Exploring Cultural Differences Between Philippines, Korea and China

Why These Kids Love their Visits to Manila

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Nothing excites my kids more than countdowns to another family trip to Manila or Korea. The difference with Manila, however, is that in my family, I’m the eldest of four and have younger, more energetic siblings. And so in Manila, playtime can begin as early as dawn.

The children’s excitement is evident in the days leading up to their upcoming visit: they start telling their toys whether or not they are coming to Manila as well; my cell phone keeps disappearing so that the kids can We-chat call our relatives, and some random memories here and there are suddenly recalled and talked about—and they’re only toddlers!

Probably the only one more excited than them is my husband! (My hubby’s a foodie and loves Filipino hospitality!)

And this is probably why we’re not as “well-traveled” compared to other expat families. While other expat families are traveling to new destinations, we save those short holiday leaves for going back home.

Exploring Cultural Differences Between Philippines, Korea and China

So why do the kids like going back to Manila so much?

Well number one, my family spoils them. A LOT.
Mornings in Beijing are a far cry from mornings in Manila. No one wants to wake up at 7 AM despite Mommy’s cell phone alarm’s never-ending tune (and probably because L1 knows it’s another school day). In Manila, however, the kids are already awake at six-something AM despite the quiet that comes with sleeping people and their energy level is somehow at its peak. My two immediately spring to action: L1 wakes her Sayi (my youngest sister) up with a torrent of kisses on one cheek until she finally agrees to stop sleeping while L2 hunts out Gwama (my mother), who is tired but also happy to be receiving so much baby love.

My sister teaching the kids how to make California Maki
Shobe teaching the kids how to make California Maki

When my two children are certain that their Sayi and Gwama are fully awake, they proceed to stalk the rest of the family. With enough people to play with, the children are content and have already done a ton before I finally wake up nearly two hours later.

“You lazy bum!” My mother will call out after I leave our bedroom, arms outstretched from a very good night’s sleep. By that time my Shobe (youngest sister) will fall back onto the bed. “Your children woke me up at 6!!!”

And yet somehow, my family lets it happen day after day while we are in Manila. My little girls are little queens at my parents’ house.

2. In Manila, kids love how houses can have so many pets!
Every morning is like a trip to their personal petting zoo for the kids. They have the option of either visiting our rabbit out front, playing with the dogs out back or watching the little Maya birds from the balcony. Again, this isn’t just our house. Some other houses have even more animals than we do.

Toddlers Love Manila

Houses in South Korea and in Beijing are generally smaller, and so keeping pets can become burdensome (unless they’re in an aquarium). It’s even more challenging in Beijing, where one even has to register their pets.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention the occasional cat that likes to stroll across rooftops. My children will never see anything like this set-up in Beijing or in Seoul!

3. In the Philippines, we tend to eat out more than we would here in Beijing or in Korea.
Filipinos love to eat out. New restaurant? Let’s go try that. Bored? Let’s go out. Weather too hot? Let’s go to an air conditioned restaurant. Just don’t want to cook? Jollibee tayo. (Let’s go to Jollibee.)

L1 blowing out the mist from her Nitrogen Popcorn
L1 blowing out the mist from her Nitrogen Popcorn

And so whenever we go back home, half of the time we’re dining out. My Shobe is a foodie and always seems to know what the latest popular restaurant is. My younger sister, the kids and I usually just follow her lead. My kids and I have this simple rule: when we’re at home, they have to eat whatever is on the table. When we’re out, they can eat whatever.

To the kids, they probably equate Food Heaven to Manila.

4. They Get to Meat-All-You-Can in Manila.
It’s funny how different four dishes on a table would look like in different countries. In South Korea, three of the dishes would be 밑반찬 (Mit-Ban-chan; Korean preserved side dishes, usually fermented dishes like kimchi). In Beijing, half of the dishes would be meat and the other half vegetables. In the Philippines, three out of four would be meat—sometimes even four out of four, although one of those meat dishes will have some vegetables mixed in.

