The things I love about the Philippines (Philippines Daily Inquirer)

In 2012, American Jimmy Sieczka released a video that went viral. The 14-minute video featured the things Sieczka hated about the Philippines after living here for 3½ years. Well, I responded with a list to counter it-from someone who has lived here more than 10 times as long as that (40 years) and thought I might revive it now when we’re all wondering what will happen next, and getting a little discouraged by it all. Mind you, Sieczka had some good points, even if offensively delivered, that the government and the Filipino people might want to reflect on and do something about. Anyway here is my list, slightly refined:

The people. Overwhelmingly this is it. Tied to the people is:

The friendliness, the kindness. Wander into a party, even a family function by mistake, they’ll invite you to join. Slip and fall, they’ll rush to pick you up. In my column last year (Stay home, it’s more fun in PH, 7/10/2014), I mentioned that the Filipino is the Philippines’ best tourism asset because Filipinos just make the visit wherever you go a joy.

The laughter. It’s everywhere, everyone is happy. The optimism charts are always way up there. Filipinos are among the happiest in the world. Global surveys validate this claim. And they see the joke, invariably make them. Even lawyers laugh at jokes against them.

The musicality. Filipinos can just sing. Karaoke is not the ear-shattering experience of elsewhere, it’s a delight to listen to. Filipinos dominate global singing contests. They were among the top contenders in the recently concluded Asia’s Got Talent. And the talent (over)flows into the arts, the artistic talent is captivating. The imagination, the beauty of design rivals anything Italy can produce.

The caring, the sharing. Even the poorest will share a meal. While Filipino nurses and caregivers are deployed all over the world, caring for other people, they do back home too.

The loyalty and dedication. Employees, if they believe in you, work and work hard. They stay for 5, 10, 20 years. And don’t work just 8 to 5.

Then there’s the beauty. Not just of the people (I wish I had a nice tanned skin) but of the countryside. But the inability to keep things clean, to look after their environment is a sad distraction. Manila was a magnificent city, once. Today streets flood from the garbage in the drains. But go anywhere in the countryside and the sheer beauty just strikes you.

The excitement. Ride the rapids, surf the monster waves, or climb perilous cliffs, and it’s all there. But it’s the day-to-day living too. No day is a dull one. This leads to:

The unexpected. Things just aren’t boringly predictable (sorry, Singapore). You never know how things will turn out till they do. And generally in a fun way.

Vibrancy. There’s vibrancy behind it all that just stands out. It’s all around you, the air is full of it.

The adventure. Every trip is one. Nothing is easy to get to, you can’t just fly in. A two-hour jeepney ride is a given, it’s an adventure-if you are a tourist. You can swim with whales and dolphins, and dive some of the most beautiful reefs in the world.

Then there’s the reverence for the elderly. They’re not just discarded, they’re acknowledged, respected, looked after. If you want a place to retire, this is it. It’s because of:

Weather that is 20-30°C all year round, sunshine 280 days out of the 365. A T-shirt and shorts are just fine. Maybe a light jacket for those ever so occasional cool nights, and the restaurant air conditioning. And the range of restaurants is amazing, the world’s cuisine is here.

Commendable health services. The doctors have always been of the best, many overseas-trained in post-grad work. The weakness of no modern hospitals is now no more.

The low cost then appeals. Not just for health services, but certainly that’s a factor (a doctor’s visit is anywhere between $5-$20). Whatever you buy it’s at a fraction of the cost in the Western world.

The safety. Yes, safety. What the Muslim renegades are doing in the South is further away than Hong Kong, or as far away as Hong Kong. The communist party’s forays are few. Theft, muggings are no worse than in any country today. Even less I’d venture. Visit the right places, take a little care and the Philippines is as safe as anywhere.

The politics. The sheer absurdity of so much of it is thoroughly enjoyable. It’s fun to watch, to read, to wonder at the intricacies, even the foolishness of it all.

Then there’s one missing: jai-alai. I’ll never forget the excitement and wonder of that ever so rapid game when I first saw it. Some misbegotten souls banned it because of the gambling. Well the problem wasn’t jai-alai, it was gambling. Now gambling is legal, let’s bring Jai-alai back, rebuild the fronton as it once was.

Stretching a piece of string. Whatever you do can always be extended, you can go that extra mile. You can achieve just that little bit more. You can reach what the ladder won’t; the people and systems give you the ability to do so.

But then there has to be some balance. There’s a couple of negatives that really drive me wild. And top of that list is the lack of societal discipline. Traffic is a nightmare because no one obeys the rules. If they did, or were forced to, traffic could flow. Next is maintenance. It just doesn’t figure in people’s concept of living, it just isn’t done. So things fail, break down, and eventually collapse. And no one points out faults so correction can be made. Despite these few things the Philippines remains a great country to live in.