The sound of foreign languages all over the one-hour bus ride from the airport was like music to my ears.
A Japanese guy was talking to someone in his cellphone. A French couple was having a chat. Two Indian men were so absorbed in their conversation. A young boy, whose language I couldn’t decipher,was singing all throughout the ride and was laughing happily with his mother. I surely was in a foreign country now.
So this Ate (woman) from the reception of our lodge caught my attention when she asked, “Pinoy po? (Are you Filipino?)”
The first Pinoy I met was Ate Anne, one of the receptionists at Matahari Lodge located in Jalan Hang Kasturi, Kuala Lumpur.
That night, while roaming around Kuala Lumpur Chinatown searching for good food, I thought I found another Pinoy when someone shouted “Maganda (Beautiful)”. When I looked around, he was Indian and offered me some Malaysian souvenirs after confirming that I was a Filipina. These Indians sure knew how to make a Pinay smile.
The following morning, while having free breakfast from the lodge, a new receptionist was on the counter and he was also a Pinoy. His real name, according to him, was Darryl. But in Malaysia, he was using the name Migs. He said that screen names were popular in Kuala Lumpur. He was working here for one and a half years now and was from Baguio City.
That morning, I also met three more Pinoys.
Kuya Bong was working, for six years now, as a teacher for children with special needs in Brunei. He was from Cagayan.
Ate Leila was a kasambahay and a first-time worker in Brunei. She was lucky to find an employer that shouldered all the expenses for her to get to Brunei. Ate Leila was from Nueva Vizcaya.
Kuya Francis was an IT specialist in Brunei, for two years now. He was from Cebu.
The three of them were processing their papers and working VISAs in Kuala Lumpur, or renewing documents, in the case of Kuya Bong and Kuya Francis.
I asked, “Why in Kuala Lumpur?” And I wasn’t surprised with their answers. Apparently, the process was faster and cheaper in Kuala Lumpur than in the Philippines, especially for medical papers.
Caving was the activity later that afternoon. And this was what maganda truly meant to me. The famous Batu Caves were not only boasting of its giant Hindu God statues but also of the magnificent natural formations inside its caves.
I took the 45-minute Dark Caves Tour. It was a separate cave from the one with the shrine, and from Ramayana Cave. At the cave entrance, members of my batch said hellos to each other. A group of five was from Australia while a group of four was from Korea. And though alone, I was proud to say that I was from the Philippines.
The Cave Management Group (CMG), the non-governmental organization that was taking care of the cave also offered a three-hour Adventure Tour where participants could go deeper into the “protected” areas of the cave and experience getting wet and wild. But it was only offered to big groups of at least 10 persons and required pre-bookings. So calling my Mountain buddies in the Philippines, Malaysia may be a bit far but it could offer a different kind of adventure.
Night came and I met a bunch of Filipinos while gazing at two of the tallest buildings in the world, the Petronas Twin Towers.
Two Pinays even asked me to take a photo of them and the famous skyscraper.
The following day, while I was shopping for some souvenirs in Central Market, someone shouted “Maganda” again. And he was an Indian again. And he confirmed again if I was a Filipina. And then he offered me the Batik shirts at their store. (Hmmm, so was this their sales strategy? Hehe.) Unfortunately, his shirts were a bit pricey for a kuripot Pinay like me. He told me to come back at eight in the evening, when his boss already got home, so he can offer me a good discount. I thought I did not have that luxury of time to come back.
But the Malaysian guy in the next store seemed to know Pinays better. He offered me 15% discount for the cotton Batik shirts and this kuripot Pinay wouldn’t let that kind of bargain slip away. I paid him his ringgits and he asked for my country of origin. I told him I was a Filipina.
The train ride to Singapore the following day started with positive vibes when a Malaysian Travel Agency employee became too enthusiastic upon knowing that the group next to him and his wife were Filipinos.
He said that the TV series Pangako Sa’yo, starring Jericho Rosales and Kristine Hermosa was a big hit in Malaysia. And he gave all the praises he could muster for Filipino teleseryes.
This made me wonder how the storylines of Malaysian TV shows compared to Philippine primetime soap operas.
After eight hours of countryside sceneries and working on a script, the train finally came to a halt. At the immigration counters, two Filipinos, husband and wife, sought our group’s help on filling up the immigration forms since it was their first time traveling.
Another bus ride to the heart of Singapore, again, offered a wide array of music to my ears, in Chinese, Indian and Malaysian languages. But not until a man came on board. Even though his spoken language was English, I could say that his accent was definitely Filipino.
And surprisingly enough, the night shift receptionist at Footprints Hostel, along Perak Road, Singapore, was also a Pinoy.
I went to the reception to ask how our group could get to Universal Studios the following day when he replied, “Ilan po kayo? (How many are you?)” And there started our conversation. The second Kuya Francis was now from Davao.
More and more of the Filipino language was heard in Universal Studios Singapore. Every now and then, in every corner of the theme park, I could hear someone speaking Filipino. But the most notable experience was during the performance of the Pinoy dance group, Rockafellas 3, in the New York area of the park.
After one dance number, they asked the crowd about the countries where they came from. Rockafellas 3 mentioned Australia, Japan, Korea, United Kingdom, Scotland, United States, Canada, Malaysia and Singapore, but only a portion of the crowd cheered to correspond to each country.
But when Rockafellas asked who among the people were Filipinos, almost 80% of the crowd cheered, even outnumbering those who were Singaporeans. One of the group members asked, “Kumusta? May pera na ba? (How are you? Have money now?)” And the Filipino crowd answered, “Wala! (No!)” The group member answered, “Patay tayo diyan! Wala pa ring pera? (We’re dead. Still have no money?)” Then laughter roared amongst the Pinoy crowd. And their performance continued to amaze the Universal crowd.
That night, the 7eleven Indian cashier asked me if I was a Filipina. And I wondered how he knew at once.
On my last day in Singapore, I went to the MINT Toy Museum where one of the attendants was another Filipina. I said, “One ticket please.” Then she replied, “Fifteen lang po. Then start po kayo sa fifth floor pababa. Enjoy! (Fifteen dollars only. You can start at the fifth floor all the way down. Enjoy!)”
Meanwhile, at Nanyang Old Coffee in Chinatown Sinapore, I asked the cashier how much was their powdered coffee. Then she replied, “5.50 po. Four minutes po ang brewing sa hot water. Pero pwede rin po sa coffee maker. (5.50 dollars. Brewing time is four minutes in hot water. It can also be brewed using a coffee maker.).”
Later that day, at Merlion Park, a Filipina gave her pack of cigarettes to my friends because she was afraid to bring them to the airport.
Our flight back to the Philippines was at 00:55 the following morning. At the airport, the Filipino language became more and more prominent as we get closer and closer to boarding.
Even though Indian accent could be heard on board Tiger Airways, most of the passengers where Filipinos.
The plane landed at 4:35 in the morning at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1.
The sound of the Filipino language was all over the airport now.
A security guard told us the way out, in Filipino. Outside Terminal 1, taxi drivers were asking us where we were headed, in Filipino. The people cuing at the entrance were all chatting in Filipino.
I surely was in the Philippines now.
So long Malaysia, when I come back, I promise to spend my hard-earned money on places that truly define you.