Friday, May 22, 2015

A traveler’s guide to Philippine Juanderland

Maribago Bluewater Resort | A traveler’s guide to Philippine Juanderland
Maribago Bluewater Resort: one of the leading destinations in Mactan Island, Cebu.
He writes….

With holiday in our minds because of the long Memorial Day weekend and the imminence of summer, vacationing becomes a reoccurring thought.

Across the Pacific ocean, in the Philippines, the summer season is at its most intense but the heat should subside when it’s getaway time for us US residents.

If you’re the type of traveler who is wowed by tropical sights, visiting the Philippines can both be fascinating and rejuvenating. It’s one thing to hear and read about the cultural nuances of another country and another to experience them.

I’ve had five trips to the Philippines that I can remember and towards the end of 2014, I visited for an extended stay. It was during this last trip that I was able to immerse myself into the daily life of an average denizen of Manila. I was fascinated by the differences in routine behaviors that most of us never think twice about when they happen. The extended stay was my fourth trip in two years, and my experiences were consistent during every trip.

“Feels like there are more employees than customers…”

The slogan “It’s more fun in the Philippines” emphasizes one of the gems of the country: overall hospitality from the virtual treasure trove of human resources. On any given day at the shops, restaurants, and malls (which were literally one-stop shops for all of life’s necessities), there was never a shortage of people to tend to customer needs. In the US, one would never see or feel that even on holidays, most likely because of business’ hypersensitivity to excess labor hours.

For a country with a relatively small land area but with a projected population of 100 million, it is easy to see where the abundance of workers come. It is comforting from the consumer standpoint, yet concerning when viewed through an operations management lens. The absence of institutional family planning practices driven by the objection of Catholic church leaders is most likely a factor behind the rich labor force.

Nonetheless, the abundance of service professionals can be an adjustment. For example, at any fast-casual food establishment, it is considered odd to clean your own table after using it. The service crew can even bring your tray to your table and won’t turn down a request to bring more packs of ketchup.

In supermarkets, attendants are available to cart your groceries curbside. In malls, security personnel are visible and consistently helpful with directions (although it would be nice to occasionally not point the way with one’s shotgun). There’s always someone to help you and anticipate what would make your experience more pleasant.

And no need to wonder if there’s an ulterior motive behind the elevated hospitality: Filipinos are naturally cordial and friendly, and as eternally warm as the perennial heat of the tropical sun.

An impressive display of respect and deference

I was amazed by the hosts at the Daluyon resort on the island of Palawan in southern Luzon, and Pearl Farm in Davao. Even while cleaning, mopping or sweeping, workers would stop what they were doing, greet us, and wait until we passed before resuming their tasks. It was reminiscent of the universal deference towards others in general that is common in countries like Japan, but with a new flavor that can only be found in the Philippine culture.

Pearl Farm Davao | A traveler’s guide to Philippine Juanderland
Parola at Pearl Farm, Davao, Philippines
A tip on tipping

In the US, we show our appreciation for exceptional service in the amount we tip. In the Philippines, however, some food establishments include a 5-percent “service charge” in the final amount of the bill, which customarily is sufficient and eliminates the need to leave a tip. Otherwise, a P20 ($0.50) tip is acceptable.

The assurance that the establishment will confer 100 percent of earned “service charges” to tipped servers is a tenuous one at best, so it’s fine to add a little more to that service charge in the form of a direct tip for the server.

Standards of tipping for taxicab rides aren’t different from those for food servers, with one exception: in the Metro Manila area, cabbies are quick to remind you if you didn’t tip enough, which could become awkward. There’s no set guideline, but the tip should be an amount that matches the effort, mostly because of the monstrous traffic situation. Twenty percent is decent, however cabbies expect a little more if the drive was extraordinarily long, or strenuous, or both.

On the other hand, cabbies are as honest as they come and give the exact change in cities like Davao.

Hospitality is rarely a two-way street...and that’s okay

As a naturally friendly person, I often drew fierce admonitions from Kira as I randomly greeted or nodded hello to passers-by on the streets of Metro Manila. She described it as behaving as though I was running for public office, but also explained that by doing so, I let my guard down and made myself vulnerable to either pickpocketing thieves or gypsies who would try to hypnotize me out of my money. I had to make adjustments in minimizing and curtailing eye contact with, well, everyone.

Along the lines of keeping up one’s guard while traveling the busy city streets, I also noticed that there’s no such thing as a “pedestrian-right-of-way” rule of the road. Cars appeared to be territorial, such that crossing an unregulated section of a street is like, as they say in the States, playing “chicken” with the cars. They don’t slow down for pedestrians, as if to proclaim that the pedestrian should know better. Some of the near-misses I saw were terrifying.

Quezon City skyline | A traveler’s guide to Philippine Juanderland
Quezon City skyline: even if the pristine beauty of resorts is missing in Metro Manila, sunsets offer awe-inspiring moments of their own

This, however, is not a generalization. In more laidback cities and provinces, there is no danger in being over-friendly.

Get a little closer...don’t be shy

Not to sound like a commercial, but have you ever wondered if you’ve used enough deodorant? As cautious as one must be out on the street or busy sidewalks, there interestingly isn’t a tacitly high premium on personal space, especially on trains.

Kira and I rode the MRT or the LRT to get around, and when it’s standing-room only during rush hour, it’s completely normal to stand even closer than shoulder-to-shoulder in a sardine-like packed subway car. And even before you even get on the train, piles of riders push and nudge their way into the car like those king of the mountain scenes in World War Z. It’s the kind of hug-distance rough-and-tumble proximity to other riders that would start a fight in the U.S....or fits of laughter in a memorable game of Twister.

At any rate, it’s wise to plan your exit about two or three stops before you need to disembark. It’s also advisable to wear your backpack on your front, and guard your pockets.

The balance of hospitality and apathy seems to work for them in the Philippines, mainly because you always know what to expect. You can expect an enormous sense of hospitality from service associates as you can on the other far end of the friendliness spectrum from all others. With rare exception from cabbies (and department store salespeople, on occasion), the Philippines lives up to its slogan, which also provides clear context behind the cultural nuances that help secure their lone position as the epitome of hospitality. #

Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan | A traveler’s guide to Philippine Juanderland
Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan: one of the new seven wonders of nature

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