Sunday, May 25, 2008

Thoughts from a white guy.

We sent out our newsletter on the weekend. If you didn't receive it, be sure to email us ( and we'll make sure your name gets on our mailing list. There have been a couple of articles about our water project on that you might want to check out too.

Last night Bethany and I went to see a movie with some friends at a nearby mall. We saw the new Indiana Jones flick. It’s a bit silly, but still lots of fun. After the movie, we left the mall with our friend Stephanie and walked around the corner to catch a ride home (Toti had the truck for work this weekend). We decided to take a tricy-cab home and approached one of the drivers who were lined up waiting for passengers. A tricy-cab is a motorcycle with a rebar constructed side car that can carry about 4 people.

The standard rate for a tricy-cab ride is 6 pesos per person. Unfortunately, many of the drivers see a white person and immediately think they can take advantage of us. I’m not sure if it’s because they think we are so rich that we don’t care about paying extra, or if they assume we are new to town and don’t know any better. Whatever the case, last night was no exception.

Before we had taken our seats, the driver asked, “How much?”. Any time I hear that question, I know we’re going to have a problem. I told him, “The standard rate. Six pesos each.” He tried telling us that he would charge us P30 total, at which point I dug in my heals. I can be a pretty stubborn dude, and I wasn’t going to pay a centavo more than every other Davao citizen pays. Sure, we could have afforded the extra P12. That’s only 28 cents. But that’s not the point. The point is that I am growing tired of being treated different from other people just because I’m white.

This thought has crossed my mind before, but I guess last night was a bit of a tipping point. My reaction was probably stronger than it might have been if I were alone. But I had Bethany with me. She was clearly annoyed too, and said she would rather walk. That’s when I stepped up my attitude a notch or two. Suddenly this man’s prejudice was going to cause my pregnant wife with a bad back to walk the ten blocks to our house. No way that was going to happen. (Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “No Tim, your cheap Scottish blood was going to cause your wife to walk, not the greedy driver.” Perhaps you’re right, but I don’t think Bethany was particularly keen on paying extra either.)

As I said, I’m a stubborn dude, and, as some of you know, I can be a little hot headed at times. I got my way in the end. We got our ride home for the appropriate 6 pesos per person. But the whole thing got me thinking.

It does grow tiresome being treated different because of my nationality. The “white guy price” extends beyond tricy-cabs to most modes of transportation, the market, the tourist traps, and certainly big-ticket items such as car purchases and property rentals.

It may surprise you to know how often I get laughed at. They laugh for different reasons. Sometimes it’s just good natured fun. Perhaps my beard amuses them (there are very few Filipinos with a beard), or my relative size strikes them as humorous. Groups of women will sometimes giggle to themselves before one of them gains the courage to ask me if I’m married. At times, the laughter is a little more mean spirited. Often people will have a good belly laugh at my expense when I attempt to speak their language. Admittedly, my Visayan sucks. The laughter doesn't upset me or offend me at all. I guess it just wears me down after a while.

Of course the prejudice works to my advantage too. I am rarely allowed to do physical labour. A couple of months ago, when buying sand from a local shop I attempted to take the shovel from a female employee who was loading the sand. I was trying to be chivalrous, but she refused to let me help. When I asked her why, she replied that my hands were “too pink”. What does that mean?

Even my good friend Toti has trouble letting me do physical labour. When we are out delivering and installing filters (which is several times a week), he is always trying to take heavy items like bags of sand and gravel from me and giving me empty buckets or something to that effect. “Isn’t that nice,” you’re thinking. No, it isn’t nice. For starters, it leaves me wondering if people think I am too weak to handle such heavy items. Secondly, it makes me feel like a lazy fool as I am left to stand around and watch as others do my work for me.

Sometimes I get more respect than I deserve because I am white. I have received invitations to preach, when the person inviting me doesn’t even know if I’m a preacher. Why do they do that? I’m just a guy that installs water filters. They seem to think that just because I’m white, I’ve got some special anointing. When I go into villages to introduce the filter technology, I usually ask Toti to give them the speech. More often than not, he replies that they want to hear it from me. Now, Toti knows the speech just as well as I do, perhaps better. And he’s just going to have to translate it for me anyways. So what’s the point? I guess their curiosity about the white guy is natural, but it still strikes me as odd. Toti says that when we talk about their need for clean water they are more likely to believe me than they are to believe him. That hardly seems fair.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I love living in the Philippines and the people here are wonderful. But part of the point of this blog is to help give you a better idea of what life is like for us here. When we arrived in this country and received our culture briefing we were told that we would reach points of “cultural fatigue”. Perhaps that is what I’m feeling today.

Those of you who have lived in other countries can probably relate very well to what I have been saying. In fact, I’m sure those who emigrate to North America have similar experiences.

At first these things didn’t bother me at all. But after ten months, I guess they are starting to affect me somewhat. The Lord continues to give me grace, and I’m sure I will notice these things less and less over the next couple of years. I’ve certainly stopped noticing the calls of “Hey Joe!” that I often leave in my wake.


This is the only picture I have of a tricy-cab.
This is a tricycle. Similar idea, but pedals instead of a motor.


Robert said...

Hi Timmybomb & Bethany,

Missing you two heaps!

I am not sure, but maybe what you are describing is actually 'universal'.

Greed (and/or need) tends to motivate too many people - so, "whatever the traffic will bear" becomes the standard by which we "charge" others for goods & services offered.

What you are experiencing in the Philippines is probably not much different to what many non-whites (probably not the 'politically correct' terminology) experience in North America. Also, in some situations, women also experience similar 'preferential treatment'.

Your comments today, have encouraged me o take a look at myself - to see where I may my behaviour is similar to what you are describing.

Anyway, "ood for thought".

Love you!


Anonymous said...

You two are going to write a book some day. Love you, Mum

Anonymous said...

Love the pics...that looks like quite a ride.
I'm not surprised you draw a little 'attention' with the locals!Isn't it interesting what people assume about each other?
Love you both