Sweating a Bucket while doing Laundry

By, Christine

The time in Philippines have passed by in a blur. I’m not quite sure of what I expected to find here. I guess I understood Philippines to be rural but the reality of ‘rural’ and the concept of ‘rural’ never quite melded in my head. The experience of trying to use a little water as possible whilst showering (since water is a precious commodity here), leads to equally sticky people before and after baths – only for completely different reasons. I also continuously forget that we are using septic tanks and that tissues are not the right things to dispose of in the toilet basins (guess who fishes the tissues back out?). Ultimately I was naive of my experience in Philippines, the daily inconvenience are much more tedious than I thought it would be. Anyone who wants to go on this trip/attend this course should first think about how inconvenient they think the living experience would be, than add a margin of error on before deciding on applying, since imagination is a lesser experience than reality (something which I should have understood a long time ago).

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Be this as it may, I think Philippines is also a great way to train independence and perhaps empathy, just yesterday I have had the experience of hand washing my laundry for the first time (again though, was raging guilt for the water used). An hour of washing was only good for 2 pairs of shorts, 2 t-shirts and some underwear – and this was with the help of my experience roommate (thank you Metis!). It gives a taste of the troubles that our hosts go through every day. This is the side of troubles that we don’t really think about when comparing more developed country with lesser ones but it exists. When we compare less developed countries to the ones in the first world, we focus on food, shelter and clean water. Granted these are necessities for survival and perhaps cannot really compare to the inconvenience of having to hand wash clothes, but at the same time hand-washing my clothes was an almost insurmountable task for me (yes. I’m spoilt). I may be exaggerating but somehow I begin to understand that daily life also robs the under-developed of one thing – time. If time was always spent on menial chores there is hardly any left for people to invest within themselves, whether if it is big decisions like reflecting upon a better way of investing their money on a project or small things such as the use of a different shampoo for its quality over its price. If people are constantly preoccupied with living, there simply isn’t enough time to reflect on how they’re living and consequently there is little to no change to break them out of a life that is neither unlivable (without water, food or shelter) but is not wealthy either. I’m wondering if more attention should be focused on just improving lives in general – yes, saving life is crucial through the provision of necessities but without a further step of reducing the inconvenience of life the cycle of being poor will be hard to break.

Returning to our life in Philippines in general, one of the things that struck me most was the hospitality of the people here in Philippines. Most of them are genuinely excited to see foreigners in their country, and if you shout ‘hello’ and wave at them from the car, most of them would respond with a wave and a smile as well. There is a simple kindness to the people here – their laugh is infectious and they love to laugh just about anything. The first things that comes to mind when you talk about Philippines to someone from Hong Kong are foreign domestic helpers – the second being the ever present dichotomy between employers who exploits their helpers or conniving helpers who try to gain from their employers. I think most people would know that a world of stereotypes do not exist – there will always be exception. But I don’t think they will truly understand how wry misrepresented their impression of Filipinos are until they come to Philippines. My host Gloria has done her utmost best to make u feel at home, providing us with hot water and lavishing us with Coca cola – all at zero expense to us. For people who are not wealthy, the provision of such goods for a month to complete strangers is completely preposterous. And yet it occurs here. Filipinos from what I can see from the home stays here, are truly hospitable, if people from Hong Kong can realize this, they would know that the ‘conniving’ image of Filipinos isn’t so much the norm but the exception.

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