Reality Check

Take a moment to stop and think: This Blog is all about presenting a realistic view of life in the Philippines for expats. There are plenty of sites out there that only tell you the good stuff. There are some that only tell you the bad stuff. Here at Streetwise Philippines Dot Biz we try to give you both sides but of course, the old newspaper saying holds true: if it bleeds, it leads!

There are plenty of great people in this country, most of us married one. There are many very good inlaws, I have a couple of the best. There are intelligent, articulate and sophisticated people who are a joy to know, as well as some down to earth every day Joe’s who are the salt of the earth. There are honest people, generous people and some very compassionate people here. In fact there are millions of them! But we don’t need to make you aware of them, just the ones that will rip you off, frustrate you or just get under your skin.

There are some very positive aspects to living here, one of which is that you are pretty free to do as you wish. Of course so is everyone else so sometimes the noise gets a bit much. As for having Filipinos as friends, you can’t find better friends, and worse enemies. Fiercely  loyal, proud and staunch; that’s the Filipino! But don’t take my word for this. Read this Open Letter from an American expat:

69276_585654964795682_696622037_nLOVE LETTER TO FILIPINOS ||David H. Harwell, PhD

I am writing to thank Filipinos for the way you have treated me here, and to pass on a lesson I learned from observing the differences between your culture and mine over the years.
I am an expatriate worker. I refer to myself as an OAW, an overseas American worker, as a bad joke. The work I do involves a lot of traveling and changing locations, and I do it alone, without family. I have been in 21 countries now, not including my own. It was fun at first. Now, many years later, I am getting tired. The Philippines remains my favorite country of all, though, and I’d like to tell you why before I have to go away again.

I have lived for short periods here, traveled here, and have family and friends here. My own family of origin in the United States is like that of many Americans—not much of a family. Americans do not stay very close to their families, geographically or emotionally, and that is a major mistake. I have long been looking for a home and a family, and the Philippines is the only place I have lived where people honestly seem to understand how important their families are.

I am American and hard-headed. I am a teacher, but it takes me a long time to learn some things. But I’ve been trying, and your culture has been patient in trying to teach me.
In the countries where I’ve lived and worked, all over the Middle East and Asia, it is Filipinos who do all the work and make everything happen. When I am working in a new company abroad, I seek out the Filipino staff when I need help getting something done, and done right. Your international reputation as employees is that you work hard, don’t complain, and are very capable. If all the Filipinos were to go home from the Middle East, the world would stop. Oil is the lifeblood of the world, but without Filipinos, the oil will not come from the ground, it will not be loaded onto the ships, and the ships will not sail. The offices that make the deals and collect the payments will not even open in the morning. The schools will not have teachers, and, of course, the hospitals will have no staff.

What I have seen, that many of you have not seen, is how your family members, the ones who are overseas Filipino workers, do not tell you much about how hard their lives actually are. OFWs are very often mistreated in other countries, at work and in their personal lives. You probably have not heard much about how they do all the work but are severely underpaid, because they know that the money they are earning must be sent home to you, who depend on them. The OFWs are very strong people, perhaps the strongest I have ever seen. They have their pictures taken in front of nice shops and locations to post on Facebook so that you won’t worry about them. But every Pinoy I have ever met abroad misses his/her family very, very much.

I often pity those of you who go to America. You see pictures of their houses and cars, but not what it took to get those things. We have nice things, too many things, in America, but we take on an incredible debt to get them, and the debt is lifelong. America’s economy is based on debt. Very rarely is a house, car, nice piece of clothing, electronic appliance, and often even food, paid for. We get them with credit, and this debt will take all of our lifetime to pay. That burden is true for anyone in America—the OFWs, those who are married to Americans, and the Americans themselves.
Most of us allow the American Dream to become the American Trap. Some of you who go there make it back home, but you give up most of your lives before you do. Some of you who go there learn the very bad American habits of wanting too many things in your hands, and the result is that you live only to work, instead of working only to live. The things we own actually own us. That is the great mistake we Americans make in our lives. We live only to work, and we work only to buy more things that we don’t need. We lose our lives in the process.

I have sometimes tried to explain it like this: In America, our hands are full, but our hearts are empty.

You have many problems here, I understand that. Americans worry about having new cars, Filipinos worry about having enough food to eat. That’s an enormous difference. But do not envy us, because we should learn something from you. What I see is that even when your hands are empty, your hearts remain full.
I have many privileges in the countries where I work, because I am an expat. I do not deserve these things, but I have them. However, in every country I visit, I see that you are there also, taking care of your families, friends, bosses, and coworkers first, and yourselves last. And you have always taken care of me, in this country and in every other place where I have been.

These are places where I have been very alone, very tired, very hungry, and very worried, but there have always been Filipinos in my offices, in the shops, in the restaurants, in the hospitals, everywhere, who smile at and take good care of me. I always try to let you know that I have lived and traveled in the Philippines and how much I like your country. I know that behind those smiles of yours, here and abroad, are many worries and problems.
Please know that at least one of us expats has seen what you do for others and understands that you have a story behind your smiles. Know that at least one of us admires you, respects you, and thanks you for your sacrifices. Salamat po. Ingat lagi. Mahal ko kayong lahat.

David H. Harwell, PhD, is a former professor and assistant dean in the United States who now travels and works abroad designing language training programs. He is a published author and a son of a retired news editor.

3 thoughts on “Reality Check”

  1. I’ve seen this letter before. And I agree wholeheartedly. I choose to live here, and I have no regrets. Yes, the scammers get noticed. The images of jiggling bar girls, and the amusement of older men with younger women, they make a great impact on gutter-level current affair shows. No one wants to know about the many decent women who live by their principals, despite the fact that they are the majority.

  2. This article sounds incredibly naive to me.
    The Filipinos themselves are also in debt. Utang is everywhere. They are trapped also on a much worst level. There is another form of debt that is often used to abuse them and that is Utang na loob.
    He says that in the USA “our hands are full, but our hearts are empty.” That is not true. I experienced the opposite from Americans. I don’t know where this professor came from or what rock he lives under. I’m very grateful for the kindness and help the USA gave me. I have a different experience with Filipinos however. In my experience Filipinos like to blame their colonial past for all their misfortune. Some of them are very anti American. Since I’m a Hungarian married to a Filipina, I’m not as naive as they think Americans are and I don’t let them get away criticizing the USA. This is what I tell them:
    I’m from Eastern Europe one of those “behind the Iron Curtain” former communist country. We were colonized by the Soviet Union as oppose to you who were colonized by the USA. We wish we were colonized by the USA. We were also colonized by the Turks for over 300 years (brutal muslim country) and I wish we were colonized by Spain instead of the? Turks. That usually shuts them up. I let them know that I’m angry at them and I’m not one of those nice but stupid Kano so just stop the bs.

  3. The OFWs are very strong people, perhaps the strongest I have ever seen.

    Are you sure? Than what about those Latin Americans who don’t speak English and doing work that any self respecting Filipino would never do in the USA? Filipinos may not realize it but they have an important advantage: they speak English. Without the USA? colonial past the Philippines would not have an English speaking population today. There would not be OFW who can work competitively as professionals or even maids around the world. Filipinos would speak Spanish only. Filipinos would be like Indonesian maids. The lowest earners and the least respected.