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Apr 24th
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1/25
Trapped Between Two Cultures, Neither "Pinoy" Nor "Kano": a Physician's Musings and Other Musings on his Musings




By Jesse Jose
A Cup O' Kapeng Barako
 
Musings ...
 
This story was not meant to be funny but it ended funny because this Pinoy physician's musings resulted in other musings.
 
It began when a cyberspace friend, named Charlie, sent me a piece that caught my attention.  Charlie calls me "Shipmate Jesse" and I call him "Shipmate Charlie."  We both served in the U.S. Navy.  Both of us are now retired, enjoying our lives as military pensionados of America.  
 
No, we are not FilVets.  We are AmVets.  We earned and deserved our pensions.  We toiled for it for over 20 years.  We laid our lives for America.  That's how you earned lifetime pensions from the U.S. military. 
 
Charlie retired from the Navy as a lieutenant commander, whereas I retired as a chief petty officer.  We were both submariners, early on in our naval careers.  Navy submariners are the so-called "elite of the fleet."
 
But I am going off course here. 
 
My column this week is not about Charlie and me.  It's about the "musings" of a Pinoy doctor here in America, who said that he felt "trapped" between two cultures and that he's neither a Filipino nor an American.  So, this story is aptly titled "Trapped Between Two Cultures: Neither Filipino Nor American." 
 
At the end of this doctor's musings, are my own Barako musings.  What follows right after that are three other musings, on my musings, of the doctor's musings.
 
In other words, musings and more musings.  You follow? 
 
Brother Dave Orolfo's musings came first.  Brother Dave is also a military retiree, as a Chief Warrant Officer, from the U. S. Coast Guard.  I call him "brother" because we are both Knights of the world-wide Catholic fraternity, Knights of Columbus. 
 
Next musings were of Ed Navarra, the national chairman of the National Federation of Filipino Americans (NaFFAA).  Ed is a good sport and my mentor on the art of Bwahaha, and his musings of the doctor's musings, though expressed in a couple of words, were right on.  
 
Then the laughing musings of Bart T, a CPA, and the publisher/editor of the FilAmMegascene in the windy city of Chicago, came next.  BT and I call each "Erapok," which as y'all know is a kanto boy word in the Erap/FPJ era.       
 
But enough already of my ramblings.  Here's the musings that caused all the other musings, verbatim and in toto, warts and all.     
  
              TRAPPED BETWEEN CULTURES: 
                 Neither Filipino Nor American

                                           By Eugenio Amparo, MD
 I was born in the Philippines to Filipino parents but I have lived continuously in America since 1974, the year I started my diagnostic radiology residency at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas. Now, having retired from the practice of medicine, I find myself with too much time to contemplate everything from quantum mechanics, the existence of God in a fundamentally random universe seemingly full of suffering, to the history of the bra and the deforestation of pubic hair. One of these contemplations led to an uncomfortable conclusion, that I am neither Filipino nor American, that I am trapped between cultures.
 
As a child in Iloilo City, I used to dream of America with rivers of cars, supermarkets overflowing with food, snow in the winter, everything I saw in movies. Now, I have a BMW and a Mercedes Benz in a three-car garage; a refrigerator full of food as well as obesity and hypercholesterolemia; pictures from family ski trips to Aspen, Vail, Squaw Valley; and a loneliness that is as American as apple pie. I miss the Philippines.
When I visit the Philippines to see friends and relatives, I envy their close family and friendship ties, which is not just an artifact of my visit and a testament to their hospitality. Even when I'm not there, my first cousins, who live in different cities in Metro Manila, get together every Sunday for lunch in Quezon City. By contrast, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I got together in the past ten years with my younger brother in Virginia and my sister in Oregon. My daughter lives in San Francisco, a two-hour drive from our home in Sacramento but we see her once or twice every two months. My son and grandchildren live in Folsom, a twenty-minute drive away, but we all have to make a conscious effort to get together once a week. Americans are just too busy, which is the reason America is the greatest economic power in the world and the reason Americans are one of the loneliest people in the world with a very high prevalence of depression. I am not American enough to resign myself to loneliness as a consequence of a national obsession with rugged individualism and self sufficiency.
 
