The Pinoy Dispora

Filipino kids in Vigan, Philippines. They begged me to take their picture
Filipino kids in Vigan, Philippines. They begged me to take their picture
I don’t just like to write about what I see in certain places and then drop the country as I move on to the next. There are some subjects that deserve revisiting, and one that sort of jumps out at you in Hong Kong is the Philippines. Why the Philippines? You’ll notice it if you spend a little bit of time here. You’ll not only run into a lot of Filipinos but you’ll find many money wire stores that advertise sending remittances back to the Philippines. Some have Philippine flags on the front of the store.  If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that Filipinos constitute the largest group of foreign workers in Hong Kong.

Why? Not hard to figure out. The Philippines is relatively close, English is widely spoken in Hong Kong and almost universal in the Philippines, you can visit Hong Kong without a visa, where as most places require an application process. While I was in the Philippines, the most popular Filipino movie was Apat Dapat, Dapat Apat whose plot involved several female friends who go to Hong Kong to work as domestic servants. (When I was in the Philippines I was watching a TV show when some ads for foreign work opportunities flashed across the screen. I was taken aback at one which was for Hong Kong domestic help, and the position required a college degree. Kind of reflects poorly on job opportunities in the Philippines when they can demand a college degree to get a job as a maid.) As I write this, I’m in a pub eating lunch and the entire wait staff here is Filipino.

Filipinos have become the modern day versions of Jews and Chinese. In every European and Middle Eastern country you used find a population of Jews who filled an economic niche. Likewise, Chinese and Chinatowns can be found all over Asia which they often owned many businesses and were brought in originally as laborers. The same was also true of Indians during the British Empire who went to work in Guyana, Fiji, or Africa. Filipinos are filling that role today. Not only can you find Filipinos in Hong Kong, but also in Saudi Arabia, and throughout Asia. If I were a betting man, based on what I saw in the Philippines, I would bet that you see Filipinos follow the same course in these countries over the next several decades. They come in as laborers and end up owning businesses and having a higher standard of living than the local population. And, like the Jews and Chinese before them, they will probably end up getting the short end of the stick by locals if they become too successful.

You see a lot of signs like this in Kowloon
You see a lot of signs like this in Kowloon
Filipino Hong Kong laborers aren’t the only thing that was the impetus for me writing this. I’ve noticed in the last few weeks that there has been an explosion in the number of Filipino bloggers and websites. As a percentage of the population, they seem far more represented online than you would expect. While I wasn’t something I had considered, in hindsight it makes perfect sense. Working online is basically the same thing as working overseas, without the overseas part. You can have an international audience, earn US Dollars, take advantage of technical training, and do it all under the radar of local officials and not have to leave your family. Based on the small sample of nerds I saw in the internet cafes and game rooms in the Philippines, they have a core of an internet culture on a par or better than other countries in the region.

The Philippines has been slower than most of SE Asia in developing, but I think it probably holds more potential then other countries in the region, in the long run. People however, have been saying that since Marcos fell. If they can overcome their political problems and corruption, I think they might be the next Asian tiger.

15 thoughts on “The Pinoy Dispora”

  1. I’m Filipino myself, and I’ve known Gary for quite sometime. He is a very smart person and his observations are correct. I’m in the military and travel a lot as part of my dury or for leisure. We are everywhere. My mom just visited me here in Germany and while we were traveling we found Filipinos that live here are own businesses.

  2. Hi!

    Thanks for your kind words and honest insight about the Philippines. I share a lot of your observations. However, I don’t believe that corruption is the reason why we are poor. Corruption is more a symptom of a disease called “lack of national pride”. If we are more proud of ourselves as Filipinos, our college graduates wouldn’t go to Hongkong to be maids, our teachers wouldn’t go to Singapore to be domestic helpers, our doctors wouldn’t work as nurses in the US and our officials wouldn’t fatten their pockets with government money. If we are just a little bit more proud of ourselves, we would be one of the richest countries in Asia! We have a lot of natural resources and a very high literacy rate– ingredients of a prosperous nation. Instead, we waste our time explaining to the world why we are poor and waiting for the west for compliments when all we have to do is look around and tell ourselves that we have a really nice country. The only problem we really have is self-image, if we manage to solve that one day then we will not only be an Asian Tiger but the World’s dragon!

