The Philippines – It’s Like the 50s Only More Humid

If you’re past a certain age (and since I don’t want to offend anybody I won’t say what age that is) the first time you go to the Philippines you invariably come back thinking, “the place is right out of the 50s.”

As fellow blogger, Max Veracity, says in Living in Dumaguete, “time seems to stand still in this country as fads which were popular before these ladies were born are still current … today.” Fad number one is music. The first time I arrived in Manila and got in a taxi I was surprised to hear the radio play oldie after oldie; the stuff I grew up with; nothing past 1980. I assumed the driver, a middle-aged guy like me, liked him his golden oldies music. Hmmm…not quite. The next time I got in a taxi the driver was playing the same station. Quite a coincidence, I thought. That is until I heard the same station blaring out of a store.

How did I know it was the same station, besides the ancient play list? Because the same little kid yelled out the promo, “WIN Radio, WIN Radio” a thousand times until I heard it in my sleep. In fact, it sounds sappy, but now when I arrive in the Philippines and grab a taxi and hear that kid yell out “WIN Radio, WIN Radio, WIN Radio” I get all warm inside and feel like I am home. I mean I’m Jewish and they’re playing Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow. I have to feel at home, right?

In short, 70s and 80s music is modern music in the Philippines!

Then you have karaoke which hit it’s heyday in the US about thirty years ago. But every Filipino knows how to sing American songs from decades ago and they do it in every conceivable place. I mean coin operated karaoke machines on the beach? That seems a bit obsessive doesn’t it? When I hit the beach the last thing I am thinking about is singing. Swimming, snorkeling, checking out bikinis, drowning in an undertoe – sure. But Beach Blanket Karaoke? Not on my radar.

You want to dance in the Philippines – go to the local disco. Yep, they still exist. Travolta would feel right at home.

Malls: The financial pages are predicting doom and gloom for this year’s Xmas retail shopping season in the US. Mall traffic is down; brick and mortar stores are dying. But in the Philippines? They continue to build bigger and bigger malls. SM Seaside City Cebu Mall, will be the biggest mall in the Philippines (and 4th largest in the world) with 1000 shops and restaurants, is about to open; ok, based on Philippines time, who the hell knows when it will open. The point is mall construction is exploding in the Philippines.

These are not little strip malls like when we grew up. They are luxurious shopping cities. I’ve said this before, but it’s hard to imagine how a relatively poor country like the Philippines supports such high-end malls. Somebody’s hiding some cash somewhere. All I know is when we arrive in Cebu Janet is a very happy wife 🙂

Foods: I like many Filipino foods but other expats complain.  Fried foods, grease, cholesterol, pork, ice cream and chocolates are staples in the Philippines. Frankly people say this like it’s a bad thing 🙂

The issue isn’t the quality of the food; the issue is the country is right out of the 50s. Remember what we ate when we were kids? When hots dogs and beans was considered a quality meal. When proper cooking of  a steak meant how bloody could you cook it and still have it be considered dead. When vegetables came out of a Birdseye bag. When a healthy salad meant a chunk of iceberg lettuce with a tomato covered in Thousand Island dressing, aka mayonnaise. BTW, this is still my fave salad. The first time I got a salad at a restaurant in the Philippines it was a chunk of iceberg with some watery Thousand Island; they didn’t even bother with the tomato. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!

Roosters: We all know that roosters and chickens are ubiquitous in the Philippines, even in the cities. How does this relate to the West? I’m watching the Godfather Part 2 for about the hundredth time and in the scenes in New York City when Vito was a young man there were roosters and chickens in the middle of the NYC streets. OK, it wasn’t the 50s and I doubt that Coppola had been to the Philippines at the time (he was there later for Apocalypse Now) but still it was a touch that defines the modern from the old. In short, we had roosters too damn it, so stop complaining.

Family: Everyone’s attracted to the old fashioned family values in the Philippines, though if truth be told if those values no longer exist in the West, we must be somewhat to blame. But if you ask almost every expat they will tell you that they love the attitude towards the family, the elder members of the family, as well as the perceived attitudes toward marriage and divorce. Well, at least they love it until the family asks them for money 🙂

Women’s Attitudes: OK, here we have a sensitive subject, at least in the West. Ironically we’ve never had a woman President in the US (yet) but they have had in the Philippines and women do well in politics and business there. That being said, it’s easy to view women’s attitudes and gender differences as right out of our parents’ or grandparents’ generations. I image that, “Hey Edith, get me a San Miguel” can often be heard in the Philippines. (OK, it’s an old reference – look it up).

Recently Janet and I were out with a longtime female friend of mine. The two women got some alone time and my friend asked Janet what she liked to do with her free time after work. Janet told her she liked to “cook, bake and clean.”  Do I really need to tell you all how that answer went over?






6 thoughts on “The Philippines – It’s Like the 50s Only More Humid”

  1. Kind of goes hand in hand with an article I published last night…about the Philippines news media helping to keep the population in the dark about many things (dumbed down as it is referred to today), especially about world events. The big news of the day here is usually what happens inside the village borders, just like it was when I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s. Chizmis and chocolate ice cream…there is nothing more relaxing on a warm summer day, especially when one doesn’t speak the language!

    1. Agreed Randy. Human nature I suppose to care more about your neighborhood or barangay then somewhere else. Frankly Janet couldn’t care less about Manila – unless you get her talking about the bullet scam 🙂

      I’m sure it’s my advancing age, but I don’t think I will miss all the Western political and social arguments when I move to the Philippines.

  2. About a month ago we were out with some friends and Cindy was describing something from her hometown and a friend said it sounds like Mayberry. Cindy just got here in mid May so she is still in the everything is new to her phase and asked where is Mayberry. We explained to her that it’s not so much about a where but a when and told her about the Andy Griffith show. When we got home she asked if we can watch the show and I checked on Amazon and it was there! We started watching it and throughout the show she was exclaiming “We have that!”. It seems that The Andy Griffith show reminds her of growing up in Sibonga…in the 1990’s.

    1. John R – Mayberry is a good analogy. No discussion of politics or social ills in Mayberry, but everyone knew everything that Barney and Thelma Lou were up to 🙂

  3. Dave, imagine Joanie and Chachi on a boring date just staring down at their cell phones-texting and checking FB-or Ralph Crandom coming home after a hard day’s driving his Jeepney…seems like it’s a mix of the past, with a little tech thrown in for good measure.

    1. Exactly Steve T – I loved the Honeymooners but let’s face it, Ralph’s “to the moon, Alice” wouldn’t go over too well here now. But it might be commonplace in a barangay in the Philippines. Loved the image of Ralph coming home from a hard day’s work driving a jeepney. We forget that just a couple generations ago people lived in cold water flats like theirs – and felt fortunate to have them. No one (certainly not me) would put up with that now in the US. So that’s another way that the Philippines is like the 50s.

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