Tag Archives: manila

Bristol Festival of Literature Appearance 22nd Oct

12 Sep

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I’ll be discussing my new travelogue of the contemporary Philippines, Realm of the Punisher, at the Bristol Festival of Literature on 22nd October. My good friend Mike Manson will be present too, riffing on his new novel Down in Demerara. Click here for tickets and further details.

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New Philippines Story in Private Eye

30 Jul

If you go down the newsagent today you’ll find my latest reporting on the Philippines in Private Eye (under the pseudonym ‘Dr Grim’). The story deals with Duterte’s new war on narcopoliticians and public protests against him, and includes an interview with an activist for indigenous people’s rights who has just been put on his death list. (Picture by Louis Netter).

New story on Duterte in Private Eye

15 Jun

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My ‘Letter from Manila’ about Duterte, vigilante crime fighting and spectacularly un-PC jokes is in the next edition of Private Eye, if anyone’s remotely interested.

Asia Pacific Writers and Translators Conference 2015

28 Oct

Thanks to Avigail Olarte and CNN Philippines for this splendid little write-up of the APWT conference I spoke at in Manila not a few days past.

Myths of the MacArthur Suite

17 Apr

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When the tour guide throws open the doors to the Douglas MacArthur Suite, I’m fairly sure what to expect. The American general it’s named after was known for astutely managing his public image, concealing his weird private foibles and rebuilding his hero’s reputation after professional fiascos. Likewise, the Suite he lived in for six years has been impeccably restored to a supposedly Edenic moment in Philippine history, before World War II levelled Manila, before the Japanese destroyed the entirety of the Suite just to get back at MacArthur and before the country fell under the hammer of martial law. Although there’s nothing original about the mahogany chaise longues, the slightly musty sampaguita scent or the gently sparkling brass chandeliers, the impression of 1935 is persuasive and beautiful enough.

What is the most iconic image of World War II? Britons might think of Herbert Mason’s photo of Blitz-era St Paul’s Cathedral framed by thick black bomb smoke, yet somehow undamaged and bathed in a heavenly light. Russians would likely recall the hunched silhouette of a Red Army soldier waving the Hammer and Sickle from the roof of the Reichstag, the tower blocks in the background shelled down to their rafters. Americans would nominate either the US Marines hoisting the Stars and Stripes into the gloomy skies of Iwo Jima or the picture I spot on the wall on the MacArthur Suite’s sitting room.

It’s a spontaneous snap of the General strutting ashore at Leyte Island in October 1944, at the start of the American liberation of the Philippines. He is fulfilling the highly quoted promise — ‘I shall return’ — he made to the Filipino people two years before, when his spirited and tactically adept resistance to the Japanese failed and he was forced to flee to Australia.

Although the claims in the preceding paragraph are widely believed to be true, they are largely false. The tour guide tells me that the photo was far from unplanned. ‘It took them three attempts to get it right,’ she says in a lilting accent that mixes American stressed vowels with rolling Spanish “rs”. ‘The first time, the General believed that he did not look good. The second time, he tripped and fell in the water. The third time, it was a success.’ Moreover, as Professor Vicente Villan of the University of the Philippines has discovered, by the time MacArthur arrived at Leyte on that “historic” day, indigenous guerrillas had already driven the Japanese out of the island. MacArthur chose this particular beach precisely because he knew it was safe and secure. He could step Christ-like from water to land and play the courageous saviour, but without actually having to save anyone or be in any way courageous.

As we turn to a glass cabinet displaying the “Decorations & Medals of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur”, I’m reminded that he made some disastrous military decisions, especially during the early phases of the war. The historian James Hamilton-Paterson observes that, in his capacity as Supreme Commander of the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), MacArthur ignored a ten-hour invasion warning, failed to provide his troops with basic rations and clothing, and relied on an outdated war plan that resulted in the surrender of 76,000 Filipinos and Americans at Bataan in April 1942. Yet none of this ever came back to haunt him. On the contrary, as Hamilton-Paterson puts it, “Douglas MacArthur’s most remarkable achievement was to turn this whole unpropitious series of events into a mammoth public relations triumph such that he ended the war a national hero, receiving the Congressional Medal of Honour for his defence of Bataan and Corregidor.”

