The multilingual Filipino

I finished my phone conversation with a silly grin on my face when I caught Nico* looking at me without disguising his curiosity.

“What language was that?” he asked.

The conversation was with my girlfriend from back home. We were sat having sandwiches outside the Fisher Fine Arts library in UPenn, where my friend and I normally studied. 

Visayan.” I said. “Why?”

“It didn’t sound like the same language you speak with Ryan.” he said, referring to another Filipino classmate of ours.

“That’s Tagalog.”

“But this language Cebuano–it must be your first language, yes?”

I confirmed, and he shot a grin back in triumph.

He said he knew because everyone always sound angrier in their own language. He said I certainly sounded angry, but knew I wasn’t, because I was laughing after every sentence.

“Unless, you laugh in anger in your culture,” he mused.

I thought about what he said for a while. He made a pretty good point. We are always nicer and more respectful in another language, saying everything in a more gentle, question manner, unsure of ourselves; like we become children conversing to adults once again.

Come to think of it, I do tend to take up different personalities in the different languages I speak. I feel more professional in English, more gentle in Tagalog and Hiligaynon, and I’m a foul-mouthed, warfreak, drunken sailor in Cebuano.

Being Filipino, I grew up to hearing different tongues–sometimes simultaneously–that it was the only kind of world I knew of. In my hometown, we spoke both Visayan, and our Muslim brothers Maranao; my father’s side spoke Hiligaynon, and my mother’s side Tagalog. You know my grandfather’s temper is on the upside when you hear cussing in Spanish, English is taught in our schools from prep to college, and French…simplyfrom dating a few of them.

Sounds impressive, but not really. This is not unusual in a typical Filipino household. The country, after all, has 7,000+ islands, 300+ dialects, with frequent movement and diaspora; long colonial Spanish history, and then raised by Hollywood and 80’s love ballads. With this hodge-podge history, it is already given for every Filipino-born to be multilingual (or bilingual at the least).

We don’t really think about the multilingual aptitude much. But when you go abroad and realize that most people speak only one language.

Some weren’t granted the opportunity or exposure to other foreign tongues and cultures. Some by choice and refuse to learn any other language. And some are just simply crippled by the convenience of being born spoilt into a culture that didn’t have the necessity (I’m looking at you, America).

Foreign peers compliment me at how ‘good my English is’, like I’m not supposed to get my v’s and f’s right. And then revel at how easily I can switch from one language to another. It’s kinda nice to show off once in a while, pretending it’s some sort of superpower.

The truth is, you don’t really need to be fluent in the languages–you just need to know enough. You only need to know ‘hi, nice to meet you’, ‘beer’ and ‘cheers’ in a dozen languages for them to look at you like black sorcery. Kanpai!

Nico, being European, was also multilingual.

And so I played around with the topic and shot back a question: “Nico, what language do you think?”

His blue eyes danced, like he had been expecting the discourse. “The German language is made perfectly for a thinking mind, I believe. The vocabulary is just so exact and concise, there’s little room for error.”

I shot back the question to myself. What language do I think? What language do I feel?

On formal and professional scenarios, English seemed the default. It was my rationalizing language. But in the social and emotional aspects, Cebuano is my preference. 

Especially when it came to bodily feelings, I feel I could better explain myself in my dialect. How can you translate gigil? Kilig? Binhod? Panuhot? Pasmo? Alimungawan? How do you translate them to English in one word, without giving people the context or comparison? The nuances of languages tell us how the people and culture are characteristically; and on this–it seems like Cebuanos are very attuned to their bodies and feelings.

Nothing is more satisfying than swearing in Cebuano. I would write some of my favorites down, but they might not make it out on print. Sometimes, the F-word just don’t cut it, you know? There’s just more meat in our dialect, it’s just so wrong , dirty and crude.Especially the B-words…

Ah, nothing beats the B-words.

Now that I think of it, when I need to make more rational and moral decisions, I should probably not process my thought processes in Cebuano.


