Thoughts on the Philippines

I spent two and a half weeks in the Philippines in March 2013 for work (upgrading the network infrastructure in our office over there). As a country, there are a lot of things both similar to and different from Australia. Here are some of my thoughts:

  • It’s a coffee country, not a tea country. You can find coffee everywhere, but tea is hard to come by, and good tea is almost impossible. I’ve discovered the horror that is American-style creamer, and I don’t like the world quite as much any more.
  • Tasmanian drivers really are terrible. Drivers in the Philippines have a huge amount of skill, able to squeeze two cars past each other in ways that I figured should be impossible. It’s terrifying if you’re not used to it though. On arrival in Manila, I spent two hours in a taxi for a 8km trip from the airport to my hotel, and the traffic was abysmal (a later airport->hotel run took 10 minutes). People would drive down the wrong side of the road at full speed, with both drivers only moving out of the way at the last minute – making the most of the limited space on roads. In terms of condition, width, and congestion, roads in Manila are very similar to Sydney – or at least my experiences within the CBD areas of both cities.
  • In terms of how expensive (or rather, cheap) the country is to live in, there are two ways of thinking about it. The first is “oh wow, I can live like a king!” I found frequently that apart from electronic goods (which had the same price tag, once currency conversion was done, as in Australia) that I could afford pretty much anything I liked. An hour massage cost me less than $5, including a generous tip. I took ten people out to lunch at a fancy restaurant and ordered everything we liked, total was $100. It’s simply amazing – and the thought was constantly with me: what if I could earn at Australian rates and spend at Filipino rates? How awesome would that be!
    But there is a second way of looking at the country: “The contents of my backpack are worth more than everything these people own in their entire lives!” This way of looking at things becomes incredibly confronting when in the country areas, as I found (in my limited experience) that they were much poorer than metropolitan Manila, especially CBD Makati where I was 90% of the time). People had houses built out of coconuts leaves and corrugated iron sheeting. The “rich” houses were made out of unpainted concrete blocks. You start to feel guilty for even owning your own computer, let alone the three or four that I have. I’m also certain that there are a lot of locals (especially in metropolitan Manila) who are insanely rich – the dealerships for BMW and Mercedes will attest to this fact. It seems the country is owned by the very rich, who really control things (like in Australia) and then the poor are very poor. Maybe there is a parallel to be made with Victorian-era Britain here?
  • Cabling contractors are fabulously useless. Something that would take a contractor 4 hours in Australia takes 4 people 3 days each in Manila. I’m not sure whether it was the contractors we were using, but I wasn’t impressed. While I’m not a licensed cabler in Australia, I do know vaguely what I’m doing with network cabling, and I could have done the job myself in Manila had I not been doing a million other things – about twice as fast as it took 4 people to do it. We also went through three sets of cabling contractors within two weeks, as the first two contractors just stopped showing up. Surely I can’t be that hard to work for?
  • Some of the food is amazing, but generally Tasmanian food is much better. In particular, fresh seafood is fresher in the Philippines than it is here, and therefore tastes absolutely amazing. Mango shakes were another favourite of mine. Because mangoes are a tropical fruit, they grow easily there, and as such are very cheap (along with most other vegetables and fruit, I guess due to the labour prices). A mango shake (mango and ice in a blender, sometimes mango and icecream in a blender) costs between $0.50 and $2, and they are the perfect way to refresh yourself after being the intense heat. With that said, there is a lot of terrible food in the Philippines, especially Manila with it’s plethora of takeaway restaurants (which were welcome the first day or two, but quickly grew tiresome). Local food is good, and very cheap, but without a heap of variation – most Filipino food is curries and stews of various sorts.

All in all, it’s a country I’d really like to go back to – there’s a lot more of the country that I would like to see. I wouldn’t want to live there (the pollution is terrible) but the really friendly people make it a pleasure to visit.