cebu, philippines - anonymous' thoughts after months there in their 20s

posted by anonymous on 04/24/14.


How old were you when you came to the Philippines?

I had just turned 25 when I came to the Philippines. I literally blew out my birthday cake, and boarded the plane.

Where were you before?

I originally hailed from Seattle, WA. Most my childhood was growing up in close cities (Bellevue, Issaquah, Sammamish, etc), and I studied at the University of Washington.

What brought you to the Philippines?

Job training brought me over. I was to go to Taiwan to visit family before going back to the Philippines for 7-8 months, and finishing up my training in Taiwan.

Describe the city you lived in in the Philippines and your impressions of it.

Unfortunately I did not see much of Manila until the end of my training. I spent most the time in the free trade zone in Cebu, in Clark (by the airport). I experienced a bit of Angeles and their… less tasteful areas. As this zone was more occupied by foreigners coming to work at factories and visitors looking for some night entertainment, most of the area was full of bars, the streets were full of legalized prostitutes, and your average number of thugs/beggars. It was not safe to go out at night, especially as a foreigner.

How does the city you lived in compare to other cities in the Philippines?

I am very sure that my city is not similar to the others in many ways. However, the level of poverty is definitely on par with the skewed and disproportionate levels of income. You can have people that live in cinderblock houses with poor insulation and no electricity in one zone, to another zoned area with European style housing and relatively decent cars.

What drew you to the city you lived in over other cities in the Philippines?

It was most definitely just work. The Free Trade Zone basically just lets companies outsource work to lower income workers at terrible wages.

What are the people of the Philippines like?

At the factory I worked at, everyone was extremely friendly. I don’t think I’ve been to another country where everyone was so respectful, so kind and generous. I felt extremely at east interacting and joking with them, and have not felt such a kindred moment with anyone else. I was actually relieved when I was out at a market place and someone cut me off in line at the check stand.

In what ways are they different than people in other places you've lived?

People here seem to be more friendly and open with discussing things. They’ll talk about sex a lot and ask what we would think are invasive questions that are normal. You get used to it pretty quickly.

Was making friends and meeting people in the Philippines in general easy or difficult?

Making friends was pretty easy, though it was with the people at the factory. I did not have the ability to make friends outside of the factory as my freedom was extremely restricted after a series of muggings of foreigners in the city.

How did your social life evolve?

I became Facebook friends with a number of people in my department, and eventually started meeting them outside of work in the city. They would take me to malls and I was even invited to some birthday parties. It was extremely fun getting to know people. I also hung out with some of the managers as well.

What did you do to meet people?

Really, I was approached. I was the youngest foreigner and a bit of an odd-one-out, as I was from the US, and the rest of the foreign supervisors were from Taiwan or Hong Kong. People would ask me questions, talk for a bit and we’d exchange contact information. Within a few weeks we would go out a few times to hang out.

How did your social life in the Philippines compare to how it is/was in other places you've lived?

My social life was actually a lot better in the Philippines. Clean slate, being a bit of an item as I was the ‘odd one out’ from the US and very open to talking with anyone (most of the supervisors didn’t fraternize with the local workers, I had no such qualms).

How did your race, nationality, gender, accent, etc. affect how you were treated or how people reacted to meeting you in the Philippines?

For me it was positive. Because I was in the US, people assumed I was rich (which is true in a way, what I would make in one day would still be more than what a worker there would make in a month. They also work 12 hour days 6-7 days a week, whereas I only do 9-10 hours 5 days a week.) I am Taiwanese as well, so the supervisors were able to speak to me with my broken Taiwanese. Filipinos speak English fluidly so they were able to communicate with me easily as well, and I took the time to learn a little tagalog in return. I was nicknamed ‘Sir Pogi’.

How did the language barrier affect you (if it all)?

It was harder speaking with the older Taiwanese supervisors, and most of the Filipino males. Most people who had more schooling knew English very well, and many of the girls came from wealthy families and were studying to receive English certificates, required for call center jobs (the big money). A lot of slang I knew was taken literally, and one time we went to the beach, there was a mix-up between ‘swimming trunks’ and ‘speedo’ that ended with many people being disappointed in me :P

Do you have any observations or stories to share about dating, relationships, gender norms, or sex in the Philippines?

People in the Philippines are VERY romantic. It’s almost like a high school romance, full of gossip, lots of flowery facebook posts about one’s soul and all very dramatic. It’s also very public, everyone knows what’s going on, and it’s openly joked and talked about even in front of the people. Lots of people joked about how others had crushes on me, and would purposefully make them train me.

Or any impressions of how these things are different in the Philippines than in other places you've been?

Most other places are quiet about this. People only confide in closed circles and you don’t necessarily know what’s going on.

Any social/cultural advice for others who might come to the Philippines?

Be respectful, treat everyone nicely and when you speak English, make sure they do understand (most will!) and don’t use slang. Make sure if you use a Taxi that the person resets their counter. Bribery DOES work if you get into trouble with the police, the equivalent of $20-50USD can get you out of trouble. Prostitution is ILLEGAL but it exists anyways. Any girl at a bar or outside with a badge can be bought. (I have not done this, nor do I condone this practice, it’s extremely deprecating for those girls to have to eke out a living like that)

How do people in the Philippines socialize differently than other places you've been?

