Baguio City: a Fitting Symbol of the Pinoy Mentality

The orderliness and garden-city vibe of Wright Park

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:

This is the view from the SM Baguio that clearly shows the sharp contrast between the green and orderly central core of the city and the hillside with its chaotic and unplanned development
The view from Mines View: not much of a view, it looks like many pine trees have been cut down…..
Quiapo-like atmosphere only few blocks away from Burnham Park
Spaghetti wires only few blocks away from Burnham Park

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.

Isulong ang Kalinisan!

Dito sa Roma, Italya, mayroon ang isang systema para itapon ang basura na medyo bago para sa Southern Italy.

Matagal na gumagana ang systemang ito sa Hilagang Italya at sa karamihan ng mga bansa sa Europa.

Ang tinutukoy ko ay ang pagtatapon ng basura sa iba’t ibang uri ng trash can, depende sa uri ng basura.

May mga trash can na para sa plastik lang kung saan walang iba kundi plastik ang inilalagay.

May trash can para sa food waste, para sa papel at para sa glass. Akalayin ninyo!

Mukhang advanced ang systemang ito.

Pero sa totoo ang paraang ito ng paghihiwalay ng basura ayon sa uri nito ay muna inimbento sa Pilipinas, hindi sa Europa.

Lagi sinasabi ko na ang Pilipinas ay, at least, 20 years ahead of the rest of the world….

Sa Pilipinas may mga uri ng basura na itinatapon sa ilog, may mga uri ng basura na itinatapon sa kanal, may mga uri ng basura na itinatapon sa kalsada at may mga uri ng basura na itinatapon sa bukid!

Pero, sa totoo, sa Pilipinas ay mayroon ang pinakamaganda, pinakaepektibo at pinakamurang paraan para alisin ang basura mula sa ibabaw ng lupa: lahat ay tinitipon sa bakuran at sinusunog!!!!

Masyadong maarte dito…

How to be a Successful Stepfather

I am in a multiethnic intimate relationship, which is already extremely challenging in and of itself, because of the massive culture-shock that characterizes it.

On top of that my wife is a single mother and, when I married her, I was already in my late 30s, I had never been married before and I had absolutely zero experience with kids.

On top of that, my stepson grew up in the Philippines, he was raised by his grandmother and when he came here he couldn’t speak Italian and I was still learning Tagalog and I was far from being fluent.

Yep, I like injecting myself into challenging life experiences…

The title of my post is actually a rather bold claim, because it is actually almost impossible to really and fully succeed in raising stepchildren and it takes many years, if not decades, to start seeing some tangible results, which brings me to the first point I want to highlight:

Be patient and have realistic expectations

Indeed, as I have said, it usually takes years before you get a stepchild to fully trust you and that is absolutely normal.

Never marry a single mother simply because you love her if her child is not a priority for you

My wife comes from a culture that is all about raising children and the most popular Filipino folk song is actually entitled anak, meaning “child”.

If you have zero previous experience with kids, like me, that’s understandable and excusable, as long as you are willing to learn and as long as you are willing to view the marriage as a “whole package”.

The idea that “if I love my wife and shower her with love things will eventually fall into place with her child” doesn’t quite work and might actually erode the marriage itself.

So, if you are only interested in the mother, and you are not sure if you are willing to give her child the same priority, my advice is very simply: stay away from this kind of relationship.

You have to come across as the provider of something new and special

So, once you are fully convinced that you have to buy the full package and that you cannot edge the child out or give him a backseat in the relationship, you can enter this kind of relationship but, as I said, you have to operate from the idea that it will take a long time to estabilish a successful relationship and that there is the realistic possibility that you will never fully succeed.

What my experience teaches me is that one of the fastest ways to gain at least a measure of affection and trust from your stepson is by carefully looking for ways to provide him with something new and very exciting that his mother has not been able to provide.

Usually single mothers are very busy and so what tends to happen is that stepchildren spend long hours watching TV or playing with videogames while the mother is trying hard to make ends meet.

Often single mothers have little time and energy to come up with new and exciting ways to give their children the adventure they need (and likely crave) to experience.

