietly in an empty room. We fear the silence of existence and boredom and we must fill it with some distraction.
Rarely can Filipinos (at least the ones I have regular dealings with….many Filipino fellow-bloggers of mine are actually quite different) sit still in silence and bask in being.
This is, I guess, an attempt to run away from the fact that being, at its fundamental level and stripped of all the noise of doing and activity, is hollow.
Human beings, generally speaking, cannot stand silence and stillness.
The reason is probably the fact that the void of silence and stillness calls to mind that libingan is what awaits us. People who cannot stand katahimikan are probably trying to run away from the reality of libingan.
The Philippines is one of those cultures where this fear of katahimikan and the need to fill every single hour with some libangan (many Filipinos listen to music or use their gadgets even while they are working) is particularly strong.
And the giant karatula that can be seen everywhere in the Philippines encourage Filipinos to buy, consume and have plenty of libangan.
The reality is that running away from libingan with too much libangan often leads to early libingan as many Filipinos ruin their health with too much pagkain or alak.
The fact that in Tagalog only a vowel separates the concept of libangan from that of libingan shows that these two things are actually closely related.
Running away from the reality of libingan gets Filipinos to stuff their lives with sobrang libangan and this often leads to libingan….more food for thought bilang pampatunaw….
When it comes to drinking Filipinos definitely prefer hard liquers to beer.
An expression that I once heard from a Pinoy friend is beer bihira.
The Tagalog word bihira means seldom and so I assume that beer bihira means that Filipinos view beer as the last resort when hard liquers are not available, or, perhaps, as a starter before diving into Tanduay, Kwatro Cantos, Emperador, Fundador etc.
Although Pinoy people are more into drinking hard stuff, the Philippines does produce beer and plenty of it.
In the Philippines there are two main beer brands being San Miguel and Red Horse
Red Horse is the first extra-strong beer brand in the Philippines. It is a high-alcohol lager of the San Miguel Brewery, a subsidiary of the larger San Miguel Corporation, and it comes in various sizes including the 500 ml and the 1 lt bottles (the one in the picture above is the 1 lt bottle).
“San Miguel” beer is basically a normal lager beer, established in 1890 by the original San Miguel Brewery (renamed San Miguel Corporation in 1964), it is the largest selling beer in the country.
Red Horse is probably the one that heavy drinking Filipinos choose over San Miguel.
It is not uncommon to see Filipinos who drink two, three or even four bottles of “Red Horse”.
Here in Rome, Italy, the only place where I have been able to find Red Horse is this Pinoy restaurant
Drinking extra strong beer gives many Filipino men the chance to dismiss their wives’ complaints with a reassuring “huwag kang mag-alala, tutal isang beer na lang ito” (“there is nothing to worry about, it is just a beer”).
Have you ever visited the Philippines?
If you haven’t you definitely should.
If you do you will not only enjoy blissing out on the most amazing exotic beaches that you can imagine, but you will most likely have some maboteng usapan as well that will give you the opportunity to taste San Miguel and Red Horse….in addition to the endless choice of the other “stuff” that in the Philippines, a country where clean drinking water is not easy to find, is available in very large amounts.
(for some strange reason I moved this old post to the draft section so I am republishing it)
I remember talking to a young Filipina who was 20-21 years old and asking her if she was still going to school or working and she said “no, I work to support my husband and my child in the Philippines”.
I was rather taken aback that she was already married and she even had a child: I actually thought she was 16-18 years old, in fact she looked very young.
A lot of Filipinos get married and have children pretty soon in life. I know a lot of buntis or pregnant 18-25 year old Filipinas and a lot of very young Filipino couples who have kids before they even get adequate qualifications and a proper job.
I am not judging anybody, I just want to share my thoughts on the subject because I am an advocate of strategic thinking and moves.
I think one of the best strategic moves I have made in my life was my decision to take my time before getting married.
I got married at age 36 and I don’t regret at all waiting that long.
Few months ago I went through the Facebook profiles of some of the girls I was badly in love with when I was a teen-ager, and even in my early 20’s, and, by observing the stuff they post, I realized that the kind of person I am now, my top values and priorities, has absolutely nothing to do with what these women have become and marrying one of them 30 years ago or so would certainly have turned out to be a disaster.
What this tells me is that when I was too young my emotions were too wishy-washy and I was definitely not in the position to choose a person for life.
Also, I would have missed out on a lot of amazing trips around the world and adventures that have enriched my life beyond measure and that I could hardly have made had I chosen to get married (let alone having kids) in my early 20’s.
It is true that I still travel as a married person, and I have been to the Philippines a few times with my wife, and to a couple of more countries as well, but I used to travel abroad up to three times a year before getting married, while now it only happens once in a while. And, when I go to the Philippines with my wife she is more inclined to visit friends and relatives than to go on some adventure.
I would have also missed out on the opportunity to have a meaningful share in an international volunteer work that I did for years that has also added meaning to my life while now I have to work secularly a lot more.
I would also have missed out on the opportunity to come up with a crystal clear life purpose and find out what my life is about. Figuring it out years down the road when you work hard and have kids is tricky to do and exposes one to the danger that husband and wife who got married too soon discover a life purpose and adopt a set of values that are entirely different than that of their spouse, so I think it is better to be in a relationship with a person who has already found out who he or she is and what he or she wants out of life. When you are too young your core ideas and values are too fuzzy.
On top of that I am in an interracial marriage which requires long years of groping for a bridge and, therefore, requires a lot of emotional intelligence and maturity to cope with culture-shock and I am sure that in my early 20’s I was just not prepared for those challenges.
I think that waiting until I was 36 to get married has definitely been a wise move.
