Thursday, June 23, 2005

A Major Makeover When Visiting the Old Homeland: The Philippines

Any visit to the old homeland regardless of its frequency or reason is not the same as actually living in the old homeland. Really living life in the exact same way as when that expat experienced life before his/her departure. While it may be easy for one to be lulled or even deluded into thinking that both are one and the same, in reality they are two distinct experiences quite apart from and unlike each other.

For one, the now inhospitable humid climate serves to incessantly remind one that being in the old homeland is not the same as before. The physical body now needs some time to re-acclimatize to the once bearable humidity. Time usually not expendable to the harried visitor trying to squeeze into a tight and limited visit schedule.

Additionally, a collective luggage of new prejudices and expectations neatly culled from living in a new land will undoubtedly also remind one that one is now immersed in a very different social and political environment, which at times can be at odds with one's current conditions.

The unwary traveler/returnee appears wont, though not necessarily with malice or condescension, or even afterthought, to be quite vocal in his/her criticisms about most any local conditions that do not meet his new and revised expectations, defined and made pronounced by the extended stay abroad. For their part, the locals are understandably quite unforgiving about those stray unkind comments coming from the lips of those suddenly impatient and critical returnees.

The weather is too hot! The traffic is atrocious; I could never live here again! Squatters are everywhere! The cities are dirty! The air appears stale and noxious the minute one alights from the air transport! Defiance of the law, whether petty or grand larceny is ubiquitous! Politicians are all too crooked and clueless, so unmindful of their very constituents! The Filipinos are quite preoccupied and too focused on outside events around the globe, and yet too stingy in marshalling time and effort addressing local problems. And even, why are those TV/Radio persons in a constant aggravated state of yelling or shouting at their audiences, as if everybody is deaf and dumb? It is all too irritating and quite an assault on the ears! These and more are the typical fare of observations and commentaries emanating from the once compliant members of the same pack.

At the risk of being labeled an uncouth hypocrite, or worse a treacherous turncoat, one in such a situation has to exercise great thoughtful restraint and exhibit a liberal dose of patience and understanding.

As a visitor, for that is now how most of your former compatriots would regard us, it is incumbent upon us to exercise great restraint especially when pointing out the negative and seedy aspects of life in the islands. While before, any such comments from you may have be taken lightly and simply made to pass from one ear to another, this time the times and the circumstances have changed. From one of our own to once our own. From one of us to foreigner.

Thus, the unmitigated pride of even the hapless Pinoy will instantly recoil at such criticisms, whether justified or not. It is best then to simply stay on the safe and benign topics, unless expressly asked or invited to render an honest and unvarnished opinion on such matters.

The country collectively has gone through many and prolonged vicissitudes from the time most of us long-time expats had left. It is not much of a stretch to surmise that individually, the typical Filipino over time has been asked to give much of himself to keep his/her equanimity and sanity intact. Aside from physical and mental deprivations, much of hope, confidence, and even unbridled optimism, have also been excruciating demanded from him. While despair and frustrations may stare at him daily, as gleaned from media, from both his patent and latent protests, and from his general outlook on life, again it may not be much of a stretch to surmise that at the opposite spectrum of those same emotions, such traits as perseverance, long suffering, love for country or fealty to anything Filipino may have been just as equally sharpened and elevated. And in such heightened states, gratuitous criticisms may not be taken that tolerantly .

It is best and the better part of discretion to exercise extra caution then when delving on the buffeting stresses that characterize Philippine national and individual life.

And one last seemingly ironic observation about current Philippine society is the popularity and proliferation of over-sized malls around most urbanized areas, but most especially in the Metro Manila areas. Most of these malls and similar places are almost always crowded with patrons giving the false impression that hardships are quite afar from ordinary Philippine life. Restaurants of varying sizes and clientele, are sites of endless crowds seemingly oblivious to anything partaking of hardships. Movie houses are similarly patronized. Faces in the crowd show no traces of any present or impending financial difficulties. Make no mistake about it there are lots of rich affluent families in the country with disposable income to equal any first world country.

Unfortunately, their numbers (or percentage) are quite miniscule compared to the national figures, giving the illusion that there are very many of them since most of them congregate around urbanized areas, especially areas around Metro Manila. But this picture is markedly contrasted as one leaves the comfy confines of the malls, the modern business centers, the gated communities, etc., and as on communes with the majority and sees the harsh realities of poverty and deprivation - in both the urban areas and in the provinces, most especially those lying farther away from Metro Manila.

One final note to this paradox, for truly it is (extreme love of country, optimism, etc. have not translated to meaningful reforms and amelioration of the country's myriad of economic and political woes), is why collectively the country cannot lift itself up with its bootstraps and gear resolutely toward progress on the many fronts.

To the detached observer, there appears to be no abatement in sight. Not much diminution of some of the emaciating miseries. No meaningful curtailment of the pernicious corruption in its political affairs. No significant dent to the wantonly undisciplined manner both the people and the authorities have shown whether on issues of traffic or respect for the law both petty and grand. Jaywalking. Running red lights. Absent road courtesy. Incessant and irritating blowing of horns. Illegally full-tinted car windows. And so on.

Making this trite and old cliché quite relevant: Big crooks never ever see jail time.