Posted by: Jae | June 12, 2011

How To Write About the Philippines

This entry is inspired by and takes off from these hilarious pieces: How to Write About Africa and How to write about Pakistan

To write about the Philippines, two metaphors must find their way into the first three pages, or else your narrative is rendered suspect.

The first is the weather, sunny and warm, used as a metaphor to describe the warmth and smiles of the Filipino people, and the hospitable embrace with which we welcome you to our lovely shores. To establish early on your capacity for philosophical depth, you can up the ante by talking about how our warmth and smiles belie the grinding poverty and wretchedness of our lives.

The second is a metaphor to describe the color of our skin, and this we leave to your own literary inclinations, as long as it sounds earthy and exotic.  Some pegs that you might want to consider are (1) golden rice fields, (2) caramel, (3) sun-kissed anything.  The most important thing is to praise the skin. To win over your reader, you might want to add a phrase or two about the pasty-white color of yours.

You will now want to decide where to set your story. If in the countryside, remember to use the words “idyllic” and, with a view to impress, “bucolic.” All farmers are kind-hearted and earnest and oppressed by a landowner in a horse. God forbid you suggest that there are some farmers who steal fertilizer or overprice their vegetables. You may want to zero in on one particular farmer – a hardworking, weatherbeaten, wise man who can only say things like “the earth is our mother, woe to those who abuse her” and is incapable of more mundane conversation like “why did you forget to put the beer inside the fridge?”.  But that farmer will have a daughter,  single but of a child-bearing age – “in full flower” is a good handy phrase. She will be frightened by you and your throbbing Western masculinity; and you will be taken by her long hair, slender figure and skin the color of __(insert selected metaphor.)  You need to work in the word “nubile” at some point.

Be generous with the description of the provincial lass, and remember that it is not possible to overstate her virginal state. Later, you will be needing that description as reference when you compare her to a Filipino prostitute you meet in one of your anthropological forays into the dark and grimy side of the Philippines.

Which brings us to the second option of setting: Manila. Sweltering, throbbing Manila, moving to its own frenetic dissonant beat.  You will want to describe Manila as one searing hotbed of urban poverty, and an important word to use is “underbelly.” Yes, underbelly, under the belly. Manila is, after all, just one big mass of pubic hair: smelly, forbidden, and in dire need of landscaping.

Here, though, you can have more fun with the cast of characters. Make sure you include an inquisitive child who asks questions, calls you “Joe”, thinks all white people are Americans and wants to be just like you. His mother is a devout, almost fanatical Catholic who prays everyday to win the lottery and puts lotto tickets beside crucifixes (commentary on religion). His father is an alcoholic policeman who engages in petty malfeasance (commentary on corruption). His brother is a cross-dressing homosexual with a heart of gold (God forbid you depict homosexuals as having anything other than a heart of gold). His sister is, of course, the prostitute. She wants to sleep with you but instead you offer to buy her coffee, and she proceeds to tell you about how she was molested by a priest when she was nine.

Of course, pepper the entire narrative with quirky little details: karaoke singing, eating balut (boiled duck embryos), drinking San Miguel Beer, getting stuck in traffic whilst inside a jeepney whose driver has fear of neither law nor God, a weekend at a beach – the most beautiful beachfront of your life it drove you to tears! — and a random shocking illustration of the obscenity of wealth amidst so much want.

If you want a “sidekick” – a friend you meet along the way, an “intellectual” who will explain the rudiments of Filipino culture to you – you will probably want him to be educated abroad, here only for a short vacation.  Because of course, the Philippine education system does not have what it takes to create a worthy interlocutor for you. His way of explaining Filipino culture will be sheepish in parts, wryly proud in others. Yes, he is a “he” because if your sidekick is a Filipino woman, sexual tension is inevitable and she will probably want to  marry you and have your babies.

Remember that the Philippines is a Catholic country. The Muslims are confined to a small part in the South. To avoid confusion, you must describe them as Filipino Muslims. To describe Filipino Catholics, you may simply say Filipinos.  Remember that in the Philippines, there is no such thing as a non-Catholic Christian,  a person who is not crazy for karaoke, or a girl who is more educated/well-read than you and is not interested in you.

End by professing undying love for our beautiful islands, the Pearl of Orient Seas, the Far East. Remain blissfully unaware that there is a big statue right in the middle of the “underbelly” dedicated to the fierce warrior who stood up to the first foreigner that tried to patronize us. The foreigner’s name was Ferdinand Magellan, and to his progeny I offer my condolences.

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY, PILIPINAS. The struggle against hokey stereotypes continues. 🙂 



  1. Breathe taking, almost poetic in its enchanting glory. your choice of words, your use of metaphors and satire would have made my literature teacher proud. though i have to say i am not pasty white but maybe pasty brown. and maybe Manila must get that hair laser treatment that is every girls dream.

  2. you just had to sneak that “laser” barb in, charmaine, charmaine…. =)

  3. Was just reading “Neither “Saints” Nor “Prostitutes”:Sexual Discourse In The Filipina Domestic
    Worker Community In Hong Kong” and omg, I so feel you on the ‘nubile’ Filipina and ‘throbbing Western masculinity’ bits. Awesome! More please 😀

  4. thanks sya! that paper sounds interesting. will definitely read it soon!

  5. i agree with everything except one tiny-teensy bit. we all know that priests prefer to molest boys (not girls) of nine years 🙂

  6. oh you nitpicker… :p

  7. yan! they also love to do that to 9 year-old boys… pick their nu… ay wait. “nit” pala yun. hehehe. my mistake 🙂

  8. This is very cool Jae.. Please write more.. 🙂

  9. hello.. hello.. hello..

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