1972. My first visit to the Philippines. Just married, my wife. A cordial welcome by the in-laws. I arrive in a semidetached villa in a decent neighborhood in the town of San Fernando, Pampanga. Dad works at Clark American airbase, mother has a fashion shop downtown. The brand name of the shower heater in the bathroom is Baghwan. I will come across more remarkable brand names over the years.
We come home with stories about our trip to the mountains in the North and how life is different there. Not your “lowland Filipino,” the cultural majority, but mountain dwellers. The locals do not hesitate to label them “tribes.” Their apparel is not yet Western. Most conspicuous: Some, especially slightly more elderly men in the mountain villages, still wear a G-string, at the back comparable to a tanga. Photographing them is not appreciated.
We brought one of those beautiful, woven G-strings to San Fernando, and I was crazy enough to demonstrate it. I still love looking at the pictures showing the hilarity of all the members of the family and personnel. They shout “burlesque,” which gives me a clue as to the quality of my show. It is the beginning of an adventure in dealing with nudity.
My Filipina wife and I take our first steps on the naturist path (nude recreation). After driving a hundred kilometers from Amsterdam plus walking for more than half an hour we find a little paradise, the Callantsoog beach.
This is civilisation, and what a space. Although my wife had at first undressed herself squatting – after all, everybody could see you, and the sky would undoubtedly come down at such a risqué act – at the end of the day she put her clothes back on just the way she would have done it at home, that is standing, and without fuss. It became clear that being nude could be normal. I haven’t seen a more ardent advocate ever since.
My father-in-law at his first visit to our house is quite interested by that magazine Naturisme on our coffee table – just like the many visitors before him had been.
He was familiar with Playboy, he was even subscribing to it (and his daughter to read the interviews in that publication – to each his own…), but he had never seen our kind of nude. We once made a trip to the Philippines, and then he asked us to bring him an adult movie – we came from Holland, after all –known as a “bomba movie,” but he was disappointed by its contents. According to him local films were spicier.
But the magazine surely aroused his interest, as did the pictures. We dared him to join us to my Saturday morning swim. He accepted the challenge and took the saying, “In Rome, do as the Romans do,” to heart. I am absolutely sure that fame was his part and that his pals at home would envy him for this chance of a lifetime. I must admit that I admired him for his courage. Skinny dipping is not a daily occurrence for a Filipino family man.
“Filipino meal,” that was the announcement in the local club bulletin of a naturist club in the eastern part of the Netherlands. I was part of the board of the national federation at the time so I was reading the club bulletins out of duty. But this one drew my personal attention. One can expect an Indonesian meal prepared by your average Dutch thanks to our colonial history, but same is not true for a Filipino meal. I politely asked the club secretary to pass our names on to the writer of the announcement. And indeed, there was a Filipina naturist. We have remained good friends ever since. The other day I asked her “how it all had started” – via her husband, but that was not the purpose of my question – and her confident answer was: “I am different than other Filipino women. I am more myself. I am more of a freethinker.” That friendship therefore was meaningful and has lasted up till now.
There was this Filipina who had just arrived in Holland and took off to the beach, three girlfriends in tow. While the four were changing – they had brought bathing suits – three girls would take turns in holding up a modesty towel around number four so the latter would not be disturbed by any unwelcome look. To their bewilderment the opposite happened: The towel dance attracted spectators. It reminded me of this Dutch documentary film maker, who, in the fifties, had shot candid camera pictures of a clumsy beach changing. But this was not candid camera! Some onlooking boys had even offered their unselfish assistance… After all, we are not used to such beautiful scenes any more. She could laugh about it by now.
A bikini ad along the highway advertises Madonna bikinis – long before the pop star of that name. It reminds an unwitting Filipina of the Virgin Mary, a hidden persuader to soothe one’s conscience.
In Philippine swimming pools one finds notices saying “proper bathing attire required.” This means something else in the Philippines than in your average Dutch hotel sauna.
In a Dutch hotel, it means “put clothes on.” In other words “no nudity.” even though nudity is what you find in a normal Dutch sauna. In the Philippines it means “take clothes off.” in other words “don’t wear jeans while swimming.” You would hardly ever encounter a bikini anyway.
In our home in the Philippines, the cable-TV devotes one channel to continuous fashion shows. Yes, fashion shows, haute couture, but a convenient excuse to show see-through clothing in a country that does not allow see-through. The right-hand down corner of the screen displays a warning: “Bold,” especially when the channel starts showing the shooting of a Pirelli tire calendar. The Pirelli damsels do not always don “proper bathing attire” either.
The working day is over, but darkness has not yet settled on a remote island when we pass a man who, visible from the road, is taking his shower and is washing himself, stark naked, but he seems totally unconcerned. So this is possible. There must, however, be more to the explanation than that. Such a scene is not “seen” or noticed by a passerby. Privacy is located between the ears and a question of good manners: we look the other way or pretend not to notice. Be honest: that is the way we naturists behave among ourselves.
The porters who carry us from the banca, a kind of outrigger boat, to the shore of Polillo Island – there was no good harbour there – do so in a different way for men and women. My nephew asked me afterwards whether I had noticed, but I had not. But the pictures were there to prove it: My wife and the other ladies side-saddle style, the men astride. That also is good manners.
“No nude swimming in the pool!” It was my nephew in his late twenties who upon my arrival was imploring me to behave. Was he just joking, was he reprimanding me, was he plain worried, or did he just take this opportunity to inform his newly acquired girlfriend about my habits? I had a reputation in my sister-in-law’s swimming pool, and my wife also would occasionally take a midnight skinny-dip. Alas, it was not possible this year as there were too many people who kept passing and whom I did not want to offend.
Our hotel also had a swimming pool. I had laid my hands on a pair of those Bermuda bathing shorts, but, gee, how unpleasant can that be. I used to consider all those stories in naturist publications about “clammy soggy bathing costumes” as just PC, politically and naturistically correct. But the authors were right. It is real bad. Maybe an old-fashioned bathing slip would have been not that unpleasant, but this one, really… Just the idea of taking to the water dressed… I was lucky, though, in that I could put the wet rags on the edge of the pool unnoticed, and I really enjoyed my swimming afterwards.
About the author
Menno IJzerdraat is a Dutch naturist who is married to a Filipina. He had been coming back and forth to the Philippines for the last 40 years.