There are no maps in Cabiao. So I decided to go for a run around my local barangay as a sort of community mapping exercise. And as physical exercise (to counteract all the rice!) It was a really bizarre experience. I felt like I was running down the red carpet. Wherever I ran, everyone would stop and stare. People would rush out of shops to catch a glimpse of me and then presumably text their mates (N.B. the Filipino's text more per person than any other nation) because before I'd even run past the next market, people were already waiting to see me. You know the bit in 'Forest Gump' where he is running and practically the whole world joins in? Well that was me, but in Cabiao. There were groups of kids running along with me, locals started to clap and even the tricycle drivers would stop in the middle of the road to take a picture.
I can see the headlines now: "Crazy Western girl decides to go jogging!"
Incidentally, even when I'm not jogging people will stare. Not in a rude or pervy way- but just out of curiosity. Because Cabiao does not often get foreign visitors and apparently we are the first international volunteers to work in the community. In the UK, particularly in London, we have become accustomed to seeing people of a different race and ethnicity- hence the utter confusion about our national identity: Great Britain has developed into a multicultural nation and is part of a global community. Thus, from an early age we have had to accept and live within a multicultural society.
This is not the case here, particularly regarding the rural provinces. And so we are the 'big news' about the town. I'm really gonna have to perfect my 'photo face' because if the next 3 months follows the pattern of the past few days, then I'm going to be guest-starring in a lot of family photo albums (and probably Facebook pics!)
I also get the sense that it is not just my 'difference' that makes me exciting. I am a white westerner and so I am attached to all the stereotypes and conceptions that Filipinos have of the western world. They see me as rich, posh, judgemental and individualistic. But in some instances, they seem to look up to this western ideal, striving to be more like 'us'. This became painfully obvious on my trip to the supermarket where I found myself in an aisle dedicated to whitening creams. The irony is that I spend half the year faking a tan to look more like them- so is it just a "you always want what you don't have" situation? Or is it something more sinister? Could it be that this western ideal of 'beauty' was brought to the country with colonialism (the country has a history of being colonised - notably by the Spanish) and has never left? Of course it is a real ego boost to be told you are beautiful on a daily basis, but I wonder whether these compliments are just because the colour of my skin, eyes and hair fit into a criteria set by Hollywood, Vogue and other western institutions that seem to think they can define what 'beauty' is.
Beauty isn't about being white, blue eyed and blonde. Because beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. And in my opinion being beautiful has nothing to do with looks and everything to do with personality.
In general this is how Filipinos form relationships. You are judged by your personality. So if you are friendly and accommodating everyone will be your friend (and if not...then you will be the enemy of the whole town!) But even in the rural and relatively small town of Cabiao, the influence of the West can still be felt- and is undermining the beauty of an entire race.