getting lost in your own backyard


all colorful, all beautiful, and all Southeast Asian.  Thanks to asean-community.tumblr.com for the pic!

all colorful, all beautiful, and all Southeast Asian. Thanks to asean-community.tumblr.com for the pic!

[ Note : We could only share in the triumph vicariously, but hearfelt congrats just the same to the Men’s Basketball Team of the Philippines also known as Smart Gilas, for a job well done.  Onward to the World Championships! Advance happy anniversary and more power to the KASAGIP Charitable Trust of Wellington, New Zealand! ]

WE ARE separated from our neighbor states by land and sea, but we are linked by more than just a bit of culture, cuisine and language.  Diplomats and politicians like to say platitudes like these often, but it’s truer than you think.  We look, cook and talk a lot like our Malayan cousins down south, our Indochinese relations eastward and of course, the great unifier of culture and takeaway, the Middle Kingdom in the north.  There are a lot of similarities that cancel out the differences throughout the Southeast Asian region, but the root causes and origin of these similarities, ultimately, are those who call themselves the pride of the Han race, whose mission and vision is to invade every country on the planet via cheap manufacturing and sweet and sour sauce.

But enough of hackneyed cliches and media stereotypes.  I’ve told you more than once before that one of the many gigs we’ve done is cleaning houses, and a couple of these happened to be owned by immigrants like ourselves.  At the same time, you’ve heard me mention many times that I’m quite taken by fellow Southeast Asian migrants (to New Zealand) but even more by the latter who also have Chinese ancestry.

The surface signs are obvious : looks, language and food preference.  Because Pinoys have more than a few ml’s of Chinese blood running through their veins, it’s common for us to be mistaken for Chinese.  But the same is true with Malaysians, Indonesians, Singaporeans, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Thais, Laotians and Burmese.  And the reason is obvious: after centuries of assimilation with the local inhabitants, the Chinese have imprinted themselves on numerous cultures, absorbed the best and worst of the host countries they’ve migrated to, and have produced a fusion of multiple subcultures that for lack of  a better term, I’m describing as Chinatownization anywhere and everywhere.

patis (fish sauce) looks, smells and tastes the same everywhere in the SE Asian region.  Uncanny!  Thanks & acknowledgment for the pic to iexplorevietnam.com :)

patis (fish sauce) looks, smells and tastes the same everywhere in the SE Asian region. Uncanny! Thanks & acknowledgment for the pic to iexplorevietnam.com 🙂

Just look at the food.  Nearly every home I’ve visited either to clean or as a guest has a 20-kg bag or sack of rice in a corner of the kitchen.  They invariably have instant noodles in the pantry, use nearly the same condiments, and favor the same veggies.  They have a kind of universal fish paste (bagoong) as well as fish sauce (patis), the kinds that produce aromas that Kiwis don’t appreciate too much, in their respective kitchens.  You would be forgiven for mistaking for your own kitchens those in various Asian immigrant homes, given the parallel smells, sounds and sights.  The ginger and oyster sauce, hissing of the sauteeing kawali (woks) and the blending of rice and corn with sauces heavily flavored with soy sauce, sap vinegar and tamarind are almost uncanny.

It doesn’t stop there.  Many faiths encourage and enjoin their believers into a stable monotheism, but the lines seem to blur in the Far East.  And nowhere is this more evident in their houses.  Either Christianity or Buddhism is usually dominant but don’t be surprised if both are respected and the text or image representing another or more religions is present.  This is often because the spouses practice different religions and neither expects the other to change.   A sort-of functional ecumenism follows for the children, who hopefully aren’t coerced into either faith.  Again, this may not be that common back home in the Philippines, but how often have you seen Catholicism and non-denominational Christianity coexist in Pinoy households, or altars to different deities set up in different corners of Chinese Filipino homes?

Finally there’s a remarkable contrast I observed in these houses, first because of the similarity with ours and second because it is shared by quite a few immigrant countries across the board : There is not much priority placed in fixtures, furniture and appliances, but more than the usual comfort zone is invested in education and the mind.  I have seen one home where the carpet is threadbare and the sofa set from a secondhand shop, but the books , PCs and iPads reminded me of a small library.  There was also more than the usual number of examination guides, prospectuses to universities and study helps designed to help the students in that abode get ahead in every which way possible.  Needless to say, the members of the family in that house were honor students and matriculating in the top universities not just in Wellington but in New Zealand.  Under the watchful eyes of both Asian parents.

With a few variations, I saw the same in two other homes, with funds for luxury deprioritized in favor of the future of the kids.  It’s almost as if the migrants are making up for lost time in their adopted countries by heavier investment in skills and training.  Hard to argue with that, right?

Thanks for reading!

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