Not many people know this, and I’m not sure I should be sharing this with you, but we at the CIA (plenty of people suspect that all this traveling I do is just a front for my job at the CIA, so I might as well come out now. I do work for the CIA—as a janitor, but still) are in advanced development for an effective alternative to waterboarding, which has been too controversial for the namby pamby public. The new plan is to have detainees ask for directions from Filipinos. Early studies have conclusively shown that it is the same level of torture.
It’s true. We are going to lock them in a room with a Filipino and then ask a few basic questions until they pull all their hair out or blood comes out of their ears. Very effective.
It is nothing less than sheer agony to try and get directions from a Filipino. A root of this is the school of thought that wrong directions are better than no directions as it is a way of “saving face” by not having to admit you don’t know something, which drives me insane. It is by no means strictly a Filipino phenomenon, but it is an epidemic here.
The woman in the Romblon tourist office was dumbstruck when I asked her about places to stay in town. (I asked if I was really the first person to ask this question, and another woman gave a fantastic answer, saying that usually only couples come in.) When she finally came up with something, she pointed to a street and said it was on the left side. Fifteen minutes later I come back red-faced, telling her there is nothing on the left. She then said to go left, then right, then when I got to the market, ask someone. (I felt a little bad later when someone told me that her job wasn’t “supported” by the city, adding that “she doesn’t even get a snack.” Well, OK then, I give poor directions when I am snackless, too.)
At least she tried. Usually Filipinos start looking nervously left and right and say to take a taxi. Taking a taxi is the answer to everything.
I made small talk with a girl in a shop in tiny San Agustin, Tablas and when I asked where the Sharapova Internet Cafe(!) was, she started to formulate an answer in her head but then burst into anxiety-ridden laughter at being unable to do anything but freeze up. She could have pointed, she could have said to go one street that way and one street that way, but she was unable to communicate anything, and she spoke English fine. I don’t get it.
For a country that purports to speak English, I have a lot of communication problems. I can’t put my finger on why. English on a basic level is spoken, yes, but either I am not expressing myself the right way or my accent/mumbling throws them or my word choice isn’t right or I don’t know what the problem is, but it’s a problem.
My frustration is misguided. I know I am the one in the wrong. I am the one making the demand that we communicate in a language that isn’t their first. English isn’t the lingua franca here, Tagalog is. Still, this is a common exchange:
Me: What time is the next jeep?
Me: There isn’t one earlier?
Filipino: Yes, 10am.
I was in a foul mood by the time I got to Romblon. A boat from Carabao to Santa Fe, Tablas (one hour, 100 pesos), then an excruciatingly slow jeep where I couldn’t sit straight, another uncomfortable boat ride from San Agustin (I think another one hour and 100 pesos) and then the snack-less tourist office lady.
I might have been imagining things, but the people on Romblon island seemed a little reticent towards me. After you talk with someone, it is like anywhere else in the Philippines and you are fast friends, but at first contact people seem a tad aloof. I was wondering if it was related to the other foreigners I saw. I met one traveling couple, but otherwise, it looked to be only long-term residents (i.e. the old, the fat, and the haggard.)
In the course of doing research about this island and the one next door, Sibuyan, I came across this guy’s story about a German living there. Westerners might not be held in the highest regard, though it could be a skewed perspective or it all could be in my head.
Foreigners aren’t allowed to own land so they either marry a local or go through an intermediary. One foreigner told me the trick was to get a dim local as the front man and he/she is happy if they are paid a small stipend every month. That sounds like a risky strategy, as I can’t believe someone isn’t whispering into their ear that they are the true owner and can take over. It’s a shame to hear people talk like that about Filipinos, too, as it perpetuates the idea that the land and the people are ripe for exploiting.
I stayed at Fel-Mar Pension House in Romblon town, also known as Marble Pension because it’s made of said stone. 300 pesos, as I recall. It’s just on the left. Shared comfort room (shower and toilet) but TV with cable that shows NBA games live. I believe it is the only cheap place in town, though I saw a sign for a lodging room by the port that looked from the outside too sad to even consider.
Romblon, by the way, is the name of the province that incorporates Carabao, Tablas, and Sibuyan islands, and then Romblon is also an island in Romblon province.
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