The ten most things about living in The Philippines, that make me ever so slightly annoyed...never frustrated enough to blow my cool, of course, just mildly annoyed. If you doubt my sincerity...just ask my wife. I'm sure she will confirm what a cool, calm and collected little soul, I really am.
So, without any further ado...on with the show:
My ang pinaka ten most annoying aspects of living in this awesome country:
10/ The Crowds:
Now, in general I love the sheer volume of people, especially in the Metropolis. I love sitting somewhere at a Cafe and drinking my coffee, just watching people pass by. I have this habit of "people watching" and yes, I do make stories up about them sometimes. But, just occasionally I feel this deep longing and yearning for the solitude and emptiness of Gore's main street. This crowd thing can be especially overpowering if you happen to visit a mall on a Sunday afternoon. I've found myself looking around at times and wondering just how so many people managed to fit into this space all at the same time. To be fair there are around twenty million people living in and around the greater Metro Manila area and they all have to go somewhere. I just sometimes wish it wasn't always the same place I am going.
9/ The Heat:
I remember saying to my dear son, Chris, on more than one occasion; especially in the middle of a cold, southern winter in Gore...Why would anyone in their right mind choose to live in this God-forsaken, freezing hell? Well...there are times now, when I secretly long for a cold, southerly blast straight off Antarctica, whistling through the main street of Gore. When I first came here, I figured the heat would probably be an issue for me. I WAS RIGHT! I did think however my body would eventually adapt to the new climate, and to some extent it has. 25 degrees, which I would have considered sweltering in New Zealand, doesn't even raise a sweat these days...in fact, I might even comment how nice it is to be so cool for a change. I do still struggle with the extreme heat of Summer...the 36-37 degree days and the 29 degree nights...plus the humidity of the rainy season can be a bit draining at times, but all in all, I've come to terms with it. As I sit here in my sando (singlet) and shorts, which is all I wear probably 6 out of 7 days a week, I can actually reflect that the climate of my adopted country is pretty damn nice. I've forgotten what socks are...what a long sleeved shirt is...what a jersey might be...and as for jackets, they are a thing of the far gone past. Yeah, it is too hot sometimes, but all in all, it beats the hell out of winters in Southland, New Zealand.
Now, surprise, surprise, I'm not actually going to rattle on about how little there is for me to watch here. It is true that there is only one English language channel that I can receive on free to air television here...and that used to be ETC...until they changed to Channel 21, which we can't receive. What I can get is Channel 9 - The Solar News Channel. It's not their fault I can't speak Filipino, so in actual fact I'm thrilled there is one channel I can actually watch. I don't watch much television these days, so it's not a big issue. My one gripe with Filipino Television relates to the Filipino obsession with celebrity. So much of what I see on the TV, when others are watching, revolves around the cult of celebrity...be it overseas celebrities or home-grown ones. One thing that particularly grates on my nerves is the image Filipinos seem to have of themselves, especially as it relates to beauty and health. The biggest child star of the moment is a little girl called Rizza Mae Dizon. She is a nine-year old who has captured the nation's imagination. She really is the super-star of Philippine Film and Television at the moment. My problem with her? She is adorably cute, but she is also extremely overweight for her age. This country, like so many others, faces a real obesity epidemic in the next few decades. My question is: Is Rizza Mae Dizon a good role-model for how we want our Filipino children to look? It is a recurring theme in television advertisements, programs and movies; overweight children are cute and adorable. Personally I just think it sends the wrong message about health to our parents and children. I guess some of this stems from the idea that overweight children mean the parents have been successful. All I can say is that allowing your children to overindulge in eating too much Jollibee, Shakeys, KFC, McDonalds, whatever, is doing them no favours in their future health.
No blog about this country could ever be complete without some mention of the traffic. It IS diabolical...everyone knows it is diabolical and yet all the local and national politicians seem to want to do to solve the problem is build more roads, more spaghetti junctions and more flyovers. Building more roads is not and never will be the solution to a city's transport problems. I've covered this issue before in another article. Only 20% of the citizens of Metro Manila own their own cars...so why do we insist on spending more and more money on roads. If 80% of the citizens of Metro Manila don't own cars, then surely we should be spending much more money on rapid transit public transport, especially rail. The majority of people who live in this city are suffering on the backs of the elite and wealthy who run the metropolis. It's wrong, and until local and national politicians understand that they are there to serve the majority, not the wealthy elite, or the overseas businessmen, the people of Metro Manila will continue to suffer. Part of the problem is that this lack of clean, fast, reliable, safe public transport has meant that for the 80% of people who live in the metropolis, who don't own cars; their greatest aspiration is first and foremost to own a car. No amount of road building can ever keep up with this continual, mounting desire to own a personal vehicle. To all politicians, local and national, I say: Invest in the future...invest in smart public transport systems and the next generation will reap the rewards of your foresight.