So what I did at the beginning of my experience as a stepfather was asking myself how I could come across as someone who didn’t just enter into my stepson’s life as the husband of his mother and as someone he had to respect and obey whether he liked me or not, but rather as someone who could create some added value and who could come across as the provider of something new and exciting.

And I tried experimenting with different things.

For example, because my stepson had grown up in the Philippines until age 8, he had never seen the snow.

So one of the very first things I did was taking him to a nearby mountain where he got extremely excited as he experienced throwing snowballs and sliding downhill on a sled.

When I announced to him that I would take him to a snowy mountain he got so excited that he accepted to go alone with me and leave his mother in Rome (as she had to work).

And that broke the ice and allowed me to, at very least, get him to spend time with me and me alone without his mother.

Later I came up with the idea of renting a football field and gathering a group of Filipino kids to play together and teach him how to play soccer (which is almost unknown in the Philippines), and this also introduced some novelty into his life.

I am not saying that by becoming the provider of something new and exciting I managed to estabilish a successful relationship but, as I said, I did at least break the ice and manage to have some time for the two of us that he could (at least in part) look forward to.

Set boundaries

The mistake I made at the beginning was to assume that a stepfather must only come across as the easygoing provider of fun and excitement and that if I tried to set boundaries I would run the risk to destroy the intimacy I was slowly creating

What made me change my mind was the fact that one day he himself specifically said to me that he wished I set some boundaries and I realized that the excessively easygoing approach I was taking was actually producing the opposite effect and was preventing him from respecting me.

Yet, on the other hand I was afraid to come across as the one who says something along the lines of “listen, your mother is my wife and, whether you like it or not, you are under my authority and so you do as I say”.

A very useful tip that I remember reading somewhere was that of removing the word “authority” from my vocabulary and replace it with the expression “you are under my legal responsibility“, which was true by the way because I had to be the one to contact the Italian embassy in Manila and apply for an entry visa and I was the one who had to take full legal responsibility to get him a permit to stay in the country.

By avoiding such expressions as “I am your new father” or “you are now under my authority” and by patiently reasoning with him that he was under my legal responsibility, I was able to at least try to add to the boundaries that my wife was already setting for him.

The last point I want to make is probably the most important one:

The wife should never criticize, attack or belittle the stepfather in the presence of the stepson

Any argument or disagreement should be settled in private and when the child is not around.

What’s even worse is if the in-laws criticize the stepfather in the presence of the child.

If either the wife or the in-laws begin to express their frustration for how the stepfather is handling the situation in front of the child how can the child possibly learn to respect his stepfather whom he is already having a hard time estabilishing a relationship at all with?

So it is extremely important that all disagreements be handled when the child is not around.

Have a long-time horizon

If you become a stepfather you can have all the best intentions in the world and all the most effective strategies in the world, but raising a stepson (or a stepdaughter for that matter….I didn’t raise a stepdaughter so I don’t know), is tricky and takes a very long time and it might even take more than ten years before you start seeing some tangible results so have a long-time horizon and tons of patience.

Yung Feeling na…. Magiging Probinsya ng China ang Bayan Ko

“Made in Italy” (sa sweatshop ng mga Intsik)
“Real Italian” cappuccino sa bar na hawak ng mga Intsik=”cappuIntsik”

Marami ang nagsasabi na maaari maging probinsya ng China ang Pilipinas.

Ewan ko kung ano ang mangyayari.

Ang alam ko ay na tuwing Sabado ng umaga dinadala ako ng aking Pinay na misis sa pinakamalaking Chinatown ng Roma (isa sa marami….) at nararanasan ko yun’ feeling na….China na dito.

Masaya naman ang mga Pilipino dahil sa mga sari-sari ng mga Intsik mayroon lahat ng uri ng tsitseria na imported mula sa Pilipinas…na kapag ibinebenta ng mga Intsik nagiging “Intsik”tseria…

Tsitseria sa tindahan ng mga Intsik=”Intsik”tseria

Intimacy with a Filipina Wife

What makes an intimate relationship truly intimate is the experience of deep connection and total vulnerability.

And so, in the context of this blog post, I will be using the word intimacy, not in the sense of sexual intimacy, which is without a doubt a powerful component of a deep connection, but in the broader sense of into me see or, in other words in the sense of an intimate relationship being an environment where husband and wife are fully vulnerable, transparent, honest and free to communicate their deepest fears, hurts, expectations and other emotions without any fears of being judged, blamed or hurt in any way.

