Another ridiculous ad

An addendum to my earlier post on advertising:

Mister Donut has a billboard with this image: a young girl who appears to be waxing corpulent, is about to stuff her face with donut holes. She beams in gap-toothed anticipation while her proud father watches. So drop a few pesos on Smidgets — such a tiny-sounding name, surely they can’t contain many calories each — and your little girl too can be happy, pudgy, and missing a tooth or two.


I just can’t picture this ad in the United States. There’s something uniquely Filipino about its humor.

Saints for Sale

In the middle of the concourse at Victoria Plaza, the less ritzy of the two malls closest to us, is this shop, where you can buy whatever statues of saints you need (or don’t need, depending on your interpretation of Acts 17:16 and other verses):


We pass by it every time we go to language lessons or run other errands at the mall. It rather remains me of Dayton Church Supply back in Ohio.

Sex Sells… Tuna!

The use of sex appeal to sell products is a distinguishing feature of modern Western expressive individualist consumer culture. Sexy ads in North America are usually somewhat coy, unlike sexy ads in Europe, which are lascivious and sometimes perverted. And I have heard that advertising in Japan is positively obscene.

But part of what is so delightful about the Philippines is the way everything is over-the-top, often ridiculously so. Sora and I chuckle about some of the billboards, even while wishing that our eleven year old were not being subjected to them.

One of the stereotypically Filipino billboards is this one, located across from the nearest mall. It is an ad for tinned tuna.


A little research – which no Filipino would even need to do – reveals that 555 Tuna has as its spokesman for this ad campaign the Filipino action movie star Robin Padilla. Here, he poses in open shirt, mightily empowered by the 555 Tuna he has eaten. Actress Cristine Reyes, dressed in short shorts and a pink polka dot top, perches atop his flexed bicep, and prepares to feed him another spoonful of tuna. Is it sexy? Yes, but it’s also poking fun at its own use of sex. It doesn’t take itself seriously.

It turns out there is a TV version of the ad as well. A shirtless Mr. Padilla unloads some heavy goods from his (macho) pickup truck before using a pair of clippers to sculpt Cristine’a hedge into the shape of a heart. Then they both sit down to some yummy tuna:

The sexuality in advertising trickles down, too. At a carwash this morning I saw this sign:


Nothing could more clearly illustrate the lack of any logical connection: “Well, I was going to light up, but since the Filipina Bikini Team doesn’t want me to smoke…”

There are other advertising methods on billboards, and they are just as comically exaggerated here in the Philippines: there’s the “you need this particular brand of product in order to have a happy family” strategy, as well “your kids need this food/toy/whatever in order to be successful or healthy.” I’ll try to cover some of them in another post.



Handwashing laundry at the side of the road.

When she walked into the clinic, ready to push out her baby, I recognized her face. I had done her last prenatal two weeks ago, at an outreach clinic held in a church building in one of the poorest slums in the city. Her face and body bear the marks of severe poverty. When I looked at her, I guessed her age to be early to mid-forties. She just turned thirty. Her four babies have all been born at our clinic. Her husband is a trysikad driver making 6-8 pesos per passenger; paying the bill at even the public, government subsidized hospital would be far beyond their means. She had no sanitary supplies for after the birth and no diaper for the new baby. The only “baby clothes” she had for her new little one was a well-worn tank top, size 2T.

One of the things I find the hardest is to try to give our senders and supporters a picture of the realities of life for the poor here in Davao when I am so far removed from those realities myself. When we lived in Ohio we rarely thought about the material wealth and prosperity that we enjoyed. It is impossible to live here and not be constantly aware that we are “rich Americans.” Within a mile of my home there are thousands of families living in makeshift one-room shanties. From my air-conditioned car I can see men taking bucket baths and women hand-washing their laundry by the side of the road at the water tap just outside their front doors. Some days it feels impossible for us to make a difference in the face of so much overwhelming need.

On the one hand, it is no small thing that there is a place here for pregnant mothers to come where their physical and medical needs during childbirth will be met regardless of their ability to pay and where they will be treated with kindness and compassion and dignity. And yet as I placed a slippery, squirming baby boy on the chest of this mother who is younger than me but has the face of a woman many years older, as I sutured her tear, as I dressed her baby in a new, newborn-sized onesie from the donation box, as I prayed with her, everything that I could do seemed so very small.

I cannot fathom what it would be like to have no money for diapers or sanitary supplies or clothes for my baby, to have nowhere to wash my clothes or my body out of the view of every passing car. I cannot imagine how people can live in such dire poverty and not be completely crushed. And yet Filipinos are a model of cheerfulness. They are always smiling, laughing, singing. The patients at the clinic thank us with heartfelt sincerity and (most humbling of all) bring us gifts. I am learning to pray that God would help me to become more like them: trusting less in what I have of “this world’s goods”, and more dependent on Him.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.