Friday, January 9, 2015

Culture Shock in the Philippines: Fat People, Fat Cheeks and Not-So-Fat Wallets

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I was shocked at my own culture.

I know there's really nothing shocking about this. Lots of people living abroad experience being culture-shocked at their own culture. Still, I was shocked at myself for being shocked. Shock! Shock! Shock!

I went to the Philippines for the winter vacation. This is my third time going home after I started living in Japan. I didn't experience culture shock the first two times probably because I went back too soon. It took me 16 months before this third homecoming so maybe that's why I got bewildered.

How did I get culture-shocked? Let me count the ways...

1. People are spilling all over the place

There are about 100 million Filipinos all over the world. I shouldn't be surprised if there are a gazillion of people when I got home but I was. I was overwhelmed by the number of people in the airport, on the streets, at the malls, at the spa, on buses, on trains and on just about everywhere. When I went to a government office earlier this month, there were about 10,000 people gathered in that office. How that office contained us is a mystery.

My place in the Philippines is similar to where I live in Japan. Both are on the edge of bigger cities. They're not as exciting as the big cities but not as sleepy as in the rural areas. But my once quiet hometown is no more. There used to be less children, less people and less dogs in my neighborhood. Now, my neighborhood feels smaller and suffocating with all the people and dogs and even chickens living there. Where did all the people and animals come from? In Hamamatsu, I only see crowds during the Hamamatsu festival and on fireworks Festival. Even with these big festivals, the number of people in Hamamatsu seemed irrelevant compare to the Filipinos flocking the malls daily.

Even when I visited the smaller cities in the provinces, people are still in every corner. The Philippines seem to be bursting at the seams with people. It's ironic why it doesn't feel like this in Japan. Japan has 120 million people but they must be hiding in their houses and offices.

2. FAT people are spilling all over the place

My family's first reaction when they saw me was, "Ang payat mo! (You look so thin!)" Even my boyfriend, relatives and friends observed the same thing. I don't know why they're surprised at my thinness since I've always been like this. Out of politeness, I stopped myself from responding, "Kayo, ang taba nyo! (You're fat!)"

I understand where their reaction is coming from. Before living in Japan, I didn't realize that the Philippines is a fat country. In fact, half of my relatives are fat. Being fat has become so common. I made a random calculation of overweight people during my vacation. Whenever I saw a small group with about 3-7 people, I took note how many were overweight. The results: About 30 to 50 percent of people in a small group are overweight. There are also many cases when all the people in the group are all overweight.

I have nothing against being fat. But I just like to remind people that there are more diseases associated with being fat than with being thin. Japan could justify the prior statement. Japan's population leans more on the slim side. They have a life expectancy of 83 years compared to the Filipinos' 68. That's a 15-year difference in life expectancy.

Why Filipinos are becoming fatter is another topic for another day but let me just blame it on food for now.

3. People in SHORTS are spilling over the place

I used to wonder why Japanese women wear the shortest shorts even in winter. Now, I'm wondering why some Filipino women wear the shortest shorts even when their butt cheeks are exposed.  One small bend and the cheeks will be rubbing on someone's face. I don't mind seeing cellulites and scars but I draw the line on butt cheeks. Aside from the beach, exposed butt cheeks is not a welcome sight in public places. Cheek-peek shorts don't look attractive or sexy at all. So why a lot of Filipino women wear them is beyond my understanding.

I have a fashion theory though. I think Filipino women don't consider their hip and butt size when buying shorts. Average Japanese women don't have large hips and butts so they can wear the shortest shorts and their butt cheeks would remain hidden. On the other hand, Filipino women generally have rounder hips and butts. Therefore, even when a short fits on the waist, it might not fit perfectly on the butt area resulting in the cheek-peek phenomena.

4. BIG CARS are spilling all over the place

The Philippines is a poor country? Phew! Seems like a lie! All I have to do is look at the magnificent cars on the road and on parking lots. In fact there are more expensive-looking cars in the Philippines than in my place here in Japan. And to think that Hamamatsu is the birthplace of Honda and Suzuki.

Based on Japan Times' report, small and light cars called Kei Cars outsell regular cars in Japan. Suzuki's Alto topped the list of the most bought car in Japan.  This means the general Japanese population use smaller and cheaper cars. Aside from it's less costly maintenance, roads in Japan are smaller. On the other hand, the Filipinos seem to prefer bigger cars. In 2014 alone, Toyota Innova, Mitsubishi Montero Sport and Toyota Fortuner were in top 5 of most bought cars in the Philippines. All are bulky cars. No wonder the government has non-stop road-widening projects. I wonder if the preference for big cars is the result of bigger bodies.

5. Money is spilling out of my pockets

My vacation wasn't grand and I did not do anything extraordinary. I just met with friends, visited my dentist, celebrated the holidays and drank 7/11's coffee. But when I add up all the expenses, it made me more than ready to go back to Japan and work again. All along I thought living in the Philippines is cheap, it's not. Only the rich people (including the corrupt ones) can live a decent life in the Philippines. The Philippines is an expensive country when you calculate the ratio of one's needs to an average person's salary.

In Japan, I use barely 6% of my monthly salary for everyday transportation. (About 720 Yen a day)
The company I work for reimburses this at the end of the month. In the Philippines, I've used 16% of my monthly salary for transportation alone. (About 100 PHP a day). My apartment eats the 18 % of my salary but if I rent around my neighborhood in the Philippines, it would eat 37% of the salary I used to receive. I could go on and list all my expenses and still come up with the same conclusion. That is living in the Philippines is more expensive.

The "expensiveness" of living in the Philippines reminded me why I have to go back to Japan. It's a douse of cold water on my warm vacation. The sad, shocking reality of all is I can't afford to live comfortably in my own home.

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