Here in Cebu, local travel bloggers often meet fellow travel bloggers from Luzon or Mindanao for dinner or beer. We would talk about places, travel plans, and other fellow travel bloggers who succumbed to click-bait articles and listicles such as “Five Reasons I Hate Davao City” or “20 Photos from the Philippines, #7 will shock you.” [READ: 12 Months of Beaches around the Philippines]
Most Filipinos fall easy for this kind of writing.
One time, while having barbecue dinner at Larsian, the hot topic was this Polish travel blogger who bitched the Filipino street food [read my reply here: I’d Rather Eat and Try to Understand], which I found rather understandable because even some Filipinos cannot stomach our very own street delicacies. What I found very odd is the fact that a seasoned traveler who has been on the road for five years running whined about the despicableness of a 40-peso (less than a dollar) meal in one of the poor countries in Asia.
It was Doi, one of the travel bloggers, who dropped the possibility that the Polish girl might have done it for the sake of traffic—a word that has an entirely different meaning from the everyday road congestion that we Filipinos have to live with.
I did not take her seriously then—on the same manner that I did not take my own blog, or travel blogging in general, seriously. But it was not a sole case altogether. Before her, there was Allen’s, a Californian who traveled around the Philippines for twelve months, and shared his honest, non-touristy observations about the Filipinos and our collective life, which I found admirable, really, knowing that the tourism industry has only few words in mind about the Philippines: paradise, pristine beaches, hospitable, smiling. The Filipinos loved his blog post so much that it actually flooded my Facebook feed. I found most of his observations embarrassingly accurate and true, which I found bordering to exoticism [exoticism, by the way, is not a mere observation of other cultures, but viewing yourself and your cultures superior]. Almost three months after, he followed it up with a rather motivational Dale Carnegie, or to be more up-to-date, Nick Vujicic’s kind of speech. It was an instant hit to the Filipinos.
What I found very odd is the fact that a seasoned traveler who has been on the road for five years running whined about the despicableness of a 40-peso (less than a dollar) meal in one of the poor countries in Asia.
Last year, justonewayticket.com’s Travel the Philippines 2015: 20 Photos that will make you pack yours bags and go was a whooping success, with 170K likes. In fairness, it was a well-curated list (which takes hours to make) of tourist must-dos with engaging, (so-called) paradisiacal images of the Philippines. While she praised the Philippines a lot, boasting that her Boracay post (with 25 000 shares) was the most shared ever, there was another foreign blogger who lambasted Boracay, well, for being Boracay: crowded, epicurean, scammers-laden, inconvenient. It had 42000 likes (or dislikes).
Now, it seems like hate is thicker than love. Or is “share” more important than “like?”
Some of Anna’s points are true but not quite. One, Boracay is a ruined beauty, for very obvious ecological and ethical reasons. It is a place run by capitalism. The original settlers, the Aetas, are displaced from their very own home, and an Aeta activist was actually gunned down for fighting for their own island. But the whining of going there, the so-called sex parties, and even the sandcastles makers and souvenir vendors everywhere (some of them, by the way, are the original settlers of the land) was unbecoming and un-traveler-like. Why call yourself a traveler if all you are going to do is grumble about these travel-related, or more accurately, tourist-related inconveniences, which by the way does not solely exist in the Philippines.
It did not take long for some Filipino travel bloggers to pick up the trend. One blogger interviewed random white travelers he met on his trip and asked them why they fell in love with the Philippines. I wonder if it was a hit. Because, you know, there was an added element: a Filipino interviewing a white traveler.
Why call yourself a traveler if all you are going to do is grumble about these travel-related, or more accurately, tourist-related inconveniences, which by the way does not solely exist in the Philippines.
Another curious thing is to be white, have a Filipina partner, and express how amazing Filipinas are, like we are the only beautiful women in the world, like we are a kind of exotic animal. My boyfriend and I joked about jumping into the bandwagon of Euro-Asian traveler couples turned travel bloggers. Of course, he must, yes, must, wildly praise the Philippines and its people, but he fortunately hates FB and takes no interest in blogging.
Another thing is, to be white and want to be Filipino, like what Gia mentioned in a travel forum on Facebook. Now, there is nothing wrong to becoming a Filipino because I believe identity is an evolution, a process. Identity is a constant process of becoming, not being.
But. If you are glaringly white and want to be Filipino and think of yourself as one of us yet see yourself as superior, and write about us on your blog, now you are nothing but an exoticizer, a practitioner of so-called cultural exorcism, of hegemony.
Sadly, it is one thing to be white loving the Philippines and to be actually a Filipino expressing your love to your own country.
One time, I pitched a travel commentary (after my On Being a Dark Filipina Traveling around the Philippines) to my editor on Rappler. The pitch? How to make your blog popular. First, be white. Travel the Philippines and praise or bitch it afterwards. Or interview a random white traveler and have it published on Rappler. Or be white and have your praises published on Rappler: on how you found balut yucky at first but delicious in the end, on how you enjoyed the buttload of rice for breakfast, on how you enjoyed the crazily loud karaoke, and on how you loved lechon!
Identity is a constant process of becoming, not being.
My editor, who used to immediately get back to me, did not reply at all. Yeah, I just severed a beautiful correspondence.
I do understand Rappler’s and travel blogs’ lifeline comes from traffic. And what Doi had said might be true.
The Philippines, according to Time Magazine’s research, is the selfie capital of the world. It goes without saying that we spend a good amount of time taking selfies and uploading them on social media. So aside from being the selfie capital of the world, we are also the social media capital. Combine our craziness over social media+adoration towards America and anything white (some, if not most, Filipinos think all white people are Americans)+love/hate post on the Philippines.
Yes, that’s a viral post in the making.
Yes, a post can either make you an instant goodwill ambassador or a persona non grata in the Philippines.
But here is the thing. It does not matter. Whether it is a scathing or a lovely post on this archipelagic, several-times colonized country, it does not matter. What matters is that what you, a white traveler, say matters.
What matters is that you matter.
And if you are a travel blogger hungry for a social media fame, you can actually take advantage of this.
Sambawan Island, Biliran
That’s why. I am wondering, you know, just wondering: what if it was a black traveler who praised the Philippines, and not Allen, a white dude from San Francisco? Would the post go viral? What if it was an Indian traveler who bitched our Filipino food? Would the hate triple?
What if it was a fellow Filipino who declared Boracay as the Philippines’ worst tourist trap ever. Would it matter?