The Filipino ‘typhoon’ culture

There are two staples in the life of every Filipino: rice and typhoons.

Photo from Wallpaper Abyss

I have been reading posts from foreigners living in the Philippines sharing their ‘first time’ experiences with a typhoon. That’s cute. Don’t worry, it won’t be your last. As a matter of fact, after Quinta, a new one is set to hit us, so brace yourselves.

There are two staples in the life of every Filipino: rice and typhoons. In the Philippines, we are hit by, not one, not two, not ten, but more or less twenty typhoons a year. You’ve never had an authentic Filipino experience if you never had rice and typhoon for breakfast.

Our love affair with typhoons greatly shaped the Filipino mindset. Typhoons are why Filipinos are fatalistic to a fault. When a disaster looms, our natural response is to sigh a “bahala na”, a phrase used to express an attitude of optimistic acceptance or fatalistic resignation in an uncertain or difficult situation.

On the downside, our fatalism is why we suck at planning and why we don’t feel as compelled to protest against corrupt government officials. Kasi nga, ‘bahala na’ ang Diyos sa kanila.

‘Bahala na’ is the ultimate form of Nietzsche’s ‘amor fati’. And I would argue that it is the reason why Filipinos are generally a happy bunch. Our existential proximity to life-threatening disasters encourages us to live in the present rather than worry about the future. (Ohh~ I won’t worry my life away, yeah, ohh~) Our typhoon culture compels us to make the most out of our life, because we know it can be taken anytime by a force of nature.

Our smiles during a difficult time is not because we are idiots, it is because we know what truly matters.

Filipinos understand the permanence of impermanence. Want to know why we do not have an Angkor Wat or a Borobudur like our ASEAN peers? First, it’s because we shield these lucky bastards from destructive typhoons. Second, it’s because we have tried in the past but were easily flattened by a typhoon, an earthquake or a volcanic eruption.

So rather than build majestic temples, we, instead, cultivated passionate hearts and warm relationships. Oh, and our ancestors also had better sex than any of our neighbors, except maybe for the promiscuous Thais. That is, until the Spaniards came and ruin it all for us.

Impermanence informed us that everything is fleeting, making us less creatures of the material but creatures of the social. A Filipino is more likely to kill himself over the loss of a loved one than the loss of his job.

Finally, typhoons and disasters bring us back to earth. They remind us that the wrath of nature spares no one, rich or poor, celebrity or not. We are all equal in her eyes.

This is not a romanticization of typhoons which take the lives of many Filipinos each year, but an acknowledgement of the effect of these disasters to the Filipino psyche, allowing us to identify what we must alter and what we must preserve.

Bear in mind that in the Philippines, typhoons are also political. The devastation and human costs of Typhoon Yolanda / Haiyan in 2013 prompted the Filipino to overthrow the Liberal Party — a party which, to this day, suffers enormous amount of vilification and condemnation (like no other political party in history) from Filipinos due to their utter incompetence and lack of care at the height of the disaster.

Recluse.