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The Filipino Happy Spirit

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With keener set of eyes and a heart more passionate for history, culture and travel, I scanned the surroundings of Plaza Miranda in Quiapo. I had been in the surrounding areas many times but only once in this square. Aside from seeing the famous Quiapo Church, I can’t remember what else I saw back then.

Quiapo used to be one of the centers of trade during the glory days of Manila. It was where the social elites of the city conducted their activities. Plaza Miranda, the town square in front of Quiapo Church, used to be and is still a venue for political rallies. This was where the 1971 bombing happened that urged the president, Ferdinand Marcos, to declare martial law. The plaza was renovated in 2000 after years of neglect and deterioration that came along with Manila’s gradual decay.

The place was bustling with people. Shoppers taking advantage of the bargains. Vendors, kids, and adults are everywhere selling plastic bags, shoes, balloons, fruits, vegetables, fish, flowers, toys, shoes and clothes. I could see the fortune-tellers too.

market-crowd-philippines

As I walked around looking for something to buy, a vendor called out from behind me, “From where are you madam?”

It must have been the camera hanging on my neck. I ignored him at first to avoid being touted. Then he said, “I want you to take a photo of me.”

filipino-milkfish-vendor

So here’s a demanding man asking me to take his photo. I turned to him and smiled. I wasn’t annoyed. He was charming and funny. So I took photos of him. Recognizing my chance to have a short chat, I asked him questions.

His name is Vir, short for Virgilio. He sells smoked milkfish in the plaza. He and his wife buy the fish, clean and debone them for the smoking process.

“What time do you get to go home everyday?” I asked.

“Around 7PM. A lot of people are still here by that time,” he shared.

“Do you get to sell these out everyday?”

He answered yes. At ₱40 each, he can earn around ₱500 a day, which is a little over the minimum wage.

As we continued our lively chat, the kids who sell plastic bags began to surround us to listen in.

Kuya Vir is 33 years old, and he has a 12-year old son who goes to an elementary school near their house.

“Are your earnings enough for your family?” I asked.

“Yes, we get by,” he answered smiling.

philippines-milkfish-vendorThen a man behind me was telling Kuya Vir that he saw him on a TV commercial. Surprised, I joked that he was more famous than us. He then explained that he appeared in an election campaign series of one of the TV channels in the country that encourages the people to always do what is right, but I haven’t yet seen it.

I bought 3 pieces of smoked milkfish from him. I was already tired from hours of walking in Binondo from the Chinese New Year celebration but Kuya Vir was able to make me smile with his camera poses, and I couldn’t resist buying from him. Our chat was quite short but what really appealed to me were his seemingly happy disposition and his cheerful, though toothless, face.

Filipinos are Happy People

quiapo-church

How I love being Filipino. The Philippines is considered as one of the happiest places in the world. Google it and you’ll see the study results.

Being happy despite poverty and adversity is the Filipino trait I am most proud of. We are devastated by typhoons, floods, and other calamities yearly but we can smile our way through them and survive. Filipinos definitely know how to dance in the rain, figuratively and literally.

Kuya Vir brought me back to that very moment when I was watching the news on TV. The news anchor was reporting about a flood and I saw the people, the flood victims, smiling and waving to the camera. I could only smile and nod, Filipinos indeed. Despite the calamity, the sadness, the loss of lives, the miserable situation, we can afford to smile.

“The Filipino spirit is waterproof” is one mantra that has recently become famous due to the typhoons and floods. Pictures of people having fun, playing basketball, drinking, taking pictures in the middle of calamity regularly spread through social media and news networks, demonstrating a remarkable spirit and resolve.

We may be a third-world country constantly battered by political problems, poverty, typhoons, floods, and terrorism but we, as a people, always get by with a smile.

crowded-market-philippines

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Filed under: Culture and Society, Philippines, Travel Stories

About the Author:

Apol Danganan is a Filipino travel blogger whose biggest dream is to set foot in the Serengeti in Tanzania and witness the amazing wildlife migration — especially of elephants. She started travelling with her husband in 2011 but only began documenting their adventures in 2012. She’s been to Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. She has a cubicle job and writes for Vagabond Journey to fulfill her travel dreams. Read her blog at Wanderful Together and connect with her on Twitter. has written 12 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.