Last Thursday, after two days’ worth of time zone changes, airport layovers and being stuffed full of fried eel by smiling Chinese stewardesses, I landed in the Philippines. It’s been… interesting.
Here are some of my observations on what I’ve seen so far.
1. There are people… everywhere.
It’s not until you visit a second- or third-world country that you truly realize how empty the U.S. is. On the ride from the airport in Davao to my condo, the streets were absolutely packed with cars, jeepneys, bikes and pedestrians, none of whom had any regard for traffic safety laws or self-preservation. Even the so-called back roads are constantly teeming with street urchins, honking cars and air pollution. Despite the relatively short distance between my place and all the hot spots downtown, I’ve resolved to using taxis exclusively both because there aren’t any sidewalks and because the likelihood of getting hit by a car is too high.
Now I understand why more Americans abroad are killed in car crashes than in any other way.
My surface impression of Filipinos is that they’re a very social people who feel most alive when they’re hanging out with friends and family. Everywhere I go, I see them yukking it up and having fun. Teenage girls hold hands with their moms at the shopping malls. People here still go to church on Sunday. Hell, from my condo, I can watch a bunch of kids playing in what looks like a garbage dump. Despite this, Filipinos seem very inviting and warm, at least compared to the hostile extrovert culture of the U.S. Even with Filipinos’ proclivity towards extroversion, I can see how an introvert might have an easier time here, if only because his peers/family will genuinely try to include him in their activities.
2. It’s safer than even I thought.
Upon hearing that I was going to the Philippines, half of my friends/family assumed I’d get kidnapped, murdered and raped (in that order) the minute I stepped off the plane. But it’s been four days and I have yet to even be ripped off by a taxi driver. Every reputable business in Davao has a policeman stationed by the door, and all the malls require you to go through a metal detector in order to enter. A couple of the malls even have actual soldiers on patrol, complete with automatic rifles. While I practice self-defense when I’m in large crowds to avoid being pickpocketed, no one has even attempted to rob me. The only problems I’ve had are with beggars, and not only are they fewer in number than I thought, they’re far less aggressive than the bums in Chicago or other American cities.
Of course, being about six inches taller than the average Filipino probably helps when it comes to deterring scumbags.
While I’m sure there’s corruption and crime in Davao, as there is everywhere else, my experience so far has been nothing but pleasant. Honestly, I think most of the problems that Westerners have when they’re living abroad stem from the kinds of stupid fucking decisions that will burn you no matter where you are. Are you wandering around the bars at night wasted on shrooms with a shit-eating grin on your face? No? Then you’ll probably be fine. Basic common sense is really all you need to survive in a place like this.
The safety factor extends to other points as well. Before I left the U.S., I went to a travel clinic to get typhoid and Hepatitis A shots and the nurse on duty gave me a huge pamphlet warning against drinking Philippine tap water, eating local food and having unprotected sex with prostitutes. But I’ve eaten at multiple restaurants and drink tap water exclusively and the worst I’ve suffered so far was a hangover from too much San Miguel. On the contrary, I feel healthier now than I’ve ever felt in my life, quite possibly because the cuisine here isn’t full of the junk additives and industrial waste chemicals used in American food. For example, while I was in Singapore, I bought a Red Bull from the 7-Eleven at the airport and it was absolutely bursting with flavor.
Plus, sugary food here contains actual sugar, not high fructose corn syrup.
3. Filipinos are obsessed with Americans and American culture.
I’ve seen exactly two foreigners since I got here, both of them middle-aged and with wives. In most places I’m the only white person around. As a result, the locals will stare at you constantly, wondering what some white guy is doing in their little burg or store. I’ve had girls yelling “Hi!” to me from passing cars, and taxis will trip over themselves to give me a lift. Hell, yesterday an entire playground of kids was waving and cheering at me.
At first it was slightly disconcerting to be the center of attention everywhere I went, but now I’m used to it.
The Filipino obsession with whiteness goes a bit further than being nice to/curious about every foreigner they meet, though. When you’re walking around the malls, you’ll notice that all of the advertising models look oddly… white. Not only that, skin whitening cream is a big seller not just in the Philippines, but in Singapore as well. This is not a land for social justice warriors and privilege-checkers.
4. Getting laid really is as easy as showing up.
I haven’t a clue why any man who isn’t covered in Baron Harkonnen-esque sores would pay for sex in the Philippines, because I’ve never lived in a place where it was so easy to get it for free. While you’re not going to get a blowjob the minute you step off the plane, you can get laid with far more regularity—and with far more attractive girls—than back in the U.S. All you really need to do is leave the house, dress well and not be a creep, and your basic masculine instincts will carry you the rest of the way.
