I think one of the biggest cultural contrasts that I am experiencing is emotion and how it is perceived. Filipinos do not share the 'stiff upper lip' attitude of the British but instead remain open in expressing their feelings. Crying is not a sign of weakness, but courage; it is an essential part of maintaining mental health. Rather than letting stress and sadness build up inside, they release and deal with them instantaneously. The benefits they reap speak for themselves, especially when one compares the depression rate in the UK (1 in 4) to a near non-existent rate in the Philippines. As Engineer said: "The UK has a higher GDP, but we have higher rates of happiness. You trade in money whereas we trade in smiles."
Yet, after twenty-two years of 'wiping away the tears' I've realised it isn't so easy to practice this emotional freedom. I can't seem to escape my persistent attitude that "I'm fine, no really...I'm fine" because I keep avoiding PDE (Public Displays of Emotion) in favour of masking sadness with a smile.
My first unwilling experience with PDE was at the internet cafe last week. It all got a bit too much when I realised my packed lunch had exploded all over the contents of my bag. The disaster heightened when I realised that soy sauce had saturated my tablet keyboard. Of all the things to break my keyboard whilst travelling in South-East Asia, it had to be soy sauce!! Wishing for a Boots meal deal and maddened by all the rice in Asia, I started to quietly cry at my desk. In all honesty, I really just needed a moment with myself to get over my 'first-world' problems. But within the space of 5 minutes, I was suddenly surrounded by half the Filipino team asking me if I was okay.
I wanted to scream: "NO I'M NOT OKAY BUT LEAVE ME ALONE!!" because their kindness only made me feel worse, embarrassed and silly.
What had happened was that my counterpart, Sophia, had noticed I was crying and had got so worried (and bless her- even blamed herself for the lunch box incident!) that she had cried too and called her friends to help out. I realised then that the circle which had formed - around me and my broken lunch box - was one of love, not judgement.
Later, after all the soy sauce and tears had been wiped away, I told Sophia how embarrassed I felt about my first PDE in the Philippines. She reassured me that I shouldn't feel ashamed or silly because the Filipino volunteers respect my tears. To them, they are a sign of strength and confidence.
So they no longer worry about how I am coping in this strange place. Because I am dealing with my own emotions.
It is the people who don't cry that they worry about.
NB. The photo is of me at the national rice museum. I just can't get enough.