Why natives hate tourists (Koreans in the Philippines)

You are in a middle of a boring day in your boring place doing a boring task. Say you are walking your way to Gargarita store to buy your weekly supply of pancit canton, sanitary napkin, powdered iced tea, and some tasteless biscuits when a sight of Koreans wearing colorful t-shirt and taking pictures of the Miagao Church catches your attention. At first you do not think of it as something extraordinary. Koreans are ubiquitous in any big city in the Philippines; they are either studying English, Christian missionaries, or immigrants who think they will have a better life in the country, or everything that were that were mentioned.

Koreans in the Philippines

At first, during the time when they were not as numerous as they are now, you would think they are cute. Anomalies that are not really nuisance, just different. For you they are a welcome sight. They are oases of white/fair skins in a sea of brown, too familiar Malay faces. But things start to change when you see one, two, or several of them every time you ride a jeepney going to school asking you to pass their fare in their funny accent when they say “sa lugar”, when you overhear their all-too-familiar laughter and shouts in your favorite disco house, or when you see in the news that a group of Koreans are reported to have run amok in a bar.

Things start to change when these supposedly tourists become so numerous that you think they are encroaching the space you believe is your space and the space of the other members of your community. Things change when one of your friends who is a tutor to Koreans has been gotten pregnant by one of her students you were barely able to distinguish when he was introduced to you together with his other Korean friends. For you, they all look the same: Fair-skinned, tall, clad in colorful clothing who always have with them their cool and latest gadgets.

You see them as tourist. You do not think of them as a student like you who have to go through difficulties such as delayed allowance, shabby clothing that have remained in your closet (that is if you have one) since you started college, or has no time to party not because you have literally no time but because the price of a bottle of beer is equal to two meals in a day in the university cafeteria. You see them as tourist who find fascinating and exciting the things you think are ordinary and boring. You think it is scandalous to pay for the airfare from Seoul to Iloilo just to see the facade of Miagao Church or Jaro Cathedral. You see English as a given and not something to be invested in with so much of one’s wealth.

You start to hate them when you see that the things, places, and objects you take for granted are interesting, important, and cool to them. You hate them because they have the freedom to leave their country and seek adventure in your poor country whereas you will never be given a chance to escape from the boredom of your place. You hate them because they too-easily own things that you think are dear and will need a month’s saving just for you to acquire.

Then you begin to see them as nuisance, even a threat to your self-esteem and your self-worth. You start to ask why it is so easy for them and so difficult for you. And you know that the answer boils down to the simple reason that you are poor enough to have the thing they have and to experience your boring place with so much interest.

Note:
Total population of Koreans in the Philippines: 92,608 (as of 2007)

Regions with significant populations: Metro Manila, Cebu City, Davao City, Bacolod, Iloilo City

Largely consisting of expatriates from South Korea, they form the largest community of overseas Koreans in Southeast Asia. Aside from long-term residents, at least 370,000 South Korean visitors came to the Philippines in 2004 for business, education, and/or leisure purposes. That number grew to 570,000 in 2006, meaning that South Korean tourists formed a larger group than American tourists for the first time. The recent influx of Koreans has been so great that 65% of the 155,744 foreigners who visited Boracay, the Philippines’s most popular tourist attraction, were South Koreans. Many South Koreans living in the Philippines are attracted to the low cost of English-language education and housing, both significantly cheaper than those offered in their native South Korea. The warmer climate is yet another motivating factor for the recent surge in migration.

Korean expatriates provide a significant stimulus to the local economy; they are estimated to spend between US$800 and $1000 per month, making an aggregate contribution of over $1 billion per year in consumer spending. South Korean tourists often enroll in short-term courses in English language schools to cope with South Korea’s growing demand for English proficiency. Their numbers include a large proportion of young people; according to Son Jung-Son of the Philippine-Korean Cultural Center in Seoul, over 1,500 Koreans under 20 years old arrive in the Philippines every month to study English.

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Self-help

I am not really into self help books, but I do not feel any prejudice against people who are fond of reading authors who belong under such genre. They may have reasons of their own why they prefer to read solutions to their problems be it sadness, love lost, regaining their spirituality, or remaining financially fluid in books that boldly announces the 4 million plus in paperback copies sold written by writers who are being paid hefty amount in dollars just to make you feel good about yourself.

The pictures below may appear self help-ish to some, and maybe they are. These are statements made by famous people or in any case an assertion made by a frustrated poet about accepting defeat, how to face life, acting on life, taking things easy, etc. . Let’s try to give meaning to them one by one and maybe–just maybe we would be able to glean something.

