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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2008-02-27

Sports Shooter Destination: Food, Family, Religion: The Philippines
By Don Feria

Photo by Don Feria

Photo by Don Feria
Of the many trips I've made over the years to visit family in the Philippines, I've found out that the top three national priorities of my homeland are food, family, and religion. I still have yet to figure out the pecking order of the three, but one thing that stands out is that every meal is an event onto itself, tables stocked with full, hearty, rich food. None of this cereal or breakfast bar stuff in the morning; for breakfast we're talking rice and eggs, sausage, and all the other wonderful stuff to get a morning going right! From there it gets bigger with each meal, with mandatory snack breaks in between. No matter where you are, it's tough to try and get away from the sweet or savory temptation that defines this culture so well. Admittedly, I was in constant surrender to the Mister Donut Choco-Cinnamon treat. At ten cents a pop, how could you resist?

That same enthusiasm is shared in the religious sense, with churches packed to the rafters during masses, and Catholic religious feasts dotting the calendar; some, quiet, organized events, and some quite the opposite, and occasionally with deadly results. Life stops when it comes to religious obligations, and the idea of separation of church and state doesn't seem like it would be doable. The Philippines is the only Asian country with a Catholic majority, so I guess people are on somewhat the same page.

The Philippines is a mix of old and new worlds, cultures, ideas and influences. Across the street from the Burger King with the free Wi-Fi was a small Jamaican restaurant, and a block over was the McDonalds that, along with the requisite hamburgers, served chicken and rice.

The streets are lined with colorful post-war jeepneys, beside them Honda Civics, Toyota Corollas and the occasional Ford Expedition, and of course, the tricycle, a motorcycle with a covered sidecar attached, used for making short hops through various neighborhoods. There's a kid walking down the street in his high school uniform, wearing a nice polo, slacks, and leathers, ready for the school day, while another kid the same age has on sandals, shorts, and the jersey of his favorite American basketball player, hair unkempt, his face weathered from probably another night sleeping in the soot of the highway. People say "yes sir, and yes ma'am" as much as they say "opo" (which is the native equivalent), and schools are taught in English, with Tagalog relegated to one of the school subjects.

Shopping malls are EVERYWHERE. At least four floors high, the malls serve not only as a place to purchase goods and services, but also provide a cool place to find refuge from the humid tropical weather, socialize, and of course, find something good to eat. It's a favorite pastime of the Filipinos, shopping is, and why not? Even with the peso being the strongest it's ever been against the dollar, mainly everything is cheaper; haircuts for two bucks, custom suits for $200. I was able to treat my aunt and uncle out to a fine Italian restaurant with wine and dessert for less than 40 dollars. Try doing that in San Francisco!

Photo by Don Feria

Photo by Don Feria
Walking around with a camera, especially a 1d series got me some looks, and in terms of the corrupted law enforcement system, it garnered much suspicion. For people on the street though, most of the expressions towards me were of wonder, mainly why I was so interested in what everyone else deemed mundane and everyday. Even my aunt asked me why I made pictures of the things that I did.

I realized that while I was working on stories on local transportation and basketball, I was also finding out the answer to my aunt's question; my camera allowed me to find the answers to those questions I had when I was a kid; why we had to eat dinner together every night as a family, and why our pre-bedtime prayers were such a big deal, despite how sleepy we were.

It began to make sense why my parents made sure my manners were impeccable, and that my elders were given the respect they deserved. I discovered that as much as it was my goal to promote understanding of our differences through photography, I was the one getting the lesson. I had the privilege of seeing first hand what it was like for my parents to grow up in this place, and why they wanted to give their kids so much more opportunity, making the sacrifice to try their hand at a new life in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I'll be back again for a second time this year in March, to continue the projects I started earlier this year, and I'm sure, to learn another lesson or two.


(Don Feria is freelance photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can see his work on his SportsShooter.com member page: http://www.sportsshooter.com/donferia.)

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