How the mothers talk to, smile at, and elevate their small children reminds me uncannily of Mexico. It was actually Mexico, not Spain, that ruled the Philippines for centuries. You can tell how bad the traffic or the flooding is by the clucking sounds made by the taxi drivers. There is a lot of boxing on TV, and you will regularly be surprised by which food items turn out to taste the best. Don’t rule out the baked goods or the chicken minestrone soup.
This is a surrealistic dream country, combining fractured elements of an earlier global economy in strange and unpredictable ways. If you’re not paying attention you can think you are somewhere else — Acapulco? Lima? Los Angeles? but in which years? — and yet you are regularly pulled back to the Filipino reality, if only by seeing the Chinese dragons perched in front of the Spanish colonial church. “My Favorite Things Filipino” would all be moments of disorientation. The traditional exotic spots now seem pseudo-exotic to me, at least compared to Manila, which forces you to rethink everywhere else you have visited.
Someone should write a New Yorker article about how Filipinos use music in public spaces. The mango is superb, even by the standards of tropical countries. If I lived here, I would learn how to talk with my eyebrows. They don’t like to criticize each other. Martha Stewart is brought up and discussed by high status Filipinos without irony.
The ability to appreciate the Philippines is a Turing test of some sort, but I am not yet sure for what.