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First trip to Asia

It wasn’t quite the Thrilla in Manila, but I was fortunate enough to visit the Philippines on a week-long business trip. My younger brother Drew has been over there for 18 months as an LDS Missionary and has shared some great stories in his letters.  Also, my father in-law Jeff is Hawaiian Filipino, which means Kalani and Mason have a dash of Filipino in them.

Our hotel: The Peninsula

As a family we’ve visited Hawaii several times and do a decent job of exposing the kids to the Hawaiian culture, but we haven’t done so much on the Filipino side.  The trip turned out to be very rewarding, both culturally and from a business perspective.  Below are some of the thoughts and impressions I’ve brought home to share with the family:

A culture of kindness — the never ending smiles, customer service, genuine desire to please, thoughtful respect, happiness without regard for material possessions:

  • Everywhere we went, we were greeted with a glowing smile accompanied by a “Hello Sir!”.   Everyone seemed eager to interact, help, answer questions, or assist in any way possible. Contrast this with our recent trip to Europe and it’s a night and day comparison.  Often times in Europe, you feel like you’re ruining someone’s day by asking them a question.  It was quite refreshing to have the opposite experience in Asia.
  • One evening a hotel employee knocked on my door asking if I’d like him to prepare the room for sleeping (change the pillows, etc).  I wanted to decline, but I could not say no to the eager anticipation on his face.  His body language seemed to imply that it would have been a major let down if I had told him no.  After prepping the room he ended with a big smile and “Please sir, is there anything I can do to further assist you?!”
  • I was often asked if I’m rooting for Miami or Dallas in the NBA Playoffs.  Not only did they want to make conversation, but they love basketball in the Philippines.  Everyone plays it, courts are ubiquitous.  One waitress gave me a laughing smile and high five when I told her she was getting no tip because she was rooting against my team (Miami).
  • When the airplane was pulling off the runway, the entire ground crew assembled in formation to provide an animated farewell wave to the passengers on the plane.  (Could you ever see that happening in the states?)
  • When shopping or dining, the staff was always quick to assist, but never too pushy or rude.
  • Just to reiterate how pleasant these people are: A janitor at a cafe one evening had the biggest grin while cleaning the restrooms and simultaneously dancing to the music being played outside.

We sometimes hear of the positive effect laughter can have on health, stress, and mood.  I would venture to say that a similar phenomena exists when exchanging smiles.  When someone smiles at me I can almost feel a small boost of energy, enthusiasm, and stress relief. When everyone around me is smiling, like in the Philippines, I can tangibly feel it lifting my spirits.

Other Thoughts / Activities / Stories

Greenhills Mall - Pearl Shopping

  • One evening while shuttling from the office back to our hotel, a convey of police and SUVs followed has up to the hotel doorstep.   Security guards kept us at bay while the President of the Philippines made his way into the hotel (for a meeting?).  About an hour later on our way out to dinner the President made his exit and walked by us at only an arm’s length or so (he still had an entourage with him).
  • Security is much higher in the Philippines than it is back home.  I’m not sure if this is merely a scare tactic to keep crime in check, or if there is enough crime to warrant the extra security (or some combination of the two?).  Upon entry to the hotel or the office, we are stopped and inspected by bomb sniffing dogs and metal detectors.  Each floor in the office high-rise has its own security guard. Additionally, most retail stores have their own security guard.  Someone asked if I felt insecure while out and about due to all the security, but it actually had the opposite effect.  I felt quite secure thanks to all the guards.
  • We spent a day touring our geothermal operations.  This renewable source of energy is fascinating to learn about, and even more interesting to see in person.
  • A local co-worker invited me to come play basketball with some other employees one evening.  I anxiously took him up on his offer and had a great time.  The court was a high quality roofed / open-air court in Forbes Park, Makati (one of the nicest parts of town).  It’s kind of neat to think that I’ve now played basketball in four countries:  USA, France, Scotland, Philippines.
  • Pearl shopping is a common tourist attraction thanks to the near-market low prices found in Manila.  A couple co-workers took us to a large bazaar of sorts and helped negotiate good prices on South Sea and Freshwater Pearls for our spouses.  It doesn’t sound too exciting writing it here, but it was actually one of the more entertaining cultural experiences we had.  (the sheer size of the shopping area was astounding)
  • When watching Filipino TV, you’ll notice that the dialog switches mid-sentence between English and Tagalog.  There doesn’t appear to be a rhyme or reason as to when the switch between the two languages should occur.  This back and forth is apparently called “Taglish” and is a common form of communication.  When pulling money from an ATM, it prompted me to pick from two languages: English or Taglish.  It was also interesting to watch the NBA Finals on TV being called by local announcers switching between English and Tagalog.
  • When I asked why Filipinos speak such good English and have great accents, I was told it’s due to all the American TV they watch (in addition to their adoration of American pop culture).
  • Piracy is the norm without any social stigmas.  In our airline lounge on the way home, they were showing a bootleg copy of the movie Thor, which was still in theaters back home.
  • There doesn’t seem to be any adherence to traffic lanes when the streets get congested.  Nor is there any concept of a fluid merger (most people are cut off with only inches to spare).  Luckily, there isn’t much road rage and we always have an assigned company chauffeur.
  • The weather was similar to Houston, Texas, with a bit more humidity.
  • It wasn’t too surprising that we were stared at wherever we went, but one of the more memorable occasions was when a local girl exclaimed “Maximooooo!!!!” as our 6’7″ Scottish co-worker passed by.  (We then named our 5′-something English co-worker “Minimo”)

Overall the trip was very educational, fun, and productive.  Due to the travel distance I was not able to go visit Drew up north in Cauayan, but there may be other opportunities to do so in the near future.  If nothing else, he will be able to share the Filipino culture with our family as the kids get older and want to learn more about their heritage.

Jeepneys are a very common form of transportation

Makati City is one of the nicer parts of Manila

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  1. June 15th, 2011 at 05:28 | #1

    How awesome for all of you!!! My people came over on a boat full of rice and coconuts! Brown Power!!

  1. August 9th, 2011 at 10:02 | #1
  2. October 9th, 2011 at 16:22 | #2