When the tour guide tells me these ‘are not real medals’, my heart skips a beat as, for a moment, I entertain the notion that MacArthur’s entire war record is bogus. Then she justifies her allegation: ‘What we are seeing here are just facsimiles. The actual medals are inside the General’s tomb at Norfolk, Virginia.’

MacArthur’s weakness for whitewashing his career went hand-in-hand with an inflated sense of self-importance. When he accepted the role of Military Advisor to the Philippine Army in 1935, he demanded to be put up at the 100,000-square-foot Malacañang Palace. ‘This was not possible,’ says my guide. ‘The Palace is special for Filipinos. Only our governors and presidents had ever lived there before.’ MacArthur’s second choice was the whole of the fifth floor of the deluxe Manila Hotel. When the government complained that the bill would be too high it was agreed that, alongside his military duties, MacArthur would be made General Manager of the Hotel. Somehow MacArthur was able to finagle exactly the same salary as the then President of the Philippines, Manuel Quezon.

I glance back at that photo of MacArthur wading ashore. It reeks of theatrical self-consciousness. Like a Hollywood stereotype of a military leader, the powerful curve of his chin advances out beyond ritzy sunglasses and taut, stoic lips. The uniform unbuttoned at the neck denotes both rebel individualism and Lotharian glamour. As his torpedo-like legs crash through the sea, his beefy hands are clamped to the waist of his billowing khakis. The body language says: “Nothing will stop me.” In Ermita, F Sionil José’s superlative novel of post-war Manila, a chauffeur names his newborn son MacArthur in the hope that “the General’s good looks, his noble visage and everything worth emulating about the Liberator of the Philippines would somehow be transmitted to the baby.” That this oft-photographed flabby and sour-faced old man could be popularly regarded as good-looking is a testament to the power of propaganda to generate intense affection for the MacArthur myth amongst Filipinos and Americans alike.

A textbook narcissist, MacArthur needed such hagiography to buttress his somewhat rickety ego. During bouts of depression, he would call prostitutes up to the Suite, but instead of having sex with them he demanded they tell him repeatedly what a wonderful human being he was. He often threatened to commit suicide, only changing his mind after sufficient amounts of flattery from colleagues. In Michael Schaller’s biography MacArthur: The Far Eastern General, MacArthur aide T.J. Davis tells of how, during one train journey in the US, he finally got sick of the General’s histrionics.

‘As we pass over the Tennessee River bridge,’ MacArthur said in a maudlin tone, ‘I intend to jump from the train. This is where my life ends, Davis.’

‘Happy landing,’ replied Davis wryly.

MacArthur got the message and never again talked about killing himself.

According to the diplomacy scholar Laura A. Belmonte, MacArthur’s behaviour was partly a response to his domineering mother Pinky’s yearning that he be a “glorious Apollo, Roland and George Washington all in one”. As his fame grew during World War II, this yearning behind closed doors became a very public expectation. This only upped the pressure on his fragile sense of self.

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            We peek into the guest bedroom which, either by accident or design, contains many shades of the colour brown. The 1970s-style zigzag carpet is ecru, the teak bedside table seal-brown. The centrepiece is an elegant bed made from nara wood, the swirling grains of its four posters starkly sepia next to the fulgent white pineapple-skin duvet.

‘You know that Bill Clinton stayed here?’ says the guide. ‘And before you ask, no he did not bring Monica with him.’

