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You are what you speak.

Discuss culture, living, traveling, relocating, dating or anything related to the Asian countries - China, The Philippines, Thailand, etc.

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You are what you speak.

Postby ladislav » Thu Apr 25, 2013 12:51 am

Ethnic identity is a touchy subject. In some countries, it is determined by citizenship alone, in others- it is by bloodline, just like you how you describe a thoroughbred stallion. In others, it is by race or looks, shape of the face or skin color. Yes, in others, it is by birthplace or religion. While all of these systems have made their impact on the Philippine culture, the most potent way by which the country’s people classify others is by the language they speak.

In Manila, where hundreds of ethnic groups mix and mingle, they refer to each other by the name of their language. They say: “Waray syaâ€￾, “Tagalog syaâ€￾,â€￾ Ilonggo syaâ€￾. (He/she is + name of the language he/she speaks). My East European childhood made me interpret it in my own way. I initially thought that they were referring to a person’s ancestry or racial origin, but I was pleasantly surprised that, in most cases, they simply meant: “that person speaks that, therefore, he or she is thatâ€￾. It’s that simple, why make it complicated?

I studied both Tagalog and Cebuano for years, and became pretty fluent in the first and reasonably conversant in the second. And I was not studying those languages while in the Philippines- I worked in Saudi Arabia and Oman and, in the evening, I would hit the books so that when I went on vacation to Manila or Cebu, I could talk with the people there. I still spoke with a foreign accent, of course. However, I was astonished by the reaction which I received from the locals.
Here are some anecdotes: I was sitting in front of a hotel on Roxas Avenue when a man passed by, looked at me and said “Hi, Joe!â€￾ I replied: “Hindi po ako si Joe!â€￾ (I am not a Joe). The man smiled and said: “Oh, Tagalog ka!â€￾ Which means: “Oh, you are a Tagalog!â€￾ Note that he did not say, “Oh, nagsasalita ka ng Tagalog.â€￾ (Oh, you are speaking Tagalog) He said that I was a Tagalog. I was amazed by this and initially thought he was just flattering me. However, this interesting phenomenon repeated itself many times. I spoke with one guy in front of a restaurant in Malate and then, when I was passing by the place on a different day, he saw me and started pointing me out to his friends and saying to them: “Tagalog sya! Tagalog sya!â€￾

When I stayed in Pampanga later and got to know the locals, one of them came to me and told me- “Oh, you know what those guys said about you? They said:â€￾ Oh, that Tagalog guy bought us food and drinkâ€￾. I got to thinking- they actually meant that.

“Becomingâ€￾ Tagalog even once saved me from becoming a victim of a crime. I was once in a bad area of Cubao, and some creepy-looking guys tried to crowd me and drag me into a dark alley. I instead played a lost person and explained to them that I was looking for a certain place, and I needed their assistance in showing me where it was located. I spoke to them in Tagalog. They leader of the “gangâ€￾ was astounded, immediately became very courteous, and gracefully explained to me how to get there. As I walked off, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him animatedly talk to the group, and caught what he was saying: “Hindi pwede magholdap sa kanya dahil Tagalog sya!â€￾. “We cannot mug him because he is a Tagalog!â€￾ I turned around, and for the first time in my life uttered an incongruous even to me phrase- I said: “Tagalog ako! â€￾I am a Tagalog!â€￾. He raised his hand and pumped his fist in the air in a show of cultural, ethnic and linguistic pride looking at me with a dignified expression in his eyes. That look said:â€￾ You talk our language- you’re one of us, and we won’t harm you!â€￾

On some other occasion, I was traveling in Mindanao and spoke to a man sitting in front of my hotel in Butuan. I talked to him in my faltering and newly acquired Visayan. We carried on a discussion for some minutes when another man passed by, looked at me and asked him: “Kamao ba sya magbinisaya?â€￾(Can he speak Visayan?). The man turned to him and, with a very impassionate expression on his face, said in a calm voice: “Visaya sya.â€￾(He is a Visayan). Never mind that I spoke it with an accent, never mind that my face looked nothing like that of the locals , that my skin color, hair color and eye color were totally different and that I was a person from the other side of the globe, I spoke Visaya, well, that meant that I was a Visayan. I tried to imagine myself then, on a big barangay boat, coming to the islands as a refugee from Sri Vijaya and being a Sri- Vijayan ( Visayan) myself.