Suggested itinerary: 5 days in Paris, France

Ahh, Paris.

Some people hate it; some people love it.

On one spectrum people describe the city as overrated, dangerous and touristy. On another side it’s described as romantic, mysterious and timeless. Paris is a Gemini, and will reveal to you a side of her according to her moods. She is never boring and never the same.

I’ve been to Paris thrice already but it’s always new and magic to me every time I step into the city. If it’s your first time in Paris, I’ve crafted a suggested itinerary for 5 days in the world’s most romantic city to help you through.

By the way, Philippine passport holders need a Schengen visa to enter Paris, France. Read about it on my blog post How to Apply for Schengen visa (France) for more information.

streets of paris

This isn’t a comprehensive guide though listing ALL the tourist attractions of Paris. There’s just too many, you can’t see possibly all of the city’s tourist attractions and 153 museums in a matter of days! This blog post, however, will cover my personal must-see’s, especially for a first timer in the city.

Walking is your main mode of transport in the city. Paris subway system is known as the ‘Metro’, which is old, noisy and clunky, but full of character— like your spunky arthritic grandmother with a motor mouth. You can save money by purchasing a carnet, which is a book of 10 individual tickets for €14.10.

Day 1: Louvre, Eiffel Tower

louvre postcardpretty guide philippines

Let’s start with the world’s most famous art museum: Louvre. Louvre is notorious for its long queues by the Louvre Pyramid, but do you know that there are actually many secret entrances that can get you inside without the maddening crowd?

Louvre houses over a million works of art–they say that if you spend 5 seconds looking at every piece of art in Louvre, it will take you 3 months (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) to see everything!

Louvre is like Disneyland for an art enthusiast like me. I could lose hours there getting lost in awe with all the great works of art surrounding me. In a few hours you will get overwhelmed. The museum is massive, so allot 5 hours there to see what you need to see. I recommend: Mona Lisa (of course!), Venus de Milo, and Napoleon’s apartments.

If you’re going to Louvre, I don’t recommend you to see other museums after that. Even a great art lover such as I can get ‘art fatigue’. Not advisable to dump yourself with too much art in one day.

After Louvre, you can take lunch nearby. One of my favorite things about Europe is the luxury of enjoying a scenic view for free. Sometimes I just buy croissant and salad in the local store and take my food to the nearest park. I don’t need to buy drinking water, either–drinking fountains are aplenty. This saved me tons of money!

Every first-time visitor in France will want to see Eiffel Tower the first day. The iconic tower is beautiful during the day and at night, so make sure to catch a glimpse of it on both times of the day.

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I tend not to cramp too many activities on the first day, because we’re all still slightly jet-lagged on that day. Relax and take it easy, maybe do some people-watching while sitting in a Parisian cafe.

Day 2: Notre Dame Cathedral, Tuileries Garden, Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe

notre dame cathedral parisNotre Dame Cathedral is the most famous Gothic cathedral in the world, most famously immortalized by the famous Victor Hugo novel.

The church is a magnificent symbol of Gothic art and architecture, with all the classic elements in place: highly ornamental portal, flying buttresses, stained glass windows and of course, the glorious gargoyles.

Shakespeare & Company is a beautiful bookshop on the left bank, very near the Notre Dame. If you’ve seen Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’ and Linklater’s ‘Before Sunset’, you’re probably familiar with it already. Famous historical figures and intellectuals have frequented the place, including F.Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller. Make a quick stop to appreciate this darling little place to have a feel of what it’s like to be in a century-old bookshop. (Don’t forget to pet the white cat for me please!)

After Shakespeare & Co., you can wander around the picturesque city’s small streets to find cute shops and cafés. After this, I walked to the Tuileries Garden to relax and unwind. The Tuileries Garden dated way back in 1560 as part of the Tuileries Palace for Catherine de Medici. It became a public park following the French Revolution. It’s a massive garden surrounded by beautiful nature and art, such as the sculptures of Rodin.

