Philippine Myths: True & False

I’m from California, the ‘Golden State’.  Land of Hollywood, Disneyland and surfing.  It’s funny to me when I hear misconceptions about California from those who have never been there.  The ‘myths’ about California persist.. running into movie stars at the grocery store, everyone is tanned and out roller-blading or that EVERY woman looks like those ones on ‘Baywatch’ or those afternoon soap operas.

Well, as with any myth there’s usually some seed of truth that got it started.  And then, well.. it just got repeated and out of control.  Before I came to the Philippines I was hungry for any piece of information I could get, whether online or through any Filipino I met in California.  I’d pester anyone who looked remotely Filipino, asking them “ what’s it like over there?”.  One girl at a Starbucks told me, “My parents are Filipino, but I was born and lived in SoCal all my life.  I went there once for vacation, to some jungle place.. didn’t care for it.”  However others I ran into had immigrated here and consistently those who were born in the Philippines called it their real ‘home’ and are very proud of their country.  I also corresponded with many ex-pats who have already been living in the Philippines for years via newsgroups, email and website forums.

So, along the way I picked up on all this ‘intel’ which, now that I’ve been overseas a while I’ve found that some of it was totally bogus.  Some of it was totally true.  Here are the ones that come to mind, in no particular order.

Beef & Can Openers –  Since hardly anyone here is investing in cattle ranches, there is no big ‘beef industry’ here.  It is true that if you want a good steak you’ll need to pay a premium price for it at a nice restaurant.  Anything else that is ‘beef’ is usually ground up, with fillers added, or is just too tough to be cooked as a normal steak, so it’s usually softened up with lots of sauce and sliced very thin.  This makes for a booming demand for canned meats.   Corned Beef is a very popular breakfast staple here, usually served with sunny-side-up eggs and rice.  Both Sinangag Station and Jollibee’s have either a corned beef breakfast or thin-sliced beef breakfasts.  Each are well known franchises here.  I like that I can get a Sinangag Station breakfast for less than $2 USD, 24/7.  I shopped at the grocery store the other day for a can opener.  There were two choices:  (1) A super-cheaply constructed Chinese can opener that might look good for a movie prop but looked like it would fall apart after a few uses.  (2)  A sturdy, real hand-crank can opener that would do the job.  The cheap-o version was only $2.50 USD.  The nice one?  $15.50 USD.   Not much middle-ground there.  So, those who told me, “..and bring your own can opener.”, I wish I’d listened.  But was worried what the TSA aviation people might do to my luggage to take a look at it.  Oh well.  Meanwhile, it bodes well with me that I happen to LOVE Tabasco flavored SPAM (needs no can-opener) and I make that with my eggs and rice at home fairly often for a quick, easy, tasty breakfast.

Crappy Razors – I was also told to stock up on good, American-made disposable razors because all you could get here were cheap ones from China that were useless.  I believed this one so I opted to bring an electric shaver and bypass the whole disposable razor issue.  Well, it turns out you can get plenty of name-brand toiletries, (yes, even standard or large sized condoms) at any decent pharmacy.  And every little town has several good pharmacies available.  The mark-up is not all that bad except for name-brand mouthwash, which goes for about $5 for a medium-sized bottle.  Shampoo, toothpaste, soap, razors.. all that stuff is readily available.  Whoever told me that must have been shopping at a dollar-store or something.

Cheap Food & Living Expenses –  I really, really had a hard time believing some of the prices for renting a room when I first looked into this.  I double-checked my calculations to make sure I was converting from Pesos to USD properly as I searched online ads.  But, yes.. it is very cheap to live here, depending on what your standards are.  For instance, if I wanted I could have rented a room with a family in a large home for.. $50 a month.  That’s right.  Not fifty American dollars a week.. but a month.  I wanted my own privacy so I settled into a very nice, clean private studio for only $107 a month.  My water bill is about $5 a month, electric is a whopping $32.  Now.. if you have a family or want to rent a big home in a nice subdivision, or live in ‘the big city’.. then expect to pay about $1,000 a month for a nice home or $375 for an apartment.  As for food, I can walk out my front door and go down the block 24 hours a day and get something to eat for cheaper than cooking it myself.  Fried chicken for 26cents a piece.  Skewers of chicken for 24cents each.  Hanging rice or fresh baked bread and sweets for less than 7cents a piece.  Bottled water for

36cents.  There’s a place a few blocks from here called, “Burger Junction” (BJ’s for short).  There I can get two footlong hot-dogs (which are actually longer than a foot, btw) and a drink for about $1.25 USD.  For the same price I can get two cheeseburgers with a fresh scrambled egg tossed in, those make for a filling breakfast, but high in fat and cholesterol so I try to limit going to BJ’s.  Grocery store.. depends on what you buy.  I can make up a big stir-fry dinner with rice for less than $3.50 by cooking it at home.  That used to cost me about $9 back in the States.  And apples are two for a dollar.  Back home I could get a whole bag of apples for $1.45.  The general rule is, if it’s imported, it’s expensive.

