Relative values

FROM A DISTANCE - Veronica Pedrosa - The Philippine Star

Kimi Lim is a freelance content producer and philosophy student. She grew up in Manila and went to universities in the UK. David Guerrero, her father, grew up in the UK and lives in Manila. His mother was English and his father was Filipino diplomat Leon Ma. Guerrero. He is chairman of award-winning advertising agency BBDO Guerrero.

KIMI: Currently I’m studying to go into UI UX, a new field in technology and design about user accessibility and experience.

I really love trains, but there are no trains here in the Philippines, so when I went to England, I just rode trains for the heck of it. Then, I thought: “Why can’t this be accessible to a lot of people in the same way that books and reading are?” My interest stemmed from that. Another example is that I love the way the London Underground map is designed. You can tell where you need to go and where you need to be usually by just following the line no matter where you are in the city, you can just go. It’s quite intuitive in that way.

I think (my interest) has a lot to do with having lived in two places that are so far away from each other. I was really struck when I applied for my national insurance number in the UK, I got it in a week, whereas it took me about three months to get a social security number in the Philippines. The websites aren’t designed that well and when I tried to find out who to talk to or where I needed to go, it wasn’t very clear.

We watched all the Wallace and Gromit movies when I was young and I think that’s where my sense of humor comes from. It’s very deadpan, and I’m quite self-deprecating too and a lot of people don’t really get that.

Growing up, it was hard to take the criticism that “you’re not Filipino” because I don’t look very Filipino. People would say “No you’re a foreigner, and your dad’s a foreigner.” There was a sense of “What do I need to do to prove it to you? Do I need to recite the panatang makabayan here?”

Both my parents grew up in different countries and never learnt how to speak Tagalog properly, so I took it upon myself to just try and remember how to speak it. I think being a Filipino is being in tune with the social and political issues of the Philippines. I think it’s more complex than ticking a checklist. The Filipino diaspora has got to be taken to account too. It can’t just be gauged by how you look or your level of understanding of the Filipino language. I think there’s something more complex and more nuanced about it.

I had a friend who I took to the Jollibee in London and they were really paranoid about going in because they’re a white person. I said “No! We don’t mind, just as long as you don’t diss the chicken!” I think that’s the sort of inclusiveness that I want to see from Filipinos even towards their own kind, as long as you can respect, appreciate and on some level identify with something that is Filipino.

DAVID: The strength of family bonds in the Philippines is to some extent a necessary adaptation to a situation where you don’t have strong institutions or state to rely on. In other places, if people aren’t employed or can’t afford to go to school or need health care, the state will provide in some way. All those institutions are still being developed, so it’s normal and natural for people to nurture and develop a family unit. “Family” as an institution... families are more trusted than the government, blood is thicker than water.

We (BBDO Guerrero) aim to compete internationally and fly the Philippine flag wherever we can in terms of creativity, that helps us provide a career path for young talent here. If their work is recognized overseas, then they stand a better chance of getting a good job. I’m never worried if one of our talented creative or accounts teams want to go and work overseas. I think that’s a positive, good thing especially if they’re going to take up good positions in the region or global industry.

The most universal things are also the most local, so if you find something that’s incredibly specific and local and you tell that story in a way that can be appreciated by the wider industry, then that’s probably the most appealing thing. We made a film for Pantene about six years ago that went viral all over the world. It was about the way in which gender roles are perceived differently at work. If a guy is giving a talk he’s thought of as the boss; the woman giving instructions is seen as bossy. It was picked up by Sheryl Sandberg initially, who thought it was right for her Lean In program. It got 50 million views and was seen on every TV channel around the world. You can take a local situation and express it universally.

I’m working on a book about the Beatles concert in Manila. In a sense, it’s a story that found me because it’s a massive intersection between the UK and the Philippines. It’s probably the most prominent moment in which you had Western culture intersecting with Philippine culture in a way that remains interesting to this day. It says so much about the conflicting expectations of one side and the other. For the Philippines to be invited to the presidential palace is seen as the greatest honor; but for the Beatles it was: “Oh no, we’re in another place where everybody wants a piece of us. We just want a day off!”

That one day in Manila they played to 80,000 people. It was the biggest one-day crowd they ever played in their entire careers, that should be what we’re celebrating, but nobody remembers that, it’s all just about being chased out of the airport.

If you compare what happens in the UK or the US, where every aspect of national history is meticulously preserved, to here – there’s not yet an appreciation of why it’s important to document and record.

It says something about a culture if you think of yourself important enough to keep records, to remember everything. It might be something to do with Asian values of all getting along: if you all want to get along collectively then you don’t bring up difficult things, but it doesn’t really resolve those things. Not talking about them doesn’t actually make them go away, it just buries them. I think that’s why disagreements or feuds go on for a long time here because they’ve never really quite brought it out in the open and thrashed it out. I’m very much an amateur historian, but I do think there’s something valuable in remembering and analyzing aspects of past contemporary history.


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