I hate the forced culture of tipping. But this was something different. In our mind-boggling Philippines vacation, we encountered something very unreal, very enlightening – there were multiple instances when we wanted to tip a person but the kind soul refused. In an average developing country when you check out of a hotel, staff embarrassingly stand all around you expecting tips, but Filipinos came out different. One such late teen boy working in a mall with kiddie toy rides told me ‘I have enough in life – shelter, food and people. I don’t need anything more’. It sounded philosophical, possibly entrenched from strong Catholic lessons; surely rooted in deep human values.
And sort of stunned me. My first experience was from a young, average clothed, tour guide (Jomar – Calamian travels – Coron) who took care of my daughter personally during her first awestruck snorkelling experience, right in the middle of the sea for 45mins. I offered him 200 pesos at end of the tour, but he said ‘No sir, not needed, am just doing my job, you are nice family’. I didn’t know how to react. Later I kept that amount sealed in an envelope with my hotel, Coron Bancuang Mansion, and requested them to contact and pass on.
The second instance was the young lad, I referred in my opening paragraph above, who got kids to sit on motorized animal rides near the food court of SM Megamall, Manila. Instead of the standard four min ride, he let both my kids have fun for twenty minutes plus each. Happy that my kids had a ball, instead of short ride, I offered him 100 pesos as a tip and he politely and instantly refused. When I said to take as Christmas gift, he refused it, saying it’s his job to make kids happy. I don’t know his name. I may have known his name had he duped me for 100 pesos. When I told him, money is important, he disagreed partially, leaving me shocked.
There was a third instance, a fourth instance and a fifth instance also. In fact, this was a rare ten-day vacation where I didn’t have a disagreement or serious conversation or intense negotiation with anyone (barring while taking the local taxi to and from the airport). Each person in this magical country smiled whenever eyes met and I had fun passing compliments to ladies. Except for Bali and to some extent Thailand, I can’t think of another city or country where the experience with humans is so warm. People staying near the equator are generally warm to nice, but this was at another level.
My image of Filipinos before this trip was skewed to the fact that my resident country, Singapore, is very welcoming and preferential towards Filipino maids. I have heard about a few of them from our neighbour, Smitha & Santosh Kalyanaraman’s house – Darlyn, Hydee – who in short time got upgraded from maids to par excellence members of the house. They even used to teach the kids aside taking a bunch of them to outings. I credited that, so far, to our neighbours, but it may be something more.
Genetically, philosophically and through the Catholic way of life, Filipinos could be amongst the worlds happiest, most contented people. My Filipina (yes you can call them Filipino or Filipina also!) DBS Bank office colleague John Paul Lim is one of the funniest, calmest and nicest around. He mimics us all too. I had a good impression of people of Philippines prior to our vacation. It’s funny how each individual has a responsibility of carrying the image of his or her country all the time.
Back to the ones, I encountered in our vacation, and I was left wondering if a poor tour guide or a motorized animal counter boy or a trishaw driver or a small hotel staff or a food court lady does the right thing by refusing a tip. In this world where money and bank balance is everything that defines you, were they correct? Weren’t they being too meek and too nice just waiting for others to roll over them in life? Is their simplicity already costing them in real life? Aren’t they easy targets for bullies? Does simplicity have a place in life? What they earn was it so much that kept them so happy? Are three meals, a roof, a standard job and being nice, a good template to live life?
Too many questions I got in mind, all thanks to possibly the nicest people on earth. Thank you, Filipinos for giving us a wonderful vacation and demonstrating certain old-school values of life. I return back assured that simplicity has a place, the value of values do increase with time, and while the hard truth is that money is everything, sorry, the only thing that matters; there is still life outside it. Thank you, Philippines.