Witches With No Panties –  I was warned there are ‘witches with no panties’ who come out both day and night to drain men of their money and health, leaving them an empty shell devoid of the will to live.. yet with a smile on their face.  Something similar to the famed ‘Succubus’ of lore only younger, cuter and better dancers.  Well, here on the sleepy island of Mactan I can say I’ve not (yet) encountered any such creature.  However, I was only in the Ayala Mall on Cebu maybe 25 minutes and some brazen young woman was already making a very direct and tempting offer before I could even find a bench to sit on.  I’ve heard that over in Angeles City these ‘panty-less witches’ flock the streets by the thousands.  But I’ve not been there (yet) to make a proper investigation, so I can’t say for sure.  I also heard about a creature called the ‘Tambaluslus’.  He supposedly stalks the forests and sugar-cane fields at night looking for young women who aren’t home like they should be after dark.  He is described as something of an ogre.  His one distinguishable feature is that he apparently has a ‘male appendage’ that is nearly as big as his torso.  If young ladies do not want the Tambaluslus getting hold of them, they need to make sure they come straight home at the end of the day.

Friendly Filipinos –  I had read before arriving that the Philippines was voted to be in the top 3 Most Friendliest Nations for tourism.  Fortunately, this turned out to be True.  And it’s not just the sales clerks or waitresses for whom ‘being friendly’ is part of their job.  I’m talking about just people you run into on the street, ask for directions or get to know on a first name basis.   As I’ve written about before, sometimes there are people who are what I call the ‘smiling faces’ who only want to be friends because they see you as the ‘rich foreigner’.. but for the most part, regular everyday people here are very courteous, decent, moral people.  Back in California, you kinda keep to yourself since there’s no telling what kind of nut-job is wound too tight that might freak out on you.  So people back home kinda keep their distance until they’re convinced you’re kinda normal.  But here, it’s pretty relaxed.  People are happy and easy going despite whatever hardships there might be.  It makes for a very nice environment to socialize in.  As for safety at night here on Mactan, I can’t speak for Manila or other places, but here on Mactan I’ll go for my nightly walk (trying to get regular exercise) at 11pm on a weekday and I regularly see young schoolkids still out at night.  I’m talking about 15 year old pairs of girls or a gaggle of young men just walking home after going to a late-night store or food vendor.  Even as late as 1am on a Friday night, lots of people of all ages just ending their night shift and walking to some local place for a bite to eat.  Many of them young women.  There’s usually a traffic cop or security guard almost every block to keep an eye on businesses and things in general.  So, here on Mactan anyway.. it’s a fairly safe environment.  I wouldn’t say the same for parts of downtown Cebu or inner-city Manila.

Pretty Women Everywhere –  This is perhaps the most enduring commentary I’d heard before arriving.  And guess what?.. it’s true.  I looked up the stats before arriving and found that the obesity rate in the Philippines is less than 4.5%.  Wow.  Compare that to the U.S. stat which has an obesity rate at 33.9%.  Now, I’m not saying all thin people are attractive or vice-versa.  What I’m saying is that if you are a man who enjoys small, petite ladies.. this place is a gold mine.  The VAST majority of women I see here every.. single.. day weigh no more than 109 pounds, perhaps 5’4”, very trim and dress nicely.  If you prefer a larger woman, you’ll have a hard time finding one here is what I’m saying.  And given the mixture of Asian and Latin heritage.. wow, I have seen so many drop-dead gorgeous women here it’s like a blur.  It’s like trying to focus on one grain of sand at the beach.  They’re sweet, demure and conservative as a whole so, be respectful if/when you do get here or you’ll just make an ass out of yourself.

Language & Education –  Another myth, or preconception, I had was that the general populace here either could not speak conversational English or perhaps had a low educational proficiency.  The more I’m here the more I’m surprised that for being a ‘banana republic’ country, Filipinos strive to get whatever education they can afford, either for themselves or their children.  Approximately 9% of kids attend a private school while 83% attend public schooling which strives for a well-organized educational curriculum.  Now, the older generation street vendor people in their 60’s.. okay, their English is kinda lacking or non-existent.  But I’d say 90% of the people I speak with at random can speak perfectly good conversational English.  And no matter what the job may be they currently work, many of them hold professional degrees even if they‘ve yet to secure a job in that field.  When my girlfriend’s son, age 10 at the time, came for a few months and attended school in California he was instantly at the top of his class.  And this was a nice school in the Menifee, CA area, not some low-budget failing school.  The level of academics at his Philippine school had him more than prepared for 4 months in a California school.. he was ace-ing it.  Like I said, if you go out to the provinces then you will run into some less educated people.  But the medium and large cities have a majority of Filipinos ready and able to converse in English with a voracious interest in computing and all the latest gadgets we enjoy in the U.S.

I suppose people who immigrate to the U.S. have their own list of myths and preconceptions that they deal with once they arrive and live there.  For me all I can say is that overall it has been a pleasant experience adjusting to life overseas.

Henry V.

Author: Reekay

About Me.. In 2011 I made the decision to move to the Philippines within a year. Since 2012 I’ve been traveling through various islands of the Philippines as a full-time Expat. (Mactan, Bohol, Panglao, Moalboal, Dumaguete, Bacong, Boracay, Cebu) I recently spent the year living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Share with me here my ongoing adventures of life in the Philippines. Dating, vlogging, cooking, traveling and sharing the information with you needed to make your own plans for living as a full-time expat in Southeast Asia.
— Reekay

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