OK… My last column was a bit of a downer, so, for this entry, I decided to be very positive and list 100 different things I like in the Philippines. Your list may be different: You may not like some of my items, or you may like some different things and feel they need to be added. No matter… That’s why ice cream comes in many different flavors: Everyone’s tastes are different. I’ve probably left off a few things and, quite frankly, I can get a little weird sometimes. So, without further ado, in no particular order (except #1 through 5 at the bottom of the list… They are the best!)
100. Lechon – If a pig has to die for food, it might as well be for this! Fork tender, and, Oh so good, Lechon is the reason God created the pig in the first place.
99. Different colors on the money – US currency spends, but it is so bloody boring to look at. Hey! US mint! Get a little creative, will ya?
98. Jeepneys – I like them. They are truly an egalitarian form of transport. And, they are CHEAP!
97. Having a beach “all to yourself” – Yeah, I’ve been to the Riviera, and Hawaii too. Just what I always wanted… Sharing a beach with 100,000 strangers. The Philippines is for people who like beaches… ALONE!
96. Banana Catsup – Nothing dips better with Lumpia. Also great with fried chicken.
95. No winter – Sitting here in cold, windy, Shanghai right now, I start to appreciate this. The Philippines is the best place in the world to be a weather man. Nearly always the same: Warm, humid, and scattered showers.
94. Kan Kong – Healthy and free, if you know where to pick it. I like the stuff.
93. Flowers – Being in the tropics, nearly every plant has flowers of some kind. Damn near everything grows here.
92. Cheap beer – If you need an explanation, the SHAME ON YOU!!! At only PHP 19 per bottle, how can you go wrong?
91. Cheap smokes – See number 92 above. Usually around PHP 30 or so. When God made this noxious weed, he made an 11th commandment: Thou shalt have cheap Marlboros and render unto ye the unlimited smoking section.
90. Cool markets – You learn a lot about a place from the local market. In the Philippines, markets challenge the best bargainers in the world!
89. Singing “Turning Japanese” (The Vapors) or “Elvis is Everywhere” (Mojo Nixon) on Karaoke – Just look at the stunned faces of your Filipino friends.
88. Manila Bay – Yeah, it’s polluted. Yeah, I think it would be hard to drown there. One of the best sunsets in the Pacific Rim when viewed from the Mall of Asia promenade.
87. WWII Heroes – Filipinos were feared by the Japanese as fierce fighters. A proud part of Filipino history!
86. Corregidor – See #87 above. A place of honor and sacrifice, both American and Filipino.
85. Sari Sari stores – Yeah, I often hear negative comments. But I must ask: Does anyone here not appreciate the fact that you can get life’s basic necessities at any time with only a 10 to 30 meter walk?
84. Mariel Rodriguez – Ooohh la la!
83. Wowowee! – See above. Ooohh la la!!! Boy, Willie is a player. I like when the old Lolas win. Be really good if Willie knew how to sing. I also like how R.R. jiggles while dancing. (Hey!!! I can look!)
82. Christmas decorations – Absolutely beautiful and unique to the RP.
81. Fiesta time – Any excuse for a party.
80. Intramuros – Heritage that is irreplaceable.
79. Old churches – The history of the Philippines is intertwined with the church. Even if you are not Catholic, you simply can’t help but admire the beauty, architecture, and history of these structures.
78. The Manila Times – The oldest English newspaper, and, I feel, the best.
77. Pan de Manila – Anyone who hasn’t tried their hot pandesal with garlic cream cheese is really missing out! Baked on a pugon, and served steaming, I always eat one too many!
76. The Taho guy – Every morning, at 10:00 AM sharp, he walks through the compound hollering. If he misses a day, I wonder what’s wrong.
75. Filipino Buses – If you ride on the better buses to the provinces, these are as nice as a bus can get. Video, CR, Aircon, and, on some, even flat sleeper seats. And a bargain at under PHP 1,000 for even long journeys.
74. Fresh fruit – I am not a fruit eater. However, the pineapples and Mangoes in the Philippines can convert even a dedicated Chocoholic!
73. No ties needed – I hate ‘em. There is a special place in Hell for their inventor. Even in business, I seldom wear a tie. Business casual is the DRESSIEST you may ever need (and that is just for important meetings, like lawyers, and government offices.)
72. Cleanliness – You have never set foot inside a clean house until you have entered a Filipino home. Germs don’t stand a chance.
71. Fresh seafood – Surrounded by water, if you like seafood, then the Philippines is a paradise. You can eat nearly everything that swims here, and most Filipinos do so!
70. Cultural variety – With over 80 different languages and 7,000 different islands in the archipelago, life is a varied mix, and never boring.
69. Cock Fights – I know many people dislike them intensely. In the West, there are many examples of animal cruelty that can often be worse. I view them as part of the heritage here. Seeing a man holding his prize rooster, caring for it, and showing it off… THAT is true pride! All my relatives eagerly anticipate the fight days… They are truly social occasions.
