Learning Tagalog


This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, December 22, 2004 was originally posted on December 25, 2004.

DAY 431:  Tagalog (pronounced ta-GA-log) is the official language of the Philippines, along with English.  It is unlike any language in the world; at its roots it is a tribal tongue which some have described as “like Malay,” except certain concepts and nouns are taken from Spanish to fill a void.  When Ferdinand Magellan landed in the Philippines during his attempted circumnavigation around the globe — The Global Trip 1520 — soon came the Spanish colonialists who ultimately took over in their need for a trading port in southeast Asia.  Magellan however, did not reap the rewards of such imperialism, nor did he celebrate a triumphant return back in Spain for he died in the Philippines, ending his Global Trip early.

The Spanish brought over many Western things the native Filipinos didn’t have, and it is for those things that words of Tagalog borrows from the Spanish language.  For example, shoes is zapatos in Tagalog, as it is in Spanish; we can assume that the early natives just went around barefoot in the pre-Magellan era.  The word for crazy is loco, which is also Spanish; there were no crazy people in the islands until the Spanish came.  Numbers exist in native Tagalog — isa, dalawa, tatlo (one, two, three) — but the concept of telling time was an implant of the Spanish; in Tagalog as it is in Spanish, one says, “alas dos” (“two o’clock”).  Inherently the Filipinos have no concept of time, which is why most of them are usually late to appointments by 30-60 minutes, thus the ongoing joke of “Filipino Time.”

AS MUCH AS I’VE JUST GONE THROUGH about Tagalog language just now, I’m afraid to admit that I can’t really speak it, or rather, I can only say certain key phrases.  Most of my comprehension of the language is aural only.  Having been the first generation born in America, my parents didn’t teach me Tagalog at an early age, the excuse being that it’d be too confusing for my developing American mind — plus I was already inundated with Spanish, having being babysat by Puerto Ricans in the projects of 1970s midtown Manhattan.  This may or may not be true, but I jokingly have this theory that they didn’t teach me Tagalog so that they could still keep secrets from me, right in front of me, without me knowing.  “[We’ll hide the Christmas presents in the linen closet,]” they probably said.  Or “[Let’s have sex now and conceive markyt so Erik can have a little brother.]”

I think my conspiracy theory goes beyond my parents, because most of my first generation Filipino-American friends are in the same boat as me; they can sort of understand Tagalog but not really speak it fluently.  “[Let’s keep secrets from the kids,]” they all probably said to each other at Filipino community gatherings in the 1970s.  “[Okay.  Anyone want to play Parcheesi?]”

This is all I will write concerning my history with grasping Tagalog for now; I’m still trying to shake the image I accidentally planted in my head ten seconds ago of my parents having sex.  Noooooooooooo!!!!

“YOU GUYS HAVE TO TEACH ME TAGALOG,” I said to my cousins Raymond, Mary Ann and Ruby Ann when I entered their minivan.  I was picked up in Greenhills by them and my Aunt Vicky and Uncle Ruben, who would take me to their home in the Manila suburb of Rizal.  When stuck in Manila’s incessant traffic, a pseudo-lesson in Tagalog began.

“This is Mary Ann, but you can call her Mase,” Ruby Ann said.  “Do you know mase?”

“What’s that?”

“Gluttonous.  Overeating,” she said, teasing her chubby sister. 

“No, I’m sexy,” she jokingly retorted.  Ah, the subtle rivalries amongst my teenage cousins.

Trying to learn Tagalog is hard, particularly at the ripe age of thirty.  The brain’s capacity to learn a new language decreases with age, so I’ve heard.  Back in South America, I was able to learn Spanish (at the “younger” age of 29) because I had no choice; no one in South American really spoke English, not even in a limited capacity.  Such is not the case in the Philippines because everyone knows English; it’s taught in schools at an early age as it is the country’s second official language, a legacy left over from the Philippines’ days as a United States colony.

Yes, a colony; the thirteen original British colonies of American eventually grew and expanded to a nation “from sea to shining sea” so big that it started having its own wars and its own colonies.  The United States bought the Philippines, along with Guam and Puerto Rico, from Spain for the bargain deal of $20 million, after the peace negotiations that ended the Spanish-American War.  Americanization soon began under American Governor William Taft who dubbed Filipinos America’s “little brown brothers.”  Furthermore, the Philippines were actually in contention to become part of the United States union, even before Hawaii was a contender, but Filipino patriots nixed that idea — ultimately the Philippines got its independence in 1946. 

