Remember the “20 Reasons I Dislike _____. (the Philippines)” video? Many of you who saw the video will be familiar with the face of Jimmy Sieczka, the sarcastic curse barrage American with the aviators. Although we did not particularly enjoy the video (Obviously), we felt that he had every right to voice out whatever it was he wanted. In fact, many of his points were valid and clearly in jest.
In light of the media storm and negative press he received, (A Cebu City councillor was even compelled to declare Jimmy Sieczka “persona non grata”) we decided to seek out Jimmy and hear what he had to say.
JS: Just to clarify I didn’t conceptualise the original idea nor was I the creator of the video. I was approached by another freelance filmmaker, Mike Goodman, to host the piece entitled “20 Reasons I Dislike the Philippines.” At that time (Sept 2011) I had just returned to the Philippines from traveling abroad in England and Scotland, Mike had already shot “20 Reasons I Love the Philippines” and asked if I was interested in hosting the upcoming piece. I agreed and began a short list amongst local and foreign freelance filmmakers on what they disliked about the Philippines. The list was compiled over several days and that became the backdrop for the piece.
032: There seems to be mixed reactions to the video. Some people agree with your points, while others vehemently hate you for it. How do you feel about all the various reactions? The good and the bad?
JS: I would say that most people agree with at least some of the points brought up in the video. What they don’t generally agree with or understand is the character choice that I made to host the piece along with the excessive use of curse words. This is understandable and when you create a character or make anything related to the arts, you can’t always please everyone.
Shooting it as a satire confused some local Filipinos and I think this is because that type of film-making is not as generally accepted as it would be in the States, the UK or in parts of Europe. You can say that some of the things I touched on were lost in translation as well. For example I’m speaking in English for the duration of the piece, so for some people, the sarcasm and even the sincerity are lost due to a slight language barrier.
Take for example the section where I’m talking about the street children. That section was completely misunderstood by a lot of people because I used the word “annoying” in relationship to children asking for money. Very little people touch on the facts that I brought up, “It’s illegal to give them coins and there is a good chance that kids will never see the coins turned into food because they are being pimped out by family or someone else off the street.” That right there is the real issue not the fact that I use the word annoying in regards to a street child asking for money. I even touch on the fact that I myself give them food or left overs whenever I can, but the bloggers and media just wanted to say that I was “complaining” and avoided the real issue at hand, which is exploitation of children. It’s sad.
For those that “vehemently hate” me. Well as you could guess, it makes me feel upset and uneasy. Honestly, I can say that I don’t think that anyone really enjoys being hated or getting death threats sent to them. If you took all of the uncontroversial Filmmakers, Radio Hosts, Artists and TV Personalities, and asked them how they feel about a large mass of people hating them, I’m sure most of them would have a similar response to mine. You can’t please everyone now can you?
As for the people that have agreed and/or thanked me for what I said?
That makes me feel like the video wasn’t completely misunderstood. It makes me believe that not some, but a LARGE amount of Filipinos were able to suspend their disbelief and see this as a satire talking about some real issues that are going on in the Philippines. That it was hosted in a tongue and cheek fashion and that some things were stretched for the purpose of making it to a satire. To make it more than, “There are some problems going on here and here they are.”
Most Filipinos were able to take it with a grain of salt and do what their family might have told them to do when they were growing up, which is, “Don’t believe everything you see on TV and in the Movies.”
And as I have said before in other Interviews and on National TV this was never made to hurt or attack anyone specifically. That would be a completely different show in its own right, wouldn’t it? But rather this video was hosted in the manner that it was simply because I felt it wouldn’t have been as affective, as eye opening, or as thought provoking as it had been if it were delivered in a more “subtle tone.” A perfect example of this is the “20 Reasons I love the Philippines” video.
This video hasn’t had nearly as much press or coverage as the video I hosted and barely anyone even knows who the two gentlemen that hosted the piece. Or even care for that matter. But they want to know me or think they know what kind of person I am based off a video that I hosted. Why is that? I’ll tell you why.
