Each culture is marked by its favorite events and sports. One cannot think of the USA without an image of raging football fans with painted bare bellies or the World Series. Europe has its football, Australia has rugby and so on. Here in the Philippines four very different events make the culture what it is and divines its people.
I was not a tall boy, that has not changed, so I assumed basketball was not my game, never learned the basics, leaving that for my more elevated buddies. But here no one is tall, except my lovely bride, it is a country of small boys who all can dribble and make that lay in shot. Every small community has a basketball court and they are used daily. The local tournaments draw huge crowds, all life stops for them. There are many pro teams as well and round ball is on TV constantly. So it seems excluding short fellas was a mistake. Often, I see the boys playing and they will invite me to join, each time I wished I could play like my friends who learned early. The other day I passed by an army camp on my run. I was greeted by two guys with M16s and one with a basketball, he tossed me the ball and I made a jump shot from about the foul line. I quit then knowing that was just luck hahaha.
Anytime there is a vacant lot, 3 or more boys and a ball the game is on. Rusty hand made hoops, baggy shorts and the boys everywhere you look, before school, at breaks, weekends always a game on.
Now the Birds. When you drive along a country road and see dozens of bikes, trikes and jeepneys parked along the side it means one thing; Cockfights! This has been a SE Asian and particularly Filipino tradition since the dawn of civilization. Here they are even televised and every town, village or any community has them. When you see a field with cute little chicken condos spread around, those are fighting cocks. The birds are hand raised, adorned and well fed, they live better than any chicken on earth a proverbial chicken aristocracy. I have been a few times, the excitement is contagious as the gamblers reach a fever pitch. I am usually pretty lucky but I have yet to pick a winning bird, even with 50/50 odds. Now many in the west will condemn this sport, and with reason, but I have to say; if there is reincarnation and I had to come back as a chicken, I would pick a fighting cock over a chicken in Colonel Sanders chicken factory any day.
Love them as they do, these two past times pale to the passion that is boxing. When Manny Pacquiao fights the entire country comes to a grinding halt, it becomes a national holiday. Everyone everywhere dreams about the fight, thinks about the fight, talks about nothing else but the fight and certainly watches the fight. They have to ask folks to cut back on electrical use so the zillion TV’s don’t crash the grid.
Boxing and particularly Manny Pacquiao is the soul of the Philippines and a more deserving hero never lived. His generosity and philanthropic activities are amazing. He was elected and reelected to the National Senate.
Now all this might make you think this is a very masculine dominated culture. This may be true to an extent but the last of our cultural icons brings out the feminine side, the romance and the glamor that is the Philippines and is no less cherished nor important than the others; the beauty pageant!
Again, in every village every age and every walk of life has at least one pageant, most many more. The little girls, the teens, the ladies and yes, the ladyboys all compete in different events. Twice now, I have had the honor of judging such events. Recently in the small village of Conception I judge a high school pageant, and last year, in Donna’s village, a ladyboy pageant, (see blog -----). The contestants in each were extremely well rehearsed and the costumes extraordinary.
The love of beautiful women goes right to the top. Last year the third Filipino to win the Miss Universe title (others in 1965, 1969). Pia Wurtsbach became a national hero; she is absolutely adored. This brought the pageant to the Philippines this year and they threw out all the stops, it was amazing. Again, the country held its collective breath as the current Miss Philippines got in the final nine, then six! A language stumble cost her the crown as she tried to answer in English. This was haggled over more nationwide, commentaries abound, even more than the bad call that cost the Seahawks their last Super Bowl. Donna can recite pageant statistics like a baseball fan, how many made the top 5 and what province. She is proud to tell you her province has produced some big winners.
So, what kind of people cherish basketball played by short guys, chickens fighting to the death, boxing matches and a super hero boxer, and simultaneously, the beauty pageant and the most beautiful women on earth? The answer is only one kind, the Filipino. They live with passion, often raw. They have an immense national pride, not the “we are better than you” kind that causes wars but the “we are who we are and damn proud of it” kind. They banter politics as much as anyone but let an outsider criticize their leaders and the “fighting cock/ Manny” spirit comes out. President Obama found this out the hard way.
Most of all they love life! Life at its basic terms. Children, beautiful women, fiestas, national heroes all bring out the wonders of Filipino life,
Make Your Dream Your Story
Capt. Brian Calvert