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Posted by on Jul 27, 2015 in Asia, Philippines | 29 comments

This is why I feel so jealous of the Filipinos

This is why I feel so jealous of the Filipinos

I can barely feel my legs by now. I just spent nine hours on a low cost flight from Dubai to the Philippines.  It took me 4 flights and a countless amount of hours to arrive here.

I literally crossed half of the world, to come to a place I’ve been wanting to visit since 2011. When my Filipino co-worker told me wonders about his country and I managed to save enough money (and found a crazy discount ticket thanks to Sabrina Iovino of Just one way ticket!) I didn’t think twice!

I didn’t do any research about the Philippines. I know the country is comprised of 7.000 islands, has some of the most incredible natural spots on earth, hospitable people and that’s basically it. I like to leave my mind open to let my personal experiences form with as little influence as possible.

I’m incredibly tired. My flight was two hours delayed, but fortunately the guys from my hostel came to pick me up at the airport. It’s monsoon season and the thick hot humid air of Manila, pierces my lungs.

From the car window, I see life happening at some of the poorest areas of the Manila suburbs. “There are so many people on the streets. There’s so much life on the streets” – I think to myself.  – “I missed Asia!”.

As I lay down on my bed, convincing myself I was only going to rest my eyes for five minutes, I feel my consciousness slipping away to the sound of the loud karaoke party and the intense smell of smoke coming from outside my bedroom window.

I’m half sleeping, but I can hear the voices coming from the outside. I hear children playing and laughing out loud. I hear motorcycles arriving. I hear men talking. I hear more laughter. That’s when I woke up.

 

manila party

The begining of the party

 

I look outside my window and a huge amount of people gathered outdoors, in the poorest area of the neighborhood. They’re bringing tables, chairs and a barbecue.  People greet each other with a smile, while the clouds of smoke, involve this scenario of community and family as if it was still a dream.

I felt a deep sadness. I felt a terrible sadness

The strongest sense of community I got to experience has been among the crowds of other long term travelers who understand why I live the way I live. Those have been incredibly inspiring and rewarding encounters, but as short as a monsoon rain, as I explained on my latest post “this is why I can’t be a nomadic girl forever“.

 

Things to do in Pai

Amazing new travel friends in Thailand 2013!

 

The party was getting on and I sat down observing how much everybody was having fun, on this warm and humid Sunday evening.

I have seen this type of community and unity in India. And then again in Thailand. I have never experienced it in the West; either in Europe or USA.

 

Wiki commons

 

How come, a massive city like Manila, that hosts over 12 million people, still gathers such a strong sense of togetherness and intimacy between neighbors?  When did we in the West forgot about the importance of deep friendships? Of deep bonds with the person next door? When did we become so individualistic? So career focused? So unavailable to be with one another?

Why do this people who endure poverty, natural disasters like typhoons an torrential rains, still carry a smile on their faces on a daily basis?

Why are people in some of the richest countries of the world, ironically the most unhappy and disconnected with life?

I come from Portugal, the poorest western European country. A place with beautiful landscapes and nature. Gorgeous cities and villages.  We don’t have much, we get very low wages and pay very high taxes… But we have food on our table, a roof over our heads, A lot of free services we learned to take for granted, like quality health care and school.

 

Foods of Portugal

Tasting a delicious soup in Portugal on a sunny day

 

We have reasonably well functioning public transportation. We have access to free public libraries. Our streets are immaculately clean and manicured. The sun shines mostly all year round and our beaches are to die for!

When I think about this, we actually have it all! We have nearly everything to be happy. But we’re not. We’re unsatisfied. Many people dread their miserably lonely lives. Happiness has been so intertwined with the idea of financial success, that when the 2008 financial crises stroke over my country, people couldn’t take it.

The suicide rate went over the roof. The young fled the country to find better opportunities of life somewhere else.  Anti-depressive medicines were sold like candy. People were generally miserable. They had no one to rely on. They don’t even know their neighbor’s name, let alone being able to have a support system within the community.

And here I am, an European citizen, sitting by the window, watching the poorest and most unprivileged Filipinos having a blast and feeling deeply jealous (in the good sense of the word) for not having this type of interactions at home.

Here I am, an European citizen having a deep meditation over the value of friendship, family and community once again. Wishing I had, some of the human richness these guys have.

And once more, I feel like crying when I think that I lost my life partner because if this: because of how much I wanted a family with him, but his “freedom” and career seemed to be more important.

Yes I am very jealous of the beauty of a child’s laughter while playing in the street. Yes, I love being greeted by these kids with so much enthusiasm every time I go in and out of the hostel! Yes, I’m jealous of the loud karaoke music and how much the untuned voices of my neighbors make me laugh when they’re singing Lionel Ritchie.  I’m jealous of the freedom to just organizing a barbecue outside, a right we basically lost with all our laws and regulations in the west.