I am not American enough to resign myself to loneliness…
The solution seems simple; I retire in the Philippines. But then I remember that it now takes almost as long to drive from the University of the Philippines in Quezon City to the Philippine General Hospital, a distance of 11 miles, as it takes to drive from Sacramento to San Francisco, a distance of 87 miles. That's because Manila traffic is so gridlocked. I'm no longer Filipino enough to be patient with Manila traffic.
In America, I bank online and I get cash from ATMs. In the Philippines people still go to banks just to conduct business that can be conducted online or at ATMs. Dealing with government bureaucracies in America like the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Internal Revenue Service can be frustrating, but ast it can be done without having to bribe anyone, whereas the simplest business dealings in the Philippines may require bribes. I still remember a time when visiting the Philippines from America required knowledge of how to bribe customs officials upon arrival at the airport. I once arrived at the Manila International Airport and declared all my scuba gear equipment. The customs officials at first
salivated at the thought of how much money they would make from me and then realized I was a hopeless case and finally waved me through. They figured no idiot would declare all of that and know how to bribe his way through, so no bribes were forthcoming. Our medical school alumni association in America once sent a cargo container full of supplies for donation to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH). It was confiscated by customs and it was not released to the PGH until several politicians had intervened. I would not be surprised if it also required bribes to customs officials. Airport customs has vastly improved, probably to encourage tourism and visits from “balikbayans,” but I'm told that conducting business in the Philippines still routinely involves bribery.
When I sit poolside at the Manila Polo Club I think the Club may be the ultimate blend of American and Filipino: clean and well organized; efficient and courteous service; a feeling of Filipino closeness as well as American aloofness. Then I remember that the Manila Polo Club is an exclusive enclave. It is not the Philippines, which brings me to yet another glaring problem. I am no longer Filipino enough to ignore the yawning chasm between rich and poor in the Philippines. A few minutes drive from the Manila Polo Club with its Benzes and BMWs, street children run up to cars and beg for coins. You see tin and cardboard shanties where children live. If you are driving at night in the provinces, an unnerving darkness seems to swallow up the small villages you pass. I'm now too American to ignore all this, although I barely noticed it when I lived in the Philippines.
And I have become too soft in America. I find myself sweating profusely when I visit the humid Philippines because Sacramento is so dry sweat evaporates even when the temperature approaches 100 degrees F. I no longer scoff at golfers in the Philippines hiring umbrella girls to protect them from the sun, although I suspect that is not the only reason umbrella girls populate Filipino golf courses. As a child in the Philippines, I was so dirty I had to be periodically dewormed. Now, I seem germophobic when I visit the Philippines. I also get traveler's diarrhea every time I visit so I have to watch what I eat. My stomach has become too American but I still long for bamboo shoots, hearts of palm, dinuguan, lechon, and talaba. This part is likely just a matter of acclimatization.
What isn't a matter of acclimatization is my feeling of anxiety in the Philippines regarding emergency services. In America I have been lulled into the feeling that I can always call 911 for police, firemen or paramedics and they will come in time and I can trust them. Past emergencies in America have taught me that this is generally true. I don't feel that way in the Philippines. I see armed guards everywhere in the Philippines, outside gated communities, in bank lobbies, and even in a noodle restaurant. It seems that no one really expects the police to be of any help against criminals. I don't see how an ambulance can possibly make it through Manila traffic and I remember being a clinical clerk in the emergency room of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH). I would fear for my life if I were brought there, although I'm told much has improved at the PGH.
I am no longer Filipinos enough to be patient with gridlocked Manila traffic….
 
I lived so long in America, a developed country, that I have grown accustomed to efficiency and punctuality, reliable emergency services, above board business dealings, and the abundance of creature comforts. As a consequence, I am no longer Filipino enough to be patient with gridlocked Manila traffic, to take my chances with unreliable emergency services, to conduct business that may require bribery, and to get used to the discomforts and the visible poverty of a developing country. Yet, I am also too Filipino to ignore the aching loneliness of the American way of life, too Filipino not to envy the close family and friendship ties I see when I visit the Philippines. I am trapped between cultures, neither Filipino nor American.
 
My Barako musings on Dr. Amparo's  prolific musings:
 
After I've read this doctor's musings, I wrote my own musings and forwarded it to Charlie.
 
Shipmate Charlie ... Thanks for sending Dr. Amparo's interesting musings.  It's interesting.  Kind of reminds me of two stories I've written a few years ago, titled "Philippines, my Philippines, the Land of WaWa We," and "Is Jesse Jose a Little Brown American?"  Both stories are now Barako classics..  Google it. and you'll see.
 
Of course, Dr. Amparo's story is more profoundly written than mine.  His storied musings should be treated as a classic, too.
 
But, I think, this Pinoy doctor's dilemma is the result of his failure to integrate into the mainstream and to embrace America.  That's why he's merely a "half n' half" ... neither Pinoy nor Kano.
 
The other immigrant who came before us, like the Irish people and the Jews and the Poles and the Italians, and many others from different countries, even the Japanese and the Chinese, didn't feel "trapped."
 
They integrated, embraced America ... and became true Americans, not "half n' half," like many of us, Pinoys, here in America.  (Signed) Jesse.
 
 
The Musings of Brother Dave:
 
Brother Jesse ... greetings in this season of Lent.  I agree with your take on this doctor's dilemma.  His self-imposed sentimentality IS AN INTRACTABLE HYPOCRISY AT BEST.  Come on, have some reality here.
 
I wonder, at the outset how he so proudly claimed to being homeless and poor ... yet came to this country with a medical degree.  Somehow, someone had to foot the bill for his education.  Not very cheap one at that, even in 1974.
 
His very sentient feelings, though very typical, is a bunch of BS.  You either appreciate or not the opportunity provided to you by this country.  I say, take the best and enjoy as many of us, who chose to put on the uniform and swore allegiance and fought for USA and proud of it.  You either appreciate the "opportunity" that which you did not have in the Philippines, that this country has so generously provided.
 
I know of four Pinoy dentists who were once shipmates in the US Coast Guard.  They endured the rigors of social adjustments while in the US Armed Forces.  They, too, experienced the socio-cultural challenge, but adjusted admirably and succeeded to build a family worthy of their adopted country, the USA.
 
I pity the good doctor in his straddling the social and economic demarcation between the Philippines and America.  A musing?  Or, is it a guilt trip in the "Land of WaWa We"?  Doc, get over it!  Fraternally and God bless.  (Signed) Dave.
 
 
The Musings of Ed Navarra:
 
JJ ... A man without a country.  So, sad.  (Signed) Ed.
 
 
The Musings of  BT, aka, Erapok:
 
Erapok ... "Philippines, my Philippines, the Land of WaWa We" and "Is Jesse Jose a Little Brown American"?
 
The titles should have been more intriguing if they were: "Philippines, my Philippines, the Land of Sotto-mo, Botto-mo" and "Is Jesse Jose a Medium Rare Americano?"
 
Don't the above titles sound more barakong-barako?
 
(Signed) From the Ere, Erepeks of Erapok (Reminiscing the Pepsi Paloma's Tragedy).
 
Musings ...  That's all.  JJ 

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