I'm not sure if this is a problem everywhere in the country, but it certainly is where I live. The nearest town to our house is Novaliches (Bayan) and although the main street does indeed have footpaths, you are often hard-pressed to find them. The sheer volume of street traders and food stalls set up on the designated footpaths means that often one is required to walk down the road just to get to where you are going. I have nothing against street traders or food stalls. Both add colour, vibrancy and excitement to the urban environment. In fact, I love eating street food (when my dear wife will let me) and there is always something interesting to find at the various market stalls. My only wish is that they would actually leave us somewhere to walk in safety. At best there is often just a small, narrow path to follow between the various vendor's stalls. The problem occurs when (a) you meet someone coming the other way (99.9% of the time), or (b) someone you are following stops to look at a particular stall's wares. Talk about traffic jams on foot. It can be most frustrating when it takes you over 10-15 minutes just to negotiate a hundred meters down the street.
In many ways this problem is allied to the no-footpaths issue. I realize that there are millions of people in Metro Manila, at any given point in time, trying to get from one place to another, so I'm not overly perturbed by the sheer volume of pedestrians. What does grate on me from time to time is their lack of manners and their lack of awareness of others. An example of this is the use of umbrellas by pedestrians. Yes, I do understand it does rain regularly here and yes I do understand the sun can be particularly hot at times, but is it really necessary to walk down crowded footpaths with your enormous umbrellas up? If it's raining, the little old ladies will try and poke you in the eye with their umbrella and if the suns shining, well, they'll still try and poke you in the eye with their umbrella. My second gripe is people who just stop dead in their tracks...whether to examine the goods at a vendor's stall, or if they suddenly remembered something they'd forgotten, it really doesn't matter. Please don't suddenly stop in the middle of the busy and narrow footpath...there's simply nowhere for those following you, to go. My third gripe is CELLPHONES. It's hard enough walking around the narrow crowded streets without having to avoid the 80% of people who are glued to the screens of their electronic devices as they walk. Not only is it unsafe, for you...it's damn dangerous for others as well. There's no way you can see what's happening around you, if your eyes are focused intently on the display on your cellphone. My final whinge about pedestrians is please, please be patient. If you are behind me and I'm not moving, it's because someone in front is holding me up. Don't try and push your way around me just to get one step further in the snaking queue of people. It's rude and annoying...JUST HAVE SOME PATIENCE PLEASE! I have to get where I'm going to, just as much as you do, so please wait.
I want to make a heart-felt appeal to all Filipinos. Quit this crazy obsession you have with believing that white skin is somehow more beautiful and more desirable than your own skin colour. This is not unique to Filipinos, it actually appears to be an Asian-wide beauty trend. Please listen to me: IT MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE! Women all over the world would give their right arms to have skin the colour and texture of yours. Your gorgeous, brown skin is coveted by white Europeans, Americans and Australasians. These women go to extraordinary lengths, like tanning salons and long-term sun exposure, just to look like you. Why on earth do you want to look pale, wan and pasty, like them? It defies belief! The perception of what is beautiful is clearly skewed by popular culture. All I'm saying is that until you go overseas and receive literally millions of compliments about your beautiful skin colour, you will believe the marketeers that insist that beauty is white. In the meantime, you spend thousand of pesos on skin whitening formulas that can actually damage your skin. You stay indoors and avoid the sun; like the plague. You forego the immense pleasure of the beach in Summer...WHY? Trust me, Philippine women are the most beautiful women in the world...you don't need to be white to be beautiful. Personally, I couldn't believe the furore that erupted when Nancy Binay was elected to Senate last year. The general joke seemed to be that she was too dark to be a Filipino. WHAT! Filipinos ARE dark...that's what makes them Filipinos. Somewhere along the line we seem to have gotten confused about what defines beauty. Brown skin, big brown eyes and dark black hair IS beautiful and don't let anyone else kid you otherwise. Personally I find it grotesque when I see a beautiful woman, with lovely brown skin; ruining it by plastering powder all over her face to try and look whiter. To me, it looks like a ghost's face with a slash of red lipstick in the middle. Please embrace your ethnicity and be proud of your beauty.
We do have creepy-crawlies in New Zealand, just perhaps not as many, or as wide a variety as you do here. Until I came here, I don't think I'd actually ever seen an Ipis (Cockroach) up close and personal. Perhaps it's just too cold for them in Gore or Invercargill, but truthfully I was shocked and horrified by the sight of them. I've certainly seen plenty of them since I've been here, but I'm afraid familiarity hasn't lessened the shock or horror when I actually come across one. Another thing that absolutely floored me was when I realized that Ipis could actually fly. Nobody ever told me that! I discovered it quite by accident one night when one flew straight at me and landed on my shirt. What followed was what I like to call; my "horror dance". I think my wife would describe it as jerking insanely, all over the place, whilst screaming maniacally..."get it off...get it off...get it off!" I just can't help it, they do something awful to my normally rational mind. I doubt I will ever get used to them. Oh, I know they are one of nature's survivors and I know they love to share their lives with us, but I've got news for them...I DON'T WANT TO SHARE! Besides the ubiquitous Ipis, there are many other things that make me jump on a chair and scream like a baby, but I won't go into them all here...suffice it to say...if it moves and it's inside my house...and its not human...I don't like it! I have this policy, which I tried to explain to my dear wife to help her get over her equally irrational fear of lizards (which also like to share our lives). I told her, "If you don't see it...it doesn't exist!" That seemed to work for a while until I was silly (nasty) enough to point out a tiny lizard running across the wall. The resulting scream somehow made my fear of Ipis seem more tolerable, if only for a short time. Thank you darling!
