how the world sees america

Little America, in Manila

Starbucks_Tall_Manila_Amar.jpg
All roads lead to the Starbucks Siren

MANILA, Philippines – This is the first city I’ve visited that has more Starbucks, McDonalds, 7-Elevens, TGI Fridays, and Pizza Huts per square foot than a strip mall in suburban Washington D.C. I’m actually writing this from a Starbucks on Adriatico Street. Shame on me.

My home here is in a college friend’s apartment in a somewhat seedy part of town. Storefronts below my place offer “Foot/Body and Reflexology Massages.” Outside the parlors, dozens of women wearing matching pink uniforms call out, “Hey Daddy” to business tourists passing through. Gnarled men hawk boxes of Viagra, saying, “Buy My Vitamins.” A young boy wears tattered boxers and a t-shirt that has “Fitch” emblazoned on it in red felt, under which the letters “N.Y.C.” are scrawled in what looks like ink from a black Sharpie pen.

Next to one parlor is a Tex-Mex and Steak joint called Boston Charcoal Grill. Beside the word “Boston” there’s a big neon cowboy hat. In the four years I spent in Boston, I didn’t see much connection between Boston and Tex-Mex, but who knows? This is America reinvented.

Referring to all the U.S. chains here, journalist Glenda Gloria says, “That’s why Filipinos who go to the U.S. feel so comfortable there. They think: ‘Those Americans have taken so many of our chains!’”

Boston_Steak_Manila_5.jpg
Bostonian Tex-Mex?

When I landed here, I set out to find a good nonfiction narrative history of the Philippines to read. I couldn’t find anything other than dry academic accounts at any of the bookstores in the many gigantic malls spread out across the city. But I did see dozens of narrative nonfiction books about American politics, by authors like Bill O’Reilly, Joe Klein, Anne Coulter, Barack Obama, the Clintons, and Goldie Hawn.

I ended up buying a book by a Filipino-American academic Sharon Delmendo called The Star-Entangled Banner about U.S.-Philippines relations over the past century. In typical academic prose, its introduction reads:

"The Philippine-American engagement has never been one of simple conquest or resistance...but one of mutual ideological and cultural entanglement..."

I'll be exploring that entanglement for the coming weeks. In two days I'll head to to Mindanao to talk to separatist Muslim rebels there. Then fly north to Laoag City where I plan to look at Filipino labor migration to the U.S. and the impact on families back home. Then I'm thinking of driving south through the Cordilleras Mountains where American missionaries dwell in remote parts. I'll keep going from there on past old U.S. military bases in Olongapo, and then finish off back here in Manila.

The itinerary is, as always, very flexible. So let me know your thoughts. What questions should I ask? What topics or places are you curious about? Share your ideas over email or on the thread below.

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Comments (40)

John:

Having frequently visited the Philippines, I must say I love it there. The people are welcoming and are truely happy. Whether its the comforting climate of Bagiuo and the warm breeze off the China Sea, the weather suits me.

My personal preference is to always travel like a non-tourist, local means of transportation, cultural and culinary delights, etc. It allows for everyone to let their guard down, getting to know the people individually. Doing so also lessens the occasions where I may be taken advantage of. In all my visits I have been propositioned only a handful of times and that was in such epicenters such as Ermita and Makati where foriegn businessmen have been known to flock.

I work with many OFW and it was under ther recommendation that I first visited. I have eaten in their homes, met their families, played with their children. Todays OFW are the soldiers of an economic war from a previous generation. True heroes to their families and kababayan.

I have yet to visit UP, but must say I am looking forward to my next visit. I have had the priveledge of breakfast with former Manila Mayor Atienza, who although part of the political dynasties that have plagued many democracies in the world(including America) was engaging and knowledgable of the many subjects we discussed.

Jerry:

Stop turning this into an anti-Israel forum; go do that in the ISRAEL section -- this is about the PHILIPPINES.

