Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Books: A long way to go for a date

I bought this book quite ready to hate it. Surprisingly, I didn't. I didn't love it either but it provoked me. That's more important. The books I read don't necessarily have to conform to my beliefs. It's important to read books that will challenge the way you think just for the sake of it.

" A long way to go for a date" is the candid story of Henry Makow's courtship, marriage to and eventual divorce from an 18-year old Filipina. The book starts with Makow justifiying to his family, friends and to himself why he is going to the Philippines to marry an 18-year old girl named Cecilia. He justified this marriage by detailing how the western woman has fallen to the evils of feminism. According to Makow, most western women are "too ugly", "too aggressive", "not feminine", or "mercenary". The second part deals with meeting Cecilia and her family for the first time. The third part is about their marriage and their life in Canada.

I read several reviews about this book in Amazon. It ranged from being supportive to derogatory to Filipinos in general (sentences like a country that is willing to sell off it's children to ensure their welfare." tend to appear all the time). The topic is quite sensitive but it is obviously relevant. The Philippines and Thailand are full of western men looking for wives. These men, I believe, are not so far in thinking from Makow.

Putting myself in Henry Makow's shoes (which is what I think he wants his readers to do based on the lengthy explanation about his state of mind and background), I understand all the things he did. Being a Filipina, I also understand everything Cecilia did. Perhaps given the same circumstances I would make the same mistakes as her. Unfortunately, this is a classic case of culture clash. Actually, the big mistake here was done by Makow. I guess being a whiz kid and inventing the board game "Scruples" doesn't necessarily make one intelligent. Cecilia is 18, and didn't finish university, Makow, with a PhD and 48 years old, should know what he is doing better.

For me it would be obvious that if you go to another country (for anything), you would have to respect the different values and traditions of the locals. Our author somehow expected everyone to swallow everything he dictates and bend over backwards. Even if people are poor, it doesn't necessarily mean that they don't have pride nor a right to have pride. Makow oftentimes behaved like a spoiled brat wanting a candy, even worse than Cecilia. He would dangle in front of Cecilia and her family a life that they could have if he marries Cecilia. He would threaten them to do as he wants otherwise that life won't be theirs. He would force Cecilia to stay with him in a hotel without chaperon because he said he is not comfortable to not be trusted. At the end of it he proves that he cannot be trusted. The moral lesson I guess is if you want to be respected then you have to respect.

I would just like to enumerate Henry Makow's mistakes:

1. Filipinas (and I assume Asian women in general) are not submissive. We understand that there is a difference between the sexes. We understand our role, our men understand theirs. If we cook, clean, wash, that doesn't make us submissive. We are equal to (and sometimes greater than) our men. Not challenging our men in their traditional responsibilities doesn't mean we accept male superiority. In reality, Filipinas are like the queen in the game of chess, she has all the moves...
2. Cecilia often would exhibit a behavior called "tampo". Wikipedia defines tampo as: the withdrawal of affectionate or cheerful behavior, and its expression is almost entirely nonverbal. These manifestations include:
  • resisting expressions of affection
  • not talking to the person concerned, or to people in general
  • being unusually quiet
  • locking one's self in his or her room.
  • refusing to eat
  • not joining friends in group activities
  • withdrawing from the group
  • simply keeping to one's self
These are usually efforts to get the offending party to make amends, and if these behaviors do not work, one might choose to escalate them - foot stomping, door slamming, and muttering, for example. Because the behavior roots from Filipino culture, the term has no English equivalent, but "sulking" or "to sulk" is often considered the closest translation.

Cecilia tried to tell Makow that when she is behaving strangely he should be nice to her. To all western men with a Filipina wife, I strongly suggest to learn about "tampo". A "tampo" unattended can have serious consequences. This is not a threat.
3. I often reiterate in this blog that when one goes to another country, one cannot expect people to think like you and and behave like you. There is this small thing called cultural difference that can have a big consequence. When foreigners don't respect their host country's culture they cannot expect good results. In our culture, when a woman meets a man for the first time (especially meetings with romantic overtones), she shouldn't say much. Young women are expected to be shy, virginal. Forward women are frowned upon. So, for me I understand why Cecilia didn't speak when they met. She was not supposed to. It is normal for the older aunt cum chaperon to do the talking.
4. In this story, contrary to Henry Makow's beliefs, it was not only he who had a lot to lose. Cecilia had more to lose. After their tyrst in the hotel, it was not possible for her to come back to her town without a wedding ring. She would be labeled a whore and her whole family will suffer. Filipino gossip is terrible. Imagine gossip mixed with catholic puritanism. It is horrible. Also, Cecilia would be the one to leave her family and go with a man she barely knows. He could easily have turned out to be a serial killer.
5. Henry failed to be a good husband because he failed to understand Cecilia's culture. If my husband fails to respond to my "tampo" I would go lunatic too. "Tampo" is a smoke signal that something is wrong. It should be addressed properly.
6. Why would a 48 year old man marry an 18-year old then complain that she is immature?

This book should be retitled as "What not to do when you are getting a wife from the Philippines".

And just so you know, as a Filipina, I could say that it is possible for true love to happen between a beautiful young Filipina and a mature western man lacking in charm as long as he is good natured. Aside from the fact that our attraction to white skin cannot be underestimated, we were also educated to look beyond the physical and into a man's deeper nature. It's not only about financial stability, it's also about emotional stability. If I would choose between a 25 year old jobless, characterless handsome man and a 50 year old emotionally, mentally, and financially stable man. I would choose the latter and it would be true love. I am lucky because my swiss husband is as old as I and is emotionally, mentally, and financially stable (and charming and handsome too).

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e-souled said...

It's not an issue of being white, black or brown, but of respect to the person and his culture. The color of your skin doesn't give you the rights of superiority!

During the time of Jose Rizal they were the GLORY of universities in Europe. We need to rediscover our sense of history.

Even before the colonizers came in the Philippines we are already well "civilize"

more power

Chris @ nomad4ever said...

Nice insight what could help in mixed relationships. Some things are pretty hard to grasp at first and you can learn only along the way.

Being 6 years affected in a good way also, I can only say that it is definitely worth the ride and both sides can benefit tremendously from it.

Sometimes I wonder what it is, that especially Filipinas and Swiss couples seem to get along so well. I know of a lot and ran into a few more during my travels, not sure if those are cases of 'opposites attract', but it seems a pretty unlikely but very common pair in Asia.

What do you think Cathy? ;-)