68. Halo-Halo – When Chow King opened in Abu Dhabi, Becky and I shared a Halo-Halo on one of our first dates. You can’t eat one alone. It’s not the same. They were made for sharing.
67. Buko Shakes – Somehow, when it is hot outside, nothing will hit the spot like an icy cold buko milkshake.
66. Fishing – Some of the world’s best fishing is here. Nothing beats the simple pleasure of catching your own.
65. Waterfalls – I am intrigued by them. Beautiful and a bit mysterious, there are hundreds of them in the country, just waiting to be explored. A waterfall shower is a “must do” life experience, at least once.
64. Caves – Underground beauty. Nature at its finest. Thousands of them throughout the country.
63. Rainbows – With all the moisture in the air, full rainbows are common. One special rainbow I saw on our wedding day. Becky prayed at the cemetery before our wedding, and a full rainbow appeared. She took it as her ancestors’ blessing, and who am I to dispute that?
62. Peanut butter – See Pan de Manila above. They make the absolute best peanut butter I have ever had.
61. Carabaos – Yeah, they smell bad. But, I think they are really neat animals. Gentle giants.
60. Different birds – Birds migrate to the Philippines from all over Asia. Warm weather and lots of water and food attract them. Many are unique to this country.
59. Myths and superstitions – The folklore of the Philippines is rich with stories and tales of old. Some may sound silly, but they are a vital part of the country’s heritage and make fascinating conversations with the older people in the family. There is still a very much alive oral tradition here.
58. Noli me Tangere - This is a “must read” for any foreigners living here. Written by Jose Rizal, a true hero. Explains much about the Filipino people.
57. Listening to the rain – I like storms. We have a corrugated steel roof on our house, and the sound of rain on the roof is comforting, in a strange sort of way.
56. CDO bacon – The CDO Ham Shop in Quiapo makes the best bacon in the world. Meaty, salty, smoky, and sweet, sliced paper thin, it fries up beautifully. This is the heroin of pork, folks.
55. The little altar (shrine) in our house – This gives Becky a lot of comfort. Light a candle and say a few prayers. Part of her heritage.
54. Filipino brooms – When you look in our utility closet, there’s a thing in there that looks like something Brunhilde would use to fly into the full moonlight with. Very practical, and cheap, besides.
53. Coconut shell floor scrubbers – Two empty coconut husks, strapped to Rebecca’s feet. She “dances” and they really do scrub the floors! I watched a 90 year-old lola in Pamplona use them… Now THAT’S entertainment! (And she was pretty good, too!)
52. Rice planting songs – The family was singing short little songs while planting rice in the paddies… Sort of like a cadence while soldiers march. Unique to the Philippines.
51. Calamansi – Calamansi “lemonade” is phenomenally good. For a real treat, blend with a little Tanduay Rhum and ice for a Filipino “Electric Lemonade”.
50. Tanduay Rhum – Pretty good rum (I’m a bit of a rum fan) and a real bargain (Less than PHP 100 for a bottle).
49. Filipino folk music – Not as common as OPM or the Pinoy crooners and Divas, but unique to the Philippines. Every province has their own songs and dances. They are a mixture of native and Spanish influences, with many lyrics about love or old folk tales. Filipino guitar can be stunningly beautiful.
48. Nipa Huts – I like them. I’d like to build one in Manila, perhaps on our roof.
47. Hammocks – Native made, and very strong, a comfortable nap in the province, with gentle ocean breezes.
46. The color of the sea – The waters around many Philippine Islands are nearly pristine. Colors range from light turquoise, like a swimming pool, to the deepest indigo imaginable, over the Mindanao Trench.
45. Our barbecue grill – Made from native Cagayan Valley clay, this thing can really cook! Squat, and a bit funny looking, but designed to make perfect barbecue pork.
44. Mangroves – Found along the shore of every island, the fish and wildlife supported by native mangroves is astounding. These are disappearing due to development in many parts of the country.
43. The Philippine Tarsier – I like monkeys. I’d love to train a monkey to get me a beer. These are more like tiny lemurs. They are the smallest primate in the world, and they belong in the forest.
42. Many kinds of Rice – Some people don’t like it, but I like rice. If you move to the Philippines, you had better get used to eating it. Rice certainly deserves respect. In the Philippines, rice equals life itself.
41. The 5 centavo coins – Yeah, they are pretty much worthless. But I think they look neat. I like the hole in the middle.
40. Native clothing – Filipinos can weave cloth and make lace in an amazing variety of styles.
39. Champorada – A form of rice pudding made from red rice and native chocolate. Sinfully rich, healthy, and a wonderful breakfast.
38. Going to the movies – Cheap entertainment, free aircon to boot. Becky trying to translate Tagalog movies for me is an experience. Most of the comedies featuring Ai Ai, Dolphy, Chocolate, or Pokwong I can follow without too much trouble.