  3. Hi there :)

    The Philippines has been slower than most of SE Asia in developing, but I think it probably holds more potential then other countries in the region, in the long run. People however, have been saying that since Marcos fell. If they can overcome their political problems and corruption, I think they might be the next Asian tiger.

    The reason why the Philippines develops so slow is because of the corruption of government officials. The lure of fast money for oneself, family, mistresses, etc., only buries the so-called dedication of actually working to develop the country.

    You have also pointed out a sad thing about how a lot of Filipino overseas workers think: “Being a domestic helper would be OK,” though, it’s understandable (this might require explaining but I won’t… for now).

    I think I have written enough, sorry, hehe!

    And thanks for the compliment (the Philippines being the next Asian tiger).

  4. Hi gary! :) glad to have come across your blog. It is worth-reading and the photos are just awesome!

    Your observations on the current state of my country validate mine. My friends are even establishing their businesses and working in Guam and Saipan. It’s quite difficult to do that here in the Philippines because of the lack of opportunities plus the corruption. I am glad however that you shared your intelligent and positive foresight. Filipinos need this kind of encouragement.

    Based on what you wrote about yourself, I figured that you must be a very important man :) You are so blessed. I’ll be visiting your blog often. God bless your travels! :)

  5. thank you for the kind words and great insights. the comments were honest but not scathing =] thank you for the vote of confidence, for not joining the bandwagon of those who have written off the possibility of a prosperous Philippines.

    this is a very good read for Filipinos, especially our leaders. sometimes, oftentimes, we have to shove a mirror to our faces so we can see what needs repair and actually do something about it- somethings desensitization and/or eons of powerlessness have made us unable to.

    safe journeys always! do come back to the Philippines soon, Philippine Airlines notwithstanding =]

  6. Great post! Filipinos are actually everywhere as you said not only in the middle east..go to aunt’s are there. yeah I’m a filipino.

    I just hope the corruption stop soon..I hate it!–well who doesn’t.


  7. i couldn’t agree more. i have the same sentiments about my government. if only they can overcome their corruption. *sigh*

  8. If you make it to Australia and into the Outback regions, you may also see some similarities between the Aboriginal people and the Native American tribes.

  9.’re one good observer..and thanks for the kind words about the philippines..its true we have lots of potential, but the development is so slow here some of us have to get out to move on a much faster pace. that is sad.

    you travel a lot! been to hongkong once..yeah..everyhwere there are filipinos..every few blocks i hear someone speaking a familiar language..

    very nice blog you got here too! i’d have to come back to read more posts..

  10. You have an interesting blog. It is my chidhood dream (still is up until now) to do country-hopping, 3 weeks max in each; of course island-hopping as well of the Philippines. You’ve been to my country and many places I haven’t been yet that you’ve been to alsready. :) I don’t want to leave to work outside of the Philippines. Neither does my husband. The only time we’re going out of the country is when we can travel for pleasure….with the kids, of course. When that will be is yet to be seen. Too bleak at the moment but hope is high…and it’s free to dream.

  11. Your insight about my country is refreshing to me. It’s good to read something positive about the current state here. A lot of Filipinos are beginning to lose hope that our state would get any better.

  12. I’m not sure if you’ve been to Central or Admiralty subway station, but that’s where the Filipino workers hang out. You’re right, there are a lot of them. I think most of them work as maid/servant.

  13. Nice observation. Makes me sit up and listen! And do admire your guts of selling off your house and making the world your home! You are really something!

  14. It is sad that a lot of my fellow Filipinos have to leave and seek better opportunities in other countries. It is hurting our country economically, but I really cannot blame them. How can one stop another person from seeking what he thinks could best help him and his family survive? Lately, it has also been hard for doctors and, if you’ve noticed, most of the nursing students are already bachelors’ degree holders and some, postgraduate degree holders. I think it isn’t really because of the lack of jobs here, but rather because the jobs available are under-paying.

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