The Philippines: My Camelot, and the 33 things that make it so
This beautiful land I grew up in was my “Camelot.” Camelot! Where there is simply not. A more congenial spot. For happily-ever-after experiences like…
Computer graphics by Igan D’bayan

The Philippines: My Camelot, and the 33 things that make it so

MY TURN - Malu Francisco (The Philippine Star) - July 28, 2019 - 12:00am

Life in North America has its conveniences where everything works on schedule, from the lightning-speed internet to the safe and efficient public transport system. And yet, after two and a half years as an immigrant, I still harbor yearnings for aspects of my life in the Philippines — from the everyday nuances that set us apart from the rest of the world regardless of how imperfect or even silly they make us appear, to the more obvious, internationally acclaimed things like beaches, islands, fiestas and balut. This beautiful land I grew up in was my “Camelot.” Camelot! Where there is simply not. A more congenial spot. For happily-ever-after experiences like…

1.   “Kain tayo.”

One might say it’s the Philippine version of North America’s “How’s it goin’?” or “How’re ya doin?” And yes, it’s silly because the security guard who says this to you when you catch him during his lunch hour doesn’t really intend to share his plastic container of garlic rice and adobo. But his invitation exudes warmth and respect and is typically Filipino. The appropriate response, as everyone knows, is “Ok lang!” with one palm up to refuse the meal as you continue to walk away. I miss warm exchanges like this.

2.   “Kamusta na ‘te?” “Eto, ma beauty pa rin.” 

Yes, everyone’s a ‘te, kuya, manong, sis or bro in the Philippines. And yes, you can say ma-beauty instead of mabuti.  That makes you feel much chummier with everyone, up to themanang who sells corn-on-the-cob, chicharon and biko in your office lobby. I miss her, too.

3.   The overly long Christmas season. I once tried to explain to a co-worker how, in my country, Christmas season covers one-third of the calendar year — with carols filling the air and festive décor hung all over the malls as early as September. His reaction was, of course, incredulous, saying he couldn’t imagine anybody staying excited that long.  But we do, don’t we?

4.   Food as the end-all and be-all of any gathering. No food, no gathering.

5.   The gorgeously sunny weather for most part of the year.

6.   The islands and beautiful beaches.

7.   Taho and the taho street vendor calling out “Tahooooo!”

8.   Balut and watching how foreigners react to us eating balut.  

9.   Dirty ice cream and knowing the dirty part was just a myth.  

10. Titas (like me) who can lunch for six hours.

11.  Titas (like me) who can party.

12.  Maids. Cooks. Yayas.  Hence, Nos. 10 and 11 without guilt.

13.  Philippine fashion. The talented designers and their exquisite creations. The women, my co-titas, who wear them.  The events they wear them to.

14.  Taglish. So easy. It just rolls off your tongue.

15.  Hearing and learning hilarious swardspeak, from the very popular Pagow-da Cold Wave to the proper use of basic words like “aketch,” “chuva,” “kebs” and “charot.”  

16.  Proper English, the Pinoy way. The way we speak it in many different accents, ranging from Arrrneo slang to heavily accented Ilocano. This comes as a surprise to many of my North American friends who marvel at our fluency with the language and wonder how on earth that happened. (Once, I cheekily replied that missionaries lured me to come down from my tree using bananas as bait and taught me.)

17.  Our obsession with “kodakan,” selfies, group selfies, flat lays, food pics, FB, IG and anything to preserve the moment. And to prove it really happened. Last Friday, I was with a group of friends at a pub in downtown Vancouver where we spent the entire evening partner-dancing to blues music (a first for me), followed by a mean game of billiards (another first for me).  Everyone marveled at my beginner’s luck, but nobody whipped out a smartphone to immortalize my moment, and I was too bashful to do so. Alas, that was such a milestone Friday evening. But did it really happen? The Pinoy in me wants to know.

18. People generally ARE cheerful, and those smiles are genuine — they aren’t just reserved for tourists or for the DOT’s YouTube ads. It starts with the boys who help you with your luggage at the NAIA carousel. It’s four in the morning, you’re groggy from jetlag, and the joyful, animated banter among them and towards you as they go about their routine tugs at your heart and tells you you’re really home.

19. Traffic, believe it or not. Maybe just a bit. I recently started driving to work here in Vancouver, and it’s been a challenge adjusting to long stretches of highway where your car must remain at high, constant speed to match the rest of the cars you share the road with. It’s insane, it scares me, and my knuckles turn white from clutching the steering wheel too tightly. My mind drifts back to my Camelot days and I actually miss the kind of standstill traffic where I did leisurely things in front of the rear-view mirror like curling my lashes, applying lipstick and removing my hair rollers. And it irks me a lot when people here in North America whine about five-minute traffic jams. For me they provide rest from the tension of driving, if that makes any sense.

20. Nowhere else is the “six degrees of separation” theory more evident than in the Philippines, where everyone is almost always the friend of the uncle of the neighbor of the sister of someone you work with. Remember how your mom used to ask if the boy you were currently dating is the son, nephew or grandson of so and so? A generation later, everyone was — and still is — somehow related.

21. Midnight madness. Truly mad, but I loved it.   

22. Rustan’s. Of course.   

23. The security guards at Landmark and their themed uniforms. (My all-time favorite was the Vatican Swiss Guards costume. The anime characters came in second.)

24. The beautiful malls.

25.  The amusing bag inspection at the beautiful malls’ entrance via dipping of stick into bag opening. They sometimes swirl the stick for added effect. 

26.  In-store cocktail “shopping events” where you can guzzle down champagne and wolf down a tray of canapes without having to buy anything. 

27.  Lazy Sundays with extended lunches and siestas that last till evening. No laundry, ironing or house cleaning chores. Why? See No. 12.

28.  Fiestas and parades sprouting even in the smallest alleys, complete with colorful buntings, marching bands and floats carrying the local beauty queen or images of saints. The resulting traffic and constant blaring of car horns simply add to the joyful melee.

29. Our national obsession with beauty contests where all work stops, beauty salons close and traffic disappears because everyone is gathered around a live streaming of Miss Universe where Miss Philippines is almost always among the top five.

30. Holy Week in Manila. Holy Week outside Manila. The former, to pray fervently and enjoy the empty roads and stillness of the city. The latter, to bask under the sun for four days straight, island hop and party. Take your pick.  

31. All Saints and All Souls days. Another long holiday, this time to celebrate life in an extremely festive way — family picnics, free-flowing beer and a Ferris wheel right in the center of the memorial park.    

32. Still on the subject of celebrating life, Pinoy wakes.  Nowhere else but in the Philippines do wakes become culinary feasts where buffets are lavish and drinks endless. Meals are served throughout the day, including a sumptuous arroz caldo breakfast for those who stay on for the “lamay.” Socializing abounds, naturally.

33. And finally, the incredible Filipino resilience in the face of its Third World challenges. Our sense of humor in coping with adversity. The ingenuous way we find fun in the most difficult situations. Our laughter, our hope, our positivity in turning wherever we are into our own little Camelot.

I miss you, Philippines.  

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