I am delighted to at last be able to step away from endless posts about transportation and commuter life in Metro Manila. If you’re a local or even a foreigner that’s been here awhile, then much of it must seem like stating the obvious.
Does it need explaining? Why don’t I just let people come and see for themselves. Well, it would be a lot simpler if I was writing about the provinces. A straight culture guide, a bit of history, way of life description, local food knowledge, best eating spots, the nearest beach and much talk about friendly people and my job is done. I dream of the opportunity and all very nice. Point is there are a million people already writing such stuff about the Philippines. What I’m attempting to do is explain away the everyday ordinary world of Metro Manila and how to adapt to it as best you can without becoming mentally unbalanced.
I think locals don’t recognize the way of life in the capital as anything unusual because they are so used to the madness. If you are a part of it, raised in it, it’s everyday life, it’s normal. The longer you are here, the more it becomes like water off a duck’s back, and you simply become a part of the asylum and adapt. But to say it’s an easy transition to get to that frame of mind would not be true. It’s just simply overwhelming and a lot of adjustment is required.
Coming to terms with the noise, the volume of people, the stress, heat, traffic and general confusion that is much of Metro Manila is something you won’t manage quickly. So whilst we’re stood around taking in all we are seeing, locals are also watching us. We must be very funny in the eyes of a Filipino as they watch us watching them as fresh-faced tourists.
Not because some foreigners wear socks with sandals either, although that should be grounds for deportation in my opinion, but overall, we are a mixed bunch and some appear more like ordinary Joes and some not.
Unfortunately, it has to be said that a few visitors and foreign residents are here for unsavoury purposes. For this reason, a mind-set has been created among some locals as regards what foreigners are all about. That small group of visitors wanting fun has been turned to mean most of us in the minds of some locals. They think that’s the only reason we ever go out.
Some may think of you as someone who comes strictly for the easily available cheap sex. The disproportionate amount of old foreigners with young wives or girlfriends gets noticed, too. Some visitors have tastes best described as simply illegal or dubious.
This is not only echoed here as you hear the same talk from abroad, too. It gets forgotten that most visitors are here for reasons other than vice. But the negative is the one that stays in some people’s minds; we’re all up to no good.
One of the most unpleasant aspects of being here is the many locals wanting to aid you in finding what they perceive you are looking for. “Chicks, sir” is often called out to you. You ignore them yet they are so confident you’re a deviant foreigner, they actually follow you and keep up the asking of what it is you want, and simply don’t take no for an answer.
I once had a gay start walking with me in a mall. He made friendly talk and sprung it on me the usual question of, “Do you want a chick?” Already fed up of his attitude, I kept walking and said, “No, it’s OK, thanks. I don’t need anything from you.” Thinking I’d said enough to get rid of him, I was surprised when he continued with, “You want a boy then?”
I really wanted him gone by now and my tone got sharper, and I replied, “No, I don’t. I’m fine. I don’t want anything. Take care.” And I foolishly thought, I’d said more than enough to make him go away. To my amazement, he did not let up, and he took a new approach saying, “Don’t be shy now; you can tell me. I can help you just tell me what it is you want, I can get it for you.”
At this point, I lost my cool and stopped still. I turned to him and said, “ Look, you’re pissing me off now. I’ve already told you many times, I don’t want anything from you”. His reaction was so strange to me. He got very irritated and despite all I’d just said, he still said to me in a very annoyed tone, “What the hell is it you do want?! I can help, just tell me!” I just ran out of words and walked away very fast zigzagging to make it hard for him to keep following me, and also drawing attention to the fact I didn’t want him around me any longer. It worked; he went.
That, among other similar incidents brought it home to me just how some just won’t believe you’re not constantly needing sex or some action or whatever you want to call it. It’s very difficult knowing so many are thinking that way about you, and you’re only out to get some coffee and a loaf of bread.
We, as visitors or residents, just have to ignore the negative stereotyping. This is a minority view and most are not so ignorant, but you will encounter that thinking. The clues start when you’re frequently asked such things as, “Do you need a chick?” It was something I learned to deal with but sadly, had to get quite aggressive more than once to make them understand I’m not needing sex every time I go out. I found it most concerning how they persisted and I could sense they felt if they just persist, I will crack and own up that I’m really looking for 2 girls, a boy, and a goat, all before breakfast.
For the most part, you are treated fine by most people and most don’t always hold assumptions about you. It is misunderstandings all the way, and rightly or wrongly, funnily or UN-funnily, this creates its own drama, and above all comedy, and sometimes tragedy. I’m certain you will be amused by much of what you see although incidents like I just described are not among the funnier moments. I know these foreigners exist, but it’s a hard thing to take to be assumed to be the same.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking everyone has that kind of thinking about you, but most don’t. Remain open and responsive and don’t judge the Filipino based on the attitude of a large minority.
In the main, Filipinos are warm, friendly, smile a lot, sing a lot, and sometimes, misunderstand a lot, but they are rarely abusive, or at least not on purpose. They do really laugh a lot but on occasion, they can completely miss the joke sometimes, too. When it comes to local and foreigner interactions, the language barrier is usually the single-most cause of misunderstanding. Although many, even most have some grasp of English; still, misunderstandings are frequent.
You may have to explain what you want to say in as simple terms as possible. Remember, this is not the first language. Most speak English well enough, and many understand the words, but can often mistake the meaning. Be prepared for these misunderstandings, but on the bright side, you will find these misunderstandings can create much accidental comedy.
Some people here can be a little over sensitive about criticism and they can take offense too easily. It’s usually because they have misread a remark. It’s easy to be taken literally sometimes. Even writing a site like this in an honest manner has its dangers due to over-sensitivity. I find for the most part, Filipinos are good fun, happy by nature, with a love of laughter but also over dramatic and with some, definitely hypersensitive. Be guarded in what you say sometimes and think how easily a remark could be misinterpreted before you say it.
As you start to venture out and interact with the locals, you are going to find many things funny and equally sad. Get out there, observe and whilst scratching your head trying to work out what makes these people tick, I’m sure you will observe many things that will make you angry but mostly make you smile. Everywhere you go, you will stumble upon a little theatre and you’re in danger of a sensory overload. As difficult as it is, this is life in the 16 cities and a municipality, that make up Metro Manila. Grow a thick skin and deflect the stereotyping. Likewise, don’t judge everyone on the attitude of some. It would not be accurate. The vast majority will see you for who you are. Mind-sets are a big problem here and all too many assumptions abound.
Most of us are just ordinary people, not sex tourists, not always rich as many think and not here to retire or marry a young lady. The assumptions will drive you crazy, but equally don’t assume everyone here has such closed thinking, they don’t, as you will soon find out.