Because not just in the Philippines, but worldwide the focus of news outlets is always on the negative.
The controversial topics.
Why? Because that’s what sells papers, that’s what sells commercial spots during news segments, and that’s what will bring traffic to your site to read this very interview.
Take for example if we lived in a world that was perfect and everything was just ordinary. There would be no change needed. Where would that leave us? And I’m speaking about the world, not just the Philippines. If we all had nice houses, great paying jobs, stable family lives, clean streets, no crime, green grass and all the money in the world to spend, I and the rest of the world would be living boring uneventful lives. Happiness in my eyes has no relationship with material wealth and in my opinion I feel that most Filipinos feel the same way.
A simple example of this are the hundreds of smiles I see on a daily basis from people that live off of a very small minimal wage. Sometimes as little as 50-100 peso a day. Now if you were to go to America and expect that kind of happiness amongst strangers on the street you would be sadly mistaken.
I also see that people are writing and telling me to go back to my country or asking, “Why do you even bother living in the Philippines if I hate it so much?” Well for starters, I have never used the word hate in anything that I have said or written about. I love this country. I love the Philippines. This is a total misrepresentation of me, the filmmakers, and the video.
The word hate was a term used by the MEDIA and social bloggers instead of the word dislike, which was the actual word used for the title of the piece. I personally don’t hate anyone or anything and try to stay as open minded to the way things work everywhere in the world.
“Why do you love the Philippines so much then?”
That’s a question I see a lot of people writing and asking me. Of all my travels and nearly 4 years in the Philippines, this country is the only country that I can wake up every day and be greeted by Filipinos of all ages, gender, class and be greeted with a smile. Filipinos by nature are welcoming, caring, family orientated and genuinely want to care and help one another. I can’t say that’s the case for the majority of people from my country.
The main reason I left America was I couldn’t cope with all of the masses being so unhappy with their lives, the attitudes they wore on their shoulders and the self-profiting decisions they all made. It didn’t matter if they had a good job or a nice car or even a pretty wife, a lot of them including myself were always looking for something else. Which was happiness and that can’t be bought! So that’s why I packed up in May of 2008 and never looked back. And since then I’m genuinely a more calm, respectable and caring person. It’s just a shame that some people took a video I hosted and thought that’s how I am in real life.
032: Why did you feel the need to officially apologize?
JS: I felt there was a need to apologize to the Filipino people once I realized that there were a great number that felt hurt, upset, and disrespected. As I said before the character choice was never made so that I could hurt or offend the Filipino people. This was never the case at any point in time. If I knew I was going to hurt people with this video I would have never agreed to host the piece. A dear friend of mine once told me this, “In life you make choices. Some of those choices people will not agree with, some of those choices people will agree with, but the important thing is, you learn from the decisions that you have made and then move forward with your life as a stronger person and wiser individual.”
032: How did you feel about the Cebu councillor threatening to file a resolution?
JS: As I said before I try my best not to judge people on the decisions that they make, but rather on who they are as a person. So as a person I have absolutely no right to judge the Councillor. I don’t know him personally and we have never met. In regards to how I felt about his actions, which were to make me “persona non grata,” I felt alarmed and scared that I might lose everything I have come to love about this country. And I thank him for not pushing through with his initial actions.
032: Your video has “inspired” government officials to take a closer look at some of the issues you pointed out in your video. Do you have anything to say about that?
JS: When all of this started happening in the first weeks of March I often followed up with the stories and articles that were being written. After a few days of misquotes, spin tactics, and outright slander, I stopped following all of the bloggers, forums, comments, and news publications. But the above article that you are actually referring to, I hadn’t got around to reading until today. After reading it, I must say that it’s very exciting to hear that there are additional people, time and money being pumped into cleaning unnecessary garbage, vandalism, and even locating a “Drop In Center” that homeless people can stay at temporarily versus staying on the streets. I highly doubt that these actions are being acted upon because of the video but either way, whatever the case may be, it all seems very positive and progress is only a hands reach away.
