Life between the ivory tower and a cardboard box

Parents

What province are you from?

Map of the PhilippinesHere in the Philippines, All Saints Day and All Souls Day have been declared working holidays. Many Filipinos are taking the time to visit cemeteries all over the country, where they can reunite with loved ones, honor the dearly departed, and find another excuse to eat good food together. I am sure it can be fun, but I never grew up with it, mostly because we were abroad.

At work, many of my colleagues had been preparing for the holiday for weeks, anticipating the time when they get to go home and see their families again. Some had asked me where I was going for the holiday, and, among these conversations, the question “What province are you from?” popped up.

For readers who aren’t familiar with the question, colloquially, the “province” basically refers to any region in the Philippines that isn’t Metro Manila. Technically, Metro Manila, or the National Capital Region, is also its own province. However, I have found that many do not consider this when using the term “province”. According to Wikipedia, the same meaning is also applied to the term “province” in France, Peru, and Romania.

Much like the question “Where are you from?”, the question “What province are you from?” seeks to gauge who you are culturally, amidst the vast diversity that exists throughout the 7,107 islands. What province you are from apparently tells others what language you speak, what kind of food you like to eat, what religion you follow, and so on.

Like the question “Where are you from?”, I generally do not have any personal problem with other people asking, “What province are you from?” I know that, generally, there is a genuine social need to answer this question. However, my problem does lie in how to answer it.

First, even without the third culture kid aspect of my life, I have a problem answering the question, simply because I never lived anywhere in the country outside of Metro Manila. When I say this to people like my co-workers, many are genuinely surprised, as they themselves grew up outside of the city and only came here for school and work. The province is still considered “home”. To assuage their surprise and curiosity (and possibly any thoughts of my being a “city brat”), I just tell them I grew up abroad, and somehow that makes it more understandable.

Second, I often find myself answering the question by telling other people where my parents are from. However, I still don’t think this says anything about me. I have visited my dad’s hometown in Bicol and my mom’s family in Quezon many times. The most time I had ever spent outside of the metro and its connected suburbs (where my high school is located) was about three weeks or a month in Bicol. However, I don’t really feel like any of these places have influenced or define me. I don’t speak Bikolano, and even my mom’s Tagalog is different when she is with her family. I am also not knowledgeable about the way of life in both places. So, I feel like I’m just telling a half-truth when I answer the question “What province are you from?” in this manner.

Nonetheless, it still appears to be very useful when I tell other people what provinces my parents are from. Last week, I took a cab home with a particularly chatty driver. He told me he was from Bicol, and I ended up telling him that my dad was, too. Even though I told him that I didn’t speak any Bikolano, he was still very excited and proceeded to tell me about all the other Bikolano people he met here in the city. He told me that the cab he drove was operated by a fellow Bikolano, who basically gave him a lot of flexibility with the cab, even telling him that he could own a cab of his own one day. He told me about another passenger he once had, whose father was also from Bicol, and she said that, even though she also didn’t speak any Bikolano, she knew she was a true Bikolana because she really liked spicy food. We then had a good laugh and started a conversation about spicy food, including the famous Bicol Express. Provincial affinity is clearly still very important to many people here.

While I cannot relate to it, I have always wondered what it would have been like to grow up in the province. My mom likes to tell me outrageous stories from her hometown that somehow always involve faeries, duendes, or creepy neighbors standing outside of your window waiting for you to die. Many of the old folks from that area still believe in many of these stories, and will talk about them matter-of-factly at family gatherings. My dad’s side of the family also had a family reunion a few years ago, and I didn’t know most people and lost track of how I was related to everyone. Despite my own very culturally rich upbringing throughout the world, in a way, I feel like I have missed out on something just as valuable and, in a way, that is a part of who I am.

I will never be comfortable with telling people about what province I am “from”. However, I may consider looking for some ghosts or stopping by the cemetery in my dad’s hometown someday to light a few candles and perhaps enjoy some barbecue.

