August 13, 2011

The Vibrant Colors of Listening

It is amazing what you learn when you take time to listen. The last few days were full of insightful conversations with some unexpected people.

We had gone ice skating in the middle of the mall with some friends for her birthday. That was fun except for the time Lady Hiva and I were holding hands while skating and her left skate toe pick caught a flaw in the ice and she went down. You know one of those experiences where your brain processes that an accident is about to occur and your body futilely reacts to stop it. However, the one second disaster takes place painfully in slow motion. This was one of those experiences. She stumbled; I tightened my grip on her hand and became perfectly aware of my own unsteadiness on the ice. She went down head first towards the ice, I pulled up with my arm in attempt to save her one last time and instead her body twisted in midair, parallel to the ice, and her hip hit the ice with a reverberating thud. Still holding her hand, I involuntarily pirouetted 360 degrees and went down on my rear end and with the knowledge of defeat, I surrendered to inertia and was sprawled out on my back across the ice.

The whole rink went silent.

I opened my eyes to see the mall photographer’s face above me saying, “Sir, you ok?” All I could do was laugh. As we got back together and skated more, Lady Hiva said, “Thanks for falling with me.” We went down as a team! Nobody had asked if she was hurt, I guess her fall was more graceful than my awkward sprawl! HAHA.

We ate at a restaurant afterwards. All of us eating together were LDS. The waitress came over to talk with me, excited that I speak Tagalog. She asked how we all knew each other, I told her we went to the same church, the LDS Church, to which she asked, “Which kind of Catholic are you?” Hmm…I thought about how our deep our frame of reference is when it comes to culture. Filipinos are 85% Catholic, so it is hard for them to imagine there are other churches and especially hard to think a group this large could be in one place outside of church. I assured her we are Christians just like Catholics, but a different church. I guess we passed the test because she beamed a welcoming-you-are-like-me smile.

The next night at a totally different restaurant with just Lady Hiva and I, we again attracted attention because I was the only white person there AND I spoke Tagalog. When that happens, word spreads fast and we had almost all the employees stop by our table at one point or another. Even the bartender brought us our fresh fruit smoothies (something Hiva and I are addicted to here, they are cheap and delicious) instead of waiting for the server to bring them. During our dinner it was someone’s birthday in the table next over and all the employees gathered to sing.

Lady Hiva and I laughed as they began to sing. Here in the Philippines, the song, “Happy Birthday,” starts out the same as it does in America, but gets completely different from there. First reason is they clap the tune as well while singing. It is hilarious to watch at work when we are celebrating a birthday and the Americans are so confused by how, and when, to clap that there is a chaotic chorus of varying versions of the song. It is good the last note is of “you” is held out long in the end so it sounds like we all end together! So at the restaurant we expected the clapping and singing, but this song was different than any restaurant ‘Birthday’ song that we have ever heard.

In the states, the servers are half-heartedly singing with fake expressions of happiness; yet their eyes say, ‘Can we get this over with? My table needs their order taken and my tip is decreasing with every minute I am here singing this stupid song instead of helping them.”  These Filipino servers were singing in a five part chorus with one of the women wailing to add a pop concert feel to the song. I could not help but join in the energetic clapping and singing.

I love how the Filipinos are prone to musical talent. Karaoke is popular here. There are karaoke bars everywhere. The karaoke bars are diverse economically, socially, and…well, we can say in purpose—just make sure you go into one without neon lights at night and specifically  states “Family Karaoke.” We have never been into karaoke bar, but it is not required to enjoy the experience. Every large store has a karaoke machine in the entrance. There is always one employee that sings while you shop. Last time we went to buy paint at Ace Hardware, the manager was singing and we had to keep interrupting him to ask questions about mixing the right paint for the color we wanted.

I like it because whenever I have the urge to break out in song, I can sing and nobody thinks anything of it. If I am following Lady Hiva through the store pushing the cart, boredom often sets in on the third aisle and Lady Hiva has some unspoken rule that you have to wind through EVERY aisle and explore, to ensure we do not need anything there. The result of which is that we end up with things not on our list-most of which we don’t need--and I have a full case of what I call ‘Wal-mart-itis’ which is claustrophobia mixed with a frantic urge to exit quickly before I start yelling and cart ramming all the people that are obliviously blocking the aisles with their cart.  It is then that a song will pop into my head and I entertain myself by singing. The great thing is I can sing out loud and nobody thinks it weird. And not just the store either…I can sing at work, in the elevator, in the taxi, and on the bus!

The last conversation I want to share is with a little elderly cab driver who asked me what country I was from as soon as I sat in his car. I guess my ‘Joe-ness’ was not broadcasting loudly that day. When I told him America, he said, “How is your country doing? Are you fixing the money problem? I thought that we were the only country that has problems.” I assured him there are several countries with problems and he listed some he knew. Greece, Britain, the U.S., Japan, and ended with the bombing in Norway. “They are nice people there, why do they have problems?” It was what he said next that startled me the most, “Is all of this in the Bible, or it is bad people’s choices?”

How do you answer that loaded question? I told him I believe people are all children of God, but are able to make their own choices. We see the results of those choices every day and sadly, it does not paint a particularly cheerful mural. Sad actually.

All of these conversations remind me that each of us have a tapestry of color woven by strings of experience. It is by understanding each other’s experiences that we see how life is beautiful to all of us in different ways. If we are falling hard in front of everyone, riding in taxi, trying to understand the religious beliefs of another,  practicing patience, or singing a different tune, each time we listen to what another has to say, the colors of our own tapestry become more vibrant.


  1. So beautiful!!! What a lovely couple and a lovely beach scene! You two are so awesome!!! We miss your smiling faces, but where ever life takes us all, hope we meet up again at another family reunion!!! Enjoy the billi-beans you two!!!

  2. You know what, I was just reading through your blog... you both are great writers... your life's story will make a great book to read one day... its uplifting to hear all the great experiences you have together! Thanks for sharing your stories, they are positive and insightful into the way life can be when we look beyond ourselves. We love you both!