Now that Lent is over and Catholics can eat meat again, time to feast on some scrumptious burger steak!
If you’ve ever watched foreign films, you know that certain countries are known for certain genres. The French have their charming comedies; the Americans their special effects and explosions. The Indians have everything (believe it or not, India is currently the largest producer of feature films in the world), and while most East Asian countries have plenty of romantic movies, you still have lots of variety with the popularity of Hong Kong’s action-comedy, Korea’s horror films and Japan’s dramatic tearjerkers. In the Philippines, though, it seems that it’s all about the romance, which isn’t surprising given the Filipinos love for…love!
To help you blend in on this Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d leave you with a list of romantic phrases you can say in Tagalog, so you won’t miss a beat next time you happen to be in this part of the world.
Key Romantic Phrases in Tagalog
“I love you” “Mahal kita”
“I like you” (as in crush) “May gusto ako sa iyo”
“May I date you?” “Puwede ba kitang ligawan?”
“I want to marry you” “Gusto na kitang pakasalan”
“Will you marry me?” “Tatanggapin mo ba ang alay kong pakasalan kita?”
This space is dedicated to uncovering the culture of the Philippines, and as such, one must talk about music and romance. I thought I’d share this video–one of the more popular songs in the Philippines in the past few years–by Krizza Neri. She recently won a reality singing contest (“Protege: The Battle for the Big Break”), and this is among her first singles. If I have ever heard a song-video combination that exemplifies the musical culture of a place (in so many ways), this is it for the Philippines!
Catholic or Muslim, rich or poor, tall or short, or light-skinned or Moreno-skinned, there is one thing virtually all Filipino households have in common: A home karaoke machine.
Often regarded as the most musical country in Asia, it seems as though everyone here likes to sing (that doesn’t mean everyone is good at it, by the way). That isn’t surprising given how happy and festive Filipinos are generally known for being. As Filipinos are also known for their collectivism, karaoke is a perfect activity to be shared amongst family and friends. It doesn’t matter if you can sing or not—what is important are the bonds that are formed and the laughs that are shared.
While the origins of karaoke are still debated today (some argue that it came from the Philippines, others that it came from Japan), there is no question that home karaoke systems are an essential staple in Filipino culture. Japan, and even more so Korea, have karaoke bars lining the streets of any nightlife area, but here it is more a form of home entertainment. You’ll have a hard time finding any home gathering of a group of Filipinos anywhere in the world that doesn’t feature karaoke, which should leave you entertained into the early morning hours.
If you’ve ever been to the newly sprung up, modern cities of the Middle East, it is no secret that Filipinos make up a huge part of today’s culture there. It seems that every hotel in Abu Dhabi, Doha or Dubai are staffed with Filipinos, working diligently and bringing their natural hospitality abroad. It is a win-win for everyone—the hotels get naturally hard-working, hospitable workers who speak English at a native level, while the staff have opportunities to earn salaries that they wouldn’t back home. Filipinos working in other industries flock to the Middle East as well—oil and gas being a major one.
Given the influx of Filipinos in that part of the world, it is not surprising that some aspects of the modern-day Middle Eastern culture would make their way to the Philippines as well—airplanes fly in both directions, after all. But on a recent visit to Manila, I was saddened by one particular element that seemed to be springing up—the idea of smoke-and-mirrors culture.
While the Middle East has a long and storied history as a trading post, today much of it has been reinvented into a playground for the rich. Oil money flows freely, and developers race to build the tallest, shiniest, sleekest, fanciest office and residential spaces they can dream up. In trying to attract buyers and wow the rich, there is little consideration given to historical context or the surrounding environment. And while there is some history there—there is not much else. Dubai was built on a sand dune, just the way Las Vegas was 60 years earlier in the Western United States.
The Philippines, however, is not the Middle East. It is full of a rich cultural heritage that is preserved today, a spiritual and energetic people who carry their flag proudly. Physically, it is a lush, green, fertile land that some of the world’s most exotic and unique species call home. There is no need to create something artifical, tall, shiny, sleep and fancy here—because the natural beauty is strong to begin with.
And yet, one of the developments I saw being sold was called “The Venice Residences”—something seemingly straight out of Dubai. Little homes built on the banks of a fake waterway, complete with verandas and gondoliers. And in my estimation, something so tackily forced in hopes of raising the real estate price tag.