To be fair, this is just my experience. Maybe my family’s just really big on meat. But this is why the kids love it in Manila. If they could have it their way they’d only eat meat, especially L2. I let it be while we’re in Manila. But soon as we return to Beijing, the vege detox begins.

5. Everyone speaks English—like Mommy does.
My children love learning Mandarin, but it’s still not the language they’re most comfortable in. (Chinese-Filipinos speak a different Chinese dialect called Hokkien.)

But English is. And of the countries that they belong to it’s only in the Philippines that they can speak English with everyone. And since we don’t need a VPN to access social media in Manila (unlike in Beijing), my children get to access their favorite Frozen songs via Youtube by themselves. All they have to do is find their Sayi’s phone, find their favorite songs on Youtube and press Play.

Trilingual two year old
Much thanks to L1, by the way.

6. They Tease the Family with Chinese.
Mandarin is my mother’s native language, and so my mom is more than happy to speak Mandarin with them. But the rest of my family don’t speak it as fluently.

One time, I left my youngest sister and the kids in the car for an errand. Soon as I returned I discovered that the kids were bouncing all over the car, forcing Sayi to speak Mandarin with them. I was a bit confused with the situation until my sister squealed, “They’re going Chinese on me!!!”

7. In the Philippines, they don’t have to do the house chores.
Living by ourselves abroad means I get to implement a few rules, and those rules include the kids helping organize their own toys or clean up their own mess. (In Korea this is a must because we don’t have helpers. In Beijing, it’s optional).

In the Philippines however, many homes have hired help to assist with that. When the kids were younger and we stayed for at least a month, we would hire a nanny to watch either L1 or L2 and who would be in charge of all duties baby-related, which included putting away their toys and washing their milk bottles. These were all temporary, of course, but I bet the kids wish they could bring their nannies back home as well!

8. Some of their first friends are from Manila.

Shobe accidentally dropping in during a playdate and ending up reading the kids a book
Shobe accidentally dropping in during a playdate and ending up reading the kids a book

Every time I come back to Manila I try to arrange play dates with some friends and their children. My children really love these play dates, and L1 even remembers her old friends very well. It’s interesting to see how different children from different countries will play with each other. In Manila, we often just play at my place because it’s more manageable and safer. Here in Beijing, even though we meet up at my house part of the day’s itinerary will include hitting the compound’s playground after an hour or so just because playgrounds are more accessible here. In Seoul, we would most likely meet at a kids cafe because there are so many!

15 Differences Between Beijing Life and Seoul Life
Here’s another post about some cultural differences between Beijing Life and Seoul Life, with a focus on houses

9. In Manila, houses are wider and so there’s more space to play in.
In our house in Manila, my children can keep a wiggle car and a toddler motorbike inside the house. We have a wide space where my kids can play in. Our house is considered average; other homes even have front yards, backyards, several floors—some even have their own swimming pools!

In Korea, however, housing prices are quite high and it’s not possible to live in such a big apartment for the same amount that you’d pay in the Philippines. In Beijing, we are very fortunate that the company subsidizes our rental fee (like many expat packages) because prices aren’t so affordable here either!

10. They’re Never Bored All-Year Round.
In Manila, my children have playmates, pets, a beautiful view, (in Beijing it can get quite polluted at times; in both Beijing and Seoul winter means dead trees and bitter cold outside), lots of good food and most importantly family and community.

To my kids, Manila is that place where they get to play non-stop and see sleep as a way to re-energize for a more hyper tomorrow. I can only hope that they can love Manila as much when they grow up. 🙂

Thank you for reading our adventure! Are there any other comparisons between the three countries that you are familiar with? Please let me know in the comments section below! 🙂

Cultural Differences of Home Life in Manila, Beijing and Seoul


  1. They will continue to love Manila as they get older :). They will always remember and love Guama, Guakong, Aku, DiYi & SaYi …. Manila is one of their homes!

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