A year ago today, I left Hong Kong
A year on...what are my thoughts....
Manila still doesn't rank as one of my favourite cities...and it has not displaced any of the cities in my top ten
,although, I have become quite fond of it in a 'black sheep' sort of a way. For me there are two main issues with Manila that don't endear it to me....the first - it's not really a beautiful city...and secondly it lacks substantial things to see and do....However, as most people will say, travelling and living overseas is not so much about the country but the people you meet there, and in this, Manila surpasses a fair few places I've lived. I've met some people here, who already, I know that when I leave Manila I will really miss.
Politics, government and democracy....here it is chaotic in the extreme. A year on, I can't profess to be more knowledgable about any of those three subjects. I know who the main protaganists are and I am now more aware of key happenings in Philippine political history. When I first arrived I knew of GMA, Marcos and Garci....! For an outsider the political scene and the vagaries of government could be seen as vaguely amusing...and for most visitors that drop in and out of the country and who see brief snap shots....it is amusing. However, once you have been here for a while, it all becomes incredibly tragic as you realise the influence that all this pushing and shoving in the higher echelons, has on the average Filipino. Something's got to give.....
Pride...Filipinos are incredibly proud people, more so I think than any other nationality I have lived amongst. They want visitors to see and experience the best that the country can offer...and if a visitor does experience something perceived as giving a negative impression on the country, there can be much head shaking and covering up of the incident. A classic example of this was one night we had dinner together and the conversation had covered the subject of the lovely pink urinals in Manila and the incredible number of men who just unzip and pee by the road (the incidence of men peeing by the side of the road is far higher here than anywhere I ahve ever lived!)...it is something I have got used to and really I hardly register it anymore...but the next day we were out in the car and we drove past a stationary taxi with its driver taking a 'comfort stop'...the guy sitting in the front seat of our car just shook his head and I knew that it was just the sort of thing he didn't want me to see....My work colleagues are also intent on ensuring I only see the good parts of the Filipino character...and not the more emotional side! For my part, I don't care....every country has its good and bad...and you really can't appreciate the former without the latter.
Sunsets...who would have thought that Manila could produce such spectacular sunsets on a regular basis....it really is my favourite time of day here.
Language...I have never lived anywhere where communication was so easy. The standard of English here (although dropping
) is amazing...it makes life so much easier...and so much more entertaining as it is easier to pick up on topical jokes, local humour and the constant teasing that happens here. One of the only challenges I have faced here have been to do with the accent....my accent is very British and it has proved to be quite a challenge for some people to pick up.....plus obviously the pronounciation of words can be different, a case in point.... a few months back I received some flowers - I asked my secretary to organise a vase to put them in...when I came back to the office a few hours later there was still no vase, so I asked if there was a problem...no, no problem came back the response. By late evening, I still had no vase...so I asked again...at which point my secretary said "What's a 'vase'", stumbling over the British pronounciation...so I repeated the word as Americans would say it...and all was suddenly clear!!! The English used in the Philippines is definitely not English English, not really American English....it is Filipino English...they have taken the English language and made it their own....there are certain words and phrases used here in ways that I have never heard them used before...'endorse', 'gimmick' (granted, spelled as gimik), 'push through', 'go ahead', 'every now and then', 'for a while' (only really used on the telephone), C.R. (every country has its variation on what to call the rest room...unfortunately I have adopted so many of them that now when I ask for the toilet I just reel off a list of options until I hit pay dirt....now CR has also been added to the list!) and ref. And there are some I have never heard of before - 'ber' months, aggrupation, ..... all part of the learning curve!
Shopping (aka Malling)....if I thought shopping was part of the culture in Hong Kong....compared to Manila...I was wrong......the amount of time shopping or wandering around in malls spent by the average Hong Konger is, I am fairly sure, surpassed by the average Filipino...here, it is an art form.Eating
....same as shopping....Filipinos manage to squeeze in more opportunities to eat per day than any other nationalities...the morning and afternoon merienda adds two more 'almost official' meals to the day. Food is also a constant presence in the office, over and above, the five meals a day! I haven't taken to Filipino food in quite the same way as I took to Arabic or Indonesian food.... there are certain things that I like (chorizo sausage), some I really dislike (sisig)...and some I can't quite get my brain around...chief amongst the latter category would be Ensaymada .... at its most basic it is a brioche bun topped with sugar icing and grated cheese...I have tried to get used to them....but I can't - they do come with a variety of different fillings and toppings...but the whole sugar/cheese thing is just something that doesn't work for me!
Texting - if it became an Olympic sport...the Philippines would clean up...actually the rest of the world would just not bother entering contestants. It is not only the amount of texting that goes on, it is the speed at which people text and the whole different language used....sometimes I need a translator just to decipher a text from a colleague! I think a lot of my friends are surgically attached to the keypads of their phones!
Alcohol gel - I have never lived anywhere that uses such a huge amount of alcohol gel! Every desk has a bottle, many people carry a small bottle in their hand bags...and supermarkets carry a huge variety of different producers. At the end of a particularly bad day at work, my colleague said he needed to get out for some fresh air...I said I needed some alcohol...next thing I know, one of the girls in the office passes me a small bottle of alcohol gel...when I frowned and asked what it was for...she said 'well you said you needed alcohol'... and she was serious!!!
Manila has proved to be the most challenging of all the places I've lived in to settle in and feel a part of the city....but one year in, it does feel a little like home...but that is entirely due to the people I've met!