Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Philippines for Vacation? No.

"A cheap holiday in other people's misery..." Sex Pistols from the song, "Holidays in the Sun"

One of my favorite writers, Fred Reed, says, "Write drunk. Edit sober." We'll I'm writing drunk and am not in the mood to wait until tomorrow to edit sober; especially since this is my first post in months. I want to write about what I saw recently.

I just came back from the Philippines. It's a depressingly destitute country.

We went to Cebu Island. Cebu Island is supposed to be some sort of island oasis. It is if you want to stay within the compounds of your hotel; the minute you leave the hotel, it is hell.

We stayed in one of the best hotels in all of Cebu... I took lots of video but no photos (that's how unimpressed I was with the place and also a sign of how derelict I am as I never felt the need to bring a proper camera).

We arrived at midnight or so and took a 20-minute taxi ride from the airport to the hotel. When we entered the hotel by taxi, they searched the car for bombs and drugs. You know, just like in TV shows? They had a mirror on a long stick to look under the car for bombs, a god-damned doberman sniffing our car, luggage, and us for drugs (or bombs) and everything else... There I was looking irritated like your typical anarchist dumb foreign tourist with my Japanese wife and ten-year-old son in the back of the car and the guard man asks me to roll open my window. He looks at me and says,

"Are you staying at this hotel?"

With my Los Angeles Dodgers hat and dorky Captain America T-shirt and looking most likely like Joe-dumbfuck-tourist, I replied, "Are you kidding me? It's the middle of the night. Do I look like I live around here?"

They waved us through...

The $100 million dollar hotel was just like any other $100 million dollar hotel at any beach resort anywhere in the world: You could wake up one morning alongside the pool and not have any idea whether or not you are in a ritsy-shitsy hotel in Hawaii, Thailand, Guam, Saipan, Mexico, Malaysia or where ever (But I will admit that they didn't have canned "Tropical Birds singing" coming over the loudspeakers like they did at another tourist trap from hell that we stayed at before.)

I guess I should admit right here that when I go overseas, I do want to see how the local people live; I wanna go to where the local people shop and where they go to eat...

I mean, why not? What's the point of going to a foreign country if all you are going to do is stay inside the safe and sanitary confines of the local hotel Ritz? They all look the same whether you are staying in this country or that.... What's the point of visiting a foreign country if you aren't willing to venture out to see how they actually live and not from within the confines of an international chain hotel?

The second day there, I took a 200 meter (200 yard) walk outside of the guarded hotel gates (Like I said, I like to see how people really live). When I was venturing out of the guarded gates at the hotel, the guardsmen said to me,

"You going out? OK. But be careful and don't go too far away. Be back by dark."

I was surprised, but not shocked, as these were the same people who were using mirrors to check the under carriage of my taxi for bombs just a day earlier.

As I walked out the gate, it was like walking into another world. It was total poverty and filth. Men were shouting at me for taxis, prostitutes, gambling and all sorts of guilty pleasures. I waved them off. Immediately I was surrounded by 8 kids (maybe 6 ~ 9 years old) trying to sell me junk and telling me they we hungry (Really! These kids had learned to beg in English!)

One kid, I'd guess he was about 9-years-old, told me he hadn't eaten in a day (I believed him, they were all so skinny!) They kept trying to sell me junk and they pestered me by following me around wherever I went.

After a while, one kid (probably the youngest at 7 or so) said,

"Mister, I'm hungry, please give me three pesos so I can buy some fried chicken." (you know, kinda like KFC, only home made)... Three pesos is about 9 cents (USD) so I said to all the kids,

"OK, I'll buy one of your trinkets from all of you and buy you guys some chicken if you promise to leave me alone..."

So I spent about $2 ($3?) and bought all of them 3 pieces of chicken and told them to sit down and eat it and I walked away.... Poor kids.

The next day, when I walked out of the hotel gates into the living hell again, they saw me from a distance and they all yelled out "Mister!" and bowed to me and, as promised, they left me alone.

They kept their promise. I wonder how many broken promises the people endured over the years from their government overlords? Here we were staying in a $100 million dollar hotel and right across the street there lived the median population of the country existing on a dollar a day...

Here I am eating more food at one dinner sitting than many kids in Cebu eat in a week or two.

Here I was staying in what is one of the hot tourist spots in Asia and the local people, across the street from some palace hotel (most likely built by some company with inside government connections... Wink, wink...), and just 20 meters outside the gates of that palace hotel, are living in stark poverty and filth.

Don't believe me? Well, OK, will you believe the Philippine government's own data?

"While poverty rates in Cebu are not quite as high as on the Mindanao or Samar islands (where poverty rates were as high as 52.9% according to the report), rates of poverty in Cebu averaged 33.6%. That means that despite Cebu City being one of the leading ports of commerce and being named one of the best island destinations for tourism in the area by magazines like Condé Nast Traveler Magazine, 1/3 of the population lives below the poverty threshold."

