Lesson 2: Filipinos and Knives

On one of my first days in the Philippines, I sat down at a restaurant and ordered toast and eggs for brunch. Out came the biggest piece of toast I had ever seen–1.5 times the size of my head–topped with scrambled eggs with vegetables and meat. I was overwhelmed, but devised a plan to tackle my toast and eggs with a fork and knife. It would be easy. I picked up my fork, and picked up my knife–only my knife was a spoon. Confused, I looked around the table to no avail. They had forgotten to give me my knife.

“Excuse me ma’am. I believe you forgot to give me a knife. May I please have one?”

She looked at me, confused. “Yes, ma’am, I will be right back with your knife.”

Laughing, my co-worker, Amira, who has been in the Philippines for the past year announced: “Filipinos don’t use knives!”

Now I was confused.

“Look around you. Is anyone using a knife? No. Filipinos are master separaters of food. They don’t cut, they pull apart.”

I looked even closer. She was right. Everyone was skillfully using a fork and spoon to tear apart their meals–chicken, pork, toast and eggs–everything. Well, when in Rome, I thought. Attempting to expose myself to the Filipino life as much as possible, I proceeded to pick up my fork and spoon once again to separate my toast and eggs, only to spill most of my eggs onto the table. Determined, I tried again. And flipped my plate over, causing the entire restaurant to stare at me—who was this rowdy foreigner? Defeated, I picked up my knife and retreated to my “American” ways. I was not yet a master separater, but I would learn.

Lesson 3: The Real World

The time had come. My first day of work. Excited, all the interns and I plopped into a taxi at 8:30—30 whole minutes before we were to arrive at the office—a mere 2.6 kilometers away from where we lived. The taxi was silent, I’m sure with all the thoughts running through everyone’s mind: what will the office be like? The work environment? The full time employees? The work-load? We could not get to the office sooner. Looking at our watches, we all began to panic. It was 8:50, and we had inched along maybe 100 meters. HOW COULD WE BE LATE FOR OUR FIRST DAY? This was impossible. We had calculated it perfectly, and even asked our host family’s driver to take us to the office the day before, to ensure that we knew the route and the amount of time it would take to get there. Leaning forward, one of the other interns, Thomas asked the cab driver

“Excuse me, sir, why is it taking so long?”

“Traffic very bad.”

“Yes, but yesterday when we went with the driver, it only took about 10 minutes to get there—even with the traffic.”

The driver looked at us, puzzled, contemplating a reasonable explanation for this.

“Oh, ma’amsir, you driver was using the Forbes entrance gate. Shortcut.”

“Okay, can you use that as well, sir.”

“No, I do not have sticker.”

And that was that. Never had I ever wanted to get out of a taxi so much in my life. We were going to be late for our first day of work, and there was nothing we could do about it. Shamefully walking in at 9:23AM, we greeted Amira, the internship coordinator.

“Sorry we’re so late.”

She laughed.

“We expected this.”

She explained to us that the office was in a gated community, and the fastest way to access it was, indeed, the Forbes gate. The problem with the gate, however, was that only cars with “special stickers” could enter it. You had to be registered. Furthermore, she explained the driving rules of Manila in general, in order to paint a picture of the traffic. Because of clogged roads and air pollution, Manila had implemented a color system which allowed certain cars to drive on certain days, in accordance to their color (i.e. an orange sticker may have meant one was only allowed to drive on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays). The problem with the system, however, was that in our part of Manila, many people could afford to have several cars. They would buy several cars, each having different colored stickers, and thus be able to drive every day of the week, defeating the purpose of the color system, and contributing to the traffic and pollution problem. We understood.

“Just plan to leave the house 45 minutes or so early and you’ll be okay.”

Our first day of work did not start as planned, but we would soon learn that in the real world, nothing goes as planned.