There is some debate ensuing on a forum I belong to about the differences, or lack of them, between one island and another across the archipelago. With some 7,000 islands, albeit most too small to be habitable, there are plenty to choose from and one might think there is a lot of differences in culture and so forth. Well yes, there is and, no, there isn’t!
There are differences in many things from one province to another. Filipinos are very proud of their home province and very scathing, even sometimes offensive and insulting, about others. Like Sydney and Melbourne, or New York and Los Angeles, there is a very definite Manila – Cebu City rivalry. Cebu was the capital for hundreds of years under the Spanish, switching to Manila only in the last hundred years or so of occupation. Visayan speakers virtually equal Tagalog speakers and yet, because of the influx into the National Capital region (NCR), Tagalog got the nod and forms 95% of Pilipino, the national language.
Visayan, also known as Bisayan or Cebuano, has more Spanish words in it than Tagalog. My wife often comments how Mexicans in westerns are speaking Cebuano! Language is but one difference you will come across when travelling the islands. The trikes are different too. Every area, city, town, province or whatever has its own variety of tri-cycle. Annoying as they are to many, they are the mainstay of the public transportation system at a local level, taking up where the jeepneys drop off. Some areas have little, racy, two person cabs your average kano can’t fit into. Others have bigger cabs with two or more compartments. In Cebu city I loved the trikes because they have a jump seat at the rear I can easily fill up and hang on to, or sit side saddle behind the driver. In Angeles City the trikes are rip offs, over charge foreigners and are too small to squeeze into unless drunk. I never used them when I worked there for a few months. Other places have trikes that surround the driver and his bike, a lot like Thai Tuk-Tuks. So yes, lots of differences.
What’s The Same
Although different regions will have their cuisine specialties, like the spicy Bicol Express in Bicol, with Cebu renowned for it’s Lechon Baboy, or BBQ pig, pretty much wherever you go the food is going to be similar. Carenderias will have five pots in a row in descending size order, with other foods set out on fresh banana leaf mats. There will be a adobo stew like offerings, a soup, rice and something hard to describe, plus stuff on skewers. Bread shops the country over offer the same Pandesal, which when travelling can be a good, safe source of carbohydrates if you think the street food is looking dodgy.
Houses will look similar with only subtle differences in style between Laoag in the far north and Davao in the far south. Nipa is nipa wherever you go, afterall. But the similarities are subtle in many ways, or rather any differences are hard to spot but do exist. The biggest similarity has to be in how friendly the people are, how genuinely happy they are to see kanos! Given the history of the country, it says a lot for the Filipino that they are so friendly to those of us descended from their oppressors, more or less.
Perry Gamsby, D.Lit., MA(Writing), Dip. Bus, Dip. Mktg is a writer and lecturer who lives with his Cebuana wife and five Aus-Fil daughters in Western Sydney. The author of a series of best-selling ‘self-help’ books for expats and those married to Filipinas, he is also a Master of Filipino Martial Arts and a former World Stickfighting Champion who has lived, worked and vacationed in the Philippines since 1988. Perry and his family return to the Philippines on a yearly basis. You can read more of his writing on Philippines topics at www.streetwisephilippines.biz