Clinton wasn’t the first philanderer to stay here. One of the other contributing factors to MacArthur’s depression was his catastrophic affair with the Scottish-Filipina actress Isabel Rosario Cooper, who was 26 years his junior. MacArthur made every effort to hide her from public view and — perhaps more importantly for him — from his mother, first in Manila and then in an apartment in Washington, DC. After two reporters on The Washington Post wrote an uncomplimentary profile of MacArthur accusing him of being “narrow-minded, opinionated, vain, egotistical, and dismissive of civilian authority”, the General sued for defamation. However, the reporters got wind of Cooper’s existence, tracked her down and persuaded her to stand as a witness for the defence. Terrified of a career-ruining scandal, MacArthur quickly dropped the suit and paid $150,000 to Cooper to keep quiet and get out of his life.

        In MacArthur’s study are a number of personal affects that epitomise both the man and the myth. Predictably, neither the trademark corncob pipe nor the statesman-like marble-topped desk are original. The brass gilded chair is, however, and dates back to 1939.

‘Sir Tom, do you want to sit down where the great man used to sit down?’ asks the tour guide.

‘Are you sure?’ I frown. ‘I probably weigh more than MacArthur and I don’t want to go down in history as the visitor who broke the only authentic item in his Suite.’

‘Please don’t worry sir, we have had many thousands of visitors sit there, some of them even bigger than you.’

I ease myself down into the chair. It feels as sturdy as a gun emplacement. If there’s a secret centre to the MacArthur Suite, an axis around which everything else revolves, then this chair is it. From here, I feel I can start to understand Douglas P. MacArthur’s life and its close connection with the wider story of Manila, the Philippines and the United States. I look out the north window over Manila Bay. In 1900, just as Douglas’s father Arthur MacArthur Jr. was being sworn in as Governor-General of the US-occupied Philippines, the American architect Daniel Burnham was busy re-designing Manila Bay for the twentieth century. His stated aim was to sanitise, modernise and morally improve the area by building new parks, streets, railways, waterways and a lavish Classical Revival hotel – the hotel I am sitting in right now – overlooking the bay.

But, like MacArthur’s own life story, there were flaws and feints in this narrative of uplift. First of all, Burnham’s civilising mission was seen by many Filipinos as an attempt to conceal the United States’ profoundly uncivilised behaviour in their homeland. While the US was plotting to seize the Spanish Empire’s possessions in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, a nationalist revolution had broken out near Manila. Washington struck a deal with the Katipunan, the revolutionary movement, whereby the US would grant full independence to the Philippines in return for the Katipunan’s assistance in defeating the Spanish. In a scoundrelly move, Washington reneged on the deal and decided that it wanted to rule the archipelago directly as the new imperial overlord. Almost as humiliating for Filipino patriots had been Spain’s decision to sell the Philippines to the US for a paltry $20 million. Furthermore, while mild-mannered American gentlemen were strolling around Manila Bay pontificating about Greco-Roman columns, across the rest of the archipelago the US Army was involved in a counter-insurgency operation that, by 1910, would kill twenty per cent of the population, including thousands of innocent women and children. For the cultural theorist David Brody, the ultimate physical expression of the myth of American benevolence is the Burnham Memorial in Baguio City, a hill station near Manila. The inscription on his bust moralises about “love, amity and mutual respect” which, for Brody, “mitigates a tumultuous history that included the bloodshed, loss and cultural trauma that accompanied the Philippine-American War.”

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Moreover, few of Burnham’s ‘City Beautiful’ plans ever got beyond the stage of blabber about progress and civic harmony. Rather than founding an urban utopia, he was more successful in stamping US cultural superiority over Manila. As Burnham was drawing up plans for the Manila Hotel as an outpost of Western metropolitan luxury amid the colonial boondocks, the young Douglas MacArthur was fast becoming the personification of the abusive and exploitative relationship between the US and the Philippines. After graduating from West Point in 1903, MacArthur joined the 3rd Engineer Battalion in the Philippines, where his father had just been put in charge of the Department of the Pacific. MacArthur was sent out into the jungle to conduct surveys and build bridges as part of the efforts to cement US military authority. During his tour he made contacts within the new American business elite and invested in such lucrative operations as the Benguet gold mines. As Deanna Springola, author of the Power Elite Playbook has observed, during the early 1900s, the US Congress “passed tariff acts allowing free US entry of all Philippine products; this would make the Philippines dependent on the US.”