If not for those patriots I might have been just “American,” instead of “Filipino-American,” although I’m sure I’d still be mistaken for Thai or Vietnamese.

THE AMERICANS DIDN’T GO WITHOUT LEAVING ITS LEGACY BEHIND, and by legacy I am referring to the shopping mall.  Metro Manila boasts many big shopping malls, none as popular or as big as SM Megamall, the “must-see” for any shopping visitor in Manila, with its many shops, restaurants and even an indoor ice rink.  It was there that we stopped in for lunch at one of many restaurants offering international cuisine — we went out for Korean “hot pot,” where one picks raw ingredients from a buffet and cooks them up to personal liking at a grill or pot on the table

“[How many people?]” asked the hostess.


Raymond pointed to Mary Ann.  “No, seven.”

“No, I’m sexy!”

After dining on pork, shark, shrimp, squid, rice and other delicacies, we walked around the mall for a bit and then drove off through the traffic of cars, jeepneys and motor-tricycles to the suburb of Rizal to their house, a fairly big place with dogs in the yard and turtles in a little pool.  Like most Catholic Filipino households — Catholicism is the major legacy of Spanish missionaries — there were many Christian artifacts laying around in almost every room; when I took a dump, Jesus was staring down at me in the bathroom.  In lieu of a Christmas tree, my relatives had a life-sized statue of Jesus in the Agony in the Garden rosary story.  I swear, if you took all the Christian trinkets from all the Filipino households in the world, you’d have more than The Vatican.

That’s not to say a Filipino household is a virtual monastery or nunnery; in this particular household, specifically in my cousin Ruby Ann’s room, there were black curtains, posters of rock bands, bats and severed baby doll heads hanging from the ceiling, and spray-painted graffiti such as “Punk is not dead!”  Also, on the other side of the house was the music room, with a drum set, bass guitar and keyboard for the urges of teen angst (picture above).

The rest of the day was a casual one.  We set up the pool table on the porch so my uncle and I could play a couple of games.  Meanwhile, Raymond was trying to figure out how to use the Panasonic D-Snap camera they had just gotten.  It was hard to practice Tagalog because everyone would just revert to English if I didn’t understand something.

My Uncle Ruben schooled me on the pool table, over and over and over again — all my shots were pretty embarrassing — and after five games I called it quits to learn some Tagalog with my cousins by the swing set.  “So how do you say ‘I suck at pool?’”

After some deliberation on how to translate “suck,” they told me:  “Tanga ako manglaro ng pool.”

IT WAS A CASUAL SORT OF RELAXING DAY as I hung out with my relatives in the suburbs.  My 22-year-old cousin Aileen stopped by, who I hadn’t seen in five years.  In those five years she had gotten married and popped out two cute girls, Melody and Melanie, the latter of which would call out “dede” (“breast”) every five minutes for a feeding.

“Did you know I’m a cow?” Aileen said to me — in English.

Eventually dinner was served at the dinner table, a typical Filipino meal of rice, fried fish and vegetable stews.  I ate it the traditional Filipino way, without utensils, (similar to the way they eat in India and Nepal).  If I couldn’t talk like a Filipino yet, at least I could eat like one. 

Now if I could only shake a certain image out of my head…

Next entry: Delusions Of Grandma

Previous entry: Excess Baggage

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Comments for “Learning Tagalog”

  • GREETINGS FROM BACK IN MANILA…  Hope you all had a Merry Christmas.  Thanks for all the greetings, and sorry for the lack of enthusiasm because the exclamation point on this keyboard doesn’t work.

    From the way things are going, I will be in the NIZ for perhaps a week.  I hope to keep up-to-date on my laptop for a big upload whenever I can.  The Philippines is becoming my biggest challenge yet; no longer can I do things when I want, I’m bound by the many schedules of relatives—this includes internet time…

    RE:  The earthquake.  So this morning I DID feel a rumbling in my bed; I had flashbacks of Tokyo, but it was nothing major so I thought nothing of it; none of my relatives in Bulacan said anything of it. 

    How surprised am I coming back to Manila and putting on CNN?