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From The Archives: Moving (Pt. 1)

This past weekend, I found my old personal diary from the 5th and 6th grade. 1994 was the year I moved back to the Philippines from Grenada, and I wrote my thoughts about it throughout the year. I will also write about other moves in future installments.

Check out the mid-90s pop culture references!

Balikbayan BoxMay 6, 1994

This morning my dad said we are going back to the Philippines . . . I don’t want to. Everything I love is in Grenada. I told [my friend] and she said maybe I could stay with her. I’m trying not to cry right now. I don’t want to leave . . . I hope my dad is telling a lie. Grenada is my country and no one can change that. Period.

September 29, 1994

. . . Well, [my friend] came again today. I told him we were going back to the Philippines for good. I don’t know how he feels, but I don’t LIKE WHAT IS GOING ON HERE. Oh well, my life is already ruined anyway.

October 5, 1994

My dad got reservations today. We’re leaving 7:30 A.M on BWIA next week. I think my life is ruined. I really try to look in the bright side. In the Philippines, I get to go to SM and go shopping. I’ll get new clothes. But they don’t sell cool stuff like what they wear here in Grenada. Oh well. Gotta tell everyone now.

October 8, 1994

I feel so sad about leaving soon. I love Grenada. We have to donate our children’s puppet show to the school. But my dad promised me we will get another one. I will get new clothes in the Philippines. I don’t want to wear a uniform [to school]. I look gross.

October 12, 1994

Well, I feel much better now about my trip. We went by [our family friends’] and they want me to go to Megamall and all sorts of places. I ♥ Megamall. Oh yeah, they also have German, French, Chinese, and Japanese schools.

October 13, 1994

Oh I’m going to cry! Today was definitely the best day of my life. [Our family friend] made my cake for class. It was beautiful and delicious. The secondary class ♥ it . . . My whole class gave me a card. It was so wonderful. I don’t wanna leave. I could just cry just now.

October 14, 1994

I’m in Miami now. In the Everglades Hotel. I miss Grenada already.

October 16, 1994

I’m in the Philippines and I’m crying. I wanna go back to Grenada . . . “Always” [by Erasure] is No. 1 in the Philippines, [my brother] said. The little Tagalog speaker.

October 17, 1994

Today I had my exam [at my new school]. It was pretty easy. I slept a lot during the afternoon. I finished Super Street Fighter 2 and Clay Fighter. It was pretty fun. I wanna go back to Grenada still. But I’m starting to get used to this place. I really like 94.7 radio station. It has a lot of the stuff I know. Well, nothing else to write.

October 20, 1994

Today was my first day at [my new school]. I made a lot of friends.

October 25, 1994

Today we had computer class again. I think typing is so hard. Anyway, nobody sat with me for lunch today. I think those girls hate me.

November 2, 1994

Today was OK. Dad and I went to Megamall and went around. I wanted to buy an Ace of Base video but they didn’t have it. Well, Goonies is on TV and I was sent to bed. I don’t want to. Well, I’m starting to think less about Grenada. (Oh my god.) Gotta go.

January 10, 1995

Today was another bad day too. I get a C+ for my health. I never felt so retarded in my life. If those people from Grenada heard that, they would call me retarded and all kinda thing. I learned some Chinese characters today and they make me see how unartistic I am. My life is breaking up again.

January 11, 1995

Today is the last day of school of the week. We are stuck with a whole bunch of homework for the weekend. I’m not really that excited about the science fair. I don’t feel like going to school anymore. It doesn’t seem worth it anymore. I don’t care if I end up retarded. What I really need is a break from myself and my life. I want to have a vacation. A long one. I don’t want to come back.

February 13, 1995

Today I got a letter from Grenada! It is from my class! They have not changed . . . [They say] nothing has been going on in Grenada. Oh I ♥ those letters so much.

February 22, 1995

Today was just like a normal school day. But they gave me a new name and call me Granada Bomb because I told them about Grenada. That is really silly.

March 1, 1995

. . . Today [these girls] were fighting about me. “Oh Erin, sit with me!” I sat with [my friend] instead. It’s good that I did. I’m in a new club called Friends 4 Ever . . . I ♥ this week.