 

slums manila

The slums right in front of my doorstep

 

And yes, once more i realize that POVERTY IS A STATE OF MIND. A poor person is not only the one who has an extremely unprivileged life financially speaking, but mostly the person who can’t seem to value what money can’t buy, the value of human relationships.

Some of the most content people I’ve ever met in life, were the Indians I met for a short chat while visiting the subcontinent. Their life was hard. They lived with challenges, but when they started talking about their family, their eyes lid up!

Same thing about my experiences in Thailand. Family means everything.

I went downstairs to the chill out area and sat down with my fellow travelers and the owners of the hotel. It was a very humid and hot Sunday night, but I felt so privileged to be here. To once more have the chance to put my life into perspective when comparing it to the lives of others from extremely different cultures.

 

manilaa

Hanging out at my Manila Hostel

 

I feel deeply grateful for the the fact that I had the opportunity to buy a ticket to the Philippines, after basically a year of savings. And I feel eternally grateful for all the people who have been crossing my way and inspired me.

I’m off to Cebu and Bohol. Let the adventure begin!

 

 

 

29 Comments

  1. Maybe it’s because people suffer through hardships that they are so much closer. When your community is all you have to fall back on, you learn to cultivate it! I do think we Westerners could relearn a thing or two about the importance of human interactions. Loneliness shouldn’t happen when we are surrounded by so many people.

    • Yes, I have noticed it over and over again. The ones who seem to have less monetary possessions, are the ones who seem to have more intense social networks and tight knots with the community,

    • I believe it is the other way around. Ask any Filipino on what they value in life and most would put family and friends first before ambition, career, or material wealth. Maybe the reason why the country has not progressed because most are happy with and thankful for what they have. Being a Filipino living in the west, I’m baffled by the dullness of their everyday interaction, sorry. Peope has more to complain about than to be thankful for.

  2. Beautifully said Yara. I agree that poverty is a state of mind, and that sometimes the “poorest” people are also the happiest, because they are rich in things other than financial wealth. I’m sure you will love the Philippines! The people there are some of the friendliest and happiest I have ever met. And you made me smile when you mentioned them singing Lionel Ritchie at karaoke. Boy, do they love their cheesy ’80s music!

    • I just wish our society would focus less on personal careers and financial success and more on human interaction, on community and family. These guys make communal dinners every other day. That’s something unheard of, back home.

  3. Welcome to my country! Hugs! I hope you’ll have a great time while you are here. Please take care always…Cebu and Bohol are great place to explore.. You might also want to visit El Nido in Palawan if you still have time. :)

    • I second the recommendation for Palawan! It’s my favourite place in the Philippines.

      • I see I’m making a BIG mistake by not going there. Unfortunately I’m only going to Bohol and Panglao. The flights are already quite expensive and Palawan is out of my route. I feel really sad about it.

        • DO NOT MISS the Lompoc River boat tours to see the Singing Children!

  4. Try to visit also a community when there is a “Fiesta” its a spanish word i think, and every district have this. within a city there are distirct, and there is a fiesta for each. so there are basically hundreds of fiestas at different places but different dates, for 2-3 days its simply partying, shows, parade, drinking etc., same with provinces all over the phiippines except muslim regions, and you’ll experience more filipinos having fun on the streets. The doors are always open for any stranger, especially for some foreigners like you.

  5. Hi Yara,

    Welcome to the Philippines!

    I am happy you that you have been very positive at looking our country at the time you arrive. I think it is the overwhelming poverty and life’s hardships that make us stay together in different circumstances. Our happy disposition and sense of community make our problems lighter and more bearable.

    I do hope you will find more stories of human connection as you travel across Philippines. And if given the chance, I would love to see you in person.

    Take care,
    Jayson
    http://www.jaysonsnts.com

    • Hi Jayson, thank you so much for your words. Yes, the brutal poverty brings people together. I believe having too many things and too much money makes people more isolated and individualistic because they think they don’t need anyone.

      I hope the life situation improves for most of the people living in slums, that they can have better life standards and quality of life and hopefully keep that deep sense of community :)

  6. Yeah … I’ve noticed that while traveling. Families, neighbors, community friends. It seems so very foreign to me. I see my brother every few years and don’t really know much more about his life than I see on Facebook. I have a lot of friends, but scattered all over the world. Plus friends here in Colorado, but not a lot of them. I’ve lived in the house since 1998 and know my neighbors enough to say hello, but that’s about that. The idea of partying with them is very foreign.

    So .. by the standards of most people in the world I’m “wealthy” but a little light on human contact. Gotta fix that. :)

    • Same here. I share your life experience and I also left home in 1998. I consider myself rixh in experiences, but poor in deep human relations because of my lifestyle.