That said, I have a lot of love and respect for the Philippines and their people. It's the only foreign country I have any intention to visit.

Mestisa in Atlanta:

I remember visiting the PI as a teen. I don't remember the sex industry as described, but perhaps my mother protected me. What I DO remember is a place where i belonged - beautiful, positive, and happy people who accept their role in society but are happily exist to serve each other. This is honestly one of the best places, besides America, to visit - no bias! Make sure you visit Leyte Gulf, where General McArthur landed to ultimately conquer the Japs. Viva PI!

Francis:

What the hell do people have against PI that they would post non-related Filipino issues here? sigh.

Anyways, it's true. The University of the Philippines (my campus by the way) was built by Americans... but due to its shift in philosophy and leftist views, U.P. has become an active nest for communist activism. ANd the irony is most professors in the said University are against America. Weird huh?

Well anyway, Im one of those Filipinos who still feel indebted to what the United States passed on to us. Knowing the history of the Unites States (the journey of the Puritans for religious freedom, etc.) we Filipinos have this special tie that bind us with AMericans. We do believe in Freedom. And even if we had the Filipino-American War, the United States still opted us to help us stand on our own two feet especially after the Japanese occupation. Even if historians or experts blame our poor economy on the Marcoses or other factors... it is really us, (no matter how Filipinos deny it) who is to blame. It is our culture that has been broken down. It is the heart and the pulse of the nation that is corrupted. It is us Filipinos who should fix it.

For anyone who wishes to research more on the brokenness of the Filipino Culture and the lingering hope of saving it, I recommend "Culture and History" by Nick Joaquin (a modern Filipino sage).

Indeed, that is why I choose to stay here in the Philippines... to somehow overturn the situation we are in... and there are a lot more Filipinos like me, nameless ones who are the real heroes of this country.

For the overseas Filipino workers, the remittances have sustained us for so long, but it is unhealthy for the country to rely on this alone. But I can say wholeheartedly that these OFWs are HEROES too in their own right. Imagine leaving your family to work on a country you dont know, and work there for years just to send money to the Philippines. The tears blood and sweat of the OFWs prove that there is still nobility in us.

Sal :

I am a American Citizen living in the states of almost thirty years. I just passed my CPA in the Philippines when I came here.

Still, I wannt to spent the rest of my life once I turned 60 years old and no matter what other people see about the Philippines Is till believe the country is still one of the best place to live in. People smile sincerely and anyway life is measured the way you look up things.

It is not only measured in terms of dollars and the luxuries of material things. What is the big deal of being rich if you cannot spend a dollar for other people? How many percentage of American living alone or separated from their own families? How many people in America lived with their own biological parents?

We have our own welfare in America and yet so many people are homeless> Imagine, if the welfare money is remove.


CM:

I think it's important to see Manila and Muslim parts of the Philippines, but you should also check out rural Catholic islands as well. Each part of the Philippines has its own culture, and I think the rural Catholic regions embody a vast number of Filipinos.

pinay27:

Amar,
I hope you have enough time to look for the infos about Philippines. The books in stores are like we have in Barnes and Nobles and if you want authetic books-I believe they are still available in school(universities) libraries--the keep the old ones--no chance of keeping editions up to date-too expensive so that will be your best bet.

I live half of my adult life in the south where we go to school with the muslims you are talking about. We go to same market and postoffice- but in such time- I feel that there was this unspoken seizefire or timeout while we do activities of daily living and resume fighting later.
Like any country-America included- we have good and bad side; what you do with it is up to you.
Since you are in that part of the world-enjoy and be safe and I mean-be safe. Foreigners are like sore thumbs-you stand out and you symbolize dollars--and get the picture..

Joseph:

"For that middle-aged American looking for 'sexual industry,' it sounds that this is the only reason you travel in Asian countries. That's sad! Why go to the Philippines or other countries in Asia when you can find what you're looking for in street corners of America's big cities."

