In America our standard greeting is “How are you?” or “What’s up?” Although some people may occasionally take the time to craft a genuine response, more typically the answer is unimportant, “Good. Howboutchu?” or “Nothing.”
In the Philippines if you see someone in passing you can expect them to ask where you are going first and foremost, “Saan ka papunta?” (Saan=where; ka=you; papunta=going) or even “Saan ka?” (Where you?) for short.
At first I would blunder through a response, my mind searching desperately for the proper Tagalog words to explain my destination and objective. However just as we may barely listen as a friend mutters “I’m fine” and then moves on to say something more important, Filipinos often respond “Dyan lang” or “Just there.” However the easiest and most classic response uses no words at all…
I have now come to expect this common response. However when I am looking for a place to buy a new cell phone charger in town and directions are given by puckered lips, navigating becomes a game much like Hot and Cold until I finally reach my destination.
This blog entry was inspired by Andrew, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua, who is collecting common sayings from several different countries for his own blog http://www.maywesuggest.org.
As an American traveling in the States, the decision of whether or not to ask for directions may be a point of contention. Here in the Philippines the difficult part is not deciding whether to ask, it is following the directions once you receive them.
To ask a Filipino for directions typically yields a hand wave or even lips puckered (Filipinos tend to give directions with their lips) in a particular direction. When I needed to purchase a waterbottle, this response was particularly frustrating because I was entirely confused as to where this store could possibly be and found myself wandering seemingly aimlessly.
Now I have realized that protocol for asking and receiving directions is entirely different in this culture. Instead, it is assumed that you ask multiple people. The hand wave means walk that way and ask someone else when you get there. Almost like the childhood game of warmer versus colder when searching for an item. While this method seemed highly taxing, the alternative is not substantially easier. Clearly limited by the lack of roads and street names here is a set of directions another Peace Corps Volunteer texted me yesterday, while I was trying to find my way to a fish sanctuary:
“When you get to the mayor’s farm make a right, go past the b-ball court and past a nice road with a gate to the white house. Then go down that hill and make a left til you reach shipping containers, a cement bank, and a cow pasture. Make a left and follow that trail through the cow pasture and up the hill towards the antennae and guardhouse.”
Below are some of the sights along the way. Although I referenced the text several times on my bike ride there, we made it successfully to our snorkel site. Thanks Ata!!
When I finally arrived, our Filipino supervisor looked up to the sky and spotting the moon, still visible in the daytime, joked, “It’s easy to find, the fish sanctuary is just under the moon.”
SJ Byce as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. And Intern at CIEE Bonaire '17