So much to say about the Philippines but I will start with this thought: I love staying in a place long enough not only to observe the little things that are culturally different but also to discern which of those things are ubiquitous and truly significant. When you spend enough time to notice something over and over again, it makes you feel you are getting to know the culture on more than just a surface level.
For example, one day we drove past kids playing basketball on a roadside court surrounded by wilderness. I wasn’t sure if it was an anomaly or a thing. Within a few days I realized the courts are everywhere (everywhere in the middle of nowhere). Apparently Filipinos love basketball and they also love putting their courts in the most random places (including on an actual road, so that we had to drive through the court to get where we were going).
In no particular order, here are 11 things I saw everywhere during my 11 days in the Philippines:
The boys all walk home with their arms around each other’s shoulders and the girls hold hands or link elbows.
TUK TUKS (WHICH THEY CALL TRICYCLES)
There are so many scooters in the Philippines, and most seem like they are being used as taxis. They load them up with a death-defying number of people til they look like clown cars, with multiple people riding on the seat behind the driver, multiple people in the sidecar, and multiple people on the roof of the sidecar holding on to one measly handlebar.
I kept seeing tires on the roadside advertising these shops. I realized I have no idea what vulcanizing means. Apparently it is what you do to patch holes in tires.
SODA BOTTLES FILLED WITH FUEL
I first assumed they filled Coke bottles with a homemade punch-like brew but later learned it is actually gas for all the scooters.
STORES WITH THE MOST STRAIGHTFORWARD NAMING CONVENTION EVER
I found it hilarious that most stores took a what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach to their names: the first word was the person’s given name, the second word was the type of store. Everywhere I looked it was Louisa’s Bakeshop or Fernanda’s Store or even just Mary Store, no apostrophe needed.
EYE CANDY JEEPNIES
These mini-busses are franchises, so the driver can decorate the vehicle to his liking. The results are amazing. (Also amazing: riders climb in the back wherever they happen to be when the bus passes by.)
KTV = karaoke
MILLIONS OF DOGS ROAMING FREELY
(Not to mention freely roaming water buffalo, and hogs, and goats, and ducks, and chickens…)
CHICKEN ARROZ CALDO
Traditional breakfast porridge that was a gluten-free god-send. Not pictured because I liked mine no frills: the tiny limes (called calamansi), fried garlic, and green onions usually sprinkled on top.
THE AFOREMENTIONED BASKETBALL COURTS
And one more for good measure:
REMNANTS OF SPANISH COLONIZATION
I noticed just a few Spanish words and culinary influences, but the most visible evidence of the former Spanish presence were the grand old cathedrals cutting a strange and imposing figure in the midst of hut villages.
A few other things I didn’t get photos of:
A million Jollibees, the McDonalds of the Philippines (and to my chagrin, the welcome signs to villages were often printed on signs featuring the bee)
Garlic rice – i.e. rice with fried garlic chips in it – served with everything
Freestanding shrines with statues of Mary in them
Frogs hopping along the roads at night
Laundry drying on lines and over fences
Rain, rain and more rain (it was rainy season)
And the more abstract things you can’t really capture on camera:
A predilection for sweet-tasting everything
Lots of religious faith
Air fresheners that smelled like chemical lemongrass and made me nauseous
Some of the warmest people I have ever met