I grew up in The Philippines, on the northern end of the island of Luzon. I lived there for 8 years, and have visited once after that. And even though I was a kid at the time, there are still several things I miss 25 years after moving back to the US.
New Year’s Eve in The Philippines
It is absolute festive, joyful chaos. So, like Americans, Filipinos love fireworks. But, unlike Americans, everybody does fireworks. There’s not like a single, professional, structured fireworks show like the US does on July 4th. No. Everybody spends money on fireworks that make noise, make colors, and make smoke. And then everybody shoots them off everywhere, all the time, all at once.
It’s insane. And it’s truly a unique experience.
But it’s not just the fireworks. It’s the whole New Years’ Eve experience. Everyone in your neighborhood is out. Giant families are together. There is a ton of amazing food. There’s music and games. It’s like if you combined the feeling of Halloween trick or treat with Thanksgiving lunch and July 4th evening all at once. It’s great.*
*and yes, there are serious problems with injuries, pollution, etc…but I’ve heard that is getting mitigated without ruining the sheer joy of it.
Filipino Food Everywhere All The Time
Filipino food is having a global moment right now. There’s even a trendy restaurant in my neighborhood where you can get some amazing Filipino fried chicken and rice and some lechon.
But it’s different when it’s everywhere and cheap. It’s really good stuff.
Cheap & Easy Transportation Everywhere
This has changed a bit since I was there. But everywhere in The Philippines has tricycles for hire for short distances; Jeepneys (going away) and mini-buses for moderate distances; inter-city buses for longer distances; and a very robust & safe* aviation industry for longer distances / island hopping.
When I visited in 2005 as a 19 year old, I had a much easier time traveling from one end of The Philippines to the other than I did traveling around my own state in the US. In the US, you have to have a car to go anywhere other than major cities. And you have to be (usually) 21 to 25 to rent a car as a tourist. In The Philippines, I was able to travel to the smallest towns in the most random provinces with no issues or worries (and before smartphones!).
There is no country* more actively welcoming & hospitable to outsiders than The Philippines. In the US, my state is (justifiably) proud of “southern hospitality.” Yeah, that doesn’t hold a candle to Filipino hospitality. And the attitude has this wonderful knock-on effect where there is generally more trust and more passive good feelings among strangers.
*and yes, it’s a country of 100+ million people. There are always some not great folks, especially in the big cities. But, however you’d want to measure it, I’d bet on The Philippines.
The Philippines is one of those random global exceptions to soccer’s global dominance. They love basketball. I love basketball too. But more than anything, I love for sports & recreation to be everywhere. And basketball, more than any sport (even more than soccer), can be played anywhere, anytime, with minimal equipment. I mean, I’ve technically played a game with my friends in my bedroom.
There are little hoops lining every street. Everywhere that there’s a concrete pad, there’s a court. So there’s this constant, casual recreation that I really miss, especially in the US where sports are either formalized in a league or are a passive consumption business watched on TV or in the seats.
Mountains & Beaches & Jungles
As a fairly old island chain, The Philippines has beautiful landscapes and unique geography. It is home to the world’s largest eagle and some the world’s oldest forests. The country is famous for some of the best beaches in the world. And some of the highest rainforest mountains. Northwestern Luzon and the Batanes are windswept landscapes that are like tropical versions of Ireland. It’s just a beautiful place.
Culture of Resilience
Ok, this one is a bit sad (and I’m not celebrating it) because resilience only comes through adversity and overcoming challenges. And my goodness, The Philippines has had some challenges.
The Philippines has a higher natural disaster risk than any country on Earth. For an American analogy, imagine if Florida had all of Hawaii’s volcanoes and all of California’s earthquakes and all of Arizona’s mudslides & wildfires.
But it’s created this DIY, no nonsense culture of creative resilience. Now, obviously that culture is no replacement for organized, well-funded emergency management. But, in terms of living daily life, I think that mindset (“it’ll be ok because we’ll figure it out”) is a positive thing to be around.
In the US, we have some great neighborhood festivals. But they are more of like a chill, relaxing, event-management kind of deal…tbh, NPR-white-people-events.
Fiestas are a straight-up neighborhood party. I don’t really remember why or when they happened. But it seems like there was always a random Fiesta in some part of the city. There was a crazy parade, food, banners, mini-events, basketball tournaments, etc. It was chaotic, crazy, and awesome.
I’m pretty sure no US city would allow it due to “Concerns and Complaints” or whatever. But I miss it nonetheless.
Kids & Family Orientation
Ok, this one requires a tangent.
Bill Bryson in Life and Times of a Thunderbolt Kid talked about how it is genuinely hard to imagine the sheer number of kids as a percentage of the population in 1950s America…and how that changed just the feel of daily life. Because here’s honest truth. There are 3 stages of having kids around as adults.
First, there are no kids around. This stage is great as an adult. Everything is put together. Adults can be our full-on boring selves. There are no interruptions. We can earnestly discuss housing prices and traffic and virtue signal and status posture to our heart’s content. We’ve all experience this.
Second, there are some kids around but it’s mostly adults. This is the parenting hell that is America right now. It’s the dread that everyone (mostly the parents though) feels when boarding a plane. It’s the expectations of having the first part…but with interruptions. It’s where one parent has to basically peace out of the adult party to make sure the kids don’t interrupt The Adults. It’s fine, but it’s not ideal for the kids, the parents, or the non-parent adults. It’s weird.
Third, there are mostly kids and a few adults. This is a level that basically no one in the developed world has experienced since like the 1950s. This is where kids rule the world and adults are just sort of in it. It’s just a different world and it’s awesome like the first stage…but in a different way.
Ok, end of tangent. The Philippines is still in that third zone. It’s crazy and awesome and different. And as a current parent, I kind of wish it was that third zone in the US.
Culture & History
The Philippines has had a very complex history. They go back a very long time. There are still indigenous peoples living in The Philippines from, like, 2000 years ago (they were the ancestors of the Micronesians). There have been multiple colonial rulers, dictators, raucous democracy, beautiful literature and architecture. It’s one of those cultures where the more you learn…the more you realize you need to learn.