Bayani, Amy and Bert

Bayani, Amy and Bert


Plucking beggar's ticks off Bert - and laughing!

Plucking beggar’s ticks off Bert – and laughing!


Clowning:  Bert, David and Danny

Clowning: Bert, David and Danny


Lina flying over the Chocolate Hills of Bohol

Lina flying over the Chocolate Hills of Bohol


A two-seater broom - with Minalyn

A two-seater broom – with Minalyn


"Wacky Wacky": an obligatory photo in the Philippines

“Wacky Wacky”: an obligatory photo in the Philippines

I have been writing about the importance of relationship in Filipino culture.   While living there for three months last winter, I noticed this in many ways and wrote about these experiences.  Here are two of those pieces, the first on “taxi talk” and the second on the way my friends laugh!  They are written in the present tense.

Taxi Talk

A steady stream of talk in Tagalog begins as soon as we get in the taxi.  It continues for most of the 90 minute ride back home from the airport.  Lina is telling her life story and quizzing Jerry, our driver, for his.  By the end of the drive, she knows a lot about him and, if he was paying attention, he could write her biography!  I listen, catching some of the meaning (her story is familiar to me, so I have some prior knowledge).  I marvel at the ease with which she launches into conversation and at how unusual this would be in the US.

There are many reasons for the stream of conversation.  Lina is friendly and curious.  She loves to gather information and has learned much about Manila and outskirts from drivers.  Her animation probably helps drivers stay alert.

But most important, she is building relationship.  This will make it harder for any driver who might be tempted to lead us astray to do so.   A driver could take us a longer route, and perhaps drive us to a place where we might be robbed.  Not likely, but possible.

Lina is stacking the odds against this by engaging them from the very start in conversation, letting them know that she knows the city and the ropes, and inviting them into her world and to share theirs.

I ask her about this conversation later and learn that she was also giving Jerry counseling on his marriage, his job search, his spiritual life.   A taxi ministry!


During a typhoon or hurricane, the rain comes in great waves, pelting down, receding for a bit, sweeping in again.    So it is with the laughter among my group of seven friends as we travel to visit another friend in hospital in Olangapo, and later enjoy lunch with others who shared work at the Philippine Refugee Processing Center in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Someone makes a joke, the group erupts, another comment is thrown in and the laughter builds to a climax, then backs off for a while – then another witticism, a play on words, a gentle teasing and a comeback, and the laughter crescendos again.  Finally comes a longer lull.   I sit outside on the porch while my friends congregate in the kitchen.  I wait.   And sure enough, the laughter comes again.

At this moment, I understand the phrase, “a gale of laughter”.   I have lived in many places, and everywhere people laugh – but not like this!   Is this particular to my group of friends?   There are certainly some famous jokesters and clowns among us, and friends whose staccato laughter begins as soon as they’ve delivered a line, signaling all to join in.

But I don’t think our group is unique.  This capacity to laugh is an important part of Filipino culture.   It creates and sustains relationship in many ways.  Laughter can signal a good time shared by all.  Sometimes it defuses tension.  My friends and I took a long trip on a day we should have stayed home: the vacation traffic was brutal.  We turned around and came home by another route, stopping for lunch at a place that was overpriced, touristic and noisy.  Not a cross word was said, instead we spent a lot of time laughing about our plans gone awry.

The ability to tease and be teased builds trust as we experience our vulnerability and find that it is safe.  This good-humored teasing keeps us alert, connected and humble:  no one is above being poked at, and it’s hard to take myself too seriously when I’m laughing at myself!

Perhaps this capacity for laughter explains a certain “live and let live” attitude I notice here.  Filipinos can get angry.  Violence and brutality are part of life here, as in every country.   However, if American drivers had to contend with people shifting lanes, cutting in front of each other and passing on “the wrong side of the road”, blood would be spilled in accidents and confrontations.  Yet road rage does not seem to apply here.  There are accidents and deaths on the road, but I’ve yet to experience a driver cursing at someone who has suddenly pulled in front of him or speeding up to prevent another car from cutting in.   Drivers “go with the flow”.   Maybe they’ve learned to laugh at each other.