On the marble-topped desk is a reminder of MacArthur’s other significant encounter during his early visits to the Philippines. It’s a photo of him shaking hands with a slight, nervous-looking man in a cream suit. This is Manuel Roxas, MacArthur’s close friend, military aide and, later on, political crony. The official history goes something like this: after World War II the Philippines lay in ruins and the US government tasked Roxas and MacArthur with disbursing $2 billion in aid. The enlightened Filipino humanitarian and the Hollywood hero of the Pacific spent the money on reconstructing the nation, raising living standards for all. However, James Hamilton-Paterson’s account is closer to the truth:

[In 1945] … MacArthur was given a free hand to arrange

his former fiefdom according to his taste. His personal

support was crucial to getting his old friend Roxas approved

by Washington and elected. So also was his capricious

withholding of US aid for the reconstruction of the Philippines

after the election, thereby making the aid virtually contingent

on Roxas becoming President. Thereafter, the $2 billion in aid

was fought over by various groups of vultures who had good

links with the new ruling elite of MacArthur and Roxas. Only

very little of this fabulous sum (at mid-1940s value, too) actually

went into rebuilding the Philippines’ shattered infrastructure

and economy.

 

There was understandable public outrage. Backed by the Office of Strategic Services and later the CIA, MacArthur and Roxas ruthlessly crushed dissent in the media, the intelligentsia and the rural poor. In some ways, such gangsterish autocracy blazed the trail for future US interventions throughout the Cold War, from Iran to Vietnam, Chile to Nicaragua. In 1946, the Hukbalahap guerrillas (nicknamed the Huks), who had boldly resisted the Japanese during the war, tried and failed to overthrow the central government in Manila.

I rise from MacArthur’s chair and shuffle closer to the window. Down on Bonifacio Drive — named after Andres Bonifacio, a founder member of the Katipunan — a homeless boy, barefoot and caked in tar-black dirt, is holding a frail and quivering hand up to passing cars. It’s a grievous reminder that the injustices that shocked the Huks into rising against the MacArthur consensus persist today. Costing $3,300 a night, the MacArthur Suite in 2014 is just as alien to the experience of the 30 million or so Filipinos who live on less than $1 a day as it would have been to the pickpockets and panhandlers of MacArthur’s time. 76% of the Philippine economy is still owned by an oligarchy that can trace its roots back to either Spanish or American colonisation. The Philippines remains in the grip of “dollar imperialism”, as proven by the ubiquity of Coca-Cola, McDonalds, basketball, and rock and hip-hop music. Having just become the country’s number one trading partner, Japan is now arguably exerting more influence over the Philippines than at any time since the war. The Huks have metamorphosed into the Maoist New People’s Army, which struggles — often violently — on behalf of landless peasants and urban squatters.

I sit back in the chair where, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, General MacArthur did much of his thinking about war, history, politics and business. If this mythical figure were somehow to be resurrected and to find himself in this chair again, would his thoughts about the contemporary Philippines be all that different?

(Originally published in The London Magazine Dec 2014-Jan 2015)

 

 

Corregidor: Isle of War and Beauty

5 Feb

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As the ferry pulls in to a pine-fringed cove of ivory-coloured sand, I find it hard to imagine Corregidor Island as the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific theatre of World War II. A strategic outpost guarding Manila from sea invasion since the 1500s, Corregidor was attacked from the opposite direction by the Japanese in early 1942. General Douglas Macarthur, commander of the US Army Forces in the Far East, was forced to flee the island by PT boat to Australia, famously vowing ‘I shall return’. In two days, a 75,000-strong Japanese army fought their way past 45 pieces of heavy artillery and overwhelmed 13,000 US and Filipino soldiers. Three years later, MacArthur made good on his promise and liberated the island in a daring air and sea assault that turned out to be even bloodier than the first Battle of Corregidor. The US victory was to prove decisive in ending the war in Asia.

