Someone in the Blogcritics Politics section recently asked me in an incredulous tone why I, as an avowed liberal, would want to leave the “nanny state” of America to go to a third-world country like the Philippines.
Now Clavos knows whereof he speaks – he has a clue as to how bad third-world countries can be. Corrupt, dirty, unsanitary, often unsafe, strongly lacking in educational and social infrastructure, highly vulnerable to natural disasters…the laundry list goes on, and correlates in many ways with what I see in the Philippines. Let me enumerate some of these:
– When on the road in the city, it’s normal for the road ahead in the distance to be somewhat obscured by a black cloud of exhaust…and later, when one cleans out one’s nose, out comes black particles that came from the smog. This is the result of the government being unwilling and unable to pass—much less enforce—vehicle emissions standards. Even if the government could, the people largely could not afford the engine overhauls needed to meet even the lowest emissions standards in America.
– The main river in Manila—the Pasig—is nasty in every sense of the word. There’s trash of every kind (and the occasional body, I’m told) lining the banks. When one goes to the otherwise-somewhat-romantic waterfront of Manila Bay, it’s nice…except for the plastic bags and bottles and assorted flotsam and jetsam that would be pilloried as a national shame here in the States. Along most of the roads—more trash.
– When dealing with bureaucracy and particularly governmental bureaucracy, it’s normal to need to grease the skids, so to speak, with money in order to make things happen. I remember my family paying off a local judge in order to keep my brother-in-law out of jail on drug charges. My sister-in-law has a document that allows her to break almost any traffic law without fear of arrest or prosecution by the police. When I sent my household goods there nearly 10 years ago, we were going to have to pay thousands in customs fees…until another brother-in-law paid a clerk several hundred dollars as an “unofficial processing fee.” Whenever I pass through customs at the airport, I put a $20 bill in my passport, and my luggage is thus not searched.
– Traffic there is worse than anywhere in North America with the possible exception of Mexico City. What we see here as newsworthy major traffic jams are normal traffic there. Add to that the fact that when your car stops for whatever reason, you’ll soon (especially if you’re white) be accosted by the people who walk among stalled traffic selling anything they can scrounge up to sell. What hurts me is seeing little girls who should be in school, but instead are running unsupervised and unprotected among the cars, selling little flowers or even dishrags for a few pisos. It’s very difficult for me to not buy what they are selling just to help her out. I know that by doing so, I’m only perpetuating the problem, enabling the parents to keep her out there…but I still can’t be cold enough to always say “no.”
– Don’t drink the water! Instead, we have to buy all our drinking and cooking water from a local distributor. Fortunately, they deliver. The city’s tap water is acceptable for bathing—but the water pressure is poor (and sometimes nonexistent. What most well-to-do people do is to purchase a small stainless-steel water tank and a pump to go with it in order to have reliable water pressure. Electricity is also a problem—brownouts happen quite often, particularly during the monsoon. I really do wonder if the birth rate goes up in the nine months after the time of the monsoon.
– Personally, the part I hate the worst are the bathrooms, or “comfort rooms” as they are called. In some places, the toilets are often not flushed (much less cleaned) for days at a time. “BYOTP”—bring your own toilet paper—applies…otherwise, there probably won’t be any available. And toilet seat liners are completely unknown there—for that matter, there’s usually no toilet seat, but only the toilet rim! So what do the people do? They normally squat without letting their bums touch the toilet seat. While this keeps their bottoms from touching the toilet seat, it also allows the bodily waste to—ahem—spray, spatter, and splash where it will. BUT if one knows where to go and where not to go, one can normally avoid such nightmarish experiences.