After all these years in the Philippines three things, three seemingly minor and unrelated things have occurred to me as I go about my three-week visit back here in the States. Here's thing number one:
"Outside people..." These days there are almost none in the USA, not like there are in the Philippines. By "outside people" I'm referring to folks who tend to hang around in some fashion outside of their homes and work places so as to socialize with others, as opposed to "inside oriented" Americans, many of whom live their lives comparatively isolated from one another (at least compared to Filipinos) and almost completely indoors or in their cars on their way to their next "inside place."
In the Phils, people are everywhere you look OUTSIDE. Sometimes it seems that the entire population prefers to be out and about. I suppose its not just the Philippines that is that way. I've lived and passed through other countries where the streets teemed similarly with humanity. Its just that I have the immediacy of living there to compare it to the virtually empty streets and sidewalks of my American homeland.
I'm sure that one of the primary reasons so many Filipino folks are on the streets and hanging out has to do with economics. In the States, nearly everyone has a car, or two, but in the Phils and in most other 3rd world nations, almost no one owns a vehicle, but that's not the REAL reason for all the outdoors activity.
The real reason for the open air communal aspect of my adopted country is the Filipino penchant toward socialization. I've never seen anything like it. I first noticed it when I started college classes. I would go into a first day classroom where none of us yet knew each other and my American tendency was to sit away from everyone. On the other hand, all the young local students who also did not know each other would immediately cluster together and were soon chatting away and laughing like old friends. I found it amazing and still do.
Even the relatively newfound Filipino "sport" of texting involves the two prong societal features of hanging out and socializing. I think the most extreme example of this was the day I saw a trike driver tooling down Fields Avenue texting with one hand while carrying on a lively conversation with a passenger and all during a high traffic afternoon time. To make it perfect, his passenger was also texting on her phone at the same time. Only in the Philippines!
Based on this continuous outdoor cellphone action so prevalent in the Phils I even invented a game to pass the time while riding through the stop-and-go streets of Manila. The game takes two people, one on each side of the vehicle. Whenever one player sees a person doing cellphone activity, usually texting, the player calls it out. Whoever has spotted the most active cellphoners at the end of a predesignated stretch is the winner. In the old days my sister and I used to play a similar game while traveling on the American hiways of the 1960s as our parents drove from one duty station to a new one. Only back then, instead of cells we'd count windmills, which unhappily for me are nowhere to be seen against the country skies of the United States anymore. I suppose now you could do the same thing with cellphone towers though. The nice thing about the cellphone or windmill spotting games are they are much less painful than "slug bug," the spotting game where the first one to see a VFW "bug" gets to slug the other player in the shoulder.
My observation about the peopleless streets of America holds true whether its suburban Saginaw, Michigan or along the strip mall sections of Killeen, Texas. Sitting in my daughter's SUV yesterday I discussed it with her but she wasn't buying it. So, I challenged her to find someone on foot at that very moment. She accepted and her eyes darted back and forth searching for even one outdoor person. After a few seconds she pointed out one lone figure who happened to get out of his car on his way INTO a store. Even so, grudgingly she realized I was right, but still she couldn't visualize how the people from the Philipines half of her genetic component truly love to congregate and socialize outside and in the streets. The idea of doing so seems alien to her. In her life there are just too many fun things to do inside.
Living private indoor lives might be a uniquely American phenomena; I'm not sure other places in the world are nearly as indoorsy and as individualistically antisocial as the current USA way of life. Thinking about it makes me wonder how we got this way, how we turned into this "indoor nation." In the summer time some say its too hot and the central aircon just too welcoming. In the winter its the opposite. Aside from the weather excuses to stay indoors, TV, electronic games, PCs, the internet, it all beckons and keeps people inside where all the "action" is.
Discussing all this while driving IN her car with my 26 year old daughter, interestingly, she got very defensive about it for some reason, as if being part of the contemporary "indoor generation" is something to be ashamed of. Almost 40 years ago when I was a kid, when none of today's "fun" indoor stuff existed, we hardly ever went inside. We road our bicycles everywhere, played sandlot baseball and football or threw hoops in the driveway. We loved to camp out in each other's yards. In the evening we played kick-the-can for hours and actually found that simple game hugely thrilling as well as wonderfully physically exhausting.
But I guess none of that old fashioned stuff compares to the excitement of the newest video games and surround sound flat big screen LCD TVs. In fact, sitting in my daughter's livingroom on one of their five reclining chairs here outside Fort Hood, Texas watching her Army Blackhawk pilot hubby play the latest games on his Playstation and Sega I admit that I find it absolutely enthralling and I'm just watching HIM play. No wonder everyone over here can't wait to get back home and into their plushly comfortable high tech homes.
Somehow though, I don't think all the technology in the world would make Filipinos change their love of outside socializing. You could plop all the games, PCs and fun technology into their world and they'd just figure out a way to use it outside together. On the other hand, you could transport 60 million Americans into the Philippines and they'd just find a way to stay inside. Its all about the culture baby! And that's all there is to it...
"Things" two and three are coming soon... as soon as I finish writing it. Til then...