Notes on Reverse Culture Shock, part 1

The first thing you forget about the Philippines is how poor everyone is. And how cheap certain things like labor and food is, and how expensive other things we take for granted are (like gas).

There’s cigarettes they sell in packs of five sticks, and shampoo in little travel sizes, etc. cause sometimes that’s all people can afford.
toothpaste, shampoo, milo for sale
In Siargao we went to this little island called Dako to surf. We took a tiny outrigger boat to get there, an island where residents have no electricity or plumbing. I asked to use someone’s bathroom; it was a hole in the ground. For lunch, we grilled fish for 11 people. There was also a salad and rice. All the food (we even had leftovers) cost less than $18. The round trip boat fare to the island cost about $12.
Lots of people on this island aren’t locals. ,They’re here to surf Cloud 9, the Philippines’ most legendary wave. They’re Australians, Israelis, Germans, French. Not a lot of Americans. Other tourists are treat me like I’m American. It is, as Axel the Biarritz surfer said to me, because ‘my English is perfect.’
the israelites
I didn’t have the heart to tell him most everyone in the Philippines spoke decent English.

One day, I will decide: Do I want to be here or there? I think California is home, even though I haven’t lived there in two years. I saw the Milwaukee house today, on iChat with Diwata, and I longed to be there for a second. Being here feels like regression. Being comfortable makes me feel guilty; having a maid around makes me feel retarded, like I can’t do anything for myself.

Maybe the Philippines felt different, like a different skin, for the first two weeks. But one day while sitting in a car with Anne driving, I felt it: I was home. From Makati on EDSA, crawling to Taft, behind buses and tricycles and motorbikes and pedestrians and tamaraws and taxis and jeepneys. The inky black night punctuated by the chorus of red brake lights, all waiting for the stop and go of traffic.

It seemed very comforting, very Zen to not get impatient, to just wait out the stillness. I felt safe, I felt good. Most of my quality moments with loved one involved this: air conditioning and Bjork at the speed of 5 km per hour.

1 comment
  1. TWM71 said:

    Top photo: I like that one can purchase small packages of ‘Happee.’

    I am envious of your chameleon-like ability to flow with the global tide. You are a happy little quark; here, there, everywhere, nowhere. It’s quite a gift.


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