I was in Shangri-la with a friend and his lesbian friend last night doing a petty-bourgeois activity of drinking coffee in Starbucks when our conversations over a tumbler of brewed coffee touched the management of Philippine tourism. All three of us being relatively well-traveled wondered why a middle-class Filipino is seen backpacking in Southeast Asia but not a middle-class Thai, Khmer, or Indonesian choosing the Philippines for leisure travels.
There’s nothing distinctly Filipino, my friend pointed out. So according to him, the Philippines can follow the Thai way, where old traditions are relived to benefit the tourists who seek exotic Asian culture. He, by the way, has lived in Thailand for two years as part of his Master’s studies.
His friend, on the other hand, said that we simply cannot market for tourism what is uniquely Filipino because we ourselves are not proud of these traditions. She added that we’re content with the ‘inggit (envy) factor’ whenever other Southeast Asian talk about what they have, even salivating while listening to their stories but when we’re asked what the Philippines has to offer, we recoil back to our seats opting not to talk about our culture. For how can somebody advertise something he is ashamed of, she asked rhetorically.
I suppose nothing is pure in this age of globalization. And western or moneyed tourists, trying to recapture that cultural purity long gone, will dearly pay for that artificially recreated exoticism of these developing Asian countries. The Philippines being at the far end of extreme hybridity, has lost any semblance of cultural uniqueness and has succumbed early on to a heterogeneity that transcends definition, a result of three centuries of Spanish rule, American colonization, Japanese domination and a strong Chinese influence. This ‘cultural dead end’ proved difficult to sell to foreign tourists seeking ‘absurd’ cultures that they can marvel in, laugh at, or feel pity on because people of these exotic cultures are still wallowing in the backwardness of their traditions while these tourists are living conveniently in the comfort of their modern civilization. The week-long Asian travel is a welcome hiatus from the monotony of efficient public transport, coffeemaker, microwave, and internet back home.
I smirk at the idea of tourism if it does not lead to understanding. If it functions to create a model where one culture is used as a foil to emphasize the supposed superiority of another culture, then the idea of tourism is a plain, brown excreta.
Most Filipinos fail to see the wonder in Philippine culture because of our failure to see it from within. We look outside and finding that it has nothing like we see in our neighboring Asian countries, we wail and declare we have nothing close to something distinctly Filipino. But Filipino culture has always been welcoming and embracing. The very idea of a Filipino culture is grounded on its eclectic nature, its non-pure quality, its being an amalgam of east and west.
But it is far from being broken.
The vibrancy and richness of one culture is not measured by its marketability and saleability in the highly competitive global tourism industry. I decline to subject my culture to such non-sense.