37. Talking with the Tricy drivers outside our compound – These guys hang out all day, swapping stories (Bullsh*t in American vernacular). Always ready to talk and say hello, probably not more than 3 pesos between them all, they are nice guys and a daily 5 minute conversation with them has become part of my routine.
36. Giving chocolates to the neighborhood kids – I’ve become known as the compound’s “place to go for candy”. They have learned that if they hang around, I usually will give them a few small sweets.
37. Getting things fixed – A bargain in the Philippines. There is an old man who comes through our compound daily who will fix everything from a toaster to sharpening knives. A few pesos and it is as good as new. I’ve fixed things here that I would have thrown away in the States.
36. The value of money – We send money to the province. You can really see the effect that relatively small amounts of money have on people’s lives.
35. Greenhills – The snooty part of Manila. Nice for a stroll, shopping, or eating.
34. The Aguinaldo House – In Cavite. Unique colonial architecture and an irreplaceable piece of history.
33. Seashells – As varied and numerous as the sea creatures they came from.
32. Flying over the islands – Natural beauty in the Philippines is spectacular, and often, the only way to see it is from the air.
31. Native Coffee – Very good, and a “must try” item.
30. Lumpia Shanghai – One of Rebecca’s specialties. She has the Chinese beat by a mile on this one!
29. Local furniture – Craftsmen still exist in the Philippines. Furniture made by hand, with considerable skill, from native hardwood is common and beautiful. It will outlast anything made in the States (Except, perhaps, Amish or Shaker furniture made in much the same manner).
28. Natural food – No preservatives and nearly everything you buy from a local market is “organic”, even if not necessarily certified as such.
27. Mah Jong – The typical provincial recreation. I like to watch, but refrain from betting (Won’t go there)
26. Green – The jungle has many shades of green. Ireland may be the “Emerald Isle”, but I think the Philippines is greener.
25. Holy Week – Yes, it can be boring to outsiders, but there are few places on Earth, except perhaps Mecca, where the faithful express such devotion.
24. Christmas – Filipinos LOVE Christmas. Your mood cannot be bad during this season. Much less commercial than in the States, and the Family is central to the celebration.
23. Telling a Manang I’ll find her a Kano boyfriend – Usually results in a blush, a giggle, and an “I’m too old!”
22. Cheap DVDs – Even the legal ones are cheap, by US standards. I’ve never had a video library as extensive as I do here.
21. Baguio Pineapple Jam – Try it on pancakes.
20. Piat – A place of pilgrimage and a beautiful setting.
19. Santo Nino – Holy to most Filipinos, and a highly historic church.
18. Bancas – Colorful, and usually made by hand. The only way to reach many places. Cheap, but don’t go looking for safety gear. Another completely unique experience in the Philippines.
17. No prescription needed – Feeling sick? Just head to the pharmacy.
16. Calesas – Traditional, horse-drawn carriages. You need to ride at least once.
15. Vigan – The oldest, best preserved Spanish city in the Philippines. An historic treasure.
14. Swimming – With water everywhere, a swim is always possible. I never travel in the country without bringing a swimsuit.
13. SM, Robinsons, GOTESCO – You can do everything at these stores, from paying utility bills to buying a house full of furniture. True “one-stop shopping”.
12. Delivery – Usually cheap, free, or minimal hassle. Anything, from refrigerators to food can be delivered. Even McDonalds delivers.
11. Puto – Steamed little cakes that are surprisingly addictive.
10. Legua de Gato – Little butter cookies that disappear very quickly (At least when I’m around!)
9. Nature – The Philippines is truly beautiful. Words cannot describe it, especially in rural areas. People live in harmony with nature, despite all the modern problems.
8. Riding a tractor – Transport, hauling, plowing… These vehicles do it all.
7. Growing your own food – There is a satisfaction you gain from growing things yourself. Self sufficiency is alive and well in the RP.
6. Respect – There is a civility among people here that has disappeared in the West. Mistrust, caution, and nastiness are rare, and certainly not expressed very often. People’s attitudes when I return to the States give me a shock. I am no longer used to it.
Now, the top 5 (in order)
5. Faith – Belief in God has caused problems throughout history. In the Philippines, faith UNITES people and gives them civility, charity, kindness, hope, and comfort. The strong faith here is refreshing, and I respect it.
4. The simple life – Life in the provinces is hard, but there is a satisfaction of escaping the modern world. Death from stress-related heart attacks is rare there.
3. Filipino kids – The nicest, most well-behaved, respectful kids in the world.
2. Family – The ties are strong here, and I was welcomed into the family. This is something else that is quickly disappearing in the West.
1. Filipina – Women in the Philippines are the sweetest, most beautiful, and hard-working women in the world. They are THE national treasure of this country, and should be treated with respect and reverence.