Life in the Philippines
SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Andrew Leibenguth, left, and his sister, Eushina Leibenguth, travel in a tricycle. This is a normal and affordable way to travel in the Philippines.
One of our main purposes for the lengthy trip was to visit many of our family members living on various islands, as my stepmother is Filipino. We also acted as missionaries for our Crossroads Community Church in Lehighton by routinely visiting a partner church that our church is helping sponsor.
One of my prime goals for traveling there was also to help displaced victims affected by the erupting Mayon volcano. Thankfully, the Mayon volcano eruption only resulted in small lava flows and only demanded limited evacuation. Fortunately, my intended assistance wasn't really needed.
Survival, simpler things, vast cultures, and family. Those four things best sum up my vast experiences while in the Philippines. Except for the higher upper class and big city high-rises, most living conditions appeared standardized to modest-sized homes, mostly constructed of concrete and metal roofing panels. Rice, fish, and fruit are their main diets.
Most families and households have one or two financial providers while the rest of the family takes care of the home, washes clothes, prepares meals, and cares for the chickens and pigs. A large majority of their time is spent socializing with nearby family and friends and doing household chores.
Most don't possess as many gadgets and comfort items as we do here in the United States. Microwaves, washers, dryers, refrigerators, air conditioners, big screen TVs, flushing toilets, cars, computers, padded furniture, dishwashers, silverware, windows, and even toilet paper are all considered comfort items. Their socially accepted and culturally civilized standard of living doesn't require all these items, unless you live in a higher upper financial class bracket.
Despite only having 10 academic grades, their level of education and language speaking was very impressive and comparable to ours. In addition to their own regional dialect, all Philippine students are required to learn English and Tagalog, their nationally recognized language. Most speak English fluently. Even though they primarily speak in their own Filipino language or dialect; almost everything is displayed in English; to include media correspondence, advertisements, election banners, traffic signs and more.
Philippine customs, traditions, and language are strongly influenced by the 350-year Spanish colonization and American militarization after World War II, before they gained their independence in 1946. A majority of their celebrated religious traditions are a mix of Christian, Pagan and other local religious rites.
Each year, towns from around the country hold festivities known as Fiestas which celebrate the patron saints of each town, villages or regional districts. The festival season is celebrated with church ceremonies, street, fireworks, and beauty, dance contests, and parades in honor of the patron saints. In some areas there are even cockfighting tournaments.
The southern regions are where the majority of the Islam faith exist and celebrate their unique customs and traditions. I didn't see any connection between the Islam faith and violence in this region. I talked with many Muslim Filipinos. They were just like you and me, just with a different faith. Almost all the people we met in this region went above and beyond to show hospitality and warmth. I still wouldn't recommend traveling their alone.
We spent the biggest part of our trip in these southern regions, to include Zamboanga City, also know as "Asia's Latin City." This region is so well known for rebels and violence that its residents nicknamed their city "Land of Rebels", instead of its real meaning "Land of Flowers."
News stories about beheadings and kidnappings seem to be a routine thing in this region. Being the Marine that I am and as a precautionary measure, I carried concealed blades in my shoes; just in case. Luckily we weren't exposed to this violence during our stay.
At times, I felt like a movie star. No one appeared to be even close to my 6-foot height. For some reason, Caucasian people, especially Americans, seem to be somewhat sparse in the Philippines. For a lot of Filipinos, the only Caucasian people they've seen is on television.
Many Filipinos seemed to be strangely attracted to my facial features. They tell me their facial features aren't as distinctive as mine, because they all have the same facial features, such as modest noses, brown eyes, and black hair. Funny thing, most Filipinos wish to have lighter skin, while we, Caucasians, thrive on being tanned or darker.
The Philippines also hold many similarities to American culture. In developing areas, they have Burger King, McDonalds, KFC, and even Starbucks. Their presidential and unitary form of government is actually closely modeled after the United States government. American music and television shows seem to be top choices of entertainment, as is karaoke.
The Philippines even has an American modeled social security system set up for its seniors who paid into it. Senior citizen centers and nursing homes are almost non-existent though; probably due to the lack of any notable health care. There aren't local or state taxes, like in the U.S.; only businesses and the higher class are required to pay taxes.
Since medical insurance is rarely heard of over there, payments must be made prior to treatment. One of our family members fell and was bleeding from her head and needed stitches, so we took her to the hospital. They actually quoted us the bill before they even treated her. We had to pay each department (X-ray, pharmacy, emergency room) before the next stage of treatment could start. Even though it only cost us about $100 in U.S. currency for the total bill (probably would have been $2,000 in the U.S.), it was still hard to accept that we had to pay for treatment before receiving it.
The largest mode of transportation primarily consisted of modified Jeeps or Willys, also known as Jeepneys. Gas and man-powered tricycles are also an accepted standard of travel.
Most Filipinos opt to take taxi motorcycles to their destination as they can swerve in and out of traffic faster. Everyone drives without discipline and offensively in nature, unlike America's method of driving defensively. They drive so radically, I was amazed I never witnessed a vehicle accident.
The Philippines clearly holds many anecdotes of cultural interest and daily living. A number of them stand out the most. For example, Filipinos opt to use a bucket, soap, and water instead of toilet paper. If you think about it, that sounds more hygienic than using paper. Most toilets didn't have a flusher or an incoming water line. The only way to flush was to pour a filled bucket of water into the toilet to force the waste away.
Most businesses have visible armed security guards located at the front door of each business that open the door for you.
Very few homes have the luxury of a washer and dryer. Compared to our very patriotic country, Filipinos don't seem to have as much faith in their government as we do in America, stating corruption is everywhere in all levels of their government.
Citizens state the usual practice of bribing police officers to prevent punishment or fines. Even though the judicial system is very similar to ours, paying off the family members of someone you killed is an acceptable way of deterring further punishment.
Police checkpoints are also a common site during the months prior to the elections, and there is a strict no-gun policy building up to the elections. It appears that there was a "corner store" every few houses. Very little is wasted and everything that can be repaired is fixed.
Everyone, even lower class, possess cell phones. Most cell phones are prepaid and are only used primarily to text. During the last two years of high school, all students are required to take military training similar to our JROTC.
Most families own their own chickens. Even some of the upper class care for livestock. The value of one American dollar is equivalent to 46 of their pesos. Locally acquired food such as bread, fish, and fruits are as low as one-tenth the cost compared to America. A loaf of store-bought bread only costs about 23 pesos, or about fifty cents.
Most of the population makes less than the minimum wage in the Philippines. Minimum wage is determined by region and type of work, ranging from 187 pesos ($4.07 in U.S.) a day for agricultural workers in the southern region to 382 pesos ($8.30) for nonagricultural workers in the capital region.
It is hard to believe the thousands of things we take for granted here in the United States amidst all the foreign violence, corruption, and starvation that is occurring every day around the world.
Our standard of living and way of life primarily wraps around gadgets and material belongings, while the lives of most people living in the Philippines are consumed primarily by culture, simpler things, and family.
Theodore Roosevelt said it best during his 1910 New Nationalism speech: "The material progress and prosperity of a nation are desirable chiefly so long as they lead to the moral and material welfare of all good citizens."