rants, raves and randomness
If you are going to ask me to describe the Philippines to someone who hasn’t been there, I’d say it would probably look like pre-revolutionary France, with some minor modifications.
France was still essentially a feudal nation, with lords due a range of ancient and modern rights from their peasants who comprised about 80% of the population. The majority of these still lived in rural contexts and France was a predominantly agricultural nation, even though this agriculture was low in productivity, wasteful and using out of date methods.
France was governed by a king who ruled thanks to the grace of God; in 1789 this was Louis XVI, crowned on June 11th 1775. Ten thousand people worked in his main palace at Versailles, and 5% of his income was spent supporting it.
The First Estate were the clergy, who numbered around 130,000 people, owned a tenth of the land and were due tithes of one tenth of everyone’s income, although the practical applications varied hugely. They were immune from tax and frequently drawn from noble families. They were all part of the Catholic Church, the only official religion in France.
The Second Estate were the nobility, numbering around 120,000 people. These were formed in part from people born into noble families, but certain highly sought after government offices also conferred noble status. Nobles were privileged, didn’t work, had special courts and tax exemptions, owned the leading positions in court and society – almost all of Louis XIVs ministers were noble – and were even allowed a different, quicker, method of execution.
The remainder of France, over 99%, formed the Third Estate. The majority were peasants who lived in near poverty, but around two million were the middle classes: the bourgeoisie. These had doubled in number between the years of Louis XIV and XVI and owned around a quarter of French land. The common development of a bourgeoisie family was for one to make a fortune in business or trade and then plough that money into land and education for their children, who joined professions, abandoned the ‘old’ business and lived their lives comfortable, but not excessive existences, passing their offices down to their own children. One notable revolutionary, Robespierre, was a fifth generation lawyer. One key aspect of bourgeois existence was venal offices, positions of power and wealth within the royal administration which could be purchased and inherited: the entire legal system was comprised of purchasable offices. Demand for these was high and the costs rose ever higher.
Wilde, Robert. European History. Pre-Revolutionary France. < europeanhistory. about.com/ od/ thefrenchrevolution/a/ hfr1.htm >
If I were non-Filipino, I’m sure the people who read this would say I was nothing but a racist pig. But the truth is that I am a pure-bred and born Filipino, and more than anything, I think I have every right to share how I feel about our country. It’s a slap in the face, for most people. If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all, I was told, more than couple of times. Some tried to censor me or character-assassinate me through the comments section. Or through FB and private messages. Most are, based on their IP addresses, Philippine residents. It’s easy, after all, to lose perspective, once you’re there, sitting in the midst of mud. What mud?
Seeing things from the outside helps. We can’t help but compare. I was in Vietnam again the New Year’s holidays, and I was a bit frustrated with the house I rented. The tub, when drained, flooded the bathroom floor. The toilet was leaking. The smell of the sewers permeated the room – despite being on the second floor. The internet was incredibly slow -the upload speed was 3 mbps – less than one tenth of our home internet speed. And what in the world is a door bell doing inside the house? I was always ringing our own doorbell by accident. “Everything in this country is half-assed!” I complained. It was irritating because I chose the destination, I chose the house. I failed at my choices. To make matters worse, I paid for the whole shebang with my hard-earned money, money I worked overtime for (I worked on the 25th!). I find it offensive not to receive my money’s worth. It’s like I slaved away for shit. I deserved better.
My husband shrugged. “Well, this is South East Asia.” The Japanese say : “shikata ga nai.” It cannot be helped.
He didn’t mean to discriminate or to be mean. He was just stating a fact. We were in Southeast Asia -and I should adjust my perspective accordingly. If I were going to whine about customer service or the house, then I would end up being miserable for the whole duration of our stay. We might as well have stayed in Tokyo! Fortunately, because of language barriers, I couldn’t really say much to anybody around me. Anyway, on the third day, I decided I wasn’t going to get stressed out during my vacation – I had enough of that in Japan already. Besides, isn’t this what traveling is all about? That was the charm of organizing your own trips and staying in private homes instead of hotels : it’s a hit and miss, nothing perfect and absolute. I changed my perspective and enjoyed the rest of the trip.
I was only gone for a week, but it’s amazing what I learned. * Shameless plug : I am starting a travel blog.
What more if you lived abroad? No wonder many insightful things written about the Philippines are from residents abroad, former overseas residents or foreigners residing in the Philippines. We don’t meant to belittle our country- our common theme is, if it could be done abroad, maybe- just maybe- it could be done in our country? I believe the internet will play a key factor in “revolutionizing” the Philippines, bringing more transparency to people and getting voices heard. After all, technology – social media, in particular – did help to usher in the Arab Spring, whether or not you believe it failed. Maybe this way, we wouldn’t have to “guillotiner” our “monarchs” as the French did?
Well, while in Vietnam and going around Da Nang Vietnamese-style (that is, riding a motorcycle), I was impressed by the city. Never mind what I said about half-assedness, I shifted my point of comparison from Japan to the Philippines: Vietnam is somewhere in between. The roads, which my coworkers warned me about (calling them “chaotic” and “dangerous”), were wide, clean and hardly congested . Unlike the roads of Manila, roads were not potholed. I didn’t see one child beggar. We walked the streets at night and never got mugged. Infrastructure and security seemed much better. As far as I was concerned, Vietnam is several notches higher than the Philippines. What were my coworkers talking about?
