Local Culture Shock

13 May

     People often tell me that you are where you are come from. It’s a conventional wisdom of sorts that the place you come from, and the way you are raised dramatically affects who you will become in the future. I often wonder, however wonder how much of that conventional wisdom actually applies to me.

     What I am trying to say is that I don’t feel as Filipino as people probably expect me to be. I find it strange myself considering that I have been in this country for two decades already, yet I am still not that street-smart, my Tagalog is relatively abysmal, and amongst kin I stick out like a sore thumb. This post is going to be about my affirmation of my personal case of “Local Culture Shock”, which I define as the alienation to one’s own country and culture. Maybe “Culture Shock” might be stretching it, but after what happened last Friday, I feel like that term has become less of a hyperbole.

      So here’s the story: I decided to join a group of friends in going to this comedy show that was being shown in Cubao Expo. It was labeled as ‘The Anti-Apocalypse Show’ and was supposed to be an exposition of Filipino comedy talent. I thought that would be interesting to watch and listen to, so I decided to tag along after school. 

    After the sun had already set, we set out for Cubao Expo, which was some distance away from Ateneo. When we set foot at the Expo, it was, to me at least, like stepping into a different country. The atmosphere of the place felt familiar, yet so foreign. The Expo itself was similar to that of an outdoor plaza, where it was an alley filled with shops, cafes and bars. The place itself was bustling with people, and only a few tables were actually vacant by the time we arrived, and the show had not even started yet. 

     Looking around the place confirmed my personal sense of alienation. Despite being already 20 years old, therefore making me a full-fledged adult, I felt like a child amongst the plaza crowd. It was not a rarity to see people with cigarettes in hand, beer bottles on the table, and tattoos adorning the skins of men and women alike; there was no way I was going to blend in! My friends probably felt the same way as I did, though I suspect that I felt it more than anyone else did.

     Observing what the people there were like, they were not too different from what I usually see. The people usually keep to themselves, chatting away into the night with friends. They also prefer to keep a low profile, not ones to call the attention of the rest of the crowd, or the bouncers (Yes, bouncers) that were patrolling the place. We did have a hard time calling the attention of the waiters, but was probably just because we were too quiet to actually call their attention. In all, there really was not anything that I thought was out of the ordinary. In fact, the only difference in people I saw this time around was simply aesthetic-wise. Still, I did not blend in with these people, and it nonetheless came as a culture shock for me.

     But the place and the event were the ones that really made me feel alienated. For example, the bar where are we stayed while waiting for the event to start had some peculiar things up for display. Pictures of Che Guevara adorned the walls, Hammers and Sickles were the common symbol on display, and the main color theme of the decorations were, you guessed it, red. I’m not sure if these decorations were simply for show, or if this bar was supposed to represent a political stance. Nevertheless I did not want to ponder on it too much. 

     The event did not start for another thirty minutes or so, which my friends pointed out was a clear following of “Filipino Time”. When it did start, it opened with promotional videos for the legalization of marijuana, going as far as to say that society is destroying itself by banning the drug from legal use. Again, the public display of such stances came as a surprise for me. Then came the opening music number which lasted another half hour or so. I personally do not know how I can describe this part of the show. It was quite loud, with a lot of yelling and shredding, with the guitarists utilizing a somewhat grungy sound. If I had to use a (admittedly poor) analogy, listening to the band was like listening to the Filipino version of Mudhoney; I just didn’t get it.

     When it came to the actual comedic event itself, I honestly did not enjoy it. Admittedly this had a lot to do with the my poor Tagalog; I struggled to just understand what they were saying, let alone the underlying humor. Even for the ones I did get, they did not come out to me as that funny. I can clearly see the people around me enjoying themselves, but I cannot say the same thing for myself. Maybe it was the cleverness of the language they used, or maybe it was a matter of Filipino humor in general. Whatever it was, I did not have it that night, and I left the Expo without a smile before the show even finished.

     That night was a night that reaffirmed my feeling that I cannot belong. If that show, and the people who listened to it, are supposed to be an example of Filipinos, then I am merely Filipino in paper, and little more than that. I am a foreigner in my own country; alas I am a victim of ‘Local Culture Shock’

Ian Uymatiao — 103943



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