Spectator

Michael Jordan

Man of the hour

Running girl

Tattoo

Ari na ang manug-tattoo yan. Mhulat lng kmi sa imo dri. (The tattoo artist has just arrived, Yan. We’ll just wait for you here.)

It was a text message sent to me by my younger brother right after I finished with my class in Journalism that sent me hurrying to go back to the city. It was Friday, and I had to catch the last trip from Miagao to Iloilo City which usually takes an hour of jeepney ride. When I arrived in the apartment that my two brothers are renting near their university in Iloilo City, the tattoo artist and my younger brother were already finished preparing the things needed for the operation. Although I tried not to show any fear, my nervous smiles betrayed me.

Hadlok ka aw? (Are you scared?) He asked, which I replied with an assuring, Ako pa. (Don’t worry).

An image of my tattoo.

Despite second thoughts, I decided to go on with the procedure. The first few pricks of the needle were not as painful as I thought they would be. I chose an area that according to my research hurts the least–my right shoulder. When I saw how the artist traced with his improvised gadget the sketch he drew on my shoulder and droplets of blood oozing from the small wounds left by the needle, my vision started to dim and my breathing burdened.

Okay ka lang yan? (Are you okay, Yan?), my brother asked, which I replied with a nod. I could not open my eyes. I just wanted avoid the thought of pain and shut from my mind that I have an option to back out and leave my tattoo half-finished.

A tattoo means a lot in defying the status quo especially in the Philippines where the prevailing belief is that only convicts (and ex-convicts) have it. If you want to have a place in the squeaky clean corporate world of coat and tie, having a tattoo would be too strong a statement or even worse could jeopardize you rise in the corporate ladder. If you want to have a place in the academe, having one will not really be a good impression on the panel of professors who will interview you in your first class demonstration. If you want to be a nurse in the US or anywhere else and you have an eagle perching on the canopy of the forest on your back, better forget about that dream.

I’ve always wanted to have a tattoo. Having a foreign pigment embedded between your epidermis and the more delicate inner skin that is permanent and will be something that is quintessential in defining your person is more than just exciting; it is even spiritual in the sense you get to decorate the temple of your soul.

But more than that, this tattoo for me symbolizes my desire to know and understand my younger brother. He was the family’s black sheep (excuse the cliché). He was always reprimanded by my parents for going with the wrong group, not doing well in school, making a lot of girls cry, and things one would think a black sheep would always do. However, these were all capped when at the age of 14 he got his first tattoo. It was a voodoo mask in green and red pigment superimposed on a black Cross of King Arthur. My father’s reaction, as most Filipino fathers would do was to beat him. My mother cried and asked him what else did they lack as parents. It was not a big deal for me except that the choice of the design disturbed me. I felt it was hastily done by an amateur. For me it was just another naughty thing that my brother did, nothing different from the mischiefs he did before.

When we left our hometown for college and the sooner we left the security our home and our parents provided I started to feel responsible for him and to understand the reasons of his actions. Although it was not openly shown, he felt that he was always being compared against his other siblings, especially with me. I started to realize that he was seeking his own identity and at the same time looking for a brother who will recognize and support his uniqueness. I tried to listen to his stories, go to places where he usually hangs out with his friends, and sometimes even have few drinking sessions with him. I started to see the other side of my brother I used to ignore. He has flair for the arts which I never knew before. He can draw editorial cartoons with very strong political statements which he could not otherwise express with words. We became good friends aside from being good brothers. So just before the start of the summer vacation, I told him that I also wanted to have a tattoo.

My mother’s reaction was unusual; she was calm about it only that she never expected that her son who teaches in UP will have himself tattooed with a tribal design she said she “will never fully comprehend”. Some of my friends were worried that I might be barred from entering other countries in case I study for my master’s degree.

I just wanted to point out to people who doubt my brother that having a tattoo will never make you anyone less of a person. The markings left by that not-so-painful procedure, which by the way was not done in an aseptic environment with all the sterile needles, surgical gloves, imported pigment, and top of the line electric tattoo machine, is permanent. But more lasting than the tattoo is the bond we created as brothers and my appreciation of his individuality.

Can I have a nice cup of tea, please?

Alphabet

One’s ability to speak and write using the English language can determine one’s position in the social ladder especially for countries like Vietnam where majority of the people do not speak the language but understand the importance of English for their ascent from a position of a lowly office clerk to the level of an international CEO. Most ambitious college students would spend time with you if they know you speak English well and that being with you will improve their vocabulary as well as their accent. A Vietnamese mother, who became a friend, even offered me a good bargain to stay in their house and pay only half of my current rent just so I can be with her children to practice their use of English. Although I have not decided yet whether I will accept the offer, the deal sounds fair enough considering that I am a scholarship boy who is trying to save every single dollar that I can.