When we reach land, I’m ushered into a charmingly retro tour bus that resembles a wartime tram and away we go into the depths of the jungle. We pass the grey, spectral ruins of barracks and mess halls, some held up by shaky foundations either damaged by shelling or worn thin by age. As we drive, our tour guide holds up a selection of items he’s found strewn around Corregidor, amongst them a Japanese bayonet, a Coca-Cola bottle from 1912 and US and Filipino currency dating back 150 years.

We stop at Battery Way, an emplacement of mortars that still have bullet holes in them, despite a thick and recently applied coat of paint. Our guide tells me to look down the barrel of one of the guns. I do so and see a bomb nestling in the base. ‘That’s still live,’ says the guide, ‘but it is probably harmless.’ I back away with a fake smile.

A delicious lunch of pork adobo and pancit canton (flour noodles with vegetables and seafood) is served on the Spanish-style veranda of the Corregidor Inn. It’s possible to stay the night at the Inn and use it as a base for activities such as kayaking, ziplining and all-terrain vehicle driving.

Our next stop is the moving Pacific War Memorial and its 40 foot-tall abstract sculpture representing the eternal flame. The rotunda features stone-etched memorials to those who died in every conflict the Philippines has been involved in, including the often under-reported Spanish-American War of 1898 when the US wrested control of the archipelago from the Spanish Empire.

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For many, Corregidor’s piéce de resistance is the Malinta Tunnel complex, that in its heyday housed a field hospital, an electric tram system, shops, storerooms and General MacArthur’s  operational headquarters. The American and Filipino garrison made its last stand against the Japanese inside Malinta and just a few months before that Manuel Quezon was sworn in here for his second term as President of the semi-autonomous Philippine Commonwealth. Although a close friend of MacArthur’s and a supporter of the US presence in his country, Quezon is reported to have exploded with anger after listening to a speech by President Roosevelt about the war in Europe and shouted, ‘How typical of America to writhe in anguish at the fate of a distant cousin, Europe, while a daughter, the Philippines, is being raped in the back room!’

With the aid of torches, we make our way through the curve-arched main tunnel and peer into alcoves containing life-size metal models of soldiers, engineers, doctors, nurses, MacArthur himself and his second-in-command General Jonathan Wainwright. Normally there’s an audiovisual presentation detailing the history of Malinta, but for technical reasons it isn’t available right now.

I am suitably sobered as we emerge from the tunnel and ride the tour bus back to the ferry port. All in all, Corregidor is a captivating insight into a momentous event in history and a poignant tribute to the thousands of young men who died in the most destructive war of all time.

Press contacts: Chit Afuang (chit@itsmorefuninthephilippines.co.uk)

Sun Cruises (suncruises@magsaysay.com.ph)

(Originally published in Globetrotter, January 2015)

Why Africans are falling in love with the Philippines

18 Jan

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After recent visits to Africa and Asia, it is clear to me that the two continents are growing ever closer. In Ghana, I met so many Chinese, whether overseeing a building site in Kumasi, dining in a five star hotel on Cape Coast or playing roulette in an Accra casino. In Côte d’Ivoire, I found young people to be obsessed with Japanese manga and Korean horror films. During that same trip, I heard that, in Southern Africa, kids rarely miss an episode of their favourite telenovellas from the Philippines.

A few months later, I was in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, and surprised to find Africans everywhere: Kenyans, Nigerians, South Africans, Egyptians, Moroccans, and Senegalese. I had lived in Manila in 2009-10 and couldn’t recall seeing a single African at that time, although I did meet a number of Filipino intellectuals who loved the novels of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and other African literary luminaries.

Underlying this cultural exchange is economics. According to Bloomberg, trade between Africa and Asia is set to rise from around $300bn at present to over $1.5 trillion by 2020. Already thousands are migrating in both directions for work, study and travel. Now the third fastest-growing economy in Asia, the Philippines has enjoyed an almost 50% increase in trade with Africa over the last two years. In the 2010 census, 2,573 people from African countries were resident in the country and now the figure is thought to be closer to 3,000.

