Monday, 3 June 2013

Ways of Life

The Filipino side of my family are well aware of the disparity between our ways of living, and often make straightforward references to “our poor way of life” and how their house "isn’t five-star accommodation” which I find completely baffling. They have given me something infinitely more precious than fresh towels and stupid little soaps: they welcomed me into their home without question, protected me, loved me. Even the way they scared the shit out of me with merry tales of women being stabbed or abducted in Cebu was done with love. They care about me (when I don’t really know what I’ve done to earn such value besides turn up on their doorstep) and don’t want to see me get hurt. They rallied an army of friends and relatives to escort and protect me on my subsequent trip from Maasin to Cebu; these people still turn up whenever I send confused texts about how to catch a jeepney. These people had never heard of me a week ago, and now they drop what they’re doing if I need help. I can’t even comprehend that level of selflessness and devotion.

I would take that love over any superior king deluxe suite penthouse with complimentary breakfast in the world. I don’t even like breakfast.

It’s different for different people I guess, but at this stage of my life finding pieces of myself is so much more important than air-con. This trip isn’t about hiding in hotel rooms and shrieking every time a brown person comes near my handbag. It’s about jumping off that same rock formation my cousin just did even though I’m certain the water isn’t deep enough and I’ll die, it’s about trying that side dish my aunt whisked away from me clucking, “That’s too spicy!”, it’s about getting mosquito bites and food poisoning and hopelessly lost and catching glimpses of a fisherman’s silhouette on the ocean between splashes of palm fronds as my bus trundles down a mountain.

Security and safety are of course, very real and legit concerns as a white* woman travelling this country solo. I have already experienced the joys of sexual harassment (a bellboy at this very hotel made fuckwit calls to my room and attempted to gain entry; he has since been fired but it inspired me to always barricade my door and scream at every caller to identify themselves). I came into this trip prepared to "pay the cost" for safety, and was pretty much ready to stay in a serviced apartment (read: long-term hotel room) if it meant a secure entrance and staff members around. This is still an option should I crack for whatever reason (a very real possibility).

But a friend of my cousin's has insisted I stay in a "Pension House" (closer to what we know as college dorm rooms) because it's more affordable, closer to public transport (minimises the walks down dark streets), housed with university students, closer to his side of town, and he of course has relatives around the corner because this is the Philippines. He has come with me to inspect other apartments, which I have quite liked, and loudly dismissed them as being too expensive. He practically projectile vomits at any price I consider reasonable. I don't know how to explain that I am prepared to pay a cost in exchange for security without making some unintended reference to how Australians/Filipinos Live Differently. Because honestly, I just want to live somewhere that will repel any ne'er-do-wells that get the notion to follow me home, and armed guards tend to do that. I couldn't care less about mountain views and WiFi.

I was (and am still) a bit sketchy about the security at the Pension House although my friend insists the neighbourhood is safe; I figure I'll give it a month and if I freak out I can fall back on Fancy Serviced Apartment.

Well, if I wanted to be in my comfort zone, I’d be wrapped in a doona in Melbourne right now. Which it isn’t all that bad in itself: but I’ve done that a million times. Time for something new. 

*Although I "pass" as Caucasian, I am mixed-race and identify as such.

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