An Expat in the Philippines

Standing out in the Crowd

As an expat in the Philippines I am now part of a society in which for better or worse, I stand out and am highly visible. This is an ironic twist for me as  for the first several decades of my life I desperately strove to be in such a position..

Growing up, I have to admit I was on the insecure side. I was never the guy that garnered a lot of attention from the girls nor was I held in great esteem by my peers who gathered around  amazed at my wit, laugh at my jokes or be in awe of my abilities and accomplishments. For the most part I was just one of a faceless crowd that I felt I had to work hard to impress and show my relevance in the world in. In my late teens and early twenties I resorted to drink, outlandish behavior and extravagant spending to set me apart from the crowd and counterbalance my shyness and insecurity. It was a wild ride full of good and bad memories and I have to be thankful that somewhere along that journey I was fortunate enough to have had to look at my insecurities and was guided by some wise people who taught me that I did not need to impress anyone but myself and true self esteem and worth came from within. Only when I was comfortable in my own skin could I enjoy life and my place in it.  Most days now, I am pretty firm in my understanding that I am not particularly special. I have been given the gift of being pretty good at some things and am able to accept that I suck at others. I will never be a supermodel, nor will people throw stones at me as I walk by on the streets disgusted at my ugliness. Some days I will do good deeds and other days I will be selfish, rude or maybe downright mean and vindictive. I know I am just human with all the good and bad in me that all other humans also have. As long as I just try to be the best I can be, that is all I need to be in a comfortable place of feeling self worth.

Enough of the background about me and on to how things have now drastically changed  as I have become an Expat in the Philippines. For better or worse the reality is that now I am part of a visible minority and that is a two edge sword.

Here , just about everywhere I go, people notice me and it is impossible to hide from that. Though of average height in the west, here in the Philippines at 5’9″ I am usually one of the taller people in a crowd. Together with tho other obvious differences such as skin color and a “long nose”, there is just no way I will ever be able to melt into a crowd. Its not so overly difficult here in Dumaguete where there is a large expat community , but a trip into the provinces usually means some pretty intense staring especially from children who have had little contact with foreigners and which can certainly make me feel like a novelty. I guess what truly amazed me at first and still brings a wry smile to my face sometimes is that the difference in my outward appearance is actually considered desirable here. With humility, I have to admit that it seems the majority of Filipinas find me attractive and somehow Filipino hold me in more respect than I probably deserve. For a middle aged, slightly overweight and balding man this can be somewhat of a shock and difficult to comprehend, lol.

One other most noticeable way I seem to stand out in a crowd is most Filipinos seem to  mistakenly believe I am rich, lol. Filipinos seem attracted to me as either a model of success and affluence, hoping it will rub of on them, or more simply, hoping for a hand out.

This newfound attention, as mentioned earlier, can be a two edge blade. If I do not stay firmly grounded in my own humility, very quickly the pendulum can swing too far to one side and I can actually start believing that I am somehow more special than the people who have accepted me into their country. I can become arrogant, demanding, righteous and disrespectful, acting in ways that could rightfully garner me the label “ugly foreigner”. I have seen this behavior in others expats in the Philippines and it is something that I just don’t feel is cool. Another negative implication is that I, like just about any other foreigner here as experienced here, has a target on my back for anybody in any form of need. The pressure sometimes seems almost endless from relatives, friends or the many people on the street that I interact with daily. It has been difficult but I have had to learn to “just say no”, and to do so in a non demeaning way.

There are of of course huge benefits. What guy does not want to be considered desirable and attractive to a seemingly endless supply of beautiful women? Believe me, it does not suck! To those men who accept this and act responsibly, there is just no way this can be a bad thing and any Western guy can find an amazing woman here that was an unreachable dream for us back home. I also have to say that it is nice being called “sir” and treated with respect.

Respect Goes Both Ways

Having said all this I also believe that being a member of such a visible minority as an Expat in the Philippines is, comes with a responsibility. It is easy to take the “I don’t care what they think” attitude, but it is not one that I personally subscribe to. To put this into the perspective I believe it deserves, I like to think back to my feelings about the many immigrants that have come to Canada in increasing numbers over the past decade or two. I am a pretty tolerant guy but I will readily admit to getting a mite pissed off when some one from a different country comes to mine and demands I change my ways to more closely resemble his or is rude and arrogant to me. Having a Muslim demand that the lord’s prayer be not recited in our schools, abuse his wife, or expect that he should be answer to Sharia law , instead of ours, riles me and I feel like telling all Muslims to go back to the beautiful country that they felt they had to leave. When a Chinese person drives 40 km an hour in the fast lane seemingly oblivious to all other cars around, my first reaction is to get pissed off at the whole Chinese race. These are not totally rational thoughts and reactions, but they are human. Thinking about them makes me remember that the shoe is now on the other foot. I am a visible minority in some one else’s country and my behaviors can affect the perception of the entire community in my hosts eyes.

In the end, if I show acceptance, tolerance and respect for my Filipino hosts instead of arrogance, rudeness and disrespect, hopefully I will cause them to be a little more welcoming to the next Expat in the Philippines that come after me.

If you are an Expat in the Philippines, maybe you should think how your behaviors will affect us all?