By Jamie, Yung Yu Jing
It has been almost 2 weeks of my homestay experience in the Tubud Mar barangay (Visaya for neighbourhood) at Carlosa’s house with my roommate Fion. I had little expectations of what I would be facing in Bohol other than simply imagining that the place would be very hot and rather primitive. Since I did not set my hopes up for much in terms of the materialistic aspect, I was quite accepting towards the relatively poor living conditions upon arrival, and gradually got used to the basic standard of living here in the Philippines. I adapted to the lack of constant water supply and electricity (and thus no hot shower – everything is manually done from bathing, cooking to toilet flushing with a bucket, and there is no Wi-Fi unless we stay in cafés to work at our laptops, and even then, the Wi-Fi is unstable and considered very expensive).
[Eating and using the occasionally stable Wi-Fi in Garden Café and Cliff Haven Resort]
My host mum, Carlosa, is a very kind, motherly woman in her 60s, and who I can mostly come into contact with since her husband is always out fishing or farming, and their kids are out of town. Carlosa always makes Fion and I delicious meals and tries her best to make our stay here as comfortable as possible despite their limited resources. One time, she shared about her previous host daughters from last year, especially a girl called Josie, and Josie’s gift of photographs with words of gratitude and love for Carlosa, and how much she treasures them and misses Josie. I immediately took some photos with Carlosa, then went to the market and asked for photo-printing service plus wrote her a message, so I could give her the same gift later, one that she would treasure as a “rememberance” in her words, and carefully includes in the family album…
Of course, I still occasionally miss my home in Hong Kong and the big city life, but I also feel that 3 weeks is a relatively short period to experience the Filipino life. Throughout my stay, whenever I encounter something relatively negative (such as the poor hygiene conditions as compared to HK) which were unexpected, I would try to fight against the “spoilt first-world kid” part of my well-off upbringing. Just as Professor Beau smilingly encouraged (on our orientation day back in KKLG at HKU before this trip): “Tough it out!” and “imagine” what life would be like “if we can’t get out”, as in being a local Filipino and probably staying in a tiny Bohol village in their entire lifetime, rarely having the chance, money or resources to visit, not to mention relocate, to more developed regions or see the world, like I have the privilege to.
The only aspect that took me longer to adapt to is the bugs: I must learn to become indifferent to the many Filipino bugs as the locals all are, and to co-exist with them peacefully. In the first few days, I sometimes wished that I could forever stay inside the safety and comfort zone of my bed’s mosquito net, especially since my bedroom has no light and I was stuck in a constant state of darkness and the slow gnawing fear of waking up the next day to discover myself being covered in insect bites. As time grew on, I slowly cultivated a mind-set of selectivity, of choosing not to let something scare me despite my initial anxieties, to brush my phobia off nonchalantly, to simply not to bother. That was how I overcame my phobia of insects and crawling creatures such as the Geckos on the walls or ceilings while I am bathing and eating, the Praying Mantis leering at my windowpane, the alarming swarm of Flying Ants angrily circling the only lightbulb in the living room before a thunderstorm… Meanwhile, I tried to stay vigilant at all times, to take good care of myself by always applying bug repellent and sunscreen, although such habits used to be foreign to me at first as a relatively privileged city girl coming from Hong Kong.
The PEOPLE, PLACES & PRICES
After I got over the initial superficial discomforts and inconveniences, I could gradually begin to deeply appreciate my chance to be able to stay in Bohol for 3 weeks this summer. Throughout my 2 weeks stay thus far, I already experienced a variety of first-times at the lovely places here and created several rich and special memories with the people I encountered and bonded with. The following are a few highlights:
[Me at the Tubud Mar Beach with local friends and other students]
[Me overlooking the priceless view outside Elmar’s bar as we celebrated our friend Blessing’s birthday]
Overall speaking, as a Hong Kong girl used to the expensive cost of living back in HK, I can enjoy the relatively cheap prices here in the Philipines. While a plate of plain rice would have cost a minimum of HKD 10 – 20, (around 60 – 120 Pesos), the “Puto Maya” (rice mixed with coconut milk and added sugar) costs a mere 10 Pesos. Despite the obvious wealth disparity and income gap between HK and the Philippines, I could see how people have little money here but also how they try to make the most out of what they have, to live a simple yet happiest life as they possibly can. Indeed, the Filipinos focus less on the materialistic aspect of life and more on the nature, which is definitely also breath-taking and scenes that would stay with me long after I have left the Philippines… from the exceptionally clear oceans, rocky beaches and waterfalls in the mountains, the romantically-colored skies at dusk and the spectacular full moon-lit night sky with shining stars… I have gone swimming, hiking, fishing, rode on boat trips with the local guys and even tried a greatly adrenaline-rushing Waterfall Swing twice at Ingkumhan Falls.
[My once-in-a-lifetime Waterfall Swing Experience at Ingkumhan Falls]
Moreover, I am initially surprised how people really take the time and initiative to actually look at and smile at me on the roads, despite whether they know me or not in the barangay, and how I could walk by calling a friendly “Hello!” that they would always return, sometimes they even remember my name, and also ask about my day and where I am going, and invite me to try out their new homemade food (fried sweet bananas or other dumplings wrapped in palm leaves). This type of culture is a stark contrast to the HK city life where people are habitually indifferent to each other’s presence, preferring to get addicted to their electronic gadgets and the virtual world, social networks etc., instead of exchanging meaningful conversations in person (the latest iPhone 8 is newly released at the moment, and I can easily imagine it would be all the craze in HK…
Here in the Philipines, I am amazed by the surprisingly very friendly, talkative and hospitable people and the very close-knit communities and clear family trees of the barangay with its actively helpful people. My neighbours would very kindly let me hitch a ride on their motorbike at times, once even when I am almost late for a meeting with our professor Beau – to which I am super grateful for, and even a random man on a motorbike offered a me ride home when he noticed that a tricycle driver turned me down since he was not driving back to Tubud Mar. Locals with amiable grins would approach me while I am waiting for my drink at a stall in the Jagna market, or for the tricycle to start, and ask me about my stay, whether I like it here, and constantly, if I were a Korean? (The locals are addicted to the Korean drama, and they would sweetly compliment me as a cute Korean-like beauty (or “Hemos Guapa!” in Visaya), leaving me with a warm feeling of newly found acquaintances and the glow of humanity.
[In particular, my heart melts at the eager Filipino kids all shouting excitedly and running to greet me when they saw me coming back home at some days.]