I accidentally met some Filipinos at a bar, and so I started interviewing them. One of them, a Vietnamese resident for 4 years, said, “The first time I came here four years ago, I was surprised. There was nothing. Yet they called this a city. Now look at this place! It has changed rapidly, and more buildings are still sprouting. It’s booming!”
Da Nang is Vietnam’s third largest city. In Japan, the counterpart would be Osaka. In the Philippines, it would be Davao (outside of Metro Manila). But it was starting to look like Honolulu – a growing city facing “China beach” (South China Sea) that has surfable waves. I predict that it would eventually compete with Bali and Hawaii as a summer destination for Japanese tourists. Vietnam, the Filipino guy claimed, in the wake of territorial disputes with China, shifted their focus to Japan. To lead credence to what he said, Vietnam Airlines started a direct flight from Narita to Da Nang just last year. (Without knowing anything, I booked it because I was desperate to surf.)
“Vietnam has surpassed us!” I lamented, more than once to my husband. It was incredible that days before I was bitching about half-assedness. Then, I was praising them. Occasionally, of course, I would still blow up when I feel people were trying to rip us off. (“Think of it this way,” my husband said. “She wants $5. What’s $5? Heck, what’s $10?“) And we still didn’t drink tap water. But so what? It’s a country that is obviously on its way up.
Many would, of course, defend the Philippines. Even if it’s a simple observation, even if your observation is laden with facts, people won’t take to it nicely. You’re too negative! You’re always focusing on the bad! I can’t help but feel people’s image of themselves are somewhat distorted – larger than it actually is, more flattering than reality. Look at the selfies posted online – it can’t be a coincidence that people are less beautiful in reality than what they make you to believe. (Or fatter – forgive the term). But notice also how selfies are almost always taken from certain angles, with certain lighting. Why? Because it makes the person look his/her best. Back home, if people started focusing only on the good (the best angles + the best lighting) – the booming real estate, the gigantic malls (if you consider it good), the beaches (my expertise)-then we fail to see the areas that need improvement. And let’s face it- we have a long list of things to improve.
“Actually, you have a lot of fats, although you are thin,” I was told by a sales person of a gym once, when I got myself tested with their fat meter. Incredulously, I turned to my husband and said in English, “Is this bitch saying what I think she’s saying?” My BMI was 19, for crying out loud! It was a slap in the face. I was offended at being called fat. I chose not to sign-up. But I realized eventually she was right – I have a lot of fats underneath, tucked away into places no one would notice. But that doesn’t matter, because I knew it. The meter didn’t lie. Don’t we always say that the truth hurts? It did. It still does. When someone calls you fat, you have two choices – you can either get angry, refute it or make excuses for it, or check if it’s true and act accordingly. Yes, I now work out 5 days a week!
If someone complains about you or the Philippines – take Nasty for example :
All throughout the day, Nasty complained about everything. He griped that all Filipinos he encountered were dense and inefficient (I hope that didn’t include me!); that the traffic was horrendous and drivers “drove like they were late for their funerals”; that the pollution from the smoke-belching vehicles was irritating his dainty, surgically-pinched nose.
He was disgusted that water closets didn’t work; horrified that there was no toilet paper in public toilets (“God, how do you people do it?” he bewailed); petrified by street children begging while soaking wet in the rain (“Where are the parents of these kids?” he nagged).
He moaned about the proliferation of slums, people crossing the superhighways (“There should be underground or overhead walkways for pedestrians!” he demanded), the potholes on the streets, the disgusting garbage and filth all over the city, and the annoying floods! And all these he observed in just one day!
From < getrealphilippines.com/ legacy/ aboutus1.html >
you have options on how to act. Look at the mirror. Change the angle and lighting a bit- and see if there was a basis for people’s comments.Try to see things from another perspective. Leave your comfort zone and observe from the outside. You can’t claim something is a lie just because you don’t agree with it or you find it “offensive”. Enough of getting butthurt!! Aren’t there (at least) two sides to everything?
Because whatever you say to yourself, when you look at the weighing scale, you’re bound to see those numbers staring back you. Time will come when no angle or lighting can make you appear thin, slender or “big-boned”. The truth will catch up with you. There’s no escaping it. There are no shortcuts, no excuses. We accept it, do something about it, and move on. The sooner we do it, the better! Before we’re obese, or we’ve died of heart failure.
My dreams aren’t even high. We’re not going to surpass Japan, not in my lifetime. But at the very least, I’d be very happy if we can catch up with Vietnam (or other SEA neighbors) and have tangible, perceivable proof of it. More than numbers and percentages, I want to perceive progress when I am in Manila.
If they can do it in Vietnam, surely we can do it in too? And since we’re at the very bottom, there’s nothing to go but up, yeah? We’ve been so fat, we can’t get any fatter without bursting.
And if the work looks too daunting, think about this : Christian Bale lost 60 lbs for The Machinist.
Come on. What is 6 pounds to 60 pounds?