Not only that, you can score a better caliber of woman here than in America.
Yes, there are slutty girls at the bars who will suck the dick of any white man they spot, but the Philippines as a whole is still a traditionalist culture. Girls at the very least say that they want to get married and have children. Catholicism helps to keep the worst aspects of Philippine culture in check, meaning that this country is probably ideal for men who get sick of playing the game and want to settle down with a loyal woman. Not only that, Filipinas will actually reward you for being a decent human being. Amazing, isn’t it?
5. Culture shock is real.
Before I left, my friend W.F. Price warned me about culture shock, but I sort of laughed him off. He wasn’t kidding. I spent my first day in the Philippines passed out in my apartment, partly because I was tired (I’d gotten maybe four hours of sleep in the past three days), partly because I wanted to go back home. Even though my experience had been nothing but pleasant up to that point, my brain was instinctively screaming at me to get back on the plane.
No amount of research or study can prepare you for the moment you make contact with a foreign culture.
It’s not even a matter of liking or hating Filipinos; it’s just that everything about them is so different that my brain was confused about how to go about my day. I’ve lived my life with some basic assumptions of how people behave and act, and now that I’m out of the U.S., those assumptions no longer apply. Faced with the alien nature of the people around me, my instinctive reaction was to hide from it.
Here’s an example of how something simple can screw with your perception of things. The other day, I had lunch at Jollibee, a Filipino fast food chain that actually isn’t half-bad (by fast food standards, anyway). At an American McDonald’s or wherever, you just order your food from the cashier and that’s it. In the Philippines, there’s a girl who takes your order while you’re in line and writes it down on a slip of paper, you give the paper to the cashier and pay, a third person brings your food to you at your table, and a fourth person whisks your trash away as soon as you stand up.
It’s not a bad thing, mind you, but it’s so different from what I’m used to that my brain gets whiplash.
Even the areas where Filipinos appropriate Western culture don’t seem right. For example, Filipinos love sappy, romantic love songs. It’s all they sing at karaoke bars and all you hear on the speakers at malls. Yesterday, I was so fed up by hearing nonstop Air Supply at the supermarket that I nearly left before I was done shopping. And get this: the cashier who rung up my groceries was singing along.
6. Despite being in a supposedly authoritarian country, I feel freer in many ways than in the U.S.
In the Philippines, I don’t get carded at the bars. I can slug a can of Red Horse beer on the streets of my little neighborhood and nobody gives a shit. Yesterday, I watched a taxi driver get out of his cab and piss on a wall in broad daylight. The policemen and soldiers guarding the malls and businesses are polite and courteous. They’re not looking to lord their power over the little people; they just want to do their jobs and go home. When I was seeking entry at the airport, the immigration officer asked me a grand total of one question before stamping my passport. The other Asian countries I passed through are the same way. For example, when I was going through security in Tokyo, I realized I’d lost my boarding pass. The Japanese officials let me through anyway because they knew the only way for me to get a new pass was to go to the airline desk past the security checkpoint.
Contrast this to the treatment I got in the U.S.
When I was boarding my flight in Chicago, some fat black TSA asshole flagged my bag because I was carrying a container of Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay, forcing me to dig through my belongings to prove it wasn’t a liquid. When I went to Las Vegas to meet up with Davis Aurini, Aaron Clarey and the Bechtloff, the TSA flagged my bags going there and back because I had a bottle of contact lens solution. Every time I drive past a state trooper in the U.S., I feel a twinge of fear and pray he doesn’t need to meet his ticket quota by busting me for going five over the limit.
Americans proclaim themselves “free” even as their lives are governed by an ever-growing list of draconian laws. You can’t set fireworks off on your own property. You can’t buy a gun without the proper permits, and even then you can only buy the guns that the government lets you buy. You can’t renovate your garage without bribing the local homeowners’ association. You can’t obtain testosterone cream (or any kind of useful drug) unless you beg your doctor for a prescription. You can’t speak your mind without an angry mob of left-wing misfits screaming for your head.
In contrast, provided you stay within the straight and narrow, the Philippine authorities will leave you alone.
I’m staying in the Philippines until September at the least (when my lease ends), and probably a little while longer. I’ll definitely be back in the U.S. in October. If you’re in Davao between now and September, stop by and say hi.