What a clusterfuck! The government is corrupt and totally fucked up. In many ways, I thought the Philippines were much worse off than even Mexico!

You know, you'd think that if someone built a huge assed million dollar hotel, they want to do something about the surrounding area... But, no.

You see, that's not how corrupt government cronyism works; the buddies of the people in power get the no bids contracts, the politicians get the kick backs, and the people bend over and take it in the ass....

Make no mistake about it, I am railing on the Philippine government here, but I am also criticizing all government here: ALL governments tax the people to spend on pork barrel projects rather than let the people keep their money themselves and spend it the way they see fit....

There's no way out for those poor kids in Cebu, Philippines.... Really. Of course I haven't seen all of the Philippines, but the only places I have seen that were worse were India and Bangladesh....

At least the downtrodden middle class in Philippines had crumbling shanty homes to live in and a rooster or two running around.... The middle class in India and Bangladesh don't even have that....

It surprised me that the Philippines were so bad off.... And I was in Cebu fer chrissakes; a supposed world class resort island! That's supposed to be a better part of the country....

What a shit-hole and testament to government corruption....Not to mention getting searched before entering Department stores for weapons and drugs....

Shoplifting and crime must be out of control in the Philippines....

There was one last little piece of anecdotal evidence that I'd like to share with dear reader. One day, as I was riding through the shanty town in front of the hotel in a taxi that I noticed; there were these god awful looking little red concrete boxes that were eyesores lining the sides of the roads. I'd say about half of them were as I imagined they were intended: red concrete boxes with the lettering, "Lupa Lupa City Government" painted on them and a small tree growing out of them. The other half of them were broken and in disrepair and had no tree growing or were busted up and being used for trash containers. I imagined that these containers were the local corrupt government's efforts at beautifying the local area.

In my imagination I could see some government wonks thinking up a way to make the city "greener" (It's out in the country, how much "greener" could they possibly get anyway?) I figured some government clown went on a trip to some other country and saw beautiful planters along the road with lush, well-cared for vegetation growing out of them so they thought this was a good idea to beautify the local area... But beautiful Grecian style planters (urns?) are pretty expensive, so how to do it? No problem. Great Idea government wonk's brother Carlos owns a cement factory so why not use public funds and pay his company to make the planters? Sure they aren't round and beautiful, but we gotta think of costs so they make ugly, square, painted red cement boxes. And to make sure the locals know their tax money is well-spent, they make them even uglier by painting, "Lupa Lupa City Government" on the sides. Grand idea! The locals get planters they don't need and brother Carlos gets his wheels greased by his government connection so that he donates to his favorite political group in the next election.  Everyone wins! Everyone is happy, right?

Well, no. A few years later, the people in power change and the new folks in power decide that these red planters are an eyesore and upkeep is a waste of money (they don't have) and they fail into disrepair and the project is dropped; many planters are busted up and in need of replacement and the trees need watering and maintenance. What to do? Kill the project and let the planters go to hell.

I'm sure the planters that still had healthy trees in them were adopted by the poor folks whose houses these things were dropped in front of them and those folks started to take care of the trees. The rest just lie there, cracked, shattered, lifeless and full of trash. Your tax dollars well spent.

Like I said, just another in a long line of pork barrel projects that puts money into the hands of the politically well-connected rather than let the people keep their money themselves and spend it the way they see fit....

Marvelous! Simply marvelous!

Great, eh? A supposed Catholic nation... A Christian nation. How does this crime situation and social disorder and government corruption that stack up against an Islamic and Buddhist nation? Read: ‘I Went to an Islamic and a Fascist Country…’ 


Andrew Joseph said...

Hi Mike - welcome back - you have been missed by my self.
I've not been to the Phlippines, but I know what you mean. I did read your attached article about Malaysia, a place I have been to... as well as Thailand, Saipan, Singapore, Laos and Cambodia and like yourself, I like to see how the average person lives, and spend most of my time just walking through small villages and sampling the food and culture.
I must admit that I, as a brown person of India(n)-descent, was never hit on by any of the poor people asking for food or money. I am, of course, not naive enough to believe that they aren't there - they probably thought I wouldn't help out or had the money.
But... as I traveled through Malaysia, I did see lots of poor little villages set upon red clay land... and wondered how they survived.
In Thailand, I stayed in a gated hotel, traveled via a limo (with my mother) and armored bus to heavily-armored and gated jewelery shops, and looked around. And, outside that hotel and that jewelery shop were these run-own homes and businesses that would be condemned in any part of Canada.
No... the governments don't care. They get their kickbacks for tourism and the rich get richer and the poor get children to quote from The Great Gatsby.
have you written about the homeless in Japan?

Aaron Moser said...

A country that was part of the US for fifty years and then had US dictators for 40 years.