In the west end of the park is the Orangerie Museum where you can find a collection of Impressionist paintings from the French masters themselves. Claude Monet’s famous ‘Water Lilies’ series is a fixture here. I am a big fan of Monet, and the paintings were way bigger than imagined!

waterlilies monet orangeri

In the late afternoon, one can go shopping to the world famous Champs-Élysees, known as the world’s most beautiful avenue. Champs-Élysees stretches from the Obelisk of Luxor in the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe in Place Charles de Gaulle. Here you will find plenty of well-known, mainstream brands such as Hugo Boss, Banana Republic and Abercrombie and Fitch.

Day 3: Palace of Versailles

The Palace of Versailles is a royal chateau and the seat of political power in France during the Ancien Régim, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital following the French Revolution. and the center the perfect manifestation of pre-French Revolution opulence and austerity.

Chateau de Versailles is not located in the capital, but is located some 20km from Paris. It is easily reachable via the Metro.

Everything in Versailles is grand–when the chateau was completed, it was 67,000 sq. m. in area size. They stationed 14,000 servants and soldiers to cater to the palace alone!

The palace employs the High Baroque architectural style and classic elements rococo interior design: gold leaf, pastel colors, highly ornamental and dainty flowers. Below are photos of Queen Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom.

The gardens at the back are just as impressive. It is a fine example of a French garden, with perfectly manicured lawns, with beautiful flora, sculptures and fountains. In the center of it all sits an immense manmade lake where one can go on a rowboat if the weather permits. You can also rent bikes or go on a picnic during the summer!

Day 4: Musee d’Orsay, Eiffel Tower, Latin Quarters

Paris is home to 153 museums and you would be crazy to go to every single one of them in one trip. But if there were art museums you can go apart from Louvre, I’d recommend Musee d’Orsay, mostly because I have a preference of post-impressionist art compared to postmodern art. If you prefer the latter I would advise Centre Pompidou.

Musee d’Orsay is an absolutely beautiful museum in its own right. The museum used to be a railway station–but when the station’s platforms later proved to become too short to accommodate the new and longer trains, they decided to turn it into a museum instead of demolishing it. The museum was addressed to accommodate the gap between the art between the Louvre (too ancient!) and the Centre Pompidou (too new!).

At Orsay Museum you will find works from Post-impressionist masters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, to name a few.

eiffel at night itinerary

It’s worth seeing Eiffel again in the evening. Watch Eiffel sparkle–this happens on the evening every hour for five minutes. It’s magical, you will never grow tired of it!

Afterwards a night stroll around the city of lights provide me with instant therapy. If you’re a fan of the movie Amelié, you can take a self-tour at night and maybe experience Parisian nightlife.

On one occasion, I had a date with a local, and he took me around the Latin Quarters where we walked and retraced all the film’s locations–which made the night quite unique and lovely. You can be creative and do this too, or maybe other films of your choice: Before Sunset is next on my list!

Day 5:  Sacre-Couer, Moulin Rouge, Paris Catacombs, Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Start your day at Sacre-Couer Basilica. It is located at the summit of Montmartre, the highest point in Paris. You can then make your way down from there.

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The basilica is a sight to behold, and provides a breathtaking view of the city.

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Make your way down to the infamous Moulin Rouge. If you have the time, you can also check out the Erotica Museum nearby to know more about–well, all things erotica–sex, prostitution, and more.

The last two attractions are an interesting attractions: as they revolve around death. Head to the Catacombs of Paris first to see the remains of some 6 million people. The Catacombs is basically an underground ossuary built in 1774 to solve the problem of overflowing cemeteries in the city. It is known as the ‘world’s largest grave’ due to the number of dead buried.

The winding tunnel stretches for miles and miles with thousands of skulls and bones. It’s a pretty morbid tourist attraction, but it’s also very interesting to see, especially if you’re into that kind of thing.

paris catacombs
Catacombs of Paris

You can finish the day at Pere Lachaise Cemetery, which is a beautiful cemetery featuring the graves of famous historical figures such as Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Camille Pissarro, Honore de Balzac and more.