That depends on whether he wants to pay a woman herself in order to have sex with her, or wants to pay a pimp in order to rape the pimp's preteen girl slave (or preteen girl human trafficking victim, if you think slavery ended in 1865)? Some jurisdictions crack down on slavery less than others do, which makes slave rental more available in those places...

Young&Strange:

For the love of "consumership" get your facts straight Dave !

7-11 may be a Japanese company but it was not always that way.7-11 was founded in Texas by "Americans, and later on while going through financial hardships, a Japanese saved them.

Anonymous:

"The driving force behind capitalism is the same force that prevents it from spreading."

Sounds like "the driving force behind cancer is the same force that prevents it from spreading".

No chance in Hell!

Traveler:

I am writing this post from Seoul, South Korea, arguably one of the most Americanized nations on the planet. Very similar situation here with the American chains, yet it does not detract from their uniqueness as a culture one bit. After living here for a few months, chains like Starbucks and Outback Steakhouse feel as Korean to me as the traditional shops and restaurants that flourish around them. The driving force behind capitalism is the same force that prevents it from spreading. Wherever it exists, it must to some extent be embraced by the culture that surrounds it.

jecadebu:

Amar, I know you said you were looking for non-fiction reads, but let me recommend P.F. Kluge's novel "Biggest Elvis" for an insightful look at the impact of American pop culture and political imperialism on the Philippines.

Metin Talks Turkey, Newport Beach, CA:

Amar: While you were away, Boston was inhabited by Texans who now have setup BBQ franchises all over the Irish part . . . The Boston Tea Party is now referred to as Boston T-Bone Party.

Oh by the way, Boston Chicken is now BFC. Boston Fried Chicken. It turns out Southerners have also revenged their loss of the Civil War.

See what happens when you're gone for so long. And we have preselected Ron Paul as President. That's sure to change your biased reporting of How the World Sees America.

:)

Now if we can only get the Zionists out of Manila, life would be so peaceful, and less corrupt. lol . . .

:)

Have you had a chance to visit the collection of Imelda's shoes??

synthesis:

filipinos, japanese, and chinese are well adapted to synthesizing aspects of other cultures while maintaining their own morals, ethics and morays. synthesizing other cultures is different than assimilating. 7-11 is japanese -- talk about assimilating!

anyway, why are wackos posting anti-zionist comments on an article pertaining to PI culture?

AE:

Gee, what happened to those Marcos stories? You know, America's friend, a contemporary of the Shah of Iran (and just as corrupt), Westinghouse nuclear power plant contracts and kick-backs, etc.

Democratisation? Did that include a large helping of IMF loans that stiffled The Philipines for the entire period after the Marcos era? Sounds like they need their local version of Chavez, and given the recent takeover of a hotel by soldiers, it may well be a copy of the Chavez attempted coup in 1990s.

Mind you, The Philipines was in fact an American colony.

Maria:

For that middle-aged American looking for "sexual industry," it sounds that this is the only reason you travel in Asian countries. That's sad! Why go to the Philippines or other countries in Asia when you can find what you're looking for in street corners of America's big cities.

Amar, while in Manila, find time time to visit Intramuros, the walled city. It was built in 1571.

Also check out the University of Santo Tomas, the oldest university in the Philippines, founded in 1611, older than Harrvard University which was founded in 1636.

Jerry F.:

Living in PI as an Expat American, it's sort of fun to read some hung-up people's yapping on about sex tourist. Sex started with Adam and Eve, Its normal, delightful, and pleasing. What more can a guy say?
Enough of the sexual hang-ups yapping, if the USA is so great, why does so many Expats live here in PI?
Beautiful ladies, low cost of living, great selection of fresh meat and produce, Great beer at a reasonable cost,(except when you go to the Expat bars)Great Rum, (not the cheapest poison)No Cops hiding behind telephone poles with their little radar guns (except for Subic Bay former base), no $10,000 costs for driving after a few beers, and to be honest, corruption is no worse here than it is in the states. Here you might offer a few Piso's for a soft drink, where as in the states, it would take the form of hiring a Lawyer to "Beat" a traffic ticket and you know that is going to be a hundred or more.
Very low taxes, like 80-90 dollars a year on an $80 K house, Smiles everywhere you look, absolutely the finest bodies every where you look, and no ladies asking what you credit card limit is. Is rental sex available in PI? No more so than the US, here it is just more humanized, in other words, the lady is happy, the man is happy. What more could anyone ask for? And just for fun, I am a happily married man going on 66.
Eat your hearts out.

