A colleague posted on Facebook last night, a piece on how a visitor from a ‘first world’ country had stayed with her and her family, didn’t engage with them, never said thank you, and left their home without saying goodbye. Downright rude, me thinks.
One of the great things I love about travel is meeting people from other places, not only fellow travelers, but those local to the places I visit. Occasionally I have been privileged and invited in to their homes. For nine years I have been teaching in Singapore and Hong Kong. The friends I have made there are wonderful and always happy to see me, as I am happy to see them. Twice in Singapore I have been invited in to a home. While this may not seem as frequent as here in Australia, the cultures are different and home entertainment of guests is not as common as here. Each of these occasions was dissimilar. One was a feast after Ramadan and the other to a Singaporean Indian parent’s home. Both were wonderful experiences and I am happy to have them as my friends. Others have made the effort and shared coffees, meals or beers that have been fun and enjoyable moments in my traveling journey.
This brings me to my recent trip to Cebu in the Philippines. In my previous blog I mentioned that I was invited to the parents’ home of my colleague. Having moved through the general area where the family lived I had a basic understanding of the style of home they owned. Again, I cannot, nor should I, compare this with Australia, it is different. In the part of the Philippines (at least) it is not normal for each house to have a road frontage,. Each residence is connected to the main road via a network of pathways. Whilst the homes are of a good size, the surrounding property is limited in area. That is, no extensive gardens or outdoor areas other than for cooking.
This time the taxi ride, from The Henry Hotel, out past the international airport on Mactan Island, was quicker as the traffic, whilst still heavy, flowed easily. It was dark and street lighting was minimal. When I arrived I was formally met by the family. And I mean the whole family, grandparents, older aunt, parents, children and grand children. Thirteen adults and five children. The formality was special. Age is held in high esteem here and the younger family members not only greeted me politely, but in the formal custom of the Philippines brought my hand to their forehead as a mark of respect. Conversation was polite and as people relaxed the formality slipped away a little and the family interaction became evident.
Conversation with the younger members was easy as their English was excellent. Remember I was the one lacking here, I speak one language, they all speak at least three. Even the youngest, Liam, a four-year old, understood at least two languages. Their home was warm, inviting and happy. All family members interacted and the conversations flowed. They were interested in what I normally ate at home, if rice was a staple part of my diet and similar basic living experiences. I did not see a fridge and from the discussions around food and cooking I gathered that food purchasing and cooking was undertaken on a meal-by-meal basis.
Like many Australian homes the kids love computer games . However, the whole family looked on and enjoyed the skill of the game. Angel, a beautiful seven-year-old, loved colouring and her book from school depicted her artistic talents. I was touched by the obvious love between the generations, no matter their ages.
Life is tough in the Philippines. Often the working hours are long, up to nine hours a day and six days a week. On average the take home pay is about P6,000 per month (that is with a university degree), which equates to less than A$3,000 per year. Sure the cost of living is less, but try buying a car ,or an iPhone on that amount of income. Forget overseas holidays, or weekends in the numerous resorts dotted around the islands.
My evening with this wonderful family was enjoyable, friendly and for me special. They opened up their home, showed genuine friendship and made me feel welcome. I thank them. On leaving, we walked back along the path and waited on the road for a pedal-trike to come past. There were three of us. Cathy, my colleague, Lorraine, her married sister and myself. Lorraine is the mother of Angel and works night shift in an accounting call centre. We required two trikes and about five minutes later we met up at the main road and took a taxi back into the downtown area of Cebu city. Lorraine had about twenty minutes before she had to be in the office so we ate a light meal in a local cafe/restaurant. By the time my head hit the pillow, I was tired, it had been a long day, but complete with memorable experiences.
Cathy and her son Liam (4 years), Mactan Island, Cebu, July 2015.