The Philippine archipelago lies about one hundred miles to the south of Taiwan, and a few nautical miles from its Southeast Asian neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The country's total land area amounts to roughly the combined area of the states of New York, Illinois, and Maryland. It is blessed with a tropical climate, averaging eighty degrees Fahrenheit, with three seasons in the year: the monsoon which arrives in late May to tend the rice crop, moderate temperatures in the Fall, and dry, steadily warmer conditions beginning in March.
The population is distinctly Malay, the dominant racial group in the island Southeast Asian nations of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. A majority speaks Filipino/ Tagalog.
Filipinos are quick to point out that their colonial past has seen them spend three hundred years in a Spanish convent, and fifty more years in Hollywood. This, and the archipelago's location at the far southeastern edge of Asia, has given Filipino culture the opportunity to selectively adopt religious and cultural influences.
A first-time visitor to the capital of Manila might notice a deceptively familiar Western feel: modern, high-rise office buildings, condominiums, familiar chain stores, and English shop signs. Many Filipinos are literate in English, which is taught in schools as a second language, and they follow the latest American music, movies, and books, all of which are locally available. Philippine newspapers, magazines, and broadcast news devote at least some attention to American politics and social trends.
However, writes Paul Rodell in 'Culture and Customs of the Philippines,' the traveler who stays for more than a brief visit soon discovers that "Western foods do not taste quite like they do back home, and that Filipinos really prefer their own foods to imported dishes, which are regarded as snacks… It also becomes apparent that personal relationships are conducted in ways that are much closer to Asian rather than Western models.
"Soon, this comfortable, Westernized Asian country becomes remarkably odd and difficult to understand in fundamental ways.
"The truth is that Filipinos have a strong indigenous Asian culture that has incorporated many external influences and refashioned them according to its own standards."
This is true, Rodell continues, of Filipino religious thought - which despite the country's apparent Roman Catholic uniformity has a uniquely Asian "immediacy based on a perceived close relationship between the supernatural and daily human life" – and of Philippine art, which Rodell calls "an amalgamation of indigenous traditions, adopted Western forms, and a vibrant contemporary folk art."
In 'Culture and Customs of the Philippines,' Paul Rodell, a specialist in Philippine history and society, evokes the breadth of the Philippines in a series of topics covering the land, people and history, religion and thought, literature and art, architecture, cuisine and fashion, gender, marriage and family, festivals, media, film and leisure activities, music and dance, and social customs and lifestyle.