Memoirs of a Philippine Mongerer
Sunny ole England here I come
Leaving the Philippines wasn’t going to be easy. This was a country I had planned on visiting for four days and I was still there one year, and a lifetime of experience, later. A sojourn like this changes a man and I knew deep down inside, my life would never be the same again. Somehow the Philippines had become a part of me, and in my own little way, me a part of it. From here there was no going back, the dye had been cast, and I was to forever look at the world from a different perspective.
My flight to England was scheduled to depart early evening so at 2PM I gave Lisa a kiss goodbye, gave her a little money and told her in my sincerest tone, “don’t worry hon Martin come back Philippines soon”. By this time Lisa had turned on the water works and with tears streaming down her cheeks promised me she would wait faithfully until I returned.
Whenever I encounter a reaction such as Lisa’s my cynical side kicks in and I ask myself, is this genuine or is she just working the emotional angle for some other reason. Maybe she is trying to make me feel sorry for her, maybe this is learned behavior, maybe the Filipinas have a genealogical disposition for drama and emotional reactions. To this day I still question the Filipinas motives for turning on the water works and emotional responses in general. The only difference is, these days because of my experience, I in some ways value the emotional response and regard it as part of the girl friend experience, the likes of which when it comes to bar girls, can only be truly given by a Filipina.
I sauntered downstairs with my baggage in hand to be greeted by the ever friendly and efficient May who asked me, “where are you going this time Sir Martin” and with a sad look in my eyes I replied, “it’s time for me to leave the Philippines May, I have to head over to England now and try and earn some money so I can come back here and spend it all”. When May heard my little attempt at flippant humor she gave me a dazzling smile and said, “all the staff at the Mayfair will miss you Sir Martin because you are very nice man”.
The sincerity in May’s comment was clearly evident and when I heard these words I was genuinely touched. Indeed this is one of the things that I have really come to appreciate about Filipino culture. For the most part they are friendly and accepting of foreigners and seem to genuinely care, They also have few barriers when it comes to showing their feelings and being demonstrative. In many societies displays of emotion are frowned upon and we are taught to maintain control by reigning in our emotional responses. In the Philippines the opposite is true, here they are encouraged to openly display their emotions which can be a good and bad thing.
After having said fond farewells to May I walked out into the courtyard and there were Ken and Dave sitting at their usual table both smiling at me. I wandered over to the table and said, “what are you two grinning about”, to which David replied, “good to see you getting out of here mate. I reckon you’ll enjoy England and if you don’t, well we will still be here when you get back.”
The taxi ride to the airport must have been the longest hour of my life. The traffic was at a standstill, the rickety old fan on the dash board along with the rattling old air conditioner, did virtually nothing to cool the cab down and the driver with his inane questions about where I was from, would I like to meet a good girl upon my return etc, just worsened my already intensely miserable mood. I really didn’t want to leave this country and in my mind I was desperately trying to find an excuse to stay.
Once at the airport I breezed through customs and immigration with only a slight hiccup at immigration from a female immigration officer who questioned me why I had been in the Philippines so long. She looked at my passport and said, “sir you have been in the Philippines a long time”, to which I replied, “yes I fell in love with the Philippines”. When she heard this she simply smiled stamped my passport and waved me through.
When I look back at this I realize how much the Philippines and indeed the entire world has changed. In today’s world if I am questioned like this there is always an alternate agenda but I never sensed this from the lady questioning me. Instead all I sensed was a genuine interest in why I would choose to spend so much time in her country. Back in the day things were so much simpler and the Filipinos whilst loving their country, also couldn’t understand why a foreigner would enjoy the Philippines more than his own country.
When it comes to the Philippines it seems to me the Filipinos exist in a permanent state of contradiction. On the one hand they are proud of their country “pinoy pride” but on the other hand they all want to get out because they see other countries as having more opportunities. Having said that I think the core value of love and respect for their own country is still there. Most Filipino’s go overseas to work and send the majority of their income home before eventually coming home to live themselves.
In my younger years it would always amuse me when I heard Filipinos referring to their stint overseas as them making their “sacrifice”. As far as I could see they were heading overseas to make their lot in life a better one so how could this be considered a sacrifice. Then when I had kids of my own I knew exactly what they meant Having to leave ones country and family is damned hard, in fact it’s gut wrenchingly agonizing, and even though it’s to find more lucrative employment opportunities overseas, its still very much an emotional sacrifice. This is especially true for Filipinas who grow up with strong familial ties.
I walked through the airport in a kind of daze trying to come to terms with my leaving the Philippines. Next thing I knew I was sitting in the departure lounge with a two hour wait before boarding the plane and entering the next stage of my life. While sitting there I thought of the year gone by and everything I had experienced kept on running through my head. I thought about Hilda and asked myself if I had handled things differently would she still be alive today. I thought about all the girls who had come into my life and the effect they had on me. I thought about some of the beautiful places I had seen and the new friends I had made. Most importantly I thought about how this country had influenced and changed me and I sincerely wondered if I would be able to adapt to life in gloomy old England.
