Friday, February 23, 2007

Things to be Grateful about in a Tropical Climate

I used to bitch about how hot and humid the climate in the Philippines is. Being a woman who sweats like a man (Good grief!), I couldn't help but curse the 32-36 degrees Celsius the country puts up with 365 days a year. I have never been enamored with snow, though and have never romanticized winter for I know what a freezer feels like. However, I would prefer having an autumn-like weather in the Philippines, not that I have actually experienced autumn per se, but after experiencing both winter and spring abroad and summer in the Philippines, I just surmised that autumn must be the most pleasant time of the year.
Did I mention experiencing both winter and spring abroad? Oh yes, I did. I've weathered two springs--one in Sweden and one in the US--and one mild winter in Switzerland. This mild winter was actually more spring-like. Well, after finally exposing my body to temperatures below 15 degrees Celsius, I realized how fortunate I am indeed to live in a tropical country and have stopped bitching too much about the Philippine weather. I still dread sweating like a man, but I have a less negative attitude towards this smelly and uncomfortable phenomenon.
In the Philippines, I really don't use lotion that much because I don't see a need for it. My skin is oily and sweaty enough to keep itself well-lubricated and almost wrinkle-free. But lo and behold! My stay in Sweden showed me how a cold and dry climate ages a person about 10 years. Without my lotion, I would have looked like I was in my early forties at the time. Back in the Philippines, I tend to look 5 years younger than my actual age. Imagine the money I save every year by not buying lotion in my homeland because it is not needed on a daily basis.
Most women in the Philippines can rush out of their homes with wet hair and let the hot air blow-dry their damp locks inside a passenger vehicle. Try that during winter, autumn or spring, and I assure you that you will get a headache and some icicles in your hair if it is zero degrees Celsius and below. I know this from experience since I was forced to use a hair dryer abroad to avoid a repeat of lightheadedness. In the Philippines, you won't see me touching a hair dryer because I am too lazy to use one and because the heat gives me a headache. I use the electric fan instead.
The intensity of the sun in the Philippines used to drive me mad literally. I still prefer the cold light of the moon, but after shrinking my cotton clothes in a dryer abroad despite setting it to cold spin, I am more open to the sun's heat which allows me to dry my clothes without shrinking them. Living abroad can be quite expensive since you cannot use the natural heat of the sun to dry your clothes all the time. In the Philippines, we can do without dryers. Isn't it great to do away with some machines?
Do you know how heavy wearing an overcoat, a scarf, gloves, thick woolen sweaters, a vest and thermal underwear all put together feels like? It is like having a kilo of rice spread all around your body. It was so hard for me to move whenever I had to go out during spring and winter abroad. Then, putting on and taking off a bonnet messed up my hair all the time. I also found it extremely tedious putting on layers of clothing before I left the house and taking them off again once I was inside a building. Put on, take off, put on, take off.....that was the drill! Plus, I had to wear socks inside the house all the time to avoid getting chilled. In the Philippines, I don't have to deal with heavy clothing material and layers of clothes. What I wear inside the house can be worn outside the house, even a nightie although that will probably be immodest.
Despite the presence of hot water abroad, I didn't find it enjoyable to take a shower. The reason might be that after a warm bath, I felt cold again. In the Philippines, showers are so pleasurable not only because it cleanses me but also because it is so refreshing and I can take as many showers as I want in a day without drying my skin.
As a matter of fact, winter and spring were a bit depressing to me when I finally got to experience them. No wonder studies show that many commit suicide during winter. Both winter and early spring are devoid of colors. The predominant colors are usually gray and white during winter and more of the gray in early spring. How cold and dreary! Being a Filipino, I have taken for granted the presence of flowers and green leaves all year round. I am indeed grateful now that in the Philippines, I am surrounded by colors almost everywhere and I am exposed to such a variety of colors every day. Gray is practically non-existent except during rainy days.
Of course, some Pinoys might prefer the four seasons of temperate countries, maybe because they find it more exciting to experience four different seasons in a year. That may be so but I prefer to lower my cost of living by having just wet and dry seasons. You know why? Each season requires a different set of clothes. This means, If I choose to live in a temperate country, I need to spend on clothes suitable for each season and have them dry cleaned....and that is quite expensive. We, Pinoys, don't know how lucky we are for not spending too much on dry cleaning and for not buying expensive overcoats, sweaters and thermals every other year.
After several stints abroad, I've finally come to terms with the tremendous heat in the Philippines. I now consider myself very fortunate for being born in a tropical country. Nowadays, I am armed with a big bag filled with alcohol, water, cologne, a towellete, and sometimes powder to address my concern regarding profuse perspiration. Isn't carrying a big bag better than wearing layers of heavy clothes that need dry cleaning? I think so too.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A Language Pinoys Should Be Proud Of