Is it possible to achieve this level of into me see in a relationship with a Filipina?

Well, obviously each person is different, but, generally speaking, the Filipino culture has some aspects to it that may make the achievement of a high degree of into me see rather challenging.

The “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces, that I often quote, says the following about face to face sincerity in the Filipino culture: “Filipinos have an entirely different expectation when it comes to face-to-face ‘sincerity’. In this situation, promises and pleasing half-truths are important tools to avoid wounding amor-propio, because smooth interpersonal relations always take precedence over other values”. And it goes on to say: “It is safe to say that a non-Filipino should take with a grain of salt what is promised in a face-to-face situation because Filipinos themselves always do. To establish the measure of sincerity, reiterate and obtain reconfirmation of the commitment several times, as well as act immediately to formalise and make irrevocable a verbal commitment. It is at this point that the person’s ‘sincerity’ is tested, because if he hedges or does not act straight away, the promise and the ‘yes’ have been granted just to please you”.

Why is that?

The book gives this answer: “The importance of amor-propio (self-esteem) is one reason, but equally important is the kin-group world of Filipinos. Rather than value individualism, each Filipino sees himself at the centre of a kin-group universe: parents, grandparents, children, uncles, aunts, cousins, second cousins, in-laws, compadres and comadres. In an open conflict, one wounds not just an individual but the whole kin group”.

How does this apply to an intimate relationship between a foreigner and a Filipina?

My analysis here is this:

A Filipina wife definitely loves her foreign husband and wants to please him, but she LOVES AND WANTS TO PLEASE HER EXTENDED FAMILY AS WELL.

She may be moving on the razor’s edge of TRYING TO MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY and this INEVITABLY ENTAILS THAT SHE ENDS UP SAYING ONE THING TO HER HUSBAND AND IT’S OPPOSITE TO HER RELATIVES in a number of circumstances.

So a Westerner who is married to a Filipina may conclude that into me see and total honesty, transparency and vulnerability fly out of the window in this kind of relationship.

I have come to the conclusion that, even if a foreigner is in a relationship with a Filipina who falls into the category of the one who seems to be dealing in half-promises and half-truths to please both the husband and the entire kin-group, deep intimacy, honesty and transparency can still be achieved in this kind of relationship.

But this requires hard work and radical openmindedness on the part of the husband.

The reason why a Filipina who is married to a foreigner may come across as one who is dealing in half-promises and truths, and, therefore, as one whom it is hard to build an into me see level of connection with, is because many foreigners who marry a Filipina do nothing or too little to go deep into the Filipino culture and, as a result, they “bash the environment that they themselves have chosen to inhabit”, as the “Culture Shock Philippines” book says.

When a Filipina, who comes from a culture where there is no such thing as an “independent agent” who gets married and forgets all about his or her family and where an individual is part of a vast universe of intricate interpersonal relationships, feels that her foreign husband is resisting her efforts to balance the marriage and her obligations toward her extended family, yes she may get to the point where she deals in half-truths and into me see flies out of the window.

A book I read a couple of years ago entitled “Communication Miracles for Couples” by Jonathan Robinson says that when we resort to blame intimacy disappears.

If a foreigner who is married to a Filipina attacks her kin-group culture and, for example, blames her for sending money to the Philippines or for other aspects of the Filipino culture that he finds it difficult to grasp, she will close her mind and the relationship will be characterized by a lot of half-truths that make transparency and intimacy impossible.

So the solution is estabilishing a level of trust where a Filipina feels that her foreign husband understands, accepts and appreciates where she is coming from.

Blaming, attacking and bashing your foreign spouse’s culture will never get you intimacy.

It took me years of deep study and committment to create this level of trust and, what my experience teaches me, is that, yes, it is possible to create real into me see with a Filipina and get her to get past her cultural conditioning and create an environment where intimacy is not just a bedroom thing but it spills over into every aspect of the relationship, but it takes effort and openmindedness on the part of the foreign husband to get to that point.

The Role of the “Ate” or Older Sister in the Philippines

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.

The Relationship Between “Libangan” and “Libingan”

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….