Philippines Observation 3: The People

Part 3 of an eight part series on observations of the Philippines.  View the index of all eight entries.

The people were the best part of the Philippines, by far.  Almost every person I met there was friendly and coureous, and the people in customer service positions were unmatched in my experience in bending over backwards to take care of the people they were serving.  This was true both at the InterContinental hotel in Manila, as well as the the hotel in Laoag.  People at the markets, the drivers of the cars we took around Manila, the men and women who worked at the orphanage.  In my experience, the Philippine people were a warm, friendly, serving people, and that was great.  I’ve been to other countries outside the US, and that’s certainly not always true; not always true here either, btw.

The only two times when I felt that the people weren’t wonderful to be around was when we were driving through the back alleys of Laoag trying to get to the museum there and when were at the bus station in Manila.  Both times, I felt like there were lots of people around just waiting to slit my throat and take my wallet.  It was like moments of being in a really bad area of town.  Gave me the willies.

Other observations?  Hmmm… Let me see.

It was very interesting to be a minority.  Outside the hotel in Manila, there were VERY few other white people around.  I never saw (to my knowledge) another Mexican, which would be so common in America, and I saw a grand total of 3 black people, all at the InterCon.  Otherwise, everyone was Asian.  There were lots of other Asians in Manila – at least I think so; my eyes aren’t very good so it’s hard for me to tell – but other places it pretty much felt like natives only.

As a seriously minor minority, we stood out like sore thumbs.  It didn’t help that I was a full head taller than almost every person we came in contact with.  In Laoag, as we wandered around the market, people stared at us, pointed, etc.  Three guys even said to me “You’re so tall!” in English.  So that was pretty funny.

Another thing I noticed was that the place never seemed to sleep.  It seemed like there were always people up and wandering around the street, no matter the day or time.  I found that odd.  Typically, they were either loitering or sitting at their roadside shanty store hoping someone would want to buy something.  The only explanation I could come up with was that abject poverty had led them to a life of hoping that someone would spend even a few pesos at their little store.  Sad really.

Philippinos had no facial hair.  That was something Faith noticed more quickly than me.  Once I started observing, I notice a grand total of 3 men with facial hair – all mustaches.  Since then, Asian friends have confirmed that facial hair among asians is both rare and considered odd, which goes back to why people were staring at me, I guess.

Oh, and I can’t leave this out…

In traveling to the Philippines, it was made very clear to us that we should A) always have a guide with us, and B) never travel to the south.

The guide thing was basically a poverty and perspective thing.  Many people in the Philippines are very poor, and they categorically view Americans as very rich.  Therefore, I was told a number of times that it would be easy for someone to basically look at you like a predator who is trying to think of how to get his prey into a dark alley alone.  Basically, they said, always have a native with you, and stay in very public places.  Plus, the guide can help you know where you were going (a must since signs, even street signs, were non-existent), and can help you haggle when buying things at market, because they know the ways of the locals.

The “never go south” thing is about the fact that there is a large and growing Muslim community in the Philippines.  Particularly on islands to the south, there are very militant, very fundamentalist Muslim groups, who have taken over and made it very unsafe for foreigners.

Then we get up north, and learn that they’re not the only ones.  We were driving between Dingras, Laoag and the orphanage, admiring the mountains in the distance to the north.  Faith made a comment about how beautiful they were, and Brian (the director at the orphanage) launched into how the communists live up in the hills.  According to him, it’s even more dangerous up there than it is in the south.  At least in the south, you’re just taking your chances.  Evidently, there’s no law up north, and foreigners are just shot on sight.  So, whether or not that’s true, it was enough to make me want to stick to the rice field laiden planes … and with a local at all times.  🙂

Lastly, it’s improtant to talk about the children.  There are evidently some 200 million street children in the world, and a radically disproportionate number live in the Philippines.  Evidently, these children are organized in the cities by “syndicates”, which sound a lot like mafia.  They claim the children, abuse them, and then make sure they’re on the streets all day every day to beg for money.  They then take the money, give the children enough food to keep them alive, and throw them back on the street to make them more money.  Children can be out on the street as young as just a few months old.  The girls are sexually abused, and if they get pregnant, that’s just one more worker for the syndicate.  Children are sometimes even mamed or otherwise severely injured to engender more sympathy from tourists or whoever else might be generous enough to through them a few pesos.  It’s absolutely horrible.

In fact, the day we left Shekinah, they took in a group of four siblings.  The youngest had meningitis and went pretty much straight to the hospital.  We’re not even sure she’ll make it.  The oldest girl had been raped by mom’s boyfriends, and was in pretty bad emotional shape as a result.  All were severely undernurished, and exhibited evidence of torture.  It was SO sad, and I was glad that they were now in a place where they were safe from abuse, and would be well taken care of by people who love them and love Christ, and want to redeem and rescue children in their position.

Visiting two orphanages and the governmental agency for International adoption during our trip, we definitely got our share of horror stories about children, neglect and abuse.  It was really sad, and sometimes I had to just tune it out to keep it from becoming overly depressing.  You just can’t rid the world of evil.  All you can do is oppose it, and change the world for one child at a time, which is what we’re glad we can do for John.  And in return, he has given us a family – something we’ve wanted for a long time now.  So, the blessing is mutual.  We are truly blessed by him.

Okay, time for bed.  More tomorrow.

About Jeff Block

Lover and follower of Jesus, the long awaited King. Husband and father. Writer and seminary student. On a long, difficult, joyful adventure, learning to swim with the current of God's sovereign love and walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day.
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3 Responses to Philippines Observation 3: The People

  1. Pingback: Where we were and what we observed in the Philippines « Jeff Block’s Personal Idea Fountain

  2. mr. perk says:

    Glad that you find majority of my countrymen as warm and friendly… and I agree with it too not only because I am a Filipino. Generally, we are hospitable and very accommodating. But putting a little bit of reality, yes there are a very slim chances that you’d experience bad things from pinoys as well. I’m glad that you’d enjoy the people and had a positive experience with us.. okay I think I have to read the first two observations that you made about the philippines…


  3. Georges Til says:

    I am a western foreigner living in the Philippines for years and I would like to fix one issue : when you say ” never go south”, it means don’t go in the microscopic part of the country, extreme south-west of Mindanao Island and islands in the Sulu sea, between Philippines and Malaysia. It is even not 5% of the territory of Philippines. There is the territory of ABU SAAYAF muslims rebels. Nobody should go there, even not filipinos!

    All the remaining part of the country is pretty safe for foreigners, unless you involve yourself in illegal activities : quite each time a foreigner has been killed here, you can discover that he was a gambler, or lending money with high interest rate, or other suspicious activities….

    The communist rebels in the North are usually not targetting foreigners.


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