I’ve Made My Bed, I’ll Lie In It

Classified Ads

The other day, I was sitting with my mom at lunch, complaining as usual about how hard it’s been to find a job in Metro Manila. Usually, she plays the good mom by telling me that I will eventually find something, and that these things take time. However, that day, she decided to keep it real.

“You know why you can’t find anything?” she asked me. “It’s because of your course. You should have taken something practical. How do you expect to take care of yourself?”

I replied by mumbling something about how I’m not good at anything “practical.” It’s true. I don’t want to be a nurse and I don’t want to take business or computer science. In fact, my Economics courses in college were the some of the biggest reasons why my GPA was less than stellar.

“Well, it’s true,” my mom continued. “You need to take something more in demand if you want to live. You have to eat, you know.”

The rest of the meal was spent by me brooding quietly some more about education and skill sets and experience.

I have no problem admitting that my mom and others like her have a point. College does play an enormous part in shaping your skills for a career. It therefore helps your prospects much more if what you learned in college tends to be something more employers are looking for. In the Philippines, this includes nursing, teaching, IT,and business. Moreover, you have a higher chance of getting even the most menial of positions if your degree matches their qualifications or even the nature of the organization. You can’t even be an administrative assistant for an engineering firm without an Accountancy or Engineering degree. Part of it has to do with high competition, while another part has to do with the way things are done here. Unlike in the United States, where there is plenty of room for flexibility, when you declare a course in university here in the Philippines, you make a commitment to be in that field for life. As it goes, since I have a degree in Anthropology, I must be an anthropologist.

It also goes that friends and family here were duly perplexed upon finding out I wanted to major in Anthropology.

“Anthropology?” they asked. “What’s that?”

“It’s the study of people and cultural and social behavior,” was my short answer.

“Like an archaeologist? Do you want to dig up bones?”

“No, I don’t want to dig up bones. I’m more interested in cultural anthropology.”

“What? Where’s the money in that?”

And so on. People have given me much less grief about it and even humor me when I talk about it in casual conversation. On the other hand, I try to make myself sound more legitimate by telling people that my degree is in Anthropology and Global Development Studies. Never mind that GDS was just a concentration and not a full blown major. Never mind that GDS was really just a big mix of Anthro, Political Science, Econ, and some other stuff, leaving me unspecialized in anything. Nonetheless, that strategy seemed to give me a little more street cred, especially with employers.

In Manila, you definitely have more freedom in terms of what degree you pursue, if you are willing to start your career at a call center. All call centers here ask for is English fluency. That’s it. Everything else, from the script, phone etiquette, product overview, and even a contrived American accent and working knowledge of U.S. culture, is given to you during the compulsory training period. These days, you don’t even need a Bachelor’s degree anymore, since the industry is growing too fast to match the number of competent English speakers who want to work at a call center. While the money is quite tempting, I am done with call centers. I worked at a call center in Pasig one summer and did Phonathon all through college. I also did not spend five years building myself up in the U.S. only to come back to the Philippines to work at a call center. I think it’s time to move on from the phones.

So where does this leave me? I am not sure. It is pretty common knowledge that just having a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology isn’t going to bring you very many places. I learned this a while ago. I also realized that the country that readily sends its people to work as maids and janitors in other countries would not really understand what an Anthro degree really is. So, I’ve been aiming for numerous NGOs, teaching/training positions, and even an alumni coordinator position. So far, no success. I know the job search process takes a while, and I haven’t stopped looking, but it has been so easy for me to lose my resolve very quickly. I don’t like being poor, I hate having no routine, and, honestly, I don’t like comparing myself to other people and feeling like I am light years behind my peers. In any case, I will keep looking.

The truth is, I don’t really mind it too much. I know I made my own bed. I know my life is going to suck for a while. But I would still rather be where I am now than be in a position where I’m making much more money doing something that I’m bad at or bores me. The truth is, Anthro really does interest me, and I know that there is a way I can make it work later on in life.

If the going gets really tough, though . . . well, as we liberal arts majors always say, “There’s always grad school.”