I was lost in my own thoughts so much so that I barely registered the boarding announcement. Eventually I filed in line with the other passengers and all to soon I was sitting in my seat watching the airline stewardess go through the safety procedures in case of an emergency. This particular demonstration really hit home for me because it was a glaring reminder that my time in the Philippines had come to an end and I was now entering a new stage of uncertainty in my life. I honestly felt like the Philippines was my new home and leaving it was like leaving a loved one.
One of my pet peeves is my inability to sleep when traveling. I can be dead tired and yet still cannot sleep on planes. This trip was to be no exception. Within an hour after takeoff the lady sitting next to me was sound asleep but I was left there literally twitching my thumbs. I remember listening to the piped in music for 2 hours trying to sleep, I remember turning my nose up at some vial concoction they tried to pass off as airline food. I remember watching two movies and being singularly unimpressed with both. Most of all I remember sitting for hour after tedious hour thinking about what I had left behind and pondering what was awaiting me in my uncertain future.
This whole trip flying towards England was now somewhat surreal for me. When I had left Australia initially I was planning a short stop in Asia but my end goal was to get over to England and hook up with Debbie. When I met Debbie in Australia I had felt an instant connection and genuinely believed this was the girl I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but after experiencing the Philippines, the idea of being with Debbie was somehow nowhere near as exciting. In fact to be perfectly honest I couldn’t even remember what she looked like. The Filipina was now in my blood and somewhere deep inside I knew I would end up back in the Philippines.
For some reason it took close on 21 hours for the flight to reach Frankfurt which was to be our first stop. I remember thinking well now I know why the Filipino’s say the acronym PAL means Plane Always Late. We touched down in Frankfurt where we were told it was going to be a 3 hour stopover and instructed to disembark and enjoy the transit lounge that had been dedicated to us in Frankfurt airport.
After having lived in the Philippines for the last year being in Germany was nothing short of a jarring culture shock. The signage was in German, the people were speaking German with a spattering of English, the people seemed inordinately large and it was cold, very, very cold. The transit lounge was centrally heated but still I could clearly see the frost on the windows and the mounds of snow outside. What really struck me about Germany was that it seemed so clean organized and efficient. In some ways this was a rather pleasant change from the disorganization that is the Philippines, yet in another way it was somehow sterile even antiseptic like. This was indeed a far cry from the chaotic Philippines and I knew right then and there I was going to have some trouble adapting to life in England.
After three hours which seemed like an eternity we all filed back onto the plane and headed for merry ole England. The flight to England was a short one due to the able assistance of strong tail winds but whilst others seemed excited and relieved to be finally arriving, I was filled with trepidation. Thanks to my mothers timely phone call I had Debbie’s contact details plus I had the details of my various Aunts Uncles and grandparents who all resided in England, but still inside of me there was a sense of unease or perhaps just plain old nervousness.
We landed at Gatwick and within 30 minutes I had been processed through immigration and found myself standing next to a pay phone in the middle of Gatwick airport. I managed to find a money changer where I changed a few Australian dollars into British pounds and then proceeded to ring Debbie.
On my first two attempts there was no answer and I was beginning to get a little worried. I knew I could make my way into London and hopefully find a hotel for the night at a decent price but my instincts told me keep on trying to contact Debbie. I tried four times and then on what I had decided would be my last attempt she answered the phone.
When she answered and I said, “hi Deb it’s Martin and I’m at Gatwick. Any chance of a lift into town”, Debbie was silent for about five seconds. As it turned out my mother had contacted her and informed her of my imminent arrival but she was unsure of the exact date, so consequently hearing my voice on the end of a telephone line in England, was still quite a shock for her . After a brief conversation Debbie told me to wait in the main lounge and she would be there within the hour to pick me up and take me back to her place. The relief in my voice upon hearing this must have been clearly evident because Debbie laughed and said, “don’t worry Martin you wont have to sleep out in the cold on your first night in London. That would hardly make me the gracious host”. With that she let out a little giggle and said. “I’ll see you soon” and hung up the phone”.
Two hours later Debbie arrived at Gatwick. She came running across the room and literally hugged me saying “oh Martin it’s so good to see you. I was beginning to wonder if you would ever show, and now here you are”. To be honest I was both grateful for this warm heartfelt welcome and at the same time a little uneasy. How could I possibly tell this woman whom I had been so interested in 18 months before, what had happened to me. How could I explain to her that I had become Asianized and all this was somehow foreign to me now.
All these thoughts coursed through my mind as I hugged Debbie back and I wondered how the heck I was ever going to adapt to sunny ole England.