It was mid-Spring afternoon. As I walked with a small group of friends down the pathways of Hamilton’s beautiful botanic theme-based gardens, a riot of colour was readily evident ev-erywhere one looked.
Wandering through each of the gardens was a journey of dis-covery which lasted all of four hours. No one was in a hurry. But as we neared a bend, in the distance beckoned the Terrace Garden, a small restaurant I was told served New Zealand green-lipped mussels steamed in Chardonnay with tomato, onions, garlic and spices accompanied with fresh-baked conti-nental bread with savoury spreads and then topped off with some warm apple cake.
I suppose the elderly gentleman and his partner sitting in a table beside us – they appeared to be locals, couldn’t help notice the lively banter of our conversation and the laughter which broke in every so often. We weren’t loud or annoying for sure, just happy to have a good meal together with friends.
After the meal, I sauntered off into an adjoining paved yard beside a duck pond in a slow, relaxed manner, without hurry or effort. That’s when I heard a soft but steady voice behind me say, “Excuse me sir, but which part of South America are you from? I’m not familiar with the particular Spanish dialect you and your friends used while chatting back at the restaurant.” It was the elderly gentleman.
“Good day, Sir,” I replied. “We are not South Americans, and we were not speak-ing a Spanish dialect from that part of the world. We’re Filipino-Kiwis, although I must admit our accents do reflect bit of a Spanish flavour. You see, our home country was once a royal colony of Spain in Southeast Asia for 377-years. That might explain it a bit.”
“Oh, so you’re from the Philippines,” the elderly gentleman replied, “but it doesn’t seem to me that you and your friends are at all typically Asian. Why is that so?”
WHAT COMES THEIR WAY
I have travelled long and far in this world and have met many people from different lands. So I wasn’t surprised to hear this comment from him having come across it many times. It was then that we sat down together under a shaded bench and began chatting a bit as we flung small morsels of left-over bread to feed what were apparently some very hungry ducks. “Tell me about your own people.” he asked. Thus began a monologue – speaking my thoughts aloud if you will. This is what I told him.
“The Filipino nation is animated, creative, joyful, generous and positive. Here are some of the things that may help describe who they are and what their cul-ture is.
The Filipinos have a gift to overcome and smile at whatever tragedy or calamity that comes their way. No matter how tragic the event we just look up and smile because we draw strength from a much higher being. When we see a fellow Fili-pino standing up after a big tragedy we tend to take heart and be strong as well.
Education is a top priority. Filipino parents believe that it is the best intangible gift they can ever bestow to their own children. Almost all Filipinos grow up knowing about literature that has been passed down from one generation to the next, from the oldest to the youngest.
Faith-based beliefs and religious tradition are very important as well. Filipino spirituality makes them invoke a divine presence or intervention at nearly every bend of his journey through life. Every Sunday, churches in the Philippines are filled with people who come to pray. They also celebrate fiestas and festivals with fervour.
I don’t think there is any other place in the world where Christmas is as much celebrated than the Philippines. Only Filipino families celebrate Christmas from September to January. It just shows how much we value family and relation-ships. Being a Christian nation it is no wonder we anticipate and celebrate it extravagantly more than our own birthdays. It’s every Filipino family’s habit to strengthen each other and to build their faith.
No matter how busy a week has been, Filipino families still reserve a day for quality time together. Whether it’s a movie night, an outing or just a quiet dinner at home there’s no better way of expressing their love than spending time with each other. It’s an inherent trait for Filipinos to spend time with their loved ones and friends if not always. Filipino families also tend to defend each other when one is in trouble. Whether it’s a small misunderstanding or a “big deal” involving others, a Filipino will defend to the death especially when being bullied, domina-ted or discriminated.
We have a unique term that describes that behaviour. It’s called juramentado. Juramentado is an archaic term derived from the Spanish word juramentar – meaning one who takes an oath to restore one’s honor or justice and then pre-pares to run amok against those who have served it on a cold plate.
WHAT ELSE CAN I SAY
“Filipinos love to entertain. They are very hospitable and will even take extra efforts to ensure that their visitor enjoy his or her stay. Everyone loves to sing, even those who cannot carry a tune. Wherever you go find a Filipino, you’d probably find him belting out his heart with a karaoke machine. So, whether there’s a celebration or an opportunity to just have some plain fun, a Filipino will sing for you. It’s another way of expressing their feelings.
Filipinos love to eat. A party to Filipinos means food, drinks, singing, dancing, and more food! Being friendly and thoughtful, they’d invite anyone to join them for a meal. Of course, they don’t expect the invited to actually join them, but if they do you’ll find them to be rather accommodating.
If you see someone with fair olive skin pouting lips, don’t immediately conclude that they would like to be kissed. They’re just probably pointing to something. Yes, Filipinos often use their lips to point to an object or a person nearby.
Giving unique nicknames to family and friends alike is what you might consider the Filipino’s way of being sweet. On average, don’t be surprised to find out that a Filipino has five different pet names and most common ones are derivatives of the word ‘baby’. Then, there are the repeated syllable names like Kringkring, Bongbong, Peypey, and Tingting. Incidentally, the current President of the Philippines’ nickname is “Noynoy. Well, what else can I say?
Filipinos are a touching people. We have lots of love and are not afraid to show it. We almost inevitably create human chains with our perennial akbay (putting an arm around another’s shoulder), hawak (hold), yakap (embrace), himas (caressing stroke), kalabit (touching with the tip of the finger), kalong (sitting on someone else’s lap), and so on. We are always reaching out, always seeking inter-connection.
BEYOND TIME AND SPACE
Since time immemorial, Filipi-nos have evolved a gender-neutral language with words like asawa (husband or wife), anak (son or daughter), magu-lang (father or mother), kapa-tid (brother or sister), biye-nan (father-in-law or mother-in-law), manugang (son or daughter-in-law), bayani (hero or heroine), and more exam-ples to speak of. Our native language and its numerous de-rivative dialects are advanced and indeed sophisticated, to put it mildly! And yes, we tend to borrow words from other languages and make these our own.
Filipinos are excellent at adjustments and improvisation, managing to recreate their home, or to feel at ease almost anywhere. That’s probably because Fili-pinos have pakiramdam (deep feeling). You might call it a sixth sense. We know how to feel what others feel; sometimes even anticipate what they will feel. Being manhid (dense) is one label any Filipino wants to avoid. Instinctively, we know when a guest is hungry though the insistence on being full is assured. We also have a superbly developed gift of discernment, making us at times excellent leaders, counselors, and go-betweens.
Another interesting attribute of Filipinos is their timelessness. We measure time not using hours and minutes, but with feeling. It is ingrained deep in our psyche. Our time is diffused, flowing, not framed. I would also add that Filipinos are spaceless. Our concept of space is not measured by inches, meters or miles. Fili-pino space is boundless. It is so because the indigenous culture of the Philip-pines did not divide land into private lots but kept it open for all to partake of its abundance.
Spacelessness, in light of modernity and urban life, can sometimes be seen in other cultures as counter-productive. But on the other hand, Filipino spaceless-ness, when viewed from its context, is just another manifestation of his spirit-ually and communal values. It is his answer and internal mechanism to counter-balance humanity’s greed, selfishness and growing isolation.
That’s why, I know, when Filipinos are allowed to contribute their special attri-butes to the worldwide community of men, they know how to go about doing things easily. Why? To begin with, they like others as much as they like them-selves.
And there you have it, sir. I’d say it’s all about their amazing grace,” I concluded.