Two weeks in the Philippines. This may not seem like a lot of time for a vacation, but it was perfect for an eye-opening experience. While I was in the Philippines, I learned about how different the local lifestyle was from the my lifestyle in New York. There were many moments when I felt extremely grateful for how privileged I was, but there were also many times when I wished I could have these Filipino experiences everyday.
The first thing I noticed was how much traffic there was. While New York has its fair share of traffic, it is nothing compared to the never-ending traffic on the streets of the Philippines. Almost every hour seemed to be rush hour and it was almost impossible to get anywhere on time. Whether taking a car, a tricycle, or jeepney, commuting was definitely a struggle. Mass transportation such as trains weren’t used as often because they were inconvenient and inefficient. There were a limited number of stops and the trains didn’t reach many areas. This causes more people to drive, which in turn creates more traffic. From talking with family members, I learned that they were used to the traffic and it has become a part of their everyday life. They learned to always expect traffic, so they tend to leave a lot earlier just to get to work or school on time. A possible solution that was passed in 2003 was the Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program, more commonly known as coding. Still used today, what the program does is that it restricts certain vehicles from using main roads at specific times based on the last digit of its license plate. Even with coding in use, traffic is still very prominent because of the lack of mass public transportation.
Coming from a city full of buses and subways, it was a lot of fun to ride a tricycle and a jeepney. In this context, a tricycle is a motorcycle with an attachment on its right side that can carry up to three to four passengers. Another person may also sit on the back of the motorcycle behind the driver. Now this may seem like a lot of space because of how many people it can carry. In reality, the tricycle is quite small and to fit four people in it is definitely a struggle. It was a fun experience because it’s something that you would never be able to imagine in New York. Squished in the passenger seat with one of my cousins, another cousin sitting at our feet, and the last one sitting behind the driver, the ride was full of giggles and picture taking. Going over speed bumps was hilarious because each time at least two people feared falling out. After getting out of the subdivision, it was time to take a jeepney to get to the closest mall. A jeepney is similar to a very small bus. It has a row of seats on each side and the ceiling of it is pretty low, unfortunately for tall people. The entrance is through the back and you have to insert yourself anywhere you can to find a seat. I was warned about pickpocketing and how some people may even try to grab your bag through the window. To pay your fare, you had to get it to the driver. This might involve passing it to the person next you and asking them to continue passing it down.
While commuting many other aspects of everyday Filipino life is made evident. One of the things I noticed was the large amount of people who were trying to make money. Because of how hard it was to make money, there were lots of people selling things in the streets, especially when there was traffic; from water to dust mops, street vendors sold almost everything. The situation was similar when I went to Boracay, one of the islands of the Philippines. Although Boracay is known for is white sand beaches and clear water, no one ever talks about the struggles of the people living there. Children younger than me were offering to make intricate sandcastles with customized sayings or words for 100 pesos—that’s two US dollars. They put hard work and effort into the castles to earn as much money as possible before they had to make it back home. We were told by people who worked in the area that the making of these sandcastles were prohibited because everyone wanted to prevent from the children stopping their studies just to earn money.
Sadly, there was a large number of stray dogs and cats all over the streets. The number of cats and dogs roaming the streets made me feel bad and made me feel as if I spoiled my dog too much. I wished that I could adopt all of them and bring them back home with me. Even though this may be one of the lesser concerns out of all of them, it was still definitely prevalent.
Throughout my stay, I enjoyed being able to experience a new type of lifestyle. A lifestyle that revolved around family and simplicity. It was one that I wouldn’t mind living everyday. Despite the struggles and the hardships that many faced, there were still so many beautiful things about being there. First of all, there were the large amounts of welcoming people. Everyone was so cheerful and welcoming towards a girl who they haven’t seen in ten years. The majority of the people I encountered were family-oriented; it was all about spending time with your family and doing whatever you could to make your family members’ lives easier. Another benefit was being able to live such a simple life. No one was in a rush to get places; life seemed calm and slow-paced and everyone focused on spending time with their families.
Another thing that I really enjoyed was getting to spend time with family. I was with family 24/7 and they taught me a lot about Filipino culture. Learning more about my culture was great and honestly made me want to leave America and live there. Exploring the Philippines was an adventure everyday and I learned something new every single day. Although many people see developing countries in a negative light, there are so many beautiful things in a developing country that we don’t get to see or experience. These experiences were humbling and definitely changed my outlook on my own life. Don’t judge a country by what you expect the lifestyle to be, because there will be hidden aspects that come as a surprise.