Living in Thailand afforded me the opportunity to travel to different places and learn about another country’s culture while living in it. When visiting home to the Philippines, I sometimes feel like a tourist instead of a local because the amount of time I spend at home is usually less than a month at a time. Thailand is similar to the Philippines in more ways than one. The Philippines, like Thailand, is very family oriented. People often never leave their families, and when they do, they still keep close contact and provide financial stability. The older people in communities are treated with a lot of respect, with young people behaving in a polite manner and going out of their way to convenience their elders. The inescapable heat of the daytime hours is also something that has never left me since moving away from my country of birth. However, despite all the similarities, visiting home reminded me of the unique things that we do in the Philippines.
1. Pasalubong / Souvenirs
Filipinos are all over the world.We are hard workers, friendly and being able to effectively communicate in English allows us to get many different jobs abroad. Most work away from home for years without going home. So when we do return, it is a big occasion for both the OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers) and the families at home. We take giving souvenirs to the highest level. Big boxes filled with goods, appliances, clothes and chocolates is a normal scene at the airport. Every member of the family, relatives, cousins and neighbors have to be given something. This is to show our thoughtfulness and a certain pride in being able to have those things even at the cost of our hard earned money.
2. Mano Po
Having countless relatives means that I have so many aunts, uncles, older cousins and even older friends of my parents and grandparents to ask for a blessing. My mom would say “bless” this person or that person which I have to do and smile as well. This is done by placing the back of an older person’s hand (usually the right) on your forehead. This is done as a sign of respect and is done to ask for a blessing from the elders. I believe this tradition should be carried on and taught to the younger generation.
3. Yaya/Katulong/House Helper
Living alone means I have to do everything on my own. Laundry, cooking and cleaning the house. In most western countries, only the rich and well-off can afford to have a full time nanny or house maid. However, in the Philippines, many kids, from various social backgrounds, grow up with a yaya or maid in the house. Many of them have been with the family for years and are treated as important members of the family. Visiting home means I get to relax and have other people take care of me.
4. Telenovelas/ Soap Operas
The characters of Marimar, Mara Clara, The Legal Wife and so many other popular TV soap operas are as much a part of the family as your brothers and sisters. They figure in many local conversations especially when the plot thickens. We love our dramas, we cry, laugh, get mad and jump in glee when our favorite hero/heroine defeats the villain. Watching them has become a part of every Filipino household evening routine.
5. Filipino Cuisine
It may not be a popular cuisine around the world, but whenever we are at home, these dishes are specially prepared. Who would say no to the crispy skin of lechon from Cebu, or the special adobo made with the secret recipe of our great grandmother, kilawin (local civeche) and many other different regional specialties. These dishes remind me of home and even though it can be cooked where ever you are, there is still a different taste when it is being prepared and eaten at home.
6. Pinoy Fast/Street Food
If you don’t know Jollibee, you are not a true blooded Filipino. Halo-halo at Chowking? Tried “Balut” while hanging out with friends at a park? Ordered extra or half rice at an Inasal place? Dipped an Isaw in a spicy sauce? I’m sure you could give more examples than what I can write here.The taste and smell of these food will always bring back fun memories.
7. Pinoy Service
“Good morning sir/maam.” This is the first sentence that I heard when I came out of the airport. Words uttered with a sweet and genuine smile, this sentence can be heard everywhere with slight variations but never failing to put sir/maam at the end of each sentence. The service crew, security guards and workers are very generous with their greetings. A lovely reminder of how we value our job and being able to serve is indeed a pleasure.
Ahhh the never ending food trip to every friend’s house to sample the dishes they’ve prepared. Being a predominantly Catholic country, we all have our patron saints to celebrate. This means that every year, most houses would be repainted, new furniture bought, walking down the street early morning, you could hear the squeal of pigs and smell something good from most houses. It’s a big celebration and everyone is invited to party. Anyone could enter a house and be served with food. The friendly gossip in the kitchen is sometimes muffled by karaoke singers passionately belting their favorite love songs in the background.
9. Security Guards Everywhere
A friend who visited in the Philippines once asked me of the crime rate there. I could’t answer properly but asked him why. He said that in almost every establishments, you could find armed security guards. Whether it be a small fast food restaurants or bigger supermarkets. For us, they are a sign of security but maybe for foreigners not used to them, it is a sign of danger.
I mostly speak English and Thai because I got used to hearing these languages everyday in Thailand. When I went home, I had noticed that I slipped into speaking some Thai or English phrases which generated some weird looks from my friends and family. Having more than 100 dialects spoken around the country, Filipinos can easily adapt and learn another language because of this. A real blessing rather than a cause for confusion.
The joy of coming home for a visit and the melancholic feeling when we leave is a constant reminder of how difficult it is to live abroad. However, it is that same feeling that gives me the security of knowing that whatever happens, I can always go back home.