Forgive me for the poor translation, if I’ve made a mistake. I’m working from memory and Google Translate. It’s been almost seven years since I traveled half way across the world, but to this day I remember so much of it with vivid fondness. It feels like it was only yesterday. Before I begin, let me provide some back story.
I chose this latest topic after I noticed something on WordPress. When I make a new blog post, I can just about figure out what topics will garner likes or follows and which will not and I’m not just talking about the spammers. There’s all too many of those. In fact, if it weren’t for spammers, I think I’d only have two followers.
For the most part, I write because I enjoy doing so. Many authours will tell you, they do not enjoy writing, they enjoy having written. I understand that thought process, but for me and likely, for most bloggers, we probably enjoy the process of writing, as well. That’s because posts are basically short stories. We do not have to agonize over them for months or years in order to express ourselves and once we’re done, publishing them is a proof-read and a mouse-click away. A post usually takes only a few hours to create, making the work to reward turnaround much shorter.
What I usually write about is very random. There are always the hot button topics that can guarantee most bloggers a few likes. I’ve seen this in action.
Writing about food or recipes, gardening or travel, bucket lists and important social issues, such as racial or sexual prejudice or conversely, social equality will quickly get noticed. If that is why you write, then you know what to do.
There is also nothing wrong with that approach. In fact, gaining feedback from others should also help you fine tune your communications skills. Perhaps, you will be able to better structure the content and grammar of your posts, with the experience and feedback you receive from others. So, it’s a great idea.
Unknowingly, I have already written about a few of these topics and seen this phenomenon in action. At first, it caught me off guard, but then I realized why it works and it made sense. There is one topic however, that seems to always peak the interest of other bloggers, which doesn’t fit within the usual scope of socially conscious issues and that is the Philippines.
Whenever I’ve written any post that even hints at the time I’ve spent there, it has always resulted in a couple likes. That is surprising, but only if you do not know anything about this people of the South China Sea. I don’t need to tag my post or even make it the central theme of my topic. That’s because the people of that beautiful land actively seek out stories about their home and rightly so.
I challenge you to write a blog post that mentions Canada or the United States or any other random country and see whether or not you get the same results. Of course, if your whole post is about how wonderful the country is and it spews nationalistic propaganda from beginning until end, you’re going to spark patriotism in someone, but that’s not what I’m talking about. That’s not what I’ve done. In the course of only a few posts, I’ve simply mentioned the Philippines in passing, as a subset of my experiences. Yet, the results have always been the same. Someone from the Philippines will see the post and like it.
I believe I know why this happens. I had the opportunity to travel to Manila, the capital of the Philippines in 2006. I was on a work visa. What was supposed to be a two month visit was extended, first to three months, then to four. Eventually, I had to come home, because I am a family man and I missed them. Even the beautiful weather and experiences I encountered could not compensate for the lack of companionship I felt after spending such a long time away from my wife and son. While I was on that opposite side of the world though, I did meet a lot of wonderful people and made some great friends.
The first thing that struck me about their culture is how content the majority of them are with life. North Americans are jaded. We have everything. We live in first world countries and there is very little want. Our Welfare systems even reward people who don’t work. I have known far too many people who refuse to work, because they can make more money sitting at home, collecting money from various social assistance programs. That speaks volumes about how broken our culture is and yet, it’s not enough. Canadians and Americans alike are still very negative and far too many have a sense of entitlement that is completely undeserved.
Conversely, the Philippines is considered a third world or developing country. I was struck by the severity of poverty while I was there, even in the capital city and it broke my heart. I traveled a lot while on weekends and saw how vastly different their culture is from our own and also how deeply the poverty runs. It was something I had never seen before and was a real eye opener. Yet, I also saw more smiles on more faces in one day, than I would in a month in North America. A jaded person would say “That’s because they saw you and saw the potential for you to spend money,” but they are too cynical.
The smiles I saw were sincere and not always from shop owners. Everyone, everywhere has a more positive disposition than we do. People are warm, inviting and friendly. The country is not without it’s faults. There is still corruption in the government, at virtually every level. There is racism and violence. There is religious extremism. The Philippines has a long way to go before it is a stable force in the world. I hope though, that the beauty I saw in their culture isn’t sacrificed in the process.
