The Kindness of Filipino Strangers
By Jerick T Aguilar
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” once said the American playwright Tennessee Williams. Well, Mr. Williams must have traveled a lot because I myself have relied on people I never knew and only met for the first time in my travels the world over. And given that there are Filipinos everywhere around the globe, one is most certainly to come across a fellow “kababayan” whom a traveler can unexpectedly count on.
While I was doing my postgraduate studies in Singapore, I decided to take the train to Kuala Lumpur where I reserved a reasonably-priced hotel owned by an Indian. This happened way back but I can still vividly remember the time I entered the hotel’s main entrance and saw a woman at the reception desk talking to who seemed to be the owner. She smiled the moment she looked at me and so did I because we instantly knew that we are both from the Philippines even without talking to each other. (I guess we all have a “Pinoy-dar” inside of us!)
Just after a few minutes of conversation with her, not only did she become my unofficial tour guide in the capital of Malaysia, she was also able to convince her Indian lover – as a side, she in due course told me that she’s already married and her husband is in the Philippines who she knows has a mistress in Manila (so fair is fair I suppose, but this is something else to write about) – she was also able to convince her Indian lover to charge me half the price for the duration of my stay in his hotel. That was the first time this Filipina and I met and yet she was ever so generous, accommodating, and honest (!) with me.
A couple of years later while working in the United States, I went on vacation in Europe and visited Milan where I stopped at a McDonald’s. I was carrying a lot of shoeboxes with me in separate plastic bags (yeah, key chains don’t count as souvenirs from Italy for oneself, family, and friends) when, thanks again to my Pinoy-dar, I saw a Filipina with this huge shopping bag. After greeting her of course with “Kumusta, kabayan?”, I asked her where I could get a similar bag to hold all my stuff. She told me she doesn’t know but, lo and behold, she started taking away all her things inside the shopping bag and, with a smile, gave it to me. That simple act made me speechless that I was only able to smile back without saying “salamat” before she went out the door.
In another McDonald’s this time in Madrid (whatever the explanation, Filipinos congregate in McDonald’s restaurants worldwide!), I was with my lonesome self sipping a milkshake when, with my Pinoy-dar, I saw a Filipina also with her lonesome self nibbling on some fries. I did not hesitate to join her so we started talking. She found out that I was a tourist and that it was my first time in the city. She asked me where I was staying so I told her at a hotel near the train station.
We were only chatting for a few minutes when she offered her house where I could stay instead. I was surprised at the invitation but even more surprised to have met a “kababayan” who had her own house in Spain. So I just had to ask her her job. Nonchalantly, she replied that she’s a domestic helper but her employers were on vacation. No wonder she was at McDonald’s on a weekday! As much as I was tempted to save on my hotel expenses, I had to politely decline and thank her.
And speaking of domestic helpers, I came across three of them in Beirut. I went there a while back from the UK to do some doctoral research. I was checking my mailbox in an Internet station when I overheard three women talking in Tagalog and planning where to go for lunch. I was also hungry and wanted to eat Filipino food in Lebanon so I plainly introduced myself and asked directions to a good Pinoy restaurant. They did not answer my question because I ended up being invited to join them.
After a hearty meal, I had a choice of either spending the rest of the afternoon with them or go sightseeing on my own (they couldn’t give me a grand tour else they would go back late to their employers’ houses). I preferred the former so all four of us went to their weekend hide-away, a small apartment of another Filipino friend who works as a chambermaid. I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me but we spent such a hilarious time watching a pirated VCD of a Regal Films movie while telling stories, exchanging jokes, and eating “meryenda” in-between.
Here in Tunisia, a Pakistani nun in our French language class told me about working with a certain Filipino priest in Tripoli. Before deciding to travel to Libya, I asked for his contact details and as soon as I called him, he was ready and willing to welcome me to the Church of St. Francis. Weeks after, I arrived there just before the usual Sunday service where I finally met the priest who introduced me to the Filipino choir. The lead vocalist and guitarist happened to be from the same province of Quezon as I and, right then and there, she invited me to her house where she lived with her husband and daughter.
I thought it was only for the day while I looked for a hotel, but as soon as we came to her lovely home, she showed me the guestroom where she said I would be staying the rest of the time. I just couldn’t believe it! There I was in another country not expecting anything and then getting a warm invitation from someone I didn’t even know (and who didn’t also know the least bit about me) instead of booking a hotel room. Not only did she let me sleep in her house, but she fed me, drove me around, introduced me to her friends and the Filipino community, took me to different parties, etc., etc. In short, the only money I spent in Libya was going there and getting back from Tunisia! We were not even from the same hometown – only the same province, yet she treated me (and still does) like I were one of the family.In my travels, I am always in awe by the kindness of strangers who I meet along the way. A part of me believes in quid pro quo, that there is no such thing as a free lunch (as one of my Economics professors would always say), and that I will only scratch your back if you scratch mine. But I guess the word “kindness” is the opposite of the concept of self-interest. Kindness still exists and I often wonder why when people are naturally egoistic. Maybe because Filipinos in particular are generally kind and, for some reason, they express (as opposed to “show”) their kindness even more when they are outside the Philippines. Or maybe because when I met them and they met me, we were never strangers to begin with, but fellow Filipinos.
aah, Jake. Your mind still works wonders. . :) Very well-written article, dear friend. Even abroad, the magic of Filipino Hospitality never fails. Mcluhann's concept of a global village rings loud and true for filipinos abroad. It is as if the world is one big Philippines and everyone is a relative or friend. Or maybe it's the longing for home that makes us gravitate towards our fellow filipinos. Wherever we are in the world, we have this need, this desire, this longing for home, and since we cannot be home, we try to adjust and make our host country as filipino as possible. Besides, i think it is only ntural with filipinos to feel the need to share, to mingle. After all, filipinos are well-advanced social creatures, more advanced i think than some people in Europe or the Americas, but that is my opinion.