I have met Maranao people some of whom looked Chinese and some looked like Saudis. They all spoke Maranao and thus, well, they were all Maranaos. Simple! Why think about race, ancestry or birthplace? And, incidentally, the same system was utilized by some North American tribes. For example, the Lakotas determined very easily who was one of them- you spoke Lakota, you were a Lakota. They did not require haplogroups or DNA records, they did not look at what race you were. They did not care about your accent. You speak that language, well, that’s what you are! And the original native system of the Philippine islands was just as simple and elegant. Why rack one’s head over who and what one is because his grandparents came from this or that country? Why would one have an identity crisis? It’s all resolved very simply- you are what you speak!

But I was yet in for another surprise: a lady from Mindanao was my good friend. She was from a rich family in Pagadian city and was fluent in both Tagalog and Visaya as well as in English. We became like brother and sister, and she never spoke English to me because she found it kind of “unnaturalâ€￾. One day, when I went to Hong Kong to have my visa renewed, she chatted with me on Skype and told me how much she missed me and asked me:“Kailan ka uuwi sa ating bansa?!â€￾ (When are you coming home to our (yours and mine) country?) She did not use the word babalik (return) she used the word uuwi (come home). She also did not use the word “aminâ€￾-‘ ours’ excluding the person you are speaking to, but instead, she said: â€￾atinâ€￾- ours, including me. She knew all too well that I was not a Filipino citizen and I looked nothing like the locals and that I went there to get a new visa to re-enter the country. She still said that without giving it much thought. I spoke Tagalog and I spoke Visaya; well, then it was “ating bansaâ€￾.

Upon my return to the Middle East, the Pinoys who lived there started calling me kabayan ( compatriot), pare ( god-brother), kuya ( brother) and other such warm words.

Now, why can’t Europeans think like this? They have people who have been born in the country and are citizens and speak fluent German and French or Russian or what not, and they still tell them: “This is not your country!â€￾ and call them “foreigners “(bad meaning) and treat them as outsiders. Why can’t other Asian countries be like this? No matter how many years you live in Japan or Korea and how well you speak Japanese or Korean, they will never say “ating bansaâ€￾ to you. They may be polite to you, but they will never call you a kabayan? Why is it in America, when a person speaks with an accent, they will never say “ating bansaâ€￾ either, even if the person is a citizen? Why is it so hard for them to understand that if a person speaks their language that means he respects the culture and he wants to be part of it? No matter what his race, eye color, hair color is? The Philippines has the right formula, though- a formula that enables a stranger to be included into a community simply because he/she wants to be part of it. Very humane, very nice, and so simple, it’s genius!

The Philippines sure has a lot of things to teach to other countries when it comes to social harmony and treating other people well.
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Postby Teal Lantern » Thu Apr 25, 2013 2:55 am

Why is it in America, when a person speaks with an accent, they will never say “ating bansaâ€￾ either, even if the person is a citizen?


Ummm... because we speak English? :lol:
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Postby ladislav » Thu Apr 25, 2013 4:12 am

Teal Lantern wrote:
Why is it in America, when a person speaks with an accent, they will never say “ating bansaâ€￾ either, even if the person is a citizen?


Ummm... because we speak English? :lol:


Lol, you know what I mean.
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Postby E Irizarry R&B Singer » Thu Apr 25, 2013 6:24 am

@LadiSlav,

Yeah, man. That was too cool how you weaseled your way out of that mugging. Brillance, dude! Just brilliance!

You have a point about The Philippines being cool in that aspect. Now only if there were more to eat than Margarita Station, Jollibees, and McDonald's that actually tastes good, then the Philippines would be good to go back to. LOL
Last edited by E Irizarry R&B Singer on Thu Apr 25, 2013 6:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby ryanx » Thu Apr 25, 2013 8:46 am

I wish somebody would explain this to Taiwanese. Sometimes when I am talking to some of the more educated and reasonable ones and I ask (hypothetically) how would you, as a Chinese speaking Taiwanese, feel if everywhere you went people would shy away from talking to you or get nervous or become tongue-tied or just start blurting out whatever English they know or giggle at your attempts to speak Chinese? They reply, I would hate it! Then I say so why do Taiwanese people think it's OK to do that to foreigners if they would hate it done to them?

Or, again hypothetically, what if you woke up one morning and and because of a stroke or something during the night you lost all your Chinese ability and couldn't have your normal everyday interactions for a long time until you learned Chinese all over again and even though people treated you just normal and spoke Chinese to you, how would you feel? Reply: oh I would be extremely frustrated. Then I say that's how I feel too.

It's amazing how this little mental exercise is such a revelation to them...it's as if they have never thought about it, which of course they haven't. Sometimes they jokingly suggest I should wear a T-shirt that says I can speak Chinese or wherever I go I should just say "please don't speak English I can speak Chinese" to which I say; how many times a day should I do that? 5, 10, 20? Everyday? For ever?! Would you like to do that?

