Archive | May, 2012

Cross cultural moments #3

31 May

Mayor to Aileen: “The best way for Karen to learn Tagalog and Bicol is to get a local boyfriend”

Barangay Paradi-Jon Capitan: “Karen, do you miss your boyfriend? Oh you do? I’ll find you a local boyfriend so you don’t miss him anymore”

Everybody I ever meet ever: “Do you have a husband? I have a son/nephew//grandson/cousin/family friend/neighbour/guy I just saw down the street who you could marry!”

Oh my poor actual boyfriend back home buying me yoghurt cultures and iron supplements and quinoa. Don’t worry, my hair is too messy for marriage.


Prizes! Prizes! Prizes!

31 May

There’s not a lot to do out in the provinces. Since the dawn of pirated movies, people don’t even bother to go to the cinema, so the cinema in this town was shut down a few years ago. Even though kids play out in the streets and down the beach, the adults are too busy working to have any spare time for recreation, except for endless lunches, dinners and snacks. Apparently people will attend the opening of a letter here if there’s a free feed involved… not unlike meetings back at FCC (although I hear with austerity measures, catered meetings are a thing of the past!). So it’s fiesta season in the Philippines, which means people, even adults, are out on the streets enjoying the free fun in droves.

Last week I was invited to periyahan, which is a month long fair-type set up with games and prizes and snacks and of course videoke. The prizes for all the various games included sardines, catsup, chips, cola and other snacks, all for a bunch of loose pesos. A couple of nights later, I was witness to one of Philippines main loves – the beauty pageant (the other love is basket ball). It was the talent portion of the Ms Gubat competition and my what an affair it was to behold! I used to be a dancer, so I have seen my fair share of tutus and tantrums, but that was nothing compared to this. Cheers for the favourites, snickers for those who went against the grain and tears at microphones that didn’t work, and the whipping out of a second talent when the first talent didn’t get much of a reaction. The coronation is this saturday night, for which I will be a judge, and yes, also a guest performer. Haven’t listened to much of pers lab yet. Wish me luck friends…

Pers lab

28 May

Furiously learning to sing a song by this guy for my guest star performance at the ms Gubat paegent night.

Pers lab is first love in a pinoy accent. Soooo cute.


Rain and classic literature

26 May

It’s Saturday and Cota na Daco, my new home, is like a ghost town. I did my laundry this morning and as I was just upstairs moving it out of the rain that appeared completely out of nowhere, I heard the call of a merienda vendor downstairs… “Sinapud! Kamote-cue!” she called. Sinapud (bananas battered in flour and of course deep fried) and Kamote-cue (kamote, or sweet potato, glazed in a delicious sugary sauce and barbecued) are my favourite of the merienda varieties and had I not been wearing naught but undies and a singlet. no shoes and was up 3 flights of stairs, I would have ran down and gotten several serves of each. Probs better that I didn’t since I am in danger of paying excess baggage for my own weight when I fly to Manila next month for a lovers reunion with my Melbourne man.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been smashing books like crazy, seriously reading like a book a week. It’s great for my English vocabulary, which doesn’t really help in conversations here (if anything, having an extensive vocabulary probably hinders conversations). All my life I have been crazy about reading and being here alone is giving me the opportunity to give books my full attention as they often don’t at home since they are up again stiff competition like girly gossip sessions, 3 hour yoga workshops, sushi at Momoco or my old friend the dvd player. I haven’t added to much to my slang and mannerisms since being here (pretty devballs really) but Kerry and I do this thing where we kiss our various technologies and tell them how much we love them since they are our pretty close friends here. Hence, mwah mwah mwah…. kindle… I love you….

I love you kindle…. mwah mwah mwah. But I also love you macbook ….mwah mwah mwah…. and you iPhone… you’re the one in bed with me… mwah mwah mwah

So that was a long-winded opener to my main point here. Finished “A thousand splendid suns” about an hour ago and after a little lunch and some DIY mani-pedi-botox, I sat down to get started on “The great Gatsby” which opened with a quote:

“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages you’ve had”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatby, p1

You can probably already imagine why I was immediately inspired to put down my kindle (mwah mwah mwah) and write a blog post. Just 3 weeks ago, I was having a little cry to my mate Blake, a volunteer from the previous intake, about how I wouldn’t make any girl friends here because the girls are so superficial. I was crying about this and many many other things in a general flurry of complaining and judgement (which I put down to settling in jitters!). Since then, I have made very good friends with the very same people I was complaining about and have also had a lot of time to reflect on everything I see around me and have changed my perspective on all those snap judgements I initially made.