  7. Lovely little read. Enjoyed it thoroughly, having lived in the Philippines as a South African for most of my childhood. South Africa def hasn’t lost the community vibe :)

  8. Don’t worry about missing Palawan, your Cebu and Bohol trip should be amazing enough..Thanks for being such an open minded traveller. Other people would have complained to high heavens about all the noise. While it is true that the Philippines may be financially poor, we take pride in the fact that we are socially rich. I wish you safe travels, enjoyable experiences and lots of memories to take home with you.

    • I’m in Malapascua now, or shall I say paradise on earth??? I think I made the right choices with my destinations.

  9. People who are holding at the end of their rope hang on and help each other. If you go in any of these poor people’s home, they will offer you even the last spoonful of rice that they have. Go inside churches and you will find people there who hang on to their last hope, God, who is close to their heart.

    I realize that most people who have so much have nothing to ask God for… no need for comfort from family and friends. A sad reality of life.

    Welcome to the Philippines, where precious life is shared and appreciated, where family and friendship mean a lot. It’s more fun in the Philippines!

    • I totally agree with you Len. Last night I was chatting with another European girl who’s volunteering at a hospital, bringing healthcare to the poorest and most unpriviliegged children and prostitutes in Cebu. She told me this experience is changing her life forever. That the smiles and friendliness of these people are teaching her gratitude to the deepest level. There’s something very beautiful we need to learn from these people, something the western culture forgot.

  10. Welcome to our country. I hope that as you explore the Philippines you will be blessed with tons of friendship and wonderful sights to see and food to eat. Safe travels and we wish you a wonderful time.

    • Thank you!! My trip to the Philippines has been almostlike a spiritual awakening, finding wisdom and peace everywhere I go. Now I’m in Malapascua and wow! What a paradise!

  11. We may not be financially wealthy, but our cultures are diverse! Thanks for visiting us, we love to see you again! After palawan then try to visit iloilo where beautiful filipino-ilonggos are proud of our cultures, thru festivities such as “Dinagyang festival!”, and rich histories,, more precious than gold or silver!

  12. travelling my own country, PH, the remotest of it, made me say indeed poverty is a state of mind. so… just like the rest, quit my job, and been travelling since 2 years ago… i thought i have enough, not much, but enough. And the more that i minimize, the more that i appreciate. :-).

  13. Hope your adventures brought you much joy and learning. And I pray you had safe travels. I must dissent on the romanticized notion that poverty is a state of mind. Maybe for those who see and can see ladders to escape its grip that is true. For those who are structurally marginalized or worse there is no food on too many days. There are no doctors or clinics so they die or are maimed by diseases other countries have eradicated decades ago. If they can attend schools the education they receive come from systems being pilfered by the oligarchy. If the see television the never see images of themselves prosperous and with dignity. And if they hold land and resources they too often give their dying breadths trying to protect where they live. It breaks my heart to hear my wife talk of days without food. Or to see mostly brown and dark skinned people in the Philippines lined up for what others take for granted. For too many indigenous groups in the Philippines and around the world poverty is not romantic. And it us most assuredly more than their state of mind. It is the economic and political construct making them chattel to the oligarchy.

    • Thank you so much for your message, Wayne. I really enjoyed reading it! Brought me another perspective on poverty. I totally agree with you about the political structures and the oligarchy chains that kep so many people uneducated, poor and without perspectives.

      But let me tell you something, I come from the poorest western European country. Not many people will ever talk about this, but unlike the northern rich Europan countries, we do have A LOT OF HUNGER! There are many people eating from trash containers. There are many children going hungry to school, because their parents can’t afford to buy food. These things happen in southern Europe, despite the image of wealth people might have.

      But there are two types of poverty, the financial one, which you refer and very well and the mental poverty,which is something that richer countries have. When I went to India I witnessed incredibly skinny children, with no food…. In the US for example, I’ve witnessed incredibly fat kids who over eat because their life is incredibly poor of afection and social life. These are two different types of poverty, both brutal and incredibly cruel, destroying the lives of many families and individuals who can’t break free from it.

      I’ve seen both types of poverty, the one where people have basically no money, although there’s a richer social community life and the poverty that isn’t necessarily financial, but is rooted on completely messed up societies. I still witnessed more smiles within the poor in the Ph than in the US.

  14. I get it. I understand your meaning – mental poverty; values deprivation. I hope I am not being a contrarian or obstinate by saying – I call the fat kids, the McMansion residents, the conspicous consumers of the wolrd’s resources gluttonous. To label them as sufferers from poverty does poor people a disservice. God bless us all in our journies.

  15. Hi Yara, I found this quite interesting to read… I’m a Filipino who dreams to travel to or maybe even live in Europe, meanwhile Westerners are praising our way of life here. While I mostly assumed it was because of the change of climate, I realized after reading your post that I, too, may have taken something for granted as well: the warmth and sense of community that you speak of. In effect it’s like our stories and experiences are mirrored.

    I am trying not to fall into the trap of being autonomous and isolating myself from good and healthy relationships. But oh how lovely it would be to bring some sunshine to the cold :)
    Thanks for sharing your perspective!

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