When I visited the Philippines for the first time I spent one month there and, as I said in some other post, because my wife was not particularly interested in going on some adventure, like most Filipinos whom I know here in Italy (and, in fact, during my first visit to the Philippines I only managed to see the One Hundred Islands, Tagaytay, Manila and some rivers and waterfalls in the Sierra Madre Mountains and that was it), we spent most of our time there inviting friends and relatives over and, basically, staying home most of the time.
And I spent that time trying to observe as many details as I could to gain some understanding of the culture and the mentality of the Philippines.
In my blog I often talk about a fundamental difference between the Western world and the Philippines: we in the Western world value privacy while the Philippines it’s all about pakikisama or togetherness.
This difference is reflected in the way houses are built in the Philippines and in the West and, while in the Philippines, I had plenty of time to observe how the way houses are built in the Philippines really reflects the pakikisama culture.
In the Philippines there are both traditional bahay kubo and modern-style houses, and basically modern houses in the Philippines follow the original pattern of the traditional bahay kubo.
The Bahay Kubo and the Single Room Lifestyle
The traditional bahay kubo follows the Southeast Asian tradition of having a single-room environment where all family activities happen.
Bahay kubo near my wife’s house
Modern Housing in the Philippines
The rural bahay kubo evolved into a more modern house, usually made of concrete and hollow blocks (like my wife’s native house in Bulacan) with a metal roof on top, where much of the one-room lifestyle remained basically intact.
Our house in the Philippines
The one in the picture above is my wife’s native house in Bulacan.
What’s interesting about this house is that the balcony runs along the exterior of the upper floor linking the various bedrooms to each other and to the salas, and, because the windows have no blinds, anyone who is watering the plants or hanging clothes on the balcony can see everything that happens in the bedrooms.
The bedrooms do not open out into a corridor, like most houses here in Italy, they open out on a very large salas (dining room) where all the cooking, eating and kwentuan (chit-chatting) take place.
Another interesting detail is that there is no ceiling sitting on the tops of the walls, there is only a metal roof and so there is a gap between the roof and the tops of the walls.
My wife explained to me that the reason why there is no ceiling is because this way the air conditioner (there is only one in the house) can circulate the air around the whole interior. The only thing is that this way air is not the only thing that circulates but even what people say “circulates”.
I am not sure that this has anything to do with air conditioning because I have seen a very similar structure in other Filipinos houses that have no air conditioning, no ceiling almost anywhere.
On top of that the house is not an individual building but part of a house compound where the rest of the extended family lives and in between the various homes there is a communal space where salu-salo (parties), kwentuan (and sometimes inuman) and other family activities take place.
Communal space between the houses that form a house compound
Here in Italy rooms open out into a corridor and there are closed doors and a ceiling
Rows of apartment buildings in the outskirts of Rome: there are no house compounds in Italy and each family unit lives in its own house
So, yes, the way houses are built in the Philippines reflects the culture of limited privacy and togetherness, while the way houses are built in the West reflects how us Westerners cherish privacy.
Marrying a Filipina entails being willing to understand and accept these differences and being willing to find a loving compromise.
My wife is Filipina and she comes from a culture that is all about togetherness or pakikisama in Tagalog.
Im a strong introvert and I have always felt ill at ease in large and noisy social gatherings.
I love carving out for myself quality pockets of solitude to read, journal and meditate and when I do associate with others I definitely prefer being with few selected individuals to being in a large get together.
The bright side of large social gatherings
Yet, since I am married to a woman who comes from an environment where togetherness is one of the most cherished values, I cannot afford to march to the beat of a different drummer and I have to figure out ways to balance my desire to either be alone or with an intimate circle of few selected individuals, where I enjoy quality conversation and more meaningful interactions, with the need to build rapport with Filipinos.
Filipino social gatherings are pretty large and the advantage is that no one is left out, as being left out creates tampo (offense or stumbling). So in order to minimize tampo Filipinos generally organize those large social gatherings where as many people as possible are invited.
This is without a doubt something that I have learned from Filipinos because I used to be way too selective in my choice of whom to associate with.
Social gatherings that are too large keep communication at a shallow level
On the other hand, although large social gatherings create a very happy and cheerful atmosphere, they are rather noisy, and being able to drown out some of that noise and engage in quality conversation with someone in particular can be difficult so conversations tend to be rather shallow.
Another aspect that characterizes those large gatherings is the K.K.B. philosopy or kanya-kanyang baon, meaning that each participant is supposed to bring some baon or, basically, bring some food that becomes part of a giant buffet.
The great advantage of the K.K.B. approach is that it saves a lot of money and it doesn’t put a heavy financial burden on the shoulders of the host family.
Social gatherings that are all about food take away time and energy from quality togetherness
The problem is that Filipinos just cannot fathom the idea of preparing baon that is not elaborate and that doesn’t take hours to prepare and so food is the main focus of those gatherings and this, of course, gives meaningful social interactions a back seat, as everyone is busy with the preparation of elaborate dishes.
This reminds me of an incident that is recorded in the gospels where Jesus of Nazareth said to a woman who was way too busy preparing a ton of food that she’d better take a more minimalistic approach to food and focus on having deep conversation with her guest and on receiving some uplifting.
The advantages of smaller social gatherings
I believe that by organizing smaller social gatherings where food is not the main focus there is still a way to both minimize the expenses and avoid causing tampo while creating a better environment to enjoy quality togetherness.
On my part I am trying to share with my Filipino friends the idea that if, instead of always having huge gatherings and spending entire days preparing lumpya, pansit, adobo etc, Filipinos tried inviting one family at a time on a rotational basis, to have deep conversation over a simple meal, no one would be excluded, there would be no tampo (because by inviting people on a rotational basis in the end everyone gets invited), there would be no need to spend a lot of time and money and that would free up precious time and resources to take the spirit of pakikisama to the next level.