Aside from that, it also widens social network as they are eager to strike a conversation with you or to become your friend. You get better service in cafes and even bigger serving of rice when you eat in food stalls. (Although they may charge you higher. This time, one’s knowledge of the local language comes in.)

Just this time, while I am writing this, I am overhearing a group of Vietnamese college students talking about this guy accessing their Wi-Fi who speaks English but is a Filipino. I am not anymore certain about the other aspect of the conversation as I am limited by my two-week-more-or-less old knowledge of the Vietnamese Language.

I was invited to several gatherings because they wanted to know this “Filipino boy” who wanted to learn Tieng Viet in a country where a corporate guy could easily pay 10-15 USD per hour just to learn English. And they’d even be more delighted if they find out that this boy taught Literature and Journalism in the University of the Philippines, subjects that use English as a medium of instruction.

In the Philippines where majority of the people can speak and write decent English, its human resources are at an advantage in a world market where almost all transactions are conducted and communicated using English. It’s not anymore fashionable to think that using English marks colonial mentality, that it is a vestige of American influences, or that it makes you less nationalistic.

Filipino school children

My grade six teacher would be very delighted if I’ll share this experience with her as she was the first person who helped me appreciate the language (after my mother who is a high school English teacher). I remember her giving us vocabulary and pronunciation drills every Monday and a practical exam on Friday. “Someday you’ll thank me for doing this,” she would say every time we complained if the exercises started to become tiring.

And indeed I am.

Aside from being cocky, what is a U.P. student known for?

The UP Oblation

I spent five years of my life in Miagao, Iloilo. Four years as a student and a year as an instructor. These years may not be enough for me to make an in-depth, scientific, qualitative research on the character of the majority of UP students, but five years are more than sufficient to be impressed on me how the world outside UP thinks about the student body that composes it. In general they think that UP students are so full of themselves, a group of over confident bunch who gets really rowdy inside a jeepney especially if they think they outnumber the rest, who brag their maroon shirt with a logo of the Oblation when they go to the mall for window shopping, or speak the longest speech not to mention the forced, all-too conscious twang if asked to talk on youth participation during the Labor Day rally.

And I could never agree more. Gone were the days when the first thing that enters the mind of an ordinary Filipino man who is not given the opportunity to enter the University was that a UP student is the Filipino student at its finest–the product of the best education that the Filipino nation can offer. It is, however, not anymore the case. Instead, a UP student is now known for his most dominant characteristic: his cockiness. As with the whole system, we tend to forget an essential ingredient for an institution of higher learning to work, that is, constant self-evaluation.

If it is too much to say, UP students of my generation have been sitting on the laurels of those who have gone before them.

Students of UP Diliman

Now what is a UP student known for aside, of course, from being cocky?

When my former Humanities professor Leoncio Deriada, now a professor emeritus, criticized the way UP works and the University in general in our class, because of my too strong an idealism then, I always made sure to give a rebuttal after. He said that if an earthquake would strike UP Visayas and the cracks in the soil will swallow all the dumb UP student (idiot was the word he used), only a third shall be spared and the remaining two-thirds will all be eaten up by the monstrous cracks, and nothing will be heard from them. It was laughable, at first, I thought, but upon deeper self-evaluation, I realized that there is some truth to it. Although I know he was exaggerating, of course, but a voice inside me is telling me that the man is saying the truth.

Surely I have encountered exceptional students and can still remember classmates of mine who impressed me in class. But they are exceptions. Majority are made up of complacent, over-confident students who come to class thinking that a lesson on macro-economics, quantum physics, relevance of the African-American class struggle, or the hypodermic theory of communication are subjects that can be understood using nothing but pure guts, proper bearing, or a good imitation of the American English accent.

I maybe too harsh. I may have set the bar too high–but for the best institution of higher learning in the country, nothing is expected of a UP student but to be the best. From our rank the scientists, artists, professors, doctors, mathematicians, politicians, and the next president of the republic will come. And we simply cannot lower our standard.

Now if our only defining charcteristic is our cockiness, that’s going to be too sad–really sad.

