Day 5: The “Balikbayan”

So, I’m actually called a balikbayan, which is a natural-born Filipino who has temporarily returned to his/her homeland.  The word is actually a combination of two distinct words:  balik, which means “return,” and bayan, which means “country.”   To be a balikbayan after all this time is surreal to me.  Everything is at once familiar and foreign.  Everyday is a  cultural (re)education.  Here are a few more of my observations and things I deem to be the absolute truth:

Bacon-wrapped hotdogs are not as amazing as they sound. There is a franchise here called Hotdog on Sticks, which sells, you guessed it, hotdogs on sticks.  You can choose your standard frank, a polish sausage, or, what at first sounded infinitely delicious, bacon-wrapped hotdogs.  They even have a version that has cheddar cheese built in the dog.  Now, I love bacon.  And, since I decided to temporarily curb my vegetarianism during this pivotal trip, I thought that a bacon-wrapped dog was in the books for me while here.  As I should have suspected, it wasn’t as earth-shatteringly tasty as I’d thought it would be.  It’s probably because I know I could (but wouldn’t) prepare this at home, and the thought of paying retail for something that ended up not being mind-blowingly savory incensed me somehow.  Or perhaps the bacon was not cooked as crispy as I normally enjoy it.  Whatever.  It was worth a try.  And, now, I know I would never crave it again.

An all-you-can-eat Filipino food buffet doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be able to eat a lot. Filipino food is generally rich, fatty, and heavy (even the “light” soups).  To attempt more than one plateful at a buffet just guarantees that heartburn– and, most likely, regret– lay waiting around the corner.  Oh, but it is good.  And being a first-time balikbayan in over two decades, I’ve only just begun enjoying my country’s delicacies.

Filipino customer service is impressive. Having worked in the hospitality industry, I know real service.  And the Filipinos have it down pat.  The customer is always addressed as “sir” or “ma’am,” whether you’re enjoying the luxuries at a five star resort or riding in a no-frills pedicab.   And, in an obscenely strange evolution of the terms, you may even be greeted with mamser, which is a combination of “ma’am” and “sir,” especially evident when the service provider is addressing a group of customers comprised of both genders.  The honorific “po”– generally used by a native addressing his/her elder (or someone of authority)– is ingrained in the verbiage.  And, it would seem, there are two-to-three service professionals for every customer.  This is even more defined in department stores, where they have an army of clerks helping you buy that one t-shirt.

I’m actually considered tall here. The average height of a Filipino male is 5′ 2″.  I’m 5′ 5″ and, for the first time in a long time, don’t feel short.  In fact, I’ve found it distracting to actually be looking down at people when I’m so used to looking up in the States.  Of course, that random Caucasian tourist that happens to meander astride me ruins everything.  Thankfully, it lasts for only a brief period, and I’m back to basking in my vertical dominance.

I have eight more days remaining in my homeland.  I’m certain to (re)discover more strange and unusual truths about Filipino existence in that time.

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