I currently work and live in a town where air sirens go off every night to tell the errant children that they need to go to bed. Twice a night, actually – the first siren is a warning, the second a 'get to bed now'. I love watching the tourists' faces as they register that the loud wailing is, in fact, an air siren. First confusion, then alarm – and then I get to tell them that we are not, in fact, going to war, nor are we being warned of an incoming tsunami: it's just curfew for the kids. The air siren (and the inevitable bewilderment that it evokes) is one of my constant joys in El Nido, and it perfectly encapsulates what I love about the attitude in this place: something equally fearful and haunting transformed into a source of laughter and light.
I've now been in the Philippines for almost 3 months, and for a country that wasn't on my initial itinerary, that is quite a long time. It is also longer than I've spent anywhere else on this trip. Despite an almost comical urge to justify staying, to others and to myself, there is no one dominant thing that keeps me here. I am, however, drawn to the composite of Filipino paradoxes – of which there are many – and somewhere in the heart of my inertia lies a desire to understand and experience them firsthand. One such oddity is obvious to any traveller who sets foot in the country: despite the fact that all of the signs in the Philippines are in English, very few people speak it fluently enough for you to actually arrive at your destination. And thus, you know what you need to do or where you need to go, but cannot for the life of you get there - because everyone is giving you a winning smile and nodding enthusiastically and gesturing vaguely...but not really understanding a word you say.
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