Pharris:

Please comment on whether you think the disparity between rich and poor in Philippine mirror that in the U.S. How about the underlying causes? In the U.S. we don't have the dynastic fiefdoms that are still going very strong in the Philippines. You will see what I mean when you go to Laoag City and see how the Marcos family is still worshipped up there. (I hear Bong Bong Marcos still give very lavish parties, if you can get yourself invited.) Go to any city or province in the Philippines and you will have one family that will dominate politics and power. Despite U.S. attempts to create the Philippines "in our image," many of the vestiges of Spanish rule (e.g. caudillismo and hacienda system). Of all the examples of "benign" and effective colonial handover of power to local rule, you have to admit the U.S. did pretty well with the Philippines. Filipinos love America more than Americans!

Ivan Groznii:

I've been to Manila as well as many other countries in many regions of the world. I stayed in a major chain hotel near the US Embassy just a block or two away from Manila Bay. The hotel was great. The atmosphere was awful. You couldn't set foot outside of the hotel without somebody trying to sell you there sister. Even just outside the walls of the old church compound (St. Augustine, I think), there were people plying the world's oldest trade. I was surprised. I could walk for blocks in any direction and would be constantly bombarded -- harassed -- with offers.

It was really saddening because I am part Fillipino. I was so distressed by this that, after the third day, I didn't leave the hotel except to go to my job and back. Even on Sunday morning, I walked down to the pier for an excursion to Bataan. I was so disturbed by the constant propositions that I turned around about half way there and went back to the hotel.

Trina:

"Okay people, these would be the Philippines, not Israel. Not the 'Manila' up top instead of the 'Tel Aviv'. Keep your Israel arguements to Israel threads, if you please."

Yeah, it's like this:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/16/AR2007071601897_2.html

...Beckman reminisced about the time he went to Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, for a Dave Matthews concert. Between songs, a chorus of "Yankees suck" broke out.

"Between songs!" Beckman said. "I mean, there wasn't any baseball in sight. We were at a concert!"...

John D.:

Amar;

Whilst in the Cordilleras, visit Baguio City in the mountain province of Benguet. There you should visit the universities (Univ. of Cordilleras, Univ. of Baguio, and St. Louis Univ.) to get the perspective from the students in their ambitions for the future of the Philippines and their thoughts of American/European relationships. Baguio was founded a hundred years ago by Americans and designed by an American architect (Burnham). During February each year there is a month long native festival called "The flower Festival" that is well worth taking in. In addition, there are thousands of retired expats, Brits, Aussies, Americans (KANO's) Germans and Canadians. A few of their thoughts would be worth your questioning.
Merry Christmas and Mabuhay!!

Anonymous:

Amar,

While in Metro Manila don't forget to visit the University of the Philippines main campus in Diliman, Quezon City. It was designed by the US to educate the leaders of the country. Most of the major players in Philippine politics - from the leaders of the Communist Party, the past and current Government leaders, and even some from the Military, came from there. If you want to gauge where the country will go in the coming decades you need to talk to the students in U.P.

Jensen:

Amar,

Maybe Filipinos perspectives on confronting violent extremism? They've had to deal with their own set of problems in this area. A different perspective would be very illuminating.

