The world works in mysterious ways. Even when continents and seas separate people of different walks of life, when paths converge it’s a beautiful reminder that humans are different yet the same.
Over a month ago, as my friends and I were on a trip to Pai in northern Thailand, we met Kat, a backpacker from Malta. She had been traveling around Southeast Asia, and had plans of coming to the Philippines. A few weeks and Facebook messages later, we met her at the gates of NAIA and hosted her for two weeks in our home. During that time, we taught her many things about the Filipino culture, more than she could ever pick up from a guidebook or a website. And all the same, we learned from her as well.
3. Filipino food and pairing rice with everything
Tocilog, our backpacker friend’s favorite breakfast dish!
Despite being on the rise in places like the United States, Filipino food is generally a misunderstood cuisine to most outsiders. Remember the Polish blogger who said that she’d rather starve than eat our food again?
Foreigners tend to lump Southeast Asia into one homogenous category, expecting the same experiences in places they visit. The Philippines is different from the neighboring countries of Malaysia and Thailand — surprise, we have pork barbecue instead of satays, and we pair rice with everything.
Filipino food is best enjoyed on its own, coming in without expectations and allowing yourself to be surprised by its explosive flavors. Also, rice isn’t treated as a separate dish, but a prerequisite for a full meal. For travelers, it’s important to keep an open mind. Once our friend did exactly that, she discovered the wonders of silog, sisig, and tinapa with itlog na pula, knowing there’s more where those came from. Oh, and she learned to eat with a spoon and fork and magkamay like she’s been doing it her entire life.
2. Strong family ties
As the rest of Southeast Asia is known for its street food culture, found along the sois of Bangkok or the hawker centers of Singapore, travelers tend to expect the same from the Philippines, which can leave them underwhelmed. While we locals have some choice street delicacies we enjoy, the best Filipino food isn’t found on the streets, but on the dinner table of a typical Filipino home.
Dinner time is sacred to Filipino families. It’s the time when everyone is home from work or school and can catch up on how their day went. Grown children living at their parents’ home is not uncommon, and is not an issue. It’s our way of staying close to one another.
Filipinos are very hospitable, so try to make friends with a local while you’re here. You may just be invited to dinner that same day.
1. Staying positive in the midst of bad times
On a road trip to Sagada, with just 20 kilometers to go, we hit a massive detour. We found ourselves stranded in front of a river. The makeshift bridge and only path to Sagada was ravaged by raging waters, brought on by the rain earlier that day. Cars, buses, and trucks that travelled for hours found themselves turning back.
Stuck in the sleepy town of Sabang, we sought shelter for the night at a local homestay, run by a sweet old woman named Imelda. Rather than sulk over a spoiled trip, we bought a bottle of rum, played card games and sang along with a guitar borrowed from a local until the day ended.
Kat made the most of her stay and became friends with Auntie Imelda, even going to church with her the next morning. The next day, the bridge was completely obliterated. Sagada was a no-go. Kat later told us how she was more concerned for the locals — while the destructed bridge only meant one less thing to check off her bucket list, for those who lived there, it was their only connection to the other towns. Still, the residents of Sabang went along their day as usual, smiling and wishing us well on our trip. We might not have made it to Sagada, but we went home with a story to remember.
Amidst yearly typhoons, we always find a silver lining.
The Philippines is not perfect, but we make the most of it. Visiting a country where some people live with less than you do back home can really shape things into perspective.
That’s what’s amazing about travel. Two strangers can intersect at a point and part ways, but will leave changed. There’s always something from our culture that we can always impart on people, and them on us.
What lessons from other cultures have you learned while travelling? Share them with us!