In the Philippines, because of our colonial mentality, Tagalog-based Filipino is usually considered as the language of the masses while English is the language of the educated and the rich. Hence, it is fashionable to use English even if it sometimes alienates the poor. In some middle-class families, children are trained to speak in English and the help are tasked to do the same when talking to the kids so as to maintain the proper English-speaking environment. Kids, of course, hear their parents speak to the help in Tagalog or notice that the help fumble at English so these children get this idea that Tagalog is inferior to English. Though I believe Filipinos should excel in English since learning any language is a big plus, Tagalog should not be perceived as inferior.
It is a big slap to my face when I hear Filipino kids having a hard time speaking in Tagalog or preferring to use English because English has become sort of their first language at home. I feel insulted when this happens because it makes me feel that being a Filipino is shameful. What's the problem with Tagalog? I know some parents want to give their kids a headstart by training them to speak in English at a young age, but what's the problem with kids being able to use both English and Filipino?
I am not against English per se. I believe Filipinos who know and use English well have an edge over those who are not so good at this language. And knowing any second or third or fourth language is beneficial for that matter. It doesn't mean, though, that using Filipino automatically makes someone stupid. Of course, the general misconception is a Filipino who can't speak in English is naturally dumb. This is so far from the truth.
A lot of Filipinos do not know the edge they have over those who do not know anything about their native language. There is a big advantage of knowing a language that is neither an international one nor something deemed worthy of much notice. What could it be? Well, it is being able to talk about delicate issues or people in a place where Tagalog is not used at all.
When I was in Hong Kong, a place where Filipinos are looked down upon, I was able to use Tagalog to vent out my disgust with the natives right then and there without resorting to whispers or a delayed outburst of anger out of earshot. Together with my companions, I lambasted some of the haughty natives in Tagalog. We talked in Tagalog of how rude one HK salesman was right in front of him. We also mocked in Tagalog those who gave us a bad look. I was so glad then that we could talk in a language they didn't understand so we could hit back with relish.
I was able to use Tagalog whenever I was in a pickle abroad. I used it to warn, receive warnings, ridicule, complain and react. In West Sweden, my fellow Filipinos and I were able to laugh at our culture shock when we talked about the lack of "tabo" and the use of very rough toilet paper in the presence of our hosts. In Amsterdam, my companions and I talked about other nationalities in the area without feeling rude. In the US, I was able to advise my mom on how to behave so she wouldn't make a fool of herself among strangers. In Switzerland, I was warned by my sibling about the do's and don'ts in the middle of a crowded bus, on a train, in a restaurant, and almost everywhere. I was also able to make unflattering comments about foreigners near me like their smelly armpits or their bad behavior towards Asians. In other words, I was able to use Tagalog to ease some of my negative experiences since I was able to talk about them right then and there to my companions.
Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds so petty, but coming from a Third World nation (that predominantly exports domestic helpers, caregivers, mail-order brides and entertainers) has made me defensive of my country's image abroad. Being able to criticize back in Tagalog when I am in their turf can be very empowering. The fact that you can put obnoxious foreigners down or complain about them without them knowing it is so liberating. At least, I am not that powerless and the feeling that I can hit back, albeit in Tagalog, diminishes my animosity towards condescending foreigners.
When I was in Dubai Airport, I got exposed to people from all over the world. Each nationality spoke his/her own language but almost everyone understood English. I realized then that English does help me communicate with foreigners but native speakers of the English language have lost the privacy of their conversations. Almost everyone nowadays will be able to understand the content of their conversations. This is another edge Filipinos have over English speakers. We can eavesdrop on them whether they like it or not. This is another form of empowerment.
I am glad I can use both English and Filipino. I am not glad, though, that Tagalog-based Filipino is still perceived as inferior by Filipinos themselves. We Filipinos should ask ourselves why foreigners trample on us. Could it be they intuitively know that we are ashamed of our culture? Language is part of our culture. English is the second language in the Philippines, not the first. Sadly, as long as we put down our national language, we will never regain our dignity as a people. We will always remain second-class citizens in our own country. Let us not wonder why we are always in a rut and can't move forward. Sometimes, I get this feeling that we deserve it!