032: In your official apology, you stated that the Philippines has been good to you ever since you moved here three years ago. Obviously there are certain things our country can improve on (You’ve stated 20 in the video), but what are your reasons you like living here?
- I love the easy and cost effective ways to commute. So if you are flying, boating, taking a jeepney, a taxi, or a tricycle, they are all fun and cheap ways to travel from point A to B. I would never even think of flagging down a car or a motorbike ride in America. This isn’t because I’m scared, but has more to do with the American mind-set today. Most Americans think their lives are far more important than the person that might be stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire. They’ll just slow down, take a look, and then keep on driving. But here in the Philippines, it’s the exact opposite. On several occasions I have broken down on my motorbike. The tire popped, the clutch broke or I simply ran out of gas. Every single time within a few moments there was someone on the street that passed asking if I needed any help or if I was ok. And within no time at all, I was back on the road and on to my destination.
- I also love how family oriented Filipinos are. The parties and family gatherings with dance, music, and stories are all things I never really experienced as a child. I came from a broken home so seeing family was not always a regular occasion.
- I like how things are reused or made out of nature. For example I was once on an island here in the Philippines and we needed plates to eat the food. The locals started chopping the stalks from a banana tree, peeled them apart and cut them with a bolo in 10 inch long half cylinder plates. At first glance I had no idea why they were peeling and cutting them. I later figured it out and couldn’t believe my eyes. If I were asked to make a plate from nature that day, I would have most likely grabbed a big leaf which would have been flimsy and fairly useless compared to the Filipino way.
- I love San Mig and crave it when I’m outside of the Philippines. Even if it is warm because there is always island ice nearby which I have learned to love with my beer. 🙂
- I love the fact there is always a sari-sari store open any hour of the day. Back in my old neighbourhood I would always frequent the same sari-sari store. The older gentleman that ran it told me I could come there for whatever I needed any hour of the day. He said, “Just come and knock on my door and its OK if I’m sleeping.” You don’t get that kind of friendly welcoming service in other countries even if the store is designed and ran as a 24 hour a day operation. Amazing!
- Maayong Buntag, Maayong Hapon, Maayong gibii. All greetings that you receive any hour of the day every day from locals in Cebu. It’s very friendly and welcoming. You don’t get that in a lot of parts of the world or at least the parts I’ve been to. When I was traveling through England last summer I played a game with myself where whenever I would be walking down the street I would say, “Good Morning or Good Afternoon” to the locals. Very rarely did I get a response (Maybe 5% of the time) and I believe that had to do with a lot of different things like: the person was in a hurry, had an iPod on, couldn’t be bothered responding, or simply thought I might have been a weirdo. It was a very interesting observation and it made me miss the Philippines a lot.
- Cheap affordable cinemas in the Philippines. The days of spending as much as $15 to $20 for a movie ticket are just a memory. 🙂
- Andok’s Chicken… Delicious, cheap, and always open late. What else could you ask for?
- Always being close to crystal clear water.
- A steady balance of city life and island life which I think is only possible in one place in America and I would guess that would be Hawaii.
- Soft drinks from bottles. Expensive and very hard to find from my home country.
- Guitars. The Philippines have some of the nicest handmade guitars that I have ever played on. I’ve bought three since I’ve been here.
- The young helping the elderly. Quite early on in my stays here I noticed that young kids were always helping out their grandparents and assisting them in walking. Even if the elderly person was fit to walk. It’s that respect that the young have for their family that makes the Philippines such a special place.
- Smaller portions of food and drink spread throughout the day. Where I’m from, one regular size order of food or drink is usually 2 or 3 times the size of something you would order here. Which in the end is far more than any one person should be eating or drinking in one sitting.
- Eating with locals and literally seeing them bring the fish they catch from the sea just before it’s cooked up and enjoyed.
- Sunshine, Sunshine, Sunshine.