Before I moved to The Philippines, it would be fair to say that I was not the most patient person in the world. In fact, I even had a reputation for being a tad impatient at times. Living here has certainly cured me of that malady. I would suggest that I now am one of the calmest, most patient souls you could hope to meet. Perhaps my wife might disagree slightly with this assertion, but I do think I have a pretty good handle on the laid-back attitude now. One thing that I absolutely abhorred, even back in New Zealand, was queuing. Now you don't have to queue very often in New Zealand, that's just the nature of living in a country with only four million people. The other thing that negates queuing in New Zealand is that we can interact with government offices, both local and national, to do almost anything...online. This makes queuing, especially for government services almost redundant. I realize that technologically the services industry here is well behind the rest of the developed world, so I understand that for many services it is still necessary to present yourself in person. I've experienced this myself at the Bureau of Immigration. The sheer number of people requiring these services on a daily basis means that more often than not you will have to queue. I have no great problem with this. Here's where I do have a problem though...THE BANK! The way bank staff treat their customers in this country is appalling. If this is one country where having enough staff to service the customers should not be a problem...it is this country. The way in which banks in this country treat their customers, especially with respect to waiting times is similar to the way New Zealand banks treated their customers in the 1970's. Somebody needs to remind banks that it is YOUR money that they are holding...NOT theirs. You, as the customer deserve better service than you currently get. I'm not going to mention any bank names in particular, but I really hope our particular bank is one of the worst. I'd hate to think that their are other banks out there that could treat their customers any worse than ours does. Banking here is a crowded market...there is oodles of competition. I would suspect a bank that made its priority dealing with customers transactions quickly, would attract a lot of customers. Where is this bank? I can honestly say that about a year ago, I spent over an hour waiting to see a teller at my bank's branch at Trinoma. You know something else...nothing...and I mean nothing grates on an ordinary customer more than seeing some over-weight, over-dressed, be-jewelled, "priority" customer wander into the bank and get served immediately and get treated with so much deference and courtesy by the bank staff. I know you have to look after your priority customers, I accept that...but please don't rub it in my face, as I'm still queuing along with the other poor people for yet another 30 minutes. What we need is a technology explosion. Banking should in general be done online. Back in New Zealand, I would visit my bank perhaps once or twice a year at the most. Everything I need to do, I can do online. BRING IT ON! pleeeeeeease!
1/ The winner by a long, long way: RUBBISH!
I'm not talking about the house-hold or commercial rubbish that we put out every day to be carted away to the landfills and disposed of, although the idea of recycling is one that is alive and well in this country and should be applauded. No, what I'm talking about is the prevailing attitudes of, it seems like, most Filipinos who think it's okay to drop their rubbish wherever they are at the time. I've said it in my previous blog, this is a beautiful country, so why on earth are so many people hell-bent on ruining it by dumping their litter just anywhere. This attitude comes from the parents. When I see children do it, they learnt it in only one place...from YOU, their parents. It's not okay to discard wrappers, packaging, and other litter just anywhere you please. If I had one message to schools, to community leaders, to parents, it would be this: Teach the children to care for their environment. Teach the children to value their environment. Teach the children to be responsible when it comes to litter and rubbish. YOU have to set the example. Your children will do as you do. When I ride a jeepney home from Bayan and I see parents unwrap foodstuffs and throw the wrapping out of the back of the jeep, I just want to weep. What sort of example is that for your child sitting beside you? Please, please, please love this land of yours enough to make a personal difference and keep it clean. DON'T ever use the excuse that everyone does it! That's the sort of excuse politicians use when they're caught with their hand or snout in the trough. Take personal responsibility for yourself...at the end of the day that's all you can do. Community leaders, schools and businesses...please make the effort to provide more receptacles for rubbish. It doesn't guarantee that people will use them, but it does take away the excuse that there wasn't any available. When we went to Lemery this past summer there were many photographs my wife didn't want me to post simply because they showed the depth of rubbish washed up on the shoreline. I find it appalling that we are prepared to tolerate this sort of wanton disregard for this beautiful land. Don't let our country become a rubbish dump - be responsible and dispose of the litter properly.
Does the list of gripes outweigh the list of loves? Not in a million years! There are many things that could make this country a better place for everyone to live in; but there is only one thing that would be sadder than not seeing them implemented, and that would be: Not living here! I love The Philippines and I love Filipinos. I may not be a Filipino, but I do truly believe I have a Filipino heart.