I have lived in the UK all my life. However when I was around 19, I travelled to the Philippines for the first time in my life, to visit my secret crush I guess haha. Since then, I have been ‘back home’ over 30 times. Yes, I refer to visiting the Philippines as going back home. I know that when Filipinos go back to the Philippines, they would also use that term ‘back home’ so I kind of adopted it. For me, I have been made to feel very welcome on my visits there. I generally stay in Pangasinan, in the province of my wife. I do usually spend a few days in Manila as well. In my 30 or so visits, I have never been troubled, always been made to feel very welcome and have always encountered a smiling face or friendly hello. For me, the Philippines has really become my second home.
I have always had a keen interest in social media and Facebook. In fact, over the last year, I have written some blogs and letters that have been shared within the community and thus have built up quite a following on social media, which I am very grateful for. Why is this relevant? I receive countless messages from Pinoys in the Philippines asking me about life here in the UK. There is such a desire from Filipinos back home to work and indeed live here. I can understand it really. The UK and especially London is often built up as this fairytale place where money grows on trees and everyone lives a life of luxury. Yes, there are jobs here, which are well paid. It is very rare for people to be starving hungry, we have a National Health Service to look after the sick and of course there is also a system of benefits, which do help people who need it. In fact, I consider myself proud to be British and love my country. However, honestly speaking, life can be very hard. Unless you have a good job and place to live, life can be tough indeed and living in London can also be very expensive. I do still however love living here and consider myself very fortunate. I do appreciate how tough life can be in the Philippines. I have stayed in 5-star hotels and driven around in luxury cars. However I have also spent time in Tondo and slept in small wooden houses. When I was in my early 30’s, I became sick and also spent time in a public hospital, I have also heard of a situation where a young boy sadly died over Christmas as the family couldn’t afford medical treatment. So I really have seen life from both extremes.
As Christmas approaches, I have been thinking how material we have all become here. When I was younger, my Christmas list consisted of maybe a calendar, book, sweets and maybe a cassette tape. Now the average Christmas list here in London would probably contain shoes for £100, an IPhone 6, £600, X-Box games for £50 each, you get the drift.
However, in 2011, I spent Christmas back home in the Philippines with my wife’s family. The children there are happy with just a few small presents, maybe some fruits, some socks or even just a t-shirt from London. I do believe that the true meaning of Christmas has somehow been lost for some in the UK, which is sad.
The highlights of Christmas back home for me in the Philippines is the midnight Feast or ‘Noche Buena’ a time for families to come together and eat Pinoy foods and just celebrate being together. Children going from house to house, singing Christmas carols for a few pesos donation and attending a Simbang Gabi mass.
I do love spending Christmas here in the UK with my family, but also miss Christmas back home in the Philippines.
So wherever you end up spending Christmas this year, don’t forget ‘back home’ wherever that may be for you.
Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon!
Malcolm Conlan – A British man with a Pinoy Heart, London, UK
You may also visit Malcolm at www.fil-event..com. Malcolm Conlan is currently the Business Development Manager of Byahe Pinoy, a travel agency serving the Filipino community around the UK.
By Malcolm Conlan