Registering your vehicle and solitude

One of our preacher friends supports his family of four by making deliveries. There are a lot of deliveries to be made here in the Philippines, because many people do not have cars, and they don’t trust the postal service, and all kinds of things are delivered- some are independent contractors who will pick up your food order and deliver it to you, for instance.

Our friend had to buy a new motorcycle as something happened to the old one (I don’t know if it wrecked or just died).  But then he spent the next year making his deliveries by bicycle, because the registration paperwork didn’t come back and didn’t come back.  Nobody is terribly shocked that it took a year (except us).  This is common, although six months might be more common.

He and his brothers could see that we were astonished by how long it took him to get his registration for his motorcycle, and they asked how long it took in the U.S.  We told them however long it took for you to get your permanent tags and registration for your car, you’d usually be given a temporary registration that was good the same day. You might have to go in after a month and renew the temporary registration if for some reason your case was unusually complicated, but we didn’t know anybody who didn’t get their registration in less than a month.  It just would never happen that it would take a year to register a motorcycle that was your family’s only form of transportation and your livelihood as well.

And then we sat and stared at each other a few minutes and pondered this deep chasm between how two very different cultures live and move and have their being- and why.

My best guess was- Americans are very driven by notions of both efficiency and convenience.  We are a single car culture, and expect to be able to travel independently of others, at our own personal convenience.

Efficiency and convenience do not seem to be high on the list of cultural priorities here, at least not convenience as Americans see it, not based on the individual alone.

Relationships matter more.  Speed matters less.  Blatant corruption is also more acceptable, or more common, or something,  here as well.  But even saying that conveys an American sense of disapproval, because some of what I would consider corruption isn’t even seen as a problem- it’s a normal and understandable way things function, since family and relationships come first, so of course, you have a duty to bring in more support for your family, or to do favors for family members before you do them for strangers- even if you are a government official.

The relationship, the community thing is also really a strong difference. IT probably seems even stronger to me since I’m an introverted, independent American who loves going to the movies or coffee shops by myself, and I don’t really enjoy window shopping with other people at all, unless they are fellow bookloving introverts and we are windowshipping bookstores and stationary departments.

I was meeting a Korean friend at a nearby coffeeshop this afternoon for an English conversation class.  I had some writing projects to work on, and my house was hot and the coffeeshop has free wi-fi and aircon, so I went nearly an hour early to work in comfort. My Korean friend was appalled and sorry for me- a whole hour alone in a coffee shop?  To me it was glory and I wish it had been 3 hours.   A Visaya friend will ask me when I see her if I’ve gone shopping lately, and if I have, she always wants to know who with, and she looks wounded on my behalf when I tell her I went alone to the grocery store.  This friend also hires 2 women to come help her with the housework when she is exceptionally busy- not because she needs 2 people to do the work, but because she feels sorry for a Filipina who has to work alone. That’s too lonely.

I read somewhere once that a Korean would generally rather do something he doesn’t enjoy as long as it’s with a group, than something he enjoys if it’s by himself.  Obviously, there are definitely exceptions to this kind of generalization in both our cultures, but the exceptions are seen as rather odd ducks.

One can put this knowledge to good use.  I recently bought some snack items to share with a Korean family when I went to visit them, but they were concerned that I had spent too much money, that I shouldn’t give them those snacks but take them back home, and we were at something of an impasse until it occurred to me to say, “Oh, but I wanted to eat them with you, not alone,” and instantly their faces lit up and they relaxed and agreed, “Oh, yes, with somebody is better than alone,” and we ate our little snacks in agreeable companionship.

I have also learned never to share with my community here that my husband is going to be gone for Saturday.  Invariably, somebody will say, “Oh, you’ll be alone then? I’ll come over.”

Have I mentioned that I think I would have had an absolutely amazingly good time as a hermit or a medieval anchorite?
God does have such a sense of humour, doesn’t he?

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  1. Posted October 26, 2018 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Hi (name deleted)
    I came across your blog through (deleted), I think, and have thoroughly enjoyed reading through it. These cultural posts are so fascinating! I’m a total introvert like you, and chuckled in sympathy with you not telling anyone your husband would be away on Saturday. Heehee!

    • Headmistress
      Posted October 26, 2018 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

      WElcome!! I hope you don’t mind, but I deleted the names- because introvert.=)

  2. Elena Rulli
    Posted October 27, 2018 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    I’m quite introvert myself and totally sympathize with your struggles to be able to do things on your own. Feeling at ease with, and in, your own mind is a gift 😊

    • Headmistress
      Posted October 28, 2018 at 2:13 am | Permalink

      I have another Korean coffee shop story. I meet another, much younger, Korean friend at a coffee shop for a language lesson. I have a 2 hour window between that lesson and another, which is in a home about a ten minute walk away. So my goal in scheduling those meetings at the cafe was to have a 2 hour window of solitude while I work on writing projects or study/prepare lessons. But ever since we started meeting there,my young friend says something like, “Oh, you’re staying here until 1:00? I will stay and keep you company, then.” And I can assure her that this is not necessary, but she won’t go. I’m not sure about what’s happening here. I think she does feel sorry for me and is sure I do not want to be alone, but I also wonder if because she is so much younger, she actually cannot comfortably leave me sitting there unless I find the right formula to give her permission to go. I have not discovered this formula. So I feel like I am inconveniencing her.
      Next meeting, I am going to tell her I have something else to do shortly after the meeting and I’ll just go to another coffee shop in the neighborhood and work on my projects.

  3. Donna Parsons
    Posted October 27, 2018 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I have really missed a lot, are you in the Phillipines now?

    • Headmistress
      Posted October 28, 2018 at 1:58 am | Permalink

      We have been in the PHilippines almost two years now. We began with my husband, the Cherub and our son. He finished high school here and returned to the U.S. to go to school. We will return to the U.S. in December and we’re not sure what we’ll be doing after that- short furlough, long furlough, back in the U.S. for good? What job? Don’t know.=)

  4. Stephanie
    Posted October 28, 2018 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Is introvertism very common in asian cultures? Being a natural introvert I don’t find being alone lonely, but based on your story it seems to not be as acceptable. BTW, Our Lord does have a sense of humor. After many years being a stay at home mom, I find myself teaching again in public high school — and my youngest son is an extrovert’s extrovert!

    • Headmistress
      Posted October 28, 2018 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know. I do know there was an entire variety show in Korea based on getting idol introverts together, and it was cute but also kind of boring!

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