While in Manila, I wanted to understand how African expats take to Philippine society. What sort of work do they do? How well have they assimilated? What are the differences and similarities between where they have come from and where they are now?

Japhet E. Miano Kariuki is a Kenyan consultant who encourages foreign investment in the Philippines. I asked him what professional opportunities there are for Africans here:

“When recruiters look to my continent, they see a wealth of underused talent: guys with master’s degrees in business or engineering except they’re driving a taxi! It makes sense to bring them to the Philippines where everyone will benefit from their expertise. The recent growth in business process outsourcing (BPO) here has created a demand for French speakers, so now you have people coming from all the Francophone African nations.”

But isn’t there the danger of brain-drain, with Africa losing the skilled workers it so badly needs for its own development? Japhet thinks not, especially if you look at the evidence of the continent’s “amazing growth. In Kenya right now, there is a new government and a new constitution, and a lot of new investment. My friends tell me that if I went back to Nairobi now, I wouldn’t recognise it.”

Furthermore, migrant labour is a two-way street. “There are many OFWs [Overseas Filipino Workers] who go to Africa with transferable skills related to the main industries there: health care, the service sector, mining and agriculture.”

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Doing business

Moreover, Japhet advises a growing number of Filipino companies about doing business in Africa. His job is easy because “China and Japan have paved the way” and there are many similarities between Africans and Filipinos.

“We all speak English (mostly), are committed to our faith and are very family-oriented. We share an attitude to life: we stay optimistic and overcome whatever challenges when trying to integrate into Philippine life. When he moved to Manila in 2011 to manage a call centre, South African Chris Bezuidenhout immediately felt at home. The people are polite “almost to the point of pain” and take pride even in dead-end jobs and miserable living conditions. “These guys in the slums are always sweeping the areas in front of their shacks. When you look around the streets, there is not a soda can, not a cigarette butt anywhere.”

On his first New Year’s Eve in Manila, Chris took a taxi into one such slum whereupon the residents complimented the basketball jersey he was wearing and invited him to spend the night drinking wine from an empty yoghurt cup.

“That was probably the best New Year’s Eve I have ever had,” he says wistfully. “There aren’t a lot of cities around the world where a foreigner can go into a deprived area and say, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ and end up partying with the locals.”

A 26-year-old Egyptian national, Yasmine Mahmoud, has had a more ambivalent experience. While she finds the Philippines “generally easy-going and inter-faith”, her Muslim beliefs have posed problems. Manila restaurant menus are dominated by pork and even meat-free dishes are typically cooked in pork fat. Fortunately, Yasmine has found a handful of eateries that will prepare her food in vegetable
oil.

However, what she calls “prejudice about Islam” has had a more significant impact. A human resources expert by training, she was once denied a job simply because of her religion. “The bosses told me that they had enough Muslims from Mindanao [a southern region of the Philippines riven with Islamist separatist tensions] and they didn’t want any more.”

She isn’t bitter about the episode because “the problem is more to do with ignorance than discrimination … When I tell people I am an Arab, they either think I am from one of the Arabian Gulf countries. I tell them I am an Egyptian, I have nothing to do with the Gulf, I only share the language with them – or they think I am a terrorist because of what they have seen on CNN.”

Mercifully, not everyone she meets is so unsympathetic. People over the age of 30 are more likely to ask her respectful questions about her background.

Japhet has been on the receiving end of such curiosity, with people wanting to touch his hair and asking him why, as an African, he speaks English. By contrast, Chris once met a taxi driver who knew a great deal about his native land. “He just started reeling off historical facts about the Boer War and the apartheid era. I thought to myself, ‘How the hell does a taxi driver know all this?’”

How do Filipino attitudes to work compare with home? When Sharon Walilika relocated from Nairobi to teach English in Manila, she found the atmosphere effervescent. “Here people like to have fun in the office – they joke and laugh – whereas back home everyone is so serious. I don’t know where we got that from – is it a British thing?”

