It's All Fun and Games Until the Coughing Starts
09.07.2009 - 15.07.2009
I can't say I liked Davao very much. It seems to be a city in dire need of a big maintenance push. It had the same kind of traffic, street vendors and uneven sidewalks as other poor places I've been. On the plus side, though, everyone was unfailingly polite at all times. This really has to be said to the credit of Filipinos. Whether it was the cashier at a store or a security guard searching my person and my bags, all was "Yes sir," and "Thank you, sir."
Speaking of searches, I have never been searched before, in my entire life, as much as I was searched in the Philippines, and this includes my misspent youth. I was searched going into malls, entering stores, and my taxi was searched every time I pulled up to a hotel. And the Filipino security guards and police are armed with wicked looking pistol grip shotguns.
A guard in Fort Santiago. Note Don't-Mess-With-Me firearm. He told me it was unloaded.
The Filipino culture resembles Hispanic or Latino culture much more than any Asian culture. Other than the people being of Asian appearance, this could be Mexico City. I hear Latino music here all the time. Maybe it’s the Catholicism, or that the country was a Spanish colony.
People's Park in Davao. They search you before they let you in. They even take your cigarettes, because smoking is banned in most places in Davao. Sadly, this is about what I got to see of Davao before I got deathly ill.
I had fun in Davao for my first couple of days, including going out with a girl and her friend and ending up singing Karaoke in a beach hut at 4:00am. While we were at the Blue Room, a bar in a hotel here, they were telling me that they never got to do things like this. They were very pleased and thankful that I would spend so much money on them. The total bill for two bars and a karaoke beach hut: About $35.
I don’t tell you this to brag, and I’m not throwing money around to look like Mr. Big. But I took out three other people (one girl’s boyfriend came over too) for an entire evening of drinking and bad singing, and it cost me $35. Who wouldn’t want to do that if they could? Isn't the best time the one where you don't have to worry about money?
I have to also say that there was a woman working in the Blue Room who was just stunning. She had dark, piercing eyes and looked vaguely Vietnamese. I wish I'd been able to take some pictures of her.
Beggars in the US are drug addicts and the mentally insane. Beggars in Bangkok were women with children at their feet. Beggars in Davao are children. They come up to your window and knock and hold out their hand. I haven’t given them any money yet, and I just stopped to ask myself why. It’s because I’ve conditioned myself to ignore beggars because in the US, giving them money is counter-productive. They just buy booze or drugs with it, because they already have other support systems for the basic necessities (shelters, churches, etc.). Here, they’re beggars because they are dirt poor and they need money to stay alive. So I’m going to start giving it to them.
I won't dwell on it, but I saw one woman lying in the street, begging, who did not look like she was going to be alive much longer. Even the Filipinos on Jeepneys were giving her money.
In wandering the streets here I was approached by another woman, a prostitute, with yellow eyes. If I ever had an interest in hookers, it would have ended when I talked to her. Visible signs of disease are a big red flag. I politely tried to dissuade her and continued on, ignoring her. This is unfortunately the only way to deal with touts, whether they be salesmen or prostitutes, because if you talk to them they will never leave you alone.
About two blocks away, I turned around and she had been following me. I guess when you look like you're already sick, it can be hard to drum up business in the sex trade, because she was desperate. She asked if I was staying in a hotel, I said yes. She said "I go to your hotel with you." Uh, no.
So we come back to this: Why is the Philippines so poor? It’s like nobody can keep any money around here. It just vanishes. Why is the Philippines poor and the US is rich? Is it corruption? Cultural? It’s not laziness. Filipinos work much harder for a buck than Americans do. It could be the recession, but not wholly.
Some of it has to do with the infrastructure, I think. The whole time I was there I didn't see a single freeway. I think they exist, but they must not be of much use, because I travelled the length and breadth of Manila and we never got on one.
If you ever wondered why immigrants in the US will work so hard for so little, you only have to visit a place like the Philippines, where they work just as hard for much less. The monthly wage for a cashier-type job here seems to be about $70. That's one day of work in the US at minimum wage. One girl I knew told me she'd be glad to come to the US and be a janitor, and she wasn't being funny about it. She genuinely would jump at the chance. If you lived here, so would you. You would leap - with both feet.
Across the street from my hotel there is a building that would be decent looking, except that its fancy tiles have fallen off of the bottom of the building. Maybe they could replace them, but they don’t. Do they just not have any money?
Maintenance seems to be an ongoing expense that is just not done here. Also, Davao could really use a street sweeper. The gutters, sidewalks and streets just have dirt everywhere. Is this cultural? It must be, because barring a street sweeper, you could just pay Filipinos to sweep the place up. If there’s one resource the Philippines has, its cheap labor.
And like Mexico, there seems to be no effort to make the sidewalks even, so you have to watch where you’re stepping at all times.
Anyway, after two days here everything went to hell because I caught the nastiest bug I’ve had in many years. I was so sick that I went to the Davao Doctor’s Hospital and, it being a Sunday, had to use the emergency room. They did blood tests on me and I breathed some steam from some device. My insurance isn’t accepted here, so I was dreading the bill. Total cost: 850 pesos. About $17.
Considering the number of people who waited on me, and the doctor, I just cannot fathom how this place stays open. My whole visit was less than my co-pay at home. But a better question is, why is it many times more expensive in the US? If you want to look at a model for reducing health care costs, I would think you would start in the Philippines.
I told my friend here later that I had gone to the hospital. She asked which one. I said Davao Doctor's Hospital. "Ooh," she said, looking grave. "That's the expensive one."
So I slept in my hotel room for three days. Then I changed my flight and went back to Manila a day early.