The Duterte kiss in South Korea
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - June 9, 2018 - 12:00am

It is funny that the big story which came out of the successful trip of President Duterte to South Korea was not about how well he did by getting concessions from his hosts for his Build, Build, Build program. He brought home the bacon.

Reports put it at P4.9 billion in investment, $1 billion for Official Development Assistance (ODA). Apart from the money, there was the promise encouraging more Koreans to come to the Philippines. Moreover Korea is home to 93,000 Filipinos. These are not chicken feed but the opening of opportunities for both Koreans and Filipinos.

But given the preference for a good laugh and an opportunity to make fun of our President, the story that hogged the headlines was “The Kiss.”

It was The Kiss. This is pure Duterte. He could have rambled about his achievements but that would be   boring and self-serving. No one would listen or let alone remember what he achieved in South Korea. Instead he gave them a good laugh and something to talk about long after the three-day trip was over. It worked. The important issues would be sneaked in on conversation about “The Kiss,’ katawa. But most Filipinos prefer a good laugh. Except for his critics, fake Catholics and hypocritical politicians with a number of mistresses mostly kept in their closets raised a howl about “The Kiss.”

Apart from these gossipy tales about kissing, it can mean many things. It could be prelude to something more serious or just a peck of affection. We kiss our parents by putting their hand to our forehead as a sign of respect and say Mano po.  But when the colonialists came it changed. We learned from the Spaniards to kiss both cheeks – known as beso-beso.

When I became the ambassador’s wife in Belgium I got three instead of two beso-beso kisses until someone was kind enough to explain it to me. In the US and also in the Philippines beso-beso kisses were limited to two, one on each cheek. So I was taken aback when I was kissed by a male guest three times. Hmm. I thought, maybe he has a crush on me. Ha, ha. In Belgium as well as in most European countries, it is always three and it isn’t because he likes you. Some old-fashioned French friends still kiss your hand to greet you. So there are different kinds of kissing in different countries.

Imagine my shock when I saw men kissing each other lips to lips and neither was gay. Here is an article on what he saw:  “Two college students clasped hands across a table, folding their fingers over the back of each other’s hand, then did an American-style fist bump. “It’s typical for us to greet each other this way,” said Azat Nagimov as he demonstrated the greeting with fellow 20-year-old Vanya Lyovkin. 

More than three decades ago, Soviet Union General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev got a kiss on the lips from East German leader Erich Honecker. A news photograph of the moment took on a life of its own, cementing Brezhnev’s reputation as a smooching statesman, and creating a stereotype of Russian men as lip-lockers.

Russian men ranging from their 20s to their 60s to their 80s, however, say the stereotype is far from reality.  Nagimov has seen the famous 1979 photograph. “Personally, we don’t approve of that,” he said, speaking for himself and his classmates.  When you ask a group of Russian men if they kiss each other on the mouth, they respond as a chorus: “No, no, no.” True, they might put an air kiss or even a real kiss on the cheek of a close male relative or longtime friend, especially during a Russian Orthodox holiday. Otherwise, ethnic Russians limit their man-to-man contact to handshakes, shoulder pats and loose hugs. Kissing on the lips, they say, was for political bigwigs back in Soviet times.  Ironically, the stereotype of men kissing on the lips has persisted despite Russia’s ban on “gay propaganda.”

Signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in June 2013, the measure criminalizes open affection between people of the same gender if that display can be construed as homosexual. Despite the law, or because of it, almost all of the Russian men asked about their greetings brought up gay issues – or thought they were getting interviewed about same-sex marriage.  Yet the men did not refute the idea of men kissing by saying it was a gay habit, but rather by saying it was non-Russian or non-Slavic.”

So should we kiss or not be  kissed – that is the dilemma. Have you ever faced this dilemma? No, we are not hinting at the ‘right moment’ quandary here like Rodin’s magnificent sculpture of “The Kiss.” Kissing traditions are vastly different across the world.  To me the Duterte kiss in South Korea was just being himself and as I said it is more a political act than the “quandary at the right moment,” a political move to send the Filipinos swooning and  getting a good laugh to remind them what he accomplished in the visit.

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