Dave Magee:

Actually fun fact, 7-11 isnt an American Company. It's Japanese. Keep up the great work Mr. Bakshi, I look forward to your next post! I concur with a previous poster in wanting to hear about other regions beyond the middle east.

leah:

Amar,
To add to the US-Philippine entanglements, I was appalled by a WaPo column by Krauthammer (read it if you have access) where he justified the US's coddling of dictators, particularly the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos. Even non-historians will tell you that the post-WWII Philippines was in a better place economically than Korea or Japan. During the Marcos regime and many years after (up to the present, in fact)something particularly drastic happened to the psyche of the Filipino. Corruption is now the order of the day. The Philippines is only a little better than Bangladesh. Is the US partly responsible for this? No doubt about it. Unfortunately, Marcos' regime coincided with the US' paranoia with communism. Substitute Islamic terrorism with communism and Musharraf with Marcos, and it's deja vu all over again! I hope some scholar (you, perhaps) would study this period in Philippine history and how it affected the culture and economy of the Philippines in the present.

Tom Miller:

The Mid-East discussions and rants were interesting even if sometimes non-sensical but I'm glad you moved on Amar. There is so much news about the Mid-East today that we all tend to miss the enormous changes going on in the rest of the world. When the dust finally settles on the age-old Middle Eastern problems, much of the rest of the world will be unrecognizable I suspect but at least it will have moved on.

I've never been to the Philippines and know little about the country so I'm glad to see a breath of fresh air.

Ask the Philippinos if they feel sick from the "almost cancerous movement of American culture and economics..." or are they preparing for their place in the new globalized world.

Nilda:

Amar, for better or.... Thank you for writing about my home country Philippines. Come visit Bicol region. A bunch of these posters only think about sexual industries in Asia. Well.. hate to tell you they're all over the place!! Not exclusively in Asia!! My GOD.

Glenn:

Those chains you cite have taken over the world, not just the Philippines. I was recently in Thailand. There is a 7-11 every 100 feet or so all over the country. And Starbucks is starting to sprout up all over. Not quite so many McDonald's and Pizza Hut is largely supplanted by its local rival called The Pizza Company which has the exact same menu and decor but didn't want to pay the franchise fee anymore. Lots of KFCs, BKs, Au bon pain, you name it.

Sanjay:

What the heck is wrong with Muslims here? Go to the last blog and criticize Jews there. You are late to the party, as usual.

Amar, tell us about the sexual industry in Phillipines and what they think of their middle-aged male American customers? I saw a whole bunch in Thailand.

Bwana Dik:

Amar,
I'm looking forward to reading your observations as you travel about the PI. You have some readers whose interests and world views extend beyond Israel and Palestine. As a regular visitor to the PI, I'm always interested in how those new to the country will see it. Good luck!

Anonymous:

I have to hand it to you, Amar - your articles always generate such thought provoking discussion. Maybe you should consider blogging for rense.com.

pgr88:

Excuse me, but am I missing something here? HELLO!? The guy is writing about The Philippines, and most WaPo blogger nutters are babbling-on about Israel, the NIE and Zionism. May I have an extra dollop of obsession with my two scoops of psychosis, please?

Tom W:

Do you folks even read the post above? or have a few "anti-zionists" decided that a discussion of the fun-house mirror American Culture that has formed a veneer over filipino society is really a commentary on Israel and Palestine. Perhaps it is because they have Starbucks in the Philippines. Maybe they have Starbucks in Israel (wouldnt know).

but what's most important is that your strident, ignorant, and irrelevant remarks just irritate me and make me want to listen to you less. Perhaps it is also the fact that you would most likely call me a Zionist because i don't believe in the eradication of Israel.

anyway, shutup already.

Amar, you should check out Bataan, where the American and Filipino armies surrendered to the Japanese (with the death march afterwards, there are a lot of memorials and it would be an interesting place to talk to the locals about their interesting role as a bridge culture between East and West).

NEMESIS:


Sorry for the deviation, but I thought that this post should be widely read.

The following was narrated to me by a Palestinian.

