what do the locals think of me?
Some Food for Thought!
Recently, I was sitting around the patio at Awesome Desserts on the Boulevard, just one of many other foreigners kicking back and discussing this daily life that I describe as like winning the lottery, when a thought came to mind. How do the locals feel about this Dumaguete expat and my growing number of brethren. I made the mistake of vocalizing what was going through my head and after an origonal shrug-off by each of us, it quickly turned into a heated mini-debate with many different opinions. The end result was my asking Terrence to think about writing an article for us on the topic and this is what he came back with.
If you are a Dumaguete Expat, or an expat anywhere in the Philippines, here I believe, is some good food for thought.
Do You Pillage And Rape? Or Are You A Nice Guy?
by Terence Doyle
Anyone else been experiencing troubling pangs of guilt recently about their pampered lifestyle out here in the Philippines? Anyone else pausing now and then during their daily round and wondering about the morality of their retiree ways? Or perhaps asking themselves during some sleepless night: What do the locals really think of me and my blessed existence? Oh, I know these same Filipinos have invited us here. They are screaming long and
loud that it is “more fun” out here. So surely they should have no reason to complain that we are indulging ourselves.
And, yet, think about it: Didn’t they actually issue that invitation more to conventional tourists rather than long stay expats? Don’t they really want younger, more active people who will come for a shorter time and spend a lot more money? And surely it was not the average Filipino who issued this invitation but rather the more monied classes who stand to benefit most from such tourists. Yet we expats have heard the message and are now coming here in droves, often dominating and dictating life for the locals, putting me in mind of all the colonisers from the
past, starting with the Vikings. You remember them? The Nordic tribes famed for “pillaging and raping” hapless natives in foreign countries.
They were merely the first of many exploiters, of course. Indeed, their one time victims, the English, later rose to outdo the Vikings themselves in terms of pillaging and raping, first stripping neighbouring Ireland bare, then joining the other European countries in ripping apart Asia and Africa before turning to America, which fairly quickly booted them out.
And so we come to the present and our lives here in the beautiful Philippines. Are we as guilty of pillaging and raping as these earlier, hated exploiters? Our ways are clearly more subtle. We tend not to sneak up in the dark of the night and start clubbing people to death. But, all the same, we are taking over the best bits of the country for ourselves, buying up the beachfronts, building great houses behind intimidating gates and, most significantly, taking the best of the women – girls, actually, usually – as our partners.
Do you see how, when our behaviour is stated this starkly, it might be a cause for grievance among the locals? Not so much in Manila and the north because there are too many locals in the first and too few foreigners in the second to make much difference. Not so much either perhaps in Mindanao when the landscape dwarfs both locals and foreigners alike. But here in leafy Dumaguete and the Visayas and the surrounding islands, there could easily be cause for concern. (If you doubt it, consider Boracay where the foreign dominance is at its greatest and the natives are indeed growing restless, leading to violence and murder.) So what is to be done? Should we pack up and run before those smiling lads you see on every street and mountainside suddenly decide to express their sense of being ripped off by visiting you with their bolos in hand? Surely not, if we play our cards right. For now, in my experience, these Filipinos are genuinely happy to have us here. Even if you happen to be older than your girlfriend’s parents, even if you thoughtlessly spend more on a dinner out than they spend on basics in a month, even if you drink beer all day on the Boulevard while they try to get by flogging you peanuts at 2 peso a pop, they do tend to greet you with smiles and eyes that are genuinely warm. Indeed, they frequently seem pleased to see us, pleased to get a glimpse of another, more affluent lifestyle, pleased to benefit from the little bit of business we long stay chaps may throw their way now and then.
So we have a chance, a window of opportunity, for living here in harmony with our hosts. We do not really have to feel guilty yet about our privileged position in this slice of paradise. But we might like to tread more carefully than we do at times. We might like to be a little less quick to tell Filipinos how they could so easily improve their country by adopting our ways (a little like the fanatics are trying to change the social life in our own abandoned countries). We might like to smile more often ourselves, tip a little more generously in more circumstances, and show our hosts a little gratitude for bearing with us.
For that’s what they are, our hosts, no matter how superior we might feel at times. It is their country, not ours, and we should respect that fact even if at times when we are frustrated we feel we deserve better merely because we can afford it.