It’s no different. They go out at night, hang out and drink a bit and share some food. They have outings to the beach or parks and bring all their kids. Birthdays are big celebrations in which friends and family all come together for a lot of food and cake. I guess it’s more festive in a way.

What sort of work/school did you do in the Philippines?

I worked at a steel factory. Because of NDA’s I can’t disclose much more.

What's it like working in the Philippines compared to what it was like where you lived before?

It’s a real eye opener. My bathroom was a nightmare, mold everywhere, leaky toilet, no vent so it was constantly wet. My bedroom was right over the factory floor so I ended up with a severe case of tinnitus (still have it) and it was loud 24/6.5, I had NO windows, so it was either fluorescent lighting or nothing. Outside it was always hot and 80-120% humidity, or hot and rainy. There was a park across the street that I would try to jog around in, but I’d get bit my mosquitos. And my living situation was still multitudes better than most other peoples’ living situations.

Did your money go further or not as far as it does in other countries and cities?

Oh, it goes a little further. I could get a beer for $.50-$2 from the expensive market down the street. My expenses for snacks and food were never more than $50/mo, and I was told not to carry excess amounts of cash on me. $50 of fireworks lasted an entire group nearly half an hour, and were incredibly fun (and illegal in the US!

Were you able to afford a better standard of living than in other places you've lived, or able to afford less?

If I were to live in the Philippines (which you can if you get a wife, foreigners cannot own land but they can marry into a place that DOES have land), my salary ($45k at that time) would have bought me a mansion, a car and allow my wife to go shopping every day and eat out and still save money. Again, what I could earn in a day is more than someone’s monthly salary in the area.

What things were more expensive than you are used to and what things were cheaper?

There was a place that sold whole roasted chickens (small) for about $4/ea. It was a lot of chicken, and on some Friday nights I would pick up the chicken, ride a jeepney home, pick up a Dos Equis and sit in my room for 1-2 hours just eating it and getting a little buzzed while watching tv. If the factory had miraculously shut down, I could pretend I was at home. I feel like that wasn’t answering the question but it was something I could do for only a few dollars. But transportation in jeepneys were cheap- maybe a dollar for a round trip. Bars were cheap too, beers were still only $2-3. Juice was more expensive.

How much was an average rent for an apartment?

I’m not sure, my housing was paid for.

A beer at a bar?

$2-3/ea. Less for local brews. Don’t drink it if it doesn’t come in a bottle with the cap still on. Coke is the same price, that’s what I mostly drank.

A meal at a restaurant?

Depends. Good restaurants can cost you the same as in the US. Places like Jolibees will be like a McDonalds. Local mall-food equivalents are fairly cheap too. Get the Garlic Rice from anywhere that offers it. No regrets.

Any good stories you can think of that you haven't mentioned yet?

I became acquaintances with a prostitute/server. My coworkers had taken me to a bar they frequent and had her sit with me. I was extremely uncomfortable with the situation (I have a girlfriend-now fiancé) so I spent most the time talking about her. Finally the conversation went to her; she had been studying in high school to get an English degree (her English was perfect) when she went to a party and was date raped, ending with a pregnancy. She was forced to drop out of school a year early and never went back. To earn money, she left her child with her parents and traveled to the Clark area and became a prostitute, sending money back each month and visiting every two months. Her sister eventually followed her and they both secretly became prostitutes, because the money was good. She was in a relationship with a Japanese businessman, but he died in the tsunami. Whether or not her story was true, it was something that haunted me and made me think about what everyone else’s story was that was at the bar.

What were your favorite things about the Philippines?

The people, the atmosphere.

Least favorite?

Inequality of income, corrupt government, poor sanitation regulations and the lack of centralized garbage disposing.

What things about the Philippines surprised you?

Before I came, people told me to always be careful and wary of Filipinos. They could not be trusted. But when I went, I found the hardest working, honest and friendly people I’d ever met. I dropped the equivalent of $200USD out of my pocket in a bar and a waitress chased me down to give it back. I won’t make that mistake again, but they could have easily kept it and I wouldn’t have known. That being said, there WAS a rash of thefts of foreigners while I was there, ending with a man from Korea getting murdered just a few blocks from where I was. People knew me and my coworkers (including the Police, which we were on good terms with, bribing them with gifts for extra protection while we were in the city) so the news got to us pretty quick that we should avoid the city for a few weeks until the murderer was caught. (He wasn’t)

What do you miss about living in the Philippines?

I miss the people and being outside. The weather was fantastic, sunsets unfailingly beautiful, the beaches I went to were magnificent and the urban cities shockingly modern (moreso than the US!) People were friendly and I felt the urge to just go out and explore when I could

Would you recommend the Philippines as a place to live, travel to, or neither?

I would not live here, and I would be cautious traveling. Theft is huge still, and while I had a VERY positive experience, I cannot honestly vouch that someone unprepared and without contacts go out to explore. We had the police behind us, undercover and uniformed, as we bribed them weekly with gifts to keep us protected in the city. The drivers in the jeepneys knew who we were as well. Tourist locations I hear are now very polluted and the ecosystems are suffering as a result. The Philippines is a beautiful place no doubt, but it is in serious need of a government reform, and a massive clean-up to renew it to its full beauty.

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