Friday, October 26, 2007

Cultural Convergence

Don't get me wrong; I love the differences in people, places, and cultures that I regularly encounter. It is great to observe or participate in a different perspective and approach because you learn a lot about yourself in the process. On the other hand, when I do go somewhere that shares a similar outlook culturally to my own, there is a wonderful sensation of familiarity and comfort. I came across this feeling on a recent trip to Manila.

Let's be clear right up front that Filipinos have a very proud and rich tradition and culture that is indeed unique and special, yet it is today's similarities with that of the US that caused me to jot down some thoughts. The cultural convergence in my belief starts with the close friendship our two nations have had for many generations. It was uncanny how everyone I met upon discovering that I was from the US commented that they either have a family member or a close friend that lives in America. Filipinos are also the most mobile people in Asia when it comes to immigrating or working overseas. Income that is generated overseas by Filipinos is measured in the billions of dollars annually and makes up a significant portion of the nation's GDP as hard earned paychecks are sent to loved ones back home.

Sitting in an outdoor cafe in Makati's famous Greenbelt Mall feels like virtually the same experience one would find doing the same thing in Southern California. The weather, surroundings, the service orientation, and the fact that well-spoken English permeates conversations all lead to this sense of familiarity. Of course Makati is by no stretch of the imagination representative of everyday Philippines or even Manila for that matter, but the experience that one picks up here fools the mind into thinking it is somewhere recognizable.

I also had to chuckle at the common love for Fast Food, as represented by the only Wendy's Hamburgers that I have ever seen in Asia or the presence and popularity of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. The existence of these type of establishments don't always help the waistlines of people from either country but seeing them again brought comfort. What is unique is that Filipinos don't simply copy and paste these traditional American icons into their national canvass, but they adapt and improve upon them with their own unique stylings and taste. This is represented by the Fast Food chain known as Jollibee, which is famous for being the only domestic market fast food establishment globally that beats McDonalds in annual units and revenue. And Jollibee is not stopping with their home domestic market. They have again beat McDonalds and Burger King to the punch by being the first hamburger chain to open up in Saigon, Vietnam, which is fast becoming an explosive new market as people there begin craving for more international tastes.

As the photo above documents, I too enjoyed a unique local take on a tried and true staple of American consumerism: The Upscale Mall. Rather than merely perusing the luxury name brands of your typical mall, in Makati there are upscale promotions with live bands, free champagne, and no guest list. My co-worker and I, fresh out of our last business meeting of the day, couldn't resist a side trip through the mall in order to join the festivities and swig down some liquid libations.

For me, the Philippines is a great place to re-charge my cultural memory banks. The similarities bring comfort while the unique twists and local flair make it fun and special.


Post a Comment

<< Home