From Starmall to Rockwell

The inveterate practice of adopting people who, through her convolutions of family relations no one else has the patience to decipher, are decidedly distant relatives by consanguinity or affinity (and once in a while, both) is one of my grandmother’s peculiarities. Because I apparently did not inherit my grandmother’s social graces and generosity, and have been for the latter part of my life a relatively solitary person, this task, once it fell upon me, was met with awkwardness and improvisation.

March was a madness in which I spent most of my time dazedly preoccupied with preoccupying my two Japanese friends. At first, I tried to create an itinerary that would allow them to maximize their stay in the Philippines, but I kept going back to the drawing board for one reason or another. Finally, I decided that as opposed to following to the dot an activity-based schedule, which was predestined to fail anyway, I simply made up an overlying theme. Basically, I wanted them to have an honest and well-proportioned, if somewhat kaleidoscopic, Philippine experience.

There are visual, audible, olfactory, exasperating, and concrete reasons why the Philippines is a staple of the poverty porn industry. As the recent Forbes study published, it is the home of some of the world’s billionaires. Bridging the penury and the profligate are the in-betweeners and their in-between lives. It was a sampling of each of these groups of people, a summation of blacks and whites, interspersed, and occasionally interrupted by inscrutable grays, that I wanted them to give them a snapshot of.

Thus began their exploration of the Philippines through almost all forms of public transportation — a consistent derby of open,clanging tricycles, crowded though convivial jeepneys, buses air-conditioned and not, taxis, vans, and the MRT. Under a solar tapestry that creeped from diaphanous to intolerable, we flew and ferried to tourist traps with renascent white sands, carouseled through malls (those living landscapes of the country’s socioeconomic strata), traipsed around residential villages, a university, and a museum. The spectrum was applied to food as well — we ate the ubiquitous adobo and pancit at home, in generic food courts, in sanitarily questionable institutions with long-standing customer bases, and occasionally indulged in high-end restaurants. In retrospect, balut and other street food staples, churches, Divisoria and the Philippine General Hospital would have added to this compendious study, but one day was unanimously voted to be the lazy day.

The deviation is an attempt, probably on the smallest scale, to develop a balanced perspective of this country, to reify its people. I hope that they understood, somehow, that this county is neither first-world nor stagnant, but that it is developing. I hope that they learned, somehow, not to submit to the purblindness of stereotypes. I hope they discovered bases for both animadversion and praise, and cultivated lengthened patience for cultural differences. Supposing these ideas were clearer in my mind, and limited by losses in translation, I feel that it isn’t a lost cause, because at the very least, I was reminded.

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