After soaking in the aforementioned statement from a Filipino friend and almost three years of living and working with a multitude of friendly Filipinos here in San Diego, I had to go. A few of the Philippines’ 7,107 islands on the western edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire called out to me. I had 6½ days to meet the Filipinos: challenge accepted.
Fifteen or so hours of flying gets you to this nation of 94 million, um, Asians, or Pacific Islanders, or Hispanic people. Wait, what are they?
The Negritos (short blackish people, go figure) arrived from Asian mainland followed by waves of Malayans from South China. Merchants from India, China, Japan and the Arab world extensively traded here for centuries.
Aside from a brief period of British occupation in the 1700s, Spain ruled the nation from 1565-1898. The Spanish named the islands “Las Islas Filipinas” in honor of their Philip II. The U.S. won the Spanish-American war in 1898 to extend colonial rule for the next forty years, until finally (whew) the Philippines achieved complete independence in 1946. And now they’ve arrived at this beautifully and intricately welded melting pot of a nation.
And the Filipinos seem to accept every part of what has made them, well... them. Located in Asia, they ubiquitously eat rice and prepare foods in small pieces (unlike us eating a 25-oz. steak at a time). But they would never think of using chopsticks unless eating Japanese or Chinese food.
Ask for chopsticks and you will be greeted with a variety of reactions – entertaining stuff. You'll usually find them shoveling food via fork into an awaiting spoon. Why? The Spanish taught them. They realize this and embrace the custom as their own. No knife, you ask? The Spanish weren’t comfortable with the local people having knives in their hands.
Watch the nationally televised impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona and you will hear attorneys, judges, and witnesses effortlessly speaking the two official languages, Tagalog and English, in the courtroom – at times even within the same sentence.
Change the channel and you’ll see a live L.A. Lakers or Chicago Bulls game, the nation’s two favorite NBA teams. Change it again to watch some vintage NBA footage showcasing Larry Bird battling Magic Johnson. “Thanks, America,” the Philippines seems to be saying.
But then the kicker: the blatant Filipino flair. It’s the open hospitality. It’s a culture where locals shoot a generous smile at a stranger before anything else. It’s the unadulterated and unabashed singing. It could be a receptionist at the hostel belting out a Beatles tune, a Cebu Pacific Air stewardess asking passengers to the cabin’s microphone to canta a song, or a family eagerly accepting a foreigner into their home’s post-wedding celebration…with a legitimate home karaoke system displaying lyrics and, of course, vintage NBA moments in the background.
Sure, there are many gorgeous places to get to know in this country – you can even swim with whale sharks, if that’s your thing. But don’t overlook their most valuable resource: their people. And it’s confirmed: the Filipinos are the fun Asians. Salamat.