I just came back to the Philippines after three weeks in Austria; Not a visit back home – I live on the shores of the Pacific ocean now – but a visit to my roots. I was born and grew up in Austria, and I enjoy going back. It has only been a year since my last visit, but still, the reverse culture shock is immense!
The thing that struck me most when comparing the region around Vienna to the Philippines is how incredibly empty it is! The first day after our arrival, my girlfriend and I went for a walk in the neighborhood of my parents’ house. On a thirty minute walk, we saw … three people! Everyone was dutifully at work, or inside their houses – both due to the weather and due to a less mingling-friendly culture. No such emptiness will ever happen in the Philippines.
Also, there is a big contrast in regard to how regulated human life is. In the Philippines, most people on the roads don’t have a driver’s license, or at least drive as if they don’t. You’ll see whole families, including two little kids, all without helmets, on one motorcycle. You just have to ride a bit more carefully if you give a few more people a ride. It’s your responsibility. Yeah, there are laws, and you can’t be an idiot or frivolously endanger others, but the place has not developed into a nanny state yet. In Austria a court just decided that only one company is allowed to sell square-shaped chocolates. I am glad we have lots of officials with so much time on their hands to attend such pressing matters!
On the flip side, Austria has become incredibly effective. A trip by public transport from the city center of Vienna to the station near my parents’ suburb takes 20 minutes, the longest waiting time for a subway, even late at night, is 5 minutes. My parents would remark that the traffic in a certain spot is flowing poorly if maybe ten cars stand still for half a minute near an intersection; in Manila this situation would qualify as very unusually freely running traffic, even on a small side-road.
Vienna is a great place to have a pleasant life filled with interesting music, art & good food. What used to be a regular vegetable market when I was a university student is now a fine-dining area, with seafood, sushi and expensive cheeses (and outdoor heating). There is something interesting to do every evening of the week. Traveling with my girlfriend, I acted as a tour guide, and I was reminded how there is European history at every corner in Vienna’s city center. It’s quite an exciting place to visit. But I am not sure if I would enjoy living there again, in the long run. The place lacks the vibrancy of southeast-Asia. In the Philippines even the bathroom walls are alive. A small gecko welcomed me back today; running up and down the wall while I took a shower. On every corner there is life: On the side of the road a bunch of guys repair a motorcycle, kids run around having fun, some young dudes play basketball. Two teenage girls have a giggling cellphone-aided chat, a group of older men compare their fighting cocks. There is always some kind of aktschn, it’s never boring.
My primary motivation to come to the Philippines was the incredible tropical nature in the country, especially under water, and I am still amazed by what I see, on every single dive. On my back-to-the-roots visit I was reminded that Austria also has some great nature; of a very different kind, and of course not marine, but enjoyable nevertheless. Lake Neursiedel on the Hungarian border has some excellent bird watching. Different parts of the world, different pleasures, different ecosystems, but also different headaches. Seeing a different environment every once in a while makes me enjoy the pleasures more, and laugh about the headaches. That’s why it’s such a privilege to travel.