An attempt to write a postmodernist text

The pseudo-reality presented before the readers of this text proved several nuances that when scrutinized under a postmodernist lenses will yield several world views in accordance to those presented by Walter Truett Anderson: these four worldviews are the postmodern-ironist, which sees truth as socially constructed, the scientific-rational in which truth is ‘found’ through methodical, disciplined inquiry, the social-traditional in which truth is found in the heritage of American and Western civilization and the neo-romantic in which truth is found either through attaining harmony with nature and/or spiritual exploration of the inner self (Anderson, 1996:34).

These nuances prove Jacques Derrida’s assertion that by deconstructing a text, several aspects and/or readings can be utilized thereby strengthening the argument of the multiplicity of meaning in a text and therefore totally demolishing the scientific-rational world view as the absence of one single and universal reading is nothing but a fallacy. This same critique was used by Roseau to question the concept of a ‘common sense’. Although man’s survival has been plainly because he was able to sort out the non-essentials from the essentials through the use of his common sense, modern man, or postmodern man, as in our sense is given the leisure of a philosophical inquiry.

An African tribe\'s man

If the above paragraph proved to be too difficult to understand, a reader’s first reaction is to blame himself for not having read enough and exposed himself to the intellectual debates that are occurring all over the world with regard post-modernist philosophy. However, the preceding paragraph is so constructed to show how a meaningless weaving of words and difficult concepts could create a “pseudo-intellectualism” that is characterized by the works of the proponents of post-modernism.

If indeed these post-modernist thinkers are serious in their attempt to give meaning to the world around them then this understanding must not be limited among their circle but it must be spread to the rest of humanity; they should not attempt to cloak their understanding (or lack of it) with this pedantic vocabulary.

Language, which is a very important tool for communication, must never be mis-used for widening the gap between those who wear the robe and the tussles and those who chose to wear worker’s uniform. If the theory has some merits, which I know has a lot, and these having vast application to our understanding of the world and ourselves, then let it be a mass-based knowledge. Problems as regards hegemony always make themselves felt such as some group who believe that knowledge must not be given raw, instead it must be packaged in such a way that the mass can swallow it without so much effort. However, if the problematique presented above is more important than issues of hegemony and who controls the production, distribution, and use of knowledge, then universities must seriously consider making their institutions more relevant.

Imagining the Filipino Nation

Filipino children

Imagination is giving life to a possibility inside one’s mind. Imagination is the foundation of creative thinking, empirical supposition, scenario building process, and even the simple process of decision-making that we all have to go through each day.

Imagination may appear unstable at first, but as the number of entities, say members of the society, who believes in the existence even the tangibility of something increases, then that product of communal imagination becomes more than just a conception. It will eventually have a life of its own, not totally independent from the its source, but will have characteristics that are distantly-related to the entities that first imagined it. That is the power of man’s imagination. Dr. Shaharil Talib, dean of the Institute of European Studies at the Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, paraphrasing the works of Benedict Anderson, said “My nation i my imagination.” This simple statement captured the complexity that characterizes the concept of a nation.

Although there are states without a nation, such as Singapore, or nations without a state such as the Kurds in Central Asia or the Bangsa Moro People in Mindanao, Philippines (by the way, the Polish nation preceded the existence of Poland), it is important that they go together. A state, if it is to be truly sovereign should have a nation base where the people believe in their communal history and heritage, that they are connected by an invisible cord that bonds them as one group of people.

Looking at the Philippine setting, this seems to be absent. What is our concept of a Filipino nation? A friend pointed out that the local Filipino word for nation is “bayan”, which in English will roughly translate to a smaller political unit that of a municipality. The same is true in Hiligaynon (the language spoken in the majority of Panay and eastern Negros) the word “banwa”, also the word for nation which when translated to English will yield that smaller political unit. If you ask an Ilonggo, “Sa diin ang banwa mo?”, he would say Miagao or Iloilo, but never the Philippines.

This maybe a simple observation on the use of language as regards the word nation (bayan or banwa) or language per se but it has repercussions on our imagination of what comprises the Filipino nation. If we see our bayan as Miagao, Polomolok, Calamba, etc., and not the Philippines then we shall never see ourselves in context more so using the larger more complex community of Filipino people as a vantage point.

This can prove dangerous. The nation is already becoming obsolete, out-dated, and stale as the emergence of supra-national organizations such as the European Union, Mercosur, or ASEAN is becoming the menu for the day and homogeneity the hors’ oeuvre. We can just as easily fall into this trend, after-all the whole world is moving into it. But that is going to be a sad thing. These countries have established their national identities and have worked hard to maintain it. We are a people mired with multiple personality disorder, or worse have gone amnesiac and forgot who we really are.

Corruption, poverty, slow national development, diaspora of our people, these are just but some of the few result of our inability to imagine a Filipino nation.