We have been in Manila for a week now and Lady Hiva and I are both LOVING IT! It has been a busy week full of administrative stuff. Mountains of paperwork, more and more briefings to sit through and of course the everyday life things like shopping and cleaning.
Everyone is extremely friendly--at work and outside among the locals. We must be really amusing to look at because no matter where we go people stare at us. When we walk into the store people point and whisper. Of course I stick out because I am tall--for here anyway--and white. Pasty actually, thanks to working in a building all day! Lady Hiva has to get used to it because she is walking with me. Normally her quiet nature yearns to just blend into the crowd and not draw attention to herself, but holding hands with the only white person on the entire street does not yield to blending! She told me today as we were walking through the market area near our house that if I was not with her she would blend in and nobody would even pay attention. True, but isn't so much more fun to have everyone looking at you like you were the animal that escaped the exhibit at the zoo! HAHA!
For most of the week all Lady Hiva and I saw was the mile of road that runs from my work to our house. There was not much time to see anything else during the day and by the time we both got home we were so tired we did not do much else. Not to mention we do not have a car yet, so we are at the mercy of other people's generosity to hitch a ride to the grocery store. However, by the time Thursday came around Lady Hiva was itching to see "the real Manila" and get out, so we hailed a taxi. This turned out to be quite an adventure.
At work and in stores people treat us formally in conversations. I am assuming they want to be respectful, however, Hiva and I would rather them treat us like they do each other. It is amazing how at work AND out in the community as soon as I start speaking Tagalog to them their formality melts away and their smiles of friendship come out like the sun breaking through on a grey cloudy day (sorry for the corny metaphor but that really is how it feels). After the original stun that I just said something to them in Tagalog, they usually laugh in appreciation that 'the white guy' is trying to speak our language--little do they know that I can understand when they say that to each other too! At work the other day a few of the workers were teasing each other and I was sitting there, I started laughing too when one of them made a joke and they all stopped surprised, with shocked and embarrassed looks on her face, one girls said, "you understand us?" My goal is to keep speaking the language. There are only 5-7 of us here at work that were taught and all the ones that got here before me do not even use it now. I don't want that to happen to me. I like conversing with the locals and seeing their faces light up that I am trying to learn. They are really patient too when I bungle it up and help me through it. I sent an email to one lady at work in Tagalog, so proud that I could answer her in her language, and she sent an email back saying, "I like your Tagalog! NICE TRY!" Ouch! That hurt. I think she thought I google translated my message and was being fun. She did not know I spent the last 6 months to get that NICE TRY! I started studying my notes and flashcards again that night!
Most of the community, like in the stores, assume that if I speak Tagalog that Lady Hiva is Filipina and they will start speaking to her. She knows some words and sometimes will answer correctly and I am so proud of her, but then they really speak to her and she gets that blank I-have-no-idea-what-you-are-saying look on her face! Then they are really confused as to why I know and she does not.
We went shopping with some of my co-workers to a few grocery stores--mostly high end grocery stores. It is a bit weird for us to do that because we usually do not do that, we would rather shop in a NORMAL place. Yet we were able to get things in the high end stores that made it feel like home for example, Mochi Icecream from Hawaii and HIDDEN VALLEY RANCH! We knew then that we could make it here. We keep talking about how much we both like it as we go throughout the day.
We ended up going to Church in the English Branch, which is really small, because that is where most of the LDS people that I work with go. We both have mixed feelings about that, we would love to be in a local ward it feels more comfortable, but in the English branch Hiva will understand the service. I told her she can choose and I would be fine with whatever. We ate dinner with the branch president and his wife and some of their friends after church, it was a blast! We had so much fun with them. Many of them have been here in the Philippines for years and they like it so much they stay. The hospitality of everyone here makes it easy to understand why they do that.
We spent some time today just wandering the streets around our house. We live in one of the older areas of Manila. Over the weekend we had gone to several areas that looked and felt like we were in the United States. The buildings were large and beautiful, the restaurants were delicious (and cheap) and the roads clean. Where we live gets teased quite a bit by people living in the nice areas because it is older and NON-U.S. feeling. However, I found that I really liked it as we drove around. People are really friendly--can I say that anymore? Once you get over that fact that they are staring it is fun. I started to smile back at them. At first they are not sure how to react to me thinking I am just another rude tourist but when I smile and greet them in Tagalog they usually will smile warmly back. As I said earlier the streets are complete chaos! People walk and ride their bikes wherever they want to and the traffic dodges in and out of them. The first few times I walked across the street was unnerving but sure enough they darted around us and went on their way!