Two weeks ago, I left New York City behind and arrived in Manila. Has there been culture shock? YES. But I can honestly say I already feel “in the groove” of my new life in this home away from home.
However, in this post, I will focus on a few of the differences I’ve noticed.
Weather, whether you like it or not
It’s hard to describe how hot it is here, but let me try. It’s been about 93-95 degrees every day and it “gets down” to around 85 degrees at night.
If you are standing in the sun, your skin is burning. You instantly feel the intensity – it’s a direct burn. No amount of sun block could protect you. Now, imagine someone turned on a humidifier and left it on, day and night. The air is so thick it’s like walking through warm, sticky clouds.
On an overcast day (or during any part of the day when it’s overcast) there’s a tremendous relief from the sun.
It’s not surprising then, that Filipinos have devised make shift ways of protecting themselves from the brutality of the sun beating down on them. It’s common to see people carrying umbrellas to provide instant shade. Another favorite method is to drape your head with a tee shirt. Another popular thing to do, especially for children, is to tuck a towel or cotton scarf behind the person’s neck and down the inside of the back of their shirt, to absorb sweat.
What’s ironic, then, is that many people here are pale. I was talking to one such pale Brit who has lived in the Philippines for 11 years. He said that since people work during the day, they aren’t exposed to the sun much. In fact, many of these folks have even been known to run Vitamin D deficiencies!
Crossing the street is scary
As a regular pedestrian in Manhattan and Jersey City, I’m familiar with traffic but nothing could have prepared me for what it’s like here. It’s terrifying to cross the streets.
Every major intersection is like a four lane highway. Cars come from numerous directions and they are going to cross the walkway where you have to cross the street.
You have to also watch for bicycles and mopeds which don’t feel the need to stop for pedestrians. In fact, cars don’t seem to feel the need to stop for pedestrians either!
On several occasions I was convinced I was seconds away from being hit by a car attempting to jockey for position in a traffic line I had to cross.
Now, after a few weeks of life on the ground, I’ve figured out how to navigate the treacherous few moments I’m in a crosswalk. Just like everybody else here, you try to move with the herd. People congregate on the sidewalks until it’s time to go, then we all go together. Alternatively, hustle your butt off. If you see a car coming towards you, especially if it wants to make a quick right around the corner, assume it’s not going to slow down. Run if necessary!
Ladies and Gentlemen
Filipinos don’t distinguish between male and female gender. Those words don’t exist in their native language (Tagalog). So it’s not uncommon, for a shop girl or shop guy to address you as “Ma’am Sir” … as in “Have a good day Ma’am Sir.”
HOWEVER. There is the matter of being a white woman with curly hair (AKA me, myself and I.) I am, to put it mildly, an anomaly. No one has curly hair, and I do mean NO ONE. And while there are other “white people” here, and I know because I’ve seen them, we all stick out in the crowd. Most people are (duh!) Filipino.
Now, that’s not an issue for me except that many, many people stare at me. I have had men stop cold in front of me because they are shocked by my appearance. Others will stare at me directly as I walk by, some more polite types glance at me sideways as I pass them. None of these people ever says anything to me. In fact, anyone who talks to me says nice things like “Hi,” or “Good afternoon, Ma’am.” All of the people who work in shops are super nice, and extremely polite. Being friendly and polite seems to be a natural part of the culture.
Still, that doesn’t stop some on the street from looking at me like I have two heads and a tail. SIGH.
What’s frustrating about it is that I’m sure I’m not being treated normally here, because I’m some weird, rare thing to them. The exception to this is ex-pat places where it’s more likely for people from all over the world to congregate. In that crowd, I’m just one of a bunch.
Thank you, your eggs are perfect
Yesterday, I was at a small, well designed bistro in our neighborhood. I had to order food off the menu, which was challenging – nearly everything was meat, chicken and fish. But, they have a local dish called “Garlic Rice with Egg” and it said in the menu the eggs could be prepared any style. So I asked for eggs over medium.
The server said, “Sunny side up?” and I said, “No, over medium please.” And then I said, “Oh, do you know what over medium is?” And he said “Yes.”
Moments later, he pulled the chef out of the kitchen, and had me explain what an “over medium egg” was to the chef.
Since he said he knew what an over medium egg was, why, you may be asking yourself, did he bring the chef over for a chat?
Filipinos say “Yes” to mean “I heard what you said” and NOT “Yes, I agree.” So, you will hear yes when they could mean no. There’s no way to figure out which answer they gave you.
This makes communication here a lot of “fun.”
Back to the eggs…
The chef said, “Oh, I will try my best to make this for you” and I immediately said “Don’t worry, even if you cook the yolk all the way through, it’s no problem.” And yes, he gave me eggs over hard.
He came out of the kitchen while I was eating to ask me if I liked the food. I smiled and told him how perfectly he had cooked the eggs and how delicious the food was (it was delicious), and thanked him. He was beaming from ear to ear.
Garlic rice is seriously delicious.