In Australia, it’s so very common, easy and almost expected to complain about not having enough money, not having enough time to exercise, not having a big enough house, electricity bills being too high, too much rain, not enough rain etc etc. Of course we do, because that is the life we are living and those are the parts of our life that demand our attention. And here, I’ve been very quick to judge the way that things are done here because of my own experiences back home. But the main advantage we have had growing up in Australia, even when you don’t feel very advantaged, is that you can choose to complain about the shit things going on in your life and you have choice and capacity and support and yes, money among other things at your disposal to change those things if you wanted to. Here, people don’t complain about their lot in life because for some people. the best that can be done working as hard as they possibly can is that they can live a bit more comfortable under the conditions they are already in. And they do not complain about the conditions at all. If anything, lots of the people I have met here are the happiest people I have ever met.

It is this positive attitude to everyday life that had made me slather my foot in catsup (banana ketchup – delicious) and eat it to try to back peddle from all the judgement I cast on the people here when I first arrived and was not being the very open person I came here claiming to be. I have since settled down and improved, but nothing like some timeless literature to remind you to think differently.

Cross-cultural moments #2

23 May

Agi: “Karen do you comb your hair?”

Me: “No. I haven’t combed my hair in years. I don’t even own a comb. Why, does it look bad?”

Agi: *silent for a moment* “….no….. just it is obvious that you do not comb your hair”

Side note: This occurred just a day after another work colleague offered to give my hair a treatment. A pattern is emerging and I think it has everything to do with my always messy hair.

On poverty and wealth

23 May

The other volunteers and I caught up on the weekend in Donsol in an attempt to have a majestic experience with the whale sharks and while they didn’t make an appearance, we still had a whale of a time! (oh man I have been spending too much time with a certain girl from Calabanga xo). Catching up with the other volunteers is the best ever and it was our one month anniversary of our Pinoy life so we had lots to catch up on (although admittedly, I did have my nose buried in the hunger games for too many minutes across the weekend)

We have been getting varied support from our host organisations to help us settle in. Tania lived on her supervisors floor for the first week, Alex has an entourage of work colleagues come with her every time she needs to visit an apartment or buy something and I have had access to our brand new municipal vehicle, the toyota hilux, to cart around all my heavies. When I haven’t been able to use it, the boys from the yard get tricys to do the job for me (was quite the amazing sight traveling down town with a bed strapped to the top of one tricy and the mattress strapped to the top of another… all for less than a dollar!)

We’ve noticed during all these shopping expeditions and indeed throughout all our encounters with local Filipino people, that the poverty is part of life here. Kerry’s counterpart told her she was rich when she bought a bottle of olive oil from the supermarket rather than a single use sachet of vegetable oil from the palengke and this is not uncommon. When we visited Bulusan volcano the other weekend, where they have an abundance of hot and cold springs which are of international water standards, we were told that water bills in this area are only P10 per month, but people have a hard time paying still. Everything (shampoo, toothpaste, cheese, vegetable stock etc) is available in single use foil sachets because people can’t afford, or can’t save afford, buying bottles. My work colleagues told me that vegetarianism is for rich people because people don’t have the knowledge of how to get protein or iron in their diets from food sources other than meat and even if they did have the knowledge, things like tofu and lentils and green veggies are way more expensive than just eating animal. And I have realised too that merienda isn’t just about the social act of eating, but is also just as much about supporting local vendors who have no other livelihood than selling snacks for P5.

I occasionally have a weak moment feeling sorry for myself living on my meagre volunteer allowance. But since I have been here, I have been showered with welcome to Gubat and Philippines love, have seen the games children play on the street, heard the excitement of my work colleagues talking about American Idol and their star Jessica Sanchez and of course, as I never stop raving about, am surrounded by so much natural environment beauty that I am almost jealous that while poor in money terms, Filipinos are so wealthy in all these other life ways. I saw an article in the Age yesterday (which I sometimes read to see the terrible state of Australian politics and feel gratitude that I am here and not there) about how Australians couldn’t survive a depression because we are too materialistic and superficial. That’s a debate for another day, but if you applied that thought experiment to Filipinos, you would conclude that these people definitely could, because life here is definitely not about money. That was one of the main reasons I came here to do this and being surrounded by so much happiness and wealth in so many other parts of human life other than dollars helps me keep my eyes on the prize and reminds me that I live here too now and so I am insanely wealthy.

Where I once went looking for love…

17 May

I’ve come to love living in Philippines. But even this love doesn’t stop me from missing home, hugs, kisses, spooning, talking shit and endless moments lying around on my pink picnic rug breathing in the fresh Melbourne air.