After living in Manila for one and a half weeks, learning and observing rank as high priorities. Because Alex spent a little over a month here in 2009, he’s told me stories about many aspects of Filipino culture. These one and a half weeks, I saw his words evidenced as true with my own eyes! 1. Public restrooms don’t have toilet paper and often lack seats and soap as well. BYOTP (Bring your own toilet paper...and anti-bacterial hand gel.)
2. As our vision video states, traffic really is legendary! There are few traffic lights in this most densely populated city in the world. Cars, motor bikes, trikes, jeepneys, and pedestrians swerve in and out of lanes at will. To turn without a traffic light, simply start edging out in front of traffic. Consider tapping the horn as well. During super busy hours, an officer may open up a “counter flow,” where vehicles takes over an extra lane on the oncoming traffic side. Some pedestrians/people on public transportation cover their nose/mouth with a bandana or towel to help filter the pollution. Alex and I laughed when we passed an emission test site. Jeepneys and other vehicles regularly spew black smoke into the already smoggy air. To help battle the congestion and pollution, each car has a “no drive day.” On that particular day of the week, the car is not allowed on the main roads except between 10 and 3. Our no drive day is Tuesday, the day we picked up our car. Alex was nervous about driving in Manila, but he’s driven wonderfully! The longer we’re here, the more we recognize the flow and organization to the chaos. ; ) I’m still not used to how close vehicles move, however!
3. There are bugs. Cockroaches from time to time and many species of ants enjoy the tropics, and even our home. Cinnamon deters ants. On counters, walls, ceilings, and floors, Baygone chalk works wonders to keep bugs at bay. : )
4. Tagalog speakers use the term “po” (ma'am/sir) as a term of respect. Often, native speakers weave in and out of Tagalog and English in the same conversation (Taglish). Their tone is sing-songy and cheerful. Filipinos are an extremely respectful people.
5. No vacuum cleaners are needed, as buildings use tile/brick instead of carpet. It’s much easier to mop, especially in an area prone to flash flooding.
6. Malls provide entertainment and air conditioning (in a city where electricity is extremely expensive). They are huge; Mall of America has nothing on the malls of Asia! Park at any mall for less than a dollar, or walk there for free. Then walk around enjoying the “free” aircon. Often, the atrium provides some kind of fun activity. In our few days living here, we’ve experienced a festival for pregnant moms, a Jolibee Kids Club presentation, a group Doodle contest on giant butcher paper, and a giant Cadbury chocolate organ filled with flowing chocolate. We’ve stopped to watch each one. : )
7. On your way into the mall parking lot, expect to stop the car for a trunk inspection. Finding a spot is easy due to the red/green light system over the cars. Open spots light up green. Occupied spots light up red. This is a system we’d love to see in the states! Open your purse while walking in and let the guard stick his/her wooden baton inside to quickly take a look while another guard checks your person.
8. Stores like Target or Walmart are unnecessary, as everything is available at malls. Department stores, grocery stores, hardware stores, restaurants, etc. Since plastic bags are illegal, many customers use reusable fabric bags. When customers don’t bring reusable bags, stores give out paper bags, wrap items in tissue paper, or tie string around heavy/large items to make them easier to lug home. The Philippines offers some items we expected not to find. We located size 12 womens shoes at a Payless even though we heard that it’s hard to find higher than a size 8. Someone must have told them we were moving here for a year!
9. Skyscrapers abound, but not more than slums. You can’t arrive at skyscrapers without driving by the slums and villages with homes/businesses lined up right next to the road. I’ll never forget one of the first days I was here seeing a young girl stand up from resting on the pavement, pick up her box, and find a spot a few feet away. She squatted, used the “restroom” (hiding behind the box stood up on its side), then walked back to her spot on the pavement. This contrast reminds me of something we learned in Pre-Field Orientation (PFO). The Filipino culture has a high power distance. They expect the wealthy to have extra privileges and to be able to break certain rules. They expect the poor to have less rights, opportunities, and privileges. It’s normal and right to them, where our American eyes see injustice.
10. Another concept we learned at PFO was that relationship rules in Asia. We must spend significant time investing in relationships. Driving home night before last, we drove within inches of families, tables, and chairs set up in the street right next to our townhouse. We stopped by to introduce ourselves and found out we had crashed a ten year old boy’s birthday party. They insisted we stay and join them to eat. We met many moms, a few dads, lots of children, and a couple grandpas! They were all warm, welcoming, and friendly. Pray we can continue to develop effective relationships with our neighbors.
As we continue to learn, Lord (Panginoon), help us to remain soft toward the work of your Spirit. Teach us, correct us, encourage us, and work through us even in our brokenness. We need you so desperately.