“Are you actively involved in Chinese politics?” the Filipino girl who I just met asked me. “What’s your stance on West Phillipines Sea?”
“No. And I don’t have any stance. I hate politics.” I was quite shocked by the direct question at first and then answered it with sincere honesty.
“Then are you actively involved in Filipino politics?” I teased her back.
Without waiting for her response, her friend shouted at me immediately, “Yes! On Facebook!”
“Oh really! Add me on Facebook then! I have to stalk you hahaha!” I shouted back.
“Are you gonna hate me because I’m a Chinese?” I decided to imitate her and go direct.
“No no of course not. I’m not a racist.”
Several days before the course, the dispute over South China Sea (West Phillipines Sea) broke out. Due to the failure in the dispute, a strong patriotic atmosphere was ignited in China. The foreign relations between China and Philippines suddenly worsened. Subsequently, the negative portrayal of “the Other” started that all Filipinos seemed to be anti-China and thus can be potential dangers for Chinese tourists.
However, during my three-week stay in Philippines, the friendly locals I’ve met and the lovely conversations we’ve had totally uprooted the above-mentioned negative generalizations.
I always love kids, for their innocent smiles and pure hearts. That’s why I was super excited when I found a group of little kids in the playground of the village. When I approached them, some of them ran away quickly while the other brave ones remained there, though still shy to look at me. After realizing that they cannot really understand English, I pulled out my phone and checked out some phrases in my newly-downloaded Tagalog study book (although they speak Visayan, they can still understand Tagalog).
“Kumusta po kayo?” (How are you?) The kids stared at me with their big blinking eyes. I wasn’t sure whether or not they understood my awkward pronunciation.
After that, I went to the playground for a few more times. Some kids started to feel familiar and closer to me.
“What is your name?” a girl bravely asked me with a shy smile.
“Ahh?” They all seemed pretty confused.
“Zi-Shi-” I repeated slowly.
“Susi?” I’m always not confident in teaching foreigners to pronounce my name so when they tried to imitate, I gave them a big thumb.
“Susi Susi!” Kids were excited.
Since then, “Susi” has followed me everywhere. It turns out to mean “key” in Tagalog.
The longer I stay in this village of Philippines, the more commonality I find between here and Chinese rural areas and meanwhile, the more discrepancy between rural countryside and urban cities in general.
When finishing the agricultural labor or house chores, villagers tend to gather together outside. Sitting in a random place, they start to chit chat, about updates of their family members, or some gossips they’ve heard from others, etc. They’ve been known each other almost for a lifetime since migration in villages is quite rare. Thus, the presence of a stranger can be quite intriguing. The salute of stares is a must. If you react a bit, they would probably initiate a conversation. “Where are you from?” Interestingly enough, here in Tubod Mar, many locals thought I’m Korean or Japanese. After being asked for a few times, I finally decided to ask them back. “Why do you think I’m Korean?” “Your eyes (which are pretty small!)…and you are very tall.” Each nation has certain stereotypes towards other nations. It is quite funny when you experienced it for yourself and learnt that their stereotypes are different from yours. Then you may start to wonder how these stereotypes are shaped after realizing its subjective or even random nature. After this warm-up question, they most likely would ask more out of curiosity. It is up to you whether you want to sit down with them or politely wave away (if they let you). Sometimes, if they are in a good hospital mood, you may be kindly invited to their house and dine with them – excellent chance of knowing more about their living conditions and personal lives.
Entertainment is an essential part of the village’s social activities. Since not that many can afford TV, during the evening, there can be all kinds of group functions. Here in Tubod Mar, the evening can be really noisy. Someone singing Karaoke with his/her penetrating voice, you are unlucky when that someone literally cannot sing but shout. The village basketball court is a social center. Basketball games are going on every other day. While we were there, we had a friendship match with the locals. Almost all villagers came and stood around the court, cheering up for both teams. There was also a fiesta which ended with an all-night-long disco. With loud disco music and dazzling lights, the court was transformed into an open air bar. Women, men, the elderly, children all danced together, under the starry night.
The joy that I’ve experienced here is different from the one of the city. It is natural, spontaneous, relaxing and sharp. I can easily burst into laughters here and nobody would think I’m rude when I talk aloud. Walking back home, someone would suddenly call me from their house and I will return them with a big warm smile. Here, you actually feel you are living with people, instead of iron and steel.
I guess I don’t want to go back.