I am a Palestinian Christian of the Eastern Orthodox faith. I was born in 1958 on a farming village in what was defined as the West Bank. My father worked hard tending to an olive-tree orchard and a few acres of cereal crops. He had a wife and four small children to support. My father was a peaceful apolitical man who would never hurt even a fly.
In 1969, when I was 11-years old, I was returning from school with my siblings and I saw a group of armed Israeli soldiers with a bulldozer poised to demolish our home. I led my siblings to a spot behind a wall and watched. My Mother was standing at the door wailing and my father, with his arm around her, was trying to console her while he was shouting to the soldiers begging them not to destroy our home which had stood there for five generations.

Just as one Israeli was advancing toward my parents, another Israeli soldier aimed his machine-gun at my parents and killed them both. with only a casual glance at the murderer, and without removing the dead bodies, the Israeli in charge ordered the bulldozer operator to proceed with the demolition. Some of the soldiers -including the murderer- were laughing while the bulldozer's tracks ran over the bodies of my parents which were mixed with the debris.

Fearing for our lives, my siblings and I ran to the house of my grandparents. We found them also crying and when, in tears, I told them what we had just witnessed my grandmother fainted. My grandfather was also crying while he tried to revive my grandmother. "They did the same thing to several other houses," he said. At that moment, I took a silent oath in my parents' memory that I would avenge their murder. I repeated the oath with my siblings a year later when we learned that our olive-tree orchard was leveled to clear the grounds for a Jewish settlement.

As the years passed, we became resistance fighters and our enemy is the Zionist occupation government and its armed instruments. The continuing murders and destruction in which the Israelis engaged with abandon was a constant motivating factor that urged us not to repress our rage but to continue until our last breaths.

I ask you: Are we entitled to met retributive justice where we had no other recourse to obtain justice?

The Israeli propaganda machine has succeeded in convincing the United States government to brand our retributive acts as terrorism. But who are the terrorists, Those who, so brutally and inhumanly, murdered our parents and destroyed our property or us?

Anonymous:

They change to Philippine because almost all posters have negative comments about Israel.

In light of the new NIE, Israel is isolated, completely alone in the world. Only Israel promotes attack on Iran. Notice no country in the world is on Israel's side, even the U.S. ignore Israel's plea to attack Iran.

Vic van Meter:

Okay people, these would be the Philippines, not Israel. Not the "Manila" up top instead of the "Tel Aviv". Keep your Israel arguements to Israel threads, if you please.

The Philippines and America have had a stranger relationship than any reality TV show. America acquired the Philippines, if I remember correctly, from the Spanish-American War. From then it is a helter-skelter orgy of independence movements, conquests, reconquests, and so on. But the slow, almost cancerous movement of American culture and economics has taken the Philippines almost completely in the major cities.

Not that it's completely a bad thing. McDonalds didn't get to be as big as it is by making poor food. It's a matter of moderation that Americans are just now managing to grasp as a whole. Fast food is a good idea unless you eat it every day of the week. Ask anyone on a college campus in America.

Anonymous:

"I’m living in a college friend’s apartment here in a somewhat seedy part of town."

Philippine is a world famous sex tourist destination. Philippine is also world famous for its corruption from the president on down.

Anonymous:

We Americans must end Israel's apartheid. Our country must order Israel's to end its occupation of Palestine.

Amar C. Bakshi:

Hi there,

RBE1, you might have meant that comment for the previous thread! I've got some emails and suggestions that I thought I'd mention here: one is looking at the Philippines as one of the earliest 'democratizing' efforts of the U.S., and the consequences of the colonial legacy.

Another is that today 14 Filipinos who abducted and beheaded an American missionary in 2001 were sentenced to jail for life. I'm meeting the colonel who orchestrated the rescue operation with the U.S. today at 6pm and will post on that soon. Looking forward to more thoughts.

rbe1:

I'm sorry, but from where I sit, having watched the way Israelis treat the Palestinians for more than 40 years, I would have to say that Israelis are addicted to terrorism. Why else invite it on yourselves every day ?

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