Posts Tagged ‘the Philippines’

46. Rolling Solo

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Six years ago, it was my first time backpacking on my own and I thought I would like it. I was visiting my brother in Manila and since he was busy with work for a couple weeks, he spotted me some cash so I could venture out and explore the Visayan Islands by myself.

“Ooh yes, this will be a great way to see more of the Philippines, get in touch with my inner self, keep a journal and do a bunch of reading,” I thought. Indeed, it ended up being all of those things, but it wasn’t the same. I was lonely.

I just dug up an old e-mail I sent my friends on that trip. It read:

I’m in Cebu City right now in between island hops and not getting laid. Haven’t yet met many tourists, even at the resorts. Just disgusting old men, strolling the beaches with young Filipinas who wouldn’t normally be caught dead with these scumbags. I’ve heard Thailand is even worse for this. But the Visayan Islands are awesome and I’m thoroughly enjoying the last bit of my vacation/lazy-bum-stuck-between-finishing-school-and-finding-a-real-job-and-getting-a-life stage (see 44. Gap Year).

I always thought traveling alone would be a fun exercise in self-discovery, or some cliché shit like that. Some people actually prefer traveling alone. After about a week of doing so, I’m convinced I’m not one of those people. I find myself taking in awe-inspiring landscapes and gorgeous sunsets by myself, without anybody to appreciate them with me, nobody to simply look over and say, “Fuck, is that ever beautiful.” Instead, I’m smoking a lot of Marlboro Lights.

Was I bitter that fat old sexpats were clearly getting more tail than I was? Certainly. But there was more to it than that.

Here are a few reasons why rolling solo isn’t for me:

  • I’m socially dependent. It’s who I am. I’m not the quiet guy brooding in the corner. I’m not wired like that. I’m drawn to people and people are drawn to me (beenou). Even when I set off on my own to travel Southeast Asia a couple years later, I made it a total of four days before latching onto a group of Chilean dudes, two of whom I proceeded to travel with for six fun-filled weeks. My Visayan trip was different because I really didn’t meet ANY other backpackers. I suspect it’s different now and more young people are traveling to the Phils, but it’ll never get the kind of traffic that Thailand gets, which is kinda nice.
  • I’m always on a tight budget. Hopefully that will change in the future, but on all my overseas trips to date, I’ve been scraping by day to day. That’s not to say you can’t have fun if you don’t have money. But had I a bit more cash to work with, I could have done more than simply reading in my nipa hut, tanning on the beach or smoking cigarettes. I could have learned how to scuba dive (more on that in a later post), gone on a group tour/jungle trek or gone zip-lining. More importantly: activities like these are ways to meet people.
  • Great experiences are worth sharing. Like I said, I’m a socially dependent person. Still, having seen and experienced some unforgettable things by myself and with friends, the with-friends memories are better. The food tastes better, the music sounds better, the sporting event is more exciting, the sunset is more breathtaking. And the next time you see that co-traveler, you have something to remember together. Looking back, the disasters are funnier and the redemptions are sweeter.
  • Safety. Do people go camping or go on remote hikes by themselves? No, because it’s just plain dangerous. Unless you’re a complete nutjob like Grizzly Man or the dude on Into The Wild. Neither story ends well.
  • Keeping up appearances. Try going to a bar by yourself some time. It’s terrible and you look like a total loser. But at least it’s introspective.

26. The Light Skin Paradox

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

india06nw1When you visit a country of colored people colonized by Europeans (i.e. any country outside of Europe, North America and in most cases, Russia), you quickly realize that locals do not want to look like locals. They want to look like their former masters, their former invaders and slave masters: white people.

A recent Globe and Mail article about this desire among Indian men should be poignant to backpackers, who flock by the millions to developing-world countries.

In these dark-skinned countries, where people’s skin is dark because of a genetic adaptation to increased exposure to sunlight, backpackers (most often white) notice that the predominant image of beauty is a colonial one.

It’s a lot like Chris Rock’s recent movie, Good Hair, which explores the head-scratching (pun intended) phenomenon in which African American women prefer having white women’s hair: The grass is always greener. It’s human nature to want what you can’t have. Curly-haired people women want straight hair, and vice-versa. Big titted-women want smaller tits, and vice-versa. Fair-skinned people want to be tanned.

The post-colonial ideal of a light-skinned, European-looking halfbreed exists all over the world. Television ads, fashion mags and billboards  promote uncommon specimens of beauty, unrepresentative of the greater population. Consider models in Brazil, Bollywood stars in India or celebrities in West Africa, Mexico, Cuba, the Caribbean (Sosa, see below, is Dominican), Colombia or the Philippines. Whether these countries were colonized by Spain, Portugal, France, Britain, Holland — whomever, the mulatto or mestizo is on TV. 

The paradoxical desire for dark-skinned people to have fair skin, while white people fry themselves in tanning beds, is something that I — as a Filipino-Canadian — am all too familiar with. Like many Asian women, my mom carries an umbrella on sunny days, so not to get a tan and, God forbid, be mistaken for the poorer, more indigenous classes of Filipinos who slave away in the rice paddies and plantations all fucking day. My mom has a bottle of Eskinol in the medicine cabinet. Granted, I’ve never seen her use it, but she has it.

Skin lighteners and bleaches are commonly used by females in places like the Philippines and India, but the Globe and Mail’s Diana Coulter reports that a growing number of Indian men, both urban and rural, have recently adopted the practice “in the belief that a pale complexion brings sucess in life, love and business.”

This isn’t some either-Michael-Jackson-bleaches-his-skin-or-he’s-got-vitiligo type bullshit. This is real. (Nov. 12, 11:00 p.m: My ESP is kickin’ in again. As my buddy Rhett just informed me, Sammy Sosa is apparently the new King of Pop.)

My brother has lighter skin than I do. A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for a local Canadian newspaper about my brother’s mercurial rise to stardom in Southeast Asia. He was first discovered as a model in the Philippines and eventually became a VJ on an international music station. When I asked one of his producers what about his audition convinced her that he would make a good VJ, she listed his bubbly personality, his genuine demeanor and his “pan Asian look.” As the music station’s lineup of VJs indicates, ”pan Asian” can be translated as “half Asian.”

So to be or look half Asian is to be better looking, right? Apparently not in South Korea. Two days ago, I came across a NY Times article about how Hines Ward was reaching out to fellow point-five Korean kids who’d been bullied or discriminated against by their full-blooded Korean counterparts. I guess the Tiger Woods look doesn’t fly over there. (My buddy Mike points out, though, Ward and Woods are half black and darker. Big difference.) Then you come to North America where biracial, dark-skinned models are sought after, sometimes to the point where being weird-looking or “exotic” is celebrated. Like I said, the whole light skin/dark skin thing is a perplexing phenomenon.

Nov. 28 - Here’s another NY Times article, about the integration of point-five children in South Korea.