The country is tropical and moderate. It rains a lot, but never for long, outside of their typhoon season. That of course, can be devastating. Their mountains are awe inspiring. There are sites to see that will take your breath away, like the Chocolate Hills of Bohol, the volcanic crater lake of Mount Taal, the rice terraces of Banaue and so many others that tell of the magnificent, storied history of its people.
I still remember my visit to Magellan’s cross, a landmark that is older than virtually everything that exists in the entire continent of North America. I visited the site of the infamous Death March in Bataan. I have hundreds photos and videos of my many excursions. It was an amazing time. Nothing struck me more though, than the spirit of the Filipino people. They were proud and friendly. They have a genuine concern for one another and their social circles are huge. Family values and commitment are still very strong.
I visited during the typhoon season and sadly, Typhoon Milenyo hit the south end of the islands, while I was there. From the eighth floor of my hotel, I slept right through it. The storm lasted several hours and the office I was working at closed due to the weather. Several people slept in the office, because it was too dangerous to travel home. This concept will seem odd to North Americans, but by law the company must provide sleeping quarters for female employees, if the operating hours last past midnight. Please don’t quote me on the specifics. The company I worked for felt that the only right thing to do was to provide the same accommodations for its male employees. So, many stayed at the office to weather out the storm.
The next morning I saw significant damage, even from the relative protection of the city. I was surprised at how many people showed up to work. One young man arrived with a smile on his face, laughing about the tree that crashed through the roof of his home, leveling it. Everyone in his family was safe. I asked why he wasn’t at home, tending to his family. He said “if we don’t work, we don’t eat”. It struck me then. How foolish of me. I was still thinking like a Canadian. There is no Welfare system in place for them. Therefore, work ethics are far more ingrained in their culture. They smile, are thankful for what they do have and move on. They exhibit such strength of character.
There’s more to it than that, though. You can’t drive more than two or three blocks in the United States without seeing at least one American flag. Nationalism is commercialized and ever present. It’s not unusual to see flags that are large enough to swallow small bungalows. There are few places in the world that are as bold and proud of their country as the American people. It’s an extreme. In many cases it’s over the top and it’s one of the things that turns so many people off about the United States.
Canada by contrast, is more subtle. Sure, there are a few flags flown in each town, usually at the local City Halls and one or two other places. It’s rare though, to see more than a handful in an entire community. Canadians are proud of their country and culture, but it’s much more subdued in its expression. When called upon however, Canadians will shout their national pride as loud and proud as any American. It’s just not as often.
However, I don’t remember how many national flags I saw in the Philippines, despite traveling to many parts of the country and living in the heart of their nation. The Filipino people are far more concerned with their heritage than their nationalism.
They are proud of who they are, the struggles they’ve survived as a nation and of their strong sense of community. They’re a modest and quiet people. They’re caring, subtle and friendly. They have heroes that they remember and a rich history of struggles and triumphs, as well as losses. I was struck by the humility they exhibit. The Asian influence was very apparent.
There was a WWE event while I was there and the hotel I stayed at was where Dave Batista preferred to stay. He has Filipino heritage and for this, is a huge celebrity and a bit of an icon to the people of the Philippines. Also while I was there, Manny Pacquiao had just successfully defended his WBC title against Óscar Larios. The next day, their president honoured him with the Order of Lakandula. He was all anyone could talk about for weeks. His face was everywhere. People were proud of his accomplishment, but there wasn’t as much national importance attached to his success as there was an implied cultural one. He didn’t strut around town wearing the national flag as his cape, reminiscent of Apollo Creed in the Rocky franchise. It was much more subdued than that.
It’s this same way that the Filipino people carry themselves wherever they go, which is why, when you post about the Philippines, you may see a few people pop in for a visit. They will read your post and be on their way. They won’t post obnoxious “We’re number one!” type replies. They may not even say a word, but they’ll be there, quiet and humble. It’s a beautiful and honorable thing to see. They are proud of their culture more than their country and will always smile at an acknowledgement of who they are.
To the citizens of the Philippines, I thank you for being such a wonderful people and teaching me so much in the short time I got to spend with you. I wish it could have been longer, but I feel so much richer for having visited and have gained a better perspective of the world due the experiences you allowed me to share.