I sincerely hope the Philippines—with all of its spirit and pride and natural beauty—will not fall into the trap of trying to copy the artificial culture of Dubai or Las Vegas, which don’t have the natural gifts to work with that should be appreciated here.
Every country and every culture has its heroes—those individuals, whether politicians, athletes or entertainers that we elevate onto a pedestal, making them bigger than they actually are. America has Bill Clinton, Michael Jordan and Lady Gaga, while England swoons over Prince William and Kate. Brazil elevates its football stars from Pele to Kaka to Neymar, while Nelson Mandela, Charlize Theron and Oscar Pistorius sit high atop the South African psyche. But nowhere on earth is anyone more unanimously embraced and revered than the Philippines’ very own national hero: Manny Pacquiao.
Supporting himself from the age of 14 by winning chump change in street fights, Pacquiao fought his way out of poverty and became one of the most successful boxers in the world. While his professional career has hit some bumps in the past year, which tends to happen with age, he was the world’s “Fighter of the Decade” in the 2000s, earning hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. His success in the ring has led to a cult following outside the ring, as he was elected to the Philippines House of Representatives in 2010, and has also enjoyed success as an actor and a recording artist.
While all national heroes and icons obviously enjoy popularity, you would be hard-pressed to find any figure in the past 50 years who has reached the cult status that Manny has reveled in. If you know anyone who is even of Filipino descent, then you know what I mean. When Manny fights, it’s like Christmas—entire families, friends, cousins, friends of friends, cousins of cousins and friends of friends of those cousins gather to watch. And cheer. Loudly.
It just so happens that Filipinos are also among the more religious people in the world—it seems that everyone is Catholic, proudly attending mass every Sunday, from Manila to California. But I’ve always joked that if Manny Pacquiao—himself a devout Catholic—decided to break from the church and start a religion of his own, the pews of those Catholic Churches would be empty within a week. Instead, everyone would flock to the new Church of Manny to get their fill of the spirit.
Before you get all bent out of shape, relax. I’m just joking. Well, unless Manny actually decides to do it!
My ID: 1:22pm, Wednesday, 23 March 2005: Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport
Philippine Airlines flight PR502 from Singapore
The tone was set for my Initial Descent into the Philippines before we had even approached Manila. About two hours into my flight from Singapore, where I had just transited from the United States, the Philippine Airlines flight attendant serving my section pulled me aside and asked a question: “Do you play basketball in the PBA?”
Of course, I had no idea what that was (it turns out it’s the Philippine Basketball Association), so I politely suggested that while I do play basketball, I was not a PBA participant. The middle-aged woman apologized unnecessarily, saying that I looked like I played basketball (perhaps my bald head at the time suggested as much), and asked if I needed anything else to make my flight more enjoyable. I settled for some mango juice and reclined my way into Manila.
The pleasant exchange taught me a few things about what to expect upon my arrival, which turned out to be true. The people were not shy, yet very humble, warm, polite and wanted to make me feel welcome. While this can be expected in the hospitality industry, in the Philippines I felt it from everyone, and it was genuine (and perhaps this is why the hospitality industry around the world employs so many people from the Philippines). I knew the visit would be good, and indeed it was.
Christmas is one of the world’s most widely-recognized and celebrated holidays. From Europe’s Christmas markets to the USA’s holiday shopping frenzy, in some places it is difficult to walk down the street without knowing that Christmas is approaching. Nowhere, however, is Christmas a bigger deal than in the Philippines.
Here, you may start hearing Christmas carols as early as September, and you aren’t likely to see any Christmas decorations come down until the Feast of Santo Niño de Cebu on the third Sunday of January.
The peak of the Filipino Christmas season begins on December 16th, with Simbang Gabi. This term, meaning “night mass”, features daily pre-dawn masses from the 16th through Christmas Eve, a total of nine. It is believed that God grants the special wish of anyone who makes it to all nine.
In more devout parishes, these masses take place between 3:00am and 5:00am, although in some places (especially in Filipino-heavy parishes outside of the Philippines), the masses are held the preceding evening. Traditionally, attendees follow the mass by having coffee or hot chocolate along with traditional foods, such as bibingka (a cake made with rice flour and eggs) or puto bumbong (a sticky purple rice coated in brown sugar and coconut).