There was nothing that excited me more than telling stories about the Philippines to my American friends. At one point I started to sound like Fez from “That ’70s Show,” always starting a statement with “In my country…” My friends seemed so enticed by my stories that one of them, Stephanie, became extremely excited to travel with me on a surf trip around the Philippines last year. It was to be her first time to travel outside of the United States, and she seriously thought she was in for a great adventure.
The real effects of culture shock was something she never anticipated, however. I briefed her on everything she had to know, but all the drills were simply not enough to prepare her for the real thing. The Philippines can really be quite brutal, especially for a first-time traveler like Stephanie. The Philippines is nothing like what she was accustomed to.
While we were walking the streets of Manila, Stephanie asked me what the fences that lined the sidewalks were for. I told her that the barriers were supposed to deter people from jaywalking. It all seemed a logical solution to me, but to a foreigner, it was nothing short of absurd, and there was no doubt she was easily going to get lost without me. It was then that I realized our society’s utter lack of discipline, that steel fences had to be put up like animal cages to train us to do even the most basic of societal functions.
During our trip, we also visited a secluded island in Camarines Norte that a number of the locals were working on to develop as a new tourist destination. I thought the place had so much potential. It looked so idyllic to me, until Stephanie asked me why even the countryside was dirty. I didn’t realize what she was talking about until she showed me the plastic bags, cigarette butts and candy wrappers that littered the side of the road. I had become so used to seeing a lot of trash that the garbage Stephanie saw that day appeared negligible to me.
My whole perspective changed after that incident. For the rest of the trip, I would often wonder how Stephanie truly felt about the places we went to. I was cautious and uneasy. I felt like it was my duty to convince her that the Philippines was a wonderful place to be, but the reality was, we were mostly confronted by a lot of bad scenery and very little breathtaking views.
Stephanie really loved some of the towns we visited, however. They were the few places left that were still untouched by overpopulation and overwhelming pollution. I wondered if those places would remain unscathed by commercialization even when they turn into full-blown vacation spots. I became really weary of the possible repercussions of tourism. Suddenly, I felt the urge to protect the current state of the few remaining gems of our country, and decided against promoting them as the newest tourist destinations. After all, excessive commercialization can kill the spirit of a place.
I was already back in the United States when the viral “It’s More Fun In The Philippines” ads came out all over the Internet. They all looked enticing, but I just couldn’t share them on my Facebook wall. Promoting tourism in a large-scale campaign comes with a great responsibility. With Stephanie’s experience in mind, I wondered if we are actually ready to promote our country.
Tourism has long been a vital part of the Philippines, but at the same time, I am not certain if we are fully aware of the real obligations that come with it. It is not enough to merely show people façades of fun and adventure when the rest of the country is covered in heaps of garbage. It is our responsibility to make sure that actual experience would truly reflect what are depicted in our postcard-pretty ads; deceiving foreigners would be the last thing we want.
Traveling with my American friend last year changed my perception about our society altogether. Now, I would often try to think as a foreigner, just so I’d know exactly how other tourists actually feel about our country. I feel so detached from the “It’s More Fun In The Philippines” ads because they are merely handpicked, romanticized depictions that fail to represent the entirety of our country. It’s funny when people say, “Ang ganda! Parang ibang bansa!” (It’s beautiful! It looks like another country!), whenever they see wonderful pictures taken in the Philippines, because we’re really not accustomed to seeing that many places that are clean and scenic.
I admire the government’s current efforts to clean up the country. I was so glad when I found out that certain places in Metro Manila do not use plastic bags anymore. I am also glad that there are designated smoking areas now, although people seem reluctant to realize the real significance of this development. People keep complaining about the inadequacies of the government, when they themselves do not realize theirs.
I hear people complaining about the new regulations all the time, just because they see nothing but inconvenience. I just hope people would stop being myopic and realize the real benefits, if they only take things much more seriously. Our country is really beautiful. We need to start treating it with the care and respect that it deserves. It would be such a wonderful achievement if the rest of the Philippines actually begins looking like the pictures in tourism ads, and nothing can ever be better than hearing tourists genuinely saying that it is indeed more fun in the Philippines.
Angelo Verzosa, 24, is a freelance photographer/writer.