Davao Diary- do we get taken advantage of?

Loose, disjointed, thoughts related to being an American in the Philippines.

Before we moved somebody asked us if we were prepared to be charged more and taken advantage of because we are not Filipino. I said I didn’t think that would happen that much, and so far, mostly I am right. I never feel taken advantage of. Well, that’s not true- I seriously did one time, and it still irks me, but it was a friend and I think part of it is a cultural clash more than anything else, so…  I’m not going to talk about that one time, but it was annoying and I will not put myself in that position again. It was, however, only the once. Because I haven’t put myself in that position again.=)

We also have one area where what we budgeted was not nearly enough and that was visas, but that’s partly because the rules changed while we were in transition so we have had to do things differently and it’s more complicated than planned.

There are a couple situations where we get charged a bit more than the locals would, but it’s not often, and it’s not much.

One of them it makes sense and I don’t feel taken advantage of at all- when I take a bike (a form of public transportation where a kind of capsule has been built around a motorcycle so the driver can take passengers)- most of the time they take 20 pesos and don’t offer change. I have been told that locals usually pay 5 pesos, but I am not certain this is always true. But I am okay with this anyway- I weigh as much as 3 Filipinos and usually when I take a bike, they won’t take on other passengers so I think it makes sense. I should add that usually the Cherub is with me, so I’m not paying quadruple, but double. And when she is with me, it takes us a long time to load up and then get out, so that’s more of their time they could be picking up passengers. So if I am paying extra (and I am not sure I really am), I really don’t mind (20 pesos is about .40 US cents).

We also have a lot of neighbors who operate bikes and sometimes on their way home at night if they pass my husband one of them will give him a ride home for free- so it evens out.

Our housekeeper thinks the man who pulls the weeds and tidies up the front area of the house once a month overcharges us. I thought about doing the work myself, but I went out one day to try and it was so hot and miserable and I was dripping sweat just standing still before I even started. Since that abruptly aborted attempt, I think he could charge us triple and I wouldn’t care. He is a neighbor, too, and if he’s overcharging, it’s only by a dollar or so and no more than once a month, and he does other things for us from time to time for free.

As often as not, actually, things work out the other way.  We might, perhaps, occasionally be subjected to the ‘American tax,’ but we are regularly and dependably able to count on getting some other perks the locals won’t.

Our son recently was hired with four or five other young men to do some modeling at a new motorcyle dealership.  He is the only foreigner in the group.   They had to be there all day long and part of the time they had nothing to do.   One of the young men  asked for the wifi password so they could get online while they waited for work to start,  and he was told no.   My son grinned cheekily and said he bet he could get it and he went up to a lady employee about my age, smiled engagingly and asked for it, and she gave it to him. But that kind of thing happens to him at home in the states, too, the stinker.

Taxis will stop for us and drop us off and pick us up in places they really aren’t supposed to- but I am not totally sure if this is because we are American or because we have the Cherub with us. Maybe both.  For instance, the road in front of our church building is a super busy main highway. About a quarter of a block past the building there is an intersection and down one road is a business street.  The first two or three times we went to church a Filipino brother always came with us and as we passed our building he would point it out to the cab driver, who would nod, and then drop us off on a different street half a block away. Our friend explained the taxi couldn’t stop on the high way, so we would turn left at the intersection and get dropped off at the side of the road on that street and then walk back across the street and down the sidewalk by the highway to the building (and then down a flight of steep stairs cut into the hill to the building below.  When we came on our own, when we pointed out the building, the cab driver did a u-turn and dropped us off right in front, we were quite surprised.  No driver has ever told us he can’t stop there.    Cabs stop for us to pick us up there, too, even though the young men from the church who sometimes escort us back up the stairs try to tell us the cab cannot stop there, a cab always does, even without us waving it down.

A couple of times our son has had people cut in front of him in a cab line, but both of us think this is more often because he’s young, and just as often somebody will step back and encourage him to go ahead of them.

There is one grocery store I go to that sometimes has beggars outside asking customers for money or food when they leave. I have noticed that when I come out they will ignore the other Filipino customers and come and ask me repeatedly until one of the guards will sort of hiss at them and they will back off.

Another example where I feel like I am treated better because I am a visitor, not local- when you go into the mall and most grocery stores and department stores there is a guard and you hold out your purse for inspection. They have some kind of wand they poke inside it, I assume it detects explosive residue, but don’t really know. Half the time they don’t even look in my bag at all, will stop me from unzipping it and just wave me through. I have never seen this happen with one of the locals.   However, again, it is very hard to know whether this is because I am American or because I am shopping with a handicapped child- I have been very touched by how kind everybody is toward the Cherub- not that people are mean at home, but they don’t seem to know what to do or how to act, and here they respond with extra attentions and helps, sometimes major extra attention.  The skipper of a  boat once basically scraped its hull and docked on the walkway instead of tieing up at the side so we could get her off more easily.  Staff at a resort we stayed at once came out and offered to carry her up the stairs.  At the grocery store that has stairs between the exit and the cab line, cab drivers or grocery store staff have watched me with her on the stairs and run over to carry her down for me, or carry my groceries, not 100% of the time, but often enough that I am no longer surprised.

I was asked by a stateside friend if I thought this was connected to the fact that mostly, they take care of family at home here. You don’t send your sick and elderly and disabled to a home, you care for them.  I do think that is part of it.  I also think it’s due to the more commmunity oriented culture, and just innate hospitality.  This is a hospitable, service oriented culture.  The down side to that is that I suspect I will be an honored guest and not so much a equal friend the whole time we are here. although getting better at the language may help with that.

It is largely true that most of the people I run into do assume that because we are American we are rich. It’s complicated because in many ways of course, by some significant measurements of comparison, we are. We own a lot of stuff back in the states, stuff that would mark us as wealthy here. While here, we do have good cell phones and laptops and a nice washing machine and we pay a helper to come twice a week, and we have air conditioners which we do run, and we take taxicabs more than many of the people we know here could afford.  Our son doesn’t fit well in a jeepney or a bike, and I can’t figure out the jeepney routes and really, with the Cherub it takes so long getting in and out that I feel badly about inconveniencing all the other passengers.  So we budget for that.  But that – budgeting- also sets us apart from some and marks us as rich.

On the other hand, we’re not getting paid to work here, we’re supported by donations, so while we do own all that stuff, we don’t necessarily have as much disposable income as some might assume.

On the other hand (lots of hands here)- our language teacher tells us that when Americans say, “I don’t have any money,” what they really mean is, “I have not budgeted money for that and so I don’t have money set aside for that item,” and when Filipinos say “I don’t have any money,” what they really mean- and her voice dropped here and as she spoke it vibrated with emotion- is that *they have no rice.*

They have no rice.  There’s a lot of meaning packed in that simple sentence, and it hurts.

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