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The woman is descending this staircase toward her motorcycle in Dumaguete, but the staircase itself, like the commonly spoken English here, is pure American in style. It’s on the Campus of Silliman University, and was probably designed and built shortly after the end of the Second World War, when Silliman was mostly run by Americans.

It looks like the staircase in a public building in a small American town in a state like Ohio or Indiana. These could be the stairs in the Post Office in Muncie Indiana, or the town hall in Athens Ohio, or the railroad station in some other town along the way.

The design is a perfect reproduction, from the wide wooden stairs and plain railings to the narrow plank walls. Even the dark brown and pale yellow colors are authentic. If this woman ever winds up in one of those American towns, she’ll feel right at home, at least with the staircase.

On the other hand, the motorcycle she’s going toward is the common transportation in Asia, not America. It’s a Japanese design, probably made in China, and there’s nothing American about it. It’s much too small and too slow for American roads. When they changed from horses and carriages to automobiles a century ago, Americans reinvented America’s whole way of life — for higher speed and greater distance.

But when people in Southeast Asia changed from grass to gasoline, they just replaced their horses with motorcycles, their carriages with pedicabs, and kept their speeds and distances about the same. They also kept the local social structure unchanged: In American towns in 1910, automobiles were only for the wealthy, while ordinary people were horse-driven. In Dumaguete, that’s still true today, although the horses have become motorcycles.

Many intellectuals in Dumaguete, like their counterparts in other cities here, are constantly searching for a True Filipino Culture. To this end they have invented largely imaginary Pre-Hispanic tribal costumes, music and dances which are dutifully performed at schools and universities and featured in textbooks, with little effect on the cell phone and facebook generation they’re trying to reach.

But the true Filipino Culture is right there in front of them, as in this picture: A tri-lingual English-speaking woman in Dumaguete descending an American staircase toward a Japanese motorcycle made in China. This picture, this situation, is uniquely Filipino. It could not be seen anywhere else in the world.

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