I have never been to the Philippines before – indeed, I’ve never been to Asia before. I had heard from Rachel and others that Filipinos are very friendly and like a large family, but I didn’t know what to expect. I got to the airport in Minneapolis to catch my 12-hour flight to Tokyo. This was my first time travelling internationally by myself, so I was trying to figure out how everything worked. I started chatting with an American gentleman, who takes annual trips to the Philippines. Two young women overheard our conversation and joined in, saying they were from the Philippines, were travelling back home, and, lo and behold, we were on the same flight! The gentleman said I should look for them in the Tokyo airport. I initially thought this was an off-hand comment – little did I know that they would take me under their wing.
When I got to the Tokyo airport, I had to take a bus to a different terminal. I again ran into the two young women I met earlier, and we briefly chatted. I also ran into several Filipinos waiting for the same bus as me. I initially thought they were all family – they were talking, joking, and taking care of one another. They started talking to me about where I was going and what I would be doing while in the Philippines. As we were talking, I came to realize that they were not all one family; rather, they were several separate families who all happened to be going to the same place. After we got to our terminal, I decided to go and get something to eat. I came back to our gate and a flight was boarding – but I was confused because it wasn’t ours. The Filipino families I had met earlier waved me over and told me that it was a different flight, and that I was in the right spot. They were looking out for me, even though they had just met me.
While waiting for the plane, everyone at the terminal was chatting and having a good time. One gentleman was looking for a place to smoke. Other Filipinos started joking with him about how he should stop smoking, since he told them earlier that his son is a doctor. It reminded me of how my family would joke around about similar things. At one point they switched to Tagalog, which I don’t speak. One of the women began translating for me so I could be part of the joke.
There were several kids waiting for the flight as well. I was amazed to see that everyone looked out for each other’s children. They made sure the kids stayed near the terminal, they helped them up stairs, they stopped to make sure they picked up their toys. It was like everyone was a parent to every child – looking out for everyone, regardless of a blood relation. And, not only that, but the parents were trusting of complete strangers with looking after their children. No strange looks were given; no hovering by over-concerned parents. Everyone seemed to have a familial connection from the outset.
As we began to board the plane, I again ran into the two young women I had met earlier. We chatted like long-time friends about how our travel has been, what we’re doing in the Philippines, things they would suggest I try while I’m here, etc. We talked about whether or not we would be sitting next to each other on the plane, and how we might run into each other while in the Philippines.
And all of that was just on my first day, while travelling, with people I likely would never meet again.
I continue to be amazed with the spirit of community and sense of family in the Filipino community. Everyone watches out for everyone else. You never seem to meet a stranger – people become instant friends. And people seem to trust one another. Rather than being isolated from one another, giving angry looks at people for playing with their children or for asking about where they are travelling to, the Filipinos I met were willing to take one another other under wing, seeming to automatically trust that the other has their best interests in mind. And as I boarded the plane, I felt like I was boarding with family.