Filipinos, she believes, are more collectively-minded too. “They all go to work together and then they all go out together afterwards. When it’s someone’s birthday or someone is leaving, everyone celebrates that in the office. It’s kind of sweet, but after a while I just wanted to go my separate way.”

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Community spirit

For Yasmine, this community spirit informs all communication within a workplace. “If an individual has an issue, it becomes everyone’s issue because employees are so close to each other. If you say something to one person and they don’t appreciate it, the message will get out to the whole team. They will respond to you as a group, even if you only addressed that one person originally. They will come and say to you, ‘We don’t like this or that.’”

Chris never ceases to be impressed by the work ethic of his employees. “In South Africa there might be a bus or taxi strike and half the labour force can’t get to work. In Manila, even while a typhoon is raging, people will come in to work wearing flip-flops and shorts and then get changed into smart clothes. That kind of dedication I put down to the fact that you’ve got a population of almost 100 million and everyone’s got a university degree, even the guys who work in McDonald’s. Everyone is so educated that competition for jobs is stiff.”

High-quality, affordable, and delivered in excellent English, Philippine education is another magnet for Africans. The BBC reports that applications for foreign student visas trebled between 2012 and 2013. Aside from teaching English, Sharon is doing a master’s degree in nursing at the Adventist University of the Philippines and finds it “really good … the teachers are friendly and easy-going. When I first came here, there were five African students and now there are dozens. It’s usually a lot cheaper to fly here and study than to do it at home.”

Similarly, Yasmine tells me about a friend – also from Egypt – who saved himself several thousand dollars by studying for his MBA in the Philippines. When I question the transferability of her nursing qualification, Sharon tells me that international standards are upheld by requiring every Kenyan who trains in the Philippines to pass local board exams before they can practise nursing back home.

Manila’s traffic jams and wild roads are infamous, and I wonder how Chris copes with riding a motorcycle here. “While the traffic looks crazy, there is actually a logic to it, a rhythm. Foreigners joke about Filipino drivers being the worst in the world. On the contrary, they are the most helpful in the world. They will move over and make room for me when I ride by. In three years, I haven’t seen a major accident in this city, only bumper bashings. The traffic doesn’t move fast enough for there to be fatalities. Nor will you ever hear people shouting or hooting their horns.”

When Sharon wants a break from the hustle of the city, she drives to the “beautiful hill station of Baguio where the temperature is cool and the air is clean”. It gives her fond childhood memories of the Rift Valley area in Kenya.

The expats I spoke to all seem very content with life in the Philippines. They enjoy a higher standard of living and are gaining invaluable professional or educational advantages. Japhet and Chris are definitely here for the long-haul. As Chris says, “originally I had a vague plan to come to Manila for a couple of years and then move on to Australia. Now I have fallen in love with this place. I would be happy to stay for another decade if not longer.” A ringing endorsement indeed.

Originally published at: http://newafricanmagazine.com/africans-falling-love-philippines/3/#sthash.jkXiXRAH.dpuf

Blog #29 – New stories in Red Pepper and New Internationalist

26 Nov

In the upcoming issue of Red Pepper you’ll find my interview with Filipino eco-socialist Red Constantino, who talks about his electric jeepney initiative, green reform versus green revolution and the challenges facing the Philippine Left. My report on the struggles of working people in Oman, a country I visited a little after the Arab Spring, will be in January’s edition of New Internationalist.

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Blog #28 – New story in New African

29 Oct

My new story about African expats in Manila, ‘Why Africans are Falling for the Philippines’, is in the current edition of New African. An Egyptian Muslim woman shares her experiences of Islamophobia, a South African praises Filipino drivers and a Kenyan teacher riffs on the playful atmosphere of her workplace. P1000323

Saints and Cheeses in the Philippines

25 Nov

More of my Philippines ramblings appearing now on the London Mag site:

http://thelondonmagazine.org/tlm-blog/saints-and-cheeses-in-the-philippines-by-tom-sykes/