Philippine Culture Through the Eyes of an American Expat
Viewing with a different lens the Filipino culture of the "here-and-now" and the joy it brings.
Immersing myself in another culture has changed me in a better way than I could ever imagine. I found happiness here but more importantly I found peace within.
I was going to talk about the American culture and found it too daunting to write in a single article. If I could generalize anything about America is the belief that we are very independent and sometimes fiercely so. You are raised with the belief you choose who and what you want to become and whether you are successful or not it is all on you. I think that is why it is so hard to govern and for Americans to agree upon anything other than “I have my individual rights.” Our founders were very smart in the government they created. We are a difficult people to please.
When I arrived here in December of 2013 I was a very sick person and had been since 2007. After getting rheumatic fever over 50 years ago, this day was destined to come. My heart valves were so scarred that it affected my life continually. But 2007 was the first year I noticed just climbing 6 steps exhausted me and became short of breath. My awareness about my state was probably more of not wanting to know. All I knew was something was wrong and I was getting weaker, angrier, and scared with each passing week until the day I could no longer ignore it. Many people got mad or disappointed in me because I was not one to show how sick I was and in fact hid a lot of it to even myself. For those that I did hurt or disappoint I am truly sorry and wish I could have done better. I am only telling you this because as I explain the culture here you will understand.
So I came here already angry at the world and when first arriving you see how life and getting things to work better is easy and possible, but the locals seemed not to care and boy did I lose my temper a lot. I remember after one such incident I went home asking myself, why am I here of all places. I did get an answer from a thought. My thought was I am here trying to change a people and a system seemingly inefficient but this is their land and their life; and if I was going to make it here I had to forget or set aside much of my upbringing and figure out what this culture is all about.
When you begin to pay attention you will notice that people here are happy. When they go to dinner as a family or with co-workers they are very, very happy. You hear lots of laughter and I mean laughter from the belly. In fact it seemed the poorer you were the happier you seemed, very strange indeed.
The most important thing to anyone here is family. In fact there is almost no distinction between and individual and the family. If you ask a person who they are they may give you their name but they will also tell you their family and everything is determined by the family. Also the families here are led by the mother’s or Ate’s, which means elder sister. So when a mother says you will get a job and help support the family and your brothers and sisters, that is exactly what you do. In fact you may only keep a small portion of your salary and the rest goes to the family including the grandparents. Now, sometimes they are not happy about it, but there is no question you will do whatever Mom says.
So, this is how children are raised. They are taught very early to always be nice, to smile and always say yes, and to answer people with want you think they want to hear. When you ask a Filipino a yes or no question, that almost always gets a yes or qualified yes type of response. They only way to know for sure is to notice an immediate and very slight raising and lowering of the eyebrows, and that means yes. Anything else is a “maybe” or “no.”
They are also taught to be of service to others. Unfortunately, the world sees them as servants and not of service. Some people do their service from a dark place and some genuinely love to serve. It is too bad most treat them as servants. I have many people that make my life easier here and am deeply appreciative of all they do for me.
Filipinos also have very little sense of time or how things may affect their future. They are the only culture that truly lives in the moment, and in that moment they tend to choose what makes them the happiest or how can they serve you.
So there I am choosing suffering and feeling bad about my situation when I awoke to how well I have it and began to adopt their way of being. When they are faced with a hardship, they don't necessarily like it, they just do or be whatever the circumstances require. For example if someone cuts them off in traffic or a sidewalk is blocked they simply accept it and move on. Road rage here is very rare and trust me the traffic is much worse than in the Bay Area.
I still get mad very rarely but for the most part I just take life as it comes to me. In fact being the individual I am, I sometimes even get fun from it. For example I have gone through two major heart surgeries and my heart has literally been taking a beating and my kidneys as well. So, I am in cardiac rehab and my diet consists of certain kinds of fruits and vegetable, no salt, low potassium, minimal proteins, and even less bread or rice. I am getting really good at cooking not only healthy meals but with a lot of good taste. You see Filipinos do not feel sorry for themselves they just do what needs to be done and I am having fun with it. Although I have to admit I look forward to the day I can add a touch of salt and a little more bread.
Now there are negatives to the culture here such as really trying to figure out what is yes and knowing they could easily improve their lives with just a few changes. However if you read the news they are the fastest growing economy in Asia and actually have a plan to build infrastructure and industrial complexes in different parts of the country that are very poor. Their intent is to reduce the poverty level and become a more robust economy.
I personally believe that with their spirit of serving others, being nice, and choosing happiness; are exactly what the world and the U.S. could use more of. I’m not saying it is perfect here but I do know there is a lot we could learn.
I also believe I have found purpose here and the question we all ask ourselves, what is my purpose. But that is a different article. I do remember the day I finally found my key to happiness and the freedom to choose my purpose.
I have my doctor to thank for this as I was a somewhat impatient patient. So I leave you with this phase with a little addition by me.
She told me: "Jim, you need to learn to choose your battles and do not let the battles choose you!"
May you experience much love, peace, joy, and of course happiness.
About the author
JAMES “Jim” ANDREWS
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