    To all my loved ones in India, Thailand and Indonesia, hope you guys are okay…  Drop me a line and let me know.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/25  at  12:06 PM

  • Hey Eric—
    Mabuhay from Kona.  At long last I’m checking out your blog—it was great to read your account of your, Chrissy and my outing to Kanchipuram and Mahabalipuram as well as your other Indian adventures.  BTW went back the next weekend for another massage.  The guy on the Moonrakers’ menu wasn’t in town—but there’s another place just down the road.  Awesome.  My second best massage ever. (First best was a hot stone massage in Scottsdale, AZ.)
    Anywhooo…I have jet lag from my trip home so am up during the wee hours here (3:21 am Hawaiian Standard Time)
    Had to laugh heartily at your Bambi (revisted) video.  When I was 14 I had a traumatic “take your 5-year old cousin to see Bambi”-experience.  We were walking in late and my cousin Dawn shouts out “oooh I saw this one—this is the one where the mother D-I-E-S.”  An unbelievable wail rose up from the audience of kids followed by sobs—all the Moms glared at me—I thought for sure we’d need a police escort to get out of there.  Brutal….
    Enjoy the rest of your travels and Hauoli Makahiki Hou!
    send me Chrissy’s e-mail if you can—I’ve misplaced it and am curious about her further adventures with OB-1 and OB-2 at her volunteer gig.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/25  at  12:50 PM

  • First? I can’t believe it!  I had to come all the way to China and be in the same time zone as Erik to do it!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/25  at  12:57 PM

  • Damn…........didn’t make it…..........again….........

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/25  at  12:59 PM

  • Hi Erik,  I met you in Tanzania!  I’ve loved reading all your adventures in the blog smile Enjoy your travels for all of us now working in dilbert offices wink -Dory

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/25  at  01:29 PM

  • Erik:

    Happy belated Christmas to you and all of the BH’s y SBR’s!  I’m finally all caught up on the entries after a week or so in the NBCZ (Non-blog-checking-zone) due to the holidays. 

    Hope you have a great time with your family in the Phillipines and I look forward to reading more about your travels.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/25  at  05:56 PM

  • Had to come check your blog when i heard about the earthquake (from reading two friends of mine who are in the midst of their own RTW writing about it) to make sure you were alright.

    even though i dont really know you, reading your blog in someways makes it feel like i do. 

    glad to see you are okay, and i hope that that all of your friends and fmaily in affected areas are okay as well!

    Posted by tina  on  12/26  at  12:10 AM

  • conceive markyt…ewww….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/26  at  02:47 AM

  • Is it my imagination or does that statue of Jesus in the garden have “boobs”???

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/26  at  02:56 AM

  • wow, i’m caught up.

    those thailand entries were bringing back good memories . .

    i hope everyone had a great CHRISTmas.

    Posted by Alyson  on  12/26  at  07:57 AM

  • Hey -  I’m super behind, being stuck on a cruise ship with internet that costs some hideous amount of money will do that to me… I am now getting underway on my road trip back to Florida, so I won’t be able to check as frequently.

    Glad you’re okay, does this change our trip? smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/26  at  02:02 PM

  • happy belated xmas e.

    btw, glad you’re okay. i think the latest report was 20k perished through out SE Asia….damnn…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/26  at  02:11 PM

  • merry belated xmas!! man, i finally caught up. it is hard to keep up with all the holiday stuff and busy at work. i can’t wait til after the new year. so just in case i don’t get back here in time, HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/26  at  07:28 PM

  • Erik,

    Been following you for a while. Don’t know if you remember me from our rafting days in Virginia (Porn Star !) Merry X’mas man, glad you are ok. The tsunami’s were brutal. Keep on trekkin bro !


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/26  at  11:22 PM

  • Hey Erik!  I’ve been offline for a while, just got back on this morning.  Glad you’re ok, especially from that tsunami! 

    Just catching up now, so it should keep me busy the rest of the year;)  Merry Xmas and happy new year dude!  BTW- I’m working in a book store in LGA now, so I’m reserving a spot for your book signing day, so what do you think, about this time next year I guess? Stay safe!


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/27  at  04:43 AM

  • Erik, Happy belated Christmas too!!!!!! and i’m glad to hear that you are safe smile And for those of you who are reading the blog I hope you and your family memebers are safe as well.

    Nicole smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/27  at  02:05 PM

  • wow dude you got out of the disaster zone just in time.  the news just gets worse and i cant imagine what it’s like over there.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/27  at  10:48 PM

  • hope you are well.  also, i hope you and your other travelling friends have suffered minimal consequences of the tsunami.  if you hear of any ways i can help (extreme and not-so-extreme)  tsunami-hit areas while on the east coast, please reply.  thanks.

    HI MARKYT.  how’s that dumbass-girl from mason?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/28  at  03:42 AM

  • hey erik, in southamerica ppl does speak english. don’t be confused. maybe you just bumped into the wrong ppl.


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/01  at  11:49 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Delusions Of Grandma

Previous entry:
Excess Baggage


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