This morning in a coffee shop, the waitress walks up to me and asks me in pretty good English what I would like to order as if we are just sitting in any coffee shop in an English speaking countries. After playing dumb by looking very puzzled and grunting non comprehension, during her ten attempts (I counted) to rephrase the question in different ways to make me understand - do you want to order something? would you like to eat something? Do you want a drink? What would you like to order etc etc

I asked why do you keep insisting on speaking English? She became deflated and said oh I want to be polite - this is a standard answer to save face. There are others such as I want to show respect and, more honestly, I want to practice my English (not giving a shit about what I might want).

Not because you think I can not understand Chinese? Or maybe you think I am stupid?

So if you lived in America and people knew you were Taiwanese and did not speak Chinese to you would think them rude?

Silence.
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Postby E Irizarry R&B Singer » Thu Apr 25, 2013 6:46 pm

ryanx wrote:I wish somebody would explain this to Taiwanese. Sometimes when I am talking to some of the more educated and reasonable ones and I ask (hypothetically) how would you, as a Chinese speaking Taiwanese, feel if everywhere you went people would shy away from talking to you or get nervous or become tongue-tied or just start blurting out whatever English they know or giggle at your attempts to speak Chinese? They reply, I would hate it! Then I say so why do Taiwanese people think it's OK to do that to foreigners if they would hate it done to them?

Or, again hypothetically, what if you woke up one morning and and because of a stroke or something during the night you lost all your Chinese ability and couldn't have your normal everyday interactions for a long time until you learned Chinese all over again and even though people treated you just normal and spoke Chinese to you, how would you feel? Reply: oh I would be extremely frustrated. Then I say that's how I feel too.

It's amazing how this little mental exercise is such a revelation to them...it's as if they have never thought about it, which of course they haven't. Sometimes they jokingly suggest I should wear a T-shirt that says I can speak Chinese or wherever I go I should just say "please don't speak English I can speak Chinese" to which I say; how many times a day should I do that? 5, 10, 20? Everyday? For ever?! Would you like to do that?

This morning in a coffee shop, the waitress walks up to me and asks me in pretty good English what I would like to order as if we are just sitting in any coffee shop in an English speaking countries. After playing dumb by looking very puzzled and grunting non comprehension, during her ten attempts (I counted) to rephrase the question in different ways to make me understand - do you want to order something? would you like to eat something? Do you want a drink? What would you like to order etc etc

I asked why do you keep insisting on speaking English? She became deflated and said oh I want to be polite - this is a standard answer to save face. There are others such as I want to show respect and, more honestly, I want to practice my English (not giving a shit about what I might want).

Not because you think I can not understand Chinese? Or maybe you think I am stupid?

So if you lived in America and people knew you were Taiwanese and did not speak Chinese to you would think them rude?

Silence.


Not to be too salacious, but you now know what it's like for dudes like me, Ladislav, and SkateboardStephen go through when dealing with stateside Latinos.
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Postby Johnny1975 » Thu Apr 25, 2013 7:38 pm

I can sort of relate to the OP. I've never been to the Philippines but I chat a lot with filipinas on a dating site. One of them asked me if I'm filipino. Now in my picture I don't look filipino. I'm spanish. When I said no, she asked if I'm half filipino. Weird.
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Postby ladislav » Fri Apr 26, 2013 2:11 am

There is a Euro link between a Filipino and a full white person- there are half Filipinos, there are Filipinos of Spanish descent and then there are totally Nordic people who are Filipinos although very few. In heavily tourist areas what you describe about the Taiwanese happens quite often, but not all the time. In 70% of cases they will talk to you in the language. Do keep in mind though that English IS one of languages of the Philippines, and often, in Cebu, the Cebuanos talk in English to Tagalogs. They also talk in English to Filipinos who look Oriental and it is not taken as an insult for the simple reason that English is an inbuilt language and is also a means of intra-national communication.

When you mangle Tagalog or Visaya, they will often talk to you in English; when there is no discernible accent, they talk in the local language.

Now, this is not the case with pure Oriental races who have been exposed to the stubbornly monolingual Anglo colonialist wannabes time and time again until they formed the opinion that it is just as impossible for you to speak local languages as it is for a cat to bark. It is especially true with big cities in the "Oriental" Asia.

There is also no blood link between a Chinese person and a Westerner unlike in the Philippines where people can sometimes have a last name like Volks, Swanson, Jaworski and Goldberg. Yes! Freaking Goldberg. Some Orientals these are!

Now, I would like to ask Rock how he deals with it in TW because I have heard him speak Chinese very confidently.

Yeah, Rock, how do you deal with this issue? How do you stare into the eyes of a trembling TWese and talk to him in his/her language while he/she mumbles "I don't speak English, I don't speak English!"
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