Yesterday (Sunday) I had the opportunity to preach at University Baptist Church here in Manila (great experience). I wore a traditional white barong (they do communion on the first Sunday of the month, so all of the ushers and staff wear white shirts). I got some interesting looks later as I walked through the mall in my formal attire. I can’t blame the curious mall dwellers for staring—I guess I was kind of a walking contradiction.
Occasionally students will ask me if I am a “pure” American. Usually they are wondering if I’m part English or European. Believe it or not, sometimes they are wondering if I have Filipino blood (maybe they think I have a mestiza grandmother).
I always answer “yes,” but that is actually not such a simple question. I’ve been here for about four and a half years. This is my home. I’m still very American in some ways, but in others I’m not. I’m a walking contradiction, barong or no barong. Let me give you some examples:
*I can type text messages without even looking at my cell phone.
*I look both ways before crossing the street—even if it is a one-way street.
*I eat with a spoon and fork.
*I know the meaning of “barok,” “jologs,” “ebz,” “japorms,” and “social” (pronounced so-SHAL). I know that some of these terms are getting old and will be replaced soon.
*My favorite boxer has the nickname “PacMan.”
*I get annoyed or offended (sometimes both) when other foreigners criticize and stereotype Filipinos.
*I have more barongs in my closet than neckties (in fact, I’m not sure if I even have a tie here in my apartment—I think I left it in the States).
*I have a tendency to stare at other foreigners.
*I own a rice cooker (and I know how to use it).
*If I see an open tent with people gambling and drinking, I immediately look for a coffin. Speaking of which, I have preached at a funeral wake using a videoke machine as my sound amplifier.
*I ride jeepneys.
*I point using my lips instead of using my fingers.
*My friends call me a Bicolano.
*I think of “Kuya” as part of my first name.
*Being the only American in a room (or building, or entire mall) doesn’t make me the least bit uncomfortable—in fact, I feel quite at home.
*When in other countries I begin to desperately miss being with Filipinos (even when I’m in other Asian countries).
*I have translated for Filipino-Americans who don’t speak Tagalog (one of the more bizarre experiences of my life).
Does this sound like a “pure” American?
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